Situational American Morality


A new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago has implications for both politicians and advertisers — and should scare anyone who cares about ethics.

The study involved having consumers

. . . read a political monologue about federal funding for Planned Parenthood that they believed was previously aired over public radio.

Respondents were randomly assigned one of two feedback conditions where upon completion they were informed that the monologue they had just read was either true or false.

Consumers were then asked whether they felt the monologue was justified. The bottom line:

  1. If the consumer agreed with the monologue, they were less critical of it, regardless of whether they were told it was true or false.
  2. If the consumer disagreed with the monologue, they were more critical of it regardless of whether they were told it was true or false.

In other words, in today’s America, it doesn’t matter if someone is telling the truth or lying as long as the consumer agrees with what they are saying. Functionally, that’s a blank check for a politician or advertiser to say anything as long as it includes something the consumer wants to hear.

Unfortunately, this “culture of lying” has consequences. It affects where people want to live, work and spend their money.

As an Airbnb host, we’ve been getting an earful from foreign travelers who don’t want to live here as well as workers who are asking for transfer back to their home countries. We have a doctor who views the level of medical errors in the US as unacceptable and disgusting. We have the Irani who says that, if she becomes ill, she will return to Iran for treatment rather than seek treatment in the US. We have a mother from Europe who is leaving so her daughter won’t become “Americanized”. We have the black teacher who grew up in the US and now works in Saudi Arabia, and says that her quality of life is better there than it ever was in the US.

We have the realtor from Kansas who lives in an American enclave near Mexico City and has seen a 41% increase in sales to Americans moving south this year. Mexico claims that it has 2 million Yanquis living there, most undocumented immigrants. South Korea has close to 1 million Yankee civilians; there are other large pockets in UK, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Australia and other countries. The US Government itself is mum on the number of Americans leaving the country. (All of these numbers exclude military and government personnel stationed outside the US.)

A primary complaint among expats is that they want to escape what the US political culture has become. That brings us back to our topic — the moral acceptability of lying.

For some of us, lying remains unacceptable regardless of the excuse.


  1. Allison B. Mueller, Linda J. Skitka. Liars, Damned Liars, and Zealots. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2017; 194855061772027 DOI: 10.1177/1948550617720272
  2. University of Illinois at Chicago. “We tolerate political lies for shared views, study suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 August 2017. <>

The EB-5 Immigration Program (and you thought H1-Bs were a problem)


The EB-5 program allows  rich investors from China and India to bypass waiting lists to get visas and green cards for permanent immigration to the US.  The program was created during the first Bush administration as a way to stimulate foreign investment in the US.

Frankly, the requirements aren’t much. The minimum is the creation of 10 new full time jobs — and those jobs can be created by companies with which you do business, not the company in which the investor puts money. If investing in a “troubled company,” the requirement is maintaining the existing headcount.

If I read the regulations correctly, buying a pizza joint or car wash could entitle someone to permanent residency in the US. Or investing on one of Donald Trump’s family properties.

This came into focus today because of a Washington Post story about members of the Kushner family hawking real estate investments to wealthy Chinese as a device for gaining US residency.  (Remember, these are Trump’s inlaws.) The sales pitch is invest now before the regulations change.

Selling citizenship to the highest bidder. Is that what making American great again really means?



  1. US Customs and Immigration Service, “EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.”
  2. Emily Rauhala and William Wan, “In a Beijing ballroom, Kushner family pushes $500,000 ‘investor visa’ to wealthy Chinese,” The Washington Post, 6 May 2017.

No room for historical revisionism


I’ve been a history buff for years. Growing up in Kentucky, I dealt with people intent on glossing over the evils of slavery. I was born less than 90 years after the Civil War ended, and there are people still intent on re-fighting that war today.

This bit from leaves little room for gloss. Written about a skirmish in Arkansas in 1864,

The Rebels’ treatment of black troops was harsh. No black troops were captured, and those left wounded on the battlefield were brutally killed, scalped, and stripped. The Washington Telegraph, the major Confederate newspaper in Arkansas, justified the atrocity by declaring “We cannot treat Negroes taken in arms as prisoners of war without a destruction of social system for which we contend.”

The men ultimately responsible for this atrocity were Confederate General John Marmaduke, later governor of Missouri, and Confederate General Samuel Maxey, who later represented Texas in the US Senate.

I rather suspect that in the current era, both would have been imprisoned or shot for war crimes. However, in Missouri and Texas, they get elected.

I was in Charleston a few years ago when a tour guide tried to claim that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. That’s a difficult case to make if you look at the newspaper and diary accounts from that time. We’re better off being honest with ourselves about our past and our future.


Inequality in Healthcare


17456_1269532813224_1076952025_30803996_7657050_nThere is inequality in the provision of healthcare in the US.  We know that since we know that life expectancy is associated with wealth.  However, an outright admission of prejudice is rare.


Enter the Mayo Clinic.  According to Becker’s:

The Minnesota Department of Human Services has launched a review of Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic for possible violations of civil and human rights laws. The review comes after news surfaced of an internal video memo from Mayo Clinic CEO John Noseworthy, MD, in which he told staff to prioritize care for patients with commercial insurance over those who are publicly insured, according to MPR News.

“We’re asking … if the patient has commercial insurance, or they’re Medicaid or Medicare patients and they’re equal, that we prioritize the commercial insured patients enough so … we can be financially strong at the end of the year to continue to advance, advance our mission,” Dr. Noseworthy said in the videotaped speech, which was recorded in late 2016, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.(1)

How many other hospitals (and clinics and doctors) do the same thing?

This is also a clear message that newspapers and public radio still matter.  ABC News is to be commended as the only national news service to run with this story.


  1. Tamara Rosen, “Minn. state department questions whether Mayo Clinic policy violates civil, human rights laws,” Becker’s Hospital Review, 17 March 2017.
  2. Jeremy Olson, “Mayo to give preference to privately insured patients over Medicaid patients,” Star Tribune, 15 March 2015.
  3. Elizabeth Whitman, “Cherry-picking patients? Mayo Clinic aims to ‘prioritize’ privately insured,” Modern Healthcare, 15 March 2017.

A Timely Quote


In a speech honoring Lincoln in 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt said the following:

“We of to-day, in dealing with all our fellow-citizens, white or colored, North or South roosevelt_portrait_photo_01should strive to show just the qualities that Lincoln showed – his steadfastness in striving after the right and his infinite patience and forbearance with those who saw that right less clearly than he did; his earnest endeavor to do what was best, and yet his readiness to accept the best that was practicable when the ideal best was unattainable; his unceasing effort to cure what was evil, coupled with his refusal to make a bad situation worse by any ill-judged or ill-timed effort to make it better.”

More Problems with Healthcare for US Vets


Here we go again.

The survivors from the 4,000 soldiers who were assigned to clean up radiation from nuclear tests are now being denied government assistance for illness that are likely to have resulted from exposure.

At the time, the US government provided protective gear for a photo op on arrival on the 29atomic-1-superjumbosite, but did not allow the troops to keep the gear or use it while doing the cleanup.

The troops and their doctors believe that the abnormally high incidence of birth defects and tumors among the troops resulted from exposure.  The government claims that exposure levels were never unsafe.  (If so, why the photo op with the protective gear?)

We seem to have changed doctrines, from “guilty until proven innocent” to “let’s assume every individual is trying to rip off the system.”  The government is denying claims apparently with insufficient proof that the claims are in fact false.

Of course, if the government is successful in denying these claims, the costs will show up in the health insurance premiums consumers pay. 


A Solemn Thought at Christmas


Aristotle is usually correct.  Anything taken to excess turns bad.  Think of the examples:  too much sugar, too much poverty, too much power, too much self-righteousness.

“There is nothing superstitious in using the name of the Deity. I believe myself in those eternal principles on which human weakness reposes before it starts on the path of virtue.  These are not idle words in my mouth any more than they have been idle words in the mouths of many great men, nonetheless moral for their belief in the existence of God.”

Who would make such a statement?  None other than Robespierre, The Incorruptible, author of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, responsible for the deaths on tens of thousands on the guillotine.  He was the 1700s version of ISIS, using a device far more efficient than modern terrorists now use to behead victims.

Why think of him today?

An important lesson from history and from the 14th Dalai Lama is that happiness comes from within and not from material goods or conquest.  Conversely, while extremism in the pursuit of anything can produce short term gain, the gain tends to be short term, and the misery it causes is overwhelming.

So, why think of him today?

Simply, Christmas isn’t supposed to be about material gifts or about the superiority of one religion over another.  Jesus was called The Prince of Peace for a reason, and while his message may have been twisted over the last 2000 years, the promise of peace remains profoundly appealing.  Its what people need.  It’s some thing each of us can act to bring into being.

Please remember the mantra:  “change begins with me.”


  • Scurr, Ruth, Fatal Purity, Henry Holt and Co., New York, 2006, p. 192.
  • Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy,Penguin Publishing Group, 2016