Tag Archives: Congress

Ethics Observations On The Rep. Chris Collins Insider Trading Indictment

Three-term GOP congressman Chris Collins was indicted for insider trading after prosecutors determined that after Innate Immunotherapeutics  alerted him to the failure of company’s clinical drug trials for a promising multiple sclerosis drug, Collins tipped off his son, allowing him and others to  save hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling their stock in the firm before the news was made public. Now Collins faces prison time if convicted.

 Collins was a member of the company’s board until May of this year, and at one point was its largest shareholder.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has stripped Collins of his seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee and asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations of insider trading. Collins has ended his re-election bid, but maintains that he is innocent. Such statements are like the puzzle about the White Foot and Black Foot tribes that look and sound identical but have one difference: the White Feet always lie, and the Black Feet always tell the truth. If you ask a member of either tribe, “Are you a truthful Black Foot or a lying White Foot?”, you will always get the same answer no matter what tribe the individual belongs to: “I am a truthful Black Foot!” And whether an indicted Congressman is guilty or innocent, he will always say, as Collins did, that the charges are “meritless” and that he will fight them to have his “good name cleared of any wrongdoing.”

Until the plea deal.

Collins’s involvement with Innate dates back all the way to 2005, before he ran for Congress. He organized support from wealthy friends and neighbors,  many of whom would later become his political donors,  to help bail out the company, which was flailing at the time. In addition to Innate Immunotherapeutics,  Collins has held leadership roles in other biotech companies.  Until his indictment, he was chairman of the board of directors of ZeptoMetrix, a private lab company based in Buffalo that he co-founded. That one has received millions of dollars in federal contracts, according to government records.

Collins reported owning between $25 million and $50 million in shares of  ZeptoMetrix. In June, he sold about a million dollars of stock in Chembio Diagnostics, a medical tests and equipment manufacturer, according to his ethics disclosure forms.

The congressional ethics office found last summer that  Collins may have violated ethics rules by asking the National Institutes of Health for help with the design of Innate’s now-failed clinical trial.

Observations: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/23/18: The All-Disposable Edition…Legal Ethics, Budgets, And Grocery Bags

Good Morning…

1. More Professionals Behaving Badly: The news media has widely reported that Ted Olson of the law firm Gibson Dunn refused Donald Trump’s request for his legal services. Olson, who is best know for arguing  the Bush side of Bush v. Gore that ended the 2000 Florida recount,  had declined to comment on this to the media but a partner in the firm Gibson Dunn’s “global co-chair” issued a tweet that Olson was not going to be representing the President. This is a straight-up violation of an attorney’s ethical duty  of confidentiality to a prospective client.

In other Trump lawyer news, the media is also widely reporting that John Dowd resigned from the President’s legal team over the President’s refusal to accept Dowd’s advice that he not agree to give testimony to the Special Prosecutor. Telling the news media that—telling anyone that—would also be a breach of confidentiality on Dowd’s part.

2. Per se legislative incompetence. Once again the Senate and the House passed a huge bill with massive implications and consequences without reading it. The legislation funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2018 budget year, through Sept. 30, directing $700 billion toward the military and $591 billion to domestic agencies. The military spending is a $66 billion increase over the 2017 level, and the non-defense spending is $52 billion more than last year. It also further explodes the deficit and the debt that bring the United States one step closer to a ruinous financial reckoning. The Democrats have been happily on this path for the entire 8 years of the Obama administration, but the Republicans rode to power in part because the public recognizes how insane this is. The GOP couldn’t even muster a cut in the arts spending that it has been promising since the Reagan administration, or to finally cut ties with public television, though Big Bird fled the nest years ago. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets

Good Morning!

1 Oh no! Not my permanent record! My wife gave a small contribution to Mitt  Romney’s campaign, and has been hounded by RNC robocalls and mailings ever since. GOP fundraising started getting really slimy under the indefensible Michael Steele’s leadership, and continued to use unethical methods after Steele went on to job at a bait shop or something. Last week my wife got an envelope in the mail with a block red DELINQUENCY NOTICE! printed on it. A lie, straight up: there was no delinquency, just a my wife’s decision that she would rather burn a C-note than give it to the fools and knaves running the Republican Party. She registered an official complaint with the RNC, and received this response from Dana Klein, NRCC Deputy Finance Director:

“My job as the Deputy Finance Director is to communicate with supporters to let them know the status of their NRCC Sustaining Membership. Unfortunately, I have bad news for you. As of right now, you have a delinquency mark on your record for your failure to renew your membership. But, I have some good news. You can remove this delinquency mark if you renew by the FEC deadline on Wednesday.”

Both my wife and I were professional fundraisers for many years. This is deceptive and coercive fundraising, and anyone who voluntarily supports an organization that uses such tactics is a victim or an idiot.

Or, I suppose, a Republican.

2. Another one…This is another one of the statements that I am pledged to expose every time I read or hear it: a Maryland legislator, enthusing over the likelihood that a ballot initiative will result in legalizing pot in the state, ran off the usual invalid, disingenuous and foolish rationalizations for supporting measure. (Don’t worry, pot-lovers: I’m resigned to this happening, not just in Maryland, but nation wide. As with the state lotteries, our elected officials will trade the public health and welfare for easy revenue every time. Minorities and the poor will be the most hurt, and the brie and pot set couldn’t care less.) Only one of his familiar bad arguments triggered my mandatory response pledge: ” to legalize a drug that is less harmful than alcohol.”

This is the bottom of the rationalization barrel, “it’s not the worst thing.” Alcohol is a scourge of society, killing thousands upon thousands every year, ruining families and lives, wrecking businesses, costing the economy millions of dollars. Just yesterday there was a report that fetal alcohol syndrome was far more common that previously believed. There is no question, none, that U.S. society would be healthier and safer without this poison accepted in the culture: unfortunately, it was too deeply embedded before serious efforts were made to remove it. Now pot advocates want to inflict another damaging recreational drug on society, using the argument that it’s not as terrible as the ones we’re already stuck with. Stipulated: it’s not as harmful as alcohol. It’s not as harmful as Russian Roulette or eating Tidepods either. I have a bias against taking seriously advocates who use arguments like this; it means they re either liars, and know their logic is absurd, or idiots, and don’t.

3. Riddle me this: What do you get when you cross casting ethics, weak and lazy school administrators, political-correctness bullies-in-training with “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”?

Answer: a cancelled high school musical, and per se racism supported by the school.

New York’s Ithaca High School was beginning production of the Disney film-based musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” but made the unforgivable error, in the eyes of student activists,  of casting of a white student as a Romani heroine Esmeralda, played in the classic film by that gypsy wench, Maureen O’Hara, and in the Disney version by a Toon.  Several students quit the show in protest,  and formed an activist group to reverse the decision. It sent a letter calling the casting “cultural appropriation” and “whitewashing,” calling the student the “epitome of whiteness.” The letter admitted that she was also “a stellar actor, singer and dancer” that any stage would be “lucky to have,” but what is the talent, skill and competence required for a role compared to what really matters, her skin color? The students demanded that the school either choose a different show or recast Esmeralda a black and brown actress. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 1/18/2018: Enemies Of The People [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

I can say “good morning,” can’t I? Can I tweet it? Is it moderate enough?

About calling the news media “the enemy of the people”...Foolishly, people are cheering Senator Jeff Flake’s dishonest and cheap characterization of President Trump’s description of the news media as “words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies.” They were also words used by playwright Henrik Ibsen about 70 years before Stalin used them.  The device of finding the most revolting person ever to use a phrase and then connect a current speaker to that person is an unethical abuse of the cognitive dissonance scale, and as low a political tactic as I can think of right now, but I’m sure “the resistance” will come up with a lower one.

Flake’s entire speech was below the belt demagoguery. By what measure, for example, is a Presidential aide’s ad lib comment on cable TV about “alternative facts” “enshrining “alternative facts” into the American lexicon.” The news media did the enshrining, Senator. The White House never mentioned the term, not even once. “2017 was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government” is simply a lie. 2017 was a year which saw the truth battered and abused by the one profession whose job and duty it is not to abuse the truth: journalists. Worse, the did much of it to create fear, disrespect and distrust of the elected President of the United States, because they wanted someone else to win.

Flake reminds us that the press is protected by the Constitution, and he seems to believe, as the news media does, that this special status that they abuse daily, hourly, by the minute, should insulate them from deserved criticism and distrust no matter how they misinform and the degree of harm they do in the process. Let’s take just a single cable anchor: Chris Cuomo. He told the public that they could not legally read the Wikileaks leaks, but the news media could. He tweeted that “hate speech” was not protected by the First Amendment. He sid last week that the President’s alleged use of “shithole” irresponsibly polluted the minds of children, when if he spoke that word at all, he spoke it behind closed doors, with the understanding that he was dealing with responsible professionals who would not intentionally breach their implied promise that the meeting was private and confidential. Those are three flagrant examples of journalism malpractice, and off the top of my head. If I chose to, I could find dozens more, and that’s only one “respected journalist.”

The resistance to the President’s description is in some cases denial, and in more cases a deliberate deception to allow wrongdoing to continue. I am cross-posting the following from my comments today on another post: Continue reading

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Public Confidence And Trust (2): Observations On Gallup’s Confidence In Institutions Poll

In Part 1, we looked at the implications of Gallup’s 2017 polling on Americans’ beliefs in the trustworthiness and honesty of various occupations.  This post looks at institutions, and what Gallup’s research shows us when those polled answer the question, “Now I am going to read you a list of institutions in American society. Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in each one — a great deal, quite a lot, some or very little?”

As with the occupations poll results, what is most interesting—or depressing— is how the public’s attitude has changed over time. Gallup has been taking this poll at the end of every year since 1993, and in some years, for some institutions, before that.

The most important finding is that Americans have less trust and confidence in our institutions than ever before, and have been in this state for three straight years. (See chart above.) The 32% average confidence level in all institutions measured was one point above 2016, which came in at a record low 31%, but that difference is not statistically significant. This is the third straight year that the number has been under 33%. That has never happened before.

I have written about this issue in the past (and discussed it with professional groups, like newly elected state legislators, in ethics seminars), with the same alarm. For a democracy to lack confidence and trust in its institutions portends disaster, and the danger cannot be understated. Of all forms of government, it is democracy that is most built on a foundation of public trust. This erosion in public trust—the average level of trust has fallen about 26% in just ten years—is collectively frightening. Look at the first line and the last in many of these charts: Continue reading

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Public Confidence And Trust (1): Observations On Gallup’s Trust In Occupations Poll

I’ve been following the Gallup organization’s yearly polls on public attitudes toward institutions and occupations for a long time. The results are in for 2017. I’ll discuss the ethics implication of the Gallup occupations poll first; Part 2 will cover the institutions.

The occupations poll tends to fluctuate more year to year, and is most interesting as viewed a competition. Who are most trusted and regarded as most honest? Who are least trusted? Nurses have been ranked #1 in public trust for 16 straight years. I guess this means not too many people watch “Nurse Jackie.” I assume the consistently high rating is because we tend to trust people we have to trust, thus confirmation bias, and because there haven’t been any major nursing scandals or “Angels of Death” in the news. As you will see from the chart, medical doctors are trusted much less. I think that’s the result of an illusion.

Only six professions rate as more than 50% “high” or “very high” for honesty and ethical standards: nurses, military officers, grade school teachers, medical doctors, police officers and pharmacists. The honesty rating of pharmacists dropped five points since 2016, however, and it an occupation that has sometimes finished right behind the nurses. Gallup guesses that the opioid crisis is to blame, and maybe that’s right, though I would think the doctors who prescribe the drugs are more to blame then the druggists who sell them.

Public views of the clergy have fallen like a Chinese space station. Before the Catholic Church child molesting scandal in 2001, the clergy was very trusted at the high 60% level. Now it is all the way down to 42%, though the total of high trust and average trust is still 85%. I think the film “Spotlight” hurt, as it should have.

Occupations that I would regard as having positive public trust include those whose high trust+average scores are higher than their low trust+average scores. That group, in addition to the occupations already named above, includes day care providers, judges, auto mechanics, nursing home operators and bankers. I think in all of these cases, the public has no real idea about how trustworthy these occupations really are. We just hope they are trustworthy, so again, we have a result that is polluted by wishful thinking. These people are entrusted with the welfare of our children, our cars, our parents and our money, plus the justice system. They better be trustworthy. Ignorance is bliss.

I confess amazement that Wells Fargo scandal didn’t result in lowered trust for bankers. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/9/2017: Inadvertent Confessions And Admissions

Good Morning, Columbus!

So glad you came!

1 Yesterday, on “Face the Nation,” Senator Diane Feinstein was continuing the Democratic Party’s latest use of a gun tragedy to see if the American public can be frightened, shamed, deceived or panicked into giving up one of the core individual rights guaranteed by our Constitution. The host asked her whether there were any proposed regulations that would have stopped Stephen Paddock or someone like him from committing mass murder.

Her answer, “No.”

Well there you have it, right? This tragedy has nothing to do with honest, good faith gun reform, and everything to do with the anti-gun left wanting to begin eroding the Second Amendment, until the right of law-abiding citizens to arm themselves to the extent they believe is necessary shrinks to insignificance.

I salute the Senator in one respect: at least she’s honest about the fact that the use of the Vegas Strip shooting by the anti-gun left is entirely cynical and exploitative. Contrast her blunt “no’ with the demagoguery of her fellow Congressional Democrat, civil rights icon John Lewis. (The news media always describes him that way, because “race-baiting, hyper-partisan  hack John Lewis” would offend African-Americans.). As I discussed earlier, Lewis erupted last week with this call to no-arms:

“The American people will not stand to see hundreds and thousands of their fellow citizens mowed down because the lack of action on the part of the Congress…We have to do something…The time is always right to do what is right. We waited too long. How many more people will die? Would it be a few hundred? A few thousand? Several thousand? We have to act. We cannot wait.”

The complete Feinstein-Lewis thought, then: “The American people will not stand to see hundreds and thousands of their fellow citizens mowed down because of the lack of action on the part of the Congress to pass laws that would do nothing to stop their fellow citizens from being mowed down in a massacre like the one we are demanding action in response to!”

In one of the many threads following the Vegas Strip shooting, commenter Charles Green asked me,

“Let me ask my basic question again: are there any constructive suggestions (hopefully a tad beyond outlawing bump stocks) that can be offered by the principled defenders of the Second Amendment to find common ground? Any? I for one am all ears.”

Continue reading

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