Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 3/31/2019: The NCAA Tournament, Colbert, Chris Rock, And Bullshit

Good Afternoon!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad for some reason, and that was his favorite hymn. It’s an Easter hymn, but our church always had the choir sing it on the special spring service. My unusually musically talented friends knocked it out of the park at my father’s funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery. It also has the advantage of being composed by Arthur Sullivan, just like “Onward Christian Soldiers!” and “Tit Willow.”

1. Fill out your brackets, and enable corruption. It’s the NCAA tournament again, and again, helping the schools and the NCAA and the networks make money off of the destructive and corrupt culture of big time college basketball is ethically indefensible. The New York Times wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but it did recently write about the dissonance, beginning,

Every March, millions of Americans fill out brackets (more than 40 million people, by one count), cheer the underdogs and tune in on television. Others buy tickets to the games, wear jerseys of their favorite teams and let wins and losses dictate their mood. Yet fans who follow college basketball closely know about the game’s intractable relationship to corruption. Even many who come just for March Madness must know that the real madness is not always on the court.

A wide-ranging and fear-inducing F.B.I. investigation into college basketball recruiting continues to ensnare big-name colleges and little-known crooks. It is why Louisiana State, for example, is playing without its head coach, Will Wade, and why Auburn recently had an assistant coach suspended and a former assistant plead guilty of conspiracy for accepting bribes.

This week, the lawyer Michael Avenatti was charged with trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike in exchange for concealing information he had about illicit payments to recruits. He has since revealedsome allegations on Twitter….

The Times doesn’t bother to go into the related problem of how basketball distorts academic goals, sucks away resources that should be used for education, and usually leaves its athletes no better educated than they were when they arrived. As you might expect, the Times’ writer is too ethically incompetent to provide and enlightenment. For example, he quotes one ethicist as saying, “…Someone thinks, ‘Gosh, this is unethical, but I love it so much, and my friends and I have such a good time rooting and cheering that I’m going to participate anyway.’” That description could also be used to justify gang rape. Can we have a little nuanced clarification? Then the Times writer, John Branch, offers these ill-devised analogies:

“Such internal debates permeate our culture. Is it O.K. to dance to a Michael Jackson song, to laugh to a Louis C.K. joke, to watch a movie produced by Harvey Weinstein? To cheer for football knowing what it may be doing to players’ brains?”

Let’s see: wrong, wrong,wrong, and…right.  1 for 4.

A Michael Jackson song isn’t corrupt, or unethical: it’s art. He’s dead: dancing to the song does not enable the misconduct. A joke is a joke regardless of who tells it, and again, laughing at a C.K. joke doesn’t make it more or less likely that he’s going to masturbate in front of a female colleague. Workplace misconduct doesn’t taint the work product, and nobody has claimed that movies themselves are culturally corrupting, or that Weinstein’s films harmed the actors in them.  Cheering for football is a legitimate comparison, because the sport itself is the problem, just like college basketball itself is the problem.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/29/2019: Good Kool-Aid, Bad Kool-Aid

Good morning!

1. No, it’s not yet clear what happened in the Jussie Smollett debacle, just that  whatever it was, it was unethical as hell. Smollett is no less guilty of faking a hate crime than he always was; the evidence is just as overwhelming; and the fools lining up to support him are asking for trouble. For example, the writers for Smollett’s show (it seems likely that it is no longer his show, and the producers would be certifiably mad to let him back on the air) seem to be under the delusion that charges were dropped against the African-American actor because there wasn’t evidence to try him. That is not what happened, whatever happened. But here is “Empire” writer Cameron Johnson  tweeting to a Chicago-based reporter  who has been covering the case since it first broke in January.

No, in fact everything reported about Smollett—that he faked the attack, lied to police and the news media, and that the two men he recruited and paid to carry out the hoax with him have fingered Smollett—appears to be true. Meanwhile, the NAACP is going forward with Smollett’s nomination for an award for his work on Empire. I wouldn’t put it past them to let him win, meaning that they would be applauding a divisive–but woke! And gay! And black!—hate crime hoaxer.

So again, what’s going on here? The former chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama had contacted Cook County prosecutor Kim Foxx about the case on behalf of a member of Smollett’s family.  Foxx is an openly racialized African-American prosecutor whose past words and conduct suggest that she might adopt the Sharpton-like theory that the fact that a hate crime is a hoax is less important than the fact that it could have been true. Also, prosecuting Smollett could have sent another black man to prison, and Foxx is on the record as wanting to do everything she can to avoid that result as often as possible.

Dismissals after grand jury indictments when there is no new exculpatory evidence usually require a defendant to accept responsibility, stay out of trouble for at least six months, and make restitution. None of this happened. Smollett not only denied responsibility, he again proclaimed his innocence . He was required to forfeit his bond, which would never be required if he was actually innocent based on the evidence. The state’s attorney’s office cited 16 hours of “community service” as a mitigating factor, but again, if he is innocent, why would that matter? Smollett did that work volunteering at the headquarters of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Then Smollett’s lawyer denied that any community service was required as a condition of the dismissal of his charges.

Prosecutors announced preemptively that the record in the case would be sealed, and there is no precedent for immediately sealing a criminal case involving an adult, even if a defendant is found not guilty. Defendants usually have to file a motion to seal their case, and the police are given the opportunity to contest the motion.

The Associated Press is reporting that the city will seek $130,000 from “ Smollett to cover the costs of the investigation into his hoax, which means that police are still certain that he is guilty.

It almost feels like this is a deliberate parody of the Mueller Report fiasco, designed to suggest that the situations of Smollett and President Trump are similar: both guilty, and both “exonerated” falsely.

The Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association has released a statement condemning the whatever -it-was in the strongest terms.

2. How do we get the news media and the public to stop paying attention to celebrities and actors when they are off script? These people are, as a group, neither especially informed, well-educated, or trained in critical thinking. Yet they have outsized metaphorical bullhorns, and influence fans to adopt unethical practices and irresponsible ideas. Here is “Captain America” star Chris Evans telling an interviewer that if Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a supporter of the President of the United States, he will “cut ties” with him, whatever that means. His attitude means, however, that he would have American society divided into warring camps that never speak to each other. In a fawning profile by the New York Times, we get the diminutive actor’s policy wisdom in comments like this, in which he explains why  he will campaign for Bernie Sanders, as he did in 2016:

“If you look back on that election, a lot of his progressive ideas are accepted now. Like free college education. I didn’t go to any college. Forgive the debt, so people can live their lives and not feel they’re under a wet blanket. Let’s let the sun shine. We have a beautiful country. We got a lot of resources. You know, Medicare for all. What’s the big deal? Why not open that up?”

Yes, he’s a moron….and a moron that the Times is encouraging trusting citizens to take seriously.

3.  Scary, if even half-accurate. Over at the Epoch Times, Jeff Carlson (who is an accountant, and apparently a diligent researcher) lays out the whole case for a  “deep State” effort to try to stop Donald Trump from being elected President, and then to overthrow him once he was. It begins,

“Efforts by high-ranking officials in the CIA, FBI, Department of Justice (DOJ), and State Department to portray President Donald Trump as having colluded with Russia were the culmination of years of bias and politicization under the Obama administration.”

Some of his case is the Kool-Aid I was accused of drinking when I reported (accurately) the implications of the irregularities in the FISA warrant process used to plant an informer in the Trump campaign. It is extremely ironic that the same people who threw tantrums here over fact-based suspicions regarding the “resistance” efforts within the government were guzzling the vile Kool-Aid that Donald Trump had conspired with Russia. I was right, they were wrong, and they were insulting while being wrong. If they had any courage and integrity, they would come back here and admit it.

I misjudged them, and their character.

Pre-Red Sox Opening Day Ethics Warm-Up, 3/28/2019: A Jerk And A Fick

Happy Day!

Just got home from a very well-received legal ethics seminar in time to get off a post, walk Rugby, pull on the ol’ Depends and settle in while the Boston Red Sox beat the Seattle Mariners in their first game defending their 2018 World Championship…

1. Humble Talent is back. Humble Talent, an Ethics Alarms  Commenter of the Year a few years back and one of the all-time outstanding participants in the ethics wars here, just registered his first comment in almost four months. Mu joy and relief are unalloyed. Welcome home, my friend.

2. A Keith Olbermann note. If you’ll forgive me for mentioning one of the biggest jerks in captivity twice in a day, Olbermann managed to enhance his reputation with this display of mega-jerkness. A Mississippi hunter  shot an unusual turkey completely legally, and KO decided that this was sufficient justification to ruin his life…

The editor of the paper had the proper bemused response, writing, “Keith Olbermann says Brian Broom should be fired for writing this story. What was I thinking? I guess I should have fired our outdoors writer for writing about a hunter killing an unusual turkey during turkey hunting season.” What kind of human being calls on the social media mob to make someone’s life  a living hell because he engaged in a legal act harming no one that that human being disagrees with? A really bad one—arrogant, cruel, irresponsible, and unfair. The Washington Free Beacon got a statement from ESPN, which currently employs Keith (when he’s in the mood, he’s an unusually astute and amusing baseball reporter), and they responded, “We have spoken to him about not making personal attacks.” Gee, that doesn’t seem to be working, does it?

3. A Fick sighting! Almost as rare as a white turkey is an Ethics Alarms Fick, a special designation for the peculiar ( and disgusting) breed of unethical person who is unethical, knows it, and rubs it in everyone else’s face, without regret or shame.

The Fick is pop star Cardi B, whose old Instagram video that resurfaced recently features her saying that she used to drug and rob men. The video, which Cardi says was made three years ago,  features the singer reminiscing about the time when she worked as a stripper — a time when, she said,

“I had to go strip, I had to go, ‘Oh yeah, you want to fuck me? Yeah, let’s go back to this hotel,'” she said an an Instagram Live broadcast filmed three years ago. “And I drugged niggas up and I robbed them. That’s what I used to do.”

When the immediate reaction was a series of attacks on Twitter, Cardi B doubled down, making it clear that she was perfectly at peace with her past crimes, tweeting to critics,

I never claim to be a angel I always been a street bitch Ya be glorifying this street rappers that talk and do that grimmey street shit but they can’t stand a street bitch!

and…

IM THAT BITCH THEY LOVE TO HATE,IM THAT BITCH THEY HATE TO LOVE ❤️ 😝and I love it 😍🥰🥰

Theeeeeen the criticism got a little too hot, and apparently the hip hop star’s publicist pointed out that defiance in this case might not be the smartest strategy. So then we got this:

Is that a wonderful parade of rationalizations and ethics rot, or what?

  • Nobody has to drug men (or women)and rob them.  That’s not an “option” for anyone with a conscience. No, she did not have to harm and rob men “to survive.” Millions of people in dire circumstances find legal ways to survive that don’t require harming others.
  • The men she drugged and robbed were “conscious and aware” that they were going to be drugged and robbed? Does anyone believe that, including Cardi B?
  • “Right or wrong”? “Whether they were poor choices”? Psst-–moron! It was wrong, and they were poor choices!
  • “I never claim to be perfect” is an especially dumb variation of Rationalization #19. The Perfection Diversion, or “Nobody’s Perfect!” and “Everybody makes mistakes!” We’re supposed to applaud because someone who drugged and robbed men doesn’t make the bananas claim that she’s perfect?  I bet she never said she was a walnut, either. So what?
  • “I always speak my truth” means she wouldn’t know truth from a bag of gummi worms. “My truth” is signature significance for an adherent of ethical relativity: whatever she thinks is right, is.  Cardi B. is a narcissist and a sociopath.

Several commentators claim that this junk shows that Cardi regrets her past. Boy, I wish I had more Brooklyn Bridges to sell. I doubt that she even wrote this herself. I also doubt that those sympathetic critics noticed what she tweeted before she was told to stop doubling down. Meanwhile, what would happen to a male singer who admitted that he needed to drug and rob women to survive?

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 3/26/19: The “What’s Going On Here?” Edition

Hello, Spring!

1. On the down side, “The Smollett Report” Explain this one: Attorneys for “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett announced today that all charges against him have been dropped.Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts related to making a false report that he was attacked by two men. The two men were found and implicated Smollett, and the evidence that it was hoax appeared overwhelming.  A minimum condition of dropping cases requires some acceptance of responsibility, but the actor still professes that he’s innocent. “I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one,” he said.

What’s going on here? I have no idea, but the word “Chicago” keeps popping up in my head.”

2. Talk about a parallel universe! I had never seen this [Pointer: Althouse]: President Obama’s statement after the 2016 election:

“You take the baton, you run your best race, and hopefully, by the time you hand it off, you’re a little further ahead. You made a little progress. I want to make sure that hand-off is well executed because, ultimately, we’re all on the same team….

Everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first.

This was a long and hard-fought campaign. A lot of our fellow Americans are exultant today. A lot of Americans are less so, but that’s the nature of campaigns. That’s the nature of democracy. It is hard and sometimes contentious and noisy. It’s not always inspiring.”

“Sometimes you lose an argument. Sometimes you lose an election. We try really hard to persuade people that we’re right, and then people vote, and then we lose. We learn from our mistakes. We do some reflection. We lick our wounds. We brush ourselves off. We get back in the arena. We go at it. We try even harder the next time.”

Continue reading

Pacific Coast Time Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/20/19: Guys and Dolls

Good morning from San Diego!

Well, I was speaking to 600 seats just now, but only about 300 lawyers. Several came up to me afterward, inspired or stimulated, and thankful. In ethics, as in the theater, I have come to adopt William Saroyan’s creed that if just one person sings your song, your life as an artist has meaning. Like Saroyan, I have come to adopt that out of self-preservation and to stave off insanity.

1. It looks like a Saturday Night Live writer plagiarized at least two skits this season. The story is here.

The combination of SNL’s insane schedule, the pressure to be different and edgy week after week, and the temptation of YouTube made this inevitable. The rules on borrowing, adapting, copying comedy material has always been a gray area, often settled by the good faith and collegiality—or not—of the comics themselves. By accident, I just saw an old “Everybody Loves Raymond” episode which was an obvious rip-off of an even older Dick Van Dyke Show episode in which Laura writes a children’s book, and professional writer Rob offers to help her improve it.? Plagiarism? Comedy skits in vaudeville were passed around like the flu: Abbot and Costello weren’t the first to do the “Who’s On First?” routine, they just did it so much better than anyone else that they owned it. Was Lucy plagiarizing Red Skelton with her “Vitameatavegimin” skit, where a pitch woman gets drunk doing multiple takes of a TV ad that requires her to drink the alcohol-laced product, when Red had been doing the same routine for years as “Guzzler’s Gin”? Continue reading

Lunch time Ethics Warm-Up, 3/19/19: Madea, Plan C, And More.

Yum yum!

Winging off to San Diego in a couple of hours, so be on the alert for an Open Forum while I’m in the air. It’s amazing: I’m going to spend two and a half days of air travel and hanging around a hotel and airports to give a 75 minute legal ethics presentation, albeit to a mob of over 600 lawyers.

1.  From the Ethics Alarms double standards files…

Let’s see: this film has gross black stereotypes and a man in drag, but not in a good, transgender way. I assume nobody will disagree that if this film was made by a white man, it would be received with horror and declared racist, and the white filmmaker would be apologizing to everyone and everything in sight.

2. The return of Plan C! As most recently noted here, Plan C is the obscure and outdated Emoluments Clause. In a series of tweets reviving the specious accusation  President Trump is violating the Constitution by owning businesses while he is President, something never anticipated by the Founders and an issue that was barely discussed by the news media during the campaign, Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics who long ago declared himself a “resistance” ally,condemned the Embassy of Kuwait’s decision to celebrate its National Liberation Day at the hotel on Feb. 27. He wrote,

 “Kuwait got the message. Turkey got the message. Saudi Arabia got the message. The Philippines got the message. The question is: Which of our allies will stand with the American people, and which will seek to enrich our corrupt President? We will watch. We will remember.”

Oh, eat a bug. Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 8) stipulates that no federal officeholders “shall receive gifts or payments from foreign state or rulers without the consent of Congress.” But payments obviously means pay-offs, and payment for services isn’t a gift. Not are Trump organization receipts payments to the President. I note that Shaub is now a fellow at The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which I used to write about more before I got sick of it. It is the political equivalent of Media Matters, posing as an ethics watchdog when it’s agenda and biases are flagrantly partisan. I regard Shaub using his prior position as authority a breach of ethics: he’s posing as an objective analyst, and he’s not. Indeed, resorting to the silly Emoluments Clause to attack Trump is signature significance. Continue reading

Gayle King, R.Kelly, Journalism Competence And The King’s Pass

For some reason—OK, I think I know the reasons—CBS morning host Gayle King is getting plaudits for mishandling the insane R.Kelly interview last week. The photo below  says it all: Kelly, his reputation and career falling apart in chunks because the years of rumors and accounts of his alleged sexual misconduct with underage girls finally caught up to the hip-hop superstar (thanks to an explosive documentary—hmmm, where have we heard that before?— is standing, shouting, ranting and generally going bonkers as King sits immobile and silent, with her eyes cast down.

There were two exhibitions of the King’s Pass on display in the interview and its aftermath. Kelly, being allowed to behave outrageously on the air was one, for most guests in any setting would be ordered to sit down, act civilly, or leave the studio after such an infantile and threatening display. King was the other, praised for showing that her frequent feminist rhetoric was convenient claptrap, and that she did not have the guts or principle to assert her power over an abusive male when professional ethics demanded it.

I’m not sure which is more unforgivable. CNN said that King’s passivity was a masterclass in journalism. The Washington Post praised her “composure.” She told the New York Times that she was silently thinking, “Don’t walk off the set. Don’t walk off the set.” A competent journalist should have given him a warning, and then had him thrown off the set. A female professional who had the integrity to demonstrate how women should handle male abuse would have demanded that he sit down, apologize, or leave. They train salespeople and operators to push back against abusive customers, but a national TV host doesn’t have the fortitude to act when a guest behaves like a berserk barbarian? Continue reading