A Force Multiplier

Published: February 28, 2013

By Jim Lichtman
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The sequester; Republicans blame the president; the president blames them back; the Catholic sex abuse scandal, same sex marriage, voting rights, gun control, Martha Stewart vs. Macy’s… AND the Pope says, “I’m Outta here!”

Obstruction, power, intolerance, hubris – The Four Horsemen ride again.

After my commentary on Downton Abbey, one reader wrote, “I am distressed by almost everything going on right now in our country… I count on Mr. Ethics to look these issues in the eye and confront them. Please, turn down Downton Abbey and turn up the solid voice you bring to our national narrative.

Well… he’s right!

There are so many complex ethical issues on the nation’s front burner that it’s difficult to wrap my ethical arms around many of them. However, here’s a brief overview with my ethical take.

Among all the back and forth about the soon to be triggered sequester here are some points Washington leaders have not discussed:

1. Congress will not be taking part in automatic cuts if sequestration takes effect. Why? The 27th amendment was created to prevent senators from giving themselves pay raises. But guess what? They can’t cut their own pay, either!

2. Not everything gets cut. According to Washington Times(Feb. 27), writer Catherine Poe, “Social Security, Medicaid, supplemental security income, refundable tax credits, the children’s health insurance program, the food stamp program and veterans’ benefits,” remain intact.

3. According to the latest Pew Research poll (Feb. 21), “76% say that the president and Congress should focus on a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the budget deficit. Just 19% agree with the current Republican position that tax increases should be off the table.”

My ethical take: Washington leaders need to, a) STOP giving press briefings; and b) sit down and actually work together. They were elected to govern. If they cannot find a balanced approach then they have a civic duty to step aside and allow someone else to do the job, Period!

Next issue: The Catholic church decades-long sex abuse scandal has not been fully dealt with?

My ethical take: Whoever is selected to lead the Church into the future needs to understand that trust is vital between disciples and those chosen to guide and help those disciples.

First, they need to take complete responsibility, not only for their lack of leadership, but in actively covering up the issue for decades. Second, they need a comprehensive plan to not only fix past wrongs, but work to ensure that a process is put in place that demonstrates zero tolerance for any future abuse and that the local police will be immediately contacted to investigate all allegations.

Citing the issue of trust, a new Pope should appoint an independent commission made up of church leadership as well as outside experts to develop the appropriate process, and then implement that process to deal with both the legal and ethical aspects of the scandal.

Same-sex marriage –

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on some aspects regarding same-sex marriage.

The Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) says that the federal government must withhold federal benefits to same-sex couples even if they’re legally married in the states where they reside. It states that the federal definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. The recent reality is that eight federal courts, including the First and Second Circuit Court of Appeals, have said that this is unconstitutional because it treats legally married same-sex couples differently from legally married opposite-sex couples.

My ethical take: We live in a diverse and inclusive society. It’s time that the Supreme Court re-examine the meaning of equality, a bedrock principle of the Constitution.

Gun control –

Whenever I read of another mass shooting in our own country, and the follow-up debate about gun control, I’m reminded of a quote by French writer Voltaire: “Common sense is not so common.”

New York Times/CBS News poll (Jan. 28) found “that most of 1,110 respondents — about 90 percent — said they would support a background-check requirement for all gun purchases, and about 60 percent of respondents said they would support a ban on high-capacity magazines, such as the 15- and 30-round magazines that have been used in several recent mass shootings.”

I am NOT suggesting overturning the 2nd Amendment. I am FOR reasonable measures that can further the prospect of safety in homes, schools and businesses. 18th century muskets do not hold a candle to military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. Banning their use by private citizens is a reasonable, common sense measure, no different than banning the use of grenades and bazookas… (I don’t care what Ted Nugent says).

This brings us to the financial feud between Martha Stewart and Macy’s.

According to the Associated Press (Feb. 25), Martha Stewart-branded goods have been in Macy’s stores since 2007 and account for big sales. On December 6, 2011, however, Stewart called Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren to say that she signed a deal with J.C. Penney to open her own shops within most J.C. Penney stores.

“According to Martha Stewart,” the AP writes, “because the Macy’s agreement doesn’t say the goods under dispute can be sold ‘only in stand-alone’ stores, the mini shops within J.C. Penney stores do not fall under the exclusive agreement.”

My take: Ethics asks us to do more than the law requires and less than the law allows. C’mon, Martha, you knew the intent of the Macy’s contract and you’re in breach. Case closed.

The Pope –

When it was announced that Benedict XVI was stepping down from office, I gave him high marks for sincerity and responsibility, until… I heard about the change in his wardrobe. As of today (Feb. 28), His Holiness will give up is regal vestments for a simple white robe. He even has to give up those distinctive red slippers. What footwear will he wear instead? Leather shoes made in Mexico. Hold on, this guy lives in Italy– the best shoemakers in the world, and the Pope Emeritus is going with huaraches from Mexico?

Finally –

It’s easy to become cynical when we’re bombarded with stories of greed, mismanagement, self-interest and hubris. In times like these, I look to the wisdom of one of my favorite philosophers, General Colin Powell who reminds us that “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”

We need to understand that there will always be difficult issues, and tough times. We need to remember that the spirit of optimism is what has carried us through five or six wars, a Great Depression and recent recession. We have always turned things around. Realistic optimism offers us the opportunity to wake up tomorrow and begin again with renewed hope and energy.


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