Category Archives: History

Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)

Usually the “Incompetent Elected Official” category comes down to some variety of a conclusion that can be summed up by the sturdy phrase, “What an idiot.”  This one is worse than that.

Representative Devin Nunes is chairman of the House committee investigating Russian interference in the Presidential election. This involves intelligence, investigations and secrets that are necessarily a matter of discretion until a final report can be released. No investigation can proceed in a trustworthy manner if every new shred of information becomes public, or worse, is revealed to parties who have a stake in the investigation. This has been understood by members of Congress since, oh, the first Congressional inquiry. The Constitution’s framers assumed that Congress would conduct investigations, just as as the British House of Commons did. James Wilson of Pennsylvania, Convention delegate, a future Supreme Court Justice and the Declaration of Independence signer that “1776” unjustly smears as a weenie , wrote in 1774 that House of Commons members were considered

“grand inquisitors of the realm. The proudest ministers of the proudest monarchs have trembled at their censures; and have appeared at the bar of the house, to give an account of their conduct, and ask pardon for their faults.”

During the First Congress in 1790, Robert Morris, who was the superintendent of finances during the Continental Congress and a financier of the American Revolution, asked Congress to investigate his handling of the country’s finances to clear his name of claimed improprieties. If Nunes doesn’t know the history of the legislative function he is involved in, he should.

Nunes had received intelligence that related to the President’s disputed claim that “he” (meaning who and what, it is unclear) had been wiretapped (meaning surveiled, presumably) by  “Obama” (meaning someone who reports to Obama, I’m guessing), and chose to bypass his committee members, Democrats, protocol and common sense by relaying it directly to the White House. The new information,  Nunes said, showed that American intelligence agencies monitoring foreign officials may have “incidentally” picked up communications from Trump transition team members, and thus the President’s much maligned accusation was kind-of, sort-of, bolstered.

Predictably, the President followed this good news with a tweet. Ugh.

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Filed under Around the World, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Incompetent Elected Officials

From The Ethics Alarms Cultural Illiteracy Files: “A Streetcar Naked Desire”

On Wheel of Fortune, an unfortunate contestant named Kevin was confronted with the board above, and had only to name the missing letter to collect his prize.

He guessed “K.”

1.  It is fair to say that he had never heard of the Tennessee Williams drama, easily one of the top ten plays in the classic American theatrical canon.

2. Does this amazing gap in Kevin’s basic education prove that American schools are failing our children and society? No. It shouldn’t fill us with confidence, either.

3. What else does this mean Kevin has never heard of? “Stella!!!”?  Brando? Elia Kazan? The House Un-American Activities Committee? Naming names? Guilt by association? “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”? “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’?

4. What does it say about U.S. society that someone this ignorant of basic culture feels confident going on a nationally televised game show? I think it suggests that not only are too many people ignorant and uneducated, they don’t even know how ignorant and uneducated they are.  Worse yet, it may mean that such people don’t think that there is anything wrong with being ignorant and uneducated.

5. Though Kevin is being widely mocked on social media, I bet there are more adults who wouldn’t be able to solve the puzzle that we would like to think.

6. This is why I started a professional theater company dedicated to producing great American plays that theater companies didn’t produce any more. “A Streetcar Named Desire,” however, was on the list of plays so common, so frequently taught in schools and so well-known that we would never mount them.

Oops.

[I’m still sick, by the way, and have been sleeping most of the day. This story made me sicker.]

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, History, U.S. Society

Romanian Flag Ethics, or “Who Cares About Chad?”

 

The national flag of Romania (above left)  is designed with vertical stripes colored blue, yellow and red. It has a width-length ratio of 2:3. So does the national flag of Chad (right). In fact, they are identical. (One or the other supposedly has as slightly darker blue, indigo vs. cobalt, but I can’t see it.

Romania established the colors and the design by law in 1989, when its Communist government fell.  It essentially ripped off Chad’s flag, and Chad immediately protested. True, these had been the Rumania/Romania colors forever, but not in this exact form. Do you think Romania bothered to check whether than design was, like, taken? Nah. “There were more important things to care about,” rationalized the nation’s president at the time,  Ion Illiescu. More important to Chad, though? This is the essence of ethics: thinking about the other parties affected by your conduct.It is not the Romanian way, at least when it comes to flags.

What does Romania care about Chad? It’s one of the bleakest, poorest third world nations in the world. Who cares if Chad objects? Who listens to Chad? “It’s too far away,” reasons a Romanian quoted by the Wall Street Journal. Now there’s the keen logic, sense of fairness, and respect for the rest of the world we like to see from our fellow citizens of the planet.

There is no authorized body that referees flag theft. Of course, there shouldn’t have to be, as this is an act without plausible defenses. If a nation takes another country’s flag, it is either being spectacularly arrogant, disrespectful and dishonest,  or incredibly negligent. There is no third explanation. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History

Chicago Justice, Rights, And Pop Culture Malpractice

Dick Wolf, the “Law and Order” creator, is in the process of taking over NBC prime time. He now has four linked dramas dominating the schedule—“Chicago Med,” “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Fire,” and the latest, “Chicago Justice.” (Soon to come, at this rate: “Chicago Sanitation,” “Chicago Pizza,” and “Chicago Cubs.”)

Yesterday was Episode #2 of “Chicago Justice.” The story in involved a “ripped from the headlines” riff on the Brock Turner case, where a woman was raped while unconscious and the rapist received a ridiculously lenient sentence. In Wolf’s alternate universe, however, the judge was murdered, and the rape victim and her ex-husband were suspects. There was another wrinkle too: one of the prosecutors had a close relationship with the dead judge, and was with him right before he was killed. She was going to have to be a witness, and her colleague and supervisor, prosecuting the case, asked her if she had been sleeping with the victim. Such a relationship would have been an ethical violation for the judge, and at least a pre-unethical condition for the prosecutor, requiring her to relocate to a Steven Bochco drama, where lawyers have sex with judges all the time.

The female prosecutor indignantly refused to answer the question. After the case was resolved—I won’t spoil it, but the name “Perry Mason” comes to mind—the two prosecutors made up over a drink. She said that she would have never slept  with “Ray” (the dead judge–when he was alive, that is), but that she remembered reading “in some old document” that we all had “unalienable rights,” she believed one of them was “the right to be respected by your fellow man.”

There is no “right to be respected.” The Declaration of Independence, the “old document” she referenced, lists three rights only, though they are broad ones: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. None of those encompass a right to be respected. The speaker, Anna Valdez (played by Monica Barbaro, a Latina dead ringer for Jill Hennessey, who played the equivalent “Law and Order” role for many years), is a lawyer, and should understand what a right is. It is a legally enforceable guarantee of an entitlement to have something, seek or obtain it,  or to act in a certain ways. As a lawyer, she must understand that this is different from what is right, just or honorable. Her statement, coming from the mouth of a character with presumed expertise and authority, misleads much of the public, which is constantly getting confused over  the difference between Jefferson’s use of “rights” and what is right. So do journalists and, sadly, too many elected officials. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “Double Standards, Hypocrisy, News Media Bias, “Bias Makes You Stupid” And Cognitive Dissonance—This One Has Them All! Thanks, Ben Carson!”

Literally everyone I told about Ben Carson equating slaves with immigrants made a face like they had bitten on a lemon. The comparison is distasteful at a visceral level, because what we think of as immigration does not include being captured and shipped in chains to a strange land for sale, raping and breeding. Once it was pointed out that Barack Obama, rather than only Trump’s notoriously clueless HUD Secretary ( He believes, for example, that Egypt’s pyramids were built to store grain, not dead pharaohs), also championed this false equivalency, many rushed to defend it. The default argument was  that old standby of the desperate, the dictionary, asserting that the most common definition of  immigrant,  “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country,” applies to those who arrived in slave ships too. It is an intellectually dishonest position. Wikipedia accurately describes what immigrant means in common parlance–and it isn’t slavery:

Immigration is the international movement of people into a destination country of which they are not natives or where they do not possess citizenship in order to settle or reside there, especially as permanent residents or naturalized citizens, or to take-up employment as a migrant worker or temporarily as a foreign worker

In discussing “push and pull factors,” the article notes:

Push factors refer primarily to the motive for immigration from the country of origin. In the case of economic migration (usually labor migration), differentials in wage rates are common. If the value of wages in the new country surpasses the value of wages in one’s native country, he or she may choose to migrate, as long as the costs are not too high. Particularly in the 19th century, economic expansion of the US increased immigrant flow, and nearly 15% of the population was foreign-born, thus making up a significant amount of the labor force.

How odd, then, that the Africans slaves were pushed to “migrate” to a land where they received no wages at all! Of course, the “costs” were paid for by others, so that was one incentive, I guess…

Non-economic push factors include persecution (religious and otherwise), frequent abuse, bullying, oppression, ethnic cleansing, genocide, risks to civilians during war, and social marginalization..

Wow, those African “immigrants” were strange. They immigrated to get more persecution, terrible abuse, and ultimate social marginalization!

I confess I find the defense of this intentional blurring of material distinctions for cynical demagoguery as annoying as the demagoguery itself.

Fortunately, texagg04 managed to be more restrained, and approaches the issue from a different and interesting perspective. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Double Standards, Hypocrisy, News Media Bias, “Bias Makes You Stupid” And Cognitive Dissonance—This One Has Them All! Thanks, Ben Carson!”: Continue reading

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Double Standards, Hypocrisy, News Media Bias, “Bias Makes You Stupid” And Cognitive Dissonance—This One Has Them All! Thanks, Ben Carson!

Here come some dreamy immigrants, longing to be free!

HUD Secretary Ben Carson is, as we learned last year, an idiot, or perhaps and idiot savant. He’s also a Republican and currently in the Trump Administration. Clearly, anything he says is likely to be  ridiculous, and probably offensive. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is brilliant. Brilliant, I tell you! He is also idolized by journalists—he sends a thrill up Chris Matthews’ leg!—, and, indeed in part because he is a Democrat and a liberal. Obama is also, of course, worshiped by blacks, intellectuals and progressives. Carson is black too,  but he is a Republican and a conservative, so the black thing is cancelled out.

Now, what happens when Carson and Obama say exactly the same thing?

While speaking to a group of employees at his department on Monday, Carson said:

“There were other immigrants who came in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even longer, even harder, for less, but they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

What an idiot! “Immigrants?” mocked the NAACP. The Washington Post, New York Times, the Hill, Politico, and others headlined Carson’s comments, so bizarre, stupid and insensitive were they. Listen to this dummy! And Trump appointed him as a Department head! “Ben You’re A Fool! Slaves were not Immigrants! headlined the Miami Herald.

Now, a while back, when the brilliant, progressive, President Barack Obama ,said this about slave ships:

We say it so often, we sometimes forget what it means — we are a nation of immigrants. Unless you are one of the first Americans, a Native American, we are all descended from folks who came from someplace else — whether they arrived on the Mayflower or on a slave ship, whether they came through Ellis Island or crossed the Rio Grande.

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Ethics Hero Emeritus Desmond Doss, And “Hacksaw Ridge,”

desmond-doss

Desmond Doss, who died on March 23, 2006 at the age of 87,  was the very first hero to be enshrined in the Ethics Alarms Hall of Heroes. I wrote about him before there was an Ethics Alarms, shortly after he died.  I had never heard of Doss before, and I remember being angry that I had never heard of him. Everyone should know about him. There literally are no Americans who were any more heroic, and whose ethical conduct was any more astounding, than Desmond Doss.

If the values of this nation, and especially Hollywood, were healthy and correctly aligned, he would be a household name, and the film about his World War II heroism would have been made long ago. Finally “Hacksaw Ridge” was produced in 2016, and has been nominated for an Academy Award, although it will never win.

When I first read about Doss, I couldn’t get my mind around what he had done to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the only conscientious objector ever to achieve that honor during combat. During the battle of Okinawa, we were told that he survived heavy enemy fire as he struggled to carry seventy-five wounded soldiers to the sheer cliff at Hacksaw Ridge, personally picking up each one and lowering them over the edge the cliff 400 feet to safety.   How is that possible? Now that I’ve seen the film, it still seems impossible.

Desmond Doss proved that principled opposition to violence against his fellow human beings need  not be based on fear, self-interest or self-preservation. It is often impossible to tell whether those who oppose armed combat really object to the spilling of all human blood in battle, or only their own. With Desmond Doss, there was never any doubt. He didn’t like the term “conscientious objector,” preferring the term “conscientious cooperator.” He enlisted in the army following Pearl Harbor, believing that the war against the Axis had to be fought and wanted to be part of the war effort despite believing, as a devout a Seventh Day Adventist, that it was a sin to kill, with no exceptions. Thus he refused to carry a rifle (or shoot one, even in training) but yet insisted that he be involved in combat as a battlefield medic. He achieved conscientious objector status  but would hot accept a deferment. Assigned to the 307th Infantry Division as a company medic, Doss was hazed, abused and  ridiculed  for his dedication to non-violence, and as the Mel Gibson-directed film shows, many of his tormentors eventually owed their lives to his astonishing heroism. All of his compatriots were amazed by his evident fearlessness under fire and remarkable dedication to duty, never hesitating to go after a wounded soldier no matter what the personal risk. As a combat medic on Guam and at Leyte in the Philippines, Doss had already been awarded the Bronze Star  before the three-day battle at Hacksaw Ridge.

Many of the soldiers in Doss’s 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division were driven off the ridge by a furious Japanese counter-attack, and  wounded G.I.s were stranded atop it. Doss remained with the wounded, and, according to his Medal of Honor citation refused to seek cover, carrying them, one by one, to the edge of the ridge in the face of enemy fire, some of them from behind enemy lines. He lowered each man on a rope-supported litter he improvised on the spot, using double bowline knots he had learned as a youngster and tying the makeshift litter to a tree stump to serve as an anchor. Every wounded man was lowered to a safe spot 35 feet below the ridge top by the 145 pound medic. Finally, Doss came down the ridge himself, incredibly, unharmed. Continue reading

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