Friday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/23/2020: Oh, Might As Well Talk About The Debate…


If you are going to have a bad and a good debate performance, is it better to have the better showing in the last debate? That was certainly the case for Barack Obama in 2012, after Romney aced him in the previous one. Allowing early voting makes the calculation uncertain—one more reason it’s a terrible policy that undermines responsible, informed elections.

(The debate transcript is here.)

1. By recent, horrible standards, the moderator, Kristen Welker on NBC, was relatively competent, fair and unbiased. How hard was that? Even so, she interrupted the President repeatedly while mostly letting Biden finish his answers, which was not necessarily in Joe’s best interests. The mains thing was that her questions to both candidates were pointed and tough, and she did not seem hostile to one or the other. Nor did she bail out the Democratic candidate—you know, the one she’s almost certainly voted for already, a la Candy Crowley in 2012.

Welker did not ask Biden about #MeToo and his repeated sexual harassment as VP, never mind the accusation from his former staffer. That topic has been verboten during the campaign, and of course Trump wasn’t going to bring it up. Astounding, really, that Biden sailed through the primaries and this campaign without anyone prominent officially raising the question of how the party of #MeToo could have an open sexual harasser as its standard bearer.

2. Joe Biden’s appeals to trust based on the public knowing good ol’ Joe were either audacious, cynical or stupid, depending on your degree of tolerance. I found them nauseating, and for me they raised the question of whether Biden really thinks the public is that inattentive. Biden has spent his entire run for the White House rejecting the positions and values he promoted during his career; how can he keep saying, “You know me! You know what I stand for!”?

3. As always, the President’s inability to be verbally precise was infuriating, as in the exchange about “catch and release.” The basic fact is that the policy is irresponsible, since there is no reason to trust someone who would illegally enter our country to appear voluntarily in court. Trump said that almost no illegals appear, which is a typical exaggeration; Biden, absurdly, said almost all of them do, which is flat out false.

Continue reading

“ARRGH!” [Translation: “Here Are Some Oct. 1 Ethics Notes Before I Snap After A Horrible Day!’]

And, to make the day perfect, WordPress is forcing me to use its damn new “block” system, which I do not have the time of patience to fool with. In the immortal words of Basil Fawlty,

1. JAMA says that it’s important to help people with dementia vote.

Nearly 6 million people in the US have some form of the condition, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, and they represent almost 2.5% of the 253.8 million US residents who are of voting age. The oldest voters, those aged 60 years or older, are more likely to vote than younger age groups, according to the United States Elections Project; the lion’s share of people with dementia fall into that demographic….having dementia doesn’t revoke a person’s fundamental right to cast a ballot.

“Alzheimer’s disease is progressive, and it evolves over many years. A person in the early stages, and even into the more moderate stages, still has the capacity to vote,” Beth Kallmyer, MSW, vice president of care and support for the Alzheimer Association, said in an interview.

They may have the capacity, but it unethical for them to exploit that capacity if their cognitive functions are impaired. Anyone with diagnosed dementia should voluntarily decline to vote. Such individuals are, of course, invitations for voter manipulation and fraud.

It should go without saying that it is also unethical to run for office when one is suffering from dementia,

2. I don’t understand this at all. The Commission on Presidential Debates has chosen Steve Scully, C-SPAN political editor and host of the network’s “Washington Journal” call-in program, to moderate the second presidential debate on October 15 in Miami. The puzzling part: When he was in college, Scully worked as an intern for  Joe Biden in the Senate. Later, he was  as a staff assistant in the late  Sen. Ted Kennedy’s communications office.

The background doesn’t mean Scully is necessarily biased, but how hard can if be to identify a qualified moderator who has no ties at all to either candidate? Continue reading

Sunset Ethics, 9/30/2020: Conflicts Of Interest, Sexual Harassment, Movies And Lies

1. Conflicts of interest on my mind. I narrowly averted a disastrous conflict of interest yesterday out of pure moral luck, so the topic is much on my mind; I’m still distracted by the near miss. Professionally, it was the equivalent of almost being picked off by a bus.

NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg reacted to the death of Justice Ginsburg with an essay on her 48-year friendship with RBG, saluting Ginsburg’s “extraordinary character.” That’s funny: Totenberg never told NPR’s listeners, nor did  NPR, that she had a personal relationship with the Justice, despite being charged with covering the Court and critiquing its decisions.  Kelly McBride, NPR’s public editor and senior vice president of the Poynter Institute, threw a metaphorical ethics foul flag,

“In failing to be transparent about Totenberg’s relationship with Ginsburg over the years, NPR missed two opportunities,”she wrote on the NPR website. “First, NPR leaders could have shared the conversations they were having and the precautions they were taking to preserve the newsroom’s independent judgment,” McBride said. “Second, having those conversations in front of the public would have sharpened NPR’s acuity in managing other personal conflicts of interest among its journalists.”

Ginsburg, who officiated at Totenberg’s wedding in 2000. Nonetheless, the correspondent,  who wears her progressive bias on her sleeve as it is, denied that the conflict compromised to her journalism, telling  the Washington Post that NPR’s listeners benefited from ther friendship because it gave her greater insight into and Ginsburg’s  thinking.

And that justifies keeping the relationship secret from listeners how, Nina?

2. From the “When ethics alarms don’t work” files: Lawyer Phillip Malouff Jr. of La Junta, Colorado, was censured for a series of episodes of unprofessional behavior and sexual harassment.

In November 2016, Malouff  winked at a magistrate judge and said, “When you get back from your vacation, I better be able to see your tan lines.” When he visiting the same magistrate’s chambers to discuss scheduling matters, he  said, according to the female judge,: “Ask your husband a question for me when you get home tonight. Ask him what it’s like to have relations with someone who wears the robe. It has always been something I’ve wanted to do, but there have never been any women judges until now.”

Malouff  was informed that his comments were unprofessional and a violation of the Colorado Judicial Department’s anti-harassment policy. Ya think?

In July 2019, Malouff asked a judicial assistant to check whether the mother in a parental rights hearing had an outstanding warrant. When the assistant replied, “She is good.” Malouff  responded, “Her husband told me that she is good.

Wink wink, nudge nudge. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On 2020 Presidential Debate #1 [Comments Restored!]


Ten Ethics Observations:

1. I showed a photo from the first Presidential debate in 1960 to introduce the post Chris added his comments to, earning his Comment of the Day. Maybe I should have shown a video. Jack Kennedy was a Machiavellian phony of more style than talent, and Richard Nixon was more talented but just as ruthless and more unstable. Yet both conducted themselves as dignified aspirants to an honored office and role in our government, with sober and substantive answers to neutral questions that never betrayed the intense dislike the two men had for each other. Compare that event to what was on display last night. There are reasons for it, but no excusing it. Both men harmed the nation and the office last night with their ugly attitudes toward each other. As a result, they harmed the process, and democratic institutions.

2. The lack of a handshake was inexcusable, and shame on both campaigns and the debate commission for permitting this departure from traditional civility, as well as all concerned for giving the fake excuse of caution regarding the Wuhan virus. The two adversaries could have worn gloves and masks; hell, they could have worn suits of medieval armor for all I care. They needed to signal the traditional respect of each other even if they have none.

Shame on everyone.

 3. Trump’s constant interruptions of Biden and “bullying,” as it is being described in many forums, were bad form and poor strategy: Biden was vague and sometimes incomprehensible. Ethically, the President’s rudeness raises a familiar tit for tat dilemma. In his 2016 debate with Paul Ryan, Biden’s tactic was to mug, sigh, cackle, mock, and generally do everything he could to interfere with poor, polite Paul Ryan’s attempts to talk about policy, while moderator Martha Raddatz  made Ryan look weak. Trump decided that if that was going to be Biden’s game again—and it was—he wasn’t going to make Ryan’s mistake and be passive. So he acted as rude and jerkish as Biden, and made his contempt for and distrust of the moderator clear from the beginning.

4. I suspect Biden was drugged. He looked drugged last night; his pupils looked huge. The Trump team wanted to require a drug test, and though that was partially gamesmanship, it was also a fair request, given legitimate questions about Biden’s health, which should be the equivalent in this race of what Trump’s taxes were in 2016.

5. I don’t like either of these men as personalities, as elected officials, and as leaders, potential or otherwise. The difference is that President Trump has never pretended to be any different than he appears and sounds. W.S. Gilbert had a libretto he was inexplicably obsessed with about a magic lozenge that turned people into whatever they were pretending to be. (It helped break up his partnership with Sullivan, who refused to set it to music.) If Donald Trump ate that lozenge, it would have no effect at all. If Joe Biden did, he would turn into a nice guy. His supposed appeal is that he’s decent, trustworthy official, whatever his other deficits. He isn’t, and last night it was obvious that he isn’t. I can’t see anyone who was inclined to vote for Trump being put off by last night’s debate, but I can see Biden losing the votes of those who want someone more “Presidential.” Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: The First 2020 Presidential Debate.

[The transcript is here]

I’ll make my comments regarding last night’s debate relatively brief. Right now I’m going to give the floor to Chris Marschner, whose lengthy comment shortly after it concluded is both fair and thorough. This is an ethics blog that has been forced into commenting on politics far more than it should or that its writer wants to, and for that I blame, as a depressed friend said yesterday, “the politicization of everything.” I am going to try, as I have all along in matters relating to President Trump and the unconscionable methods the Axis of Unethical Conduct has employed to undermine and remove him regardless of the long- and short- term harm they inflict on the nation, to keep my observations on the debate to ethical issues . I think, for the most part, Chris does too, which is one reason I admire his Comment of the Day.

One of his main complaints is the incompetence of the President in failing to clearly explain and defend his response to the Wuhan virus. I won’t touch on that at all;  Chris is right,  but it’s Julie Principle territory. Yes, it would be great if this President could articulately marshal facts and statistics to kill false narratives, as Barack Obama and Bill Clinton could. The man just doesn’t do that, can’t, and never will. It is true that Biden provided many opportunities that a more verbally adept President could have exploited, but complaining that Trump is Trump seems pointless now.

My own observations, which I will restrict to just ten, are here—I wrote them up before reading Chris’s analysis.. Meanwhile, here is Chris Marschner’s Comment of the Day on last nights debate, nominally on the post, “Pre-Debate Ethics Distraction, 9/29/2020: Prediction: Whatever Happens, I’m Going To Hate It, And The News Media Will Lie About It”:

I can’t believe American politics has devolved in to the one of those circuses elsewhere when the the two sides clear the benches for physical free for all. Chris Wallace is ill suited for what our debates have become and his questions being so long allowed the two candidates to go off into their preferred areas of attack instead of giving relatively succinct answers.

It also appeared to me that the questions were structured in such a way that Trump had to defend his decisions while Biden was given the opportunity to lay out his ideas. Having to defend the measurable and complex issues of a pandemic response coupled with widespread unrest in major cities fomented by race-baiters while your opponent merely has to give unmeasurable platitudes is sort of unreasonable. The only one challenging Biden on his record was Trump while Trump was challenged by Wallace and Biden.

Trump may come across as overbearing tonight but I recall Biden’s debate with Paul Ryan in which he behaved as Trump did tonight. Perhaps the game plan was to not let Biden pull that again. Continue reading

Pre-Debate Ethics Distraction, 9/29/2020: Prediction: Whatever Happens, I’m Going To Hate It, And The News Media Will Lie About It.

The question for the ages: Was this the most unethical pair in a Presidential debate before tonight?

1. Well this seems ominous. This morning the Trump campaign requested  that a third party inspect both candidates for electronic devices or transmitters. President Trump had already consented to such an inspection, and the Biden campaign had reportedly agreed to this days ago. The New York Post reported a few hours ago that the Biden camp refused the condition.

What’s going on here? I can only assume that it’s gamesmanship. Biden would be beyond demented to try to cheat in a broadcast debate.

2. Here are results of the FIRE’s college free speech rankings survey, as determined by students. My alma mater ranked #46 out of the 56 schools ranked; no surprise there. The school I worked for as an administrator after getting my law degree there is two slots worse.

3. Prediction: It will not end well for poor David Hogg. I foresee a tragic opera in his future. Too young for the prominence he was thrust into as a survivor of the Parkland shooting, cynically exploited by the news media and activists who did not care about him, he is now condemned to have no support from any quarter. His best course would be to quietly leave the public gaze forever, and fight off the addiction of fame. It’s not easy. Continue reading