Category Archives: Around the World

Announcing “The Fake News Ethics Train Wreck,” And Related Developments [UPDATED]

train-wreck-air

This morning I checked four news sources and caught stories about”fake news” in all of them. Some of this has been fueled by the flesh-meltingly idiotic Comet Ping Pong pizzeria story out of D.C., which culminated in a moron named Edgar Maddison Welch firing an AR-15 inside the joint, saying later that he was horrified at the reports that the establishment was at the center of a child sex ring run by…wait for it…the Clinton campaign. He got some bad information, Welch told authorities.  Ya think???

No, Ed, you got a really bad education in America’s rotten public schools, and before that you were playing hop-scotch when the brains were handed out.

What prompted Ethics Alarms to officially move the fake news uproar into Ethics Train Wreck status, however, was the interview CNN had this morning with two small business owners in the same block as the evil pizza place. “The internet isn’t regulated like it could or should be,” one said, with no comment or clarification from CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. Politicians are among those who have to address this problem, agreed her partner.

In other words, we need internet censorship. Oh, they did say that citizens should be a bit more discerning before grabbing an AR-15 and shooting up a pizza parlor because someone on Instagram said that John Podesta was selling little girls and boys, but obviously the big arm of the State has to step in.

In other developments:

  • The fake Washington Post news story about fake news that I highlighted here may prompt a defamation law suit from one of the organizations that the Post accused, without checking their source, of spreading fake news.

“You did not provide even a single example of ‘fake news’ allegedly distributed or promoted by Naked Capitalism or indeed any of the 200 sites on the PropOrNot blacklist,” James A. Moody, attorney for Naked Capitalism, a finance and economics blog with a stated mission of “shedding light on the dark and seamy corners of finance,” wrote to the Post. “You provided no discussion or assessment of the credentials or backgrounds of these so-called ‘researchers’ (Clint Watts, Andrew Weisburd, and J.M. Berger and the ‘team’ at PropOrNot), and no discussion or analysis of the methodology, protocol or algorithms such ‘researchers’ may or may not have followed.”*

Highlights from that 120-page report:

  • Since 1980, U.S. GDP per capita growth has been far below its long run average, and since 2007 it has been almost negligible.
  • Deterioration in the quality-to-cost ratio for healthcare, housing and education is dragging down economic growth. After spiraling price increases, these sectors accounted for 36 percent of total national spending in 2015, up from 25 percent in 1980.
  •  The U.S. population’s health has stagnated or even declined on several measures since 1980, especially for the working-age population.
  • Housing costs have swallowed up a larger share of income without a corresponding increase in quality.
  • Educational quality is weak and stagnant at all levels. The U.S. education system has failed to instill any measurable gains in the cognitive performance of children and young adults for decades, as U.S. students and adults struggle with poor rates of literacy and numeracy despite high spending growth.

You know…”a strong economy.”

Would you like to speculate on which fake news had a greater likely impact on the popular vote for President—the Pope’s endorsement, Podesta’s pizza parlor sex ring, or that nifty Democratic policies had the national economy working like a Swiss watch? Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, The Internet, U.S. Society

Confirmation Bias And The Taiwan Phone Call

old-lady-poker

I have told the story here before, I think, of the poker hand I once witnessed in Las Vegas that forever serves as a warning about the dangers of confirmation bias. I was considering joining a seven card stud table at a casino, and as is my practice, decided to watch a few hands to see what the competition was like. One player stood out: an elderly, grandmotherly woman who played hesitantly and was prone to say things like “Oh, dear!” and talk to herself. She obviously irritated the  other players, who were all male and the human equivalents of the Dogs Playing Poker.

As it happened the  third hands I watched was a big one, with most of the players showing pairs and flushes. The grandmother dithered and sighed as usual, and when it she was faced, after the last card, with the decision of whether to call a huge bet, she delayed, pushed all her chips into the center to raise, and then pulled them back, saying that she would fold instead. The players protested, and the dealer informed her that once her chips had crossed the line on the table, her bet was complete. She looked horrified, and explained piteously that she had never played by those rules before. It was to no avail, however, and the remaining players eagerly called her wager, happy to take advantage of her gaffe.

The old woman had four jacks! It wasn’t a gaffe, it was an act, all of it. She had been taking advantage of the other players’ eagerness to stereotype her. Once the betting was over, she dropped the mask. “Four of a kind, gentlemen!’ she said authoritatively, revealing her hand. She raked in the gigantic pile of chips, and got up from her chair. “Thanks for the competition. I think I’ll try another table now.” She was heading to a table where they would think she was a clueless old lady, having blown her cover at this one.

I thought about that poker player when I was reading the comments on social media and from various pundits after it was reported that Donald Trump had engaged in a telephone conversation with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Ever since the U.S. officially recognized Red China, Taiwan, formerly Formosa, has been treated diplomatically as if it doesn’t exist. Taiwan, the Chinese island territory where Chinese Nationalists fled after Communists  took over the country, still claims to be the real government of the Chinese mainland.  Under President Jimmy Carter’s “One China” policy, the U.S. officially refuses to recognize it as independent. It is, however, a convenient fiction.  As Slate explained in 2000:

While the U.S. officially adheres to the one-China policy, it practices a de facto two-China policy. Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. sells Taiwan military weapons, and the language of the act warns the People’s Republic that any coercive unification efforts would be “of grave concern to the United States.”Beginning in the late 1980s, the two Chinas flouted their one-China policies by establishing economic and cultural but not political ties….Taiwan… has continued to pay lip service to independence–two Chinas–but, out of fear of provoking China, has refrained from explicitly repudiating the one-China policy.

An incoming President publicly treating Taiwan’s leader as a head of state is bound to make China nervous. Sine everyone has already concluded that Donald Trump is an impulsive, reckless idiot, the phone conversation was immediately interpreted by his critics in that context. Similarly on social media: every Angry Left poster who mentioned the incident was contemptuous, as if any of them had superior diplomatic expertise to Trump, who is not exactly unfamiliar with the Chinese, with whom he has had many business dealings. Many were also fearful. This is the apparently agreed-upon strategy of  de-legitimizing Trump: he’s scary. He’s not a real American President ( just as many Republicans claimed Obama was an alien), with American virtues and values. He’s a bull in a china shop! (China, get it?) A beast, not a statesman! He’s Hitler, a criminal, a dictator, the boogeyman. See? See? This is going to start World War III!

This interpretation of Trump’s actions is pure confirmation bias. If a President-Elect with respected foreign policy credentials (not that we’ve had one since in 50 years) had done exactly the same thing, exactly the same way, it would be debated, but many more would see it as wily diplomacy. Again, confirmation bias: nobody really knows what the idea behind the call was, or if there was an idea. The Democratic National Committee responded by saying, “Donald Trump is either too incompetent to understand that his foolish phone call threatens our national security, or he’s doing it deliberately because he reportedly wants to build hotels in Taiwan to pad his own pockets.” Wow…THAT’s fair! Stay classy, Democrats! I’m sure this is the way to win back the trust and support of the electorate. Talk about a parody of partisan rhetoric;  tell us again about how the mean old Republicans wouldn’t give Barack Obama a chance.

Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Government & Politics, Leadership

Note To Prof. Painter On His Teeth Gnashing Over Trump’s Conflicts: “If You Have No Option, You Have No Problem,” or “NOW You Tell Us?”

Ethics expert Richard Painter, who was White House ethics counsel from 2005 to 2007, has authored a thorough, convincing and I’m quite certain accurate brief about all the problems arising from soon-to-be President Donald Trump’s vast business connections, and the conflicts of interest they can and will involve. It’s an automatic ethics train wreck. Here’s Painter:

Even absent a quid pro quo, the Emoluments Clause bans payments to an American public official from foreign governments. Yet they will arise whenever foreign diplomats stay in Trump hotels at their governments’ expense; whenever parties are organized by foreign governments in Trump hotels (Bahrain just announced such a party in a Trump hotel this week); whenever loans are made to the company by the Bank of China or any other foreign-government-owned bank; whenever rent is paid by companies controlled by foreign governments with offices in Trump buildings; and whenever there is any other arrangement whereby foreign government money goes into the president’s businesses….How can we expect a Trump administration to rein in loose lending practices, particularly in the real estate sector, when the president himself owes hundreds of millions of dollars to banks? What will he do when a foreign dictator acts up in a country where there is a Trump hotel?

Yikes. Yikes and true. Also Yikes, true, and why are you bringing this up now when there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it? Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics

Ethics Quiz Follow-Up: Signature Significance And Kind Words For Castro

Look at the good side!

Look at the good side!

Democrats and progressives have been “otherizing” the President Elect by incessantly referring to the fear he inspires in so many, including young children. This, as I hope to explore in another post, is part of a wide ranging  and dangerous de-legitimizing strategy, as wrong as calling Barack Obama by his middle name, or claiming that he isn’t a citizen. In the weekend’s Ethics Quiz, I answered answer to the question of whether Trump’s unequivocal condemnation of Fidel Castro in response to his death was ethical in the affirmative, and I concludeed with this:

Rather than using the occasion to find another excuse to attack Trump, Democrats should think about why it is that so many Castro admirers are in their ranks.

Now let me be more pointed: everyone surveying that national political scene should be concerned and alarmed that so many Castro admirers and apologists are in the ranks or progressives and Democrats….especially progressive and Democrats.  It is signature significance. No one who is committed to liberty, the Constitution, the democratic process and basic principles of autonomy, respect, fairness and free speech can seriously praise Castro.  The ominous turn of the increasingly radicalized Left in the United States to an “ends justify the means,” totalitarian methodology-endorsing philosophy is something to watch carefully.  You want genuine fear? I am genuinely frightened of liberals who say that Castro “did some good things” on the way to shrugging off how he did those things, and how many lives it cost.

A good friend of mine and a nice, smart, man who is also an extreme liberal wrote on his Facebook page,

RIP, Fidel. A huge figure of the 20th century, one with faults and virtues. Believed his island belonged to all its people and not just the rich. A better man than the one who was just elected…

Res ipsa loquitur. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Citizenship, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Rights

More Ethics Movies For The Holidays: “Woman In Gold”

portrait-of-adele-bloch-bauer-i-by-gustav-klimt

The movie critics site “Rotten Tomatoes”calls “Woman in Gold” dull, which tells you pretty much all you need to know about “Rotten Tomatoes.” No, there are no explosions, no sex scenes, no CGI, just a well-acted, powerful story of how justice can take a long time to prevail, but given enough dedication, integrity and luck, it still does prevail with sufficient frequency to stave off despair.

“Woman in Gold” is a 2015 film starring Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren. It is a virtual docudrama telling the true story (mostly accurately) of Maria Altmann (Mirren), a plucky Jewish refugee in Los Angeles, who, assisted by her young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, battled the government of Austria  to obtain the return of Gustav Klimt’s renowned portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer. That painting, along with more by Klimt and  other painters as well, were among the art treasures stolen by the Nazis  prior to World War II. The legal battle ended up before the Supreme Court of the United States, and the conflict was finally settled by a shocking decision by an Austrian panel of mediators. You can read about the real case here.

It may be dull to dull minds, as Red Smith famously said about baseball, but I have seen the film twice now, and it moved me to tears both times. “Woman in Gold” shows once more, as I fervently believe, that right can and often does triumph over bureaucracies, greed, power and stupidity, and that lawyers, maligned as they are, are often essential to that process. Schoenberg shows us the epitome of a zealous and courageous lawyer, making personal and professional sacrifices for a cause he comes to believe is important both to his client and to humanity. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Character, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, War and the Military

Ethics Quiz: Trump’s Tweet On Fidel’s Demise

castro-tweet-trump

We are taught to speak only good of the dead in the immediate aftermath of one’s demise, and especially in the world of international diplomacy, restraint, respect and the Golden Rule are the accepted standards of ethical conduct on such occasions

This being the case, what is the right ethical diagnosis of President Elect Donald Trump’s tweet above about the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death, which includes an explanation point widely interpreted to suggest “GOOD!” of “Yippee!” ? Trump’s subsequent statement removed all doubt that he was not sorry to see Fidel go to that big sugar cane plantation in the sky, or better yet, well, you know:

“Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,’ Mr Trump’s statement reads. “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights. “While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve. Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty. I join the many Cuban-Americans who supported me so greatly in the presidential campaign, including the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association that endorsed me, with the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba.”

Contrast that with President Obama’s equivocal statement, which said in part,

“We know that this moment fills Cubans — in Cuba and in the United States — with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”

Then there was former President Jimmy Carter, who said,

“Rosalynn and I share our sympathies with the Castro family and the Cuban people on the death of Fidel Castro. We remember fondly our visits with him in Cuba and his love of his country. We wish the Cuban citizens peace and prosperity in the years ahead.”

Hmmmm!

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for this Thanksgiving Day weekend:

Were Trump’s tweet and statement about Castro responsible, prudent and ethical?

I think so, and I’m surprised at my own response. I suppose I am tired of seeing and hearing public figures lie when everyone knows they are lying, and if Carter and Obama really don’t think Castro was a brutal, murderous dictator whose departure is a blessing to all, then the Democratic Party is in even worse shape than I thought it was.

I have a hard Left friend who actually expressed praise for Castro’s legacy today on Facebook. When a figure who is objectively and factually as bad as Castro was, our leaders should not hesitate to be frank and direct. Obama’s non-commital History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him” is cowardly and evasive. Yes, and if history judges that Fidel’s ends justified his means, then civilization is doomed. Carter’s statement is even worse. “His love of his country”—that’s mitigation for oppression and murder, eh, Jimmy? If love of country your standard, you and Rosalyne must love Hitler.

Trump’s excessive candor and rogue mouth obviously are going to do a lot of damage in the next four years, just as they did during the campaign. Nonetheless, I don’t see anything unethical about calling a murderous dictator when he was, whether it’s on the day of his death or ten years later. This is one time when Trump’s refusal to be politically correct cuts through crap that should be cut through. As Edgar says at the end of “King Lear,”

“We should speak what we feel, not what we ought to say,”

…at least when bastards like Castro die.

Rather than using the occasion to find another excuse to attack Trump, Democrats should think about why it is that so many Castro admirers are in their ranks.

 

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From The “Rules Are Rules” Files: China’s “No Arms, No Loans” Policy

Don't be afraid of Wu, you banks! He's completely armless!.

Don’t be afraid of Wu, you banks! He’s completely armless!.

Just when you are tempted to think the United States leads humanity in outrageous bureaucratic rigidity and the refusal to make sensible exceptions when common sense and decency demand it, a story like this one comes across the wires to restore one’s faith that cruelty and stupidity are universal.* That’s something to be thankful for…isn’t it?

Maybe not.

Wu Jianping, a 25-year-old teacher from Zhengzhou in the Henan province of China, told the news media there that banks have denied his application for a mortgage loan because he had inadequate identification.  Banks in China require fingerprints for loans, and Wu has no fingers. In fact, he has no arms, having lost both of them when he was electrocuted in an accident at the age of five.

Jianping says he typically writes his signature by holding a pen in his mouth, but banks rejected his loan applications on the grounds that his written signature can be easily imitated, presumably by anyone holding a pen in his mouth, and they don’t accept toeprints.

“Fingerprinting is a common practice because signatures can be imitated, but there is no way to copy a fingerprint,” one bank employee was quoted as saying. Ah. And just how does someone impersonate a loan applicant with no arms? How many 25 year-old teachers without arms are there in China, anyway? Are people always coming up to Wu Jianping in the streets of Beijing, where he works, and telling him, “I’m sorry! I mistook you for someone else” ?

The banks are receiving widespread criticism online and in social media, with many writing that demanding fingerprints from an armless man is unreasonable. Gee, ya think? Let’s have a panel discussion about it. Now some of the banks are apparently relenting. That’s generous of them.

I bet George Bailey would have given Wu a loan…

[Ethics Alarms will now open up the thread to all the terrible jokes anyone wants to submit, as my Thanksgiving gift to the readership. I might as well, since I know you will make them anyway. I reserve the one in the caption, one of my all-time favorites, and also “Well, they can’t accuse him of asking for a hand-out!”, because I wanted to write it first, and it’s my blog, so there. But there are a lot more. A lot.]

*One of the very first posts on Ethics Alarms highlighted a similar episode in an American bank. [Thanks to Tex for reminding me!]

_______________________

Pointer: Fark

 

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Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, The Internet