Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/15/2019: Fevered Ethics Musings, and More

Good morning

…after a lousy night’s sleep.

 I’m going to deal with the Peter Strzok/Lisa Page Congressional testimony in a full post, but I’ll give a preview here.. As I will elaborate then, this makes me feel like I am going crazy, and also creates dilemmas regarding what this blog is about, and how to keep it trustworthy. The story that has developed over the past week is almost incredible in its objective implications for the Obama administration’ legacy (Did you know that there were NO SCANDALS under President Obama?), the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, the Mueller investigation, the Justice Department, the Democratic Party, and the efforts to undermine the Trump Presidency, and by extension, our democracy. When I write about all of this, however, the result will sound like an over-heated conspiracy theory from the depths of Breitbart. I know that’s what my bubble-dwelling friends on Facebook will say, and what the Ethics Alarms exiles who were, and, I’m sure, still are, incapable of believing anything but “resistance” and Democratic anti-Trump talking points will think as well. I checked yesterday’s New York Times page by page: there was nothing about what Peter Strzok and Lisa Page revealed under oath…not in the news, not on the op-ed page, not in the letters to the editor. How can that be, in a paper that claims to present “all the news that’s fit to print?” I didn’t check the Washington Post (I don’t get the paper version) , but I assume a similar black-out from the paper that hypocritically proclaims that “Democracy Dies In Darkness.” Senator Lindsay Graham s calling for a new Special Prosecutor, and if we had an honest, non-partisan news media, I assume—I hope—that the informed public, at least the uncorrupted portion that has principles that transcend politics, would be doing the same. I know U.S. government and Presidential history better than most, and what I see—and can see only because I do not trust the mainstream media–is worse than Watergate (that over-used phrase) and far, far scarier, because this time, the press is part of the cover-up.

1. Addendum. One legacy that may be ticketed for oblivion is that of John McCain. We learned yesterday that a close McCain associate aggressively circulated the discredited, Trump-smearing Steele memorandum to media outlets all over D.C. after the President was elected. From the Daily Caller:

David Kramer, a former State Department official, said in a deposition on Dec. 13, 2017 that he provided a copy of Christopher Steele’s dossier to reporters from McClatchy, NPR, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed and CNN’s Carl Bernstein. He also shared the report with State Department official Victoria Nuland, Obama National Security Counsel official Celeste Wallander and Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

If Senator McCain knew about this, or worse, engineered it, he was trying to undermine the sitting President. Based on his petty and vindictive conduct in the period between the election and his death, this seems very plausible, and even likely.

2. Meanwhile, here’s another irresponsible Trump Tweet storm…which has received more publicity in major news sources than indications that the Obama Justice Department was working to manipulate the 2016 Presidential election. The President tweeted that “airplanes are becoming too complex to fly”   two days after the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 people aboard, and before any official assessment of the causes of the crash  was made, “Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost yet very little gain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!”

Ugh. Talk about abusing a position to make the public dumber. This is just Luddite blathering from someone who has no more expertise regarding airplanes than my mailman. It is not an informed opinion, and the comments can do no good, while causing tangible damage in unfounded fear.

I do agree that Albert Einstein would be a poor choice as a 737 pilot, as would Genghis Khan, Ed Wynn, and Katherine the Great, being untrained in flying AND being dead as mackerels.

2. Another liberal champion bites the dust (and I think I know why).  From the Montgomery Advertiser:

The Southern Poverty Law Center fired Morris Dees, the nonprofit civil rights organization’s co-founder and former chief litigator. SPLC President Richard Cohen said in a statement Dees’ dismissal over his misconduct was effective on Wednesday, March 13. When pressed for details on what led to the termination, the organization declined to elaborate. “As a civil rights organization, the SPLC is committed to ensuring that the conduct of our staff reflects the mission of the organization and the values we hope to instill in the world,” Cohen said in the emailed statement. “When one of our own fails to meet those standards, no matter his or her role in the organization, we take it seriously and must take appropriate action.”

The Law Center is literally an extension of Dees; he has been its face and founder. I’ve been at an award ceremony for Morris Dees. An organization doesn’t treat its progenitor this way unless it has to, and Dees, according to reports, was no longer active in the SPLC’s activities. There is an undropped shoe, and I’m betting the Oxford is one more sexual harassment scandal involving a liberal icon. What other “conduct” would get Dees fired, unless the hate-group labeling group’s founder was using shoe-polish to imitate Michael Jackson?

3.  So how long before college tuitions come down, people stop assuming those with degrees from Harvard are smarter than those who don’t, and higher education admits that a complete overhaul is overdue and mandatory, since colleges have become political indoctrination centers rather than educational institutions?  Commenting on the college admission scandal, George Mason University professor Bryan Kaplan writes at TIME:

…The admissions scandal is an opportunity to separate the lofty mythology of college from the sordid reality. Despite the grand aspirations that students avow on their admission essays, their overriding goal is not enlightenment, but status. Consider why these parents would even desire to fake their kids’ SAT scores. We can imagine them thinking, I desperately want my child to master mathematics, writing and history — and no one teaches math, writing and history like Yale does! But we all know this is fanciful. …Most majors, however, ask little of their students — and get less. Standards were higher in the 1960s, when typical college students toiled about 40 hours a week. Today, however, students work only two-thirds as hard. Full-time college has become a part-time job….Why do employers put up with such a dysfunctional educational system? Part of the answer is that government and donors lavish funding on the status quo with direct subsidies, student loans and alumni donations….The deeper answer, though, is that American higher education tolerably performs one useful service for American business: certification.

… When I was in high school, my crusty health teacher loved to single out a random teen and scoff, “You’re wanted … for impersonating a student.” If you can get your less-than-brilliant, less-than-driven child admitted, he’ll probably get to impersonate a standardly awesome Ivy League graduate for the rest of his life.

…[T]ruth be told, this salacious scandal proves next to nothing. It just illustrates the obvious. Though we casually talk about our “institutions of higher learning,” little learning is going on. Sure, college is an intellectual banquet for the rare students with a passion for ideas and the energy to locate the also-rare professors with a passion for teaching. The vast majority, however, come in search of a stamp on their foreheads that says grade a — and leave with little else. If the parents accused by the FBI are guilty as charged, don’t say they failed to understand the purpose of a college education. Say they understood its purpose all too well.

Bingo.

 

 

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/11/18: As They Read The Names Of The Twin Towers Bombing…

Sad morning….

1. Serena ethics updates An indignant Facebook friend appeals to authority by telling me that  Chris Evert and Billie Jean King are defending Williams, and that they know more about professional tennis than I do. That’s a classic appeal to authority, and a very lame one. What a surprise that female tennis superstars have each others’ back! Chris and Billie Jean sure aren’t ethicists. I’d love to interview them. “So you believe that coaching from the stands, even though forbidden by the rules, should be allowed? Do you think that an unknown player who behaved like Serena did would have been treated any differently? Do you think that anyone would be supporting her if she were penalized? Since the record shows that Ramos does not treat men any differently than he treats women on the court, doesn’t Serena owe him an apology? Can you comprehend why calling a ref, whose reputtaion depends on being regarded as fair and unbiased, a “thief” is worse that calling him a “four-letter word”?

I can play the biased expert witness game too: here’s Martina Navratilova’s op ed, which is comparatively ethically astute and tracks with my post in many respects.

The polls about Mark Knight’s “racist and sexist” cartoon has these results:

85% side with Knight. I’d love to hear the explanation of the one voter who said the cartoon was sexist but not racist.

The reason I made the issue an ethics quiz is because I’m really torn in the issue. Yes, cartoons of blacks employing exaggerated features naturally evoke Jim Crow and minstrel show racist images. But political cartoons exaggerate features, often in unflattering ways. That’s the art form. Does this mean that blacks are immune from ever being portrayed cruelly in a political cartoon? I think that’s what the anti-Knight contingent is arguing.

My view is that double standards are destructive and unethical. By the by, were Jimmy Carter’s lips that big?

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Round-Up, 8/13/2018: Rally? What Rally? Bias? What Bias? Texts? What Texts? Spy? What Spy?

Huh. I didn’t know that ZZ Top were white supremacists!

Good Morning!

I just know this week will be better than last week…

…though these items certainly don’t inspire hope.

1. The dangers of “future news” That huge, scary rally in Washington where the nation’s capital was going to be descended-upon by all those white supremicists activated by Donald Trump’s election and rhetoric to celebrate last year’s Charlotteville riots? About two-dozen people showed up. I talked to friends in the District who said they were terrified of the rally. CNN, the networks, the Times and the Post had all headlined this major, major event, which would show just how much racism there is in America. This was fake news, straight up. It was imaginary, “future news,” a headline about what was going to happen because the mainstream news media wanted it to happen. Then they could bleat out the narrative that President Trump was inspiring racists to come out of the woodwork. Maybe someone would get killed, like in Charlottesville! Well, they could hope.

What investigation went into the determination that there was going to be a huge gathering of racists in D.C.? Clearly, not enough. 24? 24??? I could set up a rally of locals who think Gilbert and Sullivan should be taught in the schools that is five times that with some phone calls, texts and a Facebook post. It would take me a couple of hours. Yet the Times put the inevitability of this massive white supremacy rally on its front page. “After weeks of hype…” wrote the Times. Weeks of hype by the press.

Incompetent, dishonest, irresponsible. You know. As usual.

It is worth mentioning that the counter-demonstration to the imaginary demonstration was many times larger than two-dozen people.

2. In related news about non-news...The Boston Globe has been contacting newspaper editorial boards and proposing a “coordinated response” to President Trump’s criticism of the news media, especially his controversial “enemy of the people” rhetoric. “We propose to publish an editorial on August 16 on the dangers of the administration’s assault on the press and ask others to commit to publishing their own editorials on the same date,” The Globe said in its pitch to fellow papers.

Talk about bad timing! We just had the explosion of the fake racist rally story. We have the Manafort trial being featured on the front page of most newspapers like it’s the O.J. trial, when  the majority of public has no idea who the man is and the trial details have nothing to do with anything newsworthy. We have the mainstream news media giving the claims of a reality show villain the kind of attention John Dean received for his Watergate testimony while it makes sure nobody knows that a Chinese spy infiltrated the staff of a powerful U.S. Senator for 20 years. Nah, the news media isn’t the enemy of the public! It just deliberately abdicates its duty to inform the public objectively , is engaged in a coordinated effort to bring down an elected President, has abused its First Amendment-bestowed immunity from the consequences of its conduct, and is working to divide the nation to the point where it cannot function. That’s all. None of this is good for the people or the nation, but that doesn’t make those intentionally harming both enemies, exactly….although off the top of my head,  I can’t think of a more accurate word for it. Continue reading

Sunday Morning Ethics Hangover, 7/15/2018: “Animal House” And The Death Of Truth [UPDATED!]

Good Morning!

(WordPress isn’t working properly this morning. Perfect…)

1. Not being biased helps you be non-stupid…Yesterday, chatting with lawyer attendees at my ethics seminar, a former government attorney told me that he had several ex-FBI colleagues who were horrified at many aspects of the Peter Strzok hearings, as was he. Among their concerns:

  • The news media was failing its duty to explain to the public the duties of professionals, and why Strzok’s conduct was unacceptable, unethical, and undermined the credibility of the investigations he was involved in.
  • Democrats were defending the indefensible, and also breaching their duty to the public. They ought to be exactly as outraged as Republicans at a figure as demonstrably biased as Strzok polluting important law enforcement inquiries, and also should have rebuked him for his defiant attitude.
  • The Strzok scandal was immensely damaging to the public image of the FBI, and should be. It demonstrates an agency that has been seriously mismanages, and that has a damaged culture.
  • The simple fact that Strzok would use FBI equipment to send his texts demonstrated outrageous incompetence and lack of judgement. Even setting aside the bias issue, for a key figure in an investigation to behave so recklessly proves that the current FBI is untrustworthy.

Naturally this is gratifying, since the positions are all consistent with those I have expressed here, and also because they are correct.

2.  When miscreants emulate “Animal House” and Democrats applaud...We also discussed Strzok’s ridiculous “Otter defense”in the hearing, as he emulated the cynical (but in that case, funny) argument offered by the “Animal House” character played by Tim Mathieson (“Take it easy! I’m pre-law!” “I thought you were pre-med!” “What’s the difference?”) in a student council hearing over his fraternity members’ outrageous conduct, especially his own:

” Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests – we did. But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg – isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America!”

This, of course, is exactly the disingenuous tactic employed by Strzok when he pronounced himself grievously offended that his accusers would dare to impugn the integrity of the FBI, knowing well that the harm done to his agency was entirely due to his own actions. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/13/2018: Trump And Strzok

Good Morning, London!

1. Trump Trump Trump. You know, I was on a political Facebook page in 2016 where an idiot kept posting “Trump Trump Trump” despite everyone, including the moderator, telling him to cut it out. Eventually he was banned from the site. Unfortunately, there is no similarly simple solution to this problem when a combination of the Trump-hostile news media and the President himself forces a variety of ethics issues on me, when I would rather be musing about baseball, old sitcoms, and guys in lobster hats.

  • The pardons. President Trump  pardoned Dwight L. Hammond, now 76, and his son, Steven D. Hammond, 49, a pair of Oregon cattle ranchers who had been serving out five-year sentences for arson on federal land, which had sparked the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in 2016. Naturally these pardons were attacked, because anything Trump does will be attacked. The resulting conflict brought widespread attention to anger over federal land management in the Western United States,and that’s a good thing. How can the federal government justify owning almost half of Western land?

As for the pardons, both men have served most of their sentences already, and not only were the sentences unusually harsh for their offenses, the cases had the whiff of political prosecutions about them. They were perfectly legitimate objects for Presidential pardons, but then so are hundreds of thousands of other cases. Presidents should issue as many pardons as possible, which means eliminating a lot of the red tape. So far, Trump has sucked the tape by cherry-picking beneficiaries in his own, eccentric, biased way, using his unique, unassailable Constitution-based power to court supporters, celebrities and particular constituencies—not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as other deserving citizens also get pardoned, and really, all but the most unrepentant, vile and dangerous felons deserve mercy and compassion eventually. Unless the pardon power is used broadly and constantly, its blessings too often depend on who you know. In the case of the ranchers, for example, a large donor to Vice-President Pence lobbied for the pardons. Again, that doesn’t mean the pardons can’t be justified. It does mean the process is skewed by factors not related to justice or fairness.

I found this to be the most ethically intriguing paragraph in the Times story about Pence pal, tycoon Forrest Lucas, and his likely influence on the pardons:

“While other presidents have also gone ahead of Justice officials to pardon apparent allies, they have often waited until their final days in office to do so. Mr. Trump, by comparison, has issued high-profile pardons early and comparatively often — seemingly unconcerned by the appearance of leaning his ears toward those at the top.”

So is Trump being unethical in a more ethical fashion than his predecessors?

  • Bad host, worse guest. The President’s derogatory comments about the British Prime Minister were indefensible, of course. We know how he thinks: Great Britain, as he has said, with justification, has made him feel unwelcome—that insulting “Trump baby” blimp over London is a real diplomatic low—and thus, in Trump’s rudimentary ethics system, akin to that of a lizard, the proper response is tit-for-tat. None of this is unexpected, and nobody who voted for Trump can say that they didn’t give him license to behave this way by electing him.

I do wonder now why I ever thought that he would react to being elected by moderating the very conduct that, in his mind and probably in reality, got him where he is today. My role model for him was President Arthur, who was about as different in character and background from Donald Trump as a human being could be.

I’m an idiot. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/18/2018: Moral Luck, Non-Hypocrisy, Hypocrisy, Thomas Jefferson And WKRP

Good morning, Monticello, everyone…

1 The Inspector General’s Report and Tales of Moral Luck:  Stop me if you’ve heard this one: FBI staffer Peter Strzok, working on both the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russian collusion investigation, received a text from Lisa Page, Strzok’s co-worker and adulterous lover, that read, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok replied, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

 September of 2016, the FBI discovered that Clinton’s illicit emails had somehow ended up on the laptop of disgraced former Congressman. Anthony Weiner, who is married to Hillary’s top aide and confidante, Huma Abedin.  Strzok, we learn in Michael Horowitz’s report, was instrumental in  the decision not to pursue the lead, arguing that the Russia investigation was a “higher priority” at the time.”We found this explanation unpersuasive and concerning,” the report concluded. The laptop was available from September 29 until October 27, when “people outside the FBI” finally forced  the FBI to act on the evidence. “The FBI had all the information it needed on September 29 to obtain the search warrant that it did not seek until more than a month later,” the IG report stated. “The FBI’s neglect had potentially far-reaching consequences.”

“Comey told the OIG that, had he known about the laptop in the beginning of October and thought the email review could have been completed before the election, it may have affected his decision to notify Congress,” the IG report says, and also states,

“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over follow up on the [Clinton] investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.”

Got that? The IG believes that anti-Trump, pro-Hillary bias led Strzok to delay the Weiner laptop investigation, and it may have backfired, helping Trump and hurting Clinton rather than the reverse. But the fact that moral luck took a hand and foiled his intent doesn’t change the fact that this is strong evidence that partisan bias DID infect the Clinton investigation, and probably the Russian inquiry as well. This makes the media’s spin that the IG report dispels accusations of bias even more unconscionable.

That Strzok’s biased and unethical tactics to help Hillary intimately failed spectacularly doesn’t change or mitigate the fact that a prime FBI staff member was intentionally trying yo manipulate the investigation for partisan reasons.

2. The Web thinks you’re an awful person.  A tease from a “sponsored site” in the margins of my NBC Sports baseball feed  says, “Jan Smithers starred in hit sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Try not to smile when you see what she looks like now!” Wait…what’s that’s supposed to mean? Is she a circus clown? No, these and similar come-ons apparently assume that normal people love mocking formerly beautiful young stars when they no longer look young. “Heh, heh..well, Jan Smithers, I guess you’re not so hot now, are you? What kind of person takes pleasure in the physical decay of others just because they were once gorgeous?

Actually, the photo of Jan Smithers did make me smile, because unlike, say, Jane Fonda,

…who at 80 has allowed plastic surgeons to make her look like one of the fragile immortal female ghouls who shatter into pieces at the end of “Death Becomes Her,” Smithers (who is younger than me and a decade and a half younger than Hanoi Jane) has allowed herself to age naturally, and by my admittedly biased lights, is lovely still: Continue reading

Observations On The Inspector General’s FBI Report

The long-awaited report by the Justice Department’s  inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, does not conclude that the FBI’s decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton was improper or politically motivated.“We found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations,” the report says “Rather, we concluded that they were based on the prosecutor’s assessment of facts, the law, and past department practice.” This is sufficient to support the spin of journalists and pundits who want to stick to the narrative that the FBI is an honorable, unimpeachable model of professionalism.

The rest of the report, however, undercuts that interpretation considerably. I have only jumped through it, and need to go through the report again, carefully. I can make some confident observations right now, however.

1. James Comey deserved to be fired even more than I already thought. The reports says he was insubordinate. It reveals that Comey had already decided to take no action against Clinton in the Spring of 2016, though he didn’t announce his decision until July. It reveals that the investigation did not follow department policies and protocols. His draft statement on Hillary said she’d been “grossly negligent, which would have required an indictment. Comey changed it to “extremely careless.” Comey also had originally written that it was  “reasonably likely” that Hillary had been hacked  to “possible.” The draft had also noted that President Obama had exchanged emails with Hillary on her private server; that was redacted.

OK, the IG could not state with certainty that bias was at the root of Comey’s conduct. It is not his job to speculate, but I can: whatever the motivation, Comey did not do his job without considering political consequences, despite his assurances to Congress to the contrary. The cumulative effect of his decision-making was to undermine public trust in the institution he led.

2. The IG’s report renders the argument that President Trump firing Comey was an obstruction of justice even more ridiculous than it appeared already.  Leaving such a bumbling manager—and that’s giving him every benefit of the doubt–in office would undermine the FBI, as well as leave a crucial law enforcement agency in the control of a subordinate who was untrustworthy and incompetent.

3. Comey and other agents improperly used personal email to conduct official business. Hillary is already trying to use this to excuse her own conduct. Someone tell Hillary that they weren’t running for President, and didn’t lie about it for nearly a year.

4. FBI agents were leaking to the news media regularly. They also accepted favors and gifts from journalists. This was unethical, illegal, unprofessional and disloyal. I do not want to hear any more indignant protests about how it is seditious to suggest that the agency is fully capable of political bias and corruption. It is corrupt. It cannot be trusted, under Comey, and now.

5. There may not be decisive evidence of bias, but there was certainly evidence. Five agents authored and sent pro-Clinton and anti-Trump texts , some referencing undermining Donald Trump. The IG report states that the five agents “appeared to mix political opinions with discussions about the Midyear investigation.” One texted, “no one is going to pros[ecute] [Hillary Clinton] even if we find unique classified” after the discovery of Weiner’s laptop. Another text read, “We’ll stop it,” referring to Trump’s possible election. Agent Peter Strzok, now infamous for his provocative and anti-Trump texts with his lover in the Justice Department while serving on the Mueller team, texted regarding the investigation, “For me, and this case, I personally have a sense of unfinished business.” An FBI attorney significantly involved in the Russia investigation also texted  to a colleague,“Viva le Resistance.”

6.Based on the report, the Trump administration has every reason to distrust the motives and integrity of the FBI and the Mueller investigation, if not Mueller himself. Any citizens, journalists, Trump critics and commenters here who still refuse to admit that this is a fair and unavoidable conclusion only destroy their own credibility and pretext of objectivity.