Ethics Quote Of The Day: “Reston Now”

“Unethical, sketchy, and uncomfortable behavior among Herndon officials are some of the main reasons behind the push to strengthen the code. The councilmembers shared stories of unnamed former town officials who publicly berated staff, grabbed a staffer in a sexual manner, and solicited jobs from other elected officials in the performance of their official duties.”

—From “Town of Herndon Grapples with How to Revamp Ethics Code,” an article in Reston Today, describing the classic and unresolvable problem with Ethics Codes.

Herndon, Virginia, isn’t too far from where I live.

The problem the article encompasses is as old as the hills. Simply passing laws, or regulations, or rules prohibiting wrongful conduct doesn’t do anything to make the people subject to these laws, regulations and rules better human beings. It simply tells them that there are specific consequences to their bad conduct. Maybe that will discourage them, and maybe it won’t. After all, they have to be caught first.

The conduct described in the quote is unethical, and anyone with functioning ethics alarms knows its unethical. Abusing subordinates? Sexual assault and harassment? Using official duties to barter for career advancement? If an official knows this conduct and others equally blatant are wrong, then they don’t need a code. If they don’t know they are wrong, no code is going to help them, and individuals that ethically clueless shouldn’t be government officials.

That doesn’t mean that codes of conduct aren’t essential tools of creating an ethical culture in a local government or tree house clubs. They are, but they are just a starting point, putting in place external standards that have to be internalized, which is to say that they are then used to fix the settings on everyone’s ethics alarms in that culture. By themselves, codes do nothing, and they may even cause more misconduct. Unethical people who are also smart love the Compliance Dodge, from the Rationalizations List: Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 2/28/2019: No Birthday For Frederick Edition [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

Back last night from a whirlwind day of ethics in NYC, and leaving today on an auto safari to Washington County, Pennsylvania, where I will address bar members to kick off their annual meeting. See Facebook? THEY don’t think I should be muzzled! Meanwhile, I will be celebrating the non-birthday of the pirate apprentice hero of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” who was, you recall, indentured to a pirate band until his 2ist birthday, and since he was born on Leap Year, legally committed to a life of crime until he was 84 years old.

1. Nah, Democrats don’t automatically default to race-baiting… Well this was certainly ugly and embarrassing. During  House Oversight Committee hearing with Michael Cohen, the fallen Trump fixer accused the President of making racist comments about African Americans. Let me interject here that this was obvious pandering to Cohen’s new pals in “the resistance.” It would have no probative value as hearsay even if the speaker wasn’t testifying with his pants on fire. Thus there was no need for Rep. Mark Meadows to try to rebut Cohen by asking Housing and Urban Development staffer Lynne Patton, who is black, to silently stand before the committee to (somehow) disprove that Trump is racist. Meadows (R-N.C.) said that Patton had told him there was “no way that she would work for an individual who was racist.”

Then Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) characterized Meadow’s stunt as racist, saying, “Just because someone has a person of color, a black person working for them does not mean they aren’t racist,” Tlaib said. “And it is insensitive that some would even say — the fact that some would actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber in this committee is alone racist in itself.”

“You’re one of my best friends,” Cummings said to Meadows. “And I can see and I feel your pain, and I don’t think Ms. Tlaib intended to cause you that, that kind of pain.”

Tlaib then apologized to Meadows, saying it wasn’t her intention to call him racist. She just said that what he did was racist.

Oh.

2. Stop making me defend the Northam family! Gotcha! Just as Virginia Governor Northam was beginning to extract himself from the embarrassment of having to confess to being a Michael Jackson imitator via shoe polish, an enterprising black legislative page decided to nab her 15 minutes of fame by accusing Mrs. Northam of the dreaded “racial insensitivity.” It appears that Virginia’s First Lady, while narrating a tour of the Governor, triggered her my alluding to slavery.

“When in the cottage house you were speaking about cotton, and how the slaves had to pick it,” the teenaged page’s letter says. “There are only three Black pages in the page class of 2019. When you went to hand out the cotton you handed it straight to another African American page, then you proceeded to hand it to me, I did not take it. The other page took the cotton, but it made her very uncomfortable. I will give you the benefit of the doubt, because you gave it to some other pages. But you followed this up by asking: ‘Can you imagine being an enslaved person, and having to pick this all day?'”

“The comments and just the way you carried yourself during this time was beyond inappropriate, especially considering recent events with the Governor. From the time we walked into the mansion to the time in the cottage house, I did not receive a welcoming vibe.”

Ah. Now we see why Bernie Sanders was attacked by Democrats for saying that race shouldn’t matter. Mrs. Northam treated the black pages like she treated the rest, and that made this page feel unwelcome. And if Virginia’s First Lady had only given the cotton to the white pages? That would have been insensitive too, I’m sure.

To her credit, the Governor’s wife has not apologized. She responded that she has given “the same educational tour to Executive Mansion visitors over the last few months and used a variety of artifacts and agricultural crops.” Her intent is to illustrate “a painful period of Virginia history.” She said that she began last year to tell the “full story” of the governor’s mansion, including the Historic Kitchen. “I believe it does a disservice to Virginians to omit the stories of the enslaved people who lived and worked there — that’s why I have been engaged in an effort to thoughtfully and honestly share this important story since I arrived in Richmond. I regret that I have upset anyone,” she wrote, but she reiterated that she is  still committed to chronicling the history of the Historic Kitchen, and “will continue to engage historians and experts on the best way to do so in the future.”

Now, if she had given the tour made up as Janet Jackson, that would have been inappropriate.

3. My own private boycott: I will not buy products that continue the coarsening of our culture by employing juvenile references to gutter language to sell their wares. Now Mr. Clean joins the list, with the ad for “his” Clean Freak Mist. Today’s TV ad screamed out “Big freaking news!” As with Booking.com’s evocation of “fucking” its ads, this is neither clever nor novel. Shrug it off if you like. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up: “Important Ethics Stories That I Don’t Feel Like Writing A Lot About Or Am Thoroughly Disgusted With” Edition

Happy Weekend!

I hope you’re not working the whole time, like I am. However, the Red Sox have their first Spring Training game, they are playing the Yankees, and all is serene.

1. Another one of Trump’s “best people” bites the dust, or should soon.   Judge Kenneth A. Marra of Federal District Court in West Palm Beach ruled that accused serial pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s secret sweetheart plea deal agreed to by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta when he was a federal prosecutor violated federal law.

The corrupt arrangement  protected the billionaire from serious jail time and also  protected his politically-connected  friends including, notably Bill Clinton, from accountability despite their visits to Epstein’s  infamous island resort via the so-called “Lolita Express,” the private plane where young girls allegedly provided sexual services to the passengers. Ick.

I wrote a post about this unfolding scandal here. At that time, last November, I wrote,

“I do not see how Acosta can remain as Secretary of Labor following these revelation, incomplete as they are. I don’t see how we can trust his judgment, and even if, somehow, he could justify the deal with Epstein on legal, technical or pragmatic grounds, I doubt that the general public would be reassured. He should resign.”

Hey, I beat Jonathan Turley by almost three months!

2. Is the media assault on Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) for being an abusive boss legitimate? I have to say, it sure looks like it. The moderate Democratic Presidential hopeful might also be the target of a leftist news media that favors her more extreme competitors, but most Americans don’t know much about Klobuchar and can’t pronounce her name. The news media needs to introduce her, but it also shouldn’t poison the well. Conservatives, who don’t like her but like her a lot better than the likes of Senators Warren, Harris or Booker, are defending Klobuchar by arguing that she is being subjected to a double standard, since so many male officials past and present have been equally unpleasant. That’s just an “everybody does it” rationalization. There are good reasons to worry about the judgment and temperament of leaders who treat subordinates disrespectfully and cruelly, as in yesterday’s Times story about Klobuchar demanding that an aide clean her comb.

The problem is that the mainstream news media is not applying similar scrutiny, at least not yet, to similarly dubious candidates like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.

3. Great. Just what we need.   “If Mueller is done, states could file their own charges — even against Trump,” says the Washington Post. So this is really the way it is: “the resistance” and its Democratic allies will continue to harass and obstruct the elected President forever, as their endless tantrum over losing the 2016 election. I have written that nothing could make me vote for someone with Donald Trump’s non-ethical approach to life as President, but I am beginning to think that only a Trump victory in 2020 will save the country from an endless cycle of partisan sabotage of Presidents, regardless of party, going forward. This unethical strategy has to fail, and fail hard. Continue reading

Lunch Time Ethics Appetizer, 2/13/2019: Rail, Restaurants, Resignation And Reality

Yum Yum!

1. When reality meets ideology… California Gov. Gavin Newsom  announced that

[He’s] abandoning a $77 billion plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco and will focus instead on completing a 119-mile (190-kilometer) segment in the state’s agricultural heartland. Voters approved a ballot measure in 2008 calling for the linking of Northern and Southern California, a rail project initially estimated to cost $33 billion and be completed in 2020. Subsequent estimates more than doubled the cost and pushed the timeline to 2033. Newsom pledged to finish the segment already under construction through California’s Central Valley. He rejected the idea critics have raised that it will be a “train to nowhere” and said it can help revitalize the economically depressed region.

We’ll see how much that part costs, if it’s ever completed. Meanwhile, Democrats are going to have to declare their fealty to the “Green New Deal,” which pledges to eliminate air travel nation-wide with “high speed rail.”

2. What part of “convenient double standards” is unclear to you? Kelli Goff writes at the Daily Beast (relayed by Ann Althouse, since I have the DB on my Ethics Alarms  Untrustworthy Black List):

“When Rachel Dolezal was unmasked as a white woman who misrepresented her racial and ethnic identity in part to bolster her professional bona fides as a voice of the disenfranchised, she was penalized—heavily. She went from rising media star to late-night punchline, unemployable and impoverished. I don’t wish poverty on Warren, but I don’t understand how her only punishment for a similar fraud seems to be that she may become president.”

Warren, a polished demagogue, got rave reviews for her recent speech throwing her war-bonnet  into the 2020 ring; like Barack Obama, skillful public speaking is the full extent of her qualifications for leadership. But wow—with the Democrats more or less trapped into nominating another woman to run against Donald Trump, what an awful field of openly unethical females they have assembled so far! Warren’s a fraud; Gillibrand is an anti-male bigot; Gabbard is running away from strong anti-gay positions, Harris has attacked the Catholic faith as a disqualifying feature for a judge, and then there’s Hillary, who looks outstanding in this field. Continue reading

On Perceptions Of Racism

1. “Prehistoric Man.” Above is a musical number from the acclaimed, indeed classic, MGM musical “On the Town,” starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Ann Miller (the soloist), Vera-Ellen, and Betty Garrett. Questions:

  • Did it make you feel uncomfortable? Why or why not?
  • Should the number make you feel uncomfortable?
  • Is it blackface without blackface? Does the African sculpture late in the number matter? How about those outrageous masks and head gear?
  • If it’s not blackface without blackface, what would be the politically correct objection? That it offends cave men?
  • Would a black performer in the number eliminate any objections to it?

I felt weird about the number the first time I saw it, decades ago. Yesterday, when I watched it again, I really felt uncomfortable, and resented the fact that I did. This is what the culture does to you, whether you like it or not. Is a culture where a silly musical number like “Prehistoric Man” is considered offensive healthier than the culture that spawned it?

2. What planet was Ralph Northam raised on? The Virginia Governor, who has managed to stave off calls for him to resign despite a) wearing blackface in medical school and b) being completely unbelievable in his various explanations of when and why, has also revealed himself to be so ignorant of race issues and history that it boggles the mind that he could have been elected in the first place. Behold:

  • He dressed up using blackface to emulate Michael Jackson.
  • He saw nothing amiss for 30 years in having a photo of a man in blackface (possibly him, though he denies it) and an individual in KKK robes on his medical yearbook page.
  • He had to be told by a campaign worker in 2018 that wearing blackface was considered objectionable and a reference to racist minstrel shows and Jim Crow.
  • He was unaware until recently that the film “Birth of a Nation” is considered racist. To this I have to say, “Whaaa?” A public official should have some minimal knowledge of history, and this is the Governor of Virginia, birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson, who championed both the KKK and “Birth of a Nation.”
  • In his interview with Gayle King on CBS, Northam referred to slaves as “indentured servants.” She had to correct him. At least he didn’t call slaves “unpaid interns.”
  • In his Washington Post interview, Northam somehow managed to hold everyone else responsible for his inexplicable ignorance: “It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equityThere are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entre­pre­neur­ship. And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes….First of all what I plan to do . . . is to make sure that we have sensitivity training — in our Cabinet, in our agencies. I also plan to reach out to our colleges and universities and talk about sensitivity training. Even into the K through 12 age range, that’s very important.”

The fact that Northam was and is jaw-droppingly obtuse and ignorant of the history of race in this country does not mean everyone is similarly handicapped.

  • Then the Governor had the gall to say  on CBS, “Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor. Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere.”

Ugh. The doctor line is an insult to everyone’s intelligence, and too facile to be accepted with anything but mockery. Doctors heal wounds and illnesses, not social and political maladies. Meanwhile, nothing in Northam’s handling of this scandal shows courage or a moral compass. What it shows is cultural obliviousness, a refusal to accept responsibility, and desperation to hold onto power despite being proven unfit to do so.

Northam doesn’t know racism when he sees it, and such a leader is hardly the one to address the problem.

I bet he’d enjoy “Prehistoric Man.”

 

________________________

Sources: The Hill 1, 2, Buzzfeed, National Review

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 2/10/2019: Icky, Creepy, And Wrong

Good Afternoon!

Working today to train a Clarence Darrow understudy for my Darrow legal ethics seminars that my original Clarence, the estimable Paul Morella, can’t fit into his schedule. I’ll be doing one such seminar in New Jersey this month. You can never have enough Clarence Darrows!

1. On the matter of corporations caving to social media mobs..here’s something completely stupid. Earlier this winter, Delta Air Lines distributed cocktail napkins with message, “Be a little old school,” in small print on the napkin, advertising Diet Coke. “Write down your number & give it to your plane crush. You never know …” There was a space on the napkin where a passenger could write down his or her name and another space for their number. The larger print said, “because you’re on a plane full of interesting people and hey,” again, “… you never know.”

The harmless stunt was condemned by some flyers on social media as “creepy,” and that was enough to spark a dual company grovel.  “We rotate Coke products regularly as part of our brand partnership, but missed the mark with this one. We are sorry for that and began removing the napkins from our aircraft in January,” Delta told USA Today in a statement. Coca-Cola added: “We sincerely apologize to anyone we may have offended. We worked with our partners at Delta to begin removing the napkins last month and are replacing them with other designs.”

I think it’s creepy that I often find myself sitting next to someone on a plane who is so close I can count his or her moles, and that neither of us will say a word to each other  for hours. I can’t fault Delta and Coke for trying to break the ice and encourage a more social atmosphere on planes, especially since the air travel experience has become increasingly grim and uncomfortable. I know more than one couple who owe their long marriage to a number scrawled on an airplane napkin. (Full disclosure: I once wrote a message to an attractive young  flight attendant who was especially effervescent. She smiled, and I never heard a word from her.)

All attempts at human contact with strangers aren’t harassment.

2. Ew. Did the National Enquirer try to blackmail Jeff Bezos? It sure sounds like it. Bezos says that the tabloid threatened to publish “dick pics” from his social media output if he didn’t get his paper, the Washington Post, to back off from its accusation that the Enquirer’s coverage of the nasty Bezos divorce was based on political animus rather than good ol’ old-fashioned tabloid sleeziness. You can read the Bezos blog post here.

The theory seems to be that the Enquirer is doing the bidding of President Trump, Saudi Arabia, or someone or something equally nefarious. And yes, the head of the Enquirer’s publishing outfit really is named “Pecker,” and it has nothing to do with the Bezos junk shot. Bezos is apparently releasing the Weiner-like photos someone hacked from his account to foil the extortion attempt. Let’s see: a) Nothing could lower my opinion of the National Enquirer. b) Ethics Alarms subscribes to the Naked VIP Principle, which is that if you are a public figure and send pictures of Mr. Wiggly to ANYONE over the internet, you deserve no sympathy for anything unpleasant that happens to you as a result.

I don’t care if “everybody does it’ (and if everybody really is taking crotch selfies and mailing them to friends and strangers, I don’t belong on this planet any more), if you do this, I don’t want to have anything to do with you.

3. This is useful for things like the Green New Deal. From the National Review, Williamson’s First Law. “Everything is simple if you don’t know a fucking thing about it.”

Perfect.

4.Now THIS is rejecting the presumption of innocence. Again: the position here is that Justin Fiarfax cannot do his job while under suspicion of serial rape allegations from named accusers willing to testify under oath, and should voluntarily step down. Duke, however, is asking him to leave a board using the false principle of guilty until proven innocent and “believe all accusers” standards.

“I am writing to let you know that Justin Fairfax will be asked to step down from the Sanford School Board of Visitors pending the resolution of the serious and deeply distressing allegations that have been made against him,” Dean Judith Kelley wrote in an email  to Sanford staff and students. “Sexual assault is abhorrent and unfortunately can occur right around us. I urge everyone to take survivors of sexual assault seriously, and to help build an environment that is safe and supportive for everyone,” she added.

Wrong. His presence does not make anyone “unsafe” because an unproven accusation has been made. Nor is it not taking sexual assault seriously to refuse to use a mere accusation to strip an accused man of his positions and honors. The board membership is mostly honorific. Duke is taking sides where it should be neutral. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 2/9/2019: “Your Host Is Finally Feeling Better’ Edition.

Good day!

1. More evidence that a lot of Americans have trouble with this “democracy” thing. Former Democratic Representative John Dingell ofMichigan died this week at 92. He became  the longest-serving member of Congress in history before he finally agreed not seek re-election in his 80s, but that’s not the real head-exploder in his obituary. It was this…

“Dingell first arrived to Congress in 1955, taking over the seat held by his father John Dingell, Sr., who had died earlier that year, and the younger Dingell continued to serve in the House for more than 59 years. He announced in 2014 that he would not seek re-election and instead his wife, Debbie Dingell, ran for his seat and is now serving her third term.”

A little googling will reveal that Daddy Dingell served in Congress from 1933 until Junior took over. That means that voters in the district have sent only members of the Dingell family to Washington for 86 years. Debbie Dingell, the alliterative named widow of the departed, had no apparent experience in legislation before she was elected to hold the Perpetual Dingell Seat.

This is laziness, civic inattention, vestigial aristocracy and passive democracy at work, or rather, in a semi-coma. There is no excuse for electing leaders based on family connections and name recognition, except that Americans have been doing it for a couple of centuries. I know you can’t fix stupid, but the parties are exploiting stupid, and that goes to the heart of democracy’s greatest weakness: government by the people means a lot of really lazy, ignorant, biased and irresponsible people are going to involved in government.

2. Of course. The New York Times today defends the ongoing efforts by Congressional Democrats to make it impossible for the elected President to govern by burying the administration in specious and intrusive investigations. “Harassment? Nope. Oversight.” is the disingenuous headline of the paper’s Saturday editorial. Oversight is an important Congressional function, but investigations based on the logic “Gee, this guy seems sleazy to me and we don’t trust billionaires, so let’s keep digging into his personal and business affairs until we find some dirt” or “So far our impeachment bills have gone nowhere, but if we keep investigating, I bet we can find some real offenses” are not oversight. Oversight must be handled in good faith, and there is no good faith among Democrats, who made their intentions clear the second Trump humiliated Hillary Clinton. Their stated objective is to get him removed from office by any means possible, and if that fails, at least to reduce his public support to the point where he cannot govern. Harassment in the workplace is defined by creating a hostile work environment that makes it impossible for the target to do his or her job. Could this describe what kind of work environment the “resistance” and the news media (the Times, in defending Congressional Democrats, is also defending itself) have created for President Trump any more precisely? Continue reading