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The Immorality of Journalistic Social Responsibility

In 2005, The Economist ran a special report on the unintended consequences of corporate social responsibility. Instead of being ethical, executives attempts at advancing social policy confounds the purpose of business and government.

[B]usinesses should not try to do the work of governments, just as governments should not try to do the work of businesses. The goals of business and the goals of government are different—or should be. That, by the way, is why “partnership” between those two should always arouse intense suspicion. Managers, acting in their professional capacity, ought not to concern themselves with the public good: they are not competent to do it, they lack the democratic credentials for it, and their day jobs should leave them no time even to think about it.

The last few days have illuminated a similar paradox with journalists. Journalism should seek to maximize information as companies do for profit. The Fourth Estate has a duty to inform the electorate just as much as managers have a responsibility to their shareholders.  Only in clear cases where no public benefit could be gained – like publishing nuclear designs or troop locations – should journalists censor themselves. Companies similarly can exercise ethical judgement. But the duty of the press should not be confused.

The Bin Laden Photos

I sympathize with the motives of the administration to not make a “trophy” and to seek to protect the troops and other people at risk from any backlash. But I’m puzzled by journalists that argue that the government should not release the photos of Bin Laden.Would these same journalists refuse to print the photos if they were entered into the public domain? We may need quasi-sociopathic journalists that want as much information out to the public as possible. Journalists shouldn’t see themselves as gatekeepers for the state, but as orchestrators of a never-ending siege.

Instead of manning a battering ram, the New York Post, Los Angeles Times, and other editorial boards started shoveling a moat. I don’t see a hard distinction between conventional journalists and opinion journalists. Most surprising might be Andrew Sullivan, usually a First Amendment absolutist. He writes, “To put his head on a digital spike and display his mangled head is, indeed, not the Western way. We are better than that.”

I’d hope we’d be civilized enough not to celebrate the image. I wouldn’t want a poster of it hung in the Freedom Tower or in the Pentagon, but when did publication become the same thing as celebration? I wonder if Andrew’s fear doesn’t reveal more about what we think deep down about ourselves. I’ll be disgusted with the inevitable celebration of the image from many of our countrymen. I expect the government to have paternalistic inclinations, but the constitution doesn’t give journalists the freedoms it does to serve the interests of the state. The government made a decision to kill Osama Bin Laden. It’s not the job of journalists to aid the government in altering the consequences of the decision. It’s not as if releasing the photos would be incontrovertibly dangerous the way it would for nuclear secrets. Journalists are not equipped to decide in advance whether censoring itself promotes the public good. They are betraying their obligations as journalists by failing to inform the electorate.

Maybe the government is right not to release the photos. The negative consequences could outweigh any benefits, but journalists are neither elected officials nor merely private citizens. A watchdog press calling on the government to censor itself should make every citizen uncomfortable.

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A Victory For Equal Rights

August 5, 2010 Leave a comment

I thrilled that Prop 8, which prohibited same-sex marriages in California, got overturned. Andrew Sullivan and The Daily Dish compile opinions from around the web on the decision.

The World Cup, The War in Iraq, and The Moral Weight of Nationalism

First, congratulations to Spain for winning its first ever World Cup! They definitely deserved the honor as the best team. This tournament got me thinking about nationalism and its many faces. After all, isn’t that what the World Cup is really about? It’s fun rooting for your nation – or at least the ones you like better if yours unfortunately gets knocked out. Also who doesn’t like rooting against France if you’re American or against America if you’re from anywhere else? Of course all major sports harness the allure of tribalism for the entertainment of its fans; but the World Cup, probably above even the Olympics, is the ultimate pastime for the nationalist. Sometimes fans take the in-group, out-group rivalries too far, but most recognize that it’s all in good fun. 
In areas other than sports, nationalism has always made me a bit uncomfortable intellectually. After all, why should invisible arbitrary boundaries and the lottery of genetics make one human being more important or valuable than another? Even if one were to accept that certain states are more valuable as a force for good or that certain cultural values within specific nations are more moral that doesn’t mean that each individual within those borders is more useful or moral or valuable. My logic, informed as it is from the enlightenment, tells me that a person’s nationality shouldn’t press on scales of morality. Yet without wading too deeply into the usefulness of states as political entities, we should remember that the Treaty of Versailles enshrined the right to national self-government. This permits individuals, now citizens, who share common values to form a political and legal community of their choosing. Liberals such as John Locke can see the moral value in that; so can I. Thus, if we grant that nations usefully enhance the lives of individuals, can utilitarian hands reach and tip those moral scales at all? 
Let me take a difficult moral question for me to juggle (like any good futbol player) with these ideas. The conflict in Iraq may have been a moral no brainer for many, but not me (which I’m often ashamed to admit). I may be the only person alive who initially opposed the intervention into Iraq but became more convinced of its positive moral case as the situation deteriorated. Before any readers confuse correlation with causation, let me say that it was not because the situation deteriorated. Obviously the intellectual debate raged on after Saddam fell and the reality grew worse. I began reading both sides of the debate including the moral cases built by many in favor of the war prior to its launch. Without rehashing the cases now, just understand that the liberal hawks and intellectuals such as Christopher Hitchens had a profound and persuasive effect on my understanding of the moral value in attempting to liberate a people from a tyrannical and sadistic monster like Hussein. 
During the horrible violence unleashed during the attempted building of democracy in Iraq, I read Peter Galbraith’s End of Iraq (while traveling in Spain) which while revealing the most devastating catalogue of incompetency in America’s execution, it also instilled in me a deep sympathy for the Iraqis, especially the Kurdish minority, under the barbarous rule of Hussein. As it became obvious to people like Andrew Sullivan and the majority of the American populous that supporting the adventure into Iraq had been a mistake, I began to wonder if the execution of the mission should carry moral weight about the rational to enter the conflict. After all, it is certainly possible that we had moral justification to try to aid the people of Iraq, but just did a terrible job. Or even if a noble mission is doomed to fail, can it be good? 

Is Iraq worse off now? If so, will it be in the future? The dead Iraqis are clearly worse off.  Many that were previously oppressed are now better off. In the calculation of the complete moral tally of the Iraq enterprise, the sum is unclear to me. When I judge the Iraq conflict now, I can’t help but view the situation through the lens of an American. For the United States, it seems an unqualified failure and mistake. This brings me back to my original point; should I be looking at this as an American as opposed to the perspective of, say, a Kurd who’s family was gassed by Saddam or a Shi’ite who would have been tortured and killed if Saddam remained in power? Nonetheless, if someone forced me to say if we should have gone into Iraq knowing what I know now, I’d have to say, ‘”no.” The neoconservative cheerleaders fail to acknowledge reality, but many opponents and reformed souls too often don’t like to admit the continued difficulty in the moral case for and against intervention. Anytime someone points to the number of dead Americans or cost to American taxpayers, I wholeheartedly empathize but the provincialism registers with me. I’m not discounting it or faulting it. I think those statistics are important, valuable, and persuasive measures for the ethical case against intervention. But if we were Iraqis fighting for our own home, would 4000+ dead servicemen and a multi-trillion dollar price tag be not worth the cost for the overthrow of a brutal dictator and the promise of self-determination? 

These questions puzzle me as a liberal humanitarian. The case for nationalism here is powerful. The nation, as the political entity we’ve created to advance our individual interests, must seek its own self-interest. It is plausible to me that the invisible hand of self-interest works for nation-states causing a greater good for other parties. As for our political representatives, we elected them to represent our interests over others as long as we hold to basic human decency. So, shouldn’t I encourage them to value an American life over an Iraqi’s if that means greater good for all in a utilitarian calculation? If our nation weighted everyone in the world the same, it wouldn’t have the resources to improve as many lives. The combination of scarcity with the practicality of local action suggests that more people benefit by an individual state favoring its own interests.
As may be apparent now, a contrast exists in valuing all humans equally while thinking nations best serve individuals. I haven’t reconciled it yet. Iraq is not only a chockstone for the Middle East, but also precariously wedges together difficult moral precepts for me. The intervention into Iraq may be noble mistake, but both sides in the debate need to acknowledge that strong moral factors sit on both sides of the scale. 
(photo 1: New York Times
(photo 2: Me in Spain at a Kurdish kebab shop)

Crude Offender

FlowingData makes it clear that compared to even the low standards of other oil companies, BP is in a class of its own for negligence and disregard for the safety of its workers and of its wells. 



In The Sunday Times, Andrew Sullivan lets off some steam. (Whole column worth reading)

At first blush, the onslaught against BP does seem a little much. But once you examine its recent record, the cornercutting and recklessness that precipitated this calamity, and the company’s enmeshment with the regulators who are supposed to be keeping watch … well, you tend to get more angry, not less. Take a simple comparison with other multinational oil companies. Over the past three years, the US government department that monitors compliance with health and safety regulations has cited several companies for negligence or corner-cutting. Sunoco and ConocoPhillips have had eight “egregious, wilful” safety violations apiece. Citgo had two. Exxon had one. BP had … 760.

[…]

Alas, what won’t change is the oil addiction that has forced the US to drill deeper and deeper in more and more treacherous waters, where techniques carry more risks precisely because the terrain is brand new. If you want to assign real, structural blame, it belongs in the end to the American people, who simply refuse to wean themselves off carbon and want to continue having the cheapest petrol in the West. This habit bolsters America’s enemies, empowers oil-rich Islamic states and is slowly cooking the planet. 

Sullivan again endorses my favorite solution to our oil addition: a carbon tax


There is plenty to be upset about in this whole fiasco, but certainly one of those things isn’t Obama’s tone or emotion. Here’s Clive Crook in the Financial Times.

The criticism of Mr Obama’s handling of the oil spill has been especially and flamboyantly unreasonable. So far as capping the leak is concerned, the relevant expertise resides with BP and the other oil companies. The notion that they should be “pushed aside” is risible. In any case, of course, the administration is in charge – overseeing the operation, as opposed to directing it in detail, which is as it should be. A deepwater drilling moratorium is in place and a thoroughgoing review of the regulatory regime is under way. The White House has been active in mobilising resources to contain damage to the coastline.

[…]

The view seems to be that staying calm in a crisis is all very well, except in a crisis. Then, the president must radiate rage and fear, pretend to direct operations, race about uselessly, weeping and hugging as he goes, doing stuff that will not help and might make things worse. 

Crook has been very reasonable about this issue from early on. I’m sure he’d appreciate this video.


(video via Ta-Nehisi Coates)

Project Reason Calls For Secular Justice

Sam Harris announces Project Reason’s support to “Bring the Pope to Justice.”

The evidence suggests that the misery of these children was facilitated and concealed by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church at every level, up to and including the prefrontal cortex of the current Pope. In his former capacity as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict personally oversaw the Vatican’s response to reports of sexual abuse in the Church. What did this wise and compassionate man do upon learning that his employees were raping children by the thousands? Did he immediately alert the police and ensure that the victims would be protected from further torments? One still dares to imagine such an effulgence of basic human sanity might have been possible, even within the Church. On the contrary, repeated and increasingly desperate complaints of abuse were set aside, witnesses were pressured into silence, bishops were praised for their defiance of secular authority, and offending priests were relocated only to destroy fresh lives in unsuspecting parishes. It is no exaggeration to say that for decades (if not centuries) the Vatican has met the formal definition of a criminal organization, devoted not to gambling, prostitution, drugs, or any other venial sin, but to the sexual enslavement of children. 

This isn’t an atheistic cause, the Catholic Andrew Sullivan has been the most vigilant mainstream blogger focused on shedding light on the horrors within his own Church. I’m technically a confirmed Catholic myself. Although, my disagreements with Catholic dogma are too numerous to go over here, it still saddens me to see a Church which was good to me continue to defend the most defenseless and evil acts imaginable.

Should Obama Back The AZ Law?

April 27, 2010 5 comments

The modern “conservative” movement and the Republican Party seem to oppose anything Obama supports. Any increase in government power is treated as further evidence we’re becoming the new Soviet Union. Any chance Obama coming out in favor of Arizona’s new immigration law, which The Economist calls “Hysterical Nativism”, would get the Right to repeal this illiberal state-power swelling abomination?  For anyone unfamiliar the new law compels AZ state authorities to check the immigration status of anyone the police “reasonably suspect” of being in the US illegally. The problem of course is that it basically creates a police state where you’re guilty until proven innocent.  Here’s is Andrew Sullivan countering some dissents from his strong criticism and language.

A police state is one where any cop can pull you aside for any reason and demand papers. If you don’t have them, you’re guilty till proven innocent. The overwhelming majority of those “reasonably suspected” of being illegal immigrants will be Mexican. What we have here, regardless of how it came about (and I agree the Feds have a terrible record in policing the Southern border), this is a police state directed at a minority, innocent and guilty. That’s the reality.

Steve Chapman at Reason.com reminds the nativists the results of their past efforts.

Turning the border into a 2,000-mile replica of the Berlin Wall may sound like a simple cure for the problem. But besides being hugely expensive, it would have effects the advocates would not relish.

How so? Massey says the number of people coming illegally has not risen appreciably in the last couple of decades. But the number staying has climbed, because anyone who leaves faces a harder task returning.

I’m for increasing access to legal immigration, but anti-illegal-immigration crusaders should realize fencing illegal aliens in and pushing them further in the shadows of the law makes any problems worse. 

Maybe We Do Need to Promote English

Enjoy the photos of “Teabonics”



(via The Daily Dish)

Categories: Andrew Sullivan, Tea Party
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