The Wisconsin Ethics Commission is a supposedly essential and honorable government agency whose mission is “ to promote and strengthen the faith and confidence of the people of Wisconsin in their government, support the operation of open and responsible government, preserve the integrity of the governmental decision-making process, and protect the rights of individuals through the administration of Wisconsin’s campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws, and through readily available and understandable disclosure of information.”
Democrat Scot Ross was named to Wisconsin’s state Ethics Commission last week. What are his qualifications? Well, he’s a career partisan journalist and bare-knuckles political activist, neither of which are occupations that tend to build strong ethics alarms, or, as they are currently conceived, have any use for them. They do have a tendency to vomit out people like Ross.
This week, the new ethics commission member retweeted a photoshopped image —Do I really have to show it to you? I guess I do— Continue reading →
1. Ethics translation time! Baseball’s current World Champion Houston Astros just traded for young, exciting closer Roberto Osuna from the Toronto Blue Jays. This raised some eyebrows, because the 23-year-old Osuna is just completing a 75-game suspension from MLB for allegedly beating his wife. The Blue Jays had decided that they wanted no part of Osuna, and that he would not be a member of their team going forward, despite the fact that he is regarded as one of the best late-inning relievers in the game.
“We are excited to welcome Roberto Osuna to our team. The due diligence by our front office was unprecedented. We are confident that Osuna is remorseful, has willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior, has proactively engaged in counseling, and will fully comply with our zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind. Roberto has some great examples of character in our existing clubhouse that we believe will help him as he and his family establish a fresh start and as he continues with the Houston Astros. We look forward to Osuna’s contributions as we head into the back half of the season.”
“Our team has had bullpen problems all season, and as of now we have no closer, even as the team has lost three games in a row [now it’s four], two of our best players are injured, and we’re beginning a series against the Mariners, who are just a few games behind us. So in the interest of winning and because the ends justify the means, we are suspending our “zero-tolerance” policy regarding “abuse of any kind” to tolerate a player who Major League Baseball has determined to be a very serious abuser. I don’t know how we’re going to tell another player who is credibly accused of less serious abuse that we won’t tolerate his presence on the team when we just voluntarily brought an abuser onto the team, but never mind: there’s a pennant to win. I’m pretending that Roberto has complied with all consequences related to his past behavior when he is currently pleading not guilty in his pending Canadian trial on battery charges, in the hope that most fans aren’t paying attention.”
I don’t care to live in a culture where law-abiding citizens can have their reputations and careers destroyed by people maliciously publicizing old or private communications to make them hated or distrusted, or worse, a culture where doing this to people is deemed virtuous. Such a culture is one based on perpetual fear, where individuals cannot express an opinion that they may change later, or make a joke to a select audience, or have a conversation expressing strong but spontaneous and transient feelings without risking personal destruction at the hands of someone who wishes them ill.
That is the U.S. culture, however, that extremists on both ends of the political spectrum are successfully constructing, unles we stop them. Their tools are political correctness, invasions of privacy, abuse of technology, social media and its attendant mobs, and an utter disregard of fairness, decency and ethics.
Two recent example illustrate how serious the problem is. This post is about one of them.
Talented writer-director James Gunn, the creative force behind the delightful Guardians of the Galaxy movies was fired by Disney after his old tweets containing offensive jokes were uncovered and circulated on social media and the web. The tweets were deliberately sought by conservative blogger and activist Mike Cernovich, to intentionally wreck Gunn’s career. Gunn’s real offense was that he has been a vocal “resistance” recruit and a prominent conservative-hater, so once Cernovich had the goods on him, the Right was happy to use them.
No doubt, Gunn’s old tweets included jokes that many would consider worthy of Roseanne Barr on a careless day, like
“Laughter is the best medicine. That’s why I laugh at people with AIDS.”
“I like when little boys touch me in my silly place.”
“The best thing about being raped is when you’re done being raped and it’s like ‘whew this feels great, not being raped!’”
Gunn, realizing that joking about pederasty, rape and AIDS was sufficient to get him Kevin Spaceyed for life, tried to explain:
Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over. In the past, I have apologized for humor of mine that hurt people. I truly felt sorry and meant every word of my apologies. For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn’t living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it. Anyway, that’s the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore. I don’t blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today. Love you to you all.
I believe him. I believe him, though something nasty in me would love to know if he was telling friends that the Milwaukee Brewers should punish Josh Hader for the racist tweets he made in high school, because this whole phenomenon is a Golden Rule matter. That has been the Ethics Alarms position forever, including during the 2014 Donald Sterling Ethics Train Wreck, in which an NBA owner lost his team, millions in fines, and his reputation after his mistress taped an ugly conversation they had in his bedroom and circulated it. I reiterated this position most recently in May of this year:
The position of Ethics Alarms on these incidents, which also includes spurned lovers sharing private emails to the world in order to humiliate a correspondent, the Democratic Senators who leaked the President’s coarse rhetoric about “shithole” countries that took place during a meeting that was supposed to be private and confidential, and Donald Trump’s infamous “pussy-grabbing” statements, is simple. Once the embarrassing words are unethically made public, they can’t be ignored, Once the embarrassing words have unethically made public, they can’t be ignored. Neither should the circumstances of their making, or the unethical nature of their subsequent use was weapons of personal destruction.
There is not a human being alive who has not made statements in private meetings or conversations, whether those statements be jokes, insults, rueful observations or deliberate hyperbole, that would be horribly inappropriate as public utterances. Thus the feigned horror at such statements by others is the rankest kind of Golden Rule hypocrisy. In addition, the opprobrium and public disgrace brought down on the heads of those whose mean/ugly/politically incorrect/vulgar/ nasty/insulting words are made public by a treacherous friend, associate or colleague erodes every American’s freedom of thought, association and expression, as well as their privacy.
And yes, to anticipate the objection, I do not regard social media posts by non-public persons who later become celebrities to be truly public communications. They are, in the minds of the foolish individuals who send them, personal messages aimed at friendly audiences, and not intended for public circulation. In reaching this position I am influenced by the legal ethics and judicial rule regarding what is public knowledge regarding a former client that can be used by a lawyer . Simply because information is included in a public document that anyone can access doesn’t mean it is considered public enough for a lawyer to reveal it if the information involves a client. Most people don’t know about those facts because they don’t know how to find them, where to look, or whether the information even exists. Information doesn’t become truly public until it is widely accessible and disseminated. Once Gunn (and Hader) became celebrities, their social media presence was public, but not before. True, both Gunn and Hader should have realized that what they posted when they were nobody special had suddenly become a matter of public interest, and true, people need to start thinking that way, but most of our newly famous just don’t.Continue reading →
The Pest’s Justification or “He/She/They can take care of themselves,” the latest addition to the apparently bottomless pit of self-deception known in these parts as the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List, is a distant cousin of Rationalization 2A, Sicilian Ethics, which holds that wrongdoing toward a party isn’t wrong when the abused party has aggrieved the abuser. 2A boils down to “He deserves it.” #65 boils down to “There’s no need to be ethical to someone more powerful than me.”
The newest addition takes its name from periodic playground accounts in the news, where a larger child is endlessly tormented by a smaller one who assumes that he is immune from harsh judgment by virtue of being perceived as relatively harmless compared to his target. These stories often end badly, with the larger child finally deciding that he can take no more, clobbering his tormenter, and being called a bully for doing so. Spousal abuse where women beat up their larger husbands are especially ugly extensions of this rationalization. It can take the form of bullying. Continue reading →
I haven’t been monitoring the New York Times’ “The Ethicist” column as much as I once did. After the original author of the feature, Randy Cohen, was jettisoned, the various ethicists, pseudo-ethicists and imaginary ethicists the Times recruited to fill his slot have ranged from inconsistent to incompetent, and I stopped checking regularly until recently. Now the column has a real ethicist, for once: Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U., and wrote “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen.” He seems to be thorough and explains his analysis using valid ethical systems. He’s a vast improvement over his immediate predecessors, but he goofs too.
A questioner asked about how he should handle scammers who tricked his father out a check. He wrote offering a threat and a settlement. They were to return half the money, or he would report them to the consumer-affairs division of their state’s attorney general’s office and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, register complaints on websites and generally see that they suffered for their fraud. His demand: send a certified check, made out to his father, by the deadline. It worked; he got the amount requested, and the check cleared.
“But it was not certified, and it arrived after the due date,” he wrote. “Do I have an obligation to uphold my end of the deal, by not registering complaints about an outfit that is clearly scamming elderly people?” Continue reading →
I must confess that I got a bit bored with my promised unethical Trump quote of the day feature, since on most days there are so many of them. After a while they are predictable and redundant. It’s best to just assume that Trump is being unethical, and wait until he crosses a new line before highlighting an example of his despicable nature. I think threatening another candidate’s wife is a new line: has any Presidential candidate ever directly and publicly threatened an adversary’s wife? Would any previous candidate survive public outrage if he did?
This attack was particularly outrageous. Trump, whose calling card is Rationalization #2 A, Sicilian Ethics or “They had it coming,” was reacting to an offensive ad by a pro-Cruz group in Utah, which released a nasty ad featuring a nude photo Trump’s trophy wife Melania once posed for with the caption “Meet Melania Trump, Your Next First Lady. Or, You Could Support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.” It wasn’t Cruz’s ad, and he could not, under the law, have anything to do with it (not that I would put it past his campaign anyway.) Cruz responded by tweeting that Trump had shown that “you’re more of a coward than I thought.” Continue reading →
8. Ethics test: Let’s see if Bernie Sanders, without prompting, has the integrity to condemn the conduct of his fervent fans.
Bernie Sanders has escaped much scrutiny of his character thus far, in a crowd of frighteningly flawed competitors. He’s not as corrupt or dishonest as Clinton, nor as ruthless as Cruz, nor as weak as Rubio, nor lacking any redeeming qualities of character at all, like Donald Trump. Here, however, Berrnie betrays the moral rot of the leftist revolutionary, willing to excuse violence to overturn the established order for “the greater good.” We saw this during the last Democratic debate, in which he refused to condemn the Castro regime in Cuba nor repudiate his past praise of Fidel’s accomplishments. Hillary Clinton, given an under-hand soft-ball pitch to hit out of the park, swung from then heels and launched it into the stands:
“You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear, you imprison people, even kill people, for expressing their opinions … that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.”
Bingo. But Bernie Sanders, like the Communist totalitarians he admires for their health care and distribution of wealth, is willing to put up with some violence to achieve his revolution, and he proved it here. Abetted in some respects by the biased news media that were thrilled to blame an example of violence squelching political speech on the victim rather than the true offenders—because they don’t like the victim, you see, and if journalists and pundits don’t like someone, they discard the basic standards of decency and fairness that they will rush to demand for their political favorites—Sanders released a telling defense of the actions of his supporters, even though his supporters had admitted their deliberate mounting of a near riot to silence Trump: Continue reading →