Ethics Hero: 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals


It’s a small victory to be sure, but those of us who want to protect free speech must take our hope from whatever sources we can.

In the case of Dana’s Railroad Supply v. Florida, the sharp-eyed Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals  struck down a Florida law barring merchants from imposing a surcharge on customers for credit card use.

The law allowed merchants to give discounts for cash, but would not permit surcharges for using credit cards. “Ah HA!” realized the court, This violates the First Amendment, because it penalizes businesses that want to call price differences based on credit card use a surcharge rather than a cash discount, and they are the exact same thing. “You can penalize credit card users,” the dumb law said, “but you have to call it what we tell you to call it.”

“Tautologically speaking,” the opinion said, “surcharges and discounts are nothing more than two sides of the same coin; a surcharge is simply a ‘negative’ discount, and a discount is a ‘negative’ surcharge. As a result, a merchant who offers the same product at two prices—a lower price for customers paying cash and a higher price for those using credit cards—is allowed to offer a discount for cash while a simple slip of the tongue calling the same price difference a surcharge runs the risk of being fined and imprisoned.”

“The First Amendment prevents staking citizens’ liberty on such distinctions in search of a difference.”

Love it.


Pointer and Facts: ABA Journal.

The TSA Flunks Integrity, Equity, Common Sense, Fairness…But I Guess This Isn’t News. Is It?

"You have the US Air credit card? Proceed to your flight, sir!"

“You have the US Air credit card? Proceed to your flight, sir!”

Apparently I am less likely to be a terrorist because I have a credit card.

Ever since I laid out $400 for the new American Airlines-US Air merger credit card and special flyer’s program (it included two round trip tickets to any domestic destination), I have been able to use the “pre-screened” line for my US Air flights. That means my shoes don’t have to be x-rayed, my computer can stay in my brief case, I don’t have to take off my belt (a key benefit, as my pants have fallen down during screenings on three occasions) and I don’t have to take off my jacket.

I also can now skip long lines, as the poor peasants in the adjoining lines glare at me as one of the hated Privileged of the Air. Oh—and since I have an artificial hip that sets off the old-fashioned gates (that’s all you get at the Pre-Screened area), a TSA agent will escort me to that spinny thing that takes nude magnetic imaging photos so I don’t have to get a sexual molesting, of which I have complained about bitterly in the past.  He pushes through all the other passengers waiting in line, –the fools! Bwahahahahah!— and takes me right through. “Pre-screened!” he says, and that’s all there is  to it.*

But I wasn’t “pre-screened,” was I? I just paid a fee to get a credit card. Boy, wait until terrorists catch on to the credit card loophole. KaBOOM!

How can the TSA claim that all of their annoying, humiliating, obtrusive procedures are necessary to protect our safety, when so many of those procedures will be waived for flyers who have the resources to plunk down the money for a premium credit card? It can’t.

Please tell me that the only reason these procedures are still required isn’t so the airlines have something to barter in exchange for money.


* Once, I didn’t even have to do that. I used the gate, and the alarm went off. I said: “This is a metal hip–you’ll have to wand me and pat me down.” “Nah, never mind,” the TSA agent said. “You can go.”


The Kardashian Kard Saga: Proof That We Are Doomed?

In “Terminator II,” there is  a scene in which young John Connor–desperately trying, along with his mother and the android killing machine sent from the future to protect the boy, to prevent the apocalyptic future that waits for him—sees young children gleefully pretending to murder each other with toy guns.  “We’re not going to make it, are we?” he asks the Terminator. “People, I mean.” The fact that a bank has chosen the Trashy Kardashian Sisters to promote a credit card aimed at teenagers prompts approximately the same sense of futility. At a time of crisis in which our culture that desperately needs to encourage responsible fiscal conduct led by financial institutions we can trust, this is what we get.

We’re doomed. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce or Hero? The Paradox of “The Amex Angel”

You probably heard the story. About three weeks ago in Manhattan,  ad executive Merrie Harris was approached by a homeless man who asked her for some spare change. Harris told the man, Jay Valentine, that she had no change, but offered to lend him her American Express Platinum Card if he would promise to return it. Valentine assured her he was trustworthy, and, incredibly, Harris gave him the card. He returned the card a short time later after a modest shipping spree that added twenty-five dollars to her bill. The New York media sang the praises of both Harris and Valentine, dubbing Harris “the Amex Angel” and calling the episode “a shining act of generosity, trust and honesty.”

I almost designated Wilson an Ethics Hero at the time, but something stopped me. I have been considering the implications of the strange story ever since. It may have been that shining act, but I’m not convinced it was even ethical. Is that possible? How can an act of generosity, trust, and kindness not be ethical?  Continue reading