Category Archives: Government & Politics
Once a month I give an ethics seminar at the Reagan building in Washington D.C. This is a massive, confusing, and absurdly expensive government edifice that serves as a center for events, conferences and exhibits, also houses some agencies. Any terrorist who got inside with out a map and a Segue would rsik wandering around lost for a week, but there are also usually elected officials, judges or VIPs in the vast expanse, along with a Boy Scout troop or two.
Usually I am dropped off, and go in through a main entrance off of 14th Street. So I have to go through a metal detector, have my brief case x-rayed, and, for extra measure, get wanded, because my metal hip joint sets off the alarm. (50% of the time, I may add, the process is executed by surly, rude security officers.)
Yesterday, though, I drove myself into the city. The security officers stopped my car at the garage entrance, asked for ID, and checked my car’s trunk (not the back seat), and allowed me to park. Then I took the elevator to the floor where my lecture venue was, and proceeded to the seminar, where I easily slaughtered all 320 people in the room by detonating the bomb under my suit. OK, that’s not true. But it could have been.Nobody checked my brief case: the bomb could have been there too. There is no screening if you drive into the garage, beyond the trunk search. This has been the system for years, and both Bush administration and Obama administration officials must have been made aware of it years ago. Either the ritual at the front entrance is for show, wasting our time and submitting us to indignities for reasons of public perception only, or the lax security at the parking garage is a blatant and dangerous security flaw that should have been fixed. Continue reading
Laws affect our lives too much to be concocted by dolts. If elected officials are going to restrict our freedom, they have an obligation to do so only with good cause, careful consideration, precision, and after making certain that unintended consequences will be minimal.
On the other hand, elected official could just say “What the hell, let’s see how this turns out,” and be like the Chicago City Council, which passed an ordinance banning the sale of pure breed dogs.
This is as nice an example of good intentions gone stupid as we are ever likely to see. The intent is to cut off the supply of dogs from s0-called puppy mills, which are rightly regarded as too often cruel and irresponsible. However, in pursuit of that elusive goal, the city council didn’t bother to craft a law that addressed the problem effectively, or that even made sense.
“Pardon me: if you accept the proposition that the government targets organizations for IRS scrutiny because of their political views, and you still say things like ‘why take the Fifth if you have nothing to hide’, then you’re either an idiot or a dishonest partisan hack.”
—-Attorney-blogger Ken White, discussing former IRS official Lois Lerner’s refusal to testify in front of Rep. Daryl Issa’s House Government Oversight Committee
Elaborating on the point before this statement, Ken points out why this is so:
“You take the Fifth because the government can’t be trusted. You take the Fifth because what the truth is, and what the government thinks the truth is, are two very different things. You take the Fifth because even if you didn’t do anything wrong your statements can be used as building blocks in dishonest, or malicious, or politically motivated prosecutions against you. You take the Fifth because if you answer questions truthfully the government may still decide you are lying and prosecute you for lying.”
Got it. Or, you take the Fifth because you really did engage in illegal activity in a coordinated effort to obstruct legal political action for partisan motives, on orders from someone with close ties to the White House, which still may be the case.
In the same post, Ken explains that Lerner may have waived her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, or may not. If she has, then she is in contempt of Congress. If she hasn’t, she isn’t.
My observations on this slow-motion ethics train wreck: Continue reading
Should Ethics Alarms post on substantially the same ethics stories every time they occur? The news that an Ohio fifth grader has been suspended from school for three days for the offense of making an imaginary gun out of his fingers is just such a repeat. I wrote about a similar no-tolerance episode in Montgomery County a year ago, here and here. What is left to say, and why say it again?
I think you have to say it again, in this case at least, because it didn’t sink in the first time. In Montgomery County, Maryland, the school system was forced to revoke the suspension and even apologized to the boy as a result of the ridicule that showered down on the hapless administrators who inflicted the absurd punishment. Officials at Devonshire Alternative Elementary School, where ten-year-old Nathan Entingh wielded his deadly digits “execution-style,” couldn’t have missed the Maryland fiasco, yet they failed to absorb its lesson, which seems extremely obvious to the reasonable, the fair and the responsible: “This is stupid, cruel and abusive treatment. Don’t do it.”
Why didn’t they heed the lesson? I think one reason may be that such hysterical policies are now less about hysteria than they are about thoughtful anti-gun indoctrination. Continue reading
“The claims by President Putin and other Russians that they had to go into Crimea and maybe further into Eastern Ukraine because they had protect the Russia minorities—that is reminiscent of claims that were made back in the 1930s when Germany under the Nazis kept talking about how they had to protect German minorities in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere throughout Europe. So I just want everybody to have a little historic perspective. I’m not making a comparison certainly, but I am recommending that we perhaps can learn from this tactic that has been used before.”
—-Hillary Clinton on the Crimea crisis, showing that she has learned deceit and dishonesty at Bill’s knee, or, perhaps, was really the teacher all along.
‘I’m not making a comparison: I’m just comparing them. I’m not saying Putin is like Hitler, I’m just saying he’s acting like Hitler. I’m not making a comparison; I just want to evoke the specter of Hitler’s expansion over Europe while everyone looked the other way without being accused of doing so.’
And adding “certainly” makes it all undeniable.
Some observations, in the throes of disgust: Continue reading
One progressive lie I hear and read repeatedly from Democrats and their news media lackeys is that the Supreme Court “gutted” the Votingl Rights Act of 1965 by decreeing that it was unconstitutional for the Justice Department to use decades old data to presume racial bias in legislative measures and policies adopted by Southern states. This was holding in the case of Shelby v. Holder. The Court justly ruled that Congress had to develop current, accurate criteria. Progressives and the Obama Administration screamed and are still screaming, because pretending it was still Jim Crow, Bull Connor and Mississippi burning in the South gave the federal government a way to over-ride legitimate and non-racist laws (like voter ID requirements), based on bias: if it’s a southern state, it must be racist.
Yesterday, National Public Radio inadvertently demonstrated how this bias operates. I have already written about what is wrong with conservative opposition to Debo Adegbile, President Obama’s choice to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division. Essentially, he is being condemned for trying to protect an individual’s civil rights. But the police unions are determined to punish him because that particular individual was a cop killer, and our law enforcement officials don’t think such people have rights. They are wrong, Adegbile was right.
This is not truly a racial issue, but because Adegbile is black, because he worked for the NAACP, because the cop killer is black, because Obama is black and because Democrats have spent the Obama years making everything about race to serve their cynical political needs, the controversy has been reported as a racial justice issue. It is really a stupidity issue, as I pointed out in my earlier post. It is stupid, ignorant and destructive to treat criminal lawyers as if they support the crimes of their clients.
The police lobby was strong enough, sadly, to defeat Adegbile’s nomination in the Senate, as sufficient Democrats from conservative states decided to cater to ignorance as enthusiastically as their Republican colleagues. Here are the Democratic Senators who voted “nay”:
Chris Coons (Del.)
Bob Casey (Pa.)
Mark Pryor (Ark.)
Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.)
Joe Manchin (W.V.)
Joe Donnelly (Ind.)
John Walsh (Mont.)
Plus Harry Reid (Nev.), who switched his vote for tactical purposes.
Here is how NPR described them on NPR’s Morning Edition :
“A handful of southern Democrats joined Republicans yesterday to defeat president Obama’s choice to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division.” Continue reading
The degree to which our media pundits fail to grasp the essential nature of the rule of law remains confounding, and this is another in a long line of examples. Worse, the lower court in this weird case failed to grasp it as well.
You see, there is conduct that is obviously wrong, which we call unethical. Some of that conduct is so wrong, so harmful, and so difficult to discourage with social opprobrium and informal enforcement alone that we pass laws against it, both to signal strong disapproval but also to add serious negative reinforcement, in the form of tangible punishment, to the mix. Then the wrongful conduct becomes both unethical and illegal. If we skip the essential intermediate step of writing and duly passing the law that designate the conduct as illegal, however, we have established a dangerous, indeed frightening precedent. Then we have created a society where one can be imprisoned or fined for conduct that is regarded as unethical without a law in place that empowers the state to take such actions against citizens who engage in it. Ethics, unlike law, especially on the margins, is never etched in stone. Once society starts imprisoning individuals based on ethics alone, none of us are safe.
Yet this morning I was subjected to the protests of one TV commentator after another who derided the absolutely correct decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to uphold this principle by throwing out the conviction of Michael Robertson, a sick sleaze-ball who was arrested in August 2010 by Boston transit police who had set up a sting after getting reports that he was using his cellphone to take photos and video up female riders’ skirts and dresses: Continue reading
The Washington Examiner acquired records of federal agency travel through the Freedom of Information Act, and made an interesting discovery:
“The federal government spent millions of dollars on thousands of upgraded flights for employees in 2012 and 2013, paying many times more for business and first-class seats than the same flights would have cost in coach or the government-contracted rate. Premium travel reports from 14 federal agencies documenting the flights show these agencies alone spent an estimated $8.7 million on 1,903 upgraded flights in those two years. That was about $6.4 million more than the same coach and government-rate flights would have cost. The agencies spent $5.7 million in 2012, almost double the $3 million they paid for premium travel in 2013. The cost of coach and government-rate flights is approximate because several agencies either reported estimates for some coach fare or didn’t report them at all.”
There is just no excuse for this. None. I can conceive of some rare situations when first class travel would be called for, but not many. The accommodations in coach for most international air travel is perfectly endurable, and the huge difference in price isn’t justified unless you have serious back problems or some other malady. The basic ethical question every public servant should ask himself or herself is this: would I fly First Class if I had to pay for it? Almost always, the answer will be “no,’ and even if the answer is yes, the standard for buying luxury seating on the public’s tab should be more stringent. It’s not their money. That’s really the answer to the threshold “What’s going on here?” ethics query in this instance. What’s going on is that the public’s trust is being abused by officials casually using scarce taxpayer resources for their own comfort and convenience. Continue reading
My attention has been drawn recently to two essays by college students, both presumably sent to me on the theory (or hope) that reading them would kill me. The first, published in the Drexel Triangle (the student paper), argues that stage directors should be prevented from casting actors who look the way the playwright envisioned them. The second, published in the Harvard Crimson, makes an even more disturbing assertion: its author asserts that Harvard should stop guaranteeing professors and students the right to advocate controversial views or pursue research that challenges liberal views and assumptions.
I don’t want to devote the bulk of this post to rebutting these two essays, which are, I think self-rebutting. In the theatrical essay, student actress Alyssa Stover argues that a stage director shouldn’t have the right to decide that, say, casting an Asian dwarf as black boxer Jack Johnson in “The Great White Hope” would lead to a less effective production (that is my example, not hers—she objects to a director of “Cabaret” refusing to cast African-Americans as a matter of historical accuracy):
“These arguments are fundamentally flawed. What the audience wants is almost impossible to measure because the “audience” is composed of anyone who can get a ticket. A director or producer’s right to deny someone a role due to their appearance is debatable because this is a judgment based on one person’s preferences and may not actually create something that is stage worthy. The current status quo allows people to be barred from the stage due to physical “flaws,” as determined by the direction. These judgments are not harmless, and when the issue of race is involved, the problem only gets bigger.” Continue reading