Ethics Observations On NYT Columnist David Brooks’ Astounding Quote

scandal

Amazingly, Obama hasn’t had any.

Here is the quote:

“President Obama has run an amazingly scandal-free administration, not only he himself, but the people around him, not only he himself, but the people around him. He’s chosen people who have been pretty scandal-free. And so there are people in Washington who do set a standard of integrity, who do seem to attract people of quality. And I think that’s probably true of the current group.”

Yes, it was almost a Kaboom!, causing my head to explode. Yes, I think it is stunning thing for anyone to say, but especially a pundit who is respected–by some, anyway—for his careful thought and moderation. Yes, it is ridiculous on its face.

Fascinating and enlightening though!

1. Brooks, though he has wavered occasionally, has always had a man-crush on Obama. Acknowledging this as he has, it shows remarkable lack of bias-control to let it run wild to this extent.

2. It is a terrific example of how linguistics can warp ethics, and vice-versa. The only possible way someone can make such a statement honestly—yes, I do believe Brooks really thinks this, as plainly counter-factual as it is—-is to consciously or sub-consciously define “scandal” so extremely that it omits anything connected to the Obama Administration. If Brooks believes that “scandals’ only involve theft, criminal activity and sex, he has a barely supportable thesis. Barely. Well, not really even then.

3. Not just scandal-free, but “amazingly” scandal free! This gets into Big Lie territory; perhaps “Big Hyperbole” is a bit more accurate. To be “amazingly scandal free,” we would hold up this Administration as the ethics model for all future administrations. Be still, my expanding head…

4. Is this clinical denial? I have mentioned here before that a disturbing number of Democrats and progressives, as well as African Americans, defend Obama by just asserting that everything is wonderful, no matter what goes wrong, and that Obama himself is a great President, despite near complete incompetence in every sphere. Some of these are professional liars and ideological warriors, of course; some are also just not too bright. Brooks, however, doesn’t fit in those categories. Continue reading

Obama Presidency Ethics Trainwreck Update: On Ebola, Government Competence, Patterns and Panic

Panic-attacks-button

The well-established pattern of the Obama administration has been ineptitude followed by denials and dishonesty, culminating in efforts to blame someone else. This is a familiar sequence in management incompetence, and it is one reason why incompetence is unethical. Not doing a job well is not itself unethical unless one falsely creates trust that the job will be done well, refuses to admit that it was not, and continues to be incompetent by avoiding both accountability and self-criticism.

As I have written here too often, this is the tragic history of Barack Obama’s Presidency, once regarded with such hope, now an abject lesson in how good intentions and optics are not enough to lead a nation. Since the last time I made an accounting, there have been several more serious fiascos born of miscalculations, naiveté, lack of diligence, and outright laziness, as indeed I predicted years ago that there would be. What I said was the effects of cumulative lax management, incompetence, political manipulation and arrogance were cumulative, and that we would see more and more results as time went on. This took no great acumen on my part: it did require astounding partisan bias and misrepresentation by so many pundits and journalists to deny it. Let’s see: since the last full accounting we have seen Russia’s slow-motion invasion of the Ukraine, the illegal Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange, the Iraq implosion and the rise of ISIS, the bizarre American “plan” to deal with it, the swarming of the border by illegal immigrants, and the revelation that the Secret Service is untrustworthy. Does even worse lie ahead?

Of course it does.

Thus the assurances that the country’s health authorities are handling the Ebola threat with proper thought, efficiency and care can only be accepted ay face value by someone who intentionally rejects the life lesson of “Fool me 2,438 times, shame on you.” I now the Washington Beacon is a conservative news and commentary source, but writer wrote truth and common sense in a recent column titled, “The Case for Panic.” He wrote in part… Continue reading

Obama’s Coffee Cup Salute “Gotcha!”

Scotty SaluteSome controversies instantly inspire everyone on all sides to be petty, stupid, and unfair. This is just such a controversy.

The White House  posted a video of President Barack Obama awkwardly saluting a Marine as Obama exited the presidential helicopter, Marine One. He did so while holding a styrofoam coffee cup, which he brought to his forehead as well. This sparked critical comments from Republicans, conservatives and veterans that Obama was showing disrespect for the military.

This is the epitome of a petty “Gotcha!” that guarantees sympathy for the President. I would be surprised if there are not  examples of most Presidents botching return salutes, especially those, like Obama and Clinton, who had no experience in the military. (President Eisenhower presumably never had this salute problem.) Obama also was pretty pathetic when he had to throw out the first pitch in a major league baseball game. Oh, so what? Republicans really think that these deficiencies prove Obama is disrespectful of the military, or of the National Pastime? There are so many stronger indications. Continue reading

KABOOM!! Dana Milbank’s New Record For Flagrantly Dishonest Punditry

Exploding head

I am through with Dana Milbank, and also with anyone who quotes him, relies on him, believes him or—take note, Washington Post—employs him. There must be some level of insulting, dishonest, toadying, intentionally misleading punditry that qualifies as intolerable, and Milbank’s latest column for the Washington Post—syndicated elsewhere so the maximum number of weak minds can be polluted—defined it. I’m not going to reprint a word of it for fear that it will poison the blog, or cause your head to explode like mine just did—but I can describe its thesis. Get this: Milbank decries a “crisis of the week political culture” in Washington, and blames the news media, Republicans and Congress for the shifting attention. I am suppressing a scream as I write this.

There is a “crisis of the week” political culture because the incredibly inept and incompetent President of the United States has mismanaged every conceivable aspect of the government’s policies, domestic and foreign, while maintaining incompetents and political hacks in key positions and sending the message that there will be no accountability for abject failure, and because, despite pledging unprecedented transparency, the standard operating procedure for this group of ideologically doctrinaire and skill-challenged group has been to posture, obfuscate, stall, mislead and lie until various ugly chickens come home to roost, and then to rely on the news media to accept absurd excuses, explanation and blame-shifting theories, chaos has been percolating beneath the surface in dozens of vital areas—oh yes, more bad news is coming—and the full measure of various disasters are finally becoming known.

There is a crisis of the week mentality because a new catastrophe caused by the epic incompetence of this Administration is being uncovered every week, and sometimes every day.

And Dana Milbank blames the political culture, as if it is making this stuff up.

And he expects readers to agree with him.

And a lot of them will.

Kaboom.

Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Obama Outhouse Float: Not Racist, Just Wrong”

Obama float

Rick Jones, a drama professor, deep thinker and superb writer, weighed in on the controversy over the tasteless Independence Day float in Norfolk, Nebraska. (As an aside: did my trip to Nebraska last week unleash something in the Ethics Cosmos? First this story, then the Nebraska judge telling the Supremes to “stfu”?) Rick courageously wades into the messy and contentious area, often discussed here, of racial motivations behind criticism of Barack Obama. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, The Obama Outhouse Float: Not Racist, Just Wrong:

I’ve written about this incident, as well, and we generally but don’t totally agree.

I’m intrigued by the discussion of racism. Certainly I agree that nothing in the events described qualifies as inherently racist… but I think the word “inherently” matters here. The fact that there is not an obvious racial motivation for what is clearly an intentionally offensive float, one which displays its creator’s “disgust,” does not mean that it is intrinsically devoid of such volition. Even the little boy who cried “wolf” was right once. Similarly, whereas there are those who reflexively scream “racism” at every criticism of the current President, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t expressions of anti-Obama sentiment which really are grounded in the fact that he has a little more melanin than you or I do.

In this case, Ms. Kathurima and her daughter have experienced racism—or believe they have—and you say that you “don’t blame her” for perceiving it in this instance. Nor do I. That Mr. Remmich intended to insult the POTUS, I think goes without saying. Why, specifically, he set out to do so is an open question. Maybe it’s racial. Maybe it’s political. Maybe he knows his neighbors and pandered to their predilections. I certainly don’t know, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t, really, either.

I grapple with a variation on this theme constantly in my professional work, especially in the area of communication theory as it applies to aesthetics. Oversimplified a little, the modernist/positivist view is that the sender of a message creates and encodes meaning, and the receiver’s job is to “find” the meaning through a process of decoding. The post-positivist view, however, is to argue that the sender catalyzes rather than creates meaning, that meaning is in fact created by the receiver of the message. To me, the two positions are equally valid.

One of my standard approaches to this dilemma is to suggest to students that “somewhere in this room is someone who has had a major fight with a loved one because what one of you thought you said was not what the other thought he/she heard.” Moreover, whether the “blame” for a misinterpretation should be placed with the sender or the receiver is likely to be influenced in your mind not so much by philosophical or theoretical concerns as by which of those positions you happened to occupy on the occasion in question.

We are left, then, with two significant questions, neither or which I am prepared to answer with confidence. 1). Is the meaning of a communication determined by the sender, the receiver, or by some presumably objective external agent? 2). At what point does a particular reaction pass from confirmation bias into, well, experience?

_______________________

Continue reading

The Obama Outhouse Float: Not Racist, Just Wrong

Racist float? Why not? Well, a) Bill Clinton's not black b) it's not a 4th of July parade, c) this is in Germany and d) it's not Obama.

Racist float? Why not? Well, a) Bill Clinton’s not black b) it’s not a 4th of July parade, c) the parade is in Germany and d) most important of all, it’s not President Obama.

It was almost a year ago that a rodeo clown donned an Obama mask, and the NAACP demanded that the Secret Service investigate him, and the clown lost his job. It is considered acceptable that in the nation’s capital, five people in  big-headed costumes depicting the Mt. Rushmore Presidents (and William Howard Taft) race around a baseball stadium as the crowd laughs at their antics, but any mockery of the current President of the United States will be immediately attacked as “racist.”

Thus an appallingly stupid, tasteless and inappropriate float in a Norfolk, Nebraska Independence Day parade is further straining already damaged race relations in this country, because it depicted a distressed man coming out of an outhouse labelled the  “Obama Presidential Library.” The Norfolk Odd Fellows Lodge, which coordinates the annual parade, is defending the float, which was entered as political satire (it even won an award). Others, however, have condemned it as, you guessed it, racist.  Here it is:

Obama float

It isn’t racist. Although many media reports have described the zombie-like figure exiting the outhouse as a representation of the President, it clearly isn’t. Does President Obama use a walker for support? The float’s designer, Dale Remmich, who does use a walker and dresses like the figure on the float, explained that the figure was meant to be Remmich himself, tinged green out of disgust for, among other things, the Veterans Administration fiasco. As for portraying Obama’s future library as an outhouse, that’s not racial imagery, though it is obviously a statement communicating criticism and disrespect. The same imagery would not have puzzled anyone if it had been used to criticize any other recent President; nobody would have looked at the exact same float except with the label “George W. Bush Presidential Library” on the outhouse and said, “I don’t get it. Bush isn’t black.” That’s because it isn’t the design of the float that makes it racist, just as it wasn’t the use of a mask that made the rodeo clown’s act racist, in the eyes of those making the accusation. What makes it racist is the criticism and the mockery, its target. Criticism and mockery of other Presidents went with the territory. Criticism of the first black President is by definition racist. Continue reading

After The Latest Obama Botch, A Responsibility Check For Democrats, The News Media And The Public: Will They Face The Facts?

 

The trade: American security for Obama's "base." Like it?

The trade: American security for Obama’s “base.” Like it?

In its lead story today, the Washington Post noted that criticism was “coming from Republicans and the military” in the aftermath of the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American prisoner of war held by the Taliban, in exchange for five Afghan Taliban detainees, also known as “terrorists.” The question should be why criticism isn’t coming from everyone.

Boatloads of ink will be spilled on this topic in the next few weeks, but the fact, as I see them, are not that complicated:

1. Bergdahl deserted his unit and betrayed his duty to his country by walking off the base in Afghanistan, apparently because he was tired of fighting.

2. He was captured by the Taliban, the U.S. enemy, and has been held for the past five years.

3. The U.S. government traded five potentially deadly terrorists back to its enemy to free Bergdahl, who, presumably, will now be tried as a deserter. The army once shot deserters.

4. This required negotiating with terrorists, though expect that Obama administration to go all Clinton on us, and dispute whether the Taliban is really the same as terrorists. Either way, it creates a precedent that endangers Americans, even those who do not abandon their country in combat.

5. The Government and the President did this while violating a law that required the Secretary of Defense to notify Congress before any such prisoner exchange.

What’s wrong with this scenario? What isn’t wrong with it? Continue reading