Legal Muse

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For those of you who’ve read Ender’s Game

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Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On the Lights?
By Orson Scott Card

Editor’s note: Orson Scott Card is a Democrat and a newspaper columnist, and in this opinion piece he takes on both while lamenting the current state of journalism.

An open letter to the local daily paper — almost every local daily paper in America:

I remember reading All the President’s Men and thinking: That’s journalism.  You do what it takes to get the truth and you lay it before the public, because the public has a right to know.

This housing crisis didn’t come out of nowhere.  It was not a vague emanation of the evil Bush administration.

It was a direct result of the political decision, back in the late 1990s, to loosen the rules of lending so that home loans would be more accessible to poor people.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were authorized to approve risky loans.

What is a risky loan?  It’s a loan that the recipient is likely not to be able to repay.

The goal of this rule change was to help the poor — which especially would help members of minority groups.  But how does it help these people to give them a loan that they can’t repay?  They get into a house, yes, but when they can’t make the payments, they lose the house — along with their credit rating.

They end up worse off than before.

This was completely foreseeable and in fact many people did foresee it.  One political party, in Congress and in the executive branch, tried repeatedly to tighten up the rules.  The other party blocked every such attempt and tried to loosen them.

Furthermore, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were making political contributions to the very members of Congress who were allowing them to make irresponsible loans.  (Though why quasi-federal agencies were allowed to do so baffles me.  It’s as if the Pentagon were allowed to contribute to the political campaigns of Congressmen who support increasing their budget.)

Isn’t there a story here?  Doesn’t journalism require that you who produce our daily paper tell the truth about who brought us to a position where the only way to keep confidence in our economy was a $700 billion bailout?  Aren’t you supposed to follow the money and see which politicians were benefiting personally from the deregulation of mortgage lending?

I have no doubt that if these facts had pointed to the Republican Party or to John McCain as the guilty parties, you would be treating it as a vast scandal.  “Housing-gate,” no doubt.  Or “Fannie-gate.”

Instead, it was Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, both Democrats, who denied that there were any problems, who refused Bush administration requests to set up a regulatory agency to watch over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and who were still pushing for these agencies to go even further in promoting sub-prime mortgage loans almost up to the minute they failed.

As Thomas Sowell points out in a TownHall.com essay entitled “Do Facts Matter?” ( http://snipurl.com/457townhall_com] ): “Alan Greenspan warned them four years ago.  So did the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to the President.  So did Bush’s Secretary of the Treasury.”

These are facts.  This financial crisis was completely preventable.  The party that blocked any attempt to prevent it was … the Democratic Party.  The party that tried to prevent it was … the Republican Party.

Yet when Nancy Pelosi accused the Bush administration and Republican deregulation of causing the crisis, you in the press did not hold her to account for her lie.  Instead, you criticized Republicans who took offense at this lie and refused to vote for the bailout!

What?  It’s not the liar, but the victims of the lie who are to blame?

Now let’s follow the money … right to the presidential candidate who is the number-two recipient of campaign contributions from Fannie Mae.

And after Freddie Raines, the CEO of Fannie Mae who made $90 million while running it into the ground, was fired for his incompetence, one presidential candidate’s campaign actually consulted him for advice on housing.

If that presidential candidate had been John McCain, you would have called it a major scandal and we would be getting stories in your paper every day about how incompetent and corrupt he was.

But instead, that candidate was Barack Obama, and so you have buried this story, and when the McCain campaign dared to call Raines an “adviser” to the Obama campaign — because that campaign had sought his advice — you actually let Obama’s people get away with accusing McCain of lying, merely because Raines wasn’t listed as an official adviser to the Obama campaign.

You would never tolerate such weasely nit-picking from a Republican.

If you who produce our local daily paper actually had any principles, you would be pounding this story, because the prosperity of all Americans was put at risk by the foolish, short-sighted, politically selfish, and possibly corrupt actions of leading Democrats, including Obama.

If you who produce our local daily paper had any personal honor, you would find it unbearable to let the American people believe that somehow Republicans were to blame for this crisis.

There are precedents.  Even though President Bush and his administration never said that Iraq sponsored or was linked to 9/11, you could not stand the fact that Americans had that misapprehension — so you pounded us with the fact that there was no such link.  (Along the way, you created the false impression that Bush had lied to them and said that there was a connection.)

If you had any principles, then surely right now, when the American people are set to blame President Bush and John McCain for a crisis they tried to prevent, and are actually shifting to approve of Barack Obama because of a crisis he helped cause, you would be laboring at least as hard to correct that false impression.

Your job, as journalists, is to tell the truth.  That’s what you claim you do, when you accept people’s money to buy or subscribe to your paper.

But right now, you are consenting to or actively promoting a big fat lie — that the housing crisis should somehow be blamed on Bush, McCain, and the Republicans.  You have trained the American people to blame everything bad — even bad weather — on Bush, and they are responding as you have taught them to.

If you had any personal honor, each reporter and editor would be insisting on telling the truth — even if it hurts the election chances of your favorite candidate.

Because that’s what honorable people do.  Honest people tell the truth even when they don’t like the probable consequences.  That’s what honesty means .  That’s how trust is earned.

Barack Obama is just another politician, and not a very wise one.  He has revealed his ignorance and naivete time after time — and you have swept it under the rug, treated it as nothing.

Meanwhile, you have participated in the borking of Sarah Palin, reporting savage attacks on her for the pregnancy of her unmarried daughter — while you ignored the story of John Edwards’s ownadultery for many months.

So I ask you now: Do you have any standards at all?  Do you even know what honesty means?

Is getting people to vote for Barack Obama so important that you will throw away everything that journalism is supposed to stand for?

You might want to remember the way the National Organization of Women threw away their integrity by supporting Bill Clinton despite his well-known pattern of sexual exploitation of powerless women.  Who listens to NOW anymore?  We know they stand for nothing; they have no principles.

That’s where you are right now.

It’s not too late.  You know that if the situation were reversed, and the truth would damage McCain and help Obama, you would be moving heaven and earth to get the true story out there.

If you want to redeem your honor, you will swallow hard and make a list of all the stories you would print if it were McCain who had been getting money from Fannie Mae, McCain whose campaign had consulted with its discredited former CEO, McCain who had voted against tightening its lending practices.

Then you will print them, even though every one of those true stories will point the finger of blame at the reckless Democratic Party, which put our nation’s prosperity at risk so they could feel good about helping the poor, and lay a fair share of the blame at Obama’s door.

You will also tell the truth about John McCain: that he tried, as a Senator, to do what it took to prevent this crisis.  You will tell the truth about President Bush: that his administration tried more than once to get Congress to regulate lending in a responsible way.

This was a Congress-caused crisis, beginning during the Clinton administration, with Democrats leading the way into the crisis and blocking every effort to get out of it in a timely fashion.

If you at our local daily newspaper continue to let Americans believe — and vote as if — President Bush and the Republicans caused the crisis, then you are joining in that lie.

If you do not tell the truth about the Democrats — including Barack Obama — and do so with the same energy you would use if the miscreants were Republicans — then you are not journalists by any standard.

You’re just the public relations machine of the Democratic Party, and it’s time you were all fired and real journalists brought in, so that we can actually have a news paper in our city.

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Written by DMN

October 23, 2008 at 1:56 am

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Britney Spears, meet Civ Pro.

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During my usual nocturnal Civil Procedure musings, I’ve stumbled across a fairly relevant (and perhaps glamorous) case regarding Britney Spears. I believe that the media is confusing residency with domicile, however.

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Today) 10/18/08 – The jury in the case involving entertainer Britney Spears allegedly driving without a valid license began to deliberate Friday night, and the determination of her guilt or innocence will depend on which state she’s considered a resident of—California or Louisiana.

If her peers decide Louisiana, Spears’ childhood home, she will be off the hook. If they decide California, she will be in violation of a law requiring new residents to get a California driver’s license within 10 days and face possible, though unlikely, jail time of up to six months and a fine as large as $1,000.

Spears held a current Louisiana driver’s license on Aug. 6, 2007, when she hit a parked car, and her defense team has argued that since she pays income tax to that state, owns property there and is registered to vote there, she should not legally be considered a California resident.

The prosecution claimed that since Spears has lived fulltime in the Los Angeles area for several years and allegedly began, but did not complete, an application for a California driver’s license, she was actually a California resident, making her Louisiana license void.

The trial spanned only two days before jury deliberations began, including Friday, when Spears’ father, Jamie, testified. He is currently the co-conservator of Spears’ estate—a position to which he was appointed on Jan. 31, following his daughter’s two hospitalizations for psychiatric evaluation.

An attorney for Spears originally attempted to delay the trial by claiming that since her personal and professional lives were still under the control of her father, she was not fit to stand trial—a claim that was rejected by the court.

In a lengthier article here (http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20233865,00.html), the father testifies that she has every intention of returning to Louisiana, and is therefor not a CA “resident”. Again, I think this is incorrect. She has residency in CA, but not domicile, as she owns property, but does not intend to stay there.

Unless there is different vernacular in use in CA, and they really do mandate a CA drivers license for anyone who owns property, I think she’s off the hook. However, I find it unlikely that a mere “resident” of CA would be required to have a CA drivers license. If I just so happened to be wealthy enough to have some investment properties in Beverly Hills, but I lived in a posh section of NYC and only rarely stayed in a home in CA, it wouldn’t make much sense to require a license of me, especially if it would declare my NY license void. It seems that might even infringe on the powers of other states.

Written by DMN

October 20, 2008 at 3:01 am

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Winter

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Today was a pretty nice day, filled with shooting, football, and the end of the baseball season for the only team that matters.  Some pictures-

As I was walking into work today, it literally felt like winter was blowing into DC.  All of a sudden I flashed back to last year and preparing for the LSAT, working the Mid-Shift.  There’s something kind of depressing about winter, a certain solitude seems to arrive with it.  It makes me want to make myself some tea and have a seat next to a roaring fire on a lonely night in Massachusetts, watching the snow swirl around in the street light.  Nothing feeds my introverted side like the advent of the dark, cold weather.

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October 19, 2008 at 11:56 pm

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Well Mannered Frivolity

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From my casebook, describing a plaintiff who brought a really complicated, international suit in a rural Texas court in an attempt to pull one over on the defendants.  My favorite part is the end, where the judge describes his reading skills :

In the second case, Republic of Bolivia v. Phillip Morris Co (1999), Bolivia had filed suit in Brazoria Country, Texas (a county with a reputaion  as being pro-plaintiff) against a group of US tobacco companies.  The case was removed to federal court and the court granted the defendants’ motion for 1404(a) transfer to the District of Columbia.

The Court can hardly imagine why the Republic of Bolivia elected to file suit in the veritable hinterlnds of Brazoria County, Texas.  The Court seriously doubts whether Brazoria County has ever seen a live Bolivian even on the Discovery Channel.  Though only here by removal, this humble Court by the sea is certainly flattered by what must be the worldwide renown of rural Texas courts for dispensing justice with unparralleled fairness and alacrity, apparently in common discussion even on the mountain peaks of Bolivia!  Still, the Court would be remiss in accepting an obligation for which it truly does not have the necessary resources.  And, while Galveston is indeed and international seaport, the capacity of this Court to address the complex and sophisticated issues of internation and foreign relations presented by this case is dwarfed by that of its esteemed colleages in the District of Columbia who deftly address such awesome tasks as a matter of course.  Such a Bench, well-populated with genuinely renowned intellects, can certainly better bear and share the burden of multi-district litigation than this single judge division, where the judge moves his lips when he reads.

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October 19, 2008 at 1:52 am

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Impressive

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Ra’id Juhi Hamadi al-Saedi (Judge Juhi) came to GW today to speak about the Iraqi High Tribunal, on which he was the chief investigative judge. Here are some things that struck me.

1. People were shocked hearing about some of the mass graves that were found. As usual, the media here hasn’t highlighted the good that coalition forces have done by removing a violent dictator. Also, he told some compelling stories about how much people wanted vengeance on Saddam. I think some of the students were imagining themselves as being citizens of pre-liberation Iraq, and how horrible that must have been.

2. The larger issue with these mass graves was that due to security concerns, a small city had to be built around the sites. Each city cost 5 Million dollars. This was largely US funded. Out of 250 mass grave sites, I think they excavated and investigated 5. Each of these had to be evidentially linked to Saddam in order for them to be damning.

3. He highlighted the enormity of the trial. 21 tons of documents had to be sifted through.

4. Over the past 100 years, there had been several regime changes in Iraq, normally executed (pun intended) by killing the royal family. The legal community felt that it was IMPERATIVE that the trial of Saddam be done with due process, in order to highlight the legitimacy of the new government, and to create a clear distinction between the new government and older legitimate regimes. It was an attempt to step into the modern world.

5. The reason an International War Crimes Court wasn’t set up (like in Kosovo) was because of the U.N. Security Counsel. 3 of the 5 members didn’t support the war, and made it impossible to create the court. As a result, Iraq ended up hiring independent international experts, equal for the prosecution and defense, in order to establish a legitimate domestic trial.

6. This brand new judicial system was created out of FIRE. It’s not as though they had hundreds of years of legal precedent to fall back on. The first real trial of this legal system was not on some insignificant legal incident to help work the kinks out. The first trial was of a King. He stressed that if they had messed it up, the legal system would never have recovered.

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October 16, 2008 at 11:03 pm

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This dude’s coming to GW to speak tomorrow:

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This is the dude that effectively nailed Saddam.

Ra’id Juhi Hamadi al-Saedi (Judge Juhi) served from 2004 to 2006 as chief investigative judge of the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT). During that time, he supervised all cases before the tribunal and indicted Saddam Hussein and seven others for crimes against humanity perpetrated against the citizens of Ad-Dujayl. Juhi also indicted Saddam Hussein and Ali Hassan al-Majid al-Tikriti (“Chemical Ali”) for genocide arising out of the massacre of over 100,000 Kurds from 1987-1988. During the trial of Saddam Hussein, Juhi served as the court’s spokesperson, handled all press queries, and frequently appeared before Western and Arabic media. Juhi also negotiated the IHT’s rules of evidence and procedure which were ultimately adopted and used in all proceedings. Previously, Juhi investigated and indicted radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for the murder of cleric Abdul Majid Al-Khoei, which occurred in 2003 outside one of Shiite Islam’s holiest sites, the Shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, Iraq. Juhi is a graduate of Iraq’s Judicial Institute and served as a family court judge and criminal investigative judge under Saddam Hussein. He left Iraq in May 2007 and joined Cornell University’s Law School as a Clarke Middle Eastern Fellow.

I’ll be posting my thoughts after.

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October 16, 2008 at 3:17 am

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Hunt me some grey wolf with a side of grizzley

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Veto – In response to our Endangered Species Act Memo:

“Man, all this reading about the Endangered Species Act makes me want to go out and hunt me some endangered grey wolf with a side of grizzley.”

I’m starting to think the overall liberal flair of law school is making some people see the stupidity of it.

Written by DMN

October 14, 2008 at 5:47 pm