Category Archives: Law & Law Enforcement

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/19/2018: Double Standards And Greed

Time for a Good Morning song!

1. Life on Facebook. A lawyer friend who should know better posted a comment that began, “You wouldn’t think that posting something like ‘Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong’ would be controversial, but in almost every case where one of my friends has said something like this, at least one of his/her friends feels the need to argue about it…” Later he compared the statement “Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong” to “Torturing kittens is wrong.” I told him that as a lawyer, he should be objecting to and explaining the transparent deceit of “Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong”—a half-truth designed to stifle argument, not attacking those who are correctly pointing out the emotionalism and dishonesty of that tactic.

I should count up the number of lawyers whose comments on Facebook on this issue are pure “Think of the children!” with no substantive legal and policy analysis whatsoever. My friend also made the typical suggestion that only Trump voters—you know: morons—would argue with “Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong” as a fair and conclusive verdict on the current policy.

2. Theranos.  Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, as well as Ramesh Balwani, the company’s former president ( and Holme’s love interest, were indicted yesterday on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud. The Theranos debacle is a classic corporate fraud story on par with Enron, if not as wide-reaching.

I missed it. This is embarrassing for an ethics blog, and for someone who thinks he scours various news sources thoroughly enough to catch the major ethics stories. I blame Donald Trump, but I also blame the various news sources in 2015 that chose to report fake news, trivial news, future news and theoretical news rather than give a major corporate scandal the attention it deserved. If I missed the story, and I’m looking for it, what chance do normal people with sensible occupations have?

The civil fraud charges in the case were filed in March by the Securities and Exchange Commission, though the scandal had broken earlier, when the Wall Street Journal published its 2015 exposé.  Holmes and Balwani allegedly raised millions of dollars using false statements about how well the company’s  blood-testing device worked, while using  a contract with the Department of Defense and a partnership between Theranos and the pharmacy chain Walgreens to con pharmacies, doctors and the public. The apparent scam created a Business of Cards that, at its peak, had more than 800 employees and a paper valuation of $9 billion.

There is a book out about the Theranos scandal by the reporter who broke the story… Continue reading

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The Controversy Over Separating Children From Illegal Immigrants At The Border: What’s Going On Here?

The current political controversy over the Trump Administration policy of separating parents from children at the Mexican border when they are apprehended for illegal attempts to cross into the United States involves many ethical issues, and, as usual, conduct and rhetoric that confounds ethical analysis, perhaps intentionally.

With most complex ethics problems, the starting point is to ask, “What’s going on here?” This is especially useful in this case, where the news media, open-borders advocacy groups, and various political faction are intentionally steering the debate, and public comprehension, into box canyons of pure emotion.

So: What’s going on here?

 Despite the fact that its editorial page is cheer-leading the box canyon effort, and its journalists are coloring reports on it with their partisan biases, the New York Times has provided the facts, if you can ignore the static Here is the main one:

“For more than a decade, even as illegal immigration levels fell over all, seasonal spikes in unauthorized border crossings had bedeviled American presidents in both political parties, prompting them to cast about for increasingly aggressive ways to discourage migrants from making the trek…Last month, facing a sharp uptick in illegal border crossings, Mr. Trump ordered a new effort to criminally prosecute anyone who crossed the border unlawfully — with few exceptions for parents traveling with their minor children.”

That’s  “all” that has happened. Illegal immigration is...illegal. The Trump Administration has decided to treat breaking immigration laws like the country is supposed to treat all law-breaking—as the crime that it is. The law-breakers are arrested. When law-breakers are arrested for robbery, murder, rape, fraud, embezzlement…anything, really…they are separated from their children. This is not remarkable, nor are the law enforcement officers typically blamed. If a man takes his child to a burglary and he is arrested, then the child is going to be, to use a phrase I am seeing too much lately, “ripped from his arms.” If he is a citizen with a resident family or not a single parent, and the child is also a citizen or in the country legally, the child will be handed into the care of a relative. If not, then that child may also wind up in the custody of a government facility.

The children are being taken from the parents because children are always taken from parents when parents are arrested for a serious crime. What is unusual, and making this situation vulnerable to emotional manipulation on the level of the gun-control debate  in which “Think of the children!” instantly lobotomizes a large segment of the public and obliterates all ability to process reality, are several factors:

  • Criminals don’t typically take their children with them when they break laws.
  • Illegal immigrants can claim to be legitimate “asylum-seekers,” even though most of them are not.
  • Progressives, Democrats and those who aren’t paying much attention either refuse to acknowledge or don’t realize that entering the country illegally is a crime.
  • The illegal border-crossers are, in many if not all cases, using their children to create exactly this political firestorm. Think of them as the equivalent of human shields.
  • Previous Presidents have been willing to be extorted through this emotional black mail–Think of the children!–to  neglect enforcement of immigration laws. This is, in great part, how the United States ended up with 11-13 million illegal immigrants.
  • It is also how the U.S. ended up with President Trump.

Under President Obama, and presumably Bush as well, children trying to cross the border illegally were also held, just with their parents rather than without them, in a politically motivated exception to usual criminal enforcement practice. Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/18/2018: Moral Luck, Non-Hypocrisy, Hypocrisy, Thomas Jefferson And WKRP

Good morning, Monticello, everyone…

1 The Inspector General’s Report and Tales of Moral Luck:  Stop me if you’ve heard this one: FBI staffer Peter Strzok, working on both the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russian collusion investigation, received a text from Lisa Page, Strzok’s co-worker and adulterous lover, that read, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok replied, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

 September of 2016, the FBI discovered that Clinton’s illicit emails had somehow ended up on the laptop of disgraced former Congressman. Anthony Weiner, who is married to Hillary’s top aide and confidante, Huma Abedin.  Strzok, we learn in Michael Horowitz’s report, was instrumental in  the decision not to pursue the lead, arguing that the Russia investigation was a “higher priority” at the time.”We found this explanation unpersuasive and concerning,” the report concluded. The laptop was available from September 29 until October 27, when “people outside the FBI” finally forced  the FBI to act on the evidence. “The FBI had all the information it needed on September 29 to obtain the search warrant that it did not seek until more than a month later,” the IG report stated. “The FBI’s neglect had potentially far-reaching consequences.”

“Comey told the OIG that, had he known about the laptop in the beginning of October and thought the email review could have been completed before the election, it may have affected his decision to notify Congress,” the IG report says, and also states,

“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over follow up on the [Clinton] investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.”

Got that? The IG believes that anti-Trump, pro-Hillary bias led Strzok to delay the Weiner laptop investigation, and it may have backfired, helping Trump and hurting Clinton rather than the reverse. But the fact that moral luck took a hand and foiled his intent doesn’t change the fact that this is strong evidence that partisan bias DID infect the Clinton investigation, and probably the Russian inquiry as well. This makes the media’s spin that the IG report dispels accusations of bias even more unconscionable.

That Strzok’s biased and unethical tactics to help Hillary intimately failed spectacularly doesn’t change or mitigate the fact that a prime FBI staff member was intentionally trying yo manipulate the investigation for partisan reasons.

2. The Web thinks you’re an awful person.  A tease from a “sponsored site” in the margins of my NBC Sports baseball feed  says, “Jan Smithers starred in hit sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Try not to smile when you see what she looks like now!” Wait…what’s that’s supposed to mean? Is she a circus clown? No, these and similar come-ons apparently assume that normal people love mocking formerly beautiful young stars when they no longer look young. “Heh, heh..well, Jan Smithers, I guess you’re not so hot now, are you? What kind of person takes pleasure in the physical decay of others just because they were once gorgeous?

Actually, the photo of Jan Smithers did make me smile, because unlike, say, Jane Fonda,

…who at 80 has allowed plastic surgeons to make her look like one of the fragile immortal female ghouls who shatter into pieces at the end of “Death Becomes Her,” Smithers (who is younger than me and a decade and a half younger than Hanoi Jane) has allowed herself to age naturally, and by my admittedly biased lights, is lovely still: Continue reading

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Father’s Day Morning Warm-Up, 6/17/18: More On The Horowitz Report

Happy Father’s Day, fathers!

(What a shame you all belong to a gender that is such an inferior, toxic, useless and exploitative feature of society!)

I’m sorry that yesterday was so light on content here; I was occupied from early morn to late afternoon at a distant funeral (more on that in a later post), and then sufficient fried after  I arrived home that I couldn’t brink myself to post….especially since virtually nobody reads the blog after about noon on summer Saturdays. And now I am hopelessly backed up…

1. “Trust us because you need to…Ann Althouse made what I consider a perceptive, cynical and provocative observation related to the Inspector General’s report on the Clinton email investigation. She wrote in part,

FBI Attorney 2 was asked what he meant by that “Viva le resistance,” and he said:

“So, this is in reference to an ongoing subject. And then following that, like I interpreted [FBI Attorney 1’s] comment to me as being, you know, just her and I [sic] socially and as friends discussing our particular political views, to which I see that as more of a joking inquiry from her. It’s not something along the lines of where I’m not committed to the U.S. Government. I obviously am and, you know, work to do my job very well and to continue to, to work in that capacity. It’s just the, the lines bled through here just in terms of, of my personal, political view in terms of, of what particular preference I have. But, but that doesn’t have any, any leaning on the way that I, I maintain myself as a professional in the FBI.”

Obviously, he’s just asserting what he must (and what the Executive Summary will also assert) that he has political opinions but they don’t bleed into his work because he is a professional…….It really is a convention to believe that people can do that. You can be cynical or skeptical or just plain realistic and think that’s not how human minds function, but it’s a fiction we actually do need to believe in (at least up to a point) if we are going to put human beings in a position of trust.

The IG said that it showed “extremely poor judgment and a gross lack of professionalism” to use the FBI’s systems and devices to send these messages, because “It is essential that the public have confidence that the work of the FBI is done without bias or appearance of partiality, and that those engaged in it follow the facts and law wherever they may lead and without any agenda or desired result other than to see that justice is done.”

Perhaps in the interest in maintaining what is “essential,” the IG “found no documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees expressed in their text messages and instant messages to the specific Midyear investigative decisions.” I notice the words “directly” and “no documentary or testimonial evidence.” You can read the report yourself and see the basis for inference and suspicion, but you’re on your own. There’s plenty of evidence that does shake our confidence that the FBI does its work without bias and without any agenda or desired result. But — the IG encourages us to think — it’s also possible to maintain your confidence, so why don’t you do that? Because your confidence is essential!

This is, however, why government employees are forbidden by law to engage in conduct that creates “the appearance of impropriety.” These exchanges obviously did that. Some one like “Attorney 2” can claim that the fact that he hated Trump and supported Hillary had no effect on his required fair and objective performance of the job, but we are asked to believe that on faith. We hear the same thing from defenders of the blatantly biased news media: true, they are 95% Democrats, but they’re professionals! Nay, there’s no bias there! This would be easier to believe if the actual reporting didn’t seem so positive in the direction of those they are biased for, and so negative when dealing with those they are biased against.

Ann calls the presumption of professional objectivity a “convention,” which is another way of saying “myth.” Continue reading

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Ethics Dilemma: What Can Be Done About People Like This? [Poll Included]

Hold on to your skulls…

Social media can spread stupidity like a viral plague. Is there anything  ethical and constitutional  that can be done to protect the imperiled children addled  mothers like this may raise?

[Related Ethics Alarms posts here (feeding kittens a vegan diet) and here (dogs).]

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Bioethics, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, Social Media

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/15/18: Spin Wars (Continued)

Hello again…

3. Spin of the Year: James Comey’s op ed in the New York Times.

Notes:

  • Comey writes,

“First, the inspector general’s team went through the F.B.I.’s work with a microscope and found no evidence that bias or improper motivation affected the investigation, which I know was done competently, honestly and independently.”

How lawyerly. This is deceit: a factual statement devised to deceive. Most will read this to mean that the investigation found no evidence of bias or improper motivation..\  That is untrue. In fact, as I have already pointed out in earlier posts, there is a great deal of evidence of bias. There is no  evidence that the bias affected the investigation, except the circumstantial evidence that the results of the investigation were consistent with the bias.

  • He writes of the IG department’s report,

“Its detailed report should serve to both protect and build the reservoir of trust and credibility necessary for the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. to remain strong and independent and to continue their good work for our country.”

What is this, confirmation bias run amuck? Rose-colored glasses? In one of its most consequential and high-profile cases, the report shows that the FBI was mismanaged, leaked to the news media, had unprofessional agents deeply involved with the matter, and did not follow its own procedures. This report will undermine trust in the agency, and should,

4. This is, broadly speaking, a pack of rationalizations…Lawfare, a Brookings ally, published an analysis called Nine Takeaways From the Inspector General’s Report on the Clinton Email Investigation.

I could use it in a seminar on rationalizations and equivocation. Behold the Nine: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/15/18: Spin Wars (Part I)

Good Morning…

…from a galaxy not nearly far enough away…

1. Quick takes on a remarkable 51 minutes on the White House lawn. I just, and I mean just, finished watching President Trump’s spontaneous press conference on the White House lawn, standing within easy spitting distance—brave, given how much so many of these people detest him—of a pack of reporters as Fox’s Baby Doocy held a microphone for him, and picking questions, often hostile, out of the cacophony. Has any previous President done something like this? I’ve never seen such a thing.

If you can’t admire this performance, your anti-Trump virus is raging out of control. I miss the reflex, knee-jerk Democrats and progressives who have, I hope temporarily, taken a hiatus from Ethics Alarms because, in my assessment, they no longer can muster credible defenses of the way this President has been treated by the news media and the resistance, so they have retreated to the warm cocoon of the left-wing echo chamber. Trump’s appearance this morning as well as the Inspector General’s report on the Clinton email investigation are integrity tests. I’d like to think the otherwise intelligent and analytical progressives here would pass them. Ducking the challenge is not a good sign.

Of course, Trump was Trump. As I wrote long ago, constantly harping on what we all know is wrong with Trump is boring and pointless. (See: The Julie Principle) He exaggerated. He spoke in infuriatingly inexact and colloquial word clouds. He celebrated himself and pronounced himself brilliant. I know, I know: if his very existence in the universe is offensive to you, then this performance would be painful. (When Donald Trump isn’t the elected President of the United States, his existence  will probably be offensive to me once again, just as as it was right up to November 8, 2016.) However, the fact is that President Trump showed mastery of the situation. He managed the chaos and maintained his dignity while a generally angry and adversarial mob was shouting at him and interrupting him. I run interactive seminars with lawyers for a living, and I am qualified to say this: what he did is difficult, and he handled it very, very well. Anyone who watches those 51 minutes and refuses to say, “Well, he’s not senile, demented, unstable, dumb or teetering on the brink of madness, I’ve got to give him that much”  had disqualified themselves as a credible Trump critic. He was in command, quick, calm, and in his own way, masterful.

The response of the anti-Trump news media will be to “factcheck” him. He said, for example, that the IG report “exonerated” him, as the pack screamed, “But the report doesn’t discuss the Russian investigation at all!”  This is the old, dishonest and so boring, “Trump is lying when he expresses his feelings and impressions in the cloudy, semi-inarticulate imprecision that he always speaks in, which we will pretend isn’t what we already know it to be.” Of course the report doesn’t formally or actually exonerate him. It does,  in his view (and mine), show a corrupt and untrustworthy culture in the FBI and the Obama Justice Department that treated the Clinton investigation in exactly the opposite fashion that they have used to investigate him. This means, to Trump, that the Mueller investigation is a political hit job, and he regards that as the equivalent of exoneration. Well, he can regard it as cheesecake, if he chooses. His opinion is not “a lie.” (I am being sued, you may recall, by an Ethics Alarms commenter who maintains in his complaint that opinions are lies, so I am rather sensitive on this point.)

Several of Trump’s responses were succinct and effective, as well as infuriating to the anti-Trump journalists, I’m sure. He said that President Obama lost the Crimea when he refused to enforce his own “red line,” thus destroying his credibility and causing Putin to correctly assume that he could move on the Ukraine without consequences. True. He said that he was not worried that Michael Cohen would cooperate with the Mueller investigation, because he, the President, had done nothing wrong. (Headlines like “Will Cohen flip on Trump?” over the last few days imply that there is something to flip about, because the Left, “the resistance,” the news media and those AWOL Ethics Alarms readers have assumed from the beginning that Trump is guilty of some dire and impeachable conduct. Continue reading

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