Windy Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/2/18: More Supreme Court Fun, Transparency Games, Ethical and Unethical Quotes Of The Day…

GOOD MORNING!

(Wind storms all over Virginia, knocking out power and my e-mail, and blowing over a tree that narrowly missed my son’s car!)

1 Lack of Transparency? What lack of transparency? During a lecture and moderated discussion at U.C.L.A. this week in which he was a a participant and invited guest, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was heckled with hisses, jeers, shouted insults and profanity from students and protesters, some of whom were ushered and even carried out by police officers. A programmed sixth grader in the audience even questioned him about the fairness of passing permanent tax cuts for companies and expiring cuts for individuals, because as we all know, 10-year-olds are well-versed in tax policy theory.

Afterwards, Mnuchin  revoked his consent for the official video of the event to be released, perhaps because he was flustered by the harassment and it showed. In response to criticism of this virtual censorship,

The Treasury Department, through a spokesperson, said that what the Secretary did wasn’t what he obviously did—a Jumbo, aka “Elephant? What elephant?”—saying,

“The event was open to the media and a transcript was published. He believes healthy debate is critical to ensuring the right policies that do the most good are advanced.”

He just doesn’t want anyone to see or hear the debate.

A related point: The protests were organized by Lara Stemple, a U.C.L.A. law professor, and students and faculty members participated. Protests are fine; disrupting the event is not. Faculty members who assisted in the heckling should be disciplined, and students who participated should be disciplines as well.  It’s an educational institution, and all views sgould be openly explored and heard without interference. No guest of the university should be treated this way. Ever. No matter who it is or what their position. The treatment on Mnuchin was unethical.

2. More Supreme Court fun with ethics! Minnesota’s law banning “political” clothing and buttons from polling places is being challenged as an affront to free speech. The law prohibits people from wearing a “political badge, political button or other political insignia” at a polling place on an election day, and a member of the tea party movement sued after his “Tea Party” message got him in trouble when he came to vote.

Here is Justice Samuel A. Alito’s exchange with Daniel Rogan of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, who was defending Minnesota’s law:

“How about a shirt with a rainbow flag?” asked Alito. “Would that be permitted?”

“A shirt with a rainbow flag?” Rogan repeated. “No, it would — yes, it would be — it would be permitted unless there was — unless there was an issue on the ballot that — that related somehow to — to gay rights.”

Justice Alito: Okay. How about an NRA shirt?

Mr. Rogan: An NRA shirt? Today, in Minnesota, no, it would not, Your Honor. I think that that’s a clear indication—and I think what you’re getting at, Your Honor—

A T-shirt bearing the words of the Second Amendment? Alito asked.

Probably banned because of the gun-control issue, Rogan said.

The First Amendment? Alito asked. Probably not, Rogan answered.

Got it. The First  Amendment isn’t a political statement, but the Second Amendment is. That led Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to observe: “Under your interpretation of ‘political,’ it would forbid people from wearing certain portions of the Bill of Rights into a polling place but not other portions of the Bill of Rights. And I guess I’m just wondering what compelling interest Minnesota has identified that requires a statute that goes so much further than the vast majority of states?”

In contrast, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked J. David Breemer, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, representing the challengers, “Why should there be speech inside the election booth at all, or inside the what you call the election room? You’re there to vote.”

This is a problem requiring an “all or nothing” solution. Either all forms of political speech must be allowed, or no speech at all. In a sick time where citizens honestly argue that a MAGA cap or a picture of a gun makes them feel threatened and “unsafe,” the ethical option would seem to be Justice Kennedy’s. No speech, messages, no logos, no photos, no American flags. Last fall I voted wearing my Red Sox jacket.

Uh-uh. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day Weekend Continues! Comment Of The Day : “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/30/2017: Is Robert Mueller Biased? …Is President Trump A Robot?

A single line in this morning’s  Warm-Up sparked this fascinating exposition by Ash. Here was the context:

Jay Malsky, an actor who has appeared in drag as Hillary Clinton. Melsky, while watching  the Hall of Presidents attraction at Disney World, began shouting at the audio-animatronic Donald Trump. (The Huffington Post said he “mercilessly” heckled the robot, showing  derangement of its own. Robots don’t need mercy, and you can’t “heckle” one either.)

Here is Ash’s Comment of the Day, primarily a quote but a perfectly chosen one, on the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/30/2017: Is Robert Mueller Biased? Are The Patriots Cheating Again? Is Larry Tribe Deranged? Is President Trump A Robot?: 

“Robots don’t need mercy, and you can’t “heckle” one either.”

You should date this and file it, because I guarantee you, the way you treat Siri and Alexa and Cortana and Ok Google is *already* being described as problematic.

“Sexual harassment: there are no limits…According to Dr Sweeney, research indicates virtual assistants like Siri and Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa find themselves fending off endless sexual solicitations and abuse from users. But because humans don’t (yet) attach agency or intelligence to their devices, they’re remarkably uninhibited about abusing them. Both academic research and anecdotal observation on man/machine interfaces suggest raised voices and vulgar comments are more common than not. It’s estimated that about 10% to 50% of interactions are abusive, according to Dr. Sheryl Brahnam in a TechEmergence interview late last year. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Grade The Misbehaving Celebrities!

Our subjects:

Oh, Bill...you're such a scream!

Oh, Bill…you’re such a scream!

Bill Maher, bad boy comic, political satirist and host of HBO’s “Real Time”

Maher’s fans

Ron Futrelle, former sportscaster and Las Vegas media personality

Sarah Palin, former governor, VP candidate, Fox commentator and conservative icon

All clashed over a joke made by Maher during a stand-up gig, and your challenge is to decide who gets the lowest ethics grade. Here’s what happened: Futrelle was in the audience for Maher’s show in  Las Vegas. Maher made a joke about Palin’s son, Trig, who has Down Syndrome. According to Futrelle, the joke  upset him, as well as the fact that the audience appeared to enjoy Maher’s using Palin’s innocent and mentally challenged child as a comedy topic, and laughed heartily. Futrelle began heckling Maher, eventually prompting an annoyed audience member to remind him that he was not the attraction, and suggest that he shut his gob. Futrelle persisted, and when confronted by security, left.

Through Futrelle’s blog’s account of his experience, Brietbart and the miracle of social media, Mama Grizzly Palin learned that her young son had been (again) converted into joke-fodder, and tweeted her reaction to Maher:

“Hey bully, on behalf of all kids whom you hatefully mock in order to make yourself feel big, I hope one flattens your lily white wimpy a#*.”

Our grading scale:

Exemplary ethical conduct.

Ethical and appropriate conduct that could have been better executed.

C  Acceptable conduct according to reasonable social norms

D Unethical conduct

Despicable conduct

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is, therefore, to accept this challenge:

Give Maher, Maher’s audience, Futrelle and Palin their ethics grades. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Hypocrite and the Hecklers

GLAAD precedent: Emperor Hirohito reads the announcement of his Nobel Peace Prize for agreeing to end World War II...

GLAAD’s  precedent: Emperor Hirohito reads the announcement of his Nobel Peace Prize for agreeing to end World War II…

Former President Bill Clinton received the first Advocate for Change award at the GLAAD Awards in Los Angeles over the weekend. Clinton, who uniquely appears to be immune from ever being held accountable for his mistakes and misconduct, was honored by the LBGT advocacy organization for opposing a ban on same sex marriage in North Carolina, and supporting efforts to legalize same sex marriage in New York. In his remarks, Clinton attacked the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits legally married same sex couples from receiving federal benefits and protections, saying,

“I want to keep working on this until not only DOMA is no longer the law of the land, but until all people, no matter where they live, can marry the people they love. I believe you will win the DOMA fight, and I think you will win the Constitutional right to marry. If not tomorrow, then the next day or the next day.”

What Clinton did not say is that he is 100% responsible for the fact that DOMA is the law of the land, as he is the one who signed it into law in 1996. Nobody held a gun to his head: it was a popular bill in its day, and Clinton—surprise!—was following the polls. He also said at the time that he believed that the law was just.

This inconsistency—GLAAD honoring Clinton with an award for opposing a law he is responsible for inflicting on the gay and lesbian community, and his having the brass to accept it, are the stuff of Onion stories—prompted some at the event to heckle Clinton, shouting, “You signed it!”  I am tempted to cheer this development, but must pause—I object to heckling on civility and fairness grounds. One can rebut speech, but one shouldn’t seek to obstruct it. Yet there are exceptions to every rule, even in ethics. Thus your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today is this query:

Is it ethical to heckle Bill Clinton under these circumstances? Continue reading