The War On Dollar Stores

The problem–well, one of them—with trying to control how other people choose to live their lives is that nobody’s smart enough to do it without making things worse. Still,a lot of sociologists and politicians think they are smart enough.

Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Fort Worth, Birmingham, and Georgia’s DeKalb County have passed restrictions on dollar stores, and other communities are debating whether to follow their example, where laws and zoning regulations limit how many of these small stores can open within a particular area. Other laws dictate what they can and can’t sell, most notably fresh food. You see, the antipathy to dollar stores is based on the narrative pushed by activists that they saturate poor neighborhoods with cheap, over-processed food, squeezing out other retailers and lowering the quality of nutrition in poor communities. An analyst for the Center for Science in the Public Interest makes the argument, “When you have so many dollar stores in one neighborhood, there’s no incentive for a full-service grocery store to come in.” Dollar stores, like Dollar Tree and Dollar General, the researchers say, make neighborhoods seem poor, and scare away better stores,  “locking in poverty rather than reducing it,” as one told the Washington Post.

Ah! Poor nutrition  is the fault of dollar stores!

Oops! Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Pregnant Bar Patron

"Boy, its a good thing nothing human is living in there!"

“Boy, its a good thing nothing human is living in there!”

This one is so rich with chewy ethical dilemma goodness that I had to interrupt writing another post to get it to you.

New York City’s Commission on Human Rights has ruled that bars and restaurants that refuse to serve alcohol or raw fish to pregnant women are committing discrimination. Such a policy by bars and restaurants  violate protections for pregnant women in the city’s Human Rights Law, and constitute illegal bias.

“While covered entities may attempt to justify certain categorical exclusions based on maternal or fetal safety,” the commission said, “using safety as a pretext for discrimination or as a way to reinforce traditional gender norms or stereotypes is unlawful.”

Interestingly, eighteen other states have laws that declare that the use  of alcohol during pregnancy is child abuse.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

Is it ethical to refuse to sell liquor to a pregnant woman, when the establishment is doing so to protect the fetus from the toxic effects of alcohol, or is it unethical discrimination?

Continue reading

Note To Ethics Dunce Norman Lear: That’s Not “Reverse Racism,” Norman. That’s Just Racism.

Norman Lear, Ethics Meathead..

Norman Lear, Ethics Meathead…

On what has become racism Friday for some reason, I read with annoyance excerpts from Norman Lear‘s new autobiography. The relentlessly liberal ( and smugly so) TV writer, producer/director and liberal activist who created “All in the Family,” “Maude,” Sanford and Son,” and People for the American Way, tells this tale:

“Mike Evans, the actor who played Lionel, the son of George Jefferson on All in the Family, wanted to write as well as act, and I suggested he take a crack at the Good Times pilot script. He brought in Eric Monte, a black writer he wished to team up with. Eric (who later sued me, Jerry Perenchio, Tandem and CBS for something like $185 million) came from the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago, so we settled the James and Florida Evans family there. [Editor’s note: The suit was settled for $1 million.] I was charmed by Eric Monte and, having worked for years with Mike, liked him a lot, too. A number of black writers worked with us through the years, but thus far none had created a show. Mike and Eric now had the opportunity to be the first.

They blew it creatively with a poor copycat of a script. But even though what they wrote was a far cry from what we shot, we did not seek to change their credit as the sole co-creators. I could be confessing to a bit of inverse racism here when I admit that it even pleased me to see them credited and paid. That would not have happened, at least not gratuitously, if they were white.”

I have news for Lear: that’s straight up racial bias, also known as racism. He is admitting that he gave excessive credit to two writers for a subpar script because they were black. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Mayor Bloomberg’s Pizza Petard

"No pizza for you!"

“No pizza for you!”

I came thiiiiis close to making this an Ethics Hero post, then I realized that the story was a gag.

But fictional tales pose real ethics dilemmas: let’s see if you can resolve the one raised by this spoof.

According to the satirical  Daily Currant, Mayor Bloomberg, better known in NYC as the Nanny Mayor who has, among other measures, decreed how much sweet soda pop one is allowed to sell or purchase to consume, was having a business lunch at Collegno’s Pizzeria. When he asked for second slice of pizza, however, he was refused.

“I’m sorry sir,” the Currant quoted owner “Antonio Benito” as replying, “we can’t do that. You’ve reached your personal slice limit.” And he wasn’t kidding.

“OK, that’s funny,” the alternate universe New York Mayor remarked, “because of the soda thing … No come on. I’m not kidding. I haven’t eaten all morning, just send over another pepperoni.”

“I’m sorry sir. We’re serious,” Benito said. “We’ve decided that eating more than one piece isn’t healthy for you, and so we’re forbidding you from doing it.”

Bloomberg, in the Currant’s account, then snapped., saying:  “Look jackass. I fucking skipped breakfast this morning just so I could eat four slices of your pizza. Don’t be a schmuck, just get back to the kitchen and bring out some fucking pizza, okay.”

Benito stood fast! “I’m sorry sir, there’s nothing I can do. Maybe you could go to several restaurants and get one slice at each. At least that way you’re walking. You know, burning calories.”


If only it were true… Continue reading

Horrible Thought: The Last Unethical Act Ever?

Asteroid coming

From antic conservative talk radio host Chris Plante comes this horrible thought, just expressed on his morning show in Washington D.C. :

How do we know NASA,  in the grand tradition of former official Jon Harpold–quoted as arguing in 2003 that if their flight were doomed by an unrepairable  heat shield flaw, the astronauts on the Space Shuttle Columbia shouldn’t be told of their certain deaths and be allowed to burn up upon re-entry, quickly and humanely— isn’t lying to us about today’s near-miss with an asteroid?

“Maybe the Obama Administration, in its infinite wisdom, has determined that it’s best that we not know the the truth, which is that the asteroid is going to hit the Earth and we’re all going to die,” Plante said.


For the record, if true, this is completely unethical.

I thought you should know.

Thanks for everything.



Spark: Chris Plante

Graphic: Oh, what the hell difference does it make now? I’m headed to Boston to say goodbye to Fenway Park.

Unethical Quote of the Week: Former NASA Official Jon Harpold

“Don’t you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done until the air ran out?”

—–Space Shuttle Columbia mission operations chief Jon Harpold in 2003, talking about the Shuttle crew then in flight, as quoted by former NASA flight director Wayne Hale on his blog this week. Harpold was musing on a hypothetical situation (he thought) where NASA had determined that the Shuttle couldn’t safely return to Earth.

Columbia crew

Days before Columbia disintegrated on re-entry due to a damaged heat shield, NASA officials met to determine whether Columbia was safe to land despite some damage after takeoff. They decided, wrongly, as it turned out, that the Shuttle was safe. In the course of the meeting, Jon Harpold raised the hypothetical dilemma of a doomed Shuttle and an unaware crew.

Hale tells the story to make the point that NASA’s culture at the time was organizationally and ethically flawed. I agree.

Harpold’s position is kind but monstrous. It presumes to withhold the truth from those most effected by it, on the theory that it is better to die suddenly and unexpectedly than to have the opportunity to fight and strive to the end to solve what might be an impossible problem. Nobody should feel that he has the right to make that decision, to give up on life itself, for another who still has the capacity to think and act. This is disrespect for the values of personal liberty and autonomy, both much in the public mind today.

We each must have the right to make our own decisions about our fates, and must always have the information we need to make those decisions as wisely as we can. Those who fear the truth have insufficient reverence for it. Even the worst information may contain the seeds of victory.

I’m not going gentle into that good night, and damn anyone who tries to trick me into doing so out of misplaced kindness.


Facts: Kansas City Star

Graphic: KCNTV

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

Ethics Quote of the Day: Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith

 “…We really messed up. And we’re all very sorry. That didn’t belong on TV. We took every precaution we knew how to take to keep that from being on TV. And I personally apologize to you that that happened. Sometimes we see a lot of things that we don’t let get to you – because it’s not time appropriate, it’s insensitive, and it’s just wrong. And that was wrong. And that won’t happen again on my watch and I’m sorry.”

—-Shepard Smith, Fox New Anchor, in his immediate apology to viewers after a live police chase Fox News had been showing to viewers ended with the pursued car’s driver suddenly committing suicide with a pistol shot to the head.  Apparently the network had gone to a 5 second delay in the eventuality of such a development, but technicians still failed to stop the feed in time.


Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV. Those of us who saw the twin towers fall saw 3000 souls die as it happened. I understand Smith apologizing pro forma for an unexpected moment of violence, but the statement,

“Sometimes we see a lot of things that we don’t let get to you…”

…is troubling. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Tucson’s NBC Affiliate KVOA

Next  Monday night’s“Law & Order: LA” episode involves “a crazed gunman” who “goes on a rampage at a political rally, killing a state senator.” Sound’s upsetting. Hmmmm...where have I heard of something like that happening?

Oh, right.

Tuscon, Arizona, where the NBC affiliate, KVOA  has decided that residents are not only too traumatized  to view such an episode “ripped from the headlines,” but apparently to be in the same city where anyone else can view it. Station president and general manager Bill Shaw explains that “the Tucson community is still going through the healing process” and NBC’s show has too many similarities to “that horrible day.” KVOA will broadcast the episode on May 17 starting at 1:05 a.m, because…gee, I can’t figure out what the logic is. To make the show as difficult and inconvenient as possible to see for those in the Tucson area who want to see it?  To punish NBC for broadcasting it at all? This is paternalism of the most offensive and insulting kind.

The censorship of the TV episode is an abuse of the station’s responsibility to the community, and if I was in a position to do so, I’d pull KVOA’s license. Who are the station execs to decide what network fare is or isn’t too traumatic for its viewers? Why would a Tuscon resident who would be traumatized by a fictional drama based on January’s tragic events in the city watch the show? Why shouldn’t a viewer who feels up to the task be allowed to see what everyone else in the country is watching? If the episode is a masterpiece, or sets off a national debate, what right does Bill Shaw have to take Tucson citizens—of all people— out of the debate?

The station’s decision is unfair, disrespectful, presumptuous, an abuse of power and, as is often the result of such ingredients, utterly, utterly stupid.

Happy Meal Ethics and the Heart Attack Grill

The Heart Attack Grill, in Phoenix, Arizona, has a medical theme, in keeping with its name. Waitresses dress in skimpy nurses’ uniforms; customers, who come to gorge themselves on super-high calorie fare like Double Bypass Burgers and lard-fried french fries, wear hospital gowns over their clothes and are referred to as patients. The menu features no diet drinks. The new “model” for the Grill is Blair River, a former high school wrestler who stands 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 600 pounds (he’s also a financial adviser at the University of Phoenix.) River now has a $100-an-hour contract to pose for ads and TV commercials for the establishment, including a recent YouTube video which invites anyone over 350 pounds to eat for free. And, apparently, if you are over 500 pounds, they pay you. Continue reading

Rebate Ethics

I  hit the roof yesterday when I found out that we had missed the deadline to apply for the promised $100 rebate on my son’s fancy cell phone. To make myself feel better, I checked with Consumers Reports and some other sources: sure enough, the Marshalls are not alone. It is estimated that 40%-60% of all rebates go unclaimed, to the tune of 4 billion dollars. What a deal for retailers! They lure you to the store with low prices. When you get there, you discover that the price will only truly be low after you mail in a rebate request and get a check in return. But you’re in the store, and have made the emotional commitment to buy. Later, you may find out that the various hoops you have to jump through to get the rebate back are annoying and time-consuming, and easy to botch. If you are busy, you may put it aside—and ninety, sixty, thirty, or even just seven days later, the rebate offer expires.

Are rebates ethical, or are they a particularly insidious form of consumer fraud, using the well-document human characteristics of impulse buying, inattention to detail, short attention span and procrastination against consumers to make millions of dollars in money that was supposed to be discounted but never was? Continue reading