Comment of the Day: “The Death of Raymond Zack”

Raymond Zack

Buck Best, a Northern Virginia firefighter and supervisor, weighs in with his expert perspective and nuanced insight regarding my post on the Alameda, Cal. incident involving a suicide by drowning. His wife Lianne had another Comment of the Day earlier this week; if this keeps up, I will have to call the feature “Best Comment of the Day.”

“As an 18 year veteran of the Fire Dept. and the last ten years as the Officer of a Technical Rescue team that would be responsible for just such a rescue, let me offer another perspective to this ethical question. The Fire service much like many other organizations in recent history are governed by politics and litigation. The management of the organizations are always looking to the risk analysis of any potential situation based of the money that is available. The risk analysis is not based as much on the physical risk as it is on the financial or political risk. Continue reading

CREW’s Top Ten Scandals of 2010

The government ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has announced its list of the top ten ethics scandals of 2010. You can read about them here.

For the most part I like the list, though notable for its absence is the Charley Rangel matter,  the ommission of which reinforces my conviction that CREW is marred by a pro-Democratic bias.  Strangely, the list also fails to include the unfortunate incident where CREW’s former executive director, Melanie Sloan, jumped ship to take a lucrative job with a lobbying firm whose clients CREW had been vigorously supporting for months.

Go figure.

GlaxonSmithKline Inspires a Fun Game For Your Holiday Party: “Forcast That Ethics Scandal!”

Almost all ethics scandals and examples of outrageous unethical conduct are thoroughly predictable, whether they involve individual, organizations or institutions. The most obvious proof of this is in politics. Once we consider past patterns, current conditions, institutional habits and what we know about human nature, the question when a new political party takes over isn’t whether there will be instances of bribery, influence peddling, self-enrichment, and conflict of interest, but only which elected leaders will be caught at it. Sometimes even that part is easy: everyone should have been able to guess, long before they occurred, that Tom DeLay’s ethics-free philosophy of politics as warfare would lead him to commit serious misdeeds, just as the odds against former Florida Rep. Alan Grayson running a fair or civil campaign for re-election were prohibitively high. Similarly, sports scandals can usually be seen coming a long way off. Once New England Patriots coach Bill Belichik was caught making surreptitious videos of his team’s opponents’ practices, it was easy to guess that he wasn’t the only one, and that since both he and his team were so successful, it would be only a matter of time before a similar incident came to light. And it did, last week.

As I look through various Ethics Alarms posts, it is striking how many of them could have been written in advance, in fill-in-the-blank format. All you need to do is identify an industry with a history of ethics problems, a weak ethics culture, a trusting, under-informed audience, the potential for increased profit, power or influence, and a large population of corruptible, lazy, incompetent, venal, ambitious or cowardly allies. I’m sure a computer program could be developed, but for this holiday season, why not forecast next year’s ethics scandals as a party game? Challenge your guests: Which TV reality show will be shown to have completely manipulated “reality”? Which revered sports figure will be disgraced in a sex or drug scandal? Which Wall Street firm will be caught violating the “sacred principles” posted on its website? Which school will suspend or expel a student for violating the letter of an overly broad and horribly-written rule without actually doing anything wrong? Which universally accepted scientific research will turn out to be the result of manipulated data? Which embarrassments of the Obama Administration will only be reported by Fox News, and which outrages committed by Republicans will the same network ignore?

And, of course, where will TSA employees put their hands next?

This occurred to me as I read about the recent Big Pharma-manipulating-medical-practice scandal, involving drug giant GlaxonSmithKline, while slapping my forehead and shouting, “Of course! This was the logical next step!” Continue reading

The Arizona Statute Injunction Ethics Verdict: Judge—Right; Arizona—Right; Federal Government—Unethical

I was waiting at a long line in a local CVS, with no clerk in sight. It was late at night; a couple of my fellow customers actually shouted for assistance. We had been there with no service for more than ten minutes, and not a single employee was in evidence. Finally, I stepped out of line—past a police officer, who was also waiting, grabbed the microphone on the counter, turned it on, and announced in stentorian tones: “There is a long line at the check-out counter! Will a CVS employee please report to the front of the store? Thank you!”

The line of people applauded. The police officer smiled and gave me a thumbs up. The clerk, full of apologies, arrived and began taking our money.

Did I have a legal right to use the microphone? No, I did not. But I still did the right thing, and I would do it again.

This is, I believe, the proper way to think about the federal judge’s decision today to block the key provisions in the Arizona anti-illegal immigration law until further examination by the courts. Continue reading

CNN’s Ocatavia Nasr: Another Victim of Cognitive Dissonance

Octavia Nasr, a CNN editor and reporter for two decades, just got her walking papers for a 140-character tweet reading, “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” The problem is that this particular “giant” was an anti-American, anti-Israeli terrorist who advocated suicide bombings and who encouraged terrorist acts by Hezbollah. In an explanatory blog post that failed to save her job, Nasr blamed the limitations of Twitter, and explained that she didn’t really admire him, just his stance against the abuse of Muslim women.

Maybe. Continue reading

Crash the Tea Party Today, Teach America’s Youth Tomorrow?

Jason Levin is a media lab technology teacher at the Conestoga Middle School in Beaverton, Oregon, and for all I know, a good one. Jason Levin is also a passionate political activist whose sense of fair politics is a little bit skewed: he has gained notoriety through his plan, detailed on his website, to discredit and undermine the political movement through a series of unethical tactics, such as infiltrating rallies and shouting racist and homophobic slogans, seeking out reporters and making wild claims posing as Tea Party advocates, holding mis-spelled signs, and dressing in Nazi uniforms.

Needless to say (I hope), Levin’s idea of political warfare is unethical in every way. Misleading the public and media about a party or group rather than contesting its positions on the merits is dishonest and a disgrace to the democratic system. Continue reading

Climate Science Ethics: The Lovelock Interview

James Lovelock, 90, is a legendary scientist, environmentalist and futurist. He has just given a lengthy interview in which he opines about the recent scandals in climate science, the value of skeptics, the limitations of political solutions to big problems, and the inherent uncertainty of science. The interview is remarkable for what it reveals about this independent scientist’s honesty, integrity, respect for adverse opinions and understanding of human nature. It is also that true rarity, an assessment of climate change that is measured, reasonable,  persuasive, and logical.

You can read the whole interview here, and the key statements  here.

The Marcelas Owens Bias Test: What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The photo in question, which you can see here, shows young Marcelas Owens being embraced by Vice President Joe Wash-My-Mouth-Out -With-Soap Biden as President Obama signs the health care reform bill.

If you see nothing wrong with using an 11-year-old boy who has lost his mother as a PR prop, go to the back of the ethics class. Sure, Marcelas probably enjoyed the trip to Washington and all the attention. Those microcephalics (pin-heads, in carny-speak) who used to be exhibited in circus freak shows enjoyed the attention too. But an 11-year-old cannot give consent to being used as a cynical political “freak” to tug at the heart strings and convince easily swayed people with an intellectually dishonest inference. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week

“Let me just make this point, John, because we’re not campaigning anymore.  The election is over.”

———-President Barack Obama at the so-called “Health Care Summit” at Blair House, in response to Sen. John McCain’s complaint that the process used to craft the Presidents’ health care reform bill expressly violated promises Obama made during the 2008 campaign. Continue reading