Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

To sign, or not to sign?

This petition presented me with an ethical dilemma of the first order. I remember nothing like it since the day in 2004 when I was running the now-defunct, and got a personal email from Ryan Dupré — the Marine corporal who made himself infamous and cast a shadow of malevolence over the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq when he told a reporter from the UK’s Sunday Times, “The Iraqis are sick people, and we are the chemotherapy.

Mutual assured destruction

Mutual assured destruction: what happens when both parties insist on using all their weapons.
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I’d recently written an essay titled “War crimes: the people at Ground Zero,” in which I’d referred to this incident, and Dupré wrote to present his side of the story and ask that I alter my essay to reflect both his perspective and his repentance. He also told me that he didn’t want his email published.

The implied moral questions were not easily resolved, and foolishly I considered them for too long before eventually replying; Dupré was no longer answering email at that address. Thanks to my lentitude, I have been deprived of a chance to incorporate Dupré’s rebuttal — and my questions regarding its sincerity — into a vastly improved version of my essay. And my readers missed out on a rare opportunity to look into the mind of a man vilified around the world — not without cause — and what might drive him to utter such desperately reprehensible words.

When it came to signing this letter, I didn’t take nearly so long to decide — time is obviously of the essence — but that doesn’t imply that the decision was an easy one.

My principal concern with this exhortation to President Barack Obama to make a recess appointment of Elizabeth Warren to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a simple matter of memory: I remember that I despised and detested former President George W. Bush’s use of this “constitutional power” — 171 times — to do something that I felt should be unconstitutional: to hire such deservedly controversial appointees as John Bolton (as UN ambassador, when Bolton was known to be hostile to the UN on principle) over the objections of a Senate ordinarily empowered to confirm or reject such nominees.

But since I have no legal authority to change the Constitution, I can’t exercise moral authority in any meaningful way. I would prefer that presidents be denied this power, or that it be restricted to genuine emergencies, but if Obama’s predecessors have used it, he also has the right to do so. “Two wrongs don’t make a right” applies only so long as law conforms to the dictates of justice; otherwise, to permit one side of a controversy or political schism to prevail because it is willing to abuse the terms of the law, while denying to the other the option to reply in kind, creates a new and worse injustice.

The real clincher, however, is that Elizabeth Warren’s appointment is likely consumers’ last chance to get a friendly voice on a CFPB that we count on to protect us against the exact kind of banking fraud that has created a recession, weakened our currency and drowned millions of Americans in debt. This appointment is vital to the public interest, and President Obama should proceed with it.

If Republicans object to this as an unjust end run around their right to review executive appointees, they have every right to do so, and I think justice is on their side. History, however, is not.

Originally published as a review of a petition encouraging President Obama to make a recess appointment of Elizabeth Warren.

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