Beautiful Day, Ugly Ethics, 6/18/2022: Cheeky, Creepy, Creaky And Leaky

A fantastic day in Northern Virginia today: 74 degrees, cool, gusty breezes, blue skies. Then I made the mistake of reading things, and the whole day was blown to hell.

I learned, for example, that Mark Shields had died. Shields, a native Bostonian like me but unlike me, with a classic Beantown accent, was a regular liberal talking head on a succession of public events panel shows on CNN and PBS, finally retiring in 2013. He was an old-fashioned Boston New Deal/Kennedy liberal, which is to say, not insane. I shared a pole with him on a shuttle at Reagan National Airport. As we bounced around, Shields chatted with me like I was an old friend, made some funny comments, and was delightful, modest, and acted nothing like so many media personalities that I have had the misfortune to encounter over the years. I will remember Shields not as the knee-jerk Democrat he played on TV, but as a nice guy who treated strangers the way everyone should treat strangers.

1. From the “Tail trying to wag the dog” files: A provocative lament about the results of a Roe v. Wade reversal is in this op-ed by a mother who asks, “I.V.F. Gave Me My Daughter. What Will Happen After Roe?” She’s concerned that a growing consensus that embryos are human lives, or eventually that life begins at conception, may make aspects of the in vitro fertilzation process more difficult, expensive, or even illegal.

“Eventually, what’s permitted in terms of moving, storing or discarding embryos could depend on which state you live in or where your embryos are stored. Each state effectively will be left to decide when life begins — something that is not medically definable,” she writes. “No one knows — not my doctor, not a state lawmaker and certainly not me.”

No one “knows” what any number of varieties of human conduct are right or wrong either; society decides, and it must decide based on the best available facts, not “if we decide this is reality, then there will be some consequences we don’t like.” The entire abortion mess came to be because a powerful faction of society decided to craft a particular version of reality in order to be able to allow and justify a procedure that was considered useful and convenient.

The fate of in vitro fertilization if embryos are acknowledged to be human life is an interesting and important question. It must be decided based on the ultimate, objective assessment of what a human life is. That assessment cannot ethically be driven by the desirability of in vitro fertilization.

The author, Ruthie Ackerman, concludes,

Sometimes I imagine our frozen embryos like the soldiers in “The Nutcracker” — an inert stack of toys that, if Rob and I were to wave our magic wands, would suddenly open their eyes, their rickety bodies jerking to and fro. That fantasy obscures a more complicated reality. But it also gets at something that is so precious to me: For now, we still get to decide whether our embryos will have the chance to become children someday, stretching out their limbs to come alive in our arms.

I wonder if she realizes how creepy that sounds….

2. Here’s a company I won’t be patronizing…, a bulk shopping website, has a TV ad in which the various people, including three kids, express their astonishment at the arrival of a Boxed delivery by saying, “What the Boxed?” See, that’s clever, see, because it evokes “What the fuck?” without actually saying “fuck,” which would be vulgar and inappropriate for a commercial, but making it clear that they mean “fuck” without saying “fuck” is funny, see. The ad ends with a father opening a Boxed box and saying, “Membership fees are a pain in the cash!

I have it on good authority that Oscar Wilde is glad he’s dead.

3. Former Harvard legend Larry Tribe is in Julie Principle territory now. There is an ethical breach known as reputation abuse, and Prof. Tribe has been engaged in it for years now as the years have caught up with him with a vengeance. From absurd tweets to shockingly partisan legal opinions, Tribe has made it clear that  age combined with the shock of Donald Trump being elected President sent what was once a brilliant legal mind into the Joe Biden fog. After this post, I’m not criticizing poor Tribe any more: this is how he is now, and the people who pay attention to him are the villains. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and Larry Tribe gotta say dumb things. It’s the Julie Principle.

Tribe’s latest embarrassment: in an interview on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront,” Tribe declared former President Donald Trump clearly guilty of the attempted  murder of Vice President Mike Pence, and claimed that Trump was guilty of other crimes “without any doubt, beyond a reasonable doubt, beyond any doubt, and the crimes are obvious.” A law professor whose head is not leaking marbles. Jonathan Turley, eviscerated Tribe’s hysterical nonsense more pleasantly that I would, pointing out in part,

It is a curious thing that these crimes “have been proven” but Trump has not been charged with them.. The failure…to charge Trump was …due to the paucity of direct evidence of a crime that would hold up in court…The elements of attempted murder require specific intent to kill and the commission of some direct but ineffectual act toward accomplishing the intended killing…

[C]alling for protests to pressure Pence to reject the votes is no evidence of specific intent. The Select Committee has maintained that Trump also said that, when made aware of the rioters’ chants to ‘hang Mike Pence,’ the president responded that maybe they have the right idea since he “deserves it.” That statement after the start of the riot would again fall wildly short of any claim of specific intent….I know of no case where a speech of this kind was treated as sufficient to establish attempted murder. Indeed, such a claim would contradict controlling Supreme Court precedent.

There is more, much more, at the link. You don’t have to be a law professor to figure out that Tribe’s claim is bonkers, but it undoubtedly thrills the Trump Deranged (like Tribe). Turley adds,

The problem for prosecutors is that Trump never actually called for violence or a riot. Rather, he urged his supporters to march on the Capitol to express opposition to the certification of electoral votes and to support the challenges being made by some members of Congress. He expressly told his followers “to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

…Yet, Tribe declared “What we saw with the president egging the crowd on, telling them that, basically, his own vice-president was a traitor while he knew that the mob had gallows waiting for him, that’s pretty serious stuff. You don’t have to go to law school to know that there’s something seriously criminal about that.”

Meanwhile, another famed Harvard law professor, like Turley far from a conservative but one who has kept is gray matter from oozing out from his ears, has the opposite reaction from his former colleague Tribe regarding the January 6 Commission . He told Greta Van Susteran on Newsmax  (because the mainstream media news outlets won’t have him, since he won’t support the Democratic Party’s narrative):

“I have never seen a congressional hearing like this since McCarthyism…Once the Republicans take over, they’re going to have a precedent to do the same thing, and it won’t be fair when the Republicans do it – any fairer than when the Democrats have done it. As a civil libertarian, I don’t care about which party wins. I only care about having a fair process. What we heard today [in the prime time hearing] was so one-sided. For example, the claim that [Trump lawyer John] Eastman took the Fifth Amendment 100 times: Nobody explains that if you take it once, you have to take it 100 times. The law is once you start answering questions, you can’t take the Fifth Amendment. You’ve waived it. So people who take the Fifth have to take it 100 times.”

Now that’s useful information that the non-lawyer segment of the public needs to know. Dershowitz is trying to make the public smarter and better informed. Tribe, sadly, is making the public as dumb as he has become.

4. Julian Assange is extradited Good. The Wikileaks leaker is finally being sent from the British jail to the U.S. to stand trial on eighteen felony charges under the 1917 Espionage Act and other statutes. in connection with his 2010 publication of thousands of classified documents. Glenn Greenwald, predictably, is distraught:

This decision is unsurprising — it has been obvious for years that the U.S. and UK are determined to destroy Assange as punishment for his journalism exposing their crimes — yet it nonetheless further highlights the utter sham of American and British sermons about freedom, democracy and a free press. Those performative self-glorifying spectacles are constantly deployed to justify these two countries’ interference in and attacks on other nations, and to allow their citizens to feel a sense of superiority about the nature of their governments. After all, if the U.S. and UK stand for freedom and against tyranny, who could possibly oppose their wars and interventions in the name of advancing such lofty goals and noble values?

Assange isn’t a journalist, he is a stolen government documents launderer. Wikileaks was founded for the radical anti-government purpose of providing a destination for illegally taken classified materials and an incentive for irresponsible and untrustworthy government employees to steal them. It is quite likely that Assange’s work got American agents abroad killed. If court find that his destructive acts were constitutionally protected, then so be it, but the man still must stand trial. Greenwald is outraged that Assange will be tried in the U.S. though he “has been in effective imprisonment for more than a decade.” That’s his own doing: he could have surrendered to authorities in the U.S. and made his case for the right to publish stolen documents as a foreign “journalist” in 2012. The latest of Assange’s arguments against extradition included the claim that his health was so bad that he wouldn’t survive imprisonment in the U.S. The best retort to that is: Don’t break our laws, then.

Greenwald takes an expansive view of the First Amendment, insisting that citizens should be “free to do ‘journalism.” Fine: they may “do journalism” as long as they don’t break laws. What the journalism absolutist wants is no accountability for journalists, real and imagined, at all: a strange position for an industry pariah who has condemned the ethics of fellow journalists and their employers.

3 thoughts on “Beautiful Day, Ugly Ethics, 6/18/2022: Cheeky, Creepy, Creaky And Leaky

  1. Two things about classified information that most people don’t seem to know.

    1) The Executive Order that sets the rules for classified information explicitly states that it is illegal to use classification to hide evidence of law-breaking. In that same vein, anyone with a security clearance does have explicit protection from prosecution if they reveal classified information that does hide evidence of law-breaking.

    2) The United States has no “State Secrets” whatsoever, and any such Act of Congress would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment. This means that no person can be prosecuted for revealing classified information unless that person has a security clearance–in which case the cleared person has legally waived the right to immunity from prosecution in exchange for actually being given access to classified information.

    So, under #1 above, it’s entirely possible for someone like Assange to be acquitted if all he actually did was expose evidence of law-breaking–but I don’t think this is the case.

    It’s also possible, under #2 above, for him to be acquitted of revealing classified information if he personally never held a security clearance–but I don’t think that’s what he’s actually being prosecuted for. His crime (as I understand it) is really that he conspired with Chelsea Manning to perform the felony computer trespass of Department of Defense (SIPR-Net) computers.

    So yeah, all that stuff about Assange having the legal right to publish the information he has in his possession is true–but it doesn’t mean he (or anyone) has the right to commit a felony in order to get possession of it. (Manning–someone who DID have a security clearance–is also definitely on the hook for the actual disclosure of classified information to a non-cleared person–in addition to the hacking charges.)


  2. The fate of in vitro fertilization if embryos are acknowledged to be human life is an interesting and important question. It must be decided based on the ultimate, objective assessment of what a human life is. That assessment cannot ethically be driven by the desirability of in vitro fertilization.

    We have history to serve as precedent.

    It is not as if Roe was decided in 1789.

    For example, the claim that [Trump lawyer John] Eastman took the Fifth Amendment 100 time

    What was Eastman alleged to have done that was allegedly wrong?

    • You don’t have to do anything wrong you are simply choosing not to give anyone information relating to your behavior. You cannot be compelled to bear witness against yourself and if the rules require that you cannot pick and choose what questions you want to decline you must decline every question no matter how irrelevant they may be.

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