Monday, November 30, 2009

Freedom of religion in America but not in Switzerland

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion in America, and we have places of worship for every religion here.

We can identify most places of worship by symbols: crosses, stars of David, statues of Moroni, minarets, and so on. These symbols are important to the faithful. Imagine outlawing display of stars of David, or crosses, or minarets. Nope. Unimaginable. Not here.

But in Switzerland, which is five percent Muslim, voters just outlawed the building of minarets. There are now four in the country, and that’ll be all. The largest Swiss party, the Swiss People’s Party, says minarets are a sign of Islamization, and proposed the referendum that passed with 57% of the vote. The SVP's general secretary told the BBC: "This was a vote against minarets as symbols of Islamic power."

I’m thankful we have the First Amendment in our Constitution and in our cultural DNA. From now on, whenever I see a minaret I’ll remember to be thankful for American freedom

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pete Carroll rubs it in to UCLA

You’re leading your cross-town rival, 21-7, and you have the ball with 54 seconds to go. The game is won, so what do you do? You call for your quarterback to take the ball from center and knell—“taking a knee” in football talk.

Your opponent calls time out, honoring the age-old sports imperative to not quit until the final gun. Now there are 52 seconds left. Your opponent still has two time outs remaining. He’ll surely use them.

So if you’re a coach teaching and practicing sportsmanship you call for the quarterback to take a knee again. But if you’re Pete Carroll, coaching the disappointing 7-3 USC Trojans against the UCLA Bruins, you call for the quarterback to fake a running play, then throw a 48-yard touchdown pass. Then you exchange high-fives with players and coaches on the sideline.

My question, Coach, is “What were you celebrating?” You’re better than that, Pete.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Heckuva job, Brownie! Obama’s Katrina? Not quite yet, but stay tuned

To a lifetime Fed like me, the biggest shock of Hurricane Katrina was the colossal failure of the Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and the Defense Department. It proved that the Bush administration couldn’t govern. Surely the Dems, and President Obama, would do better. Not so fast, Bob, the Obama administration may not be any better.

But if the Obama administration isn’t up to the task, thank God for Michaele and Tareq Salahi. The Salahis got through the Secret Service security and crashed the White House reception and state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Salahis were just publicity hounds, not killers, and their escapade may well shock the government into fixing the apparent carelessness of the U.S. Secret Service before one of the many potential assassins get through the USSS’s haphazard security.

The recent book by ex-Secret Service man Ronald Kessler warns that the Service is regularly compromising the President’s safety by, for example, not bothering to put everybody who could come close to the President through a metal detector. Contributing to the problem is the Department of Homeland Security, which seems to be starving its USSS subsidiary of funding just like it starved FEMA before Katrina hit.

All this carelessness and failure to get the job done is a huge violation of the U.S. Government’s ethics code, which requires every government person to “ [give] to the performance of his duties his earnest effort and best thought.” The Secretary of Homeland Security and the President need to find and fire those responsible…or else it’ll be clear that they are the ones responsible.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Maybe the NFL isn’t the tobacco industry, after all

The NFL has been compared in congressional hearings to the tobacco industry for its insistence that concussions, like tobacco, aren’t bad for you. My colleague, Jack Marshall has gone so far as to write, harshly but sensibly, that even watching NFL games is unethical.

Now the league is finally starting to take seriously the problem of players returning to action too soon after suffering concussions. Today’s New York Times reports that the NFL will require players who have suffered head injuries to be cleared by an independent neurologist before returning to play. It’s not a complete solution, but it’s an important second step. (The first step was recognizing the league’s own responsibility for the situation.) Perhaps colleges and high schools will begin to do the same.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Unethics in California

Today’s LA Times headline screamed: UC ready to raise student fees by 32%. UC—the University of California—is a great university. It’s the flagship of the huge system of higher education that is widely credited with making California the envy of the world, the pace setter in agriculture, entertainment, aerospace, and information technology. It’s very low in-state tuition has opened the door to advancement to generations of Californians, rich and poor alike, but especially to those who couldn’t otherwise even dream of a quality university education.

Student fees will be over $10,000, tripling in ten years. With other costs a student will have to pay $26,000 to attend for a year. This is the result of gridlock in California politics caused by solid Republican opposition to raising any taxes to pay the costs of running a modern state.

Many, if not most, of these Republican legislators themselves attended UC when it was far cheaper than it is now. Having reaped the benefit they are selfishly denying it to today’s young Californians. By whatever measure you want to use-- refusing to “give back,” refusing to leave things as good as they found them, or refusing to give a hand up to people who need it-- this is profoundly unethical behavior.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An Inspector General shooting the wounded--as usual

Today’s papers reported that Tim Geithner, then head of the New York Fed, caved into demands from Goldman Sachs and other “counterparties” of failing insurance giant AIG. As a result taxpayers spent billions to keep Goldman and other Wall Street biggies from losing as AIG failed.

All this according to the report of Neil M. Barofsky, the special Inspector General for TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, last fall’s $700-billion bailout of the financial markets.

In my days at the Defense Department IGs were likened to someone who went over the battlefield after the battle and shot the wounded. Barofsky’s report and the news coverage is in the best tradition of the wounded-shooting IG’s. What’s not in the headlines is that the world financial system was on the verge of collapse—within a few hours, according to Too Big to Fail, a new book about the crisis.

We should be praising Geithner and the entire Fed for rescuing the world, with little time to spare, from a repeat of the Great Depression, not quibbling that he might have done it better. Everyone could have done everything better. Big deal. I’m grateful that he did it effectively, and with no time to spare.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pete Carroll teaches unsportsmanlike conduct

Sports…sportsmanship. Hmmm. Seems like they should go together. Legendary coach John Wooden taught both at UCLA, today coach Chip Kelly teaches both at Oregon.

I’m a big fan of USC Trojan coach Pete Carroll. He’s arguably the most successful college football coach of recent years, and at the same time he’s been quietly dedicated to helping gang-threatened youth in the rough neighborhood around the university.

But why, Pete, do you encourage your players to strut, to taunt, and to act like they’re more important than the team. USC touchdowns, sacks, and solid plays are often followed by 15-yard penalties. The penalties hurt the Trojans’ field position, but more importantly, the acts teach poor sportsmanship to the legions of kids and adults that follow USC football.

All you have to do is once bench Everson Griffen, Will Harris, or one of your other stars after an egotistical demonstration and the whole team will get the message. It’ll make the Trojans a better team and will make you a better teacher.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ethics, profiling, and Major Hasan

The tragic killings at Fort Hood have again raised the issue of profiling, and of treating people as individuals rather than as part of a group of “others.” The Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey, has told Army leaders at all levels to be on the lookout for an anti-Muslim backlash that would hurt Muslim soldiers and damage the Army’s diversity, which he called a great strength.

My friend Jack Marshall has written eloquently in his blog,, about the price of American principles, and about how we must always treat people as individuals and not as members of some group.

I posted a comment on his blog about the human tendency to fear the “other”–Muslims, homeless, African-Americans, cops, people with odd accents, etc. I wrote that our leaders need to constantly remind us of our shared humanity, like Bush did after 9/11 and like Army leaders are doing today. Jack pointed out the real trap to that attitude…

“is when one individual appears to confirm a negative stereotype. Hasan shouldn’t be regarded as any more of an “other” than you are. There were plenty of German-Americans in the forces during WWII (indeed, the commander!), but nobody regarded them as threats…they were Americans. Hasan is a perfect storm of factors leading him to this, and maybe someone should have caught the warning signs earlier. But his religion and nationality were not among them.”

Monday, November 9, 2009

Two cheers for Nancy Pelosi

Ethicists criticize politicians who put re-election and partisanship above doing the work the people elected them to do। Nancy Pelosi has been the legitimate target of such criticism. But we have to admire the way she got the job done over the weekend.

Pelosi is a fierce advocate of women’s right to choose, but she saw that getting the health care bill through the House of Representatives would require yielding to the right-to-lifers among House Dems। So she supported an amendment to block the use of federal subsidies for insurance that covers elective abortions.

That did the trick: pro-life Dems voted yea, and the first health care reform bill ever to pass the house was approved. Pelosi had counted well: the bill passes on a 220-215 vote—just two votes to spare.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

And speaking of ethical sportsmen, here's Joe Girardi

Jack Marshall's excellent ethics blog,, tells the story of Yankee manager Joe Girardi, driving home at 2am hours after winning the World's Series, stopping to help a motorist who had just crashed on New York's heavily traveled Cross County Parkway.
Jack makes Girardi his ethics hero of the month, but remains loyal to his beloved Red Sox. For me, I'll now start rooting for the Yankees (except when they play the Dodgers), and I'll tell people the ethics story that made me a Yankee fan. Similarly, I'll start rooting for coach Chip Kelly's Oregon Ducks (except when they play USC), and I'll keep on rooting for my all-time ethical sports hero, Andy Roddick.
Let's just say no to rooting for unethical players or teams, and tell our friends why we've starting rooting for the Yankees, Ducks, Roddick, and others who exemplify ethical behavior.

Florida Gators, Oregon Ducks, and ethics lessons

Sport teaches character. What can we learn from the Florida Gators? The Gators are ranked #1 again this week, likely headed for the national championship game. How do they do it? Play dirty, the dirtier the better.

Like, if the other team’s running back is doing well against you, jump on the pile after he’s been tackled and try to gouge his eye out.

That’s what star Gator linebacker Brandon Spikes did Saturday to Georgia running back Washaun Ealey during Florida 41-17 win over the Bulldogs. Fortunately for Ealey, Spikes couldn’t quite reach the eye through Ealey’s facemask.

Gator coach Urban Meyer doesn’t go for that kind of dirty play, trying to permanently blind an opponent. No, sirree. Meyer suspended Spikes for the first half of this week’s game against a weak Vanderbilt team.

Compare Meyer’s action with that of Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who suspended his top running back for the season for punching an opponent.

When it comes to ethics, score one for Oregon. Big zero for Florida. Go, Ducks!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ethics isn’t Democratic, but…

It’s good news for America that the moderate Democrat, Bill Owens, won today’s special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district. The Republicans had nominated Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, a supporter of gay rights, right-to-choose, and the Obama stimulus. That was too much for some conservative Republicans, who broke with the party and got Doug Hoffman on the ballot as a third-party candidate. Scozzafava eventually withdrew and endorsed Owens.

The district voters have been represented by Republicans longer than anyone can remember, going back to the nineteenth century. But Hoffman, with his supporters—Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and many mainstream Republicans—was too much for them to swallow: they elected Owens. The Democratic winner, in his victory statement , said, “The challenges that we face are not Democratic or Republican," he said. "They are not liberal or conservative. They're challenges that Americans face and that we will overcome with American resolve."

Had Hoffman won it would have ratified the Limbaugh-Beck line that there’s no room in the Republican party for any dissent from the far-right line. It likely would have led to massive repudiation of moderates from the party, and probably to one-party (Democratic) government for years to come.

The Owens election strikes a blow for politicians of both parties who believe in working together to solve America’s problems. And for the prospect of ethical governance.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The three tens: Dow 10,000, unemployment 10%, bonuses of $10 million

Thinking about the three tens: Dow Jones at 10,000, unemployment at 10 percent, and Wall Street bonuses at $10 million a head. What’s wrong with this picture?

Our society is growing more and more unequal—more unemployed people at the bottom, more zillionaires at the top, 23% of total national income going to the top 1% of earners. We Americans pride ourselves on America being the land of opportunity. But the promise seems to be slipping further and further away.

The ethical person has to ask himself occasionally, “What kind of person am I? What kind of community am I a part of?” The answer can’t be very comforting. The three tens have to make us pretty uncomfortable.

The left wants to legislate limits on executive pay; the right wants to preserve the ability to gain super wealth without government interference. But what about the people getting the $10 million bonuses. Do they ever ask, “What kind of person am I? What kind of community am I a part of?” They have the ability and the moral authority to change the system. If they ask the question.

The 32 National Football League owners asked the question six years ago and it profoundly changed the league. More about that model in a day or two..