Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The guards who watched the beating in Seattle should be fired...and their defenders

Television news this week showed video of a girl in Seattle being brutally kicked and beaten by other girls while three security guards stood by and made calls on their cell phones—apparently calling for help. No move to help the victim. The outrage was compounded by unnamed officials who defended the guards’ (non-) conduct as proper.
Jack Marshall in his blog has an excellent analysis of the guards’ behavior, likening it to the Nuremberg defense (“just following orders”).
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors got it right in 2007 when they ordered closure of the Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital. The hospital had been the venue for a series of egregious mistreatments of patients, but when a woman was left writhing on the floor of the emergency room for 45 minutes before dying of a perforated bowel, that was the last straw.
Behaving without humanity, even under orders, ought to be a firing offense. The guards should have been fired. So should the “officials” who defended their conduct. Just like the bystanders and their higher-ups at MLK-Harbor Hospital were.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The unethical federal budget

Is it ethical to make a commitment that you know you can’t keep? Heck, no! Some employers used to promise retirement benefits that they didn’t set aside money for. The government decided to outlaw such unethical behavior: now the law requires employers who promise retirement benefits to set aside funds to pay when the benefits come due.
Sadly the government isn’t about to do what it’s required employers to do. The government has promised Americans that they’ll be covered by Social Security and by Medicare, and—if they’re poor—by Medicaid. The costs of these “entitlement” programs are growing steadily as:
1.       the baby boomers are just starting to come under Social Security and Medicare. (The first boomers, born in 1946, become 65 next year, then an avalanche in the next ten years.)
2.      life expectancy is increasing—babies born this year have a 50-50 chance of living to 100
3.      medical care gets more expensive as people grow older, and
4.      medical science is developing ever-more-expensive treatments.
All in all, this “perfect storm” will either bankrupt the country or force America to break its promises to the elderly.
So what are our politicians doing to fix this problem? Some are calling for budget cuts, knowing that the entitlement programs are not cut-able under present law. Others are calling for reform, knowing that reform can’t come close to solving the funding problem. Every one of our legislators knows about the problem. But it’s not being addressed. This is profoundly unethical behavior: they agreed to do the people’s work if they were sent to Washington, and having won election they are sloughing off the problem to our grandchildren.
Whose fault is it and what can be done? I’ll address this in coming blogs.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Palin was the best part of the Tea Party convention, the audience the worst

Sarah Palin gave a rousing speech at the Tea Party convention, raking and mocking President Obama with zingers like "How's that hope-y, change-y stuff workin' out for ya?" The crowd enthused, having paid $350 to hear the speech live, and the left’s commentators tut-tutted over Palin’s writing notes on her hand to help her remember her key points. All in good fun.
But there was a truly ugly side of the convention. Tea Partiers can no longer pass off the birthers as a tiny group of nuts that aren’t representative of true Tea Partiers. Not after the crowd’s wild enthusiasm for Tom Tancredo’s keynote speech. Ex-congressman Tancredo (R-CO) explained that “Barack Hussein Obama” was only elected because "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote." [Wild cheers]
"People who could not even spell the word 'vote' or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House." [More wild cheers]
I’m not sure who he was referring to. Perhaps it was Latinos and African-Americans who couldn’t have voted had there been a literacy test—like in the good old days when blacks were turned away from polls all over the South, no matter how literate they were, because the point of the tests was to turn them away.
I’m pretty sure, however, what the crowd was cheering. It was that Obama voters were others, a different species, not even entitled to be part of the American system. The crowd responded to hate speech with cheers. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Why not breed Trojan quarterbacks?

A top quarterback can be the difference between a good college team and a championship one. Lane Kiffen, USC’s new football coach, has a good one in Matt Barkley, freshman leader of last year’s team who could grow into a superstar if he stays in school and resists the temptation to leave school early for the megabucks of the NFL.
But Kiffen isn’t standing pat. Barkley may quarterback the Trojans through the 2012 season, but after that? Don’t worry, Trojan fans. Kiffen has a plan for 2015, in the person of 13-year old David Sills of Bear, Delaware. “David’s always wanted to go to USC,” says his proud dad.
But why stop at 13-year olds? With the advances in genetics it should soon be possible to breed quarterbacks. Of course they won’t be ready to lead the Trojans into battle for, umm, 18 years and nine months. Maybe the USC medical school could research cloning. Kiffen could have his choice of a copy of Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, depending on who does best in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Oh, but cloning humans is unethical. Better to recruit more 13-year olds. Then a nine-year old to replace Sills in 2019.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Teachers and Democrats put kids second

Wouldn’t it be nice if teachers put their students’ interests first? Tragically, from coast to coast they have more pressing things to worry about. In New York the teachers union got the legislature to prevent the state from applying for $700 million in federal funds for the Obama administration’s new program, “Race to the Top,” a school reform that emphasizes school choice and teacher accountability. And in California, when the San Jose school district had to lay off librarians for lack of money, they boxed the books and locked the library doors. No parents were allowed to volunteer so that the kids could use the library books. No sir, state law—enacted to please the librarians union—prohibits anyone but a real librarian from handing out library books.
Our teachers are failing our kids. Too many of them are more interested in their paychecks and their comfort than in their charges. Oh, not all of them—there are still lots of wonderful and dedicated teachers, but too many have ceded their profession and their integrity to unions that work with their political flunkies (aka Democrats) in a “race to the bottom.” Well-off families are fleeing to private schools. The poor kids are left behind and out of luck.
But all teachers get a paycheck. Their ethical obligation is to do their best to further their students’ interest—especially those students who need them the most. Sadly, not nearly enough of them meet that obligation.
If only teachers were ethical. If only… School boards and teachers should consider adopting—and taking seriously—the code of ethics of the Association of American Educators. It says that the professional educator:
o       strives to create a learning environment that nurtures to fulfillment the potential of all students
o       acts with conscientious effort to exemplify the highest ethical standards, and
o       accepts that every child has a right to an uninterrupted education free from strikes or any other work stoppage tactics.
That’ll be the day!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Entertainment and ethics: see Amreeka

You can learn ethics from the movies. To Kill a Mockingbird is about speaking truth to power. The Magnificent Seven is about keeping your commitments. And now Amreeka.
The engrossing film—not at all preachy—is about treating people as “the other.” Nisreen Faour is award-nominated as Muna, the West Bank Christian Arab who is treated as other  by the Israelis, then emigrates with her teen age son to join her sister in Illinois just after the Iraq war begins, and is treated there too as other. Philosophers have written about the concept of “otherness,” where people of a different background or faith are deemed to be other—that is, not equivalent to the “self,” and therefore inferior, or even less than human.
The basis of all ethics is the Golden Rule, and that rule is smashed by treating people as other. Amreeka entertains, inspires, and teaches us. See it.