Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/30/17

Good Morning!

(I’m starting this post just a few minutes before noon, thank to a WiFi outage. I’m sorry.)

1. I finally saw “Passengers,” which most people and critics seemed to hate. I see no obvious inferiority to the over-praised and honored “The Martian” or “Gravity,” especially the latter, which bored me to tears, but never mind: it’s an ethics movie. It is also a moral luck movie, and that drove me crazy. I’ll bet so many viewers (SPOILER ALERT!) saw the film and came out saying, “She had to forgive him, because if he hadn’t awakened her prematurely to keep him company, everyone would have died!”

No, no, no! His (Chris Pratt’s) conduct toward her (that’s Jennifer Lawrence, and anyone who wrongs Jennifer Lawrence deserves the torments of Hell) was just as bad–and it was horriblewhether it turned out well by chance or not. Subsequent discoveries or unpredictable events cannot make an unethical act retroactively ethical.

2. San Francisco’s Medicaid program sends illegal immigrants this letter:

When the anti-Trump deranged argue that the President is “crazy,” my stock answer is going to be that nothing he has said or done is as “crazy” as the position that it is right and just to officially encourage foreign citizens to breach our borders, defy our sovereignty and break our laws….and the people trying to use the 25th Amendment to execute a coup are exactly the people who think the letter above is compassionate and right. (Believing that a coup is in anyone’s interest is also demonstrably nutsy-cuckoo, but that’s another issue.)

3. I am really going to be disappointed if NPR and PBS don’t get zero-ed out of the budget. I may be stuck with biased and incompetent journalism, but I shouldn’t have to pay for it.

In a segment of NPR’s “All Things Considered” this week (Yes, I generally think the show is excellent, but that’s not the point) about the “restorative justice” approach to campus sexual assault, reporter Tovia Smith quoted Columbia University graduate Emma Sulkowiczs, aka “Mattress Girl,” as a “survivor” of rape.

She’s not a survivor; she was a harasser, and Columbia just paid a financial settlement to her victim for permitting her to proclaim him as a rapist when the evidence didn’t back the claim. Columbia doesn’t believe Sulkowiczs was raped, and her accusation has been thoroughly discredited. Why in the world would NPR choose this cruel and discredited woman to profile while discussing actual campus sexual assault, and how could it be ethical journalism to still refer to her as a rape survivor?

Smith’s tweeted response to criticism was as damning as the choice of “Mattress Girl” itself:

“Sulkowicz considers herself a survivor & we ID her as such. We’ve clarified that their school found the student she accused ‘not responsible.”

Oh! She considers herself a survivor, so that’s sufficient to make it a fact in NPR’s eyes, and thus worthy of being broadcast as such! Is that in public radio’s ethics policy? So why doesn’t NPR designate President Trump as a victim of a partisan witch hunt regarding “Russian collusion”? That’s what he “considers himself,” as he has said many times. NPR doesn’t believe him? Why does NPR believe Sulkowiczs, then, especially since, unlike in the case of Trump, there has been an official determination that she didn’t tell the truth?

If I say I consider myself Phillip of Macedonia, will NPR represent me as such to its audience?

We should not have to pay for agenda-driven “journalism” like this. If people want left-wing propaganda with their latte, let them pay for it.

4. As White Houses have done since time immemorial, this one read a cute letter from a little boy nicknamed “Pickle” in which he said that he wanted to be President Trump’s friend.  Whole books have been published with collections of such letters. They are not sinister, suspicious, or newsworthy. Nonetheless, the thought that anyone, even a child, could possibly respect and admire this President was so unpalatable that this simple, unremarkable letter just had to be a fraud, “the resistance” proclaimed.

My God.

At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Answer: No.

Thus the the Washington Post and others set out to doxx the child. Oh, it had a rationalization ready:

As Wednesday’s investigation into the veracity of Pickle barged on ahead, weary Trump supporters noted the lunacy — the desperation — of people who would dedicate so much energy to tearing apart a sweet letter from a child. It was lunacy. But it was not lunacy that came out of nowhere. It was lunacy born of the times, incubated in a world of secret Russian meetings, fudged inauguration sizes, and grandiose statements from a commander in chief whose greatest pastime and hobby was self-mythologizing.

Nope. Not even close to a justification. The news media thinks it is appropriate to invade the privacy of a kid for writing a letter, when similar letters to Presidents have been allowed to stand on their own since the days of Lincoln. Wait, how do we know that little girl wrote that he should grow a beard? Didn’t Abe tell a lot of tall tales? (Actually, Abe often lied his head off). This is, once again, “The New York Times Rule”: fair and objective journalism is suspended in the case of Donald Trump.

The Post, by the way, found that the letter was genuine. Then they published the child’s  name and the name of his mother, so some crazed Trump-hating Post reader can fire-bomb their house.

Oh, come on, Jack! That would never happen! It’s not like, say, Bernie Sanders supporting snipers are shooting Republicans!) Anyway, if that kid is supporting President Trump, he deserves it!


5. At least all of those misspent hours watching “Criminal Minds” and “Lie to Me” were not in vain.

On Friday, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pressed recently sacked White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus regarding the accusation from communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, that Priebus was a leaker.

 “Are you the leaker in the White House?” Wolf asked him directly.

Priebus : “That’s ridiculous, Wolf. Come on. Gimme a break, I’m not gonna get into his accusations…”

Blitzer: “Why not? Why not respond to him?”

Priebus: “Because I’m not going to because I’m going to honor the president. I’m gonna honor the president every day, and I’m gonna honor his agenda. And I’m gonna honor our country, and I’m not gonna get into all of this personal stuff, so…”

Uh, Reince? The answer you were looking for is “No. I never leaked.”

Priebus’s  “How dare you! This is an outrage!” response is what interrogators recognize as a deflection, a “non-denial denial,” and strong indication that the speaker is hiding something. I assume that in this case Priebus wasn’t “the” leaker but was certainly a leaker, and did not want to have an uncategorical denial on videotape to discredit him later.

There are two explanations for his refusal to answer Wolf’s question. One is that he was a leaker. Leaking from his former position to the detriment of the President is spectacularly disloyal, dishonest and unethical. Unlike fellow (and possibly criminal) leaker James Comey, Priebus probably has some residual guilt about his betrayal. The second explanation is that Priebus isn’t too bright. His evasive answer is like a neon sign saying, “I did it, but I won’t admit it.” If you are going to be proven a liar anyway, you might as well lie now, or better yet, tell the truth and come clean.

Then the answer Priebus was looking for, but didn’t have the courage or integrity to speak, was “Yes. I leaked.”

23 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/30/17

  1. Re: 2, 3, 4 & 5 I couldn’t agree more.
    Re: 1 I haven’t watch a new movie all the way through since the last Harry Potter movie. Seems like I haven’t missed much.

    • ‘Granny,

      You are missing some fun entertainment. In addition, ‘Passengers’ is a great ethics movie, and one that spurred family conversations on the actions characters chose to take. It was a great teaching tool for my teens.

      You feel the twisting heartache and desperate loneliness of Pratt’s character as he comes to the decision to effectively steal someone’s future for selfish reasons(#23A). He was wrong, but very human. Another ethical decision was when Pratt chose to ‘break in’ to facilities his ticket restricted him from. Facing a life alone, with the star liner company already ethically breached, his decision was very much a rationalization (Mainly #49 , but with flavors of #18, #11, and #7.) He never paid for the use of those things, but knew that he would never be held accountable, as he would die long before anyone else work up to complain. Indeed, both characters altered the ship’s interior drastically while making their lives better.

      And Jack is right: the fact that Pratt and Lawrence saved the ship is irrelevant to the unethical decisions they both made before the that act. #3, Consequentialism is at play here along with moral luck.

  2. Re: #2.

    We’ve discussed this before I believe. On one hand it does seem humanitarian to let anyone, regardless of whether they are a lawbreaker or not, receive medical care. I think most people here will agree with that.

    The question becomes should they, after treatment, be arrested and tried for their crimes. The argument I’ve seen for NOT reporting, say, an Illegal immigrant who comes into the ER with a broken leg, is that we do not want to discourage people from receiving possibly life saving treatment just because they’re wanted by the law.

    And on the surface of it, possibly because of being a liberal myself, I agree with this.

    However, why just Illegal immigrants? They are essentially just people who are breaking the law, and we are offering them a free pass to benefit from state resources without answering for their crimes. So is a guy who stabbed a homeless man in the street and received a wound himself and needs medical care. So is the guy who stole a car, then wrecked it and needs medical care. Do we give them a free pass into medical care as well?

    I don’t think we can just say “Illegal immigrants wont be reported but we will report car thief”, because A: where are you going to draw the line of reporting on someone and B: that’s going to make car thieves less likely to want to come in for treatment, and don’t they deserve help too?

    We need to agree (with less partisan bullshit hyperbole, I’m surprised they didn’t find a way to drop the phrase “Trump Regime” into the letter like Gizmodo is in every other article now, even on my beloved Jalopnik) if we are going to give criminals the ability to use our medical system, while letting them stay outside the radar on law enforcement, under the premise that, just like our justice system, we would rather see a system slanted towards some bad people going free than some innocents going to jail (Innocent until proven guilty); or we want to move the slider the other way, pointing out that if someone broke the law, they do need to answer for their crimes.

    I lean the former, heavily; it’s a complicated subject with lots of “but what about x!” moments, but I think the cleanest, most humane solution is to simply let criminals receive treatment without worrying about being reported (with an exception for murderers).

        • The observatiion holds either way. If you think it’s right then, to you, it supports your position. And in any case, I didn’t read it as an unqualified argument for its rightness. It’s offered as an additional consideration.

        • Charity is right, Charles. We are supposed to have a government by for and of the people. If you want to make charity a national policy, that’s fine. But then you’re going to have to make paying taxes optional. Make giving to the government a charitable act and let everyone else go their own way. If observing the law is optional for government workers, why have laws? Let’s become China and you can head up the Central Government and decide what’s right and everyone will have to obey.

    • I don’t think it’s analogous to the justice system. In the justice system we still are acting to put bad people away, we just err on the side of some bad people going free to minimize the amount of innocent people being punished. I don’t think the medical system would ever actually turn actual bad people away even if they admitted to a crime as though it were a matter of procedure.

      Not saying your conclusion is wrong (or right), I just don’t think an analogy to the justice system is helpful.

      • I am reminded of the Navy Corpsmen serving with the marines treating the few Japanese prisoners in the Marines march across the Pacific. And the children on Okinawa. If you are sick or injured, medical people are going to treat you…it’s what they do.

    • As I was reading your comment, I was reminded about the (law/policy/directive?) that requires hospitals to report gunshot wounds to the police. The idea there is that police might be on the lookout for certain individuals involved in certain altercations that may have left them in a perforated position. And not just because they might have been involved in a shootout, or something similar, but because people who live criminal lifestyles tend to be the victims of… say… drive-bys, more often than the population at large, and if someone who has an outstanding warrant happens to get shot, why let an arrest opportunity go to waste? It’s a policy that I think we can all get behind.

      And you know what no one seems to care about?

      That’s right. No one gives a rat’s ass that a criminal who was shot, during the commission of their crimes or not, might risk bleeding out or sepsis because they’re not seeking medical assistance in order to avoid arrest.

      The disconnect between an illegal immigrant and a robber, in the minds of the people making that disconnect, comes back to the general premise that they don’t seem to believe that being an illegal immigrant is actually… wrong. That isn’t a great word to describe the idea, but it’s not incorrect either… It seems to be some mixture of serious, immoral, and criminal that allows them to pretend that the illegal immigrant isn’t doing something wrong. That in fact, what’s happening to them during a deportation is wrong, and that they need to be sheltered from it.

      Once you start to understand the thought process that mindset takes, things like this start to make sense as symptoms of that process.

      • HT, I understand the mind set about as much as anybody can, but I cannot understand the motivation behind it. It almost seems like they believe that the U.S. and Canada have some sort of responsibility to share our wealth with EVERYBODY. Same mind set that produces “income redistribution”.

        • I think… That it comes from a really stunted an immature outlook on life.

          I think that these people look around them and say “Everyone should be treated equally, everyone should have access to medical care, everyone should be able to live like Americans” And these are good aspirations! There’s nothing wrong with thinking that that should be how the world should be…. There isn’t even a problem with being the change you want to see in the world. And if one was able to follow through on those aspirations, there’d be nothing wrong with feeling an amount of satisfaction at doing a good thing.

          The problem is that life comes at these people fast, and they aren’t able or willing to adjust to what life throws at them. I really…. really hate situations I can’t make sense out of… And so I’ve spent significant amounts of time attempting to understand this… And I don’t know if I’ve succeeded or not. I mean… Here is a group of people that likes to pretend that they’re on the side of science, logic and reason, that their positions are ones that come from adherence to those principles while simultaneously ignoring entire schools of thought because they’re inconvenient. More than that… It’s self evidently apparent that certain ideas just don’t hold up in practice… Marxism is probably the best example that I can think of. Why anyone would believe that Marxism just “wasn’t implemented properly” and that they could do it better is beyond me. These seem like people looking for disappointment.

          So my take on it… Is that they aren’t actually looking for success. The best they might hope for is that they can take a page from the suffragette manual and piggyback on the success of people like the suffragists…. But what I think might actually be most important to these people, more than being factually right, more than implementing change, is that people Witness Them and that they Are Liked. That as they take that final plunge from the speeding roadster, face spray-painted shiny and chrome, screaming at the top of their lungs “WITNESS ME!” That the people around them can all agree that their gaze is planted upon something virtuous.

          Christ that’s a sad picture. Great movie though.

          • Here is what I see as part of the problem; they have missions (income equality) but no goals Every living soul in either country having an income of $50,000 per year). It’s like the job of building the house is more important than the house. I’m really not making my point well, here and I apologize. Hopefully, you’ll be able to figure out what I’m saying.

            An example may help. I worked for an outfit, once, here in Texas dedicated to helping people with disabilities make the most of their lives. Unfortunately, they got so wrapped up in the minutia, such as politically-correct words to use about the disabled that they lost track of their actual job, and earned the sobriquet “Feel good shop”. Hope that makes it a little clearer.

            • They only need goals if the point is to succeed, and because the point isn’t to actually succeed, all they need are inspirational bumper stickers. Things that they can say loud and proud, hopefully with someone streaming to social media.

              I have this conversation routineley with a friend of mine, when we’re talking about the Hollywood Cult of Diversity. He’ll say something like “We need more diversity in Hollywood” or “There should be more X in lead roles”, Now… We disagree, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but if I were to accept the premise, one might reasonably ask: “So what’s your goal?” And the answer is invariably “More diversity”

              “But How much more?”
              “Are you looking for proportional representation?”
              “That’d be a start”
              “What’s the end game look like?”

              Every time I have a variation of this conversation, it strikes me how childish and underdeveloped a view it is…. But when the point is to project virtue, and especially when the people you’re trying to signal to aren’t particularly stringent in their rigor… I suppose most arguments would experience an arrested development.

              • I get what you’re saying, HT, but “more diversity” is not a goal. It is, at best, a process. A goal would be something like “Blacks represent 14% of the population, therefore blacks should star in 14% of the movies we make”. Thus, no goals. As I see it right now, they are floundering. We’re looking at people who have not had a decent education, but have been indoctrinated by an institute of higher learning and are going with what little they have. Keep in mind, these are people who have never learned civics or history. Thus, we have a lot of “feel good shops” in which the aim (separate from a ‘goal’) is to say and feel the correct (politically) things about EVERYTHING.

  3. #2
    What I find disturbing about the letter is not that it informs Medicaid beneficiaries that they will not be reported if they seek treatment, but the fact that it documents that illegal immigrants are being enrolled in Medicaid in the first place. Once past the fact of illegal immigrants being covered by the program, the remainder of the letter simply informs them of some of the restrictions regarding release of information imposed by HIPAA that apply to everyone no matter what their health insurance or citizenship status.

    There are slight individual variations in the rules from state to state because HIPAA requires that the state law apply if stricter than the HIPAA law otherwise HIPAA law prevails but these are minor. Just looking at Florida, the law would prohibit any hospital, clinic or doctor from reporting information about the immigration status of a patient to anyone. There are certain situations that allow reporting but immigration status is not one of them.

    The usual circumstance that mandates reporting is the abuse of a child or vulnerable adult. Reporting and involuntary hospitalization are allowed for certain mental health situations. There are certain injuries that mandate reporting such as gunshot wounds, stabbing or other life threatening injuries that indicate an act of violence. If information is learned that indicates imminent threat to another person, that information can by provided to police but only as much as absolutely necessary to alleviate the threat. If a patient commits a crime in the facility, enough information can be released to identify them. There are other cases information can be released but they are limited and the fines for violations are steep, up to fifty thousand dollars per incident and up to one and a half million dollars per year total.

    Anonymous Coward asked about a few specific scenarios. If a guy stabbed a homeless guy and was himself injured and sought treatment, he would be reported if the wound was a wound suggestive of an act of violence. If he mentioned the guy he stabbed was down someplace that could be reported. The car thief is just going to be treated.

    The bottom line is that if someone goes for medical treatment, they are going to be treated. It would be illegal to report them solely for being an illegal immigrant even if that fact were known to the treating facility. If a patient meets a requirement for reporting, a gunshot wound for example, then a report of that fact will be made. It would then be up to law enforcement whether or not to determine immigration status. The role of the health care provider is to provide health care and follow the applicable laws.

    • Thanks John. As always. “The bottom line is that if someone goes for medical treatment, they are going to be treated.” No kidding.

      • Good explanation, John. Like you, I have some serious problems with illegal aliens being covered under Medicaid. As I understand it, Medicaid is Federal funds granted to the various States. The States can then add money to the Federal funds, if they have any available, but that the States decide how the Medicaid recipients are chosen. In most cases, it is assigned to the poor…people who are likely to not seek medical treatment until it rises to the level needing an emergency room. A valid counter-argument to “they won’t come in if they are going to be reported” is that they are taking money and resources away from citizens, whose taxes pay for the Medicaid in the first place

  4. Frankly, I think the hospital should only be dealing in health-care-related things and ignore the immigration status. Why ask about it in the first place? It certainly doesn’t affect the diagnosis or treatment.

    The hospital shouldn’t you asking what your favorite movie is, either. It’s irrelevant to the job at hand.


    P.S. Yes, I am making an exception, though not really, to my usual law-and-order stance on such things. What it really is is that I value human life higher than I value justice for individual lawbreakers–especially non-violent ones. No, illegals should not be employable, given access to government programs, issued driver’s licenses, etc. But they SHOULD be able to get medical treatment when sick or injured.

    • But they SHOULD be able to get medical treatment when sick or injured.

      And they do get treated, at my expense, I might add.

      But my rights as a citizen are being trampled by illegals, in so many ways. If I break a law, I pay the consequences as a citizen, regardless of how I was caught. Where is equal justice under the law for all? Giving certain protected classes a ‘free pass’ to continue to break the law is unethical, no matter the circumstances.

      Illegals who do not seek medical care because they might be deported get the same lack of pity as the citizen street thug, who decided to break the law, got wounded, and dies avoiding medical care.

      This is about ethics, choices and consequences. Ethically speaking, this progressive stance is bankrupt. The hypothetical sick illegal would never have been here to cause the ethical problem, had they never broken our laws in the first place. Just like the (much deported) illegal who killed one of our citizens: those that support such policies have that innocent blood on their hands for supporting a feel good, muddled thinking policy to signal virtue, so others like them for a moment.

  5. I remember watching Passengers in theaters last year, and listening to people talk about how troublesome it was. My problems with the movie are more that it’s not very good science fiction.

    What’s the point of making a call back to Earth from the ship if it takes forty years to get there? Why is there so much open space in the commissary, when this part of the ship will be used for less than a year of the centuries-long-journey? Why have huge open spaces like that at all when the walls in some of the cabins have those pretty holo-walls to simulate them? So they have a robot bartender, but not a robot that can fix problems on the ship? Did the ship deliberately wake Chris Pratt up because he could fix stuff? Is THAT an ethical choice for the computer to make?

    What if, rather than unfreezing someone he had the hots for, he unfroze a selection of people whom he thought could fix the ship’s problems ? (I forget why it said that Laurence Fishburne’s character got unfrozen. And of course, when he unfroze Jennifer Lawrence, he didn’t know there was anything wrong with the ship.)

    It’s easy to say that what Pratt did in that movie was unethical, because it TOTALLY was. But what is more so much more unethical is for this company to send thousands of people to their near-deaths on this Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang of a spaceship with such ridiculously limited safety measures, and to put Pratt or whatever poor forsaken bastard was woken up instead into this impossible situation.

    But as far as mainstream movies released about that time, Passengers isn’t a tenth as unethical as Collateral Beauty. If you want to have to explain to your wife why you threw your bowl of cheesy popcorn at the screen… go ahead and give that one a rental.

  6. …anyone who wrongs Jennifer Lawrence deserves the torments of Hell

    I will be sure to tell President Snow… oh yeah, he was torn apart by an angry crowd.

    So the theory holds up, Jack.

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