“Thank God It’s Friday” Ethics Warm-Up, 8/2/2019: Non-Reciprocal Loyalty, Woke Virtue-Signaling, Reasonable Vigilantes, And Pseudo-Plagiarism

And I don’t even like Friday, since small businesses like mine acknowledge no weekends, and ethics never sleeps…

1. Loyalty Ethics. Joe Biden got knocked around in the debate this week for supporting Barack Obama’s policies. Joe remained steadfast, saying, “I was a little surprised at how much incoming there was about Barack, about the President. I’m proud of having served him. I’m proud of the job he did. I don’t think there’s anything he has to apologize for. He changed the dialogue, he changed the whole question, he changed what was going on. And the idea that somehow it’s comparable to what [ President Trump] is doing is absolutely bizarre.”

Obama, however, has been silent. Now talk-show host Jesse Kelly, among others, is questioning Obama’s loyalty, tweeting, “The silence from Barack Obama as his Vice President of eight years gets torn limb from limb on his behalf is fascinating. Not even a polite word of support. Either those two are really on the outs or Obama truly is a political machine with no sense of loyalty.”

Fair? I don’t think so. It is not appropriate for Obama to start playing favorites as this stage pf the nomination process. He may realize that being seen as having to come to Joe rescue might hurt more than help: can Biden stand up for himself, or can’t he? That doesn’t mean that Obama is not a political machine with no sense of loyalty; I suspect that he is, as most of our Presidents have been. I also suspect that Obama thought Biden was a dolt, which, as we know, he is.

2.  NBA sexual exploitation/ virtue-signaling ethics. I don’t know what to make of this story. Maybe you can explain it. The Milwaukee Bucks are eliminating their traditional, all-female T&A sideline “dance team” and replacing them with a gender-inclusive dance team named the 414 Crew. (Wait: my Facebook friends are arguing that an all-female editorial board is still diverse! Why was this necessary?) From the Bucks brass: “We’re kind of constantly looking to evolve and broaden our reach and be as inclusive as we possibly can.” Oh. That’s funny, I assumed that scantily clad women moving provocatively was a crude way to please the NBA’s and NFL ‘s overwhelmingly male market. If teams finally recognize that these acts were demeaning to women, why not just eliminate them? Why does a pro-basketball team need “dancing, tumbling, break-dancing, tricking and other unique talents” on display during the game? Why not magic acts? Fire-eating?  Continue reading

I KNEW He Could Do It! As Impeachment Plans A-Q Look Like Losers, Rep. Adam Schiff Invents Plan R!

It should be obvious what the Democratic Party’s game plan is now, especially since Robert Mueller’s testimony yesterday dashed hopes that he would blow wind into the limp sails of the SS Overthrow The Republican. Instead, the ostensible Special Prosecutor  made the case for “high crimes and misdemeanors” look weaker and more contrived than before. One by one, the weak, weaker and weakest “resistance” plans to remove President Trump have fallen into various states of hopelessness and ruin, and the bitter-enders are now resorting to denial or impeachment rationalizations unmoored to anything at all, like this guy, who says that “history demands” an impeachment. [Pointer: Zoltar]

The Democrats will just keep the impeachment fires burning until the election, hoping that 1) one of the horrible candidates Democrats get to choose from will defeat Trump, which looks like a Hail Mary at this point (but who knows what the President will tweet next) or 2) the Democrats will take control of the Senate, and 3) the public will tolerate them spending another 4 years trying to overthrow an elected President without getting disgusted and turning the House back over to the GOP.  Does this sound rational and responsible to you? I wonder why it sounds reasonable to Democrats.

Meanwhile, I was beginning to think the Ethics Alarms list of coup theories had maxxed out at Q, plan #17. [ The most recent  updated list is here] But somehow I knew, deep in my heart, that Rep. Adam Schiff, who has lied, puffed, exaggerated and grandstanded all manner of impeachment justifications that didn’t exist in fact or law, but somehow isn’t walking around Washington D.C. with his head in a bag, would be equal to the daunting task of coming up with a new plan. And so he has.

Perhaps anticipating the  Mueller Meltdown,  Schiff unveiled Plan R in his opening statement as Chair of the House Intelligence Committee.  His theory? President Trump was “disloyal”:

“Disloyalty to country. Those are strong words. But how else are we to describe a presidential campaign which did not inform the authorities of a foreign offer of dirt on their opponent, which did not publicly shun it, or turn it away, but which instead invited it, encouraged it, and made full use of it? That disloyalty may not have been criminal. But disloyalty to country violates the very obligation of citizenship, our devotion to a core principle on which our nation was founded, that we, the people, not some foreign power that wishes us ill, we decide, who shall govern, us.”

Continue reading

Lunch Time Ethics Appetizer, 7/16/2019: Funny But Wrong, Important But Incompetent, Too Hungry But Still Employed, And Right But Irrelevant

Yum!

It’s ethical dilemma time for a Red Sox fan. I have an opportunity to get two excellent seats for Sunday’s game in Baltimore. It will be about 99 degrees, and the seats are without any protection from old Sol. Loyalty and dedication demand that I go and support the Sox, whom I have not watched in person for two years. Survival and common sense—non-ethical considerations—argue that this would be nuts.

As Jack Benny said when a robber stuck a gun in his ribs and said, “Your money or your life!,” 

1. Funny! Revealing! But still wrong. Campus Reform utilizes a James O’Keefe- inspired wag named  Cabot Phillips whose signature stunt is to get college students to reveal their ignorance and unthinking social justice warrior ways. He typically does this by lying to them, as when he gives them quotes from Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton and tells them that the speaker was Donald Trump. Outrage and hilarity ensues.

This time, he traveled to the University of Miami and presented students with a fake petition demanding that the college remove its famed mascot and team name, “Hurricanes,” because the name might be  offensive and hurtful to students who’ve been “negatively impacted by hurricanes throughout their lives.” Sure enough, many of the students he spoke with agreed withe the premise. Phillips then posted the video of the students making fools of themselves.

Human beings are wired to trust other human beings, and these stunts take advantage of that. Trust is essential to a healthy and cohesive society, and any exploitation of trust, be it for political purposes, financial gain or amusement, damages society.

It’s not worth it. In this case, the same point could be made by asking, “Would you a support an effort to ban the “Hurricanes” nickname as being potentially hurtful to the victims of tropical storms?”

2. “Spinquark” A helpful reader sent me a link to this website, which purports to expose “big tech companies that don’t respect your privacy..that aren’t transparent and consistent in their algorithms and policies or who use their platforms as a type of privatized online government, a government without recourse or representation.” Continue reading

Family Ethics: Three Kennedys Choose The Public Good Over Family Loyalty. Excellent.

Three members of the fabled Kennedy Clan, that of Joseph P. and Rose, JFK, RFK and Ted, Caroline and the Late John-John, and all the rest, have publicly rebuked their vocal anti-vaxxer family member, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in a statement signed by his siblings Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Joseph P. Kennedy II, as well , Maeve Kennedy McKean, who is the executive director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiatives, and calls RFK jr, “Uncle Bob.”

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the former chair of the Global Virus Network. [Full disclosure: she was also a resident in my undergrad House, Lowell House,  while I was in college, and we knew each other a little bit] and Joseph P. Kennedy II, a former member of Congress from Massachusetts, is the chairman and president of Citizens Energy Corporation.

Beginning with an overview of the harm caused by  Americans avoiding vaccines, including the current measles outbreak, the three write in Politico,

These tragic numbers are caused by the growing fear and mistrust of vaccines—amplified by internet doomsayers. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—Joe and Kathleen’s brother and Maeve’s uncle—is part of this campaign to attack the institutions committed to reducing the tragedy of preventable infectious diseases. He has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines.

We love Bobby. He is one of the great champions of the environment. His work to clean up the Hudson River and his tireless advocacy against multinational organizations who have polluted our waterways and endangered families has positively affected the lives of countless Americans. We stand behind him in his ongoing fight to protect our environment. However, on vaccines he is wrong.

And his and others’ work against vaccines is having heartbreaking consequences. The challenge for public health officials right now is that many people are more afraid of the vaccines than the diseases, because they’ve been lucky enough to have never seen the diseases and their devastating impact. But that’s not luck; it’s the result of concerted vaccination efforts over many years. We don’t need measles outbreaks to remind us of the value of vaccination.

It is impossible to overstate what a stunning departure this joint essay (titled “RFK Jr. Is Our Brother and Uncle. He’s Tragically Wrong About Vaccines”) is from the traditions and practices of the Kennedy Family. It, they, all of them, have guarded the Kennedy name and legacy like Cerberus at the gates of Hell. They have intimidated historians, artists, government officials, prosecutors and others from actions and revelations that would expose the ugly (ugly, oh-so ugly) side of  many of the family’s most celebrated members.

I directed the first professional production of a drama about the Cuban Missile Crisis that avoided or debunked the various myths carefully embedded in the official narrative to make President Kennedy the hero of the event, when he most definitely was not.  The play had been blocked by the Kennedys twice. Continue reading

Interview Ethics With Angelica Huston

The pop culture site Vulture has published a long and wide-ranging interview with actress Angelica Huston. It’s a great interview from a reader’s point of view, candid, funny, revealing. It is also an interview given either by someone with no ethics alarms at all, or someone so steeped in an unethical culture that she no longer comprehends such concepts as loyalty, fairness, confidentiality, kindness, decency and the Golden Rule. That’s not all: the rationalizations also come thick and fast.

Huston reveals private, unflattering and uncomplimentary facts about friends, relatives, colleagues and ex-lovers, living and dead. The interview could be used in an ethics course to illustrate how you don’t talk about people behind their backs. Here are some of the many points that made me wince… Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Mattis Resignation

President Trump announced that he was ending the U.S. mission in Syria, and drawing down the troop level in Afghanistan. His Secretary of Defense,General Mattis, resigned in protest, and copied his letter of resignation to the world.

The news media, social media, and full time anti-Trump hysterics, among others, went bonkers.

  • What’s going on here? A President who has long held that U.S. domestic priorities are more important than “being the world’s policeman” followed through on his promise. As is his wont, he sprung the actual news without laying a foundation to cushion the blow. Nobody knows whether the decisions will work out or not, but the assumption is that because this President is the one making the decisions, they must be stupid, evil, or both. This, despite the fact that Barack Obama essentially did the same thing regarding Iraq, except that Iraq gave much more promise of stabilizing with continued U.S. presence. Syria is still in chaos, and nobody can confidently say when and if it will not be. As for Afghanistan, the U.S. has been expending lives and treasure there for a mind-blowing 17 years. What is the mission? Funny—I thought the original mission was to punish the country for sponsoring the 9/11 attacks. We could have declared the point made long, long ago. Is the President wrong to say “Enough is enough”?

I have no idea—and neither do you.

  • Having no idea, not having seen the data, not having been advised, and not being President of the United  States, I have little basis to challenge or deride the decision. But what’s really going on here is what has been going on since January, 2017. Any decision or action by this President is immediately assumed to be wrong. The analysis attached to it afterwards is superfluous. The position is that President Trump did it, it’s wrong because he’s a Nazi/idiot/ grifter /fool, and that’s all we need to know.

This, of course, makes it impossible, literally impossible, to get honest, trustworthy analysis about anything.

  • Anyone who criticizes Trump in public, even certifiable slime like Steve Bannon, James Comey, and Omarosa, suddenly is embraced by “the resistance ” and the news media using the formula that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This rewards unethical conduct, and “Mad Dog” appears to have fallen into the trap, to his eventual shame. As a lawyer, I know it is unethical to drop a client, my employer, and make any pubic statements whatsoever impugning his or her judgment or conduct. It is also unethical to do this in any professional relationship. Professionals know this: I presume at one time Mattis knew this. But having paid attention to how routine betrayals of this President have been cheered and praised, he apparently couldn’t resist temptation.

Now, as a lawyer, my duties are codified. That doesn’t mean that professionals who don’t have the same duties codified aren’t obligated to follow them. Continue reading

The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide, Updated And With A New Introduction For 2018

Once again I am posting the Ethics Alarms Ethics Guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,” perhaps the greatest ethics movies of all time, as this blog’s official welcome to the holiday season. The film is commonly thought of as a Christmas movie, but it really is a Thanksgiving story. Unfortunately, the movie is so well known, so much imitated, so familiar in its tropes and cliches that we really don’t think about it very hard. We should.

The movie is exactly the kind of important shared cultural touch-point that I am advocating when I emphasize the importance of cultural literacy to our nation’s connective tissue. The film teaches about values, family, sacrifice and human failings unlike any other: its power and uniqueness disproves the assertion, made in one online debate here this year, that new cultural creations inevitably and effectively supersede older ones. No, they really don’t, and like copies of copies, eventually the cultural values conveyed get fainter and less influential. “It’s A Wonderful Life” would be an excellent basis for a middle school ethics course. I haven’t seen a better, richer film for that purpose come along since, and I’ve been looking.

I am also constantly amazed at how many people haven’t seen the movie. My son’s girlfriend admitted that she hadn’t at dinner today. A few months ago I gave a DVD to a pharmacist at our local CVS after I made a reference to the film and he had no idea what I was talking about. He said he would wait until the holidays to watch it with his family. I hope he does: he left the job soon after. There are some classic movies that parents have an obligation to make sure their children see. This is one. Despite the many ethics complexities and nuances that the film glosses over or distorts, its basic, core message is crucial to all human beings, and needs to be hammered into our skulls at regular intervals, far more often than once a year.

What I wrote about this message in an earlier posting of this opus still seems right to me:

Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

I wondered about posting the guide again this year, as this feels like a year in which Ethics Alarms lost old readers rather than gained new ones. Then I read it again, and it reminded me of some important things I had forgotten, and I wrote it. I also, as is my yearly habit, edited and added to the commentary a bit. I’m smarter this year than I was last year, and I bet you are too…especially if you’ve been reading Ethics Alarms, just from figuring out how I’m wrong.

I hope you all had a terrific Thanksgiving, and that the holiday season is joyous for all.

And here we go:

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. The framing of the tale seems to advance the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

Yet in the end, it is an ethics movie, not a religious one. George lives a (mostly) ethical life, not out of any religious conviction, but because step by step, crisis after crisis, he chooses to place the welfare of others, especially his community and family, above his own needs and desires. No reward is promised to him, and he momentarily forgets why we act ethically, until he is reminded. Living ethically is its own reward.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. One has to wonder about people like George, who resort to prayer as a last resort, but they don’t seem to hold it against him in Heaven. The heavenly authorities assign an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to handle the case..He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than Heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there— perhaps because George has not been “a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service! Good luck, George!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck

George’s first ethical act is saving his brother, Harry, from drowning, an early exhibition of courage, caring and sacrifice. The sacrifice part is that the childhood episode costs George the hearing in one ear. He doesn’t really deserve extra credit for this, as it was not a conscious trade of his hearing for Harry’s young life, but he gets it anyway, just as soldiers who are wounded in battle receive more admiration and accolades than those who are not. Yet this is only moral luck. A wounded hero is no more heroic than a unwounded one, and may be less competent as well as less lucky. (This is not an observation that one should make in public, as President Trump learned when he made a lifetime enemy of John McCain.)

3.  The Confusing Drug Store Incident.

George Bailey’s next ethical act is when he saves the life of another child by not delivering a bottle of pills that had been inadvertently poisoned by his boss, the druggist, Mr. Gower, who is addled by grief and drink after learning about the death of his own son. George’s act is nothing to get too excited over, really—if George had knowingly delivered poisoned pills, he would have been more guilty than the druggist, who was only careless. What do we call someone who intentionally delivers poison that he knows will be mistaken for medication? A murderer, that’s what.  We’re supposed to admire George for not committing murder.

Mr. Gower, at worst, would be guilty of negligent homicide. George saves him from that fate when he saves the child, but if he really wanted to show exemplary ethics, he should have reported the incident to authorities. Mr. Gower is not a trustworthy pharmacist—he was also the beneficiary of moral luck. He poisoned a child’s pills through inattentiveness. If his customers knew that, would they keep getting their drugs from him? Should they? A professional whose errors are potentially deadly must not dare the fates by working when his or her faculties are impaired by illness, sleeplessness or, in Gower’s case, grief and alcohol.

One could take the position that Mr. Gower “just made one mistake.” But trustworthy professionals don’t get to make such mistakes, not and still be trusted the next time. Trust is easily destroyed, and should be.

Mr. Gower also slaps George on the head several times. Today hitting a child like that is regarded as child abuse by a parent; when another adult hits a child, it’s grounds for arrest. This is one of many examples of evolving societal ethics in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” When the film was made, Mr. Gower’s conduct in beating a child employee was considered forgivable. If the local pharmacist slapped my son, I’d swear out a criminal complaint, and he still might end up shambling bum like Mr. Gower in the film’s alternate reality section.

4. The Uncle Billy Problem.

As George grows up, we see that he is loyal and respectful to his father. That’s admirable. What is not admirable is that George’s father, who has fiduciary duties as the head of a Building and Loan, has placed his brother Billy in a position of responsibility. As we soon learn, Billy is a souse, a fool and an incompetent. This is a breach of fiscal and business ethics by the elder Bailey as well a classic conflict of interest, both of which George engages in as well, to his eventual sorrow.

5. George’s Speech.

Continue reading