A Monstrous Halloween Open Forum, Starting This Evening…

I am about to drive to New Jersey, where master singer/musician Mike Messer will assist me in presenting a special Halloween edition of “Ethics Rock Extreme,” our classic rock legal ethics seminar.  The three hour extravaganza will end around noon, whereupon my wife and I will commence the four+ hour trip back to Alexandria. I can’t promise that I’ll get a post or two up when I return, and I don’t want anyone thinking I’m dead if I don’t (liek last time), so here’s an open forum for Ethics Alarms readers to sound off and go crazy.

Ethically crazy, of course.

Observations On The Washington Post Op-Ed, “Why America Needs A Hate Speech Law”

Richard Stengel, a frequent contributor on MSNBC, a former editor of Time magazine, and the  State Department’s undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2016 wrote this embarrassing, anti-free speech screed.

Observations:

1. In the past I have criticized newspapers and other publications for publishing irresponsible opinion pieces. This time, I want to thank and praise the Washington Post. Either intentionally or inadvertently, it has performed a public service by using its op-ed pages to expose the hypocrisy, intellectual bankruptcy, ethics ignorance and relentless totalitarian rot of their own ideological compatriots.

2. I might say the same about  Stengal, but he really seems to think that he is making a persuasive case. Imagine: a man whom President Obama  and his Democratic administration trusted as a high level State Department official  can make an argument like this…

Why shouldn’t the states experiment with their own version of hate speech statutes to penalize speech that deliberately insults people based on religion, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation?

Why, Richard? Oh, gee, I don’t know…maybe because “insult” is a completely subjective standard? Perhaps because Massachusetts, Vermont,California, and Oregon might decide that arguments against climate change cant is hate speech, like Holocaust denial? Maybe  because the 14th Amendment prohibits states from abridging the Bill of Rights? Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/30/2019: “Happy Birthday Little Sister!” Edition

Good Morning!

Today marks the birthday of my younger sister, whom I have referred to here frequently. Growing up with her and following her life and career imbued me with an early and ongoing appreciation of the effects of sexism and pro-male bias in society, and I’m indebted to her for that. She has always equaled or surpassed me in ability and enterprise, yet often watched me receive more credit or praise for the same things she could do and did without similar acclaim. I know she resented me for that (probably still does—she won’t read Ethics Alarms, for example), and it frequently bruised our relationship over the years. She also taught me about moral luck: in general, I have been persistently  lucky, and she has not, and the difference was so evident that I learned very early in life not to congratulate myself for how the dice fell. She is finally happy in retirement, is about to welcome the first grandchild for this generation of Marshalls, her two adult children are healthy and prospering, and her beloved Nationals just forced a Game 7 in the World Series. She will have a happy birthday. Good. She deserves it.

1. Tales of the double standard, and the imaginary double standard. MSNBC and much of the progressive noise machine has decided to paint Rep. Katie Hill as a victim of a “vast right wing conspiracy,” in Hillary’s immortal phrase, and a vicious husband. If he indeed was the one who shared the salacious photos of Hill involved in various sex acts,  vicious he certainly is. But how can anyone say, as lawyer Carrie Goldberg does, that  “Katie Hill was taken down by three things: an abusive ex, a misogynist far-right media apparatus, and a society that was gleeful about sexually humiliating a young woman in power…None of those elements would be here if it were a male victim. It is because she is female that this happened’? Nonsense, and deceptive nonsense.

Hill resigned because a House ethics investigation was underway regarding her admitted sexual affair with a Congressional staffer and an alleged affair with her legislative director. She was not going to be kicked out of Congress for either or both; she probably resigned in part because she knew the investigation was going to turn up more and worse. The Naked Congresswoman Principle also played a part, as I discussed here. Does anyone really believe that equivalent photos of a male member of Congress displaying his naughty bits in flagrante delicto (my late, great, law school roomie loved saying that phrase) with both sexes would be shrugged off by his constituents and the news media? Who are they kidding?

Hill was arrogant and reckless, and is paying the predictable price, though she was not smart enough to predict it. Trail-blazers—I’m not sure being the first openly bi-sexual member of Congress is much  of a trail to blaze, but never mind—are always under special scrutiny and have to avoid scandal at all costs. Did Hill ever hear of Jackie Robinson? Allowing those photos to come into existence showed terrible judgment; using her staff as a dating resource was hypocritical for a member of the  #MeToo party and workplace misconduct too.

The fact that she is being defended tells us all we need to know about the integrity of her  defenders. Continue reading

Wait, WHAT? Somebody’s Incompetent Here, And I Don’t Think It’s Me.

According to Breitbart, A USA TODAY/Suffolk poll found that only 36 % of those polled support the House voting to impeach the President, with 22%  telling pollsters that  Congress should continue with its impeachment inquiry but should not vote to remove him. Thirty-seven per cent say lawmakers should end their impeachment probe, while four percent remain undecided on the matter.

Regarding a Senate impeachment trial, however, 46 % are in favor of convicting President Trump and 47% are against. The pollsters  used telephone to contact 1,000 registered voters and was taken between October 23rd and 26th.

How is this possible? Saying that you don’t want the House to impeach but want the Senate to convict is like saying you don’t want someone arrested and charged with a crime, but you want him to be convicted and jailed. It makes no sense. Continue reading

And Yet Another Evening Ethics Watch, 10/29/2019, Because Everything Has Been Upside Down At ProEthics Lately…

Good evening again.

We’ll have to stop meeting like this.

1. Can’t make up my mind if I want there to be disastrous botched ball/strike call in Game 6 of the World Series or not. It will take one of those—a bad call that turns the game and eventually the World Series around to get MLB off its metaphorical butt and force it to establish an electronic pitch-calling system. Of course, it is worth noting that one of the most devastating wrong umpire calls in history stole a World Series away from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985, and it took another 30 years for baseball to adopt an instant replay system that would have reversed it.

Don Denkinger was the first base umpire in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series in Kansas City.  The St. Louis Cardinals led the home team Royals by 3 games to 2, and tooka 1–0 lead in the 8th inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Jorge Orta, the leadoff batter for the Royals, hit a slow roller to Cards first baseman Jack Clark. Clark tossed the ball to his pitcher, Todd Worrell, who was covered first base. Orta was out by half a step, but Denkinger called Orta safe, even though television replays and photographs clearly showed that he was out by half a step. Orta eventually scored, allowing the Royals to go  on to win Game 6 by the score of 2–1.

Denkinger was the home plate umpire in the Series-deciding Game 7, apparently driving the angry Cardinals mad. Denkinger ultimately ejected both Herzog and pitcher Joaquín Andújar in the fifth inning, as the game deteriorated into Royals rout,  11–0 . Denkinger accepted that he had made a terrible call, but as was the ethics in baseball at the time, took the position that such mistakes were an unavoidable part of the game. In  aftermath of the 1985 World Series, Denkinger death threats, from Cardinals fans. Two St. Louis disc jockeys doxxed him, giving out the umpire’s telephone number and home address. He was a well-regarded umpire, who at 83 years of age will still sign photographs of “the Call” when asked.

I guess I don’t want to see another umpire suffer Denkinger’s  fate tonight. It is inevitable that there will be a bad call of a strike or ball that makes an umpire a lifelong pariah, unless baseball locks that barn door as soon as possible. Continue reading

Another Leap Down A Slippery Slope: Massachusetts Repeats The Michelle Carter Debacle

The Suffolk County (Mass.) District Attorney has charged Inyoung You, a 21-year-old South Korean native and former Boston College student,  with involuntary manslaughter in the suicide of 22-year-old Alexander Urtula, who jumped to his death on May 20, 2019, the day he was going to graduate.  You was in cellphone contact with her boyfriend that day, and was at the scene when he plunged to his death.

While Urtula struggled with mental health issues throughout the pair’s 18-month relationship,  You was “physically, verbally, and psychologically abusive, and was so “wanton and reckless” that it  “resulted in overwhelming Mr. Urtula’s will to live,” the DA told reporters. “She was aware of his spiraling depression and suicidal thoughts brought on by her abuse, yet she persisted, continuing to encourage him to take his own life.”  Among the over 47,000 text messages sent by You in the two months leading up to Urtula’s suicide, here were hundreds “where (You) instructed him” to take his own life, as well as “claims that she, his family and the world would be better off without him.”

Nice.

But is it criminal?

There are differences in the two cases, but this is redolent of the 2017 prosecution and conviction Michelle Carter, who was convicted in the Bay State of involuntary manslaughter for urging her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to kill himself, which he did. The conviction was upheld by an appeals court this past February, so Carter will apparently serve out her entire 15 month sentence—for the content of her text messages. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Ann Althouse

“As I’ve said many times on this blog, I think election results deserve respect, Democrats have failed to accept that they lost an election and that those who won deserve their victory, and those who were disappointed should be focusing on winning the next election, not undoing to results of the election they lost. Democrats need to turn back from the precipice. They need to give up the drama and hysteria about Trump and show that they are more stable and responsible than Trump. A “no” vote on the impeachment proceedings will only happen if Democrats — some of them — have the sense to say “no.”

—-Ann Althouse, iconoclastic Wisconsin law professor/social commentator/ blogger, in a post this morning.

[Before I start, let me interject that “I think election results deserve respect” is revolting equivocation, and credible commentators should avoid it. In this nation, in this system, in a democracy, election results deserve respect. ]

As frequent readers hear know, I quote or refer to Althouse more frequently than any other web commentator (George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley is a close second) now that Ken White at Popehat has moved on to greener pastures. Her post today, “What I can’t figure out and what really interests me is why today feels different” explains why, at least to me. In the  matter of Donald Trump’s election and the reaction to it by the  Axis of Unethical Conduct (AUC) that I last discussed here, Althouse almost exactly mirrors my analysis, and reveals that she occupies a similar position for making it. I have one up on Ann, I think, because while I almost voted for Hillary Clinton out of my unshakeable (actually it has been a bit shaken now, if not stirred) contempt for Donald Trump, she actually did despite matching my distrust and dislike of Hillary Clinton. In the post containing today’s Ethics Quote of the Week, she reveals why I was right and she was wrong.

The Democratic Party proved to me in late October of 2016 that it seeks power over all else, and no longer possesses a sufficient commitment to American values, our fundamental principles, or our institutions that can compete with that obsession. This means that not only can the party and its members not be trusted, it means that it is actively corrupting the American public and will continue to do so unless and until something makes it change both its strategic and its ideological course.

That Ann still thinks there is any chance at all of the party doing so now shows that she still can’t bring herself to accept the frightening reality that the AUC is willing to destroy the nation to save it. In that respect, I’m still ahead of her, perhaps because the professor is so emotionally committed to being neutral that she cannot accept that the time for neutrality has past when the responsible choice is unavoidable, or ought to be. Continue reading

Monday Evening Ethics Feature, 10/28/2019: Boo! Lyric Woking! Name-Calling! And Much, Much Worse…

Good evening.

1. World Series ethics observations:

  • It was little noticed, but Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole did something admirable and unusual last night on the way to dominating Washington Nationals hitters and leading his team to a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. At one point in the game, Nationals first-baseman Ryan Zimmerman laid off a tantalizing pitch just off the plate with two strikes on him. Cole could be seen saluting the batter and saying “Good take!” It is rare to see a baseball player acknowledge an adversary’s skill on the field.

I wouldn’t mind seeing such gestures more often.

  • The President not only attended the game last night, but stayed unusually long for a dignitary, who usually go to baseball games to be seen more than to watch. Trump stayed until the 8th inning, when much of the discouraged Nats fandom was streaming to the exits. I wrote last week that I hoped he would subject himself to the fans’ ugliness, and they responded as we knew they would, loudly jeering and chanting “Lock him up!” It was a black eye for Washington, D.C., not President Trump.

Continue reading

The Naked Congresswoman Principle Is Confirmed, Rep. Hill Resigns, And She Refuses To Accept Responsibility

Of course she does.

Democratic Rep. Katie Hill of California has resigned. from the House of Representatives. Ethics Alarms examined Rep. Hill’s plight in the recent post, Just What We Needed: The Naked Congresswoman Principle. It concluded,

“The Naked Teacher Principle, Naked Congresswoman Variation, rules. The fact that these photos became public undermines trust in Hill’s judgement, competence, and trustworthiness, if not her physical fitness. It doesn’t matter how or why they got online. The person ultimately responsible is Hill. If you want to have a career based on respect and trust, don’t pose for naked pictures, sex photos, or pictures that make you look like you’re employed by an escort service. That shouldn’t be so hard.”

The lesson of the Naked Teacher Principle and most (though not all!) of its variations held true for Hill: once there are photos out there of a professional holding a position requiring dignity and trust behaving like or looking like a porn star, a drunken frat date, Kim Kardashian or a Sports illustrated swimsuit model, that professional’s ability to do her (or his) job has been seriously wounded, perhaps mortally. It would have been nice, and admirable, if Hill acknowledged this fact of life, the workplace and politics, but as you can see from her resignation letter below, she did not:

Ugh.

Hill appears to be taking no responsibility for her fate at all. This was a “rising star” in the Democratic Party firmament? Yechh.  Continue reading

An Excellent Analysis Of The Impeachment-As-Coup Attempt Now Underway

As an ethicist, I frequently have to remind my clients that I will not give legal opinions. That’s not my job, though I am a licensed attorney. I know I sometimes venture into law as well as other areas that I have a more than casual interest and knowledge of, such as Constitutional law, history, theater, and popular culture, but there are topics covered here by necessity that require me to opine beyond my primary expertise to an uncomfortable extent.

I have especially wrestled with this problem regarding the recent impeachment assualt by the Democrats, “the resistance,” and the news media, which are essentially the “axis of unethical conduct” in this matter. (I will henceforth use the shorthand AUC.) A half written explication of what is going on—“What’s going on here?” is the starting point for most ethics analysis, after all—is sitting in my drafts file, causing anxiety like an unpaid debt. Thus I am relieved and grateful for the Wall Street Journal column that was published over the weekend, an analysis by David B. Rivkin Jr., Elizabeth Price Foley titled This Impeachment Subverts the Constitution.”

I am relieved, because the column is remarkably consistent with my own conclusions and analysis. See? “I’m smart! I’m not dumb like everyone says!”

I have been writing on Ethics Alarms that the efforts to de-legitimize the election and Presidency of Donald Trump have constituted a destructive attack on the Constitution and the American system of government literally from the moment Trump won the 2016 election, and I have been chronicling how, despite my desire to write about non-political matters and despite the fact that this assignment has hurt traffic here and gotten my blog banned from Facebook. I consider it a matter of integrity, responsibility, and civic duty, because the actions of the AUC represent the most important, damaging, wide-spread and perilous unethical conduct to take place in the United States since Watergate, and perhaps longer.

Read the entire article, please. I will point you to some if its important and, as I see them, accurate observations:

  • “Democrats have been seeking to impeach Mr. Trump since the party took control of the House, though it isn’t clear for what offense….The effort is akin to a constitutionally proscribed bill of attainder—a legislative effort to punish a disfavored person. The Senate should treat it accordingly.”

Exactly. I described the effort as akin to a bill of attainder in an argument on Facebook about a week ago.

  • “House Democrats have discarded the Constitution, tradition and basic fairness merely because they hate Mr. Trump. Because the House has not properly begun impeachment proceedings, the president has no obligation to cooperate. The courts also should not enforce any purportedly impeachment-related document requests from the House. (A federal district judge held Friday that the Judiciary Committee is engaged in an impeachment inquiry and therefore must see grand-jury materials from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but that ruling will likely be overturned on appeal.) And the House cannot cure this problem simply by voting on articles of impeachment at the end of a flawed process.”

This is how I see the situation as well. It is part of the despicable plot that Democrats will force the Supreme Court to overturn their machinations, probably in a ideologically split vote, thus allowing them to attack the legitimacy of SCOTUS, demand court-packing measures, and further unravel public trust in our institutions.

  • “There is no evidence on the public record that Mr. Trump has committed an impeachable offense. The Constitution permits impeachment only for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The Founders considered allowing impeachment on the broader grounds of “maladministration,” “neglect of duty” and “mal-practice,” but they rejected these reasons for fear of giving too much power to Congress. The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” includes abuses of power that do not constitute violations of criminal statutes. But its scope is limited.”

The misinformation being embedded in American minds on this point is frightening. I keep challenging the Facebook Borg’s daily references to the President’s “crimes,” and get back “emoluments,” allegations of conduct that occurred before the election, and election law theories that have no precedent and that are desperate at best. The general attitude of the AUC and its cheering section is that the President has committed crimes because that’s the kind of guy he is. This was the relentless argument of an anti-Trump stalwart whose derangement ultimately sent him around the bend and off the approved commenters list. It is also the orientation of the majority of columnists who populate the New York Times op-ed pages. What they are selling is bigotry: a presumption of guilt because of who and what an individual is, rather than being based on what an individual has done.

  • “One theory is that by asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Kyiv’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and potential corruption by Joe Biden and his son Hunter was unlawful “interference with an election.” There is no such crime in the federal criminal code (the same is true of “collusion”). Election-related offenses involve specific actions such as voting by aliens, fraudulent voting, buying votes and interfering with access to the polls. None of these apply here.Nor would asking Ukraine to investigate a political rival violate campaign-finance laws, because receiving information from Ukraine did not constitute a prohibited foreign contribution. The Mueller report noted that no court has ever concluded that information is a ‘thing of value,” and the Justice Department has concluded that it is not.'”

Thank you, thank you, thank you. A competent news media should have made this clear immediately, because it is true.

  • “More fundamentally, the Constitution gives the president plenary authority to conduct foreign affairs and diplomacy, including broad discretion over the timing and release of appropriated funds. Many presidents have refused to spend appropriated money for military or other purposes, on grounds that it was unnecessary, unwise or incompatible with their priorities…Presidents often delay or refuse foreign aid as diplomatic leverage, even when Congress has authorized the funds. Disbursing foreign aid—and withholding it—has historically been one of the president’s most potent foreign-policy tools, and Congress cannot impair it….In 2013, Barack Obama, in a phone conversation with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, said he would slash hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic assistance until Cairo cooperated with U.S. counter-terrorism goals. The Obama administration also withheld millions in foreign aid and imposed visa restrictions on African countries, including Uganda and Nigeria, that failed to protect gay rights.”

There is more. The impeachment Plan S,   the Ukraine narrative, (the complete, updated list was last published here) is no more legitimate or honest than its family members A-R, and all should be considered unconscionable means to an undemocratic end, a soft coup to remove an elected President without the necessity of an election. Rivkin and Foley have performed a great service by laying out so much crucial (and under-publicized) information clearly and persuasively.

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Pointer: Glenn Reynolds