Morning Ethics Catch-Up, 10/7/2021: Idiots, Crooks, Crazies…And Judges


I have at least 57 posts languishing…

1 Now this is “shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowed theater!” Christopher Perez, 40, is heading to prison for falsely telling his social media followers that in 2020 he had paid someone infected with the Wuhan virus to lick food products at multiple grocery stores in Texas. His motive was to “scare people away from visiting the stores,” the Justice Department said in a news release.

The FBI launched an investigation that ultimately determined the claims were a hoax; Perez did not pay anyone, and nobody licked any groceries at his behest. A jury found him guilty of violating a federal law that criminalizes false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons. He was sentenced this week to 15 months in prison and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. His defense lawyers argue that the sentence is too harsh. Perez shook and trembled and wept in court, shouting, “I am not a terrorist!”

No, you’re an idiot, but you behaved like a terrorist, and under the law, that makes you a terrorist. The sentence is completely appropriate.

2. And while we are on the topic of criminals…We might be turning the ethical corner on looted antiquities from other lands. Nancy Weiner, the owner of a prominent Manhattan noted for its expertise in ancient Asian artifacts, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and possession of stolen property in connection with the trafficking of looted treasures from India and Southeast Asia. She sold items to major museums in Australia and Singapore, and others were auctioned off by Christie’s and Sotheby’s. The items ranged in value from $100,000 to $1.5 million, and they were stolen. But Weiner had created fake documents stating that they had all been purchased from private collections. Her rationalization: it was standard practice. “Everybody Does It.” “For decades I conducted business in a market where buying and selling antiquities with vague or even no provenance was the norm,” she said during her appearance in Manhattan Supreme Court. “Obfuscation and silence were accepted responses to questions concerning the source from which an object had been obtained. In short, it was a conspiracy of the willing.” Right. That doesn’t mean you had to join in, but we understand: $$$$$$.

The Times quotes Clinton Howell, a New York-based antiques dealer and president of the Art and Antique Dealers League of America, as stating that the tactics used by Wiener and others in past years “are not pardonable,” but that “the dealer of today is not the dealer of 40 years ago — there’s a very different attitude now.” We shall see. Most professions with unethical cultures just devise new ways to accomplish the same ends.

3. Guess the masked justice! “One Justice Missing and Only One Masked, the Supreme Court Returns/As a term packed with major cases begins, much has changed since the last in-person arguments took place in March 2020” reads the Times headline. Sotomayor is the masked justice. Of course she is. MAGA caps for the woke! Yet the Trump appointees didn’t wear MAGA caps on the bench. I don’t believe the Supreme Court is partisan, but Sotomayor is the exception.

4. Which reminds me...In a 113-page ruling, Robert L. Pitman, a Federal District Court judge in Austin, sided with the Biden administration, which had sued to halt the Texas anti-abortion law that has pro-abortion activists panicking. His opinion is highly critical of the law, and can be read as his brief to the Supreme Court, which will ultimately decide the law’s fate.

Good. This is the way the system is supposed to work, and it was in anticipation of some judge staying the law that caused SCOTUS to (appropriately) refuse to do so. As usual, the news media messed up its reporting of the decision: I saw several headlines stating that the law had been “overturned.” No, that’s not what happened.

5. Trump Derangement, against all odds, is getting worse. I last referenced the ridiculous New York Magazine pundit Jonathan Chait in August, here, when he claimed—he really did!—that teh mainstream media was harder on Joe Biden than it was on President Trump. That statement was signature significance, and a responsible publication would fire any writer who made it, just as it would any staffer who stripped naked and streaked Congress screaming, “I am Marie of Rumania!” Of course, New York Magazine didn’t and worse, allowed Chait to stick this clinical piece in the publication, I suppose because their readership is so Trump-Mad and divorced from reallity that they will all read ths thing, stroke their chins, and think, “Hmmm! He makes some good points!

The article signals its author’s descent into the Great Stupid’s crazy town by its hysterical headline: “Anybody Fighting Joe Biden Is Helping Trump’s Next Coup All Republican politics is now functionally authoritarian.” Ann Althouse, who reads the magazine for some reason, had gay old time ripping the piece to threads. She didn’t miss much, and I couldn’t do a better job. Among her critiques (do read it all):

  • “Is ‘coup’ the word we’re using now for anytime the wrong candidate wins an election?”
  • “This is an argument of labels. Trump is ‘authoritarian.’ Democrats engage in ‘normal politics.'”
  • “Republicans act as if they can be considered normal but they cannot. Chait dictates.’
  • “Chait likes that word ‘functionally.’ When things aren’t what you want to say they are, just add ‘functionally.'”
  • “No, that’s not how America works. You were just scaring us about ‘Trump’s attack on the Constitution,’ but now you’re assuming the Constitution out of existence, kicking it to the curb, and we’re not supposed to notice, and if we do, we’d better be quiet… or we’re functionally authoritarian.”
  • To Chait’s unhinged question, “In any case, Trump might well win the election fairly — and then what?,” Althouse replies, “Well, then it’s not ‘Trump’s next coup.’ It’s Trump’s second election, like the one in 2016, and it will be your obligation — if you actually do care about the Constitution — to accept the results of the election and aim at winning the next election. That’s democracy, and if you don’t like that, who’s ‘functionally authoritarian’?”
  • And to Chait’s “Yes, I’ve finally out of my mind and they’re coming to take me away, Ha ha!” statement,

“… Does the probability of a catastrophic outcome like the end of American democracy actually need to exceed 50 percent before we take firm action to stop it? While conservatives like [Ross] Douthat are correct that Trump is not a Hitler, that is setting the bar for action rather low. Trump doesn’t need to be a potential Hitler, or even a Mussolini, to justify suspending our normal rules of political conduct.”

…Althouse retorts, “Again, who’s the functional authoritarian? You’re openly justifying suspending our normal rules of political conduct!”

Ann has come late to this party; Ethics Alarms has been pointing out that the Democratic Big Lies that Trump is an authoritarian and “ignoring democratic norms” described the Democratic Party’s own conduct more accurately than it described Trump’s since, oh, the beginning of his Presidency. However, easy as it is to make Chait look foolish, she does it well.

6. Finally, two Mitch McConnell notes:

  • Much is being made of the fact that Merrick Garland’s outrageous and unconstitutional attempt to criminalize protests to school boards shows that he was unqualified to be a SCOTUS justice, meaning that McConnell’s unethical (but legal) refusal to let Obama’s nomination come to a vote in the Senate was the right thing to do. That’s consequentialism.  McConnell’s blocking of a sitting President’s nomination to fill a Court vacancy would be unethical if Garland turned out to be a serial killer. Why is this so hard to understand?
  • There were news stories yesterday stating that Democrats might decide to eliminate the filibuster in response to McConnell’s  game-playing with the debt limit. I doubt they are that stupid. McConnell wants them to kill the filibuster, and I expect him to keep trying to goad them into doing it. He’ll have a Senate majority in 2023. The Democrats need to hang on to the device for dear life.

17 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Catch-Up, 10/7/2021: Idiots, Crooks, Crazies…And Judges

  1. 5. So, to Jonathan Chait, Ross Douthat is a conservative? I’m sorry, these teeny boppers from Brooklyn are nuts.

    6. Re Garland. Fair enough. It’s consequentialism. And I’d say it’s moral luck. But Jesus H. Christ, that was a close one. The man looks unwell. He looks like the photos from the 19th century when everyone was evidently dyspeptic and worse, or a character in a Dostoyevsky novel or a Salem witch trial Puritan.

  2. On point 6 Re: Garland.
    I cannot disagree with your point that it is consequentialism but often those who are elevated to positions of power have an uncanny ability to cloak their dark side that is just waiting to be unleashed when it is believed to be providential. Confirmations hearings are typically scripted shows in which each side lines up to give long winded statements about why the candidate should or should not be confirmed which leaves very little time for the appointee to give answers that might otherwise sink his or her nomination. I am reminded that Terry McAuliffe just made one of those slips regarding not allowing parents to dictate what is taught. The current process simply allows the windbags to pontificate and they ultimately vote yeah or nay based on their understanding prior to the hearing. That makes the whole process inconsequential and thus creating only an appearance of due diligence. I would say that is unethical.

  3. The modern world of art is full of lies and downright stupidity. I don’t trust any of those people because of the loose standards for what counts as art today. And of the few people I’ve known who actually majored in art/art history, etc., they all have the same nasty attitude about the world (and yes, I know this is a hasty generalization and there are good people in that world).

  4. Regarding number 3, I agree that masks are just like the MAGA caps, but with one distinction which illustrates a difference in approach between the right and left of today: Trump never passed a law requiring anyone to wear one, nor was anyone told that they would die and/or kill anyone else if they refused to wear them. I’d rather wear the hat, myself.

  5. 3. Despite what some – including a few that respond here – would have us all believe, masks are largely ineffective except as a way to again try to divide people along party lines. The assumption those people tend to make is that “Trump” followers won’t wear masks while smart people do. That’s wrong. Regardless of party affiliation, I am smart enough to decide for myself if a mask is necessary and do not need the government or some pseudo-medical political hack (I’m looking at you, Dr. Fauci) telling me what to do. In fact, if the federal government mandates masks, a little civil disobedience might be in order. Right now, I wear a mask where it’s required (and I complain about it), but steadfastly refuse to wear them otherwise. My wife wears masks more often, but she has severe allergy issues that make masks a reasonable decision for her. She understands their relative weaknesses with regards to the virus. Neither of us is any more likely to get Wuhan or give it.

    6. I was one who thought that President Trump should have nominated Merrick Garland when Justice Ginsburg died, just to see the other side of the aisle twist themselves six ways to Sunday. But the more we learn about Merrick Garland…

    I also agree it was unethical for Senator McConnell to kill the nomination and if I met him on the street, I would tell him so. But then I would tell the Senator that every time I hear Garland’s name mentioned, I thank the Lord he’s not on the high court.

  6. In a 113-page ruling, Robert L. Pitman, a Federal District Court judge in Austin, sided with the Biden administration, which had sued to halt the Texas anti-abortion law that has pro-abortion activists panicking. His opinion is highly critical of the law, and can be read as his brief to the Supreme Court, which will ultimately decide the law’s fate.

    I am interested in the procedural issues.

    Federal courts have reviewed state court orders and judgments since at least Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee.

    In some circumstances, state court litigation can be removed to federal court.

    What precedent is there for a U.S. district court to pre-emptively enjoin state judges from hearing certain types of cases? Removal of a state court case to a federal court is already a pretty extraordinary remedy, and to actually order state courts from even hearing some types of cases in the first instance is even more extraordinary.

    Also, note on page 2 the judge used the term “pregnant persons” instead of “pregnant girls”

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