Law And Ethics Notes

ethics and law

I’m desperately trying to meet a course materials deadline so my brain is stuck on law right now. Here are are few items of general interest:

1. As expected, the Supreme Court passed on the various cases involving the election, ruling them moot, which indeed they are. Thomas and Alito dissented, with Gorsuch joining with Alito, on the grounds that it would be prudent to take up the issues involved in those cases now, to avoid a repeat in the next election.

Justice Thomas wrote:

“The Constitution gives to each state legislature authority to determine the ‘Manner’ of federal elections,” Yet both before and after the 2020 election, nonlegislative officials in various States took it upon themselves to set the rules instead. As a result, we received an unusually high number of petitions and emergency applications contesting those changes.”

Thomas argued that the cases Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Veronica DeGraffenreid (2021) and Jake Corman v. Pennsylvania Democratic Party (2021) presented “a clear example” of election law issues that the Supreme Court should settle, writing

“The Pennsylvania Legislature established an unambiguous deadline for receiving mail-in ballots: 8 p.m. on election day. Dissatisfied, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended that deadline by three days. That decision to rewrite the rules seems to have affected too few ballots to change the outcome of any federal election. But that may not be the case in the future. These cases provide us with an ideal opportunity to address just what authority nonlegislative officials have to set election rules, and to do so well before the next election cycle. The refusal to do so is inexplicable.”

Oh, I can explain it. The Court doesn’t want to inject a destabilizing element into what is already dangerously widespread suspicion about the election. An opinion that said, in essence, “This was illegal, and some illicit votes were allowed to count that shouldn’t, probably not enough to change the results, but at this point, who knows?” would not be helpful or wise.

2. If you think a lawyer looking like a cat at a hearing is bad, or appearing before a judge on Zoom in pajamas, or a professor being on mute for two hours while lecturing remotely, consider this: Peruvian defense lawyer Héctor Cipriano Paredes Robles was taking part in a virtual hearing when his video feed began to show him stripping naked, and engaging in enthusiastic sex with a naked woman.The judge, John Chahua Torres, tried to alert Robles that the hearing participants could see him and his partner’s multiple positions on the live feed, but the lawyer was, uh, busy.

“We are witnessing obscene acts which represent a violation of public decency and are aggravated by the fact they are being recorded nationally!” Judge Torres said.

Good point.

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Valentine’s Day Ethics Warm-Up: “Ya Gotta Love Ethics!”

valentines-day-hearts-9

I’m going to see if I can get through this entire post without mentioning yesterday’s acquittal of Donald Trump. There’s a whole other post around the corner for that. Let’s see.

I was sorely tempted to post the simple word “Good!” to my Facebook feed, but resisted the temptation. All it would have accomplished was to trigger some genuinely, or at least formerly, nice and reasonable people….who have nonetheless been smug, abusive, irrational, nasty, obsessed, hateful and harmful to the culture and society since November 2016. And as much as the Duke in “McClintock!” is an inspiration…

…I won’t. At least, not right now.

1, And the audacious hypocrisy continues! To a ridiculous and childish extent, too. Here’s Dr. Jill Biden’s kindergarten-style, “do as we say not as we do,” signaling-virtue-while-not-actually-engaging-in-it White House lawn display.

Biden diaplay

How nauseating.

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Is It Ethical For Responsible Americans To Remain On Facebook?

Facebook-Censorship

There was some sort of good news but also seriously ominous news regarding Facebook’s increasingly brazen efforts to distort public debate and to use its power to restrict free speech. Unfortunately, the good news wasn’t nearly good enough, and the rest might just be the proverbial straw that breaks the metaphorical camel’s back, at least for me.

On the slightly positive side was that the giant social media platform has reversed several instances of content removal after review by the company’s “independent” (I am not convinced how independent it is) oversight body. Facebook’s new 20-member Oversight Board released its first verdicts yesterday, and overturned four of five censorship decisions. Facebook is now allowed seven days to restore the banned content.

But why does it take seven days? It doesn’t really: this is a stall. With time sensitive material, the license just compounds the harm.

Now the board will decide whether to keep former President Trump’s page banned permanently. That should tell us whether the review system is legitimate or a sham with a purely political agenda, for there can be no justification for blocking the words, views and opinions of any prominent national leader, particularly a President, and particularly particularly one who is routinely savaged with twisted accusations every day by the news media and every second by other Facebook users. The Oversight Board will issue a decision in the next 90 days as the ban continues. It’s a another transparent stall. This isn’t a hard call, and if it is for anyone, then that is signature significance for disqualifying bias.

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From A School Superintendent, Authentic Frontier Gibberish And More Evidence Of Why Our Children Are In Trouble.

A nice, smart, passionate, and painfully progressive Facebook friend posted this letter with approval on his page. It was originally written and posted by a superintendent in Voorheesville in upstate New York, and has been circulating on social media for all the wrong reasons. The letter was directed to “All teachers and parents.”

I’ll have some observations at the end, if I can control my gag reflex.

Dear Friends and Colleagues: I am writing today about the children of this pandemic. After a lifetime of working among the young, I feel compelled to address the concerns that are being expressed by so many of my peers about the deficits the children will demonstrate when they finally return to school. My goodness, what a disconcerting thing to be concerned about in the face of a pandemic which is affecting millions of people around the country and the world. It speaks to one of my biggest fears for the children when they return. In our determination to “catch them up,” I fear that we will lose who they are and what they have learned during this unprecedented era. What on earth are we trying to catch them up on? The models no longer apply, the benchmarks are no longer valid, the trend analyses have been interrupted. We must not forget that those arbitrary measures were established by people, not ordained by God. We can make those invalid measures as obsolete as a crank up telephone! They simply do not apply. When the children return to school, they will have returned with a new history that we will need to help them identify and make sense of. When the children return to school, we will need to listen to them. Let their stories be told. They have endured a year that has no parallel in modern times. There is no assessment that applies to who they are or what they have learned. Remember, their brains did not go into hibernation during this year. Their brains may not have been focused on traditional school material, but they did not stop either. Their brains may have been focused on where their next meal is coming from, or how to care for a younger sibling, or how to deal with missing grandma, or how it feels to have to surrender a beloved pet, or how to deal with death. Our job is to welcome them back and help them write that history. I sincerely plead with my colleagues, to surrender the artificial constructs that measure achievement and greet the children where they are, not where we think they “should be.” Greet them with art supplies and writing materials, and music and dance and so many other avenues to help them express what has happened to them in their lives during this horrific year. Greet them with stories and books that will help them make sense of an upside-down world. They missed you. They did not miss the test prep. They did not miss the worksheets. They did not miss the reading groups. They did not miss the homework. They missed you. Resist the pressure from whatever ‘powers that be’ who are in a hurry to “fix” kids and make up for the “lost” time. The time was not lost, it was invested in surviving an historic period of time in their lives—in our lives. The children do not need to be fixed. They are not broken. They need to be heard. They need be given as many tools as we can provide to nurture resilience and help them adjust to a post pandemic world. Being a teacher is an essential connection between what is and what can be. Please, let what can be demonstrate that our children have so much to share about the world they live in and in helping them make sense of what, for all of us has been unimaginable. This will help them– and us– achieve a lot more than can be measured by any assessment tool ever devised. Peace to all who work with the children!Being a teacher is an essential connection between what is and what can be. Please, let what can be demonstrate that our children have so much to share about the world they live in and in helping them make sense of what, for all of us has been unimaginable. This will help them– and us– achieve a lot more than can be measured by any assessment tool ever devised. Peace to all who work with the children!

Observations:

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Comments Of The Day, As “The Monday Friday Open Forum” Became The Ethics Alarms Mailbag

Mail

For some reason, the most recent Ethics Alarms open forum attracted quite a few ethics quandaries for discussion. Here are two I thought were especially noteworthy…first, from The Shadow, which is ironic, since I thought The Shadow was supposed to know what evil lurked in the hearts of men…

This is something that happened in my neighborhood (that I’ve only lived in for 2 months, so I don’t know anyone involved) and I was just an interested observer.

A family had pickets knocked off their fence multiple times in the past few months, so they put up a security camera. The next time it happened, the camera caught teenagers ramming and kicking the fence, then running across the road into the back yard of a house. An older couple owns the house, but the have teenage grandchildren living with them. This family posted the video on the neighborhood Facebook group asking for advice; they didn’t want to go talk to the people across the street because “they didn’t want to start trouble”. Some suggested going across the street to talk to them anyway, some suggested calling the police. Another neighbor ended up talking to the grandparents and It turns out the culprits were friends of the teenagers living with them.

I don’t know the final outcome, but there are many good ethics angles here:

1) Should this family have posted the video to Facebook?
2) What should they have done with the information about the teenagers across the street?
3) Should the 3rd party have stepped in to talk to the people across the street (does “duty to confront” apply here)?
4) Once it was known the culprits were friends of teenagers living there, what should the grandparents have done?

Any other good ethics angles here?

I think this is a pure Golden Rule situation, which means not posting the video to Facebook, and not going to the police, at least initially. You have the courtesy of going to the elderly couple, and ask if they will take care of the issue by contacting their grandkids’ friends’ parents. If they won’t do anything, then the police are the next stop. One must do what is necessary to get compensated for the property damage, while doing as little damage to everyone else as possible.

Now here’s ethics puzzle #2, from Sarah B.:

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Rainy Monday Ethics, 11/30/2020: Statues, Dogs And Lies

Also getting me down, Karen Carpenter songs. As with great movies with O.J. Simpson or Gig Young in them, these are hard to enjoy now, at least for me. One of the most lovely natural voices in pop music history was silenced by the pernicious disease of anorexia, exacerbated by, among others, her brother, her family, and music industry executives, who made Carpenter so self-conscious about her weight and appearance that she slowly starved herself to death before her 33rd birthday. I wish I could hear her sing—and I will do that a lot in the days approaching Christmas—without thinking about that, but I can’t.

1. Proposition: any nation’s historical figures who had the impact on those nations that Margaret Thatcher did in Great Britain over a significant period of time deserve to be memorialized with statues, absent some cataclysmic disqualifying act, like Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal. Even in Nixon’s case, I would support a public memorial to such a historically influential figure.

In the English town of Grantham, where Thatcher grew up, an 11-foot pedestal awaits the arrival next year of a large statue of “the Iron Lady.” Apparently many in Britain, and a large proportion of Gratham’s working class residents, disapprove of Thatcher’s conservative politics and policies, and thus oppose the statue, which will be in immediate danger of toppling the minute it is erected.

Morons. One doesn’t have to personally agree with a historical figure’s position or even admire her to appreciate the impact that figure had. The criteria for memorializing prominent citizens should center on whether future generations need to know who they were and what they did, not whether their achievements and conduct are approved of according to often fleeting political, social and cultural values. Charles Moore, who wrote an authorized biography of Mrs. Thatcher, says, “It’s obvious there should be statues to Britain’s first woman prime minister. But…but…George Floyd! The New York Times’ article on the controversy says that statue toppling has become a world-wide phenomenon since the death of George Floyd. Now that makes sense: one of Great Britain’s most successful and important leaders should be robbed of her legitimate honors because a rogue cop accidentally contributed to the death of a black criminal in Minnesota.

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Sunday Ethics Infusion, 17/15/2020: “Run Away!”

1. To channel Scarlet O’Hara…If one more Trump-Deranged individual accuses me of  adopting right-wing media conspiracy theories, I will get angry, and they won’t like me when I’m angry. I accept analysis from no one, especially from the likes of (the former version of) Fox News, Breitbart, Mark Levin and others of note. If I like a legitimate authority’s analysis (like, say, Andrew McCarthy, Ann Althouse or Jonathan Turley), I will credit them for it. “It sure is suspicious that your points agree with theirs” I was told today. It’s no more suspicious than the fact that their stated analysis agrees with mine. I’m not tolerating this insult. I’m at least as informed, educated and intelligent as those I am accused of “parroting,” and I’m considerably more informed, educated and intelligent than the typical knee-jerk progressive water-carrier who tries to win arguments they have neither the wit nor the facts to support by calling me incapable of forming my own opinions.

2. An update! The original collection of movie clips that Ethics Alarms uses repeatedly to illustrate certain points has been expanded considerably.

3. “Run away!” I see that conservatives are “fleeing” Facebook and Twitter for the allegedly more accommodating and less censorious environs of Parler and MeWe. EVERYONE should bolt from Facebook and Twitter if they have any concern about the social media platforms manipulating public opinion and possible tilting the election by partisan censorship, not to mention the mendacity of both platforms’ CEOs and their basic lack of trustworthiness.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/30/2020: Zoomed Out

Zoom

Why is it that running a Zoom seminar from my office is far more exhausting than standing up and talking for three hours?

On the positive side, I was actually allowed to post an Ethics Alarms link today! I wonder if Sean Lennon reads Ethics Alarms…

1. And this woman was an early participant in the Democratic primary debates, in case you’re wondering how the party ended up with Joe Biden. New Age guru Marianne Williamson tweeted,

Williamson debate

Oopsie! Missed that “Thou shalt not steal” thing. So she came back with, “Actually, ‘Thou shalt not steal’ is of course in there. But my point about priorities remains the same.”

Wait, what point would that be? A) It sounds a lot like Rationalization #22. So because stealing isn’t as bad as murder, stealing is OK? B) Is she making a technical legal point that a man waving a knife around and refusing to drop it is “innocent” because he hasn’t been proven guilty? Or is her point that because the victim in the Philadelphia shooting may have been out of his mind meant that he couldn’t form the “mens rea” to be technically guilty of a crime? By these calculations, nobody who is shot by the police is ever guilty, because they are resisting the arrest that would eventually put them on trial.

2. Actual quote from Joe Biden yesterday: “Spending! We’re gonna roost. And we are gonna reduce prescription drug crisis experts acknowledge.”

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“Systemic,” A Four Part Ethics Alarms Depression, Part I: Systemic Propaganda And Facebook

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I know who Bret Weinstein is; maybe you don’t. He’s a biologist, evolutionary theorist, and, of late, a free speech activist. The fact that you may not remember him is my fault: he was the hero in the Evergreen State College (in Washington State) racist fiasco in 2017, where the school decided it should order all whites off campus for a day. He was the sole professor on campus with the guts and principles to refuse to leave, resulting in his vilification, harassment, and ultimately, his resignation. Why I didn’t highlight his courage in an “Ethics Hero” post, I don’t know: I didn’t even give his name a tag in the sole post where he was mentioned.

Fast-forward to 2020, and Weinstein found his Facebook account suspended because he wrote something that the Thought Police there felt was inappropriate—you know, like all of Ethics Alarms is inappropriate on Facebook for daring to explain that performers who have worn dark make-up are not all racists or advancing racism

“I have been evicted from Facebook,” he tweeted to his 400,000 followers. “No explanation. No appeal. I have downloaded “my information” and see nothing that explains it. We are governed now in private, by entities that make their own rules and are answerable to no process. Disaster is inevitable. We are living it.”

Later,Weinstein revealed, Facebook told him it had “already reviewed” the suspension and the decision “can’t be reversed.”

Ah, but among his 400,000 followers is John Lennon’s articulate, contrarian and often conservative-sounding younger son, Sean. He tweeted to his friend’s rescue, writing,

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Another Morning Ethics Warm-Up Delayed Until Afternoon By Exigent Circumstances, 10/22/2020: Three Weird Stories That May Indicate That Everything Is Spinning Out Of Control

I would have mentioned tonight’s debate in the headline, but I’m not fond of thinking about the future of American democracy resting on the ability of Donald Trump to speak coherently and to control himself. Who came up with this script anyway?

Then again, God works in mysterious ways…

1. In Alaska ethics news…Here’s an ugly ethics train wreck, and one of the best examples I could imagine of the old adage, “Don’t sleep with anyone crazier than you are,” except it doesn’t seem like there was sleeping involved.  

The mayor of Anchorage, Ethan Berkowitz, resigned last week after admitting that he had engaged in an “inappropriate” “consensual messaging relationship”— I’m not even sure what that is”—with an Anchorage news anchor.  

Berkowitz’s resignation followed an unsubstantiated claim in a video posted to social media by the news anchor, Maria Athens, promising viewers an “exclusive” story showing that the mayor engaged in sex act with underage children. When the mayor responded by calling the allegations “slanderous” and false, Athens posted what she said was an image of the mayor’s bare backside, and added a laughing emoji.

Yes, she is apparently insane. The Anchorage Police Department said it had worked with the F.B.I. to investigate the allegations about the mayor and “found no evidence of criminal conduct.”

Before Athens posted her video online, she had left a voice message for him in which she engaged in an emotional rant, made  anti-Semitic references and promised that she would be exposing the mayor as “a pedophile.” “I’m going to get an Emmy, so you either turn yourself in, kill yourself, or do what you need to do,” Ms. Athens said, according to the audio clip. She then said she would personally kill him and his wife.

That must have been some messaging relationship.

Athens, 41, is—well, was– the main news anchor for two outlets, KTBY and KYUR. The station owner said the video she posted had not been approved. After her video went up, Athens was arrested following a physical altercation with her boss at the station, and was charged with misdemeanor assault, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.

So remember, kids, never engage in an inappropriate messaging relationship with someone crazier than you are.

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