The Ethical Take

Published: April 12, 2013

By Jim Lichtman
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First up: Senate to Debate Gun Legislation –

On Wednesday I acknowledged six politically courageous GOP Senators who refused to go along with a proposed filibuster to prevent new gun legislation from being brought to the floor for a debate. We have two Senators to thank for that.

Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Penn.), “unveiled a bipartisan deal to expand background checks to all commercial sales of guns on Wednesday,” the Washington Post reported.

The New York Times writes (Apr. 10), “Manchin, a conservative West Virginia Democrat, decided to call on his friend Senator Patrick J. Toomey, the Pennsylvania Republican known almost exclusively for his conservative fiscal positions. On a recent Amtrak trip from New York to Washington where they happened to intersect, Mr. Toomey agreed to listen.

“On Wednesday the two gun owners, long favorites of the National Rifle Association, came together in a last-ditch effort on a background check compromise that opened the door to a rare Congressional consideration of gun law changes, beginning Thursday.”

My Ethical Take: While the bipartisan deal falls far short of what most Americans want (see Wednesday’s poll), it’s a responsible step in the right direction. More importantly, I hope it represents the beginning of many more much needed bipartisan efforts to move Congress in the direction of working for the people rather than the parties or special interests. (Maybe they should all be forced to ride Amtrak together.)

Next: 35 Indicted in Test Scandal at Atlanta Schools –

“[Jackie Parks, a third-grade teacher] admitted to [state investigator Richard] Hyde that she was one of seven teachers nicknamed ‘the chosen’ — who sat in a locked windowless room every afternoon during the week of state testing, raising students’ scores by erasing wrong answers and making them right.

“In the two and a half years since,” The Times (Mar. 29), reports, “the state’s investigation reached from Ms. Parks’s third-grade classroom all the way to the district superintendent at the time, Beverly L. Hall, who was one of 35 Atlanta educators indicted Friday by a Fulton County grand jury. … Hall… was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison.”

Ethical Take: Clearly, a “no-brainer,” but how could teachers –of all people – get caught-up in such a scandal? Answer: Hall alone, made more than $500K in performance bonuses while superintendent.

Issue Three: McConnell Office Bugged –

According to a report in The Washington Post (Apr. 11), “Members of the Democratic group Progress Kentucky [great name] were behind a leaked recording of a private conversation among Sen. Mitch McConnell and his campaign staff about potential rivals, a local Democrat alleges.

“The tape was not made by bugging the Republican senator’s office but by standing in the hallway while the conversation occurred, Jacob Conway, a member of the executive committee of the Louisville/Jefferson County Democratic Party, told news organizations.”

Ethical take: Don’t you just love the way folks rationalize? It’s technically not bugging if the recording device was in ahallway, but is bugging if the device is located inside the room. Frankly, I thought bugging went out with the Nixon “plumbers’ and Watergate. Apparently not.

I mentioned this to a friend who gave me the “everybody does it” defense: “C’mon, Jim, both sides do that and much worse.”

It’s wrong no matter who does it.

Finally: Pernetti Out, Barchi on the Bubble? –

At a news conference last week, Rutgers President Robert Barchi announced the resignations of Athletic Director Tim Pernetti and the university’s general counsel John Wolf.

The Times (Apr. 5), writes that “Barchi placed the blame for the decision to suspend rather than fire Mr. Rice in December squarely on Mr. Pernetti and the university’s lawyers, saying he had not watched the video of Mr. Rice’s actions last fall and instead had relied on their descriptions of it.

“ ‘I know had I seen the tape that my assessment would have differed from theirs, and I would have acted on my assessment,’ Dr. Barchi said.

“When asked why he had not watched the video, he said: ‘I can’t answer exactly why I didn’t. You can only say in retrospect I sure wish I had.’

This story goes from strange to stranger.

Strange: After learning that a video tape existed of the alleged abuse, the university president doesn’t look at the tape?

Stranger: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defends Barchi.

“Christie, The New Jersey Star-Ledger writes (Apr. 9), “said Barchi should have insisted on seeing the tape immediately. But, he added, it would be wrong to hold him responsible for acts that mostly occurred before he stepped on campus a year ago as the man the governor is relying on to pull off a wide-ranging restructuring of the state’s institutions of higher education and to write a strategic plan.”

The Ethical Take: I like Christie, think he’s done a great job at raising the bar for political leaders. But he’s wrong on this one.

When Barchi learned of the alleged abuse, he chose NOT to view the tape. That was mistake number 1. Mistake 2: He approved Rice’s $700K salary without even looking at the evidence until after ESPN aired the tape. While I don’t hold Barchi responsible for Rice’s actions, he is guilty of extraordinarily bad decision making.

Question for Gov. Christie: What other questionable decisions has Barchi made and what poor choices could he make in the future that could directly impact the reputation of Rutgers?

Leadership, real leadership is ethics in action.


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