Monthly Archives: December 2014

“Say It Ain’t So, Jim!”: Jim Webb’s Unethical Family Stipends

Webb and staff. Well, wife. Well, never mind.

Webb and staff. Well, wife. Well, never mind.

Oh, great. I have personal experience with the character of one national political figure who impresses me with his honesty, courage and integrity; I support his political career and come to his defense when he is unfairly maligned, and now this. 

Time to put an ad in Craig’s List seeking a new hero.

According to a report in the Business Insider, Webb, a potential challenger to Hillary Clinton’s claim on the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination as well as a former U.S. Senator, head of he Veterans Administration, best-selling novelist and decorated Vietnam veteran, has been playing the old, unethical Washington game of shoveling campaign contributions to his family. Let me give you some of the depressing highlights:

  • Webb’s  Born Fighting PAC is dedicated to supporting “candidates and entities” who support economic fairness, “reorienting our national security posture,” and developing greater accountability in government.
  • Federal Election Commission reports show that the committee, which received nearly $1 million in donations, gave a relatively small portion of that money to political candidates and groups. At the same time, nearly 10% of the contributions received by the PAC went to Webb’s family.
  • Records show that Webb’s  Born Fighting PAC has received $961,515.34 in contributions from individuals, politicians, progressive groups, businesses, unions, and Democratic Party organizations since it launched at the end of 2006. Of this money, $91,999.91 went to Webb’s daughter, Amy Webb Hogan, and wife, Hong Le Webb.
  • Since Webb declared his interest in the 2016 race, he has been identified as one of the main potential rivals for Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. Webb, who entered the Senate in 2006, announced he wouldn’t run for reelection at the beginning of 2011.
  • The Born Fighting PAC continued to contribute to Webb’s family long after it had stopped giving to funds to candidates and the groups it was established to support. Campaign finance reports show the committee has not given any money to political candidates or groups since the end of 2010.
  • The PAC has continued to take donations. Over $100,000 from the final balance in Webb’s Senate campaign account, now closed, was transferred to the committee after he left office at the start of last year.
  • Most of the money Webb’s wife and daughter received from the committee came after it had stopped giving money to politicians and political groups.
  • Webb Hogan began receiving money from her father’s PAC in 2009, when she earned $2,000 for “website consulting services.” In each year from 2010 through 2012 she received $12,000 for the same purpose. Last year, Webb Hogan was paid $14,500 from the committee. Of the money Webb Hogan was paid last year, the reports said $13,500 was for “administrative consulting services” and $1,000 was for “website services reimbursement.”
  • Based on archived versions of the Born Fighting PAC site, it was not updated at all during this period apart from a two-sentence note thanking donors for their “past support.”
  • Hong Le Webb was first paid by the Born Fighting PAC in 2008 when she received $253.37 for travel expenses. She did not receive any money from the committee again until this year, when, as of last month, she received $14,834.34. Most of the money that the committee paid to Hong Le Webb in 2014 — $13,800 — was listed in the reports as compensation for “website services.”
  • Along with the members of Webb’s family, the committee has hired professional web designers to work on the site. This includes work on the site done in the same period Webb’s PAC paid his family members for their “website services.”
  • Archived versions of the Born Fighting PAC website indicate it was updated just once this year. Hong Le Webb nevertheless received $13,800 for “website services” in addition to the money that was paid to L.A. Design Studio.
  • The latest Federal Election Commission report, which covers the period up to Nov. 24, shows the Born Fighting PAC has only $69,391.84 of the nearly $1 million it received left on hand. The committee spent about $900,000 from 2006 through last month. Of this, the records show that, over the years, just $200,027.04 of the money donated to the PAC went to political candidates and groups.In other words, Webb’s committee used only about 20% of the money it spent to support its stated mission.
  • One Democratic operative who spoke to Business Insider said leadership PACs “generally contribute 40% to 60% of the money they receive” to other candidates and groups. Born Fighting PAC seems to have had relatively high overhead even though the records show the committee did not have office space and barely employed paid staffers apart from Webb’s wife and daughter.

Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership

Comment of the Day: “Hard Lesson Of The Walmart Tragedy: Bad Ethics Kills”

First The Washington Post suggests that my commentary on the tragic shooting death of Veronica Jean Rutledge by her two-year old son in an Idaho Walmart as using “the accident as an excuse to grandstand on gun rights,” then the website Raw Story writes that my post is a talking point for both sides in the gun rights debate.”  Neither is true; neither is remotely true. The post wasn’t even about guns: the topic is accountability for reckless and irresponsible conduct by parents and their consequences. Do journalists even read the stuff they link to?

The comments to the post, however, are another matter. Naturally some of them opine on gun policy, and an interesting query arrived from a reader in India, who wrote:

Hello all… I’m from India and we don’t have such gun laws here.. but it looks like, the only news that I see concerning America are “school shootings” and “accidental ones” every week. I have nothing against America and I love your country .. but owning a gun, seems to be a sign of insecurity to me. and I repeat, the only news I see is a regular pattern: “kid goes on shooting spree” or “kid accidentally discharges weapon”.. Don’t you see what’s happening b’coz of these Gun laws ? anybody can be careless about anything… nobody is perfect. I’m only airing my views about this.

This prompted an excellent Second Amendment explanation from 2014 New Prolific Commenter of the Year joed68. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Hard Lesson Of The Walmart Tragedy: Bad Ethics Kills”: Continue reading

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Filed under U.S. Society

Oddly, Though Ethics Alarms Had Already Named Comcast “Corporate Asshole Of The Year,” The Company Felt It Had Something Left To Prove…

ernestine

I really don’t understand this at all. In October, when the viral story of how Comcast managed to get a customer fired from his job for insisting that the communications giant address his legitimate complaints, I wrote:

I have never heard of even one customer of any company losing his job as a consequence of that company’s refusal to address legitimate complaints. That is why Comcast gets its Corporate Asshole of the Year award early. Nobody’s going to top this.

Yet amazingly, Comcast has managed to have yet another tale of atrocious service and customer abuse get widespread publicity. This video, by YouTube exhibitor Sweetlethargy, tells the whole  jaw-dropping story:

In any normal consumer setting, a customer able to prove that he was  induced by a company representative to purchase a service under false pretenses would immediately receive an apology, and the service promised for the price offered. In this case, however, as you can see in the excruciating video, Comcast’s reaction is, “Sorry, we won’t honor what you were told.” Translation: Screw you. Sue us. Good luck with that.

The is reminiscent of the running gag that was once famous on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” the chaotic Sixties comedy show, in which comic Lily Tomlin would play a cruel, smug, nasal-voiced and snorting Bell telephone operator named Ernestine (above). Her specialty was telling infuriated customers who were receiving rotten telephone service that their complaints were futile. “We don’t care. We don’t have to care. We’re the telephone company!” she’d say.

Apparently this is Comcast’s attitude. Horror stories about Comcast service are all over the internet and social media, and heads aren’t rolling, the Board isn’t screaming, press releases aren’t issuing, and documented customer abuse keeps turning up. The company has nurtured a culture of carelessness, callousness and arrogance, and apparently believes that its services are too essential to suffer significant consequences.

What have you heard about Bell lately?

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Pointer: Fark

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Filed under U.S. Society

Hard Lesson Of The Walmart Tragedy: Bad Ethics Kills

5-year-old-with-a-gun

A two-year old sitting in a shopping cart shot his mother dead at point blank range in a Walmart, after finding a loaded pistol in the mother’s open purse. It is such a horrible story that journalists are reluctant to call attention to its obvious lessons. Veronica Jean Rutledge engaged in grossly irresponsible conduct as a mother, a citizen and a gun owner. If her actions, which constituted child endangerment of all four of the children in her charge, as well as a public menace to unsuspecting shoppers in a public store, were to result in anyone’s death or injury, she was the best possible victim. This was all her fault.

The analogy might be a parent who leaves an infant locked in over-heated car, but this is far, far worse. Carrying a loaded gun in public without observing gun safety principles—safety off, for example— posed a threat to everyone around Rutledge. (UPDATE: It is apparently illegal in Idaho to carry a concealed, loaded gun.) Leaving any gun accessible to children is criminal negligence. She was lucky—yes, lucky—that her toddler didn’t shoot one or more of the three girls, all under 11, participating in the shopping trip, or himself. Now the boy will live with the trauma of knowing that he killed his own mother. He will be lucky not to be psychologically scarred for life.

Who knows how many times Rutledge had left her firearm, safety off, within reach of children? I find it hard to believe this was the first time. I find it difficult to believe that she didn’t regularly leave her child in peril, if she would do this even once. Allowing a child access to a loaded gun ready to fire is the equivalent of leaving an open bottle of rat poison within reach of an infant, allowing a child to share a home with a pet wolf, leaving a child alone without supervision while the mother partied and got stoned, or perhaps letting a toddler run free in a home meth lab. If any of these resulted in the death of the child,  public outrage against the parent would be merciless and deafening. It should not be any less intense in this case, simply because moral luck took a relatively merciful turn.

Veronica Jean Rutledge was an unforgivably unethical gun owner, citizen, caretaker and mother, and it killed her.

If there had to be a victim, she was the right one.

UPDATE: From the Washington Post 12/31:

Rutledge isn’t just sad — he’s angry. Not at his grandson. Nor at his dead daughter-in-law, “who didn’t have a malicious fiber in her body,” he said. He’s angry at the observers already using the accident as an excuse to grandstand on gun rights.

“They are painting Veronica as irresponsible, and that is not the case,” he said.

  • That link from Post reporter Terrence McCoy comes right back to this post. I’d like to know where “gun rights” are mentioned or even implied above, much less used to “grandstand.” I can’t even figure out what gun rights point McCoy thinks I’m trying to make (I’m for them, by the way.)
  • VERONICA WAS NOT IRRESPONSIBLE????? This is res ipsa loquitur: if you get shot by a toddler because you left your loaded pistol, safety off,  where he could get it while you are in a public place with 4 kids under your care, you ARE irresponsible: negligent, incompetent, reckless, ignorant of gun and safety obligations, careless. The facts speak for themselves; no further proof is necessary.

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Filed under Childhood and children, Ethics Dunces, Family

A Lawyer Argues “Do No Harm” Should Be Added To The Legal Ethics Rules, Thus Proving Herself To Be A Hopelessly Unethical Lawyer

This is Alexa. She'll let you know if your client is good or bad, and whether you should help him. Just ask.

This is Alexa. She’ll let you know if your client is good or bad, and whether you should help him. Just ask.

Lawyer Alexa Van Brunt contributed a jaw-dropping op-ed to the Washington Post over the holidays. It was titled “The ‘torture’ memos prove America’s lawyers don’t know how to be ethical,” and argued that the legal profession needs the equivalent of the medical profession’s “First do no harm” ethical standard.

It was irresponsible for the Post to print such a piece, because it made its readers, most of whom are thoroughly confused about legal ethics already, even more confused. So far, I have yet to find any lawyer who regards Van Brunt’s theory as anything other than laughable, tragic, shocking, or proof that ideology rots the brain. She cannot possibly understand legal ethics or even what the duties of the legal profession are and compose such an embarrassing piece.

Alexa Van Brunt is, we are told, an attorney at the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, a Clinical Assistant Professor at Northwestern University Law School and Center, and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. This explains a lot. She is a public interest lawyer on a mission, and thus represents only causes that she thinks are good, right and important. Apparently she missed the part of law school where you learn that one of a lawyer’s jobs is to assist non-lawyer clients as they try to accomplish their goals, which they believe are good, right, and important. These often involve engaging in controversies with others, and zero-sum results. Someone is going to suffer “harm.”

In medicine, what “do no harm” means is frequently clear: make the patient better, not worse. There are usually not competing patients, where a limited amount of health must be allotted among suffering human beings. Thus a doctor will not ethically take a healthy heart from a living patient to give to another. In law, however, “Do no harm” would render many disputes beyond legal assistance. Is a defense lawyer who refuses to let a guilty client be convicted by insufficient evidence, jury bias and wrongful interpretation of the law doing harm by freeing a criminal, or is it harm to allow prosecutions to violate due process? Is a real estate lawyer who assists as a company purchases virgin land for the building of a factory doing harm to the environment, or is the lawyer for the environmental group that tries to block it doing harm to the economy?

Van Brunt’s primary focus is the torture issue, but even there, what is “harm” is muddy. Those who supported the use of torture believed that precluding it would place the U.S. population at risk. Alexa defines “harm” as violating international law and the Constitution, but the Constitution, some scholars believe, does not prohibit torture as the CIA practiced it, and in war, doing harm is necessary to win. Who decides whether a litigant who wants to sue for police brutality is going to do harm to public safety, or whether defending a police officer accused of murder will encourage police executions of unarmed men? Who decides, when it comes to  finding that a lawyer violated this new, sensitive ethics rule, what constitutes “harm”?

Why Alexa, of course! She and all those other good people who know with absolute certainty what is right and just in every case—they know what harm is. Just ask them. Meanwhile, client confidentiality is out, because sometimes a lawyer keeping his client’s secrets may cause harm to others. Providing legal advice to banks, defense contractors, auto manufacturers, gun-makers, processed food manufacturers, McDonalds, pharmaceuticals, the Defense Department, the CIA, pro-life organizations (abortion providers don’t harm anyone, of course), the NRA, the Republican Party, this all causes harm…by Alexa’s standards, and she knows best. We don’t need judges or juries, just let the consciences of lawyer and their associations decide which clients are virtuous enough to be worthy of legal representation.

The op-ed is not just absurd, but ignorant and alarming. How can anyone this warped and lacking in understanding of the law and the ethical duties of the profession be teaching at a law school, where she can assist in the minting of new lawyers as ignorant, arrogant and unethical as she is?

Talk about doing harm.

 

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Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

Ethics Reminder To The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland And Bishop Cook: “Hit, Run, Realize You’re Screwed And Come Back 20 Minutes Later To Take Responsibility” Is Still “Hit And Run”

bicycle-hit-and-run

Yesterday, Heather Cook, the No. 2 official in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, struck and killed cyclist Thomas Palermo with her vehicle. He later died; she did not stop and drove on, leaving the scene and her victim  badly injured by the side of the road. Another motorist stopped and called 911, and cyclists who set out to find the fleeing car reported seeing a Subaru with a smashed windshield. twenty minutes after the fatal accident Cook returned while investigators were still on the scene.

In an email to the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, the Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton announced that Cook, the first woman to be ordained a bishop in the Maryland diocese had been involved in a fatal accident, and said,

“Several news agencies have reported this as a ‘hit and run.’ Bishop Cook did leave the scene initially, but returned after about 20 minutes to take responsibility for her actions.”

Oh. Well, leaving a man to die on the road is all right, then. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Daily Life, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Professions, Religion and Philosophy

Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY)

jailedI have to get the ridiculous Congressman Grimm on the record so he’s eligible for the “Worst of Ethics 2014”  awards coming up in just a week or so.

You’ll remember the charming Rep. Grimm from this post, when he threatened to kill a reporter for asking him a question.

Now, after winning re-election in November (Staten Island and South Brooklyn, hang your head) despite being indicted on 20 criminal counts mail fraud and perjury, he has pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion and will be sentenced in June. He could spend from 24 to 30 months in prison.

So far, Grimm has indicated that he will not resign, which is where the “incompetent” comes in: he’s nuts. The nation can’t have convicted felons making its laws, or even sitting in the halls of Congress. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for Grimm to be thrown out; for once she’s right. It is likely that republican leadership will move against him quickly if he continues to be stubborn.

The House’s code of conduct could force him to abstain from congressional activities. There is a House rule that states that a member who has been convicted of a crime “for which a sentence of two or more years’ imprisonment may be imposed should refrain from participation” in committees and from “voting on any question at a meeting of the House,” until the member is “reelected to the House after the date of such conviction.”

The man has embarrassed himself, his office, his district, his constituency, anyone who voted for him, his party, his state and his nation and its system of government. Of course he has to resign.

I must say, though, if Grimm believes the same bozos who elected him in November won’t abandon him just because he’s wearing an orange jumpsuit while running, you can hardly blame him.

UPDATE: Grimm will resign.

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Sources: NPR, Washington Post

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership