Tag Archives: conflicts of interest

The President Is Right About The Mainstream News Media, And It Can’t Handle The Truth, Part I: This Morning’s New York Times Headline

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I actually had dreams, nightmares really, about this theme as it rattled around in my head last night. It began with a planned post titled “The President vs. The  Press,” but it  dawned on me, as I was “lying awake with a dismal headache and repose was tabooed by anxiety,” that even that headline would fail to convey the important ethics story beneath. When I got up, too early, I grabbed my morning paper off the front walk to see if the New York Times had once again manufactured an attack piece on the President as its main story.

It had. This one was titled “For, $200,000, A Chance To Whisper in Trump’s Ear At Mar-a-Lago.” It is a special variety of fake news, the kind that the biased news media defenders deny is fake news, because it contains facts and is merely deceitful, misleading, hyped and given far more prominence than the facts deserve. But all that makes it fake, because it misleads readers, and is intended to. It’s on the front page, so this must be important, think the Times’ readers, forgetting, or ignoring, the fact that this very paper vowed to jettison journalistic ethics in October to make sure Donald Trump never won the Presidency. Now it is using its power and influence to prevent him from being President.

He called them on it last week, unleashing their fury. More on that later…

This wasn’t the worst of the endless trail of Times stories sowing distrust, but it was what greeted me this morning. The headline suggests that Trump is selling influence for cash—you know, like the Clinton Foundation, or like Bill did when he rented out the Lincoln bedroom to rich Hollywood donors. The story’s placement in the paper suggests this is crisis-worthy. But we knew all about all the components of this “crisis” before.

We knew Trump’s corporation (not Trump personally, which is intentionally blurred in the article) owns a lot of properties, including this one. We knew this created a conflict of interest, and that it would allow critics to claim self-dealing whenever they thought it would help smear the President, as with the ridiculous claim that the seven Muslim nations on his Middle East travel halt were chosen because he owned no hotels in any of them.

We knew that Trump had been spending weekends at the resort since he took office.  Aside: The Times, cable news, and others are bashing him for that. Having made sure that Washington, D.C. is hostile territory, filled with marchers, protesters, people carrying signs insulting him and a population that voted 97% against him and wants him dead, the news media also wants him to be the Prisoner of the White House…all the better to kill him with stress and prompt the psychotic break they are sure is coming and that they can’t wait to occur. The President would be mad NOT to flee to his Palm Beach resort on weekends. I would. So would every hateful reporter, if they weren’t certain that The Golden Rule doesn’t apply to Donald Trump, like fairness and most other ethics principles.

We also have known for a month  the private club had doubled its dues since the Inauguration. That was an obvious, if ruthless,  business decision by the management. I doubt Trump had anything to do with that call, but then I’m rational and fair, unlike most on the left today. The club members are literally all mega-millionaires and billionaires, and $200,000 is not an unusually high figure for dues at  top-line exclusive golf clubs. $200,000 sounds like a huge expenditure to the typical American reading the Times. It’s not,  for these members.

Moreover, there are few memberships open, and almost all of the 500 current members predate Trump’s campaign:

“Membership lists reviewed by The New York Times show that the club’s nearly 500 paying members include dozens of real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives and others whose businesses could be affected by Mr. Trump’s policies. At least three club members are under consideration for an ambassadorship. Most of the 500 have had memberships predating Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and there are a limited number of memberships still available.”

You know, their businesses could have been affected by Mr. Trump’s policies whether they were members of the club or not. What’s the implication here, that the President is going to calibrate his policies to benefit duespayers? If these people were friends of the President (the news media has been telling us that he has no friends, but that was in a different set of hit pieces), he could meet with them, text with them, have a phone conversation with them any time he chose. Ah, winks the Times, but if they pay their $200,000, “the President himself could stop by your table for a quick chat”!

What a deal. Do the reporters and their editors really think that successful “real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives” and others are morons, or are they the morons? Or do they just count on their readers to be gullible fools? Continue reading

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Conservatives Flunk An Integrity Test: The Puzder Withdrawal

Amazing. I am reading conservative bloggers and columnists blaming Andrew Puzder’s withdrawal as the Labor Secretary nominee on an outrageous Democratic Party hit job. This is the mirror image of Democrats and their news media describing every move by the President as a threat to the solar system. Why would anyone believe these conservatives when their charges are reasonable and  justified, if they call something like this an outrage?

Puzder was one of President Trump’s worst and most indefensible nominations, running in a dead heat with Ben Carson at HUD (unqualified, and an apparent idiot); and Rick Perry at Energy (appointing someone who wants to get rid of the agency he will be heading when he couldn’t even remember the name of the agency on live TV). His nomination is also the most glaring example yet of incompetent and lazy vetting, as well as insensitivity to obvious problems, and why the President desperately needs a pro, and adult, and a competent manager as Chief of Staff.

No, Puzder wasn’t forced to withdraw “just” because of his employment of an undocumented immigrant as his housekeeper. To be clear, however, that alone would have been sufficient to disqualify him to serve in this administration, which has made enforcement of immigration laws a centerpiece of its philosophy. Continue reading

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The President’s Ethics Grades So Far

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Is it fair to grade President Trump on his ethics after less than a month? Of course. If he wanted to pay attention to this area, the President would certainly seek an objective progress report. There has been enough activity in three weeks to give some preliminary grades. Ethics Alarms began this adventure with low expectations; after all, I have never read or heard a single statement from the President, ever, that suggests that he thinks about or cares about ethics at all. His behavior and opinions appear to be entirely governed by rationalizations, emotions, and impulse. However, we do have hope, and three weeks of a presidency is not sufficient to extinguish it. There is plenty of time for President Trump to address his ethical shortcomings

Let’s use the Josephson Institute for Ethics’ Six Pillars of Character for this exercise. All graded categories should be regarded as incomplete, and the offered grades as provisional only. Remember, these are ethics grades only.

I. TRUSTWORTHINESS, including Honesty in communication, Candor, Truthtelling, Reliability, Sincerity, Honesty in Conduct, Integrity, Loyalty

The President and his agents, like Spicer and Conway, have been especially loose with facts and assertions, some of which can be excused a bit as carelessness, but the sheer volume of misinformation is daunting. I suppose one could argue that Trump is reliably unpredictably, but that’s not what the value of reliability is all about. The President’s astounding verbal sloppiness makes it impossible to gauge sincerity (is he really out to ban Muslims, or just determined to keep out Muslim terrorists?) I score Trump relatively high on integrity, as shown by his Inaugural speech. Whatever he thinks he means, he really means it. (The contrast is Hillary Clinton.) Trump is loyal. Loyalty is a troublesome value that can be abused as often as not: he was loyal to appoint Ben Carson to the cabinet, but it’s still an unethical act, since Carson is unqualified beyond belief. But loyalty also covers conflicts of interest, and the appearance of impropriety. The President’s conflict of interest problems have not been seriously addressed, and won’t be.

He hasn’t been trustworthy, so his grade here is..

F

II. RESPECT, including Civility, Courtesy, Decency, Dignity, Tolerance, Acceptance, Autonomy Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On President-Elect Trump’s First News Conference

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1. I watched the introductions and about half of Trump’s opening remarks, and had to bail. I just had to. Not that Trump’s manner and speaking style were any worse than before; it’s just that the thought that young people will see this as acceptable public presentation and speaking clarity was too horrible to bear. Even with the verbalization-challenged Bushes, the level of basic language skills and vocabulary wasn’t nearly this bad.

I had to watch an old video of JFK wittily fencing with reporters to get the thought out of my head:

2. Thus this discussion is based on the transcript. I had to search a bit to find an online transcript that wasn’t constantly interrupted by editorial comments and “fact-checks.” These contained a lot of nit-picking and suggestions of deception (and some useful clarifications).  It seems to me that the “fact-checks” of Trump feel adversarial, while the recent fact-check of President Obama’s final speech were consistently friendly, and voluntarily refused to take issue with genuinely misleading statements. For example, Obama said, “If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.”  NPR’s annotation:

“Via The New Republic: “From 2000 to 2010, a decade during which the white population as a whole grew by just 1.2 percent, the number of white children in the United States declined by 4.3 million. Meanwhile the child populations of Hispanics, Asians, and people of two or more races were increasing.”

But that’s not the fact to check. Who says that anyone is “unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us“? That’s a straw man, and should have been called out (I threw a pillow at the TV screen) as one. Clear-thinking citizens are unwilling to invest in the children of illegal immigrants because they shouldn’t be here, and the more we “invest” in them, the more encouragement we give to foreign citizens to break our laws.

But NPR likes illegal immigration, so this wouldn’t occur to them, I guess.

3. I think it’s fair to say that no previous POTUS or PEOTUS press conference began with a frontal assault on the press for publishing fake news. That’s how this one began, with Sean Spicer attacking the already infamous Buzzfeed story. He also attacked CNN for reporting on Buzzfeed’s report. Here was NPR’s annotation, in part:

“BuzzFeed and CNN both reported on Tuesday about documents alleging that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump,” as CNN reported, though the two news organizations presented the information in vastly different ways. CNN mostly focused on who had seen the documents and when, citing unnamed sources and U.S. officials in different places. However, CNN said that while it had reviewed the “35-page compilation of the memos” alleging that link, it was “not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations.”

NPR’s distinction doesn’t excuse CNN. The news media does this kind of thing all the time, it’s true: it reports the fact that an irresponsible news source has reported a rumor, unsourced claim, ora lie, and thus further circulates an account that never should have been published in the first place. Later, Trump was asked about his tweet asking if we were now living in Nazi Germany. (It’s cute to see my Facebook friends fuming about that tweet, when they have been absurdly calling Trump a Nazi for months. Has anyone contacted Harry Belafonte for his comments?) Trump’s response:

“I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that — and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. I think it’s a disgrace that information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public. As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they’re going to suffer the consequences. They already are.”

Crude, but fair. It would be been nice if Trump had the wit and historical perspective to remind the assembled, and perhaps teach his audience,  what the Big Lie technique championed by Josef Goebbels was and how the Buzzfeed-CNN handoff would have pleased him. I’ve got to learned to lower my expectations. Nevertheless, the Nazi reference in that context was well-earned. It is disgraceful that the dossier was leaked by U.S. intelligence personnel. “Failing pile of garbage”  is not Presidential rhetoric (sigh) but the sentiment is correct. CNN capped a week of neon-bright biased and inaccurate reporting across the news spectrum by giving this slimy story greater visibility, thus advancing a Big Lie. CNN deserved its comeuppance, which was soon to come. Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On The Trump Sons’ Influence Peddling Story

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To catch you up: Celebrity gossip website TMZ  hyped the launch of new Texas nonprofit led by Donald Trump’s adult sons Donald Jr. and Eric based on what it called a “draft” of a soon to be released event brochure. The non-profit was offering, we were told, access to the new President during inauguration weekend  in exchange for million-dollar donations to unnamed “conservation” charities.  Prospective million-dollar donors to the “Opening Day 2017” event on  January 21, the day after inauguration, were to receive a “private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests with President Donald J. Trump,” a “multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for 4 guests with Donald Trump, Jr. and/or Eric Trump, and team, ”as well as tickets to other events” and “autographed guitars by an Opening Day 2017 performer.”

The Center for Public Integrity was on this like a shot…and so was the news media. I received a link in an e-mail from someone who archly noted that “You seem to be interested in influence peddling,” a reference to my many posts about the real purpose behind the Clinton Foundation, “so perhaps you will find this of interest [Unsaid but understood: “…you Donald Trump enabling, racist, fascist bastard!”] In the link, TIME took the hand-off from the Center, and got a series of quotes from critics, like Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign reform organization.“This is problematic on so many levels,” Larry said.  “This is Donald Trump and the Trump family using a brand new organization to raise $1 million contributions for a vague goal of giving money to conservation charities, which seems a way of basically just selling influence and selling the ability to meet with the president.”

Noble cautioned that the details of the event and its association with the new nonprofit listing the Trump brothers as directors were still unclear. “It’s really hard to identify all the problems when they’re so vague,” he said.

True. As of today, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are no longer listed as directors of a that non-profit. Papers removing their names from the Opening Day were processed by the state of Texas,  a spokeswoman for the Texas secretary of state told CNN Money.

Never mind!

Observations: Continue reading

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Now THIS Is A Conflict Of Interest…Or Is It?

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Is it a conflict of interest for a lawyer to represent a client suing herself? Lawyers are all forbidden to bring adverse actions against their own clients; it is the conflict of all conflicts, a pure breach of loyalty. Does this mean, then, that even when a statute requires a plaintiff to sue herself as a defendant, it can’t be done without breaching the ethics rules?

The case is Bagley v, Bagley, and both Bagleys are the same Bagley.

State Farm Insurance Company handled Barbara Bagley’s car insurance. She was driving when her car flipped and killed her common law husband.  To compel State Farm to indemnify her, Bagley, in her dual capacities as sole heir and personal representative of the estate of her husband, was required to bring this suit against herself as the negligent driver. Bagley as plaintiff and as her husband’s heir brought a cause of action pursuant to Utah Code section 78B-3-106, Utah‘s wrongful death statute, alleging that the defendant—her— negligently caused her, that is, the plaintiff’s husband’s death, thereby depriving his sole heir –the plaintiff, but also the defendant—of his “love, companionship, society, comfort, care, protection, financial support, pleasure, and affection.”  She also brought a second cause of action pursuant to Utah Code section 78B-3-107, Utah‘s survival action statute, alleging that the defendant—her again— negligently caused the deceased to experience pain and suffering prior to his death, entitling Bagley’s late husband’s estate to other damages. Continue reading

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Note To Prof. Painter On His Teeth Gnashing Over Trump’s Conflicts: “If You Have No Option, You Have No Problem,” or “NOW You Tell Us?”

Ethics expert Richard Painter, who was White House ethics counsel from 2005 to 2007, has authored a thorough, convincing and I’m quite certain accurate brief about all the problems arising from soon-to-be President Donald Trump’s vast business connections, and the conflicts of interest they can and will involve. It’s an automatic ethics train wreck. Here’s Painter:

Even absent a quid pro quo, the Emoluments Clause bans payments to an American public official from foreign governments. Yet they will arise whenever foreign diplomats stay in Trump hotels at their governments’ expense; whenever parties are organized by foreign governments in Trump hotels (Bahrain just announced such a party in a Trump hotel this week); whenever loans are made to the company by the Bank of China or any other foreign-government-owned bank; whenever rent is paid by companies controlled by foreign governments with offices in Trump buildings; and whenever there is any other arrangement whereby foreign government money goes into the president’s businesses….How can we expect a Trump administration to rein in loose lending practices, particularly in the real estate sector, when the president himself owes hundreds of millions of dollars to banks? What will he do when a foreign dictator acts up in a country where there is a Trump hotel?

Yikes. Yikes and true. Also Yikes, true, and why are you bringing this up now when there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it? Continue reading

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