Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/7/ 2018: Murder, Fake Journalism, Hatch Act Games, And California Defiance

Good Morning!

1  “A Murder in the Park.” The 2014 documentary about how the Northwestern University “Innocence Project” freed a guilty murderer hours before his execution and framed an innocent man who was eventually exonerated is now available on Netflix. I wrote about the case, which had the unanticipated consequence of causing Illinois to ban the death penalty, in 2014. Then I concentrated on how badly the whole mess reflected on the justice system. As I watched the documentary last night, however, what struck me was the self-satisfied smugness and certitude of the journalism students who participated in selective investigation, advocacy instead of objective reporting, manipulation of witnesses, cause driven conclusions and more. The documentary shows us why journalism has become whatever it can be called now–certainly not journalism. Northwestern has one of the elite journalism schools in the nation, and David Protess, then the professor who ran “The Innocence Project,” was teaching students that corrupt journalism was honorable. Protess at the time was perhaps the most praised journalism teacher in the nation. It seems that he was less the exception than the rule.

2. Real discipline would be nice for a change. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) informed the Trump yesterday that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act twice.  The  findings were referred to President Trump “for appropriate disciplinary action.” The White House promptly denied the charges, so we should assume that Kelly won’t be disciplined at all.

The Hatch Act allows federal employees to express their views about candidates and political issues as private citizens, but forbids them from using their official government positions try to influence elections. Of course Conway violated the Act. On Fox and CNN, she made it clear that voters in Alabama should reject Democrat Doug Jones. The White House ludicrously claims that Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate. Nah…she just told Fox viewers last November,

“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime, weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners.”

On CNN,  she said in part,
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The Unethical Face Of Martin Shkreli

Smirk

The face above belongs to Martin Shkreli, who was subpoenaed to testify before Congress over  last September’s decision as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals to raise the price for Daraprim, an antiparasitic commonly used to treat HIV patients, from $13.50 to $750 a pill. Shkreli bought the 60-year-old drug from Impax Laboratories in August for $55 million and swiftly raised its price. Three months later he stepped down from that position in December following his arrest on securities fraud charges. He is now free  on $5 million bail.

He is probably the less able to justify that face above, which he displayed to the elected representatives of the United States of America  on earth while refusing to testify, repeatedly citing his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. Nobody could justify that face, of course; not a ten year old brat, and definitely not a greedy, narcissist corporate executive and predator. In a setting where he should be humble and remorseful, he was defiant and disrespectful. The face is an affront to the entire nation and everyone in it. Continue reading

Assessing The Clinton Testimony On Benghazi

Hillary testifies

In the end, we either learned something worth learning, or we didn’t. It comes down to how important one thinks it is to know that your government lies to you, and to know that a party’s Presidential candidate is a liar as well.

Early in the questioning yesterday, Hillary Clinton was confronted with previously unrevealed e-mails showing that within hours of the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, she emailed her daughter, Chelsea, and said that Americans had died at the hands of “an al-Qaeda like group.”   Clinton also informed Egypt’s prime minister and Libya’s president that the attacks were “preplanned” and “had nothing to do with” an anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube.

Days later, Clinton told the American public and families of the Benghazi victims that a YouTube video incited protesters in Benghazi and spontaneously launched assaults.

Why had the e-mails not been unavailable earlier? Well, they were sent via that private server that Clinton set up and used for official government business when she was Secretary of State. They were not originally turned over in response to public records requests and subpoenas, because that’s what the private server was designed for in the first place: to provide protection for Clinton and e-mails that might cause political embarrassment or worse.

Am I being unfair so far? If you think so, wait for the next post. You’re hopeless. The Benghazi committee discovered the existence of Clinton’s private server last year. Was that important information worth knowing? Again, if you don’t think so, do not pass GO. You are corrupted by bias.

The e-mails showed… Continue reading

Well, I Think We Can See Where THIS is Headed: Ethics Observations On The First Hour Of Hillary Clinton’s Appearance Before The Benghazi Committee

Benghazi hearings

1. Last night I watched “All The President’s Men,” and found it newly chilling, and disturbingly relevant. At the end of the film, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards , Jr.) is talking to Woodward and Bernstein—outside his house, because they think it might be bugged—after Woodward has told him that the Watergate cover-up was being orchestrated from the White House (according to Deep Throat). Bradlee says:

“You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up… 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m going to get mad. Goodnight.”

After more revelations from the Post’s investigative reporters, (and after the action of the movie ends), the Senate began its hearings led by Democratic Senator Sam Ervin. His Republican counterpart, Tennessee Senator Howard Baker, didn’t make speeches about partisan witch hunts (though that was the Nixon White House’s tactic) nor did he denigrate the investigation, nor did he act as a impediment to the process, or waste time gushing over every Republican witness. He did his job in a competent, cooperative, non-partisan manner and sought the truth.  Even then, it took a long time to get to it.

At issue was the fact that the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence community appeared to be part of the conspiracy. The attorney general and his predecessor, John Mitchell, were poisonously partisan and refusing to investigate the unfolding scandal. The FBI and the intelligence community could not be trusted; former CIA agents had participated in the Watergate burglary. In the absence of an executive branch that could be trusted to investigate itself and be held to account, the legislative branch, aided by the judiciary, had a solemn obligation to do the job. Fortunately, it did. This was only possible, however, because Republicans didn’t attempt to aide in the cover-up and obstruct the search for justice.

2. Such bi-partisan dedication to the nation over politics was also more possible, not to say it was easy, because Richard Nixon was never popular. He had won a landslide re-election only because the Democratic candidate was far left of the nation (he’d be a conservative to many of today’s Democrats), and obviously unqualified. Barack Obama, in contrast, is unbreakably popular with almost 15% of the population, a key Democratic constituency, due to group identification and little else. This has been sufficient to eviscerate any integrity among Democrats regarding the Benghazi hearings and a lot more.

3. The reason the hearings have dragged out so long, as Chairman Trey Gowdy laid out in prosecutorial fashion in his opening statement, is that the Obama Administration, like the Nixon administration, has been stonewalling, delaying and obstructing justice. The contentious issue of Hillary’s e-mails explains why this is true. The fact that Clinton’s e-mails were hidden on a private server made them unavailable to the investigation, and yet without them, the investigation couldn’t be complete. Why didn’t the State Department make this known before 2015? Why has it dragged its metaphorical feet in producing them so egregiously that a judge had to order it to comply? Why didn’t Clinton comply with a committee subpoena. and why did she destroy “personal” e-mails she knew would be requested before they could be examined by anyone not in her employ? If it looks like a cover-up and quacks like a cover-up, it might well be a cover-up. The committee has a duty to the American public to find out what’s going on. Gowdy also said the the public deserves the truth. Why did Clinton and Obama, as well as their designated liar Susan Rice, continue to tell the news media, the public and even the U.N. that the Benghazi attack was a spontaneous uprising sparked by a YouTube video when all the evidence indicated that it wasn’t, including the CIA analysis? It’s obvious why, of course: Obama was running for re-election, so the Administration set out to deceive the public. That alone is worth proving, and if it takes a House investigation to do it, fine. We need to know when the country is being run by liars who set out to manipulate elections. No, what Obama did in this instance isn’t on the same level as Watergate. It would still warrant impeachment, however. Continue reading

KABOOM! or Unethical Quote of The Month? You Decide…I Can’t, Because My Head Just Exploded All Over The Christmas Tree

merry_bloody_christmas

“I actually think that it’s probably in its day-to-day interactions less racially divided.”

—President Obama on National Public Radio, giving his assessment of race relations in the U.S. today compared to when he was elected in 2008.

It’s kind of pretty, really.

That explosion (see Kaboom!) was based—I’m guessing now, since I don’t control when my brain blows—-on my shock that the President actually could be President and believe that, as well as not be aware how deluded he appears to assert such something so contrary to evident reality. Is he really that estranged from what is happening in the country he leads? Frightening. Is he really incapable of comprehending the single biggest, most damaging, most unexpected and most dangerous failing of his entire administration? Pathetic. Does he not watch TV? Read blogs? Does he exist in a separate, narcissist parallel reality where everything is as he wills it to be? Wow.

I know that the networks he watches and the newspapers he reads didn’t report them for the most part, but every poll shows that the public overwhelmingly believes that race relations have worsened. You can dispute the value and accuracy of polls with considerable justification, but these are the kinds of polls most likely to be accurate. How plausible is it that race relations, defined as how the races feel about each other and how they are getting along, could improve with the public believing they have worsened? Here’s polls from Pew, Gallup (“The percentage of Americans naming “race relations” or “racism” as the most important problem in the U.S. has climbed dramatically to 13%, the highest figure Gallup has recorded since a finding of 15% in 1992, in the midst of the Rodney King verdict.”), NBC, IDB ( “By an almost 3-1 margin, Americans say race relations have worsened under the man who was supposed to usher in a golden era of “post-racial” relations.”), Bloomberg, and Politico, and there are many others, all with the same message. Moreover, all of them were taken before the ‘killer racist cops ‘ campaign by Sharpton  and his cohorts culminated in the assassination of two police officers by a deranged African American seeking to take “two of theirs for one of ours.” Let’s see a show of hands: how many think race relations have improved in the last two weeks?

Other than the President, that is. Continue reading

Congratulations, Race-Baiters!

Stamp-Mission-Accomplished

On “Face the Nation” this Sunday, host Bob Schieffer mentioned to guest Elijah Cummings (D-MD) that it was being reported that many African-Americans are worried the Secret Service would better protect a white president. “Eighty-five percent of all African-Americans that come to me mention what you just said, Cummings replied, “and I don’t agree with it.”

Well, that’s mighty big of the Congressman. He has been one of the many black elected officials who have periodically claimed that criticism of the President stems from a race-based hatred unrelated to his performance or policies. A responsible black leader would have said, not “I disagree” as if this was a matter for rational debate, but rather, “This is obviously unfair and untrue.”

I think the Congressman should have said, to be completely candid, something like this:

Eighty-five percent of all African-Americans that come to me mention what you just said,and I must say, Bob, I think Democrats, liberal pundits, Hollywood, the civil rights establishment, activists and many others like Chris Matthews—all of MSNBC, really—Bill Maher and Eric Holder, should pause to pat themselves on the back. After all, handed a shining opportunity to ease the tensions of racism with the election of a black President, we’ve managed against all odds to convert the majority of the U.S. African-American population into a paranoid, racist, fearful, whites-hating bloc that we should be able to keep voting Democratic for decades, while we convince the growing Hispanic-American population that whites hate them too. Of course, we have to appreciate the efforts of the media in painting that Trayvon Martin tragedy as a mad racist shooting  harmless child for “walking while black”—that helped a lot.

Luckily, whites don’t attribute all of the endless screw-ups of government agencies under the supervision of this black President to his hatred of them, or we might really have a race problem in this country. But that would be racist, anyway.  Actually, we could use that.”

 

 

Unethical Quote of the Week: Rep. Elijah Cummings

“Mr. Chairman…This has been very interesting because one member on your side, the gentleman, I don’t know his name, said that the man was under investigation…”

—-Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md), ranking Democrat on theHouse Oversight and Government Reform Committee  revealing that he hasn’t bothered to learn the names of his own committee’s members.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, through the eyes of Rep. Cummings.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, through the eyes of Rep. Cummings.

The dysfunction in Washington, D.C., and particularly in Congress, could not have a better or more discouraging  illustration than this. You can argue that not knowing the names of your colleagues is no big deal, but it is. It is proof of a lack of interest in cooperation and collegial relations. It is evidence of the absence of basic civility and respect. It demonstrates that Cummings is not interested in contributing to the mission and objectives of the committee, but rather obstructing them.

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Ethics Hero Emeritus: Senator Howard Baker (1925-2014)

Howard_Baker

Howard H. Baker Jr., a three-term Tennessee Senator whose trademarks were integrity, honesty, and a refusal to allow partisanship get in the way of what he believed was the right thing to do, died today.  The Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky,  called him “one of the Senate’s most towering figures.” How ironic, or perhaps just insincere. If McConnell understood and admired the qualities that made Baker “towering” he couldn’t possibly be the divisive, petty, ultra-partisan hack that he is. Then again, comparing Baker’s career and character to the scrimy, petty, self-centered and ethics-challenged dwarves that make up all of McConnell’s colleagues  in both Houses and on both sides of the aisle reveals such an obvious disparity that even the sorry likes of McConnell couldn’t deny it.

Howard Baker stands especially tall in my memory as I watch the disgraceful conduct of House Democrats, doing all they could to derail the I.R.S scandal hearings and to prevent the uncovering of facts surrounding the executive branch’s abuse of power, because they have chosen political loyalty and expediency over transparency, fairness, duty to country, and trust. Contrast this horror show with the principled stance of Baker during Watergate, seeking uncomfortable truths rather than throwing obstacles in the way of efforts to uncover them, treating abuse of power and attempted cover-ups from his own party’s President as he would the same from a Democrat, asking the famous question, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” Continue reading

Is It Possible That The Democratic Party Is As Corrupt As Its Conduct In The I.R.S. Investigation Suggests?

Corleone testifiesThis began as an Ethics Dunce post, but designating Congressional Democrats as ethics dunces for their current, apparently agreed upon and coordinated response to the disgraceful I.R.S. scandal—and it is a scandal—appears far more sinister than that. This appears to be a cover-up, and a particularly blatant, clumsy and desperate one, as well as a sickening display of a major political party abandoning its principals and constituency—meaning the American people and not donors, sycophants or “the base”—to impede an effort to get to the truth.

Here’s Post columnist Michael Gerson’s fair summary of the I.R.S. affair to date:

“To review: After President Obama blamed “two Dilberts in Cincinnati,” an inspector general’s report found that high-level IRS officials in Washington were involved in directing additional scrutiny toward tea party groups seeking tax exemptions. [I.R.S. official Lois]Lerner admitted as much, before taking the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before the House oversight committee. The House of Representatives held her in contempt. And now the evidence of possible communications between Lerner and other agencies (including the White House) has gone missing under suspicious circumstances. It could be a regrettable series of rogue operations, IRS management failures and technical glitches. Or they could be taking us for fools. If there was any political motivation for this abuse of power, it is a form of corruption — the kind of thing Americans like to criticize in countries they regard as less developed. And the circumstantial evidence is strong. This wave of heightened IRS scrutiny came after Democratic senators, warning of possible abuses spawned by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, demanded additional IRS scrutiny of nonprofit political groups. Because evidence of political influence is both plausible and circumstantial, a special counsel is needed to sort out the truth.”

The summary, in an accurate article titled “An arrogant and lawless I.R.S..” doesn’t include the fact that nobody has been disciplined or held accountable in any way for what occurred, including any of the imaginary scapegoats in the Cincinnati office. It doesn’t note that I.R.S. Commissioner Koskinen delayed informing Congress of the lost e-mails for months, after assuring members, under oath, that they would be provided. Yesterday, Koskinen stooped to Bill Clinton levels of deceitful parsing, arguing that when he swore to Congress that he would deliver all e-mails, he meant only all the e-mails that existed, since he couldn’t deliver those that no longer existed. Why didn’t he mention that those key Lerner e-mails had vanished? He wasn’t asked! Meanwhile, a government archivist testified yesterday that not informing Congress that the e-mails had been lost indeed violated a federal statute. Also yesterday, the I.R.S. admitted that it illegally played politics in 2012, leaking confidential tax information from an anti-gay marriage group to the pro-marriage Human Rights Campaign. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Day: Ken White at Popehat

File photo of U.S. Director of Exempt Organizations for the IRS Lerner being sworn in to testify before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington

“Pardon me: if you accept the proposition that the government targets organizations for IRS scrutiny because of their political views, and you still say things like ‘why take the Fifth if you have nothing to hide’, then you’re either an idiot or a dishonest partisan hack.”

—-Attorney-blogger Ken White, discussing former IRS official Lois Lerner’s refusal to testify in front of Rep. Daryl Issa’s House Government Oversight Committee

Good point.

Elaborating on the point before this statement, Ken points out why this is so:

“You take the Fifth because the government can’t be trusted. You take the Fifth because what the truth is, and what the government thinks the truth is, are two very different things. You take the Fifth because even if you didn’t do anything wrong your statements can be used as building blocks in dishonest, or malicious, or politically motivated prosecutions against you. You take the Fifth because if you answer questions truthfully the government may still decide you are lying and prosecute you for lying.”

Got it. Or, you take the Fifth because you really did engage in illegal activity in a coordinated effort to obstruct legal political action for partisan motives, on orders from someone with close ties to the White House, which still may be the case.

In the same post, Ken explains that Lerner may have waived her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, or may not. If she has, then she is in contempt of Congress. If she hasn’t, she isn’t.

My observations on this slow-motion ethics train wreck: Continue reading