The Constitution, Law, Rationalizations And Ethics—One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other, I: The University Of Houston Steals A Photo

Two recent cases illustrate how law and even Constitutional law can be perverted toward indefensible ends if compliance is the only objective, and ethics are left out of the equation. The first case comes to us from Texas, University. of Houston System .v.Jim Olive Photography.

Houston photographer Jim Olive  discovered during an online check of his copyrighted works that the  University of Houston had appropriated one of his photographs and was using it extensively in its  web and print promotional materials. It was an overhead, aerial image of the City of Houston at dusk in 2005 that Olive went to great expense and effort  to produce.  He rented a helicopter, hired a pilot, and utilizing special photography equipment, suspended himself from the helicopter with a harness.

The university admired it, and found the shot ideal for its purposes, so it  downloaded the photo from Olive’s stock library, removed the copyright markings, and did not credit him when they used it. Olive sent the school a take-down letter and a bill, and the university refused to pay. Then he sued, but the university responded  that it has sovereign immunity, and can’t be sued, because he isn’t a citizen of Texas. The Eleventh Amendment reads in part,

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

The photographer had no right to sue under the U.S. Constitution unless the school waived its sovereign immunity or the act of using the photograph constituted a “taking” of property, the University’s lawyers  argued. When the trial court sided with Olive, the University appealed.

The Court of Appeals has ruled against Olive, declaring  that the school’s actions wasn’t a “taking.” Not only can’t Oliver sue to be paid for the use of his photograph,  he will have to pay the university’s legal costs.

“It just doesn’t seem fair to me,” says Olive.  I’d say his instinct is accurate, but this is the law: fairness is beside the point. To make the ruling even more disturbing from an ethics perspective, the University has a page on its site directing readers to  report copyright infringements – and also to request permission to use UH intellectual property, like the photograph it stole from Jim Olive,

Nice. Continue reading

More Dark Thoughts: How Do You Make This A More Ethical Society If Our Institutions Encourage The Opposite Of Ethics?

If I’ve learned one thing from writing this blog, it’s that I have no ability to make what I believe are the most important posts the most read. I regard this post, from yesterday, an important post, and the story an important ethics story, though it is being handled as trivia by the non-local news media. Here’s another one that shows that frighteningly few commentators are sensitive to what the real ethical issues are in current events.

The headline says it all… “San Antonio leaders, residents outraged after former mayor Lila Cockrell isn’t allowed to vote.” Continue reading

Our Untrustworthy, Perplexing, Depressing State Legislators

As a passionate supporter of American democracy in both practice and theory, I find the proliferation of ignoramuses, fools and morons among both elected representatives and the voters who allow them to acquire access to the levers of power to be a constant source of discouragement. The old adage about democracy being the worst form of government except for all the others is scant consolation, true as it may be. I only tune in to the reliably idiotic goings on at the state legislature level when someone or some news story forces me to take a look, which I anticipate with enthusiasm akin to that I felt toward going down into our scary basement when I was a kid. (OK, up until I moved away at 21. OK, STILL.)

Here are two examples from today….that I know about.

Alabama took another step toward near-total abortion ban legislation, House Bill 314, the “Human Life Protection Act.”  The Republican-supported bill is  in  direct defiance of 1973’s Supreme Court  Roe v. Wade ruling, an obvious gambit to try to get the conservative Roberts court to overturn it. Grandstanding, obstinacy, call it what you will, this bill is futile, foolish, and incompetent. An outright reversal of Roe is not in the cards, not even in the most fevered fantasies of anti-abortion fanatics and pro-abortion absolutists. The new law, if it becomes a law, will be struck down by a the highest Alabama court, and won’t make it to the Supreme Court docket. It’s an illegal law, that’s all. A law reestablishing child labor or repealing female suffrage would have about as much chance of getting the Court’s attention.

If Roe is to be weakened or modified, it will occur incrementally, with the Court ruling on legitimately debatable regulations regarding when a fetus or unborn child qualifies for full Constitutional protection. It is understandable that ordinary, untrained, confused citizens might think that the way to remove established Court precedent is to directly oppose it with a state law, but  that’s because, for most of them, making laws isn’t their job. State legislators, on the other hand, have no excuse but their own lack of preparation for their civic duty, and ignorance. Continue reading

Mid-Day Moldy Ethics Snack, 5/8/2019: Bad Charge, Bad School, Bad Father

Yechhh!

1. Do something, blame someone…In Plano, Texas, police have charged Lindsey Glass with violating a law making it a misdemeanor to negligently sell alcohol to a “habitual drunkard or an intoxicated or insane person,.” It seems she served Spencer Hight two gins, two beers and a shot of alcohol during two visits to the bar where she was working in September 2017, before Hight killed Meredith Hight and seven other people. After  police officers shot and killed him, an autopsy found that Hight’s blood alcohol level was about four times the legal limit. The  arrest affidavit said surveillance video shows  that Hight was unsteady, spun a “big knife on the bar,” and could be seen “pulling out a gun” from his waistband.

It’s a terrible charge, and an unethical prosecution.  Glass  texted a co-worker, another bartender, saying that Hight had been spinning the knife and told her had had to go “do some dirty work.” A report by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said  that the other bartender had called an owner of the bar, who instructed that  police should not be called. Glass was so concerned that followed Hight to his ex-wife’s home and then called 911, according to local station  Fox 4.

A lawyer for Glass emphasized  that his client had called 911 and said she had been commended by police. “It is shameful of the Plano Police Department to go after the person who was vital in trying to stop the horrific events of that evening,” he told Fox 4 and NBC in a statement. Exactly right. Police, spurred by public anger and frustration, want to find someone to blame. The fact that the drunk  went off and killed eight people is pure moral luck. It seems that the bartender went above and beyond her civic duty, at some personal risk, to follow Hight. She was originally commended by police for her actions. [Pointer: ABA Journal]
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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/18/19: Redacted Mueller Report Freak-Out Edition

Good morning!

1. Mueller report ethics!

  • Note the names and employers of the pundits and reporters who opine on the 400 page report (to be released today around 11:00 am) before they could possibly read it. [Althouse this morning: “What can they do, once 11 rolls around, to avoid continuing to analyze the Barr presentation (which will include denouncing his decision to do a press conference and dominate the news in advance of the release of the text)? You can be cynical and say the text won’t affect the media, and everyone will keep saying what they were already saying, and that is, in fact, my baseline assumption. The TV news is awful.” Yes, it certainly is.]
  • The New York Times and others are incensed that the Justice Department briefed the President on the report before it was released to the public. This is Trump Derangement, pure and unadulterated. The President has a right to see the report, and the Justice Department is part of the executive branch, which the President oversees.I’d want to be briefed ahead of the release if I were President, especially with a biased news media and a crazed “resistance” preparing to make it look as bad as possible no matter what it says. The complaint is one more entry in “Journalist making the public dumber.”
  • Ken Starr, also indulging in “future news,” says that he is concerned that the report will read like an anti-Trump manifesto. I will be surprised. It is true that the Mueller had some questionably aggressive prosecutors on the team, but the report has Mueller’s name on it and it is his historical legacy. He is regarded in D.C. and in legal circles as professional and fair. I would expect him to keep the report as factual and non-political as possible.
  • In Attorney General Bill Barr’s (completely appropriate) press conference this morning, he said in  part,

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/5/ 2019: An Intersex Revolutionary War Hero! An Unethical Feminist Trailblazer!

Good Morning!

Well, it was nice while it lasted. Thanks to prurient interest in a minor “Naked Teacher Principal” post, traffic on Ethics Alarms this week resembled those heady days of 2016, before ultra-Trump polarization, liberal commenter cowardice and Facebook’s ban took over. Incidentally, despite many thousand of “clicks,” the post in question didn’t get a single comment from the first-time visitors, meaning that said clicks were meaningless and useless.

1. About “Ma” Fergusen. As promised yesterday in my note about “The Highwaymen”, here is the “Ma” Fergusen saga, which is an ethics feast, though not a tasty one. (Source: Texas Politics)

Miriam Amanda Wallace (“Ma”) Ferguson (1875-1961), was the first woman governor of Texas. She served as the first lady of Texas during the gubernatorial terms of her husband James Edward Ferguson,  who was impeached during his second administration for extensive corruption. When James  failed to get his name on the ballot in 1924, Miriam entered the race for the Texas governorship, promising that if elected she would essentially be guided by her husband and that Texas thus would gain “two governors for the price of one.” She defeated the Republican nominee, George C. Butte, and was inaugurated fifteen days after Wyoming’s Nellie Ross, Miriam Ferguson became the second woman governor in United States history. Thus “Ma” helped set the precedent for future examples of wives being elected (irresponsibly) to offices they were not qualified for as substitutes for their husbands. “Ma” wasn’t the feminist pioneer she has sometimes been represented as. She was the opposite–you know, like Hillary Clinton.

Ma Ferguson (the “Ma” comes from her initials) pardoned an average of 100 convicts a month, and there was considerable evidence that she and her puppeteer husband  were taking  bribes of land and cash payments. The Fergusons also appear to have leveraged highway commission  road contracts into  lucrative kickbacks. Though an attempt to impeach Ma failed, these controversies allowed Attorney General Daniel James Moody to defeat her for renomination in 1926 and win the governorship. She (that is,  puppetmaster Pa) was back in  office in 1932, as she won the governorship again on the wave of discontent over the Great Depression.

The portrayal of “Ma” as a strong, independent executive in “The Highwaymen” would have to be judged misleading.

2. Speaking of women, sort of...An intersex  hero and role model may have emerged through the dim fog of history. Scientific researchers at Georgia Southern University claim that after years of study, their examination of skeletal remains of Revolutionary War hero, General Casimir Pulaski, ‘the Father of the American Cavalry’ has revealed that he  was biologically female.

Imagine if these had been George Washington’s remains… Continue reading

From The Elephantine Ethics Alarm “Nah, There’s No Mainstream Media Bias!” Files: Reuters, Beto O’Rourke, And The Cult Of The Dead Cow

Reuters reported Friday that newly declared Democratic Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke had been part of an infamous hacker group as a teen. (Hacking is illegal unethical, don’t you know.)

Reporter Joe Menn said that he learned about O’Rourke’s involvement in the group when he began researching The Cult of the Dead Cow, which he called “the most interesting and influential hacking group in history.”

He discovered that an alumnus of the group had a member who was sitting in Congress. “I didn’t know which one,” Menn said, “and then I figured out which one it was. And the members of the group wouldn’t talk to me about who it was. They wouldn’t confirm that it was this person unless I promised that I wouldn’t write about it until after the November 2018 election,” that being O’Roarke’s unsuccessful effort to defeat Texas Senator Ted Cruz last year. Reuters, to be clear, sat on the story, which may have interested Texas voters, for two years.
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