Ethics Observations On The Charlottesville Riots

  • Is there a clear, complete, objective account of what happened in Charlottesville? I can’t find one. I have read about “clashes” between protesters and “counter-protesters,” who we are told outnumbered the white nationalist group protesting the removal of General Lee’s statue by about 2-1. What does that mean? Was the white nationalist rally peaceful, regardless of the racist slogans they were hurling? Were the counter-protesters just shouting back, or more physical? I see references to the “fray.” What fray? The key word seems to be that the white nationalists “sparked’ violence by marching. Do we now say that the civil rights marchers in Selma sparked the violence, and not the counter-protest racists. or is the theory that which ever group has the less popular position “sparks” the violence?

My suspicions are that the vagueness of the news media reports is a deliberate effort by the news media to avoid assigning any responsibility to Antifa thugs for the escalation into violence.

  • Obviously the automobile driven into the anti-white nationalist, counter protest crowd was a criminal act. Since this was done by the racists, it became the focus of all news reports, as if this was the only violence.

Was it? Somehow I doubt that.

  • Again, a counter-protest group “incites violence” as much as a protest group. The reaction from the news media and the political pundits appears to ignore the basic fact that Americans have the right to demonstrate and express their support for repugnant ideas as well as ideas most of us approve of. This was settled (I thought) with National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977).

Apparently not.

  • President Trump’s statement regarding the riot was this:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time…We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”

The immediate reaction by the newsmedia was that the statement asserted a false equivalency. CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote,

“Both sides don’t scream racist and anti-Semitic things at people with whom they disagree. They don’t base a belief system on the superiority of one race over others. They don’t get into fistfights with people who don’t see things their way. They don’t create chaos and leave a trail of injured behind them. Arguing that “both sides do it” deeply misunderstands the hate and intolerance at the core of this “Unite the Right” rally. These people are bigots. They are hate-filled. This is not just a protest where things, unfortunately, got violent. Violence sits at the heart of their warped belief system.”

Both sides do “do it,” however, and when “it” is violence and refusal to allow a group with opposing views make their statements, there is no high ground. The starting point from the left is “the white nationalists are wrong, so they don’t deserve the same rights we do.” Yes, they do, and among those rights is the opportunity to protest whatever they choose without being attacked. “These people are bigots.” So what? They have the right to express their views. “They are hate-filled.” And the counter-protesters were not “hate-filled”? Or was the President supposed to distinguish that as good hate? Continue reading

10 Ethics Observations On The CNBC Republican Presidential Candidates Debate

cnbc_moderatorsnew

The transcipt is here.

1. Seldom are the  verdicts on a presidential debate as near unanimous as those on last night’s CNBC affair, in which Gov. John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Gov. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen.Ted Cruz, and Sen. Rand Paul took loaded questions from the CNBC panel of Becky Quick, John Harwood, and Carl Quintanilla. The questions and interjections from the moderators were so hostile, so disrespectful, so obviously concocted from a biased perspective, that the criticism came from all sides of the political spectrum.

Mostly the work of the CNBC trio was just unprofessional. The rules seemed arbitrary, the three talked over each other, they neither commanded nor deserved the participant’s cooperation. It was, correctly, called the smoking gun of news media bias, and a terrific honesty, fairness and integrity test for anyone watching. If you did and still say that it didn’t stench of a hostile exercise in media bias, then you lack all three. It was an embarrassment for CNBC and journalism.

2. Ironically, though the moderators were terrible, it arguably was the best debate yet for the Republicans. The hapless trio actually gave Sen. Ted Cruz a chance to show that you tangle with him at your peril, and to display his impressive mind and speaking ability. He said…

“Let me say something at the outset. The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match. And you look at the questions — Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues? The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every thought and question from the media was, which of you is more handsome and why? Let me be clear: The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense, than every participant in the Democratic debate. That debate reflected a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Nobody believes that the moderators have any intention of voting in a Republican primary. The questions being asked shouldn’t be trying to get people to tear into each other, it should be what are your substantive solutions to people at home.”

Bingo. Cruz’s perfectly delivered reprimand is being sloughed off by many in the press as a repeat of Newt Gingrich’s trick, in the 2012 debates, of routinely beating up on moderators regardless of what they asked. This, in contrast, was fair, accurate, as perfectly delivered as it was impressive. I had followed the debate closely, and I wouldn’t have been able to run down the list of hostile questions like that without checking notes. Cruz is probably the smartest candidate in the race. Too bad he’s a rigid ideologue and a demagogue with the charisma of a chain saw.

3. CNN’s comment on the Cruz slap-down: “Here’s an attack all Republicans can love.” This means, I suppose, that only Republicans care about having a news media that isn’t trying to manipulate national elections. That conclusion should offend all Democrats—unless, of course, it is true. The desire to have an unbiased and competent news media should not be a partisan issue. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Times Op-Ed Columnist Frank Bruni

Mazel tov, ass.

Mazel tov, ass.

Is this column signature significance? Is it possible that someone could write something like this and not be an utter jerk?

I was considering writing a post about Scott Walker’s withdrawal from the GOP race for the Presidential nomination.  He realized he wasn’t going to win, and maybe even that he was in over his head, so he got out. Bravo. For proud people, quitting is an act of courage. It was the right thing to do, in contrast with the increasingly loathsome Mike Huckabee, who says that he and his theocratic, anarchistic view of government are in the race til the end. Great. Asked if he believed it was reasonable to have elected officials defying the Supreme Court, Huckabee answered, “If the Court is wrong!”

Anyone who can’t figure out what’s the matter with that answer should not allowed outside without a leash, much less allowed to vote, and this dolt is running for President.

But back to Gov. Walker. I knew he was toast the first time he spoke in the first debate. This is my business, one of them anyway. I have to measure presence, because leaders, like actors, have to have it. Walker disappeared on screen. He has slack expressions and a flat voice; he doesn’t project energy or authority. You can’t be a leader if you don’t seem like a leader. Before George Washington was President and before he or anyone else know what a President of the U.S. was, there was near unanimity that whatever it was, George looked like it.

Not Scott.

A lot of this is cosmetic and technique: give me two hours with a Scott Walker and I guarantee he will be 100% better on screen.  After the first national impression is made, though, it’s too late for me or anyone else. Say what you want about the other ten candidates and even the four outcasts, they have presence. (Well, not Dr. Carson, but he came closer than Walker.) Bruni, being ignorant and biased, thinks the reason Walker sunk was because he’s stupid.

This is the general attitude of biased partyists like Bruni: conservatives and Republicans are stupid, or they are evil. Bernie Sanders can toss out economic gibberish for weeks, and the Brunis of the world—the Times has about ten of them–won’t challenge the depth of his brain pan; Hillary Clinton can say that she had no idea that using a private server for communications raised security issues for the Secretary of State, which is so stupid and ignorant that it makes my toes hurt, and never have her IQ doubted. A Scott Walker, however, is presumed stupid, because, all conservatives must be….unless they are evil. Let’s see, the conventional wisdom on the Presidential candidates from the Republican side since 1952: Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Republican Presidential Candidates Debates

GOP debate

[I have another three hour legal ethics seminar (fifth seminar in six days, in four cities) to handle this morning, then I drive to Boston and fly to D.C. Getting up all the posts on the runway will be a challenge: wish me luck. I began the day at Ethics Alarms getting this nice message from a new commenter, a Mr. S M Tenneshaw, who wrote, “You’re not a joke, you’re a worthless piece of shit” in response to this controversial post from 2013. Ah, how exhilarating for that sentiment to be the day’s first contact with human life!]

Here are my comments on the marathon debate last night:

  • Jake Tapper did an extraordinary job at  being a fair, organized, efficient and firm moderator. I was in awe. I was less impressed with his  late innings resort to questions reminiscent of Barbara Walters’ infamous question to Katherine Hepburn, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?’ [ NOTE: In the original post,, I incorrectly attributed this to Barbara’s Jimmy Carter interview, which was also cloying. Always got those two mixed up…] Later, after the debate, Tapper complained that there were some important questions he didn’t get to ask. If that’s true, Jake, why ask such silly ones as “What woman would you place on the ten dollar bill?,” and “What would your code name be as POTUS?” Some of the answers were inexplicable  (I had to have someone explain to me why Carly Fiorina said “Secretariat” as her code name. She was referencing her humble beginnings, not the Triple Crown winner…), some were alarming (Chris Christie wants to put the ADDAMS FAMILY on a bill? Oh, right, Abigail. ONE ‘D’. Good answer.) and some were pathetic pandering (Dr. Carson: “One Nation”? As the code name for the President? Uh, Ben, what are you doing?)

“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 a sophomoric 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?”

Obviously nobody with any historical knowledge, theatrical sense and rhetorical skill coached Paul, who is apparently too arrogant to watch YouTube. 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.

Continue reading

Disqualified For High Office: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx)

See, Ted, it's crazy to keep criticizing Iran while suggesting that the US should be come LIKE Iran. Never mind. Just stay in the Senate, and you can say stupid things you don't believe with minimal harm.

See, Ted, it’s crazy to keep criticizing Iran while suggesting that the US should be come LIKE Iran. Oh, never mind. Just stay in the Senate, and you can say stupid things you don’t believe with minimal harm. Deal?

Eventually, I may have to post a full list of the current Presidential candidates who have definitively disqualified themselves, by evidence of character, integrity, honesty, temperament, trustworthiness, leadership ability  and core values (or, in the cases of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the absence of them), from the very office they seek. Frankly, I’m afraid that no one will be left.

Senator Ted Cruz’s recent statement about Kim Davis, the now correctly jailed Kentucky clerk who cites God’s authority to justify defying the law, is so irresponsible, dishonest and cynical that he has to be moved to the top of the list.

Here it is. My comments are in bold.

“Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny. Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith. This is wrong. This is not America…

This is a lie, and a gross mischaracterization of the facts. Kim Davis can live and worship any way she chooses. She objects to same sex marriage, and she may refuse to associate with gay married couples, refuse to attend gay weddings, make whatever statements opposing gay marriage she chooses, picket gay weddings, lobby for a Constitutional amendment and more.

What she cannot do is refuse to perform the duties of her office, and withhold from citizens the government services they have a right to receive because of her religious beliefs. It is beyond legitimate question in law and ethics that she does not have the right to do this. She has been arrested for defying a court order and being in open contempt of legal judicial authority. This is not unprecedented, this is America, and must be America if democracy and rule of law is to function. Continue reading

29 Reasons Why “81 Things Mike Huckabee Has Denounced” Should Be Denounced

 

Republican National Convention

Political reporter—not humorist, not feature-writer, but reporter—David Farenthold of the Washington Post wrote a long feature (it is a hit piece, disguised) called “81 Things Mike Huckabee has denounced.” It doesn’t matter to me which politician this kind of junk is written to trash: Huckabee’s as deserving a target as anyone. On my rapidly growing list of candidates I would take a hacksaw to my neck before voting for, he is filed somewhere among Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal and The Donald. Farenthold’s  article itself would be unethical if it was written about The Green River Killer. It is in that horrible abuse of journalism category known here as “Making Readers Dumber and Less Ethically Astute Than They Already Are.

Here are the 29 reasons why I am denouncing “81 Things Mike Huckabee has denounced.”

Reasons #1-7 It is dishonest.

It’s pretty obvious what the post is about, but the author doesn’t have the guts or the honesty to admit it. The real title should be, “Mike Huckabee opposes gay marriage, so it’s okay for me to trash him about everything I can think of whether it’s fair or not.”  After correctly noting in his reasons 3 (“Same-sex marriage”) and 4. (“The Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.”) that Huckabee is not a fan of gay marriages,  Farenthold also devotes 68 though 79, plus 81, on his list of his  “things” directly to this, and in deceitful fashion  places the last 13 of them at the end of his list. Many are misleading in the context of his stated purpose, giving me seven reasons to denounce his list:

  • #68. claims that Huckabee “denounced”  “Homosexuality, in general” when he referred to it as  “a sin” 41 years ago in a Baptist newspaper advice column.  That’s not a denunciation. To a Baptist, that’s a statement of fact.  (Reason #1 )
  • In #70,  Farenthold says that Huckabee denounced “Homosexuality, in general” is this quote: “I’ve had people who are gay that worked on my staff. It’s not like I’m some homophobe. If you ask me is it the normal pathway? I don’t think so.” “I don’t think homosexuality is a normal pathway” is a “denunciation”? No, it’s an opinion, and not even an inflammatory one. Gays comprise less than 10% of the population: that alone is sufficient to justify “not normal.” (Reason #1)
  • In #71. Farenthold accuses the Republican of “denouncing”  gay parents by saying, “The children…really cannot, get critical early-life lessons in how a heterosexual family functions successfully.” OK, maybe, and so what? And adopted boys raised by a lesbian couple can’t get critical  early-life lessons in how to use a urinal. (Reason #3 )
  • For his 72nd  item, Farenthold calls this statement…

“Of the seventy-three sex scenes shown that week…two involved male homosexual couples.”

…a denunciation of  “Same-sex couples in TV shows.” Pointing out a statistic is now “denunciation”? (Reason #4)

  • #74 alleges that  “It actually became easier to get out of a marriage than to get out of a contract for the purchase of a used car!” is a denunciation of “Allowing heterosexual couples an easy path to divorce. ”  In fact, he was talking about divorces generally, in a book about strengthening families,  marriage, and commitment. (Reason #5)
  • The stretching gets absurd in #75. Huckabee  declared that citizens should engage in civil disobedience after the Supreme Court’s decision declaring same sex marriage a right. He did not, in any way, denounce “States allowing same-sex couples to marry, after the Supreme Court said they could.” He said that he would do something else.  (Reason #6 )
  • For his last “denunciation,” the Post’s Congressional beat reporter cites this question—“Do you want a president who follows? Or do you want a president who leads?” as one encompassing “President Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, for changing their minds and embracing same-sex marriage.”I could make this one about three reasons for an ethical denunciation , so dishonest is it, but I’ll be kind. Farenthold is spinning. Everyone in D.C., and most out of it, know that both Clinton and Obama based their public views on gay marriage on the polls and the opinions of the Democratic base, and didn’t have sudden epiphanies. Huckabee was quite accurately and fairly criticizing political cowardice and a lack of integrity on the parts of both Democrats, not the fact that they “changed their minds.” Just because a political reporter is playing in the sandbox of the Post “Style” section doesn’t mean that his blatant display of partisan bias is any less disturbing, or that it implicates his trustworthiness as a journalist any less.  (Reason #7 )

We get it, Dave. You really, really dislike politicians who don’t support gay marriage and believe it should not be made a right. You could make that point legitimately rather than grossly mischaracterizing the nature of the arguments of one of them who disagrees with you. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The King v. Burwell and Obergefell v. Hodges Decisions And Their Aftermath

supreme-court

 Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Supreme Court considered whether states had to recognize a right to same-sex marriages, and King v. Burwell, in which the Court was called upon to clarify some incompetent drafting in the Affordable Care Act, could not be more dissimilar in terms of issues, topics, and significance. Nonetheless, because the two decisions involved hot political issues and arrived on consecutive days, and because they ended up favoring the positions that Democratic and progressive partisans support, they have been conglomerated in public discourse to fit several general themes, all, to varying degrees, misleading, simplistic, and biased. The decisions have also launched some of the most hysterical and embarrassing commentary in recent memory.

Some ethics, as opposed to legal, observations:

1. Anyone who hasn’t read the majority opinions and the dissents, who just skimmed them—believe me, if law school taught me anything, it taught me that skimming court opinions was a sure road to error and humiliation—or who read them but could not understand them, should be ignored, and perhaps gently mocked, for expressing any view at all about whether the decisions were the “right” ones. Quite simply, such people are not qualified to hold an opinion. They can have, and express, an opinion regarding whether the Court’s calls on Burwell or Obergefell are consistent with their own needs, desires, belief or political orientation, but they have no basis for asserting that either decision is wrong, or, right, on the law.

2. One can find it troubling and ominous, as I do, that the votes on the two cases were as predictable as they were. Objective legal scholars with integrity should be capable of ruling in ways that are not congruent with the personal political philosophies. A Democratic Presidential appointee who favors expansive government activity in health care control should be able to look at a statute designed to accomplish that purpose and still conclude, “Nope, the law mean what they want it to mean,” or “Sorry, the damn thing is unconstitutional.” Similarly, we should be able to trust a politically conservative justice to examine a statute that he objects to on principle and still conclude, “Yup, it passes the test.” Maybe all the Justices are capable of meeting this standard, but these two cases don’t suggest that. They suggest the opposite. Continue reading