Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/20/18: Cheaters And Useful Idiots

Good Morning!

1. A Whistle-blowing dilemma.The Ethicist in the New York Times Magazine is no fun anymore, now that a competent, real ethicist is answering queries rather than the previous motley assortment of Hollywood screenwriters and others of dubious qualifications. Even when I disagree with

  • “Given how little cheating is caught, reporting them would have meant that they paid a penalty that lots of others ought to — but won’t — pay.” Ugh! A Barry Bonds excuse! So because all guilty parties aren’t apprehended, everyone should get away with wrongdoing?
  • “Because many people in your generation don’t take cheating very seriously, your friends would most likely have ended up focusing on the unfairness of being singled out, not on their wrongdoing.” That’s their problem. The attitude the Ethicist identifies is 39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?” He’s correct that this will be the likely attitude of the busted cheaters, but since when did how wrongdoers rationalize their wrongdoing become mitigation?
  • “The intervention you were considering was likely, therefore, to be very costly to you.” Yes, doing the right thing often is.
  • “The burden of dealing with cheating in your school shouldn’t fall on you.” Boy, I really hate this one. It’s #18. Hamm’s Excuse: “It wasn’t my fault.”

This popular rationalization confuses blame with responsibility. Carried to it worst extreme, Hamm’s Excuse would eliminate all charity and much heroism, since it stands for the proposition that human beings are only responsible for alleviating problems that they were personally responsible for. In fact, the opposite is the case: human beings are responsible for each other, and the ethical obligation to help someone, even at personal cost, arises with the opportunity to do so, not with blame for causing the original problem. When those who have caused injustice or calamity either cannot, will not or do not step up to address the wrongs their actions have caused (as is too often the case), the responsibility passes to whichever of us has the opportunity and the means to make things right, or at least better.

This rationalization is named after American gymnast Paul Hamm, who adamantly refused to voluntarily surrender the Olympic gold metal he admittedly had been awarded because of an official scoring error. His justification for this consisted of repeating that it was the erring officials, not him, who were responsible for the fact that the real winner of the competition was relegated to a bronze medal when he really deserved the gold. The ethical rule to counter Hamm’s Excuse is a simple one: if there is a wrong and you are in a position to fix it, fix it.

Appiah doesn’t feel the full force of my fury because the case involves middle-school, and the questioner is a child. This is what makes it a toss-up. If this were college or grad school, I think reporting cheaters is mandatory. Appiah also says that he doesn’t care for honor codes because they are usually not followed.

Maybe I was wrong about him…

2. Hmmm…Sounds familiar...The funny ethicist who gets  to answer oddball questions, Judge John Hodgeman, got this one:

“Over a decade ago, my sister tried to prove to me that Sean Connery starred in “You Only Live Twice,” but I refuse to believe her. That man doesn’t look like Sean Connery, and the voice is all wrong. Every now and then it comes up, and I still say she’s wrong.”

This sounds like half the political arguments I find myself in.

3. That was collusion, right? Aiding and abetting? What? In last week’s indictment handed down by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, we learned that…

… Defendants and their co-conspirators, through another ORGANIZATION-controlled group, organized a rally in New York called “Trump is NOT my President” held on or about November 12, 2016.

Both CNN and MSNBC hyped the Russian-organized anti-Trump rally with live and overwhelmingly positive reports every hour. Reporters called the unprecedented anti-President-elect event “a love rally,” with its chants of “We reject…the President-elect.” Well, it kinda rhymes.

Neither CNN nor MSNBC were aware of the fact that this was part of a Russian effort to promote division and discord, but they had to know it would do that. Thus  those networks played the roles of “useful idiots,” in old Marxist parlance. Covering the rally, as the two networks, as they have continued to do since, pushed fear-mongering and hysteria as a reasonable response to Trump’s election.

MSNBC anchor Alex Witt told viewers, “That woman, when she’s saying she’s concerned that black people will be shot in the street….Is that a legitimate concern for her? Because, that’s scary.” Naturally,  useful idiot on-scene reporter, Morgan Radford, replied, “Alex, it’s not only a legitimate concern for her, it’s a legitimate concern for a lot of people I’ve spoken to….They’re wondering if this [Trump’s election] is almost a license to carry in terms of hate!”

Nice.

I wonder why the American public doesn’t trust journalists any more?

This is what happens when journalists are so biased, partisan and unprofessional that they abandon all objectivity and skepticism. How ironic it will be if it turns out that CNN and MSNBC, both obsessed with “Russian collusion,” colluded with the Russianswhile the Trump campaign did not.

(Do alert me if you see any of the network news shows pointing out CNN and MSNBC’s complicity in the Russian destabilization plot.)

4. But no one can blame the Russians for THIS...The New York Times’ relentless obsession with Trump-bashing notwithstanding, the paper has provided a neat compendium of the ethically-slovenly activities of several high Trump appointees here, including…

[T]he secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, last week struggled to explain why the government spent $4,000 to fly his wife to Europe so she could accompany him for what was supposed to be a trip to attend a conference on veterans’ issues. Turns out, the happy couple spent nearly half the trip checking out sites like Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen and Buckingham Palace in London. Oh, and they also improperly accepted free tickets to watch a tennis match at Wimbledon, according to the V.A.’s inspector general.

As I have written here more than once, such unethical dealings are inevitable given the total ethics vacuum at the top of the administration. It is also the kind of casual looting that CEOs engage in commonly and shamelessly.

Shulkin should be fired, of course.

29 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, U.S. Society

29 responses to “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/20/18: Cheaters And Useful Idiots

  1. Zanshin

    Searching the internet I read that “In general, mere knowledge or suspicion that a crime has taken place doesn’t obligate a person to report it as a matter of law”.
    If that is the case then I don’t think reporting cheaters should be mandatory.

    • Rusty Rebar

      I mean, that would not be a legal requirement in any case. It might be a requirement by policy, you could get expelled and kicked out of college on an honor code type violation. That has nothing to do with the law though.

  2. Zanshin

    Regarding 4.
    I am always amazed when people are willingly risking a good job and, even more important, there reputation for a relative small benefit.

  3. JP

    I had a guy cheat off me once in college. I kept trying to hide the answers but he kept trying. Finally, I started making sure I got the answers wrong. Once I finished, I took a long time to double check it. At this point he turned his in.Once he was done, I fixed my answers and told the teacher what happened. I don’t know if he got in trouble, but he never sat near me again.

  4. The indictment is actually a really neat read. Mueller’s team has actually taken pains to insert language that runs contrary to the assertion that the Trump Administration Colluded with Russia; in cases where the administration had contact with one of the indictmentees they’ve included qualifying language to make sure everyone with a grade 3 reading comprehension level knows that it wasn’t collusion because the administration wasn’t aware that the people they were talking to weren’t American, and had no reason to think differently.

    What it looks like, as far as I can tell, is that Russia was trying to sow discord. I’m not sure how to search my past comments, but I know I’ve said variations of this before: If these attacks were actually government sponsored, a contention we don’t actually know to be true even now, I don’t think Putin was supporting Trump so much as he was undermining Hillary, or more broadly a weakened America. The material difference there being that I think that he thought Hillary would win, but was interested in her having to deal with scandals and infighting as opposed to governing, and the best way to do that was to poke the bear, and to stoke all the divisions that Americans have been so good at stoking on their own. That didn’t require Trump’s seal of approval or cooperation, and even if Trump and his team were new, stupid, and corrupt enough to actually collude, I don’t think the Kremlin is amateur enough to let them.

    The Mueller investigation also said, very clearly, that they do not think that the Russian meddling had any outcome of the election. One of the rallies they held attracted about 15 people, real number, and the single largest Twitter account they created gathered a whopping 100,000 followers.

    What that means is that we have a situation where there are two things that I think are likely true, and they’re going to be hard for the anti-Trump crowd to swallow: First off, There were Russians who carried out activities that could be described as being “meddling” with the American presidential election. There’s no evidence that it was effective in the least though, so Hillary still lost on her Merits. And second, there’s no evidence that Trump and Russia worked together on this, and I doubt there ever will be.

    Those simultaneous truths are going to be a bitter pill to swallow: There might have been meddling, but there was no collusion, and so there isn’t going to be anything approximating punishment done. Even though there are indictments filed, they’re against Russians, and Russia won’t send them over for trial. I’ve heard people calling for Trump to impose sanctions on Russia for their meddling… That’s insane. Never in the history of ever have economic sanctions been levied as the result of espionage, and the precedent it would set would be devastating for America, which has a horrible track record of interfering with and spying on basically everyone all over the world. People in glass houses should not throw stones.

    Added to that: Unless something else breaks, this doesn’t get within a country mile of touching Trump. The fact that one of America’s enemies might have preferred him to Clinton is not disqualifying in and of itself, and their support of Trump seemed only to extend to his election date, where they immediately pivoted to running anti-Trump rallies. If being on the same side of a situation with Russians, unknowingly, is enough to invalidate your argument, then the resistance’s argument is per se invalid, even before we start talking about their dubious merits.

    • Other Bill

      HT, this is the best analysis of the “indictment” I’ve seen:

      http://manhattancontrarian.com/blog/2018/2/17/is-the-mueller-indictment-a-joke

      I think the “indictment” is actually little more than an interim investigatory report.

    • Rusty Rebar

      What that means is that we have a situation where there are two things that I think are likely true, […] First off, There were Russians who carried out activities that could be described as being “meddling” with the American presidential election. […] And second, there’s no evidence that Trump and Russia worked together on this, and I doubt there ever will be.

      That has always seemed to be the case. I am sure that Russia “meddled” (whatever that means), but I find it hard to believe that it was any more serious than what they, we and most other countries have been doing for as long as it has been possible. I mean, if we just look at Dual citizenship holders in Congress we are approaching 10% of the Senate and 6% of Representatives (those numbers are a few years old admittedly.. but I doubt it has changed much) . Anyway, the point is Israel is probably more involved in election “meddling” than anyone else, but no one cares. I find it funny that everyone is losing their shit over what is essentially 13 Russians Tweeting and posting Facebook ads.

      Meanwhile, while FBI and their cohorts are busy chasing their tails about this, they don’t have the resources to check out credible threats of a potentially violent school shooter.

      • Chris

        Meanwhile, while FBI and their cohorts are busy chasing their tails about this, they don’t have the resources to check out credible threats of a potentially violent school shooter.

        That is not how the FBI works. The crime division is separate from the counterintelligence division.

        • …but you have to admit, the optics are horrible.

          I would not trust the FBI to catch a bike thief at this point… not if the upper echelons had a political reason to let him go.

      • Depending on how loose you want to define “meddling” (and you have to define it pretty loosely for the things being asserted in this indictment to count) basically every country on Earth to some extent meddles in the affairs of other countries. Some more effectively than others, some more openly than others, Barack Obama spouting his preferences in advance of the Brexit vote probably influenced a UK referendum more materially than anything asserted in this indictment… But the people deeply concerned about foreign “meddling” were either asleep at the wheel then, or developed that concern in response to Trump.

        Let’s not beat around the bush. America’s Democrats don’t have a principled position they won’t abandon, bomb and salt the moment it’s politically convenient for them to do so, and that’s only marginally less true for Republicans. The left doesn’t CARE about foreign influence on domestic government, because if they did, the Clinton foundation would be so distasteful that Hillary couldn’t have gotten within sniffing distance of the nomination, despite having bought it. The left CARES that they lost the election, and are looking for someone to blame.

    • Chris

      The U.S. actually considered sanctions on China after a cyberattack in 2015, though I can’t find any story saying they were passed.

      • Nor on North Korea after the attack on Sony. But, you know, they might nuke us, so there’s that…

      • They weren’t, so like I said: “Never in the history of ever have economic sanctions been imposed as a response to espionage.”

        I also want to take a giant step back and just take into account the geopolitics of Russia right now. They’ve been aggressive lately. They literally invaded Ukraine and conquered land. That hasn’t happened militarily in… 50 years? Give or take. But that hasn’t happened in a vacuum. Meanwhile, NATO continues to muster troops along the Russian border and is now placing them closer than ever to Moscow by allowing Estonia into NATO. This is in a lot of material ways the mirror of the Cuban missile crisis. And how did America respond to that?

        Meanwhile the American left is demanding that Trump prove that he isn’t Russia’s puppet by doing things that antagonize Russia. Unprecedented sanctions might not bring along World War III, but the left is saying that Trump not bombing Russia’s allies in Syria was a mistake. That’s INSANE. The left is literally poking the Bear and courting war to score political brownie points domestically.

        • Chris

          I also want to take a giant step back and just take into account the geopolitics of Russia right now. They’ve been aggressive lately. They literally invaded Ukraine and conquered land. That hasn’t happened militarily in… 50 years? Give or take. But that hasn’t happened in a vacuum. Meanwhile, NATO continues to muster troops along the Russian border and is now placing them closer than ever to Moscow by allowing Estonia into NATO. This is in a lot of material ways the mirror of the Cuban missile crisis. And how did America respond to that?

          By trashing NATO and puffing Putin at every opportunity.

          I think your WWIII assertion is way overhyped. Russia doesn’t want that. I could see another cold war happening, but if it does, Russia is the aggressor.

          • Kids these days… I can’t tell if that’s poor reading comprehension or a deliberate shift. My question was how did America respond to the Cuban Missile Crisis?

            Is the WWIII narrative over hyped? Maybe. Democrats didn’t think so before Trump was elected. See, back then, I remember people thinking that Trump would be bombastic in foreign relations and cause WWIII with Russia. I can never get you lefties sorted out. Are you concerned with WWIII, or do you want Trump to cockslap Putin just to show him how big America’s AAA is?

            Do I think that WWIII is likely? No. Not particularly. But more likely now than it was 6 months ago. And I think it’s the height of schoolyard juvenileism to require your president prove a negative that you have no evidence for by provoking a nuclear armed superpower.

            • Chris

              Kids these days… I can’t tell if that’s poor reading comprehension or a deliberate shift. My question was how did America respond to the Cuban Missile Crisis?

              Poor comprehension on my part. I read fast and totally missed the Cuban Missile Crisis point.

              Is the WWIII narrative over hyped? Maybe. Democrats didn’t think so before Trump was elected. See, back then, I remember people thinking that Trump would be bombastic in foreign relations and cause WWIII with Russia.

              I remember more fear over relations between us and NK or China. I don’t remember thinking war between us and Russia would be a danger, but of course other Democrats may have made that argument.

              I can never get you lefties sorted out. Are you concerned with WWIII, or do you want Trump to cockslap Putin just to show him how big America’s AAA is?

              I want to see him taking Russia’s actions as seriously as most Republicans in Congress, Trump’s national advisor H.R. McMaster, and Trump’s ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is taking them. “Cockslap” is a bit much. I want to see that he gives even the tiniest of shits, and isn’t intentionally throwing the rest of the U.S. government under the bus, as he did to McMaster yesterday.

    • Rich in CT

      Meanwhile, if you don’t mind risking a head explosion, you can check out how divorced from reality the Huffington Post has become:

      Robert Mueller Has Trump Cornered
      https://www.yahoo.com/news/robert-mueller-trump-cornered-130900469.html

      Special counsel Robert Mueller is methodically, brilliantly filling in pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. When complete, the puzzle will depict a president who is ripe ― overripe ― for impeachment.

      Mueller’s indictment on Friday of Russia’s cyberwarfare against the 2016 election was a tactical and investigative masterstroke. President Donald Trump is now cornered. Mueller’s report makes a total liar out of Trump for his repeated claims that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin when Putin says Russia had nothing to do with it, that the hacking could have been “some guy in New Jersey.”

      The indictments do not quite connect the Russian operation to Putin personally, but that’s beside the point. No serious person believes that an operation as sensitive as deliberate disruption of the U.S. election could go forward without Putin’s full knowledge and support in a state as authoritarian as his.

      Trump, having repeatedly denied Russian involvement, has now shifted gears and is insisting that the proper test of wrongdoing is “collusion.” But this is a straw man.

      During the campaign, Trump repeatedly and publicly urged the Russians to come forward with dirt on Hillary Clinton. His top advisers met with Russian operatives to see what they had. That part of Mueller’s investigation is still open.

      What we already know is plenty damning. A conspiracy of interest does not have to include an explicit tit-for-tat deal. It can be based on signaling.

      In this case, Trump and his family relied on massive bailouts of his failing business enterprises from Russian oligarchs close to the Kremlin. …
      The details ― of Russian financing of Trump’s businesses, and of more campaign contacts ― are likely to be spelled out in further indictments, almost surely including members of Trump’s family, and in Mueller’s final report, which will look very much like a bill of impeachment.

      At every turn, reporters sagely nodded their heads as they inferred Meuller’s strategy of picking off the low lying fruit and squeezing it to climb higher up the tree!

      A) Trump is not a “total liar” if he believed that Putin were innocent. That is not how lying works. It means he was wrong, and probably naive.

      B) Trump acknowledged assorted Russian shenanigans, but called Russia causing Hillary to lose a hoax, and claims that his campaign colluded with Russia a hoax.

      C) What part of “No Americans knowingly communicated with Russians” makes it sound like impeachable indictments are forth coming?

      D) The publicly known “contacts” were not actually attached to the Russian government, despite how many times The Huffington Post mentions them. (Why has no major news outlet yet reported there hasn’t been a “Crown Prosecutor” of Russia for at least 101 years?)

      E) These astonishing and details claims amount to a few extra loudmouths on the internet making dubious claims.

      F) Apparently “signalling” is impeachable these days. Hillary might have been vulnerable….

      G) We know that the Russian tried to get a rich idiot to spend money in Russia – in the 1980’s. After three decades, I suppose there might be a lot of dirt that Federal prosecutors were saving until later.

      • “A) Trump is not a “total liar” if he believed that Putin were innocent. That is not how lying works. It means he was wrong, and probably naive.”

        Dumb or dishonest are still pretty poor choices. Trump HAS said that it “Could” have been Russia, or China, or a 400 pound kid in his mom’s basement (really, he said that). He’s also said that he believed that Putin was completely innocent, and that there was no meddling. The bonus of saying literally every position one can reasonably or otherwise hold on any topic is that you can point to individual utterances and say: “I was right!” The downturn is that all the other shit was not.

        My take on the reason Trump said that Russia didn’t meddle was because he didn’t want to give anyone else credit for his electoral success, or to taint it. I have serious doubts he believed what he was saying, or even remembered it five minutes later. At this point I don’t particularly care whether he really means the words he says or not, he’s embarrassingly loose with language and defending individual utterances is a fool’s errand.

        • “My take on the reason Trump said that Russia didn’t meddle was because he didn’t want to give anyone else credit for his electoral success, or to taint it.”
          Of course that’s what was going on, and anyone not determined to see something sinister knew it from the start.

      • The author of that crazy piece is Robert Kuttner, a whacked-out leftist professor of long-standing. I read a similar wish-piece by Jonathan Alter and another crazy prof. over the weekend. Painter, this guy, Larry Tribe–I don’t know what happens to them when it becomes undeniable that they were selling biased nonsense. Kuttner isn’t even a lawyer.being wrong is one thing: deliberately misleading the public is another. I hope there are professional consequences for these people, but the “Trump colluded” narrative will probably join “Gore won” and “Trayvon was murdered” in the rapidly expanding library of the Left’s Big Lies.

  5. 1. Not having formal ethics training (one reason I am here) I know my opinion on this is…unevolved. I believe that the child should only report the cheating to a trusted adult, who will not rat him/her out as the source. Failing that, the problems this would likely cause the child is not worth reporting it, not in public school.

    My opinion is based on my 40 plus years of observation of how such situations have gone down in such institutions. Sometimes those in power do the right thing, and protect the source: but enough times this has bitten the source to make me not want my child to blow the whistle. I may be too cynical and emotionally used up these days (family health crisis do that to one) to be thinking clearly. Or just too tired to contemplate the effort needed to make a stand, even hypothetically.

    College cheating? Sure, rat them out. One can leave a college if you become a social pariah.

    2. Lots of ick factor here. As Texag (may he comment forever) has stated, my patience and tolerance for fools is low these days, be they alt-right or progressive. Facts no longer matter in debate.

    3. We did not get collusion. We did not even get a crime, and will not get a trial to see if the charges (read: accusations) are actually illegal. (Hell, collusion is not even a crime, despite the heavy panting on the left.)

    What we got was goal post moving by progressives, again, because TRUMP! This gets old, and I am beginning to believe that this will cause the Democrats to be swept from office in 2018, as more Americans have their collective noses rubbed the equivalent to progressive poop. As much as I despair for Trump’s decorum, I thank God we don’t have Obama lite in office endorsing the lunacy of the past decade.

    4. What Shulkin did was wrong, and stupid. He had to know that what was tolerated and encouraged while Obama was in office would be verboten under trump.

    It was wrong every time the Obamas took a massive entourage on vacation, or when Hillary used government resources for private travel, or when Bill Clinton disrupted an entire airport while he got a haircut on Air Force One.

    ‘They did it too!’ is unethical, granted. But the hypocrisy is a bit galling.

    • JutGory

      On your first point, in Law School, we were put on an Honor Code against cheating or acting to harm the work of other students.

      Then, I studied law for a semester in Sweden. Some Dutch students came to us with a copy of an exam they just happened to have found on the desk of one of the professors for our class (Of course it was the Dutch!). He told us enough about the questions for me to have an advantage. Being on the Honor Code, I called the professor and, after being assured of the confidentiality of our conversation (if there is one thing lawyers are pretty good at understanding, it is that), I described enough about the test for him to determine whether it had been stolen. I did not name the students involved. The test was changed, the students in question fared poorly on their test (at least, I think they did), and no one was the wiser.

      Perhaps I should have turned them in. At the time, it seemed sufficient to alert the professor as to what I knew, thereby preventing any actual cheating from taking place.

      -Jut

      • One prof blithely let anyone bring anything to any test; he was that certain that if you did not get the concepts, you would not pass. The class was circuit analysis, so not a terrible assumption, and the prof had taught the class literally for decades.

        We had access to the ROTC test files, donated by generations of A&M graduates… and this prof had gotten lazy. He was in the habit of taking old tests (sometimes a decade old) and literally cut and pasting a new test together. WE HAD THOSE TESTS. Corrected in his class, as a daily grade after each was taken by those donating them. We had them AT THE TEST… legally. We never let HIM know, but geez…

        Of course, you did not pass if you could not pass his pop quizzes, so we still learned the material.

        Was using the tests unethical?

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