Rationalization #64, the eighty-first rationalization overall when you add up the sub-rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List, is a major one, and should be near the top. (One of these days I’ll re-arrange and renumber them.) It is in evidence almost every day, and embodies the human fallacy of denial, as well as confirmation bias and contrived ignorance. Named after John Yoo, the Bush lawyer who wrote the infamous memo declaring that waterboarding, an “enhanced interrogation technique,” wasn’t technically torture, Rationalization #64, Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is,” is one of the most effective self-deceptions there is, a handy-dandy way to avoid logic, conscience, accountability and reality.*
I saw a prime example of it this morning, in former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s op-ed about the “Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals Program,” a euphemism for “amnesty for illegal immigrants who arrived as kids with their parents, so they can grow up and vote Democratic.”
“This narrative about an initiative that has given temporary haven and work authorization to more than 700,000 undocumented minors, the so-called Dreamers, still has critics howling about presidential overreach, about brazen nose-thumbing at the rule of law and about encouraging others to breach the borders of the United States. But there’s a problem with this take on the program. It is dead wrong.”
What the program really is, she explains, is “prosecutorial discretion,” like the case by case discretion prosecutors have to use to avoid misusing resources. This is Rationalization #63. Continue reading
From the Washington Post:
“Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson put the agency’s former inspector general on administrative leave late Thursday, the same day The Washington Post revealed a congressional investigation’s finding that the former watchdog had tailored reports to the liking of senior Obama administration officials. A Senate investigative report concluded that Charles K. Edwards, who served as acting inspector general at the agency from 2011 until this past December, had directed altering and delaying critical investigative reports and audits at the request of top political appointees in the department”
In that story, we learned that Edwards, who served as acting DHS inspector general from 2011 through 2013, routinely socialized with department leaders and gave them inside information about the timing and findings of investigations. The objective, which staff members said that Edwards was confident he had in the bag, was White House support for his position to be made permanent. A year-long bipartisan investigation also concluded that Edwards improperly consulted with top political advisers to then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and acquiesced to their suggestions about the wording and timing of his supposedly objective reports. Whistleblowers told the panel that Edwards ordered them to remove derogatory information about the Secret Service in the findings regarding the Service’s prostitution scandal, and also evidence implicating a White House staff member. Other whistleblowers alleged deletions and alterations in other reports by Edwards. Investigators told the Post they were able to confirm the improper deletions and delays in several reports, but did not reach a conclusion on the Secret Service-related allegations because the DHS, which is, as we all know, part of the most transparent administration ever. declined to provide Edwards’s e-mails about the Secret Service incident. Continue reading
I, like you, have been reading and listening to my various “My Obama, may he always be right, but my Obama, right or wrong” friends try to argue that having TSA agents sexually assault non-consenting adults is a perfectly reasonable and benign exercise of government power. I, like you, am tired of the posturing and excuse making. Their arguments, in essence, all boil down to: a) they have no choice b) they have our best interests at heart c) it’s no big deal, and 4) trust them, they know what they are doing.
I suggest that you, as I will, pose the following questions to your trusting friends, perhaps beginning with a preliminary query regarding whether they themselves have undergone the humiliating and invasive pat-down procedure that they so willingly approve of for others.
Then ask them these: Continue reading
We may be seeing a sterling example of the innate American resistance to intrusive and excessive authority, just when it looked as if many citizens were prepared to accept reductions in their dignity, privacy and freedom that past generations would never have countenanced.
As usual, the fuse has been lit by a combination of incompetence, bad management, and arrogance. Since the tragedy of 9-11, airplane passengers have been remarkably passive and tolerant in accepting increasingly inconvenient and de-humanizing security procedures at airports. They have allowed political correctness to hold sway over fairness and logic, subjecting decrepit seniors, ten-year-old girls and U.S. Senators to aggressive wanding rather than employing reasonable profiling techniques. They have allowed near-miss terrorist attacks caused by sloppy Homeland Security procedures and execution to be addressed by punishing the public with increasingly more intrusive search techniques. But when new procedures involving full-hand body searches were recently instituted without due warning, while the new full-body scanning devices were standing unused because of a shortage of trained personnel, anger, resistance and traditional American refusal to be pushed around finally made their appearance. Why, passengers are asking, must they be molested to compensate for intelligence failures? Where are reasonable alternatives? Why are we being treated this way? Continue reading
“Such has been the narrative of his presidency: being treated like the janitor in chief — mopping up messes made by others and being chastised for leaving streaks.”
—New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, discussing the public’s impatience with President Obama’s response to the Gulf oil spill.
Blow’s revolting comment, buried toward the end of an article calling for President Obama to display more emotion [Translation: “Act!”] over the Gulf catastrophe, is nothing short of despicable, but perhaps we should be grateful for it nonetheless. Now we know the drill: no matter what the issue, no matter what the provocation, biased, race-baiting commentators like Blow will judge any criticism of President Obama to be motivated by bigotry, and refuse to accord his critics the respect they expect to be given themselves. Continue reading
“I’ve just expressed concerns on the basis of what I’ve heard about the law. But I’m not in a position to say at this point, not having read the law, not having had the chance to interact with people are doing the review, exactly what my position is.”
—–U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee regarding Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration enforcement statute.
The President’s top lawyer cannot just express off-the-cuff opinions based on hearsay and second-hand reports as if he was sitting at a bar, shooting the breeze and munching on beer nuts. When the head of the Justice Department, not to mention one who is an African-American and presumably speaks with some moral authority on the issue of racial discrimination and civil rights, says on national T.V. (“Meet the Press”) that the law “has the possibility of leading to racial profiling,” that opinion will be presumed by all hearing it to be based on something more than Katie Couric’s bias and The New York Times’ slants. Continue reading
I have long been fascinated by the self-evident public lie. Sometimes the product of desperation, sometimes arrogance, sometimes contempt, each example poses a set of equally unattractive interpretations. Does the liar really believe the obvious lie is true, in which case he or she is deranged? Does the liar think that enough people will believe something so demonstrably false, meaning that he or she holds a deplorable lack of respect for the intelligence of the public? Is the liar so fearful and cowardly that he or she cannot summon the integrity to admit what is obvious, even though doing otherwise looks ridiculous? Or, as is surprisingly often the case, does the liar have so little regard for the truth and such a deficit of shame for lying that he or she doesn’t care that the lie is obvious?
When elected officials and others holding high office resort to the obvious lie in a matter of any importance, it should disqualify them from continuing in office. An obvious lie obliterates public trust. For example, when Janet Napolitano had the gall to pronounce department’s anti-terror airplane security measures a success because, be sheer luck, passengers foiled the so-called “Underwear Bomber,” she forfeited any future trust in her honesty of competence. (She is still Secretary of Homeland Security, however.)
The excuse sometimes offered by obvious liars after the fact is an ethics “Catch 22.” They argue that an obvious lie is a harmless lie, because nobody could possibly believe it. (Over on “The Ethics Scoreboard,” a spectacular version of this argument launched the continuing feature of “The David Manning Liar of the Month,” after Sony tried to justify its use of a fictional movie critic, “David Manning,” to attach glowing—but fake— blurbs to lousy films, like the Rob Schneider comedy “The Animal.” When its deception came to light, Sony protested its practice was harmless because nobody believed critical praise in movie ads anyway.) The defense conveniently ignores the question of why anyone would offer a lie they didn’t expect anyone to believe. It is really a consequentialist scam: if I try an outrageous lie and it works, great; if it doesn’t, then it wasn’t a lie.
What do we make, then, of Sen. John McCain’s stunning claim in a recent Newsweek interview that “I never considered myself a maverick” ? Continue reading
Long before Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili of the Republic of Georgia crashed and died on a training run there, Vancouver’s Whistler Sliding Centre, now the site of the Olympics luge, bobsled and skeleton competitions, had been the target of complaints, warnings and controversy regarding its safety. After the first international training event at Whistler in November 2008, the president of the luge governing body openly expressed worries over the speed of the track. Since then, there have been sufficient accidents on the track, not only in the luge, but also bobsled and skeleton races, that the fatal accident there could not fairly be called “a surprise.” Just a day before the Georgian was killed, United States luger Mark Grimmette was quoted as being concerned about the course’s speed, saying, “I think we’re probably getting close, too close, to the edge.” Later the same day, a Romanian luge racer was knocked unconscious during his training run. The frequency of crashes during the training runs last week were far above the norm.
Nevertheless, Olympic and luge officials chose not to make changes to the course that would limit the speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour that luge, bobsled and skeleton competitors were reaching, speeds beyond what they were used to, or had trained to handle.
And yet… Continue reading
A Siro, Oklahoma school bus driver, who is also a teacher, leaves a fifth-grade student stuck by the side of the road with her tongue frozen fast to a metal pole. The bus driver tells the girl that she doesn’t have time to help her, and drives away, forcing the girl to free herself by slowly chewing her way off the pole. The school discusses the situation with the driver and others who are charged with transporting the children, and declares the problem solved. The bus driver, the school says, will continue in both her duties.
It is time for everyone to resist the increasing cultural pressure to create an accountability-free society. Continue reading
Some diverse ethics observations while living the lonely existence of a traveling ethics trainer… Continue reading