Prison Labor Ethics

Prison labor is an ethics issue that I have never considered before. Apparently that’s true of a lot of people. In Massachusetts, an Amherst-Pelham Regional High School  student named Spencer Cliche (great name!) was challenged to undertake an investigative journalism project, He eventually published a 3,000-word exposé  on prison labor topic in his school’s newspaper.

The high school, it seems, had contracted with a local prison to re-upholster its auditorium seats,  taking its low bid for the job over another bid by a local business. As a result of the uproar sparked by Spencer’s work, the school superintendent issued a statement to school staff members promising never to contract with the prison again.

It does not appear, however, that this decision was based on  careful balancing of the ethics issues involved, but rather, as usual, a lazy capitulation to avoid an emotion-based controversy.

The local  newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, eventually picked up the story. as did a local radio station that featured Cliche’s report as the “question of the morning.” Then the issue was raised by The Marshall Project, a prison and justice system reform project.

In addition to routine prison labor, which is usually handled in a prison facility, there are also state-run “correctional industries,” such as MassCor, which arranges for inmates to do work for  schools, nursing homes, towns, non-profits and other institutions. Obviously, their costs are lower than competing businesses, because prisoners earn less than a dollar an hour on average for their labor, according to Prison Policy Initiative.

Thus we have multiple looming ethics issues, among them…

  • Is it ethical to force prisoners to work at all?

I don’t see how an honest argument can be formulated that argues that it is not. Work organizes the time and attention of the jailed, keeps them occupied, minimizes boredom and the opportunity to get into trouble. Social justice advocates seem to think that prisons should be like summer camps, with sports, crafts, and other pleasant diversions. That approach is both expensive and undeserved. Prison, among other things, is and ought to be punishment.

  • Is it ethical to pay prisoners less than the minimum wage? Isn’t forced labor with no compensation or minimal compensation virtual slavery?

Convicted prisoners forfeit most of their constitutional rights. Some forms of forced labor might rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment, and prison labor is ripe for abuse (just ask Andy Dufresne, the protagonist of “The Shawhsank Redemption”), but criminals are a burden on society, and warehousing them is expensive. There is nothing unethical about requiring those who have imposed that burden to help alleviate it.

  • Are prison-based businesses like MassCor unethical?

 Cara Savelli, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Correction interviewed by the student journalist, defended the program, saying,

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/26/2018: ‘Bombs,’ Bicycles And Bullying

Good morning!

I need Jimmy today. (Bing’s on this one too…)

1. They’re NOT “bombs.” I urge everyone to call their friends on this. Until it is established that in fact the “suspicious packages” (the FBI’s current description) or the “potentially destructive devices” can blow up and that they were intended to blow up, referring to them (as the New York Times has done) as “pipe bombs” and the mysterious asshole who sent them as “the bomber” is misleading and, in many cases, deliberately inflammatory. Cut it out. Nor are the mailed whatevertheyares “attacks.” Nobody has been “attacked” until the intent to harm them has been established, and it hasn’t been.

This is driving me crazy, in case you can’t tell.

The news media obviously wants these to be bombs, wants the sender to be a deranged Trump fan, hell, they’d love it if the sender was Trump himself. So they can’t help themselves, apparently, in jumping the gun and dishonestly reporting what is still very much in doubt. Personally, I would love to have it determined that the perp is a “resistance” member pulling a false flag operation, just to teach the news media a lesson, not that they are capable of learning it.

2. Trump’s Tweets. CNN and MSNBC are melting down with faux fury over this morning’s Trump Tweet, which said,

Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, “it’s just not Presidential!”

Notes: Continue reading

Transgender Ethics: Connecticut’s PC And Unfair Gender Rules For Athletic Competition

Transgender high school sophomores Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood came in first and second place respectively in the 100-meter race at Connecticutt’s State Open Finals this month. Miller also won the top prize for the 200-meter race. She and Yearwood were born male, but they now identify as females, whatever that means.

Wow, what a coincidence! The only transgender females running, and they finished first and second! What are the odds of that?

“Some parents within Connecticut’s high school track and field circle expressed outrage,”  ABC News notes. Some?

It is astounding to me that any parents or runners—though the students are subject to daily PC brainwashing, so I’m sure that’s a factor—put up with the ridiculous and anti-competitive Connecticut Athletic Conference rules. They generously allow high school athletes to compete based on the gender with which they identify.  Says ABC in another masterpiece of equivocation, “Critics say the rules give male-to-female transgender people a competitive edge over cisgender women — whose biological sex matches their gender identity — because some have higher testosterone levels than non-trans females.”

Oh, critics say that, do they? How about a slight edit: “Male-to-female transgender people have  competitive edge over cisgender women whose biological sex matches their gender identity because some have higher testosterone levels than non-trans females.”

“I think it’s unfair to the girls who work really hard to do well and qualify for Opens and New Englands [competitions],” sophomore sprinter Selina Soule, who finished sixth in the 100-meter State Open Finals, told the Hartford Courant. “These girls, they’re just coming in and beating everyone. I have no problem with them wanting to be a girl.”

That is, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/8/2018: George Washington, Elaine Chao, Brown-Haired Fox News Babes And Clumsy Cheerleaders

Good Morning!

1. Diversity at Fox News! There was a brunette co-anchor sitting with Bill Hemmer this morning. I almost spit out my coffee, Now if the network would only hire a female newsreader who wouldn’t be a credible contestant in a beauty pageant, the culture might advance a bit…

2.  Can an employer refuse to hire an asshole? The NFL Players Association has filed a grievance  on behalf of free-agent safety Eric Reid,  alleging collusion that has denied him a job for the upcoming 2018 season, and arguing that no NFL rule mandates players stand during the playing of the national anthem, that the league has indicated it respects “the rights of players to demonstrate,” and the collective bargaining agreement states “league rules supersede club rules.”

The grievance loses, or the NFL is in big trouble. Well, it is already in trouble, but more trouble. Demonstrating players annoys fans and hurts business. The NFL may force teams to allow jerks like Reid and ex-player Colin Kaepernick to interfere with Sunday head-bashing frolic by imposing their half-baked politics on the proceedings, but team can certainly choose to pay million dollar contracts to players who have better judgment, and are thus more trustworthy employees.

3. At George Washington University, it’s The Political Correctness Morons vs. The Conflict-Averse Spineless! I can’t believe I’m writing this. No, of course I can: I’ve predicted it.

The following on-line petition has garnered the requisite number of signatures among George Washington University students, and now will get an official response:

“We, as students of the George Washington University, believe it is of great exigence that the University changes its official mascot. The use of “Colonials,” no matter how innocent the intention, is received as extremely offensive by not only students of the University, but the nation and world at large. The historically, negatively-charged figure of Colonials has too deep a connection to colonization and glorifies the act of systemic oppression. Alternative nickname recommendations are “Hippos,” “Revolutionaries”, or “Riverhorses.”

They apparently don’t teach American history at GW.  The nickname  for the athletic teams  is “The Colonials” because the United States, prior to its liberation, were called “the Colonies,” because they were colonies. Colonials are those who have been colonized, not those who do the colonizing. The mascot, meanwhile, is called “George,” because he is a caricature of George Washington, who led the Colonials to victory over Great Britain, and anyone who can’t puzzle that out shouldn’t be in college.

The petition represents the mutant offspring of a one night stand between The Confederate Statuary Ethics Train Wreck and The Niggardly Principles.

Who will win? Oh, the Morons, probably. On campuses the Morons almost always defeat the spineless administrators, as well as common sense and rationality. [Pointer: Res Ipsa Loquitur]

Oh…here’s George:

4.  Speaking of spineless…The cheerleading  coaches at Hanover Park High School in New Jersey decided that there would be no more try-outs for the squad. The school’s athletic director said that after a single mother complained about her daughter not making the cut, the policy would be changed in favor of “inclusion.” The school board released a statement saying: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Regarding Hormone Restrictions In Women’s Sports”

Heidi/Andreas Krieger, Esat German women’s shotput champion

There were an unusual number of superb comments on this topic. This one is a worthy representative of them all.

Here is Sue Denim’s Comment of the Day on the post, Regarding Hormone Restrictions In Women’s Sports:

While I strongly support the use of science and evidence to make these decisions – this stinks to high heaven. The books were cooked, and very obviously so.

”One of the world’s most respected sports lawyers has quit his position on a committee of the governing body of international athletics, slamming the controversial new rule that is believed to target gold medal-winning South African runner Caster Semenya.”

Four months after being appointed to the IAAF’s disciplinary tribunal, Steve Cornelius said “in good conscience” he could not continue in the role.”

Without going into allegations about “real reasons”, let’s just look at the facts.

“A peer-reviewed article co-authored by Dr Bermon and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found female athletes with high testosterone had the greatest advantage in the pole vault and hammer throw, yet these events were not included in the newly created “restricted events” category.

The IAAF’s investigation also found no advantage in the 1,500 metres event but it was included..”

Let’s look at the evidence of advantage. Continue reading

Regarding Hormone Restrictions In Women’s Sports.

Here we go again.

Since the infamous Soviet Press sisters dominated their events in Sixties Era Olympic games, both looking like Hulk Hogan in a dress, and the female East German swimmers won medal after medal while sporting shoulders that would make an NFL draftee feel proud, the issue of hormone levels in female competitors has been contentious.  The confounding complications of intersex and transitioning competitors has only made the mud muddier. What’s the right thing to do?

Last week, track and field’s world governing body passed new rules limiting  women’s events to athletes with  testosterone levels that are “capable of being produced solely by ovaries.” These rules apply across the board to athletes regardless of what gender they were presumed to be at birth. These new rules could force female athletes with naturally elevated testosterone levels to have to lower their hormones with medication or have to compete against men in certain Olympic events.

Initially the limitations will be enforced in middle distance races of 400 meters to one mile, events requiring the kind of speed, power and endurance that testosterone assists.  I assume that if this compromise, for a compromise it is, gains acceptance, then the substitution of hormone levels for biological sex will travel to other realms of sport, as it should.

Duke law professor Doriane Lambelet Coleman makes a strong argument for the new rules in a column today in the New York Times. She writes in part,

“In competitive sport, winning and room at the top are what ultimately matter, so relative numbers are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that there are 100 females and three males in a girls’ race if the three males win spots in the final or on the podium because they are males. The unusually high incidence of intersex athletes in the women’s middle distances and their reported 100 percent win share in the women’s 800 meters at the Olympic Games in Rio show their disproportionate power. Indeed, it is because they clustered in the middle distances that these events are the initial focus of the rules. Their supremacy was proof of principle. Testosterone readings outside of the female range were also found in the throws, but these were attributed to doping, not intersex conditions.

The I.A.A.F. is requiring that affected athletes lower their testosterone levels to within the female range if they want to continue competing in the middle distances in the women’s category. By definition, the required hormone therapy causes medically unnecessary physiological change, and no one should be forced to take drugs they don’t want or need.”

Taking the opposite position, Alice Dreger, the author of “Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists and One Scholar’s Search for Justice,” argues that the new rules are discriminatory and cruel: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/8/17

[I have been pondering doing this for some time now. Literally every day there are issues and stories that arise that are either too minor for a full post, or crowded out by other issues. Often I never get to them. Also my various issue scouts (especially Fred) have been burying me with excellent candidates for discussion and analysis, and I never get to most of them, frustrating all of us. So I am going to see if I can begin every day with a set of short notes about these topics, reserving the right to expand some of them into full posts later.]

1. Stacy Lockett, a teacher at Anthony Aguirre Junior High, has been fired after she gave out facetious awards to students such as “Most likely to become a terrorist” and “Most likely to blend in with white people.” Good, I think. These are too sensitive issues to expect middle-schoolers to laugh at, and the ‘awards”  show terrible judgment. Still, I am thinking back to comments made in class by some of my favorite 7th and 8th grade teachers, some targeting me. I thought they were funny, and the teachers knew I would think so. All of them would have been fired today, according to the Lockett Standard (Pointer from Fred)

2. By not disciplining Reza Aslan, the host of its “Believer” program who called President Trump a “piece of shit,” “an embarrassment to humankind” and a “man-baby” CNN has made it clear that it has abandoned any vestiges of professionalism or regard for journalism ethics. Well, perhaps “even more clear” is more accurate. CNN allowed Carol Costello to gleefully mock Bristol Palin for getting emotional over being battered; it has allowed Don Lemon to get smashed on the air two New Year’s Eves in a row, and shrugged off Anderson Cooper speculating about the President taking “a dump on his desk,” to give just three examples. Its excuse for Aslan was especially weird, claiming in a statement that he was a host but not an employee. Aslan apologized, but it was a dishonest apology, claiming that the tweets were impulsive and “not like me,” but in another tweet on May 9, he wrote,

“Oh the joy when this lying conniving scumbag narcissistic sociopath piece of shit fake president finally gets what’s coming to him.”

It’s sad to see what CNN has become since Trump’s election. I am embarrassed for the network. but more than that, I am in sorrow for the public. It is not being served by this kind of amateurish, biased and unprofessional journalism.

3. I finally decided that this law suit was too stupid to write about: a ridiculous woman named Holly O’Reilly has found some lawyers—not just any lawyers, either, but the First Amendment Institute at Columbia University—-willing to file a lawsuit claiming that President Trump cannot block her on his Twitter account because doing so is a First Amendment violation of her rights of free speech. The institute’s executive director, Jameel Jaffer, said in a statement that Mr. Trump did not have a right to exclude his critics from engaging with his posts. Does anyone think this is anything but nonsense? Anyone but the New York Times, that is, which wrote, ” The request raises novel legal issues stemming from Mr. Trump’s use of his Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, to make statements about public policy,” and the Washington Post, which published the woman’s silly  op-ed .

When did “novel” come to mean “absurd”? The President blocking a Twitter user on the social media platform isn’t “government action” any more than not taking her phone calls or not reading her letters. She can still say anything she wants on Twitter. Next she’ll sue because she isn’t allowed to ask question at White House press briefings. Columbia University should be embarrassed, but when the anti-Trump  hate virus melts your brain, embarrassment is often the first casualty. Continue reading