Unethical Quote of the Week, Sequester Ethics Train Wreck Division: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Officials

“We have gone on record with a notification to Congress and whoever else that ‘APHIS would eliminate assistance to producers in 24 states in managing wildlife damage to the aquaculture industry, unless they provide funding to cover the costs.’ So it is our opinion that however you manage that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be.”

—- U.S. Agriculture officials, responding to Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service official Charles Brown after he asked “if he could try to spread out the sequester cuts in his region to minimize the impact.” Brown quoted the response in an internal e-mail obtained by the Washington Times.

Why isn't the news media screaming?

Why isn’t the news media screaming?

Assuming that Brown’s account is accurate, the e-mail appears to show, in the interpretation most favorable to the Obama Administration, that at least one federal department believes that its job is to ensure that the across-the-board sequester cuts do as much tangible harm as possible, even where it is possible to mitigate that harm through effective management. The interpretation least favorable would conclude that President Obama has issued internal orders to the effect that any effort to lessen the cataclysmic results he and his Cabinet members predicted prior to the sequester deadline is forbidden, since it would undermine the political strategy of creating public anger against Republicans.

I don’t know where the truth lies. I can say that here in Washington, D.C., both Democrats and Republicans, without the benefit of the e-mail, seem to have adopted the worst case interpretation, which is shocking. Even more shocking is that the sick culture here is largely shrugging this off as “hardball politics” on behalf of the President and his Democratic allies. I cannot fathom this, just as I cannot fathom why all news media, left and right, are not screaming like the Donald Sutherland pod duplicate at the end of the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” if they also believe this is true. Intentionally hurting American business, American security and American citizens is an ethically indefensible strategy, a despicable, traitorous strategy, whatever the grand objective. I think that since Bill Clinton’s Monica Adventure both parties resort to impeachment threats far too quickly, but this has to be an impeachable offense. The President of the United States is sworn to protect the people, not subject them to unnecessary hardship and dangers in a lunatic gamble that they will turn on his political adversaries. If the response Brown quoted in his e-mail only reflects the misunderstanding of some bureaucrat, then we should shortly hear that the Administration has clarified its position and reversed that disturbing, and despicable directive. If it really reflects a directive from on high, there must be serious consequences.

There is a rebuttable presumption, however, that the response accurately reflects what All the President’s Men have relayed to agency heads. After all, President Obama pointedly rejected and threatened to veto a measure giving him the authority to redistribute the cuts to minimize their harmful effects. He has stated that he refuses to make the cuts “easier,” because to do so will reduce what he sees as one-sided public pressure on Republicans to compromise.

Politics is one thing, intentionally allowing conditions to deteriorate for ordinary Americans in pursuit of political advantage is something else, something rancid. The liberal media voices that attacked Republicans for “holding the country hostage” in the showdown over the debt ceiling have an integrity check, for this is worse, and this time the metaphorical hostage-taker lives in the White House. This has been a disheartening display of incompetence, dishonesty ( here, and here, for example, as well as Obama’s claim, debunked by Bob Woodward, that he did not propose the sequester trigger), and now reckless disregard for the public. In fairness, I owe Post columnist Eugene Robinson, whom I recently derided for arguing that a mourning father’s tears constituted a substantive argument for gun control reform, a salute for making what is for a reliable Obama acolyte an objective and  principled admission. He wrote this week,

What I really hate about the sequester is the way it confirms the conventional wisdom that “both sides are wrong.” This is usually the kind of lazy pseudoanalysis that drives me up the wall. But it took both Obama and the Republicans to get us into this mess — and nobody has a clue how to get us out of it.”

I agree with the statement completely. Robinson should also note, however, that only one of the two blameworthy sides appears to want to make sure the mess is as bad as possible, when he has the power to minimize it. That is a significant, and deplorable, distinction.


Sources: Washington Times, Washington Post 1, Washington Post 2


Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

19 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Week, Sequester Ethics Train Wreck Division: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Officials

  1. And it gets nit picky: as part of the plan to make cuts as directly impactful to people as possible, the White House is doing its part by greatly reducing Whote House tours.

    If so, says Louie Gohmert, the federal government ought to reduce funding for presidential golf outings and has apparently advanced legislation so the president can be directly impacte y sequestration.

    Who knows maybe reducing his golf game to 17 holes per game will fairly match the sequestration cuts. Of course to be very analogous, it would only match the cuts if his game was projected to increase to 19 holes before the 1 hole reduction occurs.

    What an awesome political landscape we have. I wonder if James Buchanan had similar squabbles in his equally divisive time as president?

  2. First off, Jack, I am not disagreeing with your analysis at all.

    But I do see, in the abstract, an attempt to show integrity, even if it is misguided.

    “We told the Congress and the American people that if Congress does X, then we will do Y in response. We should be true to our word and not do Z instead of Y in response to X.”

    In fact, I think we’d be applauding them for doing the opposite:

    “We told the Congress and the American people that we would manage the cuts by reducing services without cutting any of them entirely. So however you manage the cuts, you need to make sure that you are not shutting down any programs completely.”

    …which brings me back to why I still agree with your assessment. The ethical balancing of achieving the best results (competence, diligence) versus keeping your word (honesty, integrity) should weigh heavier on the side of results. Changing one’s mind for a good reason is NOT a reason to consider one untrustworthy.


    • Yes, we would applaud them for managing the ‘cuts’ to be unharmful, as they would do if they weren’t acting out of spite but out of leadership. But, if they were to do that, they would show that the government CAN survive on less and not impact Americans. This cannot be shown, hence the irresponsible and bordering on malicious plan to make harmless cuts as mean as possible.

    • That is a distinction worth making, and I would agree if the Administration had been straightforward in the debate prior to sequestration, and made sure the public, even its “low-information voter” component, understood that what was being said was not merely “these terrible things will happen” but “we will go out of our way to make sure these terrible things happen.” To the contrary, I think the latter message was obscured and hidden with deceit, so the same segment of the public that still believes our Libyan ambassador was killed because of a Youtube video also believe that the Big Bad Republicans forced the sequester idiocy on the President and that he is fighting like crazy to save us from its dire effects. Several commentators have compared Gene Sperling’s spin tour of the talk shows to Susan Rice’s similar disinformation efforts. I think that’s fair.

  3. OK, let’s get down to brass tacks. This is an $85 billion cut in a $4 trillion budget. That works out to a 2% cut. This is a minor cut, not a major one (for anyone who has worked in the private sector). If you can’t cut 2% in the federal budget without dire consequences, you are incompetent and should quit after apologizing for being such a waste of oxygen. The EPA has its own armed paramilitary force, cut that. It won’t affect their core mission at all because they are allowed to use the U.S. Marshal’s service if they really need armed men. Buy the USDA inspectors Ford Fiestas and cancel their air travel. Make them stay at Motel 6 and the Super 8 and make them visit the sites in a random order to make each inspection more productive (my uncle was a DOD inspector, I know about how wasteful and often useless the traditional inspection method is). Cut out the Las Vegas conventions. How many directors only have a job description of approving paperwork from below and sending it above for approval? Cut them out. Look at the federal pay scale and make it less than the private sector again. It wasn’t too long ago that government service paid less, but had better benefits and job security that the private sector. Now it pays better,too. This is not good use of taxpayer money. This sequester should be a long-needed opportunity to streamline the US government.

    If you threaten to block a vital US program because of a 2-3% in your budget in order to blackmail the American public into meeting your demands, you should be stripped of your citizenship and exiled. North Korea sounds about right.

    • So can someone explain to me why the press is lying down on this, and the public isn’t reigning down its fury? This shouldn’t be a partisan issue—it is pure competence, integrity and honesty. If there are informed defenders of the President’s conduct on this, where are they? This isn’t “a few have to suffer for the good of the many.” This is “people have to suffer unnecessarily so we can get more cronies elected.”

      • Have we not identified the press as being fully in bed with the current president and Left on this? They will continue to spin the narrative in only one way.

        The ‘right wing press’ isn’t too vocal because a lot of their viewers/readers/listeners are content with the idea of the ‘cuts’ (which aren’t cuts). But down on the grass roots, a lot of local commentators are livid over the malicious singling out of ways to hurt America with these cuts.

        And what’a truly telling about how far the chief executive and his goons are willing to take it is it requires a great deal of creativity to make a 2% cut on an increase actually hurt.

      • We already know why the majority of the press is lying down on this, they are de facto if not de jure mouthpieces for Obama and his government. The right-wing press has been pretty successfully demonized to the point where most folks ignore them. As for the populace, I think they are just crisis-weary at this point and want the government to “get ‘er done” whatever it takes. When you are holding almost all if not all the cards you can act like that, and ethics become optional.

      • Because right now it’s a story with contradictory explanations of what the email is referring to and what it means, and what it means is not clear. The only people who actually know what the email is about who are speaking to the press are saying it’s innocent; the people who are saying that it’s a smoking gun are without exception anti-Obama partisans who don’t actually know anything about aquiculture. See this ABC reporter’s coverage.

        Get more information and maybe there’s a story here. But as it stands, what the email contains is someone’s possibly accurate recollection of an answer to a question we don’t have the actual wording of, and the author of the email has declined to talk to the press. Anti-Obama partisans are saying it’s a smoking gun, but there’s no actual evidence, which is why only the right-wing press is pretending this is news.

        • That’s awfully generous, Barry–the ofshoot of all that trust, I guess:

          1. A government officials has stated that his request received a wholly inappropriate and disturbing response, from his superiors. That realizes legitimate alarms.
          2. I don’t see his characterization of the message as ambiguous in any way. I can’t imagine a benign interpretation of what he says he was told.
          3. Of course DOA will explain that he misunderstood. Why would he? Who has the more obvious reason to lie?
          4. That Obama and his Cabinet hyped the horrors of the budget cuts is fact. Even the Post Fact-checker, who leans over backwards to minimize Democratic dissembling, rated Obama’s story about janitors losing their jobs and his Secretary of Education’s claim that there would be massive teacher lay-offs as outright lies. Homeland Security is allowing mass releases of criminal illegals slated for deportation; the White House cancelled children’s tours, both to create high-profile problems, both unnecessary.
          5. Obama rejected the proposed Senate measure that would allow him to mitigate the impact of the cuts.
          6. He said, in his press conference, that he intended to let the cuts be a painful as possible.

          You can argue that this is all circumstantial evidence, but is it? I think the conclusion is pretty obvious.

  4. IN keeping with the Greek city-state idea, the only people who can truly believe that the Sequester cuts will be ruinous are those who believe that we currently have the platonic ideal for government spending – that the efficiency of the Federal Government is 100%.

    Those people are drooling morons, and should not be allowed to vote, as they are too divorced from reality to make rational decisions.

  5. A couple of points here. First, Obama and his minions have lied, obfuscated, used ideology and conflict as “leadership” tools rather than actually finding pragmatic solutions to national problems, have reneged on their duties, have favored their “favorites,” and only pretend to be willing to engage in productive dialogue. E.g., refusal to help the Benghazi Embassy, the moronic Fast and Furious initiative, “selling” private time with the president to donors, leaving a perjurer on as Attorney General, to name only four, and now the “blame game” on the sequester. Isn’t the President of the United States supposed to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and therefore its people? Apparently not this President.

    Second, Obama and his Administration have the liberal mainstream media completely in their pockets, and most Americans don’t bother (or don’t have or take the time) to fact-check, so the Obama propaganda slides by. (My sister, who professes to watch CNN all the time, had never HEARD of Fast and Furious… case in point.) Frankly, with The Washington Post just now beginning to take the Administration to task (too little and too late), and even the New York Times not as idiotically supportive as it has been, I think (hope) they’re getting a tad nervous. (For the first time, I think, the polls show more citizens disappointed with Obama than supportive of him.) So let’s use ALL our resources to make people feel good about Obama…Why did ANYONE talk to Michelle Obama (dozens of times) about her cutting bangs, for God’s sake, and having her on the Academy Awards? Let’s use her, too, to try and humanize this ideology-driven, self-aggrandizing couple.

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