Regarding Felicity Huffman’s Slap-On-The-Wrist

Before actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced for her participation in the rigged college admissions scandal, also known as “Varsity Blues”, the leftist website Salon had already pronounced her treatment by the justice system as racist. It said in part,

Back in 2011 Tanya McDowell was homeless and living in her van. She wanted her five-year-old son to receive a quality education, so she enrolled him in Brookside Elementary of the Norwalk School District. He was later kicked out due to a residency issue, so he transferred to Bridgeport schools.

Police investigated McDowell and charged her with fraud. A year later she pleaded guilty to first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny; for these offenses, she received a five-year sentence. Before McDowell started serving it out, she was charged with selling narcotics to an undercover police officer, an offense that killed her community support. McDowell was ultimately given 12 years, to be suspended after she served five, and followed by five years of probation; the narcotic sentence to run concurrently with a five-year sentence she had already received in the Norwalk school case. All of this story, from the over-policing of this mother to the severity of her sentence, along with everything she did, was obviously driven by poverty, which remains synonymous with “guilty” in our lopsided system of so-called justice.

On the other hand, you have a person like Felicity Huffman, who enjoys the many privileges that come with being a rich “Desperate Housewives” star…and having the resources to expose her daughter to educational advantages that McDowell may not have even been able to dream of: tutoring, unlimited books, technology, a safe learning environment, and even an SAT specialist who helps struggling kids obtain high scores. …[T]he actress was arrested in March on mail fraud and conspiracy charges as an outcome of the FBI’s Operation Varsity Blues investigation, and pleaded guilty to mail fraud, after paying $15,000 to allegedly rig her daughter’s SAT scores. Huffman is scheduled to be sentenced in Boston on Friday — for one month in prison, if the federal prosecutors’ recommendation is followed. Huffman’s attorneys have instead asked for a year’s probation, plus community service and a $20,000 fine.

Let’s begin with the fact that this is unethical and dishonest advocacy. Searching for an admittedly terrible prosecution from eight years ago  to contrast with Huffman’s case is contrived racism. The fact that the mother was later legitimately charged with selling narcotics renders the comparison a stretch at best.  In the absence of sufficient numbers of cases across the country to make a valid generalization, Salon’s assumptions are just cheap muckraking.

Stipulated: charging McDowell with larceny for trying to sneak her child into a better school district was a cruel and unethical prosecution; charging her with fraud and seeking a significant punishment was not. The idea was to discourage similar deceptions, no matter how well-intentioned they were.  That is a valid law enforcement objective, and an important one.

What Huffman’s attorneys proposed as appropriate punishment was irrelevant to Salon’s thesis. Their job is to get the actress as light a sentence as possible, and if possible, no sentence at all. We are not told what McDowell’s attorney’s argued on her behalf, because it is also irrelevant, but, I suspect, it was omitted because their recommendations were not that different from those of Huffman’s case. Continue reading

Let’s Play “Desperate, Gallant, Or Offensive!” Today’s Contestant: Actor William H. Macy

Welcome, Ethics Alarms readers! It’s time for that exciting game show, “Desperate, Gallant, Or Offensive!,” where the audience judges whether its celebrity contestants have stayed within ethical boundaries!

Today’s contestant is celebrated actor William H. Macy, not to be confused with Bill Macy, who played Bea Arthur’s long-suffering husband on “Maude.” William H is one of the most honored and respected, not to mention versatile American actors. He has won two Emmy Awards, four Screen Actors Guild Awards, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his memorable performance in Fargo.” Since 2011, he has played Frank Gallagher, the main character in the Showtime adaptation of the British television series “Shameless.”  Most relevant now, however, is his 22 year marriage to actress Felicity Huffman, who is about to be sentenced for her participation in the so-called “Varsity Blues” college admission scandal.

Ready to play? All right! Here is what loving husband William wrote to the judge preparing to sentence Huffman: Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Respite, 5/22/2019: The Stupid Edition, With A Poll

Good afternoon, Music Lovers!

[Unrelated to the Stupid theme, but of interest: my mostly Democratic audience for today’s sexual harassment training  had no sympathy whatsoever with Joe Biden’s shameless groping, nor with his party’s hypocrisy in supporting him (so far.) Another interesting exchange—I was ready for the question—was when an attendee asked about “the current occupant in the White House” and his sexual harassing ways. “Has he harassed anyone while President?” I asked. She said, “Not that we know of.” Then I put up one of Uncle Joe’s groping photos. “How can a party that nominated someone who openly harasses women on camera challenge same but speculative conduct by the President?” I asked.

It’s also interesting that the un-American and unfair concept of presumed misconduct has so infected progressive thought where Donald Trump is involved. This was the answer I got repeatedly from one of our Self-Exiled Warriors of the Left before his exit: he knew that the President had colluded with the Russians and stolen the election because that’s just the kind of person he is.

What kind of governments oppress, accuse and punish people based on the kind of person they are?]

Stupid #1. In my back yard of  Richmond, Virginia, a woman left instructions in her will that Emma, a healthy Shih Tzu mix, be put down. The Chesterfield County Animal Services , where Emma was residing, appealed to the executor of the dead woman’s estate. “We did suggest they could sign the dog over on numerous occasions — because it’s a dog we could easily find a home for and re-home,” said Carrie Jones, manager of Chesterfield County Animal Services. Nope. Representatives took Emma in custody to be euthanized. The dog’s remains were cremated, and her ashes were placed in an urn to be returned to the “authorized representative of the estate.

There’s no excuse for this screaming example of human arrogance, narcissism, cruelty and idiocy. As a matter of public policy, testamentary wishes involving the killing of anything  should be declared unenforceable by law.

Trust the humans, Emma: they have decided that you’ll be happier dead.

Stupid #2: Boy, I don’t know if Kamala Harris is beatable in the Ethics Alarms contest to be the worst candidate for the Democratic nomination.

To begin the week,, Harris announced  her plan to close “the gender wage gap in the United States,” which is largely a fake talking point the Democrats have been flogging for decades. Her proposal would require that businesses submit  their payroll to the federal government, and if employees in the same position are not paid the same (absent legitimate reasons like seniority or merit, the company would face fines, including a fine of 1% of the company’s profits for every 1% of a “wage gap” that exists.—after expensive appeals, of course. Good plan!!!

But I digress. After Harris’s announcement,the Washington Free Beacon  investigated her own staff’s salaries and found the the median male salary disbursement was $34,999 and the median female salary was $32,999, a 6% gap.

How smart, responsible and competent would a candidate have to be to make certain that her own staff salaries showed nothing that could even be claimed to be a “gender gap”by grandstanding a proposal like hers?

Not very, but apparently Harris can’t even clear that low bar. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/6/2019: Who’s The Worst? [CORRECTED]

Good morning!

The day got off to a grand start when the first thing that came up on TV was the ending of John Wayne’s “True Grit.” When the Coen Brothers did their (dark) remake starring Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn, I wondered which version would survive as the definitive one. Sometimes remakes of classic films obliterate the originals, like “The Thing,” or “Invasion of the Body-Snatchers.” Sometimes the original films are so obviously superior that the remake just vanishes. Sometimes it should vanish, but doesn’t, like the ugly “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” created by Tim Burton. Both “True Grit’s ” are excellent, but so far, at least, the Duke’s Oscar-willing performance has prevailed. Good.

1. From the “You can’t fool all of the people all the time, especially if you’re a callow, arrogant fool” files:  Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offended an audience made up predominantly of African Americans when she slipped into assumed regional slang to lecture them about the dignity of menial jobs for life

“I’m proud to be a bartender, ain’t nothing wrong with that!” Ocasio-Cortez proclaimed. [CORRECTION NOTE: Originally, the version of this statement I had was an Ebonics-fest that I got off of a tweet from an attendee. This was incorrect: thanks to Chris Marschner for the fact check.]

Actually, the real offense was her content, not her delivery. This is communist cant for the proles: don’t aspire to more than your hum-drum jobs, for you are serving the greater good (and your superior overlords). That’s not the American values system, or American culture, which encourages productive dissatisfaction, personal initiative, and determination to be better and do better.

2. I knew Harvard wouldn’t be able to duck the college admission scandal! Harvard has launched  an “independent investigation” into a series of suspicious events that occurred in 2016. Wealthy businessman  Jie “Jack” Zhaopaid inexplicably paid $989,500  for a home in the Boston suburbs that was valued at only $549,300.  Seventeen months later he sold that home for $665,000, for a loss of $324,000. Continue reading

Comments Of The Day: The College Admissions Bribery Scandal

This is a bit of a departure, a showcase for one of Ethics Alarms most active commenters (especially appreciated as the blog experiences boycotts, embargos, and Facebook blocking and other indignities), Michael R. The topic is the recent College Admission scandal, which has been covered here and here.

Michael, an educator, is well informed on this topic, and he shows it in three excellent Comments of the Day.  And I forgive him for never, ever, making a typo.

I.

The college scandal has many, many facets. What has caused standards to slip so low? Well, athletics obviously has a corrosive effect, with students admitted based on athletic ability instead of academic ability. The grade inflation has also greatly degraded college standards. The almost lack of education occurring in our high schools is another factor.

An overlooked factor, however, is the public higher ed systems’ oversupply of colleges. Public college policy has mainly been about votes and prestige, not actual societal need. This has resulted in a lot more colleges than the country actually needs. A typical example would be Local Community College. Well, the President of Local Community College would rather not be the laughingstock of the College President’s Club, so he petitions the state legislature to authorize his school to offer 4-year degrees. He states that his community deserves a 4-year school like (insert rival town here). This proposal is mainly decided on its political merits, not the needs of the state as a whole. It goes through, along with new funding for new facilities, new faculty, and more students for the Local State College. With all the Community Colleges becoming State Colleges, the presidents of the Regional State Colleges petition to become Regional State Universities. They point out the prestige and grant money they could get if they had graduate programs. This too, is granted based on political merit. The National Science Foundation is then pressured to remove funding from the traditional research schools and transfer it to the new State Universities amid allegations of elitism for favoring longstanding research schools with top-notch researchers over the new State Universities with no significant research results and they cave. Now, with no community colleges left, a new round of community colleges is constructed. This increases the number of seats for college students by 30% or so, but there are not more high school students graduating. This is repeated all over the country, so out-of-state students are not an option. The only reasonable option is to lower admissions standards. Once the admission standards are lowered, retention suffers and the faculty are ordered to improve retention and graduation rates. The only reasonable way to do this is to make the classes easier and the race to the bottom is on. Continue reading

Observations On “Operation Varsity Blues” [UPDATED!]

It is rare that an ethics story is the front page feature of the day, but the scandal that broke last nigh is certainly that. From the AP, on the results of the investigation code-named “Operation Varsity Blues”…

Fifty people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation’s most elite schools. Federal authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department, with the parents accused of paying an estimated $25 million in bribes.

More…

At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents, many of them prominent in law, finance or business, were among those charged. Dozens, including Huffman, were arrested by midday.

Huffman, best known for “Desperate Housewives,” is married to celebrated actor William Macy (“Fargo”). Presumably he is going to be arrested too.

The coaches worked at such schools as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.

Yikes. You can get all the details at The Atlantic, Esquire, The Stanford Daily, Chicago Tribune, Raw Story, The Week, Justice News, The Texas Tribune, Slate, SFist, Recode, Page Six, TechCrunch, TMZ.com and Fox News.

Ethics Observations: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “KABOOM! Biden Takes A Bribe”

Well, yes, he took the 30 pieces of silver, but Judas genuinely supported what the Romans had done, in a spirit of bi-partisanship…

Side-issue: Is it proper to give out a Comment of the Day when it is almost entirely a quote from another source? In this case, I’m doing it, in part because the commenter, Michael, is perfectly capable of writing the same sentiment just as articulately, if not better, and second, because I want his argument on the record, because it is so wrong.

I must admit, I never expected anyone to disagree with the post regarding Joe Biden’s betrayal of his party in exchange for $200,000. Such speaking fees are per se ethically dubious, as the Clinton Foundation experience should have taught us, especially when the speaker is a blathering fool like Joe Biden. I’d pay something to hear Hillary, Bill or Obama speak. But giving Biden six figures for his usual gaffes reminds me of Gerald Ford’s speaking fees after he left the Presidency. Gerald Ford never gave a non-soporific, inciteful speech in his life. He was selling influence, just like the Clintons, and just like Biden. It’s not illegal if you’re not holding office, but it is always unethical.

What Biden did was especially unethical. Both Michael and his authority call what Biden did bi-partisanship. It was not. Bi-partisanship is when partisan elected officials work across the aisle toward legislation and policies that their had-core party base might oppose, in the best interests of the nation and the public. That’s ethical, because an elected official’s duties, which all swear tom are bipartisan. Joe Biden, however, is not an elected official. He is a leader of the Democratic Party. His duty is to the party and the party’s legitimate interests. If he does not support those interests, then he should stop calling himself a Democrat, or at very least abstain from leadership.

Biden’s duty was to try to make sure his party won the House. Losing the House would have been a disaster. For all he knew, that single race might have been the difference between a House majority and a Democratic loss. He could not ethically choose his own interests over the party, and that’s what he did. The endorsement was based on Biden’s personal interests—cancer research, because of his son—and not the party’s. This is a serious conflict of interest. Now, since Joe is a dolt, this might not have occurred to him. Still, based on his personal agenda, he saw fit to harm the prospects of his own party’s candidate. Betrayal, by definition. Frankly (to quote from Miachel’s quoted source), I don’t care whether “most Americans” don’t recognize what’s wrong here. Most Americans, indeed most politicians, don’t comprehend what conflicts of interest are. I do. It’s my job.

Biden’s conduct was unethical, placing his personal agenda above hos party’s, even before we get to the ugly fact that he was paid to do it—by a foundation run by the family of the GOP candidate he was praising. Note that the piece ahead doesn’t mention this little detail at all.  It’s hilarious, really. “This is what we’ve come to: partisans attacking a lifelong public servant because he has the nerve to show active support for a member of another party who played a key role in the passage of legislation that vastly improves efforts to fight a disease that took the life of his child.” Yes, and all he need to work up that “nerve” was a check for $200,000. 

Here is Michael’s Comment of the Day on the post, KABOOM! Biden Takes A Bribe:

My “feeling” (perhaps naive, or perhaps you infer more than I do) are almost captured by this from The Hill:

“Recently, the New York Times breathlessly reported that former Vice President Joe Biden had the temerity to praise a long-serving Republican member of Congress during a speech to a Midwest audience in the run-up to the 2018 election. This member—Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan—went on to win re-election by a relatively narrow margin. And now that Biden is signaling that he may very well run for president in 2020, the partisan knives are out—and it’s members of his own party who are holding them. This sad little vignette exemplifies exactly what is wrong with American politics today.

“Mr. Biden stunned Democrats and elated Republicans by praising Mr. Upton while the lawmaker looked on from the audience,” the Times reports. “Alluding to Mr. Upton’s support for a landmark medical-research law, Mr. Biden called him a champion in the fight against cancer—and ‘one of the finest guys I’ve ever worked with.’” As the Times also notes, Upton had nothing to do with Biden giving the speech, and there is “no evidence Mr. Biden was motivated to praise the lawmaker by anything other than sincere admiration, stemming from Mr. Upton’s role in crafting the 21st Century Cures Act after the death of Mr. Biden’s elder son, Beau, from cancer in 2015.”

This is what we’ve come to: partisans attacking a lifelong public servant because he has the nerve to show active support for a member of another party who played a key role in the passage of legislation that vastly improves efforts to fight a disease that took the life of his child. It’s shameful, self-serving—and frankly bad politics. Most Americans would look at Biden’s praise for Upton for what it is: a genuine expression of humanity, respect, and gratitude. Upton responded in turn: “Being in the audience with my family and hearing Vice President Biden reference our work together was an immense honor…He was warmly received by everyone in attendance who were thrilled to have him there, including myself.”

As Biden spokesman Bill Russo says in response, “Vice President Biden believes to his core that you can disagree politically on a lot and still work together in good faith on issues of common cause—like funding cancer research.” Biden himself responded similarly and with good humor: “I read in New York Times today…that one of my problems is if I ever run for president, I like Republicans,” Biden told the Conference of Mayors. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” He added: “But, you know, from where I come from, I don’t know how you get anything done…unless we start talking to one another again.” Continue reading