You Are No Doubt Reading About How Yesterday’s Election Gave Democrats Control Over The Virginia Legislature. Here Is A Notable Component Of That Accomplishment.

Be proud, Democrats!

Former Virginia lawmaker Joe  Morrissey  won the state Senate seat for the 16th District in the Old Dominion last night, defeating Independent Waylin Ross.  Morrissey got more than 60% of the votes, showing an enthusiastic  electorate. He will now represent parts of Richmond, Chesterfield County, Petersburg, Hopewell, Prince George County, and Dinwiddie County.

Who is Joe Morrissey? Let me refresh your memory using this post, from 2014. The first half of it was about revolting Republican House member Blake Farenthold—the guy wearing the duck pajamas—

who was, thankfully, finally forced out of office in the wake of #MeToo.  The second half was about Joe: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, Christmas Eve 2017: I TRIED To Find Upbeat, Inspirational Items Today, Santa, I Really Did…

Goooood MORNING!

1  I believe the correct term is “rude”...Social norms are necessary to maintain ethical standards, and they need to move quickly when conduct begins to resemble the “broken windows” that trigger urban decay. Years ago there was much complaining about solo diners talking on cell phones in restaurants, a gripe based on “ick” and not ethics. A diner’s table is his or her domain, and if one chooses to talk to a friend who is physically present or one who is elsewhere, that’s no other diner’s business unless the conversation breaks the sound barrier. However, walking around a store while having a loud, endless conversation via earpiece and phone is obnoxious in the extreme. That’s a public place, and the market is an important traditional locus for social interaction and community bonding. Technology is creating toxic social habits that are creating isolation and the deterioration in social skills, including basic respect for the human beings with whom we share existence. I almost confronted a young woman at the CVS last night who was cruising the aisles, laughing and dishing with a friend over her phone,  sometimes bumping into other shoppers in the process.

I wish I had. Next time.

2. I hadn’t thought of this, but it’s obviously a problem of longstanding. Local school boards are traditional gateways to public service and politics, but the previously typical citizens who become involved often have no experience or understanding regarding the basic ethics principle of public office. In San Antonio, for example, a jury acquitted San Antonio Independent School District trustee Olga Hernandez of conspiracy to commit honest service wire fraud and conspiracy to solicit and accept bribes, the result was dictated by her utter cluelessness rather than any doubts about what she did. Testimony revealed an inner-city school district where vendors and board members developed relationships that created conflicts of interest and compromised judgment. The vendors knew what was going on, but the school board members may not have.

Hernandez, for example, testified that she considered the plane tickets, complimentary hotel stays, jewelry, meals and campaign contributions she received from those connected with a local insurance brokerage firm doing business with the school district as favors and gifts from friends. Coincidentally, none of them had been her friends before she was in a position to help them make money.

The beginning of careers in public service is when ethics training is most crucial, not later. How many school board members are required to attend a basic ethics seminar regarding government ethics? I would love to know. Continue reading

The Sexting Persecution Of Cormega Copening

sexting

Charging kids with crimes for sexting themselves to a fully consenting fellow kid always seemed excessive and cruel to me. This story is the reductio ad absurdum that settles the matter.

In Fayetteville, North Carolina, 17-year-old Cormega Copening and his girlfriend Brianna Denson, also 17, began exchanging naked photos of themselves in text messages when they were 16. They were the only ones who saw the pictures, but someone somehow tipped off local authorities, who searched Copening’s phone and discovered them.

Copeling and Denson were charged with sexual exploitation. The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office concluded that Denson had committed two felony sex crimes...against herself. A warrant cited her as both the adult perpetrator and the minor victim of two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, second-degree exploitation for making her photo and third-degree exploitation for having her own nude photo in her possession. A conviction could have put Denson in prison and would have required her to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life. Denson pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was given 12 months of probation.

Her sexting partner Copening, however, is still facing as much as ten years prison time for two counts of second-degree sexual exploitation and three counts of third-degree exploitation. As with Denson, the third-degree charges arise out of the pictures Copening had of himself.  That’s not the worst of the mind-twisting logic of this prosecution, however. North Carolina is one of two states in the country (the other: New York) that makes 16  the age of adulthood in the criminal system. The state’s consent laws consider anyone 16 and under a minor, but allows minors 16 or over to be charged as adults.

Gilbertian result: Copening is facing conviction, as an adult, for exploiting a minor—himself. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Voters in Virginia’s 74th District

Virginia’s 74th District, made up of Charles City County and parts of Henrico and Prince George Counties and the cities of Hopewell and Richmond, used a special election this week to return to the state House of Delegates the illustrious Joseph D. Morrissey, who ran as an independent because his previous party, the Democrats, wanted no part of him. Morrissey ran from his jail cell thanks to his conviction (he pleaded guilty, but maintained his innocence) following a sex scandal involving his 17-year-old secretary, whose nude photo was found on his cellphone and was  shared with a friend. Morrissey professed his innocence, and claimed that his phone was hacked. Yet Morrissey’s friend was prepared to testify that  he had received a text from Morrissey saying, “Hey, buddy I just fucked her on my conference table and again on the floor for good measure!” The young woman denies they had sex, but she texted her friend saying, “OMG so much I have to tell you but the most important thing is!!! I just fucked my boss tonight in our office on the desk and on the floor.”  Coincidentally, she is now pregnant. It’s a miracle!!!

Of course, any decent public servant who embarrassed his district, state, party and the democratic system by ending up in jail for breaking laws when he was elected to make them would have resigned—but then, a decent, ethical public servant wouldn’t be in such a fix. He certainly found the right place to run: in  four previous elections, Morrisey’s history of fistfights, contempt-of-court citations and disbarment didn’t dim his appeal, nor did the fact that the 57-year-old bachelor has sired three children out of wedlock with three different women. Before his latest victory, Morrissey always won at least 70 percent of the vote as a Democrat.

Morrissey told reporters that his constituents aren’t interested in all of that trivial stuff, just what he does in the General Assembly. He is apparently correct. His constituents also seem to believe that an individual lacking character, respect for the law and the requisite trustworthiness to be a lawyer is an appropriate individual to entrust with running their state. They are morons, exactly the kind of people that have led despots and tyrants throughout history to insist that the common folk lack the intellect and ability to govern themselves.

Based on the acumen and respect for the law demonstrated by the voters of 74th District, those tyrants had a point.

Two Embarrassed Legislators, Sex, And The Resignation Line

Question: When does a sexually-charged incident obligate an elected legislator to resign?

Answer: When one or more of the following is true:

  • When the legislator has been found guilty of a sex-related offense in a court of law ( or guilty of any crime, since law-makers must no be law-breakers.)
  • When the incident indicates a bigoted and disrespectful attitude toward women.
  • When the incident makes the legislator’s necessary status as a role model to children and others impossible to sustain,
  • When the incident embarrasses the legislative body and calls its competence, integrity and trustworthiness into disrepute.
  • When the incident calls into question the legislator’s judgment and trustworthiness.

With these standards in mind, let us examine the recent plights of two legislators, one Republican, and one Democrat. First, the Republican:

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.)

Blake

Continue reading

Ethical Burglar Of The Year (Assuming Santa Doesn’t Qualify)

Now this is an ethics category you don’t see very often!

"Let's hope that I do not, while gathering my swag, encounter evidence of a crime that, unlike burglary and theft, my personal value system regards as repugnant, for then, as a responsible citizen burglar, I would be ethically obligated to report it to law enforcement officials, thus placing myself at greater risk of arrest..."

“Let’s hope that I do not, while taking valuables and property from the private residence I am about to break into, encounter evidence of a crime that, unlike burglary and theft, my personal value system regards as repugnant, for then, as a responsible citizen burglar, I would be ethically obligated to report it to law enforcement officials, thus placing myself at greater risk of arrest…”

In Spain, a burglar  broke into the home of a trainer for a kids soccer team, and discovered a collection of child pornography, including self-made recordings of the homeowner sexually abusing children as young as ten. The burglar placed an anonymous call to local police and said he left the evidence in a car, along with a note on which he wrote the apparent pedophile’s address. “I have had the misfortune to come into possession of these tapes and feel obliged to hand them over and let you do your job, so that you can lock this … up for life,”  the burglar told police in his message.

The trainer has been arrested and charged;  one of his victims, who is now 16, told authorities she had been abused since the time she was 10.

A few ethics observations on an intriguing case: Continue reading

What’s the Matter With Paul Gust?

Oh-oh...now I'VE searched for her too!

Combine the Anthony Weiner debacle and the Naked Teacher Principle (in reverse), and you get the travails of 45-year-old Paul Gust, the computer teacher at the Saugatuck Public Schools in Michigan. He has been fired, and I would fire him too. But which of his actions were a firing offense?

1. Storing photos of naked women on his school computer?
2. Being such a klutz that he accidentally flashed some of the photos on the screen in the middle of a presentation on computer technology?
3. Having the FBI find photographs of underage girls on that same computer, though not photos that constituted child-porn?
4. Having the FBI also discover that he had searched for photos of Miley Cyrus braless, when she was under 18?
5. Having personal e-mails on his computer—beyond dispute involving personal discussions, off hours, on his own time, using his own accounts—that included discussions of sexual fantasies involving teen-age girls? Continue reading

Ethics, Porn, and the Creepy Professor

The Ronald Ayers saga raises the intriguing, Weiner-esque ethical issue of whether a college professor being creepy is sufficient reason to fire him.

The former economics professor was fired by the University of Texas for viewing pornography on an office computer, which the University’s policies forbade. The chain of facts has the ring of Kafka: 1) a student claims he hears “sexual noises” emanating from Ayers’ office, which 2) is considered sufficient provocation (the professor denied the accusation that he was not “master of his domain” at work) for the school to search his computer, which 3) uncovers evidence that he looked at some pornographic sites, and 4) also that he searched for the term “teen,” which 5) the university deems sufficient to indicate that he was searching for child pornography, so 6) they fired him, after three decades and tenure on the faculty.

University records say Ayers at first denied the allegations that he viewed pornography, but when confronted with a printout of his computer records, admitted that it may have happened “at the end of a long work day.” Ayers later told administrators seeing the porn was for “academic research.”

Uh-huh… Continue reading

As Weiner Finally Goes, Some Lessons That We Already Should Know

I’m sitting in the Washington, D.C. offices of  NPR, waiting to go live at 11 AM. with some ethics commentary about the imminent resignation of Rep. Weiner. He is finally doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, just as his Democratic colleagues are defenestrating him for the wrong reasons. Once yesterday’s old photos surfaced showing Weiner in women’s underwear, his fate was sealed…although it was really sealed already. His forced resignation was inevitable, and the fact that the Congressman was unable to see it so that he could preserve some shred of honor by doing his duty as soon as his disgraceful conduct became public shows how wretched his judgment is.

The 56% of his constituents who, according to polls, thought that he should remain in his job demonstrated their complete lack of understanding of the requirements of leadership and ethics. They weren’t the only ones. It has been fascinating, though depressing, to read the comment threads on various websites and blogs covering the Weiner story, because they are so similar in their rationalizations. The categories, and reasons why they are so misguided, are:

  • Lots of the people criticizing Weiner engage in dubious inline conduct themselves; they are hypocrites.” No, they are non-leaders. When you accept the responsibility of leadership, you accept the duties of  integrity, honesty, and honorable conduct. Rep. Weiner gave up the right to behave as sleazy as the guy we never heard of next door when he ran for office. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz For Rep. Weiner Defenders: Would You Still Think He Shouldn’t Resign If He Did THIS?

Just add his daughter's head, and you have Rep. Gerber's fantasy date.

The Sixth District Court of Appeal in San Jose just ruled that Joseph Gerber, a California man who used his computer to create sexually explicit photos by pasting images of his 13-year-old daughter’s head onto the fully mature, naked bodies of porn performers in lewd poses, was wrongly convicted of possessing child pornography. After all, the pictures didn’t show minors engaging in sex acts, just fully legal adults with his daughter’s head, which apparently really turned Dad on.

The decision is unquestionably correct from a legal standpoint: no children were harmed to create the photos, and they did not depict child porn of any kind, except in Mr. Gerber’s fatherly mind.

Thus the Ethics Alarms question for Alec Baldwin and the reported 56% of New Yorkers who say that sexting, lying Representative Anthony Weiner should not resign his position because of his personal habit of sending smiling photos of his penis and other body parts to porn actresses, scheduling skype phone sex while his pregnant wife is away, and other similar activities, lying it all the while until lies became impossible: Continue reading