What's a respected lawyer committed to the principles of honesty, integrity and justice to do when seeing America on the precipice of ethical decline?
Write a book.
And so, David R. Frazer did. The tax attorney, founder and senior partner of the firm Frazer, Ryan, Goldberg & Arnold in Phoenix, examines America's troubling moral morass and calls for a return to its traditional values in his book "Ethical Meltdown, The Need to Recover Our Vanishing Values" (Hartz Publishing, $18 paperback).
A slim volume with a striking red, black and white cover, the book makes a passionate argument for an American moral resurgence through renewed emphasis on ethics in our classrooms, courtrooms and boardrooms. No sector of the society goes unexamined as Frazer brings his steady gaze to bear on misuse of funds, power and influence. Training his eyes first on his own profession, Frazer explains how his experience more than 30 years ago in the Don Bolles murder case provoked his awareness of moral lapse. When his client, Max Dunlap, died in prison in 2010 after Frazer and others had spent more than three decades trying to exonerate him, Frazer says he was motivated to write the book.
"I realized that not only was our legal system going down a slippery slope, but this was happening in most areas of our life today."
Frazer takes the reader down slippery slopes in areas as varied as law, business, medicine, education and religion. Drawing on real-life cases, shored up by statistical data, Frazer paints a disheartening picture of a society that has lost its way and needs to recalibrate its moral compass.
The attorney offers concrete suggestions for doing that, from instituting an ethics curriculum in our public schools to substituting an ethics exam for the standard LSAT law school admission exam. From cheating students to absent dads to dishonest bankers, Frazer calls for a reaffirmation of the core values that have made our country great.
"Wake up, America!" he challenges at the end of his book. "We need to bring back the ethical values that made America the envy of the world."
'Fire In The Ashes'
Jonathan Kozol issues yet another resounding wake-up call in his latest book, "Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America" (Crown Publishers, $27 hardcover). Kozol, who has written widely and well on the gross disparities of the American public education system, and its failure to serve its neediest students, offers a retrospective of the lives of many of the children he has met over the years from some of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States. He shares heart-rending stories, some of them heartening tales of success against almost insurmountable odds, others heart-wrenching accounts of the toll of poverty, homelessness and hunger that precipitate a downward spiral into drugs, violence and death.
Writing in the voice of a storyteller, Kozol draws on intimate details of the everyday lives of these children to paint a picture of their horrific existence. Many of them he met when they lived in the Martinique Hotel in Manhattan, across the street from Macy's and one block from Fifth Avenue, one of several old hotels remade by the city of New York as homeless shelters in the mid-1980s. Once an elegant institution, the Martinique became "a miserable warren of bleak and squalid rooms" where "children huddled beneath blankets in the middle of the day and some wore mittens when they slept." Garbage was piled at the end of the halls, drug users congregated on the upper floors, and mothers provided "favors" to the security guards in return for a modicum of safety. The children spent their days panhandling in the nearby theater district or in classrooms in the local public school, overcrowded and understaffed, without adequate books or supplies not to mention support and encouragement.
Kozol's indictment of our educational system is painful to read, yet necessary, especially in these times of ever-widening economic disparities and cutbacks in essential education funding.
"None of these children can be held accountable for choosing where they had been born or where they led their childhood," he writes, exhorting us to take responsibility to address America's "sins against our poorest people."
Another book, another call to action, another leader who responded. Gil Troy, in his excellent "Moynihan's Moment, America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism" (Oxford University Press, $30 hardcover) uses the 1975 United Nations Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism as a starting point for chronicling the career of Daniel Patrick Moynihan as a turning point in America's history.
Moynihan, as American ambassador to the United Nations delivered the unequivocal American response to the resolution asserting that the United States "does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act" foreshadowing, according to Troy, a new, more confrontational American foreign policy. While Washington distanced itself from Moynihan's more assertive approach, writes the professor of history at McGill University and Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute's Engaging Israel Program, the public was enamored of his "cowboy diplomacy."
Troy provides an incisive look into both the man and his moment, while offering insights into the development of American foreign policy and the principled men and women who make it.
"Words matter" became Moynihan's famous refrain, but, as Troy shows, so do actions.