When Ethics Alarms Not Only Don’t Ring, But Signal That They Might Not Have Ever Been Operable: PolitiFact Reveals Its Incompetence And Untrustworthiness Beyond All Reasonable Doubt

This is fortuitous timing! Yesterday Ethics Alarms praised a fact-check job by a supposedly non-partisan media bias watchdog site that critiqued Factcheck.Org’s analysis of the State of The Union. Today Bryan W. White informed us that the site in question favors PolitiFact, the vastly inferior factcheck site operated by the Tampa Bay Times. It is demonstrably one of the most left-biased and untrustworthy of all the fact-checking services. Bryan is a reliable authority on PolitiFact, having documented its partisan and dishonest work for years, and as co-creater of the PolitiFact Bias blog, for which he is the main writer.

Just in case there was any doubt about just how devoid of the necessary integrity and competence PolitiFact is for its mission, yesterday it announced that former Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson had been hired to critique PolitiFact and enhance its trust and credibility. Alan Grayson.

KABOOM!*

The same Alan Grayson who sent a complaint to then U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to prosecute a Republican activist  for starting an anti-Grayson parody website www.mycongressmanisnuts,com, mocking  Grayson’s typically hyperbolic site, http://www.congressmanwithguts.com,  suggesting  to Holder that Langley should be imprisoned for five years.  Now there’s respect for the First Amendment for you! What a perfect ally for a non-partisan media fact-checking operation, right?

Alan Grayson, the same politician I wrote this about in 20o9…

“Grayson is the Congressman whose explanation of the GOP position on health care was that “they want you to die.” He said that Dick Cheney speaks with “blood dripping from his teeth.” His mode of debate and persuasion, in other words, is insult and hyperbole. Respect for opposing views: zilch. Civility grade: F… He has endorsed unethical rules and plays by them…Grayson’s actions once again confirm a reliable rule of human nature: individuals who are habitually uncivil do not merely have a bad habit or poor self-control. They lack humility as well as basic respect and fairness toward others. The common, often uncivil but sometimes accurate  term for individuals like  Rep. Grayson is “jerk.”

and this in 2010… Continue reading

Rep. Alan Grayson, Incivility, Predicting Unethical Conduct…and Donald Trump

Grayson

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fl.) is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for serious ethics violations. This was pre-ordained by the proclivities he has shown throughout his political career. In his case, the primary tell is his complete lack of civility, which is symptomatic of a crucial respect deficit. Those who do not regard displaying respect for colleagues, fellow citizens, political adversaries and, more broadly, societal standards of fairness and decency as an important behavioral mandate cannot be trusted to respect any other ethical values either. Occasionally one will find someone who deals in insults and personal denigration who is otherwise ethical, just as one will occasionally encounter a baby goat with two heads, but it is rare indeed. If you go through life avoiding uncivil, verbally abusive people like the plague (indeed, such people carry the plague of de-civilization) you will not miss out on very many good companions, and you will spare yourself a lot of misery as well the danger of personal corruption.

Grayson is without question the most uncivil, rudest, least professional member of Congress. I was amused to find that I had mentioned him in a post from 2010 about how many ethics scandals were predictable, given the past conduct of their principle actors. Once Tom DeLay was out of Congress, Alan Grayson was easily the most likely candidate for a scandal, because the man has no ethics alarms. In my very first post about Grayson, I wrote (in 2009),

“Grayson is the Congressman whose explanation of the GOP position on health care was that “they want you to die.” He said that Dick Cheney speaks with “blood dripping from his teeth.” His mode of debate and persuasion, in other words, is insult and hyperbole. Respect for opposing views: zilch. Civility grade: F… He has endorsed unethical rules and plays by them…”

That post was about Grayson trying to get the Justice Department to shut down a website that mocked him. Yes, he doesn’t believe in freedom of speech, either, when he is the target of insults rather than the generator of them.

All of which led me to react with a smile and a yawn when it was revealed that the disgusting congressman, now running for the U.S. Senate–Sure! Why not?—has been secretly moonlighting as a hedge fund manager. It sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit: “By day, a Wall Street-bashing, 1% hating, populist Democratic Congressman! By night, a wheeling and dealing hedge-fund manager!”

Do I need to explain why this is a slam-dunk conflict of interest with the appearance of impropriety? I don’t think so. It also smells of insider trading and using information privy to elected officials for personal gain. On the other side, he used his position as a U.S. House of Representatives member to attract clients.

From the New York Times (it’s me breaking in a couple of  times): Continue reading

“Negative Polarization,” Bigotry, And…Hillary

destroying America

Today in the Times, last week, and over the weekend, there were numerous essays (like this onethis and this) about a recent study that examined the growing phenomenon I have previously written about here and here. The paper’s authors, Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, use the term “negative polarization,” but what they are describing is really a kind of bigotry, citizens making important democratic decisions purely on the basis of conditioned hatred and dislike based on gross generalizations about political parties and their supporters rather than dispassionate analysis and independent consideration.

Their conclusion isn’t original; it’s not even surprising. It closely follows last year’s study out of Stanford reaching the same conclusion. Americans increasingly demonize one party or the other and all their representatives and members, thus automatically rejecting policy initiatives, arguments and positions not because of their content, but based on their origins and the identity of their supporters—pure, blind cognitive dissonance. As a result, they will choose candidates and policies irrespective of any rational analysis, based solely on the assumption that the opposing candidate and policy come from a vile and intolerable source.

These studies indicate that Americans now discriminate more on the basis of party than on race, gender or any of the other great divides— and that discrimination extends beyond politics into personal relationships and non-political associations. Americans increasingly live in neighborhoods with like-minded partisans, date and marry fellow partisans and disapprove of their children partying with members of the other party. They are, the data says, more likely to choose partners based on partisanship than physical beauty or personality.

The Stanford study concludes (the Emory study concludes similarly),

“Unlike race, gender and other social divides where group-related attitudes and behaviors are constrained by social norms, there are no corresponding pressures to temper disapproval of political opponents. If anything, the rhetoric and actions of political leaders demonstrate that hostility directed at the opposition is acceptable, even appropriate. Partisans therefore feel free to express animus and engage in discriminatory behavior toward opposing partisans.”

Naturally, this has set off the usual round of finger-pointing by pundits and the media, which itself shares much of the blame. I know who and what have seeded these dragon’s teeth, and the list is long, beginning with Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levine, Bill Press, the Clintons, Lanny Davis, Matt Lauer, Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, the idiots who made out Florida’s 2000 ballot, Al Gore, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Paul Begala, Jerry Falwell, Mary Matalin, James Carville, David Axelrod, Chris Matthews, Ted Cruz, the Congressional Black Caucus, Fox News, Donald Trump, Truthers, Birthers, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, MSNBC, Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, Eric Holder, the New York Times editorial board, Charles Blow, the Daily Kos, David Brock and Media Matters, Move-On, Breitbart, Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, Pat Robertson, Harry Reid, Tom DeLay, Nancy Pelosi, the Tea Party, Michael Savage, Salon, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and many others, a majority of whom made a conscious decision to exacerbate the divisions in our nation for their own gains in power, influence and wealth. Continue reading

GlaxonSmithKline Inspires a Fun Game For Your Holiday Party: “Forcast That Ethics Scandal!”

Almost all ethics scandals and examples of outrageous unethical conduct are thoroughly predictable, whether they involve individual, organizations or institutions. The most obvious proof of this is in politics. Once we consider past patterns, current conditions, institutional habits and what we know about human nature, the question when a new political party takes over isn’t whether there will be instances of bribery, influence peddling, self-enrichment, and conflict of interest, but only which elected leaders will be caught at it. Sometimes even that part is easy: everyone should have been able to guess, long before they occurred, that Tom DeLay’s ethics-free philosophy of politics as warfare would lead him to commit serious misdeeds, just as the odds against former Florida Rep. Alan Grayson running a fair or civil campaign for re-election were prohibitively high. Similarly, sports scandals can usually be seen coming a long way off. Once New England Patriots coach Bill Belichik was caught making surreptitious videos of his team’s opponents’ practices, it was easy to guess that he wasn’t the only one, and that since both he and his team were so successful, it would be only a matter of time before a similar incident came to light. And it did, last week.

As I look through various Ethics Alarms posts, it is striking how many of them could have been written in advance, in fill-in-the-blank format. All you need to do is identify an industry with a history of ethics problems, a weak ethics culture, a trusting, under-informed audience, the potential for increased profit, power or influence, and a large population of corruptible, lazy, incompetent, venal, ambitious or cowardly allies. I’m sure a computer program could be developed, but for this holiday season, why not forecast next year’s ethics scandals as a party game? Challenge your guests: Which TV reality show will be shown to have completely manipulated “reality”? Which revered sports figure will be disgraced in a sex or drug scandal? Which Wall Street firm will be caught violating the “sacred principles” posted on its website? Which school will suspend or expel a student for violating the letter of an overly broad and horribly-written rule without actually doing anything wrong? Which universally accepted scientific research will turn out to be the result of manipulated data? Which embarrassments of the Obama Administration will only be reported by Fox News, and which outrages committed by Republicans will the same network ignore?

And, of course, where will TSA employees put their hands next?

This occurred to me as I read about the recent Big Pharma-manipulating-medical-practice scandal, involving drug giant GlaxonSmithKline, while slapping my forehead and shouting, “Of course! This was the logical next step!” Continue reading

Schemes, Slander and Deception: The Most Unethical Maneuvers of Campaign 2010

Well, I have to admit they were creative. And despicable.

2010’s most unethical maneuvers ran the gamut from lying to zombie exploitation, from false identity to extortion. Unfortunately, most of the worst stunts were pulled by or on behalf of Democrats; I say unfortunately because I try awfully hard to keep these kinds of lists in partisan balance. But the Democrats and their progressive fans were especially slimy this time around, and it it figures. When the going gets tough, the tough get unethical, and it is the Democrats who are facing ballot box carnage. They have been pushing the envelope, to say the least, in their campaign tactics, and I think it probably made their situation more dire rather than less.

Here, in reverse order of ethical outrageousness, are the Ten Most Unethical Maneuvers of Campaign 2010: Continue reading

Ethics Alarms and ProEthics Presents “The Untrustworthy 20”: Making Ethics the Priority in Election 2010

The key word, in ethics, in government, in all relationships that matter, is trust. Trust is the connective tissue that holds societies together: it can be strengthened by demonstrations of ethical values like integrity, loyalty, honesty, civility, responsibility, competence, and courage, and weakened by proof of unethical traits like fecklessness, dishonesty, lack of independent judgment, selfishness, lack of diligence, greed and cowardice. For decades, the American public’s trust in its elected representatives and governmental institutions—and other critical institutions like the news media and the legal system—has been in steep decline. This is not because of some inexplicable public fad or the poisoning of public perceptions by an unholy alliance of the pop culture and Fox news. The decline in trust has occurred because a significant proportion of America’s elected leaders have not been trustworthy, and the reason this has been true is that American voters have thus far refused to make proof of ethical values their main priority in electing them. Because politicians know this, they feel empowered to engage in corruption, self-enrichment and deception in the confidence that partisan supporters will vote for them anyway, as long as they mouth the same policy positions and deliver their quota of pork, earmarks, and government contracts.

This, of course, does not benefit of  country in the long run, but weakens it. It also creates an increasingly arrogant and power-obsessed political class to which ethical values are like Halloween costumes, donned at regular intervals to disguise who they really are. The core principles of the democratic process do not matter to many of these people, and they don’t see why they should matter: witness House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s refusal to debate her opponent because she knows she can win easily without giving her constituents a fair chance to compare the competing candidates. For most voters, over all, this approach still works, at least at the polls, so obviously untrustworthy officials continue to be elected, and by their conduct continue to destroy public trust.

I was discussing this issue at recent seminar in regard to the candidacy of Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Attorney General who is running for the state’s U.S. Senate seat. Blumenthal, to be blunt, is a proven liar and fraud on a grand scale. He intentionally misled the public for years about his military record, and assumed the false mantle of a combat veteran. When his deception was uncovered, he refused to be accountable, absurdly casting the repeated lies about his own past as mere slips of the tongue. Yet a Connecticut citizen at my table proclaimed that he “didn’t care;” that Blumenthal’s policies were what mattered, not his ethics. This is an astoundingly illogical mindset, but a common one. Power tends to tempt and corrupt individuals who have scruples and integrity: what is it likely to produce with an elected official that has neither integrity nor scruples to begin with? If we elect representatives who are untrustworthy, we are likely to be betrayed sooner or later, one way or the other. Worse, we send the message to future candidates, both in and out of office, that integrity and honesty don’t matter to voters, like my Connecticut friend. We thus get more untrustworthy candidates, more untrustworthy representatives, and constantly declining public trust in government on all levels.

Public trust cannot keep declining indefinitely, you know. Eventually, a government that cannot be trusted will collapse.

Just as addressing America’s fiscal crisis will take hard measures and sacrifice, addressing its equally dangerous crisis in trust requires sacrifice too. It will require voters to establish the principle that being “effective,” experienced or having the “right” policy positions will not be enough to justify electing or re-electing individuals who are demonstrably trustworthy. Voters must establish  untrustworthiness as absolutely disqualifying a candidate for election to public office. Any ethical, honest candidate with integrity must be seen as per se preferable to a corrupt, dishonest or unethical candidate, regardless of past achievements or policy views.

To this end, Ethics Alarms presents its list of the least trustworthy candidates for national office in the upcoming election. For reasons of space and convenience, it is limited to twenty members, which is obviously and sadly far too few: in the more than 500 races for Congress, the U.S. Senate and governorships nation-wide, the number of untrustworthy candidates undoubtedly numbers in the hundreds. This list is illustrative, not inclusive, but it is my assessment of the worst of the worst.

What makes a candidate so untrustworthy that he or she deserves to be rejected no matter who the opposition may be? This is what I like to call the “Lawn Chair Principle,” when electing a lawn chair is preferable to electing the human alternative. Let’s begin with what doesn’t justify determining that a candidate is necessarily untrustworthy: Continue reading