Tag Archives: accountability

Willful Amnesia And The Great Cat And Dog Massacre

Did you know that animal-loving British families killed an estimated 400,000 household pets—cats and dogs—in the first week after Great Britain declared war on Germany in September, 1939? Neither did I, and now a new book by Hilda Kean, “The Great Dog and Cat Massacre,” sets out to remind us of that ugly episode.

As the New York Times review of the book notes and Kean explains, the mass euthanasia was “publicly lamented at the time,” but has since been erased from memory.  But why has it been erased from memory, and how? This is a disturbing cultural phenomenon that Ethics Alarms has covered before, notably in the post about dance marathons in the U.S. during the Depression. One of the definitions of culture is what we choose to remember and what we choose to forget. Forgetting, however, while often psychically soothing and an easy way to avoid guilt and accountability, is a pre-unethical condition. That which has been forgotten can no longer teach us, and a society that collectively decides to pretend something cruel, horrible or traumatic didn’t happen risks allowing it to happen again.

This, of course, is one more reason why the recent progressive mania for historical airbrushing is dangerous, irresponsible and unethical. Keep that statue of “Joe Pa” on the Penn State campus. Leave  King Andy on the twenty dollar bill.  Don’t take down that bust of Bill Cosby in the TV Hall of Fame. All civilizations have fallen heroes, moments of panic, times when they forget their values and betray their aspirations. Of course it is painful and embarrassing to remember these things, but also essential if human ethics are going to progress instead of stagnating, or even going backwards. We associate the elimination of cultural memories with totalitarian regimes, and for good reason, for they are blatant and shameless about it.

No nation is immune from the process’s appeal, however. When I was going to grade school and studying the Presidents of the United States, Jackson and Woodrow Wilson were routinely hailed by (mostly Democratic) historians as among the greatest of the great. The first Jackson biography I read barely mentioned the Trail of Tears. I read four well-regarded biographies of Wilson that ignored his support for Jim Crow, and the degree to which he deliberated reversed advances in civil rights, being an unapologetic white supremacist. The influenza epidemic that killed millions was excised from my school’s history books. Thomas Jefferson’s concubine, Sally Hemmings? Who? Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Around the World, Education, History, Race

Sexual Harassment, Victim Blaming, Toxic Corporate Cultures, President Trump’s Defense and Other Ethics Notes On Bill O’Reilly’s Fall (Part II))

The Ethics Alarms audit of the Bill O’Reilly canning by Fox (okay, technically it wasn’t a firing, but it was) continues…

9. One problem with the Left’s thinly veiled joy at getting O’Reilly is that it encourages the Right’s narrative that O’Reilly’s only crime was being conservative. Also not helping were President Trump’s interview statements about O’Reilly to the New York Times, in which he said in part,

“I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person… I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”

Stupid, stupid, stupid; irresponsible. Maybe two stupids and two irresponsibles. Do otherwise good people engage in sexual harassment? Of course: good people do bad things. But when a prominent individual says publicly that a sexual harasser is a good person, it sends a message that sexual harassment, like all abuse, doesn’t create a rebuttable presumption that someone is not a good person. Add to that Trump’s last statement, “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong,” and the toxic messaging is complete. Either that statement means that the President is, based on nothing, claiming that the allegations against O’Reilly are untrue, or worse, he is saying that there is nothing wrong with sexual harassment. Based on his infamous exchange with Bill Bush, there is good reason to believe that this is exactly what he means.

10. That interview, in turn, led inevitably to this fatuous and offensive article by conservative blogger Roger Simon. Sure, Roger, you dummy, O’Reilly did nothing wrong except support Donald Trump. Count the rationalizations in this piece of offal by one of the shimmering stars in the Pajama Media firmament of conservative thought-leaders.

The sad truth is the many conservatives—most?—really don’t think sexual harassment is a big deal. It is one of many ethics blind spots.

11. One conservative who lacks that blind spot—though she has lots of others—is Sarah Palin, who had this exchange yesterday with CNN’s Jake Tapper: Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Business & Commercial, Character, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership, U.S. Society, Workplace

Sexual Harassment, Victim Blaming, Toxic Corporate Cultures, President Trump’s Defense and Other Ethics Notes On Bill O’Reilly’s Fall (Part I)

As you probably know by now, Twenty-First Century Fox Inc ended its relationship with Bill O’Reilly at Fox News following what are being called allegations of sexual harassment, the revelation of them in the news media despite Fox’s pay-out of over $13,000,000 to the women who were involved, and a subsequent wide-spread boycott of his high-rated show “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Ethics Observations:

1. Good. Long, long overdue, but good. Fox News should have fired O’Reilly after the first sexual harassment episode which was years ago; it is a firing offense in ethical organizations for most employees, and the fact that Fox allowed its most influential and most profitable star to skirt accountability and survive to harass again was a classic example of the rationalization known as The King’s Pass, or The Star Syndrome.

2. The fact that Fox News creator, leader, and boss Roger Ailes was also jettisoned after a sexual harassment scandal showed at the time that the organization had developed an unethical culture that was hostile to women….as Ethics Alarms pointed out last July. (“There seems to be a culture of sexual harassment at Fox, coming down from the rotting fish head in charge, Roger Ailes.”)  This was the other shoe dropping.

3. O’Reilly issued a carefully crafted statement composed with the assistance of a “crisis consultant”:

“Over the past 20 years at Fox News, I have been extremely proud to launch and lead one of the most successful news programs in history, which has consistently informed and entertained millions of Americans and significantly contributed to building Fox into the dominant news network in television,” O’Reilly said in a statement. “It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims. But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today. I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.”

I would say the Bill is lying through his teeth with the “unfounded” part, but sexual harassers often don’t think they have done anything wrong. They think they were just being “nice,” or they think their advances were misunderstood, or they believe that the harassment accusations are a cover for something else. Ailes also denies that he did anything wrong. This is typical. It would have been a wonderful thing if O’Reilly could admit that his conduct was wrong and apologize to the victims while sincerely promising to change, but like most harassers, he couldn’t mount the character and the acknowledgement of hard reality to do it.

4. What is more damaging, perhaps, is that so many of O’Reilly’s fans and followers will believe his self-delusion because they also don’t “get” sexual harassment, and think the whole issue is manufactured feminist nonsense and political correctness. Boys will be boys! Everybody does it! 

5. If there is anyone who is informed and intelligent and still followed Bill O’Reilly without constant cognitive dissonance, they should be ashamed of themselves. If one was alert, Bill constantly revealed himself as a blowhard who was convinced he was smarter than he was, or perhaps more accurately, knew he was faking it and adopted a assertive, intimidating and self-righteous persona as cover for his own insecurities.  Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: Prosecuting Juliet In “Romeo And Juliet 2017”

Last month, on March 14, 11-year old Tysen Benz  read text messages saying that his 13-year-old girl friend had committed suicide. In apparent grief, the 11-year-old boy from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula hanged himself.  In reality, the girl had sent the fake news as a joke. Or as a cruel trick. Or because she was 13.

In the Shakespeare play, to fake her death Juliet took a sleeping potion that made her seem dead. (They didn’t have text messaging then.)

Now, if this was really “Romeo and Juliet,” Juliet would have killed herself too after learning that her boyfriend was dead. Instead,  she is facing criminal charges. Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese says that she is responsible for Tysen’s death, so he is charging her with malicious use of telecommunication service, punishable by up to six months in juvenile detention. He is also charging “Juliet” with using a computer to commit a crime, which carries a sentence of up to a year.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is this a fair, just and ethical prosecution?

Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Law & Law Enforcement, Literature

A Facebook Case Study In How People Cripple Their Ability, And Ours, To Make Ethical Distinctions

I inadvertently stumbled over a provocative Facebook post by a friend of a friend of a friend. My friend is a principled and intelligent liberal: apparently I stumbled on to a chain where each link was a little more detached from reality and reason.

The stranger’s post involved the story from two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the collapse of a crucial  highway bridge in Atlanta. Investigators found the the collapse was caused by a fire.There were no deaths or injuries caused by the fire and the explosion it sparked , but i  severed the vital roadway that runs north-south through downtown Atlanta and carries 250,000 vehicles daily, City Fire Department investigators arrested three homeless people on suspicion of involvement in the fire. Eventually only one was charged:  Basil Eleby, a homeless man, was arraigned on charges of first-degree arson and criminal damage to property. He had many previous drug and assault arrests, according to Fulton County jail records.

To this my friend’s friend’s friend—his name doesn’t matter—responded,

Three people are now under arrest for the fire that led to the freeway collapse in Atlanta – 3 homeless people. I predicted this. But rather than seek out revenge on these 3 for the tremendous inconvenience they’ve caused, can we take a moment to realize that no person reading this has ever known the reality of sleeping under a bridge. None of us have been compelled to light a fire under that same bridge in order to keep our bodies warm.

And can we please have a conversation about funding mental health for the homeless? And can we please have a conversation, not based in shame, not based in revenge, about getting homeless people off the street?

Yes, these 3 folks have done something that has inconvenienced many people. Lighting that fire is something they have probably done countless times before. Can we take this as an opportunity to deal with the real problem? It gives me no satisfaction that the person charged with the worst of this situation will have his homelessness solved by a jail sentence.

Now, I’m sure this individual is a really kind, compassionate individual. I’m also sure he’s the kind of person who is always saying things like “Why is anyone going hungry in the richest country in the world?” to the vigorous head-nodding of his friends, and his friends’ friends. (I am willing to bet money that he was a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter; probably Occupy Wall Street too.) This kind of statement, however, is policy and ethics static. It literally makes people stupid, and leads them away from useful, objective, dispassionate analysis, not towards it.  It is an irresponsible Facebook post.

Of course, it is also flagrant virtue-signalling and grandstanding. Now everyone knows that this guy is oh so compassionate and such a good Christian, who rejects revenge, and wants us to apply the Golden Rule to the poor and the weak. Applause, please. Yes, you’re a wonderful human being. Unfortunately, thinking like this impedes policy solutions to problems, by simplifying them and dumbing them down into their most emotionally distracting components, while pretending that hard truths don’t exist. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights

Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: President Barack Obama

Yesterday’s U.S.  missile attack on Syria prompted by Assad’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians clarifies just how inept and feckless President Obama’s handling of foreign policy was.

In an article today in the reliably progressive and Democratic Party-boosting The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg writes,

“President Obama’s foreign policy doctrine, like many foreign policy doctrines, was contradictory at times, and it sometimes lacked coherence.”

1. At times?

2. Sometimes lacked coherence?

3. Notice the obligatory “like many foreign policy doctrines” to cushion the blow. Journalists are in permanent denial over just how epically awful the first black President’s administration was.

Goldberg eventually gets around to Obama’s “decision, in 2013, to go back on his promise to punish the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons on civilians. Early in the Syrian civil war, Obama publicly drew a red line concerning Assad’s behavior, but later decided to forgo military strikes, even after being presented with near-definitive proof that Assad had crossed the red line in grotesque fashion. “  This inadequate description intentionally leaves out the dispiriting details of that fiasco. Here is what Obama said in August of 2013 when the first “red line” appeared:

“We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people. We have been very clear to the Assad regime — but also to other players on the ground — that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus; that would change my equation….We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.” 

Ethics Alarms:

Now, lawyers and grammarians may argue over what “a red line” means, what constitutes “use” and “a whole bunch,” and what the President considers “enormous consequences.” None of that matters. What matters is what the statement was understood to mean around the world, and it was widely understood to mean this: If chemical weapons are used against the Syrian people by Assad, the United States will act decisively. Last week, reliable evidence indicated that indeed chemical weapons had been used, and that the “red line” had been crossed.

Obama’s response? Double-talk, backtracking and word-parsing:

  • The President to reporters Friday with Jordan’s King Abdullah in the Oval Office:  “What we have right now is an intelligence assessment. And as I said, knowing that potentially chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria doesn’t tell us when they were used, how they were used. Obtaining confirmation and strong evidence, all of those things we have to make sure that we work on with the international community. And we ourselves are going to be putting a lot of resources into focusing on this. And I think that, in many ways, a line has been crossed when we see tens of thousands of innocent people being killed by a regime. But the use of chemical weapons and the dangers that poses to the international community, to neighbors of Syria, the potential for chemical weapons to get into the hands of terrorists — all of those things add increased urgency to what is already a significant security problem and humanitarian problem in the region. So we’re going to be working with countries like Jordan to try to obtain more direct evidence and confirmation of this potential use. In the meantime, I’ve been very clear publicly, but also privately, that for the Syrian government to utilize chemical weapons on its people crosses a line that will change my calculus and how the United States approaches these issues. So this is not an on or off switch.”
  • A White House official to reporters Thursday: “I think what the Assad regime needs to know is that we are watching this incredibly closely. Were he to undertake any additional use [of chemical weapons], he would be doing so under very careful monitoring from us and the international community. There should be no mistaking our determination not just to get to the bottom of these reports, but to send a message … that Bashar al-Assad and his regime will be held accountable for these types of actions. We’re going to be methodical, rigorous and relentless … so we can establish exactly what happened…all options are on the table in terms of our response…If we reach a definitive determination that the red line has been crossed … what we will be doing is consulting closely with out friends and allies … to determine what the best course of action is.”

So those “enormous consequences ” of the “red line” being crossed is that the United States will start consulting with friends and allies?

Well, yes, in a word. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Leadership, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President, War and the Military

Unethical Quote Of The Month: President Trump

“I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong. I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person.”

President Trump to the New York Times , speaking of the sexual harassment allegations intensifying around star Fox News Bloviator Bill O’Reilly.

Now President Trump is acting like President Obama. The President of the United States abuses his power and position by ever commenting upon or registering an opinion about matters that do not involve the national welfare or his direct responsibilities. These include local law enforcement episodes (Trayvon Martin, the arrest of an African-American professor in Cambridge by a white cop), employment matters, private lawsuits, pending criminal trials, TV shows (Saturday Night Live), media coverage (don’t get me started), legal business decisions and sports controversies (Colin Kaepernick). Obama never learned this (among other leadership basics, a problem fagged as “flat learning curve” on Ethics Alarms), and, not surprisingly, Trump is going to be even worse. Continue reading

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