Tag Archives: hubris

The Costs Of Civic Ignorance: We Now Have A Frontrunning Candidate For President Who Wants To Gut Freedom Of The Press

SullivanYesterday, flushed with the fact that polls said he “won’ this week’s debate despite outrageous lying, posturing, and incoherence, Donald Trump said that if elected, he will muzzle journalists with fear of libel suits:

“One of the things I’m going to do if I win… I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.We’re going to open up those libel laws so when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected. We’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”

It’s hard to say what is the dumbest or most alarming thing Trump has said this campaign season, but this is close. To begin with, journalism cannot function under the constant threat of libel suits. This device is already used to bully websites, a form of journalism, and blogs like mine, which don’t have the resources to fight censorious and frivolous suits. Second, the statement proves that Trump is ignorant about the Constitution, ignorant about the law, ignorant about American values—Can you make America great again when you don’t comprehend the culture, traditions or history in the first place? Of course not—and ignorant about the powers of the Presidency, which is fairly shocking for someone running for the office. Luckily for Trump, and unluckily for the country, a lot of Americans are even more ignorant than he is.

Third: this can’t be done unless Trump intends to declare himself Emperor, or something similar. The Supreme Court dealt very emphatically with this issue in the 1964 case of New York Times v. Sullivan, which ruled that win a defamation case against a newspaper (and now, by extension, any journalist), a plaintiff must show four things: 1) a false statement purporting to be fact; 2) publication or communication of that statement to a third person; 3) fault; and 4) some tangible harm  to the person or entity who is the subject of the statement. Public officials and public figures–celebrities, people in the news, reality stars, Bozo the Clown— must show that alleged libelous statements were made with actual malice—that is , they were maliciously intended to harm the subjects and the writer and publisher knew they were false, or were reckless is determining if the were false or not-to recover in an action for defamation.

The standard of proof is also high for libel against the press, and this is to protect the press. A plaintiff must show actual malice by “clear and convincing” evidence rather than the lesser burden of proof in most civil cases, preponderance of the evidence.

Sullivan is a bulwark of First Amendment jurisprudence. It isn’t going anywhere. Conservative justices wouldn’t overturn it; liberal justices wouldn’t touch it. Justice Scalia, brought back from the dead, would declare it untouchable. If there is a single legal scholar who has advocated overturning the case in whole or in part, he or she is an outlier or a crackpot. It was a 9-0 decision. Justice Brennan, writing for the Court, wrote… Continue reading

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Ethics Update: The Frontrunners

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There was ample evidence over the past week that all three of the candidates currently leading their respective party’s races for the presidential nomination are unqualified for the office by virtue of their deficiencies of competence, character, and principles. Hillary Clinton had the most spectacularly revealing week, but first, the other two….

Donald Trump: Hubris, incompetence, disrespect and unfairness

1. “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump boasted at a campaign rally yesterday. I know, it’s a joke. It’s also an astoundingly stupid thing to say, even in jest, and reveals massive hubris, the quality that brought down many a Greek king and the worst and most dangerous of all Trump flaws. This is what will get him, sooner or later. 3000 years of history and literature teach us that. The comment also reveals utter contempt for his supporters; he is essentially calling them blind morons. The crowd in Iowa laughed….because they are.

2.“Our great veterans are being treated terribly,” Trump says in a new campaign video. “The corruption in the Veteran’s administration, the incompetence is beyond. We will stop that.” Then critics pointed out that the clips used showed Russian veterans, not Americans, and he pulled the ad.

This is the man whose only claim to legitimacy is his management wizardry. Such an error, however, is proof of sloppy oversight and incompetent delegation. Moreover, this is the second time a Trump campaign ad  included mislabeled material: his illegal immigration ad earlier this month used footage of people crossing the Moroccan border to represent the U.S.-Mexico border. Conclusion: he’s faking it, “it” meaning everything. This is all posturing and bluffing, like a student taking an exam for a course he never studied for. Continue reading

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A Lesson In The Dangers of Wise-assery, Hindsight Bias, And Moral Luck

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Once upon a time, a fat, spectacled, pleasant amateur song parodist sold millions of records with what middle-aged college grads thought were witty musical critiques of Sixties life and culture. His name was Allan Sherman, and one of those witty songs was this:

Therein lies some useful lessons which we all should absorb:

1. What seems like a valid opinion today might well seem incredibly stupid to virtually everybody later.

2. Venturing outside your expertise is always risky.

3.  Everything seems obvious in hindsight. In most cases, it was anything but.

4. Yesterday’s wit is tomorrow’s ignorance.

5. Whether your opinion is going to make you look like a prophet or a fool is often nothing but moral luck.

6. Criticizing someone for views proven invalid by subsequent developments no one could have foreseen is consequentialism, and unfair.

7. People will do it anyway.

8. We are all Allan Sherman. We just don’t know how.

It’s hard to imagine now that John, Paul, George and Ringo are icons and deserving ones, but back in 1964 it was considered wise and clever to make fun of their hair, their fans and pronounce them untalented hacks. At the beginning of the British invasion, many sophisticates regarded the Beatles as indistinguishable from the legendary Dave Clark Five, and a passing fancy no more significant that the hula hoop.

Mock them now at your peril. Your time will come…in fact, it probably already has.

 

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Ethics Takeaways From Donald Trump’s Reply To Jake Tapper’s Question About “Traditional Marriage”

TrumpBoorish, arrogant blight on the American landscape that Donald Trump is, he has his uses.

Trump is that amusing if tragic anomaly, the low information Presidential candidate, kind of like Michele Bachmann. On Friday, right after the SCOTUS gay marriage decision was announced, he sent out a tweet blaming Chief Justice John Roberts for it, even though Roberts was one of the dissenters. Today, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him to explain his stated support for “traditional marriage” by explaining Trump’s own non-traditional marital conduct in that context:

“What do you say to a lesbian who’s married or a gay man who’s married who says, ‘Donald Trump, what’s traditional about being married three times?’”

Trump’s marvelous response….

“Well, they have a very good point. But I’ve been a very hardworking person. And actually, I have a great marriage, I have a great wife now. My [first] two wives were very good..I really don’t say anything. I’m just, Jake, I’m for traditional marriage.”

….is a cornucopia of ethics-related information:

1. “Well, they have a very good point.” Translation: “I haven’t actually thought about this issue very much, I’m just asserting a position that seems to the one I think Republican voters who have thought about this as little as I have will agree with. Don’t expect me to be consistent or profound.”

Take-away: Trump has no respect for the public, his party, the office he purports top be running for, or the people who care deeply about the gay marriage issue, so he has literally devoted no time or effort to understanding the issues of the day, including this one. That attitude is, of course, an insult to all of us.

2. “But I’ve been a very hardworking person. “ The King’s Pass! Continue reading

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Ethics Quote Of The Week: Me, On the Presidential Candidacy Of Donald Trump

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From my post in 2011 titled, Unethical U.S. Presidential Candidacies: Is Trump’s the All-Time Worst?, which suddenly became green again in the wake of the horrifying news that The Donald is running for Presient again, for real, this time, or as close to real as Trump ever gets. I wrote:

“Donald Trump is perfectly happy to make a mockery of the presidential nomination and election processes while distorting them too. If he manages to convince enough fools to vote for him, hell, sure…he’d have a blast running for President. If his run peters out, it’s still worth lots of publicity, and increases the value of the Trump “brand.” Even the most unethical of the previous candidacies were based on a sincere, if misguided belief that the country’s welfare would be served by it. Does Trump have that belief? I wonder. No, his can’t be called the most unethical candidacy. But it is reckless, and it is intentionally appealing to the worst in 21st Century American character: fear, celebrity worship, ignorance, and materialism. Meanwhile, every second of attention his candidacy distracts from serious consideration of our nation’s leadership reduces the chances of the public doing its hardest and most important job carefully and competently.”

More heartfelt and truer words have never been composed in my brain.

You can read some selected examples of Trump’s miserable character here, and I have only scratched the surface. Every other candidate for President, including Hillary Clinton, was just elevated in stature by Trump’s announcement.

Anyone, indeed anything, looks good compared to him.

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Lincoln Chafee’s Batty Ethics Argument For The Metric System

Lincoln_Chafee_official_portrait

Ugh. I can’t let this pass.

Yesterday I happened upon Lincoln Chafee on one of the Sunday shows, giving his elevator pitch for why he should be President. You may recall that Chafee, former Republican Senator and Governor of Rhode Island, turned independent after being defeated for re-election and now is following Bernie Sanders’ example, declaring himself a Democrat for the purpose of getting nominated. Chafee is another politician, like the Bush bothers and Hillary Clinton, who owes his initial political prominence to being related to a popular political figure rather than his own innate abilities. As he made obvious the more he spoke…

His two primary campaign positions were 1) “Wage peace”—whatever that means. This is right up there with John Lennon songs as serious policy discourse,  though I’m sure ISIS is fascinated by the concept, and 2) Adopt the metric system. Chafee borrowed this from the idea machine known as the Andrew Johnson administration, as Andy was the first President to officially acknowledge the benefits of the U.S. adopting the less eccentric measurement system used by Europe. I’m sure we all can agree that this is one of the most pressing issues facing the country today.

However, Chafee really got my attention, and sparked this post, when he attempted to combine his two prime objectives, which is no mean trick. I tried to find a transcript, video or a news report to document this, but so far I have failed: maybe everyone is trying to be nice. I swear I am not making this up, though I wish I were.

Chafee argued that the United States should adopt the Metric system because it invaded Iraq and didn’t find the weapons of mass destruction.

He really did. Continue reading

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Should Google Be Trusted To Censor Websites According To What It Determines To Be “True”?

Here's irony for you: when Google says it can develop software to decide who's not telling the truth, it's lying.

Here’s irony for you: when Google says it can develop software to decide who’s not telling the truth, it’s lying.

Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil.” It’s well-debased by now: agreeing to help China censor the internet modeled  a non-existent distinction between “don’t be evil” and “don’t assist evil.” I’m not ready to call Google’s looming truth algorithm “evil,” but it is certainly sinister and dangerous.

Google’s search engine rose to dominate the field by using the number of incoming links to a web page to determine where it appears in search results. Pages that many other sites link to are ranked higher. “The downside is that websites full of misinformation can rise up the rankings, if enough people link to them,” says Newscientist.

Now a Google research team is altering the system to measure the trustworthiness of a page, rather than its web popularity. Instead of counting incoming links, the proposed new system would count the number of “incorrect” facts within a page. “A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy,” says the team. Each page will get its computer-determined Knowledge-Based Trust score, which the software will derive by tapping into Google’s  Knowledge Vault, a repository of what Google’s claims is Absolute Truth based on web consensus.  Web pages that contain contradictory information will be bumped down the rankings, so fewer minds will be warped by non-conforming information.

Naturally, the Left, assuming that its view of the universe is the unassailably correct and virtuous one, loves this idea. That should put that”climate change denialists” in their places–at the bottom of web searches. Says Salon, which never met a conservative argument that wasn’t a lie (NEVER met? Oh, oh. There goes Ethics Alarms down the search results!), “Even though the former program is just in the research stage, some anti-science advocates are upset about the potential development, likely because their websites will become buried under content that is, well, true.” Continue reading

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