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FYS: Political Ethics: An Oxymoron?: Paper Assignment #2

Research and Library Information for Tim O'Neill's first year seminar.

Second Paper Assignment

Second Paper Assignment

Your second paper assignment will require you to explore a politically AND ethically significant decision by an elected OR appointed American public official.  The decision must be within the last 20 years (since 1997).  Professor O'Neill will hand out a detailed assignment description and we will have a special library session related to the topic, but you might want to start thinking about this assignment now.  Tips:

  • Think in terms of politicians/officials who interest you. It might even be a local official in your home town!  For example, right here in Williamson County, the county commissioners voted (made an ethical choice) to keep open the T. Don Hutto Detention Center
  • Consider issues that interest you and then look for officials who have made decisions on that issue.
  • Consider the decisions that members of the Supreme Court make - many of these are ultimately both ethical and political decisions.
  • While scandals are exciting (think of Congressman Weiner), a weightier topic with more gravitas will probably be more valuable for you intellectually and more impressive to your professor (think of a particular legislator's decision to go to war or vote for/against health care for all -- or even to raise (or not) taxes).

LIST OF POSSIBLE TOPICS - Here are the topics your class found during the library exercise - along with some from past years.  Remember that these are just possible topics -now that you know your assignment and you know how to mine library resources for topics, you may want to find a different one.  Also, keep your ear to the news for ideas.

2013 TOPICS:

1. Bill Clinton January 2001, pardoned Marc Rich from the most wanted list because Marc's wife gave 200,000 to Clinton's campaign. 

 2. John Kerry 2002, made a moral decision to vote yes to the president decision of disarming Saddam Hussein. 

 3.Anwar al-Awlaki 2011, the government decided to kill a US citizen that moved to Yemen and recieved no trial but was sentenced to death via drone killing for terrorism. 

 4. United States President George W. Bush (R) in October 2002 made a political announcement in which he made the decision to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces in Iraq on ethical and moral grounds. 

 5. Governor Sarah Palin (R AK) in June 2008. She is pro- oil drilling. Controversy pertaining to the decision to drill for oil off of the Alaskan coastline. This is danger to the environment, despite the financial.

 6.  Senator John McCain (R AZ) in November 2008. He believes that it is in the best interest of the American people for stricter TSA security. The ethical decision to have airport screening, an alleged violation of the fourth amendment, as a direct result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

 7.  President Obama in February 2012. He has authorized cuts in the military spending to provide less debt on the American people. The decision made by President Obama to lower funding for healthcare for the military. Is this unethical though finically beneficial?

 8. President Barack Obama (D) in May 2011 made a political decision to have Osama Bill Laden murdered. Killing someone is a ethical decision

9. President Barack Obama (D) on July 19,2013 made a political speech in which he made a moral decision to speak about the racially controversial Trayvon Martin case.

10. President Bill Clinton in 1998 made an ethical decision to have an extramarital affair.

 11. President Obama in early 2011 gave the American troops the order to kill Osama bin Laden. He decided this was the moral thing to do in this situation. 

 12. President Obama in August of 2013 announced his decision to allow gay couples married benefits on their federal taxes. 

 13. President Obama in June 2012 announced his support of gay marriage and decided this was the moral thing to do. 

 14. Was John Yoo ethically justified in writing the August first 2002 torture memos,  legalizing the use of enhanced interrogation techniques including but not limited to Water Boarding? Also how did this decision affect him politically?

15, How did President Bush ethically justify his decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan and defer any decisions about the removing of troops to his successor? Politically speaking was this a good decision?

 2011 TOPICS:


1. President Bush made the decision to withhold some of his doubts to the American public about Suddam Hussein's actions in Iraq.


2. Representative William Jefferson made the decision to accept large monetary gifts from lobbyists.


3. Judge Josephine Holms Cook made the decision to break the Georgia Judicial Code of Conduct by opening her opponent's divorce file.


4. George H.W. Bush pardoning CIA members from punishment regarding the Iran  Contra affair under the Reagan administration.


5. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy resigns after allegations that he accepted  improper gifts from businesses that his department regulated.


6. [Illinois governor Rod] Blagojevich attempting to sell the open seat that he controlled in the senate.  [This was the seat that Obama held before being elected President.]


7. Obama took a political stance and distanced himself from his previous church  after Reverend Right threatened his political campaign.


8. Obama took an ethical stand in his support for human embryo research and reversing the ban research under George Bush.  

Not sure we are allowed to use since Dr. O’Neill gave us a Bush on embryos example.


9.  Bill Clinton made an ethical decision when committed perjury to the Nation [regarding his relationship with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky].


10.  Bill Clinton’s decision to make 140 presidential pardons on his  last day of presidency had ethical implications.


11. Hillary Clinton’s decision to sign a letter along with 58 other senators on June 4 2004 to urge the president to expand federal policy concerning embryonic stem cell research.


12. Hillary Clinton voted no to notifying parents of minors who get an abortion outside of state lines in 2006


13.  Hillary Clinton voted for the war in Iraq, though had she known what she knows now she wouldn't have voted to authorize the war.



14.  President Obama's decision to kill American born Al Qaeda operative:  The White House decision to make Mr. Awlaki a top priority to be hunted down and killed was controversial, given his American citizenship.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which fought unsuccessfully in the American court system to challenge the government’s legal justification for its so-called targeted killings program, which was used to take aim at Mr. Awlaki, condemned that program in reaction to the news of Mr. Awlaki’s death. “As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts,” Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, said in a statement. and



And some from past years:


Any officials decision to resign or not after being caught in a sex scandal.  Should sexual misbehavior between consenting adults be grounds for leaving office or is this a private matter?  Does this behavior affect performance?  Does it matter more if the official was an outspoken proponent of family values?  Is hypocrisy a fundamental character flaw that should make one ineffective in office?  Should public officials be expected to be role models?  Take your pick among: Newt Gingrich, Elliot Spitzer, John Ensign, Bill Clinton, Gov. Mark Sanford, David Vitter, John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner…


TOM DELAY – Speaker of the House – decision to manipulate campaign contributions ultimately leading to his 2006 resignation  for campaign contribution violations and ties to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.  Also drove Clinton impeachment, pushed Terri Schiavo (brain dead woman) legislation, gutted the House ethics committee, engaged in gerrymandering schemes, enhanced the pay-to-play political culture.  In his forthcoming memoir Abramoff states that he more or less "owned" 100 members of congress, so there are other elected officials you could chose to examine.  This case reveals the huge power of lobbyists to write legislation and control congress.  Abramoff claims that nothing has really changed.  CBS's 60 Minutes interviewed Abramoff Nov. 6, 2011 here.


Congressman Barney Frank accuses the Bush administration and Nancy Pelosi of not acting to help rebuild Louisiana. He then says that is their way of "ethnically cleansing" Louisiana.  [Also:  The Bush administration decision to replace professional FEMA managers with inexperienced political appointments.]


Congressmen Bradley fights to have homosexuals added into the Civil Rights Act as well as allow them to serve in the military.


Rick Renzi, Congressman from Arizona, spent thousands of dollars in pay-offs for a federal land-exchange deal.


RICK PERRY Texas Governor – decision to refuse a 30 day delay to the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed for letting his 3 children die in a 1991 house fire that he was accused of setting.  Evidence later exonerated him


John Kerry's vote on H.R. 810 regarding Stem Cell Research


John Kerry's vote on H.R. 2863 regarding the ban on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees held by U.S. forces


Mitch McConnell's introduction of the Protect America Act of 2007 which allows the NSA to monitor electronic communication inside and out of the United States without obtaining a warrant.


The decision to “out” CIA operative Valerie Plame in order to make the case for attacking Iran for (falsely) buying/trying to buy yellow-cake uranium.  Decisions were made by: G. Bush, Richard Cheney, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, and Lewis Libby (the last convicted but then pardoned (a decision) by G. Bush).


 Catalina Vasquez Villalpando, Treasurer of the United States pleading guilty to "obstruction of justice and tax evasion." Only US Treasurer ever sent to prison.


Mayor Chad Foster of Eagle Pass, Texas does not support The U.S.  Department of Homeland Security's decision to build a $49 billion U.S-Mexico  border fence along most of Southwest Texas. Foster has repeatedly spoken out  on his disapproval of the construction of the border fence. The City of Eagle  Pass prevented federal agents from surveying municipal river frontage for  possible fence construction in 2008.


Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill decided to oppose the Bush tax cuts (now set to expire 2012) over concerns that the cuts might lead to a dangerous deficit. O’Neill  was dismissed from his job in December 2002.


Former Vice President Richard CHENEY – See his new memoir where he defends his decision to approve waterboarding  His role (and BUSH’s) re torture.  Background:  Http://


 Condoleezza Rice and her position in deciding the approval of the  CIA's use of waterboarding.


LOCAL:  T. Don Hutto Detention Center for Illegal Aliens – Williamson County Commissioners’ (pick one) decision to reauthorize the Center after considerable controversy b/c entire families including children are held.  See documentary movie, The Least of These.


ERIC HOLDER – Obama’s atty general – decision to investigate CIA/Guantanamo Bay prisoner abuses – or Obama’s preference NOT to pursue these investigations.  Related issue:  separation of powers (in both Obama and Bush administrations – the judiciary. is supposed to be independent)


TOM RIDGE – decided NOT to raise color coded “national threat” alert a few days before the 2004 election despite pressure from JOHN ASHCROFT and DONALD RUMSFELD. In his 2009 memoir he admits that he wondered “is this about security or politics.”


BUSH – decision to attack Iraq


JUDGE SHARON KELLER – Texas judge’s decision to close her office on time and not accept death row appeal


JUDGES SCALIA AND THOMAS -  Troy Davis case.  They dissented in this death row case, suggesting that there was no constitutional problem with executing a man who could prove his innocence as long as his trial was fair.


.MURTHA, Dem. PA – Votes for expensive earmarks for his state – including defense system that neither the Pentagon or the administration wanted


JOHN YOO – Bush administration attorney who decided to write “torture memos” and “warrantless wiretapping” memos justifying torture


KARL ROVE – involvement in the decision to fire 9 federal prosecutors. 

ALBERTO GONZALES – Decision to fire 9 federal prosecutors.  Both Rove and Gonzales lost their positions amid allegations that the prosecutors’ firings were for political reasons.


JOHN ASHCROFT – Bush administration atty general – decision to detain US citizen as material witness after 9/11.  9th US Circuit Court said the government’s use of material witnesses was “repugnant to the constitution…”  See AP report by Rebecca Boone Sept. 09.


THREE STRIKE LAWS – pick congressperson who supported/rejected and study (see N. Kristof’s Aug 19, 2009 op-ed piece in NYT for summary of impact of laws



BILL CLINTON’s decision not to become involved in the Rwanda uprising that led to massacres of civilians


KATHLEEN HARRIS, JEB BUSH, OR ANY US SUPREME COURT MEMBER: decision regarding the 2000 presidential election Florida vote count