On Trump, Otto Warmbier, Knowledge, Responsibility, And Making The Public Dumber

And now, a brief note on ethics, leadership, and English comprehension….

President Trump did not say or imply that Kim Jong Un wasn’t responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier. Of course he’s responsible, just as President Trump is responsible for anything his government does. Ken Lay claimed that he didn’t know that his company was one big scam, and anything is possible, I guess. But as CEO, he was unquestionably responsible.

President Trump is getting clobbered on all sides for saying, regarding the late American student who was put in a coma by harsh treatment by North Korea, during Kim’s regime “He tells me he didn’t know about it, and I take him at his word.” Continue reading

Rainy Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 11/24/18: Bad Habits Edition

1. A bad habit, like picking your nose in public, but more harmful. At some point, when I’m back to feeling strong,  spiffy, and more or less immune to nausea, I am planning on posting an overview of the 2016 Post-Election Ethics Train Wreck, the major feature of which has been the Angry Left-sparked acceptance of denigrating our nation’s leader in personal terms on a daily basis. As I have found on social media, refusing to participate in this divisive and self-destructive national pastime gets you attacked, and calling attention to how wrong and stupid it is gets you accused of being a racist, a xenophobe, or worse, someone who takes orders from Sean Hannity.

Of late I’ve been randomly calling various social media fools on their bad habit; some are “friends,” some are “friends of friends.”  The news media literally presents a “let’s hate President Trump for this” item every day, and yesterday’s was that the President, indulging his peculiar trolling obsession, said that he was thankful for himself. ( I thought that was pretty funny, myself. If I were President and the news media refused to give me credit for what I was doing right and the policies that appeared to be working, I might make a similar assertion just to show that the barrage of endless, often unfair criticism wasn’t getting to me.) One Facebook friend posted the article, and the predictable pile-on transpired, with one creative soul writing, searching for a wave of “likes” so she would know that she had signaled her virtue sufficiently, wrote, “He is a self-centered boor!” I replied,

Why do you feel it is necessary to spew out ad hominem insults to the President of the United States on a regular basis? Are you just fishing for favor from the large majority of angry Trump-haters on Facebook? Yeah, he’s a self-centered boor, and this was evident, oh, ten years ago at least. The necessary number of your fellow citizens decided to elect him him President anyway, and the process is that those who disagree nonetheless respect the process and their fellow citizens and extend at least a minimal level of respect for the office. I’m not a Trump fan, to say the least, and I am a lifetime student of the Presidency and its occupants: in my assessment, Barack Obama was an utter failure as POTUS and a very damaging one as well. He was (and is) also an arrogant narcissist. This was also obvious early on, but I didn’t go on Facebook repeatedly to call him names.It has no positive effects to do so, and just unnecessarily makes civil discourse difficult.

2. Progressives are trying to do the same thing here through social media. From Bloomberg: Continue reading

5 Signs That Your Organization Has An Unethical Culture Brewing…

The Harvard Business Review has published an article describing what it learned from a survey of experts asked to describe the conditions they have observed in organizations later revealed to have serious ethics problems—the symptoms of an unethical organization ethics culture. Here are the five top signs, with the corresponding rationalizations from the Ethics Alarms list where appropriate, as well as related unethical patterns of thinking and relevant organizational ethics principles that are repeated constantly in training sessions by people like me, yet routinely ignored. The news media, meanwhile, often covers the incidents as if journalist have never heard of those principles.

I. Urgency and fear: Following corruption scandals, leaders tend to describe events in terms of pressure, necessity, and what the company needed to do to ”survive.” This perception of existential competitive threats can be used to justify the creation and maintenance of toxic incentives, and it will undermine any efforts to raise concerns.

Rationalization 28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”

An argument for those who embrace “the ends justify the means”—but only temporarily, mind you!—the Revolutionary’s excuse has as long and frightening a pedigree as any of the rationalizations here. Of course, there is no such thing as “ordinary times.” This rationalization suggests that standards of right and wrong can and should be suspended under “special” circumstances, always defined, naturally, by those who defy laws, rules, and societal values. Their circular logic results in their adversaries feeling justified in being equally unethical, since times in which the other side engages in dishonesty, cheating, cruelty, and more is, by definition, extraordinary.

The inevitable result is a downward spiral of conduct, until unethical behavior is the norm. Ironically, the rationalization that “these are not ordinary times” no longer is necessary at that point. Unethical conduct has become ordinary, the new normal. This is, it is fair to say, the current state of American politics.

and…

Rationalization 31. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now”

Ethics is never “a luxury.” It is slyly effective to describe it as such, however, and those who do so usually believe it—which means you should sleep with one eye open when they are around, watch your wallet, and never turn your back. Saying ethics is a luxury simply means that the speaker believes that one should be good and fair when it is easy and benefits him or her, but when problems loom and crises have to be faced, ethics are optional. This attitude is another calling card of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “Bad Man,” the law abiding citizen who will cut your throat for his own benefit if he finds a legal loophole. In a true crisis, ethical values are often the only thing standing between us and catastrophic misconduct in the throes of desperation and panic; they aren’t luxuries, they are life-lines. When you hear yourself saying, “I’ll do anything to fix this! Anything!” it is a warning, and the ethics alarm needs to start ringing hard. Grab those ethical values, and hold on to them. They are the last thing you can afford to be without at such times.

***

II. Isolation: Groups and teams that are far from headquarters—either in geography, access to information, or both—are vulnerable. When a team that is isolated (by accident or design) comes under the direction of an authoritarian, competitive leader, an enterprise has created the baseline conditions for corruption. People are far more influenced by their immediate surroundings than by a code of conduct set at the top.

This is group-think, ignoring the tenets of Professor Zimbardo’s rules that he recommends to avoid the phenomenon:

“Avoid situations where you lose contact with your social support and informational networks, for the most powerful forces of social influence thrive then. You do not want all your reinforces to come from these new sources….Never allow yourself to be cut off emotionally from your familiar and trusted reference groups of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers…

***

Continue reading

The IRS Scandal: “I’m Sorry!” Is Not Enough, But That’s Apparently All Our Battered Democracy Will Get

 

I’ve been holding a draft of this post for two weeks until I calmed down. You should read the first version.

The Treasury Department  agreed to  a “very substantial” settlement covering damages to hundreds of tea party groups following a class-action lawsuit over the obstructive, discriminatory IRS scrutiny they received when applying for tax-exempt status leading up to the 2012 election. According to court documents,  the IRS admitted wrongdoing and apologized for its conduct. The IRS stated,

“The IRS admits that its treatment of Plaintiffs during the tax-exempt determination process, including screening their applications based on their names or policy positions, subjecting those applications to heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays, and demanding some Plaintiffs’ information that TITA determined was unnecessary to the agency’s determination of their tax-exempt status, was wrong. For such treatment, the IRS expresses its sincere apology.”

That’s nice. Isn’t that nice?

The department did not disclose the amount of money handed out to over 400 organizations: “The [Internal Revenue Service]’s use of these criteria as a basis for heightened scrutiny was wrong and should never have occurred,” Attorney General Sessions said in a statement.  “It is improper for the IRS to single out groups for different treatment based on their names or ideological positions.”

Ya think?

The scandal began in 2013, when an IRS official admitted the agency had been aggressively scrutinizing groups with names such as “Tea Party” and “Patriots.” It later emerged that some liberal groups had been targeted, too, but in less aggressive ways and although in far smaller numbers. I hate to be suspicious, but if a Democratic administration’s tax agency agency in advance of an election wanted to hobble Republican and conservative groups, picking out some progressive groups to harass would be the smart move. In “Jack Reacher,” a sniper who wants to kill one target shoots five, so it looks like a random mass shooting. Same theory.

The IRS accelerated its special treatment of conservative groups around 2010, as the election approached, and Tea Party applications for tax-exempt status surged. Some court decisions had eased the rules for tax-exempt groups to participate in politics. Something had to be done, and some obama loyalists in the IRS apparently decided to do it. Or it was all one big misunderstanding.

After the scandal broke, there was a mass exodus from the IRS’s management. Conservative groups sued. Congressional Republicans launched  years of hearings, amid allegations the Obama White House had ordered the targeting. It was a futile effort. In earlier administrations, the news media would have been asking questions. A non-political Justice Department would have investigated hard, but Obama’s Justice Department was entirely constructed to protect the President and Democratic interests. The situation screamed for a Special Counsel. This wasn’t a matter of speculation: Something was rotten in Washington, D.C. A supposedly apolitical agency of the US Government, in advance of a national election with a Democratic President in office, used its power to interfere with the rights of conservatives to organize and participate in the democratic process. If the IRS employees involved were sufficiently partisan—and they were–no explicit orders from the White House were necessary. They knew what to do. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/19/17: Pelosi Asked For It And Got It, Hillary Is A Disgrace, The Unabomber Was Right…And The Importance Of Caring

Good Morning!

1 Red Sox colors. I sometimes feel guilty about the fact that since I was 12, the fate of the Boston baseball team has been able to elevate or undermine my view of the day, existence  and the cosmos regardless of what other far more objectively important and significant events have occurred within my family, in my life, or to nation or the world. It is because I care, as writer Roger Angell once wrote in his New Yorker essay “Agincourt and After” (I know I have quoted it before), and caring itself has importance, whatever the object of it…

“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitive as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look — I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naivete — the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball — seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”

2. This video is almost res ipsa loquitur for its ethical content:

Almost.

There you have it: proof positive of the slippery slope the sloppily sentimental, irresponsible support for “Dreamers” polishes to a fine sheen. The illegal immigration, open borders and anti-U.S. sovereignty activists won’t be satisfied, because they really think they have a right to just take U.S. citizenship irrespective of our laws. They will also call anyone who opposes that assertion “racist.” They are so deluded, moreover, that they don’t realize how much a display like the one above damages their unethical cause. I heard some commentators say the episode made them feel sorry for Pelosi. Sorry for her? Her demagoguery and her  party’s dishonesty and cynicism on this issue is what created that mob.

This was what George Will calls “condign justice.” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/12/17

1.Senator Diane Feinstein redeemed some of the Democratic Party’s integrity by stating that James Comey’s revelations regarding Obama AG Loretta Lynch’s directive that he lie to the news media and the American people so they wouldn’t think Hillary Clinton was being investigated warranted hearings and its own investigation. This was easily the biggest story to come out of Comey’s testimony, as the U.S. government using its power to influence a Presidential election by spreading misinformation is far more serious than a foreign power influencing an election by allowing the public to see what a candidate and her party have been covering up. (I have stated the issue this way before, and will continue to do so, since it is accurate and true.) That this damning account was mostly buried by the New York Times, the Washington Post and the broadcast media is yet one more smoking gun (as if more were needed) proving just how partisan and untrustworthy the news media has become. It also should focus more attention on the still-percolating IRS scandal, speaking of subordinates interpreting a leader’s expressed desires as directives, as well as  Barack Obama’s repeatedly demonstrated belief that the ends justifies the means in the 2012 campaign, the passing of the Affordable Care Act, the Iran deal, and more.

2. NY Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow, a smoking-gun himself since the Times’ refusal to discipline or can him when he repeatedly used anti-Mormon slurs to attack Mitt Romney, has become the loudest shill for “the resistance” at the paper–quite an achievement, since the whole paper is a shill for “the resistance”—reveals that 43% of the public (according to polls, remember, and we now know how reliable and unbiased they are) believe that Congress should commence impeachment hearings. Blow finds this tragic, but the only two interpretations of the data is that 43% of the public is civicly, legally and historically ignorant, that 43% of the public has been completely misled by the biased reporting of the news media, or that 43% have embraced the anti-democratic view of impeachment being pushed by progressives and “the resistance,” which is that it is a legitimate device to undo elections and ensure that the Left achieves permanent rule over us all. Writes Blow, sniffling,

“I know well that the very real obstacles to removal injures the psyche of those worn thin by the relentless onslaught of awfulness erupting from this White House. I know well that impeachment is one of the only rays of hope cutting through these dark times. I’m with you; I too crave some form of political comeuppance. But, I believe that it’s important to face the very real possibility that removal may not come, and if it does, it won’t come swiftly. And even a Trump impeachment would leave America with a President Pence, a nightmare of a different stripe but no less a nightmare.”

It should bother everyone that a man like this has a regular, high-visibility platform for his corrosive views. Impeachment is national convulsion that good citizens only hope for when a President has engaged in impeachable acts. Blow and other like him, who hope for those impeachable acts to justify removing a President they object to on ideological, personal or other grounds are just  people with busted ethical alarms,  bad citizens, bad neighbors, and dangerous to our democracy.

3. Here is an ethics train wreck from academia. A white professor at the University of Tennessee asserted via a multiple choice quiz ( Colleges use multiple choice quizzes?) that the statement “Black family bonds were destroyed by the abuses of slave owners, who regularly sold off family members to other slave owners” was wrong. A black student vehemently disagreed and challenged the teacher, who then threatened to “get” the student on Facebook. After the professor was pressured into resigning by the university, she emailed the class with a further attack on the student, without using her name. Naturally, the student has decided that this single incident shows the lurking perfidy of white social justice warriors, or to put it bluntly, “Can’t trust whitey!” How do people like the professor get hired? Since when is a professors position “unacceptable’ because it disputes conventional wisdom? Is race immune from non-conforming academic views? And why are college courses using multiple choice quizzes? [Pointer: Fred]

4.  Also from Ethics Alarms Super Scout Fred: this study, showing that Oakland police officers “tend to speak less respectfully to black people than to white people during traffic stops, using language in these everyday interactions that can erode community faith in the police, according to a first-of-its-kind study of body-camera footage released Monday by Stanford researchers.” Ugh. Now that’s “ microagression,” and maybe not so micro.

Ethics diagnosis: incompetent training, negligent oversight, and dead ethics alarms.

5. CNN has a lot of work to do before it can claim to be a professional and trustworthy news source, and one obvious step is to fire Brian Stelter, the network’s alleged journalism ethics watchdog. His predecessor Howard Kurtz was pretty bad, but Stelter is pure flack, seeing his main function as defending CNN and his secondary function as denying media bias, since he is so shockingly biased himself.

Yesterday on his ironically-named show “Reliable Sources,” Stelter and guest Jeff Greenfield blamed President Trump for polls that show a steep decline in public trust of the news media. Greenfield said,  “I think that has served that relentless campaign on Twitter and in his comments, fake news, fake news, fake news has been to convince that group of people that there is no such thing as a set of facts independent of your politics. And that has certainly served to continue and accelerate what you’ve talked about as a long process of declining trust in news.”

The downward trend will continue until prominent members of the news media admit that the reasons trust in journalism have  declined precipitously are

  • That the mainstream media’s partisan bias is obvious and palpable,
  • That has proven itself untrustworthy, and
  • Arrogant hacks like Stelter and Greenfield make it clear to all willing to see reality that the news media thinks that there’s nothing wrong with its reporting.

As for President Trump, he has an ethical and professional obligation to focus attention on the news media’s shift into a partisan political force, both to prioect his administration and  to ensure that the public isn’t deceived. The previous President was happy to ignore this dangerous development, because Obama  foolishly thought he benefited from it. In truth, he and the nation would have benefited more by journalism that held him to higher standards and criticized him when he deserved it, which was often.

20 Ethics Observations On The President’s Charge That Obama Tapped His Phones

In the first week of March, in the midst of the over-blown flap regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ two meetings with the Russian ambassador, President Trump issued arguably his most explosive  tweet yet:

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!.

Later, he  tweeted,

“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”

It has been more than a week, and we know only a little more about what prompted this extraordinary accusation than we did then. However, there are some relevant ethics point to be made. Here we go…

1.  It is irresponsible and unpresidential to issue tweets like this. It is also unfair. If the Trump administration wants to make a formal complaint, charge or indictment, or announce an investigation, it should be made through proper channels, not social media. That stipulated, he will not stop doing this, and at some point we will have to accept it. Is this how Presidents communicate? It is now.

2. Thus the tweet is unethical even if it is true. However, the fact that it is unethical, or that Trump the Liar sent it, doesn’t mean it is untrue. An astounding number of pundits and journalists have made exactly that assumption, proving their bias against the President and their knee-jerk defensiveness regarding former President Obama.

3. The tweet cannot be called a “lie,” and anyone who does call it a lie based on what is known is revealing their confirmation bias.

4. One more point about the tweet itself: the fact that it has a typo and the level of articulation of the average 9th grader is itself an ethics breach. The President should not sanctify carelessness, or seem to embrace it. He is a role model.  Nor should a significant charge be written in haste, as this obviously was.

5. There seems to be a significant possibility that the President was trolling. Having had enough of the months long, absolutely evidence-free news media and Democrat innuendos that his campaign was coordinating election tampering with the Russians, he may have decided to make a sensational, unsubstantiated charge of his own to get the Russian hacking speculation off the front pages. If it was trolling, it was excellent trolling. The McCarthyism purveyors  deserved it; the accusation was a deft tit-for-tat,  one of the President’s favorite rationalizations.

6. As an example of what Trump has been and is being subjected to, we have Rep. Keith Ellison, vice-chair of the DNC.  He told Alisyn Camerota on CNN’s “New Day last week,”

“This is stunning when you think about it. Far worse than Watergate, when you believe a hostile foreign power engaged in an attempt, and with the collusion of the sitting administration to manipulate an election.”

By sheerest moral luck, Camerota that day was feeling ethical, so she actually corrected a Trump-basher from her own party, said, “Well you don’t know that,” and pointed out that there is no evidence of collusion.

“I’m not saying there was collusion, I’m saying those meetings indicate that there could be, and I think that needs to be investigated,” Ellison then said, immediately after saying there was collusion.

These are awful, vicious, conscience- free people who subcribe to total political war and the ends justify the means. They are trying to bring down an elected government without winning an election. Even that does not justify treating them unethically, BUT… Continue reading