Tag Archives: corruption

Re Met Conductor James Levine: I Know, I Know, “The King’s Pass”…But What’s The Matter With People?

The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck took a cultural turn and visited the New York Metropolitan Opera yesterday. James Levine, the Met’s legendary conductor for four decades, allegedly molested a teenager in the 1980’s. The allegations were described in a police report that was filed in 2016. A man stated that he met Levine as a 15 year-old child when Levine was a conductor at the Ravinia Music Festival in Illinois. Beginning the next year, when Levine was 42 and the boy was 16, the conductor  touched the teenager’s genitalia and masturbated in his presence. The sexual relations involved hundreds of incidents and lasted for years, according to the allegations. Levine also served as a mentor to the teenager, wrote a college recommendation essay, and gave him tens of thousands of dollars of cash.  The man says he is straight and that  he was “confused and paralyzed” by Levine’s actions.

Now the Met says it is investigating. But I have more…

Today I attended a performance of an opera, and by chance happened to chat with one of the opera company’s board members. I asked him if he had heard about Levine. He said he didn’t know what I was talking about. After I summarized the story above, he said (I’m paraphrasing):

“I hadn’t heard about that, but it’s no surprise. I performed in the Met  chorus in the Eighties and Nineties when I lived in New York. Everyone knew that Levine fooled around with teenaged boys. I’m pretty sure the Met paid off some of them.”

After I heard this–at the time, there was only one man making one accusation—it was reported that the Met suspended Levine, because three more men came forward saying that they had been abused by the conductor as teens. Continue reading

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It’s Thanksgiving, And Time For The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide [Updated And With A New Introduction For 2017 ]

 

Last year (to the day) when I posted the Ethics Alarms ethics guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,” one of the great ethics movies of all time, as this blog’s official welcome to the holiday season, I wrote, “I suspect we need it more in 2016 than usual.”  As it turned out, we need it even more in 2017.

Multiple forces have been hard at work for a full year now, roiling the nation, painting the future as dire and the present as unbearable, trying to divide us and even to encourage discord and conflict during this special time when we are supposed to remember what is most important in life. In case you have been infected, it’s not politics and not partisan agendas, but love, family, community, kindness, and friends. The simple message of Frank Capra’s masterpiece—it has aged far better than his other films, including, and maybe especially, “Mister Smith Goes To Washington”—that no one is a failure who has friends, is vital to recall when so many are rejecting friends because they don’t conform to some ideological talking point. This is madness, and watching and heeding “It’s A Wonderful Life” is a better remedy than Thorazine.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer actually told his Twitter followers this week to bring a chart prepared by a  think tank to attack the Republican tax plan during Thanksgiving dinner. This is part of the effort to politicize everything in our lives, by zealots who value power over humanity, country, and spirituality. They belong with Mr. Potter, not George and Clarence.

I need this movie more in 2017 than usual for other reasons. It has been a year in which I have lost many peers and cherished friends, and listened to too many of the living bemoan the passage of time and looming mortality.  I don’t think like that—a lifetime gift from my brave and fatalist father—but I can’t pretend that the game clock isn’t running out, or not face the fact that I have not sunk anywhere near the baskets I could have and should have. Fortunately, what I wrote in an earlier year introducing this post still resonates…

Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

Have a terrific Thanksgiving, everyone.

And here we go:

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. The framing of the tale seems to advance the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

Yet in the end, it is an ethics movie, not a religious one. George lives an ethical live, not out of any religious conviction, but because step by step, crisis after crisis, he chooses to place the welfare of others, especially his community and family, above his own needs and desires. No reward is promised to him, and he momentarily forgets why we act ethically, until he is reminded. Living ethically is its own reward.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. One has to wonder about people like George, who resort to prayer as a last resort, but they don’t seem to hold it against him in Heaven. The heavenly authorities assign an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to handle the case..He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than Heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there— perhaps because George has not been “a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck

George’s first ethical act is saving his brother, Harry, from drowning, an early exhibition of courage, caring and sacrifice. The sacrifice part is that the childhood episode costs George the hearing in one ear. He doesn’t really deserve extra credit for this, as it was not a conscious trade of his hearing for Harry’s young life, but he gets it anyway, just as soldiers who are wounded in battle receive more admiration and accolades than those who are not. Yet this is only moral luck. A wounded hero is no more heroic than a unwounded one, and may be less competent as well as less lucky.

3.  The Confusing Drug Store Incident

George Bailey’s next ethical act is when he saves the life of another child by not delivering a bottle of pills that had been inadvertently poisoned by his boss, the druggist, Mr. Gower. This is nothing to get too excited over, really—if George had knowingly delivered poisoned pills, he would have been more guilty than the druggist, who was only careless. What do we call someone who intentionally delivers poison that he knows will be mistaken for medication? A murderer, that’s what.  We’re supposed to admire George for not committing murder.

Mr. Gower, at worst, would be guilty of negligent homicide. George saves him from that fate when he saves the child, but if he really wanted to show exemplary ethics, he should have reported the incident to authorities. Mr. Gower is not a trustworthy pharmacist—he was also the beneficiary of moral luck. He poisoned a child’s pills through inattentiveness. If his customers knew that, would they keep getting their drugs from him? Should they? A professional whose errors are potentially deadly must not dare the fates by working when his or her faculties are impaired by illness, sleeplessness or, in Gower’s case, grief and alcohol.

4. The Uncle Billy Problem

As George grows up, we see that he is loyal and respectful to his father. That’s admirable. What is not admirable is that George’s father, who has fiduciary duties as the head of a Building and Loan, has placed his brother Billy in a position of responsibility. As we soon learn, Billy is a souse, a fool and an incompetent. This is a breach of fiscal and business ethics by the elder Bailey, and one that George engages in as well, to his eventual sorrow.

5. George’s Speech

Continue reading

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The IRS Scandal: “I’m Sorry!” Is Not Enough, But That’s Apparently All Our Battered Democracy Will Get

 

I’ve been holding a draft of this post for two weeks until I calmed down. You should read the first version.

The Treasury Department  agreed to  a “very substantial” settlement covering damages to hundreds of tea party groups following a class-action lawsuit over the obstructive, discriminatory IRS scrutiny they received when applying for tax-exempt status leading up to the 2012 election. According to court documents,  the IRS admitted wrongdoing and apologized for its conduct. The IRS stated,

“The IRS admits that its treatment of Plaintiffs during the tax-exempt determination process, including screening their applications based on their names or policy positions, subjecting those applications to heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays, and demanding some Plaintiffs’ information that TITA determined was unnecessary to the agency’s determination of their tax-exempt status, was wrong. For such treatment, the IRS expresses its sincere apology.”

That’s nice. Isn’t that nice?

The department did not disclose the amount of money handed out to over 400 organizations: “The [Internal Revenue Service]’s use of these criteria as a basis for heightened scrutiny was wrong and should never have occurred,” Attorney General Sessions said in a statement.  “It is improper for the IRS to single out groups for different treatment based on their names or ideological positions.”

Ya think?

The scandal began in 2013, when an IRS official admitted the agency had been aggressively scrutinizing groups with names such as “Tea Party” and “Patriots.” It later emerged that some liberal groups had been targeted, too, but in less aggressive ways and although in far smaller numbers. I hate to be suspicious, but if a Democratic administration’s tax agency agency in advance of an election wanted to hobble Republican and conservative groups, picking out some progressive groups to harass would be the smart move. In “Jack Reacher,” a sniper who wants to kill one target shoots five, so it looks like a random mass shooting. Same theory.

The IRS accelerated its special treatment of conservative groups around 2010, as the election approached, and Tea Party applications for tax-exempt status surged. Some court decisions had eased the rules for tax-exempt groups to participate in politics. Something had to be done, and some obama loyalists in the IRS apparently decided to do it. Or it was all one big misunderstanding.

After the scandal broke, there was a mass exodus from the IRS’s management. Conservative groups sued. Congressional Republicans launched  years of hearings, amid allegations the Obama White House had ordered the targeting. It was a futile effort. In earlier administrations, the news media would have been asking questions. A non-political Justice Department would have investigated hard, but Obama’s Justice Department was entirely constructed to protect the President and Democratic interests. The situation screamed for a Special Counsel. This wasn’t a matter of speculation: Something was rotten in Washington, D.C. A supposedly apolitical agency of the US Government, in advance of a national election with a Democratic President in office, used its power to interfere with the rights of conservatives to organize and participate in the democratic process. If the IRS employees involved were sufficiently partisan—and they were–no explicit orders from the White House were necessary. They knew what to do. Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce: Donna Brazile, But Not For The All The Obvious Reasons…

“Now, it’s my understanding that as a CNN contributor, you won’t make me follow any of that ethics crap, right, Jake?”

In her new book, “Hacks: The Insider Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House,” Suddenly Ethical Donna Brazile takes a moment  to slam Jake Tapper because he harshly criticized her after a leak reveealed that she had used her CNN position to procure debate question and pass them along under the table to Hillary. (Of course, if Clinton had any integrity, she would have refused—what am I SAYING?).

She wrote,

“The next day, even Jake Tapper took a swing at me, calling me unethical and ‘journalistically horrifying’ during a radio interview with WMAL even though I worked for CNN as a commentator not a journalist.When I called him on this, he did not apologize. His attack on me was really about him. He wrote in an email, ‘I don’t know what happened here except it undermines the integrity of my work and CNN … you have to know how betrayed we all feel.”

OH! Donna was a contributor, not a journalist! That changes everything! So as an individual who was contributing to a journalism product, as well as paid to do so, and being relied upon by journalists in a journalism-supplying entity to inform their audience honestly regarding what journalism covers by definition, Brazile as a paid contributor should not have been expected  not required to tell the truth, be fair, maintain standards of integrity, state her biases and conflicts up front, or indeed engage in ethical conduct at all!

Is that the new definition of what “contributor” means? Boy, I think CNN needs to clarify this; I always assumed that if a network employed a “contributor,” that individual was being presented as someone who would be held to the same standards of professionalism as other on-screen employees. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/6/17: Oh, Great, A Predictably Dishonest Post-Shooting Response, While Democrats Defend Conflicts, Corruption And Stereotyping

Good Morning!

1 I thought the weekend’s violence story was going to only be Senator Rand Paul getting attacked and beaten up by his next-door neighbor, a frustrated socialist, but no. Then we learned that a madman in Sutherland Springs, Texas had opened fire on a church congregation and killed at least 26, wounding another 30 or more.

It now appears that the shooter was not permitted to purchase or own guns, which means that no law, short of gun banning and confiscation—good luck with that in Texas—could have prevented the massacre. Nevertheless, the immediate—can I say hair-trigger?—response from predictable anti-Second Amendment demagogues came in waves. Notable was the country’s #1 demagogue—and yet she persists!—Bay State Senator Elizabeth Warren, who in successive tweets signaled her gun-fearing virtue to gentle progressives, presumably the ignorant ones:

“I’m heartsick for the victims, families & community of Sutherland Springs. But I’m more than heartsick – I’m angry…How many more people must die at churches or concerts or schools before we stop letting the @NRA control this country’s gun policies?…How many kids must die of gun violence on playgrounds & streets every day with no attention at all before we wake up to what’s happening?…Thoughts & prayers are not enough, GOP. We must end this violence. We must stop these tragedies. People are dying while you wait.”

What does this mean? All it means is “Do something! ARRGH!” That is not a mature, rational, professional and responsible reaction from an elected official. The other thing it means is “repeal the Second Amendment,” which is the anti-democratic position of most of Warren’s supporters and followers. Since this episode would not have been prevented by anything but preventing the availability of guns nationwide, except, of course, to the government the public does not trust, Warren is doing nothing more nor less than blaming Republicans and the NRA for a lunatic’s rampage no one could have foreseen or prevented. This, in turn, ramps up the partisan and ideological hatred and division that has been the strategy of Democrats for a full year now, and that leads to Republicans being shot on baseball fields, Senators being mauled by socialist neighbors, and maybe even some mass shootings.

Then we have the muddled and useless “thinking” conveyed by this kind of fatuous commentary, which, to summarize, argues that we need “new ideas” and that a single maniac’s single act from motives nobody yet knows tells us that the rest of the public is devoid of optimism and hope. The author’s candidate for a “new idea”? “Maybe we need to start thinking about guns the way one physician has started thinking about opioids.”

Or maybe we should take a gun apart, put it in a brown paper bag, spin it over our heads and scream like a chicken. Although that’s not exactly new…

On the conservative side, gun defenders are making great hay out of the apparent fact that the killer was pursued and perhaps killed by legally gun-toting church neighbors. That’s moral luck, and nothing more.

2. The Democratic Party really is doubling down on its denials of Donna Brazile’s not-quite-whistle-blowing-since-the game-she-helped-try-to-cheat-in-was-over- a-year-before -she-blew. Amazing. I heard Robbie Mook, Hillary’s incompetent and corrupt former campaign manager, argue that Bernie’s campaign could have bought into the DNC too, so Brazile’s accusation is unfair. The agreement that gave the Clinton campaign control over the DNC was cut in 2015, before the Sanders campaign was anything but a hope, a prayer, a lark and a shadow. Of course Clinton had money: she had been gathering a coronation war chest for years. This was a bright line, classic, conflict of interest by the Democrats, and one that created a terrible appearance of impropriety (because it WAS improper) , except that it was kept a secret. That the Democrats deny this indicates that they don’t know what is inappropriate, and don’t see anything wrong with conflicts of interest as long as they suit their needs.

In other words, the party is corrupt, and likes it that way. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/5/2017: Train Wrecks, Rationalizations, Donna, Debbie, And More

Goooooood MORNING!

(I’m over-compensating: I feel horrible today)

1  “These alleged actions, which haven’t been denied, are reprehensible, indefensible and unacceptable. Any elected official or state employee who has settled a sexual harassment claim should resign immediately.The people of Kentucky deserve better. We appropriately demand a high level of integrity from our leaders, and will tolerate nothing less in our state,” said Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin  after it was revealed that Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover (R) recently settled a sexual harassment claim made by a female member of his staff.

What an ethically clueless bit of grandstanding from Bevin. The fact that an accusation hasn’t been denied doesn’t make it true. The fact  an out of court settlement was agreed to doesn’t make the accusation true either. Bevin has just painted a target on any official’s back who might have blundered across a line of workplace propriety once, and done so with an employee with an agenda, a grudge, a bill to pay, or the lack of the ethical intelligence to say, “That was wrong, don’t do it again.”

As usual with elected officials, Bevin is playing human pendulum, pronouncing an unfair and unreasonable standard in response to a culture where there previously were few standards at all.

Thought experiment: let’s say the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck revealed itself in the Obama administration, and the uncomfortable woman in this photo…

..goes to Vice President Biden after the shoot and accuses him of sexual harassment, indeed, sexual assault. Uncle Joe apologizes, swears he meant nothing by it, says he always acts like this (because he apparently does), jokes his favorite magician is “David Cop-A-Feel”, just like President George H.W. Bush, but the young woman is adamant. She says she will go to the press and file a lawsuit unless he writes a check. Reluctantly, he does.

Should the Vice-President resign? Or just learn to keep his hands to himself?

2. Sentimentalists and socialists mourning the decline of unions just got a splash of metaphorical ice water in their faces.

After reporters and editors in the combined newsroom of DNAinfo and Gothamist, two of New York City’s leading online news sources, voted to join the Writers Guild of America, the sites’ owner, billionaire Joe Ricketts, announced that both were defunct.

 “DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure,” he said. Ricketts had lots money in every month of DNAinfo’s existence, while The Village Voice, The Wall Street Journal and The Daily News were also cutting staff and costs. What were his writers and editors thinking? Continue reading

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The Democrats, Hillary, And The Unforgivable Donna Brazile

Ugh. But we knew that.

In a piece authored by Donna Brazile and published on Politico, the Democratic operative, conflicted CNN and ABC political analyst, Hillary Clinton debate question supplier and cheat, and former chair of the Democratic National Committee makes numerous sensational allegations about the corruption of her party, her party’s 2016 Presidential candidate, and the nomination process. I don’t mention Brazile’s various anticredentials that mark her as a denizen of the very bottom of the political slime barrel to discredit her revelations, which seem, based on what we already know, mostly plausible. No, I do it it to put Brazile in perspective, and to provoke consideration of what this perspective tells us.

She is spectacularly unethical, unprincipled and untrustworthy, and this is just another chapter in her disgusting saga. Yet two news networks have, for decades, presented her to its viewers as an honest, objective analyst to help them understand their government.

Among the headline-sparking claims in the Politico article:

My predecessor, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had not been the most active chair in fundraising at a time when President Barack Obama’s neglect had left the party in significant debt.

Debbie was also a serial liar and an apparent idiot. What kind of party would leave itself under the leadership of such an individual?

Officials from Hillary’s campaign had taken a look at the DNC’s books. Obama left the party $24 million in debt—$15 million in bank debt and more than $8 million owed to vendors after the 2012 campaign—and had been paying that off very slowly. Obama’s campaign was not scheduled to pay it off until 2016. Hillary for America (the campaign) and the Hillary Victory Fund (its joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC) had taken care of 80 percent of the remaining debt in 2016, about $10 million, and had placed the party on an allowance.

In other words, Hillary bought the party mechanism, which became a sham.

Debbie was not a good manager. She hadn’t been very interested in controlling the party—she let Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn do as it desired so she didn’t have to inform the party officers how bad the situation was.

Ethics Alarms had several posts raising the issue of the DNC’s unethical efforts to rig the nomination for Clinton, and pointing out Wasserman Schultz’s obviously disingenuous denials.

[Gary Gensler, the chief financial officer of Hillary’s campaign] described the party as fully under the control of Hillary’s campaign, which seemed to confirm the suspicions of the Bernie camp. The campaign had the DNC on life support, giving it money every month to meet its basic expenses, while the campaign was using the party as a fund-raising clearinghouse.

“Wait,” I said. “That victory fund was supposed to be for whoever was the nominee, and the state party races. You’re telling me that Hillary has been controlling it since before she got the nomination?”

Gary said the campaign had to do it or the party would collapse.

“That was the deal that Robby struck with Debbie,” he explained, referring to campaign manager Robby Mook. “It was to sustain the DNC. We sent the party nearly $20 million from September until the convention, and more to prepare for the election.”

My ultimate decision that I could not vote for Hillary Clinton was rooted in the emerging evidence that the Democratic Party she led was (and is)  hostile to a fair and open democratic process. One of those pieces of evidence was Brazile misusing her CNN position to surreptitiously help Hillary.

This victory fund agreement, however, had been signed in August 2015, just four months after Hillary announced her candidacy and nearly a year before she officially had the nomination.

That sham I just referred to was put in place more than a year before the election.

By September 7, the day I called Bernie, I had found my proof and it broke my heart.

Yes, two months before the election (at least), Donna Brazile knew that she was part of a fraud on the American people and a plot to undermine our democratic institutions.

I urged Bernie to work as hard as he could to bring his supporters into the fold with Hillary, and to campaign with all the heart and hope he could muster. He might find some of her positions too centrist, and her coziness with the financial elites distasteful, but he knew and I knew that the alternative was a person who would put the very future of the country in peril. I knew he heard me. I knew he agreed with me, but I never in my life had felt so tiny and powerless as I did making that call.

Thus Bernie endorsed and became part of the lie. Nice.

When I hung up the call to Bernie, I started to cry, not out of guilt, but out of anger. We would go forward. We had to.

Awww… Continue reading

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