The Supreme Court Holds The U.S. To A Promise

“On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever…Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”

Thus did Justice Neil Gorsuch begin and end his historic 42-page majority opinion this month in McGirt v. Oklahoma, as the Supreme Court ruled  in a 5-4 decision that the Creek reservation in eastern Oklahoma had never been “disestablished” by Congress, and thus the promise made in a series of 18th Century treaties ensured that the territory remains an Indian reservation for the purposes of federal criminal law, and quite probably in other areas as well.

The decision was overshadowed by more politically debated decisions this month, but it may be the most overtly ethical of the Supreme Court’s recent holdings. Among other virtues, it rejects the false logic of Rationalization #52. The Underwood Maneuver, or “That’s in the past.” That one holds that time erases accountability, an attitude  useful to the habitually unethical, because “moving on” gives them  an opportunity to repeat their unethical and harmful conduct, or worse.

The Underwood Maneuver manipulates the victim of wrongful conduct into forgiving and forgetting without the essential contributions a truly reformed wrongdoer must make to the equation: admission of harm , acceptance of responsibility, remorse and regret, amends and compensation, and good reason to believe that the unethical conduct won’t be repeated.  By emphasizing that wrongdoing was in the past, this rationalization all but assures that it is also lurking in the near future.

Potentially half of Oklahoma will be affected by McGirt. The issue was whether the state of Oklahoma could prosecute Indians accused of major crimes in Indian Country, or if, under an 1885 federal statute known as the Major Crimes Act, such offenses were within federal jurisdiction. The case hinged upon whether the Creek Reservation had been withdrawn or disestablished, by Congress in the lead-up to Oklahoma’s admission to the Union in 1907, thus causing Hugh Jackman to sing.

This is 3 million acres in and around Tulsa we’re talking about here.

With the Court holding that the Creek reservation was never disestablished, four other tribes— the Seminole, Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations in eastern Oklahoma— may benefit from similar rulings. Those tribes’ total territory covers  19 million acres where 1.8 million Americans now live, relatively few of whom are Native Americans. Continue reading

Another Visit To “The Ethicist”: Appiah Overthinks The Dilemma Of The Treacherous Ex-Wife

is the first and only competent ethicist to handle the long-time New York Times Magazine column, so I feel badly that most of the time when I reference his opinions, it is to criticize one of them. He over-all record is excellent, despite the impression one might get from Ethics Alarms. For example, read his superb, if a bit overblown, response to a white woman who was “deeply offended” that a contractor hired by her husband flew a small confederate flag on his truck. She wanted to report him as a racist to his boss, and asked Appiah if this was the right thing to do.

That nuanced advice is more typical of “The Ethicist’s” work than this recent chapter, in which a man wrote that he had split from his wife after she had refused any physical intimacy, saying that it was no longer “part of her life.” She suggested a trial separation, which led to a formal divorce, and the couple signed a non-disparagement agreement as part of the process. Recently she admitted to him that she had repeatedly cheated on him during their marriage, and that she suggested the trial separation so she could resolve her affair at the time with a married man.

The inquirer says that he has never blamed his wife in discussions with his sons for the end of the marriage, but that he has learned from them that she “places the sole blame on me for every problem ever experienced by our family, including the drug addiction of our older son. When I recently contacted her about visiting him in jail, she said he didn’t want to see me. I contacted him and found that this was not true.”

He asks “The Ethicist” if he can ethically violate the non-disparagement agreement in his own defense, and tell the sons what a lying, cheating, betraying mother they have. To my amazement, Appiah said he could, and even suggested that he should, arguing in the process of a looooong discourse, Continue reading

Dead Wrong: The Withdrawn Bequest Share

That is, the advice columnist’s answer to an easy ethics question last week was dead wrong.  Once again, the advice-giver in question is Philip Galanes, the Times proprietor of Social Q’s, essentially that paper’s version of “Miss Manners.” Galanes, I now see upon googling him, is a novelist and a lawyer. That explains, perhaps, his unfamiliarity with some of the more nuanced aspects of ethics. Here’s the question he received in its entirety:

My brother died last year and bequeathed his entire (small) estate to me. He had one child, a daughter, to whom he left nothing. Feeling sorry for her, I told my niece I would give her half of the estate. (None of this becomes official until April.) But my circumstances have changed dramatically. My husband was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He is undergoing treatment, but we face a very uncertain financial future. I would now like to keep the entire estate. My niece is doing well financially, with many earning years ahead of her, unlike me. Is there a way to tell her I’ve changed my mind so she won’t hate me forever?

The Social Q’s verdict: “…Say, ‘I’m sorry if your father’s will hurt you. I promised you half of my inheritance out of love for you and hoping to heal any pain the will caused. But my husband is seriously ill, and I can’t afford to give you the money now. If I can make it up to you later, or in my estate, I will do it.’….For readers worrying about a verbal contract here, let’s assume B’s promise falls into one of several exceptions that requires agreements to be in writing….”

Yeccchh.

Here’s the ethical answer: Continue reading

Monday Ethics Warm-Up, 7/29/19: Reverse Racism And Listening To Dead People

“Life is just one damn thing after another.”Will Rodgers.

1. “Dear White People.” Yes, that’s the name of what “Entertainment” calls an eagerly awaited Netflix series. The title is racist. Whites, however, are supposed to ignore constant efforts to stereotype them by skin shade, “otherize” them by designating people of non-color as “you people” (the term the NAACP erupted in outrage over when Ross Perot used it to describe their members), and generally employ the same demeaning rhetoric that if used in the other direction would be attacked as racist.

The  proposed rule appears to be that males and whites, and especially white males, should capitulate to this demeaning double standard, concur that they are twin blights on civilization, and if they do not, and find themselves driven into the arms of the national elected leader and the political party that does not accept the rigged “principles” that constitute consent to be bullied, persecuted and insulted, that means they are “white supremacists” and misogynists.

The gamble, I suppose, is that whites and men are really, really stupid and cowardly, and this divisive hypocrisy will prevail.

I could be wrong, but I think it’s a bad bet.

Post script: From the Babylon Bee: “Ilhan Omar Introduces Resolution Condemning Racism, White Men, And The Jews.”

Bingo. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Those Home Run Promises

I know I’ve run the video above recently, but it’s especially relevant here.

Besides, it’s funny, I need a laugh, and I may watch it every day for the rest of my life.

According to reports, Red Sox star Mookie Betts promised Make A Wish Foundation child Nico Sapienza before last night’s game with the New York Yankees that he would “step his game up against the Yankees and hit a homer.”

Betts hit three.

That’s impressive, and a storybook ending. However, no player knows if or when he can hit a four-bagger. None can hit home runs on demand, not even the Great Bambino.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is it ethical for a  ballplayer to promise a sick child that he will hit a home run ?

No, President Trump Did Not Promise To Pay A Million Dollars To A Charity If Elizabeth Warren Took A DNA Test!

…and Warren, a lawyer, either knows he didn’t and is saying so anyway, or is saying so without checking what he actually said, which, for a lawyer allegedly trying to enforce a contract, is both incompetent and dishonest.

And once again, the complicit mainstream media is deceiving the public to assist a Democrat’s misrepresentation. Nice.

Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias.

In a series of tweets on Monday, Warren called on Trump to pay the $1 million to charity. Trump replied to a reporter, “I didn’t say that; you better read that again.”

Says the Hill, in an article by Jordan Fabian, “Trump denies offering $1 million for Warren DNA test, even though he did.” In fact, he didn’t. This Time, Trump is telling the truth. The Hill, using the news media’s favorite trick of late, pulls only part of the relevant quote: “I will give you a million dollars, to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian,I have a feeling she will say ‘no.’ ”

That wasn’t the whole statement. Bless law professor Ann Althouse: I was going to go through the analysis, and I really don’t have time. She’s retired now, has the time, and is a better contact lawyer than I’ll ever be. Here was her absolutely correct explanation: Continue reading

Mayor De Blasio, Mrs. De Blasio, And Rationalization #68: The Volunteer’s Dodge, Or “You Don’t Pay Me Enough To Be Ethical!”

New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), an unapologetic social justice warrior and crypto-socialist, installed his wife, Chirlane McCray, as the executive director of  the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, NYC’s nonprofit foundation. Under the previous mayor, the Fund had raised tens of millions of dollars annually for a wide range of projects, from anti-poverty initiatives to Superstorm Sandy recovery. McCray cannot receive a salary for her job, though the mayor has complained bitterly about this. Nepotism is outlawed under the City Charter in Chapter 68 which forbids public servants using their positions “to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant or any person or firm associated with the public servant.”

Under the leadership of McCray,  fundraising for the Mayor’s Fund has stalled. In the Bloomberg years, the nonprofit raised an average of $32 million per year, while under Mrs. de Blasio’s stewardship  it has raised an average of $22 million annually, a third less. This may be explained in part by the fact that she often isn’t working at her job. She has attended fewer than half of the meetings of the Fund’s board, and spends just an hour each week on the foundation’s business. It is June, and the New York Times reports that she hasn’t  visited the Fund’s offices in 2018, and was largely absent in the latter half of 2017. As the fund’s revenues have dived, its expenses have soared 50% since she took over,  with the organization moved into bigger offices. The Fund also supports fewer projects.

Sniffs the Times in an editorial, “the Mayor’s Fund under Mr. de Blasio and Ms. McCray has done less with more.”

De Blasio, who has pretty much solidified his reputation as a jerk, defended his wife by saying that she had done “an extraordinary job,” insisting to critics that  “You’re missing what her work is about.”

Her work is about raising money, and she’s not doing that very well. As the Times says, the first rule of fund-raising is to show up.  Mrs. Mayor helpfully added,  “It’s not about who can raise the most money.” Wait, what? Has anyone explained to her what her job is?

Then de Blasio said this, thus causing the proverbial light bulb to go off in my head, as he perfectly illustrated a rationalization that has somehow missed inclusion on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List:

“She does all that for zero dollars a year.”

“All that” meaning “a crummy job.”

Say hello. Mr. Mayor,  to… Continue reading

The Stupid Wall

The current Trump upset over the Stupid border Wall is fascinating as a lesson in the danger of making improvident promises that you don’t think you will ever be in a position to break. Presidential candidates do this all the time; I don’t think Trump’s Stupid Wall was even the worst of the 2016 crop.  The President almost certainly thought he had no chance of winning when he began promising to build the SW, then doubled down when he said, ridiculously, that he would make Mexico pay for it.

A lie is still a lie when it is said to deceive even if only the gullible and dim will be fooled, as the old Ethics Scoreboard (current down, but it will rise again) used to  remind readers when it celebrated such lies in its David Manning Lie of the Month, named after Sony’s fake movie reviewer that Sony argued wasn’t fraudulent since nobody believed those review snippets in movie ads anyway. “Manning” had said that Rob Schneider’s  idiotic comedy “The Animal” was a comic masterpiece.

It’s not certain that the President knew the idea of the SW was ridiculous since he is—well, you know. Either way, however, it was a promise that shouldn’t have been made, just like Bernie Sanders’ promise only to appoint SCOTUS justices  who would “repeal” Citizens United should never have been made. Luckily for Sanders (and the rest of us), he wasn’t elected, and never had to try to deliver. That’s just moral luck, though. A promise you cannot keep is unethical when you make it, whether your ethical breach is dishonesty or incompetence. Continue reading

“The Ethicist” Endorses Vigilantism

No, you can't scam the scammers....

No, you can’t scam the scammers….

I haven’t been monitoring the New York Times’ “The Ethicist” column as much as I once did. After the original author of the feature, Randy Cohen, was jettisoned, the various ethicists, pseudo-ethicists and imaginary ethicists the Times recruited to fill his  slot have ranged from inconsistent to incompetent, and I stopped checking regularly until recently. Now the column has a real ethicist, for once: Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U., and wrote “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen.”  He seems to be thorough and explains his analysis using valid ethical systems. He’s a vast improvement over his immediate predecessors, but he goofs too.

A questioner asked about how he should handle scammers who tricked his father out a check. He wrote offering a threat and a settlement. They were to  return half the money, or he would report them to the consumer-affairs division of their state’s attorney general’s office and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, register complaints on websites and generally see that they suffered for their fraud.  His demand: send  a certified check, made out to his father, by the deadline. It worked; he got the amount requested, and the check cleared.

“But it was not certified, and it arrived after the due date,” he wrote. “Do I have an obligation to uphold my end of the deal, by not registering complaints about an outfit that is clearly scamming elderly people?”  Continue reading

The Amazing Saga Of Big Papi And Maverick Schutte: This One Has Everything, Folks: Baseball! The Bambino! Courage! Kindness! Compassion! Heroics! Moral Luck! Hubris! Consequentialism! And Dammit, I’m Crying Again

Let’s see if I can through this to the Ethics Quiz portion without shorting out my laptop.

Maverick Schutte, a 6-year-old from Cheyenne, Wyoming, has required over 30 surgeries, including five open chest procedures,  to treat a heart condition.He still must be hooked up to a ventilator most of each day to allow oxygen to reach his lungs, and more surgery will be needed, as he is in constant danger of heart failure.

The child’s greatest joy is baseball, and he has adopted his father’s team, the Boston Red Sox, as his passion. The Children’s Miracle Network put the family in touch with former Red Sox player Kevin Millar, now an MLB host and broadcaster, and Millar contacted Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, Maverick’s favorite, after the family explained that Maverick was in the hospital again and needed a morale boost. With Millar, Ortiz made a video for Maverick, ending with Ortiz promising to hit a home run that night, just for him. I didn’t believe it when I heard the story, but it was true. “Stay positive, keep the faith, and I’m going to hit a home run for you (Friday night),” Ortiz says in the video. “Remember that.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today before, as Paul Harvey would say, you learn “the rest of the story”…

Was it ethical for Ortiz to make such a promise to Maverick?

Continue reading