Friday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/19/2019: There’s More To Ethics Than Mueller Freakouts, You Know…

Happy Easter weekend

(For me and other Greek-Americans, Easter presents a yearly choice: Greek Easter is calculated on a different calendar (it also has only boring red eggs), and just once in a red moon coincides with the non-Greek holiday.  This year it’s a week later, so we’re not putting our eggs in any baskets until next Sunday. We celebrate Greek Easter in honor of my Mom, who was fanatic about all holidays. The Greek Orthodox Church was dead to us once a priest told the congregation that the offspring of “mixed marriages”–that is, Greek and non-Greek spouses like my parents—were considered illegitimate by the Church. (My dad walked out of the service.)

(The other Churches became dead to us a bit later, and for varying reasons.)

1 A brief Mueller interlude…a) Rep. Gerald Nadler is grandstanding by demanding the full, unredacted report. Giving secret grand jury testimony to Congress would be  illegal. Anything to inflame the public, I guess…b) It’s incomplete, but Scott Horton, a smart libertarian who has been tracking the various complexities of the Russiagate investigation far more closely than I have, tears the Mueller report to shreds in convincing fashion. I’m accepting the conclusions of the report on faith, but Horton demonstrates how open to attack the investigation may be. The post is long and overly colloquial, and I don’t have time to check Horton’s facts, but it is worth reading. c) April Ryan, the CNN hack who has a long history of attacking Trump press secretary Sarah Sanders, now says Sanders should be fired for “lying.” Sanders at one point said that “countless” FBI agents had said that they had lost trust in James Comey, then later said that “countless” was a misstatement. With very few exceptions over the last 50 years, Sanders’ job is that of a paid liar and obfuscater; I got tired of flagging all of the lies and spin issued by Obama’s three spokesmen. They all should be fired, I guess, but not for offenses like using the word “countless” when the correct word would be “plenty.” Heck, I even heard through contacts and back-channels that FBI agents were disgusted with Comey. How could they not be?

2. And now for something completely different: Walrus Ethics. This isn’t a Climate Change Denial post, it’s a “See, this is why so many people don’t trust climate change doomsday scenarios” post.

Netflix’s climate change propaganda documentary  “Our Planet,” narrated by David Attenborough, showed masses o the walruses climbing up cliffs in northeast Russia because, we were told, of a lack of sea ice. Then we saw the large pinnipeds over the cliff edges onto the rocks below, leaving hundreds of dead animals piled on the shore. Attenborough said their poor eyesight made it hard for them to return safely to the ocean.

 Dr. Susan Crockford, a Canadian zoologist specializing in evolution and the ecology of Holocene mammals (including polar bears and walrus), claims that the scene was a hoax. She called Netflix’s narrative over the “Our Planet” scene i“contrived nonsense… fiction and emotional manipulation at its worst”:

“The walruses shown in this Netflix film were almost certainly driven over the cliff by polar bears during a well-publicised incident in 2017.” Even if the footage shown by Attenborough was not the 2017 incident in Ryrkaypiy, we know that walruses reach the top of cliffs in some locations and might fall if startled by polar bears, people or aircraft overhead, not because they are confused by shrinking sea ice cover.”

Anthony Watts, a weather technology expert and author,  also suspects the footage captured was the 2017 Siberian incident.

I’ve been able to show that Crockford’s supposition about the geographical origin of the footage is correct: analysis of the rock shapes in the film and in a photo taken by the producer/director both match archive photos of Ryrkaypiy. The photo was taken on 19 September 2017, during the events described by the Siberian Times.

But whereas the Siberian Times and Gizmodo website, which also reported on the 2017 incident, were both quite clear that the walruses were driven over the cliffs by polar bears, Netflix makes no mention of their presence. Similarly, there is no mention of the fact that walrus haulouts are entirely normal. Instead, Attenborough tells his viewers that climate change is forcing the walruses on shore, where their poor eyesight leads them to plunge over the cliffs.

This is all very troubling as it raises the possibility that Netflix and the WWF are, innocently or otherwise, party to a deception of the public.

If the climate change urgency is as real as we are constantly told, why can’t it be demonstrated with real facts rather than fakery like this?  Is it any wonder the public is skeptical? [Pointer: Legal Insurrection] Continue reading

The Alexander Acosta-Jeffrey Epstein Scandal

That’s Epstein…a popular guy.

You have to buckle your seat belt and read this story.

The Miami-Herald undoubtedly earned itself a Pulitzer Prize with its detailed and horrifying account of rigged justice involving jet set multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who parlayed money, connections, friends in high places and quite possibly extortion into a lighter-than-light sentence despite overwhelming evidence that over many years he had used his resources to gather “a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day…The eccentric hedge fund manager, whose friends included former President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, was also suspected of trafficking minor girls, often from overseas, for sex parties at his other homes in Manhattan, New Mexico and the Caribbean, FBI and court records show.”

The prosecutor who allowed Epstein to virtually escape accountability for crimes that make such recent cultural villains as Harvey Weinstein appear to be benign in comparison was the Trump Administration’s Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, then the U.S. attorney for Southern Florida.

Nobody’s talking, except the alleged victims, who are now mounting a legal challenge to the fiasco. Epstien’s lawyers, the kind of high-powered, high-priced super-team that only the richest of the rich can summon, included Allan Dershowitz, Roy Black and Ken Starr, among others, can’t discuss their representation under the rules of client confidentiality. So far, Acosta has been silent as well. The evidence that the paper’s investigation has uncovered—and again, don’t rely on this brief post, read the whole story—is persuasive, damning, and for me, someone who works in and with the legal profession, spiritually devastating. This, from the Maimi-Herald’s introduction and conclusion, provides some sense of the magnitude of the scandal: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Catch-Up, 8/22/18: Manafort, Cohen, and Mollie” (#2)

This is the second Comment of the Day on this post, also item #2, regarding the Michael Cohen machinations. The news media is doing a negligent job examining exactly what’s going on so that the average voter with an IQ in three figures has a fighting chance of understanding it. Greg’s comment,  like Michael Ejercito’s before him, helps explicate what the politicized and biased profession that we foolishly trust to inform us does not.

Here is Greg’s Comment of the Day on the post, Morning Ethics Catch-Up, 8/22/18: Manafort, Cohen, and Mollie:

I read the plea agreement and was mystified. It has been known for months that the National Enquirer paid Woman #1 (I forget her real name) for the exclusive rights to her story and that Cohen paid Woman #2 (Stormy Daniels) for a non-disclosure agreement. Democrats have been claiming that these hush money payoffs were illegal campaign contributions, but that theory is tenuous.

The mystifying news in the plea agreement was that before the election, Cohen bought the rights to the non-disclosure portion – not the story rights, which the Enquirer kept – of the Enquirer’s agreement by paying the Enquirer’s back their entire cost for the full agreement. Then after the election, Cohen sold the Enquirer the rights to the non-disclosure agreements of both Woman #1 and Stormy Daniels at his own cost, plus a tax gross-up payment that doubled the price to the Enquirer, plus a substantial fee for himself.

Has anybody offered an explanation for this odd series of payments? Why did the Enquirer sell the Woman #1 rights to Cohen in the first place, since buying them back with a tax gross-up made it much more expensive to them than just keeping the rights to the story? Why did they also buy Stormy Daniels’ NDA from him, again along with a tax gross-up? Why did they pay Cohen a big fixer fee for the trivial amount of work that he performed in buying and selling back the NDA rights? I haven’t yet thought of a good reason why they would do that. The plea agreement says that the buybacks were prearranged before the election, which could arguably be a campaign violation, rather than after the election, which certainly would not be a campaign contribution (although of course we have only Cohen’s word for that). But it never offers any purpose for the buybacks were arranged in the first place. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Catch-Up, 8/22/18: Manafort, Cohen, and Mollie” (#2)

Kudos to Michael Ejercito for flagging an excellent discussion of how election finance laws and the Cohen case intersect. He selected the key section that constitutes the bulk of his Comment of the Day, but by all means, read the whole piece at the link, including this:

The best interpretation of the law is that it simply is not a campaign expense to pay blackmail for things that happened years before one’s candidacy—and thus nothing Cohen (or, in this case, Trump, too) did is a campaign finance crime. But at a minimum, it is unclear whether paying blackmail to a mistress is “for the purpose of influencing an election,” and so must be paid with campaign funds, or a “personal use,” and so prohibited from being paid with campaign funds.

Normally, given this lack of clarity, we would not expect a prosecutor to charge those involved with a “knowing and willful” violation, which means a criminal charge with possible jail time. Typically, at most a civil fine for an unintentional violation would be the response. But prosecutors may be using a guilty plea from Cohen as a predicate for going after the bigger fish, and our simultaneously vague, sometimes contradictory, and incredibly complex campaign finance laws give them that opening.

Of course, it is unethical for prosecutors to use the law to “go after” any citizen, never mind an elected President.

Here is Michael’s Comment of the Day on the post, Morning Ethics Catch-Up, 8/22/18: Manafort, Cohen, and Mollie:

http://reason.com/archives/2018/08/23/trumps-campaign-finance-catch-22

“In the Cohen case, the prosecutors hung their hat on FECA’s definition of “contributions” and “expenditures” as anything spent or contributed “for the purpose of influencing any election.” That’s a pretty broad definition, and certainly it may have been thought that paying hush money to Trump’s old memories would “influence an election.” Thus, they argue, payment of the hush money was subject to limits on the size of contributions used to pay, could not include corporate funds, and had to be reported to the FEC.

“But there is another provision in the statute that prohibits a candidate from diverting campaign funds to “personal use.” “Personal use,” in turn, is defined as any expenditure “used to fulfill any commitment, obligation, or expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign.” These may not be paid with campaign funds, even if they are intended to influence the election. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/19/18: “Boy, Am I Sick Of This Stuff” Edition

Morning….

1. Once again, the Orwell Catch-22. Ethics Alarms has several times flagged the unconscionable use of the Orwellian ” If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’ in the news media and among the resistance as they try to demonize the President of the United States for insisting on basic principles of due process and legal procedure. (Here, for example.) How did the Left come to such a state where they embraced this unethical concept, which is totalitarian to the core, and the antithesis of liberal thought? It is pure corruption, and forces fair Americans to side with the President and his defenders whether they want to or not.

To get a sense of how insidious this trend is, read Jonathan Chait’s recent effort for New York Magazine. Chait isn’t an idiot, but he’s so biased that he often sounds like one, as in his ridiculously blind 2016 essay declaring that “The 2016 Election Is a Disaster Without a Moral.”

This time, he makes the argument that President Trump must be guilty of horrible crimes because various Trump allies have denied that Michael Cohen will “flip” on his client, meaning that he would testify against him. Lawyers can’t testify against their clients, even if they have knowledge of criminal activity. They can testify to client efforts to involve them in criminal activity prospectively, because requests for advice regarding illegal acts are not privileged. Chait, however, doesn’t observe this distinction: he is simply towing the ugly If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’ position that has been adopted, to their shame, by many left-leaning pundits and supposedly legitimate news organizations like the New York Times. Look at this section in Chait piece, for example: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, April 13, 2018: Past, Present, And Future

Happy Morning, everybody!

1. On the Future News front…The Michael Cohen raid has prompted a new outbreak of this particularly odious journalism and punditry trend: writing hysterically about what might happen. I spend so much time telling my wife that it is absurd and self-destructive to spend energy and emotion on dire “what if?” speculation, when sanity only reigns when we deal with what happens, when it happens, and not freak out because it might happen. Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer isn’t just for alcoholics, you know:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;courage to change the things I can;and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time;enjoy ing one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace…”

The news media, however, pummels us with dire future news to undermine serenity, create fear, encourage anxiety, distrust, panic and hysteria. All the better to undermine President Trump, after all.

MSNBC’s Joy Reid, for example, admittedly one of the worst of the worst, speculated about what might happen should the president refuse to allow himself to be arrested by federal marshals. Note that there is no evidence that there is anything to arrest him for, but never mind. This is Future News. “What if he refuses to open the White House door? What if he fires any Secret Service agent who would allow the federal marshals in? What if Donald Trump simply decides, ‘I don’t have to follow the law? I refuse to be held under the law. No marshal can get into this White House and any Secret Service agent who defies me is fired,'” she asked.

Today I am reading that Michael Cohen might have incriminating tapes of Donald Trump saying incriminating things. Yes, and he might have 12 toes and three nipples, too. Cohen apparently surreptitiously taped some of his conversations. Now, it is true that Cohen is a uniquely sleazy lawyer, but surreptitiously taping a client is a serious legal ethics breach that would pretty much end his career, not to mention his bar license, it it were proven. Never mind though: what if he taped Trump having sex with a marmot? What if he taped the President speaking Russian?

What might happen isn’t news. There are exceptions, but extensive concentration of speculation and projections, as with the Russian investigation coverage, is misleading and unethical journalism.

2. Incompetent prosecution to the rescue! For some reason, Bill Cosby’s prosecutors, allowed to choose from the more than 70 alleged victims of the serial sexual predator a representative five to show his  modus operandi that victimized Andrea Constand, chose Janice Dickinson, an aging ex-model, huckster, reality show star and publicity hound with the approximate trustworthiness and credibility of Stormy Daniels. Continue reading

Were AG Sessions’ Comments In Las Vegas Unethical?

Ethics Scout Fred points me to a little noted episode in the increasingly fraught existence of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and asks whether the AG’s comments crossed ethical lines.

Let’s see…

During a speech about two weeks ago in Las Vegas in which he called for harsher prosecution of criminals and cooperation from local authorities as the federal government cracks down on illegal immigration, Sessions segued to the Cliven Bundy prosecution, and said, cryptically, of Nevada Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre,

“I’ve got to tell you, it’s impressive when you have a tough case, a controversial case, and you’ve got the top guy leading the battle, going to court, standing up and defending the office and the principles of the law. I’m not taking sides or commenting on the case. Just want to say that leadership requires, a lot of times, our people to step up and be accountable.”

Supporters of the Bundy-led armed stand-off with federal authorities think that the Trump administration may sympathize with their anti-government stance, but Trump administration prosecutors are still seeking penalties for Bundy and his group.

Fred notes that “while Sessions is not responsible for how others take what he says, at least no more than any public speaker,  the effect of his remarks was to encourage lawbreakers,” based on the statement by Ashley Jones, a producer for radio show host Pete Santilli. Santili, a Bundy ally, is incarcerated pending trial in the case. Jones pronounced Sessions’ comments “a victory for us.”

Comments: Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Prosecuting Juliet In “Romeo And Juliet 2017”

Last month, on March 14, 11-year old Tysen Benz  read text messages saying that his 13-year-old girl friend had committed suicide. In apparent grief, the 11-year-old boy from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula hanged himself.  In reality, the girl had sent the fake news as a joke. Or as a cruel trick. Or because she was 13.

In the Shakespeare play, to fake her death Juliet took a sleeping potion that made her seem dead. (They didn’t have text messaging then.)

Now, if this was really “Romeo and Juliet,” Juliet would have killed herself too after learning that her boyfriend was dead. Instead,  she is facing criminal charges. Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese says that she is responsible for Tysen’s death, so he is charging her with malicious use of telecommunication service, punishable by up to six months in juvenile detention. He is also charging “Juliet” with using a computer to commit a crime, which carries a sentence of up to a year.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is this a fair, just and ethical prosecution?

Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Ex-US Attorney Preet Bharara

And a good thing, too…

Preet Bharara, until recently the United States Attorney’ for the Southern District of New York, was known as an aggressive, fearless, skilled prosecutor. He was also  increasingly a partisan one, as his  felony prosecution of Dinesh D’Souza, a vocal conservative critic of President Obama, showed. Despite the ridiculous and dishonest criticism of President Trump for firing Baharara, if there has ever been a President with good cause not to trust holdovers from the previous administration, it is Donald Trump.

The last Holder/Lynch Justice Department employee he trusted was Sally Yates, and she breached her ethical and professional duties by going rogue, and not just rogue, but partisan rogue. Baharara,who referred to himself as a “completely independent” prosecutor, was such a good bet to go rogue that it would have been negligent for Trump not to fire him. Democrats in and out of government are suddenly dedicated to defying and bringing down our governmental institutions, notable the Presidency. They can’t be trusted. Even if it wasn’t  the usual course to sack the previous administration’s US Attorneys—though it is—  there was every reason for this President to sack these prosecutors.

And, nicely enough, Bharara proved that Trump was right by grandstanding on his way out the door.

Asked to resign along with his colleagues, Bharara refused, and Trump fired him  Glenn Reynolds calls the refusal to resign childish, but it was more that. It was a breach of professional ethics, and akin to Yates’ stunt.  Bharara is a government lawyer, meaning that he represents the government’s interests as his supervisors define them. If he doesn’t like their priorities, his option is to resign—not defy them until he is fired, but resign.  United States Attorneys “serve at the pleasure of the President” and that’s a term of art.  The prosecution of crimes, including the decision regarding which crimes to prosecute and which crimes not to prosecute, is made at the discretion of the Executive Branch, which is headed by the President. If, for example, Bharara felt that Obama’s executive order declaring  that illegal immigrants who hadn’t committed serious crimes were henceforth to be treated as if they were legal immigrants rather than illegal ones was unconstitutional, which it is, his option would have been to resign, not give a press conference, a la Yates, declaring his opposition to the new policy. Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: The California State Legislature And Gov. Jerry Brown

governor-brown

Usually, when Ethics Alarms headlines California’s lawmakers, it is because they have done something irresponsible, like in this postthis one,  and my personal favorite, this one, in which Governor Jerry Brown signed a minimum wage law that he admitted might not make economic sense, because it was consistent with partisan fantasies.

But a blind pig might find a truffle, every dog has its day, and even a stopped clock is right occasionally. California just passed a desperately needed law that no other state has had the courage to pass. Its purpose: take serious measures to stop prosecutorial misconduct that sends innocent people to jail, a problem that is rampant everywhere in the U.S., but particularly bad in the Golden State.

Brown just signed into law a new statute making it a felony for prosecutors to alter or intentionally withhold evidence that could be used to exonerate defendants. Violators could be sentenced to up to three years in prison. That’s not nearly enough punishment when the crime often robs innocent citizens of decades of their lives, but it sends an important, and one hopes an effective, warning…with teeth. Continue reading