Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/22/2020: Death, Ethics, And Rationalizations

I just learned that my sweet, kind cousin Kathy has died as the result of several recently discovered brain tumors. I hadn’t seen her for decades, so in my mind she’s still 35, vibrant  and beautiful. I have to come to terms with the fact that we had no relationship at this point, but her loss still stings. She lived alone after her marriage with a real creep fell apart; never had children. Like all of the Coulourises (my mother’s side), family was so important to her. I could have picked up the phone.

1. I suppose today’s anniversary of Lincoln signing the  Emancipation Proclamationin 1862 has to be noted, but it was a strategic act, not an especially ethical one. After all, it exempted slaves in the border states, which allowed slavery  but had not joined the Confederacy. After the Union’s sort-of  victory at the Battle of Antietam earlier in the month,  Lincoln announced that enslaved people in areas still in rebellion within 100 days would be free. Then, on January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, which declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebel states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”  Note that it freed no slaves that he had the power to free, but the maneuver successfully made the Civil War about human rights. Anti-slavery nations like Great Britain and France, which the Confederacy desperately wanted as allies,  couldn’t back the Confederacy after Lincoln made the war explicitly a statement against slavery.

2. Does Mitt Romney have any core principles at all?  If he does, I don’t know what they are. It has always been clear—I hope— that he is a pure pragmatist, doing whatever he thinks will work at any given time. Non-ideologues often make effective leaders: FDR was one. Lincoln too. Romney would hate this, but Donald Trump is like Romney in that regard. (So are Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.). Over in the Facebook hive, the Deranged are gnashing their teeth over Romney’s announcement that he’ll vote for a qualified nominee for SCOTUS. I guess they thought that he would be like John McCain, and be governed by spite. Sure, Romney voted for impeachment because it was meaningless except to give the President a poke in the eye. He is still a Senator from Utah, however. he’s not going to torpedo an effort to solidify a conservative majority on SCOTUS.

If he were a Senator representing Massachusetts, it would be a different tale.

3. Black Lives Matter quietly deleted the “what we believe” page on its website. You know, that was where the group said its mission is to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure,” to “dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work ‘double shifts’ so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work,” as well as “foster a queer-affirming network” by “freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual.” Maybe they were afraid all of those corporations, sports teams and politicians proclaiming their support might finally decide to read about what they were endorsing. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Prof. Jonathan Turley

“The sordid history of White House pardons makes this commutation look positively chaste in comparison.”

—-George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley, responding to the wildly exaggerated indignation of pundits and Democrats over President Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence.

Turley, who is always courtly and, for my tastes, excessively restrained even when pulling apart the most irresponsible positions, was clearly irritated by CNN’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, a grand hack, who declared that the commutation was “the most corrupt and cronyistic act in perhaps all of recent history” (“cronyistic”?) and  Senator Mitt Romney’s characterization of it as “unprecedented, historic corruption.”

Turley took to The Hill to give Toobin, who should know better, and Romney, who was just exercising his Trump-bashing muscles without concern for such trivialities as facts, a lesson in American Presidential history, saving me the time and trouble: Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Respite, 2/5/2020: On Accountability, Karma, Never-Trump And Mookie

What a delightful afternoon!

It never fails. After a stretch where I am especially pleased with the quantity and quality of Ethics Alarms content, I lose followers. Occasionally someone has the courtesy to contact me and tell me why they are dropping Ethics Alarms, but usually not. I know I obsess about such things, but it is like being defriended: I deserve the courtesy of a direct contact and an explanation. One well-remembered exit was by a woman who was very active the comments but always regrading formal ethics theory. I know that stuff, I studied it, and it bores me to tears. I also view the academic approach to ethics as substantially responsible for the public’s general disinterest  in ethics generally. When I finally told the ethics enthusiast that this wasn’t the kind of ethics blog she was looking for, she sent me an email that announced her departure.

1. Of course, the big news yesterday…was that the Boston Red Sox traded their best player, Mookie Betts, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two young players and the willingness to take on the ridiculous contract of an aging, injury prone ex-ace, David Price. Boston being Boston, this was a story of much more consequence in the Hub than the State of the Union, the Democrats continuing inability to run  caucuses in Iowa, or the resolution of the impeachment washout. This shows, as I have always known as a born and bred Bostonian, that the city has its priorities straight.

Betts is that rarity, a young, great player who can do everything well, and do it with charm and modesty. He should be the face of the franchise for the next decade, but there’s a problem: Mookie wants to test the free agent market after this season, when he is eligible to do so. The Red Sox have offered him a long term deal in each of the last two seasons, and he recently rejected an offer in excess of 300 million dollars for ten years. On the open market Betts might get 30% more than that, and the Sox are loath to get into a bidding war. Thus, to avoid the fate of the Washington Nationals, who allowed their similarly young superstar Bryce Harper to flee without getting more than a draft choice in return (Mookie is better and nicer that Bryce), the Red Sox swallowed hard and traded him to the Dodgers.

Ethics notes:

  • In the trade, Boston gave up the best African American player in its long prejudice-stained history as well as its single African American starting pitcher. It says something about the team’s progress in this area that nobody has seemed to notice.
  • In trading Betts and Price after firing Alex Cora, the team’s manager implicated in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, the Red Sox just happened to bid farewell to the three most vocal boycotters of President Trump’s invitation to the team to be honored at the White House for the its 2018 World Series victory. Red Sox cohesion was never the same after the grandstanding “Orange Man Bad” explosion that split the squad down the middle. Mookie never seemed quite as nice after that; Cora never seemed as wise, and Price always was a jerk.
  • Betts has told anyone who would listen that he wanted to stay in Boston, that he loves the city and fans, and that the Red Sox were just proving that baseball is a business. That’s disingenuous spin, and clearly so. If you really want to stay with a team, then you accept the paltry wages of more than 30 million dollars a year to do so.

2. Since there seems to be a strong disagreement among the commentariat on this question, I need to poll it:

Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Everyone Who Says This Is “Clever” Or “Funny”

See you in court in about 20 years, kid.

The words they re looking for are “deceitful” and “dishonest.”

11-year-old Seth Parker advertised his roadside root beer stand with the sign above. After concerned neighbors called the police, it was determined that the sign was just a classic bait-and-switch.

See the small print invisible to casual passersby? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! It says “root”! That means the sign is truthful, right?

No, that means the sign is false…a lie, a deceitful marketing ploy designed to deceive, that emulates the dishonest techniques of frauds, scam artists and grifters since the dawn of time. Yet somehow, because the scamster is a kid, the entire mainstream media is falling all over itself  extolling conduct that is not only not praiseworthy, it is the first step on the road to predatory conduct. Continue reading

How Does This Help, Mitt?

Hey Mitt: I want my vote back.

Utah’s U.S.  Senator-elect Mitt Romney cheered the New Year’s cockles of “the resistance” and Trump-haters everywhere with a Washington Post op-ed condemning the President’s character. In substance, Romeny’s argument is indistinguishable from what regularly appeared on “Ethics Alarms” throughout 2016. For example, Mitt writes,

“…To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.”

Thank you, Senator Obvious! And this observation and frontal insult helps the situation exactly how?

It doesn’t, of course. I cheered and admired Romney for taking the stand he did against Trump before the GOP Convention, writing,

Romney’s timing was superb. On the day of the GOP debate, he provided all of Trump’s opponents with twenty times the ammunition needed to sink most candidacies, and deftly alerted his audience to look for the personal attacks on Romney sure to come. The news media, which is so shameless in pursuit of a storyline, has been relentless characterizing Romney’s speech as “the establishment’s” declaration of war on The Donald. That unfairly minimizes what Romney did. Romney spoke for all Americans—you know, the responsible ones—who don’t want an unstable buffoon succeeding Washington, Lincoln, FDR and Ronald Reagan. He did it with the skill and power, and presenting anyone trying to rebut his points with a daunting, indeed, impossible task.

That speech in March, 2016 needed to be made, and it also needed to be heeded. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. GOP voters preferred the non-politician to the professional variety, and the debates showed why.  Chris Christie accepted his metaphorical silver for squishing Marco Rubio to help clear the way for Trump; Marco himself behaved like a juvenile amateur; John Kasich set new highs (lows?) in pandering wishy-washy-ness; Ted Cruz was loathsome as usual, and Ben Carson gave us all new doubts about the validity of assumptions that brilliant surgeons are brilliant anyplace but the operating room. Worst of all, none of the candidates had the guts to deliver in the debates the kind of “Have you no decency?” attack that might have cleared the fog from voters’ eyes and brains. Then the Republican Party declined to act responsibly and refuse to nominate someone who should not have been the nominee of a responsible party, and given the equally unpalatable option of voting for Hillary Clinton, the nation’s voters put Romney’s bete noire in the White House. Continue reading

Addendum: The Dishonest Tax Day Anti-Trump Protests (And The Misleading Defenses Of Them)

How quickly we forget…

I wasn’t going to post any more on this topic, but in 2012 CBS helpfully provided some historical perspective on the supposed “tradition” of candidates releasing tax returns. Some revelations:

1. Donald Trump was not the “first candidate since Nixon” to refuse to release his returns.

Who else didn’t? Why H. Ross Perot, the third party candidate who cost George H.W. Bush re-election in 1992! And what a coincidence: Perot was also a billionaire with complex finances and conflicts! Had he been elected, and that was not beyond the realm of possibility, he, not Trump, would have been the first President since George Washington without elected office experience or experience in military command.  Perot got almost 20 million votes  from Americans who presumable cared about other issues more than Perot’s tax returns, or his refusal to release them.

So Trump was following tradition and practice: the tradition and practice of all billionaires running for President to refuse to release their taxes. The tradition even extends to some half-billionaires: Steve Forbes, another businessman who made a strong run at the GOP nomination in 1996, also refused to release his returns.

(By the way, Perot’s returns were not a major issue in the election, nor did the mainstream media harp on it. But there was some semblance of fair journalism then.)

2. When tax returns are released by candidates, the opposition will still find reasons to object, raise suspicions, and claim that they are not enough. Mitt Romney released two years of returns, and Democrats said he was hiding something nefarious.

In 2008, Barack Obama released seven years of tax returns, then accused Hillary, his opposition for the nomination, of hiding something. “Senator [Hillary] Clinton can’t claim to be vetted until she allows the public the opportunity to see her finances — particularly with respect to any investment in tax shelters,” Obama’s spokesperson Robert Gibbs said. Continue reading

As Republican Ethics Heroes And Dunces Board, Dodge Or Drive The Donald Trump Presidential Candidacy Ethics Train Wreck

off the train

The Donald Trump Presidential Candidacy Ethics Train Wreck is so deadly that the nation will be forced to board the Hillary Clinton Presidential Candidacy Ethics Train Wreck to survive it, as a broken back, a smashed face and need for multiple organ transplants are still more survivable than a damaged brain and a crushed heart.

Like all political Ethics Train Wrecks, however, it does allow us to learn a great deal about various pundits, politicians and public figures. Here are some early results from the wreckage once known as the Republican Party:

Ethics Heroes: The Bushes (Jeb, George H.W. and George W.) Mitt Romney, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Republican U.S. Senators Lindsay Graham,  Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner;  Conservative columnist Erick Erickson, Republican strategist and operative Mary Mat Weekly Standard founder and editor William Kristol.

There will be more. To reject the apparent nominee of your own party is a nearly unprecedented step for party leaders and ex-Presidents. I can’t find any vaguely similar example since Teddy Roosevelt split the GOP with his Progressive Party in 2012. Sasse has called for a third party alternative. Eventually, we will have a more definitive list, and some of these will fall into perdition. Continue reading

Post-Debate Ethics, Part I (of 4): The New York Times And The Biased Media’s Disrespect For Mitt Romney

"Boy, what a jerk, warning the public against a power-mad, narcissist blow-hard before they make him President...."

“Boy, what a jerk, warning the public against a power-mad, narcissist blow-hard before they make him President….”

Since the last GOP debate, several ethics issues have emerged, for those inclined to see them:

1. The New York Times and the Media’s Anti-Romney Bias

The biased news media helped sink Mitt Romney’s chances four years ago, and now, perhaps by habit, it can’t stop itself from bashing him even for doing something indisputably good. Though Mitt did a thoroughly statesmanlike, honest, accurate and unprecedented job eviscerating any argument for supporting Donald Trump, his own party’s front-runner for the nomination, most of the media couldn’t bring themselves to give him credit. Democratic operative Matt Lauer, on the “Today Show,” asked Romney if his direct attack was “betrayal,” as Trump portrayed it. (Hint, Matt: any time Trump stakes out an ethics position, you can assume it’s either self-serving or stupid.). The theory behind Matt’s Mistake is that Romney asked and received Trump’s endorsement in 2008, so he owed Trump the same in 2016. Let me explain to you Matt, the concepts of patriotism and statesmanship, as well as truth-telling, and how loyalty works.

You see, Matt, Mitt Romney’s loyalties in this matter, in order of priority, are individual, party, and country. If returning Trump’s courtesy had no negative impact on the Republican Party or the future of our nation, then yes, he would be ethically obligated to return Trump’s courtesy. That is not the situation, however, as I’m sure you know, but want to pretend otherwise in order to try to blunt Romney’s message and ensure that the  Democratic nominee, either the unqualified Bernie Sanders or the corrupt Hillary Clinton, has to face the weakest opponent possible, now that Ben Carson has finally withdrawn.

When Romney sought and got Trump’s endorsement, Trump didn’t predicate it on a future endorsement when Donald ran, because nobody in their right mind, even Trump, would have seriously suggested that Trump would or could mount as credible campaign. Mitt was seeking the endorsement of a businessman, a reality TV figure with high visibility, celebrity and a potential donor, and that’s all he was doing. That doesn’t obligate Romney to return the favor. Lauer apparently thinks Mitt is in “The Godfather” : accept the favor from the Don(ald), and you must do whatever you are asked at a later date, even if it means shooting someone. No, you are not obligated to do anything. What you asked before was a favor; what is being asked of you now is a wrong.

For nominating Trump will wreck the Republican party. It will dissolve its values, embarrass its members, soil its reputation and legacy, and when Trump turns out to be the new Silvio Berlusconi, or a modern day Huey Long, or an American Hitler, or, as I suspect, being an optimist, just a more destructive version of Evan Meacham, the car salesman turned Arizona Governor who became the first U.S. governor to simultaneously face removal from office through impeachment, a scheduled recall election, and a felony indictment, or, in the best case scenario, a national version of Jesse Ventura. Under any of these scenarios, however, the GOP will be crippled, accountable and ultimately doomed, and that’s just what journalists like Lauer want in their heart of hearts. What they don’t seem to realize is that there is a real risk that Trump could win.

Romney owes his first loyalty in this matter to his party, and his highest to his fellow citizens. His speech was not a betrayal of either of these, but an ethical act to its core.

Even worse than Lauer was the New York Times editors, who wrote yet another embarrassing editorial, one of many they have authored in the past 12 months or so as the paper has almost completely shed its mantle as the exemplar of U.S. journalism. Rather than an objective and fair editorial praising Romney’s courageous and well-aimed broadside at a juggernaut, the Times used the opportunity to play partisan politics while expanding and re-using old cheap shots at Romney: Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Day: Mitt Romney’s Indictment of Donald Trump

Thanks, Mitt. Well done.

Thanks, Mitt. Well done.

Mitt Romney took the podium in Utah and delivered one of the most remarkable attacks on a public figure since Marc Antony went after Brutus. I cannot recall anything like it. This was Mitt’s finest moment in the public arena, and every American who values responsible leadership and abhors the execrable values Donald Trump stands is in his debt. Romney was thorough, sharp, and did not resort to hyperbole or dishonest characterizations, not that he needed to. I like to think that I could have compiled an equally persuasive brief, but I’m not sure of that at all.

Romney’s timing was superb. On the day of the GOP debate, he provided all of Trump’s opponents with twenty times the ammunition needed to sink most candidacies, and deftly alerted his audience to look for the personal attacks on Romney sure to come. The news media, which is so shameless in pursuit of a storyline, has been relentless characterizing Romney’s speech as “the establishment’s” declaration of war on The Donald. That unfairly minimizes what Romney did. Romney spoke for all Americans—you know, the responsible ones—who don’t want an unstable buffoon succeeding Washington, Lincoln, FDR and Ronald Reagan. He did it with the skill and power, and presenting anyone trying to rebut his points with a daunting, indeed, impossible task.

Here is the speech: Continue reading

Unethical Headline Of The Month: The Hill

“Cecil the lion’s killer donated to Romney”

Yup. This really was the headline, and the story under it really had nothing more valuable to offer.

You know what? I’m willing to bet that at least one of those Planned Parenthood execs caught on video talking about crunching unborn baby skulls donated to Barack Obama’s campaign. Or have given money to Hillary’s campaign.

Or have bought Barbra Streisand CDs. Or like cheese.

What possible relevance to anything is this jerk’s political donation record from three years ago? What does this headline mean? Is Romney a lion-killer? Is the Republican Party now implicated in Cecil’s death? How is this conceivably news, since only an imbecile would see any relationship between the two acts: giving to a political campaign and shooting a beloved lion?

It is interesting, I suppose, that The Hill employs at least two imbeciles: the one who wrote this piece, and the editor who didn’t toss it in the trash.

Now if Cecil the lion had donated to Romney, THAT would have been news.