Observations On The Charleston, W.V., “Christmas War” (And The Way The Mainstream Media Reported It)

There are many lessons, ethical and otherwise, to be learned from Charleston, West Virginia’s short-lived “Winter Parade.” I originally missed the story, which apparently took place over three days in October. Fox News, which has led the “War on Christmas” narratives since the days of Bill O’Reilly, covered it.

Even before Halloween, Charleston’s  new mayor (and its first female occupant of the office) Amy Goodwin sent out a Facebook announcement that “The Charleston Winter Parade will begin at the corner of the Kanawha Boulevard and Capitol Street.” For years, the city has had an old-fashioned “Christmas Parade” (you know, like they show in “A Christmas Story” ?) with Christmas-themed floats, marching bands, fire trucks, Shriners in their tiny cars and Santa Claus. Suddenly it was officially a Druid-sounding “Winter Parade” because Mayor Goodwin wanted to signal that her city embraced all faiths and cultures. “I wanted to show that Charleston is a welcoming and inclusive city,” she said.

A large number of Charleston residents didn’t welcome her unilateral decision at all. “The new mayor needs to be voted out if she does away with the Christmas parade,” read an early comment on ther Facebook post. “Christmas is all about Christ, not some winter parade.” Columnists and radio shows weighed in, almost unanimously condemning her decision. The largely white and  Christian city of 48,000 hadn’t exactly been racked with controversy over the Christmas parade, but now renaming the parade felt to many like a rejection of Christianity and tradition.

The New York Times quoted the president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce in Charleston, Steve Roberts: “The community reaction was a collective groan, It’s a cute little parade with cute little kids and can’t we just have a Christmas parade?”

The change threatened to start a chain reaction. The Times story says that Brandon Willard, a junior high band teacher, began to worry about his musical selection for his student band scheduled to march in the parade: Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.”It’s a secular Christmas tune of long-standing (they always played it at my High School Christmas assembly), but Willard became worried that he would be accused of having the band take side. Maybe parents would pull their children from the parade in protest, maybe even preventing the band from having enough musicians to march. It would be a big disappointment to the students, who march every year in Santa hats and with decorated instruments, and this year, with new  light-up necklaces he had ordered. The parade also counted toward their grade. Continue reading

What A Fine, Fine Role Model This High School Principal Is…If The Idea Is To Graduate Short-Cut And Rationalization Addicted Students Who Try To Tap-Dance Their Way Out Of Trouble!

 

Abby Smith, a graduating student at Parkersburg High School in West Virginia, noticed something vaguely familiar about  the speech given by the school’s principal, Ken DeMoss, at her graduation last week. Later, she went home and looked for a video of a speech actor Ashton  Kutcher (formerly the goof on “The 70s Show,” the goof who succeeded Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men,” and the guy who took over froim Bruce Willis when Demi Moore decided she wanted a husband with hair) gave at the 2013 Kid’s Choice Awards. Then she edited DeMoss’s speech and Kutcher’s together, and posted them on YouTube.

There’s no doubt about it, as you can see above. The principal ripped off the speech.

Some might say that what Smith did was mean and unnecessary. No, it was responsible, essential, and gutsy. Students are taught in school, or are supposed to be,  to do their own work, a lesson especially hard to convey when the internet makes plagiarism  easy to do and hard to detect. The distinction between being inspired by another person’s creative output, using it as a foundation for an original work, borrowing phrases and ideas (with attribution), and, in contrast, stealing intellectual property and presenting it as your own, is a crucial one for students to understand. When a role model, a school administer, flagrantly does what the school must teach students not to do, and worse, does this  in front of students, and even worse than that, does it in the course of a speech about the virtues of hard work, such cynicism, laziness, and cheating must not be allowed to pass unnoticed, and I hope, unpunished.

After he was caught, “Kenny” issued this epicly horrible statement, incorporating rationalizations, unethical apologies, multiple logical fallacies, a Jumbo and, of course, lies: Continue reading

Ethics Alarms Flashback Post Of The Week: “Ethics Quiz: The Sensitive Cop’s Facebook Confession”

[A  while ago I wrote that I might periodically re-post one of the more than 2000 Ethics Alarms essays that have appeared here since 2009. The criteria? Let’s see:

  • A post that I have completely forgotten about, and don’t remember even after I’ve read it again.
  • A post that may be interesting to consider in light of subsequent developments since it was written (in this case,  social media posts triggering workplace discipline, and police-community relations)
  • A lively discussion in the comments.

I think this post, based on a find by now-retired Ethics Alarms super-scout Fred, qualifies on all counts. It’s from May of 2014.]

“If there was any time I despised wearing a police uniform, it was yesterday at the Capitol during the water rally. A girl I know who frequents the Capitol for environmental concerns looked at me and wanted me to participate with her in the event. I told her I have to remain unbiased while on duty at these events. She responded by saying, ‘You’re a person, aren’t you?’ That comment went straight through my heart!”

Thus did Douglas Day, a police officer at the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, confess to Facebook friends his mixed emotions while doing his duty.

For this he was fired.

The day Day wrote his Facebook post, Capitol Police Lt. T.M. Johnson told him  that the post “shows no respect to the department, the uniform or the law enforcement community which he represents.”  About a week later, Sgt. A.E. Lanham Jr. wrote to Day that he “found the entire [Facebook] posting to be extremely offensive and shocking … This is just another episode of many incidents which show his bad attitude and lack of enthusiasm toward police work in general and toward our department in particular.”

Day was thunderstruck. “If they believed there was some sort of a violation I made, then why wasn’t it addressed? They never brought me in and never said anything to me,” Day said. “In 2½ years working there, I had no disciplinary action taken against me at any time. Nothing was ever written up and I received no reprimands.” So much for the “many incidents.” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Round-Up, 8/15/2018: Rationalizations, Corruption And Mass Impeachment [UPDATED]

Mornin’, all!

1. “That Dog” Ethics. I can think of more accurate and meaner names for Omarosa than “that dog,” but then my vocabulary is larger and more versatile than the President’s…but then, whose isn’t?  I have never heard of “dog” being identified as a racist term—because it isn’t one—though it is a sexist term, often used to denote an unattractive female. Nonetheless, this is presidential language, indeed gutter, low-life language that demeans a President, his office, and the nation he leads when it issues from the White House.

Among the rationalizations that suggest themselves are 1A.  “We can’t stop it” (apparently not, and neither can John Kelly), 2. A. “She had it coming” (nobody short of a traitor or a criminal deserves to be attacked by the President of the United States using such language), 7. “She started it” (which is excusable if you are in kindergarten), 8A. “This can’t make things any worse” (oh, sure it can), 22. “He’s said worse” (true) and many others: I don’t have the energy to go through the whole list.

Of all the dumb, incompetent, self-inflicted impediments to doing the job he was elected to do, the Omarosa fiasco might be the worst and most unforgivable. I’m not sure: I’d have to go through that list, and not only do I not have the energy, I think I’d rather rip my eyelids off.

2. I’m sure glad the new Pope fixed all of this. This story would normally fall into the category of being so obviously unethical that it isn’t worth writing about. Moreover, Ethics Alarms had referenced the Catholic sexual predator scandals in many ways, on many occasions. What distinguishes the latest chapter in this ongoing horror is that the latest revelations are coming after all of the lawsuits, damages, mea culpas and promises of reform, and they did not come from the Church. This means that the cover-up was and is ongoing. It means that even with the thousands of children who were raped and abused that we know about, there were many more. It also means, in all likelihood, that the abuse is continuing. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: West Virginia Governor: Jim Justice

Gov Justice went to a Republican rally, and all he got was this T-shirt…seemed to fit, though…

I’ve written about party-switching by elected officials before; unfortunately, it was on the old Ethics Scoreboard, which is temporarily in limbo thanks to an incompetent web hosting service and some corrupted old disks. I can summarize the proper ethics standard for the practice, however. It was demonstrated perfectly by the  now retired former Republican U.S. Senator from Texas, Phil Gramm. Just days after  he had been reelected to a House seat  as a Democrat in 1982, Gramm was thrown off the House Budget Committee in a dispute with party leadership. In response, Gramm resigned as a Representative, changed parties, and ran for his old seat as a Republican in a special election. He won easily, and  was a Republican ever after. That’s the honorable way to do it.

Or, you could be like West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, who announced that he was flipping  from the Democratic Party to the GOP at last night’s  rally with President Trump. Continue reading

Ethics Lesson: Judges Can’t Campaign Like Other Candidates

false-campaign-ad

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia suspended Judge Stephen Callaghan for two years and fined him $15,000 for a campaign flyer that it deemed dishonest. The court said that the flier  depicted the incumbent judge, Gary Johnson, as “partying” with President Obama. Johnson had visited the White House for a federally required conference on fighting child trafficking, but  he didn’t see Obama there, there was no party, and no function involving alcohol. The flier was mailed out five days before the May 2016 election, which Callaghan won.  Callaghan won the election by 220 votes.

The flier was “in every sense, materially false” according to the decision. You can see it above. Photos of Obama and Johnson are shown next to each other. Obama is shown holding a beer and streamers are in the background. The caption reads, “Barack Obama & Gary Johnson Party at the White House.” The opposite side of the flier read,

“While Nicholas County lost hundreds of jobs to Barack Obama’s coal policies, Judge Gary Johnson accepted an invitation from Obama to come to the White House to support Obama’s legislative agenda. That same month, news outlets reported a 76% drop in coal mining employment. Can we trust Judge Gary Johnson to defend Nicholas County against job-killer Barack Obama?”

After Johnson objected to the flier ( and probably threatened to sic the Judicial Ethics Panel on him), Callaghan removed the flier from his Facebook pages and ran radio ads saying the flier’s “specific characterization of the White House visit may be inaccurate and misleading,” and “candidate Callaghan apologizes for any misunderstanding or inaccuracies.” Continue reading

A Moral Luck-Riddled Ethics Quiz: The Compassionate, Correct, Fired Police Officer

man-pointing-a-gunI have solicited opinions from some police authorities , and have yet to receive an answer. Maybe that’s cheating, though.

On May 6 of this year,  Weirton, West Virginia police officer Stephen Mader confronted a distraught and armed man after responding to a domestic violence call. “I saw then he had a gun, but it was not pointed at me,”  Mader told reporters. A silver pistol was in 23-year-old Ronald Williams’ right hand, hanging at his side and pointed at the ground.

Officer Mader calmly told Williams to put down the gun. “Just shoot me, ” Williams  responded, and jerked his wrists, suggesting that he was preparing to raise his weapon. “I’m not going to shoot you brother, ” replied Mader.

“I thought I was going to be able to talk to him and de-escalate it. I knew it was a suicide-by-cop,” he said.

Then two other Weirton officers arrived on the scene. Williams walked toward them waving his gun, and one of Mader’s colleagues shot Williams in the head, killing him instantly.

A West Virginia State Police investigation later concluded that the shooting was justified. Mader, in the meantime, faced an investigation of his own. In a meeting with his chief and the city manager,  Mader was told that he was being placed on administrative leave, and that an investigation would determine if he would still be employed.  “You put two other officers in danger,” the police chief told him.

Following the investigation, Mader received a notice of termination stating that by not shooting Williams, Mader“failed to eliminate a threat.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Was it fair and responsible for the department to fire Officer Mader as a result of this incident?

Continue reading

Apology Ethics I: Let’s Play “Was Hillary Lying, Pazuzu, Or Was It Just Authentic Frontier Gibberish?”

lying Pazuzu AFG

Bo Copley,  a West Virginia coal miner who recently lost his job, asked Hillary Clinton how she could say what she had said at a CNN forum in March, an apparent climate change manifesto that included the phrase, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”,  and then still “come in here and tell us how you’re going to be our friend.”

Hillary’s answer:

“What I said was totally out of context from what I meant because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time. And it was a misstatement, because what I was saying is that the way things are going now, we will continue to lose jobs. I didn’t mean that we were going to do it, what I said was, that is going to happen unless we take action to try to and help and prevent it. That’s what I meant to say. “

Oh. Well, that explains…wait, WHAT???? Continue reading

Law vs. Ethics: The Infuriating Big Branch Mine Disaster Sentence

UBBMemorial

We really have to change sentencing guidelines so that white-collar criminals get the sentences they deserve.

Twenty nine men were killed in West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion six years ago, and former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, who was  found guilty of conspiring to avoid safety regulations that could have prevented those deaths, received only a one-year prison sentence and a fine.

A federal jury convicted Blankenship last year of a misdemeanor conspiracy to violate mine safety standards at Upper Big Branch. The jury acquitted him of felonies that could have put him in jail for 30 years. The judge handed down the stiffest sentence allowed for his misdemeanor conviction, but U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, prosecutors and the family members said later that the punishment was far too lenient for the nature of the crime.

Indeed it was. Corporations play the odds in a risk-reward game. If violating rules, regulations and laws can save or make millions and the eventual penalty when and if the company is prosecuted is only a fine, many companies and executives think it’s a risk worth taking. . If the risk also includes significant prison sentences for decision-makers, the risk-reward ratio changes significantly.

Blankenship was CEO of a company that intentionally risked the lives of its employees, and 29 men died. One year in jail looks like a rap on the wrist. Forget about the “Affluenza” kid: this sentence is far more disturbing.

“This man has no remorse at all!” a family member of one of the victims said. “He never approached none of us [after the mine disaster], he never told us he was sorry for what happened, and he knows he could have done the right thing.”

“I miss my family. (Blankenship) hugged his,”  he continued. “And all he gets is a year. The judge has done great; she gave him what she can give him. But there need to be stricter, more harsh penalties for people like that who put greed and money over human life.”

Yes.

Unethical Quote Of The Month: Above the Law’s Joe Patrice

[C]onsensual relationships with adults don’t seem like a big deal. Sure, the conflict of interest of sleeping with someone in your class is deserving of discipline, but, really, in a state where you can marry your sister, is it a fireable offense to hookup with a twenty-something attorney-to-be? Obviously, if there were more serious allegations that would be another matter, but so far we’ve only learned of this more benign brand of misconduct.

—-Above the Law writer Joe Patrice, commenting, incompetently, on the firing of Virginia University College of Law Professor Arthur Rizer, for having sexual relations with multiple students.

Professor Rizer, the Sam Malone of West Virginia University College of Law...

Professor Rizer, the Sam Malone of West Virginia University College of Law…

This commentary, from a regular writer for a website that covers law schools, is so ethically obtuse and legally ignorant that he should be fired. “Not a big deal”? Sexual harassment at law firms is a very big deal as well as a very big problem, and a law professor who flagrantly violates an anti-harassment policy like the prohibition against professors treating the student body as their own personal dating bar is teaching that seeking sex with subordinates is culturally acceptable in the legal profession. It isn’t. It never has been.

The professor’s conflict of interest is the least of his self-created problems. First, there is no valid consent in such cases. The professor has real and perceived control over students’ academic success and legal career viability. This is classic inequality of power that gives a professor implied leverage over a student’s “consent” to sexual relations. Moreover, the knowledge that a professor is having sex with students constitutes third-party sexual harassment. Do other students assume that they are expected to have sex with the professor if he requests it? Is the professor looking at female students as mere sex objects? Are students that provide sexual access more likely to get high grades? What happens to students who say “no”? This creates a hostile environment for study and education. Continue reading