Conflict of interest has been a frequent topic in the news, as people debate the ethics of President Donald Trump’s foreign and domestic business dealings.
The principle of “conflict of interest” is clear: It’s the difference between personal interests and official responsibilities. Conflict-of-interest laws have been established, as Justice Antonin Scalia put it, to ensure each lawmaker will use his influence and his vote “as trustee for his constituents, not as a prerogative of personal power.”
What is less clear, though, is how to know when a politician has chosen personal gain over public good. How can you judge a senator’s personal intentions when he or she votes?
The problem of divided loyalties reaches back to the early years of our republic. Thomas Jefferson knew the money of special interests would tempt lawmakers. When he presided over the Senate in 1801, he established a rule that said, “Where the private interests of a member are concerned in a bill or question, he is to withdraw.”
Whenever a congressman did not recuse himself from matters touching on his personal interests, the law continued, his arguments and his vote should be tossed out.
It would be hard to say how faithfully Congress followed Jefferson’s law. But we know that, just seven years after Jefferson’s death, Senator Daniel Webster was selling his services to the Bank of the United States. Webster was on the committee that was considering the bank’s charter at a time when President Andrew Jackson wanted to shut it down. Webster strongly supported the bank, but not for free, it appears. In 1833, Webster wrote the bank president, “I believe my retainer has not been renewed or refreshed as usual. If it be wished that my relation to the bank should be continued, it may be well to send me the usual retainers.”
By 1874, the House of Representatives had fallen even further from Jefferson’s strict adherence. In that year, it passed a law that allowed congressmen to vote in their private interests so long as the measure benefitted others — presumably their constituents. The law was promoted by Speaker of the House James Blaine. At the time, Blaine was offering his services to the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad in exchange for stock.
By 1962, corruption scandals prompted Congress to pass Title 18, Second 208 of the U.S. Code. This law barred legislators from participating in matters in which they, their families, their business partners, or their associations could financially benefit.
When the legislators wrote the law, they made it apply to all public officials in the federal government except the president and vice president.
The law hasn’t resolved all the questions about conflicted interests. Enforcing the law requires investigators to prove that a legislator intended to benefit himself, and it’s hard to prove intentions.
While the Post editors welcomed the 1962 law, they expected further problems with congressional corruption. So they offered a simple solution, one which would resolve questions of who benefited from what: disclosing personal finances.
Disclosure: An Antidote for Conflict of Interests
Last fall Post editors Ben Bagdikian and Don Oberdorfer explored in depth the problem of conflict of interests in the Congress of the United States. They reported that while the Congress forbade government officials and judges to hold private financial stakes which might conflict with their public duties, there was nothing to prevent members of the legislative body from doing that very same thing themselves. Bagdikian and Oberdorfer concluded that “one possible solution to the problem of hidden interests is for every member of Congress, or every candidate for Congress, to reveal his finances to his fellows and the public.”
Several members of Congress had already taken this step. Sen. Joseph Clark revealed his wealth last fall, and his fellow Pennsylvanian, Sen. Hugh Scott, followed suit. Sen. Stephen Young of Ohio sold his stock in two sugar companies and an airline when committee assignments gave him special powers in these fields. He also disclosed his stock holdings.
Recently Sen. Jacob Javits of New York revealed his stock holdings on the floor of the Senate. His colleague, Sen. Kenneth Keating, announced his intention to publish a list of his securities holdings and introduced a bill to require such disclosure by members of the House and Senate. Congresswoman Edith Green of Oregon has proposed establishment of a 15-member commission on legislative ethics to study the conflict-of-interests question. She has introduced bills that would require, among other things, a full disclosure by congressmen of their financial interests.
Congress should pass such legislation. It would accomplish two important objectives: First, it would eliminate the double standard that now prevails by putting Congress on the same ethical footing with the executive branch of the Government; second, disclosure would be the most effective means of preventing members of Congress from taking advantage of the public trust that their public offices imply.
Editorial, April 6, 1963
Unfortunately, disclosing finances doesn’t end all questions of conflicts of interest. Last September, Donald Trump filed a 104-page financial disclosure, but he didn’t share his tax returns. For critics, many concerns remain.
Featured image: Shutterstock
NYC Street to Be Renamed in Honor of Norman Rockwell
We love the iconic American artist Norman Rockwell here at The Saturday Evening Post, of course. But it turns out that the younger generation loves him too. Thanks to several students at Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School, the southeast corner of Amsterdam Avenue at 103rd Street in New York City is being renamed “Norman Rockwell Place” in honor of Rockwell. The students spent a year on their campaign, doing research, visiting the Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and making t-shirts, and they even went around the neighborhood to garner support for the name change.
Paul McCartney Not Allowed into Grammy Party
Let’s say you’re a really famous musician, maybe one of the 4 or 5 most famous musicians in the world. Let’s say you were at the Grammy Awards and you wanted to go to one of the after-parties. Do you think you could get in, or would the bouncer at the front door shoo you away?
That’s what happened to Paul McCartney this week after the Grammy Awards broadcast on CBS. In this video shot by TMZ we see McCartney and Beck being turned away from the Tyga party. Before this, I didn’t know if Tyga was the name of a musician, a band, a company, or a shoe, but they tried to get in and couldn’t. So they went back to their car and drove away.
Speaking of TMZ
Have you ever wondered how the gossip site TMZ always seems to get the scoop on celebrities’ dirty laundry? In this revealing New Yorker article, you’ll find out how they get their information, what they pay for it, and how they sometimes partner with celebrities on certain stories.
Pick Up Organic Carrots, Get a Tattoo
I know it seems like an odd idea, but Whole Foods might be getting into the whole tattooing thing. The grocery chain would partner with third-party vendors to provide tattooing services in their 365 stores, which cater to Millennials.
This could be the start of something. Other chains could get into the act. Going to Dunkin’ Donuts for some coffee? Get your oil changed! Picking up a snow blower at Home Depot? You can get your hair done there, too!
RIP Justice Scalia, George Gaynes, Vanity, Johnny Duncan
I really can’t add anything to the many tributes to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away at the age of 79, but for a good summary of his life and what he meant to people, you can read Justice Ginsburg’s touching statement about her friend, a rundown on his legal rulings, and this from The Atlantic on his remarkable life. The New York Times reprints the first mention of Scalia in the paper (when he was 16!), and even Stephen Colbert paid tribute to Scalia on The Late Show.
George Gaynes also passed away this week. He was 98. You might remember him from the TV shows Punky Brewster and The Days and Nights of Mollie Dodd and movies like Tootsie.
You might remember Vanity, aka Denise Matthews, from her work with Prince. She passed away this week too, at the age of 57.
You might not remember the name Johnny Duncan at all, but you’ve probably come across his work. He played Robin in the 1949 Batman movie serial, which TCM sometimes shows. He passed away at the age of 92. Here’s the first episode (and here are the other 14):
And RIP Harper Lee
Friday morning, we lost American novelist Harper Lee at the age of 89. People speak in awe of the tens of millions of copies her To Kill a Mockingbird has sold since it was published in 1960, but more impressive still is the effect the book has had on readers. In a January 2011 Post article called “Does Fiction Matter?” mystery writer Brad Meltzer answered the title’s question with a resounding “Yes” by pointing out a Library of Congress study that said that when asked which books had made a difference in their lives, the only book people cited more often than To Kill a Mockingbird was the Bible.
“Happy Birthday” Lawsuit Settled
I used to joke that you couldn’t sing “Happy Birthday” at a birthday party anymore without paying a royalty to the two sisters who wrote the song and the company that owned the copyright to the lyrics. Turns out that wasn’t true; you only had to pay for a public performance of the song. But no one has to pay now, because a federal judge has ruled that Warner/Chappell Music actually doesn’t own the rights to the lyrics. Under a deal, the record company will return $14 million in fees it had charged, and it will also no longer charge for the song’s use.
Warner/Chappell actually made over $2 million a year from the song. Every time I hear stories like this, I think of this scene from an episode of Sports Night:
National Grapefruit Month
It doesn’t seem right to have February be the month we celebrate the grapefruit, when it’s more likely to be cold and windy and we’re using the snow blower we just bought at Home Depot. But it’s here, and you still have a couple of weeks to celebrate. We know it’s good for your health — though you should make sure it doesn’t interfere with any medications you’re taking — and it’s a lot more flexible when it comes to recipes than I thought.
But Martha Stewart has you covered. (She always has you covered.) Here’s a recipe from Martha for jicama-citrus salad, one for a ginger-grapefruit spritzer, and one for grapefruit with pistachios. And have you ever thought about putting grapefruit in a sandwich? Of course you haven’t. But Martha has!.
Upcoming Events and Anniversaries
Malcolm X killed (February 21, 1965)
The leader appeared on the September 12, 1964, cover of The Saturday Evening Post.
President George Washington born (February 22, 1732)
Washington appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post ten times.
House of Representatives votes to impeach President Johnson (February 24, 1867)
Johnson’s impeachment trial lasted 11 weeks.
Buffalo Bill Cody born (February 26, 1846)
Here’s SEP Archives Director Jeff Nilsson on “America’s First Superstar.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow born (February 27, 1807)
The poet’s work appeared many times in The Saturday Evening Post.
Jimmy Fallon Hurts Hand
The picture below is the aftermath of Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon’s unfortunate accident last Friday. Fallon fell in his kitchen and while trying to grab something to steady himself caught his ring on a table and almost ripped his finger off.
Tweeting with one hand. pic.twitter.com/1Yyp8Nl5eR
— jimmy fallon (@jimmyfallon) June 26, 2015
The accident forced Fallon to skip the taping of his show that night, but thankfully he is on vacation this week and can rest. Expect the whole story when he returns Monday, along with a new wacky segment that centers on his hand, probably called Talk to the Hand or something similar.
RIP, Jack Carter
I’ve talked to a few people who thought that veteran comedian Jack Carter had actually died a while ago, but he was still going strong in his 90s. He had roles on such recent shows as Parks and Recreation, iCarly, Shameless, Rules of Engagement, and Family Guy. He seems to have at least one guest-starring role on every single show that has ever been on television, starting in the early 1950s, and was a veteran of the stand-up circuit for decades. He was really of the old school and there aren’t many like him left now. Carter passed away of respiratory failure at the age of 93 in Beverly Hills.
Comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff has a series of fantastic interviews with Carter that you’re going to want to read if you’re a fan of classic comedy and the behind-the-scenes nitty-gritty of show business. Start here and then read the other parts listed in the right-hand menu.
Regardless of where you stand on the recent SCOTUS ruling on the Affordable Care Act, you have to admit that Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent is pretty entertaining. Besides being more creative and blunt than you might expect in a legal opinion, you also get words like “jiggery-pokery.”
What’s that? It means deceitful or dishonest manipulation or humbug. (Humbug is another word that we should use more.) Name developer and copywriter Nancy Friedman has a detailed explanation of the phrase and where it came from on her entertaining site. She also explains what Scalia meant when he used the phrase “pure applesauce.”
Other words we should use more: “snowbroth” and “brabble”. Definitely brabble, since it describes what a lot of people do on social media and in comment sections these days.
The Big 5-0
Fifty years old is one of the big milestones, right? What’s bigger? One hundred I guess, if you’re lucky to get that far and be honored by Willard Scott and Smuckers. One of the things turning 50 this year is me (and no, I can’t believe it).
Here are some other things turning 50 in 2015 that you might want to celebrate:
- The Pillsbury Doughboy
- Honeycomb Cereal
- The Sound of Music
- Days of Our Lives
- A Charlie Brown Christmas
- Chris Rock
Merman: The Next Big Hair Color?
Metro U.K. seems to think that the Aquaman-esque merman color is going to sweep the United Kingdom if not the world! Three things. One, I didn’t even know that “merman” was a color. Two, I didn’t know that the man-bun was so popular it had to be “replaced.” And three, no, it’s not the next big thing, unless you are someone between the ages of 18 and 24, go to clubs every Friday and Saturday night, and you’re also sporting a tattoo. As for the rest of us, we’re just going to stay over here with our boring brown and black and blond hair. And some of us, ahem, will go with our skin color.
TV Land Has a New Logo
If you’re a big fan of classic television like I am you probably don’t watch TV Land as much as you used to. Sure, there are still some classic shows on the network, but they’ve really moved away from what they once were. Now they seem to be focused on more recent sitcoms, original shows, and for some reason 27 episodes of Family Feud every day. And that’s why you’ll find me watching MeTV instead of TV Land.
The network has unveiled a new logo. There’s a reason for the change. According to Kim Rosenblum, a VP at the channel, “The majority of our audience in prime time and weekends are now Gen Xers — vibrant, working adults who grew up on MTV and edgier shows. … They demand and deserve a brand that is more connected to where they are today. They are layered and complicated, and their idea of escape is to lean in and go deep.”
Zzzzzzzzzzzz. Oh, I’m sorry, I dozed off there for a second. I don’t even know if what she says is 100 percent true. I’m Generation X and I don’t watch the shows they’re talking about. I actually watch the shows that they’re attributing to boomers (The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy, and other shows from the ’50s and ’60s). Run shows like that and I’ll watch. I don’t need “edgy” anymore.
The old logo, the one with “TV Land” inside an old TV set, is still going to be used during the day, when some of the older shows still run (even if they are giant blocks of Gilligan’s Island and Three’s Company). The daytime lineup will now be called “Classic TV Land,” which I guess makes the nighttime lineup TV Land New Coke.
In other TV Land news, they also did this. I’m not a fan of the show, but boy has this gotten silly.
July Is National Ice Cream Month and National Pickle Month
Finally, a food holiday that makes sense. Of course National Ice Cream Day is in July, when the summer is in full gear and the heat increases. Pickles? I guess they’re a summer thing too, as you’re having them with sandwiches and potato chips and all the other things you’ll be eating at the beach or a cookout this weekend.
Oh, and if you think there’s no way that you could combine National Ice Cream Month and National Pickle Month into one recipe, well, you’d be wrong. And if you make that, let us know how it turns out.
Upcoming Events and Anniversaries
The modern bikini is introduced (July 5, 1946)
There might not be too much to a bikini but the Wikipedia page for it is long and detailed.
Hoover Dam construction begins (July 7, 1930)
The official site has information if you’re thinking of visiting, along with a detailed history.
President Zachary Taylor dies (July 9, 1850)
The 12th president died after a July 4 celebration, though historians differ on what exactly killed him.
Scopes Monkey Trial begins (July 10, 1925)
SEP Archives Director Jeff Nilsson explains what happened to John Scopes, the teacher who became the “Monkey-Trial Man.”
Vice President Aaron Burr kills Alexander Hamilton (July 11, 1804)
Maybe that’s why The Saturday Evening Post named him one of the 10 1/2 worst vice presidents.