Category Archives: Government & Politics

How Trust Dies, Part II: A Trivial White House Cover-Up With Signature Significance

Yeah, but this is little Big Brother stuff, so why worry?"

Yeah, but this is little Big Brother stuff, so why worry?”

President Obama was speaking at a Democratic fundraiser in Chicago on Monday,  and you know how he is when he goes off his teleprompter.

He was talking about returning home to Chicago,  and said

“One of the nice things about being home is actually that it’s a little bit like a time capsule. Because Michelle and I and the kids, we left so quickly that there’s still junk on my desk, including some unpaid bills (laughter) — I think eventually they got paid — but they’re sort of stacked up. And messages, newspapers and all kinds of stuff.”  

The White House, however, removed the “unpaid bills” part from the official transcript which was sent out after the event, so it now reads “there’s still junk on my desk, including some — newspapers and all kinds of stuff.​” Associated Press reporter Josh Lederman noticed the deception and alerted another reporter who was at the event, who sent out an email alerting her colleagues and everyone else who receives reports from the White House press corps. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership, U.S. Society

On Forced Acceptance Of Same-Sex Marriage: The Slippery Slope Stops Here

Hitching-Post-Idaho

Donald and Evelyn Knapp, pictured above, are ordained ministers who conduct weddings at their for-profit chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, called “The Hitching Post.” After this year’s ruling by an Idaho federal judge that the state had to recognize  same-sex weddings, a City of Couer d’Alene deputy city attorney went on  local TV to say that for-profit wedding chapels could not legally turn away a gay couple without risking a misdemeanor citation. The Hitching Post, he noted, “would probably be considered a place of public accommodation that would be subject to the ordinance.” The Knapps say the the City Attorney’s office has made the same assertion in telephone conversations with them.

Now, the Volokh Conspiracy reports, the Knapps have moved for a temporary restraining order, arguing that applying the anti-discrimination ordinance to them would be unconstitutional and would also violate Idaho’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They have to win. As Professor Volokh, a First Amendment authority of fame and renown, explains, Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, Religion and Philosophy, Rights, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

How Trust Dies, Part I: The D.C.’s Election Commission’s Brazen Jumbo

DC Voters Guide

That’s the real D.C. flag on the right. I think it looks better upside down too…

[Jumbo: a Jumbo is a special Ethics Alarms award for conduct that emulates the gag from the Broadway musical and film “Jumbo,” in which Jimmy Durante, as a circus clown trying to steal an elephant, is caught red-handed by a sheriff, and asked, “Where are you going with that elephant?” “Elephant? What elephant?,” Jimmy replied.]

As readers who travel here often know, I really hate, hate, hate obvious lies. They are cowardly, they are insulting, and when they are authored by public officials, they recklessly foster public cynicism and distrust. You can’t do your job right, and you don’t even know when it’s pointless to lie? Why should we trust you to be able to do anything right?

Of course, we shouldn’t.

You will seldom see a more blatant and embarrassing example of the desperate, immediately apparent lie than this one from the District of Columbia Board of Elections after it mailed out 305,164  copies of the official D.C. voter guide with the D.C. flag on the front cover printed upside-down. This immediately provoked much local media, pundit and social media hilarity and mockery, but no, announced the Board. This was no lazy clerical error from the government famous for them. This was intentional! A devilishly clever strategy!

The election board’s  spokeswoman, Denise Tolliver explained that the upside-down flag was a deliberate move—an upside-down flag is a distress signal, after all—to grab the attention of voters and “see how many clicks we can get.” “People are responding, aren’t they?” Tolliver said. “They’re paying attention. It’s working!”

Nobody believed it, of course, because the only idiot in the conversation was her, and, by proxy, her superiors. Eventually  the board’s executive director, Clifford Tatum, confessed. “No, this is an error,” he e-mailed a D.C. Council member. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics

From Ferguson To Fairness, Truth And Justice: Can’t Get There From Here

Cant get there

Hopeless.

The New York Times has leaked details of the forensic evidence and police officer Darren Wilson’s account in the shooting of Michael Brown. This came from that paragon of professionalism, the Justice Department, which wants to make sure that those seeking to burn down Ferguson and lynch Wilson have time to process the fact that a civil rights violation charge against Wilson just isn’t going to happen. Why is this important? Maybe the leak is to cushion the blow and reduce the likelihood of violence. That would be the motive of a non-partisan, race-neutral agency. Maybe Justice wants to make sure African-Americans are angry before the mid-term elections, so they will vote. (Democratic pollsters are telling the party that if blacks stay home, the Republicans are going to win big.)  That. of course, would be unethical.

But so are leaks of federal investigations.

What the leaked information reveals is that there was a scuffle in the car, and Michael Brown, the 300 lb. teen who is always described as unarmed as if this means he was harmless, tried to grab Wilson’s pistol. He was shot in the arm as a result, and his blood was in the car and on Wilson’s gun. This prelude to Brown’s fatal shooting makes any conclusion that he was out to harm Brown because of his race impossible. Of course, it doesn’t prove he wasn’t out to kill a black kid either.

At this point, confirmation bias has completely taken over the Ferguson story, meaning that a combination of factors—police incompetence; a toxic racial culture in the city and region;  the racial distrust carefully nurtured by Democrats, the Obama Administration, and an irresponsible news media; anger and cynicism by non-black, non-race-baiters over the disgraceful George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin tragedy;  the slanted reporting of Brown’s shooting from the outset, and especially the full commitment of the civil rights establishment to make this incident the centerpiece of an attack on racial profiling and police violence against blacks regardless of whether the facts of the case justify it—now make any fair resolution of the incident impossible. They also guarantee that whatever occurs, the end result will be police anger, more racial division and distrust, and activists continuing to promote a false or misleading narrative as truth, just as in the Zimmerman-Martin debacle. It is hopeless.

We are at this horrible, irredeemable point because…

  • The team of the media, irresponsible black politicians, an unethical prosecutor, despicable grandstanding celebrities and President Obama made a national racial issue out Trayvon Martin’s death, where there were none, and another flash point was deemed to be just what the flagging Democratic election prospects needed.
  • The narrative of a black, young, college-bound, unarmed, “gentle giant” being “executed” in the street merely for “walking while black” by a white cop was widely publicized before facts that complicated the issues arose.
  • The police department in Ferguson, and the region generally, has a well-established record of harassing black citizens, and an environment of mistrust already existed.
  • The department waited an unconscionable amount of time before releasing any facts related to the shooting.
  • The department’s decision to leave Brown’s body lying in the street looked like deliberate disrespect and insensitivity, which it probably was.
  • Demonstrations began based on hearsay accounts of how Brown was killed, representing as fact what were third party accounts, some of which, like those of Brown’s companion, were far from unbiased.
  • The Ferguson police acted like the Chinese government in Tiananmen Square in handling the demonstrations, and gave the media a panorama of images showing white cops abusing black protesters, a la Selma, Alabama,
  • If a white cop shoots a black man, it is presumptively an act of racism in the eyes of many civil rights activists,
  • Attorney General Holder appeared to pick sides in an incident where he was duty-bound to be neutral (but, as he has said, he is a black man first),
  • The Justice Department agreed to investigate the incident for civil rights violations based solely on political expediency, knowing full well that it would not have sufficient evidence for an indictment.

Add to all of the above the fact that  the incident itself was messy and ambiguous, as police shootings often are:

  • Did Brown deserve to be stopped and arrested? Maybe.
  • Was he the angelic, harmful snowflake portrayed by his parents and the media? No.
  • Was he a legitimate threat to Wilson, at least when they struggled in the car? Yes.
  • Did Wilson have reason to fear for his well-being? Well, would you, if a 300 pound guy was trying to get control of a gun in close quarters? Of course.
  • If he had fatally shot Brown in the act of protecting himself in the car, would Wilson be in the clear legally, logically and ethically? Yes.
  • Since Brown’s attempt failed, did he deserve to be shot after he left the car? No.
  • Is it likely that Wilson was upset by the struggle in the car, angry, frightened, and not thinking clearly? Yes.
  • Would that excuse his killing Brown, if Brown were indeed in a surrender pose as some witnesses claim? No.
  • Would it mitigate his guilt? Yes.
  • If Brown, unarmed or not, charged Wilson after the car incident, would Wilson be justified in using deadly force? Probably.

But the activists don’t care, literally don’t care, about any of this. For them, the issue is simple. A white cop in a racist police department shot an unarmed black teen to death, and that means that it was a racially motivated murder.

The police and their mostly conservative defenders also don’t care about the details. Once again, a dedicated public servant who put his life on the line was forced to use deadly force against a dangerous thug who attacked him, and because the cop is white, is being persecuted and unjustly maligned.

Everyone is poised to see what they want to see, believe what supports their biases and agendas, and shout loudly about injustice regardless of what occurs, fertilizing the ground for the next incident they can exploit, along with cynical politicians.

Good job, everybody.

And how exactly does all this make society better?

______________________

Sources: New York Times 1, 2; Fox News

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Filed under Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Race

Alleged Fraud And Corruption In Holder’s Justice Department: Why Isn’t This Considered News?

A drunken pumpkin riot! Now THAT'S News!

A drunken pumpkin riot! Now THAT’S News!

Possible answers to the question posed above:

1. Because everyone already knows that the Justice Department is corrupt and Eric Holder is an incompetent political hack.

2. There was a huge pumpkin festival riot in Keane, New Hampshire!

3. The news media is so biased that it will even treat an astounding judicial ruling as a made-up “conservative media” story.

4. It’s just more evidence of how abysmally the Obama administration is being run, and an election is coming up.

5. The world has gone mad.

I think any of them are plausible explanations.

Whichever it is, I guess I am honored to be able to help break some news, as it is not usually an Ethics Alarms function. This story has made it to exactly one news source as I write this, the New York Observor, though a few conservative blogs are noting it. Read the story itself and the links here.

Meanwhile, I’ll summarize:

Two former Assistant United States Attorneys say Holder ‘s Justice Department engaged in deceit and corruption  in pursuing  its litigation against Sierra Pacific Industries, a California lumber company. Responding to the allegations—and remember that false allegations of this magnitude would mean the end of these lawyers legal careers– Federal District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. has ordered the recusal of every federal judge in the Eastern District of California, on the theory that since the court may have been defrauded by the government,  an outside judge is needed to handle the matter to avoid a conflict of interest. Continue reading

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Ebola, Trust, Competence, and “The Only Thing We HaveTo Fear Is Fear Itself” Ethics

On the 4th of March, 1933, newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, taking over the Presidency in the teeth of the Great Depression, intoned his famous words, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself!”  It was bravado, of course, and in essence a lie: there was a lot to fear. Roosevelt knew it, and the public certainly knew it. The whole economic system seemed to be falling apart. Anti-capitalist evolutionaries were looking for an opportunity to revolt. Nobody was sure what to do.

The statement was effective, however, in focusing the nation on the challenges at hand and riveting the pubic attention on solving problems rather than cringing in terror in fear of them. Roosevelt was a magnificent speaker, warm and charismatic, and that contributed to the force of his rhetoric, but what was most important is that he was trusted. Every new President  can draw on a full, newly-replenished  account of trust, or at least could, in FDR’s time. A new President’s promises haven’t proven to be air; his political skills and talents, honesty and character have not shown themselves to be inadequate or a fraudulent pose.  In rare cases, and FDR was certainly one, they never do. The President, for good or ill, is the human face of the U.S. Government. If he is trusted, it is trusted. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, History, Incompetent Elected Officials, Leadership, U.S. Society

Cruel Activism: The Gay Rights Attack On Cynthia and Robert Gifford

The-Gifford-Barn-in-Schaghticoke-NY

It is said that close cases make bad law, and they often make bad ethics too. Legally, the culpability of Cynthia and Robert Gifford is not at all certain. Ethically, however, as right as they may be on the law, the conduct of their persecutors, same-sex couple Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, has been unnecessary, without compassion, vindictive and cruel.

The Giffords are active Christians who own Liberty Ridge Farm, located in Schaghticoke in upstate New York. They supplement the farm’s revenue with attractions designed for kids and families, including a pumpkin patch, a corn stalk maze and a rustic barn for parties and weddings. That rustic barn has three stories. The Giffords reside on the top floor, with the bottom floor designed for events, and the second floor consisting of rooms for activities relating to their preparation and management.

When Cynthia Gifford received a phone call from Melissa McCarthy inquiring about having her wedding at the farm, Cynthia invited her to visit and assess the venue.In the follow-up phone call, McCarthy revealed for the first time that the affair would be a same-sex wedding. Cynthia explained that the family’s faith held that marriages can only be a union of a man and a woman, so they did not make their farm available for ceremonies. She said, however, that the couple was welcome to hold the wedding reception there.

Apparently expecting this response, Jennifer and Melissa surreptitiously recorded the phone call. Armed with the recording, they contacted the New York Civil Liberties Union who immediately filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Giffords on their behalf.

The Giffords argue that this was not a matter of discrimination, but religious practice. They had hosted events for gay clients before, and employed gays. “The Giffords’ objection was to hosting and participating in the wedding ceremony itself and not to providing service in general to lesbians,” their lawyer said.

They lost. Bronx administrative Law Judge Migdalia Pares rejected Giffords’ claim that the farm, which is also their home, is not a place of public accommodation and is therefore not subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of New York’s Human Rights Law. She ruled that Liberty Ridge qualifies as a public accommodation because it regularly collects fees for space, facilities, services and meals, so it cannot be considered “distinctly private.”  The fact that the Giffords reside at Gifford Barn does not render it private. The Giffords were ordered to pay $13,000 in fines and restitution.

The Giffords are appealing.

The Giffords, according to the judge, “unlawfully discriminated against complainants solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.” Another way of looking at it is that Jennifer and Melissa, now married, discriminated against the Giffords solely on the basis of their religious beliefs. Why couldn’t they agree to respect the Giffords’ religious beliefs, and use the property for the wedding reception only, having the actual ceremony elsewhere? Would that really be such a hardship, or a compromise in principles? Indeed, if the nation and committed progressives really aspire to tolerance, diversity and mutual compassion and understanding, why wouldn’t that be the ethical, desirable, reasonable compromise?

I know the response to that question, of course. This was a matter of principle. This would send a message. Crushing the Giffords was necessary to show that all opposition to same sex marriage would eventually be crushed under the advance of history. Never mind that these were not anti-gay bigots, and that they have as much right to practice their faith as a lesbian couple has a right to wed. This is a zero sum game, apparently. Besides the law—probably–supports McCarthy and Erwin.

I think the actions of Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin violate the Second Niggardly Principle, which is a rule of kindness, compromise and common sense. It holds…

“When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”

The couple’s legitimate objectives in this case were to get married and celebrate the marriage in an attractive venue. I don’t think setting out to punish a couple for belonging to a religion that doesn’t accept same sex marriage is a legitimate objective, nor is turning their lives upside down, nor forcing them into the maw of litigation to bend them to their will. Does the gay rights movement really feel that all those who have not yet accepted the justice and inevitability of same-sex marriage must be exposed and made to suffer? It seems that this is McCarthy and  Erwin believe, and what this case will come to stand for.

If so, I think the story of the Giffords will do more harm than good, hardening opposition, confirming suspicion, undermining trust and ultimately making acceptance for gay couples harder, however it turns out in the courts. Just because you have the law on your side doesn’t mean you have to use it when doing so involves unnecessary harm to others. Gays want compassion, kindness, tolerance and fairness. It would help if they showed a willingness to give as well as receive.

______________________
Pointer: Steven Mark Pilling

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