Tag Archives: conflicts of interest

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/9/2018: Post 2016 Election Ethics Train Wreck Update Edition. Sorry.

 

Good Morning.

I don’t say “I told you so” as often as I could or would like to. One continuing theme at Ethics Alarms since the 2016 election that drove progressives mad has been the accusation leveled at me that I have been under-emphasizing the existentially perilous character and conduct of the President while concentrating too much on the conduct of his critics. My answer has been that I believe that the reaction of progressives, Democrats and the news media to President Trump’s election has been, by far, the most disturbing ethics story of the past year, and in historical context one of the most serious and dangerous periods in U.S. history. That conclusion has been reinforced as the year progressed. I was and am right.

None of that makes the ethical conduct of the Trump Presidency any better than it is; as I made clear in last year’s ethics audit,  he has largely behaved as I expected he would when I declared him, over and over again, unfit and unqualified. However, if our institutions and the public’s trust in them remain as strong as they have through-out U.S. history, a single odd-ball President, even for two terms, will not do irreparable damage. What the resistance and its allies in the Democratic Party and the news media are doing, however, threatens to wreck many of those institutions and tear down public trust to a point of no return. That’s my professional assessment. It is not one based on partisan politics or ideology, but on American history, cultural history, and ethics.

1 Fake news and fake history. I knew it was manufactured nonsense when my Facebook friends, Democrats, pundits and the mainstream news media began once again screaming “Fascist!” and claiming that the President’s expressed desire for a major military parade was a terrifying departure from American tradition. I knew a little research would prove it so, but then, I thought, surely some news source would have the integrity to do its job, and some “nationally recognized historian,” like go-to Democratic shills like CNN’s Douglas Brinkley, would set the record straight. Why should I have to do the work for free that these people are paid handsome fees to do, and have a duty to do besides?

Yet few corrections from these supposedly objective sources were registered while Rep. Adam Smith (D-CA) said, “A military parade of this kind would also be a departure from the values of our constitutional democracy,” and Rep, Ted Lieu (D-CA) sneered, “Because authoritarian regimes like Russia and North Korea hold massive military parades does not mean that we must as well. Politico headlined, “Trump’s Military Parade Draws Bipartisan Rebuke.” The Washington Post told readers,  “Military Parades Are About Ego and Power. Of Course Trump Wants One.”  Normally reasonable bloggers were similarly triggered, like Prof. Jonathan Turley, who wrote, “The United States has long rejected the holding of military parades featuring tanks, missiles and other heavy weapons as a symbol of authoritarian regimes like the Soviet Union, North Korea and other countries.”

I guess this depends on what one’s definition of “long” is. Such parades have been out of style since the Vietnam War caused much of the public and the political class to turn against the military, though politicians still give deceit-laden lip-service to “supporting the troops,” just not what they do. Military parades featuring heavy weaponry were not uncommon between the end of the Civil War in 1865 through 1961 during the peak of the Cold War, when it was arguably strategically beneficial to remind the USSR that if it was going to bury us, there would be a fight.  Many of these parades, in 1919, 1942, 1946, 1953, 1957, 1961, and as recently as 1991, featured tanks, missiles, and sometimes many thousands of troops  Let’s see: that’s Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush…Hitlers all. That there is Chuck Schumer, a leader of the party having the vapors over the President’s suggestion, saying this: Continue reading

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When Ethics Alarms Not Only Don’t Ring, But Signal That They Might Not Have Ever Been Operable: PolitiFact Reveals Its Incompetence And Untrustworthiness Beyond All Reasonable Doubt

This is fortuitous timing! Yesterday Ethics Alarms praised a fact-check job by a supposedly non-partisan media bias watchdog site that critiqued Factcheck.Org’s analysis of the State of The Union. Today Bryan W. White informed us that the site in question favors PolitiFact, the vastly inferior factcheck site operated by the Tampa Bay Times. It is demonstrably one of the most left-biased and untrustworthy of all the fact-checking services. Bryan is a reliable authority on PolitiFact, having documented its partisan and dishonest work for years, and as co-creater of the PolitiFact Bias blog, for which he is the main writer.

Just in case there was any doubt about just how devoid of the necessary integrity and competence PolitiFact is for its mission, yesterday it announced that former Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson had been hired to critique PolitiFact and enhance its trust and credibility. Alan Grayson.

KABOOM!*

The same Alan Grayson who sent a complaint to then U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to prosecute a Republican activist  for starting an anti-Grayson parody website www.mycongressmanisnuts,com, mocking  Grayson’s typically hyperbolic site, http://www.congressmanwithguts.com,  suggesting  to Holder that Langley should be imprisoned for five years.  Now there’s respect for the First Amendment for you! What a perfect ally for a non-partisan media fact-checking operation, right?

Alan Grayson, the same politician I wrote this about in 20o9…

“Grayson is the Congressman whose explanation of the GOP position on health care was that “they want you to die.” He said that Dick Cheney speaks with “blood dripping from his teeth.” His mode of debate and persuasion, in other words, is insult and hyperbole. Respect for opposing views: zilch. Civility grade: F… He has endorsed unethical rules and plays by them…Grayson’s actions once again confirm a reliable rule of human nature: individuals who are habitually uncivil do not merely have a bad habit or poor self-control. They lack humility as well as basic respect and fairness toward others. The common, often uncivil but sometimes accurate  term for individuals like  Rep. Grayson is “jerk.”

and this in 2010… Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/24/2018: Demands, Denial, And Ethics Distortions

Good morning, crew!

1. Say please..…. A group of “Dreamers” blocked an entrance to Disneyland yesterday, as part of a protest demanding a Congressional OK for DACA.  I am willing to accept the will of Congress and the President if somehow the illegal immigrants who were brought here as children and never took the initiative to become compliant with the law get a break via DACA.  However, they are supplicants. The US has no obligation to accommodate their predicament. I don’t want any demands from them, and the more they demand, the less I am inclined to be sympathetic to their plight.

Ask nicely. Say please. Their sense of entitlement is redolent of the attitudes of the advocates of the usual, everyday, garden variety illegal immigrants. How dare the country we entered illegally enforce the law? If the “Dreamers” want to ask for a compassionate exception, I’ll listen, just as I’ll consider the pleas of panhandlers and homeless veterans. But don’t you dare tell me I have to give you a handout.  And as non-citizens, “the “Dreamers” have no basis to protest anything.

2. Is it news yet? If you had no inkling that the FBI somehow “lost” thousands of text messages sent between those lovebirds, FBI counterintelligence expert Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page,  at the exact point where their conversations and expressed desire to “stop” President Trump may have been especially interesting, you are not alone. There is an internal Justice Department investigation about the communications that went on during the extramarital affair, in part because both were involved in the Mueller investigation into whether there is some way that Democrats can find a legitimate reason to impeach President Trump. Strzok also helped lead the FBI’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s private email server—also now under renewed scrutiny, since more evidence suggests that it might have been rigged; did you know that?— and was initially involved in Special Counsel Mueller’s inquiry into Russia’s 2016 election meddling. Strzok was kicked off the task force after Mueller learned that there was smoking text message evidence that he detested the President, and Strzok and Page had texted about the need for an “insurance policy” against Trump being elected, creating a prima facie case that the investigation included supposed objective seekers of truth who had a political agenda. Page, Strzok’s secret squeeze, was also on Mueller’s team before returning to the FBI. That makes two potential anti-Trump moles. Continue reading

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A Popeye: I Just Can’t Let This Ridiculous Quote Pass…

I could headline this as an Ethics Dunce, an Unethical Quote, a “Stop making me defend Donald Trump” or even a KABOOM!, but it’s really a Popeye. The upcoming statement by Matt Miller, previously a spokesperson for the Holder Justice Department, could be easily ignored—who the hell is Matt Miller?—except that it breaks my chutzpah meter, and more than that, is designed to be recirculated as an indignant talking point by Democrats who haven’t cracked a history book since they were 12, or who are just plain liars.

After the Justice Department announced that it was taking another look at Hilary Clinton’s shenanigans with her secret email server (and perhaps the Clinton Foundation), Miller told The Daily Beast (echoing Holder, who has made similar statements),

“The president’s ongoing campaign to tear down the wall between the Justice Department and the White House seems to be working.”

Wall between the White House and the Justice Department? If there had been such a “wall,” President Kennedy obliterated it in 1960 when he appointed his brother as  Attorney General while Bobby was also serving as JFK’s primary political advisor. Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, had been the director of Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, and was one of Nixon’s closest personal friends. Ronald Reagan’s second Attorney General was his longtime friend and political aide Ed Meese, who had previously served as Reagan’s Chief of Staff! Some wall! Continue reading

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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

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/19/2017: ‘Due Process? We Don’ Need No Stinkin’ Due Process!’

Good Morning!

(Lights on the tree about 30% done, and the prickle wounds aren’t infected so far..)

1 Now, now, let’s not forget the wisdom of Joseph Goebbels...More questions about the objectivity, professionalism and fairness of the Meuller investigation are roiling D.C., even though the President isn’t about to fire the Special Counsel, though the mainstream news media went out of its way last week to make you think he was.

For example, were you following the Bruce Ohr fiasco? The former associate deputy attorney general, who was supposed to appear yesterday before the leaky Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday but didn’t, was demoted by the Justice Department when it was revealed that he had not disclosed that he had met with with officials from Fusion GPS, the people who prepared the salacious and discredited “Trump dossier.” Ohr had been part of the Meuller investigation too, but then it was learned that that his wife not only worked for Fusion GPS,  she worked on the anti-Trump opposition research that was apparently paid for by the DNC and the Clinton campaign. Is it partisan to question  how Meuller allowed people like Ohr and Strzok to be on his team in the first place? No, it’s not. In fact, it’s partisan NOT to ask that.

Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers have challenged Mueller’s grab of transition team e-mails as a likely breach of attorney client privilege. (This will be in my next year’s Government Lawyer Ethics seminar for sure.) Writes attorney Robert Barnes, in part, on LawNewz:

According to published reports, Special Counsel Robert Mueller engaged in a mass seizure of all emails of the Trump transition team without even a warrant or a subpoena. In my opinion, a mass seizure – as is alleged here against Mueller – cannot conform to either Fourth Amendment standards or attorney-client privilege protections. The questions boils down to this: was there a reason for the individuals communicating by email, including with their lawyers, to believe their communications were private or privileged? Or, did the individuals forever waive or “implicitly consent” to any future search or seizure of their emails?

…The Mueller search runs afoul of many…established court precedents and Fourth Amendment privacy and privilege principles. First, it appears Mueller searched and seized every email, without any kind of categorical or keyword search. This is exactly the kind of search the Supreme Court made clear was not allowed under the Fourth Amendment. This means Mueller can only prevail if he didn’t seize a single email of a single individual that the individual could have any expectation of either personal privacy or attorney client privilege in.

The primary excuses proffered so far for the broad seizure is the faulty assumption the use of a government server waived all privacy and all privilege of every email ever made over that server. As identified above, that has never been the law…

These are legitimate issues, yet the media, as usual, is soft-peddling them and spinning them as mere Trump obstruction. Worse, however are the multiple Democrats, including a Senator on CNN yesterday, who I have heard repeat a version of the despicable statement that recently earned New York Times editors a collective Ethics Dunce: “If he’s innocent, he has nothing to worry about.”

Please, please reassure me that we don’t have a major political party that is circulating that motto of despots, grant inquisitors, dictators and the Salem witch trial judges as a talking point. Please!

Continue reading

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Ethical Quote Of The Month: David French

“For more than a year, I’ve been challenging conservative readers to look at Trump’s actions and imagine how they’d react if Democrats were behaving the same way — to apply the same standards to their team that they’d apply to their opponents. Now, I want to challenge my progressive readers: Consider how you would respond to the federal bureaucracy with the opposite ideological imbalance. Would you have confidence that it would apply the law and Constitution fairly? Would you be alarmed if you found that a senior FBI agent so biased and reckless was playing a key role in the investigation of a Democratic president?”

——National Review writer David French, in his article, “Peter Strzok’s story will hurt public trust in the federal government at the worst possible time.”

The Strzok story, an embarrassment to the Special Counsel’s inquiry, is just one more that the mainstream media has, in sequence, tried to ignore, spin, bury, and brush off as a “conservative” obsession.  French is a credentialed “Never-Trumper,”{ but he knows an appearance of impropriety, poor oversight and conflicts of interest when he sees them:

…Robert Mueller had months ago asked a senior FBI agent to step down from his role investigating the Trump administration. [He] was caught in an extramarital affair with an FBI lawyer. The affair itself was problematic, but so was the fact that the two were found to have exchanged anti-Trump, pro-Hillary Clinton text messages….

…This agent, Peter Strzok, also worked with FBI director James Comey on the Clinton email investigation. In fact, he was so deeply involved in the Clinton investigation that he is said to have interviewed Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin, and to have been present when the FBI interviewed Clinton. According to CNN, he was part of the team responsible for altering the FBI’s conclusion that Clinton was “grossly negligent” in handling classified emails (a finding that could have triggered criminal liability) to “extremely careless” — a determination that allowed her to escape prosecution entirely. After the Clinton investigation concluded, Strzok signed the documents opening the investigation into Russian election interference and actually helped interview former national-security adviser Michael Flynn. In other words, it looks like a low-integrity, reckless, biased bureaucrat has played an important role in two of the most important and politically charged criminal investigations of the new century. Yes, it’s good that Mueller removed Strzok when he discovered the text messages. No, Strzok is not solely responsible for the conclusions reached in either investigation. But his mere presence hurts public confidence in the FBI, and it does so in a way that further illustrates a persistent and enduring national problem: America’s permanent bureaucracy is unacceptably partisan.

…It is to Robert Mueller’s credit that he took swift action against Strzok. It’s a problem that, as the Wall Street Journal observes, he “kept this information from House investigators.” For a critical mass of the public to have confidence in Mueller’s investigation, it must be as transparent and accountable as humanly possible. A proper investigation into Russian interference in our election is vital to the health of our democracy. A biased and opaque probe, however, will do far more harm than good.

French is bending over backwards to be fair, but he goes so far he may snap. Mueller must know his team, and he must understand, or one would think he would, that if he finds anything that justifies action against the President of the United States, it is essential that there be no hint of bias or partisan conflicts. How could he allow someone like this to play a key role in his investigation? The Wall Street Journal asked,quite reasonably,

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is emphasizing its ejection of FBI agent Peter Strzok immediately upon learning about anti-Trump texts he exchanged with another FBI employee, Lisa Page, before the 2016 election. But when did the FBI learn of the messages? …[W]hen did the FBI dig up and turn over that very first tranche? How long has the bureau known one of its lead investigators was exhibiting such bias? Was it before Mr. Mueller was even appointed? Did FBI leaders sit by as the special counsel tapped Mr. Strzok? In any case, we know from the letter that the inspector general informed both Messrs. Rosenstein and Mueller of the texts on July 27, and that both men hid that explosive information from Congress for four months. The Justice Department, pleading secrecy, defied subpoenas that would have produced the texts. It refused to make Mr. Strzok available for an interview. It didn’t do all this out of fear of hurting national security, obviously. It did it to save itself and the FBI from embarrassment.

Yet when the President made some derogatory tweets about the FBI, the news media as one treated it as if he were committing blasphemy. The tweet, as usual, were foolish and unprofessional. Trump was wrong to send them, as usual, but I don’t see how anyone can argue that the substance of what he wrote is wrong. Continue reading

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