Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 5/12/2019: The Tricky Edition

Well, the news from Harvard has me half-headed and depressed, so I think I need to hear Winston Churchill’s favorite hymn…and my Dad’s, too.

1. I think this is known as “a drop in the bucket.”James Bennet, the editorial page editor of The New York Times, announced that he would recuse himself from any involvement in opinion coverage of the 2020 presidential election, after his brother, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination. I suppose this is admirable, as it is a standard conflicts of interest move, but I’m sorely tempted to call it grandstanding, and maybe even a diversion. Bennet’s brother candidacy is hardly the only blatant conflict of interest on the times staff that makes its news coverage and punditry suspect. Virtually all of them are Democrats, for example, and progressives. What’s so special about an editor’s brother making a completely futile run for the Presidency? (Quick: if you’re not in Colorado, can you picture his face? Name anything he has accomplished?)

This note from 2017 (in RealClearPolitics) puts the Times editor’s decision in proper perspective:

There is a pretty substantial symbiotic relationship between the political left in Washington and the media. While a few people went from the media to the Bush Administration, it was never like it was with Obama.

Jay Carney went from Time to the White House press secretary’s office. Shailagh Murray went from the Washington Post to the Veep’s office while married to Neil King at the Wall Street Journal. Neil King has left the Wall Street Journal to work for Fusion GPS. Linda Douglass went from ABC News to the White House and then the Atlantic. Jill Zuckman went from the Chicago Tribune to the Obama Administration’s Transportation Department. Douglas Frantz went from the Washington Post to the State Department and Stephen Barr went from the Post to the Labor Department.

Ruth Marcus, who heads the Washington Post Editorial Board, is married to the Obama Administration’s former Federal Trade Commission Chairman. Jonathan Allen had been at the Politico before going to work for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then back to Politico before going to the left leaning Vox. Now he is at NBC News. Andy Barr worked for the Politico before leaving for Democrat politics. Michael Scherer was at both Salon and Mother Jones before going to Time. Laura Rozen was at Mother Jones and the American Prospect before Foreign Policy magazine. Even Nate Silver had started out at Daily Kos. Then, of course, there is Matthew Dowd, who worked for scores of Democrats before working for George Bush. That, though he later washed his hands of Bush, bought him street credibility with ABC News to become its senior politically analyst alongside George Stephanopoulos, formerly of the Clinton Administration.

It goes on and on in a feedback loop of incestuous politics and worldview shaping. In the Obama Era, it was all about protecting their precious. Now it is about undermining the President.

2.  Puerto Rico Ethics. OK, explain to me, if you can,  why this isn’t incredibly unethical:

From the Times:

The government oversight board leading Puerto Rico through its $123 billion debt crisis sued dozens of banks and financial firms on Thursday, saying that they had helped the island issue $9 billion of debt illegally, and that the people of Puerto Rico should not have to repay it.

The board said the debt should be voided because it exceeded the territory’s constitutional debt limit, and it added that Puerto Rico would try to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in interest and principal payments that it has already made.

The board was joined in the litigation by the official committee representing Puerto Rico’s unsecured creditors in the territory’s bankruptcy-like legal proceedings. Both plaintiffs said they understood they were making an unusual request, but asserted that no other approach would be legal or fair.

“The laws of Puerto Rico limit government borrowing authority for a reason: to prevent the government and its financiers from hitching the Commonwealth and its instrumentalities, as well as taxpayers and legitimate creditors, to a level of debt that cannot be repaid without sacrificing services necessary to maintain the health, safety and welfare of Puerto Rico and its people,” the plaintiffs said in one of several complaints…

What a great theory! The government of Puerto Rico has managed its finances irresponsibly and needs more money. “Hey!” says a brilliant staffer. “There’s a law that limits how much debt we can run up. Let’s borrow billions from banks illegally, then later sue them saying that the debt is invalid because they abetted our illegal act!”

3.  Candidate for the Rationalization #22 Hall of Fame. Rationalization #22 is one of the most cited entries on the Rationalization List, and in my opinion, the worst of them all:

22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

If “Everybody does it” is the Golden Rationalization, this is the bottom of the barrel. Yet amazingly, this excuse is popular in high places: witness the “Abu Ghraib was bad, but our soldiers would never cut off Nick Berg’s head” argument that was common during the height of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. It is true that for most ethical misconduct, there are indeed “worse things.” Lying to your boss in order to goof off at the golf course isn’t as bad as stealing a ham, and stealing a ham is nothing compared selling military secrets to North Korea. So what? We judge human conduct against ideals of good behavior that we aspire to, not by the bad behavior of others. One’s objective is to be the best human being that we can be, not to just avoid being the worst rotter anyone has ever met.

Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

Now outgoing Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel has boasted in the  New York Times about his success at  introducing  police reform and reducing crime.Emanuel  makes his case in part by comparing Chicago’s crime numbers over the last two years with those of  Baltimore, one of America’s most dangerous, murder-prone, mismanaged cities. He omitted mentioning New York orLos Angeles, perhaps because his city had more murders in 2018 than New York and L.A. combined, though Chicago is smaller then either.

I wonder if the Chamber of Commerce is considering “Less dangerous than Baltimore!” as a promotional slogan. [Pointer: City-journal]

TGIF Ethics Celebration, 1/10/19: Plenty Of People Who Need Firing or Something Close…

I don’t know why I’m celebrating a weekend: in a home business, there are no weekends…Maybe I’ll just celebrate the flowers that bloom in the Spring!

1. Poll: The firing of Mary Bubala. As you may know, the mayor of Baltimore got caught red-handed in a self-dealing scheme, tried  to take a leave of absence instead of resigning (thus preserving her salary), and finally had to resign anyway. Discussing the events on the air on Baltimore TV channel WJZ, news anchor Bubala asked  Loyola University Maryland Professor Karsonya Wise Whitehead,

“We’ve had three female, African-American mayors in a row.They were all passionate public servants. Two resigned, though. Is this a signal that a different kind of leadership is needed to move Baltimore City forward?”

Bubula is white. The station was bombarded with complaints that her question was racist, and the station quickly fired her, saying in a brief statement,

“Mary Bubala is no longer a WJZ-TV employee. The station apologizes to its viewers for her remarks.”

Well-respected conservative pundit Mark Tapscott called this “newsroom fascism,” writing, “I’ve never met now-former Baltimore TV local news anchor Mary Bubala, but I am outraged as an American and a journalist over her firing for a question that clearly wasn’t remotely related to the fact the city’s two most recent (corrupt) mayors were both Black and women.”

I would have fired her. There are two good reasons. First,  the question sure sounds  like “After three female black mayors who have either been corrupt or unsuccessful, do you think a white man might be worth a try?” to me. What else could it mean? Do you think it might be time to elect a GOOD mayor? Why mention their race and gender at all if it isn’t part of the question? Second, if the question wasn’t racist, she should be fired because she’s too inarticulate to have that job.

Tapscott concludes, “Either this …ends or liberty isn’t long for anybody in this country except those with approved opinions.”

Let me ask you, then…

Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, April 2, 2019: Maddow, Schultz, Pugh, Fosse, AOC, And All That Jazz…

Good afternoon!

1. If anyone cared, this would do in Rachel Maddow. The fact that so many of my otherwise intelligent and reasonable liberal friends insist that Rachel Maddow is God’d gift to journalism was a mystery to me  when she first brought her perpetual smirk to MSNBC. It  perplexed me greatly as she so obviously hyped and twisted her commentary, and once she became the #1 Russia-Trump conspiracy theorist on TV, I admit that I have lost the edge of respect for anyone who still watches her. Rachel Maddow bottomed out, I’d say, yesterday, when she was saying this last week:

“It’s hard to believe that they’d leave the newly appointed Attorney General William Barr to himself to personally pick through the [Mueller] report to try to figure out which mentions in this 400-page report might pertain to an open case”They wouldn’t leave that to Barr to do that. Mueller would have done that!

Mueller’s team would have done that as part of producing anything that they handed over outside their own offices. They’ve done that with every other document they have produced in the course of this investigation. You’d assume they’d be able to do that for this document too. But William Barr says, [exaggerated sigh] it’s taking him a really long time because he’s having to do all that himself.”

While  was saying that it was suspicious that Barr wouldn’t seek Mueller’s assistance with the redactions, the chyron underneath her read,

“Barr: Special Counsel Is Assisting with Redactions”

Unlike the much-mocked Fox News gaffe, in which the talking heads were correctly reciting the story while  the chyron said that Trump was pulling aid from “three Mexican countries“, this time the chyron was right, and the talking head was wrong.  It might just be me, but I’d rather the actual reporters to be telling the truth, and graphics be messed up. Continue reading

Shouting “Heil Trump!” In A Crowded Theater

Anthony Derlunas, 58, a drunken idiot attending a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Baltimore, suddenly started shouting “Heil Hitler, Heil Trump!”  He told police that his display was motivated by his hatred of the President.

Is it fair to call this “Trump Derangement”? I think so. I think that’s fair.

He told an officer he “had been drinking heavily throughout the night” before his performance at the Hippodrome Theatre, which understandably unsettled the audience, many of whom apparently thought that another anti-Jewish massacre was underway like the one in the Pittsburgh synagogue last month that killed 11 people. Some people started running, other wept.  According to the police report, Derlunas explained that the final scene of the musical before intermission,  depicting a Jewish wedding celebration disrupted by a Russian pogrom, reminded him of his hatred for the President—I know I’m always reminded of Donald Trump when I see “Fiddler on the Roof”—prompting his outburst. Derlunas was surprised, he said, when people around him became angry.  You can certainly understand his confusion: all he was doing is shouting “Heil!” during a musical about Jewish history and culture. Somepeople get offended so easily.

Baltimore Police escorted Derlunas out a few minutes later, a police spokeswoman said, and the show continued.

He wasn’t charged with anything, though the theater has banned him for life. “As reprehensible as those words are, they are considered protected free speech because nobody was directly threatened,” police spokesman Matt Jablow said in an email. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/22/18: Boy, Am I Ever In A Bad Mood This Morning…

Good morning.

Grrrrr…

1. The TIME “Welcome to America” cover.  This is probably worthy of a full post, but I’m really sick of this topic, and losing respect for so many previously sane and reasonable people who have become blathering “Think of the children!” zombies that I want to spit.

TIME, that dying, irrelevant, completely left-biased news magazine, grabbed one last moment in the sun with this cover:

It nicely symbolizes the media dishonesty and public manipulation regarding the border mob of children, with or without parents. I assumed that the cover was symbolic art: obviously this stand-off never occurred. But TIME used a photo of a real Honduran girl who we were told in other media reports and viral social media rants was crying because she had been separated from her mother when mom was arrested for trying to enter the country illegally. As CBS reported today, though, the little girl was really crying because her mother was apprehended at eleven o’clock at night crossing illegally into the US, the tot was tired and thirsty. She was never separated from her mother at all. Here’s the original photo:

Perfect. Fake news, through and through. If TIME wanted to make a symbolic image, the magazine was obligated to either make it clear that it was art only. Using a photo that had already been falsely represented in the news media to represent exactly what it had been falsely claimed to represent advanced a lie. Here is the original photo:

The Daily Mail got  this part of the story  from the girl’s father:

Denis Javier Varela Hernandez, 32, said that he had not heard from his wife Sandra, 32, who was with his two-year-old daughter Yanela Denise, for nearly three weeks until he saw the image of them being apprehended in Texas.

In an exclusive interview with DailyMail.com, Hernandez, who lives in Puerto Cortes, Honduras, says that he was told yesterday that his wife and child are being detained at a family residential center in Texas but are together and are doing ‘fine.’ …

He revealed that his wife had previously mentioned her wish to go to the United States for a ‘better future’ but did not tell him nor any of their family members that she was planning to make the trek.

“I didn’t support it. I asked her, why? Why would she want to put our little girl through that? But it was her decision at the end of the day….‘I don’t have any resentment for my wife, but I do think it was irresponsible of her to take the baby with her in her arms because we don’t know what could happen.”

2. Charles Krauthammer. Unfortunately, this is what I will most remember about the conservative columnist and commentator who died yesterday. After the first Republican candidates debate, the one in which Megyn Kelly called out Donald Trump on his habitual misogyny, Krauthammer, today being lauded for his brilliance and perception, stated unequivocally that Trump had proved himself “not ready for prime time,” and that hos poor performance in the debate had effectively ended his candidacy. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/25/2017: NPR, Spin Cycle, A Mother Bugs A Classroom, and a Jumbo!

 

Good Morning, Black Saturday!

1 Self promotion Dept. I’m going to be back on NPR (WBUR, D.C.) in what I think is a live panel discussion (“Barbershop” is the show—I wonder what a ‘barbershop” is? ) hosted at 5: 30 pm, EST by the estimable Michel Martin. The topic is The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck, though that’s not what they’ll be calling it.

2. “For every time, Spin Spin Spin, there is a season..” I may mention this New Republic article, or at least be ready to torch a fellow panelist who cites it favorably. The tortured reasoning of writer David Dayen led him to assert that the “sexual harassment crisis” resulted from ” a broken justice system.” Let me summarize it for you: men harass women in the workplace because it’s too hard to convict people and put them in jail. When did liberals start being the ones who want to dispense with civil rights protections and due process assurances in court?

“But we should identify the real culprit for this state of affairs: the long, slow abandonment of the rule of law in America. The reason adjudicating sexual misconduct claims has been left to the media and the crowd is that people have no expectation that the legal system will adjudicate those claims fairly. How can anyone blame them? They have witnessed endless instances of powerful people, mostly wealthy men, getting away with criminality and deception, in every context imaginable. When you don’t have a working justice system, you get a kind of vigilantism as a result. The problem isn’t the vigilantism—it’s the broken framework that leads desperate people to take matters into their own hands. That powerful people face little sanction for misbehavior is an old story, as true in gender as it is in class. But brazen impunity for the powerful is a hallmark of our era. The worst financial crisis in America in nearly a century led to practically no convictions for those whose actions facilitated the meltdown. The Catholic Church shuttled around sex-abusing priests for decades with little reckoning. Cops shoot black people and go back on the job….”

None of this has much to do with sexual harassment, which isn’t a crime, and the three examples cherry-picked by Dayen don’t support his stated argument. The Wall Street wheeler-dealers operated primarily within loopholes and gray areas in the laws and regulations. There were few convictions because it was hard to prove that laws were broken. When the molesting priests were identified, still living, and in the U.S., many were sent to prison. (That the Catholic Church behaved abysmally doesn’t show that the U.S. justice system is broken, obviously). And “Cops shoot black people and go back on the job” is deceitful, simple-minded agitprop. Colin Kaepernick, is that you?

The article is a desperate and clumsy attempt at ethics jujitsu, with the recent exposure of progressive hypocrites as sexual predators being flipped to pivot to the talking point that “everything is rigged against the poor, blacks and women.” What Dayen ends up arguing is that we need to make it easier to prove criminal guilt when we just know the defendants are bad dudes (white, male and rich) —shouldn’t that be enough?— and all the “beyond a reasonable doubt” stuff should be junked…except when black “non-violent drug offenders” are involved.

3.  It’s still illegal. Fark.com called this story “a woman being arrested for mothering while black.” Nice. David Dayen, is that you? Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-up: 8/17/17

Good Morning!

1. I got back late last night from my pilgrimage to say thanks to the Impossible Dream team, and now I’m on my way out to teach an ethics seminar for D.C. government attorneys. I haven’t caught up with the comments yet; I’m sorry. Things should be back to normal hear by this afternoon. Here are the surviving members of that 1967 Red Sox team that changed my life:

Incredibly, the Red Sox barely promoted the event, and had no memorabilia, not even a T-shirt, available at the souvenir stands. I asked one of the sales people, who said the team had given them nothing, figuring that the typical fan was too young to remember or care.

And people wonder why I object to tearing down statues…

2. …which the unethical Mayor of Baltimore ordered to be done yesterday in the dead of night. From the Times:

It was “in the best interest of my city,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday, as she explained why she ordered Confederate monuments removed under the cover of darkness, days after violence broke out during a rally against the removal of a similar monument in neighboring Virginia.

“I said with the climate of this nation,” Ms. Pugh said later, “that I think it’s very important that we move quickly and quietly.”

With no immediate public notice, no fund-raising, and no plan for a permanent location for the monuments once they had been excised — all things city officials once believed they would need — the mayor watched in the wee hours on Wednesday as contractors with cranes protected by a contingent of police officers lifted the monuments from their pedestals and rolled them away on flatbed trucks…

David Goldfield, a professor of history who studies Confederate symbols at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said the removal of the monuments in Baltimore was likely to be part of a “rolling cascade” of cities and states ridding themselves of, or at least relocating, similar statues.

”You’re going to see another wave of these removals.” Mr. Goldfield said. “The fact that it’s done fairly expeditiously is not surprising because if you do it quickly the opposition can’t build up, and the confrontations that we’ve had, not only in Charlottesville but elsewhere, will not materialize.”

By all means, move quickly and without notice or due process so lawful protests and expressions of public opinion “can’t build up.” “It was in the best interests” is such a versatile rationalization for unilateral government action.

Democracies don’t undertake controversial actions in the night. Dictatorships do. Pugh and others nascent fascist of the left are as responsible for “the climate of this nation” as much or more than anyone else, and now want to exploit the dangers of that climate to stifle dissent.

Perfect. Continue reading