Remember When We Cared About Ethics?

Pro Publica recently revisited an ethics case in Louisiana that has dragged on for nine years.

Now, when I think of states with strongly ethical political cultures, Louisiana doesn’t come to mind, but even in the state that gave us Huey Long and David Duke, the situation on which they reported is notable.

It’s been nine years since the Louisiana Ethics Board first took up what its former chairman called “the most egregious case” to ever come before him.

In 2010, the board accused former state Sen. Robert Marionneaux Jr. of failing to disclose to the board that he was being paid to represent a company in a lawsuit against Louisiana State University. The lack of transparency was only part of the problem. Marionneaux offered to get the Legislature to steer public money toward a settlement, according to charges the Ethics Board later filed against him. The money would also help pay off his contingency fee, which an LSU lawyer pegged at more than $1 million.

Evidently, according to ethics advocates, the snail’s pace and limited scope of the case are due to the weaknesses of Louisiana’s ethics enforcement system.

In 2008, the Legislature delivered ethics reforms that then-Gov. Bobby Jindal billed as a new “gold standard” that any state would covet. But more than a dozen people involved in the system said in interviews that the reforms have done the opposite, chipping away at and dragging out ethics enforcement.

The consensus is that Jindal’s “new and improved” ethics rules created more loopholes than they closed.

Those of us who don’t live in Louisiana shouldn’t get cocky. It would behoove us to look at our own state capitals, and especially at the ethical disaster that is America’s current national administration.

If you Google “Trump Administration Corruption,” you will get 38 million hits. One of the most recent is a Bloomberg Interactive titled “Tracking the Trump Administration Scandals.”(Due to the large number of said scandals, the site allows you to sort by category: administration officials, Trump and his family, the Trump Organization and Trump associates, etc.)

If you are particularly interested in 2018, there’s Washington Monthly’s “A Year in Trump Corruption.” And last October, The New York Times published “Trump’s Corruption: The Definitive List.”

There’s much, much more.

Not unlike the citizens of Louisiana (large numbers of whom, during a gubernatorial election between David Duke and Edwin Edwards, sported bumper stickers saying “Vote for the Crook–It’s important”), we’ve gotten inured to the extent of the venality. To use a political science term, corruption has become normalized.

There will be those among defenders of the petty, self-absorbed criminal in the Oval Office who will insist that “they all did it.” Although there have certainly been unsavory people in high places over the years, that statement is manifestly untrue.

Even if it were accurate, however–even if former Presidents and their cabinets did engage in this degree of unethical or illegal behaviors–they had the good sense (or sense of shame) to hide it. This crew showcases it. Trump likes to insist that he’s “transparent”–when it comes to the transparency of his corruption, and that of his cabinet, that’s true.

There are two explanations for the tendency of Trump & company to flaunt their illegal and unethical behaviors: one, as a group, they aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer. (Betsy DeVos comes to mind, but she has lots of none-too-bright company); and two, they don’t care. They believe–not without reason–that the public no longer expects government officials to adhere to ethical standards, that those in a position to punish them have been neutered, and that the United States of America–whatever our pretenses of ethical probity and morality–is no different from the corrupt regimes that Trump most admires.

If we do not rise up in 2020 and clean house, the whole country will be Louisiana.


  1. Trump has convinced (or brainwashed) a significant portion of our electorate that the entire system is corrupt, but he and those who support him are the only people in government who care about them. This frees him from having to hide his corruption. Hopefully, his corruption has awakened those who stayed home in 2016 and are not so gullible to vote in 2020 .

  2. “Evidently, according to ethics advocates, the snail’s pace and limited scope of the case are due to the weaknesses of Louisiana’s ethics enforcement system.”

    Where in this situation; and in all judicial systems at all levels, is the Rule of Law to be found? Does the ethics enforcement system take precedence over the courts or does the court system set the standard? The court systems I have worked in and been victimized by locally have one core problem throughout; the endless continuations granted to prosecution and defense with no set time-frame within to work. In the Louisiana case is it the courts or the state ethics enforcement system blocking the culmination of this particular case? Elections should not stall out the continuation of active cases in any judicial system…but politics now rule this country in all states and at all levels of our economic and personal lives and their control grows daily.

    “They believe–not without reason–that the public no longer expects government officials to adhere to ethical standards, that those in a position to punish them have been neutered, and that the United States of America–whatever our pretenses of ethical probity and morality–is no different from the corrupt regimes that Trump most admires.”

    NOW the political pendulum has swung back to the more rational and ethical political party; NOW they are trying to take legal action against the Trump regime (and we do live under his regime) with the ruling hand of McConnell in the Senate waiting to stop all forward motion. We have watched Trump’s blatant obstruction of justice repeatedly; we have watched as his administration – and Congress – has thrown out all ethical values along with democracy, Rule of Law and the entire Constitution except for Citizens United and they have accomplished this deconstruction in little more than 2 years.

    The United States of America is now defined by a lesser ethical system than the state of Louisiana and Trump rages on while more and more Democratic presidential wannabes add their names to the already too long list of candidates rather than doing the jobs they were elected to do. WHERE ARE THEIR ETHICS IN OUR CURRENT NATIONAL DILEMMA?

  3. The trumpetiers would gladly cut their noses off to spite their faces! They are, along with Trump, a hateful lot. They are those who would praise reversing the ACA even though they themselves are the most Reverent users. They, as a group, would put themselves at risk and vote against their own self interests, just to irritate those who they think are not like themselves. This is not unlike the phenomenon of late 20’s and 30s Germany. Even though my grandfather left Germany in the late twenties, he revered Hitler. He, in my grandfather’s opinion, was a great man! All he was doing was putting the “real Germans” first, and cleaning out the country of the undesirable elements, ie those not like them. After the war Germans were in denial, they claimed they had no idea what was going on. I remember my grandfather and my father who fought in Korea, arguing about the evil which engulfed Germany during that time. It was a sight to behold.

  4. True statement, “To use a political science term, corruption has become normalized.”

    Why is that?

    As Carl Sagan would say, “We’ve been bamboozled.”

    More specifically:

    “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

    ~ Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

    Ask the German people how well propaganda worked on them…they were “bamboozled” also.

  5. Hey Todd, I live in Illinois, I am not bamboozled, trust me! But hey Todd, way to deflect, LOL!

  6. While I don’t care for 45 and would be pleased to see him thrown out, I fear Pence would be even worse for those who are different from him. The coming election may be the most important of my lifetime, but the race to control the Senate is the single most important part of the election. The Dems have to put up strong candidates and they have to win the majority. It won’t matter if we vote 45 out of office, if Mitch McConnell is still leading the Senate. Let’s all pray daily for the health and well being of all the liberals on the Supreme Court.

  7. Of course ethical behavior has disappeared from government! Those who own and control the current participants have no ethics themselves.

  8. Theresa; I once read a definition of the word “ethics” as doing the right thing even when no one is watching. No one is watching you and I or others on this blog or the voters who do what we can in our limited capacity but; as I said, no one is watching or are they listening as we urge people to pay attention to what is being done to us rather than for us and to vote for change.

    I received an E-mail from a group of Democratic women who are seeking change and asking for donations to support their cause to end sales tax on tampons and sanitary pads. Daily we move closer to nuclear war and they want donations to fund the cost of their menstruation supplies. The same plea could be made for toilet paper but I haven’t seen that yet; everyone has their own agenda, bypassing the loss of democracy, Rule of Law and our Constitutional rights for every American. Sigh; sometimes I get so tired.

  9. Todd’s default position that the Dems are as bad as the Pubs is the essence of the problem. They don’t all do it. There are some Pubs and Dems who are honest. Lee Hamilton, Birch Bayh and Dick Lugar did not do it. There are greedy people on both sides but the vast majority of politicians and public servants are good honest people. Our founding fathers were all politicians. In fact we are all politicians. Todd’s default position destroys that basic fact and provides the basis of the effort of those who would attack our system.

    Don’t cynically stand on the sidelines or in the stands and point and sneer. Get down in the arena in the sun with the blood and the sand and do something.

  10. I don’t know what to think about people who claim consistently that both political parties are equally corrupt and incompetent. It seems to me that if I thought that I would be investing in suitcases because that leave us effectively without a solution and therefore with a very dim future.

    I see Republicans as exceptional in terms of corruption and incompetence since the hostile takeover of the Party by Putin, Trump, the Koch Bros, Roger Ailes, the NRA, Steve Bannon, Sheldon Adelson, and Robert Mercer. They clearly no longer even pretend to represent we, the people but only those who donate heavily to support their power grab.

    I see the present Democrat Party as offering an exceptional range of political word views all in support of getting back to the Constitution.

    I fear that this all politicians are the same is a code phrase for destruction rather than recovery.

  11. This blog reminded me of a quote of John Adams’ made June 21, 1776. “The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue, and if it cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty.”

  12. Pete,

    Well said. Well summarized. Even Teddy Roosevelt warned against money in politics. Then, along came the Republican initiative, Citizens United v. FEC and the game was up.

    And yes, George, I DO think Republicans are evil. Look at the record.

  13. Ethics always gives way to the rights of property and the greed for money. Our “Founding Fathers” sacrificed Ethics and Morality to institutionalize the system of slavery in our Constitution. Since the slaves were considered “Property” the most brutal punishments could be inflicted upon them.

    We have a system of Health Care in the USA that is inhumane and devoid of any ethics or morality. Whether, you have Health Care in the USA is totally determined by your economic status. Millions have no health care and millions more who have employer provided health insurance can be downsized and lose access to health care.

    Yet, we have H.R.1384 – Medicare for All Act of 2019 with 110 Co-Sponsors – All Democrats. Once again as in the past Nancy Pelosi’s name is missing as a Co-Sponsor for Medicare for All. Why is Pelosi aligned with the Republicans on this issue of Health Care???
    “It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones. ”
    ― Niccolò Machiavelli

    The initiators in this case, the Co-Sponsors of H.R.1384 – Medicare for All Act of 2019, are feeling the enmity of the For Profit Health Care System via their lobbyists and puppets like Nancy Pelosi.

  14. Well sheila, I see you have made up more imaginary people to agree with you. To hear you expound on your accomplishments, you could be mistaken for obozo

  15. All things are not equal, and Todd, although Iʻve found some valuable insights in your remarks, you do seem to have a tendency toward cynicism.

    I agree with Pete et al, that there are both good people as well as greedy and incompetent people in both parties. Yet in particular, the GOP has abdicated any claim to be working for the People and upholding the Constitution. GOP congress members are displaying deafening silence when it comes to the daily corruption and destruction perpetrated by the current administration.

    Because the Russian cyber attack is “virtual” and there are no dead bodies or bloody mayhem, Faux News and GOP can claim this attack on our democracy is just a “hoax.” This is the new form of warfare. Trump supporters will believe the lies they are spoon-fed because they do not get the facts.

    This common misinformation of the average Trump voter was revealed by the woman at the town hall meeting with Representative Justin Amash in Michigan. She said it was the first time sheʻd heard anything negative that came out of the Mueller Report. She and many republicans are being professionally duped, first by the Trump and the Russians, and now continuous lies by Sean Hannity and Friends.

    Rep. Justin Amash got a standing ovation by his mostly republican constituents who applauded his courage in standing up for what is right after he read the whole Mueller Report. So yes, there are still decent and honorable republicans as well as honest, principled democrats.

    Call me naive, yet I believe most Americans are kind, respectful and care about our country and each other. I would like to see many more brave, honorable republicans in congress stand up for justice and accountability of the current White House administration and Oval Office occupant.

  16. JoAnn, Sorry to disagree, but I do not see a lack of interest in us by the powers to be. If anything there is way too much interest in our lives. Our purchases at stores are recorded giving merchants a road map to our interests and needs. Tracking devices in our cars and cell phones let big brother know of our every move. Our every utterance on the internet is there to be collected, analysed and used to influence us. Yesterday’s blog with the trolls taking over is a fine example of what we are experiencing daily as organized “influencers” pounce at every opportunity to shape the world to their liking. UGH!

  17. And in all this, you have Sally Ann Conway’s response to Hatch Act Violations: “When does the jail term start?” .

    At this point, to support Trump, you must be either morally incapacitated, intellectually incapacitated, or a Russian Bot, or a combination of the above.

  18. Dan Winright: 1) Most of these folks have pretty active lives beyond commenting on Sheila’s columns, so what is the basis for your claim that they are imaginary? 2) There is nothing in this column that could be construed as Sheila touting her accomplishments (which are many, BTW). 3) Obozo? Really? (Insert eye roll here.)

  19. PS Todd: I agree at least a third of Americans have been “bamboozled” and refuse to hear or see the evil coming out of the WH and McConnellʻs senate.

    Since recently coming back to this blog, itʻs a bummer to see some trolls (Dan-n-George) have “infiltrated.” Perhaps they are Russian scout-bots looking to sow discord on the internet.

  20. Trump supporters like to point out that Trump has kept his campaign promises. However, the only promise that he is making any effort to keep is building the wall. And even on that promise, he has given up on getting Mexico to pay for it.

    Infrastructure improvements are stalled. Term limits for Congress are no longer even mentioned. He needs his corrupt allies on the Hill. And draining the swamp is a joke. Even the pledge administration officials were required to take to remain out of lobbying for 5 years after leaving office is worthless. Eighteen former Trump officials are registered lobbyists and another 15 are working with lobbying organizations.

    Trump has set a new standard for corruption. It’s not so much that officials in his administration are bragging about their crimes. They feel they can outright lie and blame the fake news instead. Just like the boss. And since Trump feels these people work for him and not the country, the only thing that really matters is that they are loyal to him.

    We used to be able to rely on some sense of duty to the country on the part of administration officials to save us from the worst excesses of Trump. But there are fewer and fewer of those people left. And we’re getting down to the dregs for whom no act is too disgusting if they think it will please the boss. Case in point – the whole incident with the USS John McCain during the visit to Japan.

    It’s not just petty corruption becoming normalized. It’s the complete lack of common decency, civic duty, and yes, ethics.

  21. We all love scapegoats. It’s nice to have people to regard as less than we. However, on the other hand, there are those people and ideas in real life that need to be held accountable in order to limit the chaos that they cause.

    Knowing how to separate those fun to blame from those who are clear and present dangers depends mostly on journalists. News. Real not fake.

    It doesn’t take long debating politics among us to determine the source of “insight” among the participants. Fake news, propaganda, is catching up to real journalism in informing many discussions.

  22. Theresa; I’m talking about being ignored by those we elect to protect us and listen when we contact them with grievances or to give them a rare “thank you”. Rep. Andre Carson or his staff always respond to my contacts, as did Richard Lugar. My City-County Councilor however replied with a “snitty” response and a few lies and stated he had no voting record to share with me. Otherwise being ignored; the Indiana Democratic Party and the DNC have my name and address but only contact for more money when what I need are the names of candidates and their stand on issues. Kroger, on the other hand, by tracking what I purchase, regularly sends me packets of coupons for those items. Big Brother has been following our money trail for many years…and I’m sure our voting record. But responding to our neighborhood needs and our financial situations as seniors and all who live on low income levels is rarely responded to. They are unaware of our neighborhoods or are ignoring conditions; I discovered this when I appealed my ridiculous property tax increase last year. It required a trip to their local office; they were unaware of the low real estate values in the entire 46219 zip code area. We have talked before about where Indianapolis DPW is making improvements in this city. And it certainly is not in areas where we live and the need is the greatest but in more affluent areas. So it is and so it shall always be. Where are the ethics in these issues?

  23. Dan Winright,

    LOL. When people expose themselves as the flaming assholes they are, it causes great amusement and, sadly, a sense of tragedy at the same time. I have, in the past, communicated with a demented ex-FBI agent who suffers from PTSD who also publishes disparaging names for our former President. He, like you, Dan, is pure racist bigot. You do not qualify to opine on people who are actually searching for solutions and confirming the realities that you so eagerly ignore. Nobody here is imaginary. What IS imaginary is that you are able to work a computer.

  24. Thanks to all who have elevated and moved forward from the trash talk.

    Linda, it truly is sad, and I am sorry that you had to see it.

    Vernon, Stan, SH, Ginny, JoAnn, Peggy, Theresa, Irvin, and others trying to remain above the fray…thank you! We will get past this and there are better times a-comin’. Ethics, boundaries (what happened to boundaries?), and doing/saying the right thing may be ailing right now, but they are improving every day with our help.

  25. when was the last time, your reps,who ever,and prospects,of being one, sat down for some real time fact checks,and discussion with present reps? in public,on the record? ( no same ol,same ol) we all know one doesnt account for much,as they all need others to participate. this whole scenerio has been played out over a few decades. reality check, we all can command a conversation in ethics, and even discount those who dont play by,whos rules? we speak here about their ethics, compared to what we expect. did someone forget to apply a call against those reps,or to be reps if they dont play by the book? i dont see any, recalls in progress,obviously, we lost the spine to call the game is over..we vote in 2020 and change it,or we lose it all.

  26. Louisiana has lots of company both historically and in these these days as well. Rotten meat to Indians under treaties we didn’t keep, Harding’s Teapot Dome, bad shoes for Union troops which drew Lincoln’s ire as “shoddy,” war profiteering that the Truman committee investigated during WW II, Nixon and his criminal vice president, Trump, some of Trump’s now deposed agency heads, Roman senators et al.

    The list is endless, and continuing, but with this difference, to wit: The bad guys don’t bother to hide it anymore, thus establishing a new norm, and one that is destructive to good order and perhaps even survival of our nation state, all of which cries out for reform, serious reform irrespective of political party, class, race, or any other and usual cover for thievery. Government, the abdication of colonial rule to rule by representation, depends upon truth, without which corruption flourishes. It’s time for reform, big time, reform not to the old days, which themselves needed reform, but to a new and better accounting of the public business by those chosen for the task. We can start by electing Democrats – and staying vigilant.

  27. As a Louisiana native, I have, uh, have to…, uh, well…. Well damn!! You are absolutely correct

  28. Gerald and Pete, I must add you to the growing list of wise folks who have something positive to add every day. And then there’s our Marv…where art thou, Marv? You’ve counseled us wisely in many things. Your main theme seemed to be, and likely still is, to watch for the ‘divide and conquer’ technique that is happening now in America, even on this blog. C’mon back and shed some light, dear Marv!

  29. Betty,

    “Marv…Your main theme seemed to be, and likely still is, to watch for the ‘divide and conquer’ technique that is happening NOW in America.”

    At the “deepest level,” it has been happening since the mid-’30s. It started with the Dupont and Bush families and was, ONLY, interrupted during W.W. II.

    Steve Bannon and Donald Trump are only the present-day manifestations of the problem.

  30. Betty,

    I’m sure you can understand-we’re not diving “deep enough”- to deal with the problem of Donald Trump.

    Consequently, our “short cuts” are catching up with us. We’re losing ground on a continual basis. Donald Trump can’t be “wished away.”

  31. Betty,

    We’re too scared. There comes a time when you have to climb up to the high diving platform and take your chances. That time is now. By the use of divide and conquer, we’ve become afraid to reach for the right ANTIDOTE for our problems. It’s called the REAL TRUTH.

  32. Betty,

    To conclude, the divide and conquer techniques have created two serious problems that we have not been able, at this point in time, to conquer:

    1. A failure to control the “Hitler-like” virus of hatred that continues to mutate, and

    2. The INTELLIGENCE GAP which makes it impossible to neutralize the platform that is the “ground zero” of the release of the virus.

    Hopefully, the development of P.I.E.S.NET will help neutralize both of the above problems before it is too late.

    In conclusion, it goes without saying that this blog has been a terrific resource since there is no other SheilaKennedy, anywhere to be found, from my vantage point.

  33. Got your messages, Marv. Thanks! Good to see you back on here. We really do need to pay attention to what is happening. Few are.

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