Continued Still…From The Ethics Alarms Mailbag: “What’s Your Reaction To Various Ethics Controversies, Including The Use Of The White House, During The Republican National Convention?” Part 3: The White House

The question that spawned this long post [ Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here] was, “What’s your opinion of Trump using the White House as a political prop?”

D. The White House

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Trump will further “destroy” American precedents if given a second term in office. “This is what we can expect in a second Trump administration,” Schumer said. “All the rules, norms, values that have made this country great, Donald Trump will destroy them. He doesn’t care. He only cares about himself. The rules are you shouldn’t sit in the White House and give a speech at a convention. Donald Trump says, ‘I want to do it.’ So they do it.”

There’s no such rule. The President isn’t covered by the Hatch Act, and given all the political uses of The White House by previous Presidents, I’d love to hear the argument that a speech being delivered to a virtual convention during a pandemic using the White House as a backdrop is unconscionable, or even unethical.

Professor Julian Zelizer, whose field is history and public affairs at Princeton University, said that  using the White House as a “prop” at a party convention is “unprecedented” in recent times. “There still is a boundary between politics and governing, and the Oval Office and White House are a public site meant for the country that isn’t meant to be a political backdrop,” Zelizer told ABC News. “To just use it as the major site for a convention speech seems like a lot with President Trump — you just take all the guardrails down.”

Cite, please. That something is “unprecedented” doesn’t make it unethical. The White House has been used as a political prop many times, just not at a convention. Nothing has been quite as grubby as Bill Clinton selling nights in the Lincoln bedroom for big money donations, but way back in the Kennedy Administration, the nation gushed over lovely Jackie Kennedy  hosting a televised tour of her “home,” bolstering the developing legend of how graceful and refined the young First Couple were. (Jack was probably banging a starlet while Jackie was being filmed.) Go ahead, tell me that “special” wasn’t “unprecedented” or political. Continue reading

Continued…From The Ethics Alarms Mailbag: “What’s Your Reaction To Various Ethics Controversies, Including The Use Of The White House, During The Republican National Convention?” Part 2: The First Family And “Government Functions”

The question of whether the just-completed GOP convention breached ethics rules or principles as many are claiming is multi-faceted. In the first section of this three-part  post, I considered the ugly facet of the event’s many Hatch Act violations. The rest is more equivocal.

B. The First Family

No doubt about it, President Trump’s family set a record for speaking time at a national party convention. For Trump-haters—and this really is what we’re talking about in this section and nothing else—the display was nauseating. One of the inquirers  pronounced this “Royal Family” behavior, and even suggested a dark conspiracy to pave the way for more Trumps at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Talking Point Alert! The “All Trump Hate All The Time” New York Magazine called the parade of Trump children the kind of “dynastic overkill that only this President would dare flaunt.” Well, only one previous President had the opportunity to approach this one by using so many adult children as flacks, and he chose to pass: George H.W. Bush. Then again, he lost.

I wouldn’t cross the street to hear any of the President’s family speak, but the claim that there is something unethical about putting them on the program is just about as perfect an example of Trump Derangement as you could find. Trump is an old guy, and leads the Presidential historical field in adult, politically active children. His kids, and his son in-law, are attractive, poised, and experienced. Chelsea Clinton spoke in support of her mother at the 2016 Democratic National Convention: if there was any criticism of her appearance as unethical, I missed it—and she was not the first offspring of a President or Presidential candidate to have a speaking slot. So what’s the alleged ethical breach here? It appears to be the “it’s unethical to have more than an unspecified number of Presidential children speak at a convention when you’re Donald Trump” rule. Continue reading

Van Jones’ Unforgivable Sin: Acting Like An American

 Two weeks ago Van Jones appeared on CNN’s “Inside Politics with John King” and “Anderson Cooper 360” to enthusiastically commend President Trump’s executive order regarding police reform.  This, of course, is high treason to the Democratic Party/”resistance”/ Mainstream media collective, to which Jones has triple membership. Nothing this President does, according to the Axis of Unethical Conduct’s by-laws, is ever anything better than stupid, dangerous,  or impeachable. The executive order was criticized as cynical and unproductive by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and “delusional” by the Color of Change, a racial spoils organization that Jones  co-founded in 2005.

I might have  given Jones some integrity points, had I not made up my mind about him long ago. Check the Ethics Alarms dossier on Jones: my 2014 description of his agenda as “fear-mongering, racial distrust and division” was and usually is fair. Then ” a knowledgeable White House source” revealed that Van Jones and California human rights attorney Jessica Jackson, who runs #cut50, a prison-reform group Jones also founded, worked with law enforcement officials and White House staffers (like the hated Jerod Kushner) to develop the policy measure. Jones was praising an action that he had been directly involved in, without informing the  CNN audience of  his conflict of interest. When he was accused of working on the order, Jones vehemently denied it.

His conduct and denials were dishonest and unethical, but it’s now apparent why Jones kept the secret he is now being attacked for. He knows his team. It’s not the conflict of interest; politicians and journalists don’t care about conflicts of interest unless they can be used to get rid of other politicians and journalists that they don’t like (“Emoluments!!!!”), and the average member of the public literally has no comprehension  of what  conflicts are and why they are unethical.

No, Van Jones knew he would be crucified—-and now is facing  cultural cancellation and shunning because he assisted the President of the United States! The Horror!

Continue reading

Veteran’s Day Ethics Warm-Up, 11/11/19: Wishing My Dad Hadn’t Died Before He Figured Out How To Comment On Ethics Alarms…[CORRECTED]

Pop Quiz:

How many military veterans are currently running for President in 2020?

Answer: Two…Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

[Correction notice: I forgot about Pete in the first version of the post. Thanks to Jutgory for the catch, and thanks to Mayor Buttigieg for his service.]

1.  Here’s that “violating democratic norms” Big Lie again. This one was flagged by Ann Althouse (Thanks, Ann!)

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman,  an appointee of President Bill Clinton,  said in a speech at  the annual Thomas A. Flannery Lecture in Washington, D.C. last week, “We are in unchartered territory. We are witnessing a chief executive who criticizes virtually every judicial decision that doesn’t go his way and denigrates judges who rule against him, sometimes in very personal terms. He seems to view the courts and the justice system as obstacles to be attacked and undermined, not as a coequal branch to be respected even when he disagrees with its decisions.'”

Althouse comments,

How do you get to be a federal judge and think the expression is “unchartered territory”? That’s a written speech too (presumably). Did he visualize some entity that issues charters authorizing people to speak about the courts in a particular way? You don’t need a license to speak in the United States, and to require one would, ironically, violate our norms. The expression is “uncharted territory,” which would simply mean that Trump is venturing into a new area of speech that we haven’t previously explored and therefore have not mapped…Now, I agree with the idea that Trump’s speech about law is unconventional, but what determines that he has violated all recognized democratic norms? It’s often said that the judiciary is the least democratic part of the government, that it’s countermajoritarian. So what are the norms of democracy that say a President should not criticize the courts?! You might just as well call this purported norm a norm of anti-democracy.

Anyway… the weasel word is “recognized.” It takes all the oomph out of “all.” Trump’s speech about judges violates “all recognized democratic norms.” Who are the recognizers? The judges? Judges certainly have a role talking about democratic norms, which are often part of the determination of the scope of the judicial role: Judges refrain from doing what is left to the processes of democracy. But part of democracy is speech about government — which includes the judges — and that speech is not limited to flattering and deferring to them. It does not violate the norms of democracy to criticize and attack judges.

Bingo. And it is because of judges whot say these sorts of things that the President is not unreasonable to accuse the judiciary of  bias. Ann chose not to mention that this was also a “norm” breached by Barack Obama, more than once, but I will, the point not being “everybody does it,” but that to this judge and others, what Obama did was apparently only objectionable when Trump did it too—a common theme in the anti-Trump propaganda of the last three years. Continue reading

Now THAT’S A Norm Presidents Shouldn’t Mess With…

Apparently President Trump lobbied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to bar two of the President’s least favorite members of Congress, Representatives Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota,  from entering Israel for official visits. Israel then reversed an earlier  decision to admit the two Muslim Democrats, both supporters of the international Israel boycott movement.

From the Times:

An Israeli official close to the prime minister’s office said on Thursday that a call came from the Trump administration as recently as this week pressing Mr. Netanyahu to bar the congresswomen. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate information, said the prime minister found himself in a “lose lose” situation, having to choose between upsetting Mr. Trump or the Democrats.

Of interest but irrelevant to the ethics issue is this morning’s news that Tlaib is now being allowed to enter Israel on humanitarian grounds in order to visit her 90-year-old grandmother, provided the Congresswoman pledges  “not to  promote boycotts” while in the country. That’s nice. But it doesn’t change the analysis of what Trump did.

One of the “Big Lie” attacks (I haven’t yet added this one to the Ethics Alarms Big Lie Directory, but it will be #6) on President Trump, spurred by partisan academics and gullibly swallowed whole by history-challenged members of the public, has been that this President uniquely ignores or violates so-called “democratic norms,” meaning that he frequently takes actions that may be within his power, but that traditions, precedent and the practices of his predecessors have established as un-Presidential or even taboo. For the most part, this is contrived criticism representing a double standard and requiring historical amnesia. Presidents break norms, and the stronger ones break them frequently. Democrats attempting to equate  breaking precedents as the equivalent of “high crimes and misdemeanors” are showing their hand: this complaint is just one more unethical justification for a “resistance” coup.

The fact that there is nothing automatically wrong with breaking norms does not mean that all norms should be breached, or that breaching a particular norm is wise, responsible, or ethical. A President enlisting a foreign ally to take negative action against a member of Congress is one norm that shouldn’t be violated.

The action is unethical by any ethical standards. From a Golden Rule standpoint, no President would tolerate members of Congress lobbying foreign governments to take adverse action against him, though I have little doubt that this has been attempted by legislators in the past. Kant’s Rule of Universality would reject the practice as a new norm, and from a utilitarian standpoint, it’s hard to see how such conduct by a President would result on balance in more beneficial consequences than negative ones. Continue reading

Bill Maher Ethics And Resistance Big Lie #5

HBO’s Bill Maher has exercised a downward force on national ethics since he started taking himself seriously as a pundit. We haven’t check in on Bill for a while. The non-news is that he’s as reflexively smug and vile as ever, and that his pose as a comedian is still used as cover to permit his often sociopathic political views to escape the condemnation they warrant. Let’s see…

  • In his latest show, Maher had this exchange with Democratic columnist Josh Barro:

Maher: “I’ve been hoping for a recession – people hate me for it – but it would get rid of Trump.”

Barro: “Recessions are really bad. People lose their jobs and homes and we shouldn’t wish for it.”

Maher: “I know. It’s worth it.”

Unless you think this was a hilarious exchange, you must recognize it as the position of a hateful, Machiavellian fanatic. He detests the President so much that he wants there to be a disaster harming the U.S., families, businesses and the economy  so  he can rid the nation of the President. This is no different from wishing for a plague, race riots, a terrorist attack or a war.

  • Closing his show, Maher made this pitch:

“Fatigue is the best thing we’ve got going for us. The majority of Americans aren’t tired of winning, they’re tired of looking at his fat fuckiing face! It’s hard to beat an incumbent in a good economy. Every incumbent since FDR has won if they avoided a recession leading up to an election year and consumer confidence is sky high. … The voters that Democrats need to win, moderates who have Trump fatigue, will vote against a good economy, I think, just to get back to normalcy, but they won’t trade it away for left-wing extremism….”All the Democrats have to do to win is to come off less crazy than Trump — and, of course, they’re blowing it! Coming across as unserious people who are going to take away all your money so migrants from Honduras can go to college for free and get a major in ‘America sucks.’ It’s the fatigue, stupid! Let’s make it hard for Trump to play on voters’ fears and let the fatigue win the election for us. We’ll get to the revolution, but remember, put on your oxygen mask before assisting your child.”

Continue reading

Ethics Observations On Speaker Pelosi’s “Suggestion” The The President Skip The State Of The Union Message

Nancy Pelosi delivered an unprecedented and thinly-veiled insult to President Trump by urging him in a public letter to either reschedule the January 29 State of the Union Message or deliver it in writing to Congress because of “security concerns.”

Observations: Continue reading

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up After The Red Sox Complete An Unprecedented Late Inning Comeback In The World Series HAHAHAHAHA!, 10/28/18: Obama’s “Norms”, Goodbye Apu, #MeToo Hypocrisy, And “Roshomon,” Chicago-Style

Focus, Jack, focus!

1. Not the World Series, ETHICS! And speaking of ethics…

  • What kind of lie is this? Rich Hill, the Dodgers starting pitcher last night who almost unhittable, said in an interview that he “liked” his team’s chances of winning the Series despite being behind 3 games to 1. World Series history and basic math says that the chances are “slim.” He likes the slim chances? Does he really like them? Does he believe liking them means they are more likely to break his way?

Is he just lying to buck up his team and its fans, when he really doesn’t “like” the chances at all, not being, you know, an idiot? Does that make it a “good lie”?

  • The Fox World Series broadcast team of Joe Buck and John Smoltz is incompetent. In a potentially game-changing play in which the Boston catcher’s throw attempting to complete a home-to-first double-play sailed past first, allowing the game’s first run to score, the two alleged experts said that there was no interference. Wrong. There was interference, and it was obvious: Bellinger, the Dodgers runner, was on the infield grass rather than the yard-wide running lane to the right of the baseline, which exists precisely for plays like that, when the catcher needs a lane to throw unimpeded to first base to get the out.  It should have been called runner’s interference, completing a double-play and ending the inning without a run scoring. Instead, the run scored on the errant throw from Boston catcher Vasquez, and the next batter, Yasiel Puig, hit a three-run homer to give L.A. a 4-0 lead. There was no discussion of the rules and issues involved.

But after the game, over at the MLB cable channel, former Yankees manager Joe Girardi and baseball analyst Harold Reynolds graphically illustrated that the interference should have been called. This is what the Fox broadcasters are paid for: to explain the nuances of the rules and the game to the average World Series viewer, whose baseball acumen is rudimentary. The umpires missed the play, even though as Reynold pointed out, it was called many times during the season. Umpires are reluctant to call interference of any kind during the post-season, because it’s messy, and guarantees controversy and an on-field arguments.

  • For an unusual first ball ceremony, former Red Sox-Oakland Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley (Now an ace Boston TV color man, known New England-wide as “Eck”) threw a pitch to ex-Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager as Kirk Gibson stood in the batters box. Gibson, you should recall, hit the famous “The Natural” home run off Eckersley to win Game #1 of the 1988 World Series, after limping to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning. How many ex-players would voluntarily re-enact their worst moment on the field on national TV? Imagine Ralph Branca throwing a ceremonial first pitch to Bobby Thompson.

Eck personifies humility and exemplary sportsmanship.

  • Trump Tweets, Baseball Division. This made me laugh out loud, I have to admit. During the game, the President criticized Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decision to replace Hill with his first baseball tweet:

“It is amazing how a manager takes out a pitcher who is loose & dominating through almost 7 innings, Rich Hill of Dodgers, and brings in nervous reliever(s) who get shellacked. 4 run lead gone. Managers do it all the time, big mistake!”

I wish the President would confine all of his tweeting to second-guessing managers and coaches. It’s obnoxious, but harmless. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, presented with the tweet during his post-game press conference, handed it ethically and well. Steely-faced, he asked, “The President said that?” and responded, sufficiently respectfully, “I’m happy he was tuning in and watching the game. I don’t know how many Dodgers games he’s watched. I don’t think he was privy to the conversation. That’s one man’s opinion.”  Roberts was referring to the fact that Hill told him that he might be getting fatigued. Nonetheless, lots of people other than the President questioned Robert’s decision.

It is pure hindsight bias, of course, as well as consequentialism. If the Dodger bullpen had held a late-inning  4-run lead as every previous World Series bullpen had, nobody would be criticizing Roberts.

2. The confiscated handicapped van. [Pointer: Michael Ejercito] Andrea Santiago’s $15,000 van with a customized wheelchair lift was confiscated  by the City of Chicago as an abandoned vehicle. She has polio and multiple sclerosis, and the family claims the vehicle was parked legally and obviously not abandoned. This is a Roshomon situation, for the accounts of the city and the family are irreconcilable. Chicago’s Department of Streets & Sanitation sent this statement: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/9/2018: Searching For Something Positive In The Ethics News, Failing

Good morning.

1. Is it unethical to never be satisfied, or just human? Or just American? The Boston Red Sox are winning too much, and I don’t recognize my team.  Over the weekend, literally for the first time in my life, I found myself feeling sorry for an opposing team and its fans. The poor Kansas City Royals (who are, I know, in the process of tanking) looked hopeless as the Red Sox swept a three game series. KC, not long ago a World Series champion, looks like it will lose 105 games or more. My team has always been the underdog. I don’t want to root for crypto-Yankees.

2. Yeah, I wish the President would just announce his SCOTUS pick and not make it into a circus.

3. Another Ethics Alarms Lost Post…A Carolyn Hax advice column from March missed  getting the post I intended at the time, and I just stumbled across the old file. A woman who had planned a huge wedding was jilted by her fiance shortly before the big date, as he ran off with an old flame. She asked Carolyn if she was wrong to be angry at invited friends and relatives who wanted her to reimburse them for non-refundable airline tickets, and to never want to have any contact with them again. Hax said that such people don’t deserve anything better, and ought to be written off in perpetuity.

That was an easy call for the relationship columnist, but I found  myself reflecting on other matters, like whether I have any friends and relatives who could be expected to behave that atrociously, venally and compassionlessly (relatives yes, friends, no, I think). Another question: what’s the matter with people, and how do they get this way? Someone you care about is slammed with a life catastrophe, and your first reaction is to demand that she pay for your inconvenience?

4. Yes, “enemy of the people” is accurate…From Glenn Greenwald (via Althouse): Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “The Good Faith Of The Justice Department”: Sure.

This Comment of the Day is short but provocative. I have had it in a pending file for a while. What triggered my determination to run it now was this tweet cum meme, courtesy of Instapundit, by Harvard Law professor Adrian Vermeule:

I considered making the profesor’s tweet an Ethics Quote of the Week. I considered using it in an Ethics Quiz: “Would it be ethical to post this on Facebook, knowing that it will convince none of the Trump Deranged among my friends and merely cause their already weakened heads to explode?” I hate memes, and wondered weather this was too close to one to post without hypocrisy. And yet: Prof. Vermeule is absolutely correct. His brief tweet neatly consolidates what Ethics Alarms has been covering since the 2016 election, and why I believe that the progressive/resistance/Democrat/mainstream media/ Deep State alliance”s unethical efforts to delegitimize and undermine this President is doing—and will continue to do—far more damage to the nation than the Presidency of Donald Trump, even if he lived down to his foes’ worst assumptions.

Here is Humble Talent’s Comment of the Day on the post, “The Good Faith Of The Justice Department”: Sure. Humble promised that he would have a lot more to say on the topic. I’m counting on it.

 Since the election of Trump, I have seen the brains of otherwise intelligent and competent people liquefy and trickle out their ears in real time.

One of the most interesting symptoms of that liquefaction has been the invention or re-invention of all sorts of professional rules, policies and laws, specifically and discreetly to the detriment of this administration. When something new happens, something that has a burden of proof so high that it has never before been breached…. The Resistance desperately wants that to be the result of an abnormal presidency… But in reality it’s the response that is abnormal… It’s the height of naivete to assume uncritically that this was done properly.