Morning Ethics Warm-Up, April 12, 2018: Mistakes, Senators, Survivors, The Pope And Cosby

Good morning!

(I’m in a good mood because this happened last night…)

1. Incompetent elected officials of the month…From Reason:

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary and Commerce, Science, and Transportation committees grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the company’s insufficient efforts to protect users’ personal data…

Sen. Roy Blunt, (R–Mo.) … didn’t seem to understand that Facebook lacks a means of accessing information from other apps unless users specifically opt in…. Sen. Roger Wicker (R–Miss.) needed a lot of clarification on how Facebook Messenger interacts with cellular service. Zuckerberg had to carefully explain to Sen. Brian Schatz (D–Hawaii) that WhatsApp is encrypted, and Facebook can’t read, let alone monetize, the information people exchange using that service. Zuckerberg had to explain to multiple senators, including Sen. Dean Heller (R–Nev.), that Facebook doesn’t technically sell its data: The ad companies don’t get to see the raw information. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D–Vt.) brought along a poster on which his office had printed out images of various Facebook pages. Leahy asked whether these were Russian propaganda groups. “Senator, are you asking about those specifically?” Zuckerberg asked. He of course had no way of knowing what was going on with those specific pages, just from looking at pictures of them….Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) offered this metaphor: “the way I explain it to my constituents is that if someone breaks into my apartment with a crowbar and takes my stuff, it’s just like if the manager gave them the keys.” But …Facebook didn’t willfully assist in a crime. …Sen. Debbie Fischer (R–Neb.) didn’t understand, at a fundamental level, that if you’re using Facebook, you have agreed to let Facebook know a lot of information about you. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) asked whether Facebook had any major competitors. …

 

This is a theme of regulation, rules and laws in the cyber age: the officials responsible for regulating the uses and abuses of technology don’t use the technology involved, don’t understand it, aren’t willing to take the time to learn, and are apparently not even aware of how irresponsible and incompetent this is, how stupid and lazy it makes them look, and how it undermines the public trust.

2. But don’t worry…In his testimony, Zuckerberg said that Facebook was working on a way to ban “hate speech.” I can’t wait to see what the left-wing crypto-fascists who run the Big Tech giants consider “hate speech.”  Actually, we have some pretty good clues. Facebook silenced pro-Trump video-bloggers “Diamond and Silk,” deeming their political content “unsafe to the community.” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/22/17: Uber, Thanksgiving Hate, Accountability, Trump’s Unavoidable Choice, And Ruing The Day That Changed Everything

Good Morning.

…But 54 years ago it seemed like a beautiful morning in Dealey Plaza…

1 “President Kennedy is dead…” I heard those word over my little black transistor radio that I mostly used to listen to Red Sox games. Let’s see how many news stories take note of the historical significance of today: the anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas. It is the date when a disturbed crypto-Communist radical took the fate and future of an entire nation and culture in his hands, and squeezed them to pulp—one of the three or four most unethical acts in U.S. history. As readers here know, I am not a Jack Kennedy admirer. Nonetheless, in “Back to the Future II” terms, it’s impossible to imagine what 2017 America would be like had Lee Harvey Oswald not shot the top of JFK’s head off in 1963, but it’s easy to imagine that we would be better. The assassination created a violent shift in the time/space continuum, and we never got back on track.

2. Bye-Bye Uber, you’re also dead to me. Uber is untrustworthy and unethical, and anyone who trusts the company going forward is a fool as well as an enabler of corporate misconduct. This is signature significance: the company revealed that hackers stole 57 million driver and rider accounts last year, yet Uber withheld that fact from the public until now after paying a $100,000 ransom to the hackers. Ethical, competent, trustworthy companies don’t operate this way.

It wasn’t just the company’s juvenile and piggish former CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick. The company he created inherited his ethical deficits like a lethal gene. Any company is obligated to reveal hacks of personal data to members of the public who might be harmed by them immediately.

If you use Uber after this, you’re an idiot. You’re also sending the message that an epic breach of trust by a corporation will be shrugged off via one or twenty rationalizations, like 19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”

Keep sending that message, and pretty soon they’ll be using 1. The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it.”

3. More Tales of the Anti-Trump Deranged: This essay in the virulent Trump-hating CG is meant humorously, but also is serious in its nastiness. Joe Berkowitz’s call to good little resistance members and Hillary bitter-enders to “ruin thanksgiving” as their “civic duty” stands as a self-indictment of the ugly, divisive mindset that so much of the Left has descended into over the past year. In fact, with just a few tweaks, it could have been written by a conservative satirist—if there were such things.

One aspect of Trump’s election turning the U.S. into a “Nation of Assholes” that I did not see coming was progressives and Democrats feeling liberated to go full-asshole themselves. This article shows the phenomenon. In particular, Berkowitz demonstrates how the Left can no longer distinguish between legitimate policy disagreements and what should be a matter of non-partisan consensus. His argument for using Thanksgiving to punish Trump supporting relatives by turning a celebration of faith and family into a table-top Gettysburg goes like this:

They can’t stand idly by while President Deals tramples every other American tradition and yet somehow expect that Thanksgiving will be normal too. [Note: Supporting the elected President is one of those traditions, and a crucial one.]…Here are a few suggestions for how to ruin Thanksgiving, arranged by ascending order of righteous fury:

Don’t show up. For some parents, your absence will speak louder than any sodden arguments over the density of pumpkin pie. If you can’t even look them in the eye, they’ll know you mean business. [Note: Is he joking? I know many families who are eschewing family gatherings for exactly this reason. Yes, I put most of this on the Angry Left and Barack Obama, aided and abetted by late night TV comics and the news media. They have set out to divide the nation by race, gender, age, class and party, seeking to build metaphorical walls where once there were divisions that could be forgotten or ignored during recreation and the shared commonality of citizenship. .]

Show up and be kind of an asshole. No hugs; only stiff, formal handshakes. During the football game, talk about police brutality nonstop. Take any opportunity to emphasize just how much Bruce Springsteen and the entire E Street band loathes Trump….[Note: See?]

Scorched Earth. Not even a handshake; just stare, disgustedly, at their outstretched arms….[Note: Among the  inarguable outrages that the essayist claims justifies such treatment: not supporting an increase in the minimum wage, refusing to uncritically accept climate change propaganda, and the President speaking “almost exclusively in racist dog whistles and ‘locker room talk.'” You know, racist dogwhistles like opposing the tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee,  correctly stating that a white nationalist group has the same rights to assemble and protest as anyone else without being attacked,  or objecting to NFL players inflicting an incoherent protest on their captive audience. ]

I was asked for ethics advice regarding looming political disputes during Thanksgiving, and here it is: It is rude and unkind to raise a topic you know is emotional and painful for people at the table. So don’t do it, just as you wouldn’t (I hope) deliberately raise such topics as Cousin Cecile’s abortion, Jim Jr.’s arrest, or Uncle Ethan’s IRS problems. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/18/17: (Part One) The Frankenmedia

Wait, how does that go again? What is it that “dies in darkness”?

Good morning (or, as I first typed it, “good monging”), everyone!

1 CNN’s walking, talking, “mistake…CNN’s alleged ethics watchdog, Brian Stelter, is really an embarrassment. He sees his job as defending the news media, not making its conduct better through objective criticism. He especially works up a sweat defending CNN, perhaps the most rooutinely unethical of all…but then, CNN pays his salary, the fools. He’s useless.

In a podcast,, both he and CNN token conservative S.E. Cupp blamed the mean conservative media and commentators unfairly dwelling on “mistakes” to undermine public trust in journalism.  See Rationalization #19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”

This is a legitimate defense if, in fact, an individual has been accused of not being perfect.  Usually, however, it is an attempt to minimize the significance of genuine misconduct. When an act suggests that more than an honest mistake or single instance of bad judgment was involved, and that an individual’s conduct indicates a broader lack of character or ethical sensitivity, “Nobody’s perfect!” and “Everybody makes mistakes!” are not only inappropriate and irrelevant, but are presumptively efforts to change the subject. The fact that nobody is perfect does not mean that it isn’t necessary and appropriate to point out unethical conduct when it occurs. It also does not argue for failing to make reasonable assumptions about the ethical instincts of the actor if and when the unethical nature of conduct strongly suggests that it is not an aberration, but a symptom.

Though nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, we are all still accountable for the mistakes we make.

It’s not a mistake when CNN shows itself to be blatantly biased, it’s dishonest and a breach of integrity. It’s not a mistake when CBS, ABC and NBC refuse to report a Democratic Senator’s trial for bribery  until  it ends in a mistrial, its deliberate refusal to report the news. (CBS recently devoted 45 second to the President drinking from a water bottle.) It’s not a mistake when NBC reinstated a news anchor (Brian Williams) who was shown to have lied repeatedly, its contempt for journalism, and irresponsible. It’s not a mistake when ABC ignores basic conflict of interest principles to allow former Clinton staffer and current Clinton Foundation donor George Stephanopoulos to interview both Hillary Clinton (nice, easy interview)and the author of a book criticizing her (hostile interview), it’s incompetent journalism. Etc, meaning I could go on for, oh, 50,000 words or so without having to check my notes.

The fact that CNN lets an unqualified dolt like Stelter talk about ethics isn’t a mistake either.

When mistakes—and fake news, the description of misconceptions as facts, and bias-driven choices regarding which stories to cover and which to bury are not mistakes—by professionals reach a critical mass, they implicate trust.

2. Like THIS mistake, for example…Here, courtesy of Newsbusters, is veteran CNN journalist Gloria Borger spinning for Al Franken:

Borger …immediately went into spin mode by downplaying the fallout, stating that KABC radio host Leann Tweeden “did not call for him to step down or say he ought to step down” and didn’t render an opinion upon being told an investigation had been launched.

Gloria really needs to 1) read Ethics Alarms and 2) take Ethics 101. What a victim chooses to say about an unethical act that harmed her doesn’t alter the seriousness of the act in any way.

From there, Borger continued proving this segment as one of political tribalism, declaring that what matters most is “the context in which all of this occurring, which is Moore — Judge Moore — and that has been, you know, brewing and percolating, whatever you want to say, for days and days and days.” 

In other words, “Look over there!” This is also Ethics 1o1 stuff: Whether the conduct of individual A is better or worse, the unrelated conduct of individual B must be judged on its own ethics breaches. Borgia is appealing to Rationalization #22, “It’s not the worst thing.” (This is also the current favorite of my Facebook friends, who are embarrassing themselves. At least they aren’t posing as journalists.) Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Judge John Boccabella

“[These defendants are] good people who made a terrible mistake…Why no one made a phone call to police is beyond me.”

—-Dauphin County (Pennsylvania) Court of Common Pleas Judge John Boccabella,  as he sentenced three former Pennsylvania State University officials, including  former university president  Graham B. Spanier, to jail terms last week for doing nothing after they were informed that told in 2001 that a former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, had been seen molesting a boy in a locker room shower. Sandusky was found guilty of subsequently molesting many other children.

Of course he’s good person—just look at the guy!

This is, of course, the last act of the Joe Paterno/Penn State/Jerry Sandusky tragedy, which burgeoned into an Ethics Train Wreck and occupied as much attention on Ethics Alarms as any other event in the blog’s history. You can review all of that here, if you have the interest or the time.

Right now I want to ponder the judge’s statement with a few questions and observations….

1. By what standard can the judge call this “a mistake’? This is like George Costanza in “Seinfeld” asking his boss if having sex on his desl with the office cleaning woman was wrong, as if the option posed a legitimate puzzle at the time he did it. Was it a mistake because Sandusky turned out to be a serial child predator rather than just trying it out that one time? Was it a mistake because for once the justice system held a university president and other administrators criminally responsible when they looked the other way to protect their precious institution while endangering innocent children? Did Spanier et al. make a “mistake” in calculating the odds? Was the  alleged “mistake” not understanding that “I saw Jerry a huge 50-year old man naked in a shower with a little boy” meant that something was amiss? Do you really believe that was how these men were thinking? Did the judge?

2. Why does the judge say these were good people? Because they had responsible, prestigious jobs? Because people trusted them? Because they are white, or wealthy, or have no criminal records? There are millions of prison inmats who have done less damage than Spanier, Peterno and the rest. Are the good too? Better than the Penn State enablers?

3. It your ethics alarm fails when it is most essential that it ring like crazy, what good is it?

_______________________

Sources: Washington Post, New York Times

Now THESE Are Unethical University Administrators…

Harvard_ShieldHarvard University police say that an investigation revealed that former Harvard Law School administrators Meg DeMarco, 33, and Darris Saylors, 32, stole about $110,000  from a university account that exists to  to assist  students with disabilities. 

 

The investigation commenced in November 2013 when a new budget manager at the law school noticed some accounting discrepancies.  DeMarco and Saylors then resigned from their positions at the Dean of Students office. The ensuing inquiry revealed that the two had taken money out of the  fund to  buy dozens of laptops, iPads, iPods and other electronics, which police traced to  DeMarco’s home and Saylors’ apartment, but also to the homes of Saylors’ friends and family in California, Washington and Tennessee.  DeMarco used a mobile card reader to deposit school money directly into her banking account. In addition to the electronics, Saylors used Amazon to buy purses, clothing, jewelry, and even sex toys.

The Law School announced that “As a result of this matter, the Law School implemented additional layers of controls governing the use of its credit accounts and purchasing protocols.”

What a good idea! Continue reading

Madeleine Albright Scores A Perfect #22!

perfect-10-score

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is in some respect the perfect surrogate for Hillary Clinton, another former female Secretary of State. She has not been the deftest of supporters, however. The last time she made the news and Ethics Alarms with the statement that women who didn’t support Hillary Clinton would burn. “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” she said, making a pure and shameless group identification argument for Clinton’s candidacy.

Now, however, she has outdone herself, warming the cockles of Ethics Alarms’ heart by giving us a perfect Number 22 on the Ethics Alarms rationalization list [ The last perfect #22 honored here was this, in 2014]. I had conceded the Rationalization Championship in this campaign to Donald Trump and his supporters, as they avoid ethics entirely most of the time and default to rationalizations as a matter of reflex . Do they know rationalizations are neon markers of unethical reasoning? No, they don’t. The Donald’s favorites appear to be… Continue reading