Saturday Night Ethics Dump, 8/31/2019.

Still trying to clear the ethics Augean stables…

1. Fox News headline: “The Dangers of Vaping.” Fake news! The story following that headline explained that teens were falling ill of serious lung difficulties after using what we once called “electronic cigarettes” to inhale THC. There is little convincing evidence that using e-cigarettes as they were designed to be used causes any lung problems. Thus the headline is as accurate as leading off a story about tainted beef with “The Dangers of Eating.”

2.  Another old ethics question comes around again. In 2017 I questioned the wisdom of the Miami Marlins baseball team loudly honoring the memory of Jose Fernandez, a rising pitching star who got himself and others killed by driving his speed boat while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. died July 1 in his hotel room

There is a level of recklessness, irresponsible conduct, arrogance and stupidity that cannot be excused, and whatever the level is, Fernandez exceeded it. The fact that he was killed himself was moral luck: imagine if only he had survived. Fernandez would be facing homicide charges and serious prison time….and would deserve it all. He had a family, a child, a city, a baseball team, and a sport all relying on him, and he decided to risk it all for coke, booze, and a speed boat ride, killing not only himself but two other human beings, who had families and responsibilities of their own. He was  no hero. He was a deadly, selfish, asshole.

No other message should be sent to the kids who once admired him that that one. Honoring Fernandez now would be a particularly ugly example of The King’s Pass or The Star Syndrome, Rationalization #11 on the list. A non-celebrity did what Fernandez did would be guaranteed posthumous infamy. The fact that the pitcher was a baseball star doesn’t make him better than that; if anything, it makes him worse.

Now we learn that Anaheim Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, a 27-year-old Angels pitcher who died on July 1 in his hotel room,  perished because he had mixed multiple opioids with alcohol. The Red Sox are playing in Anaheim, and the Angels players are all wearing tributes to Skaggs on their uniform, a prominent “45.” True, Skaggs didn’t get others killed by his irresponsible behavior, but his death was still the result of conduct that needs to be discouraged, condemned, and certainly not romanticized. The Angels can honor their dead team mate privately, but a public display that suggests that Skaggs’ death was anything but a self-made tragedy send a dangerous and irresponsible message. Continue reading

One More Time: A Correct Decision Because There Is A Right To Be A Jerk, Even Though Being A Jerk Isn’t Right

This decision should have been easy; it should not have has to go to an appeals court.

Carl and Angel Larsen (above) operate the Telescope Media Group, a Minnesota videography company.  In 2016, they claimed  Minnesota’s anti-discrimination laws required them to make videos of same-sex marriages, which they say their religious beliefs oppose. They challenged the Minnesota Human Rights Act as unconstitutional. The relevant provisions state,

“…It is an unfair discriminatory practice . . . to deny any person the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of a place of public accommodation because of . . . sexual orientation.

…It is an unfair discriminatory practice for a person engaged in a trade or business or in the provision of a service . . . to intentionally refuse to do business with, to refuse to contract with, or to discriminate in the basic terms, conditions, or performance of the contract because of a person’s . . . sexual orientation . . . , unless the alleged refusal or discrimination is because of a legitimate business purpose…”

The Larsens told the lower court that they wanted to make films that promote their view of marriage as a “sacrificial covenant between one man and one woman.” Thus they will only film heterosexual  weddings, to “capture the background stories of the couples’ love leading to commitment, the [couples’] joy[,] . . . the sacredness of their sacrificial vows at the altar, and even the following chapters of the couples’ lives.” They also, they said,  intend to post and share these videos online, in order to “affect the cultural narrative regarding marriage.”

 U.S. District Judge John Tunheim  dismissed their case, comparing  their stated mission of  promoting marriage as a bond between one man and one woman was comparable to posting a sign that said “white applicants only.”

Bad opinion, bad logic, bad judge. The couple made clear that they will “gladly work with all people—regardless of their race, sexual orientation, sex, religious beliefs, or any other classification.” However, as ” Christians who believe that God has called them to use their talents and their company to . . . honor God,” the Larsons decline any requests for their services that they feel conflict with their religious beliefs, and so state in their promotional materials.

In a 2-1 decision,  the three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit reversed, ruling that the Larsons have a First Amendment right “to choose when to speak and what to say.”

Of course. While one may argue whether a cake is “speech” under the First Amendment, there is no persuasive argument that a video or film is not protected communication and speech by definition. The opinion cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1995 landmark decision in Hurley vs. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, noting that the Court “drew the line exactly where the Larsens ask us to here: to prevent the government from requiring their speech to serve as a public accommodation for others.”

As with the various baker and wedding photo cases, I find the Larson’s conduct obnoxious, divisive and unnecessary. How does simply filming a wedding—I don’t care if it’s between a man and a musk-ox—constitute an endorsement, support, or a violation of their religious beliefs? It doesn’t. It can’t. Refusing to make a video of a wedding is an insult to any couple that requests it, and cruelly implies that they are less than worthy of association. Sure, the videographers have a right to withhold their services, but they are being jerks to do so. This is a Golden Rule matter. A law shouldn’t be necessary.

However, the Larsons should have the choice of whether to be good, ethical members of the community, fair and compassionate, and not be forced to act the way the State thinks they should act, even if the State happens to be correct, under threat of  90 days in jail and up to $25,000  in fines. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day, From The Epic Commenter Donnybrook In This Week’s Open Forum

battle-marvel

I was reading with interest, amusement and edification the comment thread in the recent open forum in which two, then four, then even more veteran Ethics Alarms participants got into a heated—but admirably rational and fairly fought—debate over  Steve Witherspoon‘s social media battles with a near-parody of a progressive member of the Madison Metropolitan School Board.  The donnybrook eventually extended to the ethics of public figures blocking critics on social media, apology ethics, race-based school policies, mass-incarceration, and more.

In addition to Steve weighing in were Michael R,  Jutgory, Humble Talent, Paul W. Schlecht, and late entrants slickwilly, Here’s Johnny, and Chris Marschner.

It was kind of like an “Avengers” movie, but more intelligent.

In making the choice I have for this Comment of the Day, I am not declaring any winner. Indeed, there are conclusions in the post to follow that I disagree with, and I’ll be back at the end with some of my own comments.

Here is Humble Talent’s Comment of the Day on the Ali Muldrow thread in the recent open forum:

“What I’m hoping for is less crime committed at school thus requiring fewer arrests and that is what you should be hoping for too.”

I think this is a useless truism. In a conversation about whether certain group are being treated differently than others or whether we ought to arrest children for being disorderly at school, saying “I wish people committed fewer offenses.” is a non sequitur.

As an aside: And this is a question Ali didn’t ask properly: Do you think that children should be arrested for being disorderly? And what do you think “disorderly” in that context entails?

Ali Wrote: “Explain to me how arresting people makes the world a better place, how prisons and detention centers are keeping Americans safe?”

To which you commented: “In all seriousness; anyone that writes that kind of question is completely blinded by their own bias, or they’re a blithering idiot, or they’re trying to justify the elimination of police, prisons and detention centers.”

I think this is an Americanism. Ali said that America was one of the most deadly nations on Earth. That’s not true, she should visit the Congo. But it is somewhat ironic that “The Land of The Free” has three times as many incarcerated people per capita that any other nation on Earth. Does American exceptionalism mean that Americans are also exceptionally criminal, or are you maybe doing something wrong? My take is that America locks people up for a ridiculous number of non-violent crimes, but your mileage may vary. And I don’t think “Well did he break the law or not?” is a good response to “Should this crime carry jail time?” or even better, “Should this be a crime?”. People learn how to be better criminals in jail, it stunts their lives both financially and socially, it’s permanently scarring, and sometimes fatal. While it is necessary to remove people from society or otherwise punish them for some things, sending people to criminal boot camp for jaywalking *is* counterproductive, it *does* make the world a worse place. (and I realize jaywalking is not that kind of crime, that’s hyperbole.) Continue reading

Psst! Everybody: Joe’s Not Going To Make It. The Public Can Stand Only So Much Hypocrisy and Double Standards, And Biden Is Already Testing The Limits of Both.

Just how out-of-it can Joe Biden act and sound before Democrats realize that he’s not just a lost cause, but an irresponsible choice?

Item I: At a New Hampshire rally a week ago,  claimed that as Vice President he had once been asked to travel to the dangerous Kunar province in Afghanistan to pin the Silver Star on a war hero who had rappelled down a steep wall to retrieve the body of a fallen comrade. Biden said he ignored others who warned him not to go. “We can lose a Vice president,” Biden said he answered boldly. “We can’t lose many more of these kids.”

When he pinned the medal to the soldier’s uniform, the Navy captain told Biden that he didn’t deserve the medal because he hadn’t been able to save his comrade’s life. “This is the God’s truth,” Joe told the audience. “My word as a Biden.”

Now the Washington Post has fact-checked the story–the paper’s goal is to get Kamala Harris the nomination, in case you’re tempted to think that the Post is suddenly being objective—and concluded that “almost every detail in the story appears to be incorrect.”

Hilariously, or typically, or disgustingly, CNN’s ridiculous April Ryan—another unprofessional journalist that no respectable and trustworthy network would continue to employ, but you know…CNN— attempted to rationalize and defend Biden telling a fake story and calling it “God’s truth.”

Ryan, appearing as an “analyst” on  CNN’s OutFront  was spinning like mad dervish for  host Jim Sciutto, saying,
Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Labor Day Weekend Kick-Off Ethics Warm-Up: The ‘I’m Baaaack!’ Edition” [Item #3]

I’m still not ready to post the COTD from the Battle of the Ethics Alarms Stars in the recent open forum, but that will be up tomorrow. This comment by Greg involves the ongoing news media effort to spin and bury the Inspector General’s report yesterday explaining what an untrustworthy disgrace to the FBI James Comey was.

I like Greg’s comment for three reasons: it is concise and well-written, it is about one of the most important topics here, which is how the news media has abandoned integrity and responsible reporting for propaganda and efforts to manipulate public opinion,  and because it saved me a post, since I had been preparing to write a similar essay after reading and listening to the usual media suspects.

I will say up front that Greg’s last sentence is too pessimistic. Abe was right, as I know I say too many times: you can’t fool all of the people all the time. The news media is destroying its own credibility even with those who are naive, lazy and gullible. It keeps doing this—burying stories that the pubic has a right to know but that undermine the media’s narrative, what Joe Biden and the Democrats regard as “the truth” that doesn’t  rely on facts, and little by little even its most stubborn defenders (those who aren’t corrupt) are figuring out that they have been conned. Right now I’m thinking of a lamented Ethics Alarms exile who accused me of “drinking the Kool-Aid” before he left. He’s biased, and he was gullible, but he’s not an idiot, not by any means. He knows he was wrong, and I was right by now. Sadly, he apparently doesn’t have fortitude to come crawling back with the apology he owes me. Well, that’s his tragedy.

Here is Greg’s Comment of the Day on Item #3 of the post, “Labor Day Weekend Kick-Off Ethics Warm-Up: The “I’m Baaaack!” Edition.”

The frustrating thing, though, is that most of the public has been misinformed and deceived about the Inspector General’s report. Comey immediately claimed the report had cleared him, on the grounds that it said he did not leak “classified” information. You know and I know that nobody had ever accused Comey of leaking national security secrets, so the report had “cleared” him of an accusation that had never been made, while finding him guilty of all of the accusations that had actually been made. But most people have no idea about this.

For a few minutes after the report came out, MSNBC, CNN and the other usual suspects played it straight: they admitted that the report was damning of Comey. But then they immediately fell into line: The IG had “cleared” Comey of leaking classified information but “criticized” him for “violating departmental policy.” It had “criticized” him, “scolded” him and “reprimanded” him; but it had “failed to vindicate” Trump and had “contradicted Trump’s accusations.” The IG’s report “found that no crimes were committed” and “acknowledged that Comey was candid with investigators.” It contained “nothing new that hasn’t been known for two years.” And, of course, Republicans have “pounced” on the report to make a “power grab.” The New York Times editorialized that the report was “boring,” while criticizing the IG for making a fuss about nothing. The Washington Post editorialized that “Comey saved democracy with his memos.” Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Open Forum!” Thread On For-Profit Prisons

Finally having the opportunity to read what the recent “Open Form!” necessitated by my enforced absence from blogging for two days, hath wrought, I encountered several deserving Comment of the Day candidates. I will be choosing the winner from the wonderfully entertaining rumble among multiple Ethics Alarms stalwarts on the alleged “school-to-prison” pipeline and a whole bundle of other ethics topics (proper treatment of elected officials on social media, appropriate treatment of citizen criticism by elected officials, and others) imminently, but for now, let’s focus on the topic of for-profit prisons, an ethics issue under-discussed here previously. In this case, the Comment of the Day format is especially useful, because this excellent post is buried deeply among  117 others.

Here is James M.’s Comment of the Day on the topic, from the open forum of 8/28/2019…

As someone who worked for the Arizona Department of Corrections for 25 years, I think I can fairly assess both the advantages and problems associated with privately-run prisons. Contracting with various companies to provide various prison services can produce some substantial cost savings to the public, but has some negative effects that aren’t always considered. The Arizona Department of Corrections privatized several different areas during my career there, including medical care, food service, and some rehabilitative programs. The department has also held portions of the inmate population in units run by private contractors.

Advantages of privatization included direct cost savings (with private prisons costing less per bed) and the ability to share prison construction costs with the contractor, allowing the construction to become part of a multi-year contract, rather than an up-front payment. The direct cost savings can be difficult to fairly assess, as contractors would often refuse to accept those inmates who were most expensive to house, either due to having major medical issues, a tendency toward harassment litigation, or membership in a prison gang. Since the private prisons had some security issues that led to inmate escapes, departmental staff also spent considerable time screening inmates before they would be considered for placement in the private prison units. The complaint from ADC staff involved in these assessments was that “Of course they’re cheaper! If I got to pick and choose only the inmates who were least difficult to deal with, I could run my unit more cheaply, too!” Continue reading

Labor Day Weekend Kick-Off Ethics Warm-Up: The “I’m Baaaack!” Edition

Excellent work in the Open Forum, everybody.

Thank-you.

As it happened, there would have been no way I could have written a post yesterday, except after I arrived home following a 6 hour drive from New Jersey following my three-hour seminar. At the point, however, my IQ had fallen below Joe Biden levels, so it would have been unethical for me to opine or analyze anything. I’m slightly better now, at the Kamala Harris level and rising, so I’m going to get right back on the metaphorical horse.

I hate missing a day like that, mostly because it puts me behind in covering the ethics news, but also because I view Ethics Alarms as a commitment to the loyal readers who come here.

1. Well this is good news…The College Board is dropping its proposed “adversity score” from the SAT. The ill-considered device, which Ethics Alarms metaphorically spat at here, would have assigned a score based on the socioeconomic background of each student, artificially raising his or her score based on socioeconomic circumstances.

Of course, this was an unusually transparent ploy to facilitate race-based college admissions .As I wrote in May,

This is a cynical and dishonest device to give cover to colleges and universities as they try to base their admissions on race and ethnicity while avoiding legal prohibitions on discrimination based on race and ethnicity. That is all it is, and exactly what it is.

2. And MORE good news! A new Rasmussen Reports survey shows that most voters believe the average journalist is liberal, and few are conservative. Moreover, a majority believe it is appropriate for politicians to criticize reporters and hold them to the same scrutiny as those they cover.

Of course  it is. For more than three years, we have been hearing that President Trump’s condemnations of the news media and specific news organizations and journalists represent a threat to the freedom of the press and democracy. For those same three years, the Ethics Alarms position has been that while the President’s rhetoric and tone is often irresponsible, the threat to democracy is being created by a mainstream media journalistic establishment that is no longer interested in being fair or objective, not by criticism of this dangerous trend.

The survey analysis found that 61% of likely U.S. voters believe reporters at major news organizations are public figures who deserve critical scrutiny of their conduct and biases.  Only 61%? 19% directly disagree with that contention. How  can they disagree? What would give journalist the unique right to be immune from criticism of bias, competence, and abuse of power? Elected officials are not immune, nor are scholars, artists, lawyers or judges. Continue reading