Law vs. Ethics, The Cynical “War on Women,” And Stacking The Deck for Hillary

Let me begin by reprinting, in its entirety, a post from the earliest days of Ethics Alarms, one then titled, The Difference Between Law and Ethics:

In the instructive category of “Lawsuits that demonstrate the distinction between law and ethics,” we have the Massachusetts case of Conley v. Romeri.

Ms. Conley met Mr. Romeri when they were both in their 40s and divorced. As romance beckoned, Ms. Conley told her swain that she was childless, and wanted to begin a family before her biological clock struck midnight. The defendant, who had sired four children already, told her “not to worry.” He had seen a fortune-teller who had predicted that he would increase his number of children from four to six.

That held Ms. Conley for seven months. Then he told her that he had been vasectomized years ago.

Ms. Conley sued the bastard, claiming that her now ex-boyfriend had fraudulently misled her into believing he could father little Conleys in order to prolong the relationship, and that his actions had thrown her into emotional distress and depression.

Let us pause here and say that Mr. Romeri is a cur. Knowing that Ms. Conley was desperate for children and running out of time, he nonetheless deceived her for his own purposes, costing her perhaps her only chance to have the family she desired. For the fans of Bill Clinton out there, he was also clearly adept at Clintonesque deceit: he said “don’t worry” about having children, not that he was capable of creating them; he said a fortune- teller has assured him that he would have more kids, but never said her prediction was plausible. Mr. Romeri, like millions of deceitful people before him, probably doesn’t think he really lied. But of course he did.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court, however, found that while Mr. Romeri may have behaved abominably, it was not the place of the law to punish him.

Such claims, the judges said,

“…arise from conduct so intensely private that the courts should not be asked to resolve them….It does not lie within the power of any judicial system to remedy all human wrongs. Many wrongs which in themselves are flagrant–ingratitude, avarice, broken faith, brutal words and heartless disregard–are beyond any effective remedy.”

Our hearts go out to Ms. Conley. But the law will never succeed in making people be honest, caring, and fair. Only we can do that by creating a society in which boys grow to manhood knowing that behavior like Mr. Romeri’s is wrong, and at the same time, a society where women take responsibility for their own welfare, without seeking government remedies for every challenge.

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Reading this post again, and watching the (I think) overtly cynical and political effort by Democrats and the Obama Administration to increase the weight of the already heavy hand of the law in matters involving problems that are unique to or that disproportionately affect women, I think the importance of Conley v. Romeri extends beyond the original reason I posted it. Among other things, the case stands for the proposition that the government need not and should not treat women as if they are helpless against adversity, and must be accorded special privileges and protection Continue reading

Joe Scarborough, Sarah Palin, and “No Labels”

Joe Scarborough, the former Florida congressman and as host of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, the token conservative on MSNBC, is a participant in the launching of “No Labels” on December 13 at Columbia University in New York. He will be joined by such political glitterati as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Sen. Joe Lieberman, (I-Conn.), former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn), Los Angeles’s Democratic Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Sen. Deb Stabenow (D-Mich.) and others.
“No Labels” is a primarily centrist-Democrat call for civility in politics, that according to its “Declaration,” written by Mark McKinnon (a former media advisor to George W. Bush in 2000 and Sen. John McCain in 2008, who appears to be a paid consultant rather than a participant), is dedicated to countering partisan deadlock with reason and cooperation.

“We are not labels, we are people,” the screed says.”We believe hyper-partisanship is destroying our politics and paralyzing our ability to govern… We may disagree on issues, but we do so with civility and mutual respect….We have a crisis of governance – a crisis that compels us to work together to move America forward… We must put our labels aside, and put the issues and what’s best for the nation first.”

In preparation for the “No Labels” debut, Scarborough wrote a column for Politico, in which he warned Republicans to stop Sarah Palin before it was too late. In it, he variously described Palin as “anti-intellectual,” “maniacal,” “a reality star,” and “ignorant.” Would it be fair to label  “Morning Joe” as “a hypocrite”?

Continue reading

The Kardashian Kard Saga: Proof That We Are Doomed?

In “Terminator II,” there is  a scene in which young John Connor–desperately trying, along with his mother and the android killing machine sent from the future to protect the boy, to prevent the apocalyptic future that waits for him—sees young children gleefully pretending to murder each other with toy guns.  “We’re not going to make it, are we?” he asks the Terminator. “People, I mean.” The fact that a bank has chosen the Trashy Kardashian Sisters to promote a credit card aimed at teenagers prompts approximately the same sense of futility. At a time of crisis in which our culture that desperately needs to encourage responsible fiscal conduct led by financial institutions we can trust, this is what we get.

We’re doomed. 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

How Partisanship Corrupts Us All At Election Time

The upcoming election, among other horrible things, will stand as a landmark of ethical corruption, as parties, news sources and voters will have thoroughly abandoned integrity and weakened their core values by excusing damning behavior from their favored candidates, behavior that, if honestly and objectively evaluated, should disqualify them from any office of trust.

We have already seen disturbing examples of this phenomenon in such embarrassing displays as Rep. Charles Rangel’s birthday celebration, as major Democrats lined up to give tribute to a Congressman who has abandoned multiple ethical duties, including an absolute disgrace for any Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, willful tax evasion. Rather than take a stand for honest government and representatives the public can believe in, partisan supporters are blaming Rangel’s self-made problems on Republican attacks, as if they made Charlie do it all at gunpoint.

The same theme is being echoed by conservatives on talk radio, who are making the case that the ridiculous Christine O’Donnell, who has undeniably misused campaign funds and misrepresented her educational background numerous times and ways, is being criticized for these “errors” because of a “media double-standard.” The only way to interpret such a defense is that the people making it believe all lies, misuse of donations and efforts to mislead the public are excusable if the press has ever ignored them when the transgressor was from the other party. Or they really don’t believe that, but are saying that they do. Either way, they are corrupt. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Elyse Siegel and Craig Kanalley of the Huffington Post

It should go without saying that before you author a post about “unforgettable lies” to a popular website, you should probably know what a lie is. This detail seems to have eluded Elyse Siegel and Craig Kanally, however. Their Glenn Beck-inspired retrospective of lies by prominent Americans acts to further muddle the public’s understanding of a basic concept, degrading communication and spreading misinformation.

A lie is a statement that intentionally misrepresents facts in order to mislead or deceive someone. A mistake is not a lie. When one makes a statement believing it to be true, and subsequent revelations prove that the statement to be false, that is not lying, though those who want to ascribe bad motives to the statement may incorrectly characterize it as one. Such a statement is not a lie even when it is made recklessly, or out of ignorance, stupidity, or misplaced trust.

Nor is a broken promise a lie, if the promise was sincere when it was made. Promise-keeping is a different virtue than honesty.Then there are disagreements over definitions. Some terms have more than one meaning, and using one of them when a listener is thinking of a different definition may be poor communication or sloppy thinking, but it is not a lie unless it is intended to deceive.

The Huffington Post piece blurs these important distinctions, and this is a problem. Lying suggests malice, and it has become increasingly common for civic debate to feature the epithet of “Liar!” being directed at writers, pundits and politicians who are simply stating sincere opinions. In fact, many of the bloggers at the Huntington Post do this routinely, which may be why no editor pointed out that Siegel and Kanalley’s post showed that they didn’t understand what they were writing about. In fact, by their definition of the word, the post contains several lies.

It doesn’t, though. It is just wrong.

You can pick out the non-lies in their honest but incompetent post here. By my count, at least five and maybe six of the “lies” are not lies at all. Of course, the authors would not have had to resort to non-lies if they weren’t so dedicated to featuring conservatives and Republicans on their list. There are plenty of clear-cut lies by Democrats and non-political types that were worthy of the list if their post didn’t have to double as a political hit piece.  Where, for example, are Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s serial claims of Viet Nam combat service? Isn’t Ted Kennedy’s infamous statement about his negligent homicide of Mary Jo Kopechne just a bit more famous and important than Glenn Beck’s fib at his Lincoln Memorial rally? How about former Justice Souter’s claim, under oath before the U.S. Senate, that he had never given any thought to the abortion issue? Or Senator Roland Burris’s statement to the Senate that he had no contact with Rod Blagojevich prior to being appointed to his seat, a statement he recanted as soon as he was confirmed?

These were all real lies, significant, intentional, and infamous.

Plagiarism, Lies, and the Shameless Scott McInnis

Colorado  gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis did the impossible: he made Richard Blumenthal look honest by comparison.

McGinnis, a Republican, has admitted that a recent story in the Denver Post, alleging that articles he had written on water issues for a foundation grant were significantly  plagiarized from the writings of a Colorado Supreme Court justice, was factually correct. Then McInnis came up with an astounding non-explanation that was even more unconvincing than the Connecticut Attorney General’s excuse that his repeated and false claims of Vietnam war service were mere slips of the tongue. Continue reading

Mark Kirk’s Misrepresentations: When Twice Is Too Many

Mark S. Kirk, the Republican candidate for that troublesome Illinois Senate seat (the one Rod Blagojevich tried to sell, the one Roland Burris lied to get) was caught in perpetrating some credential-inflating on his curriculum vitae when it was discovered that what he had long claimed was an award bestowed on him for outstanding service as a military intelligence officer was really a group award for his whole unit, and, in fact, someone else had received the honor he claimed as his own. Continue reading