Tag Archives: National debt

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/23/18: The All-Disposable Edition…Legal Ethics, Budgets, And Grocery Bags

Good Morning…

1. More Professionals Behaving Badly: The news media has widely reported that Ted Olson of the law firm Gibson Dunn refused Donald Trump’s request for his legal services. Olson, who is best know for arguing  the Bush side of Bush v. Gore that ended the 2000 Florida recount,  had declined to comment on this to the media but a partner in the firm Gibson Dunn’s “global co-chair” issued a tweet that Olson was not going to be representing the President. This is a straight-up violation of an attorney’s ethical duty  of confidentiality to a prospective client.

In other Trump lawyer news, the media is also widely reporting that John Dowd resigned from the President’s legal team over the President’s refusal to accept Dowd’s advice that he not agree to give testimony to the Special Prosecutor. Telling the news media that—telling anyone that—would also be a breach of confidentiality on Dowd’s part.

2. Per se legislative incompetence. Once again the Senate and the House passed a huge bill with massive implications and consequences without reading it. The legislation funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2018 budget year, through Sept. 30, directing $700 billion toward the military and $591 billion to domestic agencies. The military spending is a $66 billion increase over the 2017 level, and the non-defense spending is $52 billion more than last year. It also further explodes the deficit and the debt that bring the United States one step closer to a ruinous financial reckoning. The Democrats have been happily on this path for the entire 8 years of the Obama administration, but the Republicans rode to power in part because the public recognizes how insane this is. The GOP couldn’t even muster a cut in the arts spending that it has been promising since the Reagan administration, or to finally cut ties with public television, though Big Bird fled the nest years ago. Continue reading

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Few Political Stories Make Me Angry. This One Makes Me Angry. And Frightened.

brideg-collapse

In these three posts—Blame Everyone for Infrastructure Ruin: Unethical, Irresponsible Priorities from Reagan to Obama (2010); Ethics Heads-Up: When the President Talks About “Investment in Infrastructure,” Pay Attention (2011); Hole-in-the-Roof Ethics: If Obama Asks For Massive Infrastructure Renewal, the GOP Must Support It. (2011), I laid out the unanswerable case for making national infrastructure renewal a priority. Let me just quote from the three, to save me typing time…

In the early Eighties, I oversaw an independent study funded by the Highway Users Federation and the National Chamber Foundation called “Transport Tomorrow,” exploring the immediate need for transportation infrastructure repair and expansion in all modes of transportation: roads, railway, waterway, and airports. In the process of learning how dire the need for massive construction and repair was if America’s future commercial needs were to be met, the study commission made a disturbing discovery: urban water and sewer systems were crumbling too. There was literally not enough money to fix all the roads, bridges, tunnels, water mains and sewer pipes that had to be fixed, and the consequences of not doing so would be economic paralysis and worse, disease and even social unrest.In the face of this looming and undeniably real disaster, the Reagan Administration did—pretty much nothing. Neither did the Bush, Clinton and Bush II administrations…

Seldom is a solution to a problem so obvious, and so conducive to bi-partisanship. It is a solution to two problems, really: America’s dangerously rotting infrastructure, and the nation’s dismal unemployment rate. Spend the money, trillions if necessary, to repair and replace existing roads, railway beds, waterways, sewer systems, airports and bridges.  It still won’t get us where we need to be, but we’ll be much better off than if we let the current deterioration continue, and we’ll save money in the long run, too—real savings, not phony health care reform savings that evaporate once reality kicks in.

There is no justification not to do this, nor is there any legitimate excuse for any elected official not to vote for it. (And no, not wanting to give the President a victory is not legitimate…or ethical, or patriotic.) Repairing the infrastructure isn’t “discretionary spending,” it is essential, unavoidable and cost-effective spending, unless it is diverted into new boondoggles and pork. No new structures, unless they replace unrepairable old ones. No light rail systems or bullet trains; what is needed is basic maintenance and repair….everywhere. It is already late, but “better late than never” has seldom been as appropriate.Will fixing the infrastructure add to the deficit? Not really, because it already is an expense that we know will have to be made, or else. If the sewer systems and waterworks break down, we start dying. If bridges collapse, we die too. That isn’t even mentioning the increasing costs in energy and commerce caused by a decaying transportation system. The sooner we pay for it, the less it will cost, so sooner is per se better for the economy, and it is perfect timing given the employment crisis.

Yes, Obama better have a way to pay for it, with real budget cuts and reasonable taxes. If he plays politics with the proposal by making it impossible for the GOP to support (as some pundits, like the Post’s Eugene Robinson, have advised), shame on him. This has to be paid for, but it also has to be done…If Obama puts a fair, reasonable, relatively pork-free proposal on the table, Republicans would be despicably unethical to reject it.

As we now know, the Obama Administration proposed, and the GOP Congress opposed. This is a long-term bi-partisan failure, but it must be remembered that Obama had no credibility on this issue, and he never did propose a a way to pay for it “with real budget cuts and reasonable taxes.”

I was reminded of this issue when I read yesterday about how engineers have concluded that over 9% of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient. Bridges are just part of the infrastructure disaster to come—just wait until the 200-year old sewer and water systems in some cities start breaking down, and we have Flint, Michigan times a thousand—but they are illustrative of our government’s failure. Continue reading

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Observations On The First Trump-Clinton Debate

first-2016-debate

It was as predictable as it was tragic: on Drudge shortly after the debate, his debate poll showed that over 90% of Matt’s readers—almost as high a percentage as that of black Americans who believe Barack Obama has been a great President—believed that Donald Trump won. At CNN, the percentages weren’t as lopsided, but still reversed: about 70% believed Hillary won. Confirmation bias rules supreme in such settings, and bias makes us stupid. Fortunately, as my analysis of these two awful candidates should have proven by now, I have no biases in this race. I would like to see both candidates lose,and badly. Indeed, as both are the political equivalents of virulent cancers on the culture and potentially the office they seek, I would like to learn that both have mysteriously vanished without a trace, like Judge Crater, Ambrose Bierce, Rick Moranis, or Gilbert O’Sullivan

Observations on last night’s debate:

1. The conservative websites are whining about Lester Holt serving as the “third debater” last night. In a word, baloney. Holt did all right, not great,  in an impossible role, primarily by letting the combatants talk; in fact, a heavier moderator hand would have been preferable.  The birther question to Trump and the “Presidential look” questions were undoubtedly moderator shots at Trump, but shots like that are opportunities too. Trump didn’t handle either well. Character is the issue with Trump, not policy, and those were character questions that he should have been prepared for. Maybe he was; maybe those pathetic answers were Trumps’ idea of good ones. Yes, Holt pressed Trump on the ultimately irrelevant issue of whether he was or was not in favor of the Iraq invasion and when, but that was also an appropriate approach for a moderator, and it gave Trump a chance to clarify his position, if one can ever use “clarify” and “Trump” in the same sentence.

As an aside, I wonder if “Sean Hannity can back me up” is the lamest defense ever uttered in a Presidential debate. It may be.

2. Trump was Trump, that’s all, and perhaps a slightly less offensive and more substantive version than usual. Hillary was smug, with a frozen smile and an expression that said, “Boy, is this guy an idiot!” all debate long. That’s a big mistake, for virtually nobody likes smug. Trump’s expression toward Hillary was usually one of a wary and respectful foe. He was listening, she was sneering. Her repeated call for “fact-checking” was weak, and appeared to be appeals for assistance. Continue reading

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The Drunk Lesbian Couples Study, The Golden Fleece, And Fiscal Responsibility

golden-fleece

Old Dominion University has recieved a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on the pressing issue of whether lesbian couples drink too much due to stress.   The grant states that

“Sexual minority women (i.e., women who self-identify as lesbian and bisexual) report more heavy drinking, more alcohol-related problems, and higher rates of alcohol use disorders as compared to heterosexual women. Despite this awareness, no studies have examined how relationship factors and partners’ alcohol use contribute to hazardous drinking among female sexual minority couples.”

Professor Jonathan Turley, who flagged this story, adds, “There may be a good reason for that.”

I almost made this an Ethics Quiz, asking if funding such research with taxpayer funds was responsible. I don’t present ethics quiz question when I am certain of the answer, though, and the more I thought about this, the more I began thinking of the late Senator William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Awards.

In 1975, Proxmire launched the award with a press release announcing that the National Science Foundation had “won”after spending $84,000 to fund a study on the origins of love. For more than a decade, the Democrat from Wisconsin used his awards, which were chosen by Proxmire’s hand-picked panel of budget hawks, scientists and others, to focus attention on frivolous spending by dozens of government agencies, including the Department of Justice, the National Institute of Mental Health, and NASA, on trivial issues and mysteries. He also got a lot of publicity for the stunt, and sometimes even managed to kill the Golden Fleece-winning projects with the public outrage they generated.

Naturally, scientists hated this, and had contempt for Proxmire, whom they called “anti-science.” One scientist he mocked even sued Proxmire for defamation, in a case that reached the Supreme Court. In another example of alcohol-related research being called into question, Proxmire gave the award to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 1975 for funding research into alcohol and aggression in fish and rats, stating that ” the most effective way to understand human conditions and problems is to observe human behavior.” University of California psychobiologist Harman Peeke, whose project was halted midstream by the fleece, bitterly responded,  “I would really enjoy having Proxmire make a proposal to give people alcohol and ask them to fight. That’s simply unethical and immoral.”

There were and are five core objections to Proxmire’s awards, which shadow government research projects to this day: Continue reading

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Blame Tom Toles For This Post: NO, Obama Can NOT Honestly Claim That He Cut The Deficit

Toles deficit

While we’re on the topic of misleading statements, as in lies, foisted on the American public by the President of the United States, I now have to bring up his boast in his State of the Union speech that “We’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.” [Don’t get me started with “all this.”]

I was going to leave this infuriating line alone, I really was, because when you get on the topic of deficits, the numbers-spinners have a field day. Then I saw Tom Toles’ cartoon, above, for the Washington Post.

Toles, if I haven’t made it clear before, is the worst of a breed that is itself a disgrace to journalism, a form of editorial content that is immune from the ethical restrictions that are supposed to govern journalism. It is the ultimate “clown nose on/ clown nose off” scam, and Toles exploits its license beyond the nauseating limits set by his over-rated predecessor, the equally biased but not quite as shameless Herb Block….you remember, the guy who drew all businessmen as obese, cigar-chomping robber barons out of the 1890s, and conservative Congress members as cavemen. Yeah, he was subtle and fair all right. Toles is much worse.

By what version of English and logic can anyone say that Obama reduced the deficit at all, much less by “almost three-quarters? Here is the chart of the deficits since 2005 in dollars: Continue reading

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Comment of the Day: “Joe Biden, The Republicans, And The Lawn Chair Test”

"Cheer up!" said the voice. "Things could be worse!" So I cheered up, and, sure enough, things got worse!

“Cheer up!” said the Voice. “Things could be worse!” So I cheered up, and, sure enough, things got worse…

This will be the second Presidential election for Ethics Alarms. As I learned in the first one (2012), keeping politics out of the posts and discussion are futile. Nonetheless, I will work to stay away from policy debates unless there is clear ethical content,  as  with illegal immigration, abortion, income distribution or gun control. Leadership is the second topic that Ethics Alarms encompasses, in part because character and the ethical handling of power are so important to ethical leadership. Competence is also an important component. An indirect message of the recent post about Joe Biden was that the United States, though it always needs competent leadership in the White House, needs it even more than usual, and potential candidates for the job do not appear to have it.

Veteran Ethics Alarms commenter Michael R has delivered a useful and troubling addendum to what I wrote. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post Joe Biden, The Republicans, And The Lawn Chair Test: Continue reading

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Robert Samuelson And Social Security’s Pro-Rich Bias

A typical nuanced view of the problem...

                                    A typical nuanced view of the problem…

My father was in the private pension business before he died, and the idiocy of how Social Security was set up drove him to distraction. I’m pretty sure he voted for Ross Perot in 1992 because Perot argued that it made no sense not to means test the program. I’m tempted to take a copy of Robert J. Samuelson’s op-ed last week to Arlington National Cemetery and leave it on his gravestone.

Samuelson is reliably one of the most rational, thoughtful and probing of all the op-ed columnists. Last week he wrote about how the life-expectancy gap between the wealthier segments of U.S. society and the poorer ones made Social Security as it is currently constituted a significant contributor to the income gap that progressives desperately want to make a key issue in the 2016 election, because dividing the nation by class (and race, ethnicity, religion and gender) is a big part of their playbook.

He wrote…

“The figures come from a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which estimated life expectancies for workers born in 1930 (now 85) and 1960 (now 55) at age 50. The findings are stark. For the richest fifth of men, there was a 7.1-year increase in life expectancy, from 81.7 for those born in 1930 to 88.8 years for those born in 1960. Meanwhile, for the poorest fifth of men, life expectancy fell slightly, from 76.6 years for those born in 1930 to 76.1 for those born in 1960. The changes for the remaining men also parallel income: For the second richest fifth, the increase was 8 years to 87.8 years; for the third richest, 5.3 years to 83.4 years; and for the fourth richest, 1.1 years to 78.3 years.”

Nobody should be surprised that wealth equals health. It is difficult to pinpoint why the gap is so large, but should we have to? It seems intuitively obvious. Many  disadvantages–race, upbringing, family stability, good roles models, education, character, intelligence, opportunities, culture, neighborhoods—that undermine quality of life simultaneously or in combination with each other handicap earning ability  and health before we even get to the question of medical care.

Samuelson goes on… Continue reading

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