Let Us Not Allow Pity And Compassion To Obscure The Ethics Lesson Of The Otto Wambier Tragedy

Young Otto Warmbier  is back from North Korea, where he had been a prisoner since 2015. The a 22-year-old University of Virginia student was finally returned from the Communist dictatorship in a coma, suffering from “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of his brain.” Doctors believe he had sustained his catastrophic brain injury sometime before April 2016.

His heartbroken parents are condemning North Korea and praising the Trump administration, which finally obtained his release. Someone, however, needs to make the crucial point that Otto’s fate was directly due to his own recklessness and bad judgment in engaging in conduct that frequently results in disaster, as well as international tensions and needless cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Otto signed up for a five-day tour of North Korea with  Young Pioneer Tours,  a Chinese company that advertises “budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.” There is a good reason your mother—and your father, and the U.S. State Department—would rather you stayed away from North Korea. The place is a hell-hole run by a power-mad lunatic, and it is not safe. Nobody put a gun to Otto Warmbier’s head and kidnapped him: he decided on his own to defy his government’s warnings, recent history and the sense god gave puppies to deliberately place himself in harm’s way, knowing that many, many similarly misguided citizens have become prisoners, propaganda tools,  pawns or worse because they willfully placed themselves in similar peril as the people who decide to climb into tiger or lion enclosures at zoos.

Warmbier left on his “tour” in December , 2015. He would have had a chance to see “Bridge of Spies” by then: I wonder if he did. You will recall that the history-based plot involved am American student named Fred Pryor, who is one now a renowned comparative economists. Then, however, he was a graduate student in West Berlin who decided it would be a dandy idea to pass through the half-completed Berlin Wall in August, 1961 to attend a lecture and give a copy of his dissertation  to an East Berlin economics professor.  We know he’s a smart guy, but one would think that the fact that the East German government was in the process of sealing in its citizens as prisoners might have alerted him that this was not the time to go visiting.

Sure enough, Pryor was arrested, thrown in jail, and became a bargaining chip in the U-2/Gary Powers/Rudolph Abel negotiations. Had Otto Warmbier seen the film (which Pryor says misrepresents his part of the story), I would think he would  have been a bit more resistant to a sales pitch that said, “This is a great time to visit beautiful North Korea!” Indeed, being 22, presumably literate and of sound mind,  he should have had the knowledge and sense of self-preservation to resist that sales pitch even  if he had never seen any movie in his whole life. Continue reading

Ugh! Here’s One More Unethical Practice (Of Many) Trump Needs To Eliminate From His Repertoire, And Quickly

trump-tweet-at-union-head-jpg

It’s pretty simple, though President Obama hasn’t figured it out in in eight years:

The President of the United States must not attack or criticize private citizens or negatively characterize their actions, nor should he interfere with local matters, criminal justice, the courts, the news media, or private businesses,  unless it is absolutely necessary, which it almost never is. This applies to his treatment of journalists, celebrities, athletes, local officials, accused criminals, military personnel, lawyers, other professionals…

…and union representatives.

Chuck Jones, the president of the local chapter of the United Steelworkers union that represents Carrier employees in Indianapolis, told The Post on Tuesday that the Trump exaggerated the number of jobs he claims to have saved, since 550 of the union’s members will lose their jobs anyway. Trump immediately sent the tweet above, directly attacking Jones by name. Shortly after the tweet, Jones says, he began getting threatening phone calls. “Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, ‘You better keep your eye on your kids. We know what car you drive.’ Things along those lines,” he told the Post.

I’m not surprised, but Trump’s “punching down” would be just as wrong if there was no response at all. This is an abuse of power. It is an abuse of influence. It is an abuse of office, and once he is President, it will be an abuse of the “bully pulpit.” The conduct is bullying,  as well as irresponsible, dangerous, and stupid.

I did call it, though! My post in April about Gov. Rick Scott attacking a citizen, in his case a coffee shop critic, in a campaign ad ended with this statement:

It is hard to imagine a more petty, needless, demeaning example of “punching down.” Jennings isn’t running against Scott; she is just a citizen critic, if an especially rude and nasty one. For a governor to focus an attack ad on a mere citizen is an abuse of power and position. It is ethically indefensible.

It is exactly what Donald Trump would do, though.

It is far worse for a President-Elect to punch down, of course; it’s even unethical for a Presidential candidate nobody thinks can win to do it. Trump’s pre-emptively calling Bowe Bergdahl a traitor is now a fair trial problem in the ex-prisoner of war’s court-martial. This is a terrible habit to indulge, and it opens the door to far more harmful misuses of Presidential power.  Continue reading

Fake News Ethics: A Quick Audit

fake-news

There is…

(1) fake news,

(2) misleading or incompetent reporting,

(3) news that some people call fake because they don’t like its likely effects or implications, and

(4) news that people want others to think is fake so they can peddle their own fake news.

Did genuine, unequivocal fake news affect the 2016 election—that is, the first kind, the kind peddled by hoax sites like The News Nerd, and the Macedonian junk like the story about the Pope endorsing Trump?  There’s no evidence that would suggest or support that. Many voters are naive, gullible, ignorant fools, but still: how many actually changed their votes based on complete fiction? It’s impossible to tell, but stating that this was the case is itself a form of fake news.

Democrats and partisan pundits had been using the “fake news” device to mute the voices of journalists who didn’t follow in lockstep to the mainstream media pro-Democratic march. The IRS scandal, which is real and damning, has been largely ignored by the mainstream news media and called a “nothingburger” in Obama Administration talking points.The assertion that it is a myth that the IRS is using its power to suppress conservative dissent is …..fake news.

Because Fox is the only major news outlet (I do not count the slimy Breitbart websites) that was consistently critical of the Obama administration when it deserved it (and sometimes when it did not), Democrats not-quite-successfully-enough set out to marginalize Fox, calling it “faux news” and pushing the Obama narrative that it wasn’t even a legitimate news source. Obama, in an interview with Rolling Stone (speaking of sources of fake news!), blamed Clinton’s loss in part on “Fox News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country.”

Isn’t that amazing? What gall. It isn’t the fact that the debt (that Obama promised to reduce) is now just short of 20 TRILLION dollars, with Obama adding a record $7.917 trillion to it, it’s that the one news source that actively exposed that fact was available to middle class voters that led to Hillary’s loss.  It wasn’t that the Affordable Care Act didn’t let Americans keep their health care plans as Obama repeatedly swore it would, it was that Fox News kept reminding its viewers of that (as the rest of the news media soft-peddled it) , while also publicizing that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, one’s health care insurance was less affordable unless the government was paying for it. It wasn’t that Hillary Clinton had lied about her e-mail tricks for over a year, the problem was that Fox was responsibly reporting that she was lying, unlike CNN, NBC, and the rest.

You know. Fake news.

As part of an organized effort up and down Democratic groups, ranks, allies and media operatives to de-legitimatize Donald Trump’s victory, the definition of “fake news” has been conveniently expanded. The Washington Post published a jaw-droppingly sloppy, partisan piece last week alleging that

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.”

Continue reading

The Sixth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2014 (Part 4 of 4)

mamoru-samuragochi2

Outrageous Hoax Of The Year

Mamoru Samuragochi, the composer sometimes known as “The Japanese Beethoven” because he composed critically acclaimed works despite being deaf, was exposed as double fraud: he didn’t compose the works that made him Japan’s most popular classical composer, and he isn’t even really deaf!  Samuragochi hired a musical ghostwriter named Takashi Niigaki to compose more than twenty compositions for Samuragochi since 1996.

Funniest Outrageous Hoax

Fake Panda

This.

Unethical Artist Of The Year

Performance artist Maximo Caminero, who  walked into the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, entered a special exhibit of sixteen ancient Chinese vases painted over in bright colors by celebrated Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, picked up one of them, and immediately after a security guard instructed him not to touch the exhibit, allowed the vase to fall from his hands, shattering into bits. Caminero admitted that smashing the pottery, which was valued at a million dollars,  was intentional, and was his protest against in support of local artists like himself whose work is not exhibited at the museum while the art of international artists like Weiwei is.

Unethical Veterinarian Of The Year

Fort Worth, Texas veterinarian Lou Tierce lost his license for five years as a result of, among other transgressions, his telling the owners of a Leonburger (it’s a very big dog) that their pet was terminally ill and had to be euthanized, then secretly keeping the dog alive in a small cage so he could use Sid’s blood for transfusions to Dr. Tierce’s other canine patients. Eventually an assistant at the clinic blew the whistle and alerted Sid’s owners, who rescued their dog and sicced the law on the worst veterinarian since Dean Jones menaced Beethoven.

Unethical Doctor Of The Year

Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s medical expert, endangered the public by defying a voluntary quarantine for possible Ebola exposure,  because she just couldn’t bear to be without her favorite soup.

Scam of the Year

Jonathan-Gruber-1

The Affordable Care Act.

 Unethical Federal Agency Of The Year

The Secret Service. Lots of competition in this category: the Veterans Administration, the I.R.S., the CDC, the Justice Department, NSA…but when you essentially have one job to do and do it badly, sloppily carelessly and dangerously, there’s really not much more to say Continue reading

Obama’s Coffee Cup Salute “Gotcha!”

Scotty SaluteSome controversies instantly inspire everyone on all sides to be petty, stupid, and unfair. This is just such a controversy.

The White House  posted a video of President Barack Obama awkwardly saluting a Marine as Obama exited the presidential helicopter, Marine One. He did so while holding a styrofoam coffee cup, which he brought to his forehead as well. This sparked critical comments from Republicans, conservatives and veterans that Obama was showing disrespect for the military.

This is the epitome of a petty “Gotcha!” that guarantees sympathy for the President. I would be surprised if there are not  examples of most Presidents botching return salutes, especially those, like Obama and Clinton, who had no experience in the military. (President Eisenhower presumably never had this salute problem.) Obama also was pretty pathetic when he had to throw out the first pitch in a major league baseball game. Oh, so what? Republicans really think that these deficiencies prove Obama is disrespectful of the military, or of the National Pastime? There are so many stronger indications. Continue reading

How Constitutional Government Censorship Works In Obama’s America

zipper on mouth

Sarah Durand, a senior editor at a division of Simon & Schuster, Atria Books, informed the literary agents of one of the U.S. soldiers who had submitted a book proposal about the conduct of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl—the controversial Taliban prisoner who was freed in a costly prisoner exchange and then hailed as a “hero” by the Obama administration— that the publishing house was not interested in pursuing the project. The soldiers, comrades of Bergdahl, allege that he is a traitor.

Maybe the book proposal was poor; maybe it isn’t what Atria Books is looking for at this time. Getting any book published is difficult for first-time authors, and there is no obligation for a publishing company to print anything.

However, this is what Durand wrote to explain the rejection:

“I’m not sure we can publish this book without the Right using it to their ends..the Conservatives are all over Bergdahl and using it against Obama and my concern is that this book will have to become a kind of ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Truth'”

In other words, a professional, supposedly non-partisan conduit for free speech and communication is restricting that speech for political and partisan reasons, and specifically to protect the government currently in power.

I would never argue that refusing to publish the book is unethical. That reason, however, if it is the only reason, is unethical, and also chilling. The only difference between the government censoring political speech and private enterprise censoring speech critical of the government is that the former is prohibited by the Constitution, and the latter is protected by the Constitution, since the freedom not to say something is the same as the freedom to say it. Durant and Atria, appear to be using that freedom to do exactly what a censoring government would do if it could. And how do we know that a Simon & Schuster executive didn’t contact the White House for guidance, and were told to bury the book for “future considerations”? We don’t. Yet this is the kind of suspicion and distrust engendered when communications entities behave like this.

Note that Durand doesn’t challenge the truth of the soldiers’ assertions about Bergdahl. Her concern is how it will be used by political opponents of President Obama. The fact that she would feel that this is a legitimate factor to be considered in publishing a book to the extent that she wouldn’t see the danger of expressing it in an e-mail is as disturbing as the sentiment itself. The book editor sees her duty as protecting the state from opposition and criticism, apparently. How many other gate-keepers of our free speech feel the same way?

_______________________________

Pointer: Newsbusters

Source: Yahoo!

KABOOM!! Dana Milbank’s New Record For Flagrantly Dishonest Punditry

Exploding head

I am through with Dana Milbank, and also with anyone who quotes him, relies on him, believes him or—take note, Washington Post—employs him. There must be some level of insulting, dishonest, toadying, intentionally misleading punditry that qualifies as intolerable, and Milbank’s latest column for the Washington Post—syndicated elsewhere so the maximum number of weak minds can be polluted—defined it. I’m not going to reprint a word of it for fear that it will poison the blog, or cause your head to explode like mine just did—but I can describe its thesis. Get this: Milbank decries a “crisis of the week political culture” in Washington, and blames the news media, Republicans and Congress for the shifting attention. I am suppressing a scream as I write this.

There is a “crisis of the week” political culture because the incredibly inept and incompetent President of the United States has mismanaged every conceivable aspect of the government’s policies, domestic and foreign, while maintaining incompetents and political hacks in key positions and sending the message that there will be no accountability for abject failure, and because, despite pledging unprecedented transparency, the standard operating procedure for this group of ideologically doctrinaire and skill-challenged group has been to posture, obfuscate, stall, mislead and lie until various ugly chickens come home to roost, and then to rely on the news media to accept absurd excuses, explanation and blame-shifting theories, chaos has been percolating beneath the surface in dozens of vital areas—oh yes, more bad news is coming—and the full measure of various disasters are finally becoming known.

There is a crisis of the week mentality because a new catastrophe caused by the epic incompetence of this Administration is being uncovered every week, and sometimes every day.

And Dana Milbank blames the political culture, as if it is making this stuff up.

And he expects readers to agree with him.

And a lot of them will.

Kaboom.

Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: The Republican Un-Tweeters

"Ha! They'll NEVER find it now!"

“Ha! They’ll NEVER find it now!”

Several Republican politicians leapt on the “Welcome Home Bowe!” bandwagon without bothering to a) learn the details and more importantly to them, sadly, b) gauge the reaction of their constituents, contributers and supporters.  Thus they tweeted praise for his release, perhaps echoing Obama’s designated liar Susan Rice’s unsupported assertion that he has served with honor, or evoking the Administration’s now discarded spin that he was a hero. When the transaction was revealed to be an utter botch by the Obama Administration (but I repeat myself), and the GOP officials realized that it would be partisan feeding time in the  shark tank, these brave public servants had neither the forthrightness to admit their errors, if errors they were, nor the courage to face the consequences.

Nor, unfortunately for them, the technological savvy to realize that trying to cover up what you put on the internet doesn’t work.

And makes you look like an untrustworthy sneak.

The Sunlight Foundation has a service called “Politwoops,” which collects elected officials’ tweets and makes them available if they are deleted in an effort to remove feet from mouths. It uncovered this, from Republican Senator Thad Cochran…

 

Bergdahl tweet2

and this, from GOP Congressman Jim Renacci… Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Ralph Peters on the Bergdahl Fiasco

Obama hugs parents

“This is a fundamental culture clash. Team Obama and its base cannot comprehend the values still cherished by those young Americans “so dumb” they joined the Army instead of going to prep school and then to Harvard. Values such as duty, honor, country, physical courage, and loyalty to your brothers and sisters in arms have no place in Obama World.’

Ralph Peters, a retired army officer and former enlisted man, in the National Review, explaining how it could be that Obama and his advisors actually believed that trading five Taliban terrorists for a likely deserter would bring such universal accalim that the VA scandal would be forgotten and forgiven.

This isn’t even the most memorable quote in Peters’ acid take-down of President Obama and his narrow, politically-stunted staff, especially Susan Rice, and their mad, insulting conduct. That would be this:

“Both President Obama and Ms. Rice seem to think that the crime of desertion in wartime is kind of like skipping class. They have no idea of how great a sin desertion in the face of the enemy is to those in our military. The only worse sin is to side actively with the enemy and kill your brothers in arms. This is not sleeping in on Monday morning and ducking Gender Studies 101.”

Or maybe this… Continue reading

The Unethical—But Useful!— White House “Oopsie!” Doctrine

rotting fish head

In a—oh, hell, I’m out of adjectives to describe “This is so ridiculous it makes me want to throw myself into a woodchipper”—move that will transform U.S. culture, the White House has pioneered a new and refreshingly simple way for wrongdoers and law-breakers to take responsibility for their misconduct.

Just say, “I forgot to obey the law. Sorry!” Let’s call it the “Oopsie!” Doctrine.

Yes, this is how the White House bravely owned up to intentionally violating the statute, the National Defense Authorization Act, that requires the Executive Branch to alert Congress of the pending release of prisoners from Guantanamo at least 30 days in advance. Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken called Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to officially say that the White House was sorry it failed to alert her, and therefore Congress, in advance of a decision to release five Taliban prisoners from the prison in Guantanamo in exchange for American deserter, and quite possible traitor, Bowe Bergdahl. The Obama Administration is calling this “an oversight.”

That’s right. The White House breaking the law is an oversight. Never mind that the President was well aware of this particular law, having stated that he regarded it as unconstitutional when he signed it. It was an oversight! None of the foreign policy experts and advisors, neither the Secretary of State or Defense or all their little deputies, nor the hoards of lawyers that Defense, State and the White House employ, remembered that there was a little matter of a relatively recent law that had to be followed in cases like this one. They all missed it, had a brain fart, whiffed, were day-dreaming, took their eye off the ball, goofed, tripped up, pulled a boner. It can happen to anyone! Continue reading