The Raymond Jefferson Mystery: Isn’t There Ethics Training for Obama Administration Officials?


Raymond Jefferson's government ethics tool box

Based on the sorry Raymond Jefferson scandal, I would assume that the answer to that question is: “What’s ethics training?” Sure, there are reams and reams of government ethics regulations; I’ve read a lot of them. Apparently there is no one making sure that high-ranking officials have read them or understand them, however.

Jefferson, the Assistant Secretary of the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service appointed by President Obama to oversee a job-training program for veterans, has resigned following an inspector general’s finding that he violated federal procurement rules and ethics principles by fast-tracking lucrative consulting contracts to his friends. Jefferson, says the report from the Labor Department’s inspector general, engaged in “a pattern of conduct . . . which reflects a consistent disregard of federal procurement regulations, federal ethics rules and the proper stewardship of appropriated dollars.” Continue reading

An Appropriate Limit on the First Amendment Right To Be A Total Jerk

"Pardon? I'm not sure I understood that last remark."

If you peruse the various debates on Ethics Alarms, you will note that every time someone writes or says something cruel, dishonest or uncivil that appropriately brings down criticism or worse on the miscreant’s noggin, he and his defenders  will argue that the First Amendment should render them immune from the consequences of their words. This is not what the First Amendment is about, however. It is about the government not being able to punish them for what they say, with some exceptions. Even then, it is possible to be so inarticulate in your jerkish expression that your utterances are beyond even that constitutional protection.

For example, when you bark like a dog.

Or to be more accurate, when you set out to tease and annoy a police dog by barking. Mason, Ohio has an  ordinance making it a crime to “willfully and maliciously taunt, torment, [or] tease … any dog used by the Police Department in the performance of the functions or duties of such Department.” That’s exactly what Mason Police Officer Brad Walker found a drunken Ryan Stephens doing to Timber, a K-9 German Shepard behind a screen in his police cruiser. Continue reading

Casey Anthony’s Lawyer is Pronounced Unethical By an Expert

Jack Thompson knows incivility

Ah, the Casey Anthony trial continues to be the legal equivalent of “Jersey Shore,” or some other annoying TV reality show. In today’s episode: Hypocrisy! Revenge!  Irony! Abuse of process! Incivility!  And a special guest!

Cheney Mason, one of Casey Anthony’s defense attorneys, gave a raised middle finger (the international symbol of “I have nothing but contempt and utter disdain for you and your untoward words and conduct, so please have some form of unpleasant sexual intercourse with yourself!”) to a spectator who was verbally harassing Mason and others celebrating Anthony’s July 5 acquittal at a restaurant immediately after the trial.  Such public conduct by a lawyer is rude, undignified and inappropriate, but it is also rude, undignified and inappropriate for sea captains, puppeteers and plumbers, too. Incivility by a lawyer has to be especially egregious and must in some way threaten to undermine the administration of justice to raise the possibility of bar discipline, and flipping the bird to a jerk in a restaurant just plain doesn’t qualify. Now, a lawyer running all over town giving the finger to everyone for weeks on end, or a lawyer making the gesture to judges, opposing counsel or jury members in court would be very different matters. Such conduct would call into legitimate question a lawyer’s fitness to practice law. One such incident? No. I won’t speculate on what percentage of lawyers have given the upturned finger to someone during their careers, but you can.

Nevertheless, a Florida citizen decided to file an ethics complaint against Mason, which is his right. But this wasn’t just any Florida citizen; the complainant was Jack Thompson, a once nationally prominent attorney who managed the nearly impossible: he got himself disbarred for life in Florida for incivility, along with other ethical misconduct. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Central Bucks East High School

"Hello class! I'm your teacher, Miss Munroe, and as you know, you all disgust me. Now, I expect your full trust and respect this year. I am a professional, and my superiors and I agree that the fact that I hate you with all my soul won't change how I treat you, because hate doesn't affect how people treat each other in life. Wait...why are you all looking at me like that?"

Administrators at Central Bucks East High School in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, have decided to reinstate suspended teacher Natalie Munroe, who had made it very clear in several blog posts discovered by the school and her students last February that she detested her job and a great many of her students and their parents, spewing  diatribes that ridiculed specific students for their appearance, habits, speech and character.

There is no conceivable  justification for this. Munroe both deserved to be fired, and had to be fired, because she cannot be trusted to be fair, unbiased or diligent in educating students when she is so disgusted, annoyed and infuriated by them. I hate your kid,” she wrote to the generic parents of her charges on her now discontinued blog.

“I hate your kid.” This is a smoking gun, but the school has chosen to ignore it.

How responsible is it for a school to entrust schoolchildren to the instruction of a teacher who admits that she hates them?  It is as responsible as letting a caregiver at a nursing home continue employment after writing, “I dislike old people.” As responsible as hiring a nurse who tells the hospital that  she is  nauseated by sick people. As responsible as entrusting an orphaned  child with an adoptive couple who announces that they can’t stand him.

Amazingly, Munroe has never denied that she meant what she wrote. Instead, her defense was this: Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: WSJ Blogger James Taranto

This werewolf attack on Nazi soldiers doesn't weaken the case that Sen. Kerry didn't deserve his medals.

Alternate title:  “Smearing John Kerry”, Part II. The quote:

“The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth disputed whether John Kerry deserved some of his five medals. A large part of Kerry’s defense was an appeal to the authority of veterans who supported him–one of whom has now been revealed to have received a medal he doesn’t deserve. This doesn’t prove the Kerry detractors were right, but it certainly doesn’t weaken their case.”

—James Taranto, the usually astute and witty author of the conservative Wall Street Journal blog, “Best of the Web.” He is referring to the child porn conviction and retraction of the Silver Star of  Wade Sanders, who rose to Sen. Kerry’s defense during his 2004 race against President Bush, when The Swiftboat Veterans for Truth claimed that Kerry had lied about his war record.

A pure slime-job, this…well beneath Taranto’s standards, though he does dip low now and then, and as reprehensible an example of attack by unfair innuendo as you are likely to find, from McCarthy to Olbermann to Beck.

“It certainly doesn’t weaken their case.” No, because it has absolutely nothing to do with their case (which was weak and unfair to begin with), and since Taranto is undoubtedly smart enough to know that, this sentence, and the post containing it, was only written to suggest otherwise. Let’s see…what else “doesn’t weaken” the case of those who claim that the honors bestowed on Kerry for wartime valor by the United States of America were undeserved? Hmmm. We have… Continue reading

MSNBC Hires Al Sharpton, As “Network” Becomes Reality

Satire no more.

Noting that MSNBC has given Rev. Al Sharpton his own show, I am compelled to ask: What is broadcast journalism’s accepted criteria now that justifies an individual’s enshrinement as a cable news commentator?

Is it name recognition? The “right” political orientation, in this case, knee-jerk liberal? A ready-made fan base?  Theatrical presence? If these are the criteria, by all means, hire Al Sharpton. Hire Alec Baldwin, Donald Trump, Rod Blagojevich and Jane Fonda, too. Gary Busey. Manny Ramirez. Hulk Hogan. Bozo the Clown.

Or is the proper and responsible criteria credibility, integrity, honesty, fairness, and journalistic credentials? If those archaic standards are still in place, or if MSNBC wants to pretend that they are, then the hiring of Sharpton marks a new low in broadcast news coverage cynicism and recklessness. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Provocative T-Shirt Problem”

Rick Jones, whose excellent blog posts on ethics, academia, politics and life can be read here, at Curmudgeon Central, again delivers the Comment of the Day, on my post about the gay couple asked to hide an innocuous T-shirt message while visiting Dollywood.

“It strikes me that attempting to draw clear lines of demarcation in terms of either content or location is inherently fraught with peril. The best determinant may indeed be the Golden Rule. But that inevitably touches on intent. The purpose of a “marriage is so gay” t-shirt isn’t to “get in the face of” opponents of gay marriage; it’s to make a mildly humorous point about an issue without being strident.

“The guy who wore the “I’m a Muslim. Don’t Panic” t-shirt to the Ground Zero celebration after the killing of Osama bin Laden—not terribly clever, but not at all offensive, either.

I wouldn’t be offended by a t-shirt backing a political candidate I’d never support (I might have an indication of whether to engage in conversation with this person as we wait in the queue, but that’s another matter); I would be by a t-shirt defaming that same candidate: comparing him to Hitler, for example. Yes, intent matters. Continue reading

Smearing John Kerry

Quick---Who is this man, and why should his problems be news?

Guilt by association isn’t always an unethical suggestion. If all of your closest companions are members of the Mafia, I think it’s fair for me to question your values and taste in friends, if not to assume that you might leave a horse head in my bed. More often than not, however, guilt by association is unethically used for character assassination by applying the unfair presumption that an adversary’s associates’ misdeeds can reasonably be attributed to the adversary as well.

You will seldom see as pure and despicable an example of this than the current effort by some on the political Right to smear Sen. John Kerry based on recent revelations about Wade Sanders, like Kerry a Silver Star awardee, who introduced the Massachusetts Senator at the 2004 Democratic Convention.  Sanders knew Kerry when they both were Swiftboat commanders in Vietnam, and  when the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth questioned the legitimacy of Kerry’s record of heroism during that war in their infamous series of attack ads, Sanders led the counterattack. Now Wade Sanders is in Federal prison, serving a 37-month sentence for possessing child pornography, and the Navy Times reports that Secretary of the Navy has revoked Sanders’ Silver Star due to “subsequently determined facts and evidence surrounding both the incident for which the award was made and the processing of the award itself.”

What does any of this tell us about John Kerry? Absolutely nothing. Continue reading

Cheater’s Remorse: ABC News Gets Ethical Without Knowing What “Ethical” Means

"Right now, cheating doesn't pay, so we're committed to ethics."

If you think ABC News is going to get any credit here for officially (sort of) banning the practice of paying so-called “licensing fees” to get exclusive interviews, I’m going to disappoint you. For there is nothing admirable about….

1….. engaging in the discredited practice of paying big money to central figures in news stories in order to gain access to them, and

2….disguising the practice by technically paying them inflated fees for the rights to photographs, even though the real reason for the pay-off is #1 above, then…

3….rejecting the practice when it leads to questions about how the network got an interview when it didn’t pay “licensing fees,” but…

4…noting that it might still go back to the unethical practice “perhaps once every couple of years,” since…

5….the other networks do it.

Yuck, pooie, ichhhh, petah!  ABC’s decision, outlined in a report by media watchdog Howard Kurtz, tells you everything you need to know about the state of ethics in broadcast journalism in general and ABC in particular, and I have seen prettier sights floating in an unflushed toilet bowl. Continue reading

The Provocative T-Shirt Problem

Dress codes+grievance-mongers+freedom to be rude...oh, it's hopeless.

An ethical dilemma occurs when a clear ethical principle clashes with a strong non-ethical consideration. An ethical conflict occurs when multiple ethical principles suggest diametrically opposed results. The question of what is ethical conduct when it comes to wearing apparel bearing controversial messages has the elements of both a dilemma and a conflict.

                                                                                Welcome to Dollywood!

A same-sex couple visiting Dollywood Splash Country with friends and their children was told by a park gatekeeper that one of the women had to wear her T-shirt inside-out because its message—“Marriage is so gay”— “might be objectionable” to some visitors at the “family-friendly” park.

   <Sigh.> Continue reading