Introducing The 102nd Rationalization: Kennedy’s Stall, Or “We’ll Cross That Bridge When We Come To It.’

The latest rationalization for the list came to my attention when I used it myself.

I have been reading various opinion pieces and reports about the stance of anti-vaxxers as researchers push to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible for the Wuhan virus.  A Daily Beast essay cautioned that the need for haste had to be balanced against the consequences of failure:

“Urgent as the need is, public health leaders warn, moving too quickly could have disastrous consequences not only for reining in COVID-19, but for vaccines more broadly. If a vaccine is released that doesn’t work well or yields dangerous side effects—especially in the face of an historic pandemic—it could empower anti-vaccine activists and reduce support for other longstanding vaccines that have gone through rigorous and exhaustive testing”

My reaction to that was instant: “What sense does it make to moderate your efforts to solve an urgent problem because you are worried about a possible future irrational reaction to an adverse result? “You cross that bridge when (and if) you come to it,” I thought. Then the faint sound of an ethics alarm ringing caught my attention. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/3/19: Morons, And More.

Good morning!

Still working on the appellee brief in my defense against the frivolous law suit by an angry banned Ethics Alarms commenter whose boo-boo I bruised. How do you write a professional, respectful, effective rebuttal of a 70 page brief that is basically nonsense? I know how to argue against a real good faith legal assertion–indeed, my enjoyment of brief-writing nearly got me stuck in the traditional practice of law. But “this is deranged crap that doesn’t constitute a valid appeal and that wastes the time of everyone involved” isn’t a professional response, just a fair one.

1. “You know…morons!” At least two people—I can’t find the link for the second one, but it was a child—were wounded when spent bullets shot into the air by New Year’s Eve celebrants fell back to earth and hit them. This happens every year. Why do people think shooting guns into the sky is safe? In WW II, my father had to promise a court martial for any soldier under his command who shot a weapon into the air.  This is basic Law of Gravity stuff, but it seems to elude an amazing number of gum owners. I’m only aware of one move that ever featured a death from a falling bullet: “The Mexican,” a failed 2001 Brad Pitt-Julia Roberts comedy.

2. “You know…morons!” (cont.) The Netflix horror hit “The Bird Box,” which involves a blindfolded Sandra Bullock leading her similarly burdened children on an odyssey to escape an apocalyptic threat that only strikes when it is seen, has spawned a web challenge in which people are encouraged to try doing everyday tasks wearing blindfolds. This prompted a warning from Netflix:

“Can’t believe I have to say this, but: PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE. We don’t know how this started, and we appreciate the love, but Boy and Girl have just one wish for 2019 and it is that you not end up in the hospital due to memes.”

Boy and Girl are what Bullock’s character’s children are called, because she is so certain they are doomed that she doesn’t want to name them. I am tempted to say that anyone so stupid as to try this challenge should not be discouraged, because their demise will only benefit the rest of us. But that would be mean.

True, but mean.

3. Follow-Up…The Federalist has more on the unfolding Steele Dossier scandal. I do not see how any result of the Mueller investigation can hold up in court, no matter how much the mainstream news media spins it, with the degree of procedural irregularity and prosecutor misconduct we already know is behind it. Presumably this is why the focus has shifted to the extremely dubious theory that Trump violated election laws by paying off a sex partner, something he would have probably done whether he was running for office or not, and also a transaction that didn’t involve campaign funds. The media keeps reporting the latter as if it is an unquestioned crime (apparently because Michael Cohen was induced to plead guilty to it), but it just isn’t a crime, and I believe in the end that theory will be thrown out of court too. Continue reading

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

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/20/17

1. It isn’t just the President’s boorish role modelling and the misbehavior and incivility of his opposition that makes me fear for the ethics alarms of our rising generation. The long-term results of people being able to isolate themselves from social contact—and the social skills and sensitivities that direct, face to face contact nurture—by constant attention to electronic devices is a matter for concern. Yesterday, I became aware of another danger.

I heard, on the new Sirius-XM Beatles channel, a recording of Paul McCartney singing my favorite song from “Guys and Dolls,” a sweet ballad sung in the musical by an elderly father to his grown daughter during her romantic crisis.

McCartney has a foot in two cultures and always has. As much as a rock and pop innovator as he was, Paul was also steeped in the traditional love songs of his parent’s generation, including Broadway. Today both of McCartney’s feet are planted where nobody under the age of 30 is likely to tread, and that is natural. Yet it seems that popular music is increasingly devoid of tenderness, empathy and compassion. Hip-Hop, particularly, seems immune from being able to express a sentiment like that in Frank Loesser’s nearly  70-year-old song that Paul McCartney obviously understands. I wonder, and worry. how many of today’s young Americans understand it, or will grow up with the capacity to do so.

Here’s Bing crooning the same song…

You know I love ya, Bing, but the Moptop wins this round.

2. There was some discussion on a thread here yesterday about the ethics of interests outside the state putting so much money into Georgia’s 6th congressional district’s special election. The House was designed to give communities a say in the national government, so to the extent that a local election is warped by interests outside the community—the Democrat, Jon Ossoff, is a carpetbagger who doesn’t live in the district—it’s a violation of the spirit of the Constitution and the ideal of American democracy. Some have even made an analogy to foreign governments interfering in U.S. elections. On the other hand, all this outside “interference” consists of are words, ads, and marketing. The district’s residents still are the ones who vote. If they are so easily swayed by slick ads and robocalls, that’s their responsibility. (There may even be a backlash.) Continue reading

Let Us Not Allow Pity And Compassion To Obscure The Ethics Lesson Of The Otto Wambier Tragedy

Young Otto Warmbier  is back from North Korea, where he had been a prisoner since 2015. The a 22-year-old University of Virginia student was finally returned from the Communist dictatorship in a coma, suffering from “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of his brain.” Doctors believe he had sustained his catastrophic brain injury sometime before April 2016.

His heartbroken parents are condemning North Korea and praising the Trump administration, which finally obtained his release. Someone, however, needs to make the crucial point that Otto’s fate was directly due to his own recklessness and bad judgment in engaging in conduct that frequently results in disaster, as well as international tensions and needless cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Otto signed up for a five-day tour of North Korea with  Young Pioneer Tours,  a Chinese company that advertises “budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.” There is a good reason your mother—and your father, and the U.S. State Department—would rather you stayed away from North Korea. The place is a hell-hole run by a power-mad lunatic, and it is not safe. Nobody put a gun to Otto Warmbier’s head and kidnapped him: he decided on his own to defy his government’s warnings, recent history and the sense god gave puppies to deliberately place himself in harm’s way, knowing that many, many similarly misguided citizens have become prisoners, propaganda tools,  pawns or worse because they willfully placed themselves in similar peril as the people who decide to climb into tiger or lion enclosures at zoos.

Warmbier left on his “tour” in December , 2015. He would have had a chance to see “Bridge of Spies” by then: I wonder if he did. You will recall that the history-based plot involved am American student named Fred Pryor, who is one now a renowned comparative economists. Then, however, he was a graduate student in West Berlin who decided it would be a dandy idea to pass through the half-completed Berlin Wall in August, 1961 to attend a lecture and give a copy of his dissertation  to an East Berlin economics professor.  We know he’s a smart guy, but one would think that the fact that the East German government was in the process of sealing in its citizens as prisoners might have alerted him that this was not the time to go visiting.

Sure enough, Pryor was arrested, thrown in jail, and became a bargaining chip in the U-2/Gary Powers/Rudolph Abel negotiations. Had Otto Warmbier seen the film (which Pryor says misrepresents his part of the story), I would think he would  have been a bit more resistant to a sales pitch that said, “This is a great time to visit beautiful North Korea!” Indeed, being 22, presumably literate and of sound mind,  he should have had the knowledge and sense of self-preservation to resist that sales pitch even  if he had never seen any movie in his whole life. Continue reading

“We’re Environmentally Conscious, So Buy Our Cereal!”

And if you are really just cynical, reckless virtue-signalling grandstanders? How good does that make your cereal?

General Mills, the company that makes Honey Nut Cheerios, launched a creative campaign to raise awareness about declining bee and other pollinator populations in the U.S. and Canada, or, perhaps, to sell more cereal. Which do you guess it is? I’m stumped!

The company gave away 1.5 billion allegedly bee-friendly wildflower seeds attached to its Honey Nut Cheerios boxes. urging consumers to plant the seeds in their backyards and community spaces. More wildflowers, after all, will mean more food and shelter for our stressed honeybee population. There is a real problem to address here: honeybees and the honey industry are threatened. From April 2015 to April 2016, beekeepers lost 44 percent of their honeybee colonies.  The U.S. Agriculture Department says that it was the second year in a row that beekeepers lost as many bees during the summer as they did during the winter. Of the 47 species of bees native to the U.S. and Canada, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature says more than a quarter face a risk of extinction from pesticide poisoning, climate change, disease and habitat loss.

But General Mills doesn’t really care about honey bees. If it did, it would have put some thought into its promotion. No, all it was doing, like most companies when they advertise, is counting on the cognitive dissonance scale to do its magic:

It works every time. See, environmental sensitivity is at the top of the scale. So are flowers: who doesn’t like flowers? Below the zero mark for a lot of people are empty calorie breakfast cereals and big consumer corporations. Dr. Leon Festinger, who developed the scale more than half a century ago, showed through his research that when something we place high on the scale is associated or linked to something low on the scale, the low item naturally rises in our esteem. (The higher-placed things will drop, too; the process reduces dissonance, the inate human difficulty of holding two inconsistent values.) This is why candidates for office recruit celebrities and sports figures to endorse them, as if Tom Brady or Rihanna have any more expertise about government and politics than the average 7-11 clerk. This is also why the news media and Democrats keep “linking” President Trump to Russia without any evidence whatsoever—to drive him down on the scale. Continue reading

The President’s Most Unethical Appointment

Now that we know the whole story, it’s Michael Flynn, the erstwhile National Security Advisor, hands down. That’s amazing, when one considers some of the other appointments, like the spectacularly unqualified Ben Carson, Rick Perry, appointed to lead an agency he has previously said should be eliminated (and couldn’t remember its name); and the embarrassingly unethical Tom Price, the HHS head.

Earlier this week, Flynn, who was forced to resign February 13, for lying to Vice-President Pence, filed  with the Justice Department revealing that he had done work from August to November “that could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”  That work had netted Flynn’s firm more than a half-million dollars, and made Flynn legally obligated to register as a foreign agent.

On Election Day, Flynn’s op-ed was published  on The Hill  praising Turkish President Erdogan as an ally against ISIS. On November  18,  Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, wrote a letter to  Pence inquiring about Flynn’s ties to the Turkish government. When the White House  confirmed that the Trump transition team knew before Inauguration Day that Flynn might be required to register as a foreign agent. it was stating the undeniable.

How  could  someone like General Flynn ever be appointed national security adviser? White House spokesman Sean Spicer (speaking of bad hires) has made the silly excuse that Flynn’s status as a registered foreign agent didn’t mean he had a disqualifying conflict of interest. A  top national-security aide who was under contract to lobby for a foreign government deeply involved with U.S. Middle East policy? Outrageous! Outrageous, and guaranteed to spark a scandal as soon as this became public.  Not only was this a bad appointment, an incompetent appointment, an irresponsible, reckless and dangerous appointment, it was a really stupid appointment. Continue reading

Ugh! Here’s One More Unethical Practice (Of Many) Trump Needs To Eliminate From His Repertoire, And Quickly

trump-tweet-at-union-head-jpg

It’s pretty simple, though President Obama hasn’t figured it out in in eight years:

The President of the United States must not attack or criticize private citizens or negatively characterize their actions, nor should he interfere with local matters, criminal justice, the courts, the news media, or private businesses,  unless it is absolutely necessary, which it almost never is. This applies to his treatment of journalists, celebrities, athletes, local officials, accused criminals, military personnel, lawyers, other professionals…

…and union representatives.

Chuck Jones, the president of the local chapter of the United Steelworkers union that represents Carrier employees in Indianapolis, told The Post on Tuesday that the Trump exaggerated the number of jobs he claims to have saved, since 550 of the union’s members will lose their jobs anyway. Trump immediately sent the tweet above, directly attacking Jones by name. Shortly after the tweet, Jones says, he began getting threatening phone calls. “Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, ‘You better keep your eye on your kids. We know what car you drive.’ Things along those lines,” he told the Post.

I’m not surprised, but Trump’s “punching down” would be just as wrong if there was no response at all. This is an abuse of power. It is an abuse of influence. It is an abuse of office, and once he is President, it will be an abuse of the “bully pulpit.” The conduct is bullying,  as well as irresponsible, dangerous, and stupid.

I did call it, though! My post in April about Gov. Rick Scott attacking a citizen, in his case a coffee shop critic, in a campaign ad ended with this statement:

It is hard to imagine a more petty, needless, demeaning example of “punching down.” Jennings isn’t running against Scott; she is just a citizen critic, if an especially rude and nasty one. For a governor to focus an attack ad on a mere citizen is an abuse of power and position. It is ethically indefensible.

It is exactly what Donald Trump would do, though.

It is far worse for a President-Elect to punch down, of course; it’s even unethical for a Presidential candidate nobody thinks can win to do it. Trump’s pre-emptively calling Bowe Bergdahl a traitor is now a fair trial problem in the ex-prisoner of war’s court-martial. This is a terrible habit to indulge, and it opens the door to far more harmful misuses of Presidential power.  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

Curse You, Political Correctness Bullies! Now You’re Forcing Me To Defend Lena Dunham!

Dunham2

A downside of running an ethics blog is that you have to defend really disgusting people from time to time: Harry Reid, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump…and now Lena Dunham. In fact, this story rescued the “Girls” creator from a different post here, as she recently had to apologize for an online newsletter rant that attacked the character of NFL star Odell Beckham Jr. and attributed various sexist attitudes to him based purely on the fact that he showed no interest in her when they were seated together at a recent function. ( Legitimate reasons why he may have ignored her: he had other things on his mind, she’s not his type, she’s a professional jerk, she’s Lena Dunham).

Before I have to defend Dunham, who is an awful person based on available evidence, let me make a few observations. One is that fame in the 21st Century can expose the unsavory and unethical nature of the famous far more than it did in pre-social media days. This is part of Donald Trump’s plight. Another is that Twitter and social media are literally traps for jerks, and it is amazing that so many of them keep getting caught, even with the bodies of previous trap-ees littering the immediate landscape. Finally, I wonder if there are still publicists around in the tradition of my late friend, Bob McElwaine. and if there are, why doesn’t Lena hire one to save her from herself? Bob was a Hollywood Golden Age publicist who saw his job as keeping the fact that his clients were jerks secret. He was great at it: his major client was Danny Kaye, a truly vile, troubled and nasty individual whose public persona was exactly the opposite.

All right, enough stalling.

For some reason, this Dunham tweet from five years ago surfaced, and has led a social media lynch mob to attack Dunham as being a racist…

Dunham tweet

Pop quiz: What exactly is it about the tweet that makes it racist?

The answer is “Nothing.” Racism requires attributing negative features or conduct to an individual or group based solely on racial bias and prejudice. It is not racism to base conclusions on statistical reality. Interestingly, most of the attacks on the tweet claim that the tweet is anti-Asian. It is racist to attribute virtuous qualities, like a reluctance to rape, to a race? Wow! Apparently the tweet is being condemned as a slur on Asian manhood. Since when is it manly to rape someone? Silly me: I assumed that Dunham was referring to well-documented  cultural support of respect for women, law-abiding conduct and other ethical virtues in Asian-American families.

Or is the complaint that by assuming an Asian-American is less of a threat than a male of another race, Dunham was by extension saying that other races were more of a threat? This would most fairly interpreted as an anti-white slur, however, since whites make up almost 75% of the population of convicted rapists. I thought anti-white bigotry was OK in political correctness circles! Continue reading