Monthly Archives: January 2009

Audacity Has a New Name: John Yoo

John Yoo, one of the main legal architects of Bush’s torture defense, had the audacity to publish an editorial in the Wall Street Journal critiquing Obama’s decision to suspend the CIA’s special authority to interrogate terrorists, claiming that it will “seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.”  Really?  I think Mr. Yoo needs to stop watching ’24’ reruns and think about why most of the world sees Guantanamo as anything but a success.

How a law professor at UC Berkeley, a position that Yoo somehow managed to score after leaving the Department of Justice in 2003, can have so little respect for the US Constitution is astonishing.  If John Yoo really believes that “the civilian law-enforcement system cannot prevent terrorist attacks” and that the only way to do so is to stoop to their level, then he is the one that is incredibly naive.

The shamelessness of it all.  If anything, Yoo should be preparing for his debarment, rather than penning editorials for the WSJ about how much Obama has to learn about governing.  Considering that Yoo stated that “eliminating the Bush system will mean that we will get no more information from captured al Qaeda terrorists.  Every prisoner will have the right to a lawyer (which they will surely demand), the right to remain silent, and the right to a speedy trial” then he surely doesn’t deserve to keep the right to practice law.  These are not mere procedural details or niceties, they are the foundations upon which the entire American criminal justice system has been built up on.

It will be interesting to see if Yoo’s tune changes over time as the Republican base continues to shrink, while the Democrats majorities grow.   The Rule of Law is too important to sacrifice out of fear.  If the US does give in any more than it already has, then 9/11’s fallout will have been truly greater than anyone could have imagined.

Bush lawyer directs Rove not to talk to Congress—once again

Even now that he is out of office, Bush simply refuses to believe that he should have to play by the same rules as everyone else.  Certainly being only one of 44 people to hold the office of President of the United States does put W. in rarefied company, but it by no means gives him the right to continue to impose his twisted and self-serving interpretation of the Constitution.  By this I mean the Unitary or Unified Executive Theory that according to a sliver of conservative Constitutional experts, gave Bush, and those who worked with him in the executive branch, the power to completely ignore Congress, US laws, and ignore subpoenas.  (For more on this I strongly encourage reading Charlie Savage’s Takeover)

Newsweek’s political commentator, Michael Isakoff, has an article out title, “A Long Lived Privilege?,” that discusses the recently discovered memos sent by former White House Counsel Fred Fieldingsent to Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolton telling them that they “should not appear before Congress” or turn over any documents relating to [their] time in the White House.”  How is this possible?  Apparently, Bush believes that the unified executive theory allows him to grant ‘absolute immunity’ to anyone who worked for him as part of executive privilege.  So ignore those subpoenas, depositions, etc. without fear.  A-mazing.

One of the more damning legacies of the Bush administration was that it revealed the ‘legal’ ways in which the President can abuse his power.  Bush’s use of executive signing statements to get around Congressional votes, his repeated practice of having members of the Office of Legal Counsel (which is part of the Justice Department and Executive branch) write legal briefings that declared his breaking the rules legal, and his belief that the War on Terror gave his seemingly unlimited powers as Commander in Chief (as if the 1973 War Powers Act or ABM Treaty never existed) all were technically ‘legal,’ even if almost all Constitutional law experts disagreed with him or the belief in the Unified Executive Theory, which should have ended when the Supreme Court rejected the belief rejected the idea of the unitary executive in Morrison v. Olson in 1988 by a 7 – 1 margin.   The practices which were carried out under the legal cover of this misguided belief should be investigated and prosecuted.

Eight years of Bush was more than enough, if he is allowed to carry on his destructive ways even out of office, we have no one to blame but ourselves and the people we have put into office.  I know that if I ignore a subpeona, I am breaking the law and could potential go to jail.  The idea of “nemo est supra leges” (No one is above the law) was one of the basic tenants that the US was founded on, how sad would it be if Bush of all people is the one to out an end to such a noble aspiration.

A Refugee Run at Davos?

Just to keep up my constant stream of articles that touch upon William Easterly’s writings, here is something new that I found amazing.  Could it get any more absurd?  Here is the link to his blogpost on this event.

A Revolution in Spirit

I have been waiting for several months for someone to write a piece about the inherent connections between the current global financial crisis and the unbridled consumerism that has held sway over the US for the last 30 years.  Now it seems, that Benjamin Barber, the author of the prescient Jihad versus McWorld (1992 article, 1995 book), has thrown his hat into the ring with an impressive article titled A Revolution in Spirit.

Barber’s artcile is in many ways the anti-thesis of the Easterly article that I posted yesterday.  Whereas Easterly believes that globalization has led to an unprecedented era of prosperity, Barber sees it as an era that has stripped us of our humanity.  Barber believes that Obama and his economic team need to aspire to more than just restoring the status quo that existed prior to the sub-prime mortgage crisis.  I couldn’t agree more, though I know it will be unlikely to happen.

Obama will be an agent of change, but most likely not a radical one.  First of all, his adminstration will spend almost the entire first term cleaning up the messes that it inhereted.  Second, politics has become so deeply corrupted by the massive amounts of wealth that have been created and infused into the political system over the last few decades that it is highly unlikely that Congress really sees this as a problem (perhaps with the exception of Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold).  Third, I question whether Americans are ready to make real personal sacrifices, in order to transform the current economic structures.

In addition, I think that yesterday’s House vote on the stimulus package is a pretty good indication of how vehemently the Republicans are preparing to fight to keep the status quo built up by the Reagan Revolution.  Obama will conintue to try and be post-partisan, Harry Reid will continue to fold before potential Republican fillibusters, and Nancy Pelosi will be forced to curb her liberalism to placate the “Blue Dog Democrats.”  I can only hope that my pessimism is misplaced, but I have seen very little over the last few decades that makes me think that enough people in the US are willing to tear down the current system.

Barber states – “in an economy that has become dependent on consumerism to the tune of 70 percent of GDP, shoppers who won’t shop and consumers who don’t consume spell disaster. Yet it is precisely in confronting the paradox of consumerism that the struggle for capitalism’s soul needs to be waged.”  Only time will tell whether or not, the US is ready for such a battle.

I can see many ways in which the Republic Party’s approach to Obam’s stimulus package and post-partisan rhetoric could actually cause them to fall even further out of power during the midterm elections.  However, if the Democrats goals are more shaped by building a permanent majority, rather than dealing with the slew of unlying causes of the current crisis, then all of this might be rendered moot.  Only time will tell.

Putting Torture Behind Us

Nicholas Kristof’s new editorial, “Putting Torture Behind Us,” highlights all the right reasons why Obama needs to investigate what has happened at Guantanamo over the last seven years.  I agree with Kristof that the financial crisis should not be used as a reason not to deal with this shameful chapter of American history.  However, I disagree with Kristof’s calling for a bipartisan panel, rather than some type of truth commission with supoena powers to call witnesses and the ability to sentence people found guilty of having commited a human rights violation.

Kristof also goes off topic by calling for Guantanamo to either be turned back over to the Cubans or to be transformed into a research center against tropical diseases.  Both fine ideas, but out of place in an article that asks for the US to reckon with what has been done in its name.  Instead, I would have preferred the article to discuss how Guantanamo was part of a larger pattern of abuses that took place at Bagram, Abu Ghraib and various secret prisons/black sites during the war on terror.

I do think that Kristof’s reminder that the US has often trampled civil liberties and human rights – the Palmer Raids (WWI), the Japanese internment camps (WWII) and McCarthyism (Cold War) – is extremely pertinent.  Ironically, this pattern would seem to show that the US has been reluctant to learn from its mistakes.  Perhaps with Obama this pattern will be broken, but not without a serious push from the general public.  Prosecuting those responsible for shredding the US Constitution and violating human rights agreements would be a good place to start in my book.

After Guantanamo, What Next for Bagram?

Here is a good follow up article about Bagram that Spiegel online ran today, which references the NY Times article from yesterday.   Hopefully, these stories will lead to more being revealed about the war on terror in general and to legal action against those who ordered others to commit crimes and human rights violations.

The Poor Man’s Burden

William Easterly, author of the White Man’s Burden, has a new article in the current issue of Foreign Policy, which discusses the risk of the current global financial crisis ending “one of the greatest openings in prosperity in decades.”  The main thrust of his argument is that an extended economic downturn could bring back a belief in protectionism and thus call into question the essential idea that he feels has made such growth and prosperity possible – that “if people are given freedom, they will prosper.”  It would be nice if success were so simple.

Easterly picks up many of the themes that he and Jeffrey Sachs have been debating for the last decade about the benefits of globalization and its ability to end poverty as it has been defined during the 20th century.  Personally, I disagree with both of them.  Even though it would be nearly impossible to dispute that enormous amounts of wealth have been created since the end of WWII or that ‘development economic policies’ have often created more problems than they have solved, I still think far too many people have gotten the short end of the stick.

Easterly seems to highlight the positives far more than the negatives, which have resulted from what he considers to have been a “revolution from below.”  The massive displacement of people, global warming, and environmental degradation have no place in his analysis, even though these problems have been greatly exacerbated by the creation of the current global financial order.

In general, Easterly seems to ask great questions, but I disagree with many of his answers.  All and all it is well worth the read, even if you don’t like his conclusions.