Least Surprising Headline Of This Or Any Other Year: “Trump’s Team Nixed Ethics Course For White House Staff”

Of course they did.

Simulation of a typical ethics training session...

Simulation of a typical ethics training session…

From Politico:

President Donald Trump’s team rejected a course for senior White House staff, Cabinet nominees and other political appointees that would have provided training on leadership, ethics and management, according to documents obtained by POLITICO….But the contract was never awarded because after the election the transition team shifted its priorities, according to a letter the General Services Administration sent to bidders such as the Partnership for Public Service. The program was expected to cost $1 million, the documents show. The contract-based training program was authorized in 2000, and the Obama and Bush transitions both received the training.

“It has been determined that the requirements as defined in the RFQ do not accurately reflect the current needs of the Presidential Transition Team,” the GSA contracting officer, Matthew Gormley, wrote in the Jan. 10 letter.

Comments:

1. Welcome to my world. With very, very rare exceptions, most organizations, including the government and all levels of it, still regard ethics training as a luxury, a low-priority, a necessary evil, a waste of time, or all of these.

2. And, to be fair, most ethics trainings, and I am certain this is true of virtually all government ethics training, cover ethics rules and laws, and provide no real training in ethical decision-making and ethical problem solving at all. This means that as far as actually improving the ethics of the staff and management goes, they are a waste of time.

3. If I’m not facilitating them, they are also usually tear-your-eyes-out-of-their-sockets boring. Continue reading

From Facebook, Two Comments Of The Day: The Election

Police form a line to contain protesters outside a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday, June 2, 2016, in San Jose, Calif.  A group of protesters attacked  Trump supporters who were leaving the presidential candidate's rally in San Jose on Thursday night. A dozen or more people were punched, at least one person was pelted with an egg and Trump hats grabbed from supporters were set on fire on the ground. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Two regular commenters,  johnburger2013 and Alexander Cheezem, cross-posted their Facebook essays about the election on Ethics Alarms. Both are worthy Comment of the Day.

First, from johnburger2013:

A  Facebook friend told me to let this go. However, I can’t, especially after reading countless postings about the end to the US as we know it. This post is most particularly directed at the person accusing me of white-male-entitled-complacency, who has never had to worry about storm troopers kicking in my front door.

Trump won. Clinton lost. This has been a long, painful, contentious election cycle, extraordinarily dividing the nation into bitter, blinded hemispheres with unbelievable and unnecessary bloodletting.

Yet, take heart. The US republic will survive. Will Trump be a good president? Who knows? Nobody. Got that? Nobody. Time will tell.

Give some credit to the citizenry. The US, for all of its past and present errors, has tried to live up to its mission to form a ‘more perfect’ union. It has constantly tried to right the ship and steer it away from the rocks. Hopefully, the thousand cuts inflicted by this election will heal and the nation will find itself stronger. I have read that a broken bone is stronger when it heals. Hope springs eternal.

To those lamenting and wailing that your candidate lost: Stop it. Please. For the sake of the nation. Just stop it. Trump’s presidency does not, and will not, lead to mass incarceration, deportation, or the building of ovens. The US is nowhere near where the Weimar Republic was in the 1920s. Nor is it anywhere close to pre-Mussolini Italy, pre-Franco Spain, pre-Chavez Venezuela, or pre-Morales Bolivia. And no, Trump’s presidency will not, under any circumstances, be a catalyst for religious reactionaries calling for pregnant women to be chained to the stove.

More particularly, stop hurling Nazi memes around. Nazi Germany led to unspeakable evil, targeting Jews for extermination. Do not, under any circumstances, diminish what Jews suffered under Nazi genocide by claiming that Trump and his supporters are one clothing store away from brown shirts. Do not tell me that my ‘white-privilege complacency’ blinds me to the realities of Kristallnacht. It is insulting and cruel. I am from the Cleveland, Ohio, area, which had a large survivor community. I saw the fear. I heard the stories survivors endured. Worst of all, I saw the despair in the eyes of ordinary people targeted because of their religion. I don’t need to experience first-hand what happened at Treblinka or Auschwitz to know that that is pure, unbridled evil.

Furthermore, I saw that Kristallnacht has been trending on Facebook, and, ironically, began on November 9, 1938. Believe, me, I do not support Donald Trump – I think he will be a terrible president (I hope I am wrong). However, I am disheartened and saddened that fellow citizens cannot put aside partisan differences. Reading Facebook postings comparing Trump to Hitler, and his supporters to the Schutzstaffel, is morally offensive, especially having known people who suffered through Nazi genocide, people forever scarred by the horror they lived and having to relive it every single moment they look at numbers brutally carved into their skin

Trump’s victory absolutely does not mean that minorities will be hauled back to plantations in chains, or marriages recently upheld will be obliterated.

As for Trump and his supporters: Drop the “Clinton-is-a-criminal” stuff. Your candidate won. Stop gloating. It is immature and unbecoming of the republic. Your candidate will take the highest executive office in the land. Demand that your candidate govern with the dignity, respect, and vision that office requires. Demand that he stop saying stupid things. Demand that he develop a filter and impulse control expected of the office.

Disagree over policy. Disagree over ideas. Disagree all you want about Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush or Obama, but they behaved in the manner called for by the Office of the President of the United States of America.

The US is a great place to live because of the liberties enshrined and guaranteed and protected by the Constitution. If we, as citizens, hold to true to those values, the nation will be a better place.

Now Alexander Cheezem’s Comment of the Day, on the theme of accountability, an Ethics Alarms favorite. I’ll have a brief comment at the end: Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: The 21 Republicans Who Voted Against The Torture Ban

torture

As I explained long ago, torture is already a human rights abomination forbidden by U.S. principles, values, tradition and culture. That does not mean, and has never meant, that the nation’s official and sincere opposition to torture as an ethical absolute must not be subject to a genuine existential exception.  It does mean that an official policy that allows torture degrades the very reason for the nation’s existence.

This vital reason doesn’t even reach the fact that the United States has signed international treaties that state, unequivocally, that it deplores and rejects torture. That one is less complex; as I wrote about the Bush Administration’s doubletalk at the time…

Typically, the Administration is trying to finesse this uncomfortable fact by playing legalistic word games, requesting a “clarification” of what constitutes torture. This is intellectually dishonest, and blatantly so. The methods it wants to define as “something other than torture”…threatened drowning, cold room interrogations with subjects doused with water, beatings and other forms of assault and battery, obviously violate provisions of the Geneva Convention such as those requiring prisoners of war to be treated with “personal dignity” and “humanely,” and that they should not be subjected to “hardships and sufferings.” Meanwhile, torture is defined in Article 1 of the 1984 Convention as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.” Simulated drowning, by this definition, is torture, and passing some official “clarification” that declares otherwise won’t change that. Depriving prisoners of sleep and making them stand wet in 50 degree temperatures aren’t going to suddenly become “humane” either, nor will such treatment suddenly cease to cause “hardship” and “suffering.”

The United States exists on the ideal that it, unique among nations past and present, asserts and acts upon its original dedication to the values of human life, liberty and pursuit of happiness above all else. The United States’ identity is that of the Good Citizen, the hero, the trustworthy one. Of course that’s a high aspiration; of course we will fall short of it sometimes, of course such an aspiration appears arrogant and superior to others, and so what? Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Dick Cheney

Hello, I'll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

Hello, my name is Skug, and I’ll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

“I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.”

—Former V.P. Dick Cheney, giving his reactions on “Meet the Press” regarding the Senate’s critique of the Bush Administration and the CIA’s interrogation methods.

I try to be fair to Dick Cheney, whose character has been distorted beyond all recognition by his partisan foes. Sunday, however, he was apparently attempting to validate all the most terrible things anyone has said about him, as well as providing future students of ethics real life examples of ethical fallacies.

The one quoted above is the pip: so much for the jurisprudential principle that It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”   Chuck Todd reminded Cheney that 25% of those detained were apparently innocent. The Cheney variation: “It is OK if some innocent persons are unjustly punished as long as the bad guys get what they deserve.”

It is hard to pick the most unethical assertion, however; there are so many horrible statements to choose from. Such as: Continue reading

KABOOM! Wait, Head, Why Did You Explode When Nothing About This Story Should Come As A Surprise?

Wait, this shouldn't be happening...

Wait, this shouldn’t be happening…

As I once again pick my brains and skull fragments off the walls and ceiling and get the Crazy Glue, I am decided annoyed at my head for exploding at this latest blatant example of the White House screwing up in amateurish and damaging fashion, and a respected (not by me, but you know what I mean) member of the news media taking blatantly unethical steps to try to assist in damage control. After all, the Ethics Alarms KABOOM! designation is supposed to be reserved for ethics news so outrageous or beyond the realm of plausibility that it causes rational brains to overload and blow. This story, in contrast, is typical of what has been going on for the last six years. It perfectly illustrates the destructive sequence we have seen since 2008, with evidence of Obama administration incompetence and media seeing its responsibility not as informing the country so it can make informed decisions about its government, journalism’s ethical duty, but protecting the President it worked so hard to elect. I need to solve this mystery, because head explosions are bad for my heath, not to mention the decor. Let’s look at the story, and then come back to “The Mystery Of Jack’s Exploding Head.”

From the Washington Post yesterday, in a story by reporters Greg Miller:

The CIA’s top officer in Kabul was exposed Saturday by the White House when his name was inadvertently included on a list provided to news organizations of senior U.S. officials participating in President Obama’s surprise visit with U.S. troops. The White House recognized the mistake and quickly issued a revised list that did not include the individual, who had been identified on the initial release as the “Chief of Station” in Kabul, a designation used by the CIA for its highest-ranking spy in a country. The disclosure marked a rare instance in which a CIA officer working overseas had his cover — the secrecy meant to protect his actual identity — pierced by his own government. The only other recent case came under significantly different circumstances, when former CIA operative Valerie Plame was exposed as officials of the George W. Bush administration sought to discredit her husband, a former ambassador and fierce critic of the decision to invade Iraq.”

As I have pointed out, again, just recently, this isn’t an isolated incident but rather the inevitable result of the top-to-bottom incompetence in the administration assembled by Barack Obama.There are undoubtedly thousands of gaffes and botches like this, big and small, with long-term consequences and short, all over the government, all the time. Some get people killed, some will, some will help countries be ravaged by despots, some waste millions, or billions of dollars. There is so much incompetence that an outrageous amount of time, manpower and effort is being diverted to covering up the messes or trying to make sure they don’t become outright catastrophes, and this government is incompetent at that, too. Continue reading

Ethics Bob Asks: “Did Torture Lead Us To Bin Laden”? My Answer: “So What If It Did? It Was Still Wrong.”

It's all for the best.

It’s all for the best.

The last time my friend “Ethics Bob” Stone blogged about ethics, it was way back in August, and he was writing about some guy named “Romney.” Now he’s back on the job, thank goodness, with a comeback post titled “Zero Dark Thirty: Did torture lead us to Osama bin Laden?”. And he’s ticking me off.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is Hollywood’s treatment of the search, apprehension and execution of Osama Bin Laden. The film suggest that methods of torture were employed by the CIA to uncover crucial intelligence that led to the terrorist mastermind’s demise. Torture opponents, including some U.S. Senators, are alarmed by this, and disputing the film’s account. (Imagine that: a movie that misrepresents history!) Meanwhile, conservatives, neocons, Bush administration bitter-enders, talk radio hosts and admirers of Dr. Fu Manchu and James Bond villains are citing the film as confirmation that they were right all along: torture is a wonderful thing.

I am puzzled that Bob got in the middle of this debate as an ethicist. “It worked!” and “It came out all right in the end!” are not valid ethical arguments or justifications. The first is an embrace of a pure “the ends justify the means” rationale, a favorite tool of Auric Goldfinger and Dr. No. The other is consequentialism. When ethicists and principled opponents of torture allow the issue to be adjudicated on this basis, they are surrendering their principles at the outset. “Torture doesn’t work” is a pragmatic argument, not an ethical one. If the societal consensus regarding torture is going to be determined by how much we can benefit by returning to the rack and wheel, then ethical considerations have already been jettisoned. Continue reading

Accountability Check: Blame Yourselves, Conservatives

…twice shy.

The rhetoric, accusations, insults and breast-beating from conservative talk radio and its audience are every bit as offensive as Michael Moore’s bleating that American voters were morons after the 2004 election. No, it is more offensive—that’s right, more offensive than Michael Moore. Conservatives thoroughly disgraced themselves when they had control in Washington, and have barely improved since. They deserved to lose in 2008 because of their unethical conduct from 2000-2008, and that they are still paying for those years in 2012 is obvious and just. If conservatives don’t like the Obama Administration and its policies, if they think the United States is in deep trouble as a consequence, they should stop blaming voters and admit that it couldn’t have happened without their greed, stupidity, arrogance and incompetence: Continue reading

If You Liked “Enhanced Interrogation,” You’ll Love The “Disposition Matrix”

Is THIS the Administration’s secret weapon against terrorists?

The Washington Post launched a three-part series today about the U.S. drone strike program, in which terrorists abroad are targeted and assassinated from the sky. I’m not prepared to attempt an ethical analysis of this deadly tool against international terrorism, although I will acknowledge that my initial, gut level assessment is that the unique nature of terrorism requires adjustments in the ethics of national security and warfare, and drone killings seem to be a fair and reasonable adjustment.

Yet it is still killing. It is also controversial, with many human rights activists, international law specialists and ethicists vehemently condemning the tactic, especially when used against turn-coat Americans abroad without due process of law. Consequently, the Post’s revelation that the Administration’s “kill list” is called something else rings the ethics alarms.

The Post:

“Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the “disposition matrix.” The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.” Continue reading

Ethics, History, and Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator”

James McAvoy as Frederick Aiken, a Civil War era Ethics Hero you've never heard of.

Throughout Hollywood history, there have been actors who regularly used their screen personas to explore ethical issues: Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, Paul Newman, John Wayne of course, Clint Eastwood, and recently, George Clooney. None of these focused their artistic attentions on ethics more sharply than Robert Redford, however, in such films as “All the President’s Men,” “The Candidate,” “The Proposition,” and “The Natural,” and he has continues his exploration of ethics as a director, in such films as “The Milagro Beanfield War” and “Quiz Show.”

Redford’s most recent film, “The Conspirator,” is another ethics movie, as well as one that explores law and American history. I am a Lincoln assassination buff, and I was eager to see the movie until I read several reviews criticizing it as a heavy-handed allegory attacking the Bush administration’s response to 9/11. Score one for the confirmation bias trap: the movie is nothing of the kind. Continue reading

The S.E.C.’s Betrayal and Why Regulation Can’t Cure Unethical Cultures

Your SEC at work....

I awoke this morning to read that a former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission official has credibly claimed that the S.E.C. destroyed thousands upon thousands of records of enforcement cases in which it had decided not to file charges or to launch full-blown probes. The case records dumped included prominent Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and SAC Capital.

Here’s is how Rolling Stone concluded its excellent report on the scandal:

“Forget about what might have been if the SEC had followed up in earnest on all of those lost MUIs(“Matters Under Inquiry”). What if even a handful of them had turned into real cases? How many investors might have been saved from crushing losses if Lehman Brothers had been forced to reveal its shady accounting way back in 2002? Might the need for taxpayer bailouts have been lessened had fraud cases against Citigroup and Bank of America been pursued in 2005 and 2007? And would the U.S. government have doubled down on its bailout of AIG if it had known that some of the firm’s executives were suspected of insider trading in September 2008?” Continue reading