“You Keep Using That Word, ‘Ethics.’ I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means…” [CORRECTED!]

The Wisconsin Ethics Commission is a supposedly essential and honorable government agency whose mission is “ to promote and strengthen the faith and confidence of the people of Wisconsin in their government, support the operation of open and responsible government, preserve the integrity of the governmental decision-making process, and protect the rights of individuals through the administration of Wisconsin’s campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws, and through readily available and understandable disclosure of information.​”

Democrat Scot Ross was named to Wisconsin’s state Ethics Commission last week.  What are his qualifications? Well, he’s a career partisan journalist and bare-knuckles political activist, neither of which are occupations that tend to build strong ethics alarms, or, as they are currently conceived, have any use for them. They do have a tendency to vomit out people like Ross.

This week,  the new ethics commission member retweeted a photoshopped image —Do I really have to show it to you? I guess I do— Continue reading

Let’s Knock Down Another Partisan False Narrative, Shall We? Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee

“How the Supreme Court Curtailed The Right To Vote For Thousands” is the New York Times headline about the Wisconsin elections fiasco this month. The headline is misleading and inflammatory, insinuating that the Court majority aided and abetted a Republican effort to suppress votes. In fact, the majority, headed by Justice Kavanaugh, followed the law. I don’t know if Jim Rutenberg and Nick Corasanti, who wrote the story, actually read the opinion they are criticizing. I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

Luckily, Professor Turley was irritated about this, and explained why the narrative was garbage ten days ago. In a blog post titled, No, The Supreme Court Did Not Just Help Rig The Wisconsin Election,” Turley wrote in part (but read it all):

…The decision of the Supreme Court to reverse the decision of a district court judge on extending the voting for the Wisconsin election this week has generated breathless headlines and comparisons to the Bush v. Gore decision in the 2000 elections. Such hyperbolic language aside, the decision was actually quite narrow and well-supported. Moreover, the dissent is chastising the majority for denying relief that the Wisconsin Democrats never requested from the District Court in their original preliminary injunction motion.

Translation: the minority, made up of Democratic appointees, were taking a partisan position based on politics, exactly what the Times reporters accused the conservative majority of doing.

The issue in Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee was not whether an election would be held this week in Wisconsin. … the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked Gov. Tony Evers’ late executive order postponing in-person voting in Tuesday’s elections — specifically postponing the state’s presidential primary and hundreds of local elections. Evers’ took the unilateral action after he was refused his request by a special legislative session…. Evers previously admitted that “my hands are tied” in ordering a delay of the election and the legislature would have to do so. It then proceeded to refuse to do so. Evers then declared that he had the authority after all.

Got that? The Governor fist said that he didn’t have the power, then reversed himself when the legislature, which did have the power, refused to do what he and his party wanted. But as Turley points out, he was right the first time, since “his authority was transparently weak…He does not have that express unilateral authority under existing law.”

Turley goes on to say that he agrees with the governor that holding the election posed  “am unnecessary risk and forces citizens to choose between minimizing their exposure and declining to participate in the election. …However, this is ultimately a question for the state legislature.” If the law says it’s the legislature and only the legislature that can postpone an election, the fact that one party really really really wants it postponed doesn’t and can’t change the law, even if that party happens to be right.

OK,  pay attention now, because this is a mess: Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/20/19: Ancient Icelanders And Others Behaving Badly

Good Morning!

1. Confession: I called a stranger an asshole on Facebook yesterday. I had patiently explained to a Facebook Borg-infected friend that no, the Justice Department report on Hillary’s email fiasco had not proven for all time that she hadn’t “done anything wrong,” quite the contrary. The report revealed that she was directly responsible for over 600 security breaches (after saying otherwise for more than a year). That means that she was reckless, incompetent, irresponsible and dishonest, and, since the applicable statute doesn’t require intent, could have been prosecuted. The report did find that there was no evidence that Clinton deliberately set out to endanger national security, which was never the issue.

Some clod following the thread wrote that you “could sure tell who follows Fox News talking points.” Well, I’m sick of that lazy deflection, and anyone who uses it, especially on me, is an asshole, and needs to be told.  maybe ist not too late to get treatment. It’s even more of an asshole thing to say than the reflex “But ….Trump!” retort.

2. Yes, this is unethical. Yes, it is newsworthy. No, it is receiving almost no national coverage outside of conservative news sources. Rep. Katie Hill, Vice Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has been engaged in a three-way sexual relationship involving a  staffer and her husband. This would not matter to me, and should not matter to you, except that the woman involved is Hill’s subordinate. The workplace is not a dating bar or personal harem, not in the private sector, not in Congress. In addition, close personal relationships create conflicts of interest for the supervisor in any office. I would mention the inherent imbalance of power that makes it impossible for an employee to consent to a superior’s advances in such a situation, but of course Lee knows that, being an ardent #MeToo and Time’s Up! supporter.

The hypocrisy in the Democratic Party on this issue is wide, deep, and nauseating, except, I guess, to Democrats. Last week, discussing this issue with lawyers following my ethics seminar, a usually smart, fair, male attorney actually opined that Joe Biden’s serial non-consensual groping wasn’t really a problem because “he didn’t mean it to be sexual assault.” The lawyer really said this, though “I didn’t mean anything by it” has been the reflex excuse of every sexual harasser from Bill O’Reilly to Louis C.K.

3. Stipulated: President Trump’s harsh rhetoric in the aborted White House meeting with Democrats was one more stupid self-inflicted wound. Given the barrage of ad hominem attacks by the party that she leads, and the disrespect for the office that Pelosi herself has orchestrated (that mocking clap at the State of the Union speech alone was unforgivable), Trump was certainly provoked, but the President is not supposed to slide into the gutter just because his adversaries live there. It’s swell to be a “fighter”—Trump is probably correct that Mitt Romney would have been elected President in 2012 if he had a some Trump in him—but that doesn’t mean that gratuitous incivility and nastiness is a competent or responsible political strategy.

However, this image, part of a cartoon by Andy Marlette for the Pensacola News Journal earlier this year… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/13/2019: Rhode Island On My Mind Edition

 

Providence, Rhode Island

Good morning!

I’m heading up to Little Rhodey in a few hours to once again collaborate with my brilliant Ethics Rock musician Mike Messer before the Rhode Island Bar, as well as to try to back about 7 hours of legal ethics and technology commentary into a 75 minute break-out session.

1. Once again, law vs ethics.The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld those lame duck laws the GOP legislature passed to hamstring the new Democratic Governor. It is the correct decision. The measures were unethical, but legal, just like Mitch McConnell’s gambit to refuse giving Merrick Garland a hearing, just like Harry Reid’s “reconciliation” maneuver to get the amended Affordable Care Act passed without having to send it  back to the House.

2. Correct, but futile.  From the Washington Post: Continue reading

Bleary-Eyed Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/12/2019: Omar, Warren, Hillary, Morrissey, And Bradley/Chelsea

good morning.

The previous time I traveled, I couldn’t get to sleep in the hotel ( as usual) until the early morning hours, and the hotel neglected to give me a wake-up call. I woke up two hours late and almost missed my engagement. Last night I couldn’t sleep (and this is a terrific hotel), finally got to sleep around 5 am…and my wake-up call came 30 minutes early. When I ignored it, the staff knocked on the door to see if I was dead…still before the time I had requested for a wake-up.

1. Facebook being Facebook. The social media giant doesn’t just censor Ethics Alarms, it censors Elizabeth Warren. Facebook removed several ads that Senator. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign published on the its platform. The ads promoted the Massachusetts Senator’s proposals to break up tech company monopolies like Facebook. The company quickly back-tracked when it got the obvious reaction for such ham-handed suppression of dissent, and claimed that it was all a big mistake. The ads were restored, it said, in the interests of “vigorous debate.”

Sure. Why am I still on Facebook?

2. Certainly we respect your moral objections to the law, Chelsea. And we expect you to respect the fact that you have to go to jail. Chelsea Manning, who in her previous incarnation as Bradley Manning committed treason by sending classified documents to Wikileaks, endangering U.S. personnel and aiding its enemies. Now she is defying a judge and refusing to testify before a grand jury despite having been given immunity, on the grounds that she has a “moral objection” to grand jury secrecy. Manning, who has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer, is not a lawyer, is not a philosopher, and as a traitor (whose prison sentence was commuted by President Obama), her assessment of what is moral or ethical should carry as much weight as R. Kelly’s endorsement of women’s rights. Grand jury secrecy is essential to the justice system, of course. A judge has said that Manning will stay in jail until she testifies, and since she ought to be in jail anyway, let’s hope she maintains her “moral” stand. In reality, she is likely to only stay jailed until the grand jury is through, which will be 18 months. Pity. Continue reading

The Cheerleader Awards

What would EVER possess someone to give out body part awards to cheerleaders?

This astounding, depressing story, out of Wisconsin, not only makes me wonder about the ethics alarms of everyone involved. It makes me wonder about whether such alarms exist in out species.

Kenosha’s Tremper High School  cheerleading squad held its annual banquet last March,  and handed out some “gag awards” to members of the squad. Among them:

  • The Big Boobie Award. for the girl with the biggest breasts. The coach giving the award joked that the girl  concussions when she ran because  her “enormous boobs” might flip-up and knock her out.
  • The Big Booty Award.  The coach presenting that one said: “We love her butt. Everybody loves her butt.”
  • The String Bean Award, given to a  freshman who “was so light and skinny.”
  • The previous year, a blonde wig was awarded to a cheerleader for being a “ditzy girl.”

The one hundred guests at the event included many parents. Apparently the coaches were surprised that many of them had problems with the tenor of the “awards.”  As this tear’s awards approached, and after the school and its coaches had brushed aside the complaints, arguing that it was all in good fun, the ACLU interjected itself for some reason. (A parent sicced the civil rights group on the school.) From the Times story: Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/2/18: Stupid Legislature Tricks, NFL Values, And Google Is Now Evil, So Watch Out

Good Morning!

Haven’t featured the Battle Hymn of the Republic for a while: it was the musical climax of my Dad’s funeral service at Arlington National Cemetary. My many performer friends sure came through that day. “Wow,” the chaplain exclaimed when the rousing three choruses were finished.

1. On Wisconsin. After a party flip in state governments, the party on the way out will occasionally try to pass lame duck legislation to try to hamstring the new majority. I’m pretty Ethics Alarms has covered other examples of this in the past; if not, it’s because the stunt is usually grandstanding for the base, or mere politics Such laws often fail to  withstand judicial challenge. If a legislature can get away with it, then it’s in the ethics gray zone of politics.

On Monday, the GOP majority Wisconsin legislature will try to pass as much as it can of a huge bill with many dubious or controversial provisions, including some that would limit the new governor’s powers to control the state attorney general, and others that would constrict broad powers the same legislature gave to the defeated Republican governor, Scott Walker. As long as a legislature has power to act, one cannot logically criticize efforts to benefit that legislature’s majority party and its constituents until it has the power to do so no more. If the parties mutually agreed to informally ban such lame duck tricks, that would be wonderful.

As it would be if I could win an Olympic swimming medal.

Sources: Journal-Sentinel 1, 2, 3

2. How clever, and further vulgarizing public discourse, too! I have now heard two ad for Christmas products use the term “elfing,” as in “It’s elfing awesome!” ZOne was a TBS ad for the movie “Elf.”

Really? Obvious plays on the word fuck to promote Christmas and a children’s film? Continue reading