Tag Archives: diplomacy

The Unexposed Ethics Outrage On The Edges Of The Trump Jr. Meeting Controversy

The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act  allows the U.S. President to impose visa sanctions and asset freezes on human rights abusers who kill, torture or violate the rights of human rights defenders, as well as government officials responsible for acts of significant corruption. The law and its various amendments that expanded its reach are at the heart of the sanctions currently being enforced against Russia. It was this law, and Russian efforts to blunt its force, that apparently was the real reason that Donald Trump Jr. was induced to meet with an indefinite number of Russians, Russian-Americans, and various individuals “connected” to the Russian government, the list of which is currently expanding like the roster of women allegedly raped by Bill Cosby.

The news media doesn’t seem to feel the Magnitsky Act is anything the public needs to know, perhaps because Donnie Jr. didn’t know much about it, if anything. The stories about his aborted meeting typically mention the Act briefly and without elaboration. They really don’t elaborate on Putin’s retaliation for the Act, which was to stop U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans. (I wrote about this indefensible conduct by Russia at the time, in 2012. The post had a grand total of eight comments. Five years was too long to wait for an update, and I’m sorry. Of course, we are supposed to have responsible and competent professional journalists to keep us informed. )Russia had been one of the primary sources of foreign adoptions by childless U.S. parents before 2012, when the Russian strong man retaliated against loving U.S. parents to show his annoyance with our government and his support of corruption at home.

It’s worse than that, though. The real victims of Putin’s retaliation are his nation’s own, innocent, most vulnerable children. There is virtually no domestic adoption in Russia, because parents can’t afford the children the have. There are lots of orphans though, because parents can give up infants they can’t care for, and the government is quick to remove children it believes are abused or neglected. Unfortunately, once these children are warehoused, there is no way out. The orphanages are underfunded and over-crowded. Once the children “age out,” they are sent to live in hospitals, clinics and other Russian institutions ill-equipped to care for them, and eventually dumped out into the street, where they often are abused or turn to crime. Continue reading

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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

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“If That Was Transparency, Then I’m A Kumquat” And Other Reactions To Josh Earnest’s Multiple Unethical Christmas Quotes

This morning, Obama Administration paid liar Josh Earnest spoiled my Christmas mellow by telling CNN’s alleged news media ethics watchdog Brian Stelter that there’s really “no constituency in American politics for transparency in government beyond journalists,” as he deflected Stelter’s accounts of journalists complaining about administration foot-dragging on Freedom of Information Act requests. Then he really curdled the ethicist’s eggnog by saying,

“If this constituency of journalists are gonna be effective advocates for the issue that they care about, they need to remember that they have a responsibility not just to criticize those who are not living up to their expectations. Any activist will tell you that the way that you get people to support you and to support your cause is to give them credit when the credit is due, to applaud them when they do the thing that you want them to be doing.”

Finally, Earnest molded my mistletoe by claiming,  “President Obama has been the most transparent president in American history.”

Stelter, of course, being an incompetent, biased and unethical news media ethics watchdog, did not interjection with the mandatory, “WHAT??? You’ve got to be kidding! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ACK! ACK! ARRRGH! and drop dead in shock.

That statement is fake news if anything is, rivaling the news media lie that that the Obama years were devoid of major scandals. Before we begin shooting fish in a barrel and deal with that brazen-beyond-belief spin, let’s pause to consider the other stunner in Earnest’s Christmas morning performance:

1. What does Earnest mean that journalists are the only constituency for transparency? Does the Obama administration, and by extension Democrats, really believe that the public doesn’t mind being lied to? If so, that explains a lot, including the nomination of Hillary Clinton.

2. Journalists are not supposed to advocates and activists at all. They are supposed to be devoted to communicating facts and the truth.

3. Is Earnest saying that when a President generally defies a pledge of ethical conduct, he should nonetheless be praised when he doesn’t defy that pledge, and that journalists should highlight the Administration’s rare examples of  transparency while ignoring the overwhelmingly more copious breaches? It sure sounded like it.

That brings us back to the mind-melting quote that this has been a transparent administration by any definition of the word other than “not transparent at all.”

This episode from 2011 nicely encapsulates the issue:

“President Obama was scheduled to receive an award from the organizers of the Freedom of Information Day Conference, to be presented at the White House by “five transparency advocates.” The White House postponed that meeting because of events in Libya and Japan, and it was rescheduled…That meeting did take place – behind closed doors. The press was not invited to the private transparency meeting, and no photos from or transcript of the meeting have been made available. The event was not listed on the president’s calendar…Nor is the award mentioned anywhere on the White House website, including on the page devoted to transparency and good government. Were it not for the testimony of the transparency advocates who met secretly with the president, there wouldn’t seem to be any evidence that the meeting actually took place.”

That’s right: Obama wasn’t transparent about a transparency meeting. That same day, Obama went on TV  and tried to explain why he hadn’t been transparent to the U.S. Congress about his military plans in Libya.  Shortly after that, news leaked that the Fed had secretly sent billions in loans to foreign banks during the financial crisis.

Ah, memories! On his second day on the job, January 21, 2009, that…President Obama famously pledged, in one of his first memos to federal agencies

“We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

He may be right about that last part, or maybe he discovered that it was naive and impractical dream. Under no circumstances, however, can it be said that Obama’s administration was transparent. An exhaustive list is impossibly, long, but here is an incomplete  sample just from the posts in Ethics Alarms: Continue reading

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Question: How Do You Spot A Biased Newspaper?

Slanted? Waddya mean "slanted"?

Slanted? Waddya mean “slanted”?

Answer: Read the Letters to the Editor.

I now subscribe to the New York Times, and the uniform one-way slant of the Letters to the Editor is palpable and fascinating. I’ve been tempted many times, including today, to do a post critiquing the biases in all the Times letters in a single edition. Maybe some day.

80% of the letters list progressive or Democratic talking points, either because that’s the approximate proportion of liberals among the Times readership, or because that percentage (it is remarkably consistent, day to day, paper to paper) reflects the bias of the editors choosing which letters to print.  I have concluded that the letters are probably even more weighted to the left than the reader opinions published reflect. The Times just feels obligated to include a non-conforming, aka “conservative,”  view here and there so its bias won’t be screamingly obvious. It’s an objective paper, after all.

Today’s mail call was dominated by one letter after another excoriating Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments, which was also the theme of today’s Times editorial. In particular, the appointment of Exxon Mobil’s chief executive, Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State was a target of the correspondents’ disgust.  The majority view was stated in one letter this way:

“Like Donald Trump, Mr. Tillerson has no experience in the delicate and sensitive art of diplomacy.”

It wasn’t until the fourth letter (out of five: 80%!) that a commenter mentioned the obvious, and exactly what I was thinking as I read all the expressions of  horror: Continue reading

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Confirmation Bias And The Taiwan Phone Call

old-lady-poker

I have told the story here before, I think, of the poker hand I once witnessed in Las Vegas that forever serves as a warning about the dangers of confirmation bias. I was considering joining a seven card stud table at a casino, and as is my practice, decided to watch a few hands to see what the competition was like. One player stood out: an elderly, grandmotherly woman who played hesitantly and was prone to say things like “Oh, dear!” and talk to herself. She obviously irritated the  other players, who were all male and the human equivalents of the Dogs Playing Poker.

As it happened the  third hands I watched was a big one, with most of the players showing pairs and flushes. The grandmother dithered and sighed as usual, and when it she was faced, after the last card, with the decision of whether to call a huge bet, she delayed, pushed all her chips into the center to raise, and then pulled them back, saying that she would fold instead. The players protested, and the dealer informed her that once her chips had crossed the line on the table, her bet was complete. She looked horrified, and explained piteously that she had never played by those rules before. It was to no avail, however, and the remaining players eagerly called her wager, happy to take advantage of her gaffe.

The old woman had four jacks! It wasn’t a gaffe, it was an act, all of it. She had been taking advantage of the other players’ eagerness to stereotype her. Once the betting was over, she dropped the mask. “Four of a kind, gentlemen!’ she said authoritatively, revealing her hand. She raked in the gigantic pile of chips, and got up from her chair. “Thanks for the competition. I think I’ll try another table now.” She was heading to a table where they would think she was a clueless old lady, having blown her cover at this one.

I thought about that poker player when I was reading the comments on social media and from various pundits after it was reported that Donald Trump had engaged in a telephone conversation with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Ever since the U.S. officially recognized Red China, Taiwan, formerly Formosa, has been treated diplomatically as if it doesn’t exist. Taiwan, the Chinese island territory where Chinese Nationalists fled after Communists  took over the country, still claims to be the real government of the Chinese mainland.  Under President Jimmy Carter’s “One China” policy, the U.S. officially refuses to recognize it as independent. It is, however, a convenient fiction.  As Slate explained in 2000:

While the U.S. officially adheres to the one-China policy, it practices a de facto two-China policy. Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. sells Taiwan military weapons, and the language of the act warns the People’s Republic that any coercive unification efforts would be “of grave concern to the United States.”Beginning in the late 1980s, the two Chinas flouted their one-China policies by establishing economic and cultural but not political ties….Taiwan… has continued to pay lip service to independence–two Chinas–but, out of fear of provoking China, has refrained from explicitly repudiating the one-China policy.

An incoming President publicly treating Taiwan’s leader as a head of state is bound to make China nervous. Sine everyone has already concluded that Donald Trump is an impulsive, reckless idiot, the phone conversation was immediately interpreted by his critics in that context. Similarly on social media: every Angry Left poster who mentioned the incident was contemptuous, as if any of them had superior diplomatic expertise to Trump, who is not exactly unfamiliar with the Chinese, with whom he has had many business dealings. Many were also fearful. This is the apparently agreed-upon strategy of  de-legitimizing Trump: he’s scary. He’s not a real American President ( just as many Republicans claimed Obama was an alien), with American virtues and values. He’s a bull in a china shop! (China, get it?) A beast, not a statesman! He’s Hitler, a criminal, a dictator, the boogeyman. See? See? This is going to start World War III!

This interpretation of Trump’s actions is pure confirmation bias. If a President-Elect with respected foreign policy credentials (not that we’ve had one since in 50 years) had done exactly the same thing, exactly the same way, it would be debated, but many more would see it as wily diplomacy. Again, confirmation bias: nobody really knows what the idea behind the call was, or if there was an idea. The Democratic National Committee responded by saying, “Donald Trump is either too incompetent to understand that his foolish phone call threatens our national security, or he’s doing it deliberately because he reportedly wants to build hotels in Taiwan to pad his own pockets.” Wow…THAT’s fair! Stay classy, Democrats! I’m sure this is the way to win back the trust and support of the electorate. Talk about a parody of partisan rhetoric;  tell us again about how the mean old Republicans wouldn’t give Barack Obama a chance.

Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz Follow-Up: Signature Significance And Kind Words For Castro

Look at the good side!

Look at the good side!

Democrats and progressives have been “otherizing” the President Elect by incessantly referring to the fear he inspires in so many, including young children. This, as I hope to explore in another post, is part of a wide ranging  and dangerous de-legitimizing strategy, as wrong as calling Barack Obama by his middle name, or claiming that he isn’t a citizen. In the weekend’s Ethics Quiz, I answered answer to the question of whether Trump’s unequivocal condemnation of Fidel Castro in response to his death was ethical in the affirmative, and I concludeed with this:

Rather than using the occasion to find another excuse to attack Trump, Democrats should think about why it is that so many Castro admirers are in their ranks.

Now let me be more pointed: everyone surveying that national political scene should be concerned and alarmed that so many Castro admirers and apologists are in the ranks or progressives and Democrats….especially progressive and Democrats.  It is signature significance. No one who is committed to liberty, the Constitution, the democratic process and basic principles of autonomy, respect, fairness and free speech can seriously praise Castro.  The ominous turn of the increasingly radicalized Left in the United States to an “ends justify the means,” totalitarian methodology-endorsing philosophy is something to watch carefully.  You want genuine fear? I am genuinely frightened of liberals who say that Castro “did some good things” on the way to shrugging off how he did those things, and how many lives it cost.

A good friend of mine and a nice, smart, man who is also an extreme liberal wrote on his Facebook page,

RIP, Fidel. A huge figure of the 20th century, one with faults and virtues. Believed his island belonged to all its people and not just the rich. A better man than the one who was just elected…

Res ipsa loquitur. Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: Trump’s Tweet On Fidel’s Demise

castro-tweet-trump

We are taught to speak only good of the dead in the immediate aftermath of one’s demise, and especially in the world of international diplomacy, restraint, respect and the Golden Rule are the accepted standards of ethical conduct on such occasions

This being the case, what is the right ethical diagnosis of President Elect Donald Trump’s tweet above about the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death, which includes an explanation point widely interpreted to suggest “GOOD!” of “Yippee!” ? Trump’s subsequent statement removed all doubt that he was not sorry to see Fidel go to that big sugar cane plantation in the sky, or better yet, well, you know:

“Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,’ Mr Trump’s statement reads. “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights. “While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve. Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty. I join the many Cuban-Americans who supported me so greatly in the presidential campaign, including the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association that endorsed me, with the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba.”

Contrast that with President Obama’s equivocal statement, which said in part,

“We know that this moment fills Cubans — in Cuba and in the United States — with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”

Then there was former President Jimmy Carter, who said,

“Rosalynn and I share our sympathies with the Castro family and the Cuban people on the death of Fidel Castro. We remember fondly our visits with him in Cuba and his love of his country. We wish the Cuban citizens peace and prosperity in the years ahead.”

Hmmmm!

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for this Thanksgiving Day weekend:

Were Trump’s tweet and statement about Castro responsible, prudent and ethical?

I think so, and I’m surprised at my own response. I suppose I am tired of seeing and hearing public figures lie when everyone knows they are lying, and if Carter and Obama really don’t think Castro was a brutal, murderous dictator whose departure is a blessing to all, then the Democratic Party is in even worse shape than I thought it was.

I have a hard Left friend who actually expressed praise for Castro’s legacy today on Facebook. When a figure who is objectively and factually as bad as Castro was, our leaders should not hesitate to be frank and direct. Obama’s non-commital History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him” is cowardly and evasive. Yes, and if history judges that Fidel’s ends justified his means, then civilization is doomed. Carter’s statement is even worse. “His love of his country”—that’s mitigation for oppression and murder, eh, Jimmy? If love of country your standard, you and Rosalyne must love Hitler.

Trump’s excessive candor and rogue mouth obviously are going to do a lot of damage in the next four years, just as they did during the campaign. Nonetheless, I don’t see anything unethical about calling a murderous dictator when he was, whether it’s on the day of his death or ten years later. This is one time when Trump’s refusal to be politically correct cuts through crap that should be cut through. As Edgar says at the end of “King Lear,”

“We should speak what we feel, not what we ought to say,”

…at least when bastards like Castro die.

Rather than using the occasion to find another excuse to attack Trump, Democrats should think about why it is that so many Castro admirers are in their ranks.

 

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