Sunday Ethics Round-Up, 1/5/2020: “Day After Cosmic Justice Eliminates The Patriots From The NFL Play-Offs” Edition

Greetings!

Last night the New England Patriots and their habitually unethical coach and star quarterback were eliminated from the NFL play-offs in the first round by the Tennessee Titans. Good. I say this despite being from Boston, where my Dad and I once routed for the AFL Pats of Gino Capelletti, Babe Parilli, Nick Buoniconti and Jim Nance. The modern day Patriots made me embarrassed to be a New Englander, even before I realized what a sociopathic organization the NFL was.

1. Noted with amusement: A while back there was a kerfuffle over some conservative publication using a photo of Rep Elijah Cummings (D-Md) when the story was about Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga), or vice-versa. This was, of course, attributed to racism of the “all those people look the same” variety.

I pointed out that while it was of course the kind of mistake that a publication shouldn’t make, the two House members were about eh same age, both heavy-set, both African-Americans, and both hyper-partisan Democrat race-baiters whose careers rested on civil rights protest creds many decades old. Thus it was satisfying to see that “CBS Evening News” accidentally used a picture of the now deceased  Rep. Elijah Cummings while reporting on Lewis’ recent cancer diagnosis.

2. Signature significance. If you want definitive proof that an elected official or a pundit is untrustworthy pond scum, mark those who claim that President Trump  ordered the hit against Iranian terror master Qasem Soleimani in order to distract from Trump’s impeachment trial. The latest self-identified hack: Elizabeth Warren, who today said on CNN’s “State of the Union,”

“Next week, the President of the United States could be facing an impeachment trial in the Senate. We know he’s deeply upset about that, and I think people are reasonably asking why this moment…Why does he pick now to pick this highly inflammatory and highly dangerous action that moves us closer to war? I think people are reasonably asking about the timing, and why it is that the administration seems to have all kinds of different answers.”

This “Wag the Dog” theory made some sense when it was first applied to Bill Clinton, who launched a failed strike against Osama bin Laden in the middle of his impeachment drama, since Clinton was guilty and knew it. Trump’s impeachment has raised his poll numbers and further exposed Democrats as abusing the impeachment process: there is no reason for him to try to distract from it.

Warren’s question about timing is also absurd. Why now? Gee, do you think it might be that the murderer of many Americans who had just engineered an attack on our embassy and who was planning more deadly attacks happened to be in Iraq, where the U.S. has an approved military presence, and was virtually asking to be brought down?

Warren’s poll numbers and fundraising are sinking fast (Good!), so her demagoguery is shifting into high gear. Once again, her likely fate proves Lincoln right: you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Or enough of them. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On NYT Columnist David Brooks’ Astounding Quote

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Amazingly, Obama hasn’t had any.

Here is the quote:

“President Obama has run an amazingly scandal-free administration, not only he himself, but the people around him, not only he himself, but the people around him. He’s chosen people who have been pretty scandal-free. And so there are people in Washington who do set a standard of integrity, who do seem to attract people of quality. And I think that’s probably true of the current group.”

Yes, it was almost a Kaboom!, causing my head to explode. Yes, I think it is stunning thing for anyone to say, but especially a pundit who is respected–by some, anyway—for his careful thought and moderation. Yes, it is ridiculous on its face.

Fascinating and enlightening though!

1. Brooks, though he has wavered occasionally, has always had a man-crush on Obama. Acknowledging this as he has, it shows remarkable lack of bias-control to let it run wild to this extent.

2. It is a terrific example of how linguistics can warp ethics, and vice-versa. The only possible way someone can make such a statement honestly—yes, I do believe Brooks really thinks this, as plainly counter-factual as it is—-is to consciously or sub-consciously define “scandal” so extremely that it omits anything connected to the Obama Administration. If Brooks believes that “scandals’ only involve theft, criminal activity and sex, he has a barely supportable thesis. Barely. Well, not really even then.

3. Not just scandal-free, but “amazingly” scandal free! This gets into Big Lie territory; perhaps “Big Hyperbole” is a bit more accurate. To be “amazingly scandal free,” we would hold up this Administration as the ethics model for all future administrations. Be still, my expanding head…

4. Is this clinical denial? I have mentioned here before that a disturbing number of Democrats and progressives, as well as African Americans, defend Obama by just asserting that everything is wonderful, no matter what goes wrong, and that Obama himself is a great President, despite near complete incompetence in every sphere. Some of these are professional liars and ideological warriors, of course; some are also just not too bright. Brooks, however, doesn’t fit in those categories. Continue reading

Tales of “The King’s Pass”: Pete Rose and Jeremy Clarkson

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The King’s Pass has been much in the ethics news of late—Brian Williams, Bill O’Reilly, David Petraeus, Hillary. Let’s review, shall we?

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others…

1. The BBC just demonstrated how the King’s Pass should be rejected—with courage and gusto.

Jeremy Clarkson, the main host of the popular BBC auto show “Top Gear,” spent March misbehaving. He got in a shoving match with a producer, verbally abused staff and was recorded trashing the network. When Clarkson topped it off with a physical altercation with a show staffer, the BBC decided not to renew his contract. BBC head Tony Hall said in a statement:

It is with great regret that I have told Jeremy Clarkson today that the BBC will not be renewing his contract. It is not a decision I have taken lightly. I have done so only after a very careful consideration of the facts…I take no pleasure in doing so. I am only making [the facts] public so people can better understand the background. I know how popular the programme is and I know that this decision will divide opinion. The main facts are not disputed by those involved.

The BBC is a broad church…We need distinctive and different voices but they cannot come at any price. Common to all at the BBC have to be standards of decency and respect. I cannot condone what has happened on this occasion. A member of staff – who is a completely innocent party – took himself to Accident and Emergency after a physical altercation accompanied by sustained and prolonged verbal abuse of an extreme nature. For me a line has been crossed. There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations… Obviously none of us wanted to find ourselves in this position. This decision should in no way detract from the extraordinary contribution that Jeremy Clarkson has made to the BBC. I have always personally been a great fan of his work and “Top Gear”…The BBC must now look to renew Top Gear for 2016. This will be a big challenge and there is no point in pretending otherwise. I have asked Kim Shillinglaw [Controller of BBC Two] to look at how best we might take this forward over the coming months. I have also asked her to look at how we put out the last programmes in the current series.

The show, without Clarkson, is toast, and Hall knows it. Nonetheless, he had the guts to do the necessary and ethical act: not allowing its indispensable star to abuse his power and popularity . Once Clarkson did that, “Top Gear” was doomed anyway; firing him now just minimizes the carnage. Although Hall has no responsibility to other networks and organizations, his decisive handling of the episode has saved other programs even as it destroys his own. It is a precedent and a role model for employers refusing to allow themselves to be turned into enablers  by stars assuming the King’s Pass works. When they say, “You can’t fire me, I’m irreplaceable! There’s no show without me!”, the response now can be, per the BBC: “If there’s no show without a jerk like you, then there’s no show. Bye!”

2. Once again, Pete Rose is sucking the ethics right out of people’s brains.

Ah, Pete Rose. He was the topic of the first ethics post I ever wrote, way back in 2004. Then, in 2007, he became my first and only Ethics Dunce Emeritus.

The Pete Rose case is simple. Baseball has an absolute, no exceptions rule that demands a lifetime ban of any player, coach or manager who gambles on major league baseball games. Such banned players can’t be hired by major league teams for any purpose, and cannot be considered for Hall of Fame membership., ever, even after they are dead. Everyone in baseball knows why this rule exists—baseball was nearly destroyed in 1919 when gamblers bribed the Chicago White Sox to throw the World Series—and the rule is posted in every clubhouse. Rose bet on baseball while a major league manager, and also bet on his own team. Thus he is banned.

The significance of the fact that he is, as a player, the all-time hits leader and was the face of the game is that it led Rose to believe that the game would never ban him, and that if caught, he would be treated with special leniency. His excellence on the playing field doesn’t mitigate his conduct, or justify minimizing the ban it earned, at all.

The New York Times published a story about Rose’s efforts to get baseball to lift the ban, now that a new Commissioner, Rob Manfred, is in office. You can read the article here, which is remarkable for the many jaw-droppingly unethical arguments put forth by the baseball people the article quotes, contrasted with the occasional quote that shows that a speaker comprehends the concepts of consequences, accountability, and why letting stars break the rules is suicidal to any culture. It would be an excellent ethics exam.

Here are the quotes; my comments follow in bold. Continue reading

The Petraeus Deal and Justice In America

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I’m in a rush to get ready for a law firm seminar, so I’m going to mostly let Ken White at Popehat do my work for me, as he is very qualified to do in this case. In his comments on the David Petraeus plea deal, Ken quite appropriately raises questions of why such serious crimes as the acclaimed general and former CIA head engaged in do not warrant prison time, and he answers thusly: Petraeus is rich, famous and has powerful friends.

Ken obvious believes those aren’t good reasons, and I agree with him. Nor are the other rationalizations that the general has suffered enough, that he isn’t really a criminal, that the nation owes him, or that he is a valuable resource for the nation that we are better served by not storing behind bars.

I believe that Petraeus has less excuse for his conduct than the typical defendant, and that as a celebrity, war hero and tole model, his defiance of the law is more serious, and more deserving of punishment, than the majority of non-violent criminals who go to jail. Indeed, Petraeus had styled himself as a moral exemplar. I read yesterday—I don’t have time to find the link—that Edward Snowden’s lawyers sent a cheeky message to prosecutors that Snowden would be happy to accept a similar deal to Petraeus’s.  Exactly.

These incidents do terrible damage to the public’s trust in the justice system’s fairness, and they should. Plea deals like this, bought with lawyer fees, bias and influence, are unequivocally wrong.