Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/21/17: Fake Bravery, Mysterious Hate Speech, Vindictive Ex-Presidents, And The Trans Fold-Out

I confess: I miss New England…

Good Morning.

Thank God it’s Saturday.

1 The definition of “courage” being used to describe some of the late-to-the-party revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s victims is more than a bit off.  For example, Academy Award  winner Lupita Nyong’o’s op-ed, in which she talked about her own harassment by Weinstein, was hailed by Kerry Washington, Ellen DeGeneris and others, including singer Janelle Monae, who wrote, “My hero. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for using your voice.”

Bravery? Nyong’o’s piece could be fairly described as kicking a dead horse when he’s down. There is no danger to Nyong’o now in joining the throng accusing and exposing Weinstein, whose head is on a metaphorical pike in Hollywood. Indeed, claiming victimhood now acquires sympathy and declares that one is joining one’s peers in a virtuous quest. There is nothing wrong with her op-ed or the fact that she wrote it, but it isn’t brave. It would have been brave if she had written it while Weinstein had power…and was still using that power to intimidate and exploit actresses

2.  A recent quiz in the New York Times threw some light, or maybe ice water, on the concept of “hate speech.” The quiz asked Times readers to judge whether a statement was hate speech, and contrasted the results with Facebook’s hate speech policy, and the kind of statement would be removed from the social media platform as violating its standards. Facebook defines hate speech as:

  1. An attack, such as a degrading generalization or slur.
  2. Targeting a “protected category” of people, including one based on sex, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and serious disability or disease.

Here were the samples; Times readers were asked to vote yes or no to the question, “Would this statement meet Facebook’s criteria for hate speech?”

A. “Why do Indians always smell like curry?! They stink!”

B. “Poor black people should still sit at the back of the bus.”

C. “White men are assholes.”

D. “Keep ‘trans’ men out of girls bathrooms!”

E. “Female sports reporters need to be hit in the head with hockey pucks.”

F. I’ll never trust a Muslim immigrant… they’re all thieves and robbers.”

The Answers:

A. Facebook: Hate speech. Times readers: 75% yes, 25% no.

B. Facebook: Not hate speech. Times readers: 92% yes, 8% no.

C. Facebook: Hate speech. Times readers: 48% yes, 52% no.

D. Facebook: It depends on the context. Times readers: 57% yes, 43% no.

E. Facebook: Not hate speech. Times readers: 80% yes, 20% no.

F. Facebook: Not hate speech. Times readers: 91% yes, 9% no.

Ethics Alarms: the concept of hate speech is a dangerous, intentionally vague, manufactured category of speech pointing to restrictions of free expression. There is hateful speech, insulting speech, bigoted speech, biased speech, cruel speech, uncivil speech and rude speech, but all of it is still protected speech.

The tell is C. Times readers only voted that one statement wasn’t hate speech, the one that denigrated all white men. Of course they did. By Facebook standards, that vote is hate speech. I think.

Facebook can ban whatever speech it chooses, of course. The fact that it engages in this kind of vague, inconsistent, bias-laden censorship, however, tells us how much we should trust it: Not at all.

3. Speaking of bias, the Trump-haters in the news media—which is to say, the news media—were thrilled that both Barack Obama and George W. Bush delivered, on the same day, statements that were taken as rebukes to President Trump without mentioning him by name. Both Presidents were treading in serious hypocrisy mine fields, and neither were called on it sufficiently. Bush spoke of “fading confidence” in free markets: Gee, who was President when insufficiently regulated capitalists crashed the world economy? Obama, even more cynically, pointed to social, racial and economic schisms after his eight years of aggravating and exploiting them. Both Bush and Obama—and for them, this is a despicable ethics foul—conflated illegal immigration with immigration, to the seal-flipper applause of the open-border crowd.

The significance of these dual attacks is less than it appears. Bothex-POTUSes are motivated by personal animus and as well as personal bias. President Trump is doing an excellent job, as promised, of erasing Obama’s few substantive achievements and policy initiatives from the record, and he has only been at it for less than a year. Are you a a successful President if the primary lasting effect of your administration is reversal of progress in racial reconciliation? Obama’s enmity is predictable, but hardly based on objective consideration. Bush’s attack is even less so.  Candidate Trump’s attacks on President Bush’s brother were nasty and personal; the entire family has made no secret of the fact that it won’t forget, and hates the President’s guts/

The real ethics lesson, as well as a practical policy lesson is that being gratuitously mean to people isn’t just unethical, it is incompetent for a leader. This is one more area where the President shows a self-destructive lack of control and prudence as well as a flat learning curve. At a recent event, Paul Ryan, another target of Trump’s personal insults, mocked the President. John McCain has clearly decided that he will do whatever he can to undermine him until his last breath. Not only do the various public figures Trump needlessly insults and attacks occasionally have the opportunity to strike back in substantive ways, they also have supporters who will side with them even when those strikes are unfair or petty.

Deliberately making enemies is an example of life incompetence. It is so for a librarian or a short-order cook; it is even more so for a leader. It just makes it harder for you to do your job.

Why would you do that?

4. And now that Hugh Heffner is dead, Playboy is trying to make him roll over in his grave by announcing that it will have its first transgender Playmate.

Is this Ick, or ethics? Presumably, if the magazine has any integrity at all, Playboy chooses its Playmates according to their aesthetic qualities, not their medical history. These are women. Stipulated: French model Ines Rau is a woman, now.  Why is her selection focusing on how she got to be one?

Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Rau wasn’t chosen because she is a beautiful woman, though I am not saying that she isn’t. She was chosen because she is transgender, and beautiful enough. This was affirmative action. Reports say she is honored. Why isn’t she insulted? If President Obama told Sonia Sotomayor that she was being nominated as a Supreme Court Justice not because she is especially qualified, but because she is Hispanic, would Sotomayor have been pleased?

Rau is being exploited, as Playboy treats the transgender social issue as a fad, to sell magazines and get publicity. Predictably, many of Playboy’s readers are objecting for the wrong reasons: they are bigots. Playboy’s social media response is telling: “Standing on the right side of history.” This is, as Ethics Alarms has pointed out before, a facile dodge and a rationalization. “We’re on the right side of history” is weak variation of the Number 1 rationalization on the list, “Everybody does it.” It means “Everybody’s going to do it, just you wait and see.”

Color me dubious. Heterosexual men who buy girlie magazines are going to find transgender women more beautiful and sexually arousing because they once were biologically male?

Sure, Playboy. Whatever you say.

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Your Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck Update, With The Ethics Quote Of The Week From Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg

In 2009, after fugitive cinema auteur/child rapist Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss police following a request by the U.S. Justice Department that he be extradited to serve his sentence, Harvey Weinstein authored an op-ed arguing  that  “Roman Polanski is a man who cares deeply about his art and its place in the world.” The article dismissed Polanski’s rape and sodomizing of a 13-year-old actress as “a so-called crime.”

 Weinstein then signed am infamous petition for Polanski, along with many Hollywood celebrities.

Last week, Academy Award-winning British actress Emma Thompson appeared on the BBC to  denounce Weinstein’s conduct.  Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis asked her, since she felt so strongly about sexual assault, why she had signed the Polanski petition.

No, I have not heard or read that any U.S. journalist has had the courage or integrity to ask the question of other actresses who have similarly flip-flopped.   Thompson she said she had signed “without really thinking about it . . . I had been absolutely bamboozled by my respect for his art.”

Sure. Emma, that explains it What woman doesn’t sign a “Forgive the rapist” petition without thinking about it?

2.  Hollywood Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg took to Facebook to post a provocative exposition on his early days at Weinstein’s Miramax Films, with a tough kicker: “Everybody fucking knew.” If everybody fucking knew, is it really believable that the Clintons, the Obamas, the other Democrats who gleaned millions from Harvey and Harvey’s connections, and the journalists that never exposed him at the cost of undermining their favorite party didn’t know?

No. It isn’t believable.

Here’s Rosenberg: Continue reading

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Lessons And Notes From The Harvey Weinstein Fiasco

The latest development in the rapid fall of Hollywood independent film mogul and lionized Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein: The board of his own company, The Weinstein Company, just fired him.

You should read the New York Times’ damning story, following an investigation, about the extent of Weinstein’s long reign of misogynist terror in Hollywood. I don’t care to re-hash it. Note, as you read, that as disgusting as it is, more disgusting stories have come out since it was published. For example, a TV journalist now says that Weinstein once trapped her in the hallway of a restaurant that was closed to the public and masturbated in front of her until he ejaculated.  She says she told friends about the episode, but remained quiet because “she was in a long-term relationship” and was “fearful of the power that Weinstein wielded in the media.”

  • WHAT? She withheld this story for a decade because she was fearful, thus allowing Weinstein to abuse how many other women? Hundreds? I’d love to ask her if a powerful individual, in her opinion, could have done anything that would have caused her to make the effort to overcome her fear and self-interest. Someone who would act as she describes is pathological. What she endured was a criminal act. This is signature significance, is it not? Does a civilized, trustworthy, non-sociopath sicko ever do such a thing even once, on the worst day of his life? “I’m sorry I trapped you and masturbated in front of you; it wasn’t the best choice, and anyone can make a mistake.”

The man is and was dangerous. The woman had a citizen’s duty to report this to the police; I don’t care how powerful he was.

  • And, apparently, dozens of actresses had experiences, if not quite that horrifying, horrifying enough. In the Times report, we learn that Weinstein invited Angry Progressive Feminist Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel 20 years ago for what she thought would be a breakfast meeting about her career. Weinstein had her sent to his hotel suite, where he greeted the actress in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage. She told The Times that he then proposed that she watch him shower. Now she tells us this? Now, after she excoriated the President on the Mall, using obscene terms to cheer on  “resistance” “pussy- hat marchers  in January and speculate about the President’s Trump’s wet dreams about his own daughter?  Judd  said she kept quiet to avoid alienating Harvey Weinstein because she was just at the beginning of her career—you know, like all of those Cosby victims. What’s her excuse for the rest of the 20 years, allowing more young actresses to be extorted into sexual submission? Larry O’Connor has the (revolting) answer, I think. In a piece for Mediaite, he writes of Judd,

Has she channeled that anger and humiliation and fear at the industry that allowed it? Or at the man and his multi-million dollar corporation that enabled it? No. Her real enemies are Republicans. Don’t you get it?

So the not-so-hidden message in Weinstein’s non-apology statement was “Hey, remember, I supported Hillary and Obama and I raise millions for Democrats and I’ll help destroy the NRA and Trump. I may treat you like shit, but my heart is in the right place. Now get your knee pads on.”

In Hollywood, being liberal means never having to say you’re sorry.

Judd has been praised for having the courage to tell her story now…when Weinstein is elderly and his power is waning, knowing the he was about to be exposed. No, this is an example of Rationalization #22, “It’s not the worst thing.” Yes, Judd is not as bad as the many, many actresses who kept quiet about this sexual predator, endangering others, who still are mum. Whoopie! Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/7/17”

Hamburg, post allied bombing, WWII

Ethics Alarms doesn’t have many discussions of foreign policy, in part because policy is usually less about ethics and more about practical realities, theory and policy. What discussion we do have involves leadership, a secondary passion here. Warfare, in contrast, is an ethics category, but also a grand, meta-ethics morass that isn’t a safe space for ethics generally. I regard war as the ultimate ethical anomaly where the rules and theories break down. We cannot avoid encountering mobius strip sequences like..

War is inherently unethical.

Sometimes war is an  unavoidable and utilitarian necessity.

In such cases, it is essential to end such a war as quickly as possible.

The quickest and the most ethical way to end such a war as quickly as possible is by overwhelming and uncompromising force.

Uncompromising force inevitably involves the maximum loss of innocent life, and is unethical.

Half-measures prolong the damage of war and are also unethical.

Wait…where were we again?

My father—the kindest man I ever knew, a grievously wounded war hero and a natural leader who hated guns, detested war (but hated what he saw at the death camp he helped liberate more), would have devoted his life to the military service of his country if he could have and who told his son that if he chose to duck the draft during the Vietnam War that he had his full support—would repeatedly rail against modern surgical tactics designed to avoid civilian deaths at all costs as madness, and a symptom of weak resolve and cowardly leadership. His reasoning: “We could not have won World War II if the news services had been allowed to publicize what war does to civilian populations. It is as simple as that. We would have lost, and Hitler would have won, killed millions more, and divided up the world between Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union. The public had no concept about the horrible things we had to do, and that I participated in, to win that war. If one side is ruthless and the other side is more concerned about collateral damage than winning…and the ruthless side knows it, then ruthless wins.

He died after only a year of Barack Obama’s Presidency, but believed him to be a dangerously deluded and ignorant man regarding the use of power and military force.

I thought about all of this as I read texagg04’s Comment of the Day on the final item of yesterday’s Morning Warm-up. which began,

5.An ethics  question about the North Korea crisis: do common sense ethics apply to foreign affairs? Listening and reading various experts and authorities, I am struck by how many seem to argue that negotiation with the North Korean regime is the only palatable option. The fact that this is simply and unquestionably agreeing to international blackmail by a resolute evil-doer seems to be either unrecognized or ignored.

Here is his Comment of the Day, which Dad would have admired, on the post. “Morning Ethics Warm-up 7/7/17”: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/7/17

1. I am afraid that today’s posts may be heavily tilted to the ongoing mainstream media implosion, depending on what other issues surface and what the Ethics Alarms ethics scouts sleuth out. Afraid, because I know that many readers here, like the news media itself (not surprisingly, but tellingly, the legacy news media isn’t reporting this story, but it is being thoroughly reported in the “new”–as in online–news media) want to pretend that it isn’t a story at all. The repeated deflection—they are deflecting, whether the mainstream media defenders can admit it to themselves or not, because the news media is destroying itself with unrestrained anti-Trump bias, and its defenders like anti-Trump bias, as they are suffering from it themselves—is “Isn’t an untrustworthy President worse than an untrustworthy news media?” The answer is absolutely not. A President’s job isn’t to be trustworthy, though being trustworthy is crucial to doing the job and maintaining the vitality of his Office. A President’s job is lead the government and use his power to keep the nation safe, free and prosperous while upholding the Constitution. A trustworthy President is more likely to accomplish those goals, and I insist that a trustworthy (that is, ethical) individual should always be preferred over an untrustworthy one who claims to have more popular policies in mind. Nevertheless, untrustworthy Presidents can have successful administrations, and have before in our history. Moreover, a President who is untrustworthy can be replaced in four years.

We don’t elect journalists. What is happening to our pampered, privileged, arrogant  journalistic establishment cannot be remedied at the ballot box, and indeed impedes effective elections. A news media that increasingly sees its function as manipulating public opinion to serve its own ideological and partisan ends threatens democracy itself. That makes the rogue news media of today a far greater threat than one incompetent President, and the more urgent ethics concern.

How will this professional ethics abdication be addressed and repaired? It must be, and the starting point has to be the journalism field’s  own recognition that there is a crisis.

2. There was a flicker of hope on the self-recognition front yesterday, when former CNN chairman and CEO Walter Isaacson, being interviewed on Bloomberg’s “What’d You Miss, lamented the current state of the media, saying that news coverage and bias was the at least partially at fault for the “enormous political divide” in the U.S.  Now leading the Aspen Institute’s education and policy studies, Isaacson said that the polarization and partisan hostility “have been exacerbated by all forms of media. People are getting more and more partisan.” He also pointedly refused to accept the standard “It’s all Fox News’ fault” rationalization, saying, “I put everybody [in the media] in the category, including all of us, that we can step back from knee-jerk partisan elections…that would be good.”

Isaacson’s statements are too mild and meek, and not exactly a ringing rebuke, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’ll take what I can get. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/13/17

1.  The controversy over the Central Park “Julius Caesar” casting Donald Trump–his stage clone, really—as Caesar continues to be ignorantly argued. What’s worse, Fox News constantly calling the Shakespearean classic an “assassination play” (it’s not, not even close), or people who really would love to see Trump assassinated arguing that there’s a double standard because some professional productions of  “Julius Caesar” in recent years cast a black actor as the targeted emperor? Does anyone for a second believe that if a high-profile theatrical production depicted a character as clearly intended to symbolize Obama as the New York City production styles its Caesar as Trump being assassinated in a scene like the one below, there would not have been equivalent, indeed greater outrage?

The most cited production with a black, modern business-suited Caesar had an actor with a shaved head playing the role, clearly signalling that this was NOT Barack Obama. This, however, is “Donald Trump”:

My question is: Does the audience cheer? I bet they do, and I bet that’s exactly what the director wanted. I support the production, and reject efforts to pressure donors into pulling support. Theater is often political, and outrageous, and should be. But the play’s defenders who cite versions that evoked a black leader as equivalent are arguing that people are more upset at a faux Trump assassination than they would have been if “Obama” were slaughtered in Central Park, and that is absurd.

2. Another looming boycott is the effort to punish NBC’s Megyn Kelly for interviewing InfoWars’ Alex Jones, the professional conspiracy theorist and right-wing liar. Because he famously suggested that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax—an instant IQ test for anyone deciding to ever pay attention to this jerk again—Sandy Hook parents and their allies are condemning NBC and Kelly for “giving him a platform,” and have succeeded in getting one sponsor, JP Morgan, to drop its ads. How long before both ends of the political spectrum start routinely pushing boycotts of any journalists who “give a platform” to someone their “side” has pronounced as evil?  The Sandy Hook victims’ families continue to abuse the sympathy their tragedy evoked by using it to attack core rights using appeals to emotion and little else. Some quotes from the Washington Post story: Continue reading

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A GOP Candidate Wins A House Seat In Montana Despite Attacking A Reporter The Night Before The Election. What’s Going On Here?

Yesterday, in an Ethics Alarms post pointing out that nobody should vote a person who physically attacks reporters, or indeed, who attacks anybody, into Congress, I wrote,

What kind of person would vote for Gianforte after last night’s display? The kind of person who argues that character doesn’t matter in elected officials, only their positions.

And idiots, of course.

Candidate/Thug Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate, won the election nonetheless with over 50% of the votes. Rob Quist, the Democrat, received only 44%. Does this mean that over 50% of Montana voters are idiots? No, that wouldn’t be a fair conclusion. An estimated 60% of voters had turned in their ballots already, so the Gianforte voters in that batch weren’t necessarily idiots. (As I implied in the post yesterday, the advocates for voting before election day, thus allowing late-arriving information about the candidates—as in, “Hey! This guy is an unstable, volatile jerk with the judgment of a bar room goon!” to have minimal effect on  election results, have embraced an irresponsible, idiotic even, policy.)

Gianforte’s victory illuminate  other ethics issues, hwoever:

1. Addressing supporters in his victory speech, Gianforte apologized to the reporter he body-slammed, the journalists who witnessed the attack, and Montanans, saying “When you make a mistake you have to own up to it. That’s the Montana way.”

Ugh, yecchh, gag, petui!

If that’s the Montana way, why did Gianforte sit back and allow his campaign to blame the episode on the reporter? Remember, the statement from Gianforte’s staff, which is to say Gianforte,  said that the reporter,

“entered the [campaign] office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions….After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

That isn’t owning up. That’s covering up, spinning and lying. Does the new Congressman’s apology mean that he acknowledges that his campaign was lying? When will he own up to that?  An apology now is cheap, cynical and meaningless, for Gianforte won, and Montana is stuck with him for two years.

2. A Montana TV station refused to inform its viewers that Gianforte had assaulted and battered a reporter. NBC affiliate KECI, recently purchased by the conservative media conglomerate Sinclair Broadcasting, adamantly kept the report of the attack and the audio of the incident,  arguing that “The person that tweeted [Jacobs] and was allegedly body slammed is a reporter for a politically biased publication.”  That “biased publication” was the Guardian, and the tweeter was Ben Jacobs, the victim. His account was confirmed by reporters from Fox News…you know, that liberal network that is always trying to make Republicans look bad. The anchor of the evening newscast, Laurel Staples, read a statement that said, in part, “NBC Montana takes pride in reporting only verifiable facts from an independent, reliable sources.”

 NBC News, including the Today show and affiliates across the country, played the audio of the altercation between Jacobs and Gianforte, who was charged with misdemeanor assault, indicating that reports of the episode were reliable. Continue reading

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