CREW’s Depressing “Worst Governors” List

The Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington released its list of “America’s Worst Governors” this week, and as with most things CREW does, it is well-researched, informative, and depressing. Also just a teeny bit biased.

Mostly it is depressing. That so many of the leaders of our states engage in such egregiously unethical conduct–and CREW’s list is far from complete—shows how deeply corrupt the nation’s political culture remains, and what a herculean job lies ahead if we ever hope to change it. It is also depressing when one reflects on how frequently our presidents are recruited from the ranks of governors. Continue reading

Nancy Pelosi and Forced Virtue

I’m sure my friend and colleague Bob Stone will forgive my picking on a casual phrase he used in a comment on the previous post, for it is the inspiration for this one, and it involves the important issue of forced virtue.

Bob alluded to Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally doing “the right thing” when, as reported in the morning media, she told House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel that he had to resign his post because of multiple ethics violations. Pelosi, we now know, had avoided this for as long as possible, first ignoring Rangel’s actions, then making the dodge that the Ethics Committee first had to make its ruling (Rangel’s egregious violations have never been in doubt), then suggesting that the violations were not significant (knowing that among them was a failure to pay taxes on $75,000 of income as well as acquiring hundreds of thousands of dollars of unreported—that is, hidden—income, all on the part of the reigning chair of the committee that oversees tax legislation) because the country wasn’t “jeopardized” by them. But now the press is calling for Rangel’s head, the Republicans are making accusations that seem, for once, reasonable, and other Democratic House members have joined the chorus demanding that Charlie must go. And this is all occurring as Pelosi is trying to martial her House majority as she attempts to ram the latest health care reform package past the nation’s gag reflex.

In short, Pelosi isn’t really doing the right thing. She’s doing the only thing. Continue reading

The Paterson Scandal: Another Governor Bites the Ethics Dust

For weeks, rumors have been swirling around New York Governor David Paterson, indicating that the New York Times was about to drop a scandal bombshell that would mortally wound his political career. The rumors themselves became a story, bringing some sympathy to Paterson as a political figure being smeared by whispers and innuendo. Paterson, who became governor when his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, disgraced himself and his office by patronizing exactly the kind of prostitution ring he made his reputation prosecuting, was already unpopular and hadn’t helped himself any by claiming his unpopularity was fueled by media racism.

The good news for Paterson: from this point on, he needn’t worry about racism being the cause of his low approval ratings.

The bad news: The New York Times did have a scandal to investigate, and it shows the governor to be almost as great a hypocrite as Spitzer, as well as an abuser of his power and position. Continue reading

Comedy Ethics, Censorship, and Culture

(The current uproar over the use of  various versions of the word “retarded” by Rahm Emanuel and Rush Limbaugh seems to warrant a reprint, slightly revised, of the following essay on ethics and comedy, a January 2008 post on The Ethics Scoreboard. The word “retard” also came in for criticism in a comic context last year, with its use in the Ben Stiller comedy “Tropic Thunder.” Of course, comedy is one thing, and gratuitous cruelty is another. In either case, the issue is the use of a word, not the word itself. As discussed in the previous post, it is appropriate for any group to promote sensitivity and to encourage civility. It is unethical to try to bully others into censoring their speech by trying to “ban” words, phrases or ideas. )

Here is the essay:

Comedy Ethics

“Saturday Night Live” has, not for the first time in its three decade run, ignited an ethics controversy with politically incorrect humor. Was SNL ensemble member Fred Armison’s impression of  New York Governor David Paterson, who is blind, including as it did a wandering eye and featuring slapstick disorientation, legitimate satire or, as Paterson and advocates for the blind have claimed, a cruel catalyst for discrimination against the sight-challenged?
It is not an easy call, though the opposing sides of the argument probably think it should be. And it raises long-standing questions about the balance between ethics and humor. Continue reading