Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/21/2022: Christmas’s And Meat Loaf’s End Edition

Meat Loaf has died. The hilariously theatrical pop singer with the big voice was responsible for one of the great ethics songs: “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.” It packed almost everything into one epic musical journey: temptation, non-ethical considerations vs. ethics, betrayal, consequences and cosmic retribution.

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Absent a last-minute reprieve or a relapse of whatever it is that I’ve been battling, this looks like the final day for our especially lovely, inspiring Christmas tree. I always feel like I’m making the world a little meaner and less hopeful when I take it down. This post, from three years ago, still stands.

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In U.S. ethics history, January 21 stands for one of the more significant pardons in American Presidential annals, because in 1977 Jimmy Carter pardoned all those young men, hundreds of thousands of them, who had fled to Canada rather than risk being drafted to fight in Vietnam. (Only half came back. I am tempted to say, “Good!,” but I won’t…) Those who left as a matter of principle and those who ran off because they wouldn’t have fought for their country under any circumstances (this was the era of “Better Red than Dead,” after all) were treated the same. It was a utilitarian trade-off, and whether the President’s decision was unethical (my Vietnam vet friends said it made them feel like suckers) or ethical (it definitely helped heal the national divisions over that misguided conflict), it was certainly brave and consequential. For example, that single act probably killed the draft as much as anything else.

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Feel free to debate that issue here; I’m not up to it today myself. There won’t be the usual Friday Open Forum because there was one just two days ago (and it’s still open!). Full disclosure: in my fevered state, I really thought it was Friday when it was Wednesday.

1. This video is worrisome if it’s genuine, and it may not be. A young woman freaks out after getting a positive Wuhan variant test result, and acts as if she’s been sentenced to die on the rack and wheel. I fear this is what two years of politically-driven pandemic hysteria is turning our rising generations into: cowards, whiners, phobics and weenies. Her tearful lament ““The coolest characteristic about myself is that I haven’t gotten it!” is particularly nauseating. Continue reading

Case Study In How When Ethics Fail And The Law Steps In, The Law Will Screw Things Up Beyond Repair

Like Title IX, like Obamacare, like so many well-intentioned laws and regulations designed to assist and protect vulnerable citizens or traditionally oppressed groups, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) opened the door for abuse, absurd taxpayer costs, and unanticipated consequences. The ADA was rammed into law by activists compassion bullies who proclaimed that any attention to proportion and cost-benefit analysis was mean and heartless. Here is an example of what else came in that open door:

From the LA Times::

ADA lawsuits are now as common as sex-discrimination lawsuits, with more than 26,000 new claims filed against employers each year. The latest litigants have their sights on the most innovative segment of our domestic economy: e-commerce.In this trend, people sue businesses because their websites aren’t sufficiently accessible to the disabled — because the websites lack assistive technologies for the blind or hearing-impaired, say. It began in 2000, when Bank of America became the first entity to settle a web-accessibility lawsuit. Safeway and Charles Schwab soon followed suit. In 2008, Target paid $6 million to settle a class-action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind, and nearly $4 million more to cover the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and other costs. More than 240 businesses across the country have been sued in federal court over website accessibility since the beginning of 2015. Similar litigation has been brought against universities on the grounds that the free online courses they offer aren’t captioned for deaf users, and against ride-sharing services because their smartphone apps lack text-to-speech capability for blind users.

…According to the demands of disabled users, in order for a website to be accessible, it must use fewer pictures, present text in a format that is compatible with text-reading software and employ design that allows for easy navigation. But the features that make a website more accessible for one disabled group are bound to be objectionable to another.

They may also conflict with other needs. Consider bank websites, which often employ timers that will shut down an online session for security reasons after a particular time period is exceeded. Such “timeouts” could present problems for some disabled users, but eliminating them in the interest of accessibility could impair security for all.

In the process of making a website accessible, questions invariably proliferate. Do certain color combinations violate the ADA because they confound the colorblind? Are certain layouts inaccessible if they’re confusing to users with a limited field of vision? Do the accessibility requirements apply only to the websites themselves, or do they also apply to Web content, such as advertising on a third party’s website? Will website hosts be responsible for the compliance of third-party sites? Must archived Web content be revised to comply? What about mobile apps? Do temporary technical bugs in an otherwise compliant website constitute a violation? What physical and mental conditions will require accommodation? So far, Web accessibility lawsuits have concerned the vision- and hearing-impaired, but future cases could be brought on behalf of plaintiffs diagnosed with dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, narcolepsy, cognitive impairments, paralysis and many other conditions.

The game is to sue deep pockets website owners and extort settlement pay-offs. That’s fine for the Bank of America, but not for, say, Ethics Alarms. This blog could be put out of business by such a lawsuit, and so could hundreds of thousands of others. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Former President Jimmy Carter

jimmy-carter

As its stands now, only Jimmy Carter among the four surviving former Presidents of the United States will be attending Donald Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. on January 20. The others, Bill Clinton and the two George Bushes, will not, if their failure so far to RSVP to their official invitations means what most think it means.

President George H.W. Bush can be given a pass due to his advanced age and and precarious health; not so his son and Bill Clinton. Their absence will be petty and unpatriotic. Jimmy Carter knows what his duty is, and will do it. Good for him.

The inauguration of a new President is a national ritual and a vital one, signalling the support of the nation for a  leader duly elected to take the mantle of Washington, Lincoln and the rest. It is a tradition to celebrate the nation and its remarkable  system of peaceful transfer of power, and not, as I will soon explain to the Rockettes, the individual who will be President when the ceremony is over. It is a day to unite the country after an election, not to further divide it.

For former Presidents Bush and Clinton not to recognize this is no less than disgraceful…specially these Presidents, one who himself won office while losing the popular vote, and the other who never received a majority of votes cast in two elections. We know why Clinton and Bush are sulking. President Elect Trump, in his ugly campaign, personally insulted both Bush 43 and his younger brother Jeb, and Jeb may well regard his brother’s attendance at the Inaugural a betrayal. Well, Jeb needs to grow up. January 20 is about the United States of America, not hurt feelings or family solidarity. George Bush has an obligation to be there, not back in Texas snubbing the nation to get back at Trump. Continue reading

Encore! Presidents Day Ethics: The Presidents of the United States on Ethics and Leadership

It’s President’s Day, and I see that it has been five years since the most popular Ethics Alarms President’s Day post was published. That one, from 2011, reminds us of the ethics wisdom and leadership acumen of the remarkable men who have served their country in the most challenging, difficult, and ethically complicated of all jobs, the U.S. Presidency.

In the middle of a campaign season littered with some disturbingly unethical candidates, it seems especially appropriate to re-post that entry now….with some updates. In 2011, I left out three Presidents, including the current one. Now all are represented, most of them well.

So…

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Presidents of the United States of America:

 

George Washington: “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

John Adams: “Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.” 

Thomas Jefferson: “On great occasions every good officer must be ready to risk himself in going beyond the strict line of law, when the public preservation requires it; his motives will be a justification…”

James Madison: “No government any more than any individual will long be respected without being truly respectable.”

James Monroe: “The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.”

John Quincy Adams: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

Andrew Jackson: “One man with courage makes a majority.”   (Attributed)

Martin Van Buren: “No evil can result from its inhibition more pernicious than its toleration.”

William Henry Harrison: “There is nothing more corrupting, nothing more destructive of the noblest and finest feelings of our nature, than the exercise of unlimited power.” Continue reading

A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 4 and Final): The Wild, Wild Ride From FDR to W.

smiling-presidents

All of the Presidents (except FDR) in this last section were alive and kicking while I was, and so to me they are both more real and less fascinating to some extent. Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, a tendency not to idealize. These leaders are no more flawed than their predecessors, they just seem that way thanks to mass media.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Roosevelt

Three terms plus, a World War, a Depression, a transformative Presidency and an epic life spent in public service: FDR is another President who can’t be summed up in an anecdote, one book, or a hundred. He accomplished enough great things to be a deserving icon; he committed enough wrongs to be judged a villain. (He was pretty clearly a sociopath, but a lot of great leaders are, including a fair proportion of ours, including some of the best.) The only completely unfair verdict on this Roosevelt is not to acknowledge the importance and complexity of his life. Here are some of my favorite items about him:

  • FDR wrote down a plan when he was still in school outlining the best way for him to become President. The plan was essentially to follow his distant cousin Theodore’s career steps: Harvard, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, Vice-Presidential candidate, and President. (He skipped “Rough Rider.”) Amazingly, he followed it, and it worked.
  • Conventional wisdom holds that FDR’s polio transformed his character, and that without that crisis and challenge he would have been content to be a rich dilettante. I doubt it, but there is no question that he fits the Presidential survivor template, and that his ordeal made him stronger, more formidable and more determined.
  • Many Presidents had strong mothers, especially, for some reason, many of our Chief Executives from Roosevelt to Obama. Franklin’s mom, however, wins the prize. It’s amazing Eleanor didn’t murder her. But Mrs. Roosevelt is why Eleanor was there in the first place: all of our Presidents raised by strong mothers married very strong wives.
  • If a computer program were designed to create the perfect American leader, it would give us FDR. He was the complete package; his charisma, charm and power radiate from recordings and films that are 90 years old. That smile! That chin! That head! That voice! He is one of the very few Presidents who would be just as  popular and effective today as the era in which he lived.
  • And just as dangerous. FDR is also a template for an American dictator, which, I believe, he would have been perfectly willing to be. It’s no coincidence that Franklin was the only President to break Washington’s wise tradition of leaving office after two terms.
  • Political and philosophical arguments aside, at least four of Roosevelt actions as President were horrific, and would sink the reputation of most leaders: 1) Imprisoning Japanese-Americans (and German-Americans, too); 2) Ignoring the plight of European Jews as long as he did, when it should have been clear what was going on; 3) Handing over Eastern Europe to Stalin, and 4) Knowing how sick he was, giving little thought or care to who his running mate was in 1944.
  • Balancing all that, indeed outweighing it, is the fact that the United States of America and quite possibly the free world might not exist today if this unique and gifted leader were not on the scene. Three times in our history, the nation’s existence depended on not just good leadership, but extraordinary leadership, and all three times, the leader we needed emerged: Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin. I wouldn’t count on us being that lucky again.

I left the bulk of reflection about the character and leadership style of Theodore Roosevelt to one of Teddy’s own speeches to embody, and I’ll do the same for his protege.

On September 23, 1932, New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech at Manhattan’s Commonwealth Club. (Everyone, conservative, liberal or moderate, should read it….here.) It was a defining statement of progressive principles and modern liberalism, redefining core American values according to the perceived needs of a changing nation and culture.  It is a radical speech, and would be regarded as radical by many today, even after much of what Roosevelt argued was reflected in the policies of the New Deal.

After sketching the origins and progress of the nation to the present, he flatly stated that the Founders’ assumptions no longer applied:

A glance at the situation today only too clearly indicates that equality of opportunity as we have know it no longer exists. Our industrial plant is built; the problem just now is whether under existing conditions it is not overbuilt. Our last frontier has long since been reached, and there is practically no more free land. More than half of our people do not live on the farms or on lands and cannot derive a living by cultivating their own property. There is no safety valve in the form of a Western prairie to which those thrown out of work by the Eastern economic machines can go for a new start. We are not able to invite the immigration from Europe to share our endless plenty. We are now providing a drab living for our own people….

Just as freedom to farm has ceased, so also the opportunity in business has narrowed. It still is true that men can start small enterprises, trusting to native shrewdness and ability to keep abreast of competitors; but area after area has been preempted altogether by the great corporations, and even in the fields which still have no great concerns, the small man starts with a handicap. The unfeeling statistics of the past three decades show that the independent business man is running a losing race. Perhaps he is forced to the wall; perhaps he cannot command credit; perhaps he is “squeezed out,” in Mr. Wilson’s words, by highly organized corporate competitors, as your corner grocery man can tell you.

Recently a careful study was made of the concentration of business in the United States. It showed that our economic life was dominated by some six hundred odd corporations who controlled two-thirds of American industry. Ten million small business men divided the other third. More striking still, it appeared that if the process of concentration goes on at the same rate, at the end of another century we shall have all American industry controlled by a dozen corporations, and run by perhaps a hundred men. Put plainly, we are steering a steady course toward economic oligarchy, if we are not there already.

Clearly, all this calls for a re-appraisal of values.

So Franklin Roosevelt re-appraised them: Continue reading

“Argo” and the Horrible Thought

Thanks a bunch, Ben.

Thanks a bunch, Ben.

“Argo” prompted a disturbing thought that has been haunting me since I saw the picture. I am sorry that I had the thought, and hoped that it had been successfully banished by time and hope. Unfortunately, the juxtaposition of “Argo” winning the Best Picture Oscar combined with the inappropriate and intrusive appearance of Michelle Obama to announce it, complete with a politics-tinged speech that was as gratuitous as it was manipulative, caused that thought to begin burning in my brain again. Alas, here it is.

At the conclusion of “Argo,” former President Carter is heard emphasizing the obvious, that in 1980 he would have loved to have taken credit for the audacious  rescue of the six American Embassy workers from Iran that was engineered by his CIA. But, Carter says, do so would have endangered the remaining hostages, and though it would have helped his politically besieged Presidency (which was lost to Ronald Reagan that same year, in part because of Carter’s perceived weakness in handling the hostage crisis), giving all of the credit to Canada was the right and responsible thing to do.

I am no admirer of Jimmy Carter’s policies, personality, Presidency or leadership. He is, however, an ethical man. He was President before the hyper-partisanship that has rotted our politics, before the “perpetual campaign” style of leadership launched by Clinton, and before every act by every main stage player in Washington appeared to be dictated by the need to hold power, rather than by the needs of the people. My horrible thought is that I believe the current President and his  Machiavellian political advisors would not have done as Carter did, if the “Argo” scenario played out in 2012, as that Presidential election approached. This White House, facing the prospect of defeat, would find a way to leak its participation in the successful rescue, judging its retention of power a higher goal than protecting the hostages that may well have died anyway.

I wish I didn’t have this thought, but I cannot banish it. The unseemly chest-thumping and credit-grabbing over the killing of Bin Laden, the leaking of details about the deliberations leading to it, the deceptive handling of the Benghazi disaster, and yes, the inability of the President’s political strategists to resist attaching the President or his wife to anything remotely positive—even the Academy Awards— while refusing to accept responsibility for any mistake, miscalculation or failure (See Bob Woodward on the disinformation campaign regarding the looming sequester, beginning with Obama’s outright lie in the third Presidential debate, “The sequester is not something that I’ve proposed.”), all have me convinced that the days when we can trust a President to risk his own grip on power for the good of the country are gone, perhaps forever.

As I said, it is a horrible thought, and I fervently wish I didn’t have it. I want to trust and admire our nation’s leaders, the President most of all. But the leaders of both parties have earned this level of distrust, and I see no signs that they are capable of making that horrible thought, and other too, go away.

Why Journalists Can’t Shoot Straight

George probably wasn’t lying, but Bill sure was.

The issue in the Washington Post’s weekly Outlook section concerned the virtues and dangers of honesty in a Presidential campaign, a matter that interests me from the perspective of ethics, presidential history, and citizenship. Two Post reporters were given the assignment of creating sidebars to the main article, one on candidates who told the truth and were punished for it, the other on campaign lies that came back to haunt the Presidents involved.

These are not difficult assignments, by any means. Either would be a legitimate term paper topic for a high school senior’s history class; both would be rejected as a history major’s thesis topic as overly simplistic. Yet both Rachel Weiner and Aaron Blake botched their tasks, and would have earned D’s at best in high school history, and that’s only because of grade inflation. The reasons for their failures exemplify the inadequacy of the mainstream media for the job we need it to do during a Presidential election.

Continue reading

The GSA Spending Scandal, Panetta, Biden, the Obama Administration Culture

Outrageous! Why would the GSA have to hire this clown? Talk about “carrying coals to Newcastle…”

That the GSA’s spending 0ver $800,000 on a Vegas staff fling masquerading as a working conference was unethical and an example of government agency arrogance at its worst seemed so obvious to me that I was going to eschew commentary entirely. When Newt Gingrich, Eric Holder and Kim Kardashian would likely understand what is wrong with any conduct, my analysis is superfluous. However, here are a few observations regarding the more critical issue of what this episode teaches us about the Obama Administration, the culture it has fostered and its leadership:

  • I do not think it is unfair to consider whether  the General Services Administration scandal might be a direct result of the culture in the Obama Administration generally. The overwhelming  impression left by the entire administration from the top down is that austerity is for everyone else. The message sent by continued unnecessary and profligate spending at all levels of the government was bound to be taken as a general green light to be abused by someone, and that someone happened to be at the GSA. Of course, there may be other someones who haven’t been found out yet. Continue reading

Oh, Shut Up, Rush.

I tuned in to Rush Limbaugh this afternoon expecting what I got, but hoping otherwise. Sure enough, Limbaugh spent the first half-hour of his broadcast mocking President Obama for taking “single-handed” credit for Osama bin Laden’s death, counting the number of times the President uttered the words “me,” “I,” “my,” and “mine,” and minimizing any credit due to the Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief when the nation he leads finally accomplishes something it has been trying to do for a decade.

The President of the United States gets the blame and is held accountable for gas prices he cannot control, international upheavals, incompetent local disaster management after hurricanes, economic meltdowns caused by lazy regulators, irresponsible investors, unqualified homeowners and greedy business executives, the botched clean-up of unprecedented oil spills, the abuse of prisoners by hillbilly soldiers thousands of miles away, and every other  social, societal and economic ill imaginable. That’s his job, and he wanted it: fair or not, he has to take it. Continue reading

Unethical Website of the Month: Wonkette

That's right, Wonkette---GET HIM!!!

Wonkette the left-leaning political snark site, showed its true colors ( I flagged the site as ethically unbearable in a post six years ago, when it defended Dan Rather during “Memogate”) when it allowed editor Jack Steuf to post “satire” early this week  ridiculing Sarah Palin’s toddler son Trig, who is a Down Syndrome child. Entitled “Greatest Living American: A Children’s Treasury of Trig Crap On His Birthday,” the post contains sick-humor jokes about the 3-year-old ( After quoting from a Palin posted birthday poem for Trig referencing his dreams, Steuf snickers, “What’s he dreaming about? Nothing! He’s retarded!”) and proceeds to use the child as its target while demeaning Palin.  A sample:

“That strange man yelling unintelligibly at Sarah Palin? He’s merely a lowly shepherd proclaiming the birth of our savior. Today is the day we come together to celebrate the snowbilly grifter’s magical journey from Texas to Alaska to deliver to the America the great gentleman scholar Trig Palin. Is Palin his true mother? Or was Bristol? (And why is it that nobody questions who the father is? Because, either way, Todd definitely did it.) Continue reading