Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/6/2018: I See Unethical People…

Good morning, everyone!

1. Good, but better if it had happened six months ago. Ethically-challenged EPA chief Scott Pruitt finally “resigned” yesterday.  He was actually fired, and President Trump should have fired him as soon as it became clear that his pal couldn’t break himself of the bad habits he developed as a lawyer and a politician, including taking advantage of his position for personal gain. There were 14 separate investigations of Pruitt’s conduct, and his continued presence with Trump’s leave undermined the President’s pledge to “drain the swamp.” As several wags said with utter accuracy, Pruitt personified the swamp, but Trump does not place ethics or avoiding the appearance of impropriety high on his list of priorities, and never has. Pruitt’s conduct was also as stupid as it was wrong. He was a villain of the environmental Left, and had bullseyes and laser targets metaphorically covering his body. In such a situation, a prudent individual knows that he or she must be otherwise beyond reproach. Not Pruitt!

The National Review neatly summed up his demise:

“EPA administrator Scott Pruitt had enemies who were out to get him because he is a Republican, a conservative, a high-ranking member of the Trump administration, and an environmental deregulator. But it wasn’t liberals, the media, or deep staters who made him get large raises for his top aides, deny that he knew about it, and then admit that he did. It wasn’t they who made him have an aide find him a discount mattress, or run sirens so he could get to a French restaurant on time. The aides who told journalists, or congressional investigators, or both about Pruitt’s misbehavior weren’t all or even mostly liberals or deep staters. Several of them were conservative Trump supporters who were disturbed by Pruitt’s behavior and thought he was serving both the president and taxpayers poorly. Some of them had come with Pruitt from Oklahoma because they believed in him. The more they saw him in action in D.C., the less they did. Today it caught up with him.”

Good riddance.

2. Wait, haven’t we seen this movie before? Many commenters here expressed skepticism at the accusation that GOP Congressman Jim Jordan had turned a blind eye to sexual abuse  of student wrestlers when he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State almost 40 years ago. Indeed the timing of the story looked like a political hit job, and it may be one whether the allegations are true or not. But now, as I noted in the first post about the controversy, the issue is Jordan’s denials. They rang false to my trained ear, and now there are four former wrestlers who say Jordan knew a team doctor was abusing the students.

It’s still their word against his, but it doesn’t matter. My position, as in the Harvey Weinstein mess, as in cases where fathers are molesting daughters, and in the Penn State scandal and so, so many others, is that those close to the situation either knew or should have known, and often deliberately avoid “knowing.”  Even if Jordan didn’t know, he should have and could have, and if he immediately accepted responsibility when the issue arose, he might have preserved some level of trustworthiness. He didn’t. They never do.

And we know how this movie ends. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/3/2018: Remember Pickett’s Charge! Edition [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

1. “General, I have no division!” At about 2:00 pm, , July 3, 1863, by the little Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee launched his last, desperate and audacious stratagem to win the pivotal battle of the American Civil War, a massed Napoleonic assault on the entrenched Union position on Cemetary Ridge, with a “copse of trees” at its center. The doomed march into artillery and rifle fire, across an open field and over fences, lasted less than an hour. The Union forces suffered 1,500 casualties,, while at least 1,123 Confederates were killed on the battlefield, 4,019 were wounded, and nearly 4000 Rebel soldiers were captured. Lee’s bold stroke had failed spectacularly, and would go down in history as one of the worst military blunders of all time.

That verdict is debatable, but this is not: Pickett’s Charge, as the attack came to be called, holds as many fascinating ethics lessons as any event in American history, and this blog has returned to it for enlightenment time and time again.

There is the matter of the duty to prevent a disaster that you know is going to occur, the whistleblower’s duty, and the theme of Barbara Tuchman’s work, “The March of Folly.” There was Robert E. Lee’s noble and unequivocal acceptance of accountability for the disaster, telling the returning and defeated warriors that “It is all my fault.” The defeat also turned on moral luck, with many unpredictable factors, such as the intervention of a brave and intrepid Union cavalry officer named George Armstrong Custer, who also teaches that our greatest strengths and most deadly flaws are often the same thing, and that the Seven Enabling Virtues can be employed for both good and wrongful objectives.  Pickett’s Charge shows how, as Bill James explained, nature conspires to make us unethical.

Pickett’s Charge also teaches that leadership requires pro-active decision-making, and the willingness to fail, to be excoriated, to be blamed, as an essential element of succeeding. Most of all, perhaps, it illustrates the peril’s of hindsight bias, for without a few random turns of fate, Robert E. Lee’s gamble might have worked.

2. Funny how if you continually denigrate someone based on his color and gender, he will eventually stop respecting you. Stanford University has established a Men and Masculinities Project  that aims to help men develop “healthy and inclusive male identities”—because they obviously don’t have those now.  “We acknowledge that male identity is a social privilege, and the aim for this project is to provide the education and support needed to better the actions of the male community rather than marginalize others,” anti-man-splains Stanford’s gurus. Stanford, of course, is not alone in pushing the ubiquitous progressive narrative that men are toxic, along with whites, making white men the worst of all. Perhaps this might explain why support for Democrats among young white men is falling fast.

Nah, it must be because they are sexist and racist…

3. But..but…settled science! The Economist estimates that as many as 400,000 papers published in supposedly peer-reviewed journals were not peer-reviewed at all. Scientists, scholars and academics are no more trustworthy or alien to unethical conduct than anyone else, but because most of the public (and journalists) don’t  understand what they write about and have to accept what they claim on faith, they are presumed to be trustworthy.

Think of them as the equivalent of auto mechanics. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/4/2018: White Artists, Black Artists, Brain Damage And The Mad Midnight Pooper

Good Morning!

(On the way to lovely Annapolis, MD to present my Clarence Darrow legal ethics program, along with D.C. actor Paul Morella, the real star of the day and the best Clarence Darrow portrayer alive. Paul starred in my 2000 original one-man show about the iconic lawyer-rogue, and has been performing it for lawyer groups and bar associations ever since.)

Déjà vu!  I would write a full post about this, but you can essentially go to all the football head trauma essays, search and replace NFL with NHL, and you’ll pretty much have it. The New York Times reports on a 53 year old ex-pro hockey player whose brain yielded evidence of CTE, and evidence is mounting the the violent sport is doing damage to players similar to what the NFL denied for so long. Right now, the National Hockey League is denying it too:

To the N.H.L. and its commissioner, Gary Bettman, the diagnosis is likely to be the latest piece of evidence to dismiss or combat. Even as links build a chain bridging the sport to C.T.E., the degenerative brain disease associated with repetitive head trauma, and some of the game’s most revered names push the league to take a more open-minded approach, the N.H.L. has denied any connection between long-term brain damage and hits to the head.

The N.F.L. did the same, for many years, until the evidence became too overwhelming, the numbers too much to counter with plausible deniability. Facing a huge class-action lawsuit, the N.F.L. eventually admitted to the connection and agreed to a roughly $1 billion settlement with former players. (That has not kept the sides from continuing to fight over the payouts, amid accusations of fraud and intimidation.) The N.H.L., following the N.F.L.’s strategy of about a decade ago, still contests any role in the burgeoning science of C.T.E., in the courts of law and of public opinion.

What’s going on here? Violent pro sports are popular and profitable, so they will continue maiming players and devastating their families until the public finally refuses to have blood on its hands. It will take a while, and many lives will be destroyed, but in the end, football and hockey are going to have to be responsible, and also held responsible for the carnage their greed has caused.

2. Yeah, I’m being unfair and partisan when I accuse progressives of being hostile to free speech and diversity of views… A hip-hop and R&B radio station in Detroit has announced that it won’t play Kanye West’s music. The alleged justification was the rapper’s dumb remarks about slavery. On “TMZ Live,” West said,

“When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years? That sounds like a choice. Like, you were there for 400 years and it’s all of you all? You know, it’s like we’re mentally in prison. I like the word prison ’cause slavery goes too — too direct to the idea of blacks.”

That’s pretty stupid for sure, but hardly any more stupid than the kinds of things West has been saying his whole career as his fans cheered him on. He’s welcome to hijack a telethons to say, for example, that President Bush intentionally let blacks die after Katrina, but this goes too far. (Someone please explain to me exactly what he thought he was saying, if you have time.) Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, April 11, 2018: Caesar’s Wife At The EPA, Idiots On The Air, And Dreamers Demanding Discounts [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

1. Forgetting to heed the “Caesar’s wife” Principle. Whatever one may think about EPA head Scott Pruitt’s controversial policy directions as head of the environmental agency, all ought to be able to agree on this: he’s an idiot.

Here is a cultural literacy test: How many Americans under the age of—what, 45? 60? 104?—know what the term “like Caesar’s wife” means? When you have a target painted on your back because you are taking positions that are guaranteed to be anathema to powerful critics, like the news media, you are “like Caesar’s wife.” This should communicate something to you. In 63 BC, Julius Caesar, a man on the rise, was elected to the position of the Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of the Roman state religion. The next year, his wife Pompeia hosted the festival of the Bona Dea (“Good Goddess”) in which no man was allowed to participate, at Caesar’s official residence. Publius Clodius Pulcher, a  rash young patrician, snuck into the celebration disguised as a woman, allegedly to seduce Pompeia. He was caught, prosecuted ( not for trying to shag Caesar’s wife but for the crime of sacrilege), and ultimately  acquitted. Nevertheless, Caesar divorced Pompeia, saying, “My wife ought not even to be under suspicion.”  Thus was born the saying, once well-known to educated individuals, that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”

Either Pruitt doesn’t know the reference, or doesn’t understand it. He has made himself vulnerable and a political liability to the Trump administration by the kind of grubby ethics violations so many of the administration’s recruits from the corporate world have engaged in. (And what does this tell us about that culture?)

David J. Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, sent  a letter this week to Kevin Minoli, the EPA’s  top ethics official,  asking the agency to take “appropriate actions to address any violations.”

Among the issues raised were Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental  of a Capitol Hill condominium from the wife of an energy lobbyist (This may not have been market value, the letter speculates, raising the question of whether it was a gift, aka “bribe.” Ya think? You can’t rent a decent garden tool shed for 50 bucks a night…), Pruitt taking an excessive number government-funded flights home to Oklahoma and back (He’s about the 78th Trump official to be caught doing this kind of thing—do these guys read the newspapers?), and worst of all, reports that agency staff members who raised concerns about these and other actions creating “the appearance of impropriety”  found themselves transferred or demoted.

“The success of our government depends on maintaining the trust of the people we serve,”wrote Apol. “The American public needs to have confidence that ethics violations, as well as the appearance of ethics violations, are investigated and appropriately addressed.”

Why yes! And anyone who holds high government office is supposed to know that. Anyone holding high government office in this administration, which is in the position of the thug sprung from police lock-up on a technicality to which an angry detective says before he strolls out the door, “If you so much as spit on the sidewalk, I’ll be there to pick you up,” should know that especially. When they are gunning for you, you have to be like Caesar’s wife.

The President should fire Pruitt for these flagrant abuses. He won’t, because he literally doesn’t think ethics matter. I wonder if he thinks stupidity and unrestrained arrogance matter… Continue reading