Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/24/17: Sen. McCain, His Pal, And The Amazing Brain Of Hillary Clinton.

Isn’t it a beautiful morning?

1 Another mind-blowing Hillary Clinton note: in an interview on MSNBC, she said that women who supported candidate Trump publicly disrespected themselves, and expressed amazement that any women would be so foolish as to associate themselves, even distantly, with such a sexist.. I’d love to know what internal editing, re-casting of reality, obliteration of integrity and massive lack of self-awareness goes on in Hillary’s head to allow her, of all women, to say things like this, and even more remarkable, assume that nobody—rather than virtually everybody— would find it laughable.

I’m not even going to elaborate on why Hillary Clinton saying women disrespect themselves by supporting a sexist and misogynist is astounding, even for her. I respect my readers’ intelligence. I bet you can figure it out on your own.

2. Senator John McCain is suddenly a hero, twice, for again announcing that he will not support another apparently lousy, GOP bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.  While I have my doubts about the nobility of the Senator’s motives—I think his bitterness at Trump goes deep, and that bias affects his professional actions—but it is worth reading McCain’s arguments for why he will not support the bill, which are solid and ethical, and hardly an endorsement of the ACA: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “The Good Hoax”

Becoming the first Ethics Alarms comment to achieve a Comment Of The Day on consecutive days is Ryan Harkins. Ethics Alarms has a fair number of lawyers contributing regularly, as well as teachers, doctors, a theologian, business owners, managers, ex-military, scholars, and other professionals, plus practitioners of various trades and the arts. I have been hoping for more engineers to join the discussion, and Ryan brings that perspective along with his communications skills.

Here is Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day on the post, The Good Hoax:

While I was a graduate student at the University of Wyoming, one of my office mates was approached by a group who offered, for a couple of thousand dollars, to do all the research for his Master’s Degree and write up the results in a guaranteed-to-pass thesis. Supposedly my office mate tracked down some of the reviews of this group and found that some had indeed managed to attain a Master’s using services like this. As a disclaimer, I didn’t personally follow up on it, or investigate to see if people were later identified for their fraudulent activity.

A year or two later, my advisor was showing me a website that generated very scientific-sounding, but utterly meaningless journals, complete with references. The abstracts this random generator produced weren’t too far off from some of the jargon-laden examples quoted above. One of the claims to fame of this website was that it had actually managed to get a couple of these randomly-generated papers approved at conferences. I think this link to SciGen will take you to the site my advisor found.

My time in academia impressed on me that journal papers are far from the infallible entity we would like them to be. There were people in my field (theoretical computer science) that had a reputation of getting three papers out of each finding they’d made: the initial paper, the correction of the initial paper, and the correction of the correction. I was always worried that, if I ever actually made any findings worth publication, I would have missed some error in my logic that would render my results invalid, and yet people for decades hence would utilize my results in their research, leading to error cascading down for generations. Continue reading

Hillary Clinton: A Pre-Election Ethics Alarms Character and Trustworthiness Review: 2009-2016

hillary-testifies

The first Ethics Alarms post about Hillary Clinton ironically enough, in 2009, awarded her an Ethics Hero. (She has two.) “I know, I know. Truth and the Clintons have never been friends,” it began. And, looking back, it was a pretty generous award: all she did was describe how an ethical decision is made, and claimed that was how she decided to accept Obama’s invitation to be Secretary of State.  It didn’t prove she actually made the decision the way she said she did, and now, with the benefit of seven years’ hindsight, I think it’s likely that she was lying about it, as usual. Still, it proves that Hillary may know how to act ethically. This distinguishes her from Donald Trump.

Before heading to the voting booth, I decided to review all of the Ethics Alarms posts about Clinton. It is, I think it’s fair to say, horrifying. You can find them all here. 

There are unethical quotes of the week and month, Ethics Dunce designations, Jumbos, where Clinton denied what was in clear view to all, and KABOOMS, where the sheer audacity of her dishonesty (or that of her corrupted allies and supporters) made my skull explode skyward. If you have a recalcitrant Hillary enabler and rationalizer in your life, you should dare him or her to read this mass indictment—not that it will change a mind already warped, of course, but because the means of denying and spinning what they read will be instructive, confirming the symptoms of incurable Clinton Corruption.In July of 2015, I responded to complaints—including one from an ethics professor— that I was not objective regarding Mrs. Clinton, that I was picking on her. The response was a manifesto, stating my standards and objectives: Continue reading

Ethic Quiz: The Jean Valjean Rule

There are no good pictures of Jean stealing a loaf of bread, but here's Yogi Bear stealing a picnic basket...

There are no good pictures of Jean stealing a loaf of bread, but here’s Yogi Bear stealing a picnic basket…

News from Italy, via the BBC:

Judges overturned a theft conviction against Roman Ostriakov after he stole cheese and sausages worth €4.07 (£3; $4.50) from a supermarket.Mr Ostriakov, a homeless man of Ukrainian background, had taken the food “in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment”, the court of cassation decided.

Therefore it was not a crime, it said.

A fellow customer informed the store’s security in 2011, when Mr Ostriakov attempted to leave a Genoa supermarket with two pieces of cheese and a packet of sausages in his pocket but paid only for breadsticks.

In 2015, Mr Ostriakov was convicted of theft and sentenced to six months in jail and a €100 fine.

For the judges, the “right to survival prevails over property”, said an op-ed in La Stampa newspaper (in Italian).

In times of economic hardship, the court of cassation’s judgement “reminds everyone that in a civilised country not even the worst of men should starve”.

An opinion piece in Corriere Della Sera says statistics suggest 615 people are added to the ranks of the poor in Italy every day – it was “unthinkable that the law should not take note of reality”.

It criticised the fact that a case concerning the taking of goods worth under €5 went through three rounds in the courts before being thrown out.

The “historic” ruling is “right and pertinent”, said Italiaglobale.it – and derives from a concept that “informed the Western world for centuries – it is called humanity”.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today, involving  the eternal confusion between law and ethics::

Never mind legal: was this an ethical ruling?

Continue reading

Justice vs. Process: The Case Of The Final, Mandatory, Unjust Sentence

African American in Prison

A full panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, fifteen judges in all, heard arguments this week  regarding whether they have the power to do anything about Raymond Surratt Jr.’s mandatory life sentence, which just about everybody—-the sentencing judge, Surratt’s defense lawyers and government prosecutors—agrees is unjust.

Until the Surratt case, no federal appellate court has faced the question of  whether a court it has a route to correcting a mistake of its own making when the error is as severe as a mandatory life sentence. The North Carolina father of two is incarcerated at a federal facility in Virginia for a 2005 cocaine conviction. If Surratt were sentenced today, he would face a mandatory minimum penalty of only ten years in prison. If he had been sentenced under current laws in 2005 rather than the laws then in effect, he would be out of jail by now.

Surratt pleaded guilty in 2005 to conspiring to distribute at least 50 grams of cocaine in western North Carolina. The judge said he had no choice under sentencing guidelines other than  to give him a mandatory life sentence because of Surratt’s earlier drug convictions. The judge called the penalty “undeserved and unjust.”

The conviction and sentence were upheld after Surratt’s  appeals. Now he has no appeals left. But in 2011, the 4th Circuit, which includes North Carolina, overruled past practice, meaning that it held that prior convictions as in Surratt’s case should not trigger a mandatory life term.

Now, I know that non-lawyers react to this by thinking, “So what’s the problem? Let him out!” That’s in line with the reaction they have when they hear about a defense lawyer who knows his mad-dog killer defendant is guilty of a heinous, bloody crime (“So tell the judge!”). However, the law can’t be changed on the fly, and the fact that a result may be obviously wrong doesn’t change the importance of addressing it within existing procedures, rules and laws. In this case, no more appeals means no more appeals.

The Surratt case involves the important judicial principle of finality. Prof. Steven H. Goldblatt, who runs Georgetown Law Center’s  appellate litigation clinic, told the court that finality is of vital importance to the legal system. Agreeing, a majority of the Fourth Circuit panel said last year that… Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Academy’s Pro-Diversity “Fix”

Chris-Rock-Backstage-at-Oscars

Apparently panicked by the negative reaction to its all-white 2016 Oscar nominations,  and determined not to give MC Chris Rock more ammunition than he already has, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scientists has rushed into place new voter qualifications for next year’s awards. Under the new rules, members who have not worked over the past 30 years  will lose the right to cast Oscar ballots unless they have been nominated for an Oscar themselves.

What’s going on here?

1. Is this substituting real bias for unfairly assumed bias?

Sure it is.

As one soon to be disenfranchised voter told the Hollywood Reporter, “The Motion Picture Academy, in the spirit of Affirmative Action (which has worked so well in our universities), is determined to take the Oscar vote away from the Old White Guys…Personally, I wish they’d examine their complex preferential ballot procedure which clearly isn’t working right. But no, blame the Old White Guys.” Others noted that to assume older voters, many who were at their peak during the rebellious Sixties and the Civil Rights Era, weren’t voting for black artists was foolish. The new rules seem to be an obvious attempt to stigmatize and penalize older voters.  The seniors, said one dissenting Academy member, are often “perfectly vibrant and very much with it and, while they may be retired, it doesn’t mean they aren’t functioning on all cylinders. They have earned the privilege of being in the Academy through their work and just because they’re no longer active doesn’t mean that they can’t be a good judge of what they’re looking at.” Former actress Delores Hart, who gave Elvis Presley his first screen kiss and who was the top-billed star of “Where the Boys Are?,” was direct, saying,  “It’s age discrimination.”

Of course, Hollywood has long-accepted age-discrimination, and Saturday Night Live would never skewer the Oscars for that. Continue reading

More Bad Law Ethics: Integrity Test Coming For The Judiciary On Obamacare

"Dear Courts: We intend this mess to be a big, perfect, beautiful palace. Please let us know when its finished.       Your Friend, Congress"

“Dear Courts: We intend this mess to be a big, perfect, beautiful palace. Please let us know when its finished.
Your Friend, Congress.”

In a recent post, I explained how the incompetent drafting and reckless manner in which the Affordable Care Act was passed has corrupted every branch of the government as well as damaged our system and the public’s faith in it. Affordable Care Act supporters continue to desperately try to excuse, fix, and rationalize this disgracefully bad law. Next up is an integrity test for the judiciary, as the legal argument against the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit’s decision in Halbig v. Burwell becomes untenable.

If the two judges on the three judge panel were correct, and it appears they were, then a drafting miscalculation in the ACA has rendered the health care overhaul unworkable, meaning that it can’t be fixed, constitutionally at least, by Executive Orders, waivers, delays or lies, like so much else connected to the legislation. It will have to be addressed the old-fashioned—as in “according to the Constitution”—way, or not fixed at all. Continue reading