September 2005 "Easy Calls"
  • House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has been indicted in Texas, a turn of events that, if not inevitable, was certainly predictable. The Scoreboard will not speculate on his guilt, as the prosecutor may be unable to prove this particular case to a jury's satisfaction. But as this site has chronicled for over a year ( it is inaccurate to say "thoroughly chronicled" because to do that where DeLay's ethical shortcomings are concerned would squeeze out all other topics), Representative DeLay treats ethical constraints as merely annoying obstacles to be cleverly avoided, and people who think like this more often than not end up violating laws. Law and ethics are distinct, but if one has little regard or respect for one, problems with the other are likely to follow. Democrats will certainly use the problems of this GOP champion to mount arguments that the whole national party is stained with corruption, and if they do so and the charges stick, Republicans have only themselves to blame. The warning signs that Tom DeLay played dirty have been bright and flashing for a long, long time, and Republicans and conservatives responded to every ethical violation attributed to DeLay by shouting, "Partisan politics! Smear tactics! Technicalities!" DeLay stacked the House Ethics Committee with cronies and seemingly had a new ethics controversy to explain every month, but The Faithful's attitude remained, in essence, "Ethics, Shmethics. He's effective!"…the same ethically threadbare argument that was the mantra of Clinton Democrats during most of his eight years. That is the value system of a group that neither understands nor cares about ethical conduct, and such groups are quite properly called "corrupt." It is unlikely that the current Democrats are any better in this regard, but it isn't their House leader who is a serial ethics offender, or their Senate leader who just completed an unusually well-timed stock dump. Perhaps if the GOP's contempt for ethics becomes an electoral liability, the party may recognize that it is long overdue for a values check. (9/28/2005)
  • Joe Francis, the skuzzy genius and tycoon who thought up "Girls Gone Wild," his series of best-selling video tapes and DVDs consisting of nothing but college co-eds baring their comely breasts in return for a free T-shirt and a chance to sign a release, is donating all of the proceeds from online sales of his Mardi Gras installment to the Red Cross Katrina relief efforts. Sullied cash, you say? Noah! It's legal, the exhibitionist girls are hardly being deceived, and it's a whole lot of money that can do a whole lot of good. Assistance from terrorists, drug lords, bank robbers or aging Caribbean dictators trying to cause diplomatic mischief can and should be rejected, but just because the "Girls Gone Wild" DVDs and tapes are designed for the Howard Stern set, would cause any father to keel over dead if his daughter appeared in them, and are to porn what Hershey's Kisses are to Mister Goodbar doesn't make the donation by Francis any less laudable or sincere. (Somehow, I just can't see the tapes having more appeal because the guy who films the young, topless and frequently smashed women may be a mensch.) A general rule of ethics is that when people, even unsavory people, want to do something good, let them. Thanks, Joe. (9/26/2005)

  • The Cleveland Clinic is preparing to perform the first face transplant, in which the face of a cadaver donated for medical research will be grafted onto a recipient whose face has been disfigured. This is hailed by some as a great medical advance, condemned by others as unethical, and correctly identified by most as a very silly John Travolta-Nicholas Cage action movie come disturbingly true. But is it unethical? Why would it be? There is a great tendency to call any medical or scientific advance unethical, as in "If God had meant us to wear other people's faces, he would have made them easier to take off." It isn't unethical to use plastic surgery to make oneself look like a celebrity, or wear a mask, or use make-up. And the new procedure is for people who don't have a face at all, or at least one that they feel comfortable showing in public. It's a little creepy, and it might be theoretically disconcerting to think that you might walk down the street some day and see a stranger wearing your late father's face. But creepy isn't unethical, and the chances of a statistical long-shot coming unsettlingly to pass isn't such a terrible possibility that it outweighs the obvious therapeutic benefit of helping burn victims and other disfigured people live normal lives. When and if the procedure becomes perfected, there may well be unethical uses for it (forcing nice guy John Travolta to give his face to evil criminal Nicholas Cage comes to mind), but saying a new procedure can be put to unethical uses is not the same as saying the procedure itself is wrong. The verdict is clear: face transplants are new, amazing, a godsend for some and an oddity for the rest of us. But unethical? Not until Michael Jackson suddenly turns up looking like Mister Rogers. (9/21/2005)

  • It appears that an accurate gauge of one's fairness, respectfulness, and empathy level, not to mention understanding of international diplomacy and maturity level, is how one reacts to Reuters' silly non-story about President Bush's so called "potty note" to Condoleezza Rice at the United Nations. For those who have had better things to do than follow this latest episode of "Let's Ridicule the President," Bush found himself needing a men's room break during last week's ceremonies at the U.N. celebrating the organization's 60th anniversary. Prudently, since the most trivial gestures can be taken as an insult when international diplomacy is involved, Bush wrote a note to his Secretary of State asking if there was any chance of him taking a bathroom break, obviously with the intent of checking the proper protocol to make certain that excusing himself wouldn't cause an international incident. By sheerest accident, a Reuters cameraman picked up the note on camera, and in a debatable newsroom decision (if not a surprising one, given that service's general level of hostility to America in general and Bush in particular) Reuters decided to make the note "news." And Voila! The internet is buzzing with snide, nasty, and downright vicious commentary about how the President of the United States is such a dolt that he has to ask permission to go to the bathroom. A visit to, for example, the Bush-bashing blog "The Huntington Post" reveals a stunning level of venom…an orgy of hate, really, that would be inappropriate and mean-spirited even if the note actually was proof of what the writers say it was. But as the note was simply an example of a head of state taking a necessary precaution that apparently his critics are too naïve and ignorant to perceive ("The President can just get up and go to the bathroom any time he wants to," says one would-be international scholar. "Trust me!" Ah, the glorious certainty of those unencumbered by accountability or expertise…), the invective is completely indefensible, unethical, and says a lot more about the authors than it does about the target.(9/20/2005)

  • FEMA head Michael Brown's decision to resign was the right one, no matter how one analyzes it. The more important ethical question is whether he should have accepted the job in the first place. He is far from the first person who was named to a key government position requiring more experience than he had on his resume (for those of you who haven't been painting protest signs reading "Brownie's a Boob," his sole qualifications for the job appear to be having the same friends as the President and being a Republican), and it is historical fact that some unqualified appointees in America's past have surprised everyone and performed quite well. Bobby Kennedy (a very inexperienced Attorney General for his brother JFK) and Earl Warren (a seemingly unforgivable choice by Ike for Chief Justice) come to mind. But there are four obligations for any lucky appointee who rides his connections rather than his abilities (I would have said "track record," but since Brown's previous job had been overseeing the breeding of thoroughbred horses, it seemed like a cheap shot) to power. First, be responsible enough not to accept the job if you have reasonable doubts that you can do it well. Second, if you do accept, get a deputy and a staff that have all the experience you don't. Third, be more informed, and work twice as hard as someone qualified to do the job. We can't know for sure about the first obligation, but Brown clearly didn't meet #2 or #3. And all three obligations are especially mandatory when your job performance will probably make the difference between life and death for many people. After all, if you are going to accept the job of chief surgeon at a city hospital without having performed many operations, you better be prepared to do some serious catching up, and fast. The life-and-death aspect of the FEMA job makes Brown's decision to take it (as well as Bush's decision to appoint him) irresponsible and reckless. Brown wasn't in the position of a doctor lacking surgery experience asked to become chief surgeon; he was more like an ambulance driver. If he really thought he could handle the job, he was engaging in self-delusion as well as a stunning amount of hubris. Ambition is fine; optimism is wonderful, but agreeing to accept the leadership of FEMA without considering the likely consequences of one's lack of ability to perform its duties is ethically indefensible.

    I mentioned four obligations, and listed only three. The fourth is the obligation to resign as soon as your unreasonable expectations that you could do a job prove foolhardy. Brown met this one, but a lot of suffering people in the Gulf Coast would agree that it was too little and too late. (9/15/2005)

  • When President Clinton's national security advisor Sandy Berger appeared to have gotten a rap on the wrists ( in the form of a suspended sentence and a $10,000 fine) as he pled guilty to taking and destroying classified documents from the National Archives, it appeared to be yet another example of the Washington crony system protecting its own. But to her credit, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson Berger refused to accept the terms of Berger's deal with prosecutors, and ordered him to pay $50,000. That hurts. Not as much as the prison time Berger so richly deserves, but enough to serve as real punishment. Berger still appears to be in denial or, more likely, lying his head off as he maintains that his act was "innocent" and "bad judgement." To the rest of the world, it sure looks like someone who had every reason to know how serious his violation was hid classified papers in his clothes, took them home and destroyed them to cover the tracks of his culpability for the September 11th bombings before the 9/11 Commission could examine them, as was their intent. We'll never know for sure, because Berger accomplished his mission. But some justice has been done.

    Pay up, Sandy. (9/9/2005)

  • Ohio Governor Bob Taft recently pled guilty to multiple violations of the Ohio ethics statute, with most of the infractions having to do with accepting gifts and golf outings from state contractors. It was small potatoes stuff, at least compared with the gubernatorial scandals fresh in the memories of Connecticut and New Jersey residents. But Taft is still dead wrong by refusing to resign. He must resign, and if he doesn't, Ohioans should insist on it. Never mind that there are still a lot of questions about how much he knew about his friend Tom Noe's schemes to defraud the state's pension fund of millions (currently missing) with a rare coin investment scheme. Even the relatively small violations of the $75 gift limit on Ohio elected officials that Taft has admitted to in court disqualify him as a leader who can credibly oversee an honest and uncorrupted state government. A leader must be held to the highest standard of ethical conduct (I recognize that frequent visitors to the Scoreboard are sick of reading this), and breaking the ethics laws doesn't even reach the lowest acceptable standard As usual, the defenders of the governor are making the usual "he makes the trains run on time" arguments, which, if you think about it (they clearly don't) amounts to saying that the better you are at your job, the more corrupt you can be while doing it. I know it must make Granddaddy (and former President and U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice) William Howard Taft roll over in his grave, but this Taft, if he has any integrity left, is obligated to resign in disgrace. (9/4/2005)

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