Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/14/17

1.  I am wrestling myself to the ground to avoid making any assumptions about the shooting this morning (about three miles from my home in Alexandria, Virginia) of two Republican Congressmen and an aide while the GOP baseball team was practicing for tomorrow’s annual Congressional baseball game for charity. When Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot (and a judge killed, among others) in Tucson, Arizona, the news media, pundits and Democrats leaped to blame Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh for so-called “eliminationist rhetoric,” defined in Palin’s case as using cross-hairs on an electoral map to indicate which Democrats could be defeated in 2012—you know, as in “he’s in my cross-hairs.” This was a transparent effort to stifle political speech. In 1995, when a Federal building in Oklahoma City was blown up in a domestic terrorist attack, “violent anti-government” rhetoric from the Right was also blamed, though there was no evidence that Timothy McVeigh would not have done exactly the same thing if political discourse had been all John Lennon and rainbows.

The Giffords explanation was cynical and contrived; the Oklahoma City response a bit less so, but in neither of those cases were violent imagery and hateful language (no party officials and member of Congress used “fuck” back then, late night TV hosts were largely apolitical and couldn’t call Presidents “cockholsters” without being fired, the “resistance” in 1995 consisted of fringe militia groups, not recent unsuccessful Presidential candidates with a large following, and nobody was giving standing ovations to Central Park theatrical productions showing a doppleganger of the President of the United States being assassinated. In other words, if Rush Limbaugh had held up a prop bloody head of Barack Obama prior to Giffords’ shooting, I would not have derided the critics who argued that irresponsible partisan rhetoric was at least part of the cause. But he didn’t. Nobody did. Nobody would have thought of doing so. Then.

So when my wife told me, the second I woke up, about the shooting this morning, my immediate thought was, “I wonder who the shooter is, an illegal immigrant, a Muslim, or a member of “the resistance?”  This was unfair, and I knew it. The shooter might have been, as it was in Tucson, a wacko. It might have been moral luck that it was the Republican baseball team that was attacked and not the Democrats, just as it was moral luck that nobody was killed. Continue reading

Gabrielle Giffords:The Helpless Pawn On The Ethics Train Wreck


Ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords


James Taranto, the witty conservative commentator on the Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web” blog, properly takes aim at the New York Times op-ed supposedly authored by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and shoots it full of holes, quite accurately finding the piece guilty of almost every ethical violation that has characterized the shameless, and deservedly unsuccessful, effort to exploit the Sandy Hook massacre for gun reform. “Giffords’s 900-word jeremiad should be included in every textbook of logic and political rhetoric, so rife is it with examples of fallacious reasoning and demagogic appeals,’ he writes, noting that she is a “practitioner of incivility and unreason.”  Some of Taranto’s indictments:

  • “The argumentum ad passiones, or appeal to emotion. She leads with this one: “Senators say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.” Continue reading

Why The Gun Bill Deserved To Lose, and Why We Should All Be Glad It Did

A bad day for Machiavelli is a good day for America.

A bad day for Machiavelli is a good day for America.

Consequentialism rules supreme in Washington, D.C.; that is the tragedy of our political system. If unethical conduct is perceived as having a positive outcome, few in D.C. will continue to condemn the means whereby those beneficial and lauded were achieved. Worse, the results will be seen as validating the tactics, moving them from the category of ethically objectionable into standard practice, and for both political parties

Thus we should all reluctantly cheer the likely demise of the Senate’s gun control bill yesterday. The compromise background check provision that failed wasn’t perfect, but it would have been an improvement over the current system. Nevertheless, the post-Sandy Hook tactics of gun control advocates, including the President and most of the media, have been so misleading, cynical, manipulative and offensive that their tactics needed to be discouraged by the only thing that has real influence in the nation’s Capital: embarrassing failure.

The tainted enterprise begins with the fact that it should not have been a priority at this time at all. Newtown did not signal a crisis; it was one event, and that particular bloody horse had left the barn. The supposedly urgent need to “prevent more Sandy Hooks” was imaginary, but it apparently served the President’s purpose of distracting attention from more genuinely pressing matters, notably the stalled employment situation and the need to find common ground with Republican on deficit and debt reduction. Meanwhile, the conditions in Syria have been deteriorating and North Korea is threatening nuclear war: why, at this time, was the President of the United states acting as if gun control was at the top of his agenda? It was irresponsible, placing political grandstanding above governing. In this context, Obama’s angry words yesterday about the bill’s defeat being caused by “politics” were stunningly hypocritical. The whole effort by his party was about nothing other than politics. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week, Sandy Hook Ethics Train Wreck Division: WSJ Blogger James Taranto

“It’s like a proponent of laws against hate speech standing on a street corner shouting racial slurs in order to “demonstrate how easy it is” to say offensive things under the First Amendment. Of course it’s ‘easy’ to do something that is perfectly legal and protected by the Constitution. That doesn’t mean you ought to do it, especially if you claim to believe it is wrong.”

—–Wall Street Journal blogger, pundit and wit James Taranto, describing the “stupid stunt”perpetrated  by Mark Kelly, the husband of  former Rep. Gaby Giffords, in which he purchased the kind of weapon he and his wife have been lobbying Congress to ban, a so-called “assault weapon,” in order to “demonstrate how easy it is to obtain” one.

At least Kelly didn’t break the law, like David Gregory, to show how easy it was to get an illegal magazine in Washington, D.C.


If this is the best argument you quiet.

If this is the best argument you have…be quiet.

Is this hypocrisy? No, it’s not hypocrisy. Kelly’s act is reminiscent, though not as certifiably cretinous, of stunt pulled by the foolish Ronald Miller, who walked into his child’s school and announced that he was going to start shooting people, just to show that he could. Kelly proved nothing. To someone who believes that a law-abiding citizen who believes he needs an assault weapon to protect his family against home invaders, Rodney King-style riots or the breakdown of civilization (never mind what Joe Biden or Andrew Cuomo think he needs), Kelly’s purchase proved only that the system works: a law-abiding citizen can buy a legal gun. The Horror. To anti-gun crusaders, Kelly proved that a gun they think should be made illegal is legal—but presumably they already knew that. Kelly was trying to demonstrate that legal conduct should be made illegal because people can currently do it?

Okaaaaay… Continue reading

Embarassing Democracy: Gabrielle Giffords and Government by Fallacy

Giffords Notes

The estimable website Fallacy Files contains much wisdom and many tools, most aimed at helping human beings avoid stupidity and the poor decisions it generates. Among the logical fallacies it documents are the flawed appeals, arguments for a proposition based on the supposed authority of an argument of a person based on factors that should have no bearing on the debate at all. A familiar example is the appeal to ignorance, in which an advocate argues that there is no evidence that X is true, ergo X must be false.

Yesterday, gunshot victim and former Representative Gabriella Giffords made what was called “a surprise appearance” at the U.S. Senate (don’t get me started on how much of a “surprise” it was—just try showing up to testify before the U.S. Senate as a “surprise” and see how far you get.) and made what was widely called “powerful testimony” advocating gun control legislation. It wasn’t powerful testimony; it was pathetic testimony. It contributed neither information nor reasoning to the debate. Giffords said, carefully, in labored speech, “Speaking is difficult. I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something.  It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you.” Despicably, some Left-wing blogs even managed to use her appearance to further the MSNBC lie that a Sandy Hook’s victim’s father had been “heckled” during his testimony before the Connecticut legislature. “You’ll notice that NOBODY dared to heckle Gabby as she was speaking,” commented one.

Giffords’ testimony wasn’t “powerful.” It was pathetic. It was, in fact, a classic example of another logical fallacy documented by the Fallacy File, the appeal to pity, where emotion is used as a substitute for facts, logic and argument. Continue reading

How Fake Statistics Become “True”: A Case Study From The Newtown Massacre Ethics Train Wreck

As predicted, this ethics train wreck keep getting bigger.

As predicted, this ethics train wreck keep getting bigger.

There was a lot to wince about in Diane Sawyer’s “exclusive” interview two weeks ago with former Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. The Arizona couple announced their intention to launch a non-profit organization dedicated to more effective anti-gun violence measures, concentrating, predictably, on the prominent features of the maniac’s rampage in Tucson that left Giffords with brain injuries that will impede her for a lifetime. Nothing to wince about regarding the effort, but Giffords’ diminished state—she can speak in only short burst of words, cannot see well out of one eye, and has difficulty walking—is tragic. It reminded me how unconscionable it was that she held her post in the Congress for more than a year when it should have been clear that her disabilities precluded her functioning as a Representative. The disturbing feeling also arose that Giffords, in her current pathetic condition, is now like the children President Obama used as window dressing for his gun-related Executive Orders announcement at the White House, an exploited figure of sentiment and public manipulation being used in the anti-gun wars. Her name was listed as the author of a first person op-ed in USA Today that contained sentences and perhaps thoughts that she cannot possibly compose. Diane Sawyer told us that she will be dragged into Congressional offices with her husband to seek support from her former colleagues, who will be forced, as Sawyer said, to say no “to her face.”

The most substantive wince, however, came from a statement of “fact” by Mark Kelly, who told Sawyer this:

“You know, how do we get to the point where 85 percent of the children in the world that are killed with guns are killed in the United States. That is a sobering statistic.”

Sobering, and obviously nonsense. Continue reading

Better Late Than Never Dept.: Rep. Giffords Finally Does The Right Thing

That's the Democratic Congresswoman from Arizona in the center.

Ethics Alarms first stated that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously disabled and needed to resign from the house on January 17, 2011. I wrote:

“Almost no medical experts foresee a woman with such massive head injuries being able to return to work within a year, if she can return at all. She only has a two-year term. Is it fair to the people of Arizona, not to mention the country, to have a member of Congress who is unable to work during the days ahead, which are critical to the nation on so many fronts?”

Although the answer to this question was obvious at the time, Rep. Giffords did not resign. I returned to the topic in March, June, September and November, but not only did the Giffords camp and Democrats continue to ignore the issue, the media largely did as well. Never mind that during a contentious and important year of critical legislative issues, one Congressional District in Arizona was essentially unrepresented.

Today, finally, Rep. Giffords announced that she had resigned, more than a year after being shot in the head. Her friend, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, told the press that her friend’s recovery was likely to take years, not months. WOW! That’s a bulletin! Who had any idea that the Congresswoman was that seriously injured? Continue reading

Incompetent Elected Official of the Month: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (But At Least She Has An Excuse.)

Be sure not to miss this very special episode of "Congress: A Study in Courage That Does The Country No Good Whatsoever"

ABC’s Diane Sawyer will soon air her interview with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the first since the Arizona Congresswoman was shot in the head during Jarod Loughner’s Tuscon rampage in January. Giffords looks alert and upbeat, if understandably frail, and answers Sawyer’s questions with short, often single word responses. She has clearly made remarkable progress in her rehabilitation. She also obviously has a long way to go, and her prospects of working at a high level again, much less working on the nation’s problems, are speculative at best. Why then is she still filling a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives?

She is doing so because, of course, she is courageous. Because her recovery is inspiring, and it would be heartless and cruel to take her job away because of a madman’s bullet. She is doing so because it would be unfair and mean to rush heroic Gaby, and because Americans care. None of which has any relevance to the tiny, apparently trivial issue of governing America. Continue reading

Pat Summitt, Failing a Great Leader’s Toughest Test

Be like Lou, the next diminished leader can be like you.

Pat Summitt, the legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach who has won more games than any other college coach ever, men’s or women’s, received test results from the Mayo Clinic at the end of May that confirmed early-onset Alzheimer’s type dementia.  The irreversible brain disease is now at work destroying the 59-year-old Summitt’s abilities of recall and cognition, and as it is for the other estimated 5 million Americans with the disabling disease, the prognosis is grim.

Everyone in the Tennessee and sports community as well as the media and all of us who have seen loved ones suffer with the disease are rallying behind Summitt, who is one of the toughest, smartest, most determined figures in sports. But Coach Summitt has decided that her symptoms are not yet severe enough to force her into retirement, and she intends to stay at the helm of the Tennessee women’s basketball team at least three more years.

It is the wrong decision. It is a selfish and unethical decision. The question is whether anyone will have the courage to try to convince Summitt that she has a duty to the team, the school, her own legacy and basic principles of ethics to change course and do the right thing. Quit. Continue reading

Return to a Sore Subject

"Does anybody care?"

[NOTE: An unusually busy travel schedule combined with terrible hotel WiFi and a week that was already stuffed with juicy and provocative ethics stories resulted in my not fulfilling my duties very well the last three days, for which I apologize sincerely. I’m going to make every effort to catch up this weekend.]

Rep. Weiner resigned at last, noting that his district and its constituents deserved to have a fully functioning representative in Congress, and that he could no longer fulfill that role. True enough, though one has to ask (or at least I do): if the people of Queens and Brooklyn deserve better representation than a hard-working, if dishonest, obsessed and twisted, pariah can offer, what about the people of the 8th District of Arizona, who have a representative who can’t funtion in her post at all?

I was going to wait until the six-month mark in Gaby Giffords’ rehabilitation to raise this matter again, since that will mark a full 25% of the Congresswoman’s term that she has been unable to serve, but the combination of Weiner’s resignation and the news of Giffords being released from the hospital created too much dissonance for me to ignore. I fully expect that I will be writing some version of this post 18 months hence, after Rep. Giffords’ entire Congressional term has passed without her voting on a bill or answering a constituent’s letter. To quote the singing John Adams in “1776,”: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?”

Reports from various medical personnel enthused that Giffords has made remarkable progress, and “seems” to understand “most’ of what is being said to her, though she still has trouble articulating responses. That is great progress for someone who has some of her brain blown away by a gunshot at close range, but it sure doesn’t sound like someone who is going to be making a persuasive argument on the House floor any time soon, or ever. So are we serious about this running the country stuff, or aren’t we? Continue reading