The Court Ruling I’ve Been Waiting For Since 2011

In a June 30 decision, B.L v. Mahanoy Area School District, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals  ruled that a Pennsylvania  high school violated a cheerleader’s First Amendment rights when it kicked the young woman off the squad for a message she had posted on SnapChat. A distruct court judge had ruled last year for the ex-cheerleader, whose  post pictured the teen and her friend holding up their middle fingers accompanied by the eloquent sentiment , “fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” She was  upset because she had only made the junior varsity cheerleading squad, rather than the varsity team.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania argued the case for the girl, so at least sometimes the organization  still puts its partisan politics aside to do its traditional job of looking out for the First Amendment. The group called the ruling a “landmark decision,” finally barring schools from policing students’ off-campus speech using the claim that it might disrupt school activities.

The Supreme Court decision on campus speech, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, did not apply to off-campus speech. Tinker held that student speech could be regulated by schools only if it would substantially disrupt school operations or interfere with the rights of others. That case involved a school disciplining students when they wore black armbands to class as a protest against the Vietnam War.

The 3rd Circuit majority ruled .“We hold today that Tinker does not apply to off-campus speech—that is, speech that is outside school-owned, -operated or -supervised channels and that is not reasonably interpreted as bearing the school’s imprimatur,”

Because the teen’s speech was outside the school context, Tinker did not apply. The cheerleader’s speech “lies beyond the school’s regulatory authority,” the court said.

The ACLU’s  press release stated that the decision was important “because it recognizes that students who are outside of school enjoy full free speech rights, not the diluted rights they have inside the schoolhouse.”

Bingo.

Finally. Continue reading

Van Jones’ Unforgivable Sin: Acting Like An American

 Two weeks ago Van Jones appeared on CNN’s “Inside Politics with John King” and “Anderson Cooper 360” to enthusiastically commend President Trump’s executive order regarding police reform.  This, of course, is high treason to the Democratic Party/”resistance”/ Mainstream media collective, to which Jones has triple membership. Nothing this President does, according to the Axis of Unethical Conduct’s by-laws, is ever anything better than stupid, dangerous,  or impeachable. The executive order was criticized as cynical and unproductive by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and “delusional” by the Color of Change, a racial spoils organization that Jones  co-founded in 2005.

I might have  given Jones some integrity points, had I not made up my mind about him long ago. Check the Ethics Alarms dossier on Jones: my 2014 description of his agenda as “fear-mongering, racial distrust and division” was and usually is fair. Then ” a knowledgeable White House source” revealed that Van Jones and California human rights attorney Jessica Jackson, who runs #cut50, a prison-reform group Jones also founded, worked with law enforcement officials and White House staffers (like the hated Jerod Kushner) to develop the policy measure. Jones was praising an action that he had been directly involved in, without informing the  CNN audience of  his conflict of interest. When he was accused of working on the order, Jones vehemently denied it.

His conduct and denials were dishonest and unethical, but it’s now apparent why Jones kept the secret he is now being attacked for. He knows his team. It’s not the conflict of interest; politicians and journalists don’t care about conflicts of interest unless they can be used to get rid of other politicians and journalists that they don’t like (“Emoluments!!!!”), and the average member of the public literally has no comprehension  of what  conflicts are and why they are unethical.

No, Van Jones knew he would be crucified—-and now is facing  cultural cancellation and shunning because he assisted the President of the United States! The Horror!

Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Reflections, 6/28/2020: For The Defense….

Greetings from the Ethics Alarms bunker…

1. I’m current reflecting on a personal and professional ethics conflict. A colleague and long-time professional competitor—I would never call him a friend—has been ousted from his leadership position in the very successful organization he founded as a result of unproven allegations of sexual harassment and assault. It was a “believe all victims” situation, as well as what feels like a successful coordinated effort to “get” someone who had accumulated a lot of enemies, resentment and envy in a notoriously nasty industry once his power was waning.

On one hand, I feel like I should reach out to him and offer my guidance and support (as an ethicist and sexual harassment trainer, not a lawyer, and gratis, of course). On the other, I am pretty certain that he is guilty of at least some of what has been alleged, based on confidential accounts I have recently heard from reliable sources. Ethically, however, his ousting (it appears that he was given the option of “retiring”) lacked due process and fairness, and the organization was guided by public relations motives rather than legal or ethical ones.

Whose side should I be on?

2. Stop making me defend Facebook! As if there wasn’t enough to worry about, the aggressive pandering mode of corporations right now is being exploited by would-be censors of political speech. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced updated election policies and stricter “hate speech” rules in response to employee protests and pressure from activists, whose transparent objective is to silence or constrict any political views antithetical progressive positions and goals. In a message last week, Zuckerberg  outlined plans to police disinformation relating to voting and elections, to flag certain content that risked triggering violence (I wonder what  that standard is like today?) and concluded,

Continue reading

Quick Note: You’re Incompetent, Parler. Count Me Out. [Corrected]

Your big chance, and you fall flat on your face…

I believe it is essential that social media platforms emerge to challenge the left-wing censorship of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the rest. Since I am preparing to quit Twitter as a matter of principle, I attempted to register for the new service, Parler. It purports to allow free speech without censorship.

I failed. Why? The sign-up process is not only ridiculously complicated, it’s flawed. The process asked for my phone number…not my cell phone, just my phone. Then it sent the last stage of the process, my verification code, via SMS. But my office phone doesn’t receive SMS’s. The kids starting this service just assumed that everyone lives on cellphones. That’s arrogant and stupid. Do some market research.

One good thing about Twitter: a marmoset could sign up in less than five minutes.  If Parler can’t even develop a user-friendly sign-up process, and worse, makes a tyro mistake like the phone botch, it can’t be trusted. Heaven knows what else they will screw up.

Parler won’t get a second chance with me.

There are few things worse than accepting an important challenge ahead of others, and blowing it by ineptitude and carelessness.

_________________________

 One more point: it is already nearly impossible to contact the platform to address issues like this. This is a problem with too many tech firms, Facebook being among the worst. It’s possible to do better: WordPress will give you a live chat with an agent in minutes.

The New McCarthyism Of The Left And The Destruction Of Hartley Sawyer

Hartley Sawyer is, or was, a Hollywood actor. 35 years old with many credits, he had hit the big time, and big money, with a regular role on the CW series “The Flash.” He played the superhero “The Elongated Man.” Today he’s unemployed, and likely to remain so. He was fired from the series yesterday.

Was he hard to work with? No. Did he harass cast members? No.  Did he come to the set drunk, or masturbate in front of  female crew members, or attack a writer, like Thomas Gibson did on “Criminal Minds”?  No, no and no. Sawyer wasn’t fired for doing anything illegal, disruptive or even recent. He was fired because someone searched his social media record, and released tweets he made between 2009 and 2014. All the stories about his firing reference “racist tweets,” but the only ones published have been…

  •  “The only thing keeping me from doing mildly racist tweets is the knowledge that Al Sharpton would never stop complaining about me.”
  • “Enjoyed a secret boob viewing at an audition today.”
  • “Date rape myself so I don’t have to masturbate.”

The first isn’t racist, or even legitimately offensive. To claim the second would be taboo in Hollywood is so ridiculous it boggles the mind. The third, described in various accounts as being about sexual assault, is an obvious joke. Saying you “date rape” yourself is not advocating sexual assault.

Never mind. In the crazed grip of George Floyd mania, people with empty lives and cruel dispositions are itching to show their power to destroy others by crying “Witch!,” knowing that most of those in authority, any authority, lack backbone, integrity or a working knowledge of the Golden Rule. Continue reading

A Whole Lot Of Resigning Going On

There have been a lot of interesting resignations in the last couple of days, all with ethics implications.

1. Reddit Co-founder Alexis Ohanian  announced his resignation from the company’s board. This was an apparent capitulation to  critics who claimed Reddit didn’t do enough opinion censorship, the new rage among tech companies and social media platforms.

Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, who lost her position under fire for being censorship-minded, criticized the tech company earlier last week after it published its mandatory George Floyd letter. Pao responded by accusing the social network knowingly of profiting from hate. “You don’t get to say BLM when reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long,” Pao tweeted. Smart–she knew that in the throes of mass virtue-signaling and white flagellation, nobody would have the guts to ask her, “Who gets to define hate, Ellen? You?”

Lacking the fortitude to make an argument, Ohanian, who is married to professional tennis player Serena Williams, said he would commit to using future gains from his Reddit stock to serve the black community and focus on curbing racial hate, because, as we all know, throwing money around has been so effective at that.  Ohanian said he would donate $1 million to former NFL player and activist Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp. Then he said that he wanted his replacement to be black, Not experienced, fair, wise, savvy or effective. Black. That’s what matters. Continue reading

Unethical Tweet Of The Week: Prof. Carl Bergstrom

One could also call this an ethical tweet, as it neatly unmasks the hypocrisy of the scientific community as well as the self-serving myth that scientists are squeaky-clean objective and do not bend their pronouncements to partisan and political motives.

Bergstrom is a science star. Atheoretical and evolutionary biologist and a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, he has been a vocal critic of low-quality or misleading scientific research. Now he is proving how we get it.

In another tweet, he writes, “We are having difficult but vital conversations about whether public health professionals can support the #BlackLivesMatter.protests during a pandemic. I’m unhappy to see these defaulting to utilitarian calculus rather than considering deontological or virtue ethics perspectives.”

That one’s pretty funny. The reason policy-makers are told that they must follow in lockstep the pronouncements of “experts” is that scientists et al. are not calibrating facts, recommendation and conclusions based on biases, personal preferences and non-factual considerations. In fact, that is the very reason policy makers must make the trade-offs scientists cannot, or should not. Now, struggling to find a way out of the obvious verdict of hypocrisy, Bergstrom is extolling “virtue ethics.” The problem is that virtue ethics also requires balancing and prioritizing among the virtues. Now we know that Bergstrom, among others, calibrates his recommendations according to his own political and ideological preferences. Go to work to continue earning income and care for one’s family? Not important enough to justify the risk. Gather in church to serve one’s spiritual needs? Nope. Attend a funeral of a loved one to express grief and respect? Not worth the risk. Protest being forced to accept an economic Armageddon and the suspension of civil rights to prevent virus-triggered fatalities that have been tolerated in the past without installing such draconian measures? Selfish and irresponsible.

Mass demonstrations in the streets out of anger and opportunistic political motivations, leading to millions of dollars of property destruction, human misery, deaths of bystanders and police, looting and riots in furtherance of vague objectives and generalities?

Sure! Now that’s worth it! Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/6/2020: No, We’re Not On The Eve Of Destruction. Stop Saying That!

But thanks for an excuse to play the #2 most stupid psuedo-profound pop song of all time, #1 being, of course, “Imagine.” Take it away, Barry!

1. Mouse in the house. In the 30 years our home was patrolled by Jack Russell terriers, we virtually never saw a mouse (though Rugby literally wouldn’t hurt a fly). Lately, however, we have seen several, including a really, really cute one who is amazingly bold. This tiny mouse has big black eyes and little pink ears, with reddish brown fur. He also seems to like my wife, whom he crept up on the sofa to sit by repeatedly last night while she was napping. Ethically, we are at an impasse. I keep thinking about “Ben and Me,” the Disney cartoon about Ben Franklin’s apocryphal mouse pal, and my wife can’t bear the thought of killing her new fan. But we can’t have mice running around the house.

2. From the Ethics Alarms mail bag: Guess the rationalization! Steve Witherspoon aks what rationalization General Mattis’s fatuous statement, “We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers,”  from his attack on the President evokes. Several, in fact. It’s a clear #22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things,”  as well as the suddenly popular #64. Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is.” Riots in dozens of cities, arson, looting and attacks on over 100 police cannot be called “a small number of lawbreakers.” It’s also a neat #59. The Golden Rule Mutation, or “I’m all right with it!” As long as those “small number of lawbreakers” aren’t threatening Mattis or his family, he’s willing to accept what happens…to other people being victimized by rioters. Continue reading

OOOH! Does This Guy Win “Biggest Non-Criminal Jerk Of The George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck”?

He’ll be tough to beat.

Former ESPN NBA reporter Chris Palmer for some reason felt qualified to offer his ethical guidance regarding the burning and looting in Minneapolis. As the first full night of riots got underway, Palmer re-tweeted a photo of a burning building with the caption, “Burn that shit down. Burn it all down.” That “shit” was Midtown Corner’s  planned affordable housing  project. Then the riots moved closer to home, so Palmer was indignant. After all, they destroyed A STARBUCKS!!!! Continue reading