Morning Ethics Round-Up: 7/5/17

Good morning!

1. I’ve always had ethical problems with parole hearings, and thanks to a link sent by Ethics Scout Fred, I really have ethics problems with parole hearings. This story, from New Hampshire public radio, portrays an unprofessional and chaotic process in which parole boards, made up of officials without training or guidelines, insult, bully and deride prisoners to get the answers they want. A sample:

“While they may review cases beforehand, the parole board has only about 15 minutes to speak with people convicted of charges including sex offenses, drug crimes, and domestic violence before deciding if they can live safely outside prison walls. Members receive no training and appointment requires no prerequisite experience. Most of the time, inmates who meet minimum requirements are granted parole.”

Great.

2. Crime naturally makes me think of Chicago, where, it is reported, the wise city managers, led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) are installing a system that requires public high school students to show that they have plans for the future before obtaining their diploma. In order to graduate, students will  have to demonstrate that they’ve secured a job or received a letter of acceptance to college, a trade apprenticeship, a gap year program or the military The Washington Post reports. Emanuel’s plan, approved by the Board of Education in late May, makes Chicago’s the first big-city system to make post-graduation plans a requirement.

“We are going to help kids have a plan, because they’re going to need it to succeed,” Emanuel told the Post. “You cannot have kids think that 12th grade is done.”

Oh, why don’t we just enlist the kids in the Social Justice Youth Corps, give them uniforms and some good progressive indoctrination, and be done with it? This is such an egregious abuse of power and autonomy, as well as parental authority, that the fact that it got a single vote indicates that the culture’s values are coming apart. I’m going to list five things that are unethical about this plan, and invite readers to some up with the doubtlessly large number of others that I missed because its early and the shock of this story fried half of mu brain:

It’s dishonest grandstanding. How are they going to enforce the “plan”? Will Chicago’s Plan Police keep tabs on graduates? Will students who don’t follow the plan be captured and thrown back into high school?

  • It is unfair, coercive. unconscionably narrow. What if a student’s plan is to continue her education by taking a year off and touring the world? What if the student plans on training for the Olympics, or a bodybuilding championship?

What if she wants to go to New York City and audition for shows?

  • The measure demonstrates myopic disregard for the original, the eccentric, the creative, the  bold, the dreamer, the non-conformist and the individualist

But then individualists make poor sheep, right?

  • It is totalitarian. It is none of the government’s business what a student chooses to do after graduation, or when that student decides to it. Here was my plan, fully backed by my parents: spend as much time figuring out what I want to do with my life as it took.

I’m still figuring.

  • It is arrogant. It is disrespectful. It is presumptuous. It is an invasion of parental authority. It is probably unconstitutional. It is wrong.

ARRRRRRRGHHHHHHH!!! Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/3/17

Good Morning!

1. “He was right, dead right, as he sped along, but he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.” This was a refrain (from an actual epitaph) my Dad used to recite to hammer the principle into my head: being right is often not enough. I wonder if Chris Christie ever heard it? The Governor of New Jersey is vacationing with his family at a state beach he closed to the public , along with all state parks, as a result of a budget stand-off with the legislature. Technically and legally, he has every right to do this, since governors of the state have the use of a residence on that beach, and the detail that watches it when the Governor is in residence is not affected  by the government shut-down. Christie, in his trademark blunt manner, has responded to criticism by saying, in essence, “I’m governor and you’re not.” He’s right that he’s not taking a special privilege by using his residence when the beach is closed to the public. He’s right that he has no alternative to closing government services when the legislature doesn’t meet the statutory mandate for approving a budget. It doesn’t matter: he also has a duty to preserve trust in the government and democracy. His vacation in a place that he’s made off-limits to the public, no matter what the justification, has the appearance of impropriety, and more than an appearance of arrogance and a broken ethics alarm.

2. The big story yesterday—I can’t believe I’m writing this—was the President tweeting a silly tricked-out video purporting to show him wrestling CNN. This was, to anyone not determined, due to a near fatal level of confirmation bias and the Trump Hate Brain And Conscience Eating Amoeba, to interpret every word and act by this President as evidence of evil, a joke. Sure, it was also gloating, and trolling, and sophomoric, and unpresidential but the long, long list of talking heads and pundits who solemnly pronounced  this foolishness as “advocating violence against journalists” all revealed themselves as untrustworthy, dishonest, or hysterical. This kind of incompetent reaction is why Trump keeps doing this.

Our broken news media will have to be torn down before it can be restored to the objective and non-partisan institution a healthy democracy has to have to survive. If President Trump’s japery accomplishes this—I would prefer journalism to come to its senses internally, but that clearly is not going to happen—that’s a rich silver lining to the cloud of his Presidency. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The GOP New Hampshire Debate

Rubio meltdown

Two ethics controversies occurred before the ABC debate (transcript here) even began.

  • DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz really is a shameless and audacious hack. Does anyone seriously defend her? After being justly criticized in the news media for unabashedly hiding the Democratic candidates debates, staging them on weekends and against football games to smooth the road for Hillary, she actually had the epic gall to accuse the GOP of doing the same thing in a tweet yesterday, which read:

“Hmmm, wondering why @GOP trying to hide their #GOPdebate on the Saturday of #SuperBowl weekend no less?!”

Is she that lacking in self-awareness? Was she mocking herself? Is she an idiot? After she was blasted left and right for the tweet, she either revealed her real objective or concocted a face-saving retort:

“.@TheDemocrats debates set viewer records. Both parties’ broadcast network debates on wknds. Replies to SuperBowl #GOPdebate make my point,”

Whether this was her original intent of a U-Turn, it was also her trademark, a ridiculously transparent lie. “TheDemocrats debates set viewer records” is deceit: all the debates by both parties have exceeded previous viewer levels, but the Republican debates have significantly out-drawn the Democrats. There is no doubt that the Democrats would have drawn more had they avoided weekends like Republicans did, and that the fact that they did not was entirely intentional.

Why do Democrats tolerate a sleaze like Wasserman Schultz? It is natural to judge a party by its leadership, and she is neither bright, nor honest, nor effective,  nor appealing.

The other issue was the unfairness of leaving Carly Fiorina out of the debate. I don’t pretend to understand the formula used to demote the candidates, but since all of the other potential debaters–Gilmore, Graham, Huckabee, Santorum, Paul—had dropped out, either Fiorina should have been given a chance to debate herself for two hours, which would have been fun, or be in the main debate. Her New Hampshire poll numbers are equivalent to several who debated last night.

Debate observations: Continue reading

10 Ethics Observations On The CNBC Republican Presidential Candidates Debate

cnbc_moderatorsnew

The transcipt is here.

1. Seldom are the  verdicts on a presidential debate as near unanimous as those on last night’s CNBC affair, in which Gov. John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Gov. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen.Ted Cruz, and Sen. Rand Paul took loaded questions from the CNBC panel of Becky Quick, John Harwood, and Carl Quintanilla. The questions and interjections from the moderators were so hostile, so disrespectful, so obviously concocted from a biased perspective, that the criticism came from all sides of the political spectrum.

Mostly the work of the CNBC trio was just unprofessional. The rules seemed arbitrary, the three talked over each other, they neither commanded nor deserved the participant’s cooperation. It was, correctly, called the smoking gun of news media bias, and a terrific honesty, fairness and integrity test for anyone watching. If you did and still say that it didn’t stench of a hostile exercise in media bias, then you lack all three. It was an embarrassment for CNBC and journalism.

2. Ironically, though the moderators were terrible, it arguably was the best debate yet for the Republicans. The hapless trio actually gave Sen. Ted Cruz a chance to show that you tangle with him at your peril, and to display his impressive mind and speaking ability. He said…

“Let me say something at the outset. The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match. And you look at the questions — Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues? The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every thought and question from the media was, which of you is more handsome and why? Let me be clear: The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense, than every participant in the Democratic debate. That debate reflected a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Nobody believes that the moderators have any intention of voting in a Republican primary. The questions being asked shouldn’t be trying to get people to tear into each other, it should be what are your substantive solutions to people at home.”

Bingo. Cruz’s perfectly delivered reprimand is being sloughed off by many in the press as a repeat of Newt Gingrich’s trick, in the 2012 debates, of routinely beating up on moderators regardless of what they asked. This, in contrast, was fair, accurate, as perfectly delivered as it was impressive. I had followed the debate closely, and I wouldn’t have been able to run down the list of hostile questions like that without checking notes. Cruz is probably the smartest candidate in the race. Too bad he’s a rigid ideologue and a demagogue with the charisma of a chain saw.

3. CNN’s comment on the Cruz slap-down: “Here’s an attack all Republicans can love.” This means, I suppose, that only Republicans care about having a news media that isn’t trying to manipulate national elections. That conclusion should offend all Democrats—unless, of course, it is true. The desire to have an unbiased and competent news media should not be a partisan issue. Continue reading

The News Media’s Self-Degradation Continues: The Unethical Sliming of Chris Christie

Yellow Journalism

You have to feel for Christie, who as a Republican moderate can literally find no news media organization that isn’t determined to destroy him, facts or fairness be damned. As a Republican, he is assured of being treated like the Devil incarnate by MSNBC no matter what he does or says.  As a proven leader of talent and charisma who poses a threat to the media’s relentless anointment of Hillary Clinton (a WOMAN!!!)—who has displayed neither— as the next President,Christie has a giant target on his back that the mainstream media cannot resist. As non-hateful Republican who is capable of bi-partisan conduct, will shake the President’s hand and has social positions to the left of Pat Robertson and Rick Santorum, Christie is also persona non grata at Fox News.

Thus it was that a completely self-serving, borderline unethical letter seeking financial benefits for his client sent by the lawyer of the former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge was turned into a “bombshell” yesterday and this morning, with headlines and breathless talking head claims that are completely, utterly, irresponsible, dishonest, misleading, unfair and wrong. Here’s a sample:

  • “Christie Linked to Knowledge of Shut Lanes” (NY Times) Untrue. He has not been linked. A lawyer hinted that some evidence suggesting he might be linked exists, or is said to exist, somewhere. That is not being “linked.”
  • “Chris Christie should resign if bombshell proves true” (Star-Ledger) And if it’s proven that I am a cucumber, I should jump in a salad.
  • “Chris Christie just got thrown under the bus in that traffic jam scandal that has jeopardized his presidential ambitions.” CBS’s Scott Pelley. By the press, perhaps.
  • “Explosive new allegations about Chris Christie. Tonight, the man at the center of the bridge shutdown scandal says the governor isn’t telling the whole truth. He says there’s evidence to prove it.” NBC’s Brian Williams. “Lawyer of accused official facing charges says it’s someone else’s fault!” This is headline news?
  • “This is a hugely significant development in the investigation! It’s a direct challenge to the credibility of Governor Christie.” NBC reporter Michael Isakoff Wrong. It’s significant if it’s true. There is no more reason to believe it is true than to believe it isn’t.

No, Michael, what this is is a journalistic disgrace and an example of intentionally misleading, partisan and biased reporting.  The context of the statement being pumped up into a crisis for Governor Christie was omitted in every one of the hysterical “We got him now! media reports until deep into the published or broadcast account, if it was mentioned at all….in other words, well after the point where the average member of the public stops reading or listening. This is unconscionable. It’s disgusting. It is gutter reporting, and rotten journalism. What if each report, as it should have, framed the story this way:

“In today’s new, the lawyer for David Wildstein, the ex-Port Authority official facing indictment in the bridge-closing scandal that has rocked the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is using the threat of his client revealing undisclosed evidence indicating knowledge and involvement by the Governor as leverage to have Wildstein’s criminal defense, including the lawyer’s own fee, paid for by the state.”

Because that’s what the story really is.

Take the time to read the entire letter in question, not just the sections I have bolded. Naturally, most of the news reports referenced the letter without actually allowing us to read the letter. The New York Times made it damned difficult to read the letter online, but at least it was there. Here is the whole thing. I’m sorry, but the issue can’t be understood without reading all of it. The letter is from Wildstein’s lawyer, Alen Zegas, to Darrell Butchbinder, who is the General Counsel for the Port Authority: Continue reading

Christie And Obama: Is It Me? I Keep Expecting Partisans And the News Media To Have Integrity And Honesty, And I Keep Getting Disappointed…

Nah!

Nah!

The news media feeding frenzy over Chris Christie’s traffic jam scandal continues, with the news that a special prosecutor is being handed the investigation being treated with solemn nods and predictions of sinister revelations to come. This is all fine and good: the possibility that any elected government leader would intentionally cause pain for the citizens it is pledged to serve is too offensive to the concept of duty to be allowed to linger in doubt. When a New Jersey Democratic legislator opined that the governor should face impeachment if it is shown that he ordered the despicable traffic sabotage, I heartily agreed, and I count myself as a Christie admirer. The poll results so far regarding this incident, especially in New Jersey, are troubling: by Ann Athouse’s calculations, 7% of those polled believed that Christie was behind the outrage and lied about it, and don’t mind a bit. Where are the ethical standards of such individuals? What’s wrong with those people?

Whatever it is, it is apparently the same thing that is wrong with Democrats, progressives, African-Americans and the news media, who don’t seem bothered at all that equally insidious, or worse, governmental abuses have been, may have been or are being engineered by President Obama and/or his lackeys, and there appears to be no accountability for it, or even adequate bipartisan criticism. How can this be? What am I missing? Continue reading

Ethics Observations On Sticks, Leadership, And Chris Christie’s Vindictive Bridge Closing Scandal

Christie apologizes

Before we delve into the starting point for most ethics inquiries—What’s going on here?— a summary…

Last September, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey closed all but one lane of the George Washington Bridge , horrifically tangling commuter transportation in Fort Lee, New Jersey, just across bridge from Manhattan. The lane closures  delayed emergency responders to four calls, and may have resulted in at least one death. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office had attributed the lane closures to a traffic study.  But smoking gun e-mails emerged proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that the bridge closing was far more sinister: top Christie aides engineered the gridlock specifically to cause problems for Fort Lee, whose mayor had angered the Governor by refusing to endorse him for re-election. It was political payback of a particularly brutal and Machiavellian sort.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” wrote Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Christie, in an email on Aug. 13 to David Wildstein, Christie’s appointee at the Port Authority. Wildstein resigned in December after news of the scandal first broke; he has since refused to answer questions in a hearing on the matter, citing the Fifth Amendment. Christie fired Kelly yesterday, and in a long and emotional press conference, profusely apologized while insisting that he knew nothing of the plot, but accepted responsibility for the actions of his staff. The incident is attracting national interest because Christie, a Republican,  is an intriguing and controversial  potential candidate for a 2016 Presidential run.

Observations:

  • This is bad, and there is no defense for it. Government power should never be abused like this, by anyone. Distorting one’s duties to the public to harm members of the public out of such motives as spite, revenge, retribution, intimidation or personal and political gain is the moral equivalent of a crime.
  • In fact, it should be a crime. It can’t be, because the problem is that some degree of such distortions of the duty to act in the public’s best interest are essential political tools that cannot be jettisoned without undermining effective leadership as well. Politics works through the carrot and the stick, and the stick virtually always causes collateral damage. At every level of government, refusing to do what a powerful leader wants must have negative consequences, or nobody will do what the leader wants, and he or she will no longer be effective. That, in the end, hurts the public too–presumably more seriously than the short-term harm from political payback. Continue reading