Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Emptywheel/bmaz: Washington Post features John Yoo -- Let's trash the Constitution

Here's bmaz from the more and more indispensable Emptywheel site from the very special Marcy Wheeler. One characteristic of her site is that it often gets thoughtful comments. I append one of the superb responses.


The Yoo Tumor
By: bmaz Sunday July 26, 2009

John Yoo is a cancer on the Constitutional body politic of the United States, and he won't go away. For some inexplicable reason, Carrie Johnson, and her editors at the Washington Post, have decided to fluff the one man self rationalization and obfuscation tour Yoo has been on as of late:

Some public figures, if their judgment and ethics come under fire, retreat into solitude. Then there is John C. Yoo.

The former Justice Department official, whose memos blessed the waterboarding of terrorism suspects and wiretapping of American citizens, has come out fighting, even as negative assessments of his government service pile up.

Last month, a federal judge in California refused to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses Yoo of violating a detainee's constitutional rights. This month, the Justice Department's inspector general described Yoo's legal analysis of the Bush surveillance program as "insufficient" and sometimes inaccurate. Also expected in coming weeks is a department ethics report that sources have said could renounce Yoo's approval of harsh CIA interrogation practices and recommend that he and Jay S. Bybee, a former colleague, be referred to their state bar associations for discipline.

While former colleagues have avoided attention in the face of such scrutiny, Yoo has been traveling across the country to give speeches and counter critics who dispute his bold view of the president's authority. Now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, he engages in polite but firm exchanges with legal scholars over conclusions in their academic work. This month, he wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal defending his actions and labeling critics' arguments as "absurd" and "foolhardy" responses to "the media-stoked politics of recrimination."

There is nothing whatsoever new in the story, save perhaps for the information that even if the long delayed OPR Report recommends bar discipline against Yoo, he is unlikely to suffer any consequences because the only state he is licensed in, Pennsylvania, has a five year statute of limitations on ethics infractions. Johnson and the Post, of course, do not discuss whether the Pennsylvania statute may have been tolled because the information was not publicly available for a good deal of the time.

The Post article is beyond disingenuous with the way it blithely equates the pros and cons of Yoo and his work. It even points out the recent decision in Federal court in NDCA by Judge Jeffrey White without noting in any detail that White carved Yoo's work up like a Butterball turkey.

John Yoo arguably has done as much, if not more, harm to the Constitution than any government lawyer in history. Yoo authored legal reliance opinions eviscerating the Fourth Amendment and authorizing the implementation of a state sponsored torture regime. If the Washington Post is going to fluff Yoo, they ought to at least be intellectually honest enough to give some credible billing to the moral and legal hell he hath wrought. Apparently, it is asking too much.


Bob in HI responded:

The trouble is that major news organizations no longer know what “fair and balanced” means. Part of what this indicates is that there is no longer any public consensus on what is “right” and “wrong.” I’m not referring to some cosmic yardstick here. I’m referring to a cultural consensus.

But what is truly alarming, to me, about this shattering of the cultural consensus is that the Constitution of the United States has lost its primary place. The culture now apparently views it, like George Bush, as “just a piece of paper.” Defending the Constitution is no longer a big priority to our Congresspersons, even though they take an oath of office to do so.

Instead, “Public Safety” has now been elevated to a priority equal to, or exceeding, that of the Constitution. The public consensus is shifting, and not for the better.

The MSM [Major Media?] are no longer defending the Constitution because it is no longer seen as a fundamental priority, on which all other priorities are based. And the MSM don’t defend the Constitution because the Presidency has not done so, for about 8 years. And neither has Congress. Only the Courts still seem to act as though defending the Constitution is Job #1.

Yoo is a symptom of a deep cultural malaise.

Bob in HI

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Obama abandoning public health care option?

Obama Abandoning Public Health Care Option?

Democracy Now's headlines for 7.7.09 and 7.8. (see below) included items on the Obama administration’s signals that it’s ready to abandon or perhaps has already effectively abandoned the public health plan option. (see below)

In that case, we can guess that Obama has bowed to the Republican wall of opposition and to the opposition of some of his wealthy corporate campaign contributors. No other U.S. president has so clearly enunciated the need for such a government run health care option so there is no question that he well understands the stakes involved.

The only questions are for the future. Will there be a health care reform bill signed by President Obama and if so will it be any real improvement over the current intolerable situation? And what will be the political ramifications for Obama and for the Democrats?

The sad or tragic thing about this episode – taken together with Obama’s serial betrayals on fixing the financial meltdown, civil liberties, Af-Pak, Iraq, Palestine, mountaintop removal, Don Siegelman – what else? – is what it shows about the character of our 44th president. We have just passed through (and we lucky ones have barely survived) the tough minded, focused, powerful presidency of Bush-Cheney and we could have wished for similar toughness in reversing their horrors.

Instead it seems that we’re saddled with another weak-willed, feckless and directionless Democrat leader. Followers of Walter Karp (Indispensable Enemies, and Liberty Under Siege) are seeing signs that Obama is following in the tradition of virtually all the Democratic presidential contenders after LBJ -- either they didn’t want the job or they only took it on condition that they wouldn’t have to lead from the Left. (Interesting that only Jimmy Carter is a partial exception to this phenomenon.)

So if Obama follows Bill Clinton’s trajectory, his healthy congressional margins will melt away starting in 2012 to the point where, like his predecessor, he can be our savior simply by playing defense against the Republicans.

Emmanuel: Obama Open to Dropping Public Health Plan
The Obama administration continues to downplay its stated commitment to a government-run public health insurance program. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said he thinks it’s more important to inject competition between insurance plans than it is to create a plan run by the government. Private insurers have opposed the public plan because they feel its cheaper costs would provide too much competition and potentially put them out of business. Emanuel’s comments echo recent statements from President Obama. At a White House news conference last month, Obama refused to call the public health proposal non-negotiable and said he hasn’t “drawn lines in the sand.”

President Obama, speaking June 23rd: “We are still early in this process. So, you know, we have not drawn lines in the sand, other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured. You know, those are the broad parameters that we’ve discussed.”

See also:
Obama Defends Commitment to Public Health Option
President Obama has issued a vague response to criticism his administration is backing away from its advocacy of a government-run public health insurance program. On Tuesday, Obama released a statement saying: “I] still believe… that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest. I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals.” The statement came hours after White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told the Wall Street Journal he think it’s more important to inject competition between insurance plans than it is to create a plan run by the government. Emmanuel instead said the White House could back a plan that would “trigger” a public option only if private insurers failed to provide suitable care.

Friday, July 03, 2009

New Yorker: Iran, Hope and Disillusionment

The hope for change in Iran that inspired the leading " Talk of the Town" piece published in the June 29, 2009 New Yorker seemed outdated a week later, the time of its official publication. But Laura Secor's comment remains a valuable snapshot of that brief moment. She speaks of the "majesty" of the demonstrations. She emphasizes the "modesty" of the reform movement's demands: It wasn't an attempt to overthrow the mullah regime. It was to repudiate Ahamadinejad. It was simply to count the votes.

Secor reviews the disillusionment when President Khatami couldn't live up to the hope he engendered in 1997. This led to calls for a boycott of the 2005 elections which Ahmadinejad "won." Did his win make a difference? Yes, it did, writes Secor. A major difference.

A major one, as it turned out. Under Ahmadinejad, a crackdown on dissent forced scores of journalists, intellectuals, and activists to flee the country. Ahmadinejad centralized government, empowered the Basij militia and the Revolutionary Guards, flouted expert economic advice, and packed the ministries with ideological cronies. With few reformists permitted to run in the interim elections of 2006 and 2008, liberals and moderates had little recourse inside the political system...

---Laura Secor, The New Yorker



Protest Vote, by Laura Secor

New Yorker

June 29, 2009 (published a week earlier)

More than a hundred Iranian reformists have been arrested in the turmoil following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hastily declared victory in the June 12th Presidential election. Among them is Saeed Hajjarian, who had been a political consultant to former President Mohammad Khatami. In 2000, Hajjarian was shot in the face by an assassin who was widely believed to have been in the employ of the intelligence ministry. Hajjarian had once been a high official in the intelligence apparatus, and he was suspected of being the source of stories in a reformist newspaper tying the ministry to the grisly murders of dissidents. He survived the shooting, but was left partially paralyzed and is dependent on the constant care of doctors and family. He speaks with difficulty, and his office in the reformist-party headquarters contains a hospital bed. His doctor says that keeping him in detention without proper medical care could endanger his life.

It is not a good sign when a government feels the need to imprison even the dissidents it has already shot. But the skies are full of ominous signs for Iran’s protest movement. In a sermon at Friday prayers last week, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, defied any expectation that he might reverse course and call a new election under neutral monitors; instead, he demanded an end to the street protests and threatened their leaders with reprisals. The speech was surprising only in the light of the giddy, contagious hope that had risen from the sight of a long-suppressed citizenry’s refusal to be cowed. As one Iranian-American observer put it, using an indelicate Iranian expression, the leader has a saw in his posterior: he can’t go forward and he can’t go back. Unfortunately, even to hold still looks excruciating, most of all for the protesters at the wrong end of the batons, knives, and firearms of the Revolutionary Guards’ special forces.

Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the Presidential contender whose legions of supporters have taken to the streets of Iranian cities, has a long and complex history with Khamenei. When Moussavi was Prime Minister, in the nineteen-eighties, he belonged to a faction known as the Islamic Left. It shared power with a rival faction, the Islamic Right, led by Khamenei, who was then the President. When Moussavi and Khamenei clashed, as they often did, the charismatic leader of the Islamic Revolution and the supreme leader of the country, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, intervened—most frequently on Moussavi’s side.

So, in 1989, when Khomeini died and Khamenei replaced him as supreme leader, the Islamic Left was exiled to political purgatory. Moussavi did not lift his head in Iranian politics for twenty years. But during those years the rest of his Islamic Left faction, including Saeed Hajjarian, made one of the most dramatic turnabouts in Iran’s political history. It abandoned its hard-line commitments in favor of an agenda of liberalization, freedom of expression, the relaxation of Islamic social codes, and friendlier dealings with the world. On the strength of this platform, in 1997, Khatami, who had been Moussavi’s minister of culture, won the Presidency in a landslide. Parliament soon fell to the reformists, too. Although these elected officials were subordinate to Khamenei, Hajjarian believed that they could extend their reach by triangulating between the mass movement they represented and the autocratic state with which they shared power. He coined the phrase that would define the reformists’ strategy: “Pressure from below, negotiation at the top.”

That strategy failed. The pressure from below was for far-reaching democratic reform, which Khatami could not deliver within the confines of the constitution. Moreover, the authorities at the top were not interested in negotiating. A hundred independent newspapers and magazines opened, only to be forced to close; the Guardian Council vetoed much of the legislation passed by the parliament; and Khatami could not keep his inner circle out of prison, let alone the young people whose votes had won him the Presidency. By the time he left office, in 2005, the reformists had neither a credible leader nor a constituency. Activists and public figures called for a boycott of that year’s election. What good was voting if a President with a broad popular mandate could still be controlled and stymied by unelected powers? What difference did it even make who was President?

A major one, as it turned out. Under Ahmadinejad, a crackdown on dissent forced scores of journalists, intellectuals, and activists to flee the country. Ahmadinejad centralized government, empowered the Basij militia and the Revolutionary Guards, flouted expert economic advice, and packed the ministries with ideological cronies. With few reformists permitted to run in the interim elections of 2006 and 2008, liberals and moderates had little recourse inside the political system. Iran seemed headed for a confrontation between irreconcilables: the forces for secular democracy and those for autocratic theocracy.

“Reform is dead, long live reform”—that is another of Saeed Hajjarian’s favorite sayings. This spring, the reform movement looked deader than ever. Moussavi, its leading Presidential candidate, was a cipher. But some reformists were encouraged by his long rivalry with Khamenei, which they felt would make him a powerful and fearless advocate for his constituency, a role Khatami never undertook. Although Khatami’s party endorsed Moussavi, he described himself as independent, and assured voters that he believed in the principles of the Islamic Revolution. And yet, in a breathtaking, even inexplicable development, the Moussavi campaign produced a “green wave.” Perhaps all that voter apathy since 2005 masked a deeper, embarrassed hope. Or was it despair that had liberated Iranians to be pragmatic—to resign themselves to the longevity of the system and to set modest, achievable goals, like the repudiation of Ahmadinejad?

Whatever its origins, the Moussavi wave has coalesced with extraordinary speed into a disciplined, tactically sophisticated, and strikingly moderate movement. The protesters are not directly challenging Khamenei, or the constitution that allows him nearly unlimited power, despite the widely shared impression that his hand is behind the apparent manipulation of the election results and the crackdown that has followed. Instead, they are demanding that their votes be counted and, numbers permitting, that they be allowed to elect the candidate of their choice, from among the few whom Khamenei’s Guardian Council had preapproved to run for office. In effect, they insist that the path of legal, internal reform be kept open. Whether this unity and singularity of purpose will survive depends partly on Moussavi’s leadership, and partly on how much pressure Khamenei brings to bear.

Count our votes: the modesty of this demand is particularly moving, set against the majesty of the demonstrations. Under the Islamic Republic, public spaces are surveilled for adherence to the dress code and Islamic morality, for suspicious gatherings and raucous laughter, for trespasses that take even their perpetrators by surprise. For those with secrets to hide, the streets are full of eavesdroppers. But now, for once, life as it pulses in the sanctuary of Iranian homes has burst onto the streets. The scale of the crowds is remarkable, as is their confidence, which seems to grow with each day that the protests are not met with overwhelming violence.

But of the two sides in this confrontation only one has an army of special forces, known as white shirts, willing to extract a price for defiance in blood. There is something vertiginous now about the display of all that courage under the lengthening shadow of Tiananmen Square, in a nation whose government has long appeared to view China’s as a model. President Obama has so far struck the right notes by upholding the human and civil rights of the protesters without interfering in Iran’s internal politics. But a bigger showdown is coming. If the Islamic Republic dares to mow down those ebullient crowds, it will write itself a villainous chapter in history and offend the conscience of the world. ♦