Comment Of The Day: “Two Public School Educators Duke It Out In Class: What’s Going On Here?”

Recently minted Ethics Alarms participant Ryan Harkins has his first Comment of the Day, and when I read it, I knew it would not be his last. This one does what my favorite comments do: pick up the baton from my original post, and carry it down the track (or, in some cases, throw it into the crowd.) The topic was the classroom fistfight in an Atlanta middle school.

Here is Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day on the post,Two Public School Educators Duke It Out In Class: What’s Going On Here?”:

Jack, the only quibble I have is when you say that you don’t care what the fight was about. I think it is important to learn what the fight was about, because then it gets us into the heads of the combatants, and that is what allows us to start the investigation that goes all the way up. The reason I think this requires a little explanation, so please forgive the lengthy rambling to follow.

I have to admit, my bias in this matter comes from dealing with incident investigations at my refinery, and the various training courses we’ve received in how to conduct such investigations. The one that really stands out the most is called “Latent Cause Analysis”, championed by Robert Nelms. The premise is that all incidents, even if we are speaking of a pump aggressively disassembling itself, ultimately are traced back to human causes. In the case of a pump, yes entropy will eventually have its way with the best-built pump in the world, but the reason the pump failed while it was in service causing a major incident is rooted in human causes.

Continue reading

Post-Debate Ethics, The Final Question: Will The GOP Be Unethical If It Rejects Trump?

Republican_Party

When I first planned this post, I had seen only one column that argued that the GOP could not fairly refuse to nominate Donald Trump if he comes to the convention having won the most primary contests and delegates. Since then, I have read many more, as well as statements from various Republican leaders to that effect.

All of them are very, very wrong.

In the law, we look at this as a “who is the client?” question. To whom does the Republican Party owe its primary loyalties? What is the party’s purpose, and how does it best accomplish it? The answers to these question dictate its actions regarding Donald Trump’s fate.

Neither the election process nor the nominating process involve direct democracy. If the only purpose was to determine which candidate the citizens who consider themselves Republicans want to have on the ticket, a national primary would do the trick, and the party would barely be anything but a bystander. That is not the objective, however. The objective is to identify the most qualified and competent individual who represents the values of the Republican Party, and who has, in the judgment of professionals whose job is to discern such things, the best chance of winning, and to present him (or her) to the American public for their judgment, in order to maximize the likelihood of a fit and admirable citizen undertaking the awesome responsibility of leading the United States of America, and ensuring the success and survival of the nation, as well as the vital principles it represents to the world.

In the pursuit of this objective, the Republican Party has many stakeholders..itself, to begin with.  As a public institution, the party’s survival depends on the public perception that it is performing its duty competently and with the dignity and transparency such a role requires. Another group of stakeholders are its citizen members, who joined the party, contribute to it, volunteer their time, and give the benefit of many doubts to the party’s candidates in the polling booth. These citizens expect the party not to embarrass them, at a minimum, and ideally to actually accomplish some of the goals and policy measures the party’s principles support.

Non-Republicans are also stakeholders. If the parties do not do perform their duties with seriousness, diligence and skill, then the citizens will be faced with poor choices and unsatisfactory alternatives  on election day.

Ultimately, the Republican Party, like the Democratic Party, must regard its most important stakeholder as the United States of America. The President is both the symbol of the nation abroad and the embodiment of its hopes, ideals, history and continuity domestically. If the parties choose their candidates irresponsibly, then the nation itself is at risk. And as history has shown again and again, the world needs a vibrant and thriving United States of America. The planet itself has a stake in how well the Republican Party does its duty.

In the priority of Republican Party stakeholders, or “clients,” the candidates themselves are at the very bottom of the list. They exist to serve the party’s needs and responsibilities, not the other way around. True, they invest their time, money and passion in the task of proving themselves worthy of nomination, and they have a right to expect that the process they are engaged in will be consistent, reasonable and fair. They must understand, however, that the process, in the end, is not about them, but about fulfilling the responsibility of finding a worthy candidate for the office of President of the United States.

In a process that was designed to identify worthy candidates, Donald Trump has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is unworthy. He had, in fact, proven that long, long ago, and the GOP’s leaders were foolish to allow him to run for the party’s nomination. It provides me some rueful amusement to read Senator Lindsay Graham’s comments yesterday that the GOP should have kicked him out of the party. Why, yes, Senator, I pointed that out more than six months ago, and it was obvious then.

Since that time, Trump has provided myriad justifications for declaring him persona non grata. The first time he engaged in name-calling and vulgarity, he should have been given an ultimatum. His personal attack on Megyn Kelly was sufficient to remove him; his conduct regarding the handicapped reporter, towards John McCain and prisoners of war; his attacks on George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, threatening to sue Ted Cruz—on and on, you know the litany. The party has an obligation not to present as its standard bearer a candidate who does not embrace and cannot be trusted to support its values, ideals and principles, and Trump has made it inarguable that he does not.

Moreover, the evidence of his lack of fitness to be President accumulates daily, and at an accelerating rate: Continue reading

Ethics Hero, I Guess: High School Runner Zach Hougland

cross country

Today got an e-mail from an Ethics Alarms participant who hasn’t been by in a while. He commented that he was finding the blog too depressing. Almost immediately after that, another reader sent me this story.

In Iowa, Davis County High School runner Zach Hougland had already won his race, thereby becoming district cross country champion, his school’s first. As he was taking congratulations from his coach and track team mates, he saw another school’s runner stumble and fall, then remain motionless. Hougland rushed back on the track, scooped him up and tried to help him to the finish line.  He said, “It was about 15 meters from the finish line.  I did it for seven meters, so he had about eight left.  I knew I couldn’t help him finish so I just gave him a push and told him ‘You can do it!'” Continue reading

Does A Church Receiving Dirty Money Cleanse It, Or Can Only The Government Do That?

I can see why that $300,000 didn't last long...

I can see why that $300,000 didn’t last long…

For some divine reason it appears to be church day at Ethics Alarms, though I attribute much of the phenomenon  to my #1 topic scout Fred, who has been on fire of late.

David McQueen was the architect of a ruthless $46 million Ponzi scheme. While filling his own bank account, he also gave generously to Resurrection Life Church in Grandville, Michigan, one of the so-called “mega-churches,” as you can see in the photo above. McQueen donated about $300,000 in a three-year period, beginning in 2006, when the church was involved in a building project. See? He wasn’t so bad!

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Borgula is involved in effort to reimburse victims by recovering some of the money taken by McQueen. The $300,000 looked like a nice chunk to go after, so he sent an e-mail to the church elders asking, pretty please, if they would give the money back.

The church said “No.” Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: ARod-Plunking Red Sox Pitcher Ryan Dempster

I’ll admit it: I came thiiiiis close to designating Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster an Ethics Hero. Right after he intentionally threw a fastball  into Alex Rodriguez’s ribs on what would have been ball four, I was ready to write the post. Good for Dempster, I thought, making a statement for all the players who deplore steroids and the cheats who use them and for all the fans who feel that sociopathic, lying, greedy players who have debased the greatest game on earth with their use of PEDs. I continued to think that even after the Red Sox lost last night’s game against the Yankees, in no small part because Dempster put the Yankee third baseman, who continues to play while he appeals Major League Baseball’s suspension of him for this season and next, on base.

I was not, however, thinking clearly or ethically at the time.

Now, I am. Continue reading

An Ethics Lesson From the All-Star Game

It really is one of the most enduring sports deja vus—every year, sportswriters and fans engage in thousands upon thousands of words of complaint regarding baseball’s annual All-Star Game, the 2011 edition of which will occur tomorrow night in Phoenix. This year was no exception, and as is always the case, no consensus or conclusions were reached, except that everyone agrees that the game is mishandled, mismanaged, unfair and illogical in every possible way.

I have been thinking of the game’s plight as an ethics case study that proves a core truth: you can’t do the right thing if you don’t know your objectives, stakeholders, and how to prioritize them. In the All-Star Game as it has evolved, there are competing interests and stakeholders with no clear agreement regarding which takes priority over the other. It is literally impossible to do be fair: somebody always will be disadvantaged, and because there is no single objective either, utilitarian balancing doesn’t work.

It was not always this way. When the All-Star game was first conceived in 1935, it was intended to raise money for the players’ pension fund, the players then being generally paid little more than grocery clerks.  Since the game had to draw as much of a paying crowd as possible to make money, the rosters and starting line-ups were constructed to include the biggest stars and most popular players. It didn’t matter whether Babe Ruth was off to a great start or not: it wouldn’t be an All-Star Game without him in the starting line-up, so he was the right-fielder. Managers picked the team that they thought would both be the “starriest” and that would give them the best chance to win the game. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Ex-Washington Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman

Jim Riggleman is a major league baseball manager of modest accomplishments, one of the forty or so men in the rotating pool that teams will use to fill manager vacancies with low-risk options rather than try someone promising but with little experience. He had a one-year contract with the hapless Washington Nationals that included a team option for a second, which the manager felt the team should pick up now, rather than at the end of the season.

Riggleman believed that he had some leverage. The Nationals have been surging since star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has returned from an injury, and are, for the first time in the team’s  short time in Washington (they were once the Montreal Expos), flirting with a winning record more than half-way through the schedule. But as is often the case with players when a club option is involved, the Nationals saw no reason to make a decision on Riggleman’s contract until the season was over. A lot can happen in three months. General manager Mike Rizzo told Riggleman he would just have to wait. That’s what a team option is, after all. The team’s option. Continue reading

To Jon Stewart, Ethics Hero: I’m Sorry I Doubted You.

Impossible conflict of interest? No problem!

I’m also glad that I waited before posting my article labeling Stewart, the much-revered cultural force who chairs Comedy Central’s satirical news hour, “The Daily Show,” an Ethics Dunce for wimping out in his initial tepid take on the Rep. Weiner scandal.

Stewart is a good friend of the sexting, lying New York Congressman, and for most comedians, leaving a high-profile friend in trouble off of their comic hit-list would not only be acceptable, but admirable. A comedian only has the obligation to be funny, and if he  chooses to be funny without slicing up a close friend in crisis, that just makes him a kind and loyal friend. Stewart, however, can no longer claim to be just a comedian. He has built a reputation as a truth-teller, leaning to the left, perhaps, but still willing to skewer idiocy, corruption, hypocrisy and dishonesty whenever and wherever they surface in current events. This means he is trusted, and that he has a duty to make  his audience laugh while displaying integrity, fairness, wisdom and good judgment. It’s a high standards to meet, but it is also the one Stewart set for himself by reaching it again and again. Continue reading

Golden Globe Ethics: Ricky Gervais’s Hosting Dilemma

Hollywood is buzzing and griping about the manner in which Ricky Gervais chose to host the Golden Globe Awards last night. The L.A. Times pronounced him “too nasty,” and it was clear as the night went on that his pointed and often personal jibes at the film and television egomaniacs filling the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton were often infuriating or embarrassing his targets. There was even speculation during the show (via Twitter) that he had been fired mid-ceremony. Continue reading

Ethics Audit: the Deep-Water Oil-Drilling Ban Saga

President Obama’s ban on deep-water oil drilling in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil disaster pits important ethical values against each other: fairness vs. responsibility. On both sides of the equation is prudence. New Orleans federal judge Martin Feldman over-ruled the ban and issued an injunction against it, saying in effect that there was no contest: the ban isn’t fair, prudent, or responsible.

The Obama Administration’s ethical argument supporting the ban goes something like this: Continue reading