Tag Archives: abuse of power

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/27/18: On Bullies, Dogs, Signs, Cheats, And The Worst WWII Movie Ever

Good morning.

1. BOY, is that a lazy and inaccurate movie! As usual, they are playing every war movie they can dig up on Memorial Day weekend. I just watched the tail end of  “The Battle of the Bulge,” the 1965 Cinerama Hollywood portrayal of the decisive 1944 WWII battle in the Ardennes that reminds me of my dad, buried in Arlington National Cemetery, more than any other war film, and not because it was in that battle that my father earned his Silver Star. No, the film reminds me of Dad because he hated it so much. He regarded it as an insult to the veterans who fought the battle, and  a cretinous distortion of history in every way. His name for the movie was “How Henry Fonda Won the Second World War.”

The most striking of the endless misrepresentations in the movie is the absence of snow. The battle’s major feature was that it was fought in freezing, winter conditions, on snow covered terrain sometimes up to two feet deep. Some battle scenes are shown being fought on flat and bare plain, about as distinct from the mountainous, thickly forested territory where the actual battle took place as one could imagine. My father also started complaining during the film, loudly, about the use of modern American tanks to portray the German Tiger tanks.

Former President (and, of course, former Allied Commander) Eisenhower came out of retirement to hold a press conference to denouncing “The Battle of the Bulge” for  its gross  inaccuracies. THAT made my father happy.

2. Funny! But…no, it’s just funny. Scott Campbell, the owner of the Pell City Fitness gym in Pell City, Alabama,  put up a sign that says “tired of being fat and ugly? Just be ugly!” City officials told him to take down the sign or be fined, saying it is too big and needs a permit, but other business owners told the local news media that they have never heard of the ordinance the city is citing being enforced. The suspicion is that Campbell is being singled out because some have complained that the sign is “insensitive.” No, it’s just funny…

This is the ethical problem with excessively restrictive laws, rules and regulations that are not consistently enforced. Prosecution can be used for ideological and partisan discrimination. Not only is the sign benign, it is not even original: that same language is on fitness company ads all over the country. So far, it looks like the community is supporting Pell and that the city will back down, but this is Alabama. Call me pessimistic, but I doubt the sign would be allowed to stand for long in Washington State or California if an ordinance could be found to justify pulling it down.

The First Amendment dies in increments. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/16/ 2018: The Fake Moussaka Edition

Gooood morning Pyongyang!

…and everyone else too, of course.

1. ” Winning.” How many in “the resistance” and the news media are rooting, secretly or openly, for the North Korean talks to fail? Based on the tone of some premature gloating on social media and news reports after North Korea threatened to pull out of talks, I think “many” is the fair answer. Other recent headlines and news stories also point in this direction, like “Improving Economy A Problem For Democrats.” (No, an improving economy is not a problem for any Americans, unless they care about their own power more than their country.)

This is especially revolting ( and hypocritical) from the same people who 1)  falsely attributed Rush Limbaugh’s indefensible statement in 2008 that he wanted Obama to fail to the entire Republican Party (I condemned Limbaugh’s statement at the time) and 2) used it to feed the narrative that conservatives who opposed that Presidents left-ward policies were doing so out of personal and racial antipathy.

A President’s success–as in “being proved correct” or “getting lucky,” it doesn’t matter which— makes it more likely that policies you don’t like will be continued? Suck it up and cheer like the good citizen you are. His accomplishments make it less likely that your favorite politician will get elected? Cry me a river: your duty is to care about your nation and fellow citizens first. That you are on record that—okay, still think that—this Presdent has crap for brains and you wouldn’t shake his hand without gloves makes you look less wise and prescient than you would have if he fell flat on his face? Cue the world’s smallest violin, have some integrity, and grow the hell up.

2. Ken Burns ethics, and FDR. In this post earlier this year, I scored documentary whiz Ken Burns for the hagiography of Franklin Roosevelt that marred his otherwise superb “The Roosevelts.”  “The smoking gun for me,” I wrote, “is that despite ten and half hours, Burns somehow never found time to highlight FDR’s internment of American citizens solely because they were of Japanese ancestry. The civil rights outrage is only alluded to in passing, as part of a list from a biographer preceding the nostrum, ‘All great leaders make mistakes.’” That critique stands, but it is slightly unfair, I subsequently discovered. Burns covered the internment of Japanese Americans extensively in an earlier, also excellent, PBS series, 2007′ s “The War.”  Even that section, however, avoided laying proper accountability for the debacle at President Roosevelt’s feet.  I watched the documentary over the past two days, and the deceit is really extraordinary.  The narration keeps referring to Executive Order 9066, without specifically saying whose order it was, like the thing appeared on its own. Here, Ken, let me fix this for you:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the imprisonment of tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident aliens from Japan in concentration camps (“internment” is a euphemism and a cover word, like “pro-choice”) with towers and guards with loaded rifles. Though some German-Americans and Italian-Americans were imprisoned as well, far fewer were taken. The risk they posed was not considered as great, because they were white.’

Executive Order 9066 wasn’t rescinded, incredibly, until February 19, 1976, by President Ford. The Supreme Court decision upholding the order, Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944),has never been overturned. In that case’s 6–3 decision approving the abrogation of American citizen rights with fear as the justification, six of FDR’s eight appointees—you know, the liberals—  sided with Roosevelt, and against the Bill of Rights. Continue reading

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“The Good Faith Of The Justice Department”: Sure.

“Yes, but they are fighting in good faith…”

In his scathing indictment of the ACLU (discussed here) for giving the Justice Department a partisan pass despite the dubious legality of its raid on Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, Alan Dershowitz wrote,

“David Cole, who identifies himself as the ACLU Legal Director, said the organization relies on the good faith of the Justice Department, the FBI, and the judge who issued the warrant to assure all Americans that this raid on a lawyer’s office, is “a sign that the rule of law is alive.”

Here are the recent performances of key figures among that group that is getting the ACLU’s trust:

  •  Book-peddling, Trump-stalking James Comey says in his forthcoming book that he found evidence that “would undoubtedly have been used by political opponents to cast serious doubt on the attorney general’s independence in connection with the Clinton investigation,” and also faulted Attorney General Lynch’s decision to refer to the Clinton email investigation as a “matter.”

Loretta Lynch responded to the accusation and criticism with her own statement that concluded,

“…I have known James Comey almost 30 years. Throughout his time as Director we spoke regularly about some of the most sensitive issues in law enforcement and national security. If he had any concerns regarding the email investigation, classified or not, he had ample opportunities to raise them with me both privately and in meetings. He never did.”

  • Fired acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is out of a job because the independent Justice Department Inspector General found that he had lied on multiple occasions, his report concluding in one of the instances, regarding leaks to the news media about the Clinton Foundation…

“While the only direct evidence regarding this McCabe-Comey conversation were the recollections of the two participants, there is considerable circumstantial evidence and we concluded that the overwhelming weight of that evidence supported Comey’s version of the conversation.”

In response, McCabe directed his counsel to write Congress that Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day, Rebuttal #2: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/4/2018:…A Presidential High Crime…”

This is the second rebuttal to my criticism of the President’s effort to use his influence and power to harm Amazon. I’m very impressed with it, but I have to give a rationalizations alert, for there are several evoked here, including, a few versions of #1, Everybody does it,” #2 A. Sicilian Ethics, or “They had it coming,” #3. Consequentialism, or  “It Worked Out for the Best” #39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should [He] be the first?,” #45. The Unethical Precedent, or “It’s Not The First Time,” and probably others.

Here is Greg’s Comment of the Day on the #2 in “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/4/2018: Baseball Lies, A Presidential High Crime, And A Judge Makes A Panty Raid”:

There is nothing wrong, much less anything impeachable, about the President making valid, policy-based attacks that target specific companies, even though the attacks may “suppress the companies’ stock values.” Attacks on Standard Oil were justified, even though stockholders in Standard Oil may have suffered. Trump’s comments about Amazon are fair. In any case, there is no reason to think that his remarks were intended to drive down Amazon’s stock price and very little reason to think that they will cause any particular harm to Amazon or its stock.

Trump’s recent tweets have made three points about Amazon, all of which he has made many times before: (1) Amazon benefits from a sales tax loophole that unfairly costs states money and disadvantages brick-and-mortar retailers, (2) Jeff Bezos uses the Washington Post to lobby for the continuation of this advantage and (3) the US Postal Service undercharges Amazon and should negotiate higher rates.

Trump has been making the first two points since at least 2015. He made them repeatedly during his campaign in tweets, in interviews and in speeches. Here’s the earliest reference that I found: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/12/07/donald-trump-called-out-jeff-bezos-on-twitter-then-bezos-called-his-bluff/?utm_term=.8573b4279b6d.

Trump has continued to make both points since he became president. Here’s just one example: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-17/trump-s-bruising-tweet-highlights-amazon-s-lingering-tax-fight. His Treasury Department has been studying the sales tax issue for over a year, http://thehill.com/policy/finance/343972-mnuchin-trump-administration-is-examining-online-sales-tax-issue, and his Justice Department last month filed an amicus brief in South Dakota v. Wayfair, a case currently before the Supreme Court, arguing that the Court should close the sales tax loophole that benefits Amazon and other online retailers.

Trump has been making the third point (about USPS rates) since at least December last year. http://fortune.com/2017/12/29/trump-amazon-post-office.

None of those previous statements and actions by Trump and his administration caused Amazon’s stock price to fall. Trump could not have expected that thisweek’s tweets, repeating exactly the same points that he has made many times before, would have any effect on Amazon’s stock price.

Moreover, Trump’s tweets haven’t made any threats against Amazon and he doesn’t seem to have any intention of taking any unilateral action to hurt Amazon. To the extent that his tweets may have affected Amazon’s stock price, they most likely did that by drawing investors’ attention belatedly to genuine issues regarding Amazon’s business model, in particular the possibilities that the Supreme Court might actually close Amazon’s sales tax loophole and that the USPS might actually negotiate a better deal with Amazon. If his tweets have pointed out concerns that investors previously hadn’t given proper weight, then he has done a valuable service for the markets. If these concerns turn out to be unjustified, then Amazon’s stock price will soon recover and Trump’s tweets will have done no harm. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day, Rebuttal #1: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/4/2018:…A Presidential High Crime…”

Is Teddy looking down from Rough Rider Heaven and smiling at Trump’s Big Tweet?

Of course, I knew suggesting that President Trump’s deliberate attacks on Amazon via Twitter was an impeachable offense would set heads a-blowing. The resulting debate has been fascinating, with interesting historical parallels being proposed. This comment, by Chris Marschner, is the first of two erudite and well argued rebuttals.

Not to hold you in unnecessary suspense, I am not convinced or dissuaded. I do not see Teddy Roosevelt’s  policy-oriented attacks on the era’s monopolies, correctly leading a movement to reform an area of widespread capitalist abuses that eventually were agreed to be criminal, with Trump’s tweeting crudely phrased animus to the public. Nor do I find Obama’s general criticism of big money lobbying efforts by energy interests in general and the Kochs in particular at the same level of abuse of power as Trump taking aim at the owner of the Washington Post,

I am a lifetime fan of Teddy, but he crossed many lines, and could have been legitimately impeached himself. As I have stated before in multiple posts, the power of the Presidency is too great to be abused with casual wielding against individuals and named businesses. As always, there are exceptions.  I’ll concede that taking on the robber barons and the monopolists in the early 20th Century can be fairly designated as one.  Chris seems to feel that there is a close parallel in Amazon’s growing power, but that’s not the case the President chose to make, instead focusing on a deal Amazon forged with the Postal Service, as much to keep the latter in business as to benefit Amazon.

Basic lessons in POTUS leadership: if you are going to cross lines of appropriate uses of  power, 1) You better be right and 2) Be Presidential about it.

Other examples, like Obama designating Massey Energy as responsible for the Upper Big Branch mining disaster before the investigation was complete, can not be so easily excused, but can be fairly labelled a mistake. (Obama made many, too many, such mistakes.) Trump’s attack on Amazon is neither as limited as Obama’s mistake, not as carefully considered and justifiable as Roosevelt’s trust-busting. I would like to see future Presidents restrained from abusing power in this way, even if it takes a trail before the Senate to do it. If we don’t restrain it, we will be sorry.

But the other side has some good arguments: by all means, read them.

Here is Chris Marschner’s Comment of the Day on the #2 in “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/4/2018: Baseball Lies, A Presidential High Crime, And A Judge Makes A Panty Raid”:

I would like to point you to this in 2015:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/08/26/war-words-obama-v-koch-brothers/32423959/

“When you start seeing massive lobbying efforts backed by fossil fuel interests, or conservative think tanks, or the Koch brothers pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards or prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding, that’s a problem,” Obama said at the summit. “That’s not the American way.”

“Josh Earnest said the exchange illustrates the kind of president Obama set out to be.”

“This is exactly why the president ran for office, it’s why he ran for this office, is that for too long, we saw the oil and gas industry exert significant pressure on politicians in Washington, D.C.,” he said. And when Obama fights that influence, “the special interests, including the millionaires and billionaires that have benefited from that paralysis, start to squeal. And I guess in this case, at least one billionaire special interest benefactor chose to squeal to a Politico reporter.”

This type of rhetoric does not include Obama officials publicly stating (incorrectly and improperly) that one of the Koch brothers paid no income taxes. (http://freebeacon.com/politics/hazy-memories/)

Is it only an abuse of power when referencing specific individuals? Does it matter if you say the 1% don’t pay their fair share or is it an abuse of power only if you identify them by name?

I will concur with the Koch brothers that it is beneath the dignity of the president to go after a specific individual, but to suggest that it amounts to even a misdemeanor abuse of power is a stretch. If calling out a specific firm is an impeachable offense then why was there no call to impeach Obama when he routinely criticized and mocked Koch Industries, Fox News and others that did not line up with full throated support of his agenda.

But , Obama was not the first to chastise “punch down” on a business person. Who can forget the trust buster himself Teddy Roosevelt. JP Morgan was singled out for bad behavior. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/4/2018: Baseball Lies, A Presidential High Crime, And A Judge Makes A Panty Raid

Wake Up!

1 Fake history, baseball style. Broadcasts of Red Sox games from Fenway Park in Boston refer to “the Pesky Pole,” the official name of the tall, yellow foul pole in right field. It is named in honer of the late Johnny Pesky, who also is honored in a statue outside the park—it featured him and his team mates and longtime friends, Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, and Bobby Doerr. Pesky, with a couple of brief interruptions,was a Red Sox lifer, beginning with his 1942 rookie season, and ending with his death several years ago as an honorary coach. In between, he was Sox minor league manager, the big team’s manager, a hitting coach and a broadcaster.

The Pesky Pole got its name because the notoriously power-free shortstop reputedly hit several of the few he managed to slug in his career by knocking a pitch  around the marker, which arose from  what is now the shortest foul line in baseball. The  low Fenway right field fence veers sharply out from there to over 400 feet, so such homers are considered, and indeed are, lucky flukes. During his brief and undistinguished tenure as a Red Sox radio color man, former Red Sox pitching ace Mel Parnell repeatedly told the story about how Johnny won a game for Mel in 1948 with a pole-shot. This tale led directly to the team officially naming the pole on September 27, 2006, on Pesky’s 87th birthday, with a commemorative plaque placed at its base and everything.

Afterwards, and not before, someone actually checked the game records. Pesky never hit the home run  described by Parnell. He only hit six home runs in Fenway at all, and nobody knows how many hit the pole, looped around the pole, or even went to right field. (Pop-ups hit by Punch-and-Judy hitting shortstops sometimes landed in the screen over the left field wall for home runs, as the cursed Bucky Dent can attest.) Nevertheless, the fake history is in place: the Pesky Pole is named that because Johnny Pesky hit a famous home run off of it, or was famous for looping cheap homers around it, or something.

Baseball excels at creating fake history, the most notable being represented by the locale of its Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York. When the museum was envisioned, the accepted story about the game’s origin was the Union general Abner Doubleday invented the sport in 1839 and organized the first game in Cooperstown. After the construction was underway,  research suggested that everything about the Doubleday tale was rumor and myth, but baseball and the museum’s management, in one of the all-time classic examples of adopting the philosophy of the newspaper editor in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,” went to great lengths to keep the original story before the public. Eventually some hard evidence surfaced suggesting that the game was invented by Alexander Cartwright, who was eventually inducted into the Hall as the game’s creator, while Doubleday is not. Nonetheless, the myth survives. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, for example,  said in 2010 that “I really believe that Abner Doubleday is the ‘Father of Baseball.'” This is the equivalent of saying that one believes in the Easter Bunny.

Selig was later inducted into the Hall of Fame.

2.Believe it or Not! I would support impeaching  President Trump for his tweeting attacks against Amazon. This is such an abuse of Presidential power that it demands at least a Congressional reprimand or sanction. Amazon lost $53 billion in market value in the wake of the tweets, meaning that investors, retirees, and ordinary Americans lost wealth as well. It is unconscionable for a President of the United States to deliberately target a company, just as it is wrong for a President to punch down at a private citizen, but the consequences of doing what Trump has done to Amazon is far, far worse. The Wall Street Journal suggested in an editorial that if the attack on Amazon was politically motivated because Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, impeachment would be justified. Yes, that would be even worse, but it is not an essential element of this “high crime.” The President of the United States must not abuse his power by intentionally harming lawful businesses.

The foolish resistance is so focused on trying to impeach Trump based on exotic laws and imaginary conspiracies that it doesn’t see the real thing when it’s right in front of its face, and the anti-Trump media has so destroyed its credibility by embracing ridiculous impeachment theories that a valid one will just look like more of the same. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “Don’t Cheer Mississippi’s Westboro Baptist Tactics Too Loudly: You Never Know Who Might Hear You”

An Ethics Alarms commenter with the evocative screen name of Fuck you, who is a bit behind on his surfing, or perhaps a really, really slow reader, was moved to author today’s Comment of the Day on a post from seven years ago regarding the tactics used by Mississippi law enforcement to foil a legal demonstration by Fred Phelps’ merry band of homophobes.

Why is this a Comment of the Day? It perfectly embodies the rudimentary, lizard-brain level of ethical analysis that predominates in the public, in much of the media, and among our elected officials. It is helpful, to me at least, to read such comments, for this is exactly the find of gut-level, emotion-based, legally and ethically ignorant reaction that my work exists to overcome. I’ll have more to say after the Fuck You has his say.

As an aside, it was nostalgic reading the names of the commenters on the original post. There, for example, fighting as usual, were liberal logic-cop tgt and uber-conservative Stephen Mark Pilling. Ah, those were the days…

Here is Fuck You’s Comment of the Day on the post, Don’t Cheer Mississippi’s Westboro Baptist Tactics Too Loudly: You Never Know Who Might Hear You—I’ll be back at the end:

Fuck you for this comparison. I know I’m coming in years later with this and I hope that others have already expressed a similar sentiment. I also understand the point you are trying to make. But still FUCK YOU. I sincerely hope that if you ever lose someone dear to you, these fucking hatemongers show up and protest that person’s funeral. FUCK YOU. Yes they have a right to protest but this type of shit should definitely qualify as a reasonable restriction, like yelling fire in a crowed theater.

FUCK YOU. This comparison is not only an insult to the Marine in question but also to the civil rights activists from decades ago that you just compared to the fucking WBC. FUCK YOU.

Once again Fuck you, you goddamn scum ass mother fucker. Oh, and FUCK YOU.

Continue reading

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