The Ethical Take

Published: December 16, 2013

By Jim Lichtman
Read More

The Christmas edition of “The Take” is noteworthy, to say the least. From ‘Affluenza’ to ‘Secret Santas,’ it’s a mixed bag.

The New Normal –

We can now add Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado to the growing list of school shootings. Since Sandy Hook, where a gunman took the lives of 26, there have been 22 school shootings in 2013.

At Arapahoe, authorities say the 18-year-old shooter “had intended to harm many more people, but ended up killing himself less than two minutes after entering the school because he knew a sheriff’s deputy was closing in.”

I’m not going to use this latest incident for another sermon on the highly emotional gun debate. I will, however, use this as an opportunity to appeal to gun owners to practice the necessary respect and responsibility that comes with gun ownership.

I will also add, sadly, that given the number and frequency of school shootings, it is time to consider adding at least one armed security guard to schools across the country. Like terrorists, gun violence on school grounds appears to be the new normal. Rather than getting caught-up in endless, non-productive Second Amendment debates, I think we can all agree that better planning and resources should now become a priority on how best to protect students, teachers and others in all schools.

A Refreshing Freshman Senator –

The more I read about New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, The New York Times (Dec. 6), the more I like. She doesn’t mince words and strives to draw a straight line from the problem to the solution.

“I’m trying to fight for men and women who shouldn’t be raped in the military,” she said of her work on sexual assault legislation. If her approach “makes a colleague uncomfortable,” she said, “that’s a price worth paying.”

I once dated a woman who confided that she had been the victim of “date rape,” (sexual assault by someone known by the victim). I was so surprised by the revelation that I had little or nothing of value to say. My immediate reaction to hearing stories such as these as well as those that continue to play out in the military is visceral: I get sick to my stomach.

Gillibrand is a Washington leader who clearly understands why she is there – to help the victims of abuse and advocate for change.

“She just approaches colleagues differently than other Republicans and Democrats from New York,” fellow Senator Charles E. Grassley, a Republican from Iowa said. What distinguishes her is “her determination and knowledge and willingness to sit down one on one with senators and explain what she is up to.”

Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School adds, “She is unwilling to knuckle under to demands for deference. It is very rare that you see a relatively junior member of the Senate staking out a position and sticking by it.”

“I’ve always seen myself as a voice for the voiceless,” Gillibrand said about her job in the Senate. “When I hear these stories, they outrage me.”

We need a more Senators motivated by outrage to focus on the issues that matter most.

The ‘Affluenza’ Defense –

Texas is supposed to be known for its tough-on-crime approach; not, apparently, if you live in the well-heeled community of Tarrant County where 16-year-old Ethan Couch killed four in a DUI incident.

“…judge, Jean Boyd,” The New York Times writes (Dec. 13), “…declined to give the teenager… the punishment sought by Tarrant County prosecutors — 20 years in prison — and instead ordered him to be placed in a long-term treatment facility while on probation. Judge Boyd did not discuss her reasoning for her order, but it came after a psychologist called by the defense argued that Mr. Couch should not be sent to prison because he suffered from ‘affluenza’ — a term that dates at least to the 1980s to describe the psychological problems that can afflict children of privilege.

“Prosecutors said they had never heard of a case where the defense tried to blame a young man’s conduct on the parents’ wealth. And the use of the term and the judge’s sentence have outraged the families of those Mr. Couch killed and injured, as well as victim rights advocates who questioned whether a teenager from a low-income family would have received as lenient a penalty.

” ‘Being rich is now a get-out-of-jail-free card,’ read a headline at The — the role that the wealth of Mr. Couch’s family played in his sentence, and whether the judge had in any way been influenced by the psychologist’s testimony, remained unclear.”

Unclear testimony, the judge declines to explain her reasoning; are you as bewildered by this as I am? What’s in the water in North Texas?

“Other experts said it was part of a growing trend of giving a young person a second chance through rehabilitation instead of trying him as an adult.”

I’m all for rehabilitation of young offenders, but… Couch had a history of poor behavior and knowingly drank to excess (“… [he] had a blood-alcohol level… three times the legal limit for drivers”).

And his reward for this conduct: an undetermined length of time at Club Rehab near Newport Beach, California.

But that’s not the worst of it.

” ‘We are disappointed by the punishment assessed, but have no power under the law to change or overturn it,’ one of the prosecutors, Richard Alpert, said in a statement.”

That is shocking.

Two for Santa –

Reported by ABC News, “As travelers at Toronto and Hamilton International Airports waited for their Calgary-bound flights, they were treated to a virtual Santa with whom they shared their holiday wishes.

“Little did they know that more than 150 WestJet employees were also listening in on the other end of 19 hidden cameras at the airports. After the travelers boarded their flights, the WestJet elves got to work making those wishes come true… Little did the weary travelers know that their dreams were about to come true at Carousel 8. When the carousel buzzer went off, it wasn’t luggage on the conveyor belt — it was gifts with each person’s name on it, from Santa.”

And …

“As harried shoppers were filing in and out of a Joplin, Mo., Walmart on Black Friday, at least one shopper stopped long enough to deliver a major surprise to the two Salvation Army kettle bell ringers standing guard outside. As they counted their totals on Friday night, Salvation Army officials discovered that wrapped inside dollar bills were five checks of $10,000 each, adding up to a $50,000 donation for the local Joplin chapter. …

“The person or persons behind the $50,000 donation remain anonymous, as she or he (or they) has been for the past decade.

” ‘It’s never the same person and our bell ringers can’t ever tell you who it was who put the money in because it’s usually wrapped in bills,’ [an official] said. ‘It’s always wrapped in a way that we would know it was from ‘Secret Santa.’

“[Officials estimate] the anonymous donor(s) has given at least $500,000 over the past approximately 10 years.”

It’s a shame that, most of the time, these stories only make the news at Christmas. I know, for a fact, that they happen all the time.



Leave a Comment