More On The Acosta-Epstein Scandal: Leadership, Moral Luck, Accountability, And Scapegoating

Veteran commenter Glenn Logan expressed  doubts about the fairness of current criticism of the Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta (above right) for his approval of a ridiculously lenient plea deal for jet-setting sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein (above left). Glenn’s objections  prompted me to search for prior posts here on the ethics issue of high level accountability for disasters and fiascos. In this morning’s warm-up, #3, I discussed the reasons I feel the criticism of Acosta is justified (re Glenn’s complaint that journalists are determined to destroy Acosta because of his connection to their primary target, the President, my response is that  critics being biased and having unethical motives doesn’t mean their criticism is necessarily wrong), and concluded,

“Finally, there is the basic ethical issue of accountability. Prosecutors allowed Epstein’s lawyers to talk them into a ridiculously lenient plea deal with minimal prison time for a privileged criminal and sexual predator with endless resources and a high likelihood of recidivism. It was completely predictable that he would continue to harm women after his release, and the new charges against Epstein show that he did exactly as expected.It is appropriate that someone’s head roll for this, and Acosta’s is the logical choice.”

Glenn responded that this sounded more “like scapegoating than accountability.” “’Somebody must pay,’ he said, “is not convincing to me.” Hence my search of the Ethics Alarms archive. This is a topic of long-standing interest for me, in great part due to my military-minded father.

I also recently watched the Netflix series “Bad Blood,” about Montreal’s Mafia. The accountability of leadership is a recurring theme in that series:  we see the father of the future head of the powerful Rizzuto family telling his son as a boy that he is now responsible for caring for and cultivating several tomato plants. “If a plant produces good tomatoes,” the father explains, ” you will be rewarded. If a plant produces poor tomatoes, you will be punished.” Even if the reasons a plant fails to produce good tomatoes has nothing to do with the son’s efforts and were beyond his control, the father goes on to say, “I will still punish you. For that is the burden of leadership. When that for which a leader is responsible goes wrong, he must be accountable and pay the price whether it is his fault or not. Only then is he worthy of his followers trust.” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/12/2018: The Cleveland Indians, “On The Waterfront,” And Garza v. Hargan

Good Mornin’!

(I know I’ve posted this “Singin’ in the Rain” showstopper more than once, but it makes me happy, so there.)

1. From the Cleveland Indians, a Robert E. Lee moment: As the Cincinnati Reds were threatening, with two outs, the bases loaded and the Indians clinging to a 4-3 lead, Tribe manager Terry Francona wanted to bring in left-hander Oliver Perez to face left-handed Reds slugger Joey Votto , the book move, a classic left on left matchup.  But pitching coach Carl Willis thought he heard Francona tell him to summon right-hander Dan Otero.“He thought I said O.T.,” Francona said, using Otero’s nickname. “I said O.P.” With the advantage of facing a right-handed pitcher (most lefties hit righties better) Votto promptly hit a three-run double off Otero, giving the Reds a 6-4 lead.

Even though it would have made no sense for Francona to ask for Otero, the manager emulated Robert E. Lee’s fine leadership moment, meeting with his battered troops after they were shot to pieces in Pickett’s Charge and telling them, “It was all my fault.” “It falls on me,” he told the press. “I actually talked to the team and told them that I thought I messed up.”

Some wags have suggested that the decline of creative baseball player nicknames was really at fault. If Francona had called for Vinegar Bend, The Big Train, , The Monster or “Death to Flying Things,” nobody would have been confused.

2. Forget the dishonest narrative and spin: here’s what really happened in Garza v. Hargan: No, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s eminently qualified nominee to fill retiring Justice Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court, did not try to block an illegal immigrant teen from having an abortion, as the desperate fear-mongering Democrats are claiming. 

In October 2017,  the ACLU filed suit against the Trump administration on behalf of “Jane Doe,” a pregnant teen from Cnetral America who had been arrested while entering the country illegally. Through  her guardian, Rochelle Garza, “Doe” sought release from the federal shelter where she was being detained to obtain an abortion. Eric Hargan, the acting secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services at the time, took the position that the government   had no obligation to facilitate Doe’s abortion.  She had the option of returning to her native country—where she belonged anyway— or being released to a sponsor. A federal trial judge ruled for Doe and the abortion, saying that the government’s refusal to release a minor from custody constituted an “undue burden” on Doe’s constitutional right to an abortion. HHS appealed to the D.C. Circuit, and on appeal, Judge Kavanaugh authored the majority opinion that reversed the lower court’s decision. Here is the crux of the opinion: Continue reading

Terry Francona, Accountability, and Moral Luck

Good job, Terry. 'Bye.

Barack Obama, and indeed all leaders, current and future, have reason to heed the results of meeting to be held today between the ownership of the Boston Red Sox and the traumatized team’s manager of eight years, Terry Francona. Francona will learn whether his tenure—he is beyond question the most successful manager in the team’s century-plus existence—will end as a consequence of his squad’s historic and inexplicable collapse, robbing it of the play-off spot that seemed guaranteed less than a month ago. Continue reading

The Problem of Fairness, and David Ortiz: A Case Study

Fairness is a core ethical value. It is also one of the most difficult to embody. We all know what fairness is in the abstract: treatment of others characterized by impartiality and honesty, and an avoidance of self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism. In complex situations involving many interested parties, however, seeking fairness becomes a dilemma wrapped in a conflict surrounded by contradictions. One of these complex situations now faces the Boston Red Sox, as the baseball team deals with the travails of its designated hitter David Ortiz. Sports has a fascinating habit of crystallizing ethical problems, and the Ortiz case demonstrates how hard it is to be “fair.” Continue reading