Morning Ethics Shout-Out, 10/28/2020: “And Tyler Too…”

I am ashamed: when I listed my anti-depression playlist, I somehow managed to leave out one of the best and most exhilarating songs of the group: The Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” I apologize profusely.

1. Self-delusion is not ethical. When Ben Ferencz, the last surviving lead prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, finally leaves us (he’s in his nineties now and still going strong), I will make him an Ethics Hero Emeritus. As the new Netflix documentary about his astounding and ethics-focused life makes clear, few have devoted the time and energy to the cause of human rights and justice any more intensity or longevity than Ferencz. My admiration of him is only marred by his advocacy for pacifism, which the last portion of the film highlights. Ferencz was instrumental in the creation of the World Court, a kind of standing extension of the Nuremberg Trials which the U.S. has, wisely, refused to participate in. The legal scholar speaks passionately for the  cause of eliminating war by substituting law and international tribunals. The idea is delusional on its face, and also cynically exploited by those who know the idea is impossible, but who support it as a way to impose world government, and the concomitant reduction in individual liberty that would necessarily entail.

As Ethics Alarms has discussed many times, one great weakness of ethics as a discipline is its drift toward utopianism, and its persistent destruction of its own credibility by advocating goals and standards that cannot be achieved, indeed, that defy history and common sense. Has anyone asked Ben Ferencz if he really believes that Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the USSR or current day North Korea and Iran would voluntarily submit to the edicts of a World Court? If he has, it did not make the documentary. One can understand why a man who has seen and experiences why Ferencz has during his long life would cling to the hope that some day war will be eradicated and peace will reign forever, but rejecting reality for comforting idealism does not, and never has, advanced the cause of ethics.

2. This would seem to be an easy topic for a bipartisan bill. (Why isn’t it?) Democrats introduced legislation making it illegal for banks and other financial firms to discriminate against their customers because of their race, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics. I thought this was illegal already, but the absence of any mention of financial services constitutes a loophole in the Civil Rights Act. Thus “The Fair Access to Financial Services Act,” introduced a week ago by members of the Senate Banking Committee, would explicitly outlaw discrimination against bank customers. Right now, it is legal for banks and other financial businesses to treat some customers differently based on race as long as the services aren’t denied entirely. Banks can legally use racial profiling to delay customer transactions, or require extra steps to prove their legitimacy.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/2/2020, Part I: It’s “Know Your American History Day”! [Corrected!]

Good Morning, America!

The Ethics Alarms countdown to the Fourth—you know, that racist holiday celebrating white supremacy?—begins today, one of the truly epic dates in our history. Of course, those who find history upsetting because it makes them feel”unsafe” don’t know any of this stuff, making them pretty much useless citizens with their ability to understand current events stuck at an infantile level.

  • On July 2,  1776, The Second Continental Congress, assembled in Philadelphia, formally adopted Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence from Great Britain. The vote was unanimous, with only New York abstaining. Of course,  Richard Henry Lee was Robert E. Lee’uncle and a slave-holder, so we really shouldn’t remember him or his significance to our nation’s independence.

Never mind.

  • On July 2, 1839, enslaved Africans on the Cuban schooner Amistad mutinied, killing two crew members and seizing control of the ship, which had been transporting them to be slaves on a sugar plantation. This set in motion a series of events that ended with  the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, with only one dissent, that the Africans had been illegally enslaved and had  exercised a natural right to fight for their freedom.  Massachusetts Congressman  John Quincy Adams,  the sixth president of the United States from 1825 to 1829 who, like his father, was a passionate foe of slavery, served on the Africans’ defense team. With  financial assistance of abolitionists , the Amistad Africans were returned to their homes in West Africa.

They never teach this story in schools, but your kids can read about it here. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: AfroFuture Fest…Ethics Hero: Rapper Tiny Jag

Once again, the solution proposed for past racial discrimination is present racial discrimination. The Detroit music festival AfroFuture Fest, scheduled for August 3-4, is charging lower ticket prices for “people of color” than  “non-people of color.” (That should be “people of non-color,” you idiots.) The festival’s explanation for its racism is even worse that its English and proofreading skills:

WHY DO WE HAVE POC(PEOPLE OF COLOR) AND NONPOC(WHITE PEOPLE) TICKETS? I’M GLAD YOU ASKED!

EQUALITY MEANS TREATING EVERYONE THE SAME

EQUITY IS INSURING EVERYONE HAS WHAT THEY NEED TO BE SUCCESSFUL

OUR TICKET STRUCTURE WAS BUILT TO INSURE THAT THE MOST MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES (PEOPLE OF COLOR) ARE PROVIDED WITH AN EQUITABLE CHANCE AT ENJOYING EVENTS IN THEIR OWN COMMUNITY (BLACK DETROIT).

AFFORDING JOY AND PLEASURE IS UNFORTUNATELY STILL A PRIVILEGE IN OUR SOCIETY FOR POC AND WE BELIEVE EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE ACCESS TO RECEIVING SUCH.

WE’VE SEEN TOO MANY TIMES ORGASMIC EVENTS HAPPENING IN DETROIT AND OTHER POC POPULATED CITIES AND WHAT CONSISTENTLY HAPPENS IS PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF THE COMMUNITY BENEFITING MOST FROM AFFORDABLE TICKET PRICES BECAUSE OF THEIR PROXIMITY TO WEALTH.

THIS CYCLE DISPROPORTIONATELY DISPLACES BLACK AND BROWN PEOPLE FROM ENJOYING ENTERTAINMENT IN THEIR OWN COMMUNITIES.

AS AN AFROFUTURIST YOUTH LEAD INITIATIVE THE VOICES OF OUR YOUTH INFORM OUR RESISTANCE.

HERE’S WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY

” IF YOU DON’T SEE MY BLACKNESS, YOU DON’T SEE ME. PERIODT!”

I wonder how they pronounced “periodt”? Continue reading

Stupid Ethics Or Unethical Stupidity, Will Someone Please Explain To Alabama Why Appearances Matter?

Alabama-county-mapThis opens a fascinating inquiry. Is it unethical for a state to appear stupid? Is appearing to be unethical inherently stupid? If something looks incredibly unethical but is really just stupid, then is it unethical anyway?

Welcome to Alabama.

Alabama is in a dire budget crisis and must cut state services. So this week it announced that 31 satellite state Motor Vehicle Division offices would no longer have access to driver’s license examiners as a result of the cuts. Alabama added a controversial voter photo-ID law last year, and opponents who argue, like the Obama Dept. of Justice, that the idea of making sure that voters are who they say they are is part of a plot to deny the vote to African Americans could not have asked for a smokier gun. Of the ten Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters—Macon, Greene, Sumter, Lowndes, Bullock, Perry, Wilcox, Dallas, Hale, and Montgomery, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office—Alabama is closing driver license bureaus in eight of them. Every county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see satellite DMVs closed.

If  Alabama was looking for a way to validate the “disparate impact” principle where a state can be found to be racist by  the impact of its actions whether or not there was racist intent, it could not have done better. If it was trying to give ammunition to those who have argued that the Supreme Court “gutted” the Civil Rights Act when it ruled that the 1965 criteria that allowed the Justice Department to assume racism when an old Confederacy state was involved was out of date, and either new data had to be used or states with Stephen Foster songs as their State anthems were going to have to be treated like all the other states and allowed to govern themselves, it could not have been more effective.

“Make IDs essential to vote, then make it harder for blacks to get drivers licenses! What an ingenious plan! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Nobody’s going to see through that!

Or was it:

“Well, gotta cut somewhere—hey, lets; close the DMVs in these counties I just hit with those darts. What? Oh, who cares what the demographics are…we aren’t trying to target anyone…everyone knows that Alabama has a history of being fair and just! Want to go out back and juggle chain saws with me?”

What a conundrum. Stupid? Unethical? Stupid and unethical? So obviously unethical that it’s self-destructively stupid? So stupid that it is unethical for anyone that handicapped to be placed in a position of influence? Continue reading

Choosing Race Over Ethics, Fairness, Common Sense, Duty And Our Children’s Future: “Disparate Impact” And The New York Teachers Exam Decision

Fine. If you can teach, you can teach. I don't care that you're blue.

Fine. If you can teach, you can teach. I don’t care that you’re blue.

How much, I wonder, will American society be willing to distort its values, reality and duties to the public in order to accommodate false standards of racial justice? How many innocent people will be harmed before this destructive trend dissolves as the truth suddenly dawns, and we ask, “What were we thinking?” If a computer program was designed to invent the perfect example of a court decision that shows how divorced public policy regarding race has become from anything approaching logic, it could not come up with better than this.

Judge Kimba M. Wood (Remember her?) of the Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled last week that the New York’s teachers  exam was racially discriminatory, and the results had to be thrown out.  The exam, the second incarnation of the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test, called the LAST-2, was administered to New York teaching candidates from 2004 through 2012 and was designed to test an applicant’s knowledge of liberal arts and science.  Now, the exam was not found discriminatory because anyone could show, or suggested, that certain questions favored one race’s experience over the other. It was not found discriminatory like those infamous Jim Crow exams, or because experts were able to show how African Americans were uniquely unable to do well on particular questions for identifiable reasons. No, the test was found to be discriminatory because minority teaching candidates failed at a higher rate than white candidates, and that’s the only reason.

In order to eliminate the gap, those questions on which minority applicants did significantly worse will have to be eliminated. Wrote Wood:

“Instead of beginning with ascertaining the job tasks of New York teachers, the two LAST examinations began with the premise that all New York teachers should be required to demonstrate an understanding of the liberal arts.”

We are supposed to immediately grasp that this is a bad thing. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: The Delaware State Human Relations Commission, et al.

Justice finally prevailed in a disturbing Delaware case that took hyper-sensitivity to racial bias to absurd extremes. You can read the court opinion here. In essence, the Delaware State Human Relations Commission found that a theater manager who supplemented an on-screen request for patrons to turn off their cell phones, not talk during the film and not mill around in the theater with his personal announcement to the same effect was engaged in racial discrimination, because most of the audience was black and some felt that his tone was condescending. Continue reading

Rahm Emanuel, History and Hyperbole Ethics

There are times when obvious exaggeration is nothing worse than politeness, nothing more than an expression of admiration and affection. “You’re the best boss anyone ever had,” is in this category, especially when the boss is retiring or dying. But when one is speaking in public about controversial and historical matters involving well-known public figures, the margin between excusable hyperbole and unethical dishonesty or worse is much smaller. Al Gore learned this when he played loyal Vice-President on the day his President was impeached by vote of the House of Representatives. Gore’s statement that Bill Clinton was “a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest Presidents” was intended as supportive, but interpreted as a toadying endorsement of Clinton’s unsavory and dishonest conduct, impeachable or not. It probably cost Gore the Presidency.

Worse yet was Trent Lott’s clumsy effort to praise the ancient, infirm and mentally failing Sen. Strom Thurmond at his 100th birthday party. Lott said, “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have all these problems over all these years, either.” Thurmond, running on the Dixiecrat ticket, had opposed segregation, and Lott’s comment, less fact than flattery, made him sound like he longed for the days of Jim Crow and “white only”rest rooms. The lessons of these hyperbolic gaffes are similar: if the well-intentioned compliment concerns a public figure in historical context, historical exaggerations either appear to be unjust to history or its important figures, seem to make inappropriate value judgments, or come off as a blatant effort to mislead the public.

Rahm Emanuel hit the Trifecta with his fawning farewell to President Obama, as he left the White House to run for Mayor of Chicago. Obama, he said, is “the toughest leader any country could ask for, in the toughest times any president has ever faced.”

Wow. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week

“He once had a fleeting association with the Ku Klux Klan, what does that mean? I’ll tell you what it means. He was a country boy from the hills and hollows from West Virginia. He was trying to get elected.”

Former President Bill Clinton speaking fondly—and dishonestly— of  the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV).

Bill Clinton has never had much understanding of  the principle of integrity. To him, wanting to get elected is justification enough for joining a violently racist organization that you don’t believe in, and giving support to a movement that you find offensive is a reasonable moral compromise to make in the pursuit of power. But how do we know that Sen. Byrd didn’t reject the Klan when the group’s cross burnings and lynchings became unfashionable in order to stay elected, while secretly sympathizing with them? Well, we don’t—and the facts support this interpretation more than Clinton’s. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce Deux: Rand Paul Whiffs on Accountability

G.O.P Kentucky Senate nominee Rand Paul has pulled off a record-worthy achievement: he has earned Ethics Dunce status twice in a week’s time, something no one else, even serial Ethics Dunces like Sen. John Kerry and Tom DeLay, were able to do in the nearly seven years the designation has been in existence. He did not earn it the old fashioned way, however, as the old Smith-Barney ads used to say. Most Ethics Dunces do something, but in both cases Paul has proven himself worthy by what he says he believes.  This makes him kind of a classic Ethics Dunce. He literally doesn’t understand basic ethical values, or if he does, can’t articulate them. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Rand Paul

The demise of the Tea Party movement may well come when it actually has to put individual candidates before the electorate and the media to carry its message. At least, that is what the ascendancy of Rand Paul, now the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky after his primary victory this week, portends. Paul, before his first week as the nominee is up, has managed to expose himself as unacceptably challenged by the task of reconciling the deceptively simplistic philosophy of libertarians with real world ethics. Specifically, he has declared that he does not support the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s requirement that private businesses  serve all members of the public, irrespective of race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation. This position Rand haltingly clung to despite withering interviews on National Public Radio and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show. You can see the latter, in two parts, here and here. Continue reading