Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 1/18/2018: Enemies Of The People [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

I can say “good morning,” can’t I? Can I tweet it? Is it moderate enough?

About calling the news media “the enemy of the people”...Foolishly, people are cheering Senator Jeff Flake’s dishonest and cheap characterization of President Trump’s description of the news media as “words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies.” They were also words used by playwright Henrik Ibsen about 70 years before Stalin used them.  The device of finding the most revolting person ever to use a phrase and then connect a current speaker to that person is an unethical abuse of the cognitive dissonance scale, and as low a political tactic as I can think of right now, but I’m sure “the resistance” will come up with a lower one.

Flake’s entire speech was below the belt demagoguery. By what measure, for example, is a Presidential aide’s ad lib comment on cable TV about “alternative facts” “enshrining “alternative facts” into the American lexicon.” The news media did the enshrining, Senator. The White House never mentioned the term, not even once. “2017 was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government” is simply a lie. 2017 was a year which saw the truth battered and abused by the one profession whose job and duty it is not to abuse the truth: journalists. Worse, the did much of it to create fear, disrespect and distrust of the elected President of the United States, because they wanted someone else to win.

Flake reminds us that the press is protected by the Constitution, and he seems to believe, as the news media does, that this special status that they abuse daily, hourly, by the minute, should insulate them from deserved criticism and distrust no matter how they misinform and the degree of harm they do in the process. Let’s take just a single cable anchor: Chris Cuomo. He told the public that they could not legally read the Wikileaks leaks, but the news media could. He tweeted that “hate speech” was not protected by the First Amendment. He sid last week that the President’s alleged use of “shithole” irresponsibly polluted the minds of children, when if he spoke that word at all, he spoke it behind closed doors, with the understanding that he was dealing with responsible professionals who would not intentionally breach their implied promise that the meeting was private and confidential. Those are three flagrant examples of journalism malpractice, and off the top of my head. If I chose to, I could find dozens more, and that’s only one “respected journalist.”

The resistance to the President’s description is in some cases denial, and in more cases a deliberate deception to allow wrongdoing to continue. I am cross-posting the following from my comments today on another post: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/25/17: The Clinton Campaign’s Russian Dossier Connection, Her Lying Lawyer, And Jeff Flake


1 I have long been an admirer of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who is one of the few members of Congress, more’s the pity, who will stick to his principles even when they pit him against his own party. However, his freak-out and verbal attack on President Trump accomplish nothing positive (unless you consider making Democrats happy positive) and  at this point constitute pure self-indulgence and, yes, these words are coming up a lot lately, virtue-signalling and grandstanding. I have no sympathy for Flake, Senator Corker, or any other Republican leaders who stood by and allowed Donald Trump to hijack their party. The time for Flake to take a stand was last March, or even earlier. Ethics Alarms stated that the GOP shouldn’t have let Trump into the debates or on its ballot. I said that he should have been kicked out of the debates when he began trashing the party, and when he  became disgustingly boorish and uncivil. I explained that it could have and should have refused to nominate him by changing the rules. The party had a duty to the country to present a competent, trustworthy alternative to the corrupt, venal, dishonest candidate the Democrats were going to nominate: everyone knew who that would be. Instead, the GOP sold its soul. Jeff Flake now says that Trump is reckless, outrageous and undignified? Who didn’t know that? I assume the President’s  voters knew that. On Ethics Alarms, I wrote about those Trump character traits in 2011.

It is particularly galling for me to read Flake’s attack on Trump in the Washington Post today, which begins, “As I contemplate the Trump presidency, I cannot help but think of Joseph Welch.” In fact, it makes me want to scream helplessly at the sky. In this Ethics Alarms post, I invoked Welch’s famous televised slap-down of Joe McCarthy before the first Republican candidates debate, and concluded “If someone doesn’t at least try it, none of these 15 non-Trumps are smart enough to be President.” I wrote that on September 16, 2015. 

Senator Flake is like a Senator  going to Honolulu in December of 1942 and proclaiming that the Japanese can’t be trusted. He deserves no sympathy or support now.

He should have been reading Ethics Alarms.

UPDATE: My friend and frequent ProEthics collaborator Mike Messer called this “flake news.”

2. I haven’t had time to thoroughly unravel what yesterday’s revelation that Hillary Clinton’s campaign funded what became the infamous “Russian dossier” means. A couple of points, however, Continue reading

What Congress calls “Ethical”

Of all the ethically brain-dead comments I have heard from politicians over the years, Steny Hoyer (D-MD ) the House Majority Leader, might take the trophy. In the wake of an unintentional leak of House Ethics Committee records showing that nearly 30 Democrats were under investigation, Hoyer made the stunning statement that this shows the Democrats are living up to their promise to run the “most ethical” Congress in history.

If I can stop sputtering long enough to type, let me clarify for the Congressman. The most ethical Congress is not the one with the most ethics investigations. It is the one with the fewest members whose conduct warrant investigation for wrongdoing. If Hoyer’s reasoning wa accurate, then the safest U.S. city would be the one with the most murder investigations. The most honorable West Point class would be the one undergoing the most cheating inquiries. The most environmentally responsible corporation would be the one that was being investigated for the most alleged dumping infractions. In short, what the heck is Hoyer talking about? Is he that stupid, or does he think we are?

This Congress just had a former member, William Jeffferson, convicted of taking bribes after $90,000 was found in his freezer.  This Congress has a Ways and Means Chairman, Rep. Charles Rangel, who admittedly has failed to report large amounts of money to the IRS (note that Ways and Means writes tax legislation), and that is just the latest of his ethics problems. This Congress is looking at a massive lobbying scandal of Abramoff proportions, with clients of the lobbying firm The PMA Group, staffed with former employees of defense appropriators,  winning defense-bill earmarks for its clients to the tune of nearly $300 million, thanks to dubious relationships with seven of the 16 members of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee—including the five most senior Democrats on the panel and the top Republican.

There’s more of that unsavory stuff being looked at by the Ethics Committee, but  lot of serious ethical misconduct isn’t  thought of that way, because it doesn’t involve obvious corruption. This Congress became the only one in history to have a member, Joe Wilson (R-SC) insult (“You lie!”) the President of the United States in the middle of a speech. This Congress had another member, Allan Grayson, call a female advisor to the Fed Chief a “whore.” This Congress has a Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who has called the CIA liars and impugned the integrity of American citizens who have demonstrated against her policies or questioned her health care bill.

Can one of the most uncivil, disrespectful, undignified and partisan Congresses in history also be the “most ethical”? Only to someone who doesn’t know what ethical is…such as, I fear, Steny Hoyer.

Is it ethical  for legislators to vote for revolutionary, expensive legislation that they haven’t read, an outrageous dereliction of responsibility and diligence that is not only rampant in this Congress, but shameless.? Is it ethical for legislators to stuff bills with budget-busting earmarks, and resist the efforts of members who attempt to make the process transparent and rare?

Cynics among you might argue that Hoyer could still be right, that this could be “the most ethical Congress” and still be a cesspool, given the competition. But to qualify as most ethical (as opposed to “least unethical”), there has to be some evidence of ethical conduct, and having ongoing investigations of a welter of unethical conduct by members isn’t it.

What would be evidence of an ethical Congress? Honesty and transparency with earmarks. Competency and responsiblity, meaning the production of bills that aren’t 2000 pages long (like the current House health care legislation), and no member voting for a bill he or she hasn’t read and understood. Accountability, requiring a member like Rep. Rangel to resign his Chairmanship before any ruling by the Ethics Committee, since the facts of his tax misconduct are very clear, and they alone disqualify him from his powerful Ways and Means post.

A truly ethical Congress wouldn’t have anything for the Ethics Committee to investigate.

No, Hoyer isn’t stupid. He is just permanently addled by too much exposure to Washington’s warped definition of ethical, which is defined in the Capitol as what you can get away with without being disgraced or punished. Until Congress develops higher standards than that, boasting about the “most ethical Congress” makes as much sense as arguing about who owns the most articulate cow.