Afternoon Ethics Alarms, 6/26/2020: Ethics Zoom!

This, as some of you might recall, is the logo for the old PBS kids series, the lively cast members of which are now middle-aged and arthritic. I don’t like to think about it…

I just did a dry run of an upcoming Zoom CLE conference, and other than the fact that I look like hell, I was impressed. If there’s any enthusiasm among readers, I am think hard about holding weekly ethics symposium using the technology. I can accommodate up to a hundred participants, and the time is unlimited (though their patience surely will be.) Let me know if you’re interested!

1. I’m used to cynical, but…The Democrats voting to not even debate the GOP Senate police reform bill was so openly partisan. The party didn’t went to pass anything that would give Republicans credit for addressing the police issue, and they are counting on Pelosi’s House Bill to be rejected by the Senate so they can have another election issue to energize their base. Mark Thiessen writes,

“What Democrats should be apologizing for was their shameful vote on the Senate floor Wednesday to kill Scott’s legislation — and with it any chance of passing police reform this year. Democrats knew exactly what they were doing. As Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), one of three members of the Democratic caucus who voted to advance the Scott bill, explained, “voting against it will end the discussion of this subject in the Senate for the foreseeable future, and leave us with nothing to show for all the energy and passion that has brought this issue to the forefront of public consciousness.””

To be fair, this is “do something” legislation that will not significantly reduce incidents of police misconduct toward blacks or whites. Situations like the Atlanta shooting, mysterious shootings like the traffic shot death of 25-year-old Hannah Fizer, who was white, and falsely reported shootings (“Hands up! Don’t shoot!”) will still occur, because of the nature of police work—unless police simply stop policing out of fear. I suspect that’s what will happen, and many more Americans will die under those conditions.

To date, ten unarmed black men have been killed by police this year.

2. Some call them the “1619”riots. This is the woman the New York Times allowed to lead its inflammatory and false slavery project:

On November 21, 1995, Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote a letter to the editor of the Notre Dame University student newspaper, The Observer,to condemn a November 9, 1995 op-ed. She wrote in part,

“What responsible editor would print an article that applauds and dignifies the white race’s rape, plunder, and genocide of a whole race of people? I find it hard to believe that any member of the white race can have the audacity and hypocrisy to call any other culture savage. The white race is the biggest murderer, rapist, pillager, and thief of the modern world. Europeans have colonized and destroyed the indigenous populations of every continent of this planet. They have committed genocide against cultures that have never offended them in their greed and insatiable desire to control and dominate every non-white culture. Christopher Columbus and those like him were no different [than] Hitler. The crimes they committed were unnecessarily cruel and can only be described as acts of the devil…Africans had been to the Americas long before Columbus or any Europeans….It was not enough for whites to come to the Americas and learn, they looked upon the native people as inferior and a people to be annihilated. Their lasting monument was the destruction and enslavement of two races of people. Using Christianity as their excuse, the white race denied the native people their humanity.”

Bias? Racism? “Hate speech?” People are being fired, “canceled” and shunned in every segment of society for far less bigoted comments that are also older….but those victims of the new “Terror” are all white. The position at Ethics Alarms is that ancient excesses of rhetoric, including offensive jokes, should not be used to discredit anyone, but also that the leaders of the cancel culture should be held to their own rules. Continue reading

Mid-Day Ethics Reflections, 6/24/2020: Bombshells Bursting In Air!

Always appropriate, any day, any time…and besides, they tore down the author’s statue. This is his memorial…

1. As for monuments…the Governor of South Dakota,  Kristi Noem, responding to suggestions that Mount Rushmore would soon be on the George Floyd mob’s hit list, said curtly, “Not on my watch.”

It is not so fanciful a notion, since three of the four Presidents on the mountain have had statues toppled, and the fourth, Lincoln, now has his own statue under fire.  The Freedmen’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln in Boston’s Lincoln Park is targeted by an online petition as is its original, the statue that stands in Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Park. The fact that the statue was commissioned and paid for by freed African-Americans appears to have no importance to the statue-topplers whatsoever.

After all, Facts Don’t Matter.

2. If there is a shark. she will jump it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asserted in an interview Tuesday that Republicans are “trying to get away with murder, actually — the murder of George Floyd.” We must remember this when it is determined that the police involved in Floyd’s death can’t get a fair trial because the second highest ranking elected official in the country declared Floyd to be a murder victim before a trial.

A Democratic-run city (for over a half-a century) with a Democratic mayor and and overwhelmingly Democratic City Council (without a single Republican), in a state with a Democratic Governor, oversaw a police department that has been criticized for its conduct long before Floyd’s death, did nothing to remedy the problem, and now faces the consequences.

By what possible distortion of facts and logic can it be argued that Republicans are “trying to get away with murder”?

Once again, another question must be raised: how could CBS News Radio correspondent Steve Futterman, hearing Pelosi’s accusation, not point this out and still presume to be called a journalist? Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Freakout, 6/20/2020: Fake News, Resignations, Topplings And Cancellations…But Also Hope

I know just how you feel, Homer.

1. Mainstream media journalism, 2020. I thank Tim Levier for this classic, from NBC News:

Fake news. First, the Court did NOT rule that Trump cannot end DACA. The opinion by Chief Justice Roberts said explicitly that he can. Second, “Dreamers”  were not legal immigrants so they cannot magically become legal immigrants. At best, they will be illegal immigrants who have been given a pass for their violation.  The tweet is deceptive, misleading, and incompetent.

2. Cancellations, Resignations and Topplings Update! The current list of entertainment celebrities and politicians who have been documented as wearing blackface for one reason or another is long, and if one falls to the mob, the rest might start feeling awfully nervous.

The list includes Justin Trudeau, Ralph Northam, Howard Stern, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Joy Behar, Sarah Silverman, Ted Danson, Gigi Hadid, Julianne Hough and Billy Crystal.  Right now rumors are swirling around the irredeemable Jimmy Kimmel, who has suddenly announced a hiatus, with many speculating that he is holding on to his job by a thread…and if he goes, the innocuous Fallon may be next. Though Stern, Kimmel and Behar are blights on the culture whose professional demise I would cheer, long past blackface dabbling should not be used to punish any of these people now….except perhaps the Virginia Governor.  Northam is a special case, because his party is wildly hypocritical to allow him to escape accountability when it is cheering on the mobs. However, again, a law school costume has no relevance to the Governor today.

As for Trudeau–I don’t care.

3. Cancellations, Resignations and Topplings Update, Literary Division. At the Poetry Foundation earlier this month,  leadership was forced to resign because its official grovel to Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd mob was deemed not abject enough. The Foundation had issued a brief, four-sentence statement on June 3, expressing “solidarity with the Black community” and declaring faith in “the strength and power of poetry to uplift in times of despair.” This prompted a critical uproar from the progressive poets, with another letter from members calling the statement “worse than the bare minimum” and an insult to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other African-American victims of police violence. The foundation’s president and board chairman then quit, because, I suppose, poets are lovers, not fighters.

“As poets, we recognize a piece of writing that meets the urgency of its time with the appropriate fire when we see it — and this is not it,” the letter said. “Given the stakes, which equate to no less than genocide against Black people, the watery vagaries of this statement are, ultimately, a violence.”

Genocide! Talk about poetic license. Continue reading

Ethics Verdict: Everyone Stinks. A Case Study

This is why we can’t have nice things…

…or even be certain what nice things are.

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was Jake Tapper’s guest  on CNN’s “State of the Union,” since he wasn’t going to talk about Tara Reade. Jake asked Pelosi, “Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign told me earlier this month that he supported President Trump’s partial travel restrictions on January 31st blocking foreign nationals from China from coming to the United States. Do you agree that it was the right move by President Trump at the time?”

She answered, “Tens of thousands of people were still allowed in from China. It wasn’t as it is described as this great moment, there were Americans coming back or green card holders coming back. If you’re going to shut the door because you have an evaluation of an epidemic, then shut the door.”

It’s a despicable, despicable response.

First, let’s go back to the question. Tapper, had he been the fair and objective journalist I once said  he was (I apologize; I was wrong. He’s a hack.) should have noted that Biden’s approval now is a flip-flop. The day after President Trump issued his Chinese travel ban, Biden called him xenophobic. This was important context for Tapper’s question, but Jake doesn’t think his audience cares about context, or something.

Well, let’s go back even further, shall we?

On March 26, President Trump said on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, “I had Biden calling me xenophobic. He called me a racist, because of the fact that he felt it was a racist thing to stop people from China coming in.”

PolitiFact, the very partisan and untrustworthy factcheck site that I see has now been taken over by the Poynter Institute but maintains its previous biases, decided to spin for Biden in fact-checking Trump’s statement. Biden called Trump ‘xenophobic” the day after the travel ban was announced. What a coincidence! PolitiFact sees no reason to conclude Trump’s major announcement the previous day had anything to do with Biden’s tweet. Completely unrelated. After all, Biden’s camp pointed out that he’s always called the President xenophobic, which is true.

Now, is that self-evident spin or not? Obviously Biden was having a lucid moment and hedged his bets. He called Trump xenophobic after the China announcement because the Democrats have called every travel ban xenophobic, including bans on people breaking the law to enter our country. The timing of Biden’s tweet wasn’t accidental. But it allowed him to say, wink-wink,nudge-nudge, ‘Oh no! I never called the travel ban xenophobic! I called the President xenophobic, because he is.’

And a supposedly “non-partisan” factcheck operation  accepts that, and tells its gullible readers that they should accept it as well. Continue reading

Noonish Ethics Warm-Up: Everyone’s Gone To The Moon, But They Aren’t Going To Zoom

Hello?

The Jonathan King hit from 1965 (most people think was originally sung by Chad and Jermy, who covered it) sounds profound but it’s not; King, who wrote the song in college, later admitted that he was satirizing Dylanesque lyrics intended to have great portent, but in fact he meant nothing in particular. The song sounds timely now, doesn’t it? Yesterday, while taking a walk, my whole Alexandria neighborhood was eerily empty and silent. I started singing loudly as I walked as my own small rebellion, but I didn’t think of King’s song until I got home.

1. The ethics breach is “incompetence.” Imagine having a niche business, waiting for your big break, then you get the break, and botch it. That’s Zoom. When schools, colleges and other organizations were forced to resort to online conferencing platforms, Zoom was a ready-made solution: easy to download, single click-access.

It was, as the saying goes, not ready for prime time. The easy access allowed easy hacking and the new phenomenon of “Zoombombing,” where anonymous assholes—yes, this is another time when the term is fair, apt, and necessary—entered conferences and classes uninvited with with pornography or worse. Zoom was  also caught sending user’s analytics data to Facebook, even if the user didn’t have a Facebook account. There were other privacy issues. Many school districts have suspended classes using Zoom.  Google just banned  the use of the Zoom teleconferencing platform for employees, citing security concerns. [UPDATE: So has the U.S. Senate.] Now many potential users, including me, are looking elsewhere.

The  company’s CEO and founder now says he’ll make his product harder to use to improve Zoom’s safety and security. Good luck with that. I suspect this is a Barn Door Fallacy situation. Business competence requires you be ready for that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and if it arrives and you’re not, you not only might not get a second chance, you don’t deserve one. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/25/2020: Lies, Liars, Fake Headlines And False Narratives.

Good morning!

What’s it like outside?

1. The Sisyphus Report. Ethics Alarms is currently at its all time high water mark for followers, a number it has reached three times previously, only to fall back, sometime precipitously.

When you are trapped in your home, you tend to obsess about such things.

2. You know why, but still…the mainstream media isn’t fact-checking or pointing out the blatant, insulting lie from Nancy Pelosi yesterday regarding the House Democrats’ alternative “stimulus” bill that “Everything we’re suggesting just relates to COVID-19. It’s not changing policy except as it applies here.” That bill included [Pointer: The Blaze]:

  • A bailout for the U.S. Postal Service
  • Student loan debt forgiveness
  • Required same-day voter registration
  • Airline emissions standards regulations
  • Study on climate change migration
  • Collective bargaining provisions
  • Increased federal minimum wage for companies that accept government loans
  • Publication of race and pay statistics for corporate boards

I’m not even mentioning things like the millions designated for the Kennedy Center, because that was technically related to addressing harm caused by the pandemic.

As I and many others noted, the Democrats’ grandstanding effort to stuff the rescue bill with progressive agenda items related to climate change, the Green New Deal and other social justice wish list items was political posturing for the base, which was forgivable as long as they didn’t try to hold the nation hostage, which they didn’t, at least for very long. But Pelosi’s denial that her party did what it did in plain sight (for anyone who bothered to read the bill about it) is the stuff of Jumbos, and the news media was obligated to let the public know.

They haven’t, and presumably won’t. Instead, journalists will continue to factcheck and scream about every lazy, non-substantive misstatement of facts by the President, and back the Democratic cant that President Trump always lies.

A party whose leadership issues pure disinformation like Pelosi’s should be estopped from using the “Trump lies”refrain.  Continue reading

“What? That Horrible Nancy Pelosi Kept Ripping Up The President’s Speech Again And Again?”

The video above was released by the Trump campaign, and tweeted out by the President. It made effective, if predictable, use of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s inexcusable stunt of symbolically ripping up the President’s State of the Union text at the conclusion of his address.

Immediately upon the ad’s release, the Speaker’s office demanded that Twitter and Facebook take it down. Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, tweeted, “The latest fake video of Speaker Pelosi is deliberately designed to mislead and lie to the American people, and every day that these platforms refuse to take it down is another reminder that they care more about their shareholders’ interests than the public’s interests.” But a Facebook spokesman replied on Twitter, “Sorry, are you suggesting the President didn’t make those remarks and the Speaker didn’t rip the speech?”

Hammill indignantly responded,  “What planet are you living on? This is deceptively altered. Take it down.” Facebook would not.  “I can confirm for you that the video doesn’t violate our policies,” said representative Andy Stone, pointing out that what Facebook called “unacceptable altered video” were those edited to make it appear that a person said something they didn’t say, or did something they didn’t do.

Ugh. The video was edited to make it appear ( though not fooling anyone with an IQ above freezing) that Pelosi ripped up the speech while the President’s various human interest salutes were unfolding. That’s something she didn’t do. Continue reading

Ten Ethics Observations On The President’s 2020 State Of The Union Message

The text of the speech is here.

1. As I mentioned at the end of the previous post, my professional assessment, as a speech coach and a stage director, is that Trump’s delivery–timing, pacing, energy, focus, expressiveness, emphasis, technique–was excellent. Like other politicians (and me, frankly) the President is best, most relaxed, most persuasive and likable, when he is speaking extemporaneously. This time, though the speech was obviously scripted, he delivered it like his more familiar riffs.

And he has improved over his term in office. So many POTUSes have not.

2. As for content, I saw the speech described as “Reaganesque.” That’s high praise, but not far off. There were no ringing catch phrases, but the most important feature was that the speech was positive, optimistic, and upbeat. This was especially remarkable because many expected the President to be combative and defiant, and to directly address his impeachment. Not doing so was wise, and indeed ethical. Living well is the best revenge, and the President’s recitation of his administration’s achievements, no matter how the factcheckers spin them—it’s Trump, so we assume hyperbole—was a virtuoso dismantling of Big Lie #5: “Everything is Terrible.”

It’s not terrible, of course, far from it, and the false narratives constantly repeated by the Democratic candidates about how the middle and lower classes weren’t benefiting  were belied by Trump’s statistics asNancy Pelosi stared.

3. The repeat stunt of having all the female members of Congress on the Democratic  side wear white  was juvenile, incoherent and dehumanizing. I was reminded of the sperms in Woody Allen’s “Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask.” Whatever their chant was, it didn’t work. The President deserves ethics points for specifically condemning late term abortion in front of this group, and featuring a little girl born at 23 weeks was a powerful visual aid.

Most Americans do not approve of late term abortions, and the device of making Democrats explicitly show their disapproval of Trump’s vow to stop it exposes a gaping ethics black hole on the Left.

4. At times I wish Ronald Reagan had never introduced the manipulative technique of using guests in the audience for applause and heart-rending moments, but I have to admit President Trump used it like no one before him, shamelessly but effectively.  I just hope nobody tries to top it, because that was my limit, and perhaps a bit over.

There was the African-American boy who wants to join the Space Force, and his 100 year-old Tuskegee airman great-grandfather, in uniform, having just been promoted to  general by Trump. There was the young African American girl who had been denied her application for a tax credit scholarship to attend a private school in Philadelphia because the state’s Democratic governor had vetoed a funding bill. The President told her she would get her scholarship after all, as she and her mother beamed. There was the new President of Venezuala, symbolizing a capitalist rescuer for a nation wrecked by socialism. Rush Limbaugh, recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, appeared genuinely overcome when Mrs. Trump awarded him the Medal of Freedom on the spot. Also on the spot was a surprise reunion between a military wife and her soldier husband, back from deployment.

Great drama, great sentimentality, great showmanship. It was a combination of Oprah, Maury, and “Queen for a Day,” but schmaltz works, and the President proved himself a master of it.

5. Pelosi’s guests included Fred Guttenberg, the father of a high school freshman killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He got himself removed from the audience by shouting something about his daughter as the President pledged to preserve the Second Amendment. Using the victim of tragedies as political props is an objectionable stunt (Trump did this too, with Kelli Hake and her son;  Army Staff Sergeant Christopher Hake, was killed  in Iraq, a victim of the late Iranian terrorist leader Qasem Soleimani. Another guest was the brother of Rocky Jones, the victim of an illegal immigrant in Tulare County, California, and the parents of an ISIS victim, but Trump’s guests didn’t disrupt the event. They had also lost loved ones to bad people, just like Guttenberg, but do not advocate taking away law-abiding people’s rights in their grief. Continue reading

The Limits Of Graciousness: The President Rejects Nancy Pelosi’s Hand

The President in 2018 wearing a different tie.  Pelosi’s hand is the same

Though she offed it, President Donald Trump declined to shake House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s  hand prior to delivering the 2020 State of the Union address tonight. (I’m watching the State of the Union Address as I write this.)

Perhaps those who are frequent readers here expect me to chide the President. He should remember that political disagreements aren’t personal, after all. As America’s leader, he should model the ethical virtues of forgiveness, civility, grace, and the Golden Rule. Our elected officials should always stand for the principle that though we may disagree as a people, we should never be disagreeable. In this case, such symbolic comity is especially essential. The nation has seldom been more divided, or more contentious in its division. Shaking the Speaker’s hand would be a step, albeit a small one, toward healing the rift.

Although this would be my ethics prescription under normal circumstances, this is not such a circumstance, and everyone knows it, or should.  Under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership, the partisan opposition of the Democrats to this President has breached all political norms and ethical traditions. The attacks on him, and not only him, but his family as well, have been directly personal, with Pelosi and her lieutenants using savage and unconscionable rhetoric to embarrass and insult him and, if possible, disable the President’s influence and lawful power. During the reprehensible impeachment burlesque, still ongoing,  the President has been denigrated as no Chief Executive before him, and as no leader of the United States should ever be denigrated by members of Congress, or any citizen. Continue reading

The Tipping Point Nears…

You know, Vince, in Iran they’d cut your hand off for this. Maybe in Hollywood too, now that I think about it…

Two episodes in recent days have pushed me closer to the tipping point at which I am forced to conclude that even as an ethicist who has held fast to the principle that no one who both reveres the office of the President of the United States and who believes that the office must be held by a man (or a woman, Bernie!) of outstanding ethical character with strong supporting ethical values can ever vote for Donald Trump or want to see someone like him, if there is such a creature, leading this nation.

I am not there yet, but I would have never dreamed at any time in 2012 through most of 2019 that I could get this close. It is true that President Trump has been far more successful than I expected in the narrow category of policy, domestic and foreign. It is true that he has displayed some admirable character traits, though they have all been in the category I call “enabling virtues,” meaning that they are traits that can serve both good and bad motives and objectives. It is also true that this President has never been given a fair chance to do his job, as he has been undermined, harassed and obstructed since the moment he took office in unethical ways never experienced by any of his predecessors with similar intensity and duration.

Nonetheless, voting for someone like Donald Trump to lead the United States of America is ethics antimatter to me, and professionally impossible—right now. However, the behavior of the “resistance” and  Democrats increasingly indicates that they must be decisively defeated so their current approach to American culture, society, rights and political conduct is sufficient ruinous that they begin a period of urgent reform.

Relatively small events often are tipping points with me, and both of these are small as well. However, when conduct is undeniably signature significance, proving that a group or individual is corrupt and untrustworthy because only the corrupt and untrustworthy would behave in such a way even once, my mind’s made up. I consider these two episodes frightening and if not quite constituting tipping points for me, coming too close for comfort.

I. The Vince Vaughn Affair Continue reading