Monday, May 07, 2018

In (Partial) Defense Of Don Blankenship

Zookers! Holy Pretzel! Well, I'll be jitterbugged! The ex-con whose intentional neglect of federal coal mine safety standards led to an explosion which killed 29 workers is- wait for it.... a bigot! The Huffington Post notes that the most recent development in the GOP primary to select a candidate to run against Joe Manchin is that

West Virginia GOP Senate candidate Don Blankenship has amped up the xenophobic rhetoric with his latest campaign ad.

In a spot posted online Thursday, the former coal CEO repeated the derogatory term “China people” in a swipe against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people,” Blankenship said in the ad, reportedly set to air on TV in West Virginia starting Friday.

“While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich,” continued Blankenship, who served time in prison for safety violations that contributed to the fatal 2010 Upper Big Branch mining disaster. “In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars,” he added.

McConnell also has derided McConnell as "Cocaine Mitch" because much cocaine was found on one of the ships in the fleet of a company owned by the Majority Leader's wife, Elaine Chao.

The campaign tactics are misleading and/or inaccurate, biased and/or intolerant, on a few levels.  But before you assume they is completely unfair, consider that Politico has reported

In at least a dozen interviews with Chinese and Chinese-American media outlets since her nomination, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has appeared beside her shipping magnate father, whose company carries goods between the United States and Asia, and who has given Chao and her husband at least $5 million in the past 10 years.

In many of the videos, James Chao is introduced as founder and chairman of the Foremost Group shipping company, and, in discussing a 2016 biography about his life, speaks proudly of his daughter’s role as secretary of transportation, as she sits beaming by his side.

One interview with New China Press published on April 12, 2017, features the pair sitting in what appears to be the Department of Transportation, with DOT flags in view behind the interviewer. Long portions of the interview are in Chinese, with James Chao talking about his life story, with a copy of his biography on the screen, and Elaine Chao extolling her father’s success story as “lifting the status of Asian-Americans in America.” She also touts his $40 million gift to Harvard University.

If Elaine Chao wants to compete with Donald J. Trump, Ivanka Trump, or Jared Kushner for conflicts-of-interest with a public official, she has a long way to go. Still

The appearances raise ethical concerns, experts say, because public officials are legally banned from using their office for any form of private gain for themselves or others. In the videos, James Chao, who has four other living daughters, sits beside the transportation secretary while discussing the family business — which has expanded in recent years and relies in part on Asian and Asian-American customers — and his 2016 biography, which touts him as a business success and philanthropic leader.

Foremost Group is a family enterprise, with Elaine Chao’s sister Angela serving as CEO and her sister Christine as general counsel. James Chao, in the videos, cites Elaine’s work as a college student helping to build up the business. In one video, which appears to have been made as a Lunar New Year greeting, a seated James appears with Elaine and Angela to wish viewers a “happy, healthy, safe and successful new year in the upcoming Year of the Dog.”

Experts in government ethics said Elaine Chao’s media appearances with her father might violate a regulation that prohibits federal employees from using their public office for their “own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”

This is a regime in which corruption is so deep and so widespread that even the Counselor to the President promotes the business of the boss' daughter. We're reminded, of Chao, however, that

“She needs to be careful when she appears that, say, the seal of the Department of Transportation doesn’t appear on the screen,” said Kathleen Clark, a government and legal ethics expert at the Washington University School of Law.

She doesn't need to be careful in this administration, especially because

Not only do the DOT flags appear prominently in the New China Press interview and several other interviews, the state flag of Kentucky appears in at least one, which points up her connection to her powerful husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Hana Callaghan, director of government ethics at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, said since public officials “have a duty to maintain and preserve trust in government,” they are obligated “to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”

That means they shouldn’t “promote one business over another,” she said.

“What troubles me about [Secretary Chao’s actions] is perhaps it may appear that a person in her situation is using her office and her position in order to publicize her father’s book, or this book about her family,” Callaghan said. “That’s not a public purpose.”

This far more than an appearance of impropriety. It directly implicates in correuption the Treasury Secretary, and the Senate Majority Leader indirectly.

Therefore, we shouldn't be so hard on the excreble Don Blankenship, though he embodies many of the worst qualities of his species. That makes him no worse than President Trump, who would be given a blank check by anyone elected senator from West Virginia.

Further, Blankenship would be less likely than either of his GOP opponents to oust Democratic senator Joe Manchin- as both President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell recognize.  That gives Elaine Chao (McConnell) a golden opportunity, a cabinet member in an administration very popular among GOP primary voters in West Virginia, a golden opportunity to denounce Blankenship's bigotry and the attempt to link herself to drug trafficking. She would thereby be doing her husband and her employer (Trump) a favor by aiding the electoral effort of Blankenship's opponents.

Don Blankenship's charges would be killing not only two, but three, birds with one stone which (as all fans of the cliche know) is a very good thing. If Chao fails to refute the charges, Blankenship is still a bigot- but we should conclude his charges are not unfair.

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