Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 3/20/20: Seven Items, Five Pandemic Related, Plus Boston Sports And New York City Schools

…feeling like the last living cell in a dead body…

1. I don’t know about you, but I’m just reaching out to random friends to see how they are doing. Some aren’t doing that well, but they appreciate the contact.

2. More of the name game: From a PR release from two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Gail Heriot and Peter N. Kirsanow…

The Commission makes the ill-advised suggestion that referring to COVID-19 with terms like “Chinese coronavirus” is somehow fueling “[t]his latest wave of xenophobic animosity toward Asian Americans.” It is common to refer to infectious diseases by their geographic origin. Examples include Asian flu, Bolivian hemorrhagic fever, Brazilian hemorrhagic fever, Ebola, German measles, Japanese encephalitis, Lyme disease, Marburg virus, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Pontiac fever, Rift Valley fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Spanish flu, Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever, and West Nile virus…It is counter-productive to hector the American people (or its leaders) about describing the COVID-19 as “Chinese” or as having originated in China. It did originate there. Ordinary Americans—of all races and ethnicities—who harbor no ill will toward anyone don’t like to have the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights imply that that they are fueling the flames of xenophobic animosity.   We can’t blame them. It is insulting.

Our colleagues on the Commission close their statement by writing under the current circumstances no American should be “ostracized solely because of their race or national origin.” That is certainly sensible enough. We would add that Americans should not be ostracized on account of false accusations that their conduct has been racist, xenophobic and hateful. The promiscuous use of those terms needs to stop.

That’s fine and well stated. My position is even more basic. I refuse to participate in mind-control based on the assertion that a factual statement is “racist,” or that someone is the cause of unethical conduct because others choose to behave unethically. Any more Alyssa Milano comments or complaints about Kung Flu jokes, and I’ll be calling the damn thing the Wuhan Virus from the Capital of the Hubai Province in That Big Asian Nation Called China That Endangered The Entire World By The  Dishonest, Paranoid Manner In Which It Withheld Crucial Information.

Back off. Continue reading

Major Ethics Alarm: American Journalism Is Crumbling Before Our Eyes [Part 1: Signature Significance]

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…and without trustworthy journalism, democracy cannot survive.

There was reason to hope that following its beyond miserable performance in its coverage of the campaign and election just concluded, American journalism would respond to reality and dedicate itself to repairing its broken relationship with traditional professional ethics. Poll after poll shows that the news media’s standing with the public has never been lower. Because the profession itself ought to be more keenly aware than anyone of how vital honest, fair and competent journalism is to the health of a democracy, one would expect that this would be a moment demanding brutal self-examination and rapid reform.

This is not what we are seeing, however. Consider:

  • Last weekend, ABC’s Jonathan Karl interviewed Donna Brazile in a New Year’s Day review of the election. I couldn’t believe it. She was introduced as a respectable commentator with no acknowledgment of her role in the Clinton fiasco and the news media’s disgrace. As Ed Morrissey wrote,

Why is Jonathan Karl interviewing Brazile in the first place? …It has been 62 days since CNN severed their ties with Donna Brazile over the fact (no longer an “allegation”) that she cheated during one of the Democratic presidential primary debates and attempted to cheat during a second one in Flint, Michigan. And yet ABC News is inviting her to sit down for a casual New Years Day chat like any other political analyst.

CNN shouldn’t have allowed her to be a staff member to begin with, since she was a partisan political operative. She used that relationship and exploited her conflict of interest to try to do what she could to  rig the election. She was exposed, lied by denying it, and fired. Now, after the election, she behaves as if nothing has changed, and ABC again presents her as a reliable analyst.

  • After WikiLeaks’ publication of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta revealed collusion and shockingly unethical ties between prominent journalists and the Clinton campaign, as well as the campaign openly referring to such journalists as allies, none of the journalists so exposed have been disciplined, nor have any of the news organization employing them indicated that they were so much as troubled by the revelation.

Continue reading

On Immigration, Speech Suppression, War, Terrorism, Police and More, It’s Cultural Death By Compassion Poisoning

Think of the children!Compassion is a wonderful thing. A nation cannot govern or even survive, however, using compassion as its guiding ethical principle. The United States currently seems hell bent on disproving this fact, and is well on the way to confirming it. It is too bad that this is true, and we should all agree that it’s  a damn shame that you can’t run a successful democracy without periodically inflicting pain, creating suffering and harming some human beings in order that many more can live in peace and pursue their lawful ambitions and desires. Nonetheless, that is an immutable fact of existence. Government policy that attempts to deny it is not merely incompetent and naive, but ultimately suicidal. A culture that elevates compassion above all other values like responsibility, accountability, prudence, process and proportion is betting everything on the inherent goodness and rationality of humanity. History tells us it’s a losing bet.

When I woke up to the horrible news of the Paris attacks, and after I had finished simultaneous laughing and crying about the fact that President Obama picked yesterday to proclaim that the threat of ISIS had been “contained,” it suddenly occurred to me that the majority of the crises this nation struggles with today are  linked by the same cultural and leadership malady. The United States increasingly is unwilling to accept the reality that governance is utilitarian, and that punishment, deterrence, sacrifice, pain, retaliation and accountability are indispensable tools that must be used and used unapologetically. The alternative is chaos, and chaos is what we are facing.

An impressive number of these crises have been in the news this week: Continue reading

Fairness To Ben Carson: There Is Nothing Wrong With Considering A Presidential Candidates’ Religion And Its Influences

It's true: if you don't think an Amish man should be President, you're violating the Constitution. Or something. Wait...What was the question again?

It’s true: if you don’t think an Amish man should be President, you’re violating the Constitution. Or something. Wait…What was the question again?

As with Donald Trump, I am once again faced with having to defend a Presidential candidate who should not be running and should have fewer supporters than Ted Nugent has functioning brain cells. For the second time in two days the victim is dead-eyed, hubris-infected, “I’m not a politician so I am allowed to be a lousy speaker and campaigner” Ben Carson, the candidate for those who are so disgusted with a President with no executive experience that they want a new President with no government experience or executive experience.

The gleeful news media freak-out spurred by the doctor’s silly generalities about the qualifications of Muslims for the U.S. Presidency was already embarrassing and intellectually dishonest (hence yesterday’s post) before the latest nonsense. The current narrative is that Dr. Carson doesn’t understand the Constitution. No fewer than three columns this morning in the Washington Post alone carried that message, and all quoted the same passage: Article VI’s directive that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office.”

Dr. Carson didn’t say that there should be a religious test for the Constitution. It is critics like Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Eugene Robinson, not Carson, who apparently don’t understand the Constitution. See, Eugene, Dana Milbank, Michael Gerson, Ted Cruz, The Nation, Whoopie Goldberg, Rachel Maddow, and too many others to name, the Constitution doesn’t tell citizens, including citizens you don’t like to see running for President, that they can’t use a religious test for any office, it says that the government can’t.

Did you miss that part?

I don’t know how! Continue reading

Is It Possible That The Democratic Party Is As Corrupt As Its Conduct In The I.R.S. Investigation Suggests?

Corleone testifiesThis began as an Ethics Dunce post, but designating Congressional Democrats as ethics dunces for their current, apparently agreed upon and coordinated response to the disgraceful I.R.S. scandal—and it is a scandal—appears far more sinister than that. This appears to be a cover-up, and a particularly blatant, clumsy and desperate one, as well as a sickening display of a major political party abandoning its principals and constituency—meaning the American people and not donors, sycophants or “the base”—to impede an effort to get to the truth.

Here’s Post columnist Michael Gerson’s fair summary of the I.R.S. affair to date:

“To review: After President Obama blamed “two Dilberts in Cincinnati,” an inspector general’s report found that high-level IRS officials in Washington were involved in directing additional scrutiny toward tea party groups seeking tax exemptions. [I.R.S. official Lois]Lerner admitted as much, before taking the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before the House oversight committee. The House of Representatives held her in contempt. And now the evidence of possible communications between Lerner and other agencies (including the White House) has gone missing under suspicious circumstances. It could be a regrettable series of rogue operations, IRS management failures and technical glitches. Or they could be taking us for fools. If there was any political motivation for this abuse of power, it is a form of corruption — the kind of thing Americans like to criticize in countries they regard as less developed. And the circumstantial evidence is strong. This wave of heightened IRS scrutiny came after Democratic senators, warning of possible abuses spawned by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, demanded additional IRS scrutiny of nonprofit political groups. Because evidence of political influence is both plausible and circumstantial, a special counsel is needed to sort out the truth.”

The summary, in an accurate article titled “An arrogant and lawless I.R.S..” doesn’t include the fact that nobody has been disciplined or held accountable in any way for what occurred, including any of the imaginary scapegoats in the Cincinnati office. It doesn’t note that I.R.S. Commissioner Koskinen delayed informing Congress of the lost e-mails for months, after assuring members, under oath, that they would be provided. Yesterday, Koskinen stooped to Bill Clinton levels of deceitful parsing, arguing that when he swore to Congress that he would deliver all e-mails, he meant only all the e-mails that existed, since he couldn’t deliver those that no longer existed. Why didn’t he mention that those key Lerner e-mails had vanished? He wasn’t asked! Meanwhile, a government archivist testified yesterday that not informing Congress that the e-mails had been lost indeed violated a federal statute. Also yesterday, the I.R.S. admitted that it illegally played politics in 2012, leaking confidential tax information from an anti-gay marriage group to the pro-marriage Human Rights Campaign. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Washington Post Columnist Michael Gerson

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“Most theorists of self-government have maintained that certain modest virtues are necessary to democracy and free markets: deferred gratification, diligence, a prudent concern for the future. There is an ongoing American debate about the degree to which government can or should promote such virtues. But here is an extraordinary case of government actively undermining the moral underpinnings of market capitalism for its own benefit. It holds out the promise of sudden wealth without work or productive investment, engaging in a purposeful and profitable deception. A corrupting fantasy becomes a revenue stream, dependent on persuading new generations to embrace it. Perhaps we have given up on government as a source of moral improvement. Does this mean we must accept a government that profits by undermining public virtues? Nearly 20 years ago, William Galston and David Wasserman wrote, “While history indicates that gambling is too ubiquitous to suppress, moral considerations suggest that it is too harmful to encourage. The most appropriate state stance toward gambling is not encouragement, but rather containment.”’

——- Washington Post op-ed columnist Michael Gerson, on the implications of a new report by the Institute For American Values titled, “Why Casinos Matter.” Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Playing Follow The Leader

To follow or not to follow?

To follow or not to follow?

I live in the Washington, D.C. area, and at this moment even the beginning of the NFL season, usually the one thing everyone here (except me) usually cares about, is being over-shadowed by the drama of the looming Congressional vote on Syria. What was assumed—why, I cannot imagine–to be a likely rubber stamp with only an insufficient number of Republicans providing opposition because, as we all have been told repeatedly, they will oppose the President on anything, has materialized as strong bi-partisan opposition. The Washington Post estimated last night that the votes in the House are currently running 3-1 against the symbolic-and-deadly-but-promised-to-be-non-committal missile strikes on pre-announced targets. This is the most encouraging development in the government since President Obama was elected, I am tempted to say. It shows that this is not a nation of lemmings, and that the separation of powers has its virtues after all. Nonetheless, interesting ethical arguments are arising in favor of votes both no and yes.

The no arguments are varied, and reach the same conclusion from different positions, some more ethical than others. The pacifist Left and the isolationist Right, both irresponsible and dedicated to ideology over reality, are on the same path here, and would be on that same path even if the President’s argument for missile strikes was strong. Others, including me, but also those who supported more extensive military action in the Bush administration, fault the plan because of its dubious results, its contradictory logic, and the feckless and troubling way the President brought us to where we are.

I just heard an interview with a Republican House member who announced that he reversed his initial support for the missile strike after hearing Obama’s remarks in Sweden. After hearing Obama appear to deny that he drew the red line—a rhetorical point that was too cute by half and clumsily stated—this Congressman decided that he couldn’t believe anything Obama said or promised regarding Syria, including his assurances that nothing would lead to “boots on the ground.” (I would argue that his assurances that nothing would lead to boots on the ground is, if not dishonest, frighteningly irresponsible.)

The yes arguments are more perplexing. Naturally, there are those who, against all logic, simply adopt the contradictory and militarily nonsensical arguments John Kerry was asked to present to the Senate (apparently because President Obama knows that he appointed an inarticulate—but loyal!!!—dim-bulb, Chuck Hagel, as Secretary of Defense—but that is another, though related, issue). Liberal columnist Eugene Robinson,  who has won an Affirmative Action Pulitzer Prize and who has proven that he will cheer whatever his fellow-African American in the White House does, even if he makes a decree like the South American rebel-leader-turned-dictator in Woody Allen’s “Bananas”...

“From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish…In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now… 16 years old!”

made this “argument”…

“The issue can’t be who wins that country’s civil war. It has to be whether the regime of Bashar al-Assad should be punished for using chemical weapons — and, if the answer is yes, whether there is any effective means of punishment other than a U.S. military strike…Let me clarify: I believe that a U.S. strike of the kind being discussed, involving cruise missiles and perhaps other air-power assets, can make it more likely that Assad loses. But I also believe that — absent a major commitment of American forces, which is out of the question — we cannot determine who wins.”

Gee, thanks for clarifying, Eugene!

Other, more coherent voices argue for endorsing Obama’s plan do sent a few missiles—not any that might hit Assad or his weapons, mind you– because they argue, even if the plan is weak, misguided, dangerous or certifiably bats, the President and, by extension, the United States will be dangerously weakened if a call to arms is rejected. This is essentially the argument of rational conservative James Taranto. Here is former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, this morning:

“…During the Syrian crisis, the Obama administration has generally waged a war of words and then used those words casually and clumsily. President Obama declared that Assad “must go” when his departure seemed inevitable — without a strategy, or even the intention, to achieve this goal when it became difficult. He drew a chemical-weapons “red line” that became a well-trodden thoroughfare. The Obama administration revealed details of an imminent military operation, which was promptly repudiated by the parliament of our closest ally, then abruptly postponed. The administration seemed to indicate that United Nations support for a military strike was needed — before declaring it unnecessary. It seemed to indicate that a congressional endorsement was superfluous — just before staking everything on securing it. Obama is inviting members of Congress to share responsibility for a Syrian policy that has achieved little to justify their confidence. In fact, he has undermined political support for the legislative outcome he seeks. For more than five years, Obama has argued that America is overcommitted in the Middle East and should refocus on domestic priorities. Now he asks other politicians to incur risks by endorsing an approach he has clearly resisted at every stage…”

Wait…this is how Gerson argues that Congress should vote yes? Indeed it is…

“Legislators are not arguing between preferred policy options, as they would on issues such as health care or welfare. They are deciding if they will send the chief executive into the world with his hands tied behind his back. This would be more than the repudiation of the current president; it would be the dangerous weakening of the presidency….even if this military action were wrong or pointless, it would have to be sufficiently dangerous to justify the gelding of the executive branch on a global stage. A limited military strike may be symbolic. But for Congress to block that strike would be more than symbolic. It would undermine a tangible element of American influence: the perception that the commander in chief is fully in command.”

This is a good time to stop and offer today’s Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz, based on the reasoning of Gerson and others:

Are members of Congress ethically obligated, by loyalty and responsibility for the image and credibility of the U.S. abroad and to avoid weakening the institution of the presidency, to support the missile strikes on Syria, even if they and their constituents believe that to do so is wrong and misguided?

And here’s a poll:

Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Washington Post Columnist Michael Gerson

“In determining who is a “major” candidate for president, let’s begin here. Those who support the legalization of heroin while mocking addicts are marginal. It is difficult to be a first-tier candidate while holding second-rate values.”

—-Washington Post columnist and former Bush advisor Michael Gerson, pronouncing presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul’s Libertarian endorsement of drug legalization ethically unacceptable.

Gerson’s deconstruction of the all-too-common and increasingly ominous calls for legalizing addictive drugs nicely captures the trio of ethical flaws of the advocacy: it denies the crucial and legitimate government role defining responsible conduct for society, it embraces the myth that recreational drug use “does no harm,” and it is arrogant and selfish, condemning the poor and reckless to problems that their fragile resources cope with, in order to bestow a dubious “freedom” that the drug advocates do not need. Continue reading