Saturday Ethics Warm-Up: “Important Ethics Stories That I Don’t Feel Like Writing A Lot About Or Am Thoroughly Disgusted With” Edition

Happy Weekend!

I hope you’re not working the whole time, like I am. However, the Red Sox have their first Spring Training game, they are playing the Yankees, and all is serene.

1. Another one of Trump’s “best people” bites the dust, or should soon.   Judge Kenneth A. Marra of Federal District Court in West Palm Beach ruled that accused serial pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s secret sweetheart plea deal agreed to by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta when he was a federal prosecutor violated federal law.

The corrupt arrangement  protected the billionaire from serious jail time and also  protected his politically-connected  friends including, notably Bill Clinton, from accountability despite their visits to Epstein’s  infamous island resort via the so-called “Lolita Express,” the private plane where young girls allegedly provided sexual services to the passengers. Ick.

I wrote a post about this unfolding scandal here. At that time, last November, I wrote,

“I do not see how Acosta can remain as Secretary of Labor following these revelation, incomplete as they are. I don’t see how we can trust his judgment, and even if, somehow, he could justify the deal with Epstein on legal, technical or pragmatic grounds, I doubt that the general public would be reassured. He should resign.”

Hey, I beat Jonathan Turley by almost three months!

2. Is the media assault on Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) for being an abusive boss legitimate? I have to say, it sure looks like it. The moderate Democratic Presidential hopeful might also be the target of a leftist news media that favors her more extreme competitors, but most Americans don’t know much about Klobuchar and can’t pronounce her name. The news media needs to introduce her, but it also shouldn’t poison the well. Conservatives, who don’t like her but like her a lot better than the likes of Senators Warren, Harris or Booker, are defending Klobuchar by arguing that she is being subjected to a double standard, since so many male officials past and present have been equally unpleasant. That’s just an “everybody does it” rationalization. There are good reasons to worry about the judgment and temperament of leaders who treat subordinates disrespectfully and cruelly, as in yesterday’s Times story about Klobuchar demanding that an aide clean her comb.

The problem is that the mainstream news media is not applying similar scrutiny, at least not yet, to similarly dubious candidates like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.

3. Great. Just what we need.   “If Mueller is done, states could file their own charges — even against Trump,” says the Washington Post. So this is really the way it is: “the resistance” and its Democratic allies will continue to harass and obstruct the elected President forever, as their endless tantrum over losing the 2016 election. I have written that nothing could make me vote for someone with Donald Trump’s non-ethical approach to life as President, but I am beginning to think that only a Trump victory in 2020 will save the country from an endless cycle of partisan sabotage of Presidents, regardless of party, going forward. This unethical strategy has to fail, and fail hard. Continue reading

I LOVE This Story! If You Don’t Love This Story, Something’s Wrong With You…Or You’re A Mainstream Media Journalist

pointing and laughing

Following the Orlando terror attack, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg, convinced that the attack wouldn’t have occurred if only we had sufficient gun regulations, decided to demonstrate how easy it would to obtain an AR-15 in Illinois. [This was already a bad start to his investigative reporting, since Steinberg didn’t investigate the gun used in Orlando: it wasn’t an AR-15. Then again, since anti-gun zealots don’t care about such details (“All guns BAD”) and low-information citizens still trust the news media not to misinform them, this didn’t matter to the reporter. But I digress…)

A background check was triggered by Steinberg’s application for the weapon,  and he was rejected. It seems the reporter had an “admitted history of alcohol abuse,” and there was a charge for domestic battery on his record.

Isn’t that wonderful?

Children: here is the meaning of “to be hoisted by your own petard.” Say thank you to Mr. Steinberg! Continue reading

Observations On The Hillary/de Blasio “CPT” Skit Uproar

beaver-crushed-by-his-own-treeOut of trivial occurrences  enlightenment may flow.

In a skit last weekend in the Inner Circle show, annual charity event put on by the New York press corps to roast the Mayor, Hillary Clinton joined de Blasio as a surprise guest and chided him for delaying his endorsement of her presidential campaign.

“Thanks for the endorsement. Took you long enough,” Clinton said

“Sorry, Hillary. I was running on C.P. Time,” de Blasio replied. Little gasps were heard in the audience, for C.P. Time, more correctly “CPT”—you know, like EST?—means “Colored People Time,” referring to the alleged proclivity of African American and Hispanics to have a casual regard for punctuality.

Black “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr in the hit musical, was on stage as part of the skit, and admonished the  mayor, saying, “I don’t like jokes like that, Bill.”

Hillary then intervened and said, “Cautious Politician Time. I’ve been there.”

I’ll let you compose yourself after the that hilarious joke before continuing.

OK, now? Good. Continue reading

Unethical Tweet Of The Month: Hillary Clinton

hedge funds

Among her almost infinite flaws, Hillary Clinton is stunningly lacking in self awareness, and her statements often—astoundingly often—point to her own misconduct and ethical bankruptcy without her comprehending the self-indictment. She has tweeted, more than once, this sentiment, for example:

“To every survivor of sexual assault…You have the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed. We’re with you.”

…though Hillary was emphatically not “with” the women who credibly accused her husband of sexual assault, and still do. She will make statements to one group that are the exact opposite of what she recently said to another group, without batting an eye. Hillary actually committed the meta-lie of saying she never has lied, which is manifestly unbelievable. Then there was this Titanic-style gaffe…

“There should be no bank too big to fail and no individual too big to jail.”

…coming from someone who is, many legal experts believe, not already under indictment purely because she is “too big to jail.” (and then there is hubby Bill, who engaged in flat-out illegal election conduct in Massachusetts that you or I would have been arrested for, and didn’t even get a rap on the wrists.) Neither Clinton has any integrity at all, or shame either. It’s really quite stunning.

Last week, Hillary tweeted this howler:

Hillary Tweet 1

This is an example of a politician intentionally playing to class divisions, ignorance and bias, and worse, encouraging them. It is exactly like saying that it is “unacceptable” that Jimmy Fallon, who only hosts a silly late night show, makes more money than any cancer surgeon, special needs teacher or EMT alive. In some ways it is worse, because most people understand what those jobs are, and may  sort of comprehend the economic principles at work: if Jimmy Fallon drops dead, there is no replacement who will bring to the job exactly what Jimmy Fallon did. He is a unique commodity, and EMT’s are not. The statement is just an emotional attack on the fact that people value laughing over things that are objectively more practical, and entertainment salaries reflect that. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Hillary Clinton

Hillary-Clinton-behind-Bars

“There should be no bank too big to fail and no individual too big to jail.”

Hillary Clinton, in last night’s NBC Presidential debate.

Like Hillary’s infamous declaration that all accusations of sexual assault must be believed, this statement shows a troubling disconnect between Clinton’s own complex and corrupt life and her rhetoric. 15o FBI agents are investigating what may be very serious violations of national security laws by Clinton, with penalties including prison. Shall we presume that Hillary is issuing a preemptive, honorable insistence that if Obama’s ultra-politicized Justice Department is tempted to try to oppose an FBI conclusion that an indictment is warranted by the evidence, it should treat her like anybody else?

Of Unfairness, Petards, and the Golden Rule

Here is the problem.

When you become desperate, and spring to manipulate gaffes, misstatements, over-heard comments and poor choices of words into unfair and disproportionate campaign attacks, you set the ground rules for your opponents as well. Unless you really have a bombshell—I’d say Romney’s 47% comment was a bombshell—the tactic is a poor risk, as well as being unethical. No candidate, nor any of his or her supporters, should try to make political points from off-the- cuff remarks, unless they reach Todd Akin-like levels of offensiveness and stupidity. They should apply the Golden Rule, for their own protection, as well as the principle’s ethical virtues.Indeed, Presidential candidates should pledge—to each other and to the public—to run campaigns about substance, not slips of the tongue.

I would have thought the Democrats would have learned this; I would think any politician would have learned this. But they are worried, and falling in the polls, so when Mitt Romney awkwardly talked about his “binders full of women” in the second debate, liberal pundits and Democrats decided to make this the latest way to ridicule Mitt, taking its place aside “I like to fire people,” and “corporations are people,” but sillier than either, though no more unfair. The attacks on those statements were unethical; this attack was outrageous. More important, it re-emphasized that in this dirty campaign, intentionally warped and unforgiving interpretations of statements that the candidates wish they had said better are acceptable weapons of choice, as unfair and misleading as that choice is.

So, as a result, when their candidate makes a far, far worse gaffe, as Obama did by telling “the Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart that “If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal,” they can expect no mercy from the media, their conservative adversaries, or anyone else, including me. Is the statement as bad as it sounds? No. Does it show that Obama doesn’t care about the death of his ambassador and three other Americans? No. Will it be perceived that way anyway? Yes, absolutely, and because it will, the Republicans will run with it hard, and no Democrat who harped on Romney’s more trivial foot-stuffing exercises can credibly complain.

So they are going to have to live with the mother of one of those slain in Benghazi, telling the press,

“It’s insensitive to say my son is not very optimal – he is also very dead. I’ve not been “optimal” since he died and the past few weeks have been pure hell.”

And they are going to have to put up with this:

Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Can You Undo A Past Confict of Interest or Appearance of Impropriety?

In November, Ethics Alarms noted that Melanie Sloan, the head of the ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was involved in exactly the kind of Washington insider conflict of interest that the group typically slams politicians for engaging in:

“Melanie Sloan, long the leader and public face of CREW, announced that she is joining the new firm of lobbyist Lanny Davis, a long-time Democratic ally and famous for being Bill Clinton’s most ubiquitous apologist during the Monica Lewinsky scandal…Over the summer,  CREW aligned itself with the for-profit schools industry.  “Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (“HELP”), asking the committee to consider the financial motives of critics of the for-profit education industry,” a July CREW press release began. Later, Sloan again attacked the motives of for-profit school critics in a CREW blog post that linked to an op-ed piece Davis had written defending the for-profit industry. That industry then became a client of Davis’s lobbying firm.

“Got that? Sloan and CREW pushed the interests of Davis’s clients, then Sloan went to work for Davis, where she will, in part, be enriched by the very people whom she assisted in the name of ethics—by attacking the financial motives of for-profit school opponents! This is precisely the kind of D.C. two-step that CREW mercilessly exposes when elected officials do it, and now here is the very same CREW leader who once condemned such corrupt practices, doing it herself.”

Now, for reasons yet undisclosed. Sloan will not be leaving CREW after all.

Does that make everything all right, obliterating the conflict of interest exposed by her decision to take the lobbying job for a firm representing the same interests that CREW had defended? Is the stain of that apparent conflict now erased? Continue reading

CREW Gets Hoisted: For Ethics Watchdogs, Integrity’s a Bitch

CREW—Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington—is one of the most active and fairest of political watchdog groups. It has a definite liberal bias, for approximately twice as many Republicans as Democrats manage to attract CREW critiques, but that’s all right: plenty of elected officials from both parties have had their shady dealings exposed by the group, which is notable for its lack of sympathy for Washington’s traditional myths and excuses to allow guilt-free corruption.

An ethics watchdog, however, can never engage in the same conduct it criticizes in others. The reason for this is as much practical as ethical. A group that made a strong case that certain behavior shouldn’t be tolerated by the public in its elected champions doesn’t diminish the validity of its arguments by violating its own principles, but it does symbolically consent to accepting the same standard of review for its own actions that it demanded for its targets. This is what Will Shakespeare called being hoisted by your own petard—blowing yourself up with a bomb of your own construction.

As Shakespeare also noted, the previous quarry of the one who is thus hoisted just love to see this happen. It doesn’t really make what they did any less wrong or the ethics watchdog any less right to have condemned it, but when the critic gets caught doing something similar, it can make the conduct seem less wrong. This also will often guarantee that future criticism by the watchdog will be greeted with more suspicion than respect.

Salon has a posted a well-researched account of how CREW hoisted itself recently, and the prospects for the organization maintaining its previous level of respect and credibility are not good. Continue reading