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Topic: Professional Ethics

Dear Trump Appointees: Quit Your Jobs or Lose Your Souls
6/6/2017 1:34:57 PM

Brian Beutler over at The New Republic today says that "For those who made a moral calculation in joining the administration, the time to reconsider has arrived." I agree with him. The Trump administration has already had difficulty finding qualified people. Four nominees have withdrawn from consideration for the FBI director, for example.

When a president is elected he or she does not own the federal government. There are already laws and departments and jobs established. The president's job is to carry out the will of the nation as that will has been established over decades and decades of law and tradition. Trump seems not to want to do this. He wants to wreck and disrupt whatever has already been built, and thinks it is his right to do so.

But no one should help him do this. There is now no head of the Census agency, for example. Should someone be appointed who does not believe that good numbers are important?

Beutler goes on to argue:
In the immediate aftermath of last year’s election—before anyone could know for sure  how thuggishly the Trump transition would conduct itself, or how resistant the president-elect would be to running the government in the public interest—large swaths of the conservative professional class faced a moral quandary. “It’s safe to assume that the figures who denounced [Donald Trump] most vocally will not be in line for key positions,” wrote conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. “But for others, especially the many younger public servants who would normally staff a Republican administration, a hard question looms: If they fear how Trump might govern, can they in good conscience work for him?”

Douthat, among others, argued persuasively that this reluctant class of public servants, professional climbers, and experienced hands should agree to join the administration precisely because Trump was an object of fear—but only if they were prepared at some point to quit in protest. If the presidency descended beyond a gray zone of morally questionable leadership into a realm of lawlessness and corruption, “then there will be an obligation not to serve, but to resign.” Six months later, we have very clearly entered that realm. On Monday, the conservative legal scholar Jack Goldsmith, who served in George W. Bush’s Department of Justice, wondered on Twitter, “How much can *executive branch officials* indulge the presumption of regularity in their work? And: To the extent that they can’t, how long do they continue to serve?”

Trump officials’ answers to those questions will differ depending on their positions, but the number of them who can claim their continued service is morally requisite is dwindling rapidly by the day.
Maybe Trump will resign on his own if nobody will work for him.

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Pastors: Help Your People Understand Obamacare
11/6/2013 5:45:42 PM

Many Republican lawmakers are elected by people who claim to be "Christian". You would think those people and the lawmakers themselves would take seriously the ten commandments, specifically the eighth commandment which in Martin Luther's Small Catechism reads: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." Luther goes on to give an explanation of this commandment: "We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way."

I would like to speak well of Republican lawmakers but I have been listening to how they speak about the president's new health care bill as it is now being implemented and I just cannot believe the terrible distortions they are making. I heard Marco Rubio on Fox News, for example, Senator from Florida since January, 2011. He said millions were losing their insurance under the president's bill. He said the bill was removing free choice for people, they can no longer choose the health insurance they want. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Meet the Press Sunday that Obama has lied to the American people about being able to keep their insurance. The president has been so dishonest that the entire second term of the president must now be questioned.

At hearings I watched on C-Span Republicans have been repeating over and over stories of how their constituents are being hurt by Obamacare. And they are encouraging people not to sign up for it.

If people listen to these politicians they may well not explore their options for health insurance and thus expose themselves and their families to terrible consequences should they get sick or have an accident. It is a hugely irresponsible act for these politicians to lie about the health care bill in these ways. It is possible to oppose the health care bill, of course, but it is breaking the eighth commandment to lie about it.

It would be good for pastors to inform members of their congregations about the bill through newsletter articles or public forums. Here are some facts.

The vast majority of Americans do, indeed, keep their health care as the president said, through government programs such as Medicare or through health insurance where they work, some eighty percent of Americans. Others who have purchased individual plans from health insurance companies are allowed to keep their current plans, even if these do not meet the guidelines of the new bill; they are "grandfathered" in if the health insurance companies allow it. But many are not allowing it, they are sending letters saying the government is forcing them to change the plans. This is a lie, but it appears many companies are doing this. And they are blaming it on Obama. Republican lawmakers know this, but they can't resist a chance to blame Obama too.

Rubio claims Obamacare removes choice for people. In the clip I saw he repeated this several times. He said he wanted people to be free to choose the plan they wanted, not be forced by the government to buy a government-approved plan. But let's think about this. Let's think about what kind of "freedom" Rubio is talking about.

Many individuals under the old system bought cheap insurance thinking they were covered enough. But what they didn't realize is that if they actually got sick or had a serious accident their junk insurance policy may be cancelled or would not cover their particular problem or had such high deductibles that it wasn't very helpful at all. But individuals didn't know this unless they actually had a problem.

And here's the thing: Obamacare doesn't allow these junk policies. Part of the "regulation" of the health care industry under Obamacare is to make sure companies offer policies that actually do something, that actually provide protections to people. Here government is doing what it should do, protect people from being exploited by companies who put their profit over everything else.

Marco Rubio wants people to be "free" to be abused by companies selling junk insurance. I hate that the word freedom is so much misused by politicians, it is a very important word. People deserve to be free from being manipulated when it comes to something as important and personal as their health care. It would sure help if politicians would take the eighth commandment even a little bit more seriously.
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The Gosnell Verdict and Abortion Politics
5/16/2013 6:18:29 PM

I have received several inquiries today about an article located on this website by Cynthia Gorney called here "On the Politics of Partial-Birth Abortion". It is a reprint of a 2004 item from Harpers magazine. I don't usually reprint such items but this one provided an especially excellent history of the abortion debate including the troubling language used to explain what doctors do in performing abortions. It shows how opponents of abortion use such language to shock people into supporting the anti-abortion position.

The article was mentioned in a column at the Wall Street Journal by Daniel Henninger in response to the verdict against Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia this week. Henninger mentions this website as a source for the article. I would like here to make clear my own views on this.

First let me quote the Religion News Service on this trial:

Even before rogue abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted in Philadelphia on Monday (May 13) of delivering and then killing late-term infants, abortion opponents were convinced they had a case that could reshape an abortion debate that has remained static over the years. After the verdict, they were even more confident.

“Dr. Gosnell is only the front man; and the real trial has only just begun. The defendant is the abortion license in America,” Robert P. George, a Princeton law professor and leading conservative activist, wrote after a jury convicted Gosnell of three counts of first-degree murder for snipping the spines of babies after botched abortions.

What Daniel Henninger likes about the Gorney article is that she calls for a larger and better conversation about abortion. He quotes her: "There is a sober, profoundly difficult public conversation to be had about second- and third-trimester abortion in this country." I agree completely with that, but then he goes on to say:

No reasonable person could disagree. But let's make that any-trimester abortion. Whatever Roe and its successors allowed, it's not the answer. Something has to give. That means compromise is necessary if one wants fewer abortions. After Gosnell, 40 more years of the dreadful status quo is unthinkable.

Notice that Henninger wants all abortions to be questioned, not just the latter trimesters. So he is using the Gorney article to go beyond what she is recommending. He seems to be pushing for what Robert George also wants, an outlawing of all abortion.

The Gorney article is specifically about so-called partial-birth abortions carried out in the latter trimesters for various reasons. The grisly details of how these are performed make difficult reading. But the fact is that there may well be compelling reasons for such abortions if we are told all the facts about why a particular woman needs such a procedure. The Gorney article does not adequately provide those reasons.

And I still have not myself read about the exact details of the Gosnell case to know the conditions of the fetus and women involved in that case. A jury has found him guilty of murder since the life of the fetus was taken outside the womb. But I do know that what Robert George and other anti-abortionists do is to overly romanticize and idealize the biological processes involved in the development of human beings. They do not admit or realize that the biological process itself is not perfect, is often broken, and that a partial-birth abortion can be, in fact, the most moral action possible within a tragic set of circumstances.

These are the sorts of abortions which Dr. George Tiller was willing to perform on behalf of parents and women facing such tragic circumstances. He was a Lutheran layperson who was murdered in his own church by a man whose motivations were fueled by the kind of thinking of Robert P. George.

What most people do not realize is that abortion is not just a moral issue to be debated among those with varying ethical orientations. It is a political wedge issue used by one side of the political divide in this country as a handy emotional issue. Henninger's column even presents this context with his choice of a title, "America's Second Civil War". It is, indeed, a continuation of the original civil war.

Large numbers of followers of religious right preachers vote for Republican candidates, for example, who stand for positions against the economic interests of those very followers. The preachers dupe their followers by self-righteous rhetoric about abortion. Before the 1973 Roe decision, there was a wide variety of opinion among Southern Baptist leaders. But there was in the South widespread hatred of the Supreme Court for its decision on school integration which forced public schools in the South to integrate their classrooms. After 1973 the abortion issue became a rallying cry for the religious right, whose leaders mostly come out of the South, and which turned to the Republican Party after the civil rights victories of the 1960s. The so-called cultural wars are in many ways just a continuation of the civil war; the South is now trying to use abortion to claim the moral high ground against the North.

Abortion should not be discussed without acknowledgement of this larger political context. Furthermore, the religious right has taken a position against freedom and equality for women and a larger role for them within society. Abortion is absolutely a key emotional issue for the religious right against this greater role for women. When they use the highly emotional language about partial-birth abortion they are, in fact, engaged in lying about the facts involved in all abortions, most of which do not require such grisly methods.

In other words, the Gosnell verdict represents a particular case of a physician who did not practice acceptable methods of abortion. No matter what the law is, no matter how carefully institutional structures are designed, there are going to be cases of individuals doing the wrong thing. But we should not make law and create structure based on isolated examples. Robert George and others will claim that Gosnell represents what is universally true about abortion.

But that is not the truth at all. A better conversation is needed, I agree. But you can't have a good conversation with people like Robert George. What is needed to deal with people like him is a good political movement in support of women, women's health, and women's choice.

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Today is My Last Day at Goldman Sachs
3/14/2012 12:52:51 PM

Greg Smith has worked at Goldman Sachs bank for twelve years. Today in a New York Times Op-Ed piece he explains why he is leaving. The piece is already getting a lot of attention. It is rare that a professional person actually has the courage to tell it like it is inside the organization for which he or she works.

I encourage folks to read the entire piece. But here are a couple paragraphs:
To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.
Basically, Smith is saying that his company is engaged in a systematic rip off of its customers. It reminds me of a distinction Reinhold Niebuhr made in his book Moral Man and Immoral Society. By "society" Niebuhr is really talking about institutions such as corporations and labor unions or political parties or government bureaucracy. Though individuals are capable of moral action, institutions always require compromise of human values. This distinction is often used by conservatives to justify institutional actions such as war and making gross profits. But Niebuhr was also talking about participation in labor unions, how it was necessary for such groups to engage in actions such as strikes even though these actions could not claim moral purity.

But it is always still necessary for individuals with moral capacity to determine the degree to which they can participate in an institution if that institution begins to function in a manner violating human rights or justice. The failure of persons to do this within the death-causing Nazi institutions is now understood to be one of the great moral failures of history. The actions of corporations today, the gross disregard for the natural environment, the attacks on labor unions and creation of a very large class of wage slaves, and such actions as Greg Smith describes, have nearly completely undercut any moral legitimacy for these institutions. Corporate institutions have themselves used the political process to create rules by which they are able to concentrate income into fewer and fewer hands and leaving destitute very large segments of the population.

What we need is many more professionals like Greg Smith. The truth needs to be told about what happens inside corporate institutions and the degree to which they are failing the test of moral legitimacy today.

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