Three Terrible Tales From the Busted Ethics Alarms Files…

An unfortunate side-effect of writing Ethics Alarms is becoming aware of such stunningly unethical conduct in all reaches of American society that it risks sending me into despair. I have no illusions about my level of influence over the problem—virtually nil—and the mounting evidence, often bolstered by the tenor of the comments to some posts, that our society does a poor job installing functioning ethical reflexes is both frightening and intriguing. What percentage of the American public go through their lives without functioning ethics alarms, and how do we tell who they are in time to protect ourselves?

As to the first question, I have no idea, but I suspect it is disturbingly high. The second question is even more difficult. Fear of consequences keeps most unethical people from revealing themselves until they face a crisis or an opportunity too tempting to resist. Then they do things like this: Continue reading

The Incredibly Unethical BP Boycott

Readers of Ethics Alarms know that I think boycotting is at best economic bullying, at worst a non-violent form of terrorism, and generally unethical except in cases so rare that they are difficult to imagine. The current BP boycott is close to the worst variety, blunt and destructive mob anger akin to the reaction of the excitable citizens of Homer Simpson’s Springfield, whose solution to every crisis seems to be a riot.

BP was outrageously and perhaps criminally negligent in creating the conditions that led to the Gulf oil spill, and it is right and just that the burden of accountability and responsibility has fallen on them. And it certainly has fallen on them: as much as every citizen of the United States may want to personally kick the company while it is prone, the fact is that the dire consequences of its misconduct are already overwhelming, both long and short-term. Right now, the Gulf states are still dependent on the diligence and expertise of the company to try to limit the damage it has caused, and the company is, if only for its own survival, doing the best it can to succeed. This fact alone would make a public boycott of BP at this time senseless and counter-productive.

The boycott is also unfair. Continue reading

Easy Call: Prof. Yoo’s Secret Class

Prof. John Yoo of the University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall  School of Law can’t do anything these days without attracting controversy, whether it be writing a book or appearing on The Daily Show. Yoo, you may recall, is the former Bush administration lawyer responsible for writing key legal advisory opinions justifying the use of waterboarding and other extreme measures to interrogate captured terrorists and suspects of terrorist activity. Since joining the law school faculty, he has been more or less continuously attacked by students, critics and protesters who believe that the memos he authored compel his dismissal, disbarment, prosecution as a war criminal, or worse.

Now Berkeley is being criticized for allowing Yoo to hold his spring semester Constitutional Law class in a secret location known only to class members. Anti-Yoo protesters demand to be permitted to disrupt his class in the name of free speech and campus discourse. Yoo, in his typically provocative fashion, says they are welcome to attend his class once they get admitted to the law school and pay their tuition. Continue reading

“Operation Chokehold” and the Protest Ethics Checklist

Some disgruntled iPhone users are trying to organize a protest by paralyzing the ATT network with a flood of data this Friday. The mastermind is the so-called “fake Steve Jobs,” Dan Lyons, who calls his protest “Operation Chokehold.”

Blogger Lauren Weinstein [special thanks to Gabe Goldberg for the tip] has effectively identified this juvenile plan for what it is, namely “childish, stupid, irresponsible, and potentially extremely dangerous.”  Continue reading