Evening Ethics Exorcism, 12/2/2020: Boy, I Hate Thinking About This Stuff Before Bed…

pazuzzu

1. This is too stupid to devote a post to, but too stupid to ignore. Some group of wackos calling itself the We the People Convention is advocating that President Trump invoke “limited martial law” and hold a new election by fiat. The group somehow scraped up the money to call for this in a full page Washington Times ad, not that the Times is a particularly prominent newspaper, but it is a conservative one, which I guess is why they thought it was okay to accept money for such junk. It isn’t.

As for the WTPC’s argument, it is based on bad history, bad law, and bad thinking. The press release “explains”:

The Ad compares the Extraordinary Executive actions implemented by President Abraham Lincoln in his efforts to save the Union during the Civil War and the literal civil war that is dividing our nation today. Without full confidence that our courts or Congress will indeed follow the 12th Amendment of the Constitution and defend our electoral process, the ad calls upon President Trump, like Lincoln, to exercise the Extraordinary Powers of his office and declare limited Martial Law to temporarily suspend the Constitution and civilian control of these federal elections in order to have the military implement a national re-vote that reflects the true will of the people.

Cue “Murder by Death”:

What the ad and petition are arguing for is wildly unconstitutional. Lincoln’s various excesses were also unconstitutional and among the most serious abuses of Presidential power in our history, but at least he had an actual Civil War to deal with. There is not, obviously, any “literal” civil war today. If something as unprecedented and nationally disrupting as a voided election and a do-over is going to happen (it won’t), it would have to occur through the courts, which is to say, through the rule of law.

The ridiculous, offensive, reckless and foolish suggestion would have probably received the scant attention it deserved had not, if what I have seem reported is correct, recently-pardoned Mike Flynn and pro-Trump lawyer Linn Wood, who looks and sounds more like Michael Avenatti every day, publicly endorsed it. (Wood is not a member of the Trump legal team, incidentally, though I keep seeing that reported.)

Well, shame on them both, but Flynn is a notorious loose cannon, and Wood, well, is Wood. Their approval won’t make the petition any less ridiculous, and their poor judgement reflects badly on nobody but themselves.

2. Nah, news media factchecks aren’t designed to spin for Democrats! This one, by USA Today is a classic. The paper (Have you looked at USA Today lately? There’s nothing in it any more! My Weekly Reader had more substance.) claims that accusations of hypocrisy against Democratic politicians “lack context,” claiming that “such behavior has been seen on both sides of the aisle” without citing any GOP officials who have behaved like Newsom, Pelosi, Bowser, DiBlasio, Cuomo, Lightfoot, Hancock and the others. The paper cites the President violating CDC guidelines, but the President has never issued any orders about masks, not traveling, or avoiding gatherings.

3. Though sometimes the Democrats the factchecks defend deserve to be defended. USA Today had one of these too recently. When President-not-quite-elected Biden named  Jen Psaki, as his his pick for press secretary, Matt Wolking, a spokesperson for the Trump re-election campaign, took to Twitter to share a photo of Psaki from her days in the Obama State Department.

“Here’s Jen Psaki hugging Russia’s Foreign Minister and Russia’s chief foreign affairs propagandist while wearing a pink hammer and sickle hat,” he wrote. The image went viral on social media, with comments like, “Oh the irony…after 3 years of Russia Russia Russia” and “From Russia with love,” pointing out that the hammer and sickle are a communist symbol.

This time, USA’s “Lacks Context” call was fair. Psaki was in Russia on a diplomatic mission, and got the hat in a gift exchange. What was she supposed to do, cause an international incident by throwing it to the ground and spitting on it?

4. I wonder if USA Today can come up with spin for this Democratic mayor...In Massena, New York, Mayor Tim Currier was arrested for possession of crack cocaine and tampering with evidence after a high speed chase. Currier had previously been the city’s Chief of Police.

Maybe he ‘s preparing to run for mayor of Washington, D.C.

5. There’s a definite need for a social media platform that won’t censor speech and political opinion. Too bad Parler isn’t that platform. Twitter just suspended the account of the film version of Lee Smith’s “The Plot Against the President,” directed by Amanda Milius, You know, too Republican. Twitter has been increasingly open about its bias and desire to bolster a progressive takeover of public opinion this year, and a similar but fair and non-political platform would seem to have an immediate market open to it. Parler, however, which held itself out as such an entity, seems hopelessly crippled by its own incompetence. (I flagged this when I tried to sign on to Parler.) Now the platform is becoming a magnet for pornographers, escort services and online sex merchants using hashtags targeting conservatives. The problem, again, is incompetence and poor management. When the Washington Post asked Parler CEO Jeffrey Wernick about the problem, he said, “I don’t look for that content, so why should I know it exists?”

Because its your company, your platform, and your responsibility, you idiot.

20 thoughts on “Evening Ethics Exorcism, 12/2/2020: Boy, I Hate Thinking About This Stuff Before Bed…

  1. 5: If Parler is truly a platform, and not a publisher, and is sincere about its commitment to free speech, then is it really his responsibility to know about everything people are doing on the platform? Is it also AT&T’s responsibility to make sure you aren’t calling hookers on their phone lines?

    I think I prefer a platform that truly acts as a content-neutral service provider versus one that tries to enforce “community guidelines”, no matter how well-intentioned those guidelines might be.

    • I moderate Ethics Alarms. If you read the article, pop-up porn-ads were proliferating. Any respectable platform has to have standards. Twitter has abused its standards. But standards are still necessary. And ATT provides a communication service for everyone to use as they see fit. My calls do not impose themselves on others, do they? But Twitter is more like a bulletin Board. What is on there may stop others from reading my message; the culture there may cause people to make judgments about those who use it.

      A CEO is responsible for what his company does, what his customers do on his service, and what its consequences are. It’s idiotic to say, “How should I know we’re a porn site?”

      • That’s not quite what the article says. It wasn’t pop-up porn ads; people were posting pornographic content with hashtags like “#sexytrumpgirl” and “#milfsfortrump2020”. The article says that “the pornography threatens to intrude on users not seeking sexual material” (emphasis mine). Unless you’re following those hashtags, you wouldn’t see the content. Anyone following “#sexytrumpgirl” probably doesn’t have much standing to complain when they see nudity…

        The piece reads to me more like an overblown hit job by the Post on a site that conservatives are using to organize and communicate, since they no longer can do so freely on Twitter. The Left can’t allow that, so they’ve got to try to tear Parler down. There’s no doubt that Parler has some work to do to find its place in the social media landscape, and Wernick’s statement is too flippant for sure (Wernick is the COO, not the CEO, btw). Sounds like they’ve changed their rules on pornographic content at least once already, so they likely will end up tweaking them a few more times, just as Twitter has done over the years. But this article reads to me like a relatively minor hiccup where some sleazebags are exploiting weaknesses in a new platform’s policies and technology, and the Post is trying to make it out to be a fatal flaw with lots of speculation like the “threatens to” line above, and “has the potential to complicate hopes the site may have to expand advertising” or “Parler’s approach may make the site vulnerable to those who upload child pornography”. It’s a classic FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) tactic. The article is light on evidence of actual harm, and lots of speculation that someone *could* have been unwittingly exposed to adult content they didn’t want to see. Essentially, the Post went looking for porn on a site that allows it, and *shocker* they found it. Stop the presses!

        This line cracked me up, though: “Terms such as #porn, #naked and #sex each had hundreds or thousands of posts on Parler, many of them graphic.” Really, WaPo? I guess when you search #porn on Twitter, you just get pictures of teddy bears and puppies?

        I don’t use Parler (or read the Post, for that matter), so I don’t have a dog in the fight. But it sounds like a pretty standard tale of a young tech company breaking through unexpectedly and having trouble with sudden growing pains. Policies and procedures that worked when you had a half million users are exposed as flawed or unworkable when you’ve got five million. This happens all the time, it just doesn’t often get covered this way in a major newspaper.

        • I’m always happy to blame the Post, but the CEO’s statement is signature significance. No competent CEO of anything says that, even if in that case it’s true. He’s accountable, and he’s responsible. Not only that, but the problem flagged was an obvious one if you’re not going to block anything from a social media site. As with my previous bitch about them assuming that everyone who might sign up lives on a cell phone, this is incompetence. If you are going to move in on an established leader in a field, you have to be better than that.

          • I definitely agree that Wernick’s statement is pretty lame and unprofessional. But the Post article is pretty lame, too. There’s not much context provided around that quote – I suspect because it’s the only thing he said in their interview that could be used to cast a negative light, so they cherry-picked it.

            I’m withholding judgement on Parler for now – this and the cell-phone thing don’t seem like fatal flaws to me. That’s not to say that you might not be right, and that Parler’s culture is irredeemably tainted by incompetence and bad management. But I don’t know any technology startups that haven’t had the same issues – the low barriers to entry to create software products generally means that most companies that do it are somewhat incompetent, at least in the beginning. It’s far easier for a couple of nitwits with a good idea to cobble together some code and release it than it is for those same nitwits to start a blacktop paving company or to manufacture catheters. I could write an app like Parler myself, and I’m a systems admin guy, not a hardcore programmer. The trick is to get the nitwits out of the way and put competent management in place once success strikes. We’ll see if Parler does that.

            I suppose that sounds like “everybody does it”, and I guess it is, but if you’re going to write off every software company that’s incompetent, you’ll be living a Unabomber lifestyle. It’s just the cost of doing business if you want to use computers and the internet today. Sure, you could only support the truly competent software companies, except there are none. The fast-moving culture of “just ship it, we’ll fix it in the next release” is nearly universal, and I don’t know how you stop that at this point in the game. Companies that elect to a slower, more deliberate pace will produce better software, and also be eaten alive by the fast-moving, sloppier guys, because consumers seem to value innovation and newness over quality. How do you break that cycle once it’s entrenched?

            • “I definitely agree that Wernick’s statement is pretty lame and unprofessional. But the Post article is pretty lame, too.”

              Rationalization—check the list. The Post’s lameness—which is stipulated—does not excuse or mitigate Wernick’s. His statement is per se damning. As a supervisor, I would fire or demote any manager whose excuse for problems in his area of responsibility was “How was I to know?”

              How do you break the cycle? Your point is essentially, “You can’t fix stupid,” but that doesn’t mean we have to pretend stupid isn’t stupid.

              • Fair enough. I suppose that’s the insidiousness of stupid – you see it enough, you get inured to it and come to expect it. Soon, it’s unremarkable and just part of the rich tapestry of annoyances that make up way too large a proportion of our lives…

  2. 1)Blecchh. I was going to make a longer reply to this, but looking at their ad let’s just say, somewhat true but intentionally misleading.
    Yes, there were bunches of newspapers shut down, thousands of people tossed in jail, civil liberties trampled on — although I don’t believe he ever issued an arrest warrant for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as they allege.

    However, Lincoln didn’t directly order these things, by and large. He did authorize much of it, he didn’t disavow (by and large) his generals and soldiers when they did them, but it was more of a ‘will no one bring me this man’s head’ kind of situation.

    The crucial point was that Lincoln could point to the CSA and everyone could see they had raised vast armies and were actively in rebellion against the United States. It was and existential crisis for the U.S. and everyone knew it — of course one little problem was that a lot of people wanted the U.S. to lose.

    Trump does not and will not have that situation. Further I seriously doubt that he has the desire or inclination to seize power with such a coup. The media imputes such a desire to him, in no small part because that’s what they’d do.

    2)Let me rephrase that: USA Today’s baseless claims that GOP governors are blatant mask and lockdown hypocrites were made without evidence.

  3. 1. I would not expect a serious move to impose martial law unless there was an attempted, concerted gutting and/or “hand-tying” of the U.S. military-industrial complex’s relevance to national security resulting from, say, Executive Orders, or a presidentially approved set of legislation enacted via a disarmament-and-surrender-friendly Congress. That would be a “non-representative” Congress – that is, a Congress sufficiently self-hostaged by extremist ideologues within itself, running amok in pursuit of fulfilling “fundamental change” fantasies. In other words, a Congress more motivated (and sufficiently “united” in expectation of its unaccountability) to “cram down” legislation on The People, rather than “sausage-process” legislation that is at least marginally beneficial to some great number of The People.

    None of such relevance-reduction moves (which of course would be propagandized as a Nobel Prize-winning “Global Peace Initiative” for its “leader” or leaders) is beyond possibility any longer. In that case, imposition of martial law would be part of a genuine military coup, with entire defense industrial sectors as well as the existing armed forces themselves “swarming” to impose upon the DC swamp establishment. The coup most likely would be aided and abetted by a currently unimaginably weird combination of foreign bedfellows, with similar, contrarian bedfellows attempting to resist and thwart the coup.

    It would be a very violent time. But enemies of the coup would probably suffer the most casualties. Internal citizen resistance to the coup would be effective, perhaps for a significant length of time. But, the resistance ultimately would not be effective against the coup, because it would be unable to avoid self-inflicting crippling and fatal impacts. (Play “asymmetric warfare,” and blow up a bunch of bridges and rails and truck fleets and power lines and gas stations – impressive, until their “fruits” come back to bite them on their asses.) Foreign military powers might view the instability as an opportunity to intervene; possessed with sufficient will, and sufficiently competent strategy and tactics, they might defeat the U.S. military and its industrial base. But, I speculate that such intervention would be too costly to carry out, even for China. But again, even if that course was taken, the persons among The People who would suffer most would be the coup-resisters. If the coup failed due to foreign intervention, in the aftermath, the coup-resisters would be the first to be wiped-out by the interveners.

    I just don’t know how close this country is to suffering such a coup. But it is in the realm of possibility.

      • Thanks again. Something about my manner of logging-in to WordPress is “wonky” with the system, I have concluded. There is probably some incompatibility or signal hiccup between my computer, or my modem – and-or the servers that my computer typically happens to connect through – that triggers the spam designation every now and then.

        • Sure enough! I think my theory (below) just tested out…

          Failed again: I did not even consider the Akismet filtering algorithms.
          https://akismet.com/privacy/
          My new theory (in this case): my comment was spammed by Akismet because it contained the words “m i l i t a r y c – – p.”

          I sent the comment above with the suspected trigger-words spelled-out normally.

          Let’s see if THIS version of the comment gets spammed, with spaces between letters and letters missing.

        • I don’t think Akismet likes me. [chuckling]

          Jack, I just tried TWICE to send a short comment in follow-up to my 12:04 AM comment. Each send was a slightly different “syntax.” I think both versions might be in your spam folder.

  4. 1. I would not expect a serious move to impose martial law unless there was an attempted, concerted gutting and/or “hand-tying” of the U.S. military-industrial complex’s relevance to national security resulting from, say, Executive Orders, or a presidentially approved set of legislation enacted via a disarmament-and-surrender-friendly Congress. That would be a “non-representative” Congress – that is, a Congress sufficiently self-hostaged by extremist ideologues within itself, running amok in pursuit of fulfilling “fundamental change” fantasies. In other words, a Congress more motivated (and sufficiently “united” in expectation of its unaccountability) to “cram down” legislation on The People, rather than “sausage-process” legislation that is at least marginally beneficial to some great number of The People.

    None of such relevance-reduction moves (which of course would be propagandized as a Nobel Prize-winning “Global Peace Initiative” for its “leader” or leaders) is beyond possibility any longer. In that case, imposition of martial law would be part of a genuine military coup, with entire defense industrial sectors as well as the existing armed forces themselves “swarming” to impose upon the DC swamp establishment. The coup most likely would be aided and abetted by a currently unimaginably weird combination of foreign bedfellows, with similar, contrarian bedfellows attempting to resist and thwart the coup.

    It would be a very violent time. But enemies of the coup would probably suffer the most casualties. Internal citizen resistance to the coup would be effective, perhaps for a significant length of time. But, the resistance ultimately would not be effective against the coup, because it would be unable to avoid self-inflicting crippling and fatal impacts. (Play “asymmetric warfare,” and blow up a bunch of bridges and rails and truck fleets and power lines and gas stations – impressive, until their “fruits” come back to bite them on their asses.) Foreign military powers might view the instability as an opportunity to intervene; possessed with sufficient will, and sufficiently competent strategy and tactics, they might defeat the U.S. military and its industrial base. But, I speculate that such intervention would be too costly to carry out, even for China. But again, even if that course was taken, the persons among The People who would suffer most would be the coup-resisters. If the coup failed due to foreign intervention, in the aftermath, the coup-resisters would be the first to be wiped-out by the interveners.

    I just don’t know how close this country is to suffering such a coup. But it is in the realm of possibility.

    • Hmmm. Given your postulates, the only near term route to that I could see would be a Democratically controlled Senate, and a President Harris.

      But, I have a hard time thinking such really radical legislation could really pass Congress as it was elected last month.

      On the other hand, check out Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent series culminating with a dystopian ending in Come Ninevah, Come Tyre. That basically ended with the United States as a Soviet puppet (he did have an alternate ending novel The Promise of Joy).

      We are definitely in ‘interesting times’.

      • I totally failed with my last sentence above. I should not have said, “But it is in the realm of possibility.” That is equivocation, “weeinie-wording,” instead of what I really am convinced is true.

        It would have been better if I had written: “But now, it is in the realm of non-negligible probability.” A banana plutocracy like Venezuela offers a clear glimpse of what we may be due for.

        Diego, you are right: Democrats (and specifically, the most radically leftist of them) would have to hold effective control over both houses of Congress, plus the White House, before a real military coup happened. I do believe that the country is perilously close to exactly that state of political monopoly.

        If only these interesting times would pay all of us higher interest…

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