Prison Labor Ethics

Prison labor is an ethics issue that I have never considered before. Apparently that’s true of a lot of people. In Massachusetts, an Amherst-Pelham Regional High School  student named Spencer Cliche (great name!) was challenged to undertake an investigative journalism project, He eventually published a 3,000-word exposé  on prison labor topic in his school’s newspaper.

The high school, it seems, had contracted with a local prison to re-upholster its auditorium seats,  taking its low bid for the job over another bid by a local business. As a result of the uproar sparked by Spencer’s work, the school superintendent issued a statement to school staff members promising never to contract with the prison again.

It does not appear, however, that this decision was based on  careful balancing of the ethics issues involved, but rather, as usual, a lazy capitulation to avoid an emotion-based controversy.

The local  newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, eventually picked up the story. as did a local radio station that featured Cliche’s report as the “question of the morning.” Then the issue was raised by The Marshall Project, a prison and justice system reform project.

In addition to routine prison labor, which is usually handled in a prison facility, there are also state-run “correctional industries,” such as MassCor, which arranges for inmates to do work for  schools, nursing homes, towns, non-profits and other institutions. Obviously, their costs are lower than competing businesses, because prisoners earn less than a dollar an hour on average for their labor, according to Prison Policy Initiative.

Thus we have multiple looming ethics issues, among them…

  • Is it ethical to force prisoners to work at all?

I don’t see how an honest argument can be formulated that argues that it is not. Work organizes the time and attention of the jailed, keeps them occupied, minimizes boredom and the opportunity to get into trouble. Social justice advocates seem to think that prisons should be like summer camps, with sports, crafts, and other pleasant diversions. That approach is both expensive and undeserved. Prison, among other things, is and ought to be punishment.

  • Is it ethical to pay prisoners less than the minimum wage? Isn’t forced labor with no compensation or minimal compensation virtual slavery?

Convicted prisoners forfeit most of their constitutional rights. Some forms of forced labor might rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment, and prison labor is ripe for abuse (just ask Andy Dufresne, the protagonist of “The Shawhsank Redemption”), but criminals are a burden on society, and warehousing them is expensive. There is nothing unethical about requiring those who have imposed that burden to help alleviate it.

  • Are prison-based businesses like MassCor unethical?

 Cara Savelli, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Correction interviewed by the student journalist, defended the program, saying,

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Comment Of The Day: “Memorial Day Weekend Ethics Warm-Up, 5/25/2019: Julian, Conan, Naomi, and Ousamequin”

The Myles Standish Monument

Regular readers  know that there are many superb comments here that I don’t re-publish as Comments of the Day.  One category of comment that is often neglected is the jeremiad, and dire predictions of the dystopian, Orwellian future that the current all-out assault on American values, traditions and institutions will eventually produce. 

I don’t like fearmongering as a tactic; if I ever did, the disgusting resort to it by Democrats as a way to sabotage President Trump would have been sufficient to reverse my approval forever. Nor am I a pessimist regarding this remarkable nation and the strength of its unique culture and the citizens who maintain it. 

That does not mean, however, that I think we should ignore the dangers to democracy that are now building in intensity. In this Memorial Day themed Comment of the Day, Steve-O-in NJ raises legitimate concerns. Remember that MSNBC host Chris Hayes once said that he was uncomfortable calling fallen soldiers heroes.

This is the predominant ethos of today’s American Left, an anti-patriotic, anti-exceptionalism, anti-American, anti-nationalist mindset that really has absorbed John Lennon’s infantile vision of utopia—no borders, no nations, nothing to live or die for—as a driving philosophy.

Here is Steve-O’s Comment of the Day on the post,Memorial Day Weekend Ethics Warm-Up,5/25/2019: Julian, Conan, Naomi, and Ousamequin:

This holiday itself might come under attack.

The origins of Memorial Day aren’t as clear as you might think. The idea of decorating the graves of the fallen with flowers dates back to before the founding of this country, but here it was largely confined to families or, occasionally communities until the time of the Civil War. In 1861 Southern women organized to clean up and decorate the graves of the South’s fallen in Warrenton, VA and Savannah, GA, which leads to the concept that the holiday has Confederate roots. On May 1, 1865, the freedmen of Charleston, SC, led a parade of 10,000 to honor 257 Union soldiers who they had rescued from a mass grave and reburied. The earliest record of Decoration Day in the North was in 1868, proclaimed by General John Logan, Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (Union veterans’ organization). Only in 1967 does Federal statute make it the holiday we know today.

The holiday is not a Confederate invention, nor was that first observance, in Charleston, even about the dead of the South.

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Memorial Day Weekend Ethics Warm-Up, 5/25/2019: Julian, Conan, Naomi, and Ousamequin

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

It’s going to be a Sousa weekend here. The piece above is one I bet you haven’t heard before. President Chester A. Arthur ordered Sousa to compose a replacement for  1812’s   “Hail to the Chief,” which had announced Presidents since John Quincy Adams, although it went in and out of fashion. (President Polk, it is said, always had “Hail to the Chief” played because he was so physically unimpressive that nobody noticed when he entered a room without the fanfare!) After Arthur left office, Presidents returned to to”Hail to Chief,” and Eisenhower made it the official tune of the office in 1954.

1. A First Amendment stretch. Julian Assange has been indicted. Good. He conspired with a weak-minded and troubled soldier to prompt him, now her, to steal U.S. secrets so he could publish them and promote his anarchist website, Wikileaks. The act almost certainly got U.S. agents killed and did other irreparable harm. Assange isn’t a journalist, and publishing stolen classified information isn’t journalism. Naturally journalists are lining up to defend Assange, especially the New York Times, which was the beneficiary of the Pentagon Papers ruling. They see a conviction of Assange the way abortion zealots see bans on late-term abortions: a camel’s nose in the tent, the slippery slope.

The use of journalistic publications as illegal document laundering devices has always been the least compelling aspect of First Amendment protection of freedom of the Press. I have never believed that it was a wise and fair protection, and if Assange’s just desserts weaken the right of newspapers to publish troop movements,  private citizens’ tax returns, and grand jury proceedings, good.

2. Did Conan O’Brien steal a writer’s jokes? You decide! Here is a joke Robert Kaseberg wrote on Twitter on June 9, 2015: Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms Frivolous And Vexatious Litigation Files: The Ethics Alarms Libel Case

Once again, the appellate brief for the appeal in Massachusetts courts involving the defamation lawsuit against me and ethics alarms has been rejected by the courts as non-compliant. This is actually somewhat annoying, as I had almost finished the brief brief in response (in market contrast to the 70-plus page monstrosity that was served on me. It took several hours to read the thing, several days to recuperate from the barn fervor, that is, bran flavor…no, brain fever! That’s it!

having to decipher the damn thing inflicted on me, and several more hours to almost finish my professional, clear document designed to give the poor clerk and judges that would have to read the appellate brief a break. That stalled, because while I am entitled to have the Appendix to the appellant’s brief to refer to, it was too big a file for the court to send to me, so they were making a special file.

So now I’m confused about 1) whether the deadline for my response is reset, 2) whether I’m going to have to start my response all over again, and most of all, 3), how many times a pro se litigant with no clue what he’s doing whose only motivation is revenge and to cause as much expense and inconvenience as possible because I banned him from Ethics Alarms after I figured out that he was, well, the kind of person who would behave like this?

It is a great virtue of our nation and its legal system that it allows amateurs—I was going to write well-meaning and sincere amateurs, but that obviously doesn’t apply here—to stumble around in the courts. After all, lawyers are expensive, even more expensive than psychiatrists. Nevertheless, there has to be a limit, don’t you think? People like my adversary cost the system, and taxpayers, millions of dollars as they play around being lawyer because they are bored, ” a few cherries short of a sundae,” to quote the comment that started this fiasco, without gainful employment, or all three.

Or does my home state assume that eventually pro se litigants will be so embarrassed by the constant rejection that they will give up? Boy, I hope not, because this guy is impossible to embarrass .

Well, I guess I have to call the Clerk of the Court again. We’re getting to be great pals.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/26/2018: ‘Bombs,’ Bicycles And Bullying

Good morning!

I need Jimmy today. (Bing’s on this one too…)

1. They’re NOT “bombs.” I urge everyone to call their friends on this. Until it is established that in fact the “suspicious packages” (the FBI’s current description) or the “potentially destructive devices” can blow up and that they were intended to blow up, referring to them (as the New York Times has done) as “pipe bombs” and the mysterious asshole who sent them as “the bomber” is misleading and, in many cases, deliberately inflammatory. Cut it out. Nor are the mailed whatevertheyares “attacks.” Nobody has been “attacked” until the intent to harm them has been established, and it hasn’t been.

This is driving me crazy, in case you can’t tell.

The news media obviously wants these to be bombs, wants the sender to be a deranged Trump fan, hell, they’d love it if the sender was Trump himself. So they can’t help themselves, apparently, in jumping the gun and dishonestly reporting what is still very much in doubt. Personally, I would love to have it determined that the perp is a “resistance” member pulling a false flag operation, just to teach the news media a lesson, not that they are capable of learning it.

2. Trump’s Tweets. CNN and MSNBC are melting down with faux fury over this morning’s Trump Tweet, which said,

Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, “it’s just not Presidential!”

Notes: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/18/18: McCabe, Brennan, And “Fighting Joe” Hooker

Good Morning!

1 McCabe Ethics. If you want a starting place to find smoking guns regarding the stunning bias of the mainstream media, one need look no further than the overwhelming sympathy being expressed for Andrew McCabe, the senior FBI official just fired by AG Jeff Sessions.

 Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that McCabe misled investigators about his role in directing other officials at the FBI to speak to “The Wall Street Journal” regarding his involvement in a public corruption investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Horowitz’s report on McCabe was referred to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility and the career officials there recommended McCabe’s termination.That means McCabe had to be fired. I never had a job in which I wouldn’t have been fired if an internal investigation showed I had lied on the job. Have you? In a law enforcement job, this is an even worse offense. Firing for cause is virtually mandatory. Of course it is. But here, for example, is “The Atlantic”:

“Andrew McCabe, a former acting and deputy FBI director who had drawn the ire of President Trump, was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Friday evening, a decision that raises troubling questions about the independence of both the Justice Department and the FBI.”

What? It raises no “troubling questions” at all! McCabe had to be fired. The fact that the President had criticized him is 100% irrelevant. He would have had to be fired if the President said he was the salt of the earth. He would have to be fired if the President said he was the spawn of Hell. McCabe lied. The internal investigation said so. He was fired. Good.

There were plenty of other reasons to be suspicious of McCabe. NBC News reported,  for example, that when McCabe’s wife, Jill, ran for the state Senate in Virginia in 2015, she accepted a donation from a political action committee controlled by then Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, one of the Clintons’ closest allies. Then, in 2017, McCabe became a key official in the investigation of Hillary’s e-mail tricks. He should have recused himself: it’s called the appearance of impropriety. James Comey should have forced him to recuse himself. Never mind: the lies alone were enough to mandate a firing.

The news media, many believe (including me), support McCabe because he was a source for leaks—in other words, he violated the law and legal ethics to pass along confidential information. For that, if it could be proven, McCabe ought to be disbarred and prosecuted.

To read my progressive Facebook friends’ rants, as their IQ and integrity declines further every day, the current outrage is over the fact that McCabe was fired a mere day before he could take early retirement. Again, good. A high-ranked FBI official who lies on the job must be fired, not allowed to escape accountability by retiring. Once he retired, the only recourse for the Justice Department would be to indict him. It doesn’t matter that he was a day away from retiring. So what? What if he was a month away? A year? A minute? He lied. He deserved to be fired, not to be allowed to retire. The quick retirement dodge was how the Obama Administration justified letting IRS officials that criminally misused the agency for partisan warfare escape accountability.

2. And this is why the President of the United States shouldn’t tweet like a junior high school student, or like Larry Tribe  Here is former CIA Director John Brennan’s tweet in response to McCabe’s firing”

When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America…America will triumph over you.

It is unprofessional, uncivil, misleading and unethical. However, when the President of the United States’ daily habits make such tweets a Presidential norm, this is what you get: not just a Nation of Assholes, but a government of assholes.

Kudos to journalist Sharyl Attkisson for tweeting the perfect response to Brennan’s thuggishness:

“A guy like this would never misuse intel or his authority—would he?” Continue reading

KABOOM! Brandeis Cancels A Play About Political Correctness Because Students And Faculty Protested That It Wasn’t Politically Correct

I do want to thank Curmie, our esteemed drop-in commenter who is a drama teacher and chronicler of ethics outrages from the world of education, for ambushing me with this head-exploding story from Brandeis University. And my head had been doing so well.

Playwright Michael Weller had received a Creative Arts Award from Brandeis, and when he wrote a  a play, “Buyer Beware,” that satirized the political climate on U.S. campuses the University scheduled it to make its premiere there. The satire concerns a student who discovers the works of  iconic 50s era comedian Lenny Bruce, and attempts to stage a  production in the spirit of the taboo-challenging comic. The production offends  students affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the Brandeis-like university, which worries that the controversy will offend a crucial donor. The script, channeling Bruce (think George Carlin but more abrasive, and not as funny) called for a white character to use “nigger” in several instances. The play quotes Bruce’s famous manifesto against strictures against mere words: “Imagine if we just kept saying these words over and over again, sooner or later they’d become meaningless noise.”

Without reading the script, it appears, so many students protested that Brandeis administrators, proving that their spines and principles were noodle-flexible, capitulated and cancelled the production, when the statements of the protesters should have made it obvious that such a play was desperately needed. For example, Andrew Childs is an Undergraduate Department Representative for the Theater Arts Department and a member of the season’s play selection committee, told the student newspaper,

“The issue we all have with it is that [Weller] is an older, straight…, able-bodied and white man. [ Wait! Isn’t it okay to be white?] It isn’t his place to be stirring the pot.”

What are they teaching at Brandeis? Only certain genders and races can “stir the pot”? Continue reading