Archive for January 2009
And I can’t wait for him to fall through. Scott Horton:
John Yoo is at it again. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, the indefatigable advocate of crushing the testicles of small children to extract actionable intelligence launches a full frontal attack on President Obama. What’s Obama’s offense? He banned torture. Of course, every U.S. president has banned torture, with one solitary exception: George W. Bush, acting on the advice of John Yoo. Obama, Yoo says, has put the safety of Americans on the line: his torture ban will “seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Never mind, of course, that no evidence has been advanced of a single instance in which the use of torture produced intelligence that prevented a future terrorist attack, while detailed and specific evidence has now been put forward that torture produced bad intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Those are irritating details that detract from a nice narrative.
So what’s all this about? Is Yoo suffering from withdrawal pangs coming off an addiction to torture? Or is he a “sadist” as MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann argues? I’ve followed John Yoo and his writings with some care for a while now, and I think I finally understand what this is about. Namely, a pending probe by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is looking at serious ethical issues surrounding the issuance of Yoo’s legal opinions.
But the OPR probe is far from Yoo’s only or even most pressing worry. The likelihood that he will face a criminal probe and then possibly prosecution is growing…
A post by Kevin Drum:
David Cay Johnston is unhappy with the Obama press operation. It took a week for anyone at the White House press office to pick up the phone when he called, and when someone finally did things didn’t get much better:
After a full week of such calls, a human being answers. But Ben LaBolt immediately bristles when asked to spell his name, refuses to give his job title, and says he is going “off the record” until I stop him to explain that the reporter grants that privilege, not the other way around — a basic journalistic standard that LaBolt seems unaware of. He soon hangs up without even hearing what I called to ask about.
A return call is answered by Priya Singh, who spells her name when asked, but does not know (or will not say) what her job title is and several times describes requests for information about how the Obama administration press office is operating as a “complaint” which she would pass on. She says she is not authorized to comment, though she at one point tells me she is a spokesperson.
….My questions to LaBolt and Singh prompted a return phone call the next day from Nick Shapiro, who spelled his name, but had to be prodded several times to give his job title: assistant press secretary.
During our brief conversation, Shapiro, like LaBolt (whose name Shapiro did not recognize), started one sentence with “off the record.” Told that the journalist grants the privilege, and that none would be granted here, Shapiro expressed surprise. His surprise was double-barreled, at both the idea that the reporter issues any privilege and that any reporter would decline to talk “off the record.”
"Off the record" has become a cancer. It’s now practically a default presumption, rather than a rare exception granted for specific and justifiable reasons. Unfortunately, no one is willing to do anything about it. A few years ago the big newspapers all instituted policies that banned blind quotes unless there was a good case for them, but as near as I can tell the only result was to force their reporters to concoct ever more inventive ways of saying "because he wouldn’t talk otherwise." Beyond that, life went on as usual.
Reporters are as much to blame for this as politicos, and Johnston concedes that some of what happened here may just be birthing pains. Everyone is new, policies haven’t been set, equipment isn’t all working, etc. etc. Let’s hope so. Obama didn’t have much of a reputation for openness with the press during his campaign, though, so it’s worth holding his feet to the fire over this. Let’s not have another Bush administration, please.
Very good post by Ezra Klein begins:
Richard Besser has the conventional good looks of a TV anchorman. That’s a useful qualification for public office. Fortunately, that is not what got him appointed Acting Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I’m pretty happy about this pick, which hasn’t gotten the attention or visibility it deserves.
As I have written before, our nation’s flagship public health agency is troubled. Besser takes the reins of an agency that has endured severe administrative and morale difficulties. CDC was traumatized by the ideological battles of the Bush years, by management reorganizations and budget difficulties, and by new challenges posed by 9/11, anthrax, and (later) Katrina….
Under these circumstances, it is wise to appoint a seasoned person who is actually a public health professional. There is a craft to this stuff that is often denigrated or ignored.
A Wall Street Journal story headlines: …
Via Kevin Drum, a very interesting report from Gallup, which includes this graph:
The article begins:
This is the first in a four-part series on the "State of the States" to be released this week on Gallup.com. The series examines state-by-state differences in party affiliation, religiosity, consumer confidence, and employer hiring and letting go, based on Gallup Poll Daily tracking data collected throughout 2008.
PRINCETON, NJ — An analysis of Gallup Poll Daily tracking data from 2008 finds Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Hawaii to be the most Democratic states in the nation, along with the District of Columbia. Utah and Wyoming are the most Republican states…
Here’s one candidate for head of the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI’s Food Safety Director.
And for another note on food policy, check out this post by Tom Laskawy. It begins:
If I’ve hammered home any point this week, I hope it’s that addressing climate change and reforming food production are pretty much the same thing. You can’t do one without the other. And – as Yogi Berra might say – vice versa. The food and agriculture industries, aided and abetted by governments worldwide (not to mention by consumers), have succeeded in offloading just about all external costs involved with feeding us. Environmental issues, public health issues, natural resource utilization issues, even most economic issues related to food have all been socialized to the extent that the industry is almost totally isolated from the societal consequences of its actions. To this point few have complained as it has led to ever lower food prices in the developed world and thriving export markets in the developing world. But the costs, which for 60 years or so seemed to have been pushed back beyond the horizon, are now beginning to loom.
Many of us have high hopes that the new administration can make serious progress on reform, but it’s important to focus on how serious the challenge before us actually is. In this way, it’s like the global warming debate was back in the 90s. The science was pretty clear even then. There were visionaries like NASA’s James Hansen and, yes, Al Gore, who understood that we needed to act. But for most Americans, hearing about climate change in the 90s was like being reminded to carry an umbrella on a sunny day. Where exactly were the portents of doom?
We’re in the same position with food. The portents perhaps are a bit more present, but doom is not yet upon us. On the one hand, …