From The Appearance of Impropriety Files: Justice Scalia’s Hunting Trip

ScaliaCheney

A partyist, ignorant hack named Andrea Paysinger, who is banned from further commentary by the Ethics Alarms “too dumb and biased to contribute” rule, just wrote a comment to the Clinton-Lynch post making the typical ratioanalization-rotted argument that “all the brouhaha over this is ridiculous, childish on the part of all the RIGHT WING jerks who SAW NOTHING WRONG with JUSTICE SCALIA taking gifts and spending vacations PAID FOR by those who actually had cases coming up before SCOTUS AND NOT ONE FUCKING TIME DID HE RECUSE HIMSELF.”

I just love it when people accuse me of being a partisan hypocrite without bothering to check what I have written. As it happens, I wrote a great deal about Scalia’s infamous hunting trip, which I unequivocally condemned as creating the appearance of impropriety. (It was, however, factually less troubling than the Clinton-Lynch meeting, as Scalia and Cheney were never alone during the trip in question.) So for people like Andrea (though not Andrea herself, who won’t be able to get back on this site if she recruits an army of Myrmidons), I will hereby post the two Scalia essays, which currently reside only on the Ethics Scoreboard, now an archive of my ethics commentary prior to 2010.

Unfortunately, the site’s search function stopped working when I had to change platforms recently. If you want to check out the Scoreboard now, just use Google: type “Ethics Scoreboard” and the subject or topic. If there was commentary, you’ll find it.

To give due credit, Andrea did identify real hypocrisy on the Lynch issue. Many of the Democrats exposing themselves as corrupted by partisan bias by now trying to defend Lynch also furiously attacked Scalia’s appearance of impropriety. They—your idols, Andrea— have no integrity. I do.

Here was what I wrote about Scalia’s clear appearance of impropriety in 2004.

Good Judge Hunting: Antonin Scalia and the Cheney Case

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently went hunting with Vice President Cheney, even as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on whether the documents pertaining to Cheney’s meetings with energy company officials regarding future US energy policies must be made public. This has led to critics calling for Scalia’s recusal from the case, on the grounds that the social contact renders his objectivity in the matter suspect. Scalia, feisty as always, denies this, and maintains that he is fully capable of ruling objectively.

And I’m sure he is, but that’s beside the point. In the case of judicial independence, it is often appearances that count, and because this is an issue particularly charged with partisan passions, the Supreme Court must avoid any hint that cronyism or personal loyalties are playing a part in the outcome of the legal showdown. Scalia should remove himself from the case.

Justice Scalia has pointed out that personal friendships between the justices and Washington leaders are commonplace, and that mere friendships among professionals should not raise the specter of favoritism or bias. Indeed, had Scalia maintained exactly the same collegial relationship with Cheney, but avoided the hunting trip, there would be no issue. But the outing conjures images of male bonding and frank talk by the campfire (lobbying, perhaps?), and if Justice Scalia were to rule Cheney’s way (and Scalia’s past opinions would suggest that this is likely), the legitimacy of the ruling would be, in the eyes of many, tainted. But there is more.

According to the L.A. Times, Scalia was flown to the hunting reserve on the small jet that serves as Air Force Two. That could be interpreted as a gift to a judge from a pending litigant. The trip has value, and judges are not supposed to accept things of value under circumstances where it calls their objectivity into question. This alone would justify a recusal. And there’s a “strike three.”

The Times reports that the reserve where the duck hunting took place is owned by Wallace Carline, the head of Diamond Services Corp., an oil services firm that is on 41 acres of waterfront property in Amelia, La. The company provides oil dredging, pile driving, salvage work, fabrication, pipe-rolling capability and general oilfield construction. There is no indication that he has a direct stake in the case, but he is an energy executive. So we have a Supreme Court Justice ruling on whether materials should be released regarding the input of the energy industry into national energy policy in meetings held by the Vice-President, after he spends a hunting trip with the Vice-President, who has also provided charter jet transportation, at a hunting reserve where he is the guest of an energy executive.

Come on, Justice Scalia. Continue reading

As Republican Ethics Heroes And Dunces Board, Dodge Or Drive The Donald Trump Presidential Candidacy Ethics Train Wreck

off the train

The Donald Trump Presidential Candidacy Ethics Train Wreck is so deadly that the nation will be forced to board the Hillary Clinton Presidential Candidacy Ethics Train Wreck to survive it, as a broken back, a smashed face and need for multiple organ transplants are still more survivable than a damaged brain and a crushed heart.

Like all political Ethics Train Wrecks, however, it does allow us to learn a great deal about various pundits, politicians and public figures. Here are some early results from the wreckage once known as the Republican Party:

Ethics Heroes: The Bushes (Jeb, George H.W. and George W.) Mitt Romney, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Republican U.S. Senators Lindsay Graham,  Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner;  Conservative columnist Erick Erickson, Republican strategist and operative Mary Mat Weekly Standard founder and editor William Kristol.

There will be more. To reject the apparent nominee of your own party is a nearly unprecedented step for party leaders and ex-Presidents. I can’t find any vaguely similar example since Teddy Roosevelt split the GOP with his Progressive Party in 2012. Sasse has called for a third party alternative. Eventually, we will have a more definitive list, and some of these will fall into perdition. Continue reading

The Sixth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2014 (Part 3)

ellen-selfie

2014 Conflicts of Interest of the Year

  • Conflicted Elected Official: Philadelphia State Senator LeAnna Washington. This is always an entertaining category. Washington was convicted of using her tax-payer financed staff to organize a yearly campaign fundraiser around her birthday party. When one staffer complained that this was illegal, she reportedly replied, according to his grand jury testimony:

“I am the fucking senator, I do what the fuck I want, and ain’t nobody going to change me. I have been doing it like this for 17 years. So stop trying to change me.”

  • Conflicted Journalist: CNN sent Jay Carney, fresh off his assignment as President Obama’s official spokesman, defender and spinmeister, to cover his ex-boss’s speech.
  • Conflicted  “Non-partisan” Watchdog: CREW. The Center For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and its chief, Melanie Sloan, finally came clean (after falsely claiming non-profit status as a non-partisan organization for years) by making David Brock, head of the openly partisan, foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Republican media watchdog Media Matters its Chairman of the Board, essentially merging the two groups.
  • Appearance of Impropriety Award: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La), Republican Whip. It is not certain yet whether Scalise knowingly spoke to a group of white supremacists in 20o2, inadvertently spoke to the group, or just spoke to another group meeting in the same venue before the David Duke-affiliated group of racists started comparing sheets. It isn’t even clear that Scalise knows, but everyone should agree that it looks awful no matter how you categorize it, making the fiasco a classic appearance of impropriety situation. If the Republicans were smart, they would dump him.

Unethical Attire of the Year

Offensive shirt

This.

Unethical Political Candidate of the Year

Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, whose campaign materials were largely plagiarized from the materials other candidates.

Ethically Clueless Voters of the Year

New York’s 11th Congressional District, which contains Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. These alert and ethical citizens sent back to Washington thuggish and crooked Rep. Michael Grimm (R), then facing a 20-count indictment by federal authorities for fraud, federal tax evasion, and perjury, having earlier distinguished himself by threatening to kill a reporter and being recorded doing so.

  Unethical Advertising of the Year

Lawyer Division:

Public Service Announcement Division:

TV Program Division:

The Discovery Channel’s campaign for “Eaten Alive!” which did not, in fact, feature anyone being “eaten alive,” or at all.

Private Sector Product Division:

Halos. Or perhaps this is the Child Abuse Division:

Political Campaign Division:

Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for Texas Governor, offered an ad attacking her wheelchair- bound opponent that 1) appealed to bias against the disabled 2) misrepresented the duties of a state attorney general 3) misrepresented the facts of the cases the ad referred to and  4)  deceived the public regarding the ethical duties of lawyers, which Davis, a lawyer, presumably understands. Continue reading

“It’s Unethical To Be A Weenie,” Part I: The Lipreading NFL Fans

Preface: The Rise of the Weenies

Tom Brady, mid-

Tom Brady, mid-“Fuck!”

Everywhere we look, it seems, we see the United States culture being threatened by weenies and the rise of Weenyism. In a nation founded on the principles of self-reliance and individual liberty, built and shaped by stunningly brave men and women who hacked civilization out of an uncertain and perilous wilderness, there is a growing mass of citizens—the cancer imagery is intentional—who are committed to giving the government near total control over every conceivable danger, threat, peril, offense, inconvenience or annoyance, real or imagined, as the role of individual Americans devolves into pointing and saying, “There! Fix that! I don’t like that! Arrest them. Fine him.” Increasingly, the primary motivation for public policy is fear, planted by activists and politicians to panic, terrify and mobilize the weenie base, who are ever eager to trade individual freedom for protection against, well, almost everything.

I know I am hyper-sensitive to the weenification problem right now, having spent three weeks reviewing the history of the American West and its portrayal by Hollywood in preparation for my Smithsonian Associates program last week on how the Hollywood Western shaped American culture. Around the same time that the Sixties exploded, the culture’s unified acceptance of traditional American values began to collapse, just as the primacy of the Western as an entertainment genre declined. Now weenyism is in its ascendency. There are those who claim that the name of a distant football team causes psychological trauma to Native Americans who don’t follow football. Blogger Andrew Sullivan (a candidate for Head Weenie) asserts that the United States should have the “courage” to do nothing about ISIS and allow it to run amuck (the ultimate goal of the Weenies: an Orwellian “Weenies Are Heroes” motto). Feminists insist that women are so vulnerable to male sexual predations on campus that due process, fairness, common sense and much of the respect as equals their predecessors fought for must be surrendered, in a new system that begins with the presumption that all men are potential rapists and all women simpering, helpless victims, even when they say “yes.” College students and other are demanding that books, stories, essays and blog posts contain “trigger warnings” to alert weenies that words and topics in the text might give them the vapours. Needless to say—I hope—this not a healthy development for the United States, or  our culture.

The resistance to Weenyism ought not to be a partisan issue. The obligation to help the weak, disadvantaged and powerless become stronger, overcome their handicaps and acquire power is part of the American tradition too. Somewhere, however, this obligation was distorted by the realization that in a system where the government is looking for victims to justify its existence, Weakness Is Power (Orwell again). Weenies—fearful, risk-averse, passive-aggressive citizens who shrink from conflict, confrontation and the messy process of democracy— have realized that they can mobilize power to satisfy their narrow biases and interests, often at the expense of their fellow citizens’ right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now the culture is tilting away from the uniquely American model that encouraged individuals to fight their own battles and succeed or fail on the merits of their causes and their own determination and skill, to one that rewards the perpetually offended, victimized, and passively unsuccessful.

It is unethical to be a weenie, and equally unethical to allow Weenieism to overcome what has been an American cultural strength.

Part I: The Lipreading NFL Fans

Several TV viewers who watched the NFL’s  New England Patriots-Green Bay Packers made official complaints to the Federal Communications Commission because they could see Patriots quarterback Tom Brady saying “fuck” repeatedly on the sidelines in frustration over his own play.  They couldn’t hear it, mind you: they were just able to read his lips. This was so horrible that they felt that the Federal government needed to investigate and take remedial action.

One complaint was from an Indianapolis parent who wrote that their “6 year old children know how to read lips.” Another was from a Pennsylvania grandparent who complained to the FCC,  “My 8 year old grandson was watching the game with me and even commented that he should not have said that.”

The Horror. Law professor Jonathan Turley opined on his blog,  “I do not believe that this was a good thing for a NFL QB to be doing.” Well, sure: he should be picking his nose of grabbing his crotch, either, but this isn’t scripted, and its a football game.  The whistle has to be blown for Federal retribution for mouthed obscenities to nobody in particular, as these sensitive parents and grandparents happily allow their delicate charges to cheer men in the process of maiming themselves and risking that their children will be changing their fathers’ diapers in the disturbingly near future?

The really frightening thing is that our regulatory morass encourages such attempts at censorship. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Dick Cheney

Hello, I'll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

Hello, my name is Skug, and I’ll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

“I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.”

—Former V.P. Dick Cheney, giving his reactions on “Meet the Press” regarding the Senate’s critique of the Bush Administration and the CIA’s interrogation methods.

I try to be fair to Dick Cheney, whose character has been distorted beyond all recognition by his partisan foes. Sunday, however, he was apparently attempting to validate all the most terrible things anyone has said about him, as well as providing future students of ethics real life examples of ethical fallacies.

The one quoted above is the pip: so much for the jurisprudential principle that It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”   Chuck Todd reminded Cheney that 25% of those detained were apparently innocent. The Cheney variation: “It is OK if some innocent persons are unjustly punished as long as the bad guys get what they deserve.”

It is hard to pick the most unethical assertion, however; there are so many horrible statements to choose from. Such as: Continue reading

“Are You a Flake?” Ethics

"Are you Michele Bachman?"

With only four well-chosen words, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace accomplished several objectives Sunday, all of them in the best tradition of ethical, objective, responsible journalism.

The words were “Are you a flake?,” posed to Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who is running for President.  The question…

1. Properly forced a conservative darling to address her most striking weakness, belying Fox’s well-deserved reputation for bias toward figures its viewers admire…

2. Was a near-perfect example of the “off-the-wall” question technique, which has exposed more than one pretender to high office (Hello, Mike Dukakis!) as less than desirable.

3. Simultaneously gave Bachmann an opportunity to show how quick she could think on her feet while demonstrating important leadership traits like self-awareness, humor, wit, and grace, or, in the alternative, demonstrate the opposite.

How did she do? Well. Judge for yourself: Continue reading

White House Mendacity on Libya

The White House says this isn't "hostilities." Right.

I detest it when Presidents and their administration play self-evident language games to assert intellectually dishonest positions, whether it is Bill Clinton’s minions claiming blow-jobs aren’t “sex with that woman,” or Dick Cheney arguing that torturing prisoners by water-boarding technically isn’t torture.  Such deceit and mendacity by the representative of the Chief Executive or the President himself vastly increases public cynicism about our government and diminishes our democracy’s most precious and endangered asset, trust.

The Obama administration, despite its leader’s stirring words in the 2008 campaign, has already shown itself capable of outrageous misrepresentations, as when it reported “jobs saved” by the stimulus package using fictional Congressional districts and counting single jobs as multiple jobs “saved.” So we shouldn’t be surprise, only nauseated, when it tells Congress, as it did this week, that U.S. participation in the Libyan uprising doesn’t fall under War Powers Resolution. Continue reading

Eroding Public Trust: Obama and General Electric’s “Appearance of Impropriety”

The fact that an official act appears to be sensible and fair does not necessarily mean that it is ethical.

Consider the EPA’s waiver of the new global warming regulations for a stalled power plant project in California. Officials reviewed EPA policies and decided it was appropriate to “grandfather” projects such as the Avenal Power Center, a proposed 600-megawatt power plant in the San Joaquin Valley, and thus exempt them from new federal limits on greenhouse gases and conventional air pollution. The Avenal Energy project, explains Environment and Energy News, is a combined-cycle generating plant consisting of two natural gas-fired General Electric 7FA Gas Turbines with Heat Recovery Steam Generators (HRSG) and one General Electric Steam Turbine.

Translation: It is a huge G.E. contract.

Hmmmm. Continue reading

Comedy Central’s Unethical Self-Censorship

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

—–Evelyn Beatrice Hall (describing Voltaire’s attitude toward freedom of speech.)

“We will defend to the death your right to say anything to get a laugh, unless you are threatened by religious zealots and terrorists, in which case we will fold like Bart Stupak in an origami competition.”

—–Ethics Alarms (describing Comedy Central’s attitude toward freedom of speech.)

Continue reading

How We Will Know When the GOP Can Be Trusted

The Democrats swept into power in the wake of an unpopular war,  economic collapse, and perhaps most of all, indisputable proof that too many Republican lawmakers were venal, corrupt, arrogant, and unworthy of power. It has taken only a year from the promises of ethical reform made by Speaker Pelosi and President Obama to seem insincere, and Republican’s believe that this time public distrust will work to their favor, returning them to the power they abused. They may be right. Still, the public is not stupid. If Republicans intend to campaign as the party of fiscal responsibility and honest government, they must demonstrate that the commitment is more than a masquerade. Time and credibility, however, are in short supply. Continue reading