Rueful Observations On The Latest Development In Virginia Governor Northam’s Blackface Scandal

Well, let’s see: my college has embarrassed me, my law school’s professors continue to make me wish I had earned a law degree by drawing “Skippy” from the cover of a matchbook, black students were apparently insulted in my home city’s famous art museum, my baseball team allowed itself to be split by “the resistance,” and my adopted state of Virginia has the most ridiculous governor since Rod Blagojevich was making Illinois residents consider moving to Tierra del Fuego.

To refresh your memory regarding  the Ralph Northam Ethics Trainwreck, since it’s been stashed in the news media memory hole for a while: the same week  that he appeared to casually explain how post-birth abortion works while showing all the passion of someone describing how to replace a carburetor, Northam’s med school yearbook surfaced showing the governor-to-be either dressed as a Klansman or wearing blackface, unless you subscribe to the theory that the photo of two men in such get-ups was just randomly planted on Northam’s page.

In a dizzying sequence, the Governor 1) apologized for the photo and wearing blackface in it, apparently admitting that it was him 2) said that he didn’t think either figure was him, and he could “tell by looking at it” 3) admitted that he did once wear blackface to look like Michael Jackson in a talent show 4) said that he had to have someone explain to him recently that blackface was considered offensive.

The short version: he’s a babbling, untrustworthy idiot. Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 4/25/19: Hypocrisy Edition

Having a delightful afternoon I hope?

1. “Ethics Bob” is back! After what I gather have been extensive world travels with his wife, Ethics Bob  reanimated his blog this week, and I am hoping that Bob, who kindly credited me with inspiring him to write his ethics book, and who teaches ethics himself, will begin commenting again on Ethics Alarms. He is that rarity around here, a committed liberal who plays fair in debates. Unfortunately, Bob’s return post is wrong—and I distinctly remember a lunch with Bob in which he insisted that Bill Clinton shouldn’t have been impeached—but that’s OK.  He’s ethical, thoughtful, and open-minded. Check in with him, and hope along with me that he starts checking in here.

2. How much hypocrisy can Democratic voters stand? In Virginia, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been hit with multiple allegations of rape and sexual assault. Despite the lip  service the national party has given to “believe all women,” and its position during the Kavanaugh hearings that accusations alone were enough to disqualify a judge for the Supreme Court,  Virginia  Democrats refused to join Republican efforts to sanction or remove Fairfax, who is black and the #2 official ins a state where #1 has admitted to wearing blackface. In order to show that they don’t approve of Fairfax (while not having the integrity to make him hew to the standards they have been advocating for years) the Democratic Party of Virginia rejected his $2,500 donation for the party’s Blue Commonwealth Gala in June.

“We were not comfortable accepting the Lieutenant Governor’s PAC’s contribution and we let his team know that when they reached out,” party spokesman Jake Rubenstein told the  The Washington Post .

“The Lt. Governor’s We Rise Together PAC was planning to have a group of African-American pastors and other supporters sit at his table,” Fairfax spokeswoman Lauren Burke told the Post. “He is innocent and has passed two polygraphs and repeatedly called for an investigation. DPVA has assumed he is guilty of a violent criminal act with no investigation or even a conversation to ascertain his version of events.”

But if the party believes Fairfax is guilty of violent crimes and #MeToo outrages, why is he still in office? Continue reading

Valentines Day Ethics Nosegay, 2/14/2019: Polling, Posturing, And “Pouncing”

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

1. No, no luck finding lovey-dovey ethics stories...except that my wonderful wife Grace and I will have been married for 39 years come November, and I love her more today than the day we wed. Good job, Cupid!

2. The misinformation of polls. Three polls today illustrate how polling is used for advocacy and propaganda, rather than enlightenment. They are often the opposite of enlightenment.

Poll I: Public approval of Supreme Court Justices.

What this poll really tells us is a) that the news media’s bias powerfully molds public opinion and b) the public is always willing to give an opinion about matters they know nothing about. To even begin to be valuable, the polls should have qualified its respondents by asking, “How many judicial opinions by each justice have you read?” My guess would be that less than 1% of Americans have read a single Supreme Court opinion from members of the current court in their entire lives. The polls says that the public most approves of Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Chief Justice Roberts. This is based on what, exactly? The public approves or disapproves of what? Clearly it is nothing substantive or based on actual knowledge.. What, then, is the value of such a poll? [Source: Crooked Media] Continue reading

Lunch Time Ethics Appetizer, 2/13/2019: Rail, Restaurants, Resignation And Reality

Yum Yum!

1. When reality meets ideology… California Gov. Gavin Newsom  announced that

[He’s] abandoning a $77 billion plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco and will focus instead on completing a 119-mile (190-kilometer) segment in the state’s agricultural heartland. Voters approved a ballot measure in 2008 calling for the linking of Northern and Southern California, a rail project initially estimated to cost $33 billion and be completed in 2020. Subsequent estimates more than doubled the cost and pushed the timeline to 2033. Newsom pledged to finish the segment already under construction through California’s Central Valley. He rejected the idea critics have raised that it will be a “train to nowhere” and said it can help revitalize the economically depressed region.

We’ll see how much that part costs, if it’s ever completed. Meanwhile, Democrats are going to have to declare their fealty to the “Green New Deal,” which pledges to eliminate air travel nation-wide with “high speed rail.”

2. What part of “convenient double standards” is unclear to you? Kelli Goff writes at the Daily Beast (relayed by Ann Althouse, since I have the DB on my Ethics Alarms  Untrustworthy Black List):

“When Rachel Dolezal was unmasked as a white woman who misrepresented her racial and ethnic identity in part to bolster her professional bona fides as a voice of the disenfranchised, she was penalized—heavily. She went from rising media star to late-night punchline, unemployable and impoverished. I don’t wish poverty on Warren, but I don’t understand how her only punishment for a similar fraud seems to be that she may become president.”

Warren, a polished demagogue, got rave reviews for her recent speech throwing her war-bonnet  into the 2020 ring; like Barack Obama, skillful public speaking is the full extent of her qualifications for leadership. But wow—with the Democrats more or less trapped into nominating another woman to run against Donald Trump, what an awful field of openly unethical females they have assembled so far! Warren’s a fraud; Gillibrand is an anti-male bigot; Gabbard is running away from strong anti-gay positions, Harris has attacked the Catholic faith as a disqualifying feature for a judge, and then there’s Hillary, who looks outstanding in this field. Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 2/10/2019: Icky, Creepy, And Wrong

Good Afternoon!

Working today to train a Clarence Darrow understudy for my Darrow legal ethics seminars that my original Clarence, the estimable Paul Morella, can’t fit into his schedule. I’ll be doing one such seminar in New Jersey this month. You can never have enough Clarence Darrows!

1. On the matter of corporations caving to social media mobs..here’s something completely stupid. Earlier this winter, Delta Air Lines distributed cocktail napkins with message, “Be a little old school,” in small print on the napkin, advertising Diet Coke. “Write down your number & give it to your plane crush. You never know …” There was a space on the napkin where a passenger could write down his or her name and another space for their number. The larger print said, “because you’re on a plane full of interesting people and hey,” again, “… you never know.”

The harmless stunt was condemned by some flyers on social media as “creepy,” and that was enough to spark a dual company grovel.  “We rotate Coke products regularly as part of our brand partnership, but missed the mark with this one. We are sorry for that and began removing the napkins from our aircraft in January,” Delta told USA Today in a statement. Coca-Cola added: “We sincerely apologize to anyone we may have offended. We worked with our partners at Delta to begin removing the napkins last month and are replacing them with other designs.”

I think it’s creepy that I often find myself sitting next to someone on a plane who is so close I can count his or her moles, and that neither of us will say a word to each other  for hours. I can’t fault Delta and Coke for trying to break the ice and encourage a more social atmosphere on planes, especially since the air travel experience has become increasingly grim and uncomfortable. I know more than one couple who owe their long marriage to a number scrawled on an airplane napkin. (Full disclosure: I once wrote a message to an attractive young  flight attendant who was especially effervescent. She smiled, and I never heard a word from her.)

All attempts at human contact with strangers aren’t harassment.

2. Ew. Did the National Enquirer try to blackmail Jeff Bezos? It sure sounds like it. Bezos says that the tabloid threatened to publish “dick pics” from his social media output if he didn’t get his paper, the Washington Post, to back off from its accusation that the Enquirer’s coverage of the nasty Bezos divorce was based on political animus rather than good ol’ old-fashioned tabloid sleeziness. You can read the Bezos blog post here.

The theory seems to be that the Enquirer is doing the bidding of President Trump, Saudi Arabia, or someone or something equally nefarious. And yes, the head of the Enquirer’s publishing outfit really is named “Pecker,” and it has nothing to do with the Bezos junk shot. Bezos is apparently releasing the Weiner-like photos someone hacked from his account to foil the extortion attempt. Let’s see: a) Nothing could lower my opinion of the National Enquirer. b) Ethics Alarms subscribes to the Naked VIP Principle, which is that if you are a public figure and send pictures of Mr. Wiggly to ANYONE over the internet, you deserve no sympathy for anything unpleasant that happens to you as a result.

I don’t care if “everybody does it’ (and if everybody really is taking crotch selfies and mailing them to friends and strangers, I don’t belong on this planet any more), if you do this, I don’t want to have anything to do with you.

3. This is useful for things like the Green New Deal. From the National Review, Williamson’s First Law. “Everything is simple if you don’t know a fucking thing about it.”

Perfect.

4.Now THIS is rejecting the presumption of innocence. Again: the position here is that Justin Fiarfax cannot do his job while under suspicion of serial rape allegations from named accusers willing to testify under oath, and should voluntarily step down. Duke, however, is asking him to leave a board using the false principle of guilty until proven innocent and “believe all accusers” standards.

“I am writing to let you know that Justin Fairfax will be asked to step down from the Sanford School Board of Visitors pending the resolution of the serious and deeply distressing allegations that have been made against him,” Dean Judith Kelley wrote in an email  to Sanford staff and students. “Sexual assault is abhorrent and unfortunately can occur right around us. I urge everyone to take survivors of sexual assault seriously, and to help build an environment that is safe and supportive for everyone,” she added.

Wrong. His presence does not make anyone “unsafe” because an unproven accusation has been made. Nor is it not taking sexual assault seriously to refuse to use a mere accusation to strip an accused man of his positions and honors. The board membership is mostly honorific. Duke is taking sides where it should be neutral. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 2/9/2019: “Your Host Is Finally Feeling Better’ Edition.

Good day!

1. More evidence that a lot of Americans have trouble with this “democracy” thing. Former Democratic Representative John Dingell ofMichigan died this week at 92. He became  the longest-serving member of Congress in history before he finally agreed not seek re-election in his 80s, but that’s not the real head-exploder in his obituary. It was this…

“Dingell first arrived to Congress in 1955, taking over the seat held by his father John Dingell, Sr., who had died earlier that year, and the younger Dingell continued to serve in the House for more than 59 years. He announced in 2014 that he would not seek re-election and instead his wife, Debbie Dingell, ran for his seat and is now serving her third term.”

A little googling will reveal that Daddy Dingell served in Congress from 1933 until Junior took over. That means that voters in the district have sent only members of the Dingell family to Washington for 86 years. Debbie Dingell, the alliterative named widow of the departed, had no apparent experience in legislation before she was elected to hold the Perpetual Dingell Seat.

This is laziness, civic inattention, vestigial aristocracy and passive democracy at work, or rather, in a semi-coma. There is no excuse for electing leaders based on family connections and name recognition, except that Americans have been doing it for a couple of centuries. I know you can’t fix stupid, but the parties are exploiting stupid, and that goes to the heart of democracy’s greatest weakness: government by the people means a lot of really lazy, ignorant, biased and irresponsible people are going to involved in government.

2. Of course. The New York Times today defends the ongoing efforts by Congressional Democrats to make it impossible for the elected President to govern by burying the administration in specious and intrusive investigations. “Harassment? Nope. Oversight.” is the disingenuous headline of the paper’s Saturday editorial. Oversight is an important Congressional function, but investigations based on the logic “Gee, this guy seems sleazy to me and we don’t trust billionaires, so let’s keep digging into his personal and business affairs until we find some dirt” or “So far our impeachment bills have gone nowhere, but if we keep investigating, I bet we can find some real offenses” are not oversight. Oversight must be handled in good faith, and there is no good faith among Democrats, who made their intentions clear the second Trump humiliated Hillary Clinton. Their stated objective is to get him removed from office by any means possible, and if that fails, at least to reduce his public support to the point where he cannot govern. Harassment in the workplace is defined by creating a hostile work environment that makes it impossible for the target to do his or her job. Could this describe what kind of work environment the “resistance” and the news media (the Times, in defending Congressional Democrats, is also defending itself) have created for President Trump any more precisely? Continue reading

One More Time, The Second Accuser Scenario, And Fairness For Justin Fairfax

From the Washington Post today:

“A Maryland woman said Friday she was raped by Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) in a “premeditated and aggressive” assault in 2000, while they both were undergraduate students at Duke University. She is the second woman this week to make an accusation of sexual assault.

The woman, Meredith Watson, said Friday in a written statement through her attorney that she shared her account immediately after it happened with several classmates and friends. Watson did not speak publicly Friday and her lawyer did not make her available for an interview.

Watson was friends with Fairfax at Duke but they never dated or had any romantic relationship, the lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, said.

“At this time, Ms. Watson is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character,” Smith said in the statement . “She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life. Similarly, she is not seeking any financial damages.”

Now what?

An unrelated accusation of conduct X does not mean that a previous unsubstantiated accusation of the same conduct is true. However…

  • In the case of habitual or characteristic misconduct—like being a sexual predator or a sexual harasser—the likelihood that there have been more, undisclosed episodes involving the individual accused is high.
  • Thus the absence of a credible second (or third, fourth, and onward) accuser in a matter like this is legitimate evidence arguing for the innocence of the accused. An example would be Clarence Thomas.
  • When subsequent allegations are substantially similar to the original accusation, they are especially damning. Bill Cosby is the poster case for this variation. Another exampole: Kevin Spacey.
  • When the second and additional allegations are suspiciously timed, as during an election or a political controversy, when they involve general misconduct only, lack named accusers or when they are sketchy in their facts and proof, they should be regarded with extreme skepticism. The add-on Kavanaugh accusations fit this description.
  • The fact that a court decision or an official investigation has not definitively determined that misconduct has taken place does not require individuals, groups and the public to discard commons sense, if they can eliminate bias from their decision-making. O.J. Simpson, it is fair to say,  is guilty of murder, and it is completely fair to regard him in that light. Barry Bonds used banned and illegal drugs to enhance his major league baseball career. Harvey Weinstein is a sexual predator who traded professional advancement for sex. We don’t need admissions here to come to informed decisions.

Now what does all of this mean for Justin Fairfax, next in line to be Governor of Virginia if Governor Northam decides, as an honorable public servant should, that he has made such an irredeemable ass of himself by his obfuscations, double-back flips, and tap-dancing around the question of whether he had a photo of himself in blackface in his yearbook that no Virginian in his or her right mind could possibly feel secure trusting such a boob to handle the affairs of the Commonwealth? What is fair? Continue reading