2010 - %3, February

OPR: Torture Lawyers Guilty of "Professional Misconduct"

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 7:02 PM EST

John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Bush administration lawyers responsible for the bulk of the so-called "torture memos," were guilty of "professional misconduct," according to a June 2009 report by the Justice Department's in-house watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). But in the wake of massive pushback from Yoo and Bybee, the Justice Department refused to adopt the conclusions of that report, according to a January 5, 2010, memo released on Friday afternoon on the website of the House Judiciary Committee.

If the Justice Department had endorsed the OPR's conclusions, Yoo and Bybee could have faced potential disbarment. But David Margolis, the deputy associate attorney general responsible for reviewing the report, concluded in a 69-page memo explaining his decision that the authors of the torture memos had demonstrated "poor judgment" and produced seriously flawed legal analysis, but that this was not done in bad faith. Margolis noted that it was a "close question" whether Yoo had "intentionally or recklessly provided misleading advice." He added, "Yoo's loyalty to his own ideology and convictions clouded his view of his obligation to his client and led him to author opinions that reflected his own extreme, albeit sincerely held views of executive power while speaking for an institutional client." These are damning words, certainly. But such words won't hurt as much as being disbarred.

The department's experts in professional conduct saw this as a slam-dunk case. Yoo, they found, "committed intentional professional misconduct when he violated his duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective, and candid legal advice." Bybee, they noted, acted in "reckless disregard" of his obligations to provide independent legal analysis. Yet because Margolis believes Yoo and Bybee committed these significant errors in good faith, he has given them a pass.

Congress plans hearings on the report, and the Center for Constitutional Rights has issued a statement saying that Bybee, who is currently serving as a federal appeals court judge, should be impeached.

UPDATE 1: The OPR report notes that the Yoo and Bybee probe was "not a routine investigation"—partly because Yoo's emails were deleted and because David Addington, Dick Cheney's legal counsel, refused to cooperate with OPR investigators. Consequently, OPR investigators noted, "It remains possible that additional information eventually will surface regarding the CIA program and the military's interrogation programs that might bear upon our conclusions."

UPDATE 2: Yoo's lawyer, the also-controversial Miguel Estrada, slammed the OPR investigators as "Junior Varsity CIA."

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Green or Greedy?

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 6:43 PM EST

New Scientist is running an interesting feature revealing a gulf between public perception of a company's green performance and its actual green performance:

"If you care about the environment, you may want to show that in the way you spend your money. Do the corporations that benefit from our environmentally conscious purchasing and investment choices deserve their green halo?"

There's an interactive graphic you can play with to assess how a company is perceived versus how it performs. The assessment of public perception is based on a survey by Earthsense asking 30,000 US consumers to rate companies on a scale of 1 to 10. The assessment of actual performance is made by a company's Trucost score: the estimated cost of its environmental impact under a "polluter pays" system, as a percentage of its annual revenue.

The companies are broken down by sector: food and beverage, retail, media, travel and leisure, personal and household, industrial goods and services, technology, chemicals, construction and materials.

The companies range from the New York Times to Apple, Nike to Timberland, Burger King to Starbucks, and a bunch in between. You can also get a pretty good sense of how sectors perform in relation to other sectors: food and beverage, bad overall; technology, better overall.
 

Man Bulldozes Home over Foreclosure

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 6:41 PM EST

A bit of truly bizarre news from Foreclosureland.

Faced with foreclosure, Terry Hoskins, a struggling homeowner in Moscow, Ohio, decided to bulldoze his $350,000 home rather than let his bank, RiverHills Bank, take it from him. "When I see I owe $160,000 on a home valued at $350,000, and someone decides they want to take it—no, I wasn't going to stand for that, so I took it down," Hoskins told TV station WLWT in Ohio. The story goes on to say:

Hoskins said the Internal Revenue Service placed liens on his carpet store and commercial property on state Route 125 after his brother, a one-time business partner, sued him.

The bank claimed his home as collateral, Hoskins said, and went after both his residential and commercial properties.

The Moscow man used a bulldozer two weeks ago to level the home he'd built, and the sprawling country home is now rubble, buried under a coating of snow.

"As far as what the bank is going to get, I plan on giving them back what was on this hill exactly (as) it was," Hoskins said. "I brought it out of the ground and I plan on putting it back in the ground."

(H/T Calculated Risk)

CPAC Gay Bashing Heats Up

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 6:26 PM EST

It looks like gay conservatives still have a long way to go before they're going to make it into the Big Tent of GOP politics. Friday afternoon at the Conservative Political Action Convention, a dozen conservative college students and other young people got two minutes to address the huge crowd. Ryan Sorba, from the California Young Americans for Freedom, used his time to bash the very conference organizers who had invited him to speak. Why? For allowing the tiny conservative gay organization GOProud to co-sponsor the convention and to man a booth in the exhibit hall. Sorba expressed outrage that CPAC would allow such a group in the hallowed grounds of the conference. He made some incoherent comments about how "civil rights is rooted in natural rights," and how that made GOProud something of an abomination. The virulently homophobic rant sent the crowd into a frenzy. People jeered and hooted and gave him an ugly and welcome response to his comment.

GOProud has had an uneasy time mingling at this right-wing confab. Social conservative organizations threatened to boycott CPAC this winter after the news of GOProud's involvement first broke. CPAC held its ground and allowed the group to participate. And the Christian right groups mostly still showed up. But the gay conservatives haven't exactly been welcomed with open arms. GOProud is working the same exhibit hall as a group hotly opposed to repealing "Don't ask, don't tell," and in a cruel bit of convention-planner humor, someone decided to situate GOProud's table in the exhibit hall one down from the National Organization for Marriage, the country's leading anti-gay marriage organization. Yesterday, NOM staffers in the convention hall made nice with the gay guys on CNN, but shortly after the segment aired, NOM issued a nasty press release bashing GOProud, warning that it would continue to fight any candidate it pushed that attempted to promote gay marriage.

GOProud executive director Jimmy LaSalvia told Huffington Post that NOM's move was pretty cowardly. He challenged its leaders to make such a statement to his face, especially given that he was standing 20 feet from their table.

"When the cameras are rolling, they can fake a smile. But when they have a message for us, they're not even man enough to walk 20 feet. They have to issue a press release," LaSalvia told HuffPost. "So I've been saying, who's the pansy at CPAC?"

UPDATE: More on Ryan Sorba.

Is the National Enquirer Suicidal?

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 5:53 PM EST

Traditional print jockeys now have to tussle with a supermarket tabloid for a Pulitzer Prize. This week, the administrators of daily journalism's biggest exercise in self-congratulation reversed themselves and agreed to consider the National Enquirer in two Pulitzer categories for its reporting of the John Edwards infidelity/paternity imbroglio. The news was hailed by nontraditional journalists at outlets like the Huffington Post and Gawker, who lobbied mercilessly on the Enquirer's behalf (and who have no shortage of schadenfreude when it comes to the suffering of print giants like the New York Times and Washington Post).

There's no question that the gossipy Enquirerwhose current issue leads with a washed-up pop diva's health problems ("WHITNEY DYING!") and a celebrity chef's romantic woes ("PAULA DEEN DIVORCE SHOCKER!")ran with a story nobody else vetted when it exposed the dalliance between then-Sen. Edwards and staffer Rielle Hunter. And the paper deserves some recognition for being, in many ways, a tastemaker and trendsetter in the new media landscape. But the Enquirer's allies overlook the fact that its most questionable reporting practice was precisely what got it the "scoop" over other organizationsand what ultimately could lead the tabloid to get squeezed out of its own business.

Friday Cat Blogging - 19 February 2010

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 3:59 PM EST

After a couple of weeks of heavy rain, the weather here in Southern California has been spectacularly beautiful for the past few days: clear skies, mid-70s, and just a hint of a breeze. Inkblot and Domino, of course, are pleased that their staff managed to twist a few arms and make this happen. On the left, Domino celebrates by rolling around in the sunshine and waiting for her masseur to come over and rub her belly. On the right, Inkblot employs the long-awaited sunshine to its highest and best purpose. Have a nice weekend, everyone.

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Quotes of the Day: Hank Paulson Edition

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 3:26 PM EST

From Newsweek's summary of Hank Paulson's upcoming memoir, which recounts his days running the Treasury Department during the great financial meltdown of 2008:

Paulson delivers a continual and biting critique of Republicans....Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning is a “cantankerous conservative” (page 275). Meetings with Senate Republicans were “a complete waste of time for us, when time was more precious than anything” (page 275). Ideas that Republicans do add are “unformed,” like Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor’s plan to replace TARP with an insurance program. In a rare moment of sarcasm, Paulson goes off on the minority Whip: “I got a better idea. I’m going to go with Eric Cantor’s insurance program. That’s the idea to save the day” (page 285).

This is no surprise. In his Vanity Fair interview last year, Paulson had glowing comments about Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi, and Tim Geithner, but about his fellow Republicans he was considerably less charitable. Basically, he says they were preening, ignorant, ideologues. Imagine that.

Health Insurance Across State Lines

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 2:50 PM EST

Bob Somerby takes both liberals and the media to task for not fighting back against a conservative meme:

In recent weeks, we’ve mentioned the press corps’ failure to examine a ubiquitous GOP claim — a claim asserting the merits of letting consumers buy health insurance “across state lines.” On the various cable “news” channels, voters hear this proposal advanced again and again and again.

....The voters deserve to hear this explained. We have never seen this explained on cable, although we’ve endlessly heard the proposal. And we still haven’t seen this matter explained in a simple, “explainer” news report. For the most part, our big news orgs simply don’t explain things. In all candor, they rarely seem to know what sorts of claims are being made in the wider discourse.

We’ll offer one further suggestion for any newspaper which might want to do an explainer piece — a piece which might be called, “Buying across state lines for [us] dummies.” On cable, Republicans and conservatives often draw a comparison between health insurance, which can’t be sold “across state liners,” and car insurance, which apparently can. Since voters constantly hear that refrain, an “explainer” piece ought to address it.

Is it really true that no cable or major print outlet has ever addressed this? It might be! I don't watch enough cable to know, and I don't read every article in every major newspaper. But I confess that my memory says Bob is right: I don't remember ever seeing this given any kind of serious treatment.

The basic problem with this proposal, of course, is pretty simple. If you allow health insurance policies to be sold across state lines, states would start competing for insurance industry business by writing ever friendlier regulations. Eventually some small state will win this contest with an absurdly lax regulatory regime, and every insurance company in America will set up shop there. Essentially, the entire country would be forced to accept whatever pro-industry rules that, say, Wyoming decides to write for the rest of us. Do the citizens of all the other states really want to cede that power to Wyoming?

As for car insurance, if you want to sell auto policies in California, you have to abide by California laws. Ditto for the other 49 states, regardless of where your company is actually located. So the comparison is bogus. Every state does have its own auto insurance regulations, just as they do in the health insurance arena.

But a longer, more definitive explanation would be welcome. If Bob is right that no one has ever bothered to do this even though conservatives repeat this proposal regularly, maybe someone should think about taking a reporter or two off the CPAC beat and assigning them to this instead.

PolitiFact: Scott Brown is Wrong

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 2:02 PM EST

During a press conference on February 4, newly elected Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) claimed, "the last stimulus bill didn’t create one new job." The fact-checkers at PolitiFact.com say that's "pants-on-fire" wrong. Here's what four independent analyses of the stimulus found:

Congressional Budget Office: Between 800,000 jobs (low estimate) and 2.4 million jobs (high estimate) saved or created.

IHS/Global Insight: 1.25 million jobs saved or created.

Macroeconomic Advisers: 1.06 million jobs saved or created.

Moody's economy.com: 1.59 million jobs saved or created.

And here's what the Heritage Foundation's Brian Reidl came up with when the fact-checkers called him to ask about Brown's claim:

"Every dollar Congress injects into the economy must first be taxed or borrowed out of the economy," writes economist Brian Riedl of the conservative Heritage Foundation. "No new purchasing power is created; it is merely transferred from one part of the economy to another.... Removing water from one end of a swimming pool and pouring it in the other end will not raise the overall water level—no matter how large the bucket. Similarly, borrowing money from one part of the economy and redistributing to another part of the economy will not create new growth—no matter how big the stimulus bill."

Matt Yglesias takes Reidl to task:

So suppose this engineer Henry Ford wants to build a car factory, but he doesn’t have the money it costs to build a car factory, so he borrows the money from a coal dealer named Alexander Malcomson—is that a zero-sum transfer that doesn’t create jobs?

The issue with government stimulus spending, I would say, isn’t that money doesn’t “fall from the sky.” The issue is that we’re not very confident that congressional appropriators can allocate real resources (people, electricity, buildings, steel, etc.) in the most efficient way and prefer to leave this allocative function up to the free market.... But if unemployment is at 10 percent, office vacancies are sky-high, retail stores are closing their doors, millions who would prefer full-time work are working part time, and capacity utilization is in the dirt then things look different. It’s hard for government planners to outsmart the market in terms of how resources should be employed, but it’s not that hard—having tons of people sitting around doing nothing is not an efficient outcome.

This stuff should be obvious. But despite near-universal consensus among experts that the stimulus worked, 41 percent of American adults think it had no effect or made things worse. And that's why if so-called "mainstream" economists want politicians to keep listening to them, they're going to have to do a better job of explaining their theories to the general public.

Are GOPers Deliberately Lying about the Stimulus?

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 1:59 PM EST

That seems to be the case. I outline the reasons for claiming so in a DailyPolitics.com column. Mainly, Republicans, such as House minority whip Eric Cantor, have been declaring—literally—that the stimulus has created no new jobs. Not one. This is ridiculous. One can argue that the money was not used in the most effective manner. But to insist that not one new job has been created is absurdly false. Still, that's what GOPers are doing. Worse, this week, the main narrative within the Washington press corps was that President Barack Obama has lost the message war regarding the stimulus. But is that really the big story? As I noted,

Obama has indeed lost the message war, and he and his crew can be slammed for that. But a more serious matter is how Republican officials are poisoning the national discourse with demonstrably false information -- which undermines policymaking and, thus, the potential for economic recovery. The real narrative is not how Obama has bumbled the politics, but how the Republicans are killing the truth.

And they do appear to be getting away with it.

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