[TV is full of reruns these days, and sometimes I am grateful for them, for it gives me a chance to see episodes of favorite shows I had missed for some reason or another. Back in early March, I posted the following essay about the origins of America’s current crisis of trust in our government, and how it might be cured by our elected leaders. Since then, the crisis has deepened, and as I was doing some routine site maintenance, I reread the post. It is still very timely (unfortunately), and since far fewer people were visiting Ethics Alarms in March, I decided to re-post it today, with just a few minor edits. I promise not to make this a habit. Still, trust is the reason why ethics is so important in America: if there is a single post of the more than 700 I have written here since October 2009 that I would like people to read, this is it.] Continue reading
President George W. Bush
Blame Everyone for Infrastructure Ruin: Unethical, Irresponsible Priorities from Reagan to Obama
In the early Eighties, I oversaw an independent study funded by the Highway Users Federation and the National Chamber Foundation called “Transport Tomorrow,” exploring the immediate need for transportation infrastructure repair and expansion in all modes of transportation: roads, railway, waterway, and airports. In the process of learning how dire the need for massive construction and repair was if America’s future commercial needs were to be met, the study commission made a disturbing discovery: urban water and sewer systems were crumbling too. There was literally not enough money to fix all the roads, bridges, tunnels, water mains and sewer pipes that had to be fixed, and the consequences of not doing so would be economic paralysis and worse, disease and even social unrest.
In the face of this looming and undeniably real disaster, the Reagan Administration did—pretty much nothing. Neither did the Bush, Clinton and Bush II administrations, and even the Chamber of Commerce failed to make infrastructure repair one of its key issues. Oh, there were new projects, of course, and when a major bridge started to dump cars into rivers it was repaired. Holes were patched, pipes were replaced here and there. But the full-fledged commitment to the unsexy and incredibly expensive job of keeping the infrastructure sufficient to meet the needs of the nation, and protecting it from the ravages of use and time was deferred, and deferred, and deferred. Something was always more important: wars…tax cuts…the environment…health care. The Obama Administration is following this irresponsible pattern, except it has combined with the profligacy of the Bush Administration to push the Federal deficit into unprecedented dangerous territory. New taxes on just about everybody and everything are going to be needed to stave off financial ruin, and there will be little political will to spend any of the income on something as mundane, but crucial, as sewers.
The problem, however, has become infinitely worse since 1983, when “Transport Tomorrow” was released, and then as now, the attitude of our elected leaders is to let the next guy deal with the problem. Is this responsible? No. Is it cowardly? Yes. Is it a blatant, intentional and knowing distortion of priorities that will threaten American prosperity, jobs, and lives? Absolutely.
Here is a small glimpse of the enormity of the crisis: Continue reading
The Siena Research Institute’s Lousy Independence Day Gift: Misleading, Biased and Incompetent Presidential Rankings
The Siena College Research Institute persuaded over 200 presidential scholars to participate in a survey designed to rank America’s forty-three Chief Executives. There is great deal to be leaned from the resulting list that the Institute proudly released on July 1; unfortunately, very few of the lessons have anything to do with the men on it.
The list shows us that:
- A survey is only as good as its design
- Historians who call themselves “presidential scholars,” working together, could do no better in their supposed area of expertise than to arrive at a ranking that would get most 7th Graders a C in junior high school History, raising serious questions about how history is taught in our universities, but perhaps explaining why Americans choose to be so ignorant of their nation’s past.
- Historians are, as a group, biased toward liberal causes, against conservatives, and in favor of people who are like them.
- They are unable to recognize their biases, even when a list like this one makes them stunningly obvious.
Lists are mostly for fun and to start arguments. When one purports to make historical judgments, however, and the individuals doing the judging are supposed to be experts, there is still a responsibility to try to do the task fairly, competently, and responsibly. Continue reading
Accountability Lessons, Oil Spill Ethics, and Obama’s Leadership Failure
President Obama has shown his inexperience and unfamiliarity with executive leadership ethics in many ways since he took office, but none are likely to be more damaging than his unease with accountability. He had better learn fast.
It is not surprising that so many mayors lose their jobs as the result of blizzards. Budget limitations guarantee that a city’s snow removal capabilities are set to the most likely levels of snowfall and not the extraordinary, once-in-a-decade event, yet when that once-in-a-decade event arrives, it will not do for the mayor to blame the budget or the weather or the City Council or the lack of a magic wand. The public doesn’t want to hear any of that: they want to be able to drive to work. They want the leader to fix the problem, because that’s what leaders are supposed to do. If a leader can’t fix the problem, he had better look as if he is doing everything possible and impossible to try. And he had better make it clear that he understands and accepts that it is his job. Continue reading
Ethics Dunce: President Barack Obama
I am old-fashioned, I guess: I really do not like to criticize this President, or any president, for being intentionally unethical. His is the most difficult job in the world, and requires more ethical dilemmas, more trading off of interests, and more responsibility, than a human being can be fairly expected to navigate with anything approaching perfection. Balancing the interlocking requirements of politics and leadership alone are virtually guaranteed to create ethical missteps
President Obama’s direct campaign appeal in his just-released video to “young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women who powered our victory in 2008 [to] stand together once again” has to be criticized, however, because it is clumsy, offensive, a startling breach of integrity and a dangerous one at this time in America’s history. More than that, it has to be condemned. Continue reading
Essay: Ending the Bi-Partisan Effort to Destroy Trust in America
Both the Pentagon shooter and the Texas I.R.S. attacker were motivated by a virulent distrust of the U.S. government, the distrust mutating into desperation and violence with the assistance of personal problems and emotional instability. We would be foolish, however, to dismiss the two as mere “wingnuts,” the current term of choice to describe political extremists who have gone around the bend. They are a vivid warning of America’s future, for the media, partisan commentators, the two political parties and our elected officials are doing their worst to convert all of us into wingnuts, and the results could be even more disastrous than the fanciful horrors the Left and the Right tell us that the other has planned for us. Continue reading
Comedy Ethics, Censorship, and Culture
(The current uproar over the use of various versions of the word “retarded” by Rahm Emanuel and Rush Limbaugh seems to warrant a reprint, slightly revised, of the following essay on ethics and comedy, a January 2008 post on The Ethics Scoreboard. The word “retard” also came in for criticism in a comic context last year, with its use in the Ben Stiller comedy “Tropic Thunder.” Of course, comedy is one thing, and gratuitous cruelty is another. In either case, the issue is the use of a word, not the word itself. As discussed in the previous post, it is appropriate for any group to promote sensitivity and to encourage civility. It is unethical to try to bully others into censoring their speech by trying to “ban” words, phrases or ideas. )
Here is the essay:
“Saturday Night Live” has, not for the first time in its three decade run, ignited an ethics controversy with politically incorrect humor. Was SNL ensemble member Fred Armison’s impression of New York Governor David Paterson, who is blind, including as it did a wandering eye and featuring slapstick disorientation, legitimate satire or, as Paterson and advocates for the blind have claimed, a cruel catalyst for discrimination against the sight-challenged?
It is not an easy call, though the opposing sides of the argument probably think it should be. And it raises long-standing questions about the balance between ethics and humor. Continue reading
Erroll Southers: Right Result, Wrong Reason
Erroll Southers, President Obama’s nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration, withdrew his name today, citing political opposition. His nomination had been held up by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who wanted Southers’ assurances that TSA workers wouldn’t be unionized. That’s a legitimate issue, but Southers should have lost his nomination when it became clear that he had lied to Congress about an incident in which he had breached his own agency’s security to do investigative work on his estranged wife’s activities. Continue reading
On Frozen Tongues and the No-Accountability Culture
A Siro, Oklahoma school bus driver, who is also a teacher, leaves a fifth-grade student stuck by the side of the road with her tongue frozen fast to a metal pole. The bus driver tells the girl that she doesn’t have time to help her, and drives away, forcing the girl to free herself by slowly chewing her way off the pole. The school discusses the situation with the driver and others who are charged with transporting the children, and declares the problem solved. The bus driver, the school says, will continue in both her duties.
It is time for everyone to resist the increasing cultural pressure to create an accountability-free society. Continue reading
Michael Steele: G.O.P. Ethics as Usual
It wasn’t George Bush, the Iraq War, John McCain or even the economy that made the GOP a minority party. It was arrogance, corruption and sliminess. The smug Machiavellian tactics of Tom DeLay; the just-look-the-other-way tolerance for the Mark Foleys and the Duke Cunninghams; the hypocrisy of Bill Frist and Ralph Reed; the widespread affection for crooked lobbyists like Jack Abramoff; the Bizarro World ethics of Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzalez…the bottom line was that you just couldn’t trust these people not to lie, sell favors, abuse their power, or dive head first into conflicts of interest. Continue reading