Tag Archives: Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck

Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/19/2018: Thinking About Things That Matter While Ignoring The Royal Wedding Hype Edition

I can’t say it’s a good morning..

…since it’s been raining for three days already, with no end in sight..

1. I wonder how long before he’s fired? Instead of renewing his earlier call to repeal the Second Amendment, resurgent lone conservative New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens spoke truth to abused power by condemning the news media in today’s column. He writes in part,

When Donald Trump takes his swipes at the “disgusting and corrupt media” and tens of millions of Americans agree, it’s not as if they don’t have examples in mind. Consider this week’s implication by major news organizations that the president described all illegal immigrants as “animals” during a White House roundtable with California officials. That would indeed be a wretched thing for him to say — had he said it. He did not. The Associated Press admitted as much when it deleted a tweet about the remark, noting “it wasn’t made clear that he was speaking after a comment about gang members.” Specifically, he was speaking after a comment about members of the Salvadoran MS-13 gang, infamous for its ultraviolent methods and quasi-satanic rituals. To call MS-13 “animals” is wrong only because it is unfair to animals….We have a president adept at goading his opponents into unwittingly doing his bidding. They did so again this week. Those who despise him for his deceits should endeavor to give no impression of being deceitful in turn.

Bingo.

2. Briefly noted…Today’s Times editorial is a graphic about how “Congress has dithered as the innocent get shot,” despite the fact that no “sensible gun control measures” would have prevented yesterday’s shooting in Texas…just gun confiscation, if that were possible, which it isn’t. Two letters in the letters section make the same contradictory, yet probably sincere, point. “Another day with the reality that sane gun control is a national emergency.” Continue reading

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Rare Species, Previously Believed Extinct, Sighted: A Balanced Analysis Of The Iran Nuclear Deal

On a matter of as much significance and complexity as the Iran nuclear deal, it is depressing to see that almost all commentary in the news media begins with a partisan bias, a “team” mentality, and the typical talking-point orientation that makes genuine public understanding unattainable today. People choose the position that already aligns with their friends and their loyalties, and adopt it uncritically. As a result, public discourse is useless.

This is no way to run a democracy.

Elliot Cohen is a prominent Never-Trump neo-con and foreign policy scholar, writing in the Atlantic, a generally “resistance”-favorable progressive publication. His analysis of the current contretemps involving the Iran deal is the closest I have seen yet to a fair and balanced one. That doesn’t mean I think he is right on all counts, especially ethically. The second half of this statement, for example is as  troubling as the first half is refreshing:

“The Iran deal was, in truth, a very bad one. It did nothing to inhibit Iranian behavior in the broader Middle East, did nothing to stop its ballistic programs, and opened the path for a resumption of the nuclear-weapons program in a decade or so. Some of us said so at the time. Walking away from it, however, will make matters worse not only because success is unlikely, but because this shredding of an earlier presidential agreement further undermines the qualities that those who look to American leadership have come to value—predictability, steadiness, and continuity. Even when American allies have doubted the superpower’s wisdom, they usually felt they could count on its constancy.”

They also have to be able to count on its competence, courage, and ability to change course when a current course is disastrous. It is unethical to make policies that are careless, expedient and dangerous in a setting where there is no recourse once the course is set.  Leaders have to undo mistakes and take new directions even when it means future distrust and present anger.  The previous President took unseemly joy in declaring previous Presidential policies wrong-headed, and reversing them forthwith. True: this is a bad habit, and all leaders should respect previous decisions and commitments by their predecessors, except in extraordinary circumstances. The standard should be similar to the Supreme Court’s rule of stare decisus, which means that previous SCOTUS rulings have the presumption of permanence, unless they are sufficiently bad for law and the nation. I am satisfied to move the Iran debate from the Obama-Kerry mythology to “it’s a bad deal.” The question is then whether it is sufficiently bad to justify a variance from the general rule that Presidents ought to leave agreements made before their election stand if at all possible.

To his credit, Cohen displays almost equal contempt for the Obama administration and President Trump. Some notable excerpts: Continue reading

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Mid-Day Ethics Warm-Up, May 1, 2018: Generally Disgusted

Good day to all, I guess.

Me, I feel like quitting.

1.  Basic ethics blindness regarding the White House Correspondents Dinner. The ethically obtuse responses I am reading in columns and blogs regarding the self-defining journalism ethics event–you know, as in none—doesn’t bother me too much. I assume these people have the ethics of jackals. The similar responses I am reading here from intelligent readers who have been supposedly paying attention, however, discourage me greatly. Really: why bother writing a couple thousand words a day about ethics when  your readers react to a high profile, unequivocal act of disrespect and rudeness by resorting to “I don’t like the guy, so I’m glad,” “he started it!” and “they had it coming”?

Or, my personal favorite, “this one insult everyone is talking about isn’t one if you spin it hard enough, so the other 30 insults don’t matter”?

There is no ethical defense whatsoever for inviting individuals to a formal dinner and intentionally making them feel like they are being singled out for abuse. Ever. Period. No exceptions. This is so obvious and uncontroversial that it prompt debate in a civilized society.  That anyone is trying to defend the association, and its hired gun, Ms. Wolf, simply validates my two years-and-running correct prediction that electing Trump as President will turn this into a nation of assholes, though I was expecting those transformed to be primarily young, shallow and easily influenced. I did not expect so many professionals to re-enact the donkey-scene in “Pinocchio.”

And yes, as far as I’m concerned, Wolf, with the journalists’ consent, insulted the President of the United States and his daughter to their virtual faces. It is just moral luck that Trump did not attend, and there is no reason to believe that Wolf changed her act one iota because he wasn’t there. She was prepared to call the President of the United States a pussy, a monster and a Nazi to his face, with him a captive audience member. The ethics-free, rationalized justification I am reading on this blog is , “Yeah, well he made fun of a disabled man in 2016!”  Wow. I really am wasting my time, I guess. How else can I interpret that?

Off the blog, some other ethically dim justifications have surfaced, like today’s New York Times column absolving Wolf from all responsibility because she performed the same kind of anti-Trump material that she always did. Funny, nobody gave Don Imus, the briefly ascendant shock-jock, that easy out when he embarrassed President Bill Clinton by calling him a “weasel,” among his less offensive terms, when he entertained the same group. Hey, protested the I-Man, I call Clinton a lying weasel every day on my show, why would anyone expect me to do any differently at the dinner? Why? Because professional entertainers have calibrated the appropriate content of their performances to their audiences’ tastes and sensitivities forever, that is why, and professionals are expected to be professional, which includes responsible. Go ahead, look me in the eye and tell me that Wolf would have made equally denigrating jokes if Obama was the President. Jokes about his flirtation with being gay. Jokes about eating dog. Jokes about him being a weenie with Putin and the “red line.” Jokes about the most “transparent” administration ever. Jokes about Joe Biden feeling up women during photo ops. About the IRS. About “you can keep your plan.”  No, the association always assumes that its entertainers would keep their material appropriate to the venue and the event. The argument being used to excuse Wolf would be like excusing infamous “blue” material comics like Buddy Hackett, Redd Foxx and David Brenner if they made dick jokes on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” No, they toned down their material, out of respect for the audience. Respect. What a concept. And this was an audience of middle class Americans, not the President of the United States.

Of course, Wolf easily could have assumed that she was expected to be uncivil, cruel and offensive, since she knew that her hosts, like her and her fellow professional Trump-bashers, constituted the “resistance’s” Agents of Presidential Destruction. That doesn’t relieve her of ethical responsibilities, though. The association was irresponsible to hire someone with her proclivities, and she is accountable for her own disgusting, divisive conduct. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/26/18: Sorry Trump-a-Phobics, It’s A President Trump Morning!

Good Morning!

1. Wake up with President Trump! By sheer chance, I surfed by Fox and Friends just as the three goofs (or two goofs and a random blonde from the stable in a tight party dress) on the sofa were having a spontaneous phone interview with President Trump, just like in the good old days in 2015, when CNN and NBC let the crazy old reality star and eccentric real estate mogul blather on while they smirked and nodded because it was great for ratings and  might even saddle the evil Republican Party with a Presidential candidate that Hillary Clinton could squash like a bug, finally leading to the Great Progressive Awakening in America, with open borders, no more guns, free college, a ban on fossil fuel, and Harvey Weinstein as a White House regular.

Observations:

  • Say what you will about Trump, this was just after 8 AM, I could hardly utter a coherent sentence, and the President was sounding like Harold Hill doing “Trouble in River City.” Either he had 20 cups of coffee or was hooked up to an electric generator.  I have a lot of energy, but Trump is older than I am, and he was energetic, engaged, and, for him, articulate.
  • His performance this morning highlights how disgusting the “Trump has dementia, let’s use the 25th Amendment to get rid of him” plot was, with the news media in full complicity. It made it hard for me to focus on what the President was saying on Fox, frankly. That particular post-election, anti-democratic attack—it was Ethics Alarms’ Plan E on the alphabetical list of “the resistance’s” ongoing efforts to overturn the election, if you recall—makes me furious every time I think about it.
  • Nevertheless, I will never get used to having a President who talks like he does.  It isn’t statesman-speak, or even demagoguery. It’s pure salesman patter, again, like Harold Hill,  or any infomercial spokesman. It’s almost hypnotic. What Trump-Whisperer Scott Adams would say, indeed has said many times, is that this is a talent and a skill, and we aren’t going to see it become commonplace among Presidents because most people just can’t do it well. No, it’s not Presidential, and will never be. But it works.
  • I also realized, once again, how much class bigotry is involved in the extreme hostility to President Trump from the “elites,” and yes, I count myself in that group. Never mind what schools Trump went to: he’s Fred Trump’s son, and unlike the Kennedy boys, never polished off the rough spots passed along to him through his humble, street-smart, back-alley forebears. I just watched the film of “My Fair Lady” again after many years, and found myself thinking about Henry Higgins’ theories while I was listening to Trump: if he spoke like Barack Obama, how differently would the news media and his adversaries treat him? Yet how many of his supporters would then regard him as just another one of “them”?

Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?
This verbal class distinction, by now
Should be antique
If you spoke as she does, sir
Instead of the way you do
Why, you might be selling flowers, too!

An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him
The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him! Continue reading

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Saturday Evening Ethics Update, 4/14/2018: Important Women Die Too, Fundraising Insanity, And Campus Segregation Is “In” Again

Good evening, everyone!

(This morning was completely unmanageable…)

1. This day in history..April 14 belongs with December 7, November 22 and September 11 as the four evil dates in American history, for Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on this day in 1865, yanking the course of events into a new riverbed. Who knows where we might be today if Booth had been foiled?

2. Oh, yeah, themThe New York Times is suddenly including more obituaries of women in its pages, the result of a ridiculously late realization last month that the paper’s  stories of death warranting special note had been overwhelmingly male from the paper’s birth. In March, the paper confessed,

Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones.

Charlotte Brontë wrote “Jane Eyre”; Emily Warren Roebling oversaw construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband fell ill; Madhubala transfixed Bollywood; Ida B. Wells campaigned against lynching. Yet all of their deaths went unremarked in our pages, until now.

It is a welcome reform. The Times is also looking back over history to remedy the past bias and injustice, launching a special project to publish, a bit late, many of those obituaries that it had failed to write when remarkable women died. You can find the latest additions here.

3. What’s going on here? Wall Street billionaire Stephen A. Schwarzman agreed to give $25 million to the Abington, Pennsylvania high school he attended  in the 1960s. The money would finance  a massive upgrade in the facility. The school, in return, agreed to name the school in his honor, hang a portrait of him in the building, honor his twin brothers elsewhere in the school, and give him the right to review the project’s contractors and approve a new school logo.

Then the deal was announced. Local residents appeared at a standing-room-only, five-hour school board meeting last week to protest.  There was an online petition (naturally), and calls for school officials to resign.  And what was it about the quid pro quo that the people objected to? The quote from Robert Durham, who works at the local Chevrolet dealership and sent two sons through Abington Senior High School is explanatory as any:

“I just think there’s too much influence about big money, Wall Street money, in our society,” he told reporters.

Oh. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/19/18: Unethical Wedding Gifts, The Fairness Conundrum, What Really Makes Students Unsafe, And More

Good Morning!

1 A Not Exactly Hypothetical… A family member is getting married, and the social justice warrior spouse has decreed that no gifts should be sent, just contributions in the happy couples’ name to designated charities and causes, all political, partisan, and ideological. Does this obligate guests to give money to causes and organizations they object to or disagree with? One might be tempted to teach a life-lesson in abuse of power, and pointedly give a contribution to, say, The Family Research Counsel, the NRA, or Paul Ryan’s re-election campaign, but that would be wrong. Wouldn’t it?

2. “Progressive fines” poll update. The percentage of readers who regard so-called “progressive fines” as fairer than fining all law violators the same amount regardless of resources is about 6%, in contracts to 40% who think this is less fair. As I suspected, the schism is driven by the long-standing (and resolvable) arguments over what constitutes “fair” government policies, and whether it is the government’s job to try to make life less unfair. Is it “fair” to treat everyone the same, when we know that life doesn’t treat everyone the same? Are those who argue that life’s unfairness should be addressed by individuals, not society, taking that position because they are winners in life’s chaotic lottery? Can society and governments be trusted to address “unfairness” and inequality without being influenced by the conflicts and biases of the human beings making and carrying out laws and policies. I don’t generally care to spend a lot of Ethics Alarms time or space on abstract ethics questions, but some of them can’t be avoided. You can take the poll, if you haven’t already, here.

3. On the topic of fairness, here is a study that will make you bang your head against the wall: Following on the heels of this discouraging study I posted about on March 3 is this report by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau, as described here by the New York Times. A taste sufficient to ruin your day: Continue reading

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The Mueller Indictments: Observations And A Spin Report

Late yesterday afternoon the Justice Department announced that it had indicted thirteen Russians and three Russian companies for participation in a scheme to interfere in the United States political system. From the Justice Department website:

“The Department of Justice announced that a grand jury in the District of Columbia today returned an indictment presented by the Special Counsel’s Office. The indictment charges thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 Presidential election. The defendants allegedly conducted what they called “information warfare against the United States,” with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”

The full 37-page indictment is here, giving citizens a rare example to read everything reporters know and to thereby be able to gauge exactly how accurate and fair their reporting is, if the citizens are so inclined. SPOILER ALERT: The spin efforts thus far have been staggering.

The press release also tells us in part:

According to the allegations in the indictment, twelve of the individual defendants worked at various times for Internet Research Agency LLC, a Russian company based in St. Petersburg, Russia. …Internet Research Agency allegedly operated through Russian shell companies. It employed hundreds of persons for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support, with an annual budget of millions of dollars. Internet Research Agency was a structured organization headed by a management group and arranged in departments, including graphics, search-engine optimization, information technology, and finance departments. In 2014, the agency established a “translator project” to focus on the U.S. population. In July 2016, more than 80 employees were assigned to the translator project….To hide the Russian origin of their activities, the defendants allegedly purchased space on computer servers located within the United States in order to set up a virtual private network. The defendants allegedly used that infrastructure to establish hundreds of accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, making it appear that the accounts were controlled by persons within the United States. They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts, and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular political candidates. They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media.

Also:

The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns, and stage political rallies. The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists. According to the indictment, the Americans did not know that they were communicating with Russians.

Thirteen paragraphs into the release is this statement: “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Talk about burying the lede!

Observations: Continue reading

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