“If That Was Transparency, Then I’m A Kumquat” And Other Reactions To Josh Earnest’s Multiple Unethical Christmas Quotes

This morning, Obama Administration paid liar Josh Earnest spoiled my Christmas mellow by telling CNN’s alleged news media ethics watchdog Brian Stelter that there’s really “no constituency in American politics for transparency in government beyond journalists,” as he deflected Stelter’s accounts of journalists complaining about administration foot-dragging on Freedom of Information Act requests. Then he really curdled the ethicist’s eggnog by saying,

“If this constituency of journalists are gonna be effective advocates for the issue that they care about, they need to remember that they have a responsibility not just to criticize those who are not living up to their expectations. Any activist will tell you that the way that you get people to support you and to support your cause is to give them credit when the credit is due, to applaud them when they do the thing that you want them to be doing.”

Finally, Earnest molded my mistletoe by claiming,  “President Obama has been the most transparent president in American history.”

Stelter, of course, being an incompetent, biased and unethical news media ethics watchdog, did not interjection with the mandatory, “WHAT??? You’ve got to be kidding! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ACK! ACK! ARRRGH! and drop dead in shock.

That statement is fake news if anything is, rivaling the news media lie that that the Obama years were devoid of major scandals. Before we begin shooting fish in a barrel and deal with that brazen-beyond-belief spin, let’s pause to consider the other stunner in Earnest’s Christmas morning performance:

1. What does Earnest mean that journalists are the only constituency for transparency? Does the Obama administration, and by extension Democrats, really believe that the public doesn’t mind being lied to? If so, that explains a lot, including the nomination of Hillary Clinton.

2. Journalists are not supposed to advocates and activists at all. They are supposed to be devoted to communicating facts and the truth.

3. Is Earnest saying that when a President generally defies a pledge of ethical conduct, he should nonetheless be praised when he doesn’t defy that pledge, and that journalists should highlight the Administration’s rare examples of  transparency while ignoring the overwhelmingly more copious breaches? It sure sounded like it.

That brings us back to the mind-melting quote that this has been a transparent administration by any definition of the word other than “not transparent at all.”

This episode from 2011 nicely encapsulates the issue:

“President Obama was scheduled to receive an award from the organizers of the Freedom of Information Day Conference, to be presented at the White House by “five transparency advocates.” The White House postponed that meeting because of events in Libya and Japan, and it was rescheduled…That meeting did take place – behind closed doors. The press was not invited to the private transparency meeting, and no photos from or transcript of the meeting have been made available. The event was not listed on the president’s calendar…Nor is the award mentioned anywhere on the White House website, including on the page devoted to transparency and good government. Were it not for the testimony of the transparency advocates who met secretly with the president, there wouldn’t seem to be any evidence that the meeting actually took place.”

That’s right: Obama wasn’t transparent about a transparency meeting. That same day, Obama went on TV  and tried to explain why he hadn’t been transparent to the U.S. Congress about his military plans in Libya.  Shortly after that, news leaked that the Fed had secretly sent billions in loans to foreign banks during the financial crisis.

Ah, memories! On his second day on the job, January 21, 2009, that…President Obama famously pledged, in one of his first memos to federal agencies

“We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

He may be right about that last part, or maybe he discovered that it was naive and impractical dream. Under no circumstances, however, can it be said that Obama’s administration was transparent. An exhaustive list is impossibly, long, but here is an incomplete  sample just from the posts in Ethics Alarms: Continue reading

Leadership Trust: Is This Finally The Public’s Tipping Point On President Obama?

giant-jengaTipping points are events that establish major shifts in public attitudes and the culture, and what determines a tipping point varies from circumstance to circumstance. When the switch is flipped on public trust, a leader is done for, at least in a democracy. This is why, in a parliamentary system,  prime ministers call for elections at such times, or even resign. It’s a tradition the U.S. might do well to consider.

The tipping point on the George W. Bush presidency was glaringly obvious: it was the botched handling of Hurricane Katrina, even though that particular fiasco was mostly an example of effective  blame-shifting by New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. Bush had already accumulated many legitimate reasons to doubt him, but the traditional American eagerness to like and trust whoever holds the same job as Washington, Lincoln and FDR had kept his presidency afloat…until it drowned in Katrina. All was downhill from there.

Interestingly, nobody at the time argued that Americans should support the lousy response to Katrina because not doing so would cripple the Bush presidency going forward. But I digress..

Now it appears that the Obama proposal/decision/ argument—who knows what it really is?—to engage in a limited missile attack on Syria may be the public tipping point on Obama’s leadership, the moment when the veils fall and the nation reluctantly but decisively admits that the man it elected—twice—as its leader cannot be trusted. If so, it is remarkable this took so long, testimony to how much we all wanted our first African-American President to succeed. The tipping point for me was years ago. Following the Bush experience, I thought that the bungled government handling of the Gulf oil spill would clinch it, but no. Then came the Benghazi mess, with an ambassador and other Americans murdered without any decisive response other than deceptive spin and obfuscation to avoid electoral consequences—the I.R.S. tea party harassment (still being investigated, and looking worse all the time)—the NSA revelations, and the growing evidence that while the Affordable Care Act may not be the cataclysmic socialist disaster conservatives claim it is, it is also far from what the President promised. No tipping point though, until Syria, and the consequences flowing directly from the President’s undisciplined off-the-cuff rhetoric—a constantly repeated flaw in his leadership style.

Now, as tipping points do, this current controversy is resuscitating all of the past incidents, and serving as the catalyst for a reappraisal of Obama’s leadership. The looming conclusion is that he cannot be trusted.

Occasionally am beaten to the punch by a pundit or blogger who delivers an essay that says exactly what I was preparing to write, even as I was almost finished writing it. Such a pundit is Forbes contributor Merrill Mathews, who delivered an article on that publication’s website over the weekend, titled “What Happens When You Can’t Believe A Thing The President Says?” (My title was going to be “When Trust Is Gone”).

Some key quotes from the article: Continue reading

The Halliburton Plea Bargain: Why We Have To Start Sending Corporate Executives To Jail

"BAD company! BAD! Now go feel sorry while you count your money."

“BAD company! BAD! Now go feel sorry while you count your money.”

The news media and pundits were too entranced by Anthony Weiner’s package, the royal baby, whatever it was, and President Obama’s  third or fourth promise to make the economy his primary focus every waking hour between fundraisers and expensive junkets to notice that the old villain of the Left, Halliburton, once again got away with corporate villainy of the worst kind. You see, Halliburton executives engaged in ethics accounting, essentially balancing the possible penalties that might arise from illegal and unethical conduct against the benefits, and decided, sure, let’s destroy evidence that shows that Halliburton had more to do with the deadly and ecologically devastating Deepwater Horizon explosion that created the Gulf oil spill than regulators and the courts currently know.

The company’s crime—remember, Scooter Libby was sent to jail for obstructing justice regarding the investigation of a crime that didn’t exist—was discovered, so it made a sweet deal with the Justice Department: it agreed to pay the maximum allowable fine of $200,000 ( perspective: this would be considered a joke of a fine for steroid use by a major league baseball star) and will be subject to a three year probation; the company continue its cooperation with the government’s criminal investigation (which is its duty anyway), and to really show its contrition and yummy goodness, Halliburton made a voluntary contribution of $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to clean off those oil-covered sea birds and otters, and that kind of thing.

Awwwwwww…

Disgraceful and outrageous. Continue reading

Oh, Shut Up, Rush.

I tuned in to Rush Limbaugh this afternoon expecting what I got, but hoping otherwise. Sure enough, Limbaugh spent the first half-hour of his broadcast mocking President Obama for taking “single-handed” credit for Osama bin Laden’s death, counting the number of times the President uttered the words “me,” “I,” “my,” and “mine,” and minimizing any credit due to the Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief when the nation he leads finally accomplishes something it has been trying to do for a decade.

The President of the United States gets the blame and is held accountable for gas prices he cannot control, international upheavals, incompetent local disaster management after hurricanes, economic meltdowns caused by lazy regulators, irresponsible investors, unqualified homeowners and greedy business executives, the botched clean-up of unprecedented oil spills, the abuse of prisoners by hillbilly soldiers thousands of miles away, and every other  social, societal and economic ill imaginable. That’s his job, and he wanted it: fair or not, he has to take it. Continue reading

Outrageous Corporate Conduct 2011: Transocean’s Unconscionable Bonuses

"Sure, but other than THAT: great night at the theater, right?"

I believe that much of the time the corporate sector is unfairly treated by the media, politicians, and the public. Part of this conviction arises from my experience working at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, directly under its current president when he was a rising young Turk. I dealt with corporate executives every day, and got to see the challenges of big business from their side. Most of the time, they struck me as genuinely concerned about workers, communities, fairness, while believing, of course, that an unfettered private sector was in the economic interest of everyone.

Increasingly, however, I see corporate behavior that is so arrogant, so transparently greedy, so contemptuous of the public’s intelligence, so blatantly, obnoxiously wrong that I wonder if it was all a dream. There was AIG, accepting billions from American taxpayers to save it from the consequences of its own fiduciary crimes, immediately spending some of it on lush retreats and parties for its executives. There were the leaders of Goldman Sachs, telling gape-jawed U.S. Senators that, no, they didn’t see anything unethical about selling their trusted clients investment products so awful that the company made money betting on their failure. There are the U.S. banks, hoarding their money and refusing to refinance mortgages that were unconscionable to begin with,  preferring to make the nation’s economic problems worse by foreclosing on families’ homes rather than making a good faith effort to undo a human and social catastrophe that was substantially of their own making.

Now comes the news that Transocean Ltd., owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, has announced that it is giving millions of dollars in bonuses to its executives after “the best year in safety performance in our company’s history.”  Which seems perfectly reasonable, unless you want to make a big deal over that one little Gulf oil spill incident last April…you know, the one that began when a Transocean oil rig exploded, killing eleven people including nine Transocean employees. Continue reading

Integrity Check: Obama’s Embarrassing Transparency Pledge

President Obama is getting a mixture of ridicule and contempt from some pundits over the revelation yesterday that he accepted an award for transparency in secret. From Forbes:

“President Obama was scheduled to receive an award from the organizers of the Freedom of Information Day Conference, to be presented at the White House by “five transparency advocates.” The White House postponed that meeting because of events in Libya and Japan, and it was rescheduled…That meeting did take place – behind closed doors. The press was not invited to the private transparency meeting, and no photos from or transcript of the meeting have been made available. The event was not listed on the president’s calendar…Nor is the award mentioned anywhere on the White House website, including on the page devoted to transparency and good government. Were it not for the testimony of the transparency advocates who met secretly with the president, there wouldn’t seem to be any evidence that the meeting actually took place.”

I can guess why the President didn’t want to publicize the meeting: the same day, he had to go on television and explain why he hadn’t been transparent to the U.S. Congress about his military plans in Libya. Or perhaps he knew that the news was about to leak that the Fed had secretly sent billions in loans to foreign banks during the financial crisis, not telling the public because it would make them worried and angry. Or maybe it was the just the dawning realization that transparency in government is often neither wise nor safe, and that he was sick of being embarrassed by awards that only point  up the yawning chasm between Obama’s idealistic words and reality. (See: 2010 Nobel Peace Prize) Continue reading

Why Obama’s Party Is Going Down

The excuses are already coming fast and furious as President Obama and his party faces a rebuke in Tuesday’s election of historic proportions. The lack of accountability so far may be forgivable; after all, nobody admits they have done a lousy, hypocritical, incompetent and dishonest job while they are running for re-election. The voter’s fury and the Democrats’ peril are being blamed, alternatively and collectively, on George Bush, on Sarah Palin, on racism, on the sad stupidity of the American public, who just are so impatient and unsophisticated that they don’t comprehend all the wonderful things that have been done for them.  It’s also the Supreme Court’s fault for allowing large corporations the right of free speech, although the union money flowing to Democrats as the result of the same decision has dwarfed corporate money.

All of these excuses are demeaning to Obama and his party, and insulting to the intelligence of everyone else.

The reason the Democrats are going down to a party that had thoroughly disgraced itself out of power just two years ago, is illustrated by a shocking report that barely caused a ripple in the news cycle. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: What Do the Gulf Oil Spill, Pearl Harbor, Bernie Madoff, 9-11,Tyler Colvin’s Chest Wound Have in Common?

Answer: They all are the inevitable consequences of the human conduct known (on “Ethics Alarms,” at least) as the “Barn Door Fallacy”—the irresponsible and unethical tendency to allow a dangerous situation to persist until it actually causes catastrophic damage, thus giving the decision-makers sufficient support to spend the money or cause the systemic disruption necessary to address the problem, too late, of course, to save the victims of the catastrophe. They lock the barn door, but after the horse is gone, and perhaps has trampled someone to death while leaving.

Who is Tyler Colvin? He is a major league baseball player in the employ of the Chicago Cubs. His season, and almost his life, ended yesterday: Continue reading

Florida Lawyer Quits For The Right Reason, But Will Get Credit For The Wrong One

Florida lawyer Dan Gelber quit his law firm, Akerman Senterfitt, after BP hired the firm to represent it in the oil claims process. This will undoubtedly help him in his campaign for Florida Attorney General (Gelber is currently a state senator). His decision to resign is a very prudent and ethical one, but not for the reason most Floridians will think. Continue reading

Ethics Audit: the Deep-Water Oil-Drilling Ban Saga

President Obama’s ban on deep-water oil drilling in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil disaster pits important ethical values against each other: fairness vs. responsibility. On both sides of the equation is prudence. New Orleans federal judge Martin Feldman over-ruled the ban and issued an injunction against it, saying in effect that there was no contest: the ban isn’t fair, prudent, or responsible.

The Obama Administration’s ethical argument supporting the ban goes something like this: Continue reading