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My Year in Review…Independence Day and the Internet July 4, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, U.S. Constitution.
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I started blogging about a year ago….June 2010.  Encouraged by friends and family to share my insights on current events and legal ethics,  I have engaged in the luxury of writing about whatever struck me as compelling, ludicrous, noteworthy and/or ironic.  Never knowing who might read my thoughts, I have enjoyed sharing them nonetheless.   The truth is that taking a few moments to pause and consider what one really feels and thinks about an event has value regardless of whether anyone else decides to read about those thoughts and feelings.

So, perhaps there is a hidden value in the quick paced, far-reaching world of technology in which we live. Although there is much bemoaning about information overload and everyone’s access and ability to post status updates, tweet and blog about their opinions, when used thoughtfully, technology may not only inform, but encourage reflection.  

As society and its use of technology evolves, there may be less destructive and outrageous behavior and more understanding if we take time to ponder and share our views.  Never before have we had the ability to learn what so many people are thinking and feeling simultaneously.  Sometimes it is TMI (too much information), but other times it provides great insight, bonding and even democratic revolution.  

We have come a long way from ink wells and messages delivered on horseback.  No telling what might have been accomplished in 1776 on a laptop…..Just a thought about the future as we look back on Independence Day


The Great Divide–Ethics Codes & Unethical Behavior May 30, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Criminal law, Education, ethical decision making, ethics codes, Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness.
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Really, does one need a formal ethics code to restrain a person from unwarranted and non-consensual sexual behavior visited upon another? Does an ethics code in the work place inhibit an employee from cheating on his/her spouse? (Or even inhibit supporting dueling pregnancies or running for president in the midst of marital infidelity?)  Is a “close relationship” with a subordinate at work only a “potential” conflict of interest?  Please, someone enlighten me!

While today’s New York Times article on the International Monetary Fund does provide insight into the two tiered system of ethics codes and enforcement systems within that organization, it really does not provide any enlightenment into the impact of those codes on human behavior. Nor does it note the distinction between unethical behavior in ones professional life and personal life–although some would argue that this is a distinction without a difference.  However, think inappropriate gifting to impact government decision-making or sexual harassment on the job as professional life settings and infidelity occurring outside of the workplace as personal.

Clearly the New York Times did not seek to explore the psychological underpinnings of human behavior in today’s article;  it is simply reporting upon and providing insight into the inner-workings of the  ethics codes and enforcement at the IMF. The impetus for the article is the recent resignation of the IMF Managing Director,“Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper in New York. Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who denies the charges, has resigned his position at the fund.”

It just seems that there is a disconnect between whatever flaws there may be in the IMF ethics procedures and the alleged behavior of its Managing Director.  One has to wonder whether a more  transparent ethics procedure equipped with greater sanctions would really deter an alleged sexual assault. [We have criminal statutes that certainly do not deter individuals from criminal conduct, including sexual assault,–certainly one may argue that engaging in criminal behavior is generally unethical–although that is a much larger topic.]

So, what’s the point?  The point is that as a society we need to encourage a culture of ethical behavior and develop a consensus as to whether there is some behavior, conducted in a personal or professional setting, that reflects such a lack of judgement as to disqualify the individual from certain positions in society.  It is an evolving process–one that is aided by ethics codes that guide and create the minimum standards of conduct that we require in a particular setting.  However, until we further understand and address the psychological underpinnings of  decision-making and the role of ethics in the actual moment of the decision, ethics codes, such as the one that exists at IMF, will probably have little impact on behavior such as the alleged sexual assault and resignation of its Managing Director.

March Madness: Facebook & Virtual vs Actual Democracy March 25, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Abortion, Immigration, Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, U.S. Constitution.
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Middle Eastern uprisings sparked by  Facebook connections, public employees protesting in Wisconsin, Arizona’s reaction to protests over its immigration laws, and South Dakota’s new abortion law….March is a compelling month for the study of natural rights and the democratic process.

According to John Locke and our Founding Fathers we are all born with inalienable rights….or more simply stated…We are free and should only be constrained by  a democratic government in which we give up certain rights in exchange for the protection of our fundamental rights–a social contract.  Somehow, a number of dictators around the world didn’t get that memo…Despite that fact, the human spirit remains strong and with the advent of technology, we have seen a new version of democracy in action–the use of Facebook, Twitter, and texting as a means of revolution.

Groundbreaking, history in the making, and certainly worth noting and contrasting with our open society.  Why?  Because democracy is sometimes messy, often adversarial and down right unpleasant. However, underneath the unpleasantness remains the fact that we have a system that is to be cherished as the best method that human beings have been able to create to support fundamental freedoms.

The people of Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries have been able to use technology to accomplish uprisings against governments under which our brand of democracy does not exist.  By contrast the Wisconsin public employees “simply”exercised their constitutional rights to protest government imposed limits on public employees’ labor rights. The ongoing dispute with the state legislators is now headed for the state’s supreme court.

Arizona has developed a reputation as having some of the harshest immigration laws on its books and a governor who openly supports a tough stance.  There have been protests, media coverage and social media discussion criticizing Arizona’s recent laws , including on this blog.  It appears that all the criticism is not good for business as Arizona has lost tourist and other revenue, so recently five newly proposed restrictive immigration laws failed to muster the necessary votes  in the Arizona state legislature.

Finally, South Dakota, a state without a high incidence of abortion, but with a high percentage of republican legislators, has passed legislation that requires “women who are seeking abortions to first attend a consultation at such ‘pregnancy help centers,’ to learn what assistance is available ‘to help the mother keep and care for her child.'” It is probably unnecessary to explain the furor that this has caused in this controversial area….Planned Parenthood has indicated that it will move the debate from the legislature to a courtroom where the interpretation of  a woman’s constitutional rights in this area will be argued and decided upon once again.

Emotionally charged disputes in fundamental areas of society–employment, immigration, pregnancy–controversy abounds. However, regardless of how one feels about public employees’ union rights, immigration rights, or abortion, we can embrace the fact that we live in a country in which we have a right to publicly dispute these issues and a government that has a process by which to revisit and resolve our disagreements.  It might sound like a huge piece of American pie, but given what is transpiring in the Middle East, it seems worth taking a moment to pause and savour the sweet taste of democracy.

Mindfulness & The Battle to Claim Yoga: The Irony of the “Warrior Poses” November 28, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, Religion, Yoga.
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Yoga’s exploding popularity as form of physical exercise and a meditative method for achieving greater life balance has ironically caused some of its participants to wage a verbal war over yoga’s origins.  The Hindu American Foundation initiated a “Take Back Yoga” campaign to increase awareness of yoga’s Hindu roots.  “In a way,” said Dr. Aseem Shukla, the foundation’s co-founder, “our issue is that yoga has thrived, but Hinduism has lost control of the brand.”

The campaign has gone viral and caused reaction (or perhaps in mindfulness terms, reactivity) throughout the yoga community at all levels.  In fact the New York Times reports that: “Dr. Deepak Chopra, the New Age writer, has dismissed the campaign as a jumble of faulty history and Hindu nationalism. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has said he agrees that yoga is Hindu — and cited that as evidence that the practice imperiled the souls of Christians who engage in it.”

And… In June, the Indian government began digitizing ancient drawings that depict more than 4000 yoga poses, purportedly to discourage further yoga copyrights like Bikram Choudhury’s 2007 copyright for the 26 poses now known as Bikram yoga.

Wow, what happened to the concept of a collective consciousness and a mutual striving to eliminate suffering?  Perhaps America, as the land of entrepreneurial opportunity, happened to yoga.  Or perhaps the ongoing struggle within our melting pot to achieve a balance of the yearning for cultural respect and individuality alongside the inevitable assimilation and blending of various aspects of diverse cultures is at the root of the ‘Take Back Yoga” campaign.  Maybe the campaign would never have caused such a stir without the internet to serve as an available battleground.

Whatever the sociological and psychological underpinnings may be, hopefully the participants will soon pause, return to focus on the breath and transition from the warrior pose to engage in a restorative yoga experience.  Yoga is a gift, whatever its ancient origins may be, and living in the present moment may assist in alleviating suffering for all involved.

Lean to the Left, Lean to the Right…Stand Up, Sit Down, Is It Really a First Amendment Fight? — NPR v Juan Williams October 24, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, Racial Discrimination, Religion, U.S. Constitution.
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The U.S. Constitution provides freedom of speech and press….that is found in the First Amendment.  Our freedoms to feel and think, regardless of whether we speak, are innate and have been described by philosophers as aspects of our natural rights as human beings. Juan Williams, a self described Black journalist and civil rights advocate, shared his feelings of a “moment of  anxiety” when boarding an airplane, post 9/11, along side Muslim individuals who are dressed in traditional Muslim clothing.  Williams expressed these views on the Bill O’Reilly show on Fox News where Williams is a paid contributor.  Williams has also warned about the potential of this type of fear to create unwarranted bigotry against Muslims.  National Public Radio, (NPR), who employed Williams as a news analyst, promptly fired Williams stating that there is no place in analyzing the news for  a reporter’s opinion as it undermines credibility.

Williams was immediately offered a large contract by Fox News as the backlash against NPR for the firing continues….Interesting to ponder whether if the situation had been reversed–if Williams had made the comment on NPR as a guest contributor while an employee of Fox–whether this would even be much of  a news item. Williams was not reporting a news event.  He was expressing a personal anxiety that  has become especially inflammatory in light of recent controversies in the news concerning the building of a mosque near ground zero and the threatened burning of the Koran on 9/11.

Whether his statement, which he has since explained was made to highlight the need to pause and become aware of ones feelings to achieve a rational tolerance for others and avoid bigotry, is inappropriate journalism, an overreaction by a hypersensitive left-wing news organization or just a reflection of the reality of post 9/11 tension in society is the subject of the current debate.  It begs the question of what is the responsibility  and appropriate role of those participating in the 24 hour cable news cycle phenomena?

Clearly, the First Amendment allows Williams to share his anxiety and permits everyone else to criticize his decision to make his feelings public.  NPR’s termination of Williams and Fox’s offer of a new contract are likewise permissible expressions of disapproval and support.

The question remains what is the most appropriate manner and forum in which to discuss the realities of undeniable post 9/11 tensions that linger in our country?  Do we talk “around” the underlying reality of these tensions in debating the ground zero mosque?  Do we remove irrational prejudice and bigotry in our society by  claiming that it is illegal, socially unacceptable and ignoring an analysis of its roots?  The answers to these questions vary based upon to whom the questions are posed.  Juan Williams believes that in revealing his own visceral fear and identifying it as a cause for concern, he was contributing to a discussion in which he hoped acknowledgement and exposure of human nature might alert us to the potential for unwarranted discrimination arising from this type of fear. Others believe that as a high-profile figure, his statement reinforced and condoned anti-Muslim sentiment in our country.  The answers depend upon a person’s particular orientation and perspective.  However, more important than the answers, is the debate concerning the questions and the freedom of speech that permits the conversation to continue.

Really, Can’t We All Just Get Along? Or Does Relocation of a Mosque “Trump” National Burn a Koran Day? September 9, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, Religion, U.S. Constitution.
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So, this week while Rodney King plans to wed one of the jurors in his case, Donald attempts to “Trump” a small town pastor by  placing a losing bet on the purchase of the  building near ground zero in which the controversial Islamic center is planned.  Meanwhile,  the President of Indonesia is imploring President Obama to keep the pastor from burning Korans on Saturday, September 11th, and the Secretary of Defense is on the phone attempting to persuade the pastor not to burn the Korans.  Wait–it gets better–the pastor calls off the burning based upon a message from God which indicates that the Islamic center is moving its location.  Problem is that God apparently forgot to mention the deal to the folks planning to build the center because they are not moving it despite the pastor’s message from God and Donald Trump’s offer to pay the main investor 6 million dollars (a 25% immediate return on investment). Now the pastor is reconsidering and may  still burn the Korans.

I imagine if I submitted this storyline to any movie producer or director, I would be laughed out of their offices for proposing such an unfathomable plot.  Before leaving I would attempt to persuade them that this is a story about America–Freedom of speech, religion, the right to assemble, etc, etc, etc.  Donald Trump is making his offer as a resident of New York and a citizen of the United States, a patriot in a capitalist country (or is that a capitalist in a patriotic country?),  in an attempt to end the strife over the Ground Zero Mosque Issue.  The whole world is watching as our President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and yes, even Sara Palin, have come together  in agreement that it is a bad idea to burn Korans even if it is  constitutionally justifiable ( and even though they don’t all agree on whether the ground zero mosque should be built).

Having still failed in my attempt to “sell” the story to Hollywood, I might finally concede that truth is stranger than fiction….And sometimes life becomes so crazy that it appears that the only solution is to ask everyone to pause, breathe and remember that beneath our religious beliefs, political preferences, ethnic and cultural differences we are all, first and foremost, members of one race–the human race.  In that regard a little respect, humility and sensitivity would go a long way.

Roger Clemens Throws a Destructive Curve Ball…And Other Matters of Deception, Ethics and Mindfulness August 24, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, sports.
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Perhaps we should add boomerang pitch to the baseball accomplishments of Roger Clemens.  What is the boomerang pitch?  It is a pitch that is thrown VOLUNTARILY despite the fact that it is destined to return and hit the pitcher upside the head.  Roger Clemens has been indicted for perjury after voluntarily  testifying before Congress and adamantly denying that he used illegal performance enhancing drugs.  The reaction of the public has ranged from shock, awe and disgust to calls for forgiveness based upon Clemens’ notable contributions to baseball and a suggestion that he is being singled out for prosecution because of his celebrity.  (That’s a new twist on the analysis of celebrity status and its impact on prosecution….)

We could easily dismiss that argument except that it seems to be a current cultural theme.   Huh?  Well, there has been much speculation and analysis about why Rod Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois, was only found guilty on 1 of the 24 criminal counts against him that involved allegations and an abundance of evidence of  dishonesty, fraud and an attempt to sell the Senate seat left vacant by President Obama’s election.  Apparently, some of the jurors just thought that Blagojevich was being “singled out” by the government for activities that are just typical political behavior.

Clemens and Blagojevich maintain that they are not lying–-In fact, Clemens’ attorney has recently defended Clemens with a questionable “doesn’t make sense that he would lie” argument and Blagojevich is spending time at  a Comic Convention, appearing on talk shows and claiming that his political future is not over.   While the final “jury” is not in on these two, their denials are reminiscent of the deceptions perpetrated by the likes  of John Edwards, Mark Sanford, and Elliot Spitzer, just to name a few.

What’s the problem?  Is it a “simple” matter of ethics and morality?  There certainly has been a call for more ethics and character education in schools. And the media and criminal justice system seems to have sharpened the focus on ethics violations in recent years.  The problem is not simply one of ethics–-Surely, most of these people who stumbled and the many others who we all know, but do not have the notoriety to make “the news” with their missteps,  knew right from wrong.  In fact, unless there is a developmental mishap, we all develop a conscience by about the age of six years old.

So, what’s the problem?   The problem is a lack of mindfulness.  What’s that? Mindfulness has to do with an individual’s conscious awareness in the moment.  We  teach a course in Professional Responsibility and Mindfulness at the University of Miami School of Law. When  students were asked on the opening day of class to define mindfulness, they offered descriptive words and phrases such as: awareness, overcoming animal instincts, deliberate action, finding work/life balance , considering the effects of your actions.

Scott Rogers, the founder of the Institute for Mindfulness, who co-teaches the course provides the students not only with an understanding of the concept of mindfulness, but also with the underpinnings of the neuroscience that explains decision-making and what occurs when we impulsively react as opposed to thoughtfully respond.

It is a complicated topic about which much has been written, but it is a simple concept for the purposes of our discussion today.  The bottom line is that we should be teaching not only ethics, but also mindfulness.  It is important to teach children moral lessons, but if you do not give them the tools to understand how to apply these lessons, then the instruction is incomplete.  Why not teach children from a young age how our minds function, how emotion influences decisions and actions, and how to be aware of their own feelings and reactions.? Why not continue this education every year along with math and english?  (And, by the way, it’s not too late to teach the adult population—Neuroscience confirms that we are able to continually learn, expand and change our brains.) Just imagine a world in which most people existed in a conscious state of awareness most of the time.

Maybe Clemens and Blagojevich and all of the other ethical “missteppers” in our midst were aware, considered their primal impulses, the effects of their actions  and took deliberate, conscious action.  Maybe the earth is flat.  Maybe it’s time to teach mindfulness along with the orbiting earth.

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