Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Opinionator

September 4, 2007, 6:01 pm
Big Brother is Routine-Screening You
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: ,

Just as we were trying to decide whether John Edwards’s health care proposal would force us to visit the doctor, Britain’s minority Conservative Party is toying with the opposite idea.

“In a bid to ease spiralling levels of obesity and other health concerns, a Tory panel said certain treatments should be denied to patients who refuse to co-operate with health professionals and live healthier lifestyles,” reports the Evening Standard of London. “And those who do manage to improve their general health by losing weight and quitting smoking, for example, would receive ‘Health Miles’ cards. Points earned could then be used to pay for health-related products such as gym membership and fresh vegetables.”

Blogging lawprof Ann Althouse is, naturally, not impressed:

I’m picturing a whole weird future where we trade in government-granted points. Just tell me what you want me to do to get them and what I can buy with them. The parties could compete. One candidate says we should get points for having sex and writing blog posts and lets us spend them at ecologically correct resorts and restaurants that serve organic food. The other candidate is offering points for abstaining from sex and reading didactic books and lets us spend them on vitamins and memory foam beds. It will be endlessly engrossing, and after a while, you won’t even be able to remember what you actually like or want anymore.

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September 4, 2007, 2:25 pm
The Goldsmith Standard
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: ,

Talk about advance publicity: five days before it hits the newsstands, a profile of the former Justice Department official Jack Goldsmith in The New York Times Magazine is already the talk of the Internet. The author, Jeffrey Rosen, tells of conversations in which Goldsmith “recounted how, from his first weeks on the job, he fought vigorously against an expansive view of executive power championed by officials in the White House.”

“If there’s a villain in Jack Goldsmith’s account of his time in the Justice Department, it’s David Addington, Dick Cheney’s legal alter ego,” reports Spencer Ackerman at TPM Muckraker.

“Addington, who became the vice president’s chief of staff after Scooter Libby resigned following his indictment, served as Cheney’s eyes and ears in the legal battles within the administration over warrantless surveillance, coercive interrogations and indefinite detentions. His style of argument, as recounted by Goldsmith, isn’t exactly a subtle one.”

Lefty bloggers aren’t the only ones impressed. “For those with an interest in the development of legal opinions related to counter-terrorism efforts, including the infamous ‘torture memos,’ the article is a must read,” notes Jonathan Adler, a Case Western Reserve law professor who writes at The Volokh Conspiracy. He continues:

Among other things, it discusses Goldsmith’s decision to withdraw some of the controversial memoranda. Goldsmith apparently withdrew more OLC legal opinions than any of his predecessors, including others related to the “War on Terror.” Goldsmith comes off very well in the article, as well he should. From what I understand of the internal debates on these issues, Goldsmith (and his deputy, Patrick Philbin) remained true to their conservative legal principles while resisting pressure to adopt ends-oriented conclusions in their legal analyses. The Administration could have used more political appointees like them throughout the Justice Department.

One mixed review: Marty Lederman, a Georgetown law professor who, like Goldsmith, served at the Office of Legal Council under President Bush, writes at the Balkinization blog that although he admires most of Goldsmith’s stands, “there are some points on which we disagree.”

One such point is the effect of Jack’s brave December 2003 repudiation of [Justice Department official] John Yoo’s March 2003 opinion. Yoo’s opinion had given a green light to the Pentagon to use “enhanced” interrogation techniques, and to ignore legal constraints such as the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Jack recounts (Rosen’s words) that ‘he could immediately tell the Defense Department to stop relying on the March opinion, since he was confident that it was not needed to justify the 24 interrogation techniques the department was actually using, including two called ‘Fear Up Harsh’ and ‘Pride and Ego Down,’ which were designed to make subjects nervous without crossing the line into coercion.”

Jack is referring here to the 24 techniques listed in Rumsfeld’s April 16, 2003 memo. Had the Pentagon complied with that memo to the letter, we would have largely avoided all of the atrocities that occurred in interrogation rooms in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003.

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September 4, 2007, 8:20 am
State of the Union Endorsements
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: , ,

For those who managed to enjoy an actual holiday on Labor Day, here’s the the big news on the Democratic side of election ‘08: John Edwards snagged the endorsements of the United Steelworkers and United Mine Workers unions. Mike Allen at The Politico calls it a “surprise announcement” that “gives Edwards the largest bloc of formal labor support among the Democratic presidential candidates.” Well, surprising or not, will it be enough to keep Edwards competitive?

“The Steelworkers are particularly significant,” says Karen Tumulty at Time’s Swampland. “Not only are they the nation’s largest private-sector industrial union, but they also are major players in Iowa Democratic politics.”

“If Edwards can win Iowa, union support will be essential in later-voting states such as Michigan and Ohio, where the auto workers are strong, and Pennsylvania, where the steelworkers are a major presence,” writes John Nichols at The Nation.

“And if he gets the Service Employees, he will enjoy a boost boost in California, where the union is a powerful political force in the Los Angeles area and beyond.”

The Atlantic’s Matt Yglesias doesn’t seem surprised, but he is a bit bemused by the Machinists union’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton last week. “I found this kind of puzzling,” he writes. “Word on the street was that they did this because they think she’s going to win, and they wanted to endorse the winner. That makes some sense to me, but if that’s what you’re going to do then it really seems like you need to do a better job of pretending that’s not why you did it. Sending the message the machinists sent — ‘we think you’re not the best choice on the merits, but we’ll support you anyway because we’re desperate for access’ — seems designed to minimize the union’s leverage. It seems to me that if your union likes Edwards but thinks Clinton is going to win, then the right thing to do is to stay neutral.”

A logical take, perhaps, but it seems that anyone looking for much neutrality in this election cycle is going to be gravely disappointed.

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