November 2006 "Easy Calls"
  • Democratic Speaker-in-Waiting Nancy Pelosi did the right thing by finally agreeing that Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, who was impeached by the U.S. Senate as a federal judge in 1989, had no business chairing the House Intelligence Committee. It should have been an easy decision, but Pelosi hesitated just long enough to make voters wonder whether they simply exchanged one corrupt party for another (the Scoreboard’s assessment: of course they did!). Hastings still professes his innocence because a jury acquitted him of criminal charges, but anyone who has read the facts of the case and believes Hastings got a raw deal probably thinks O.J. is innocent too. Make no mistake: Hastings was a corrupt judge, and should not have been elected to Congress for even one term, much less eight. His seniority proves that the voters in his district are perfectly happy to have a crook represent them, but it doesn’t make him any more acceptable as chair of a critical committee. The fact that Pelosi even considered appointing him for so long is troubling, but sometimes in ethics, as in life, "better late than never" applies. [11/29/2006]
  • No doubt: Trent Lott had to step down as Senate Majority Leader in 2002 after the Republican was heard coast-to-coast telling retiring antediluvian Senator Strom Thurmond that the country would have been better off if he had won his race for the presidency back in 1948. The problem, of course, was that Thurmond was running on a States Rights segregation platform, so by implication, Lott seemed to be saying that America would be better off without all that burdensome civil rights stuff, equal treatment under the law and the rest of it. There is no chance, zero, that this is what Lott meant by his comment. He was obviously trying to say nice things at the 100th birthday party of a long-time colleague, and stepped on a land mine that had been ready to explode for 54 years. It was an act of political carelessness and stupidity motivated by kindness, but being dumb is not the same as being unethical. In a more generous and less polarized time, Lott’s critics and colleagues would have treated the embarrassing gaffe as the mistake they knew it was. Instead, when the civil rights lobby predictably exploited Lott’s words to get headlines and grab political leverage, everyone, Lott’s friend and foes alike, condemned him as if he had waved a Confederate flag from the Senate gallery. The Scoreboard had little is sympathy for Trent Lott. He earned his fate; the political environment is what it is, and one of his jobs as a party leader was to avoid handing Democrats an opportunity to paint the whole party as Klansmen without sheets. Thurmond’s segregationist past was an embarrassment to him and his party, and the fact that Lott couldn’t see the inappropriateness of mentioning it in a positive context, even to make a very old man happy in his waning moments on earth, made his removal as Senate Leader mandatory. Now Lott is back leading the Senate, after the spectacularly inept job performed by his successor, Bill Frist. It does not mean, as some in the media have suggested, that the GOP are re-embracing a proven racist, for Lott’s record shows that he is no Dixiecrat. It does mean that they are giving another chance to a hard-working loyalist who used terrible political judgement and embarrassed his party four years ago. That may prove to be a political blunder, but it certainly isn’t unethical. [11/29/2006]
  • The latest celebrity to try to extricate himself from a public display of bigotry is Michael “Cosmo Kramer” Richards of “Seinfeld” fame. Like his fellow sufferers Mel Gibson and defeated U.S. Senator George Allen, Richards is trying what the Scoreboard calls “the Linda Blair defense.” The Linda Blair defense holds that the utterer of offensive slurs was essentially possessed by a mysterious entity, and that, all appearances to the contrary, he is not prejudiced and he has no idea why such vile words began issuing from his mouth. The Linda Blair defense is a lie and an unconvincing one, far less convincing than Linda Blair’s demonic possession in “The Exorcist,” pea soup and all. Experience and logic tells us that unprejudiced people do not, even when drunk, begin blaming all wars on the Jews; do not, even in the heat of a political campaign, suddenly call a dark-skinned college student a “made-up” word that happens to be a racial slur; and certainly do not, even when they lose their tempers, unleash a barrage of racial epithets on African American audience members. The Scoreboard isn’t sure what Richards can do to salvage his career after his recent on-stage meltdown, but he might as well start by accepting responsibility for his words. Until we see “Kramer’s” head spin all the way around, the Linda Blair defense just isn’t going to fly. [11/26/2006]
  • A school bus driver from the Issaquah School District was recently fired for "giving the finger" to President Bush during a June visit to Seattle. When the school bus was stopped for the presidential motorcade, Bush waved to the school children from his limousine and the bus driver made an obscene gesture at him in response. The President was in Seattle to speak at a fundraiser for Congressman Dave Reichert, who was riding in the same limousine. Reichert said that Bush mentioned the gesture to him, but it was apparently seen by others. The 43 year-old driver is appealing, and surely the ACLU is warming up its jets. But this is no First Amendment case. It is a clear example of unprofessional conduct that embarrasses one’s employers. The driver is free to flip-off anyone he wants on his own time, crude as that may be. But when he’s wearing the uniform of the Issaquah School District, he is representing the district, not himself. For the driver to insult the President of the United States with a vulgar gesture in the view of school children is a firing offense if there ever was one. There are many civil, effective, and ethical ways to express one’s disagreement with a public figure. This isn’t one of them, and anyone who interacts with children in a school-related job has a duty to display good citizenship and manners at all times. We already have too many obscenity-spouting, crude louts making their feelings known through invective and insults rather than argument and logic. We don’t need to be training more. [11/20/2006]
  • According to the New York Post, mega pop-tart-turned-Mom Britney Spears informed her darling hubby Kevin Federline that she wanted a divorce via text message. Now, neither Kevin, who courted Britney behind the back of his pregnant girlfriend, or Britney herself, who is about as good a role model for her teeny-bopper fans as Anna Nicole Smith, are favorites of the Ethics Scoreboard. But no lectures about modern communications and changes in manners will convince this ethicist that not telling your spouse face-to-face that you are dissolving what was supposed to be a lifetime union of love is anything but disrespectful, cowardly, and mean. According to Federline’s pals, quoted by the Post, he was completely ambushed by the Blackberry message, but then K-Fed, as the tabloids call him, is not exactly Atticus Finch and it would not be a surprise if that story was just horsefeathers. Still, there’s no excuse for what Spears did, not even the frequently persuasive defense against charges of unethical behavior that the offender isn’t so much unethical as dim-witted. There may be plenty of circumstantial evidence that Britney Spears is as dumb as a box of C-clamps, but nobody is this dumb. When you break up, file for divorce, propose marriage, fire someone or quit your job, do it in person, or at least over the phone. Nobody, not even unfaithful gold-digging rappers without visible talent, deserves to be dumped by text message. [11/13/2006]
  • During the just completed World Series, Boston celebrated, if you can call it that, the 20th anniversary of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s game-losing error in the 6th Game of the 1986 World Series. Whether Buckner deserved the abuse heeped on him by some reporters and fans has always been a guaranteed argument-starter in Beantown, and many fans feel sympathy for him, as he has often expressed bitterness at the city’s baseball zealots for making it impossible for his family to live there. Buckner refuses to discuss the error in interviews, and vocally rejected the team’s invitation to him to attend the unveiling of its 2004 World Series Champion banner. But a column in the Boston Globe by reporter Eric Wilbur has some fans mad at Buckner all over again. It seems that while he has been condemning Boston fans for making him the "goat" of that crushing World Series loss, he has also been cashing in on the role by autographing photographs of the play, co-signed by the New York Met who hit the dribbler that rolled between Buckner’s legs, Mookie Wilson. Buckner also makes public appearances with Wilson. Isn’t it wrong for Buckner to angrily decry his unfair designation as "the man who lost Boston the 1986 World Series" and simultaneously accept profit because it? No. This is called "making lemonade out of lemons." Fairly or unfairly, Buckner’s botch, seen by millions live and replayed ad nauseum on videotape, is firmly entrenched in baseball lore. He’s stuck with being identified with that little grounder forever. He has every right to complain about it, and he has every right to extract whatever benefits from it that he can. It isn’t wrong for him to dislike the nature of the fame fate crafted for him, but as long as it’s there, he should have no hesitation about making money out of it. There’s nothing wrong with that. [ 11/11/2006]
  • In the wake of Senator Kerry’s "botched joke" and even more botched attempt to blame it on everyone but himself, a revealing number of "Angry Left" commentators applauded his manifestly irresponsible, dishonest and uncivil response to the calls for an obviously justified apology. Markos Moulitsas, the "Daily Kos," wrote that "Kerry responded perfectly." Another blog headlined the fiasco "Kerry grows a spine." Others, like MSNBC’s increasingly self-important Keith Olberman, adopted Kerry’s absurd defense:
    "He said the trip had reminded him about the value of education —that "if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you can get stuck in Iraq." The senator, in essence, called Mr. Bush stupid. The context was unmistakable: Texas; the state of denial; stuck in Iraq. No interpretation required. And Mr. Bush and his minions responded by appearing to be too stupid to realize that they had been called stupid."
    This interpretation of events is itself, well, stupid—willfully ignorant of the fact that most people (including me) who watched the video, heard the tape or read the very same words Olberman quotes initially interpreted Kerry’s remarks exactly as Bush has. After all, Kerry, despite his current amnesia on the topic, famously denigrated American servicemen in combat before, in his testimony before Congress on the topic of Viet Nam. And given the inconvenient fact that Bush managed to obtain both a Yale diploma (while getting grades a bit better than Mr. Kerry’s permanent record shows) and a post-graduate masters degree in business from Harvard, Kerry’s attributing the dire circumstances in Iraq to Bush’s lack of scholarly diligence was more than a bit of a stretch. "The Angry Left" (yes, it is open to question whether Olberman is actually a member of the group or simply pandering to it for ratings purposes) showed that it is so consumed with contempt, disrespect, hatred and dark paranoid fantasies about President Bush and the Republicans that they have suspended or ditched their sense of fairness and their comprehension of basic ethical concepts like accountability and respect. This does not bode well for them or their future. Most groups lose their ethical bearings only after they acquire power. If the flaming Bush-haters are going to wield influence from anywhere besides Canada or cyberspace, they had better learn the difference between right and wrong.
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