The U.S. Senate’s Disgrace


The news that the U.S. Senate passed its first budget in four years yesterday (by the skin-of-the-teeth vote of 50-49) heralds the utter disgrace of that body, the President, the government itself, and the nation.

Whether or not the impetus for the Senate to shake off its arrogant and irresponsible torpor and do the job commanded of it in the Constitution was really spurred by the passage of  HR 325, No Budget No Pay Act of 2013, that is sure what it looks like. Thus we are presented with a supposedly essential, honorable, patriotic and dedicated body that only chose to do its duty when its own paychecks were at risk. Meanwhile, over the past three years, a budgetless government spent money like a math-challenged teenager abusing his parents’ credit cards.

How despicable is this? I would find it less disgusting if the Senate showed that it really believed there were good reasons not to pass a budget, or at least that the Senators thought so, by refusing to do it again even though it would hit them in the wallets. This nauseating display alerts us, as if we didn’t already know, that this great country is being managed by 100 elected representatives who have no more sense of dedication or grasp of obligation than a middle school student council, and seemingly less. They actually had to be threatened to buckle down and do the jobs they were elected to do. And the threat involved money, clearly the only thing, other than power, that this revolting body cares about. The nation? The public? Right.

Gag! Ack! Blechh! Yechhh! Ptui! 

There are no words that can adequately express my contempt.

The Ethical Fate For Joe Paterno’s Statue

In the wake of the Freeh Report’s revelations regarding the extent of the late Joe Paterno’s involvement in allowing Jerry Sandusky’s child molesting appetites to be sated with Penn State’s  assistance, many are calling for the campus statue honoring the now-disgraced coach to be removed.

I am generally opposed to removing memorials and honors to historical figures according to the popular verdicts of the day, for several reasons. The main one is that every individual who ever achieved something worthy of such honor also was guilty of misconduct that someone could convincingly argue outweighs it on moral or ethical grounds. New facts are uncovered, cultural values shift, and over time, no revered figure is safe from deconstruction. The reverse is also inevitable: if a life can be judged unworthy of honor, subsequent generations may well disagree. The verdict of a community, a culture and an era should be given due weight and respect;  a statue, memorial or monument not only recognizes an individual but also represents the judgment of our predecessors. Leave their judgments alone, and if we disagree with them, try to make ours better. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Greta Van Susteren

Welcome to the Wisconsin Supreme Court!

“Are any of the newspaper asking for them to step down? People have very serious disputes and their whole lives depend on decisions on the Supreme Court, and this isn’t fair to the people. Are newspaper editors saying they got to go?”

—-Fox News Host Greta Van Susteren, asking Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel reporter Jason Stein why the Wisconsin news media has not demanded  the removal of Justice David Prosser and  Justice Ann Walsh Bradley or both, since by all accounts they turned ideological differences into a physical altercation in chambers. The reporter ducked the question, and blamed it all on Gov. Scott Walker, thus taking “missing the entire point” to art form status.

Van Susteren is not only right, but obviously right. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: The Wisconsin Supreme Court—Choker, Chokee, Everyone

When a judge acts like this, there's a problem with the court.

In the story linked here, you can read about the controversy between a liberal, female justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court who says that a conservative, male justice attempted to choke her, and the male justice, who claims she attacked him. There is more outrageous behavior described as well, including threats, and epithets like “bitch” being used.

I don’t care who did what, or what the facts are.

The conduct of the whole Wisconsin Supreme Court is a disgrace. Continue reading

Return to a Sore Subject

"Does anybody care?"

[NOTE: An unusually busy travel schedule combined with terrible hotel WiFi and a week that was already stuffed with juicy and provocative ethics stories resulted in my not fulfilling my duties very well the last three days, for which I apologize sincerely. I’m going to make every effort to catch up this weekend.]

Rep. Weiner resigned at last, noting that his district and its constituents deserved to have a fully functioning representative in Congress, and that he could no longer fulfill that role. True enough, though one has to ask (or at least I do): if the people of Queens and Brooklyn deserve better representation than a hard-working, if dishonest, obsessed and twisted, pariah can offer, what about the people of the 8th District of Arizona, who have a representative who can’t funtion in her post at all?

I was going to wait until the six-month mark in Gaby Giffords’ rehabilitation to raise this matter again, since that will mark a full 25% of the Congresswoman’s term that she has been unable to serve, but the combination of Weiner’s resignation and the news of Giffords being released from the hospital created too much dissonance for me to ignore. I fully expect that I will be writing some version of this post 18 months hence, after Rep. Giffords’ entire Congressional term has passed without her voting on a bill or answering a constituent’s letter. To quote the singing John Adams in “1776,”: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?”

Reports from various medical personnel enthused that Giffords has made remarkable progress, and “seems” to understand “most’ of what is being said to her, though she still has trouble articulating responses. That is great progress for someone who has some of her brain blown away by a gunshot at close range, but it sure doesn’t sound like someone who is going to be making a persuasive argument on the House floor any time soon, or ever. So are we serious about this running the country stuff, or aren’t we? Continue reading

As Weiner Finally Goes, Some Lessons That We Already Should Know

I’m sitting in the Washington, D.C. offices of  NPR, waiting to go live at 11 AM. with some ethics commentary about the imminent resignation of Rep. Weiner. He is finally doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, just as his Democratic colleagues are defenestrating him for the wrong reasons. Once yesterday’s old photos surfaced showing Weiner in women’s underwear, his fate was sealed…although it was really sealed already. His forced resignation was inevitable, and the fact that the Congressman was unable to see it so that he could preserve some shred of honor by doing his duty as soon as his disgraceful conduct became public shows how wretched his judgment is.

The 56% of his constituents who, according to polls, thought that he should remain in his job demonstrated their complete lack of understanding of the requirements of leadership and ethics. They weren’t the only ones. It has been fascinating, though depressing, to read the comment threads on various websites and blogs covering the Weiner story, because they are so similar in their rationalizations. The categories, and reasons why they are so misguided, are:

  • Lots of the people criticizing Weiner engage in dubious inline conduct themselves; they are hypocrites.” No, they are non-leaders. When you accept the responsibility of leadership, you accept the duties of  integrity, honesty, and honorable conduct. Rep. Weiner gave up the right to behave as sleazy as the guy we never heard of next door when he ran for office. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz For Rep. Weiner Defenders: Would You Still Think He Shouldn’t Resign If He Did THIS?

Just add his daughter's head, and you have Rep. Gerber's fantasy date.

The Sixth District Court of Appeal in San Jose just ruled that Joseph Gerber, a California man who used his computer to create sexually explicit photos by pasting images of his 13-year-old daughter’s head onto the fully mature, naked bodies of porn performers in lewd poses, was wrongly convicted of possessing child pornography. After all, the pictures didn’t show minors engaging in sex acts, just fully legal adults with his daughter’s head, which apparently really turned Dad on.

The decision is unquestionably correct from a legal standpoint: no children were harmed to create the photos, and they did not depict child porn of any kind, except in Mr. Gerber’s fatherly mind.

Thus the Ethics Alarms question for Alec Baldwin and the reported 56% of New Yorkers who say that sexting, lying Representative Anthony Weiner should not resign his position because of his personal habit of sending smiling photos of his penis and other body parts to porn actresses, scheduling skype phone sex while his pregnant wife is away, and other similar activities, lying it all the while until lies became impossible: Continue reading

Should Rep. Weiner Resign?

Well, at least Weiner got THAT off his chest. Now all he needs to do is resign.

I was giving a seminar on building an organizational culture free from sexual harassment today, and happened to mention Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Twitter misadventures. “Allegedly!” shouted out one of the participants. “Allegedly,” I conceded. “But I’m pretty sure we’re going to find out that he behaved inappropriately; I knew that the minute he said that the crotch in the picture might have been his. Might have been his? What kind of guy his age takes photos of his crotch?” By the time I left the seminar at about 4 PM, Rep. Weiner was already engaged in his excruciating press conference, confessing, apologizing, and taking the full brunt of the media’s onslaught.

A woman had come forward to reveal more photos the Congressman had sent to her over social media…sad, embarrassing photos for any man over the age of 16 that hinted at untreated emotional problems in a man with a new wife, a high-profile job, and so much to lose. Rep. Weiner had to come clean, not that he had been doing a very convincing job of lying over the past week.

Give him credit for a forthright capitulation to the truth, once he changed his story. Continue reading

The Main Ethics Lesson of the Congressman Lee Affair

By now, you probably have heard the saga of ex-Congressman Christopher Lee (R-NY), a married man who was trolling Craig’s list for girlfriends and e-mailed a candidate shirtless photo of himself to prove to her that he was fit..and also, incidentally, as dumb as an unusually dumb brick. The young woman sent the photo to Gawker, which broke the story, resulting in the humiliated Congressman, supposedly a rising GOP star, resigning.

What is the most significant lesson of this rapid fall from political grace?

It isn’t that middle-aged men who don’t comprehend how the internet works should avoid e-mailing photos of themselves that recall George Costanza’s effort to flirt with the Fotomat girl, although that’s true.

It isn’t that horny and untrustworthy individuals who can’t control their libidos should avoid committing themselves to high-profile leadership positions in our government, since the public looks to them to exemplify the best in ethical values and the entire nation is embarrassed when they disgrace themselves. This is true too, but it is painfully clear that such individuals will never learn this, and we are stuck with them, at least until they reveal their true nature. Continue reading