Ethics Hero: Bill Clinton

Clinton and Bloom

A couple of initial observations on an ironic first Ethics Hero for 2014:

  • President Clinton has been an Ethics Hero before, despite the fact that it was his successful efforts at corrupting the nation’s ethics that led me to launch my first ethics website.
  • As always, when Bill does the right thing, it raises the classic ethics conundrum: did he do the right thing because it was right; did he do it because he knew someone had to do right and he wanted to be first; did he do it because he felt he had a duty to do right; did he do it because he wanted to be perceived as doing right; or did he do it to fool people into believing that he was the kind of person who just does the right thing?
  • Good luck, New York City! You are going to need it.

The speakers lined up for  Mayor Bill  de Blasio’s inauguration’s made one wonder if being rude, arrogant and confrontational is a mandatory qualification for being a New York progressive. Continue reading

Bloomberg Is Right About Teen Pregnancy, We Are Right To Condemn It


No, Candace, we haven’t forgotten Murphy and her amazing vanishing baby.

Conduct that is harmful to society needs to be rejected and condemned by society, and society has limited options for accomplishing that. It can make destructive and harmful conduct illegal, but some kinds of conduct can’t be illegalized. Uncivil speech, for example, is ugly and causes discord, and the only way to make it less common is to let those who engage in it know that neither they nor their communication habits are appreciated. The Supreme Court has decided that we can’t make lying illegal, but we certainly have the power to make habitual liars feel unpopular.

When society sends mixed messages about destructive conduct, or worse, tell those who engage in it that they are still wonderful people and that their conduct might be just fine for them, it poisons itself. There is a solid, practical reason for Kant’s Rule of Universality, which holds that conduct that would be lead to societal catastrophe if everybody engaged in it is wrong should be discouraged. If everybody doing it would be bad, it’s a good bet that the fewer doing it, the better.

No toxic social conduct illustrates the folly of hesitating to condemn it more vividly than unwed pregnancy, particularly teen pregnancy. While shunning and shaming pregnant teens was undoubtedly cruel, sending the message that unwed motherhood is socially acceptable is arguably crueler. This kinder, gentler response, combined with the warping influence of wealthy celebrities proudly parading their “baby bumps” courtesy of equally rich celebrity boyfriends, has led to an explosion of births without wedlock, especially in the black community. The children of these non-marriages are handicapped from birth, more likely to fall into poverty,substance abuse, illiteracy and crime; the mothers involved less are likely to succeed in careers or life; government programs, funded by taxpayers, are too often required to mitigate the damage. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Ethics of Bloomberg’s Soft Drink Ban”

Peter, who is a physician, a libertarian, and one of my oldest friends (we met in the 6th grade) from Arlington, Massachusetts, generously responded to my request for his professional expertise and philosophical perspective regarding the New York City soda ban.  Here is his thoughtful response, the Comment of the Day, on the post The Ethics of Bloomberg’s Soft Drink Ban: 

“It has become a reflex response to answer adverse circumstances with more regulation. To a lawyer, there is always a law, or regulation for any and every misstep in human behavior. Of course, we forget that we cannot predict the unintended consequences, not even to mention reviewing the effects of the laws we pass to determine if they are even having the INTENDED effect. Somehow, we believe that it is appropriate to pass laws to deny other people’s freedoms due to the “discomfort” of whiny types who have the connections and persistence to keep whining until they can get someone to pass a law. The consequence of such legislation’s continued passage, at ever more confiscatory levels of our liberties, is that we are legislating our way into a police state, and the widespread acceptance of the idea that it’s OK to deny personal liberty because it makes someone else “uncomfortable.” Again, as RR so aptly pointed out, “the government that is big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.” And this goes for not just your personal assets, but your freedoms as well.

“That said, in this context, yes, drinking lots of sugary sodas will make you fat, smoking will kill you, too much alcohol will kill you, doing extreme sports can kill you, and so on. And as long as one’s decisions affect only himself, have at it. However, when you want me to pay, through my insurance premiums, and my taxes, for the consequences of your stupidity, you cede the sovereignty of your decision to others beside yourself. If you want to ride your motorcycle without a helmet, while drunk, sure, do it. Just don’t expect me to pay the costs of your head injury. Continue reading

The Ethics of Bloomberg’s Soft Drink Ban

It’s a serious problem.”

“Something needs to be done.”

“This is a public health issue.”

The media defenses of New York Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial decision to ban the sale of large soft drink servings in New York City, and Bloomberg’s defense as well, set up a classic utilitarian argument for a government intrusion into personal choice and lifestyle. It is, simply, that the ends justify the means, and as we all know, sometimes they do.

Sometimes, however, those means sacrifice too much: lives, dignity, fairness, liberty, fun. Sometimes employing those means require crossing lines that have not been crossed before, opening the door to more and greater sacrifices that even advocates of the particular measure would find objectionable and wrong. This leads to the slippery slope dilemma, and invokes absolutism. Some things must never be considered as just means, no matter what the ends being sought may be. Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of absolutism declared that it was always wrong to use human beings against their wills to solve problems, no matter how great the problems are. The Declaration of Independence holds that a human being’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness must never be breached by government. Continue reading

Ethics Tales From The “Occupy” Movement

1. Integrity Check

"This week only: half-price on all chicken suits!"

Reports out of Occupy Wall Street, unconfirmed but apparently credible enough for New York’s Mayor Bloomberg to rely on them, suggest that the “Occupy” gang is refusing to report the various criminals in their midst, opting instead to protect the colony by ejecting and banishing them….and, of course, inflicting them on somebody else. Such wrongdoers range from simple thieves to sexual predators, or, as in Occupy Oakland,  the violent provocateurs who have seeded riots. They might not even be banished…just protected.

How ironic. The ethical rot in America’s institutions, from government to the business world, to religions and Hollywood, to athletic teams and academia, manifests itself by a progressive willingness to ignore misconduct, lawlessness, and unethical conduct among colleagues and others within the group, cementing a “them vs. us” mentality that encourages increasingly irresponsible conduct and erodes integrity. The so-called 99% have the same vulnerability to corruption as the 1% they revile. Continue reading

Joe Scarborough, Sarah Palin, and “No Labels”

Joe Scarborough, the former Florida congressman and as host of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, the token conservative on MSNBC, is a participant in the launching of “No Labels” on December 13 at Columbia University in New York. He will be joined by such political glitterati as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Sen. Joe Lieberman, (I-Conn.), former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn), Los Angeles’s Democratic Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Sen. Deb Stabenow (D-Mich.) and others.
“No Labels” is a primarily centrist-Democrat call for civility in politics, that according to its “Declaration,” written by Mark McKinnon (a former media advisor to George W. Bush in 2000 and Sen. John McCain in 2008, who appears to be a paid consultant rather than a participant), is dedicated to countering partisan deadlock with reason and cooperation.

“We are not labels, we are people,” the screed says.”We believe hyper-partisanship is destroying our politics and paralyzing our ability to govern… We may disagree on issues, but we do so with civility and mutual respect….We have a crisis of governance – a crisis that compels us to work together to move America forward… We must put our labels aside, and put the issues and what’s best for the nation first.”

In preparation for the “No Labels” debut, Scarborough wrote a column for Politico, in which he warned Republicans to stop Sarah Palin before it was too late. In it, he variously described Palin as “anti-intellectual,” “maniacal,” “a reality star,” and “ignorant.” Would it be fair to label  “Morning Joe” as “a hypocrite”?

Continue reading