Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/24/2021: The Sarcasm Edition

First appearance in 2021 of my favorite Ethics Warm-Up intro. Maybe that’s why 2021 ethics has gotten off to such a rotten start…

In addition to its significance in the siege of the Alamo, yesterday’s date of February 24 has other important ethics markers, perhaps some more important than Travis’s iconic letter. Perhaps the most impact on U.S. history was this date in 1803, when Chief Justice John Marshall (no relation that has been shown to my satisfaction) handed down the landmark decision in William Marbury v. James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States, establishing the legal principle of judicial revie. That’s what gives the Supreme Court the authority to limit Congressional power by declaring legislation unconstitutional. I doubt very much that the United States would still exist as a free republic had not that case been decided as it was, yet the result was probably dictated more by partisan politics than philosophy.

Marshall, in his majority opinion, declared that acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution are not valid law and therefore are non-binding on the courts, and that the judiciary’s first responsibility is always to uphold the Constitution. And if two laws conflict, Marshall wrote, SCOTUS has the responsibility of deciding which law applies in any given case. Periodically members of Congress, pundits and even academics have criticized the decision, but there can be little doubt that had Marshall not led the Court to make this stand, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would have been quickly shredded.

This is particularly relevant now, when the Democrats in Congress have signaled that they want government authorities to decree what is factual and what is “disinformation,” while they also seek to weaken Second Amendment rights. Incidentally, there is a prominent statue of Marshall at the Supreme Court, and a recast in John Marshall Park, near Judiciary Square, also in D.C. Another recast is in Philadelphia. Marshall owned hundreds of slaves, which is entirely irrelevant to his essential influence on our government and values. Clearly, many, perhaps most, of the college students in the U.S. would prefer that a non-slave owner had headed the Court, even if it resulted in a nation that slipped into allowing the virtual slavery of all citizens to a national government that “knew what was best.”

1. Oh, sure. Why not? We all know that committees are so effective at leadership. A letter signed by three dozen House Democrats urge Joe Biden to relinquish full control over the country’s nuclear weapons in favor of a committee of legislators. “…Vesting one person with this authority entails real risks,” states the letter, inspired by Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California. “Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concern about the president’s judgment.While any president would presumably consult with advisors before ordering a nuclear attack, there is no requirement to do so,” the letter adds. “The military is obligated to carry out the order if they assess it is legal under the laws of war. Under the current posture of U.S. nuclear forces, that attack would happen in minutes.”

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Obama, Trump, And The Avoidable “Two Presidents” Ethical Dilemma


Yesterday, Donald Trump sent out not just one but three tweets that directly interfered with current U.S. policy efforts, involving the costs of a new jet fighter plane, nuclear weapons, and a U.N. resolution criticizing Israel. This understandably is causing consternation in the Obama administration, because Trump is exercising influence without authority. Until January 20, 2017, Donald Trump has no official position or authority in the government at all. He does have power and influence, however, because everyone knows that he will have authority very soon.

What constitutes abuse of the power and influence? Should a President Elect be a mute and invisible presence until he is officially sworn in, so as not to interfere with the current President’s discharge of his duties?

For the lame duck Chief Executive, with slightly more than two months left in office and vastly diminished influence, the ethical problem is different. How much should he defer to the incoming President, and not take actions that will seriously interfere with the policy directions the new President  may choose to take? Once the will of the people has been made clear at the ballot box, is it fair and responsible for current President to actively work against the likely agenda of the incoming President?

Finally, if a lame duck President is attempting to undermine the objectives of the incoming President before that President Elect takes office, is it unethical for the President Elect to use his influence and power to stop him, or at least mitigate the damage? Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: President Obama (Sigh!)

“Ultimately I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

President Obama speaking in the White House Rose Garden about the Supreme Court’s deliberations on the constitutionality of Obamacare.

Obama made John Marshall roll over in his grave. We Marshalls just hate that,,,

This is the kind of presidential dishonesty that drives me bonkers, I must confess. It manages to deceive and misinform. It is dependent on the ignorance of  the public, so it is also condescending, disrespectful, and cynical, in addition to being an intentional  lie.

Not a lie, you say? Perhaps a mistake? Sorry, no dice: Obama was advertised as a former constitutional law expert and a Harvard Law School whiz. He can’t claim now that he’s really a babe in the woods when it comes to the Law of the Land and judicial history.

Unprecedented? The power of the Court to overturn unconstitutional acts of Congress was established by precedent, when Chief Justice John Marshall—love that name—led the court to invalidate the Judiciary Act of 1789. Is Obama playing games with “democratically-elected Congress,” since the Senate wasn’t elected directly until 1912, with the passage of the 17th Amendment. I suppose so…if challenged, he can say that he is still right, because all of Congress wasn’t elected “democratically” in 1789. Of course, few Americans know that, so the statement qualifies as deceit. Continue reading

Ethics Alarms Awards: The Sioux City GOP Candidates Debate

What do Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich have in common with "Blazing Saddles'" Gabby Johnson?

There were ethics revelations, lessons and cautionary tales in last night’s final debate before the Iowa Caucuses. The envelopes, please!

The Boy Who Cried Wolf Award

Winner: Rep. Michelle Bachmann

Bachmann  twice protested that she was constantly being accused of not having her facts right, when she really did. This is a hard lesson for people like Bachmann, but she might as well learn it now: when you habitually make factual errors and then deny that you made them, people aren’t going to trust you to be responsible with your claims or to be telling the truth. Nobody has spun as many whoppers and jaw-droppers as Bachmann in the last year, and nobody has more consistently tried to deny the truth when her misrepresentations were brought to her attention. Or to put it another way: once a candidate has claimed that 6th President John Quincy Adams, who was all of 8-years-old when the Declaration of Independence was signed, qualifies as “Founding Father,” nobody is going to credit your representation of “facts” whether they are accurate or not.

The Gabby Johnson Award

Winners (tie): Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rep. Ron Paul Continue reading