Tag Archives: conflicts of interest

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/2/2018: Bad Neighbors And Bad Journalism

Good Morning…

1. Ah, now THAT’S the ol’ Spirit of 1776!  In a subdivision near Sterling Heights in Chesterfield, Michigan,  a resident sent an anonymous letter to other residents, threatening  to take dire measures against them if they set off fireworks after 9 PM  this week. Here’s the letter…

Yikes.

I’m presuming that the real spirit of 1776 still breathes deeply in this nation, and that the reaction of the recipients of that letter will be to make certain that the noisiest fireworks possible are exploding every second during the time they are permitted to be by law, from the start of the week to the end. The neighbor is a coward, a jerk and a bully, and his bluff must be called as a matter of justice and honor. (Pointer: HLN)

2. Nah, the mainstream news media isn’t biased! In an absolutely correct and justified editorial note, Fox News’ Chris Wallace excoriated media outlets on “Fox News Sunday” for attempting to connect President Donald Trump to the newsroom shooting at Capital Gazette in Maryland. (This will, of course, be called an example of Fox News pro-Trump toadying by those same media outlets.) This was indeed one of the most transparent recent episodes of fake news peddling by CNN, Reuters and others in the mainstream media, who worked hard to make the case that the killer of five was motivated by the President’s repeated accusation that the media is “the enemy of the people.” We now know that the shooter swore that he would kill the Capital Gazette writer whom he targeted in the attack years ago, when everyone assumed that Hillary was going to be the next President. Continue reading

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Now That The ACLU No Longer Wants To Be The ACLU, The United States Needs An ACLU

In a confidential memo obtained by former board member Wendy Kaminer, the American Civil Liberties Union has defined a policy that retreats from and undermines—perhaps the best word is betrays— its traditional mission of protecting the Bill of Rights, and especially the First Amendment rights of all Americans.  The memo says in part,

Work to protect speech rights may raise tensions with racial justice, reproductive freedom, or a myriad of other rights, where the content of the speech we seek to protect conflicts with our policies on those matters, and/or otherwise is directed at menacing vulnerable groups or individuals….We are also firmly committed to fighting bigotry and oppression against other marginalized groups, including women, immigrants, religious groups, LGBT individuals, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. Accordingly, we work to extend the protections embodied in the Bill of Rights to people who have traditionally been denied those rights. And the ACLU understands that speech that denigrates such groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.

…There is no presumption that the First Amendment trumps all other amendments, or vice versa. We recognize that taking a position on one issue can affect our advocacy in other areas and create particular challenges for staff members engaged in that advocacy. For example, a decision by the ACLU to represent a white supremacist group may well undermine relationships with allies or coalition partners, create distrust with particular communities, necessitate the expenditure of resources to mitigate the impact of those harms, make it more difficult to recruit and retain a diverse staff and board across multiple dimensions, and in some circumstances, directly further an agenda that is antithetical to our mission and values and that may inflict harm on listeners…Our defense of speech may have a greater or lesser harmful impact on the equality and justice work to which we are also committed, depending on factors such as the (present and historical) context of the proposed speech; the potential effect on marginalized communities; the extent to which the speech may assist in advancing the goals of white supremacists or others whose views are contrary to our values; and the structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur….

Where the ACLU defends the right to speak of those with whom it disagrees, it should generally engage in counter-measures both to reinforce the
values the speaker attacks and to make clear that we do not endorse the substance of the views. Some options might include:

1. Denouncing the views in press statements, op-eds, social media, and other available
fora.

2. Participating in counter-protests. When we assist people in securing the right to march or demonstrate for views we condemn, we can and generally should support
and participate in counter-protests, with consideration given to participation by senior staff or board members to highlight the ACLU’s commitment and ensure that
such participation does not disproportionately burden other staff.

3. Supporting other counter-speech by supporting, organizing or helping to organize events, facilitating access to media, or taking other actions that will amplify and
strengthen the voices of those espousing our values.

4. Expanding our work on behalf of the values the speaker attacks.

5. Earmarking any fees recovered from the case to projects within the ACLU that further the values that we support and the speaker attacked, or donating them to another organization that works to advance those values, preferably in the geographical area where the speech occurred….

Continue reading

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Mid-Day Ethics Refreshment, 6/12/2018: “Ethics Isn’t A Horse Race, It’s A Marathon” Edition

Good afternoon…

1. Culture rot symptoms. Once upon a time it would have been unthinkable and shameful for the owner of a losing horse in a Triple Crown race to claim that dirty tactics have affected the outcome. That, however, was before the loser of the 2016 Presidential election did the equivalent sour grapes act, loudly and continuously. This is how important cultural ethics norms fall off in chunks.

Justify becoming the only undefeated Triple Crown champion after Seattle Slew as he won the Belmont Stakes was immediately smeared  by Mike Repole, co-owner of fourth-place Vino Rosso and last-place Noble Indy. He didn’t claim Russian collusion, just equine collusion.

“Justify is a super horse. He is a Triple Crown winner and he’s undefeated,” said Repole “But I can see the stewards looking into this over the next couple of days. I probably expect them to look into reckless riding by Florent and bring him in to question him about what he was thinking and what his tactics were.”  He accused jockey Florent Geroux of riding Restoring Hope, Justify’s stablemate, to clear the way for Justify to win the race.

“It definitely seemed to me [Restoring Hope] was more of an offensive lineman than a racehorse trying to win the Belmont,” Repole told reporters, “and Justify was a running back trying to run for a touchdown.” Nice. the complaint instantly became the main story of the race, before Justify’s jockey and owners were able to bask in the rare accomplishment for a day or two. Ironically, Repole’s own Vino Rosso was assisted by similar “lineman” tactics by another horse, Noble Indy, like Vino Rosso trained by Todd Pletcher. Concludes racing expert Pat Forde,  “It’s almost certainly why Noble Indy was entered. Basically, Pletcher’s two-horse racing tactic simply ran up against a better two-horse racing tactic.”

And the tactic is legal. Never mind. Graceful losing is on the way out, thanks to our politicians.

2. He gets it, and he doesn’t even read Ethics Alarms! The Ethiopian cabbie who drove me home from the morning mandatory legal ethics seminar that I teach every month for newly-minted D.C. lawyers spent that first half of the trip complaining about President Trump. Then he said, “Now, I didn’t vote for him, but I respect him. I respect him because he is the President of my country, and my fellow citizens elected him. I can complain about him to you, because you are an American too. If a foreigner gets in my cab, however, and starts insulting the President, I pull over and order him out.” Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/15/2018: Alito Gets One Right, Ellison Deceived, And An Ancient, Unethical Tactic Works Once Again…

To a glorious morning, Ethics-Lovers!

1. Bad Alito, Good Alito.  As I briefly noted yesterday (and hopefully will do in detail today), Justice Alito authored an unethical and embarrassing dissent defending a lawyer who deliberately betrayed his client by telling the jury that he had killed someone his client denied killing. Bad Alito. However, the arch-conservative jurist also authored the majority opinion in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which the SCOTUS majority struck down a virtuous but unconstitutional law, and did so clearly and well.

These are, I think, my favorite Supreme Court opinions, where the Court ignores the motives and objectives of a law and simply rules whether the legislature is allowed to behave like that. I don’t know, but I would guess that most of the majority feel the way I do about organized sports gambling: nothing good can come of it, and a lot of harm is inevitable. One they get the green light, I’m sure that as many states will take over sports gambling for its easy revenue as now prey on its poor, desperate and stupid with their state lottery scams. Everyone involved–sports, fans, athletes, states, the public’s ethical compass—is going to be corrupted by letting the sports betting genie out of its bottle: just watch.

Nevertheless, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992  law known as PASPA, should have been struck down decades ago; I’d love to know why it took so long. No, it did NOT ban sports betting, though this is what far too many news reports tell you. Congress can ban sports betting directly if it chooses to, as it is interstate commerce. This isn’t in dispute. What it did in 1992, however, was to order states not to pass laws states have a constitutional right to pass. The distinction matters. From SCOTUS Blog, which is usually the best source for analysis of these things:

The 10th Amendment provides that, if the Constitution does not either give a power to the federal government or take that power away from the states, that power is reserved for the states or the people themselves. The Supreme Court has long interpreted this provision to bar the federal government from “commandeering” the states to enforce federal laws or policies. [The] justices ruled that a federal law that bars states from legalizing sports betting violates the anti-commandeering doctrine…

…In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court began by explaining that the “anticommandeering doctrine may sound arcane, but it is simply the expression of a fundamental structural decision incorporated into the Constitution” – “the decision to withhold from Congress the power to issue orders directly to the States.” And that, the majority continued, is exactly the problem with the provision of PASPA that the state challenged, which bars states from authorizing sports gambling: It “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” “It is as if,” the majority suggested, “federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty,” Alito concluded, “is not easy to imagine.”

…The court also rejected the argument, made by the leagues and the federal government, that the PASPA provision barring states from authorizing sports betting does not “commandeer” the states, but instead merely supersedes any state laws that conflict with the provision – a legal doctrine known as pre-emption. Pre-emption, the majority explained, “is based on a federal law that regulates the conduct of private actors,” but here “there is simply no way to understand the provision prohibiting state authorization as anything other than a direct command to the States,” which “is exactly what the anticommandeering rule does not allow.”

Got it.

Good decision. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/8/2018: George Washington, Elaine Chao, Brown-Haired Fox News Babes And Clumsy Cheerleaders

Good Morning!

1. Diversity at Fox News! There was a brunette co-anchor sitting with Bill Hemmer this morning. I almost spit out my coffee, Now if the network would only hire a female newsreader who wouldn’t be a credible contestant in a beauty pageant, the culture might advance a bit…

2.  Can an employer refuse to hire an asshole? The NFL Players Association has filed a grievance  on behalf of free-agent safety Eric Reid,  alleging collusion that has denied him a job for the upcoming 2018 season, and arguing that no NFL rule mandates players stand during the playing of the national anthem, that the league has indicated it respects “the rights of players to demonstrate,” and the collective bargaining agreement states “league rules supersede club rules.”

The grievance loses, or the NFL is in big trouble. Well, it is already in trouble, but more trouble. Demonstrating players annoys fans and hurts business. The NFL may force teams to allow jerks like Reid and ex-player Colin Kaepernick to interfere with Sunday head-bashing frolic by imposing their half-baked politics on the proceedings, but team can certainly choose to pay million dollar contracts to players who have better judgment, and are thus more trustworthy employees.

3. At George Washington University, it’s The Political Correctness Morons vs. The Conflict-Averse Spineless! I can’t believe I’m writing this. No, of course I can: I’ve predicted it.

The following on-line petition has garnered the requisite number of signatures among George Washington University students, and now will get an official response:

“We, as students of the George Washington University, believe it is of great exigence that the University changes its official mascot. The use of “Colonials,” no matter how innocent the intention, is received as extremely offensive by not only students of the University, but the nation and world at large. The historically, negatively-charged figure of Colonials has too deep a connection to colonization and glorifies the act of systemic oppression. Alternative nickname recommendations are “Hippos,” “Revolutionaries”, or “Riverhorses.”

They apparently don’t teach American history at GW.  The nickname  for the athletic teams  is “The Colonials” because the United States, prior to its liberation, were called “the Colonies,” because they were colonies. Colonials are those who have been colonized, not those who do the colonizing. The mascot, meanwhile, is called “George,” because he is a caricature of George Washington, who led the Colonials to victory over Great Britain, and anyone who can’t puzzle that out shouldn’t be in college.

The petition represents the mutant offspring of a one night stand between The Confederate Statuary Ethics Train Wreck and The Niggardly Principles.

Who will win? Oh, the Morons, probably. On campuses the Morons almost always defeat the spineless administrators, as well as common sense and rationality. [Pointer: Res Ipsa Loquitur]

Oh…here’s George:

4.  Speaking of spineless…The cheerleading  coaches at Hanover Park High School in New Jersey decided that there would be no more try-outs for the squad. The school’s athletic director said that after a single mother complained about her daughter not making the cut, the policy would be changed in favor of “inclusion.” The school board released a statement saying: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/18/2018: The Bad, The Beautiful, And The Stupid

Good morning, everyone…

1. Tales of the King’s Pass. Fox News put out a statement saying that Sean Hannity had its “full support.” We can assume that means no punishment, no sanctions, not even any public regrets, despite the fact, and it is a fact, that the right-wing talk-show host-turned-Trump propagandist went on the air and defended Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, without mentioning the fact that Hannity was Cohen’s client. Thus Fox is announcing, in effect, that undisclosed conflicts of interest are just fine and dandy if your ratings are good enough. This also means that Fox News is admitting that it really doesn’t care about candor, honesty, and objectivity, since it will ignore blatant violations of all three if the profit is sufficient.

In fairness to Fox, Hannity’s blatant biases toward all things Trump are no more egregious than the open Obama bias displayed across the mainstream media’s full spectrum of journalists and pundits; it just stands out more because he has less company. However, this is a specific conflict of interest, with Hannity having undisclosed connections to a newsmaker that could reasonably affect his commentary. The closest parallel would be ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reporting on the Clinton Foundation’s dubious activities without telling viewers that he was a $75,000 donor. ABC didn’t discipline him, either, but at least he made a public apology on the air.

To make the King’s Pass case even stronger, after Politico reported this week that dinnertime news anchor Bret Baier played nine holes of golf with President Trump over the weekend, Fox News acknowledged that Baier was admonished by the president of the network.  I don’t agree with the reprimand at all. The opportunity to spend that kind of time with a President is invaluable, a rare opportunity to acquire insight and access over an extended period of time. The idea, I assume, is that it creates the illusion of chumminess. It’s a dumb illusion. If I were a journalist,  I would play golf with anyone if it allowed me to learn something. If I were president of a network, I’d reprimand a reporter for turning down such an opportunity.

2. The Virtue-Signaling Hall Of Fame. Starbucks is reacting to the PR nightmare arising out of the arrest of two black men for refusing to order anything while waiting for a companion in a Philadelphia Starbucks by a grand gesture: it will close all U.S. stores and corporate offices on the afternoon of May 29 for “employee racial bias training.” I suppose this is good crisis management, though cynical and non-substantive. It also permanently tars as a racist the Starbucks ex-manager, who says she was following a locale-specific company policy in an area that had experienced problems with loitering. Continue reading

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Clearing Up A Matter Of Widespread Confusion: How Lawyers Acquire Accidental Clients

When I pointed out this morning that by Sean Hannity’s own description of his relationship to Trump fixer Michael Cohen, he was Cohen’s client, several commenters protested, including a lawyer or two. This suggests that many more were similarly confused, and it is no surprise. A disturbing number of lawyers fall into the trap of acquiring “accidental clients.” There are many ways this can happen, but the most insidious of them is this, which people like me constantly and repeatedly warn lawyers about, often to no avail.

A relative or a friend approaches you, a lawyer, at a party. He or she asks you a question about some legal issue, and you give an off-the-cuff answer. Because you are a lawyer, and because you gave advice, however vague, that individual accepts it as a free legal opinion, and also assumes that the conversation was confidential. Usually nothing happens. Sometimes, however, the friend or relation acts based on your advice. If the results turn out badly, he or she may sue for malpractice, and sometimes will win damages. In an infamous case that is still good law, an individual went to a medical malpractice specialist to engage him to sue a hospital. After describing the facts, the potential client was told, “You have no case,” and informed that the lawyer would not accept the representation. But the individual relied on that statement, and didn’t bring a suit until the statute of limitations had run. Then he learned, from another lawyer, that he did have a valid case, though one he could no longer pursue. The first lawyer was sued for malpractice, and the court found that indeed “You have no case” constituted legal advice, and the advice was relied upon, meaning that an attorney-client relationship had been formed. Continue reading

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