1. “Then they came for Professor Turley…” Jonathan Turley, who has distinguished himself throughout the Trump years and the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck with clear, unbiased, non-partisan analysis that generally correctly identifies who is the transgressor and why, was attacked by University of Colorado Law Professor Paul Campos who compared his discussion of possible voting irregularities to Holocaust denial. Turley is measured, as usual, in his criticism, but he is obviously troubled by the continuing trend, writing in part,
“It is part of a wave of intolerance sweeping over our colleges and our newsrooms. It is therefore an ironic moment as someone who has been writing about the growing intolerance of dissenting views on our campuses and efforts to fire academic. Some have been targeted for engaging in what is called “both sides rhetoric” rather than supporting a preferred narrative or viewpoint. Campos is arguing that it “would be appropriate to fire” any professor who stated that we should allow these challenges to be heard even though they have not and are unlikely to produce evidence of systemic fraud to overturn these results. That is a view of academic freedom and viewpoint tolerance shared by some in academia.
I am not the first academic that Campos called to be terminated for his views. In the end, I would defend Campos in his posting such views. Unlike Professor Campos, I do not believe that he should be fired for holding opposing views or even calling for others to be fired. That is the cost of free speech. Indeed, Professor Campos is the cost of free speech.’
And yes, this is exactly what you voted for if you voted for Joe Biden.
In fact, it’s what Professor Turley voted for, as I suspect he did, when he voted for Joe Biden.
2. Regarding another favorite Ethics Alarms blogger…I respect and value Ann Althouse’s opinions and analysis, but boy does she epitomize what’s irresponsible about intellectuals. There is a constant tone on her blog that it’s all just a big cosmic game, nothing really matters much, and all these intellectually inferior people are running around in circles, obsessing over base and minor matters. Meanwhile, Ann is preoccupied by the fact that there’s a “homophone for alibi,” the relative size of statues, and some local interviewer in Lincoln, Nebraska. These matters seem to concern her about as much as the means by which a President was finally taken down, the cracking of our democratic institutions, and the fact that our journalists have become no better than rumor-mongers and partisan assassins.
It’s that studied distance that academics and those over-educated egotists who are full-time frolickers in the playgrounds of the mind display that makes normal people—and me— suspicious of their motives and judgment.
Here is the updated list of iconic movie and TV clips that I turn most frequently to when the circumstances demand.
That’s #25 above, from “Saturday Night Live,” expressing the truth that fixing ethics problems is like sticking one’s finger in a leaking dike...
1. To illustrate the folly of suspending or violating the rule of law, the Constitution, or due process for “the greater good” as it appears to some to be at the time…
From “A Man For All Seasons”:
2. To comment on a strikingly incompetent argument, theory or proposal:
From “Murder by Death”:
3. When I feel I should resist the impulse to attack an ethics miscreant with special vigor, but decide to go ahead anyway…
4. To explain the conduct of some individuals or organizations that cannot be justified by facts, principles of logic, or any other valid motivation:
From “Blazing Saddles”:
5. To illustrate the impulse to respond to injustice and the abuse of power by resorting to symbolic acts of pure defiance, even when they are likely to fail…
From “Animal House”:
6. When a individual abandons integrity or other ethical values for a non-ethical consideration…
From “A Man For All Seasons”:
7. When an individual feigns indignation and disapproval of conduct that he or she has either participated in or enabled:
From : “Casablanca”:
8. Used to signal that a politician, journalist or scholar has intentionally or negligently used such impenetrable rhetoric as to be completely incomprehensible.
From “Blazing Saddles”:
9. When an incident or argument makes no sense whatsoever, or that drives me to the edge of insanity:
From: “The Bridge Over The River Kwai” :
10. When a politician, a pundit or someone else uses a term or word incorrectly to support an unethical action or argument:
From “The Princess Bride” :
11. Warning that a likely event or revelation will contribute to an Ethics Train Wreck already in progress or about to get rolling, or that something is so outrageous that reading or seeing it might prompt cognitive damage in the rational and ethical…
From “Jurassic Park”:
12. Commenting on a particularly incompetent, irresponsible, or otherwise unethical decision with disastrous consequences:
From: “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”:
13. To make the point that deciding who are the “good guys” is often hopelessly subjective.
How about one of my favorites, that only professional singers can pull off? It’s a little bit like the “Star Spangled Banner” that way…and nobody nailed that any better than Whitney…
1. Christmas songs and singers. Pet peeve: playing “My Favorite Things” as a Christmas song. The song’s context in “The Sound of Music” has no connection to Christmas; the lyrics don’t mention it. You might as well say the song is about geese. Then there’s Susan Boyle. One of her Christmas songs turned up on the radio. and I was shocked. The winner of “Britain’s Got Talent” some years back was so hyped, I assumed that she was the second coming of Karen Carpenter. No, her voice was just OK—I know literally dozens of amateur singers who are as good or better— but she looked like Tug Boat Annie, so her singing was called remarkable not because of the product, but the misleading packaging. A Jim Nabors Christmas song also turned up: he was like that. We see the same phenomenon in the Oscars frequently: perfectly average performances are hailed as brilliant and garners awards because nobody thought the actors could be credible in a part at all. Ed Wynn in “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Ann Margaret in “Carnal Knowledge.”
This one reason so few Americans really know what great performing is.
2. Wow–I have to give ethics props to the New York Times and CNN in the same week. CNN’s Dana Bash confronted House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler over the position he asserted when Bill Clinton was facing impeachment in 1998. Nadler said:
There must never be a narrowly voted impeachment or an impeachment substantially supported by one of our major political parties, and largely opposed by the other. Such an impeachment would lack legitimacy, would produce divisiveness and bitterness in our politics for years to come.
Bash asked how Nadler’s current pursuit of impeachment wasn’t hypocritical, as not a single Republican has appears to support impeachment. Good for her.
“So, right now, you are moving forward with impeachment proceedings against a Republican president without support from even one congressional Republican,” Bash asked. “Is it fair to say that this impeachment, in your words from back then, will produce divisiveness and bitterness in our politics for years to come?”
Nadler literally ignored the question, and defaulted to insulting Trump.What could he say? “Sure it will, Dana, but remember, I’m a partisan hack. You expect consistency? Integrity? Don’t be silly.” He also uttered another example of an absurd hyperbole designed to mislead the ignorant members of the public. There’s been a lot of that spewing forth from the coup-mongers lately. Nadler claimed that the Democrats’ case against the President is so “rock solid” that any jury would return a guilty verdict “in about three minutes flat.” Continue reading →
Jonathan Turley ended his epic testimony before the House Judiciary Committee with a flourish. His whole statement was remarkable, leaving no reasonable argument for impeachment standing—but then the now-insatiable desire to undo the 2016 election has never been rational, and it has relied, despicably, on the historical and legal ignorance of the vast majority of the American people. Turley provided an opportunity for responsible citizens to educate themselves: his language was easy and clear, and there were no pompous or especially academic turns of phrase. Nonetheless, few will read or watch the whole thing, allowing the news media, which has exceeded all previous villainy in this three-year long fiasco, to distort and minimize his patriotic achievement. To the degree that they succeed, it is do the detriment of the nation, and its future. Somehow, Turley makes this clear as well, yet does so without the kind of alienating condemnation that I, in his position, would be unable to resist.
No doubt about it, the professor is a far better scholar and advocate than I am, and a brilliantly talented teacher as well. Still, he made me feel good about the analysis I have been presenting here since 2016. I have studied Presidential history for a shockingly long time; I know my impeachment history well, and observed two of the three previous inquiries up close, live and carefully. I have been certain, certain, from the beginning that what we have seen here is an unprecedented crypto-coup, for virtually all the reasons Professor Turley explains. I’m glad to have the legal authority and the meticulous tracking of where the inquisition ran off the rails, but Turley validated the analysis I have given readers here. That came as a relief and a confirmation.
It was naturally a special pleasure that the professor ended his testimony by referencing the scene in the video above, from “A Man for All Seasons,” my favorite ethics moment in any movie, and the clip most often used on Ethics Alarms. He also referenced the story of the Republican Senators who turned on their party and voted to acquit President Andrew Johnson, for me the most memorable chapter of “Profiles in Courage,” the book that introduced me to the topic of ethics when I was 12 years old. Turley quotes one of the Senators who was only slightly mentioned by credited author John Fitzgerald Kennedy, but it’s a stirring quote, and damn any politician or citizen who ignores its message.
Lyman Trumbull (R- Ill.) explained fateful decision to vote against Johnson’s impeachment this way:
“Once set the example of impeaching a President for what, when the excitement of the hour shall have subsided, will be regarded as insufficient causes … no future President will be safe who happens to differ with the majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate …I tremble for the future of my country. I cannot be an instrument to produce such a result; and at the hazard of the ties even of friendship and affection, till calmer times shall do justice to my motives, no alternative is left me…”
Those who endanger the future of my country because of their unrestained anger, hate, confirmation bias, partisan loyalty, prejudice, need to conform, and yes, ignorance and their lack of education, are contemptible. Those who lead them in pursuit of power are worse.
[Turley’s entire statement, with footnotes, is here. The Ethics Alarms edited version is here (Part I); here (PartII); here (Part III); here (Part IV), and here (Part V.) The video is here.]
Allow me to be candid in my closing remarks. I get it. You are mad. The President is mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My Republican friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad. Even my dog is mad . . . and Luna is a golden doodle and they are never mad. We are all mad and where has it taken us? Will a slipshod impeachment make us less mad or will it only give an invitation for the madness to follow in every future administration?
That is why this is wrong. It is not wrong because President Trump is right. His call was anything but “perfect” and his reference to the Bidens was highly inappropriate. It is not wrong because the House has no legitimate reason to investigate the Ukrainian controversy. The use of military aid for a quid pro quo to investigate one’s political opponent, if proven, can be an impeachable offense.
It is not wrong because we are in an election year. There is no good time for an impeachment, but this process concerns the constitutional right to hold office in this term, not the next.
No, it is wrong because this is not how an American president should be impeached. For two years, members of this Committee have declared that criminal and impeachable acts were established for everything from treason to conspiracy to obstruction. However, no action was taken to impeach. Suddenly, just a few weeks ago, the House announced it would begin an impeachment inquiry and push for a final vote in just a matter of weeks. To do so, the House Intelligence Committee declared that it would not subpoena a host of witnesses who have direct knowledge of any quid pro quo. Instead, it will proceed on a record composed of a relatively small number of witnesses with largely second-hand knowledge of the position. The only three direct conversations with President Trump do not contain a statement of a quid pro quo and two expressly deny such a pre-condition. The House has offered compelling arguments why those two calls can be discounted by the fact that President Trump had knowledge of the underlying whistleblower complaint. However, this does not change the fact that it is moving forward based on conjecture, assuming what the evidence would show if there existed the time or inclination to establish it. The military aid was released after a delay that the witnesses described as “not uncommon” for this or prior Administrations. This is not a case of the unknowable. It is a case of the peripheral. The House testimony is replete with references to witnesses like John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Mulvaney who clearly hold material information.
To impeach a president on such a record would be to expose every future president to the same type of inchoate impeachment. Continue reading →
I guess that would be a too-short essay on an important topic with special contemporary relevance, so I am bound to say more. Nonetheless, I would be more comfortable with my fellow society members and more confident of the future of the the nation if the answer to the title query was universally accepted in absolute terms. For the acceptance of the principle of pre-crime is dangerous. It places less than a spiked mountain-climber’s boot on a slippery slope to totalitarianism, which is the real-life equivalent of the Devil in the scene above from “A Man For All Seasons,” both the play and the movie, based on the writings of Sir Thomas More, in which More emotionally refuses to arrest a man because of the evil he might do, before he has actually broken any laws:
More’s Wife: Arrest him!
Sir ThomasMore: For what?
Wife: He’s dangerous!
William Roper (More’s Son in Law): He’s a spy.
Margaret (More’s daughter): Father, that man’s bad.
More: There’s no law against that.
Roper: There is – God’s law.
More: Then God can arrest him.
Wife: While you talk, he’s gone.
More: And go he should, were he the Devil himself, until he broke the law.
Roper: So, now you’d give the Devil the benefit of law?
More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s. And if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
Few more profound and important thoughts have been so eloquently and powerfully presented in a motion picture as this scene from “A Man For All Seasons,” to which I will note (again) in passing, “Rotten Tomatoes” gives a lower score than “Birdman,”a fact that provides a disturbing snapshot of the state of our education, culture and priorities in 2019.
Both political parties have placed their feet on this slippery slope in the past. The essence of pre-crime is punishing a citizen for what he or she is, rather than for what he or she has done, on the theory that what an individual is makes that person “dangerous,” in the words of Mrs. More, for what they might do. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (and the Supreme Court that backed him) was responsible for probably the worst example of pre-crime in our history, when the United States, in full panic mode after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, imprisoned loyal Japanese-American citizens as a precautionary measure. Another panic, also not entirely groundless, led to a pre-crime mentality during the Red Scare and McCarthy episodes, seeking to punish Americans who belonged to the dreaded Communist Party, a nonetheless legal organization.
To be abundantly clear, I will define pre-crime as when the government removes a civil right, a Constitutional right, from a citizen, not as punishment for breaking a law, but based on what that individual believes, says, is or is understood to be. Continue reading →
The American Civil Liberty Union has decided to make an “exception” to its supposedly unshakable policy of being non-partisan and non-political—Oh, the pop-up fundraising appeal the group is currently showing on its website says to contribute to “stop Trump’s attack on civil liberties.” Then it vanishes, with the permanent text on the site staying abstract and without any overtly partisan slant. Nice. And dishonest!—and announced its opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
This should not have surprised anyone, because the ACLU has become a sham organization, claiming to be non-partisan and apolitical while every day making it increasingly obvious that it, like so many organizations that take that pose (including virtually all of the mainstream news media), it is a fully committed ally of the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, there is always hope that at crucial moments in the nation’s history, organizations will find their soul, their guys and their principles before they seep away.
For this we need look no farther than The American Bar Association, another “non-partisan” group that habitually endorses Democratic Party agenda items that should not concern it at all. Its membership is overwhelmingly Democratic, and being that this entire section of the political spectrum is in the process of being ethically corrupted, many members, including members of its governing body, were prepared to turn on Brett Kanavaugh, a judge the organization had rated as very qualified for the Supreme Court, and recommend his rejection as a consequence of unsubstantiated, last minute allegations of sexual misconduct by an accuser dredging up dim memories from more than three decades ago. As a lesser tactic, many were in favor of bolstering the Democratic Party’s disingenuous call for an open ended FBI investigation, not because it is likely to clarify anything, but because it will accomplishe the Party’s stated objective since before Dr. Ford was persuaded, or pushed, to play the part of Anita Hill in this adaptation of “The Clarence Thomas Hearings.” They want to delay until after the November elections.
Thus it was that Robert Carlson, the latest Democratic Party contributor to lead the organization, wrote this letter on ABA letterhead, falsely stating that he was speaking for the ABA itself:
“The American Bar Association urges the United States Senate Judiciary Committee (and, as appropriate, the full Senate) to conduct a confirmation vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States only after an appropriate background check into the allegations made by Professor Ford and others is completed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Rather than allow him to hijack its process and integrity, the ABA sent this letter to the Judiciary Committee, clarifying that Carlson was speaking for himself only:
Of course, if it were really a non-partisan, non-ideological organization, the ABA would be in the process of removing Carlson from office. In every organization, falsely using one’s post to imply organizational support of a personal view is a firing offense. Instead, the ABA took the face-saving measure of posting Carlson’s misleading letter (lawyers are prohibited from engaging in misleading conduct) under a link saying, “ABA President Calls For…” THAT’S deceit (lawyers are prohibited from engaging in deceit). Most readers will not notice the material distinction between the President of the ABA’s position and the official ABA position, and that’s just the way the association wants it.
Well, it’s not exactly integrity, but it’s a lot closer than what the ACLU has become. Continue reading →
Law professor/blogger Jonathan Turley’s latest essay, “Roper’s Resolve: Critics Seek Dangerous Extensions Of Treason and Other Crimes To Prosecute The Trumps” had me at “Roper,” Turley’s direct reference to the most often posted movie clip on Ethics Alarms,* the scene above from “A Man For All Seasons.” Turley applies the scene correctly, too, to the depressingly large mob of previously respectable and responsible lawyers, elected officials, scholars, academics, journalists and pundits who have betrayed their professions’ values and ethics to falsely tell a gullible public that the President and members of his family, campaign and administration have committed treason, espionage, conspiracy, election fraud and obstruction of justice when such accusations are not supported by law or precedent, evidence, facts or common sense. These accusations are, rather, the product of unreasoning fury and bias sparked by Donald Trump’s election as President.
Some of the individuals Turley names, like Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary’s running mate, may be just spewing political bile out of a lack of integrity. Kaine is a former prosecutor and should know better. Some, like Cornell Law School Vice Dean Jens David Ohlin, may be examples of bias making smart people stupid. MSNBC legal analyst Paul Butler, who claimed Trump was “conspiring with the U.S.’ sworn enemy to take over and subvert our democracy,” and who declared it is now “clear” that “what Donald Trump Jr. is alleged to have done is a federal crime” are, sadly, typical of how the unethical and dishonest the news media now behaves much of the time. As for my fellow legal ethicist Richard Painter, also fingered by Turley, I’m convinced from his increasingly extreme and hysterical anti-Trump analyses that he has been driven to the edge of madness by Trump’s election. He’s not the only one.
Turley also points to former Watergate assistant special prosecutor Nick Akerman, who is just plain wrong. One cannot claim, as Ackerman does, that there is “a clear case that Donald Trump Jr. has met all the elements” of a violation of the election laws when, as Turley points out, no court has ever reached such a conclusion. That is prima facie evidence that there is no clear case.
“We chose to set up our system to be stacked in favor of the defendant in all cases.So, in areas where most of the defendants are male, and most of the accusers are female, it’s a structural bias in favor of males. Even if we were to get rid of sexism, it would still be very hard to win these cases. I think this is what we have to live with on the criminal side, because we’ve made the calculation that this is the right balance of values.”
—-Jeannie Suk Gersen, Harvard Law School professor,explaining why the failure of a jury to convict Bill Cosby has little to do with sexism and everything to do with our standard of guilt in criminal cases.
The Professor could also have said, just as accurately,
‘We chose to set up our system to be stacked in favor of the defendant in all cases. So, in areas where the defendants are police officers, and most of the victims are black, it’s a structural bias in favor of cops. Even if we were to get rid of racism, it would still be very hard to win these cases. I think this is what we have to live with on the criminal side, because we’ve made the calculation that this is the right balance of values.’
It’s the exact same problem. The confusion comes when the public or a portion of it is certain that particular defendant is guilty, and thus regards the failure of the system to find him so as proof of a malfunctioning justice system. It isn’t. It is proof that the system functions as it is supposed to, was designed to do and must do. We do not take citizens’ freedom away unless guilt can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt under the evidence rules of the law. This is what Colin Kaepernick doesn’t understand. This is what Black Lives Matters refuses to understand. This is what feminists and the Obama Education Department, which commanded that universities give the benefit of the doubt to accusers in allegations of sexual assault rather than the accused, either refuse to understand or do understand but argue against anyway to pander to the ignorant.
Americans, however, must understand this principle, and not just understand but fight for it, because it is the foundation of the Rule of Law as well as our individual rights.
Before I am done I will probably have posted this scene from “A Man For All Seasons” more than a hundred times. Maybe I should post it every day. Those who casually advocate forging short-cuts and detours through our laws and rights as the remedy for what they perceive as intolerable wrongs need to see it, read the words, memorize them, and maybe be quizzed on the scene’s lesson as a condition predicate to being respected in any policy debate:
I am compiling a new list of great ethics movies to help those troubled by the recently completed Presidential campaign, the election and its aftermath. I haven’t decided whether to reveal it piecemeal, or collectively as I have before, but I do need to begin by presenting the previous list of 25, actually the combination of several previous posts. Ethics films I have covered individually since those lists debuted, like Spotlight and Bridge of Spies, will eventually be added.
For now, here’s the top 25. Don’t pay attention to the order.
The raw history is inspiring enough: an escaped gladiator led an army of slaves to multiple victories over the Roman legions in one of the greatest underdog triumphs ever recorded. Stanley Kubrick’s sword-and-sandal classic has many inspiring sequences, none more so than the moment when Spartacus’s defeated army chooses death rather than to allow him to identify himself to their Roman captors (“I am Spartacus!”)
Ethical issues highlighted: Liberty, slavery, sacrifice, trust, politics, courage, determination, the duty to resist abusive power, revolution, love, loyalty.
Favorite quote: “When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.” [Spartacus (Kirk Douglas)]
“Hoosiers” is loosely based on true story, but its strength is the way it combines classic sports movie clichés—the win-at-all-costs coach down on his luck, the remote superstar, over-achieving team—into a powerful lesson: it isn’t the final victory that matters most, but the journey to achieving it.
Favorite quote: “If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.” [ Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman)]
Favorite quote: “Fly decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that sheep were stupid, and there was nothing that could convince her otherwise…The sheep decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that wolves were ignorant, and there was nothing that could convince them otherwise” The Narrator (Roscoe Lee Browne)Continue reading →
Once again, a memorable line from the best ethics film of them all, “A Man For All Seasons,” came rushing back to me as I observed another example of professionals abandoning their ethical principles to assist the most demonstrably corrupt Presidential candidate in U.S. history, Hillary Clinton.
Not just her, however, to be fair. The Thornton Law Firm in Boston has used an illegal and unethical maneuver to circumvent election laws and give millions of dollars to the Democratic Party and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Harry Reid, President Obama and, of course, Hillary, among others. The scheme was revealed by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Spotlight investigative team at the Boston Globe.
The firm has just ten partners, but is one of the nation’s biggest political donors. A whistle-blower sent firm documents showing that firm members have been making large donations to Democrats, only to be reimbursed by the firm days or even hours later with bonuses matching the amounts donated exactly.
Federal law limits partnerships–law firms are almost all partnerships—to maximum donations of $2,700 per candidate. This was what is called a “straw donor” plot. “Straw donor reimbursement systems are something both the FEC and the Department of Justice take very seriously, and people have gone to jail for this,” Center for Responsive Politics editorial director Viveca Novak told CBS. Continue reading →