Ethics Observations On The GOP New Hampshire Debate

Rubio meltdown

Two ethics controversies occurred before the ABC debate (transcript here) even began.

  • DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz really is a shameless and audacious hack. Does anyone seriously defend her? After being justly criticized in the news media for unabashedly hiding the Democratic candidates debates, staging them on weekends and against football games to smooth the road for Hillary, she actually had the epic gall to accuse the GOP of doing the same thing in a tweet yesterday, which read:

“Hmmm, wondering why @GOP trying to hide their #GOPdebate on the Saturday of #SuperBowl weekend no less?!”

Is she that lacking in self-awareness? Was she mocking herself? Is she an idiot? After she was blasted left and right for the tweet, she either revealed her real objective or concocted a face-saving retort:

“.@TheDemocrats debates set viewer records. Both parties’ broadcast network debates on wknds. Replies to SuperBowl #GOPdebate make my point,”

Whether this was her original intent of a U-Turn, it was also her trademark, a ridiculously transparent lie. “TheDemocrats debates set viewer records” is deceit: all the debates by both parties have exceeded previous viewer levels, but the Republican debates have significantly out-drawn the Democrats. There is no doubt that the Democrats would have drawn more had they avoided weekends like Republicans did, and that the fact that they did not was entirely intentional.

Why do Democrats tolerate a sleaze like Wasserman Schultz? It is natural to judge a party by its leadership, and she is neither bright, nor honest, nor effective,  nor appealing.

The other issue was the unfairness of leaving Carly Fiorina out of the debate. I don’t pretend to understand the formula used to demote the candidates, but since all of the other potential debaters–Gilmore, Graham, Huckabee, Santorum, Paul—had dropped out, either Fiorina should have been given a chance to debate herself for two hours, which would have been fun, or be in the main debate. Her New Hampshire poll numbers are equivalent to several who debated last night.

Debate observations: Continue reading

Of The Good Muslim, Paris, “1984”, And The Compulsion To Deny The Truth

"Now listen carefully: those aren't Muslims. Muslims are good. If someone is bad, he isn't a Muslim. Trust me. There is nothing to fear from Muslims. But FOR GOD SAKE DON"T PUBLISH THAT CARTOON OR THEY"LL %$#&! KILL YOU!!!"

“Now listen carefully: those aren’t Muslims. Muslims are good. If someone is bad, he isn’t a Muslim. Trust me. There is nothing to fear from Muslims. But FOR GOD SAKE DON”T PUBLISH THAT CARTOON OR THEY”LL %$#&! KILL YOU!!!”

Oddly, nobody is refusing to call Lassana Bathily a Muslim, perhaps because he is one, but also because he’s a good Muslim, as most are.

He is the young clerk at a Paris Kosher grocery store who saved several people by hiding them in a walk-in freezer when a gunman began shooting up the store on Yesterday. Actually, I don’t see why his religion is relevant in the least, but that is leading most news reports front and center.

The terrorists who mounted a bloody attack on the satiric publication Charlie Hebdo, however, and who did so while spouting Islamic slogans as planned revenge on cartoonists for engaging in blasphemy against Mohammed, should not be called Muslims. Why? Because they’re not good, you see. Since they’re not good, ignorant and hateful bigots in the United States will attribute their characteristics to all Muslims, and use this as an excuse to harass discriminate and persecute them.

Howard Dean, who is the left’s answer to Sarah Palin: you interview him knowing he will say something that drives conservatives nuts, immediately clarified the rules:

“You know, this is a chronic problem. I stopped calling these people Muslim terrorists. They’re about as Muslim as I am. I mean, they have no respect for anybody else’s life, that’s not what the Koran says. …But I do not think we should accord them any particular religious respect, because I don’t think, whatever they’re claiming their motivation is, is clearly a twisted, cultish mind.”

Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Dick Cheney

Hello, I'll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

Hello, my name is Skug, and I’ll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

“I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.”

—Former V.P. Dick Cheney, giving his reactions on “Meet the Press” regarding the Senate’s critique of the Bush Administration and the CIA’s interrogation methods.

I try to be fair to Dick Cheney, whose character has been distorted beyond all recognition by his partisan foes. Sunday, however, he was apparently attempting to validate all the most terrible things anyone has said about him, as well as providing future students of ethics real life examples of ethical fallacies.

The one quoted above is the pip: so much for the jurisprudential principle that It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”   Chuck Todd reminded Cheney that 25% of those detained were apparently innocent. The Cheney variation: “It is OK if some innocent persons are unjustly punished as long as the bad guys get what they deserve.”

It is hard to pick the most unethical assertion, however; there are so many horrible statements to choose from. Such as: Continue reading

Ethics Bob Asks: “Did Torture Lead Us To Bin Laden”? My Answer: “So What If It Did? It Was Still Wrong.”

It's all for the best.

It’s all for the best.

The last time my friend “Ethics Bob” Stone blogged about ethics, it was way back in August, and he was writing about some guy named “Romney.” Now he’s back on the job, thank goodness, with a comeback post titled “Zero Dark Thirty: Did torture lead us to Osama bin Laden?”. And he’s ticking me off.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is Hollywood’s treatment of the search, apprehension and execution of Osama Bin Laden. The film suggest that methods of torture were employed by the CIA to uncover crucial intelligence that led to the terrorist mastermind’s demise. Torture opponents, including some U.S. Senators, are alarmed by this, and disputing the film’s account. (Imagine that: a movie that misrepresents history!) Meanwhile, conservatives, neocons, Bush administration bitter-enders, talk radio hosts and admirers of Dr. Fu Manchu and James Bond villains are citing the film as confirmation that they were right all along: torture is a wonderful thing.

I am puzzled that Bob got in the middle of this debate as an ethicist. “It worked!” and “It came out all right in the end!” are not valid ethical arguments or justifications. The first is an embrace of a pure “the ends justify the means” rationale, a favorite tool of Auric Goldfinger and Dr. No. The other is consequentialism. When ethicists and principled opponents of torture allow the issue to be adjudicated on this basis, they are surrendering their principles at the outset. “Torture doesn’t work” is a pragmatic argument, not an ethical one. If the societal consensus regarding torture is going to be determined by how much we can benefit by returning to the rack and wheel, then ethical considerations have already been jettisoned. Continue reading

White House Mendacity on Libya

The White House says this isn't "hostilities." Right.

I detest it when Presidents and their administration play self-evident language games to assert intellectually dishonest positions, whether it is Bill Clinton’s minions claiming blow-jobs aren’t “sex with that woman,” or Dick Cheney arguing that torturing prisoners by water-boarding technically isn’t torture.  Such deceit and mendacity by the representative of the Chief Executive or the President himself vastly increases public cynicism about our government and diminishes our democracy’s most precious and endangered asset, trust.

The Obama administration, despite its leader’s stirring words in the 2008 campaign, has already shown itself capable of outrageous misrepresentations, as when it reported “jobs saved” by the stimulus package using fictional Congressional districts and counting single jobs as multiple jobs “saved.” So we shouldn’t be surprise, only nauseated, when it tells Congress, as it did this week, that U.S. participation in the Libyan uprising doesn’t fall under War Powers Resolution. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Sen. John McCain

Arizona Senator John McCain has seriously tarnished his reputation for integrity  since losing the Presidential election in 2008, particularly during his last campaign for re-election to the Senate. The best of McCain was on display this week, however, as he delivered a strong and eloquent denouncement of torture (a.k.a “enhanced interrogation techniques”) on the Senate floor, in response to the ethically offensive arguments being put forth by many conservatives that the successful elimination of Osama bin Laden somehow magically transformed the evil practice of torture into a respectable tactic of national security. It is an important, courageous and persuasive statement from a U.S. Senator with special qualifications to make it, as one who had been tortured himself, and as fine a legacy as McCain, or any Senator, could aspire to.

Sen. McCain said, in part (you can read the entire text of his speech here)…

“Mr. President, the successful end of the ten-year manhunt to bring Osama bin Laden to justice has appropriately heightened the nation’s appreciation for the diligence, patriotism and courage of our armed forces and our intelligence community.  They are a great credit and inspiration to the country that has asked so much of them, and like all Americans, I am in their debt.

“But their success has also reignited debate over whether the so-called, ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ of enemy prisoners, including waterboarding, were instrumental in locating bin Laden, and whether they are necessary and justifiable means for securing valuable information that might help prevent future terrorist attacks against us and our allies and lead to the capture or killing of those who would perpetrate them.  Or are they, and should they be, prohibited by our conscience and laws as torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz Time! Which Euphemism Is More Unethical?

Ethics Alarms hates euphemisms, which are usually not intended as delicate ways of describing something controversial, but rather an unethical effort to hide its true nature. Affirmative action…pro-life… pro-choice….all cowardly, all designed to deceive and avoid accountability for one’s actions and views.

Today’s quiz involves a brand new euphemism, cooked up by the Obama administration to describe warfare in Libya that the administration doesn’t want to admit is warfare: kinetic military action!

The Quiz:

Which euphemism is more unethical?

A

“Enhanced interrogation” for torture (The Bush Administration)

or

B

Kinetic military action” for warfare (The Obama Administration)

Here is how to reach your decision: rank A and B in each of three categories…misrepresentation, cowardice, and degree of disrespect and contempt for the intelligence of the American public. First place is worth one point; second gets none. If you rate the category a tie, each gets one-half a point.

Good luck. By the way: there is no wrong answer, since both euphemisms are disgraceful. But let’s see if there is any consensus. I’ll reveal my answer later.

Bush’s Torture Admission, Absolutism, and America’s Survival

George W. Bush, currently hawking his memoirs, has admitted in the new book and in interviews about it that yes indeed, he approved waterboarding of terrorist suspects, believed it was legal, and moreover offers evidence that the information thus acquired saved American lives. W’s opinion on these matter are hardly a surprise, but they have re-energized the defenders of the Administration’s policies of “enhanced interrogation” and rendition of apprehended terror suspects to foreign locales where the interrogation techniques were “enhanced” even more.

“NOW do you agree with the policy?” they ask, as if the answer was obvious. “The information prevented a horrific terrorist attack on Heathrow Airport (in England). See? See?

Let us assume, just to simplify things, that everything is as President Bush represents. Waterboarding was, by some legitimate analysis, legal. The information saved American lives and prevented terrorist attacks. Do these facts mean that the use of torture—and waterboarding is torture, whether one defines it as such or not—by the United States of America was justified, defensible, and ethical?

No. I don’t think so. I believe that for the United States of America to approve and engage in the use of torture is by definition betrayal of the nation’s core values, and thus threatens its existence as the nation our Founders envisioned as completely as a foreign occupation.  I wrote on this topic in 2009… Continue reading

The Ethics of Unethical Ethics Teachers

An essay by lawyers Joel Cohen and Katherine A. Helm begins with this story:

Noted ethics philosopher and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell once was questioned by the Harvard Board of Governors about having an extramarital affair with a student. When faced with the hypocrisy of being an ethics professor engaged in immoral conduct, Russell argued his private affairs had nothing to do with his professional duties. “But you are a Professor of Ethics!” maintained one of the board members. “I was [also] a Professor of Geometry at Cambridge,” Russell rejoined, but “they never asked me why I was not a triangle.”‘

The authors use the anecdote to explore the issue of whether proven ethics miscreants like Eliot Spitzer, Rod Blagojevich and disbarred class action lawyer William Lerach ought to be lecturing, speaking, or otherwise being listened to in regard to their opinions and advice on ethics. After all, acting teachers are often indifferent actors, and the best baseball managers weren’t much as players. Why should ethics be any different?  Continue reading

A Nation of Unethical Superheroes

Among some more substantive questions in the current Vanity Fair’s “60 Minutes”/Vanity Fair poll was this one:

“Suppose you could have THE POWER OF A SUPERHERO. Which power would you choose?”

The choices presented were super strength, flying, invisibility, the ability to read minds, and x-ray vision. When the votes were tallied, the largest group, by far, was made up of those who chose mind-reading.

It is just a silly poll based on fantasy. I still find it alarming that 35% chose the ability to read minds, an unequivocally unethical power. Invading anyone’s private thoughts is per se unethical, although it does beat waterboarding. In a distant second place, with 21%  of the votes, was flying, one of the two ethical powers among the options, along with super strength. The unethical powers—mind-reading, invisibility and x-ray vision—attracted 57% of the votes over-all.

There is nothing wrong with having unethical fantasies as long as they stay fantasies. Still, I would feel better about my fellow citizens if I didn’t think so many of them would choose to violate my privacy and learn my confidences if they had the chance. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I could trust Superman.