Columbus Day Weekend Ethics Warm-Up, 10/10/2020: Dumb Tweets, Rigged Reviews, Insane Academics, And Police Conduct Worth Protesting

Is it that time again already? Great, now we have to listen to more Statue Toppling rants from anti-Columbus zealots who don’t think changing the world unquestionably for the better and setting in motion the chain of events that allowed the United States to exist is worthy of a day of recognition.

1. I confess. Although I bailed out of following baseball this “season” when MLB’s groveling to Black Lives Matter became too much to bear, I do check the scores now and then, and thus am taking some pleasure in the fact that the New York Yankees were eliminated in the best of five Divisional Play-offs by the Tampa Bay Rays, making it eleven straight years since the Bronx Bombers got to the World Series.

2. Idiotic tweets that did not come from the White House. Whether one believes the Doomsday Polls or not, it is beyond question that President Trump’s prospects this November would be far brighter were he able to resist sending out dumb tweets, many of which I have highlighted here. (There is a Trump Tweets tag, if you want to reminisce. Like so many of his regrettable proclivities, this one is apparently contagious. Powerline recently flagged three head-exploders:

  • From Washington governor Jay Inslee:

Inslee tweet

  • From former CIA director and Deep State Trump saboteur John Brennan:

Brennan Tweet

Those who visit here often know that by Ethics Alarms standard, quoting “Imagine” as if this infantile doggerel by John Lennon is profound automatically wins any “Dumbest” competition.

Continue reading

OK, Is Being A Double-Talking Idiot Justification Losing Security Clearance?

Doesn’t it make you feel secure that this guy was in charge of the CIA?

John Brennan, talking to broadcast journalist Rachel Maddow on anti-Trump news network MSNBC:

“And for Mr. Trump to so cavalierly so dismiss that, yes, sometimes my Irish comes out and in my tweets. And I did say that it rises to and exceeds the level of high crimes and misdemeanors and nothing short of treasonous, because he had the opportunity there to be able to say to the world that this is something that happened. And that’s why I said it was nothing short of treasonous. I didn’t mean that he committed treason. But it was a term that I used, nothing short of treasonous.”

Oh.

What?

To Maddow’s credit, she did point out that “nothing short of treasonous” means “committed treason,” but to her shame, she did not press Brennan to make sense out of this self-contradiction, perhaps because that is impossible, and also because she isn’t about to be properly tough on a Trump critic who was put on the air to bash the President. The whole interview shows Brennan to be an arrogant, presumptuous partisan warrior. I think my favorite quote is when he says

I gave him a year. I said, maybe he is going to adapt and change. But it seemed like day after day, week after week, month after month, things just got worse. He did not live up to I think what Americans expect of the president of the United States, to speak with great forcefulness but to do it with integrity and honesty. Mr. Trump, time after time, I think has really just disappointed millions of Americans, which I’m trying to give voice to.

And so, I know a lot of people think a former intelligence official shouldn’t be doing this. I don’t consider what I’m doing as political at all. I never registered as a Republican or a Democrat, you know, for my entire life. But I feel such a commitment to this country’s security and its reputation.

How generous of John Brennan, arbiter of the Presidency, to give our elected President a year. That’s better than the Congressional Black Caucus, I guess, which boycotted his inauguration and gave him no time at all. The Constitution, however, gives an elected President four years.

Brennan’s comments have shown that he should never have been trusted with security clearance in the first place.

________________

Pointer: Res Ipsa Loquitur

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/20/2018: Racing The Battery Edition

Good Morning!

Well, I found a Best Buy in Erie (above), so barring a new catastrophe, I should have a full charge this afternoon and can begin catching up. I am sorry about the inconvenience caused by this self-inflicted problem. I’m afraid to even look at the Ethics Alarms traffic: this August has already been historically bad in that respect. Thanks for your patience.

Fell free to write about any ethics issue that concerns and interests you here while my little netbook is charging, assuming it does. Right now I’m on fumes…

1. Does the New York Times have access to a legal ethicist? How about a competent lawyer? In this story, the Times suggests that the White House doesn’t know what the White House Counsel told Robert Mueller in November. That’s ridiculous, and, I submit, impossible.

By all accounts, Don McGahn, is a competent, experienced ethical lawyer, and like all competent, experienced ethical lawyers, he knows that it is his core duty, under Rule 1.4 of every set of legal ethics Rules in the nation, to…

(1) promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent, as defined in Rule 1.0(e), is required by these Rules;

(2) reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished;

(3) keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;

(4) promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and

(5) consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer’s conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

A lawyer doesn’t have to be asked to do this; a lawyer can never use the dodge, “Why didn’t I tell you? You never asked?” with his client. It is true, as the various talking heads kept repeating yesterday, that President Trump is not McGahn’s client, the Presidency is. However, in terms of the duty of communications for a lawyer with McGahn’s job, that distinction is meaningless. I’ve been trying to come up with any kind of statement or revelation that a White House Counsel could give to a Special Counsel that he would not be obligated to immediately reveal to the President.

I could write for hours on this topic, and eventually I will. But the starting point is that the Times is misleading the public. Again.

2. Fake news from the religious right: a Fox News headline today was “Little Girl Kissed By The Pope Is Cancer Free.” This is deceitful nonsense, implying that the Pope healed the girl by the touch of his Holy Lips.  She was undergoing cancer treatment. Her family credits the doctors there with the “miracle.” The Pope himself has not claimed that she was healed by his touch. “Little Girl Who Cheers For Boston Red Sox Is Cancer Free” would be a similar headline. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/17/18: Dead Singers, Honorable Magicians, Untrustworthy Ex-Employees, Volunteer Pitchers, And Little Horses

Goooood Morning, Pennsylvania!

(That’s where I going for the next four days, on a rural Pennsylvania ethics CLE speaking tour!)

1. Aretha Franklin Ethics If I can say right now without question that I will never voluntarily listen to an Aretha Franklin record, does that make me a racist? Her death triggers the “recognition but not admiration” impulse I reserve for artists whose skill and importance to the culture I acknowledge and honor, but whose art I never enjoyed and won’t miss. ( Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Barbra Streisand and Joni Mitchell are in the same category for me, restricting the list to pop female singers.) However…

  • It certainly is incompetent for Fox News to mix up Aretha and Patti Labelle, walking right into the “all black folks look the same to them” canard.
  • Since the news media/resistance collective has decreed that anything the President does of says is proof of a depraved soul, we had this yesterday: a White House press pool member for Buzzfeed told another reporter—she didn’t even tweet it!— that the President’s reaction to Franklin’s death was that he”Described her as a person he knew well and who worked for him.” This became more proof that President Trump is a racist: his immediate reaction to the death of a black woman was to think of her as a subordinate.

Will the sane and fair members of the public, which I assume is, if not a majority, a large group, ever turn on such people? A. The statement was hearsay, and not even a quote. B. Franklin did work for him, signing a contract to sing at at a Trump casino. C. What does “knew well” even mean in this context? He didn’t say that he knew her personally, or that they were pals, though who knows? I know her well too: she’s that famous soul singer I couldn’t stand listening to.

2. A spontaneous outburst of integrity...from the unlikely source of professional magician/loudmouth Penn Jillette. Jillette is an asshole, an assessment that I doubt he would dispute himself, but when the vocally-progressive entertainer (aren’t they all?) was asked in a recent Vulture interview to weigh in on Omarosa’s claims about the kind of language Donald Trump used behind closed doors, he responded,

“If Donald Trump had not become president, I would tell you all the stories. But the stakes are now high and I am an unreliable narrator. What I do, as much as anything, is I’m a storyteller. And storytellers are liars. So I can emotionally tell you things that happened racially, sexually, and that showed stupidity and lack of compassion when I was in the room with Donald Trump and I guarantee you that I will get details wrong. I would not feel comfortable talking about what I felt I saw in that room….

I will tell you things, but I will very conscientiously not give you quotations because I believe that would be morally wrong. I’m not trying to protect myself. This really is a moral thing.”

Good for Penn. He’s also a very creative and entertaining magician, as is his mute sidekick, Teller. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/24/18: Democratic Censorship, Republican Idiocy, Trump Tweets And Baseball Ethics

Good Morning!

1. Good norms, bad norms, good President, bad President…Good: the announcement that the President is “considering” terminating the security clearances of former Obama officials John Brennan, Jim Clapper, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Michael Hayden, and Susan Rice. Well, mostly good; the message that the President is “looking into it” feels suspiciously like a “Shut up or else” threat. The President should just pull the clearances immediately.

How many of you never realized that people like Comey and Brennan kept their clearances after leaving their jobs? I didn’t, and what a dumb and irresponsible rule that is. Apparently Senator Rand Paul sparked the move by tweeting that Brennan’s ridiculous “treason” accusation warranted a loss of clearance. I’d go further: the demonstrable determination of all of the named former official to assist “the resistance” and oppose the policies and very existence of the Trump administration makes ending their access to classified information mandatory.

If someone has a non-partisan, reasonable argument why the President shouldn’t just do this immediately, I’d love to hear it, especially as it applies to Comey and McCabe, who were fired.

Unequivocally bad, as in irresponsible, incompetent, undignified, unprofessional  and self-destructive, was Trump’s all-caps tweet threatening Iran after another one of that nation’s “mother of all wars” statements. Diplomacy by tweet is per se ridiculous and reckless, so saber-rattling by tweet is obviously worse. If there is a serious message to be sent, then the President should send it formally and in a professional manner. Since all-caps communications are annoying and offensive no matter where they appear, they are doubly so coming from a nation’s leadership. There is no way to interpret that Trump tweet in a way that is complimentary to the President.

2. This is one more reason my wife just told a GOP Congressional Committee fund-raising caller to never darken our phone-lines again: I really thought this story was a hoax, but unfortunately it is not. In the second episode of Showtime’s Who Is America?, Sacha Baron Cohen’s unethical “let’s humiliate people Democrats don’t like by tricking them” TV show, Cohen persuaded Jason Spencer, a Republican state representative from Georgia who apparently has the IQ of a sea sponge, to pull down his pants and scream “Nigger!” on camera.

Georgians must be so proud.

Cohen claimed to be an Israeli terrorism expert named Col. Erran Morad, and recruited Spencer for a training video on how elected officials can protect themselves from terrorists. Cohen as Morad asked Spencer to act like a Chinese tourist in order to take selfie-stick photos up a suspected terrorist’s burka, so he did.  Cohen asked  Spencer to scream the “N-word” because using the “forbidden” word would help ward off terrorists, so the idiot legislator did, and with alarming gusto. (Then Baron Cohen said, “Are you crazy? The ‘N-word’ is “noony,” not this word, this word is disgusting!”)  Morad told Spencer that terrorists are so afraid of gay people that they think they will become homosexual if you touch them with  bare buttocks, so Spencer obediently took off his pants and pressed his hindquarters against his Israeli trainer, shouting, “‘Murica!”

Not surprisingly, there are calls for Spencer to resign; he has already lost his primary. Of course he should resign; an idiot like him should never have been allowed to run as a Republican in the first place, nor should such dolts have won an election, and he won two. What Cohen does is unethical, but it does have its compensations. Spencer, for his part, whined that “It is clear the makers of this film intended to deceive me in an attempt to undermine the American conservative political movement.”

No, you irredeemable fool, idiots like you undermine the American conservative political movement, and always have. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Wake-Up, 7/17/2018: Swans, Nazis Kids, Rand Paul, And More Freakouts [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

1. And today’s anti-Trump freakout topic is…The complete media/”resistance”/Democrat social media meltdown over whatever President Trump thought he was doing yesterday was typical of what we were talking about in the threads on Monday’s Warm-Up. It’s all so boring and predictable. It’s predictable that the President will say things he shouldn’t; it’s predictable that the people who have already made it clear that they hate is guts will erupt with over-the-top condemnation; it’s predictable that the social media echo chamber will adopt whatever unscrupulous Democratic Party talking point that is launched—yes, yes, Facebook Friend, yesterday proves that Putin “has something” on the President like Nancy Pelosi says. Did she call him “Bush” this time?—and that anyone who tries to point out that the reaction is wildly out of proportion to reality is a Trump-loving racist Nazi. I seriously don’t know how a responsible commentator who isn’t out of his mind is supposed to react. Ignore it, because some new hysteria will be right along, like Leo Slezak’s swan. (Don’t you know this story? It’s one of my favorites! Leo Slezak, a famous Austrian opera singer in the Thirties, was playing the role of Lohengrin in Wagner’s opera, which ends with the hero being carried off to Valhalla on the back of a giant swan. In one performance, the swan, pulled by stage hands on tracks, just swam right by him up stage, leaving the hero stranded. Slezak turned to another singer on stage and asked, loudly enough so the audience could hear him, “What time’s the next swan?” His son, Hollywood actor Walter Slezak, made the line the title of his autobiography.)

2. Obligatory freakout notes: a.  All that matters is what, if anything, comes of the summit. The President (obviously) has his own theories of negotiation. Sometimes they work. b. John Brennan’s statement that the Putin-Trump press conference was “treasonous” was two things: 1) the most ridiculous thing said yesterday by anybody, including the idiot who lives down the street here who said, reportedly, “Rpeterbokle?“, and 2) immediate confirmation of why the President said that he doesn’t trust American intelligence agencies any more than he trusts Putin. c. If anyone can point me to an unbiased authority who can explain how leaders holding joint press conferences help their nations by insulting each other, please do. d. John McCain should either show he can do his job, or he should resign and let someone able do it. Right now, apparently his only role is to snipe at the President. e. Gee, I wonder why President Trump doesn’t trust the FBI, after watching a smug FBI agent who texted about insurance policies against his Presidency and how “we” would “stop” him lecture Congress about his lack of bias? f. Nixon said much nicer things about China and Chou En Lai when Dick made his famous visit. FDR affectionately called mass murderer Stalin “Uncle Joe.” President Bush (absurdly) said that he had seen Putin’s soul, and pronounced it pure. JFK feted the Butcher of the Ukraine and Hungary, Nikita Khrushchev, during a visit to America without condemning him in a pres conference. President Obama whispered to Putin that, in essence, he was going to play tough but would be accommodating after the election. Conclusion: As usual, this President is subjected to a double standard, and it is wildly hypocritical. g. Yes, Trump’s comments were unpresidential and inappropriate. This, however, is no longer news.
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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/18/18: McCabe, Brennan, And “Fighting Joe” Hooker

Good Morning!

1 McCabe Ethics. If you want a starting place to find smoking guns regarding the stunning bias of the mainstream media, one need look no further than the overwhelming sympathy being expressed for Andrew McCabe, the senior FBI official just fired by AG Jeff Sessions.

 Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that McCabe misled investigators about his role in directing other officials at the FBI to speak to “The Wall Street Journal” regarding his involvement in a public corruption investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Horowitz’s report on McCabe was referred to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility and the career officials there recommended McCabe’s termination.That means McCabe had to be fired. I never had a job in which I wouldn’t have been fired if an internal investigation showed I had lied on the job. Have you? In a law enforcement job, this is an even worse offense. Firing for cause is virtually mandatory. Of course it is. But here, for example, is “The Atlantic”:

“Andrew McCabe, a former acting and deputy FBI director who had drawn the ire of President Trump, was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Friday evening, a decision that raises troubling questions about the independence of both the Justice Department and the FBI.”

What? It raises no “troubling questions” at all! McCabe had to be fired. The fact that the President had criticized him is 100% irrelevant. He would have had to be fired if the President said he was the salt of the earth. He would have to be fired if the President said he was the spawn of Hell. McCabe lied. The internal investigation said so. He was fired. Good.

There were plenty of other reasons to be suspicious of McCabe. NBC News reported,  for example, that when McCabe’s wife, Jill, ran for the state Senate in Virginia in 2015, she accepted a donation from a political action committee controlled by then Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, one of the Clintons’ closest allies. Then, in 2017, McCabe became a key official in the investigation of Hillary’s e-mail tricks. He should have recused himself: it’s called the appearance of impropriety. James Comey should have forced him to recuse himself. Never mind: the lies alone were enough to mandate a firing.

The news media, many believe (including me), support McCabe because he was a source for leaks—in other words, he violated the law and legal ethics to pass along confidential information. For that, if it could be proven, McCabe ought to be disbarred and prosecuted.

To read my progressive Facebook friends’ rants, as their IQ and integrity declines further every day, the current outrage is over the fact that McCabe was fired a mere day before he could take early retirement. Again, good. A high-ranked FBI official who lies on the job must be fired, not allowed to escape accountability by retiring. Once he retired, the only recourse for the Justice Department would be to indict him. It doesn’t matter that he was a day away from retiring. So what? What if he was a month away? A year? A minute? He lied. He deserved to be fired, not to be allowed to retire. The quick retirement dodge was how the Obama Administration justified letting IRS officials that criminally misused the agency for partisan warfare escape accountability.

2. And this is why the President of the United States shouldn’t tweet like a junior high school student, or like Larry Tribe  Here is former CIA Director John Brennan’s tweet in response to McCabe’s firing”

When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America…America will triumph over you.

It is unprofessional, uncivil, misleading and unethical. However, when the President of the United States’ daily habits make such tweets a Presidential norm, this is what you get: not just a Nation of Assholes, but a government of assholes.

Kudos to journalist Sharyl Attkisson for tweeting the perfect response to Brennan’s thuggishness:

“A guy like this would never misuse intel or his authority—would he?” Continue reading

Question: Are There Any Fair And Rational Democrats Who Protest The Fake “Bombshells” And “Breaking News” Purporting To Show Trump “Colluded With Russia”?

A day or so ago, I was watching when a CNN crawl said: “Breaking News….Trump Team Had Contact With Russia.” Then I listened to the actual story. That headline was fake news. (Yes, partisan spinners: when the news media uses a misleading headline to  suggest something is true that isn’t, that is fake news.) The Trump team didn’t do anything. Individuals who were involved with Trump’s campaign had contact with Russians (not Russia) that may have had nothing at all to do with Trump or the election. The headline was intentionally constructed to suggest that the Trump campaign was engaged in something sinister.

This was just an especially glaring example. Earlier this week, John Brennan testified that

“I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals,” Brennan said  “And it raised questions in my mind again whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals…”

That statement was similarly spun as a “bombshell,” because to those who have already decided that President Trump must have committed treason to win the election (because why would anyone vote against Hillary Clinton, and besides, Trump is a fascist, evil, scary monster thing elected by deplorable sexistracistxenohobicauthoritarianmorons), so Trump is obviously guilty. In truth, what X is concerned about regarding associates of Y is no evidence of anything regarding Y at all.

The biased media’s’ Brennan spin isn’t an outlier; it exemplifies the entire “Russiagate” narrative.  Another New York Times “bombshell”  reported, based on “three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence,” that

American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.

Rachel Stoltzfoos  at The Daily Caller cleanly exposed this bombshell as a dud in her post, “Go Straight To The Fifth Paragraph Of The Latest NYT ‘Bombshell’ On Russia Collusion,” where she wrote, Continue reading

“Fake News” Friday Continues! Episode II: The CIA Says Russia Was Helping Trump [UPDATED]

trump-tweet

Yes, those emails.

(No, it wasn’t illegal, just incredibly unethical.)

It all began with this story in the Washington Post:

“The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.”

When the New York Times later came out with a story headlined  “C.I.A. Judgment on Russia Built on Swell of Evidence,” non-partisan law prof/blogger/ skeptic Ann Althouse inquired, as the mainstream news media did not, whether the content of the article supported that headline “because there’s so much fake news these days.” (Ann is funny.)

She wrote in part,

“There’s a lot of material in the article that is not about [ Russia helping Donald Trump win]  at all. I’m excluding that, which is padding if the headline is the correct headline. Go to the link if you want to see what it is. The first relevant material comes in the 16th paragraph: The DNC’s servers and John Podesta’s email account were hacked and a lot of damaging and embarrassing material was released onto the internet.

“Next:

American intelligence officials believe that Russia also penetrated databases housing Republican National Committee data, but chose to release documents only on the Democrats. The committee has denied that it was hacked.

“So here’s the crucial disputed question of fact: Were the GOP servers also hacked? We’re not told what evidence supports the belief that the GOP servers were also hacked, but the GOP says they were not. Yet some “intelligence officials believe” it was. Why? Where’s the “swell of evidence” you were going to tell me about?

“Even if that fact were nailed down, there would still be more leaps needed to get to the conclusion. First: Was there any embarrassing material? What? If I knew what, I could begin to think about the next question: Why would embarrassing material be withheld? All I can see from the supposed “swell of evidence” here is an assumption that if the DNC was hacked, the GOP committee was also hacked, and that if bad material was found in the DNC server, bad material would also be found in the GOP server, and since we only saw the DNC material, there must have been a conscious decision — by whom?! — to leak only the DNC things and that decision must have been made to help Trump win. That’s not evidence itself, only inference based on evidence.

“Finally, there are a few paragraphs about why “Putin and the Russian government” might be thought to prefer a Trump presidency to a Clinton presidency. Trump and Putin have given each other some compliments.

“That’s no swell of evidence! That’s a lot of leaping guesswork. And this is nothing more than I already read in the article the NYT put out on December 9th, which I put effort into combing through and rejected for the same reasons I’m putting in this new post.

“This might be the biggest fake news story I’ve ever seen!” Continue reading

Three Strikes And You’re Untrustworthy: Why VA Secretary Robert McDonald Must Be Fired

McDonald

I was going to post this story as an Ethics Quiz when I first saw it yesterday at the Huffington Post.  The most recent head of the troubled Veteran’s Affairs Dept., Robert McDonald, falsely claimed in a videotaped comment that he served in the Army’s elite special forces. In fact, his military service of five years was in fact spent almost entirely with the 82nd Airborne Division during the late 1970s. The quiz question was going to be whether this alone required his dismissal.

My conclusion: assuming that he only did something like this only once, and it was not a Sen. Richard Blumenthal or a Brian Williams situation involving repeated self-glorifying falsehoods, I would have been willing to let this pass were he not in the position he is in: Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Veterans are justly sensitive on the topic of stolen valor and imaginary service. The last individual to hold McDonald’s job was asleep on the job and betrayed his constituency: they should not be asked to trust a successor who lies about his military service, even once. I understand that this is a tough verdict, and why others could reasonably argue that one casual remark to cheer a homeless veteran should not be a career catastrophe. In fact, as I write that, I’m thinking that I could be persuaded to adopt that position as well.

However, that is not all there is to this situation. For McDonald had already shown a tendency to play fast and loose with facts, perhaps influenced by his boss, who is similarly inclined, and the Vice -President, of course, when he isn’t harassing women. Continue reading