Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/6/2019: Rosenstein, Barr, Green, And “Oklahoma!”

Good morning!

Let’s make this an ethical week…

1 As we watch the desperate vilification of Attorney General Barr by Democrats…it is helpful to consider a recent speech by the now departed second in command at Justice, the ridiculously conflicted Rod Rosenstein. He said in part,

Rampant speculation here in D.C. is that Democrats are terrified that Barr’s promise of investigations of the Hillary Clinton inquiry and the process whereby the Trump campaign was surveilled will reveal serious misconduct in the Obama Administration.  This is, of course, mocked as a conspiracy theory by the people who just had their own conspiracy theory exploded. Here’s the usually reliable Kimberly Strassel in the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall—sorry).

…Mr. Barr made real news in that Senate hearing, and while the press didn’t notice, Democrats did. The attorney general said he’d already assigned people at the Justice Department to assist his investigation of the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. He said his review would be far-reaching—that he was obtaining details from congressional investigations, from the ongoing probe by the department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, and even from Mr. Mueller’s work. Mr. Barr said the investigation wouldn’t focus only on the fall 2016 justifications for secret surveillance warrants against Trump team members but would go back months earlier.

He also said he’d focus on the infamous “dossier” concocted by opposition-research firm Fusion GPS and British former spy Christopher Steele, on which the FBI relied so heavily in its probe. Mr. Barr acknowledged his concern that the dossier itself could be Russian disinformation, a possibility he described as not “entirely speculative.” He also revealed that the department has “multiple criminal leak investigations under way” into the disclosure of classified details about the Trump-Russia investigation.

Do not underestimate how many powerful people in Washington have something to lose from Mr. Barr’s probe. Among them: Former and current leaders of the law-enforcement and intelligence communities. The Democratic Party pooh-bahs who paid a foreign national (Mr. Steele) to collect information from Russians and deliver it to the FBI. The government officials who misused their positions to target a presidential campaign. The leakers. The media. More than reputations are at risk. Revelations could lead to lawsuits, formal disciplinary actions, lost jobs, even criminal prosecution.

Quick! Let’s impeach Barr! Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/12/2019: “Seeing If I Can Function After Seeing That Fox News Video” Edition

Well, it was a good morning…

…until Arthur in Maine sent me THAT.

1. Record ethics. Kansas City Royals second-baseman Whit Merrifield is a fine young rising star, but the nation will never turn its lonely eyes to him.Playing against the Mariners this week,  Merrifield beat out a squeeze bunt that not only tied the game, but also extended his hitting streak to 31 games. That set a new franchise record, beating Hall of Famer George Brett’s 30 game consecutive hitting streak set in 1980. That seems unfair, you say? Most of Merrifield’s streak was last season, you say?

I agree with you. Baseball takes the position on consecutive game streaks of all kinds that the six months between seasons don’t matter or count. I see the logic, a bit: why should a player’s chance at a record be arbitrarily ended because the season runs out? I also have the answer: tough noogies. There is a material difference between hitting in consecutive games over a single grueling season and doing so with a vacation in the middle. I guarantee that if Merrifield’s record got close to Joe DiMaggio’s iconic 56 games, set in the single, famous season of 1941 (when Ted Williams also hit .406), Major League Baseball would have rushed in and disqualified Merrifield for the consecutive game record because it wouldn’t be set in a single season. THAT, of course, would have been redolent of the controversial asterisk put after Roger Maris’s 61 home runs in 1961, which broke another iconic record, Babe Ruths’s 60. (Maris’s record was set in a 162 game season, Ruth’s in a 154 game season.)

Fortunately, Merrifield’s record chase was stopped at 31 the very next day.

This is as good a time as any to mention that the player who got me hooked on baseball, former Red Sox shortstop Eddie Bressoud, whose 87th birthday is coming up (May 2), had a knack for hitting streaks at the start of season. he hit in 15 straight in 1962, his first with the team, and set the team record for a consecutive streak at the start of the season in 1964, with 20.

2.  “Don’t be evil” a distant memory. R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. , the founder of mainstream conservative magazine “The American Spectator” announced that the publication had been blacklisted by Google, following an investigative report by The Daily Caller that revealed, Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/21/18: Comments, Clarkson, Bitter Hillary, And Weiner Dogs Amuck

Good morning, all.

1. Housekeeping note: Some commenters are expressing displeasure that I suspended a regular participant here following what I consider to be excessively disrespectful discourse toward me. Well. when they try moderating an ethics blog read by educated, passionate and verbally adept people for nine years, I’ll pay more attention to that displeaure. The task is much like that of a lion-tamer in the circus: as I learned when I read the autobiography of one who survived until retirement, the big cats growling is fine, and even the occasional swipe for show is tolerable, but when they start being disrespectful, you either show who’s boss quick or you get gang-mauled and eaten.

In about two weeks, I have to fly to Boston—on my own dime, of course— to ask a judge to dismiss a $100,000 defamation lawsuit from a banned commenter here. Am I bit inclined to be less than charitable to rude commenter outbursts aimed at me right now? Yes. The matter at issue right now involved flat-out, unambiguous personal mockery and derision, and the Comment Policies, accessible for years on the link above, specifically designate “6) Mockery without substance”  as commentary conduct that is not appreciated, , and also notes that a commenter risks be discipline for “…Insulting me, in particular by questioning my integrity, honesty, objectivity, intentions, motives, qualifications, or credentials.”

The commenter who was suspended can return to the wars at any time he chooses, after offering an acceptable apology.

2. Breaking my vow already…to eschew writing about the aftermath of the latest school shooting, I have to mention that Lelly Clarkson’s emotional speech at last night’s Billborad awards was played this morning on CNN and Headline News—and I assume elsewhere—as if she actually was saying something of substance. She wasn’t:

Is the news media going to keep on trying to steer a policy debate with complex social, legal, constitutional, cultural and practical factors into this emotion-flooded, intellectually useless dead end? Apparently so. I’m sure Kelly is sincere, but “moment of action” is nothing but another way of saying “do something,” which itself is just another form of screaming at the sky. What action, Kelly? Unless you make a relevant proposal that addresses the event you are crying about, your statement is worse than useless.

We should not keep pandering to this invitation to turn off our brains regarding guns, yet that is what the news media is actively campaigning for us to do.  They are irresponsible to do this.

But we knew that. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms Law vs. Ethics Files: Yet Another Example Of How The Public’s Ignorance Of How Laws Work Imperils Us All

guilty

Because he just IS, that’s all. Everybody knows it. Come on. What’s the problem?

Well, I’m still waiting for the wave of op-eds and pundit pieces condemning the judge in the Dennis Hastert case for somehow turning the ex-Speaker’s trial for breaking banking laws into a trial for child molestation even though he couldn’t be charged with that crime.

I appear to be one of the very few people alarmed by this. Coming at a time when we have a Presidential candidate advocating the imprisonment of financial traders without any indications that they broke actual laws, this qualifies as a bona fide societal virus, and a potentially dangerous one.

Over at Popehat, habitual Ethics Hero Ken White flagged another outbreak that somehow I missed (I blame Fred).

It seems that an Oklahoma court rejected the prosecution of a teenage boy for engaging in oral sex with a teenage girl (she was, to be delicate, the oral recipient) who was passed out drunk, and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, ruling:

“Forcible sodomy cannot occur where a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act of oral copulation. We will not, in order to justify prosecution of a person for an offense, enlarge a statute beyond the fair meaning of its language.”

Ken begins, tongue hard in cheek,

“Did you hear? Oklahoma said it’s legal to rape someone if they’re unconscious from drinking! They said it’s not rape at all! It’s classic victim-blaming! It’s outrageous! It’s rape culture! It’s just what you would expect from one of those states!”

He then examines the statutes involved. It turns out that the unimaginative legislature, when defining the crime of forcible sodomy which was what the boy was charged with, missed this set of potential facts. She wasn’t forcibly raped, because she wasn’t conscious. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Unethical Quote Of The Week: My Progressive, Rational, Educated and Gay Facebook Friend”

stereotypes

Unlike most Comments of the Day, this one by Penn/Same Penn, who has two aliases here due to WordPress’s inexplicable habit of eating his posts, requires some back-reading to fully appreciate…but it is worth the effort.

The original post is about a Facebook friend’s mass condemnation of the Lone star State as a frightening, bigoted and  violent place where he would never set foot, in part because of his anger over Houston’s rejection last week of a bill that would expand LGBT civil rights in the city. My post noted that painting Texas with such a broad and harsh brush is itself bigotry—a position that cannot be rebutted, I believe—and reader Neil protested that the anti-Texas and Texans sentiment was just.

This inspired P/SP to one of the most eloquent and thoughtful posts Ethics Alarms has ever received, on any topic, and his is complex here, far ranging from its inspiration.

Here is Penn’s Comment of the Day on the post, Unethical Quote Of The Week: My Progressive, Rational, Educated and Gay Facebook Friend: Continue reading

Halloween Wrap-Up: The Asshole Files

smashed pump

Maybe I’m just in a bad mood, but “Ethics Dunce” doesn’t quite do the conduct of these Halloween 2015 miscreants.

Tell me again why we bother with this holiday that was once supposed to be the one day a year the evil spirits come out to play. Every year it is clearer that Halloween and its related activities is a festival for assholes. For example..

Robert Ledrew of Blackwood, New Jersey

There has never been a confirmed case of a child being injured by poisoned or otherwise tampered with Halloween treats. The one case, a murder, that caused a long-running panic was the father who poisoned his own son’s candy to collect on his life insurance. I guess  Robert Ledrew felt that a new generation of kids needed to be convinced that adults are lurking psychopaths, so he posted images of needle-filled candy bars to his Facebook page and reported to the police. Later he explained that he was trying to teach  children to be check their candy. I saw the photos as CNN reported the candy as a real attack on children, with no skepticism whatsoever. The tone was, “Oh, no, not this again! How horrible.” I turned to my wife and said, “This is a hoax. It’s always a hoax. Why doesn’t CNN know that?”

Ledrow was later arrested and charged with making a false police report.

Happy Halloween, Fort Bragg!

A yet unnamed soldier attempted to enter Fort Bragg on Friday night dressed as a suicide bomber, complete with a fake vest of explosives. Understandably, there was”an emergency response.” Continue reading

Death Throes Of The Death Penalty: Dumb Expert, Dumb Advocates, Dumb Debate

“Next!”

As I recently concluded, the death penalty is beyond saving, not because it can’t be defended ethically and morally, but because the issues are tangled beyond repair.

The controversy over the legality of the so-called drug cocktails that somehow became our execution method of choice is a perfect example. The battles over capital punishment trapped policy-makers into this kinder, gentler, ridiculously complicated method of execution that has suffered snafus ranging from unavailable drugs to ugly extended deaths. The problem is the floating definition of “cruel and unusual punishment,” prohibited by the Constitution, but almost entirely subjective. Many judges think killing a killer is itself cruel by definition, and the more reluctant Western Europe becomes to execute the worst of the worst, the easier it is to make the argument that the death penalty is also unusual.

I don’t get it. I never have. India once executed condemned criminals by having the subject place his head on a stump under the raised foot of  trained elephant, which on a command would smash the head like a grape. Quick, painless–messy!—but virtually fool-proof. A pile-driver would be an acceptable equivalent.  Ah, but ick! In this stupid, stupid, intellectually dishonest debate, ick always equals “cruel and unusual,” because to opponents of the death penalty, killing people, even horrible, dangerous people, is inherently icky.

(Oddly, ripping unborn babies out of the womb is not, but I digress.)

I’ve admitted it, and I will again. (This lost Ethics Alarms Luke G., one of its best commenters the last time.*) It is obviously wrong to intentionally prolong an execution or deliberately cause pain, but if the occasional execution is botched and the condemned suffers, that should be cause for great rending of garments, nor should it be used to discredit capital punishment. As I wrote here about Clayton Lockett’s execution in Oklahoma

“There was no question of Lockett’s guilt, and his crime was inhuman. Such wanton cruelty and disregard for innocent life warrants society’s most emphatic rebuke, and the most emphatic rebuke is death. It is essential that any healthy society make it clear to all that some crimes forfeit the continued right to not just liberty, but also life. Anyone who weeps because this sadistic murderer experienced a few extra minutes of agony in the process of being sent to his just rewards has seriously misaligned values. No method of execution will work every time, and to make perfection the standard is a dishonest way to rig the debate. If the death penalty is justified, and it is, then we should expect and accept the rare “botch.” Meanwhile, if the concern really is efficiency, reliability, speed of death and minimal pain, there are literally dozens, maybe hundreds of methods of swift execution that would accomplish this. They just won’t pass the standards of death penalty opponents, because no method will.”

Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the question of whether Oklahoma’s use of the common surgical sedative midazolam did not reliably make prisoners unconscious during lethal injections, thus violating the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.” It’s a ridiculous case, which arises out of the botched April 2014 execution of Lockett that sparked the post I just quoted. It is a ridiculous case because the method of execution isn’t worth arguing over. Elephant. Head. Problem solved. Why is Oklahoma fighting about which cocktail to use? This is the anti-capital punishment team’s game, and sooner or later, the result is preordained.  Continue reading