End Of A Bad Ethics Week Sign-Off, 5/6/2022: Espy, Psaki, Chappelle, And Terrible Movies

Is it unethical to make really bad movies? I’m talking about irredeemable garbage, not inspired lunacy like Ed Wood films, so mind-blowingly terrible that they are hypnotic as well as unforgettable. Isn’t it irresponsible to spend money and mislead audiences when you have no talent whatsoever?

I’ve been thinking about this ever since we tried to watch “Birdemic: Shock and Terror,” which we were counting on to be amusingly bad, and it was, instead, bad beyond all expectations. Though it was obviously modeled on “The Birds,” no birds appeared until half-way through the film, and they may have been the worst special effects I have ever seen anywhere. The sound quality was poor, and the writer-director makes Wood seem like Orson Welles by comparison. The movie also makes Mystery Science Theater 3000’s “Manos, the Hands of Fate” seem like “Casablanca.” (That famously awful film, at a $19,000 budget, was still almost twice as expensive to make as “Birdemic.”) We had to bail on the film when the birds appeared, because screeching woke up Spuds and put him in a panic.

Here’s the whole film. The “birds” appear at the 47 minute mark, but the acting and dialogue really has to be experienced to be believed:

There is a sequel.

1. Is Jen Psaki the worst weasel ever to serve as a Presidents paid liar? It’s hard to say, but her exchange with Peter Doocy on the doxxing of the Supreme Court justices is truly despicable. (No wonder MSNBC wants to hire her.)

Doocy: “[Y]ou guys spent some time…talking about what you think are…extreme wings of the [GOP]. Do you think the progressive activists that are now planning protests outside of justices’ houses are extreme?”

Psaki: “Peaceful protests? No. Peaceful protest is not extreme.”

But the question wasn’t about peaceful legal protests. It was about illegal protests that violate the privacy—how’s that for hypocrisy?—of Suprem Court members and their families.

Doocy: “Some of these justices have young kids. Their neighbors are not all public figures, so would [Biden] think about waving activists that want to go into…neighborhoods in VA and MD?”

Psaki: “Peter…our view is that peaceful protests, there is a long history…of that.”

What? A long history of harassing and trying to intimidate SCOTUS justices at home? Even if that wasn’t an outright lie, the fact that there’s a long history of misconduct doesn’t excuse the misconduct. She could have given the same answer regarding tar and feathers.

Doocy: “Is [protesting outside the homes of justices] the kind of thing [Biden] wants to help your side make their point?”

Psaki: “Look, [his] view is that there’s a lot of passion, a lot of fear, a lot of sadness…We want people’s privacy to be respected.”

Translation: “Emotion justifies everything, and I don’t want to answer your question.”

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Signature Significance: Two Unethical Tell-Alls

My late friend Bob McElwaine was of another era for sure. Once an active Hollywood publicist with many A-list clients, Bob once peddled his memoirs to publishers. He was an excellent writer with a great sense of humor, but was told repeatedly that unless he included “dirt” on his famous friends, girl friends and clients (like Danny Kaye, Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh and Dean Martin) the book was a non-starter. Bob refused. “My clients hired me to be discrete and to keep their secrets,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they are dead now: I’m not betraying them for a check.” (Bob did tell me some his experiences, knowing that I would not publish them. Yikes!)

Well, Bob is dead, and so is his brand of professionalism, trustworthiness and honor, as two forthcoming books demonstrate.

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Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 7/18/2020: The Unmasking Edition

1. Rep. John Lewis died, and respect should be paid. BUT...Lewis played extreme and divisive partisan politics for years, exploiting and abusing his reputation as a “civil rights icon.” His boycott of the Trump inauguration did incalculable damage to race relations in this country and undermined a new President before he had a chance to show what he could do. It was unforgivable, and like Barack Obama, Lewis is substantially accountable for the racial enmity we are witnessing today. And he should have retired long ago.

2. I guess I have to say something about Mary Trump. The parade of people, including employees and officials, choosing to cash in and trash the President of the United States while he’s in office and trying to govern has been disgusting for years now. It is more disgusting, of course, when the slimy tell-all authors are  those who had positions of trust, but the efforts of others, like Trump’s niece Mary Trump, to peddle dirt to the large Trump-hate market is nauseating as well.

Since the act of making such claims against a family member for profit is itself signature significance for a crummy, venal, untrustworthy and vindictive human being, there is no reason to regard her book as anything more than more anti-Trump porn. I have a pretty close family, and I can say with certainty that neither my many cousins, nor my sole surviving aunt, nor my nephew and niece, have sufficient first hand knowledge of my life to make any reliable claims about me at all, good or bad.

3. Quick observations on Andrew Sullivan’s departure from New York Magazine…Sullivan published his last column for the extremely left-wing anti-Trump magazine, announcing he was leaving because the culture there was intolerant of his insufficiently woke principles. At one point he writes, Continue reading

Stop Making Me Defend Lenny Dykstra!

It pains me to have to write this; after all, the 1986 World Series, best remembered for the  potential Series-winning game the Red Sox choked away for good when the ball rolled under Bill Buckner’s legs (it wasn’t Bill fault, but never mind), is one of the traumas of my life. That was a thoroughly dislikable (but great) Mets team that won in 1986, and centerfielder Lenny Dykstra was the worst of them.  Still, the perfidy, venality and cruelty of another member of that team requires me to take Lenny’s side.

Dykstra was an obnoxious player and has been in constant trouble since his retirement. In a new book released this week, “108 Stitches: Loose Threads, Ripping Yarns, and the Darndest Characters from My Time in the Game,”  Dykstra’s team mate, turned broadcaster Ron Darling  (he’s on the left above, Lenny’s on the right) claims that Dykstra used racial epithets to unsettle Boston Red Sox pitcher Oil Can Boyd, an African American, before Game #3 of the 1986 World Series. Darling has now  repeated the accusation on three radio shows this week, as he wrote that Dykstra was “shouting every imaginable and unimaginable insult and expletive in his [Boyd’s] direction — foul, racist, hateful, hurtful stuff” when he was in the on-deck circle before leading off the game. Continue reading

Is James Comey An “Untruthful Slimeball?”

That was the measured, dignified description of the fired FBI chief in President Trump’s latest tweet on the matter of Comey’s tell-all book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership. The Ethics Alarms verdict on the allegation doesn’t require reading the book, which I wouldn’t do if Jigsaw had me trapped in a room and gave me the choice of writing a book report on it or chewing off my own foot. (Okay, maybe I’d read it then, but I’d still have to think about it.)

We know Comey is untruthful already—he lied to Congress—and the fact that his book exists proves that he’s a slimeball.

I know I repeat myself a lot, for ethics issues are on a merry-go-round that never stops. However, I think I’ve written more than enough about the unethical practice of government officials who have left an administration cashing in with tell-all books before the administration has ended. The practice  is a crass  betrayal, venal, disloyal, damaging to the nation and its institutions, and I don’t care who the slimeball author is, or which President he slimes. They are all slimeballs, by definition. One of the first was President Reagan’s arrogant Budget Director, Stockman, early in that administration. Prior to Stockman, the predominant attitude and ethics was the one embodied by General George Marshall (no relation, alas), World War One and Two military leader, former Secretary of State, and architect of the Marshall plan, when he was offered a million dollars to write his memoirs in the 1950s, after he had retired from public life.  Marshall turned down the cash, explaining that he couldn’t write a truthful memoir without undermining people still at working for the United States in the government and military.

How quaint! What a sap!

Or so James Comey probably thinks. Continue reading

Windy Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/2/18: More Supreme Court Fun, Transparency Games, Ethical and Unethical Quotes Of The Day…

GOOD MORNING!

(Wind storms all over Virginia, knocking out power and my e-mail, and blowing over a tree that narrowly missed my son’s car!)

1 Lack of Transparency? What lack of transparency? During a lecture and moderated discussion at U.C.L.A. this week in which he was a a participant and invited guest, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was heckled with hisses, jeers, shouted insults and profanity from students and protesters, some of whom were ushered and even carried out by police officers. A programmed sixth grader in the audience even questioned him about the fairness of passing permanent tax cuts for companies and expiring cuts for individuals, because as we all know, 10-year-olds are well-versed in tax policy theory.

Afterwards, Mnuchin  revoked his consent for the official video of the event to be released, perhaps because he was flustered by the harassment and it showed. In response to criticism of this virtual censorship,

The Treasury Department, through a spokesperson, said that what the Secretary did wasn’t what he obviously did—a Jumbo, aka “Elephant? What elephant?”—saying,

“The event was open to the media and a transcript was published. He believes healthy debate is critical to ensuring the right policies that do the most good are advanced.”

He just doesn’t want anyone to see or hear the debate.

A related point: The protests were organized by Lara Stemple, a U.C.L.A. law professor, and students and faculty members participated. Protests are fine; disrupting the event is not. Faculty members who assisted in the heckling should be disciplined, and students who participated should be disciplines as well.  It’s an educational institution, and all views sgould be openly explored and heard without interference. No guest of the university should be treated this way. Ever. No matter who it is or what their position. The treatment on Mnuchin was unethical.

2. More Supreme Court fun with ethics! Minnesota’s law banning “political” clothing and buttons from polling places is being challenged as an affront to free speech. The law prohibits people from wearing a “political badge, political button or other political insignia” at a polling place on an election day, and a member of the tea party movement sued after his “Tea Party” message got him in trouble when he came to vote.

Here is Justice Samuel A. Alito’s exchange with Daniel Rogan of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, who was defending Minnesota’s law:

“How about a shirt with a rainbow flag?” asked Alito. “Would that be permitted?”

“A shirt with a rainbow flag?” Rogan repeated. “No, it would — yes, it would be — it would be permitted unless there was — unless there was an issue on the ballot that — that related somehow to — to gay rights.”

Justice Alito: Okay. How about an NRA shirt?

Mr. Rogan: An NRA shirt? Today, in Minnesota, no, it would not, Your Honor. I think that that’s a clear indication—and I think what you’re getting at, Your Honor—

A T-shirt bearing the words of the Second Amendment? Alito asked.

Probably banned because of the gun-control issue, Rogan said.

The First Amendment? Alito asked. Probably not, Rogan answered.

Got it. The First  Amendment isn’t a political statement, but the Second Amendment is. That led Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to observe: “Under your interpretation of ‘political,’ it would forbid people from wearing certain portions of the Bill of Rights into a polling place but not other portions of the Bill of Rights. And I guess I’m just wondering what compelling interest Minnesota has identified that requires a statute that goes so much further than the vast majority of states?”

In contrast, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked J. David Breemer, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, representing the challengers, “Why should there be speech inside the election booth at all, or inside the what you call the election room? You’re there to vote.”

This is a problem requiring an “all or nothing” solution. Either all forms of political speech must be allowed, or no speech at all. In a sick time where citizens honestly argue that a MAGA cap or a picture of a gun makes them feel threatened and “unsafe,” the ethical option would seem to be Justice Kennedy’s. No speech, messages, no logos, no photos, no American flags. Last fall I voted wearing my Red Sox jacket.

Uh-uh. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Leon Panetta’s Memoirs, and Reconsidering Ethics Alarms’ Absolute Condemnation Of Such Books”

Obama's role model?

Obama’s role model?

Some thoughts as I read the comment below from Ethics Alarms stalwart Steve-O-in-NJ:

  • Woodrow Wilson is indeed, in many ways, one of the best comps for President Obama.
  • Yet there are still many, even those whose updates appear on my own Facebook page, who will shout to the skies that all such criticisms are partisan, racist, unfair attacks on a marvelous, brilliant, misunderstood  Chief Executive.
  • Why is that fading breed of Democrats fading? And where are the statesmanlike Republicans? Is there one?

Here is Steve’s Comment of the Day on the post, Leon Panetta’s Memoirs, and Reconsidering Ethics Alarms’ Absolute Condemnation Of Such Books:
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Leon Panetta’s Memoirs, and Reconsidering Ethics Alarms’ Absolute Condemnation Of Such Books

Panetta

When Robert Gates, formerly President Obama’s Secretary of Defense,  published his memoirs, I wrote:

Bottom line: these people betray their colleagues for money, and often, as is Robert Gates’s case, out of spite. Former Defense Secretary Gates, like the others, was given an opportunity to serve his country in a high executive branch position. He was privy to policy discussions and the inner workings of the administration. He was trusted. To reveal details of his tenure while the administration he worked for is still in office, done in a way designed to provoke criticism and embarrass his former associates and boss, is the height of disloyalty, and a breach of implicit confidentiality.

The honorable and ethical way to write such a book would be to wait until it could not actively interfere with the work of the Executive Branch. The people may have a right to know, but they do not have a right to know everything immediately. People in high policy-making positions must be able to be themselves, express opinions, and have productive meetings with the confidence that those they work with are not collecting notes for a future Book-of-the-Month sellout. Books like Gates’s undermine that trust, make it more difficult to get candid and controversial opinions and ideas into the decision-making process, and ultimately hurt all of us. The former  Secretary and those who appreciate the additional ammunition for administration-bashing can assemble a lot of rationalizations for the  book, but they all boil down to “Everybody Does It,” the most threadbare and cowardly rationalization of all.The ethical thing would have been for Gates to write the book in a few years, or not to write it at all.

You can’t get much more definite than that, can you?

I could, without much difficulty, distinguish between Gates’ book and the recently released book by former Obama CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, “Worthy Fights,” that is drawing fire from Obama loyalists. Gates’ book often seemed petty and hypocritical, and I do think he was cashing in. He is, in my view, nowhere near Panetta’s caliber as an administrator or a thinker, and I trust Panetta as a public servant who isn’t motivated by money or celebrity, but by love of country. (Yes, he was by far the best of Bill Clinton’s team.) But rather than do that, and open myself up to the legitimate accusation that I am accepting the identical conduct from Panetta that I condemned from Gates because I respect Panetta more, I’ll just admit that my attack on Gates’ book was excessive, and that there are legitimate reasons, sometimes, and patriotic ones, for a high appointee to write such a book. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On Tim Geithner’s Ethics Quote Of The Month

Stress Test

“I remember during one Roosevelt Room prep session before I appeared on the Sunday shows, I objected when Dan Pfeiffer wanted me to say Social Security didn’t contribute to the deficit. It wasn’t a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute. Pfeiffer said the line was a ‘dog whistle’ to the left, a phrase I had never heard before. He had to explain that the phrase was code to the Democratic base, signaling that we intended to protect Social Security.”

—- Former Obama Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, revealing that the White House wanted him to mislead the public on the deficit, debt and Social Security, in his newly published memoir, “Stress Test.”

Some ethics observations:

  • Sadly and predictably, the conservative news organizations are going bananas over this passage, while the liberal organizations—that is to say, all of the rest—are scrupulously ignoring it or trying to. Why sadly? Because in an ethical, objective journalistic culture, every reporter would be examining this admission, and critically.
  • Any journalist who is not bothered by this account has implicitly adopted the position that it is acceptable for the President of the United Sates and U.S. officials to mislead the public regarding crucial matters they have a right to know and understand. This is an unethical position for anyone, but especially for a journalist.
  • Of course, this is not the position of most left-oriented journalists. The position of these journalists is, apparently, that it is acceptable for Democratic Presidents of the United Sates and officials in Democratic administrations to mislead the public regarding crucial matters they have a right to know and understand, since they have exhibited no such tolerance when Republicans have occupied the White House.

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KABOOM! The Hypocrisy of Robert Gates

exploding_head2My head, already weakened by the discussion of “Duty,” Robert Gates’s tell-all memoir, finally detonated when I read the following passage:

“I was put off by the way the President closed the meeting. To his very closest advisers, he said, “For the record, and for those of you writing your memoirs, I am not making any decisions about Israel or Iran. Joe, you be my witness.” I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters.”

Yes, Gates actually wrote that he was offended that the President would have so little trust and respect in his closest advisors that he believed some of them would betray that trust by including details of confidential meetings in their memoirs, as Gates now betrays the President’s trust by including details of that very same confidential meetings in his memoirs.

How could he write this? Did he really not perceive the obvious hypocrisy? The irony? Is he admitting that he had an unjustifiably high opinion of his own professionalism that he now is recanting? Did he think that statement by Obama gave him permission to reveal such confidences while the President was still wrestling with some of the same matters they involved? Where was the editor who is supposed to keep an author from undermining his own credibility by making blatantly hypocritical statements?

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Pointer: Althouse

Source: Slate