Mojo - February 2010

CCR: Impeach "Torture Memos" Judge

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 5:06 PM PST

Now that the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility report on "torture memos" authors John Yoo and Jay Bybee is out, the Center for Constitutional Rights is calling for action. Specifically, the human rights group wants Bybee, now a federal appeals court judge, to be impeached. From the group's statement:

Among others, the lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury have caused incalculable damage to our country and to thousands of victims as a result of the twisted legal advice they provided while at the Office of Legal Counsel. The OLC opinions were intended to provide legal cover for what everyone knew was illegal conduct. They advised the establishment of the prison at Guantanamo outside the law through the purposeful evasion of the Geneva Conventions and they advised the creation of a secret detention network for “enhanced interrogations” in flagrant violation of domestic and international law. Once unthinkable, they authorized and justified torture, rendition and secret CIA detention, often in a hands-on manner so detailed that it gives the lie to the notion they were giving abstract legal advice rather than making policy decisions to use torture.

Ultimately Jay Bybee must be impeached, tried and removed from his seat as a federal judge on the 9th Circuit, but he should have the decency to resign immediately.

If Bybee could bring himself to sign the memos, I doubt he'll find the "decency" to resign now just because the OPR report is out.

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OPR: Torture Lawyers Guilty of "Professional Misconduct"

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 4:02 PM PST

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."

Man Bulldozes Home over Foreclosure

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 3:41 PM PST

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 3:26 PM PST

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.

PolitiFact: Scott Brown is Wrong

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 11:02 AM PST

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 10:59 AM PST

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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The Tea Party's Trojan Horse

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 8:45 AM PST

On Wednesday, a slew of prominent conservatives, including Grover Norquist and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, unveiled the Mount Vernon Statement, a declaration of principlesof conservatives, by conservatives, for conservativesmeant to guide the movement forward. The Mount Vernon Statement wasn't actually signed at Mount Vernon, and it's not much of a statement, either: The text could have just as easily been churned out by some sort of "automatic conservative manifesto generator"which, given the slew of conservative manifestos with a 2010 release date, would probably save everyone some time. But while the statement won't show up in the National Archives any time soon, liberals would be foolish to ignore it.

Here's why: By embracing the Tea Party's Founding Fathers meme, it offers a roadmap for how social conservatives plan on piggybacking off of the Tea Party's success to re-engerize their own base. The structure and message of the Tea Party movement is remarkably similar to that offered for decades by the religious right; they share the same heroes, the same literature (The 5000 Year Leap, for instance), and reverence for the same Founding documents; if it weren't for the tri-cornered hats, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the two groups apart. Those similarities aren't lost on social conservative leaders. As Sarah Posner has argued at Religion Dispatches, there are already plenty of indiciations that activists of the Religious Right and Tea Partiers, to the extent that they're actually distinct from each other, have been increasingly linking arms. (Ralph Reed has been pretty obviously trying to do just that with his new Faith and Freedom Coalition.)

Credit Card Fee Blitz Escalates

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 5:30 AM PST

On Monday, the second phase of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009—a major overhaul that boosts safeguards against unfair interest-rate hikes, excessive penalties, and other predatory practices—goes into effect, so of course big banks are doing their best to shift the cost of these new changes onto consumers themselves through higher rates and tricky new fees. Among its many provisions, the Credit CARD Act, as it’s called, will require credit card issuers to offer fair notice of changes in interest rates, ban universal default practices, and let consumers opt in to overdraft protection. The first phase of the CARD Act went into effect last fall; the third and final phase is slated for late August. Not to be outdone, though, banks are ensuring the burden of these new regulations don't fall on them.

Citigroup, for instance, recently sent letters to many of its Citi Card customers informing them of a new annual fee of $60. The only way to avoid that fee, the letter says, is to either spend more than $2,400 each year, after which the fee would be credited back to cardholders, or to pay off your debts and close the account. A Citigroup spokesman said the fee was "necessary given the increasing costs of doing business." The message, of course, is simple: Spend more money through the bank, which in turn increases the likelihood Citigroup will collect late fees and other charges, or take your business elsewhere. As one Citi Card holder told Mother Jones, "What they're doing is getting rid of prudent customers."

And that's just one example of what banks and credit card companies are up to in reaction to legislation like the Credit CARD Act. According to IndexCreditCards.com, a comprehensive site with data on credit card offerings, interest rates for consumers jumped by 0.42 percentage points in the past month, and the average rate offered to new customers, 16.7 percent, is the highest since 2005, with rates for both reward and non-reward cards continuing to climb. "We're clearly seeing one of the unintended consequences of the new law," IndexCreditCards.com founder Adam Jusko said in a statement. "We seem to be going from a marketplace in which a relatively few cardholders got into deep trouble to one in which the misery is more evenly spread."

What consumer advocates hope, however, is that the savings from the CARD Act will outweigh the banking industry’s efforts to pass costs along to consumers. By cutting retroactive rate increases and “hair-trigger” penalty interest rates, the CARD Act could save consumers more than $10 billion a year, according to the Pew Charitable Trust’s Safe Credit Cards Project. Pew also is pushing for an overhaul of late fees charged to cardholders, which the organization says are far too excessive right now. “We are seeing instances where Americans are being charged excessive penalties for exceeding their credit limits by even one dollar," Nick Bourke, the head of the Safe Credit Cards Project, said recently. "A $39 fee for exceeding a credit limit by just a few dollars, or for missing a $70 minimum payment deadline by a few hours, is difficult to justify as 'reasonable' or 'proportional' under the factors identified in the new law."

In late August, the Federal Reserve will issue a definition of what "reasonable and proportional" penalties for credit cards should be, which will be the third and final phase of the CARD Act. "We encourage regulators to implement strong rules that directly address disproportionate penalties," says Pew's Bourke.

Need to Read: February 19, 2010

Fri Feb. 19, 2010 5:05 AM PST

 The must-read news from around the web and in today's papers:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 19, 2010

Fri Feb. 19, 2010 5:00 AM PST

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Three paratroopers with 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist), move off a drop zone near Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, Feb. 12, as part of a training exercise they hope will lead to combined US-Iraqi training jumps and an enduring strategic partnership. Photo via the US Army.