This Is An Ethics Story. More Than That, It’s Hard To Say…

Read this story, please.

Then consider the 10 questions below.

A summary of the main points…

  • Luke Gibbs’ wife, Rachel, mother of two,  was rendered permanently vegetative after a go-kart accident at a Michigan amusement park, the Family Fun Center, near Grand Rapids.  A long scarf she was wearing got caught in one of the go-kart’s axles, snapping her windpipe.

  • She is now in a long-term care center southwest of London. Her husband is certain that this would never have occurred in England, because the country has more regulations. “There’s no agency in the United States that can say to my children, who are American citizens, this is the way in which we worked to protect your mother and keep her safe,” he said. “I’m confident that accident would not have happened here, part because I think we have more stringent regulation,” he added.

  • Parks are exempted from federal regulation, leaving supervision to the vagaries of the states, and six have no oversight: Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah. In the early 1980s, park operators successfully lobbied to shield amusement parks from federal oversight by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Starting in 1999,  Senator Edward J. Markey sought to mandate federal oversight, but Disney successfully lobbied against it, along with its competitors.

They argued that the federal regulation was not necessary.  Industry studies say there is only a one in 17 million chance of injury at fixed-site parks. The safety commission estimates there were 29,400 amusement ride injuries requiring emergency treatment last year at all types of parks, including  inflatable attractions and even coin-operated rides at shopping malls.

Mobile parks with rides that can be moved, like carnivals and state fairs, are not exempted from federal regulation.

  • When Rachel Gibbs wife was injured, the park appeared unprepared for an emergency. The ride’s operators panicked, and momentarily couldn’t recall the park’s address so emergency vehicles could be called, and could not provide the injured woman with a defibrillator

A 2007 internal memorandum from the park admonished employees to “never admit fault for accidents,” adding, “our common phrase is ‘AJ’s is an at your own risk Fun Park.’” Continue reading

Windy Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/2/18: More Supreme Court Fun, Transparency Games, Ethical and Unethical Quotes Of The Day…

GOOD MORNING!

(Wind storms all over Virginia, knocking out power and my e-mail, and blowing over a tree that narrowly missed my son’s car!)

1 Lack of Transparency? What lack of transparency? During a lecture and moderated discussion at U.C.L.A. this week in which he was a a participant and invited guest, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was heckled with hisses, jeers, shouted insults and profanity from students and protesters, some of whom were ushered and even carried out by police officers. A programmed sixth grader in the audience even questioned him about the fairness of passing permanent tax cuts for companies and expiring cuts for individuals, because as we all know, 10-year-olds are well-versed in tax policy theory.

Afterwards, Mnuchin  revoked his consent for the official video of the event to be released, perhaps because he was flustered by the harassment and it showed. In response to criticism of this virtual censorship,

The Treasury Department, through a spokesperson, said that what the Secretary did wasn’t what he obviously did—a Jumbo, aka “Elephant? What elephant?”—saying,

“The event was open to the media and a transcript was published. He believes healthy debate is critical to ensuring the right policies that do the most good are advanced.”

He just doesn’t want anyone to see or hear the debate.

A related point: The protests were organized by Lara Stemple, a U.C.L.A. law professor, and students and faculty members participated. Protests are fine; disrupting the event is not. Faculty members who assisted in the heckling should be disciplined, and students who participated should be disciplines as well.  It’s an educational institution, and all views sgould be openly explored and heard without interference. No guest of the university should be treated this way. Ever. No matter who it is or what their position. The treatment on Mnuchin was unethical.

2. More Supreme Court fun with ethics! Minnesota’s law banning “political” clothing and buttons from polling places is being challenged as an affront to free speech. The law prohibits people from wearing a “political badge, political button or other political insignia” at a polling place on an election day, and a member of the tea party movement sued after his “Tea Party” message got him in trouble when he came to vote.

Here is Justice Samuel A. Alito’s exchange with Daniel Rogan of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, who was defending Minnesota’s law:

“How about a shirt with a rainbow flag?” asked Alito. “Would that be permitted?”

“A shirt with a rainbow flag?” Rogan repeated. “No, it would — yes, it would be — it would be permitted unless there was — unless there was an issue on the ballot that — that related somehow to — to gay rights.”

Justice Alito: Okay. How about an NRA shirt?

Mr. Rogan: An NRA shirt? Today, in Minnesota, no, it would not, Your Honor. I think that that’s a clear indication—and I think what you’re getting at, Your Honor—

A T-shirt bearing the words of the Second Amendment? Alito asked.

Probably banned because of the gun-control issue, Rogan said.

The First Amendment? Alito asked. Probably not, Rogan answered.

Got it. The First  Amendment isn’t a political statement, but the Second Amendment is. That led Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to observe: “Under your interpretation of ‘political,’ it would forbid people from wearing certain portions of the Bill of Rights into a polling place but not other portions of the Bill of Rights. And I guess I’m just wondering what compelling interest Minnesota has identified that requires a statute that goes so much further than the vast majority of states?”

In contrast, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked J. David Breemer, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, representing the challengers, “Why should there be speech inside the election booth at all, or inside the what you call the election room? You’re there to vote.”

This is a problem requiring an “all or nothing” solution. Either all forms of political speech must be allowed, or no speech at all. In a sick time where citizens honestly argue that a MAGA cap or a picture of a gun makes them feel threatened and “unsafe,” the ethical option would seem to be Justice Kennedy’s. No speech, messages, no logos, no photos, no American flags. Last fall I voted wearing my Red Sox jacket.

Uh-uh. Continue reading

Congress’s Ongoing Insider Trading Scandal

insider_trading_ban

The best I can figure is that when the exposure of outrageous corruption will devastate power politicians in both parties, neither party, nor their partisan herds, nor their lackey journalist allies, see it as advantageous to look under that rock. Does anyone have a better theory? Because the fact that almost all Senators and members of Congress, and often their staffs, enrich themselves using their knowledge of what laws are about to be passed, and the fact not only is nothing being done about it, but that most of the public doesn’t even know about it and no one is working very hard to tell them, is maddening.

The latest chapter is typical of the hypocrisy and dishonesty in this long-running ethics fiasco.

In 2012, Congress passed the STOCK Act, a bill that was supposed to stop insider trading for lawmakers and their staffs. Of course, the laws making insider trading illegal should have already stopped the practice, and the ethics rules prohibited it as well with such phrases as “conflicts of interest” and “appearance of impropriety.” Lawmakers aren’t supposed to break laws, you see. No, really. They’re not!
Continue reading

Your Presumptive Nominee For President in 2016 Has Been Exposed As Greedy, Arrogant, Dishonest, Conflicted and Corrupt. Now What, Democrats?

Hillary-Clinton-Without-Makeup

Today’s Washington Post expands on the Clinton scandal I wrote about here, with new and damning revelations. Not only did Hillary Clinton’s family Foundation accept millions of dollars in contributions (that is, bribes) from foreign governments while she was Secretary of State, at least one of these violated even the excessively permissive and unethical conditions permitting  such gifts (that is, bribes) agreed to as a condition of her confirmation. Here are some quotes from the story by Post reporters Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger, which you should read in its entirely, with horrified comments from me interspersed: Continue reading

A Proposed Enforceable Campaign Pledge To Reject Corruption

OathRichard Painter is a distinguished, ethics-savvy attorney of a progressive bent who teaches legal ethics and who is a frequent contributor to the Legal Ethics Forum. He has formulated a legally enforceable candidate’s pledge requiring a member of Congress, once elected,not to accept campaign contributions except from natural persons residing in a congressional district and a promise, after leaving Congress, not to accept a lobbyist job that would entail lobbying former colleagues in the Capitol.

Painter was inspired to do so, he says, when contacted former student  who is managing the John Denney for Congress Campaign in Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District.  Denny wants to take such a pledge, and Painter obliged with the document below.

What do you think? Continue reading

The NFL’s Foolish, Counter-productive, Unethical Gay Affirmative Action

Hey, if Nathan is happy, then the NFL is happy...

Hey, if Nathan is happy, then the NFL is happy…

The Dallas Cowboys signed openly gay defensive lineman Michael Sam to be a member of its taxi squad, thus making him–let’s see,now—the first gay NFL practice squad player ever, at least the first to let everyone know his sexual proclivities. Wow…that’s some great plot for a made-for-cable movie! I’m getting goosebumps already!

Some sportswriters had opined that it would be a “disaster” for the NFL if Sam , who was cut by the Rams, the team that drafted him, wasn’t signed by some pro team, on the theory that this would expose the whole league as bigoted against gays. Of course, it could also mean that Sam just isn’t good enough, and whom he chooses to roll in the hay with isn’t considered either a virtue or a detriment to playing NFL football. This would be called, I believe, common sense and integrity.

Never mind. Several sources report that the NFL, also believing that there was a looming disaster, “lobbied” teams to sign Sam after he was cut. This both establishes a policy of gay affirmative action in the NFL, and also exemplifies what is wrong with all affirmative action. Let’s make a list: Continue reading

A Reminder: Why “User Pays” Is Unethical

The View

[Back in 2007, a ridiculous lawsuit spawned an even more ridiculous pronouncement from “The View’s” Rosie O’Donnell, which prompted the following post (originally titled “The Pants, the Judge, and Rosie’s Mouth”)  on this blog’s predecessor,  The Ethics Scoreboard.The two law-related issues that the public has the most difficult time grasping are why lawyers defend guilty people, and this one: the contingent fee system for civil plaintiffs.  While I was pre-occupied the last couple of days by two challenging ethics programs and 10 hours of driving back and forth into West Virginia to deliver one of them, I missed the outbreak of another “loser pays” discussion in one of the comment threads. It’s clearly time to run this one again (I last put it on Ethics Alarms in 2010), with a few tweaks.]

The tale of Roy Pearson, the infamous Washington, DC administrative law judge who is suing his dry cleaner for damages of $65.5 million for a lost pair of pants, would normally warrant scant comment beyond this obvious one: Pierson is a bully, his lawsuit is unreasonable and unethical, and he deserves whatever sanctions the legal system can devise. A Washington Post editorial suggested that the lawsuit, which Pierson says is justified by his inconvenience, court costs, and the mental anguish caused by the loss of his beloved pants, is proof enough of bad character and terrible judgement that he should not be reappointed to another ten-year term.  [ Update: He wasn’t.] That would normally end the issue, freeing me to move on to more important matters, like global warming and American Idol.

And then Rosie O’Donnell opened her big mouth. Continue reading

Why The Gun Bill Deserved To Lose, and Why We Should All Be Glad It Did

A bad day for Machiavelli is a good day for America.

A bad day for Machiavelli is a good day for America.

Consequentialism rules supreme in Washington, D.C.; that is the tragedy of our political system. If unethical conduct is perceived as having a positive outcome, few in D.C. will continue to condemn the means whereby those beneficial and lauded were achieved. Worse, the results will be seen as validating the tactics, moving them from the category of ethically objectionable into standard practice, and for both political parties

Thus we should all reluctantly cheer the likely demise of the Senate’s gun control bill yesterday. The compromise background check provision that failed wasn’t perfect, but it would have been an improvement over the current system. Nevertheless, the post-Sandy Hook tactics of gun control advocates, including the President and most of the media, have been so misleading, cynical, manipulative and offensive that their tactics needed to be discouraged by the only thing that has real influence in the nation’s Capital: embarrassing failure.

The tainted enterprise begins with the fact that it should not have been a priority at this time at all. Newtown did not signal a crisis; it was one event, and that particular bloody horse had left the barn. The supposedly urgent need to “prevent more Sandy Hooks” was imaginary, but it apparently served the President’s purpose of distracting attention from more genuinely pressing matters, notably the stalled employment situation and the need to find common ground with Republican on deficit and debt reduction. Meanwhile, the conditions in Syria have been deteriorating and North Korea is threatening nuclear war: why, at this time, was the President of the United states acting as if gun control was at the top of his agenda? It was irresponsible, placing political grandstanding above governing. In this context, Obama’s angry words yesterday about the bill’s defeat being caused by “politics” were stunningly hypocritical. The whole effort by his party was about nothing other than politics. Continue reading

Comment of the Day on “Ethics Triple Dunces…”

[In his Comment of the Day, Jeffrey Field endorses the actions of both the teacher and the superintendent that I labeled “ethics triple dunces” for making students write letters lobbying for more money in school budgets, raises some other provocative ethics issues related to teacher and student conduct, and questions my indictment of the ethics of the teaching profession. I think he’s wrong on every count (you can read my response with my original post), but it’s a terrific comment.]

“When I was a 5th grade teacher teacher at Clements school in North Alabama, the all-white Limestone County School Board voted to allow students the Martin Luther King holiday, but teachers would be required to work that day. So, partially in self interest and partially in empathy of the small percentage of black teachers, I got my 5th grade class to write letters to the board asking them to reconsider. Long story short, the board reversed position and everybody got a day off.

“Yes, I used this as a writing exercise, and I offer no excuses. You see, too many times teachers have students write a paper with no real purpose in mind. In this case, my students had a real purpose in penning a persuasive letter to the people who ran the schools (btw – no one was required to write the letter, but they all did). And boy, you should have seen the smiles and heard the whoops of joy the morning the Athens News Courier ran a story saying the board had reconsidered its position. Continue reading

Ethics TRIPLE Dunces: Tramway Elementary Teacher Melanie Hawes and Lee County Board of Education Superintendant Jeff Moss

"MUST...WRITE...LETTER ....TO...DAD....

North Carolina state legislator Mike Stone is a budget hawk, and is supporting a budget-cutting proposal that could eliminate 9,300 positions in the public schools. It’s a contentious issue, and the representative has received many letters—including a plaintive one from his own third grader daughter, a student at Tramway Elementary, who was one of several students in her class directed by teacher Melanie Hawes to write to the  Republican and plead with him to save the jobs of their two teacher assistants.

“Our school doesn’t want to lose them,” she wrote. “Please put the budget higher, dad.”

Ugh. Ethics foul; in fact, three of them:

1. It is unethical for teachers to indoctrinate their students in political positions in which the teachers have a personal interest.

2. It is unethical to exploit children as lobbying tools, under the pretense of educating them.

3. It is extremely unethical to recruit a legislator’s 8-year-old daughter to carry a lobbying message. Continue reading