The Strange Story Of How Alabama Corruption Threatens To Infect The U.S. Senate

That's Senator Starnge on the right, and Governor Dormammu on the left...

That’s Senator Strange on the right, and Governor Dormammu on the left…

Personally, I love the idea of Congress having a “Senator Strange.” The movie almost writes itself, with a Senator who has magic powers and who says things like “By the Hoary Hordes of Hogarth! Point of order!”

But not like this.

Now bear with me. This is a complicated story and will take a while, but as Keven Costner says to James Earl Jones (as Terrance Mann) in “Field of Dreams,” “It’s a good story.”

And a really, really strange one, in more ways than one..

When the Senate confirmed Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General in hearings that may be best remembered as the time Elizabeth Warren earned the fawning admiration of feminists by behaving like a mean-spirited jerk, it meant that Alabama’s Republican governor got to appoint his successor. There wasn’t much discussion in the news media about who this might be, because it’s hard for journalists to inform the public properly when it is concentrating on bringing down the President, per the orders of their Eldritch Progressive Masters—sorry, I’ve got Dr. Strange stuff rattling around in my brain now—but there was some interesting speculation in Alabama.

You see,  Republican Governor Robert Bentley is fighting to avoid  impeachment as the result of a sex scandal, and one that called his honesty into question as well.

An official fired by Bentley alleged that the Governor had engaged in an extramarital affair with his senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. An audio recording surfaced in which Bentley told a woman named “Rebekah” that he “worr[ied] about loving you so much” and that “[w]hen I stand behind you, and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts […] and just pull you real close. I love that, too.” At a press conference, Bentley apologized for the comments but denied having an affair and stated that his relationship with Mason was purely platonic.

Sure. Continue reading

In Marion’s Footsteps: the Jaw-Dropping Shamelessness of Harry Thomas Jr.

A true role model: Washington D.C. politicians ask, "What would Marion Barry do?"

The most notable scoundrel in recent Washington D.C. government history is former mayor and current City Council member Marion Barry, he of  “The bitch set me up!” fame. What marked Barry was and is his remarkable shamelessness. Whether he was caught smoking crack, or giving government salaries to girlfriends, or not paying his taxes, or engaging in any number of other public and personal outrages, his attitude has always been to shrug his shoulders and presume that everyone will just let him go on being an elected political leader, as if his complete disrespect for law, honesty and responsibility is irrelevant to his qualifications to serve. And you know what? In the District of Columbia, he is correct.

He is also not alone in this attitude, in part because Barry has helped mightily to warp the ethical culture in his city over the past three decades. His most recent disciple is D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who has just agreed to repay the District $300,000 of the taxpayer dollars he misappropriated  for his personal and political use. D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan announced last week that his office was withdrawing a one million dollar lawsuit against Thomas in exchange for that settlement, saving the District the cost of litigation. The lawsuit had been backed up with strong evidence that Thomas used public funds to fund golf trips to Pebble Beach, buy himself an Audi SUV, and in a nice touch of class, pay for a $143.71 visit to Hooters. Funds budgeted by the council for youth baseball was diverted by Thomas to Team Thomas, a nonprofit founded and controlled by the Council member. Naturally, Thomas also was shown to have engaged in plenty of old-fashioned graft,  soliciting gifts and contributions from private businesses contracting with the city.

Is Thomas ashamed? Contrite? Apologetic? Nah! And he isn’t planning on leaving his job, either. Instead, he issued this nauseating statement, saying in part: Continue reading

Worst Ethics Column of the Month: Michelle Goldberg’s “The Lara Logan Media Wars”

There’s nothing so pointless as complaining about a phenomenon that is logical, natural, useful and just, on the grounds that it’s so darn mean. Nevertheless, that is the gist of a Daily Beast column by Michelle Goldberg, another in the increasingly ethics-challenged stable of journalists being assembled at Tina Brown’s slick website.

Ruing the fate that befell journalist Nir Rosen after he not only ridiculed the horrendous attack on ABC reporter Lara Logan by an Egyptian mob, but implied that as a ‘war-monger” she deserved it, Goldberg wrote…

“…it indicated that Rosen has deep, unexamined problems with women, particularly women who are his more-celebrated competitors. But it was also appalling to realize that this brief, ugly outburst was going to eclipse an often-heroic career. The media’s modern panopticon has an awful way of reducing us all to the worst thing we’ve ever done…Again and again, we see people who make one mistake either forced out of their jobs or held up for brutal public excoriation. But the more we live in public, the more we need to develop some sort of mercy for those who briefly let the dark parts of themselves slip out, particularly when they’re truly sorry afterward.”

Ah, yes, the old “one mistake” plea! Continue reading

The Final Proof That Michael Vick Doesn’t Get It

In the finale of “Animal House,” after the expelled Delta House members have sabotaged Faber College’s parade causing wanton destruction, mayhem, panic and riots, the fraternity’s  president approaches the dean (who is lying in the ruins of the stands toppled by the Delta House “Deathmobile”) and hopefully asks for “one more chance.”

I thought of this classic moment when I read that Michael Vick, the serial dog-abuser now seeking redemption by winning football games for the Philadelphia Eagles, had told an interviewer that he really missed owning a dog and hoped to have one as a pet some day. 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.

BREAKING NEWS! Blago’s An Unethical Lawyer, Too!

A librarian at Northwestern University found confidential attorney-client files in eighteen boxes of files belonging to Rod Blagojevich. The librarian purchased them at in an auction held by a moving and storage company that sold Blagojevich’s stored possessions after he stiffed the company on his storage bills. The files date from the ex-Illinois governor and current criminal defendant’s days as a prosecutor. Even though Blago no longer practices law (his bar status is inactive), his duty to protect prior client confidences is sacred and perpetual. The relevant Illinois Rule, 1.6, says:

(a) Except when required under Rule 1.6(b) or permitted under Rule 1.6(c), a lawyer shall not, during or after termination of the professional relationship with the client, use or reveal a confidence or secret of the client known to the lawyer unless the client consents after disclosure.

That means that leaving boxes of former client secrets statements, records and confidences in boxes stored in a facility where you’re not paying your bills is recklessly risking the privacy of those documents, and making it possible for them to fall into untrustworthy hands—not that Rod Blagojevich meets the minimal level of trustworthiness either.

Blago told the AP that he had no idea what was in the boxes. Wrong answer: he has a duty to know where his client files are and that they are secure. He also said that he didn’t know he was in arrears at the storage facility. Also wrong: staying current with the bills was his responsibility as part of his duty to protect his clients’ confidences.

That a man who ignored his duty to the public, and tried to use his power to appoint a U.S. Senator for personal gain, was also cavalier with his ethical duties to former clients should come as no surprise.  People who are unethical in one job are likely to be unethical in others.  And Rod…well, I think it’s fair to say that Rod Blagojevich is likely to be unethical no matter what he does, including eating and sleeping.

DeLay and Blagojevich: Not Vindicated, Not Innocent, and Not Ethical

Both Rod Blagojevich and Tom DeLay were taking victory laps this week, Blago because a jury failed to come to an agreement on his trial for selling political favors, DeLay because the Justice Department dropped its prosecution of  him. In the minds of both of these corrupt and shameless politicians, they were indeed vindicated, because both operate under the delusion that if one’s conduct manages to avoid breaking laws to the point where one could be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, then that conduct is “ethical.” This same delusion has been shared by many other human blights on American society and ethical corrupters in business and politics, including Presidents Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton, Ken Lay, the executives at Goldman Sachs and AIG, Marion Barry, Maxine Waters, and too many others to mention. It is still a delusion. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Prof. Monroe Freedman

“U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald failed to convict Blagojevich on 23 of 24 multiple counts.  But not to worry.  Fitzgerald succeeded in convicting Blagojevich, and destroying his reputation and career, three years ago with a vicious press conference — and without having to bother himself with due process and trial by jury.”

Prof. Monroe Freedman, blogging at The Legal Ethics Forum.

In his press conference announcing the charges against the then-Illinois governor, Fitzpatrick memorably said that Blagojevich’s conduct had Abe Lincoln “rolling in his grave.” He also said: 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