Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 12/12/18: Silent Sam, Nasty Nancy, Tendentious TIME

Happy pre-Christmas panic days!

Once we’re under the two week mark, it’s all anxiety, regrets, list-making, fatigue, nostalgia, and tree needles under the nails. This is what Andy called “the most wonderful time of the year.

1. The theory: political correctness and historical airbrushing is a higher priority than education. The University of North Carolina \Board of Trustees’ approved of a proposal to build erect a $5 million history center that would, among other things, house “Silent Sam,” a statue dedicated to fallen UNC grads who fought for the Confederacy. The statue stood on campus until protesters tore it down in August. Now some faculty members and graduate assistants are threatening to go on a “grade strike,” withholding grades on papers and exams to force the school to abandon “Silent Sam” for all time. They are also trying to encourage students to support their protest.

Wrote the UNC administration in response:

“This afternoon it came to my attention that some instructors have used their roles in the classroom to ask students to take a stand on the strike,” Blouin said in the email, a copy of which Campus Reform obtained. “The University has received student and parent complaints. Such actions have been interpreted as coercion and an exploitation of the teacher-student relationship and in fact are a violation of students’ First Amendment rights as well as federal law….Our students are entitled to receive their grades in a timely manner. It is especially critical for the students preparing to graduate next Sunday, as well as the thousands of students whose scholarships, grants, loans, visa status, school transfers, job opportunities, and military commissions may be imperiled because lack of grades threaten[s] their eligibility,” the provost stated. “The proposed strike exposes the University and individuals who withhold grades to legal claims for the harm they cause to students…“Failure to meet [the faculty and GA’s] responsibilities to their students, including timely submission of final grades, will result in serious consequences.”

Firing, I hope.

2. Boy, that Trump is such an uncivil boor! House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, setting a civility example for us all while describing her meeting with the President on “the wall’: “It’s like a manhood thing for him, as if manhood could ever be associated with him….It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

Nice.

Imagine the howls of indignation if the President described a foreign leader in such terms. Or the mass condemnation from both parties and the news media if any prior President had been insulted that way by a member of Congress.

3. “A person, a group, an idea, or an object that “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year.” I would applaud TIME’s choice of journalists as the fading magazine’s “Person of the year” if it had the integrity to point out that this is an example of “the worse.” Indeed, journalists have deliberately warped and sabotaged public debate and discourse, withheld or buried information the public needs to know, divided the nation, defied their profession’s ethical standards, undermined their own institution and with it the health of American democracy, relentlessly worked to destabilize the Trump administration and undo the election, and have engaged in repeated incompetence, bias, dishonesty and conflicts of interest. The harm journalists have done is incalculable, and probably irreversible.

Quipped “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams: “Fake News is TIME’s “Person of the Year.”

Bingo. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Tech Dirt’s Mike Masnick On The Internet Privacy Bill

“We don’t solve problems by misrepresenting what the real scenario is. It’s true that ISPs have way too much power over these markets, and they can see and collect a ton of information on you which can absolutely be misused in privacy-damaging ways. But let’s at least be honest about how it’s happening and what it means. That’s the only way we’re going to see real solutions to these issues.”

Mike Masnick on Techdirt on the ignorance of  supporters, critics, and the public regarding consumer broadband privacy protections, which were just repealed by straight party line votes in Congress, as part of the Congressional Review Act, which allows the legislative branch to eliminate regulations and limits an agency’s ability to issue similar rules to the ones being struck down. President Trump is expected to sign the bill.

I can see both sides of the Internet “privacy” debate. All I ask is that the average screaming head on TV knows what she’s talking about, and that the news media try to educate citizens on the issue, not portray it as another Obama did it so it’s wonderful, Trump is overturning it, so it’s the end of the world. This morning I watched Morning News Babe Robin Meade roll her eyes while “describing’ what the bill does completely inaccurately. The bill, her unhappy face broadcast is baaaad like everything the Trump Administration and Republicans do is baaaaad. Then she explained that the bill would allow internet service providers, browsers and “search engines” to take your internet history and sell it to big corporations.  Then she giggled about how Max Temkin, inventor of some card game* I have never heard of, promised in a tweet…

“If this shit passes I will buy the browser history of every congressman and congressional aide and publish it.”

Robin, not having the foggiest idea what the bill really did, thought this was so funny and cool. She did not inform her audience, some of whom were actually seeking reliable information and not just tuning in to ogle, that..

  • The bill only undoes the Obama FCC regulations that stopped ISPs from gathering data on its customers’ internet use, and they hadn’t taken effect yet. In other words, it changes nothing.
  • Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other browsers and internet services still can gather anything they get their grubby cyber paws on. The FCC doesn’t regulate them.

You can’t buy Congress’ internet data. You can’t buy my internet data. You can’t buy your internet data. That’s not how this works. It’s a common misconception. We even saw this in Congress four years ago, where Rep. Louis Gohmert went on a smug but totally ignorant rant, asking why Google won’t sell the government all the data it has on people. As we explained at the time, that’s not how it works*. Advertisers aren’t buying your browsing data, and ISPs and other internet companies aren’t selling your data in a neat little package. It doesn’t help anyone to blatantly misrepresent what’s going on.

When ISPs or online services have your data and “sell” it, it doesn’t mean that you can go to, say, AT&T and offer to buy “all of Louis Gohmert’s browsing history.” Instead, what happens is that these companies collect that data for themselves and then sell targeting. That is, when Gohmert goes to visit his favorite publication, that website will cast out to various marketplaces for bids on what ads to show. Thanks to information tracking, it may throw up some demographic and interest data to the marketplace. So, it may say that it has a page being viewed by a male from Texas, who was recently visiting webpages about boardgames and cow farming (to randomly choose some items). Then, from that marketplace, some advertisers’ computerized algorithms will more or less say “well, I’m selling boardgames about cows in Texas, and therefore, this person’s attention is worth 1/10th of a penny more to me than some other company that’s selling boardgames about moose.” And then the webpage will display the ad about cow boardgames. All this happens in a split second, before the page has fully loaded.

At no point does the ad exchange or any of the advertisers know that this is “Louis Gohmert, Congressional Rep.” Nor do they get any other info. They just know that if they are willing to spend the required amount to get the ad shown via the marketplace bidding mechanism, it will show up in front of someone who is somewhat more likely to be interested in the content.

That’s it.

Got that, Robin?

Probably not. Continue reading

The President’s Most Unethical Appointment

Now that we know the whole story, it’s Michael Flynn, the erstwhile National Security Advisor, hands down. That’s amazing, when one considers some of the other appointments, like the spectacularly unqualified Ben Carson, Rick Perry, appointed to lead an agency he has previously said should be eliminated (and couldn’t remember its name); and the embarrassingly unethical Tom Price, the HHS head.

Earlier this week, Flynn, who was forced to resign February 13, for lying to Vice-President Pence, filed  with the Justice Department revealing that he had done work from August to November “that could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”  That work had netted Flynn’s firm more than a half-million dollars, and made Flynn legally obligated to register as a foreign agent.

On Election Day, Flynn’s op-ed was published  on The Hill  praising Turkish President Erdogan as an ally against ISIS. On November  18,  Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, wrote a letter to  Pence inquiring about Flynn’s ties to the Turkish government. When the White House  confirmed that the Trump transition team knew before Inauguration Day that Flynn might be required to register as a foreign agent. it was stating the undeniable.

How  could  someone like General Flynn ever be appointed national security adviser? White House spokesman Sean Spicer (speaking of bad hires) has made the silly excuse that Flynn’s status as a registered foreign agent didn’t mean he had a disqualifying conflict of interest. A  top national-security aide who was under contract to lobby for a foreign government deeply involved with U.S. Middle East policy? Outrageous! Outrageous, and guaranteed to spark a scandal as soon as this became public.  Not only was this a bad appointment, an incompetent appointment, an irresponsible, reckless and dangerous appointment, it was a really stupid appointment. Continue reading

From Missouri: Good Ethics Theory, Dumb Bill

Rep. Bart Korman, deep thinker...

Rep. Bart Korman, deep thinker...

A proposed bill, sponsored by Rep. Bart Korman, a Montgomery County Republican in the Missouri legislature, would require lobbyists who have sex with a Missouri lawmaker or a member of a lawmaker’s staff  to disclose it to the Missouri Ethics Commission. The bill defines sex between lobbyists and legislators as a gift, so  sexual relations would have to be included on monthly lobbyist gift disclosure forms.

In theory, the bill is ethically admirable. Lobbyists having sex with legislators is unethical, and vice-versa. It creates a conflict of interest for the legislator, creates an appearance of impropriety, suggests a quid pro quo arrangement, and either is or looks like the equivalent of a bribe. It is grossly unprofessional for both sex partners. It is unethical in every way.

The proposed law, however, is stupid and incompetent beyond belief or justification. It doesn’t even send an important message: everyone already knows that for lobbyists and elected officials to have sex is unethical. Lobbyists and legislators are already professionally obligated to report professional misconduct, by themselves and others. This is the ethical duty of disclosure and transparency. Why would any lobbyist so unethical as to have sex with a legislator he or she was supposed to lobby suddenly decide to abide by a law and disclose it, thus embarrassing his or her paramour? It makes as much sense to pass a law requiring burglars to report their break-ins and thefts, or to require tax cheats to list the money they hid on their last tax returns as income on the next one. Continue reading

Attack Of The Ethics Dunces: No, There Is Nothing Wrong With North Carolina’s State Ethics Commission Ruling On Sex With Lobbyists

gumbies2

Ah, how close I came to writing, “No, you morons…”!

The headline nearly was “Unethical Website of the Month: Addicting Info.” This pathetic site surely deserved it. It’s headline was:

North Carolina Legalizes Call Girls For Politicians

After a few smart-enough-to-know-better-but-apparently-having-an-off-day Facebook friends posted links to this crap with expressions of horror, I checked it out, assuming it was a hoax. Well, it wasn’t a hoax, exactly, just a dishonest, misleading, sensational bit of link bait. That’s not what the story is about.

Equally dumb but not quite as dishonest was the Daily Beast, which headlined its incompetent story...

North Carolina Lobbyists Can Officially Screw Politicians Legally.

What’s wrong with this one? It also has nothing to do with the facts of the story, and if you think about it, is as reasonable a headline as Annie Says The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow. There is no place anywhere in the United States of America where it is illegal for adults in any occupation to have consensual sexual relations with any other adult regardless of his or her occupation. So, to put it in the crude, also link-baiting terms of the Daily Beast—stay classy, you left wing hacks!-–all of these are also accurate: Continue reading

Gallup’s Honesty And Ethics Ratings Of Occupations

shattered-trustThe annual Gallup survey is out. You can read Gallup’s commentary here, and see the details here. (you’ll need an Adobe reader.)

Gallup’s big announcement this time is that the Clergy has declined in perceived trustworthiness since 2012, but that’s a stretch: the percentage of respondents who rated the men and women of God as “high” or “very high” in honesty and ethics declined 5% from last year, but all of the most trusted professions had similar drop-offs, including the perennial winners, Nurses (down 3 points) and Pharmacists (down 5).  The Clergy still is among the most trusted professions, and that’s especially impressive since almost half the country doesn’t believe the basic premise of their calling. I think the Gallup reasonably figured that trumpeting that the clergy’s ratings had hit a new low would garner more publicity than “Car mechanics trusted more now than ever!”, which the data also would support. (They still aren’t trusted much.)

The real surprise is how little any of the professions have changed their public standing. TV reporters, near the bottom, are still as trusted as they were in 1998. Members of Congress, held in even lower esteem, are about where they were in 2009. Lawyers, mirabile dictu, are the most trusted since this survey began, which is not to say they are trusted—they are tied with TV Reporters. The only real head-scratchers are that Ad Executives are at an all-time high—why?—and that lobbyists score so much lower than the people who tell them what to do, Business Executives, and the people they corrupt, Members of Congress. I think it’s because most people have no idea what lobbyists do, but it sounds shady. Continue reading

Congressional Ethics: Why Is This Kind of Brazen Corruption Legal? Why Do We Tolerate A Congress That Conducts Itself This Way?

How is Eleanor Holmes Norton like Don Fanucci? In more ways than you might think.

How is Eleanor Holmes Norton like Don Fanucci?
In more ways than you might think.

Someone connected to a lobbyist released a voicemail of the D.C. delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D, not that the same kind of voice mail hasn’t been left by countless Republicans too), shaking down an industry that is greatly affected by the committee Holmes chairs (though she may not vote on the floor, the District being the victim of taxation without representation) for a financial contribution, in a wounded/threatening tone reminiscent of the Sicilian gangster Don Fanucci in “Godfather Part II” who shakes down a poor merchant by asking for “enough to wet my beak.” Cenk Uygur is almost humorously unsettled by Holmes’ naked venality and the quid pro quo corrupt practices it represents, and I sympathize.

As long as voters, leaders and the news media tolerates this kind of culture, complaints about the unresponsiveness of our elected representatives are laughable. It should be obvious that the first step to a better republic is refusing to tolerate bribery.

Here’s the clip.

Weep.

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Pointer: Instapundit

Source: Advice Goddess