Ethics Dunces: America’s Leaders…Or, If You Prefer, “Happy New Year! We’re Doomed!”


UPDATE: 1/1/ 13  At the last possible moment —indeed, after the official deadline had past— a bi-partisan deal temporarily averting the worst effects of the fiscal cliff was achieved. The details of the compromise are here. But nothing I see in it would cause me to change any of the conclusions I reach below. It seems that the fiscal can was kicked down the road once again, for our craven leaders avoided doing their jobs:  dealing with the debt ceiling, reigning inexcessive government spending, and fixing a dysfunctional budget process. As the Washington Post stated on its front page today:

“The “fiscal cliff” was designed by Washington for Washington — it was intended to set up a scenario so severe that the president and Congress would, at last, have to take on the nation’s major tax and spending problems. Instead, lawmakers again found a way to sidestep many of the prickliest issues and in the process set up other, potentially more severe, showdowns in the new year.”

Additional taxes go into effect (supposedly an additional 600 billion over the next decade—a drop in the bucket), but no serious cuts in spending will be made, and the net effect is simply to delay considering responsible fiscal reforms until the next crisis. Our weak and feckless national leaders were minimally effective to the extent that they managed to avoid the worst possible result, looking as bad as possible in the process, waiting until the clock had run out. Do you find that encouraging, impressive and promising? I don’t.

It is disgusting.


The failure of America’s elected leaders to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff,” an artificial deadline that they set for themselves the last time they proved incapable of being fiscally and legislatively responsible, is frightening and dismaying proof of their utter incompetence, irresponsibility and cowardice.

While the worst condemnation ought to fall on the President, as he is in the highest office and thus bears the most responsibility when the government fails, the easiest way to spot partisan and biased individuals from now on will be to note those who claim that one party or one branch of government is more blameworthy than the other. I don’t want to hear it. All sides and interests had a duty to the nation, and they all failed us.

Recall that all of this begins and ends with the imperative of reducing the deficit in future years and beginning to pay  down the unsustainable debt. Neither party, nor President Obama, nor the Senate (which has not passed a budget in years), nor the Republican-controlled Congress, have been honest or realistic about the crucial and pressing need to reduce spending significantly (which requires reforming so-called entitlements, as well as other painful cuts) and to increase revenue through increased tax rates and reduced tax deductions. By their irresponsible and utterly stupid bungling of this escalating crisis, they have embarrassed the nation, weakened its defense, undermined its economy, risked the welfare of hard-working and vulnerable citizens, endangered the world and placed the future of the nation in peril.

It is unforgivable. Sharing the shame in this display of complete leadership incompetence are such culprits as the national media, which allowed both parties to avoid the topic of how sequestration would be averted through the entire election cycle; government watchdog groups, which made nary a peep as two years passed with the “cliff” looming, and  Congress wasted its time passing show-bills to thrill its most radical constituency, while the President campaigned and fiddled; and the unengaged, naive and polarized public, who have sent the message that there will be no consequences of a jointly-managed fiasco that threatens to crush generations to come…their children. A great job all ’round, Americans.

We enter 2013 with the permanent decline of the great American experiment evolving from a possibility to a probability, because, arguably for the first time in its history, the United States wasn’t lucky. This time, when the nation needed visionary, talented, courageous and bold leaders to address an epic crisis, there was nobody there but cowards, hacks, pygmies, narcissists, petty partisans and amateurs.

Happy New Year.



Graphic: According to Jewels

Now THIS Is Irresponsible Opinion Journalism

Oh, yeah, this will help a lot...

Oh, yeah, this will help a lot…

During the Ethics Alarms debates on various threads here about the response to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the ever-reasonable commenter Ampersand wrote,

“I think that if you want a responsible discourse, you should seek out intelligent opposition and highlight it, rather than exclusively highlighting what you see as stupid and unethical opposition.”

I agree that this is usually a good course. The current public policy debate, however, isn’t being led or dominated by intelligent opposition to gun possession, but by emotion-driven, often hateful and hysterical diatribes from activists, demagogues and journalists who have decided that this, of all issues, is one that excuses them of their ethical obligation to be objective and to give views they don’t agree with due respect and fair analysis. Thus it is important to highlight the worst examples of these, not only because they are the most blatantly unethical (“Ethics Alarms,” you know) but also because it is dangerous to allow them to slant the discussion without calling attention to what’s wrong with them.

This brings us to the recent rant of Des Moines Register columnist Donald Kaul. Kaul is an extreme  progressive, which is hunky dory, and he is respected as a serious commentator from that side of the ideological spectrum. He also writes for a newspaper with a tradition of serious and professional reporting. He is not Dave Barry, Chris Rock, Ann Coulter or even Lawrence O’Donnell: he is not a jester, a performance artist, or a shameless firebrand.  Many reasonable people take what he says t0 heart.

Thus it is worthy of note that such a professional opinion journalist believes that it is appropriate to write a column that says things like this: Continue reading

The Legal Ethics Forum’s Top Ten Legal Ethics Stories of 2012

top-tenOne of my most consulted ethics resources, both for my ethics practice and Ethics Alarms, is the Legal Ethics Forum, created and operated by attorney John Steele with able assistance from some of the best legal ethics experts and scholars in the nation. John has posted the Forum’s Top Ten Legal Ethics Stories of 2012, which you can, and should, read about in detail here. These are John’s headlines: (Ethics Alarms, which is not written for an exclusively legal audience, has covered six of them, #4, #5, #6, #7, #9 (as well as this gem), and #10.) Continue reading

Torii Hunter and The Bigoted Teammate Principle

No, this isn't Detrot Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter. This is gay-bashing "Teacher of the Year" Gerald Buell. Six of one, half-dozen of the other...

No, this isn’t Detrot Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter. This is gay-bashing “Teacher of the Year” Gerald Buell. Six of one, half-dozen of the other…

Over at the NBC Sports baseball blog Hardball Talk, the baseball  writer/lawyer Craig Calcaterra explained today why the quoted comments of Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter regarding gay professional athletes are not just wrong, but misconduct. My message to Craig: “Bingo.”

In its recent article about closeted gay athletes, the Los Angeles Times quoted Hunter explaining why he felt having a gay team mate would be divisive:

“For me, as a Christian … I will be uncomfortable because in all my teachings and all my learning, biblically, it’s not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable.” Continue reading

The Ethics Alarms 2012 Summary, Since Hardly Anyone Is Reading Today Anyway…And Also, THANKS prepares an 2012 annual report for blogs using the service, and since it is obvious from the traffic today that New Years has officially begun, I thought I might as well make its report on what occurred at Ethics Alarms public this year.  I like WordPress, and this is also a good opportunity to thank them. Thanks.

Now please add an editing function for comments!

This isn’t part the Ethics Alarms Most Unethical and Most Ethical of 2012 posts; they will be along soon. Meanwhile, Ethics Alarms and its proprietor want to thank all those who kept the site growing, busy, lively, current, less typo-ridden (thanks, Jeff! ) and usually filled with intelligent, enlightening and civil, if occasionally too tough for some gentler tastes, discussion. Together we weathered web hoaxes, a national election, a plagiarizing lawyer, a couple of threatened law suits, a bitter American Idol contestant, an Instalanche, Penn State, George Zimmerman, ethics train wrecks galore, and nasty attacks from drug-legalization fans, bitter law grads, and mercifully few trolls, and still managed to keep the group ideologically diverse.

The site ends the year averaging about a thousand more visitors a day than it did 12 months ago, and for a blog on a topic most people think is as exciting as watching paint dry, I think that’s an accomplishement. I know this is difficult to believe, given my preference for stating my positions in the most assertive and uncompromising way possible, but one of the chief reasons I produce this blog is to explore new areas and ideas, to have my mind opened, my ideas challenged, and to learn. You have all done a wonderful job fulfilling those funtions, more than you know, and am obligated to all of you for it.

Thank you  Chase Martinez, tgt, Ampersand, Bill, Tom Fuller, Lorraine, Steven Mark Pilling, Michael Ejercito, Curmudgeon, Arthur in Maine, Tim LeVier, Jeff, Elizabeth, Crella, Walrus, Jan Chapman, Yardley, Windypundit, ethicssage, fattymoon, blameblakeart, Rick, Ethics Bob, Peter, Scherie, Jeff, Dave Gent, Interested Blogger, The Nance, gregory, Charles Green, Christine, Lianne Best, This Guy, Brian, Roger, Karla Marie Robinett, texagg04, Dwayne N. Zechman,49erDweet, Diego Garcia, Jolie, Jenna,Debbie Swartz, zoebrain, oldgraymary, Joshua, Jeremy Wiggins, Inquiring Mind, Sharon, Michael, Modern Knight, Fred Davison, Joe Fowler, Libby Torgerson, Mike Martin, celestialsquare, Proam, Karl, Martin Brooks Smith, Fred, Eeyoure, garlicfriesandbaseball, Rick, Michael R, Eric, and any of the cherished regulars here I have missed, for all the substantive content you contributed in 2012. Some of you have been AWOL for a while; I hope it wasn’t anything I wrote, and I hope to see you back in the fray in 2013. I know I was sometimes cranky, occasionally unfair, and uncivil at times. I can be careless, stubborn, mistaken, and outright wrong. And there are days when my brain takes a holiday. I’ll try to improve in 2013.

I’ll depend on you to make sure I do.

From here on, everything is WordPress.

About 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog was viewed about 830,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 15 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!

Click here to see the complete report.

The House Ethics Committee Sends A Message: “Keep Your Corruption Within The Loopholes, And You’re Still ‘Ethical'”

"We just want to be friends."

“We just want to be friends.”

Let us stipulate that when a body’s ethics committee shows itself to be hopelessly confused about ethics, the chances that the body it is supposed to enlighten will be anything other than habitually, shamelessly and irreparable unethical are somewhere between Frosty’s chances of surviving in Hell, and the likelihood of me doing an infomercial for Wen Hair.

Remember the “Friends of Angelo” scandal? This was the so-called  “VIP program” that former Countrywide founder and CEO Angelo Mozilo used, not to be unkind, to bribe lawmakers into assisting Countrywide’s predatory mortgage loan practices, or at least to look the other way. In June 2008  it was revealed that key policy makers, including former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd  (D-Conn.), and current Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) received special terms on mortgages from Countrywide.

In 2009,the House Oversight Committee began investigating the program and learned that similar sweetheart loans were extended to almost a dozen lawmakers, executive branch officials, and other employees of Congress, the White House, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other government agencies. Countrywide also allowed some VIP program participants “free floats,” which meant that if interest rates fell during the time when loans were being processed, the company allowed applicants to take the lower rate at closing, something it does not typically do.

Let’s be clear: these are bribes. No matter whether they fall within or without specific laws or regulations, they are bribes. This is a large corporation providing special benefits to legislators and others in the government that it did not make available to the general public, in order to make “friends” with them. Why would a financial company like Countrywide want policy-makers indebted to it, to “like” it? Use your imagination. This is called creating a conflict of interest and warping independent judgment. We should expect our officials and elected representatives to recognize such transparent corruption, and avoid it. But they didn’t, and don’t.

One reason they don’t is that voters refuse to hold them accountable. Another is this:

From the LA Times:

“The House Ethics Committee has found no rules violations by  lawmakers and staffers who used a VIP loan program from Countrywide Financial Corp. saying the allegations of special treatment fell outside the panel’s jurisdiction. The committee’s leaders said its investigation largely led to the same conclusions as the Senate Ethics Committee, which determined in 2009 that there was “no substantial credible evidence” that Sen. Kent Conrad (D-S.D.) and former Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) had broken rules by accepting loans through the special program…”

“The House Ethics Committee statement said that people in the VIP program appeared to be offered ‘quicker, more efficient loan processing and some discounts.’ But the committee said there was evidence showing those discounts “were not the best deals that were available at Countrywide or in the marketplace at large.” Because participation in the program “did not necessarily mean that borrowers received the best financial deal available either from Countrywide or other lenders,” it was not a violation of House rules to participate, according to the Ethics Committee.” Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Howard Kurtz

“Gun owners often say they want the government to leave them alone; why then are some clamoring for Gregory to be prosecuted?”

—-CNN Media ethics watchdog Howard Kurtz, in a column defending “Meet the Press” host David Gregory’s on-air violation of a D.C. gun law



This is quite a spectacle, a real time unraveling and self-discrediting of a media ethicist because of biases he either cannot resist or doesn’t detect. Kurtz’s core ethical fallacy in ridiculing calls for Gregory to be held to account for a knowing, intentional, blatant and broadcast breach of a criminal law is so obvious it is stunning that he cannot see it. Kurtz is arguing that the law shouldn’t be enforced against law-breaking journalists “practicing journalism,” because they are special and deserve to be privileged, and because journalism is so important that it trumps the law. This is offensive to fairness, equality and justice, but because Kurtz is himself a journalist, he cannot see how intrinsically unethical his position is. He cannot see the most basic conflict of interest of all, self-interest, in himself. Continue reading

Ethics Elephant In The Room: The ASPCA Was Wrong, And Should Admit It


The  Association for the Prevention of  Cruelty to Animals finally capitulated and has agreed to pay over 9 million dollars in damages to the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. Way back in 2000, the ASPCA and other animal advocacy groups sued the circus company’s owners, alleging cruel treatment of elephants. The problem was, courts found, that the law suit had been built on the claims and testimony of a former Ringling barn helper who had been paid at least $190,000 for his participation in the lawsuit. This meant that the suit was dead.

Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus counter-sued, as would I, as would you. I don’t doubt that elephants are abused sometimes in the circus; I’m sensitive to the argument that putting elephants in a circus is inherent abuse. It seems clear that a lot of dedicated, well-meaning people who care deeply about animals and their treatment couldn’t press their claims persuasively without help, so, essentially, they cheated. You can’t pay witnesses, whether the witness is telling the truth or not. It’s unfair. It’s illegal. It corrupts the justice system. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Facebook

facebook-big-brotherLet us be clear that Facebook is not engaged in “censorship,” properly defined. Nor does Facebook infringe on the First Amendment by limiting, even severely, irrationally or based on political bias, what a user may post. Facebook can set whatever conditions for use of its services that it chooses. Facebook isn’t the government.

It should, however, set fair and reasonable conditions, and be capable of enforcing them without bias and in an even-handed fashion—if it wants to be the ethical entity it claims to be. This would also seem to be in the company’s best interest. If I think Facebook is going to swoop down and cancel my account because I dare to disagree with political correctness sanctioned by the Facebook management, I have better uses for my time. So do you.

Thus it is puzzling to read that Facebook purged the account of Natural News for posting this:

Gandhi quote

Continue reading

And An Irrational Perspective On Gun Control In The Unethical Cartoon of the Month: “America Reacts”


Since most of the news media have been making fools of themselves with their over-heated, slanted and often hysterical reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, it was predictable that the odd corner of the commentariat occupied by political cartoonists would go even farther off the rails. For one thing, exaggeration is a tool of their trade; for another, they traffic in irony, satire and humor, giving them leave to jettison fairness and balance for a good laugh. Nonetheless, political cartoons appear on editorial pages. They express opinions that should be responsible opinions, and to the extent that they purport to represent facts, they are obligated to represent them with at least a minimal level of accuracy.

“America Reacts,” the work of Chattanooga Times-Free Press cartoonist Clay Bennett, appeared on December 18. I missed it; a letter to the Washington Post today complained about the Post re-printing it, which is how it finally came to my attention. I have admired Bennett’s work for a long time— I am critical of editorial cartoonists, but I respect and enjoy the good ones—-but this particular cartoon crosses ethical lines right, left and center:

1. As the Post’s critic pointed out, it unfairly deals in gross stereotypes. “Bennett makes assumptions that guns are more important than kids to men while only women care about children. My husband has guns and loves to go shooting, but no way would he choose guns over his children,” Marie Miller wrote. The cartoon also suggests that only men appreciate guns, and that all men are irrational gun nuts. Adding gender bigotry to the gun debate is not a constructive contribution.

2. The cartoon dishonestly frames the issue at hand as a culture having to choose between children or guns. Plenty of talking heads have made the same false representation, and it is intentional distortion for the purpose of appealing to emotions over rational thought. Or it is evidence of brain damage or progressive dementia.

3. The cartoon is incompetent. What is the point that the cartoonist is trying to make? That women are ruled by maternal-instinct and men are gun happy, rendering both stupid and useless? That women’s values are spot on, and men are mad fools? That every family’s children are really at risk because of guns? Is he advocating gun bans? The message is completely incoherent. It’s just a bad cartoon….on a serious and complex subject that could benefit from a good one.

If all a political cartoonist can contribute to an important national debate is the equivalent of a stink bomb tossed into a room, he should resist the urge.


Pointer: Marie Miller

Source: Times-Free Press