The President And The Redskins: Learning Curve Flat As Ever

An updated graph of President Obama's learning curve on his practice of gratuitous commentary on the jobs, businesses, and duties of others. Oddly, it looks exactly like the last such graph, and the graph before that...

The  updated graph of President Obama’s learning curve regarding the Presidential practice of gratuitous commentary on the jobs, businesses, and duties of others. Oddly, it looks exactly like the last such graph, and the graph before that…

In the long list of example of President Obama interfering with private decisions, court cases and local matters that the occupant of highest office in the land has an obligation not to meddle in, his comments on the Washington Redskins are among the least annoying. It was a wishy-washy statement, all in all, that he gave to the AP:

“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”

Does anyone doubt that owner of the Washington Redskins, Dan Snyder, hasn’t thought about it? On its face, the statement is petty, but of course, as the President resolutely refuses to learn, everything the President of the United States says, scripted or non-, regarding national policy or local matters, be they about red lines or how victims of gun violence look like his son, the President’s comments are seized upon, blown out of proportion, spun, used as weapons, provocations and ammunition, and generally warp public policy discourse, public opinion and personal and local decision-making. Continue reading

The IRS Scandal Choice: Contrived Ignorance By The President Or Incompetentence By White House Counsel

Unethical lawyer, or ethical pawn in an unethical plan.

Unethical lawyer, or ethical pawn in an unethical plan.

Media reports tell us that White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler was told on April 24 that the IRS had improperly targeted tea party and other conservative groups, according to an Inspector General audit. She did not tell her client, President Obama, about the fact. [ UPDATE: Law professor and esteemed legal ethics authority Richard Zitrin correctly points out that Ruemmler’s client is the office of the President, not the President himself. So far, I have yet to be convinced that this changes the analysis below.]

There is no way to spin this that doesn’t look bad for either Ruemmler, Obama, or both. The news media has been typically inept in explaining this ethical point. If Ruemmler, on her own, decided to withhold the information to “protect” the President, she was violating her ethical duties, as well  as her duties to the President, his office, and the country. If she was following his directive in keeping him in the dark, then President Obama is guilty of the ethical misconduct of contrived ignorance, a device that is almost always accompanied by knowledge of wrongdoing and irresponsible leadership. Which was it? Continue reading

The Ethics Corrupter-In-Chief

I wanted to stay far, far away from commenting on the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, because I knew that the double standard of media scrutiny of the deceit and dishonesty there ( in contrast to the media’s adversary stance during the Republican convention) would drive me to drink if I thought about it long enough to write coherently. And so I shall stay away, except for this one infuriating topic, which is broader and more significant than the convention itself.

No political party that cares sufficiently about the ethical values of integrity and honesty, as well as responsible leadership, would feature Bill Clinton as its “rock star” speaker. That the Democrats did, and that the media and the public generally gave them a pass for doing so, confirms that Clinton’s corrupting influence on the American culture continues. Recent polls indicate that he is the most popular political figure in the country today, and Democrats will no doubt cite that as justification for inviting him to speak. To the contrary, it shows the damage that he has done to the values of the nation, and how wrong the Democratic party has been to aid and abet that damage.

Bill gave a good speech, as he usually does. There is no way to know how much of it he believes or meant, for Clinton is a recreational liar: he likes lying. He’s good at it, and he does it at every opportunity. In 2008, on The Ethics Scoreboard, the slower and more formal predecessor to this blog, I made Clinton the first (and as it turned out, sole) admittee to the David Manning Liar of the Month Hall of Fame, writing in part that… Continue reading

Return to a Sore Subject

"Does anybody care?"

[NOTE: An unusually busy travel schedule combined with terrible hotel WiFi and a week that was already stuffed with juicy and provocative ethics stories resulted in my not fulfilling my duties very well the last three days, for which I apologize sincerely. I’m going to make every effort to catch up this weekend.]

Rep. Weiner resigned at last, noting that his district and its constituents deserved to have a fully functioning representative in Congress, and that he could no longer fulfill that role. True enough, though one has to ask (or at least I do): if the people of Queens and Brooklyn deserve better representation than a hard-working, if dishonest, obsessed and twisted, pariah can offer, what about the people of the 8th District of Arizona, who have a representative who can’t funtion in her post at all?

I was going to wait until the six-month mark in Gaby Giffords’ rehabilitation to raise this matter again, since that will mark a full 25% of the Congresswoman’s term that she has been unable to serve, but the combination of Weiner’s resignation and the news of Giffords being released from the hospital created too much dissonance for me to ignore. I fully expect that I will be writing some version of this post 18 months hence, after Rep. Giffords’ entire Congressional term has passed without her voting on a bill or answering a constituent’s letter. To quote the singing John Adams in “1776,”: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?”

Reports from various medical personnel enthused that Giffords has made remarkable progress, and “seems” to understand “most’ of what is being said to her, though she still has trouble articulating responses. That is great progress for someone who has some of her brain blown away by a gunshot at close range, but it sure doesn’t sound like someone who is going to be making a persuasive argument on the House floor any time soon, or ever. So are we serious about this running the country stuff, or aren’t we? 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