The Massie-Kerry Exchange: Sadly, Everybody’s Stupid

First I encountered several conservative media references to an exchange between former Secretary of State and Presidential candidate John Kerry and Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky.  This occurred at at a House committee hearing Tuesday on “The Need for Leadership to Combat Climate Change and Protect National Security.” The sense of the references was typified by this headline in Townhall: “Watch Incoherent John Kerry Get Destroyed Over His Bogus Climate Change Claims.”

Then, almost immediately later, I found Rolling  Stones account of the same exchange. It’s click-bait headline: “Is This the Dumbest Moment in Congressional History?”

Talk about Roshomon! How could both of these accounts possibly be accurate? Was Kerry reduced to a babbling fool by the Republican Comgressman’s deft cross examination, or did Massie embarrass himself? The truth was that everyone involved on all sides of this mini-foofaraw was, and is, stupid in one way or another, including the biased bloggers and pundits who saw what wasn’t there.

For Kerry to represent himself as any kind of expert on climate change is so silly even Democrats shouldn’t fallfor it. Yet here is Rolling Stone, saying outright, “Kerry is an expert on climate change who helped broker the Paris climate accord.” Kerry, like Al Gore and so many others whose belief in climate change doomsday predictions is based on politics rather than their comprehension or even review of the science, is just mouthing what he has been briefed to say. He has no background in science, no demonstrated aptitude for it, and has a well-established record of saying really dumb things about subjects he should be able to understand. The Paris accord was a diplomatic agreement, not a scientific one, and, of course, was symbolic and meaningless.  Kerry is an expert on symbolic and meaningless.

Massie is an MIT grad and trained as an engineer, so one could fairly expect that he is a little more legitimately conversant in climate science than Kerry, though he hardly proved it this day. He did prove that he’s no lawyer. Setting out to discredit Kerry’s climate change expert status should have been easy: just show a typical climate change model chart, like this one, Continue reading

Saturday Afternoon Ethics Titillation, 9/15/18: Yes, Virginia, It Was A Smear…

A hurricane-free hello!

…at least in Northern Virginia. We had been told by breathless media and local government since early in then week that today and tomorrow would consist of heavy rain and dangerous winds. Naturally, today dawned clear, calm and menacing. The shelves in the supermarkets, however, were picked over as if a nuclear attack were imminent. At what point are urgent warnings no longer prudent but irresponsible and fear-mongering? At what point do they undermine the ability to get the public to take warnings seriously when there is a genuine threat? This area plays Chicken Little so often  and with such speculative provocation that I don’t trust the prognostications at all any more.

And who the heck buys up all the pickles to prepare for flooding?

1. Ethics Dunce: John Kerry. But anyone who didn’t know that by now wouldn’t be convinced by me, so I’ll just include poor, sad, useless and deluded John in a Saturday afternoon potpourri that hardly anyone reads. But what a jerk. We don’t enforce the Logan Act that prohibits private citizens from mucking around in our diplomacy, but under what justification can he argue for his negotiating with Iran? There is literally no good he can accomplish (there was little good he could accomplish when he was authorized to engage in diplomacy), and now his interference does is undermine the elected President and government.

Trump’s tweet…

John Kerry had illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian Regime, which can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people. He told them to wait out the Trump Administration! Was he registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act? BAD!

…was predictably juvenile and superfluous, but, incredibly, Kerry’s return tweet was worse, and might as well have consisted of “Nyah nyah nyah!”

Mr. President, you should be more worried about Paul Manafort meeting with Robert Mueller than me meeting with Iran’s FM. But if you want to learn something about the nuclear agreement that made the world safer, buy my new book, Every Day Is Extra:

Wow. Begin by passing along the “resistance” myth that there just has to be some smoking gun proving the President rigged the election, follow it up with the batty theory that giving the #1 purveyor of world terrorism billions of dollars to play with “makes the world safer,” and then hint that the real reason he’s openly interfering with U.S. diplomacy is to sell his book.

Yechhh.

2. A plug for a really smart friend who debunked a Democrat smear: Senator Feinstein’s despicable desperation sliming of Brett Kavanaugh, a real “Have you no decency at all?”-worthy moment, prompted a nasty conspiracy theory yesterday.  The fact that the GOP could rapidly release a letter with 65 female acquaintances from the nominee’s high school years certifying that his anonymous accuser has described conduct wildly out of character being cited as proof that the alleged episode was already known by the administration, and thus has some basis in fact.

Virginia Hume, known to some as the politically active daughter of veteran broadcast journalist Britt Hume and known to me as a smart, clever, astute woman who worked for me 30 years ago, authored a piece for the Weekly Standard explaining how the letter came together so quickly. She knows, because she signed it.

She writes in part…

“The letter was conceived and drafted by friends of Brett’s, and it was drafted after allegations came out on Thursday. I learned about the letter from a friend and fellow signatory. Others learned about it the same way. Those surprised at the speed with which it came together should see it as yet another testament to Brett’s excellent reputation”

Elsewhere in the article are examples of Virginia’s characteristic wit. I can vouch without reservation for her honesty and integrity. I would trust her with my life. More than that, I would trust her with my dog. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/5/2018: “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” Edition

Good Morning!

(I’m happy to report that my Clarence Darrow ethics program for a lawyer group yesterday in Annapolis was received wonderfully, in no small part due to actor Paul Morella’s moving and powerful recreations of Darrow’s courtroom oratory. As is often the case, attendees said that they didn’t realize a legal ethics presentation could be so interesting. If fact, there is no excuse for any kind of ethics NOT being interesting…)

1. I call this “cultural defacing.” At 10:30 last night, I watched the end of “The Princess Bride,” and was thrilled to arrive just as the final showdown between Ingo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and Count Rugen (Christopher Guest). Here is the scene, a classic one, which begins with the Count apparently fatally wounding Inigo with a dagger:

Inigo Montoya: Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

[Inigo advances on Rugen, but stumbles into the table with sudden pain. Rugen attacks, but Inigo parries and rises to his feet again]

Inigo Montoya: Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

[Rugen attacks again, Inigo parries more fiercely, gaining strength]

Inigo Montoya: Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!

Count Rugen: Stop saying that!

[Rugen attacks, twice. Inigo avoids and wounds Rugen in both shoulders. Inigo attacks, bellowing:]

Inigo Montoya: HELLO! MY NAME IS INIGO MONTOYA! YOU KILLED MY FATHER! PREPARE TO DIE!

[Inigo corners Count Rugen, knocks his sword aside, and slashes his cheek, giving him a scar just like Inigo’s]

Inigo Montoya: Offer me money.

Count Rugen: Yes!

Inigo Montoya: Power, too, promise me that.

[He slashes his other cheek]

Count Rugen: All that I have and more. Please…

Inigo Montoya: Offer me anything I ask for.

Count Rugen: Anything you want…

[Rugen knocks Inigo’s sword aside and lunges. But Inigo traps his arm and aims his sword at Rugen’s stomach]

Inigo Montoya: I want my father back, you son of a bitch!

[He runs Count Rugen through and shoves him back against the table. Rugen falls to the floor, dead]

Except “you son of a bitch” was cut!

We settled this when the TV showing of “Gone With The Wind” let Clark Gable’s iconic exit line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” remain uncensored, and later,when John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn uttered the words, “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” before charging Ned Pepper and his gang. It is unfair and disrespectful to wreck the best work of writers and actors for the few remaining people on earth who take to their fainting couches when rude language meets their ears. You don’t edit Rhett, or Rooster, or Inigo, or even John McLane when he says, “Yippee ki yay, mother fucker!” Show the movie, or don’t show the movie, but don’t ruin the movie for the most easily offended in the audience. Continue reading

Addendum: The Dishonest Tax Day Anti-Trump Protests (And The Misleading Defenses Of Them)

How quickly we forget…

I wasn’t going to post any more on this topic, but in 2012 CBS helpfully provided some historical perspective on the supposed “tradition” of candidates releasing tax returns. Some revelations:

1. Donald Trump was not the “first candidate since Nixon” to refuse to release his returns.

Who else didn’t? Why H. Ross Perot, the third party candidate who cost George H.W. Bush re-election in 1992! And what a coincidence: Perot was also a billionaire with complex finances and conflicts! Had he been elected, and that was not beyond the realm of possibility, he, not Trump, would have been the first President since George Washington without elected office experience or experience in military command.  Perot got almost 20 million votes  from Americans who presumable cared about other issues more than Perot’s tax returns, or his refusal to release them.

So Trump was following tradition and practice: the tradition and practice of all billionaires running for President to refuse to release their taxes. The tradition even extends to some half-billionaires: Steve Forbes, another businessman who made a strong run at the GOP nomination in 1996, also refused to release his returns.

(By the way, Perot’s returns were not a major issue in the election, nor did the mainstream media harp on it. But there was some semblance of fair journalism then.)

2. When tax returns are released by candidates, the opposition will still find reasons to object, raise suspicions, and claim that they are not enough. Mitt Romney released two years of returns, and Democrats said he was hiding something nefarious.

In 2008, Barack Obama released seven years of tax returns, then accused Hillary, his opposition for the nomination, of hiding something. “Senator [Hillary] Clinton can’t claim to be vetted until she allows the public the opportunity to see her finances — particularly with respect to any investment in tax shelters,” Obama’s spokesperson Robert Gibbs said. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Secretary Of State John Kerry

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“…I’m proud of all the efforts we made to try to lead people to a peaceful resolution.”

John Kerry, in an interview on MSNBC, when asked if he had any regrets about the Administration’s handling of Syria;

The Sec. of State’s full answer:

Well again, Andrea, I’m going to have a lot of opportunities to be able to look back and digest what choices might have been made. I’m not going to do it now… Except to say to you, very clearly, that I’m proud of all the efforts we made to try to lead people to a peaceful resolution. And in fact, the only solution to Syria will be a peaceful agreement along the lines of what we laid out… and the several communiques that we issued, and the United Nations resolution that we passed. 2254. Those will be the basis for whatever happens, if they get there.

No, I’m not going to call Kerry’s statement an unethical quote, even as close as it came to making my head explode. Fortunately my expectations of John Kerry are basement-level low, from long experience. However, the latest fatuous sentiment from this veteran doofus is provocative and instructive.

In many pursuits, as we discuss here often, whether someone has done the right thing, made the ethical choice, should be evaluated on the basis of whether the conduct was competently considered and arrived at according to facts and ethical considerations before the conduct commenced. Judging its ethical nature  afterwards, when factors the decision-maker could not have foreseen or controlled have affected the result, is a fallacy: “It all worked out for the best” and thus the decision must have been ethical. This is consequentialism, and “the ends justifies the means” in its most seductive form.

A very recent example was the Republican leadership’s decision not to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. No, the tactic wasn’t unconstitutional or illegal. It was unethical, however: obstructive, partisan politics defying tradition and fairness. It was also, as I pointed out at the time, stupid. When Obama, knowing of the GOP’s intent, appointed not a flame-breathing left-wing zealot but a moderate-liberal judge of impressive credentials, the GOP majority in the Senate should have rushed to confirm him, knowing well that a nomination by Obama’s presumed successor, Hillary Clinton, would unbalance the Court to a far greater degree.

The GOP lucked out, as we now know. Now President Trump will fill that vacancy on the Court, with major impact on important legal disputes for decades to come. That’s all moral luck, however. The ethics verdict on the conduct still stands. It worked, but it was wrong.

Success is not irrelevant to ethics, of course. Many jobs are ethically complex because getting a desired result is part of the mission. The result and the manner of achieving it are important. If your job is to win the war, you can’t say you did an excellent job if the war was lost. Competence is still an ethical value. A successful CEO’s company does not go belly-up by definition. Government is often analogized to sailing a ship to a destination, or flying a plane, with good reason. Part of the responsibility a government leader has is to make choices that work to the benefit of  those governed, and others as well. A captain whose ship sinks cannot say afterwards, “I did one hell of a job.” Continue reading

Update: Generalissimo Franco* Is Still Dead, And Snopes Is Still An Unethical Website

Snopes.com's favorite in "The Wizard of Oz," and I don't mean Ray Bolger...

Snopes.com’s favorite in “The Wizard of Oz,” and I don’t mean Ray Bolger…

The July 31 Ethics Alarms post detailing how snopes.com, usually referred to as the “fact and rumor check website,” has quietly morphed into just another progressive Democrat online spin-merchant nailed these frauds based on their tortured spin to protect Hillary Clinton and her election prospects from legitimate criticism and, in the case of Clinton’s decade-old defense of a child rapist, illegitimate criticism based on genuine facts that Snopes denied anyway.

That is…don’t ask me why…the most read, linked and shared Ethics Alarms post ever. It even was the target of some of Hillary’s paid online trolls, whom I recognized when I realized they were writing from the same (false) talking points memo. Just to be clear, there is no longer any legitimate dispute that Snopes can’t be trusted, is subject to partisan bias, and is thus 100% useless as a “fact and rumor check website,” since their writers warp facts and debunk the truth when they feel like it.

I ended the July pots on this depressing note for me, because I once used and recommended the site with confidence:

That’s the end for Snopes. Even one example of bias-fed misrepresentation ends any justifiable trust readers can have that the site is fair, objective and trustworthy. Snopes has proven that it has a political and partisan agenda, and that it is willing to mislead and deceive its readers to advance it.

Can it recover? Maybe, but not without…

…Getting out of the political fact-checking business.

…Firing Dan Evon, who used the misleading flag photos, as well as Kim LaCapria.

…Confessing its betrayal of trust and capitulation to partisan bias, apologizing, and taking remedial measures.

With all the misinformation on the web, a trustworthy web site like Snopes used to be is essential. Unfortunately, a site that is the purveyor of falsity cannot also be the antidote for it.

I’ll miss Snopes, but until it acknowledges its ethics breach and convinces me that the site’s days of spinning and lying were a short-lived aberration, I won’t be using it again.

Two developments since this was written are worth noting. The weird one is that the site has been prominently cited as an authority more often since that post than before it. NBC’s FBI action drama “Blind Spot” had a character settle an argument by referring to Snopes, a first, and increasing numbers of news reports and op-eds have cited Snopes as well. Obviously the scriptwriters, reporters and pundits don’t read “Ethics Alarms,” but this is pure negligence. Snopes can’t be trusted. It’s as simple as that.

I have received from readers more examples of Snopes Spinning For Democrats, but this one, flagged by the Daily Caller, is worthy of this brief return to the issue. Continue reading

Since Nobody In The Mainstream Media Will Flag President Obama’s Outrageous Hypocrisy, I Guess It’s Up To Ethics Alarms. Rats.

I hate this. I really do.

Boy, can you believe Donald Trump suggesting that a Presidential election can be stolen? This guy is a monster!

Boy, can you believe that Donald Trump suggesting that a Presidential election can be stolen? This guy is a monster!

I hate that the astoundingly biased and partisan news media and pundit class refuse to even make a fair pass at doing its job, forcing an ethics blog to place itself in the position of being accused of defending Donald Trump.

Yeccch.

[Rueful but amused aside regarding the biased and partisan news media: Late Sunday evening,  Chris Cillizza, who authors the political blog for the Washington Post, tweeted: “Let me say for the billionth time: Reporters don’t root for a side. Period.” This was a manifestly absurd assertion, and made me wonder about Cillizza, who may not “root for a side,” but whose own left-leaning and pro-Clinton bias creeps into his work at regular intervals. But the gods of irony were ready: Monday morning the Center for Public Integrity released its 2016 campaign analysis that showed that U.S. journalists gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to  Clinton’s campaign. CPI identified 430 people as “journalists, reporters, news editors or television news anchors ­— as well as other donors known to be working in journalism.” 96 % gave money to Clinton, according to federal campaign finance filings. That’s 96. Ninety-six. NINETY-SIX. As in “all but 4%.” Got that? Are we clear? Those 430 journalists gave $382,000 to Clinton and $14,000 to GOP nominee Donald Trump. Fifty journalists  gave to Trump; 380 gave to Clinton. Many more members of the media almost certainly donated, and almost certainly in a similarly unbalanced split, but the law only obligates candidates to disclose the names of donors giving more than $200 in a single election cycle. In its report, CPI noted that even though many news organizations have policies against donating to politicians, those organizations’ reporters donated anyway. Poor, naive, Chris Cillizza, having proven that as a reporter, his confirmation bias prevents him from seeing what is all around him, at least had the integrity to follow up his previous tweet (“Period.”) by tweeting…

“Well this is super depressing. NO idea why any journalist would donate $ to politicians.”

Well why don’t you think about it, Chris? I’m sure it will come to you. But I digress...]

I know this is a political campaign and that hyperbole and loose facts are as American as apple pie. However, Barack Obama is President of the United States, and he, even more than most, must not actively seek to re-write history, especially since so many of his supporters have the historical perspective of mayflies. Therefore he must not be allowed to escape proper condemnation for these statements he made  in a campaign speech attacking Donald Trump. Yes, only condemnation will do, for his statements were dishonest, untrue, and constituted hypocrisy as its worst. Presidents should be better.

Obama had the gall to lecture Donald Trump with two head-exploding statements for anyone whose memory extends back before the Bush presidency, and one that should have triggered mass cranial eruptions from anyone conscious during the past 8 years: Continue reading