Curmie’s Back With Arrows Flying! But What Do His Targets Teach Us?


Rick Jones, known to his web fans as Curmie (short for Curmudgeon), has had a busy year in his day job as a tender of young college-age minds, and his excellent blog was not as active as years past. Just in time for his annual awards for the worst transgressions in the field of education, however, he has returned with a vengeance, exploring at length and with his usual superb ethical instincts several incidents I have not had time to tackle here. Among them…

…and more, including his take, nicely complimenting mine, on Robert Reich’s complaints about how rich people and others choose their charities.

Rick, in one of his posts, makes the oft-heard point that the many awful incidents of miserable judgement and outright misconduct, if not criminal conduct, on the part of teachers and administrators should not be projected on the education profession as a whole, since these are relatively rare. I hear him, but I am not convinced. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Day: Calvin Coolidge

“There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.”

—-Calvin Coolidge, then Governor of Massachusetts, soon to be Vice-President and later President upon the death of Warren G. Harding, in a September 14, 1919 telegram to labor leader Samuel Gompers on the occasion of the Boston police department strike.

Cal made his words count.

The Boston police were fired for extorting the city, and Coolidge’s words were in the air when President Ronald Reagan responded to an illegal strike by air traffic controllers by firing the strikers and banning the union.

Now Chicago’s teachers are striking, not against the city management that is denying their demands, but against the children of the city and their families.

What would silent Cal say? I think I can guess. Harming children and families for higher wages is as much extortion as leaving a city unprotected against crime, and cannot be defended ethically. The defense will be, inevitably, “Well, management is unfair, and their offer is unjust. What are we supposed to do?”

The answer is: something else.


Facts: Chicago Tribune

Source: Wikipedia

Graphic: Washington, Jefferson and Madison Institute

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

The Forgotten Meaning of Labor Day

Do you know who this is? You should! It’s Labor Day, dammit!

Labor Day commemorates one of the great ethical victories of American society, and not one in a hundred Americans know it. Labor Day marks the end of summer, and a time for retail store sales, and the last chance to get away to Disney World, but few of us think about the real meaning of the word “labor” in the name, and how it is meant to honor brave, dedicated men and women who fought, sometimes literally, the forces of greed, political influence, wealth and privilege in this country to ensure a measure of safety, consideration, fairness and justice for the hardest working among us.

Today labor unions are controversial, and with good reason. Many of them have been run as criminal enterprises, with deep connections to organized crime; many operate in a blatantly coercive and undemocratic fashion. Union demands and strong-arm tactics, while providing security and good wages to members, have crippled some American industries, and limited jobs as well. Today the unions  get publicity when one of them tries to protect a member who should be punished, as when the baseball players’ union fights suspensions for player insubordination or even drug use, or when school districts are afraid to fire incompetent teachers because of union power, or when the members of public unions protest cutbacks in benefits that their private sector counterparts would be grateful for. It is true that today’s unions often embody longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer’s observation that  “Every great cause begins as a movement, degenerates into a business and ends up as a racket.” *

That not what Labor Day honors, however. It is celebrating the original labor movement that began at the end of the 19th century, and that eventually rescued the United States from an industrial and manufacturing system that was cruel, exploitive, deadly and feudal. Why the elementary schools teach nothing about this inspiring and important movement, I do not know. I suspect that the story of the American labor movement was deemed politically dangerous to teach during the various Red Scares, and fell out of the curriculum, never to return. Whatever the reason, it is disgraceful, for the achievements of the labor movement are every bit as important and inspiring as those of the civil rights movement and the achievements of our armed forces in the protection of liberty abroad. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Carnage in Wisconsin…”

Pat earns the Comment of the Day by refocusing my attention on an issue I had been planning to examine in detail, only to be distracted by the swirl of current events. The issue is the ethics of public unions, a controversy in sharp focus during Governor Scott Walker’s overhaul of public employee pensions and collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. Thanks, Pat, for  both your thoughtful comment and for getting me back to this important matter. You’ll  have my response soon.

Here is Pat’s commentary on “Ethics Carnage in Wisconsin: the Ethics Grades So Far”:

“No one need be a member of the union of concerned scientists to figure out the problem of collectivism in government. If Congress (or the Union) together decided to vote themselves $1,000,000 salaries per year (or exorbitant pensions for life), they could do it. That is the problem of collectivism and it is the problem of democracy – that can defeat the purpose of the freedom of elections. Ordinary taxpayers can be defeated by their own democracy in that regard, and it is no better than having a dictator under tyranny.

“The function of having free elections is to avoid that tyranny, i.e., by electing persons to office temporarily, not to be saddled with them for life (which is what congressional pensions produce). By most ethical standards, it would be congressional embezzlement by the nature of the authority to grant itself those pensions. The same would be true if Congress worked in conjunction with government employees to help them get reelected in order to perpetuate elective office for incumbents so that it can be effectively, for life.

“Both methods defeat the purpose of freedom of elections that is built into the congressional constitutional scheme that separates the elective office from the appointed and the government employee. Government pensions meant for government employees alone has been unethically and grossly inflated and granted to Congress and appointees in a blatant self-serving reward that defeats the purpose of having elections. Terms limits is the only method that can control that abuse of power.

“If government unions demands are too high, they may also need term limits to prevent arbitrary tapping into the proceeds of the taxpayer’s treasury, and thereby limiting what can be paid, and what can be taxed for.

“Public finance can defeat the purpose of democracy without such protections, and it is a necessary feature of all democracies to prevent the power of authority to abuse the power of the people, or there will be only wage slavery by government taxation.

“By tradition before government exploitation, government pensions were granted only to government employees – distinct from those elected – because they were employees. Elected persons are only temporary employees, and meant to be only temporary employees, and therefore not entitled to pensions. But that tradition has been grossly abused by self-serving elected employees to become privileged as elected and privileged as employees where it was designed to be one “or” the other, not one “and” the other.”

To Wisconsin Unions, a Depressed Woman’s Suicide Is Just Another PR Weapon

"Oh, no. Poor ..hey, wait a minute! We just might be able to use this!"

“The ends justify the means,” for better or worse, has always been the modus operandi of the American union movement. Back at the beginning of the 20th Century, this often translated into violence, as union leaders used bombs and murder to counter equally vile tactics—or worse—by their industry foes. Union violence is more common today in the threatening than in the actual execution, but the public unions battling Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin have made it increasingly clear that ethics, fairness and truth are not going to stand in the way of their objectives, particularly the objective of winning the battle for public support.

A new low may have been reached with the effort to blame Walker for the suicide of Jeri-Lyn Betts, a 57-year-old teacher suffering from chronic depression, who apparently committed suicide last week.  Continue reading

Teachers Unions: Not Unethical, Just Uninterested in the Public Welfare

His union is competent; it's just that he isn't

Public unions and their Democratic supporters (and supported) are not going to have much luck winning the public relations battle with Republicans as long as teachers unions are front and center. Teachers unions are not— I repeat not-–primarily concerned with the welfare of schoolchildren, or the public, or the deficit, or even education. Their priority is the welfare of their membership, and if any of those other stakeholders have to take it on the chin to make sure that the teachers have good salaries, benefits and iron-clad job security, well, that’s just the way of the world.

This doesn’t make teachers unions unethical any more than lawyers are unethical to represent their clients. But it does mean that any time a teacher’s union official claims to be concerned with anything but his members, he or she is lying through their teeth. And that is unethical. Continue reading

Ethics Carnage in Wisconsin: The Ethics Grades So Far

The battleground

The story to date: Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker announced a budget-repair measure to address  looming budget deficits (in a state with a balanced budget mandate in its constitution) by requiring state employees to contribute a larger proportion of their pensions and health care plans, and  restricting their long-standing  collective bargaining rights. Wisconsin’s deficit is projected at $30 million for the remainder of the 2011, with a shortfall of $1.5 billion projected for next year. In response to Walker’s announcement and the near certainty of his plan being passed by the Republican dominated state legislature, 14 Democratic legislators fled the state to prevent a quorum and block a vote, teachers left their classes to protest in Madison, where they were joined by thousands of pro-union protesters, many of whom were organized and bused in by Organizing for America, a White House operated political group.

Let’s try to separate the ethics wheat from the chaff—amazingly, there is actually some wheat–and get an early line on the heroes, dunces, villains, and the rest as the Wisconsin budget battle threatens to become a full-fledged Ethics Train Wreck. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Huffington Post Blogger Mike Elk

Correctionmake that fired Huffington Post blogger Mike Elk, and here’s why: Elk, a 24-year-old freelance labor journalist, used his press credentials to get labor union demonstrators unauthorized access to a Mortgage Bankers Association event, where they  protested and disrupted the proceedings. He gave his credentials to one of the union organizers. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: San Diego Padres First Baseman Adrian Gonzalez

“In essence, if I take what you call a San Diego discount then I’m affecting their market. I’m affecting what they are going to make. It’s a lot like real estate. That’s the reason why. The way the game of baseball is set up, we have to protect each other. We have to do what’s best for each other.”

—-San Diego Padres superstar first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, explaining to an interviewer why he would sign with the highest bidder when he becomes a free agent next season, rather than stay in San Diego, his home, for a lesser salary.

If you don’t follow baseball, you might not know who Adrian Gonzalez is. He is a phenomenal young (28) superstar who has yet to earn the mega-millions that his skill would demand on the open market, because he has yet to fulfill his obligation to the team that brought him to the majors, the San Diego Padres. His time is coming, however: he will be a free agent after the 2011 season. The Padres, a small market franchise without a spendthrift owner, can’t and won’t pay as much to keep their best player as large market predators like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels or Phillies will pay to acquire him. Gonzalez will be able to demand in the vicinity of 20 million dollars a year from these teams. The only hope the Padres have would be if Gonzalez, a longtime resident of San Diego and active in the community there, will accept less money to stay where he has roots, what is referred to as a “home town discount.” Continue reading

Are Restaurants That Hire Illegal Immigrants Ethical?


Next question.

Okay, let’s not be hasty. The New York Times Diner’s Journal asks the question, invoking the images of the 2004 film “A Day Without a Mexican,” in which all of California’s Mexicans suddenly disappear and the state is thrust into a world with far fewer gardeners, nannies, fruit-pickers, maids, cooks, and dishwashers. The film is the high-water mark of the essentially unethical rationalization for illegal immigration that is one of the main culprits for America’s unconscionable tolerance of it—that without illegals, the economy and quality of life of Americans would break down.

That the argument makes any sense at all is really a strong reason to stop illegal immigration, because it shows what happens when illegal and unethical practices becomes so entrenched that they warp the institutions, systems and cultural norms they affect, and corrupt the citizens who take advantage of them.  Continue reading