Ethics Observations On The Clown Show In Virginia

What a TEAM!!!

I arrived in Austin, Texas exhausted, still suffering from whatever it is that’s been sapping my energy for the last month, and resigned to staying off the blog until tomorrow, a news day, and with luck a healthier me arrived. Then I learned about the latest ridiculous development in my adopted home state of Virginia. My mind was awash with images of George Washington, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe—no, not Woodrow Wilson, he liked blackface—-all doing backflips in their graves. I can’t stand it. I have to write something.

But what? I don’t even know what this mass meltdown of the Virginia Democrats is. And what does it mean? Could it possibly mean that all of our elected officials are secretly absurd, untrustworthy morons? That can’t be it, can it? CAN IT?  Heck, before this, Virginia wasn’t even on my list of top ten ridiculous state governments, then the next think I know, the Governor of Virginia is solemnly explaining how one would go about a post-birth abortion, and then someone finds a weird photo of Governor Northam simultaneously dressed in blackface and in KKK robes, or something, in his mediacl school yearbook, and I didn’t even know medical schools had yearbooks. Maybe only medical schools where they teach post birth abortions? I don’t know. Anyway, suddenly the Governor is apologizing and saying that yes, he was in one of those costumes, then he’s saying that, upon reflection, he would NEVER have dressed like that for a yearbook photo, and he never saw the thing before, BUUUUT he did recall putting  shoe polish on his face that same year to imitate Michael Jackson, but not TOO much, because as we all know, it’s hard to wash off. Which is totally not what Matthew McConaughey promised the whites in the jury when he asked them to make themselves black for a while in that dramatic closing argument in “A Time To Kill,” but I digress. Anyway, Democrats realize that accusing Republicans and conservatives of being racists is the whole ball game for them, so obviously Northam had to go, and his own Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, who is also conveniently black as well as next in line if Northam quit, made comments suggesting that just maybe a Michael Jackson imitator, even one whose act was 35 years old, might not be exactly what the Old Dominion needs in these fraught times, not that this conclusion had anything to do with the job promotion it would involve for him. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “A Particularly Sad Ethics Dunce: Senator John McCain”

I am bumping Steve-O-in-NJ’s reaction to the depressing drama of Senator John McCain spending his last days in anger and bitterness up in the queue of  pending Comments of the Day, which is long right now. The reason is that his analysis fits neatly into a post I was about to write, but will summarize here as a preface.

The impulse to defend McCain’s recent conduct, notably disinviting President Trump from his funeral in advance, is one more in a long line of signature significance moments, definitively identifying late stage sufferers of anti Trump hysteria. (Trump Derangement Syndrome just isn’t an accurate diagnosis, because it suggests equivalence with the more unhinged critics of Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. There is no comparison. It is like comparing a bad cold to the bubonic plague.) The grotesque theater of a public figure choosing, rather than to end his life with grace, forgiveness and unifying good will, choosing to emulate the mad Ahab, screaming,

“To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee!”

He has gone full-Ahab. You never go full Ahab. But because the equally mad haters of the elected President relish the thought of any insult, attack or indignity hurled Trump’s way, the can’t perceive the obvious. Defending McCain’s prospective snub is as clear a symptom of anti-Trump hysteria as a dog recoiling from water signals rabies.

My usual course is to make an ethics analysis and then check the opinions of analysts who I trust as generally fair and perceptive. Here was Ann Althouse’s take, in part:

It’s very strange — these statements coming from a dying man about what he wants at his funeral. I can’t remember ever hearing anyone talking about his own funeral with the assumption the President of the United States wants to attend and then taking a shot at the President saying don’t attend. I mean, how do you get to be the sort of person who, facing death, imagines everyone clamoring to attend your funeral and then telling some of them you don’t want them there? It’s similar to a Bridezilla, thinking everyone’s so interested in attending her wedding and then being dictatorial toward these people.

I don’t understand it…good Lord! What would possess you to think your funeral is going to be such a hot ticket people will be put out if they can’t attend and then letting it be known who you want on the outs?

I’d like to see more dignity and privacy around McCain as he plays his final scene. It’s his brain that is wrecking him. Shouldn’t his family enclose him and protect him?

Those who respect and care about McCain want him to stop. Those who hate Trump so much they are willing to see a war hero and former Presidential candidate embarrass himself to deliver one more divisive insult just regard him as a means to an end.Here is Steve-O-in-NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, A Particularly Sad Ethics Dunce: Senator John McCain:

Continue reading

Boehner, Leadership And The Consequentialism Exception

At the end of John Beohner’s press conference responding to his sudden resignation, there was this exchange:

QUESTION: Can you talk about what you think your legacy is as you’re leaving? What are your most important accomplishments, and what are you going to do on November 1st? Are you moving to Florida?

BOEHNER: I was never in the legacy business. You all heard me say it, I’m a regular guy with a big job. And I never thought I’d be in Congress much less I’d ever be speaker. But people know me as being fair, being honest, being straightforward and trying to do the right thing every day on behalf of the country. I don’t need any more on that.

I will frequently inveigh here against the fallacy of consequentialism, the mistake of believing that whether conduct is ethical or not can be judged by its results. This leads inexorably to an “ends justifies the means” orientation and a misunderstanding of ethics. The ethical nature of an act can only be weighed according to how it was arrived at, its intent, and whether the conduct itself meets the tests of one or more ethical systems. Then moral luck takes over: an ethical decision can have catastrophic consequences and still be ethical, and the most unethical conduct can have wonderful results.

In life, however, and especially in some fields, ethics isn’t enough, and we all know it, or should. This is why consequentialism can’t be snuffed out of our thinking. There are fields of endeavor in which results are the primary standard by which we can—and should— judge whether someone was competent in the role he or she took on for themselves when others could have done the job better. In these fields being ethical isn’t enough, and often is grossly inadequate.  If one is a leader, for example, it cannot be right to lead those behind you to disaster, indeed to fail. In a field that is defined by the successful completion of a task that affects others, failure and ethics are incompatible. A failed leader is a bad leader. The objective in leadership is not just to “do the right thing,” but to succeed at ethical objectives in the right way. Continue reading

Bob Filner Is A Fick

Leroy Fick (L); unidentified woman, (C) Mayor Filner (R)

Leroy Fick (left); unidentified gropee, (right); Mayor Fick (far right)

“Fick” is a term of art on Ethics Alarms, describing the rare unethical miscreant who is not only  engaged in misconduct but perfectly happy to profit from it in full view of the public eye, apparently without shame. The appellation  is named after the despicable Leroy Fick, a Michigan lottery winning millionaire who exploited a loophole to keep getting public assistance. Ficks are the worst of the worst.

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is a fick.

As the number of women who have accused him of groping, head-locking, kissing or otherwise sexually harassing them climbed beyond 18, Filner adamantly refused to do the right thing and resign (call me crazy, but I think even Bill Clinton would have had the decency to resign if a new Monica surfaced every other day for a month), even as other allegations of his misdeeds in the financial realm were being investigated. Knowing the recall effort rapidly gathering steam would cost the city many thousands of dollars, and understanding that San Diego was being humiliated as well as being barely governed while Mayor Fick, er, Filner, held it hostage, the city council has negotiated an exit by Filner, one that requires the city to pick up his legal tab, as well as the damages or settlements he would otherwise pay in any law suits against him arising out of his various incidents of harassment. Continue reading

Anthony Weiner, Gov. McDonnell, Mayor Filner and the Rest: Degrading Democracy, Tainting Leadership

Hey, Mayor Filner, if San Diegans decide they have a proble being led by a serial sexual harasser, you can run for Mayor of New York!

Hey, Mayor Filner, if San Diegans decide they have a problem being led by a serial sexual harasser, you can run for Mayor of New York!

The mandate for leaders and potential leaders who have engaged in blatantly dishonest, corrupt, undignified or otherwise unethical conduct to remove themselves from office or consideration for office is not that, as hundreds of foolish pundits (like this guy) will try to convince you, hypocrites with a keyboard or a vote falsely pretend that such conduct is unique. There are two justifications for the unethical to resign from office, both undeniable and ancient. I have written enough, for now, about the first—that such conduct demonstrates untrustworthiness, the quality a leader must not have— and want to focus on the second, which is this: if they do not step down and away, such leaders and potential leaders mock the aspirations of democracy, insult its underlying hopes, and degrade, by their persistence, the standards of future leadership.

Once, this was thoroughly understood. Leaders who were exposed as lacking honesty, integrity, responsibility and respect for their own office resigned or withdrew from public life, as self-executed punishment and their last chance at redemption. Democracy, as John Adams wrote, is supposed to be a system that elevates the most accomplished, the most able, the most trusted and the most ethically sound to leadership, for obvious reasons. They are qualified to be leaders because, bluntly, they are better than the rest of us. They are also, because they are better, supposed to be capable of sacrifice and humility, and to recognize that power is a privilege, not a possession to be retained at all costs. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Pope Benedict XVI

Celestine V, the last Pope who resigned because he didn't feel up to the job...in 1294

Celestine V, the last Pope who resigned because he didn’t feel up to the job…in 1294

Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he will resign at the end of the month, saying that at his advanced age and current state of health, he can no longer fulfill his duties adequately.

Bravo.

Now perhaps other aged, infirm, ill and declining men and women in important positions of power that they are increasingly unable to fill will get the message and resign too, giving up perquisites, influence, and celebrity for the good of the organizations and constituencies they serve. The current roster of Americans who should, if they were properly responsible, do “a Benedict” include members of Congress,U.S. Senators, Supreme Court Justices, doctors, lawyers, state legislators, college professors, corporate founders, CEOs, and many more. Staying beyond one’s pull-date is a national epidemic, one of the unintended bad consequences of increased longevity and better health care. A prominent role model to show the way was just what the doctor ordered—one of the young ones, who keeps up-to-date via the internet. Continue reading

The Conflict of Interest That Isn’t, But Looks Terrible Anyway

David Becker, the top lawyer at the Securities and Exchange Commission, is suddenly an embarrassment to his employers. He and his two brothers inherited more than $1.5 million in phony profits from their mother’s investment in $65 billion Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Since the S.E.C. was famously asleep at its post regarding Madoff, its negligence and incompetence allowing him to destroy individual lives, charities and more, having a key lawyer at the regulatory agency profit from Madoff’s scheme, even by inheritance, looks corrupt and unconscionable.  Continue reading