Ethics Morning Sickness, 9/29/2018: The Ford-Kavanaugh Hearing Hangover

According to several sources, Republicans not only have the votes to confirm Brett Kananaugh,  a couple of Democrats may even join their ranks. If true, that’s amazing, and also the most encouraging piece of news I’ve heard since Aaron Judge went on the Disabled List.

I don’t have any special fondness for Brett Kavanaugh, and I have no stake in his confirmation. All I have ever cared about is having outstanding, smart, analytical judges on the Supreme Court. I was thrilled when President Obama nominated Elena Kagan, who fits that description; depressed when he appointed touchy-feely mediocrity Sotamayor, lowering the quality of judicial talent so he could check off a diversity box, but then, that’s Obama. Justices like Blackmun, Souter and Kennedy, all appointed to skirt controversy rather than to ensure a competent Court, do subtle, long-lasting damage to our laws. Aggressive, thoughtful, brilliant jurists like Scalia and Ginsberg keep the third branch of government strong. Kavanaugh is undeniably the kind of qualified, experienced judge who has always been routinely confirmed by the Senate regardless of the President nominating him or his party affiliation. What the Democrats and their allies among activist and the news media have done to Brett Kavanaugh is more than wrong; it is very dangerous, and threatens further the basic comity and respect without which no democracy can function. The treatment of Kavanaugh, which I have discussed in detail elsewhere—the demonizing, the fear-mongering, the character assassination, based purely on an unremarkable judicial philosophy—continues down a slippery slope, already greased by “the resistance,”  that ends in civil war.  The Democrats will only turn away from this disastrous path when they conclude that it won’t work, that the American public rejects “the ends justify the means” as an operating strategy. There are signs that the Democratic Senators televised conduct during the Kavanaugh hearings may be a tipping point. I hope so. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Nothing much has changed in my assessment since I wrote this post ten days ago. I still don’t believe or disbelieve Ford or Kavanaugh. There is no basis on which to believe either of them, but the accuser has the burden of proof, and as was true ten days ago, she can’t meet it and didn’t meet it. Nobody confirms her account. She cannot provide specifics, even as to where the alleged attack occurred, who held the party where it allegedly occurred, or an exact date, making investigation nearly impossible. Her parents, who are alive, have not confirmed her account; apparently she didn’t even tell them about the incident. Her testimony was convincing. So was Kavanaugh’s. Those who say “they believe” either party might as well have a “Bias has made me stupid” sign on top of their head. In yesterday’s New York Times, a full page ad listed thousands of names of men proclaiming “We believe Anita Hill. We also believe Charistine Blasey Ford.” All they are doing is virtue signaling for their pals, proclaiming their partisan affiliation (believing Ford is required to save abortion, and depending on which hysterical activist or pundit you listen to, female suffrage, gay marriage and the continued abolition of slavery), and or proving that they lack the power of critical thought.

I’ll have to sort through all of the logical fallacies used against Kavanaugh later: I’m sure a new rationalization for the list or twelve is in there. For example, I have been told and read that women believe Ford because they know other victims of sexual assault who never reported it. But that doesn’t justify believing Ford! It indicates that the fact that she waited all this time, until evidence was gone and memories faded, to suddenly make her accusation when it was most politically useful to her party doesn’t prove she isn’t telling the truth, but it doesn’t make it any more likely that she is, either. A commenter yesterday suggested that there should be more sympathy and accommodation for victims who are afraid to come forward soon after a sexual assault. “I would like to remind you that women often are not able to speak out against harassment until long after the fact because they are afraid and unable,” she wrote. I replied,

Then they lose their chance. There are a lot of things in life like that. If I’m reluctant to speak up and challenge a mob harassing a US Senator while he’s dining with my family, I can’t wait 20 years and do it then, can I? If you are afraid to report a community criminal when you have evidence against him because you’re afraid to snitch, it’s no mitigation to report the evidence after more people have been hurt because of your delay. How about women who don’t stop their boyfriends from sexually molesting their children because they are afraid? Is it acceptable that they wait until the Statute of Limitations has run, the damage has been done, and the kids are grown and molesting children themselves before they speak up?

You don’t have to remind me of the dilemma. I’m sorry, but I am really sick of this argument…It’s an excuse and a rationalization. It makes fairness and due process impossible, and it allows false accusers to manipulate others. Three decades? Holding a complaint until the exact moment when it can’t be defended against AND will do the most damage?

It’s explainable, perhaps, but it isn’t ethically excusable.

Continue reading

“McCarthy And Witch Hunts And Fear, Oh My!” PART I: Director James Gunn

I don’t care to live in a culture where law-abiding citizens can have their reputations and careers destroyed by people maliciously publicizing old or private communications to make them hated or distrusted, or worse, a culture where doing this to people is deemed virtuous. Such a culture is one based on perpetual fear, where individuals cannot express an opinion that they may change later, or make a joke to a select audience, or have a conversation expressing strong but spontaneous and transient feelings without risking personal destruction at the hands of someone who wishes them ill.

That is the U.S. culture, however, that extremists on both ends of the political spectrum are successfully constructing,  unles we stop them. Their tools are political correctness, invasions of privacy, abuse of technology, social media and its attendant mobs, and an utter disregard of fairness, decency and ethics.

Two recent example illustrate how serious the problem is. This post is about one of them.

Talented writer-director James Gunn, the creative force behind the  delightful  Guardians of the Galaxy movies was fired by Disney after his old tweets containing offensive jokes were uncovered and circulated on social media and the web. The tweets were deliberately sought by conservative blogger and activist Mike Cernovich,  to intentionally wreck Gunn’s career. Gunn’s real offense was that he has been a vocal “resistance” recruit and a prominent conservative-hater, so once Cernovich had the goods on him, the Right was happy to use them.

No doubt, Gunn’s old tweets included jokes that many would consider worthy of Roseanne Barr on a careless day, like

  • “Laughter is the best medicine. That’s why I laugh at people with AIDS.”
  • “I like when little boys touch me in my silly place.”
  • “The best thing about being raped is when you’re done being raped and it’s like ‘whew this feels great, not being raped!’”

Gunn, realizing that joking about pederasty, rape and AIDS was sufficient to get him Kevin Spaceyed for life, tried to explain:

Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over. In the past, I have apologized for humor of mine that hurt people. I truly felt sorry and meant every word of my apologies. For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn’t living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it. Anyway, that’s the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore. I don’t blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today. Love you to you all.

I believe him. I believe him, though something nasty in me would love to know if he was telling friends that the Milwaukee Brewers should punish Josh Hader for the racist tweets he made in high school, because this whole phenomenon is a Golden Rule matter. That has been the Ethics Alarms position forever, including during the 2014 Donald Sterling Ethics Train Wreck, in which an NBA owner lost his team, millions in fines, and his reputation after his mistress taped an ugly conversation they had in his bedroom and circulated it. I reiterated this position most recently in May of this year:

The position of Ethics Alarms on these incidents, which also includes spurned lovers sharing private emails to the world in order to humiliate a correspondent, the Democratic Senators who leaked the President’s coarse rhetoric about “shithole” countries that took place during a meeting that was supposed to be private and confidential, and Donald Trump’s infamous “pussy-grabbing” statements, is simple. Once the embarrassing words are unethically made public, they can’t be ignored, Once the embarrassing words have unethically made public, they can’t be ignored. Neither should the circumstances of their making, or the unethical nature of their subsequent use was weapons of personal destruction.

There is not a human being alive who has not made statements in private meetings or conversations, whether  those statements be jokes, insults, rueful observations or deliberate hyperbole, that would be horribly inappropriate as public utterances. Thus the feigned horror at such statements by others is the rankest kind of Golden Rule hypocrisy. In addition, the opprobrium and public disgrace brought down on the heads of those whose mean/ugly/politically incorrect/vulgar/ nasty/insulting words are made public by a treacherous friend, associate or colleague erodes every American’s freedom of thought, association and expression, as well as their privacy.

And yes, to anticipate the objection, I do not regard social media posts by non-public persons who later become celebrities to be truly public communications. They are, in the minds of the foolish individuals who send them, personal messages aimed at friendly audiences, and not intended for public circulation. In reaching this position I am influenced by the legal ethics and judicial rule regarding what is public knowledge regarding a former client that can be used by a lawyer . Simply because information is included in a public document that anyone can access doesn’t mean it is considered public enough for a lawyer to reveal it if the information involves a client. Most people don’t know about those facts because they don’t know how to find them, where to look, or whether the information even exists. Information doesn’t become truly public until it is widely accessible and disseminated. Once Gunn (and Hader) became celebrities, their social media presence was public, but not before. True, both Gunn and Hader should have realized that what they posted when they were nobody special had suddenly become a matter of public interest, and true, people need to start thinking that way, but most of our newly famous just don’t. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/25/17: The Clinton Campaign’s Russian Dossier Connection, Her Lying Lawyer, And Jeff Flake

GOOD MORNING!

1 I have long been an admirer of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who is one of the few members of Congress, more’s the pity, who will stick to his principles even when they pit him against his own party. However, his freak-out and verbal attack on President Trump accomplish nothing positive (unless you consider making Democrats happy positive) and  at this point constitute pure self-indulgence and, yes, these words are coming up a lot lately, virtue-signalling and grandstanding. I have no sympathy for Flake, Senator Corker, or any other Republican leaders who stood by and allowed Donald Trump to hijack their party. The time for Flake to take a stand was last March, or even earlier. Ethics Alarms stated that the GOP shouldn’t have let Trump into the debates or on its ballot. I said that he should have been kicked out of the debates when he began trashing the party, and when he  became disgustingly boorish and uncivil. I explained that it could have and should have refused to nominate him by changing the rules. The party had a duty to the country to present a competent, trustworthy alternative to the corrupt, venal, dishonest candidate the Democrats were going to nominate: everyone knew who that would be. Instead, the GOP sold its soul. Jeff Flake now says that Trump is reckless, outrageous and undignified? Who didn’t know that? I assume the President’s  voters knew that. On Ethics Alarms, I wrote about those Trump character traits in 2011.

It is particularly galling for me to read Flake’s attack on Trump in the Washington Post today, which begins, “As I contemplate the Trump presidency, I cannot help but think of Joseph Welch.” In fact, it makes me want to scream helplessly at the sky. In this Ethics Alarms post, I invoked Welch’s famous televised slap-down of Joe McCarthy before the first Republican candidates debate, and concluded “If someone doesn’t at least try it, none of these 15 non-Trumps are smart enough to be President.” I wrote that on September 16, 2015. 

Senator Flake is like a Senator  going to Honolulu in December of 1942 and proclaiming that the Japanese can’t be trusted. He deserves no sympathy or support now.

He should have been reading Ethics Alarms.

UPDATE: My friend and frequent ProEthics collaborator Mike Messer called this “flake news.”

2. I haven’t had time to thoroughly unravel what yesterday’s revelation that Hillary Clinton’s campaign funded what became the infamous “Russian dossier” means. A couple of points, however, Continue reading

A Banner Day For Unfairness, Pettiness, Dishonesty, And Hypocrisy, Raising The Ethics Query: How Low Can Democrats And The News Media Go?

Actually, mudslinging would be an improvement...

Actually, mudslinging would be an improvement…

…as well as the related queries..

1. How low do they think they can go without alienating every American with a conscience and a brain?

2. Does any leader with integrity, courage and influence exist in either journalism or the political left to call out this escalating madness?

Yesterday was a stinking garbage scow of unfiltered anti-Trump hate and public deception.

The Prayer Breakfast Freak-Out: I wondered if the Washington Post, which has made very clear its own attitude regarding prayer (and religion generally), would have the gall to criticize the President for not being sufficiently pious during yesterday’s Prayer Breakfast. Just two weeks ago, the Post mocked the Secretary of Agriculture nominee for once “praying for rain.” (The mocking headline has been scrubbed now) Sure enough, the Post did have such gall; so did MSNBC and other media outlets that regularly display contempt for the genuinely religious, a significant majority of whom are conservative and Republican.

The critics of the President’s comments care nothing about prayer, basically like me, but unlike Ethics Alarms they are willing to plow new ground in hypocrisy by using this superfluous event to launch more gratuitous outrage. The Prayer Breakfast has the same origins as the addition of God to the Pledge of Allegiance. It was an anti-Godless Communism grandstanding stunt by Fifties era Republicans at the height of their Red-Baiting mode.  Now the same anti-religion liberals who routinely condescend to the faithful, and lobby for taking all references to “God” out of official documents, the same anti-religious  zealots who have condemned Betsy DeVos for her support of Catholic schools, are deeply, deeply offended that the President joked about “The Apprentice” at a Prayer Breakfast.

The Frederick Douglas freakout: The President spoke of Douglas in the present tense in his random remarks about Black History Month on February first, prompting multiple cheap shots and despicable contrived insults. The Post wrote yesterday, Continue reading

Post-Debate Ethics, Part 2 (of 4): John Kasich’s Opportunity

It is almost too late, but not quite, for Donald Trump to be derailed by a Joseph Welch-Joe McCarthy moment. I called for a qualified and competent GOP candidate to do this seven months ago, but none had the wit or courage to deliver. Since then, Trump has provided one opening after another that could have been exploited to tear away the veil of ignorance from even the eyes of the most deluded Trump supporter. One such opening was September 16, when Trump probably doomed some innocent children by promoting anti-vaxxer myths in a nationally televised debate. A medical doctor, inexplicably running for President, was standing right next to him. Did Ben Carson say, “You know, Donald, your ignorance is stunning. Vaccinations don’t cause autism, and they save lives, but as with every other topic we have talked about, you are shooting from the hip, faking expertise you don’t have, and dangerously misleading millions of trusting Americans by pretending to have expertise you don’t have. You should be ashamed of yourself. Why aren’t you?”? No, Carson, typically, mumbled something accommodating and let Trump get away with more misinformation.

Dr. Carson’s gone now, thankfully, as are many other candidates who might have burnished their own chances and clotheslined Trump with a well-planned “Have you no sense of decency?” sequel. Only one candidate remains who has any chance of pulling off the instant character assassination that Joseph Welch executed so deftly on June 9, 1954. In my post before that September 16 debate, I predicted that one of the non-Trumps would use a variation of Welch’s line, and observed that if I was wrong,  none of them “are  smart enough to be President.”

As Jeff Goldblum muses in “Jurassic Park,” Boy do I hate being right all the time.” Or being right about why I was wrong.

I don’t have much hope for John Kasich, the one remaining alternative to Trump with a chance to play Welch effectively. Continue reading

A Final Post Debate Observation: Cognitive Dissonance And The Welch Effect

Rand Paul23I’m literally the only one writing about this—which is to say that everyone else is wrong— so I might as well wrap it up.

You will recall that I predicted (and hoped) that one of the candidates in the CNN debate on Wednesday would have the wit, historical perspective and guts to prepare a Joseph Welch take-down of Donald Trump, as it is an excellent way of shining harsh light on a bully and ethics miscreant. This is how lawyer Joseph Welch ended the reign of terror of Sen. Joe McCarthy on live TV in the medium’s “Golden Age,” and McCarthy was bigger and more deadly game than The Donald.

I wrote:

Will the same tactic work on Trump? It should: it would have worked in the first debate. Now, it may not, because many Welches will not be as effective as a single one, and I would not be surprised if several of Trump’s competitors will have a Welchism rehearsed. It also won’t work if the wrong Welch jumps in first, or if he blows his delivery. (Welch was quite an actor.) We shall see. If someone doesn’t at least try it, none of these 15 non-Trumps are  smart enough to be President.

Well, the Welch moment came almost immediately, as the first candidate with an opening to deliver it took his shot: Sen. Rand Paul. As I wrote in my follow-up piece yesterday, it wasn’t completely Welch-worthy, but it stung:

The Joseph Welch moment that I predicted occurred, though it was a wan and, as I feared, an incompetent version.  The Welch-wannabe was Rand Paul, and he directly referenced Trump’s “sophomoric” personal attacks, saying…

“Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language to be negotiating with Putin? Do we want someone like that to be negotiating with Iran? I think really there is sophomoric a quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried. I’m very concerned about having him in charge of the nuclear weapons because I think his response, his real response to attack people on their appearance, short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that? Would we not all be worried to have someone like that in charge of the nuclear arsenal?”

…First, a Welch retort has to be delivered with withering contempt, not snotty combativeness. Second, the deliverer has to talk directly to the target; this is key. Not “he,” Senator. “YOU.” Third, whether or not the question was about the temperament of the man with his finger on the button, the danger of having a leader who behaves like Trump goes far beyond that….Still, Welch’s tactic worked a bit. Trump’s rejoinder, essentially “You’re ugly, too!”, got what sounded like awkward laughter, and Donald Trump, who is an entertainer, and who, like most experienced performers, can sense what an audience is feeling, was very subdued the rest of the debate.

What happened is that while the whole bucket of water didn’t land on the Wicked Trump, enough splashed on him to slow him down. When Fiorina delivered a mini-Welch later and Trump simpered his submissive “she’s got a beautiful face, and she’s a beautiful woman” line, he was still melting. She, more than anyone else, jumped in the vacuum left by Trump’s “shrinkage.” Continue reading

Your CNN Republican Presidential Candidate Debate Sneak Preview

Somebody is going to do this to Donald Trump tonight:

The only question is who, and perhaps how many. It worked before, and it could work again. It may be too late for this strategem, though.

If you don’t recognize the incident, one of the first live TV moments to enter history and have a major impact on national politics, here is the background:

It came at the height of the Cold War, and the fear of Communist Russia was as palpable as it was toxic. Being publicly associated with the Communist Party was a ticket to personal and professional destruction, and many politicians wielded the accusation as a weapon of mass destruction.  The Hollywood Blacklist was the archetype of many such lists that kept many Americans who were socialists or merely liberals virtually unemployable in the military, the State Department, police and businesses. Dark times.

Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy used red-baiting to become the most famous, polarizing, popular, controversial—and powerful— American politician not named Eisenhower.  In 1954, two commercial TV networks broadcast live the hearings investigating McCarthy’s allegations against Army officers, and the counter-allegations that McCarthy and his aide, Roy Cohn, had pressured the Army to give preferential treatment to a Cohn’s  friend, later revealed to be  his  gay lover. (See: “Angels in America”)  80 million Americans watched the first ever  broadcast of Congressional hearings, riveted.

Joseph Welch, a prominent Boston attorney, agreed to serve as the Army’s legal counsel in the hearings. He knew, as the GOP contenders should know, that the only effective way to shame and expose a bully and a miscreant is to do it directly to his face. Welch waited for days, playing the quiet, respectful professional as McCarthy ranted and grandstanded. Then he saw his chance.

On June 9,  1954,  McCarthy declared that Fred Fisher, a young lawyer from Welch’s own law firm, had once been a member of the National Lawyers Guild, a civil rights group that J. Edgar Hoover had called a communist front because its attorneys had represente suspected communists. Welch, choking with emotion, it seemed, indignantly defended his colleague while deriding McCarthy:

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

The chamber’s audience applauded. The public’s infatuation with McCarthy was shattered, and emboldened by the collapse of public support for him,  McCarthy’s colleagues in the Senate censured him for inappropriate conduct. McCarthy’s power evaporated, and the anti-Communist hysteria joined him in a shadowy corner of U.S. history. Continue reading

To the Pro-Obama Race-Baiters: “Have You No Sense of Decency at All?”

Ah, if only Joseph Welch and his well-aimed indignation were here today!

We knew, way back when President Obama was running for his first term, that the temptation to paint any opposition to his leadership or his policies as proof of racism would be irresistible  for the less ethical among his supporters in the Democratic Party and among the media. This came to pass, but we should prepare for much worse.  Now that the President has a thoroughly wretched record and is, to an extent I personally haven’t seen since the paranoid days of Richard Nixon, attempting to avoid accountability by blaming everyone in sight—a thoroughly unleaderly display—the race-baiters have served notice that they will be out in force this time as well, more shameless than ever. Continue reading

Unethical Headline of the Year: Fox News

The headline:

“Obama Praises Indian Chief Who Killed U.S. General”

This is how Fox noted the upcoming publication of President Obama’s children’s book,  Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters (Knopf, $17.99), which pays tribute to 13 diverse Americans whose best traits he sees in his daughters, Malia and Sasha. Among the Americans honored is the legendary Sioux chief Sitting Bull, who, among other achievements, defeated the troops of General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. Sitting Bull earned his status as a great leader and hero of Native Americans, as he tried desperately tried to resist the incursion of the U.S. population into Indian territory. Continue reading