Thursday, October 16, 2008

On Ethics and Sarah Palin

As I read about the report on Governor Palin's alleged violation of ethics laws and rules, I started getting the strangest sense of deja vu -- that I had read pretty much the same story, but with somewhat different details. And that I had read it more than once. Here was the story of someone with a stated agenda of reform getting tripped up by their political foes over a technical violation of ethics rules, being roundly denounced as corrupt and venial and selfish far and wide. And it had played out before. But I could not remember where.

Then I heard a news account on the world credit crisis, and they mentioned the World Bank. That triggered it: Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz had left the Bush Administration to head up the World Bank, but was forced out after it came out that he had authorized a significant raise for his paramour, a longtime World Bank Employee.

Wolfowitz had his defense ready -- before he accepted the position, he had fully disclosed their relationship to the directors. Further, he put in steps to make sure that she would not come under his direct authority, and isolated himself from any part in her career. Until it came time for her annual raises. All the underlings passed the buck upstream until it reached his desk, saying that her position had risen to the point where no one short of the head of the bank -- Wolfowitz himself -- had to sign off on the matter. He consulted the ethics board, and they punted the issue back in his lap. So he signed off on it without comment. Then they had him. Someone else within the bank filed an ethics complaint over Wolfowitz giving his girlfriend a healthy raise, and that was that. Wolfowitz was out.

And, oddly, I was reminded -- tangentially -- of former Representative Tom DeLay. DeLay had the misfortune of crossing the path of a very enthusiastic prosecutor in Texas with a history of going after his political rivals and opponents. This prosecutor was convinced that DeLay was corrupt, and started investigating. He thought he had found some fundraising irregularities in DeLay's campaign, so he brought the matter to a grand jury. They refused to indict DeLay.

So he waited for a new grand jury, and tried for another indictment. This time he got it, but there was one slight problem: the deeds that DeLay was charged with had occurred the year before the law banning them was passed. In brief, the prosecutor had charged DeLay with breaking a law before it was a law -- and that is a violation of the United States Constitution. The indictment was dismissed.

But the third time is the charm, it sees. The prosecutor took his digging to a third grand jury, won a second indictment against DeLay, and finally won his conviction. Now, I'm not saying that DeLay was any kind of a saint. Indeed, it's long been a belief of mine that when it comes to members of Congress, the presumption should be "guilty until proven innocent," and I never had any great respect or affection for DeLay. But when a prosecutor has to go to these great lengths -- one grand jury refused to indict, and a second that has to violate the Constitution to hand up its indictment -- I'm convinced that it's more likely of a prosecutor with a vendetta than a flagrantly corrupt politician. And that, to me, is far more dangerous than a pol who takes some money than he should.

But back to Sarah Palin. What exactly does that report say, and what does it mean? First off, it's not any official, final report. It's just the report of the investigator to the legislative committee that hired him. Second, the two conclusions come across as somewhat contradictory:

* Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) provides: The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust.

*Although Walt Monegan's refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Sarah Palin, it was likely a contributing factor to his termination as Commissioner of Public Safety. In spite of that, Governor Palin's firing of Commissioner Monegan was a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads.

So, Palin had the "proper and lawful" authority to fire Monegan, because she "likely" had his refusal to fire Trooper Wooten as part of her motive, she violated the law which said that public officials must not act in any manner where they might have a personal interest.

That law is so poorly crafted as to be essentially useless. If applied literally, then Palin has violated it countless times. Her husband works for an oil company. Therefore, every single time she has dealt officially with oil companies, she has violated it. He also works as a commercial fisherman. Therefore Palin should have nothing to do with any sort of laws governing the fishing industry. Her teenage daughter is pregnant. Therefore she cannot act on any law helping pregnant teens. Three of her children attend public schools. Therefore she must recuse herself from any matters dealing with education. Her youngest child has Down Syndrome. She has to avoid any issue that deals with children with special needs.

What's more entertaining is to take the same standard and apply it to her current rivals. Of course, Alaskan laws have no legal standing on the actions of Senators from Illinois and Delaware, but it's a fun little exercise.

Barack Obama steered a one-million-dollar earmark to his wife's employer, shortly after she received a raise that more than doubled her salary. And Joe Biden voted in favor of several companies after they had hired his son to lobby on their behalf. Were they Alaskan officials, those would be open-and-shut cases of ethics violations.

But let's get serious once again. Palin's failing here is not in trying to get Wooten fired, but in not stopping members of her family from doing that. In brief, Palin is being held responsible for her husband's pursuing Wooten's dismissal.

First, is that such a bad thing? Wooten, it is clear, is a bad cop. The Alaskan state police investigated the allegations made by Palin's family and upheld most of them. He was found to have violated numerous laws and regulations, laws he was charged with upholding -- and was given a slap on the wrist for them. Wooten drank while on duty, in his cruiser. He shot a moose without a license. He used his taser on his 10-year-old stepson. And he threatened to kill his father-in-law if he helped Wooten's wife get a lawyer for a divorce Any one of these would get an average person arrested and fined, if not jailed. Instead, Wooten's superiors gave him a ten-day suspension from his job. And when his union protested, it was reduced to five days.

This is the situation Todd Palin found himself in. Here was a man who was threatening to kill Palin's sister-in-law and father-in-law, who had used a taser on Palin's nephew in front of Palin's daughter. And not only was he allowed to stay on the job as a law enforcement officer, but as his wife became governor, that very same agency was charged with protecting the physical safety of his wife and their immediate family. In those circumstances, what sort of person would not pursue every legal option to protect his family? Apparently, the kind of person who has the great misfortune to be married to an elected official.

As far as I can tell, once she became governor, Sarah Palin should have sat down with her husband and said "now, honey, I know this guy's a bad guy, I know he's abused our nephew, I know he's threatened to kill my dad and my sister, I know he's driven drunk in his cruiser and broken hunting laws, I know he's unstable enough to have racked up four marriages and divorces before he's 40, but I'm the governor now. That means that we have to give up a lot of our legal rights and expectations. I'm now in charge of the state police, and that means that you can't do anything at all -- not even the things that every other citizen of the state can do -- that might be perceived as benefiting me in any way. And that includes protecting my family from this nutcase. We just have to live with the fact that we're going to be surrounded by armed men who very well could be buddies of this psycho, and just hope for the best."

That, in a nutshell, is nuts. That, in a nutshell, is what the report of this investigator (an old buddy of Monegan's) says. And that, in a word, is bullshit.

The report clearly states that Sarah Palin's ethical lapse was in not preventing her husband from exercising his legal rights in seeking redress, for not pursuing legal remedies against an individual who had not only threatened, but actually harmed Todd Palin's family, and had been given less than a slap on the wrist for his misconduct. Under any reasonable circumstances, the report would be seen as an exoneration of Sarah Palin. Unfortunately, we're not in any reasonable circumstances. We're in the middle of a presidential campaign.


ABC TV Denies Second Pro-Life Ad After Rejecting Obama Abortion Expose'

After rejecting a radio commercial exposing Barack Obama's pro-abortion position, the ABC network has rejected a second ad. This one, sponsored by the Caring Outreach, has nothing to do with politics but is a 30-second television ad that features information on fetal development. The group put together an ad entitled 85 Days that depicts intrauterine photos of an unborn baby in the first months of life. The group tells that the ad was slated to air on the Oprah program this month, but it has yet to appear during the program.

Jean Synovic, a representative of the Caring Outreach, tells that ABC, without citing any scientific or medical sources, claimed that the images used in the commercial were not that of an unborn child at 85 days gestation, as the ad states. Synovic says her group directed ABC officials to medical documentation that verifies the accuracy of the images and informed the network that the ad was aired on three other ABC affiliates in Wisconsin and Maine.

"The ad was rejected by the Vice President, Law and Regulation for ABC, Inc. in New York," she explained. "The decision to pull the ad was made, even though the same commercial has been airing for months on ABC affiliates in other markets."

Synovic says her group has requested a fairness check to make sure that the "accuracy" of those commercials meet the same standards to which ABC holds other commercials. If the analysis comes back in the group's favor, she says the group will consider suing the network.

However, Synovic says ABC is making that process difficult. "ABC has refused to supply approved commercials running within the Oprah program so that a fairness check can be conducted to see if a different standard is being applied to keep this pro-life commercial off the air," she said. contacted ABC for comment and has yet to receive a response.


Australia: A Charter of Rights that is a blow to democracy

IT HAD to happen. Sooner or later, the Victorian Charter of Rights would be revealed as the weapon of first resort for those opposed to laws duly enacted by the elected representatives of the Victorian people.

Having so far lost the democratic debate over the Abortion Law Reform Bill which passed through the Victorian Upper House on Friday, Catholic Health Australia has signaled its intent to head off to the courts to overturn Parliament's decision. The CHA claims that the law breaches the human rights of doctors who are conscientiously opposed to abortion by requiring them to refer women elsewhere.

Whatever your views about abortion, there is a much larger issue at stake. Since its introduction in 2006, this is the first - but it will by no means be the last time - that the Charter of Rights will be used by litigants who ask unelected judges to overturn the democratic decisions of Victorians.

Abortion is an emotive issue on both sides of the divide. Last week, thousands of people rallied outside the state's Parliament to oppose Victoria's new abortion laws which removes abortion from the Crimes Act and allows women to abort their babies up to 24 weeks during their gestation. And there are many reasons for objecting to the new laws. Former Treasurer, Peter Costello told The Australian a few weeks back that making abortion legal as a matter of course up to 24 weeks - given that many babies born at less than 24 weeks survive to live healthy lives - will mean that "in one part of a hospital babies will be in humicribs being kept alive and in some other part it will be legal to be aborting them."

Doctors have also expressed their alarm. In an open letter to upper house MPs, IVF pioneer John Leeton, psychiatrist David Clarke and bionic ear inventor, Graeme Clark, have called for a panel to decide late-term abortions and for the cut-off time to be reduced from 24 weeks to 20 weeks gestation. Supported by the Australian Medical Association, the three doctors also say that the new abortion law forces doctors to act against their conscience by demanding that doctors opposed to abortion refer women to other doctors.

These same concerns over conscience were raised by Catholic Health Australia. Writing in the Herald Sun, Martin Laverty, CEO of Catholic Health Australia, objected to the same anti-conscience provision. It is indeed an odd situation where MPs are given the right to vote according to their conscience on abortion but doctors who are conscientiously opposed to abortion are required to refer women to doctors with no such objections.

But whatever your views on the abortion laws, the vexed issue has so far been settled democratically. There is a third and final vote but if the bill passes into law unamended then the people have finally spoken. And that is as it should be. However, the debate has also exposed the Achilles heel of Victorian democracy. Having lobbied MPs - and lost - Catholic Health Australia can have another shot at killing off this law - via the courts. As Laverty says, section 14 of the Victorian Charter of Rights protects every Victorian's "right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief" and says that a "person must not be coerced or restrained in a way that limits his or her freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching." And CHA has signaled its intent to use the Charter to strike down those sections of the abortion law which offend Catholic beliefs.

Few should be surprised. The Charter sits there as a hyper-law, ready to be activated by litigants unhappy with democratically enacted laws. Perhaps Victorians understood that the Charter would be used to second-guess decisions of their Parliament. If so, they will have no problem with Victoria's new democratic deficit which gives unelected judges the final say on controversial social issues.

More likely, Victorians were misled by Charter advocates who have long denied the Charter would transfer of power from the legislature to the state's courts. That now stands exposed as a blatant and deliberate deceit. That transfer of power to courts is the real purpose of the Charter of Rights. While those who have championed the Charter - sections of the judiciary, the law associations and human rights activists - have long expressed disdain for the ability of Australia's democracy to deal with human rights abuses, their motivations are not always pure.

As alluring as it is to hear smart men and women promote the protection of our human rights, it always pays to follow the power, the money and the winners. Judges who support a charter of rights are also supporting the wholesale transfer of power to make laws to them.

As US academic, Jason Pierce, has demonstrated in his ground-breaking interviews with senior members of the judiciary, many judges think politicians are too stupid to be left to decide important issues. Depicting themselves as guardians of the greater good, they see a charter as the perfect mechanism for them to legislate their preferred social agendas from the bench. Great if you share their views. But a lousy deal for those of us who don't and prefer that contentious social issues be settled by a democratic institutions.

Lawyers love charters of rights for one simple reason. Money. While you won't find mention of a human right to income anywhere in the Victorian Charter, it's there in the subtext. As one senior prosecutor told The Sunday Age earlier this year, Charter litigation will flood the courts and provide many defence lawyers with "a lifelong right to an income that they probably don't deserve."

And that brings us to the Charter's other winners. Those behind bars love a Charter of Rights. Former NSW premier Bob Carr has canvassed the growing body of perverse rulings in the United Kingdom. Heroin-addicted prisoners have claimed thousands of dollars in compensation by claiming that cutting short their drug rehabilitation treatment was a breach of their human rights. Police refused to remove gypsies who illegally occupied the private property of a factory owner for fear of breaching their human rights. And on it goes.

Charters are championed most passionately by those on the Left side of politics. It's no coincidence. They would prefer the easy task of finding a sympathetic judge ready to implement their progressive agendas from the bench rather than doing battle with tedious democratic processes and the common sense of the people.

But how sweet is this? Conservatives in the Catholic Church may be the first to use the Charter to bypass democracy and challenge the abortion laws so dear to the progressive agenda. This is exactly why Young Labor delegates voted against a charter of rights at their annual conference in June.

They were concerned about a charter being used by conservatives claiming a right to property overturning environmental laws. Or the right to life being used to undermine abortion. How prescient of the Young Labor men and women if the CHA uses the right to freedom of belief in the Victorian Charter to challenge the new abortion laws.

While I'm firmly in the camp that regards the new Victorian abortion laws as abhorrent because they legalise the killing of a baby that could survive outside the mother's womb, the Victorian Charter is nearly as bad. It kills democracy.


Stupid porn laws in Australia

You can be charged if just one image on your computer APPEARS to be of a young person. No proof of age needed and any cop can make that judgment. And a jury cannot decide for itself

A PROMINENT Townsville businessman has been cleared of a charge of possessing child pornography. "I'm angry, but I'm also frustrated because I really just don't know who to be angry with," John Dooley, a car dealer, said last night. Mr Dooley's three-year legal nightmare ended in the District Court yesterday. Crown prosecutor Nigel Rees advised Judge Bob Pack that the Crown would not proceed with a charge that Mr Dooley had knowingly had child pornography images on his computer.

Mr Dooley has always insisted he is innocent. When first advised of the charge in July 2005, he told the investigating officer `I'm not a sick bastard'. He echoed the same sentiment yesterday, when he told the Townsville Bulletin `I'd rather have cancer than look at, or have people think I look at, child pornography'.

The whole sorry saga, which Mr Dooley estimates has cost him `tens of thousands of dollars, possibly up to $80,000', and which he will never be able to recover, is a frightening cautionary tale of this technological age. The charge arose when Mr Dooley sent his computer in to be repaired in 2005. Computer repair companies are obligated to inform police if they find any pornography involving people who look under 16, and technicians looking at Mr Dooley's hard drive reported one suspicious image.

Police obtained a copy of the suspect material and eventually decided to charge the high-profile car industry businessman with knowingly possessing five child exploitation images. But to this day, Mr Dooley insists he still has not seen the images at the root of his turbulent three and half years. "It was explained to me that the person in the image need only `appear' to be underage," Mr Dooley said. "But throughout the committal, and if this matter had gone to trial, the jury only had to decide if I possessed the images, they would not even see the images, because it would not be their role, or the committing magistrate's, to make a judgement about the age of the people in the pictures."

Mr Dooley said he had the images described to him `one was apparently taken at a nudist camp, and there was some hazy images of children in the background', but he refused to look at them because there was no point. And he said he knew they weren't his and he'd never seen them. "I knew very little about computers back then, and I mainly used it to download music, up to 6000 to 7000 tracks," he said. "I have never visited any porn sites on that computer, let alone downloaded anything from them."

"It appears that the material that the police were interested in could have been downloaded with some of the music from share sites. I found some fighting footage and some mainly soft porn attached to the occasional download, but never anything that remotely appeared to be child pornography," he told the Townsville Bulletin. Mr Dooley said `about 10 or 12 people' had access to the computer, and the password was no secret in his household.

Mr Dooley, who had spent thousands of dollars rearranging his business situation because of the publicity, said if there was an upside to it all, it was the truth in the comment from a police officer that `this will show you who your friends really are'. He said his family had stuck with him throughout the whole matter, accepting his assurance at the outset that he had not had anything to with child pornography.

He had special praise for his legal team, led by local lawyer Anderson Telford. "Anderson never wavered and it's now been proved he gave me the best advice, particularly not to accept any deals, anything else than a nolle prosequi (dropping of the charge). Through all this, he became as much a friend as he was a professional legal adviser," he said.

Mr Dooley is philosophical and appears to take an overall view about laws that he supports and believes are necessary. If he is resigned to accepting his expensive victimhood, he urges caution on those who download material much as he did, or suffer the accidental consequences. "Just be very careful, because the technicians, the police and the courts are just doing their jobs. I'm not angry with them, but there must surely be some better or more just yardstick before things go as far as they did with me". "I'm simply a victim of a law that is, sadly, necessary to protect our kids."



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, OBAMA WATCH (2), EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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