The False Lesson Of The GOP Failure To Replace Obamacare

They called off the Charge of the Light Brigade, the incompetent fools!”

Ethics Alarms feels obligated to state what should be obvious, but increasingly is not, as abuse is heaped on the Republican House and President Trump for failing to be able, for now at least, to agree on a replacement/repeal/fix for the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare” its close friends….enemies too, come to think of it.

The headlines on stories all over the web describe the lack of a GOP bill are brutal:The failure of the Republican health care bill reveals a party unready to govern (Vox)…Republicans Land a Punch on Health Care, to Their Own Face (New York Times)…Inside the GOP’s Health Care Debacle (Politico). Those are the nicest ones. The conservative media’s headlines are even more contemptuous. This only reflects how much the prevailing delusion on the Left and by extension the Left’s lapdog media and punditry, has infected political common sense, leaving a Bizarro World* sensibility about what ethical governing is about.

It may be futile to point this out from this obscure corner of the web, but hell, I’m a fan of quixotic endeavors: the House health care bill was a bad bill. Virtually everyone who examined it thought so. If the thing had somehow been passed by the Senate (it wouldn’t have been, so this meltdown just got all the abuse and gloating out of the way early) and signed by the President (who admits that he has no idea what a “good” health care system would be), it would have thrown millions of lives and the economy into chaos. It isn’t responsible governance to pass bad laws. (Why is it necessary to even say this?) It’s irresponsible. The Republicans wouldn’t show they were “ready to govern” by passing an anti-Obamacare bill that made a bad mess messier; they would have shown that they were fools, reckless and incompetent.

You know: like the Democrats when they passed the Affordable Care Act. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Second Thoughts About An Ethics Hero Emeritus

challenger-shuttle-disaster-crew

I periodically read random posts here from years ago, to check and see if I would make a different analysis today, and why. It almost never happens, which is good: though I may not trace all of the steps in every post, the systems, methods, models, values and priorities I use to assess various events and scenarios are established and consistent. I also check older posts when I am uncertain about a new version of an issue I have addressed before. Again, I am almost always struck by how closely my thinking then matches my approach now. I am also often struck by the fact that I don’t recall writing the earlier post at all. There are over 6000 of them, so I don’t feel too senile.

Today, however, I read this NPR story, about a previously unnamed engineer at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol who had been interviewed, with a promise of not being named, by NPR after the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded, 30 years ago. Now Bob Ebeling has finally come forward publicly, and allowed his name to be attached to his tragic story.The night before the launch, he and four other engineers had tried to stop it, because the weather was too cold—it was the coldest launch ever— and their research told them that that the rubber seals on the shuttle’s booster rockets wouldn’t function properly in the extreme temperatures. They begged for the launch to be postponed, but their supervisors and NASA overruled them.

That night, Ebeling told his wife, Darlene, “It’s going to blow up.” It did.

“I was one of the few that was really close to the situation,” Ebeling told NPR. “Had they listened to me and wait[ed] for a weather change, it might have been a completely different outcome…NASA ruled the launch. They had their mind set on going up and proving to the world they were right and they knew what they were doing. But they didn’t.”

Thirty years ago, when Ebeling didn’t want his name used or his voice recorded,  he said he feared losing his job but that,”I think the truth has to come out.” After the interview, the investigations, and the law suits, he left the company and suffered from depression and guilt that has lasted to this day. He told NPR that in 1986, as he watched that horrible video again on TV, he thought, “I could have done more. I should have done more.”

Reading and listening to the NPR story, I agreed with him. He should have done more. I was about to write a post from that perspective, when I realized I had not only written about another engineer who had tried to delay the launch, but inducted him into the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor. His name was Roger Boisjoly, and of him I wrote in part…

Six months before the Challenger disaster, he wrote a memo to his bosses at Thiokol predicting”a catastrophe of the highest order” involving “loss of human life.” He had identified a flaw in the elastic seals at the joints of the multi-stage booster rockets: they tended to stiffen and unseal in cold weather.  NASA’s shuttle launch schedule included winter lift-offs, and Boisjoly  warned his company that send the Shuttle into space at low temperatures was too risky. On January 27, 1986, the day before the scheduled launch of the Challenger, Boisjoly and his colleague Allan J. McDonald argued for hours with NASA officials to persuade NASA to delay the launch, only to be over-ruled, first by NASA, then by Thiokol, which deferred to its client.

And the next day, on a clear and beautiful morning, the Shuttle’s rocket exploded after take-off, killing the crew of seven and mortally wounding the space program.

My ethics verdict then? This:

“Can we accurately call Roger Boisjoly an Ethics Hero, even though he didn’t stop the launch? I usually don’t like to call people heroes for doing their jobs. If Thiokol and NASA had behaved ethically, competently and rationally, we would not know anything about his memo or him. He did the right things, as his duties demanded. He alerted management to a deadly problem in plenty of time to address it. When they went forward, he argued and protested, until the decision was final. Afterwards, he told the truth to investigators, so the decision-making problems could be addressed. In his world, in that bureaucracy, this—doing his duty, doing the right thing—took courage. He knew, I am certain, that his career would suffer as a result of his actions. Yes, that makes Roger Boisjoly an ethics hero.”

If Boisjoly was a hero, then so is Ebeling, though Boisjoly spent the rest of his professional life lecturing at engineering schools around the world on ethical decision-making, trying to prevent future disasters.

So please help me resolve a Present Jack vs. Past Jack conflict, by considering this Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

Are Bob Ebeling and Roger Boisjoly really heroes?

Continue reading

Jerks, Liars, Hypocrites, Fools and Hoosiers: 10 Ethics Observations On Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act Controversy

Indiana5

1. The law was passed to make discrimination against gays, trans individuals and especially same-sex couples seeking marriage if not easier, to at least seem easier. Anyone claiming otherwise is lying, or being intentionally obtuse. Would Indiana be passing this law without the Hobby Lobby decision or the various court rulings requiring photographers, bakers, and other businesses to provide the same products and services to gay couples that they do to heterosexuals? Yes, you say? Tell me another.

As GLAAD alertly pointed out, Governor Pence was surrounded by anti-gay activists when he signed the bill:

GLAAD Pence

This is res ipsa loquitur, and doesn’t speak well for the Governor’s candor or intelligence.

2. Context matters. The original laws of this sort (the Federal law signed by President Clinton is also called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) were part of the left’s long range pro-drug strategy, like medical marijuana. It was essentially a hippie law designed to create a slippery slope to recreational drug legalization by allowing fringe religious groups, specifically Native American tribes, to use peyote in tribal ceremonies. Now you understand why Clinton signed the bill.

Oops. Excuse me if I enjoy the spectacle of the clever members of the Church of the Perpetually Stoned—including the ACLU, which once supported such laws as long as they pointed the way to their young lawyers being able to have their Saturday night joints legally but now opposes them—being hoisted on their own petard.

“When the federal government adopted a religious protection act in 1993, same-sex marriage was not on the horizon,” whines the New York Times. Well, competent, well-considered, properly drafted, responsibly passed laws don’t suddenly become unbearable, then fine, then unbearable again with every shift of the cultural winds. The intent of the law was never to protect mainstream religions, but cloaked itself in language that did. It backfired.

3. That being stipulated, the good states need to read their own laws before they start grandstanding. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy just announced on Twitter that he plans to sign an executive order banning state travel to Indiana in response to its Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Yet Connecticut, hippie enclave and bedroom community of rich, white, liberal New Yorkers that it is, happily jumped on the religious freedom train with a law of its own, one that, as the Federalist points out, makes discrimination on the basis of religion easier than the Hoosier version, which only prohibits the government from substantially burdening religion. Connecticut’s law does not include the word “substantially,” meaning that all government-enacted burdens on religion are theoretically illegal.

I wonder how Malloy is going to ban government travel to Connecticut? Is the theory that the same law can be good when liberal states pass it and evil when those bad conservative states pass it? It is more likely that the governor hasn’t looked at his own state’s law.

4. The hysteria being stirred up over the supposed horribles Indiana’s law will lead to is irresponsible. Jonathan Adler explains on The Volokh Conspiracy: Continue reading

Ethics Observations On Mayor de Blasio’s Refusal To Apologize To His Police Officers

Integrity and leadership are not the same thing, Mayor...

Integrity and leadership are not the same thing, Mayor…

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s relations with his own police force could not be worse, and this is not in the best interest of the citizens both the mayor and the police are duty-bound to serve. Can the rift be repaired?

This week de Blasio ruled out one avenue of peace: he said he would not apologize for his remarks following the Eric Garner grand jury decision not to bring charges against the officer who appeared to precipitate the unarmed black man’s death by using a choke-hold. The mayor said…

“You can’t apologize for your fundamental beliefs. The things that I have said were based on my beliefs, the truth as I know it. Can we do a better job communicating, and listening, and deepening an understanding of what our officers need? Yes.”

Fascinating.

I can’t think of a better example of a dilemma where the most ethical conduct is still irresponsible leadership, and thus, from the perspective of a leader’s obligations, unethical.

From an isolated perspective, de Blasio is asserting his integrity. “I could apologize and help smooth over my toxic relationship with the police, but that would require me to be insincere, and I’m not going to do that,” he is saying. He is saying that his constituents can trust him to be straight and honest, and if that means that he must pay a political price, he will pay it. This is admirable, on a human level. Praiseworthy…in a vacuum.

De Blasio, however, doesn’t have the luxury of being ethical in a vacuum. He is the mayor of a city with a lot of problems, controversies, obstacles to effective governance and people in need. The context of all of his words and actions must be his duties to address those issues, and his integrity, in this case, must be subordinate to getting the job he was elected to do done. Continue reading

Twelve Post-Veto Ethics Observations On The Arizona “Religious Freedom” Bill

veto2

1. As we now know, Governor Brewer vetoed AZ SB1062, the so-called “religious freedom” bill that was widely (and accurately) interpreted as support for discrimination against gays. In the previous post, I suggested that her delay in doing so sent a message that was as hostile to gays as the law itself: if she felt the law was ethically wrong, then she should have and would have announced that she would not sign the bill long ago. Instead, she waited to see how much economic damage the law would do to the state, and then vetoed it, not because this was the right ting to do, but because it was the pragmatic thing to do. (As the satiric Borowitz Report put it, “The state of Arizona found itself in the middle of a conundrum today as it awoke to the awkward realization that gay people have money and buy stuff.”) USA Today noted that, to the contrary,”Some political insiders believe Brewer has allowed furor over the legislation to build to thwart social conservatives’ attempts to push a similar bill later.” I doubt it, but if so, Brewer allowed her state and her fellow Republicans to be represented nationally as homophobic for as long as possible to spare herself the inconvenience of vetoing a second bill.

2. Despite the extravagant debate over the bill, almost no commentators actually published the bill’s text in the commentary. The reason appears to be that since the bill is really an amendment of an existing law, it takes a modicum of intelligence to figure out what’s going on. Here it is (the original law is in black; the new text is in blue; what has been removed in the amended version is struck through): Continue reading

Obamacare, “The March Of Folly,” And The Ethical Obligation To Accept Unpleasant Facts

Charge+of+the+Light+Brigade+Cavalry+Charge

Today, while listening to the furious efforts of such liberal talking heads as E.J. Dionne (NBC’s Meet the Press), Donna Brazile (ABC’s Sunday Morning With George) and Juan Williams (Fox News Sunday) to explain why the Affordable Care Act disaster is not really a disaster and why it should be full steam ahead even as the legislation is unraveling before our eyes, my mind kept jerking back to two disparate sources. One was Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly,” the celebrated historian’s 1985 examination of how governments persist in doomed policies long after it is obvious to all, including them, that the effort is not only futile but disastrous. The other was “Peanuts:”

Sincere

For this is what the bitter-enders regarding the Affordable Care Act have become. Because the absurdly flawed and over-reaching legislation was well-intentioned, and because it was sincerely designed to help people who need and deserve help, and because the hearts of those who rammed it through the process, ignoring warnings, systemic checks and balances, prudence and common sense, were pure, the law just has to work. Former White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs literally said this to David Gregory on “Meet the Press” this morning. There’s just no choice, he said. The administration just has to make it work, that’s all. Anyone who has read Tuchman, or who has been alive longer than Justin Bieber, should get chills to hear sentiments like that. Continue reading

July 3: A Day To Honor Custer’s FIRST Stand, At Gettysburg… And Reflect On How Our Greatest Strengths Can Be Our Fatal Flaws

custercharge

I wrote this post two years ago, concerning my favorite neglected episode of the Civil War, when young George Armstrong Custer shocked Confederate J.E.B. Stuart with his unexpected and furious resistance to Stuart’s attempt at disrupting the Union flank while Gen. Meade’s army defended itself against Pickett’s Charge. As with the First Minnesota’s suicidal stand on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Custer’s crucial moment of truth has been largely neglected in the assembly of the battle’s heroes; I don’t think it has ever been depicted in a Civil War film, for example, though there is at least one book about it.

The incident is especially fascinating to me because of the its multiple ironies. Custer succeeded when his nation needed him most because of the exact same qualities that led him to doom at the Little Big Horn years later. Moreover, this man who for decades was wrongly celebrated in popular culture as an American hero for a shameful botched command that was the culmination of a series of genocidal atrocities actually was an American hero in an earlier, pivotal moment in our history, and almost nobody knows about it.

Thus it is that among the brave soldiers of the Blue and Gray who should be remembered on this 150th anniversary of the greatest battle ever fought on this continent is a figure whose reputation has sunk to the depths, a figure of derision and ridicule, a symbol of America’s mistreatment of its native population. Had George Armstrong Custer perished on July 3, 1863, he might well have become an iconic figure in Gettysburg history. The ethics verdict on a lifetime, however, is never settled until the final heartbeat. His story also commands us to realize this disturbing truth: whether we engage in admirable conduct or wrongful deeds is often less a consequence of our character than of the context in which that character is tested.

Here is the post, slightly lengthened:

July 3, 1863 was the date of Pickett’s Charge, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered a desperate Napoleonic advance against the Union line at Gettysburg in what has come to be a cautionary tale in human bravery and military hubris. The same day marked the zenith of the career of George Armstrong Custer, the head-strong, dashing cavalry officer who would later achieve both martyrdom and infamy as the unwitting architect of the massacre known as Custer’s Last Stand. Continue reading

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Show Us The Way

“The operation was a success, but the patient died.”

“We had to destroy the village to save it.”

Massada. That worked out well too.

I’m sure the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union approves of these classic oxymoronic statements, because its members are currently patting themselves on the back for standing up to Hostess Brands, Inc and not giving an inch in contentious labor negotiations that had put them on the picket line. “I think we’re the first ones who have stood up and said, ‘We’re not going to let you get away with it,’” was the message the union’s resolve sent according to  Sue Tapley, the strike captain at the Biddeford, Maine Hostess plant. “You can fight them. You can shut them down.” “Unions have been losing power for years,” added  a striking worker outside of the same plant. “This is an exceptional case. If Hostess had been allowed to get away with what they’d been trying to do, other corporations would have lined up to try the same tactics. Hopefully, this will be an example to other companies not to break their unions.” Continue reading

Custer, Gettysburg, and the Seven Enabling Virtues

Sometimes the Enabling Virtues will save an army, and sometimes they’ll get you killed.

July 3, 1863 was the date of Pickett’s Charge, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered a desperate Napoleonic advance against the Union line at Gettysburg in what has come to be a cautionary tale in human bravery and military hubris. The same day marked the zenith of the career of George Armstrong Custer, the head-strong, dashing cavalry officer who would later achieve both martyrdom and infamy as the unwitting architect of the massacre known as Custer’s Last Stand.

Custer’s heroics on the decisive final day of the Battle of Gettysburg teach their own lessons, historical and ethical. Since the East Calvary Field battle has been thoroughly overshadowed by the tragedy of Pickett’s Charge, it is little known and seldom mentioned. Yet the truth is that the battle, the war, and the United States as we know it may well have been saved that day by none other than undisciplined, reckless George Armstrong Custer. Continue reading