Setting the Fairness Alarm For Congressman Weiner

Set alarm to "Unfair".

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) is embroiled in a strange and distasteful controversy arising from the receipt by a young woman of a tweet from Weiner’s Twitter account including a photograph of a man’s provocatively bulging underwear–with both the garment and the bulge-producing contents allegedly belonging to the Representative.  Such situations require the media, the public, political allies and foes alike to set their ethics alarms to “Fairness,” because being unfair is so easy and seductive.  If your ethics alarms are properly calibrated, here is what should feel fair and unfair to Congressman Weiner.

Unfair: Assuming he sent the photo. He is a Congressman, an elected representative of the nation’s legislature. Just because other Congressmen (now ex-Congressmen) have, within memory, sent shirtless photos of themselves over the internet to troll for sex and giddily described having “tickle fights” with staff members does not have any probative value regarding what Rep. is or is not capable of doing. He claims his account was hacked as a prank. He deserves the benefit of the doubt until there are legitimate reasons to question his credibility on this issue. Even then, I think we owe it to him and our faith in democracy to begin with the assumption that a member of the U.S. House of Representatives couldn’t possibly be so crude, irresponsible and stupid as to send a photo of his crotch to a young woman. Continue reading

Dancing With Thomas Jefferson: How Assholes Make the Law Spoil Life For Everyone

Coming to a place of honor and reflection near you.

On Saturday, the U.S. Park Police forcefully arrested five “Code Pink” protesters under the dome of the Jefferson Memorial for defying a recent Federal Appeals Court ruling that dancing at federal monuments was not constitutionally protected expression.

Perhaps you missed that ruling earlier this month, which was, I presume, made necessary by the realization that a flash mob could break out at any moment at the Lincoln Memorial or the Alamo. That was not the threat in 2008, however, when Mary Oberwetter was arrested, also at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, for hoofing to celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.

She sued the National Park Service for violating her First Amendment rights, and on May 17 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the Jefferson Memorial should have a “solemn atmosphere” and that dancing, silent or otherwise, was an inappropriate form of expression there. The appellate judges concurred with the lower court that the memorial is “not a public forum,” and thus demonstrators must first obtain a  permit. Demonstrations that require permits in the Park Service’s National Capital region are defined as

“…picketing, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct which involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which has the effect, intent or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers. [The] term does not include casual park use by visitors or tourists which does not have an intent or propensity to attract a crowd or onlookers.”

The Appellate Court wrote: Continue reading

CNN, Flunking Journalistic Integrity 101

What? Oh THAT...

The stunning revelation that Arnold Schwarzenegger  has been hiding a love child for a decade has media pundits pondering, “What was the biggest sex scandal  to snare an American politician? There’s Bill and Monica, obviously, and Mark Sanford’s South American soul mate; Sen. Ensign’s inter-staff incest and the probable winner after Clinton, John Edwards’ despicable betrayal of his dying wife. It’s a tough field, made tougher by the presence of one more formidable contender: Eliot Spitzer, who lost his job as Governor of New York after being caught playing in a prostitution ring, the exact same kind of criminal enterprise that he busted up as a crusading prosecutor on the way to the State House.

Yesterday, CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux did a feature story on notable political sex scandals, and mentioned all of these and more, with one  exception. Can you guess which? Here’s a hint: the author of the scandal currently stars as one of CNN’s political commentators.

Yes, Eliot Spitzer’s sexual meltdown didn’t make the cut of CNN’s scandal review. What does this tell us about CNN, Malveau, and everyone involved–producers, writers, executives…Spitzer?— in the feature vetting process?

Here’s what: Continue reading

Ensign Scandal Revelations: Sen. Coburn’s Betrayal

Oh dear, Sen. Coburn...didn't anyone tell you that corruption is contagious?

The bipartisan Senate committee, investigating the sexual harassment/ extortion/ lobbying scandals that led Sen John Ensign (R-Nev.) to resign his seat issued its report this week. It found “substantial credible evidence that provides substantial cause to conclude that Senator Ensign violated Senate Rules and federal civil and criminal laws, and engaged in improper conduct reflecting upon the Senate, thus betraying the public trust and bringing discredit to the Senate.” The committee referred the matter to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission.

The report also found, however, that another Republican Senator, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was hip-deep in the  mess, serving as an intermediary between Ensign and his top aide, Doug Hampton, who was in the process of extorting  Ensign  for having an affair with Hampton’s wife. Sen. Coburn also played a central role in arranging for Ensign’s parents to cough up the hush money to satisfy Hampton’s demands.  Whether Coburn knew about the more serious offenses that Ensign seems to have committed, such as lying to investigators and using his influence to create business for Hampton’s lobbying firm as part of the pay-off for Ensign sleeping with Hampton’s wife, is unknown, but never mind: helping with the cover-up is bad enough. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Sen. John Ensign

While I stand behind my firm belief that I have not violated any law, rule, or standard of conduct of the Senate, and I have fought to prove this publicly, I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings.”

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), announcing his resignation from the U.S. Senate about two years late. Ensign’s continuing service in the upper chamber has been a continuing embarrassment thanks to a 2009 sex scandal and sordid cover-up attempt. Interestingly, Ensign maintains that such conduct doesn’t violate any “standard of conduct” for him and his colleagues.

Sadly, perhaps he’s right.

“I didn’t violate any laws or rules” has been Ensign’s mantra since it came to light that he: Continue reading

How We Will Know When the GOP Can Be Trusted

The Democrats swept into power in the wake of an unpopular war,  economic collapse, and perhaps most of all, indisputable proof that too many Republican lawmakers were venal, corrupt, arrogant, and unworthy of power. It has taken only a year from the promises of ethical reform made by Speaker Pelosi and President Obama to seem insincere, and Republican’s believe that this time public distrust will work to their favor, returning them to the power they abused. They may be right. Still, the public is not stupid. If Republicans intend to campaign as the party of fiscal responsibility and honest government, they must demonstrate that the commitment is more than a masquerade. Time and credibility, however, are in short supply. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Sen. John Ensign

John Ensign, the GOP senator from Nevada, recently gave an interview to the website Politico that was unhinged from reality. He is either shameless, desperate, or in need of treatment. Ensign decried a “gotcha” mentality in the press and implied that the news media has treated him unfairly. Is he kidding? Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Trio: CREW, Coercion and Condiments

The C Street Horror…Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington appears to have jumped the rails in its hysterical protest of President Obama appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast, a venerable if odd event that dates from the Eisenhower administration. Some of CREW’s objections are that the event’s organizers, a group with the admittedly sinister-sounding name “The Family,” preaches “an unconventional brand of Christianity,” (As does Rev. Wright. So what?) lacks transparency (Just like the Obama administration of late. This is a matter worth investigating, exposing and reforming, but if the President has to boycott organizations based on a lack of transparency, he’ll be living on the streets), has been “linked” to unsavory causes (Translation: CREW doesn’t like the group’s politics), and that the C Street Christian home the group maintains in Washington has housed a lot of politicians with ethical problems, like Gov. Mark Sanford and Sen John Ensign. That’s a bizarre complaint, don’t you think? Continue reading