Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/18/2018: One Week To Christmas Edition (Including Nothing About Christmas, Almost)

Good Morning.

A beautiful, naked Frasier Fir is standing in my living room like an unpaid debt.

1. Speaking of Christmas...The first installment on the Ethics Alarms ethics guide to “Miracle on 34th Street” went up late yesterday, and was immediately blocked on Facebook for violating community standards. Nice. It appears my Facebook “friends” took revenge for my chiding their juvenile and unending “Orange Man Bad” posts.

2. Speaking of being ticked offProfessor Turley:

In a surprising admission, the author if the controversial dossier used to secure the secret surveillance on Trump officials admitted that it was paid for by Clinton campaign as a type of insurance to challenge the election.  At the same time, the reporter who helped break the story, Michael Isikoff now says that many of the specific allegations remain unproven and are likely false. 

The Washington Times reported that Steele stated in a declaration in a defamation case that the law firm Perkins Coie wanted to be able to challenge the results of the election based on the dossier.  In an answer to interrogatories, Mr. Steele wrote: “Fusion’s immediate client was law firm Perkins Coie. It engaged Fusion to obtain information necessary for Perkins Coie LLP to provide legal advice on the potential impact of Russian involvement on the legal validity of the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election. Based on that advice, parties such as the Democratic National Committee and HFACC Inc. (also known as ‘Hillary for America’) could consider steps they would be legally entitled to take to challenge the validity of the outcome of that election.”

In his typical fashion when he is in mealy-mouth mood, Turley says this is “concerning,” since this document was used to get judicial leave to spy on the Trump campaign. The news is only surprising if you had your fingers in your ears and were shouting “Nanananana” for the past year. This issue, you will recall, is what led a previously well-regarded commenter from the Left here to noisily withdraw as a participant because I was, he said, obviously in the throes of irrational Right Wing conspiracy mania because I posted this.

Certain exiles, if they have any integrity at all, owe me a large, effusive, groveling apology—and I still might not accept it.

Concludes the Professor: “The Steele admission only magnifies the concerns over the purpose and the use of this dossier, but has received little media attention.”

Gee, I wonder why THAT is!

3. “And now for something completely stupid” Department. I guess former “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” star Alfonso Ribeiro’s  career isn’t going so well. He is suing the makers of the video game Fortnite for allegedly stealing his “Carlton dance.” You know, this…

It was a big deal at the time because Ribeiro’s character was a geek, and ignorant viewers didn’t know that the actor was professional dancer who had starred in “The Tap-Dance Kid” on Broadway as a child. The fact that a video character does similar moves…

…is no basis for a lawsuit. Choreography copyrighting is a murky intellectual property area, and suing because of an animated figure’s moves is pathetic, as well as an abuse of the civil justice system. The has-been star is angling for a nuisance suit settlement. He should try “GoFundMe” instead. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/8/18: Last Weekend Before I Have To Decorate The %^&$! Christmas Tree Edition

Good morning!

1. How can this be? Based on the same documents, the President crowed that Mueller had nothin,’ and the mainstream Trump-hating media crowed that the walls were closing in. It’s a confirmation bias orgy! Charges aren’t evidence, and attempted contacts with a foreign power isn’t “collusion,” and we’ve already talked about the theory that paying off a floozy not to kiss and tell, which is 100% legal at all other times, is a stretch to call and election law violation when the rake is running for President. No such case has ever been brought; it’s dubious whether one would prevail; even if it did, this is a fining offense at most. [ For the record, this is the “resistance’s” Impeachment Plan K, in my view, one of the lamest.]

Both sides are jumping the gun. In the media’s case, it’s more fake new, future news and hype.

2. Stare decisis vs. the prohibition on double jeopardy. In Gamble v. US, just argued before the Supreme Court, the question is whether the federal government can try a citizen for the same crime a state court acquitted him of committing. I’ve always hated the rule that it can (the cops in the Rodney King case were jailed that way), because it seems clear to me that the Constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy (that’s the Fifth Amendment) was intended to prevent such trials. Still,  previous Supreme Court decisions have upheld the convictions.  In the current case, it appears from oral argument that a majority of the current justices agree with me, but are hesitant to so rule because of the doctrine of stare decisis,  which means respecting long-standing SCOTUS precedent.

A ruling to apply double jeopardy would be a ruling against stare decisis, meaning that Roe v. Wade might have less protection than many—including me–have thought. Stay tunes, and watch Justice Kavanaugh’s vote particularly.

3.  Is wanting to/needing to/ actually taking steps to changing one’s sex a mental disorder? There have been a lot of articles about this lately, especially in light of evidence that peer groups, the news media, LGBT advocacy and parents are making many young children want to change their sex before they even know what sex or gender is. The question is itself deceptive, because it pretends that “mental disorder” is anything but a label that can be used or removed with a change of attitude or political agendas. Vox writes,

Major medical organizations, like the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association, say being transgender is not a mental disorder. The APA explained this in explicit terms when it stopped using the term “gender identity disorder” in favor of “gender dysphoria”: “Part of removing stigma is about choosing the right words. Replacing ‘disorder’ with ‘dysphoria’ in the diagnostic label is not only more appropriate and consistent with familiar clinical sexology terminology, it also removes the connotation that the patient is ‘disordered.’”

Well, “removing a stigma” is hardly a valid criteria for deciding whether something is a malady or not. What being transgender “is” can’t be changed by what we call it. Recently narcissism was removed from the mental disorder list—that doesn’t change the fact that narcissists see the world and themselves in a way that most people do not, and that this perspective causes them and the people around them a lot of trouble during their lives. The process worked in reverse with alcoholism, where being officially labelled a disease removed a stigma.

I once directed the comedy/drama “Nuts,” which opines that “insanity” is just a view of reality not shared by the majority. It was on this basis that the Soviet Union sent dissidents to mental hospitals. I don’t care what various associations or professionals call these minority positions: we know that they are using bias and political agendas to devise the label. This is one area where a phrase I despise, “It is what it is,” may be appropriate. Continue reading

Death By A Thousand False Narratives

If you read the New York Times and its pundits as your primary news source, hate the President of the United States, and are a sucker for confirmation bias (as most of us are), then you probably really do think that President Trump in on the verge of being prosecuted. He’s not, and the fact that the flagship-by-default of the journalistic establishment nonetheless encourages that misconception is all you need to know about the state of American journalism. It deliberately and incompetently misinforms the public to suit its political alliances and agendas, rather than informing the public objectively about what they need to know to govern themselves.

I hate to keep pointing this out, but the evidence keeps coming, and the deniers are increasing their volume. I’m so sick of this particular story that I could hurl. Unfortunately, I have an obligation as both a responsible citizen, an ethicist and a blogger not to allow these Big Lies to lie around unchallenged, because that’s part of the Big Lie method. People get sick of arguing, and the lie becomes truth by default. Well, I’d rather lose readers—and I have—than be complicit in that.

Today, for example, and prompting this mini-post, was this column in the New York Times Review section, by the managing editor of Lawfare. Its called “Mueller vs Fox News,” and the theory is the exact opposite of reality. Her claim is that Fox News is deceiving the public into thinking that Mueller’s investigation hasn’t uncovered what it has been looking for, a way to push the President out of office, when it has. “The evidence from the special counsel’s investigation is already damning, but it must contend with a haze of lies, confusion and ‘alternative facts,'” she writes.

That cut line is what made me read the piece, for I’m always looking for real, as opposed to hoped for, assumed, or misunderstood, evidence that the President illegally and unethically made a quid pro quo deal of some sort with Russia to steal the election. I don’t like cheating in any field, and I don’t care who does it. I also, however, know what cheating is.

There not only isn’t “damning evidence” relating to the President itemized in the column, there is no evidence at all, just the same Manafort and Cohen machinations we have been hearing about all week, plus the even murkier doings of conservative writer James Corsi, none of which constitute “collusion.” Nonetheless, the author posts a series of Orwellian, black-is-white/War is Peace pronouncements which are the precise opposite of reality—and the Times dutifully publishes them. For example, she writes, Continue reading

Noonish Ethics Warm-Up, 11/30/18: The Trouble With Sloth, Bing Misplaced, And Reader Pointers

Hi there…

1. Thank you to the readers who immediately took my call for tips and links to heart. This post ends with three of them, and there are more on the way.

 2. Can we have a little Christmas music station integrity, please? There are currently three holiday music channels on Sirius-XM: an all instrumental channel, aka. department store muzak; “Holly,” which is supposedly “contemporary” Christmas music, meaning either bad songs, endless covers of “Last Christmas,” or horrific versions of classics so stylized that they are unrecognizable, like Destiny’s Child’s jarring version of “O Holy Night;” and “Traditions,” which is the all-dead people channel, with actual tunes, occasional references to Jesus, angels, and Bethlehem, and only a couple of songs written before 1963.

But it’s complicated. John Lennon is dead, but his awful Christmas song shows up on “Holly.” Paul NcCartney’s awful Christmas song has been on both channels: he’s alive, BUT the song is crap. However, I nearly drove off the road just now when Holly featured Bing Crosby singing “Mele kalikimaka” with the Andrews Sisters, whose recording of the same sone without Der Bingle turned up yesterday on Traditions. I don’t get it.

3. This is a good test as to whether the public is smart enough to know when it’s being manipulated. Paul Manfort’s plea deal about his dealings with the Ukraine and other questionable machinations unrelated to his time with the Trump campaign has nothing to do with the Russian 2016 election meddling. Michael Cohen admitting that he lies about his activities connected to the Trump organization building a hotel in Moscow also has no connection to the Left’s Russian collusion fantasies. So why is the news media hyperventilating about “big breaks” in the Mueller investigation? I’d say a) confirmation bias b) they aren’t very bright c) they don’t think the public is very bright, and d) they think they can continue to undermine the public trust by flogging this narrative. This is a fact: there was and is nothing illegal about Donald Trump pursuing a business project in Russia while running for President. It does not suggest or constitute collusion, and the fact that his ridiculous ex-lawyer lied about it is irrelevant to the Trump Presidency.

Nonetheless, here’s CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin yesterday: Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 11/13/18: ” Not Dead, Just Wishing I Was” Edition

I’m here.

The weekend was a near total wipe-out for me, as the incipient flu-cold or whatever it is that has been stalking me for at least a couple of weeks finally ended all ambiguity by leveling me  just as the long weekend was getting started. I was in bed virtually all day yesterday, most of the day before, and if I’m getting better, damned if I can see it. I’ve always got to be wary when I cough like this, as I am susceptible to bronchitis, but ProEthics, and ethics itself, wait for no Weenie.

1. What do you do with these idiots? The guys in Baraboo High School’s class of 2019 posed with Nazi salutes at their junior prom this year.

It isn’t Mel Brooks High School: “the  Heil sign” is only amusing or satirical in the most carefully constructed context. In any other time of place, it trivializes a historical nightmare, genocide and the engineered murder of millions of people by a madman,  his henchmen, and a poisoned culture. The Wisconsin school district that included Baraboo claims to acting on the photo,  but since it went viral on social media, current and former students have said that the school itself has a culture of racism and bigotry openly that is allowed to thrive by indifferent teachers and administrators.  There’s a lot I don’t understand about the photo.  Where are the girls? Are these only the Nazis in the class, or is it all of the boys? The kids that aren’t saluting: are they protesting against the display? Did they just miss the shot? Why are they in the photo at all? Who in their right mind would participate in such a stunt?

2. Fact: acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has no conflicts of interest with the Mueller investigation. So why are Democrats insisting that he recuse himself, now that his is overseeing the investigation as Jeff Sessions could not? As far as I can see, the only reason is that they want Rod Rosenstein, who had been the acting AG for only the Mueller matter to continue to supervise it because he is perceived as being hostile to the President. Rosenstein does have a conflict, and properly should have recused himself long ago. He was very much involved in the Comey firing, which is part of the  Mueller investigation’s inquiry into alleged obstruction of justice by the President. He conceivably possesses information about the President’s  motives in firing Comey, and quite possibly has  a personal interest in how the episode is interpreted. Rosenstein thus would very likely be a necessary fact witness in any obstruction inquiry in connection with the Comey firing. That’s a conflict.

Whitaker, however, has no conflict. His statements about how Mueller has run the investigation don’t create a conflict of interest under the applicable ethics rules, not does it raise the appearance of impropriety. Democrats are signaling here, as they have repeatedly for two years, that their objective is to “get Trump” by any means necessary, and they will torture and distort, law, ethics and common sense to achieve that goal. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Sessions Resignation And Reaction

In ethical, legal and Constitutional terms, there isn’t really very much legitimate controversy here. The key word here is “legitimate.” “The resistance” is trying its best to spin the issues and confuse the public—yet again. The news media wants to help. They have nothing.

—Attorney General Sessions should have resigned long, long ago. He debased himself by remaining in office. His boss, the President, was publicly abusive, and obviously did not want him to continue in the job.

—I cannot begin to express sufficiently my contempt for the dishonest and absurd argument that Sessions leaving office constitutes an “obstruction of justice” under even the most tortured interpretation of the term. A President can fire and replace his own Cabinet members; this was the issue that technically led to Andrew Johnson’s impeachment. Congress had passed a law (later ruled unconstitutional) that prohibited firing a Cabinet member without Congressional consent. The current theory is even more crack-brained than the claim that Trump firing James Comey, who was incompetent, devious and untrustworthy was obstruction. The “theory,” if you can call it that, is that replacing an AG who had a conflict of interest and had to recuse himself from an investigation is somehow sinister, because the new AG will actually be able to do his job, and supervise a Justice Department investigation.

—The investigation is officially about Russian interference with the 2016 election. Because the Trump campaign and its participants (not the Trump administration: this occurred before the election) might have been implicated or drawn into the investigation, Sessions, who was part of the campaign organization, had to recuse himself as a potential target, witness, or otherwise involved person, both for potential conflicts reasons and to avoid any appearance of impropriety. However, these do not apply to Sessions’ successor, much as Democrats and “the resistance” would want Mueller’s investigation to be completely without supervision by anyone approved by the President.

—There is no reason in the world why the acting AG, Matt Whitaker, should recuse himself from involvement in the Mueller matter. Claims to the contrary are made without grounding in law or ethics. Continue reading

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

The Ethics Conundrum Of The Undisciplined Mind: What Does The President Mean When He Says He Mispoke?

Today President Trump said he had “realized that there is a need for some clarification” regarding his remarks yesterday.

“In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t” The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative.”

Contradicting what most critics took to be his message yesterday,  the President proclaimed his “full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies,” adding,

“I have felt very strongly that while Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that — and I’ve said this many times — I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”

Knowing what we know about Donald Trump—I’m not speaking here to the anti-Trump unhinged, who “know” that he is a fascist, colluding, cheating autocratic moron menace who stole the election and who is only President to con the nation and raid its coffers—what does all that mean? What does it mean when someone who thinks and speaks—and acts— like Trump does says, ‘I didn’t mean what I said’?

Not only don’t I have any idea, I don’t think it is possible to know. I see the following possibilities: Continue reading

The News Media-“Resistance” Alliance On Ugly Display In The “Spygate” Spin

The revelation that there was a mole, Stefan Halper, planted in his campaign by the FBI, prompted President Donald Trump to demand an investigation into whether the FBI or Justice Department infiltrated his campaign for political purposes.  The “resistance” and the mainstream news media have been in panic mode ever since, and have been actively bad at it. Heaven forbid that journalists could admit that when they mocked the President for suggesting that his campaign was surveilled, they were wrong and he was right.

Scott Adams neatly exposed the hypocrisy and dishonesty, tweeting,

“Four things to understand about SPYGATE: 1) There was no spy in the Trump campaign. 2) The spying that did NOT happen was totally justified. 3) It would be bad for national security to identify the spy who doesn’t exist. 4) His name is Stefan.”

Ann Althouse deserves applause for her analysis as well:

James Clapper was on “The View” yesterday and it went like this:

BEHAR: “So I ask you, was the FBI spying on Trump’s campaign?”

CLAPPER: “No, they were not. They were spying on, a term I don’t particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage or influence which is what they do.”

BEHAR: “Well, why doesn’t [Trump] like that? He should be happy.”

CLAPPER: “He should be.”

Well, Trump seems happy that the word “spying” slipped out of Clapper as he was talking about what the FBI was doing. Clapper obviously knew he slipped, since he immediately tried to (subtly) erase it.

Trump displayed his happiness by tweeting: “‘Trump should be happy that the FBI was SPYING on his campaign’ No, James Clapper, I am not happy. Spying on a campaign would be illegal, and a scandal to boot!” And, talking to reporters: “I mean if you look at Clapper … he sort of admitted that they had spies in the campaign yesterday inadvertently. I hope it’s not true, but it looks like it is.”

Then Ann dissected CNN toady Chris Cillizza’s embarrassing attempt to cover for Trump foe Clapper—which, you know, is not the job of a real journalist, only that of a biased hack: Continue reading

It’s Official: The Mueller Investigation Is An Ethics Train Wreck

The Russian election  interference  investigation is officially an Ethics Train Wreck, hence forth known here as “The Mueller Investigation Ethics Train Wreck.”

This is the one year anniversary of the official beginning of the Special Prosecutor’s investigation into Russia’ alleged interference with the 2016 Presidential election, and the question of whether the Trump campaign were involved in the effort, to the extent there was one. That the investigation has morphed into a huge, messy, almost perfect example of an ethics train wreck–the Ethics Alarms designation for an episode and its aftermath in which almost everyone who becomes involved in any way ends up compromised, corrupted, embarrassed or exposed as ethically misguided.

The impetus for the arguable late call was Glenn Greenwald’s jaw-dropping story on what he calls “an extremely strange episode.” Here is some of Greewald’s reporting,

Over the past several weeks, House Republicans have been claiming that the FBI during the 2016 election used an operative to spy on the Trump campaign, and they triggered outrage within the FBI by trying to learn his identity. The controversy escalated when President Trump joined the fray on Friday morning. “Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” Trump tweeted, adding: “It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a “hot” Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!”

In response, the DOJ and the FBI’s various media spokespeople did not deny the core accusation, but quibbled with the language (the FBI used an “informant,” not a “spy”), and then began using increasingly strident language to warn that exposing his name would jeopardize his life and those of others, and also put American national security at grave risk. On May 8, the Washington Post described the informant as “a top-secret intelligence source” and cited DOJ officials as arguing that disclosure of his name “could risk lives by potentially exposing the source, a U.S. citizen who has provided intelligence to the CIA and FBI.”

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, who spent much of last week working to ensure confirmation of Trump’s choice to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel, actually threatened his own colleagues in Congress with criminal prosecution if they tried to obtain the identity of the informant. “Anyone who is entrusted with our nation’s highest secrets should act with the gravity and seriousness of purpose that knowledge deserves,” Warner said.

But now, as a result of some very odd choices by the nation’s largest media outlets, everyone knows the name of the FBI’s informant: Stefan Halper. And Halper’s history is quite troubling, particularly his central role in the scandal in the 1980 election. Equally troubling are the DOJ and FBI’s highly inflammatory and, at best, misleading claims that they made to try to prevent Halper’s identity from being reported.

To begin with, it’s obviously notable that the person the FBI used to monitor the Trump campaign is the same person who worked as a CIA operative running that 1980 Presidential election spying campaign. [From earlier in the article: “Four decades ago, Halper was responsible for a long-forgotten spying scandal involving the 1980 election, in which the Reagan campaign – using CIA officials managed by Halper, reportedly under the direction of former CIA Director and then-Vice-Presidential candidate George H.W. Bush – got caught running a spying operation from inside the Carter administration. The plot involved CIA operatives passing classified information about Carter’s foreign policy to Reagan campaign officials in order to ensure the Reagan campaign knew of any foreign policy decisions that Carter was considering.”]…Halper, through his CIA work, has extensive ties to the Bush family. Few remember that the CIA’s perceived meddling in the 1980 election – its open support for its former Director, George H.W. Bush to become President – was a somewhat serious political controversy. And Halper was in that middle of that, too…. Continue reading