Author: Michael Bugeja

Opinion: The right to freedom from homelessness

Thousands of Iowans are without homes as winter approaches. When we give thanks on Nov. 24, let us remember them and the organizations that serve them. You can make a difference.

Four centuries ago, 53 surviving Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the 90 indigenous Wampanoag people.

We often forget that those Pilgrims, seeking religious freedom, were homeless when they set sail for the Americas in 1620. A year later, they not only celebrated the harvest but, more importantly, gave thanks for shelter.

When your family gathers in your home this year, chances are you will prepare the same type of meal depicted in Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want.” The painting, created 80 years ago, features grandparents serving a large turkey to generations of smiling, happy relatives.

Rockwell based this and three other paintings on Franklin Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech delivered to Congress in 1941. Franklin, concerned about war in Europe, reminded Americans about our fundamental rights: freedom from want and fear and of speech and religion.

When people lack a home, they confront the twin terrors of want and fear, muting their voices.

The homeless, of course, are free to worship in the many churches, temples and synagogues that also feed those without permanent shelter.

Roosevelt might have added another right: freedom from homelessness. Rockwell likely would have portrayed that within the convention of his times,  depicting parents on the front porch of a dwelling as children frolicked behind a white picket fence.

FOR THE REST OF THE COLUMN, CLICK HERE OR VISIT: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2022/11/17/freedom-from-homelessness-giving-season/69654504007/

Opinion | Media had a subpar response to Tuberville’s racist remarks about reparations

New reporting standards are needed to expose “fake history.” Here are resources to help make it happen.

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., is introduced at a rally for former President Donald Trump at the Minden Tahoe Airport in Minden, Nev., on Oct. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Villegas)

By: Michael Bugeja

At an Oct. 8 rally for Nevada Republicans, Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville said this about Democrats: “They’re pro-crime. They want crime. They want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that.”

News organizations denounced Tuberville’s comments but did relatively little to define reparations, reference the historical record or cite legislation about it. They might not have grasped the gravity of his comments, which conjure “fake history.”

Following the rally, I searched Tuberville’s statement on Google news and accessed 14 reports and analyses by these media: Associated Press, BuzzFeed, CBS News, Daily Beast, The Hill, Mother Jones, NBC News, Newsweek, NPR, Rolling Stone, USA Today, Vanity Fair, Washington Examiner and Washington Post. I did not cherrypick outlets; simply, their stories came up within the first 50 entries.

I explored whether the posts defined reparations, linked to any source about its history, or mentioned legislation (namely H.R. 40, “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” first introduced in 1989). The bill died in committee in every congress until the current 117th where it reported out of committee but stalled with no plans to bring it to the floor for a vote.

I am not advocating for or against reparations but am presenting an ethical standard on how journalists should cover this issue with more impartiality so as to guide the national debate.

For the rest of the post, click here or visit: https://www.poynter.org/commentary/2022/media-had-a-subpar-response-to-tubervilles-racist-remarks-about-reparations/

Annotated Bibliography on Reparations

40 Acres and a Mule

Library of Congress

Below is a short list, by no means definitive, of reparation definitions, historical records and related legislation.

Definitions

International Center for Transitional Justice:  

  • Reparations are meant to acknowledge and repair the causes and consequences of human rights violations and inequality in countries emerging from dictatorship, armed conflict, and political violence, as well as in societies dealing with racial injustice and legacies of colonization.

Movement for Black Lives

  • A process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments, corporations, institutions and families.

National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC):  

  • Reparations for slavery is the application of the concept of reparations to victims of slavery and/or their descendants.

Oxford Bibliography, Reparations:

  • Reparation refers to the process and result of remedying the damage or harm caused by an unlawful act. … It can also serve as a measure to end ongoing breaches and to deter future ones, as a vehicle for reconciliation or to restore relations between the violator and injured parties, as well as a basis to repair or rehabilitate physical and psychological integrity and dignity.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

  • The point of reparations is not to make people equal to others; reparations is not defined as making the wrongly harmed equal to others. In fact, equality has little to do with reparations. People deserve reparations as a matter of right when they have been wrongfully harmed by transgression but a person may be harmed as a result of transgression and may therefore have a right to reparations and yet be better off than others.

History

Freedmen and Southern Society Project

  • On the evening of Thursday, the 12th day of January 1865, the following persons of African descent met by appointment to hold an interview with Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, and Major-Gen. Sherman, to have a conference upon matters relating to the freedmen of the State of Georgia.  

Pew Research Center, Reparations for Slavery:   

  • Discussions about atonement for the enslavement of Black Americans has a long history in the United States. Most famously, General William T. Sherman drafted Special Field Order 15 in 1865. The order stipulated that Confederate land seized in Georgia and South Carolina would be split among formerly enslaved Black people in those states, no more than 40 acres per family.

Reparations4Slavery:

  • An Historical Timeline of Reparations Payments Made From 1783 through 2020 by the United States Government, States, Cities, Religious Institutions, and Colleges and Universities.

Semantic Scholar, African American Reparations: A Selected Annotated Bibliography

  • This descriptive selective annotated bibliography is primarily focused on the African American experience in the U.S. in accordance with the intent of our journal in joining The Black Scholar, The Journal of African American History, Souls: A Critical Review of Black Culture, the Journal of Black Psychology, African American Learners and other scholarly publications.

UMass-Amherst: Reparations in the United States:

  • An Historical Timeline of Reparations Payments Made From 1783 through 2022 by the United States Government, States, Cities, Religious Institutions, Universities, Corporations, and Communities.

Legislation

Center for American Progress, Truth and Reconciliation:

  • In order to address centuries of collective harm to African Americans, the United States must acknowledge the impacts of slavery and make an intentional choice to rebuild itself in an equitable manner.

Congress.gov, H.R.40 – Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act

  • This bill establishes the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans. The commission shall examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.

NAACP, Reparations Resolution:

  • Reparations would involve a national apology, rights to the cannabis industry, financial payment, social service benefits, and land grants to every descendant of an enslaved African American and Black person a descendant of those living in the United States including during American slavery until the Jim Crow era.

National Council of Churches

  • Reparations, H.R. 40 Aligns with the National Council of Churches anti-racism campaign to A.C.T. NOW to End Racism. 

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), H.R. 40

  • Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a senior member of the House Committees on Judiciary, Budget and Homeland Security, Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, issued this statement on the introduction of H.R. 40.

Reparation Data Sheet

This is not a post but a data sheet for an article being prepared for the Poynter Institute. I will link to that article if and when it is published. The purpose here is to provide a transcript of news articles and analyses concerning Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s outrageous remarks at an Oct. 8 rally for Nevada Republicans.

Rather than summarize my data in the article, I will link to this page for any Poynter viewer who wishes to see my excerpts.

My intent is to explore how major news media covered the Tuberville speech. Specifically, I want to know if the outlet defined “reparations,” linked to its history and cited H.R. 40, Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.

This is a non-scientific snapshot whose purpose is not to advocate for or against reparations but to set an ethical standard for journalists covering racial narratives that lapse into “fake history.”

Here is a brief video segment by CBS’s Gayle King who includes Tuberville’s speech, defines reparations and cites legislation.

Note: This segment was not included in the study.

On Oct. 10-11, I pasted his comment into Google News and then accessed reports from major media that included it in their posts. Those links and excerpts appear below.

Coded here are No. 1, “definition of reparations” (defined); No. 2, “link to its meaning/history” (linked); and No. 3, “reference to legislation” associated therewith (cited).

Only one medium, BuzzFeed, provided a definition, linked to historical content and mentioned H.R. 40 or other legislation. Five provided a definition, five linked to history and nine cited legislation.

Here are my findings in alphabetical order for the following news outlets: Associated Press, BuzzFeed, CBS News, Daily Beast, The Hill, Mother Jones, NBC News, Newsweek, NPR, Rolling Stone, USA Today, Vanity Fair, Washington Examiner and Washington Post.

Associated Press

Senator: Dems back reparations for those who ‘do the crime’

Excerpt: The Democratic Party has not taken a stance on reparations for Black Americans to compensate for years of unpaid slave labor by their ancestors, though some leading Democrats, including President Joe Biden, back the creation of a national commission to study the issue.

[defined: 0, linked: 0, cited: 1]

BuzzFeed

A Republican Senator Is Being Called “Ignorant” For His Racist Comments About Enslaved People’s Descendants

Excerpt: Reparations refers to the process of compensating the ancestors of enslaved people for the suffering they endured, as well as centuries of the systemic inequality spawned by slavery.

Democrats have no official party position on reparations, although a bill to study the issue received support from a House of Representatives committee last year and has since stalled in Congress.

The NAACP, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the US, condemned Tuberville, who is a strong ally of Donald Trump and who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

[defined: 1; linked: 1, cited: 1]

CBS News

GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville faces backlash for controversial comments on Democrats and crime

Excerpt: The Democratic Party does not support reparations for African-Americans whose ancestors were enslaved, but the topic arose during the 2020 presidential campaign. Nearly all Democrats running for the party’s presidential nomination, including President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, supported studying the issue.

A bill introduced in the House by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas to create a commission to study and develop reparations proposals has broad support from her fellow Democrats in the lower chamber and was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in April 2021 with backing from its 25 Democratic members. The committee’s Republican members opposed the legislation.

[defined: 0, linked: 0, cited: 1]

Daily Beast

Sen. Tommy Tuberville Goes on Racist Rant Over ‘Reparations

Excerpt: Saturday’s Donald Trump rally in Nevada naturally featured some extremist comments, chief among them a false—and racist—tirade from Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who claimed that Democrats are in favor of “reparations” because they are “pro-crime.” 

[defined: 0, linked: 0, cited: 0]

The Hill

Tuberville reparations remarks bring renewed attention to House bill

Excerpts: Democrats and advocates pounced on the remarks instantly, decrying the comments as racist and harmful. But the controversy is shining a light some say could be critical to a years-long legislative push to form a commission to study reparations that supporters hope might still move forward before 2023.

The commission bill, known as H.R. 40, was first introduced by the late Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) more than 30 years ago and filed by the congressman again and again throughout his time in office until he retired in 2017.

It didn’t receive its first markup and committee action until last year, after it was introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) on the heels of the nation’s racial reckoning following the police murder of George Floyd in 2020.

More than a year has passed since the House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in a historic vote, and some proponents are hopeful they’ll see action on it during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Advocates argue reparations are needed to address the harms of slavery and historical discrimination that continue to permeate society in the present, including in areas spanning housing, health care, education, the environment and others.

[defined: 0, linked: 1, cited: 1]

Mother Jones

Tommy Tuberville Decries Reparations as Payments for “People That Do the Crime”

Excerpt: Reparations are financial recompense for Black people whose ancestors were enslaved and lived through Jim Crow. The policy of giving reparations to Black Americans has support on the left, but it is not the policy of the Democratic Party. President Joe Biden has said he supports a study on reparations, which is in the party’s 2020 platform, but has ignored calls to create such a commission to enact the policy. Democrats do not support violent crime as a way of seizing property to compensate for the harms done by slavery and legal oppression.

[defined: 1, linked: 0, cited: 1]

NBC News

NAACP denounces ‘flat out racist’ remarks by GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville at Trump rally

Excerpt: Some Democratic lawmakers have expressed support for studying proposals that the federal government issue reparations to Black Americans who are the descendants of slaves. Legislation on that front, however, has stalled on Capitol Hill.

[defined: 0, linked: 0, cited: 1]

Newsweek

Republican Tuberville Accused of ‘Open Appeal to Racism’ at Trump Rally

Excerpt: Reparations advocates say that descendants of slaves should be paid financial compensation for their uncompensated work and the historic racism they say has led to financial disparity between races. The NAACP defines reparations as “a financial recompense for African-Americans whose ancestors were slaves and lived through the Jim Crow era.”

[defined: 1; linked: 1; cited: 0]

NPR

Alabama Sen. Tuberville equates descendants of enslaved people to criminals

Excerpt: Over the years, there’s been growing support to offer reparations for Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved as a way to address the lingering effects of slavery.

Last spring, a bill to study reparations for slavery had the support of more than 170 Democratic co-sponsors. A House committee voted to advance the legislation but it has yet to be considered by the full House of Representatives.

[defined: 0, linked: 0, cited: 1

Rolling Stone

Watch Trump Crowd Eat Up Sen. Tuberville’s Bizarre Racist Tirade

Excerpt: Reparations, according to the NAACP, are “a financial recompense for African-Americans whose ancestors were slaves and lived through the Jim Crow era.” They are meant to compensate those whose families lost or were unable to build generational wealth due to slavery and Jim Crow era racist policies, including the redlining of majority white neighborhoods to prevent Black people from purchasing homes there.

[defined: 1, linked: 1; cited: 0]

USA Today

GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville promotes racist narrative about Black people, crime at Trump rally

Excerpt: A call for reparations for descendants of African slaves has been around for decades and has grown in recent years. Reparations could involve an apology for slavery, payments, land grants and more.

[defined: 1; linked: 0; cited: 0]

Washington Examiner

GOP senator claims Democrats want reparations for those who ‘do the crime’

Excerpt: Reparations for U.S. descendants of slaves have been discussed by some Democratic lawmakers. Democrats on one House committee, with control of the majority, took an unprecedented step last year to advance legislation to examine whether the federal government should provide slavery reparations to African Americans. Republicans have generally been opposed to giving reparations, citing the amount of time passed and the complexity of finding direct descendants.

[defined: 0; linked: 1; cited: 1]

Washington Post

Democrats call Sen. Tuberville’s comments about crime and reparations racist

Excerpt: Although a handful of Democrats in Congress have expressed support for reparations for Black Americans who descended from people enslaved in the United States, the Democratic Party as a whole does not support the idea. House Democrats have backed a bill that would create a commission to study reparations, but there has not been enough support in the Senate from Democrats or Republicans for the legislation. As a result, some prominent Democrats have encouraged President Biden to sign an executive order that would create the commission.

While Biden has not signed an executive order, he backed plans to study reparations while campaigning for president in 2020, a position he has maintained since he took over the presidency.

[defined: 0; linked: 0; cited: 1]

Vanity Fair

“I’M NOT GOING TO SAY HE’S BEING RACIST”: FELLOW REPUBLICAN DEFENDS SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE’S REPARATIONS REMARKS

The condemnation of the Alabama senator’s comments, especially by the media, was harsh and swift.

[defined: 0; linked: 0; cited: 0]

Gratitude Experiment Fall 2022

Each semester students in Michael Bugeja’s media ethics class earn extra credit by participating in an experiment—contacting a loved one, family member, mentor or friend and expressing gratitude. You can read a published article about past gratitude experiments by clicking here.  

The purpose of the exercise is to instill in students the means to raise their own happiness quotient. Gratitude typically gladdens us along with the person to whom we express our feelings.

Few people take the time to thank a person who played a big role in their lives. It could be a teacher. A parent. A friend.

Students are told that they can increase their happiness multifold by writing a gratitude letter and then reading it to a cherished person, preferably in person or via telephone or facetime.

After the call, they record their own feelings.

Here are the data from the Fall 2022 media ethics class:

Summaries:
7 participants reported a positive experience and increase in mood after the exercise.
9 participants reported feeling more relaxed or having a weight lifted off of them.
9 participants felt thankful or appreciative of the experiment.
3 participants reported wanting to do this more.
N=37 Recurring keywords: Uplifted, relaxed, warm, joyful, happier

Gratitude Experiment Coded Responses:

1: Surprised by the increase in happiness

2: Array of emotions, thankful, joy, beneficial

3: Understanding, nonjudgement, love, warmth

4: Lucky, happier, warm, complete, happier

5: Peace of mind, happy

6: Joyful, comforted, better mood

7: Comfortable, happiness

8: Uplifting, refreshing, felt better, happier

9: Felt good, feel happier, a boost of energy

10: Increased happiness, positivity, thankfulness

11: Emotional, felt good, sad it wasn’t in person

12: Incredible, really happy, felt joy

13: Happiness, increased mood

14: Increased happiness, hope, incredibly happy

15: Brought peace, uplifting, boosted happiness

16: Appreciative, happier

17: Calming effect, overwhelming happiness

18: Satisfied, happy, glad

19: Warm, fulfilled

20: Thankful, glad, closer to spouse

21: Uplifted, happier

22: Thankful, grateful

23: Felt good, day got better

24: Felt good, need to do this more

25: Wonderful feeling, going to do more often

26: Felt good

27: Overwhelmingly happy, uplifted

28: Felt very good, increased happiness

29: Rush of adrenaline, significantly happier, joy

30: Emotional, huge weight lifted

31: Emotional, relived, grateful

32: Better vibe, relaxed, happier

33: Joyful, happier mood

34: Uplifting feeling, inner peace, internal security

35: Lifted weight

36: Happier, lifted spirits

37: Felt really good, uplifting, increased happiness

Opinion | Journalists must understand the liberty granted by the 14th Amendment

The provocative vehicle of empowerment is at the center of the abortion debate.

Abortion-rights activists demonstrate against the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade that established a constitutional right to abortion, on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 30, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

By: Michael Bugeja

When the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion, investigative journalist Jordan Smith knew the implications. She summed up the dilemma in the headline of her analysis for The Intercept, “In Overturning Roe, Radical Supreme Court Declares War on the 14th Amendment.”

While some may disagree with her stance, Smith focused on the erosion of liberty in the aftermath of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Few media outlets fathomed the impact of the court’s decision on one of the most treasured doctrines of democracy.

Bernadette Meyler, Stanford Law School professor, published a scathing critique of Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote for the majority in Dobbs. “His opinion adduced 19th-century state statutes restricting abortion as evidence that the right to obtain an abortion was not part of a constitutionally protected liberty interest.”

Meyler believes the Dobbs decision might erode other rights on similar grounds, including same-sex marriage — also protected by the 14th Amendment.

“All of these rights were established on the basis of a much broader conception of liberty, one capable of evolution rather than embalmed in the amber of history.”

For the rest of the article, visit: https://www.poynter.org/commentary/2022/journalists-must-understand-the-liberty-granted-by-the-14th-amendment/

The remedy for conflicts of interest is transparency

By MICHAEL BUGEJA, Iowa Capital Dispatch

 (Photo by Getty Images)

We often hear the phrase “conflict of interest” pertaining to government officials violating their oath to serve the public interest.

According to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, the most common conflicts involve officeholders voting on land use matters that impact their own holdings. “Other examples include voting to grant a benefit to a company in which the officeholder owns stock or even to a non-profit organization on whose board the officeholder may sit.”

In those cases, officials are expected to abstain from discussion and voting, recusing themselves.

When they do not, they violate the public trust and the common good, defined as resources a community provides to residents. These include road systems, public safety and transport, educational and cultural facilities, and clean air and water.

Journalists also are expected to serve the public and common good. Typically, they deal with these types of conflicts:

  • Junkets, or an expenses-paid trip so that a reporter can cover an event.
  • Freebies, or gifts like free meals or tickets, to befriend or influence coverage.
  • Bribes, or outright payment or promise to buy services or goods from a media outlet in return for some favor.

Professors at Iowa’s three Regents universities also must serve the public interest and the common good. Many travel to conduct research or share scholarship at conferences. If travel is underwritten by a grant or university funds, they cannot use the occasion — in part or whole — as a personal vacation, visiting relatives and friends.

If professors are invited to speak at a function with expenses paid for by organizers, they cannot fraudulently submit receipts for university reimbursement, too.

And of course they cannot receive bribes to tweak research so that it supports a donor’s product or service.

Iowa State University has a detailed website about conflicts of interest. These usually involve “circumstances where an individual’s professional actions or decisions at the university could be influenced by considerations of personal gain, usually of a financial nature, as a result of interests outside his/her university responsibilities.”

The remedy is transparency. ISU employees must submit a disclosure form detailing any potential conflict. For instance, we must report any management role in a non-ISU entity that funds scholarly activities.

One of the most common conflicts involves professors requiring students to buy their own textbooks. On the one hand, professors have a right to assign books for classes. On the other, they cannot do so for personal enrichment.

A typical text costs $84. Royalties from such a book average about $12.60. If a professor has 100 or more students, that comes out to $1,260. Multiply that by two semesters, and the enrichment is $2,520, usually more than the typical 1% average salary increase for professors.

All conflicts of interest involve temptation, and that’s the enticement here.

Some situations are more unethical than others. Here are scenarios from Psychology Today:

  • The book has little to do with course content.
  • The book is relevant, but not used in the course.
  • The book is self-published and inferior to other available materials.
  • The professor makes grades contingent on buying their book.
  • The professor forces less powerful colleagues to use the book.

The American Association of University Professors acknowledges that professors are entitled to assign books, even their own, as long as policy allows and those decisions “are not compromised by even the appearance of impropriety.”

The ISU Faculty Handbook goes further. It states that “a faculty member who receives royalties or other direct remuneration for such a scholarly product may be faced with a conflict of interest when he/she is a participant in the decision to adopt the material for local use.”

Professors may use their texts in their classes if royalties are assigned to the university “or to a body mutually agreed upon by the university and the faculty member.”

The policy allows professors to keep royalties if they had no role in the selection process or can document “exceptional circumstances” approved by the department chair, appropriate dean and provost officials.

It is a good policy.

I do not assign any of my textbooks. Royalties from my “How-To News Writer,” published by the Iowa Newspaper Association, go into an ISU endowment managed by my director and the Iowa State Foundation.

I include a statement in my media ethics syllabus stating that content comes from many sources, including my texts, which they should not purchase. “Thus, you are receiving content for free in addition to years of updates from a variety of sources to ensure you have the best experience from many viewpoints.”

That’s the goal.

Finally, viewpoints here are mine. Professors cannot speak for the university or give the appearance that they are, for doing so would be another conflict of interest.

Everyone should know potential conflicts of interest associated with their businesses and work for the common good of their constituents and clients.

It’s our job — and yours — to protect the public interest

Michael Bugeja

By MICHAEL BUGEJA, Iowa Capital Dispatch

 Journalists and politicians both have a duty to protect the public interest. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Journalists, politicians and educators have a duty to inform, instruct and serve the people — not themselves or special interests.

The public interest concerns the general welfare of society meriting recognition and protection.

Journalists inform the public so that people are aware of anything that threatens their welfare. Educators enlighten citizens so that they can make intelligent decisions in the voting booth.

The Media Freedom Resource Center states that journalists should honor these core values:

  • Accuracy: Work should be based on verifiable facts.
  • Independence: Work should be done on behalf of the people, not special interests.
  • Impartiality: Reporters should recognize there is more than one side — and often more than two sides — to every issue.
  • Humanity: Reporters should show compassion in dealings with the public and acknowledge the impact of their words.
  • Accountability: Reporters should take responsibility for mistakes and apologize to anyone hurt by their actions.

These tenets also apply to public officials and educators.

When we lose trust in journalism, the general welfare suffers.

The Pew Research Center has investigated that in a video documenting changes in the industry that impacted how news is produced and consumed.

The video explores the impact on the public interest, especially with the prevalence of social media and political partisanship. “Trust in America, in institutions, in each other is essential to the functioning of U.S. democracy. Yet today, trust is declining.”

Law enforcement is vital in protecting the public interest. When they fail in that obligation, or act in a partisan manner, we fear for the general welfare.

Between 2016-18, FBI employees accepted gifts in return for leaked information about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails. She used a private account to send personal and official messages — a big story then.

An FBI investigation found that agents “improperly received benefits from reporters, including tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events.” FBI’s policy designates who may disclose information to the media, but this was ignored.

Elected officials are responsible, singularly and collectively, for protecting the public interest.

It’s a federal crime to bribe a public official. Section 201 of Title 18 comprises two types of conflicts: bribes and gifts. 201(b) prohibits taking or giving anything of monetary value when the intent is to influence an official act. 201(c), concerns “gratuities” to gain favor for an official act. Bribe convictions are punishable by up to 15 years; a gratuity conviction, up to two years.

In the 1978-80 Abscam “sting” investigation, FBI agents posed as Arab sheiks bribing elected officials for political favors. Encounters were videotaped, as money was exchanged.

Some 30 politicians were convicted, including one senator, six representatives and the mayor of Camden, N.J.

More recently, former Illinois State Sen. Martin Sandoval pleaded guilty to bribery. He received $250,000 to block laws that could hurt a red-light camera company. He agreed to cooperate with authorities but died of COVID in 2020.

The 2019 “Varsity Blues” investigation targeted parents who paid millions to help get their children into top-ranked universities such as Yale, Stanford and Georgetown. Their entitlement deprived more worthy students of admission.

The New York Times reported that 57 parents, educators, coaches and other defendants were charged, with 54 convictions, one deferred prosecution and one pardoned by former President Donald J. Trump.

Then there is the case of Edward Ennels, sentenced to 10 years in prison, with nine suspended and five years’ probation, plus $60,000 restitution.

What did this math professor do at Baltimore City Community College?

Between 2013 to 2020, he sold academic access codes and received bribes in exchange for good grades. He concocted a fictional character who contacted students, offering to complete assignments for an “A.” Cost? $300.

“Ennels often haggled with students regarding the amount of the bribe, and set different prices based on the course and grade desired. For example, he would charge $150 for a C or $250 for a B or $500 for an A in a higher-level course.”

At Iowa State University, failure to report “known or suspected violations and crimes” is an ethical breach itself. The university is obligated to contact authorities with evidence of “fraud, conflict of interest, bribery, or gratuity.”

The vast majority of journalists, public officials and educators are ethical. Their positions in society are so vital that any infraction is scandalous.

As a citizen or resident, you have an obligation to protect the public interest. You should know about organizations that serve it.

The Iowa Capitol Press Association promotes and supports robust coverage of state government “for the benefit of the public.”

Parents or guardians of students who have educational concerns can contact the Iowa Department of Education for advice and procedures.

If you have a grievance about state or local government, you can contact the Iowa Office of Ombudsman.

If you have a complaint about attorney misconduct, you can contact the Attorney Disciplinary Board.

If you have a consumer or mortgage complaint, you can contact the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

If you have experienced discrimination, you can contact the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

Finally, if you have a compliment rather than a complaint about a reporter, teacher or legislator, contact them and thank them for protecting the public interest.

Our first president left us lessons on civility and humility

By MICHAEL BUGEJA, Copyright 2022 by Iowa Capital Dispatch

 George Washington created a model for civility. (Photo illustration by Iowa Capital Dispatch. Flag image via Canva. Washington portrait courtesy of the Library of Congress)

When George Washington was 6 years old, he received a hatchet as a gift and immediately tested it on his father’s cherry tree. His father saw the damaged tree and asked his son if he had done the deed. The boy confessed with his most famous maxim: “I cannot tell a lie.”

The story itself is a lie, invented by Washington’s 1800 biographer, Mason Locke Weems.

Nevertheless, Washington at age 14 copied in a notebook French maxims from the 16th century accepted as virtuous during his time. They became known as “110 Rules of Civility.”

To be sure, some of those maxims are hopelessly outdated, such as:

  • Spit not in the fire, nor stoop low before it, neither put your hands into the flames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the fire especially if there be meat before it.

But consider these worthy practices:

  • Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present.
  • Show nothing to your friend that may affright him.
  • Read no letters, books, or papers in company but when there is a necessity for the doing of it you must ask to leave.
  • Reproach none for the infirmities of nature.
  • Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
  • When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased; but always show pity to the suffering offender.
  • Do not laugh too loud or too much at any public spectacle.
  • Use no reproachful language against anyone, neither curse nor revile.
  • Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.
  • Let your conversation be without malice or envy.
  • Think before you speak.
  • Be not curious to know the affairs of others, neither approach those that speak in private.
  • Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise.

Can you name any current politician or public servant in the White House, Congress or Supreme Court who respects all in their presence; is considerate of others, no matter their station in life; stows away cell phones in public; shows compassion to enemies and offenders; refuses to spread rumors; acts without malice or envy; and keeps their promises?

Those should be qualifications for anyone seeking public office.

Washington may have been civil but also was fallible and, on occasion, immoral. Do you recall the myth about his wooden teeth? After the cherry tree, this is the second most popular misconception about the first president. He did suffer from bad teeth through most of his adult life. But none of those dentures were made of wood; they were fashioned from animal teeth, carved ivory and human teeth from enslaved people.

At the time of his death, Washington owned 123 slaves. Shortly before his death, he freed them and supported others in perpetuity who were too ill to find work.

Washington’s contributions to democracy are many, from his victory over the English at Yorktown in the Revolutionary War to his promises to the American people in his two terms as commander in chief.

Washington set as example for presidents to follow that they should leave office gracefully upon the completion of their terms, a tradition that continued until Donald. J. Trump and the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

To understand Washington’s essence, consider his second inaugural address, the shortest in history, at 135 words:

“Fellow Citizens: I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.

“Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government, I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.”

He promised to serve with dignity. If he violated his oath, he would duly suffer shame and punishment.

His most important tenet in the “Rules of Civility” is the final one, 110: “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”

Washington’s values — trust, respect, courtesy, dignity and honor — all fall under the moral umbrella of humility.

Philosophers define humility as an aspect of the conscience — that still, small voice guiding our actions — based on an inner knowledge of our own goodness and, more importantly, limitations. “Immodest people have, among other things, an inflated sense of themselves, their accomplishments, and their place in the world.”

That would define most politicians and their bombast in advance of the 2022 midterms. The public deserves better.

Journalists should better define ‘RINO’ to disempower its autocratic use

RINOs revere the Constitution — so let’s say that

Former Missouri governor and current senatorial candidate Eric Greitens gestures while speaking to reporters in February. (AP Photo/David A. Lieb File)

By: Michael Bugeja, Copyright 2022 Poynter Institute

The news media has been lax in denoting the derogatory acronym RINO, typically stating that it means “Republican in Name Only.” Although the term and its variations have been used for decades — most notably by the late veteran reporter John DiStaso in 1992 — former President Donald Trump and his followers have usurped it.

One of the most egregious uses appeared in a recent political ad by former Missouri Governor and Senate candidate Eric Greitens. Playing off his military credentials, Greitens leads an armed tactical team that breaks down a door and hurls flash grenades, as if to kill any RINOs in an empty home.

Here’s the transcript:

I’m Eric Greitens, Navy Seal. And today we’re going RINO hunting. The RINO feeds on corruption. He is marked by the stripes of cowardice. Join the MAGA crew, get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire … until we save our country.

A searing condemnation of the advertisement came from Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for George W. Bush and, presumably, a RINO. Disputing Greitens’ claim that the ad is metaphoric, Gerson writes:

Calling upon a MAGA mob soaked in furious resentment and bristling with heavy weaponry to kill insufficiently radical Republicans is not the equivalent of ‘all the world’s a stage.’ It is the incitement to violence of a rather literal-minded group. The movement that has no moral bottom is finally within sight of one. What is the next step beyond urging your followers to murder your political opponents? It is murdering your political opponents.

In Gerson’s plea for voters to defeat Greitens, he uses the term “RINO” six times (including in the headline). But even Gerson does not further clarify the term, allowing it to stand as a MAGA-vexed vilification.

It is time to add a descriptor whenever writers use the slur.

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