Tag Archives: conflicts of interest

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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Presenting Rationalization #63, “Yoo’s Rationalization,” And How It Missed Getting On The List This Long, I’ll Never Know

no-means-yesRationalization #63, the eighty-first rationalization overall when you add up the sub-rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List, is a major one, and should be near the top. (One of these days I’ll re-arrange and renumber them.) It is in evidence almost every day, and embodies the human fallacy of denial, as well as confirmation bias and contrived ignorance. Named after John Yoo, the Bush lawyer who wrote the infamous memo declaring that waterboarding, an “enhanced interrogation technique,” wasn’t technically torture, Rationalization #63, Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is,” is one of the most effective self-deceptions there is, a handy-dandy way to avoid logic, conscience, accountability and reality.*

I saw a prime example of it this morning, in former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s op-ed about the “Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals Program,” a euphemism for “amnesty for illegal immigrants who arrived as kids with their parents, so they can grow up and vote Democratic.”

She writes,

“This narrative about an initiative that has given temporary haven and work authorization to more than 700,000 undocumented minors, the so-called Dreamers, still has critics howling about presidential overreach, about brazen nose-thumbing at the rule of law and about encouraging others to breach the borders of the United States. But there’s a problem with this take on the program. It is dead wrong.”

What the program really is, she explains, is “prosecutorial discretion,” like the case by case discretion prosecutors have to use to avoid misusing resources.  This is Rationalization #63. Continue reading

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Trump, Master Of Rationalizations, Scores A Perfect #4 AND A Perfect #5!

Former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry attends a news conference on the steps of Washington's city hall Monday, July 6, 2009. At the news conference Barry's attorney Frederick Cooke said Barry vehemently denies the allegation by Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, and that he's confident the stalking charge will be dropped. Barry, 73, stood behind Cooke but said nothing. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Somewhere, Marion Berry is smiling…

This is juuuust the beginning…

I have noted before that our President Elect never expresses any ethical awareness, and uses rationalizations exclusively to explain and justify his conduct. This is typical of say, 12-year-olds, but is less common among professionals in responsible positions.

Trump just authored a classic example, following the expression of concerns about his conflicts of interest, which are massive, unavoidable, and which should have been addressed seriously long ago, like in a Presidential debate, and at length. Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton and various journalists felt it would be more helpful to their cause to spend time talking about what Trump had said about an over-weight Miss Universe and in a private conversation with Billy Bush. How did that work out for you, guys?

Now various lawyers and ethics experts are saying that Trump “must” sell off his business holdings because his company’s myriad business entanglements will cast many White House decisions under a cloud. The President Elect has a neat answer for them, to wit:

“The law’s totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

— Donald Trump, interview with the New York Times, Nov. 22, 2016

Bravo! This is a perfect expression of Ethics Alarms Rationalizations #4, and #5

4. Marion Barry’s Misdirection, or “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical.”

The late D.C. Mayor and lovable rogue Marion Barry earned himself a place in the Ethics Distortion Hall of Fame with his defense of his giving his blatantly unqualified girlfriend a high-paying job with the DC government. Barry declared that since there was no law against using the public payroll as his own private gift service, there was nothing unethical about it. Once the law was passed (because of him), he then agreed that what he did would be wrong the next time he did it.

Ethics is far broader than law, which is a system of behavior enforced by the state with penalties for violations. Ethics is good conduct as determined by the values and customs of society. Professions promulgate codes of ethics precisely because the law cannot proscribe all inappropriate or harmful behavior. Much that is unethical is not illegal. Lying. Betrayal. Nepotism. Many other kinds of behavior as well, but that is just the factual error in the this rationalization.

The greater problem with it is that it omits the concept of ethics at all.  Ethical conduct is self-motivated, based on the individual’s values and the internalized desire to do the right thing. Barry’s construct assumes that people only behave ethically if there is a tangible, state-enforced penalty for not doing so, and that not incurring a penalty (that is, not breaking the law) is, by definition, ethical.

Nonsense, of course. It is wrong to intentionally muddle the ethical consciousness of the public, and Barry’s statement simply reinforces a misunderstanding of right and wrong.

Continue reading

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President Trump’s Massive, Unfixable, Unwaivable Conflict Of Interest…And Why Weren’t We Worrying About This BEFORE The Election?

trump-tower

Donald Trump, as President of the United States, will have an unprecedented conflict of interest—many, actually—that realistically cannot be fixed and never could. He will be President, and he will own a global set of businesses worth billions of dollars that his policies and decisions will unavoidably affect for better or worse, usually to his long term benefit or disadvantage.

Almost nobody, including me, and it’s my business to do so, focused substantially on the problem during the campaign. Trump, as  usually, airily dismissed the issue when it came up as if it was nothing, saying, “If I become president, I couldn’t care less about my company. It’s peanuts,” during one debate. “Run the company, kids. Have a good time.” Typical, stupid, and neither Clinton nor the moderator had the wit or information to follow up with the required, “Wait a minute, that doesn’t deal with the problem. Will you also not care about your kids, Mr. Trump? Your companies’ stockholders? Business partners? Employees?”

At least we know why Hillary was reluctant to pursue this issue, don’t we?

The Trump Organization’s executive vice president, Alan Garten, similarly brushed the problem away, saying in September, “His focus is going to be solely on improving the country. The business is not going to be a factor or an interest at that point.” That’s an incredible statement, naive at best, dishonest at worse. Of course it will be an interest. How could it not be? The question is whether it will be a factor. Human nature, and Trump’s nature, strongly suggest that it will be.

Who can tell with Trump? Maybe he really believes there’s no problem. After all, as I have written repeatedly and all evidence proves, the man doesn’t know ethics from ambergris. Whether he knows it or not, however, this is a massive  and potentially crippling problem for him and his administration, not to mention his children and his businesses. It is especially a problem because the same journalists who dismissed Hillary’s family foundation’s influence peddling while she was Secretary of State and after as another overblown conservative attack (after all, why should venality and hidden conflicts of interest interfere with electing the First Woman President?) have the long knives out to eviscerate Trump on any hint of impropriety, real or not, they can find.  This is real. Continue reading

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Exploring Double Standards In The 2016 Election, A Hypothetical Thought Experiment For Ethics Alarms Readers

fake-huma

While the news media has been almost totally focused on Donald Trump’s misogyny, alreday well-established long  but somehow decisively important once it was in full display from the video of a private exchange from 11 years ago, revelations about his opponent’s character and modes of operation have also been trickling out into view, and receiving far less attention from either journalists or voters.

They have also exposed many of Clinton’s lies. For example, after posturing about Trump’s birtherism and claiming that his defense that Clinton led the way in 2008 with planting conspiracy theories to otherize Obama, this  ugly email, surfaced from the 2008 Clinton campaign, including John Podesta and Paul Begala on the distribution list. It strongly suggest that an attack on Obama’s religion and citizenship was part of the strategy to defeat him, as well as using his alleged use of illegal drugs and support for gay adoption as ammunition.

The 2013 Goldman-Sachs speeches that Clinton received $675,000 to give to the investment companies have turned up, thanks to Wikileaks. More revealed files from the FBI have cast suspicion on the process whereby Clinton was cleared of criminal misconduct in her irregular handling of official e-mails.

Other documents have indicated that the federal government, “supported by tax dollars,” as the Wall Street Journal puts it, was working as an extension of the Clinton campaign. The State Department seems to have coordinated with her staff to blunt the email scandal, and the Justice Department kept her team informed about developments in the court case.

Clinton’s State Department, as documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show, also facilitated Clinton’s use of her official influence to provide special favors to Clinton Foundation donors. For example, in one  series of 2010 emails, a senior aide to Hillary  Clinton asked a foundation official to let her know which groups offering assistance with the Haitian earthquake relief were “FOB” (Friends of Bill) or “WJC VIPs” (William Jefferson Clinton VIPs).

The leaks show “that the press is in Mrs. Clinton’s pocket,” writes Kimberly Strassle at the WSJ.  Donna Brazile, now DNC chair, sent the exact wording of a CNN town hall question to Hillary ahead of a scheduled debate.  Other journalists gave the Clinton campaign the power to veto which quotes were used from interviews, helped facilitate press events, and offered advice to her campaign.

Less surprising but arguably more damaging if the average voter knew, the various leaks, e-mails and speeches reveal a candidate with little integrity and few core principles, an opportunistic policy Janus who constantly changes her position to maximize political gain. She told an audience that she believes in giving the voters one position while holding different ones, and has taken such dual positions on banks; international policies, trade, illegal immigration, energy, and more. Though many of the leaked e-mails reveal views of her staff that are only attributed to Hillary, it is likely that the voluminous discussions among Clinton’s advisors about  what false rhetoric she should use to recruit “the Red Army,” also called “the base of the Democratic Party.” are not inconsistent with her own attitudes.

All of this, and more is on the way, does not show an individual with Donald Trump’s repulsive narcissism and contempt for a full half of the world’s population, but does show Clinton to be, like Trump, untrustworthy, dishonest, corrupt, ruthless, and shameless. Unlike Trump, it reveals an individual addicted to showing the public a completely different political being than she really is.

Strassle concludes her summary by saying that “Voters might not know any of this, because while both presidential candidates have plenty to answer for, the press has focused solely on taking out Mr. Trump. And the press is doing a diligent job of it.”

So I wonder…what if, rather than requiring explanation, analysis, extrapolation, and connecting the dots, and without being marred by over-reaching and biased exaggerations of already damaging evidence by right-wing, Hillary-hating zealots, visual and audible smoking gun proof of Clinton’s lies, false poses and corruption was exposed to the nation?

I now present this hypothetical as a thought experiment: Continue reading

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Trump’s Tape Is Disgusting; This Is Much Scarier…Or Should Be

"Hillary is experienced! Hillary is healthy! Hillary is young! Hillary is progressive! Hillary never attacked her husband's victims! You are a chicken!"

“Listen to my voice! Hillary is experienced! Hillary never lies! Hillary is healthy! Hillary never knowingly send e-mails with classified contents! Hillary is young! Hillary’s Middle East policy brought peace and stability!  Hillary never attacked her husband’s victims! You will vote for Hillary! And you are a chicken!”

Blogger-muckraker Glenn Greenwald reports today on leaked strategy e-mails from the Hillary Clinton campaign that show ongoing coordination between the campaign and journalists to advance her candidacy and place her in power. The natural defense of the Clinton Corrupted to this is predictable (“Everybody does it!), and because it impugns the integrity of the news media, I doubt that Greenwald’s findings will even be widely reported. As he writes in his conclusion,

“All presidential campaigns have their favorite reporters, try to plant stories they want published, and attempt in multiple ways to curry favor with journalists. These tactics are certainly not unique to the Clinton campaign…But these rituals and dynamics between political campaigns and the journalists who cover them are typically carried out in the dark, despite how significant they can be. These documents provide a valuable glimpse into that process.”

The glimpse shows a thoroughly unethical process whereby the Clinton campaign sets out to bias coverage, and unprofessional journalists allow them to do it. Then it is all kept secret, since allowing the public to know how “cozy” (to use Greenwald’s benign word–he is a progressive himself, after all) the relationship between journalists and those whom they claim to covering “objectively” really is would make it far more difficult for the news media to manipulate public opinion and warp democracy.

Among the revelations in Greenwald’s report

1. Lobbying and feting reporters at off-the-record events…

“The Clinton campaign likes to use glitzy, intimate, completely off-the-record parties between top campaign aides and leading media personalities. One of the most elaborately planned get-togethers was described in an April, 2015, memo — produced, according to the document metadata, by deputy press secretary Jesse Ferguson — to take place shortly before Clinton’s official announcement of her candidacy. The event was an April 10 cocktail party for leading news figures and top-level Clinton staff at the Upper East Side home of Clinton strategist Joel Benenson, a fully off-the-record gathering designed to impart the campaign’s messaging:

cocktail1-memo

“Unfriendly” reporters and pundits were not invited. This is what is called “an appearance of impropriety.” Accepting gifts and favors, including parties, from those who a reporter is supposed to cover objectively is a conflict of interest, and should be disclosed. Of course it wasn’t. Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: The Boxer Who Bet Against Himself, And Lost His Bet

donnellyboxingv2

Three Olympic boxers received “severe reprimands” from an International Olympic Committee last week for betting on fights during last month’s Rio de Janeiro Games in violation of Olympic  anti-betting rules.

The interesting one is Ireland’s welterweight Steve Donnelly, shown above. Donnelly bet against himself in a first-round bout but still won the fight.

The IOC said the three boxers received only reprimands rather than retroactive disqualifications or bans because a disciplinary panel determined “there was no intent to manipulate any event” and the athletes have apologized.

Donnelly, an evident idiot, said that he was in fact not aware of the prohibition against betting, though he had signed the documents agreeing to the restrictions. He hadn’t read them, he said.  He claimed that he bet against himself without intending lose his match to win those bets. He reasoned that if he lost the match, winning the bets ( he made two on his opponent) would be some compensation for his defeat.

Good thinking there, Steve.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day

Is a reprimand just and sufficient punishment for an Olympic competitor who bets on himself to lose, as long as he loses the bet and not his competition?

Continue reading

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