Fiddling While Rome Burns

Spotlight is on fire for a brief moment.

Google News had a great "choice" for the lead article on the Occupy Wall Street story this morning. The Reuters headline attracted my attention: Insight: The Wall Street disconnect. Sounded good to me and it didn't disappoint with this named quote near the top:

David Mooney, chief executive officer of Alliant Credit Union in Chicago, one of the nation's larger credit unions, used to work at one of Wall Street's top banks, JPMorgan Chase. There's a vast cultural gap between Wall Street and his new world, he says: Old friends from the Street, he says, now jokingly refer to him as a "socialist." A credit union is supposed to be run in the interests of all members, he says, while commercial bankers tend to see consumers as customers who can be "exploited" by layering on more fees.

Says Mooney: "I don't say this lightly, but the consumer is simply an income stream and exploiting that is the purpose of the banking organization."


It's not like that is some new and deep insight, but it always helps to have it stated so bluntly from an insider. People know that capitalism means the profit motive, yet generally they continue to fool themselves that this motive is pure. That both the means and the ends of capitalism are beneficial to all. Hogwash, that is.

Of course rationalizing the exploitation of consumers is raised to high art by those doing the exploiting:

In conversations with nearly two dozen current and former bankers, finance professionals and money managers across the United States, the prevailing sentiment is that the anger at Wall Street's elite is misguided and misdirected. Blame the politicians and policymakers in Washington, many of them say, for encouraging people to buy homes they couldn't afford and doing nothing to stop or discourage U.S. consumers from piling on more than $10 trillion in household debt.
Could they really believe that? Unfortunately, the article is framed as being a disconnect between the OWS protestors and the bankers:
Whatever its future, it's clear that so far, the Occupiers haven't changed many minds on Wall Street over blame for the country's hard times. The cognitive disconnect between the protesters and the captains of finance is alive and well.
No, the cognitive disconnect is between the banksters' views and reality. (By definition a cognitive disconnect can't be between different groups). Some of this is captured in the article:
Many of America's well-to-do, not just Wall Streeters, say they don't feel particularly advantaged. A recent survey by marketing firm HNW Inc. found that half of the nation's richest 1 percent "don't see themselves as being part of that elite group."
There's lots of material in the article, even an accurate and helpful policy suggestion:
Now that he's no longer working for PIMCO, McCulley is a bit more free to speak his mind. And he says the only way to jumpstart the U.S. economy is for the federal government to get behind a serious program to encourage consumer debt forgiveness and principal reductions on mortgages by banks. (

McCulley noted that mortgage firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been propped up by about $169 billion in federal aid since they were rescued by the government in 2008, yet there's a "a moral overtone" to the argument against reducing mortgage debt burdens for individual borrowers.

"Wall Street capitalism has given us a foul stench in our society," says McCulley.
Read the whole thing. Congrats to Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan for committing journalism.

But what about Nero? This was the number two story when I saw it. Here was number one:Natalie Wood
When I went back to the Google News homepage, the 30-year old case was still number one, while OWS had dropped out of the Top Stories category (there are six of them) and landed in the U.S. section. A different article was showing. This is just one good article that somehow rose to the top of the charts for a few minutes. Meanwhile, the fire still burns.

UPDATE: As I'm a news junkie and frequent Google News user, I went back and looked at the Top Stories section again. If you expand each story, it shows how many sources are carrying that story. Here are the stories in order and the numbers of sources when I looked:
Natalie Wood825
FDA revokes Avastin177
Crystal Cathedral sold to Catholics291
Oklahoma State coach dies570
Kindle Fire in Apple suit1,722
Occupy Wall Street2,773

I'd be fascinated to find out about the algorithm that picks the order for this.

Lies from the IAEA

Independent Press, Iran Are the Ones Telling the Truth.

Bomb Iran newsPredictably, the news cycle is moving on from the Iran bomb theme (and implicitly the Bomb Iran theme, too). But in terms of national security, that doesn't matter much. The idea that Iran is on the verge of having a nuclear weapon - and that's the scariest thing in the world - has been hit enough by now that the truth has almost no chance of surviving. So I'll try to preserve it in this tiny sphere of the intertubes.

I found only one article with a headline that hinted towards objectivity: Scott Peterson, Iran nuclear report: Why it may not be a game-changer after all, in the now internet-only Christian Science Monitor, November 9, 2011. The lede is straight-forward and accurate:
The latest United Nations report on Iran’s nuclear program may not be the “game changer” it was billed to be, as some nuclear experts raise doubts about the quality of evidence – and point to lack of proof of current nuclear weapons work.

In a 14-page annex to its quarterly report on Iran released yesterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said new intelligence and other data gave it "serious concern" about the allegedly peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. But the casus belli for military strikes that anti-Iran hawks in the US and Israel expected to gain from the IAEA report is far from clear-cut.

The report is based on more than 1,000 pages of information shared with the agency by US intelligence in 2005, one year after they were apparently spirited out of Iran on a laptop computer. But deep skepticism about the credibility of the documents remains – Iran has long insisted they are forgeries by hostile intelligence agencies – despite a concerted attempt by the IAEA to verify the data and dispel such doubt.

"It's very thin, I thought there would be a lot more there," says Robert Kelley, an American nuclear engineer and former IAEA inspector who was among the first to review the original data in 2005. "It's certainly old news; it's really quite stunning how little new information is in there."
The "alleged studies" story is long, so I won't go into it here. (Suffice to say it involves Israeli lies.) I will note however, that the one crucial ingredient to producing a nuclear bomb is highly enriched uranium (HEU), and Iran has none. The IAEA is on the ground in Iran at the enriching sites and has stated that no nuclear material has been diverted to anything other than peaceful use. You won't find mention of HEU in any of these lamestream media stories, even good ones like this.

Before moving on from this actual journalism, I have to link to this excellent background piece by Peterson, and quote "crazy" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
"Why are you ruining the prestige of the [UN nuclear] agency for absurd US claims?" Mr. Ahmadinejad asked, speaking before a flag-waving crowd in the central Iranian town of Shahr-e Kord. "The Iranian nation is wise. It won't build two bombs against 20,000 [nuclear] bombs you have. But it builds something you can't respond to: Ethics, decency, monotheism and justice."
If only our leaders had such "crazy" values. (Well, three out of four would suit me fine.) Of course, Iran doesn't live up to those values either. But Ahmadinejad is just a politician, who all lie, so you have to give him credit for saying the wise part. Meanwhile, the official Iranian response has been straight truth: IAEA report unbalanced, politically motivated: Iran envoy.

Speaking of liars, how do you know David Sanger of the New York Times is lying? He's writing about Iran: U.N. Agency Says Iran Data Points to A-Bomb Work. A-Bomb?!? Who writes A-bomb anymore?

Actually, a great reporter: Robert Parry, Déjà Vu Over Iran A-Bomb Charges,, November 10, 2011. He's an old-schooler, in all the good senses of the word. Here are some others, all outside the usual suspect outlets, although the first one is well known:

Paul Pillar, The IAEA's Yawner, The National Interest, November 10, 2011.

Juan Cole, Iraq, Iran and the Nuclear Phantasm: We’ve Seen this Picture, Informed Comment blog, November 9, 2011.

A lie-by-omission angle after the jump. What follows now is the update I posted earlier on Sarkozy's "liar" comment:

Here is an example of the Israeli press going far beyond anything the U.S. press would cover. The left-wing Israeli paper Ha'aretz had this headline on a follow-up story: The Sarkozy-Obama exchange reflects the world's growing frustration with Netanyahu. Not something you'd ever see in major U.S. news sources. And here's a quote from President Obama I can't find anywhere in the lamestream press[1]:
Obama also complained to Sarkozy about France's vote in favor of Palestinian membership in UNESCO, and asked him to tell the Palestinians to stop their unilateral moves at the United Nations.

"We'll have to impose economic sanctions on the Palestinians," Obama said.
WTF! I sincerely hope that this remark was said in jest. If not, Obama is much farther gone down the rabbit hole than even I thought. Another quote:
The exchange between Sarkozy and Obama is not exceptional; it represents the increasing contempt and frustration many world leaders feel for Netanyahu and the wavering position of the Israeli government in the international arena. Though Netanyahu promised nearly three years ago that he would deliver "surprises" with regard to the peace process and implement historic measures, many world leaders have stopped believing him.
Back to nuclear lies after the jump.

Sarkozy to Obama: Netanyahu Is a 'Liar'

Funny You Should Say That.

I listened to M.J. Rosenberg interviewed by the heroic Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio this morning on the way to work. (Love you iPhone!) Rosenberg's latest article[1] has a photo of Bibi Netanyahu captioned: "Israel's threatened attack on Iran may be a ploy to gain further international support." Coincidentally, here is the top Google News story from when I opened my browser home page:

Sarkozy to Obama: Netanyahu is a 'liar'
Washington Post (blog) - ‎14 minutes ago‎
(Charles Dharapak — Associated Press) In diplomacy, as in politics, there are plenty of cases in which a world leader has been caught unaware on a “hot” microphone. There have been fewer, if any, in which that leader has been caught ...

And here's another top story from this morning:
Iran liesWill anybody else put these things together? Let's see.

There is much to say about the Iran war drums. And after the jump, there are lots more copied news articles on Nicolas Sarkozy's comments, President Obama's reply and the media reaction. I posted more on these here.

Of Moles and Men

Molehills and Mountains, too.

molehillHere's the start of the excellent New York Times article on the Ricin Boys:
TOCCOA, Ga. — At the Waffle House here, no one can believe that the gray-haired men who came in almost daily for egg sandwiches and coffee could have been terrorists plotting to blow up government buildings and kill masses of people using poison from a bean plant that people in this rural part of the state grow to ward off moles.
A bit long perhaps. Certainly it's a tough example to use teaching diagramming sentences. (They still do that, right?) But it expresses the absurdity of the government's allegations better than anything else I've seen from straight news sites. And it is actually the lede, it's not buried.

Attention in the story is fading fast. In the absence of stories poking holes in the allegations, that's probably a good sign. Although I'm still surprised that the storyline of "the government is lying about white people" isn't generating any buzz in newsrooms. I have to say I don't watch TV news or listen to radio news, so maybe somebody's pushing back on this, but I doubt it.

Here are the blogs I found that weren't credulous:
  1. Previously mentioned, Alex Pareene on "This looks like the same “entrapment in all but name” approach to fighting terror that the Justice Department has been pursuing against American Muslims for years. What will be interesting to see is whether the entrapment defense works any better for a gang of four elderly white guys than it does for teenagers with names like “Hosam Maher Husein Smadi.”"
  2. Jim White on "The “attack” planned with ricin is laughable on its face"
  3. "No law enforcement agency in the world is better than our own FBI when it comes to thwarting terror plots that never would have come to fruition anyhow, because they consisted mainly of pitiful people sitting around boasting to FBI informants. The latest triumph by our domestic anti-terror heroes: saving America from a bunch of old Georgia loons who sat around the Waffle House talking about their big assassination ideas."
My previous post noted some "she said" reporting of ridiculousness. But I can't find anything else in the lamestream media - besides the Times - that is explicitly subjecting the allegations to common sense.

Moving on - although I saw this right away, White nails it, so I'll let him take over:
[T]hey hadn’t gotten much farther than showing off a few castor beans after a meeting at the local Waffle House. Oh, and the FBI breathlessly tells us that a castor bean obtained from the plotters “tested positive for ricin”. Sheesh, I would hope so, since castor beans are the source of ricin. And yes, they even carried out a DNA test to prove the bean was a castor bean.
This castor bean (actually the seed of the plant) is what prompted the FBI to roll up the suspects after eight months of tape recording "covert" meetings of the four codgers. Did the FBI bother to check the first sentence on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention factsheet for ricin?
Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans.
Nope. So I'm sure they didn't stop by the CDC - it's in Atlanta - to talk to somebody. And they didn't scroll down a bit to see how deadly ricin is when left on roads, dropped from an airplane, or out of a moving car's window: (h/t White)
Skin and eye exposure: Ricin is unlikely to be absorbed through normal skin. Contact with ricin powders or products may cause redness and pain of the skin and the eyes.
Ingestion or inhalation of "significant amounts" of ricin could kill you, but the pinhead amount of ricin that is being cited in many news stories has to be injected into the body to be deadly. There's a reason easily-obtained castor beans haven't killed anyone since 1978. And these geniuses aren't the KGB.

Another point that is flying so low beneath the radar it's catching on laundry lines, the confidential informant is facing felony state charges and on a polygraph, he "gave less than truthful responses concerning the activities of the militia group." This would be regarding conversations not on tape, because when he's taping, he's reliable:
But, the affidavit states, the credibility of the informant has been demonstrated by the source's accurate recounting of the conversations the source recorded during meetings, "when compared to the audio and video recordings of the meetings and physical surveillance of those meetings conducted by law enforcement agents."
That's all it takes to be credible? That's like a pro wrestler abiding by the "rules" when the referee is watching. Do you then trust him after the ref goes over the top rope? I'll let Gawker sign off:
ALERT: OLD GEORGIA MAN GROWS BEANS. If you go into any god damn Waffle House in rural Georgia, I guarantee you will find an identical group of old men sitting around drinking coffee and talking about how government employees should be assassinated along with NObama and probably some uppity negroes and the Democratic fella from the teevee, blah blah blah.
Full disclosure - the writer is from Florida.

Media Matters is on the story, but only through the angle of the online novel Absolved author and blogger Mike Vanderboegh, because he's a Fox News contributor and militiaman. So they recount everything the government has slapped up on the wall and take it at face value, just so they can hammer Fox News. George Soros should be ashamed. (joke, Soros doesn't control Media Matters)

I have to say that I am generally impressed with CNN's online news. Here's their "they were quiet and kept to themselves" article: Neighbors surprised to learn of four elderly men arrested in terror plot

You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up

RicinWhere to start? It's an embarrassment of riches.

Ricin expert Crump (source)
Crump, who used to perform maintenance services at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eventually told the undercover agent he wanted to make 10 pounds of ricin and "put it out in different cities at the same time: Washington, DC, maybe Newark, N.J., Atlanta, Ga., Jacksonville, Fla., New Orleans."

Distributing the biological toxin was simple, he said, "All you got to do is lay it in the damn road, the cars are going to spread it."
Criminal masterminds (source)
They met at a Waffle House and called themselves “the covert group.”
Living high on the hog with Social Security (source)
"We need somebody to back us with some damn money so we can make that other shit," Crump said at a Waffle House in Toccoa, Georgia.
Ticking time bomb (source)
Documents say the men intended to launch their plot within a year.
The plot was operational (source)
Federal investigators said they had them under surveillance for at least seven months, infiltrating their meetings at a Waffle House, homes and other places, before finally arresting them Tuesday, just days after discovering evidence they were trying to extract ricin from castor beans.
Thomas and Roberts were charged with conspiring to buy an explosive device and an illegal silencer. It wasn't clear whether they actually made any purchases and prosecutors wouldn't comment. Adams and Crump were charged with conspiring to make a biological toxin.
The men were well known to local law enforcement (source)
“If you had told me these men did these things before I heard about the investigation from the FBI, I would have told you you’re a liar,” said Stephens County Sheriff Randy Shirley, who has known Roberts, Adams and Crump for more than three decades. “It just does not add up.” Because until now, it’s believed the men have not had brushes with the law.
Realistic plot (source)
But could the group have made ricin? “No, what they would have wound up with is dried castor powder,” said George Smith, a senior fellow for, a public information organization on terrorism and homeland security. “They would not be able to make that into a weapon of mass destruction, and it’s not something even a lab technician can really do.”
Really, it could happen (source)
Experts said that the chances of four men in Georgia successfully pulling off such an attack were not good. "Absolutely zero," said Raymond Zilinskas, a microbiologist and expert on chemical and biological weapons.
Terrorist humor (source)
Nearly three years ago, in an article published Dec. 12, 2008, on, Thomas asserted that he does not "advocate a general rebellion against the U.S. Government for cause" and is "not an anarchist." He ended his missive with the following statement involving a Thomas Jefferson quote: "‘The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants' can only be described now as the quaint uttering of an historical personage," he wrote. "My other half disagrees with me; but, she always does."
Stranger than fiction (source)
Thomas allegedly discussed a novel he had read on the Internet that described an antigovernment group's deadly attack on Justice Department attorneys. "Now of course, that's just fiction, but that's a ... good idea," Thomas said, according to an affidavit.
Ricin featured in Better Homes and Gardens (I'm not kidding: Better Homes and Gardens)

Castor Bean

Castor Bean

Ricinus communis
Plant a castor bean and then stand back. This is one of the fastest-growing, giant annuals in the garden, rivaled only perhaps by giant sunflower. By midsummer, you'll have a huge (it can hit up to 20 feet) tropical plant sporting burgundy foliage. It's a great plant to grow with kids. Be careful, though. The seeds are extremely toxic.
Light: Sun
Plant Type: Annual
Plant Height: 3-20 feet tall
Plant Width: 3-6 feet wide
Landscape Uses: Beds & Borders, Privacy
Special Features: Attractive Foliage, Fall Color, Deer Resistant, Easy to Grow

FBI Targets Good Ole Boys Too

I Mean Old: All Are Collecting Social Security.

Old Terrorist
"How's the terror plot coming along sweetheart?"
Photo: iStockphoto.
While the "tough guys" disseminate the government's press release propaganda, and the lamestream media get yet another headline to justify the homeland security state, this part stood out:
From June through November 2011, Thomas and Roberts met with the undercover agent and negotiated the purchase of a silencer for a rifle and conversion parts to make a fully automatic rifle, as well as explosives. The complaints allege that Thomas confirmed to the agent that he planned to use the silencer that he was purchasing, and described how he would clean the rifle and use rubber gloves when he handled it so he wouldn’t leave his fingerprints on it during its use. Ultimately, Thomas agreed to purchase the silencer and conversion parts in exchange for providing the undercover agent with another gun owned by Thomas, while Thomas and Roberts allegedly agreed to split the $1,000 cost for the explosives. Thomas and Roberts later expressed concerns that the undercover agent was a “cop,” but wanted to go forward with the transaction anyway.
Not too bright, these guys. And five months to trade one gun for a silencer and some other rifle parts? They must have haggled for a senior discount. For the explosives, do you think the FBI offered to take lay-away payments?

What will be cited again and again in headlines and at trial is "ricin." Even though the old fogies are white, and might show up at trial in a wheelchair, can they get a fair shake in our criminal justice system? Doubtful. Yet Conor Friedersdorf ends his at least questioning post, Grumpy Old Terrorists? The FBI Says 4 Seniors Plotted Bio Attack, with this:
Also worth remarking upon is the last line of the government's press release. "Members of the public are reminded that the criminal complaints contain only allegations," it states. "A defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government's burden to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial." Isn't it welcome and unexpected to see federal officials stressing the guarantee of due process while discussing an accused terrorist?
My, you actually read the last line in the press release. Aren't you a hard charger? Stop the press. Please.

The key issue is easily seen even in the limited reporting that's been done so far - what was the role of the "cooperating" informant and the FBI undercover agent. Was it entrapment? Not practically: I'm sure that these guys wouldn't have accomplished anything without the FBI running the operation. But legally: can the defense get the men acquitted by proving entrapment. That will be very hard. It hasn't happened in a terrorism case yet. But if there are any defendants that have a chance, these duffers are it.

A few quotes from news sources after the jump.

The Full Benny

My Complete Response to Wittes' Entire Email.

Ben WittesIn case you missed the update to Ben Wittes Contradicts Lord Acton, I got a mention on the Lawfare blog from Ben himself. No real sparks flew: he is a very civil man. The worst I got was that "Norwegian Shooter" is an unfortunate name. Of course, I disagree vehemently with him on that score. It's not about guns - trust me.

Well, I happened to have snipped the beginning of his response, which prompted him to post the whole thing on Lawfare, giving me a shout out in the process. I sincerely thank him for that. For the record, here are my questions and his full response:
  1. Can you imagine an opinion issued by Lederman that would lead you to conclude his judgment was corrupted?
  2. What makes Lederman different from all the other people whose judgment was corrupted by power?
Dear Mark–

The answer to both of these questions is essentially the same: I have very high regard for both men, so I would be sorely disappointed if either had produced work product that struck me as irreconcilably at odds with what I understood the law to be. Yet this memo, insofar as I understand it from Charlie Savage’s reporting, is quite in keeping with what I believe the law to be. In fact, if you look at my posts on the question at hand from before the Savage story, they track the broad contours of the reported arguments in the memo reasonably closely. So from my point of view, this looks like two serious lawyers examining a hard and relatively uncharted legal question and coming up with an answer similar to the one I came up with myself. Since I don’t regard my own analysis as corrupt (though I’m sure others do), I see no reason to disparage theirs.

But ah, I hear you cry, you are some kind of wing-nut posing as a centrist, while they purport to be liberals. So isn’t it intellectual corruption that they find themselves in agreement with you when their president needs the sort of analysis I expect from the likes of you but expect more of from the likes of them? Hardly. Marty and David never opined, to my knowledge, on the question of targeted killing of a citizen during the Bush years. And while there is surely some relationship between targeting and detention, no serious lawyer asked to examine the Al Aulaqi question would consider it answered entirely by his own prior statements in blog posts, of all things, about the Padilla or Al Marri cases. To do so, I dare say, would be malpractice.

Marty is one of the two godfathers of modern legal blogging (along with Eugene Volokh). His blogging work set a standard of real-time commentary that hybridized the best of journalism with the best of academia. All of us who try to bring serious legal commentary to bear on the news follow in his footsteps to some degree. So it is with very deep respect for his blogging work that I insist that he had an ethical obligation to put it all aside when he showed up for work at OLC. There are many values an OLC lawyer is called upon to honor. Fidelity to his own past incidental writings–particularly his writings on other subjects–is not one of them. Finding something in Marty’s past that cuts in a different direction from the analysis in the memo on a related, but not identical, issue strikes me as a bit of a mug’s game.

What would convince me that the work was corrupt? An opinion evincing not merely legal error but legal error I thought they could not honestly believe. In this case, I don’t reach the second question, because I think they got something admirably close to the right answer.

As to your second question, I would turn it around: Isn’t it possible that, in this case, the law allowed the President and the CIA to do as they wished in the narrow circumstances that they wished to do it? And isn’t it possible thus that the situation was less corrupting than you assume? Indeed, isn’t it possible that Marty and David adopted about the most restrictive view of the law that the case law would actually support? This is actually what I think happened.

With all best wishes,

I only posted the last two paragraphs because I thought the rest was off-topic. Here's why.

"I would be sorely disappointed if either had produced work product that struck me as irreconcilably at odds with what I understood the law to be." Who cares if you agree with the secret-but-somewhat-leaked legal reasoning of the memo? Not me. Maybe you're all wrong on the law. (What are your legal credentials, anyway?) It's immaterial to whether anyone was corrupted by power.

"In fact, if you look at my posts on the question at hand from before the Savage story, they track the broad contours of the reported arguments in the memo reasonably closely." Great, you weren't corrupted from the time you wrote those posts to the time you read the broad contours of the reported arguments. (Whether you were corrupted before your posts is another story). However, Marty Lederman's writings before he joined the Office of Legal Counsel were significantly different from the memo. You address this in the next paragraph.

Unfortunately, most of it is a red herring. Besides the fact that I don't cry, period: This is not an ideological issue. It is not about expecting a blog post to entirely answer a future question. It is not malpractice, even if the worst I said about it was true. The crux is buried as deep as possible in these distractions: "there is surely some relationship between targeting and detention." Yes, there is. You said so yourself:
A lot of people found the posited relationship between targeting and detention attenuated or improbable. But it’s very real. These cases are the only mechanism by which the country develops a body of judicial opinion concerning the meaning of the AUMF. While the context, of course, differs when the question turns to targeting, those cases remain a source of law–indeed, the only source of law other than executive branch interpretation–on the scope and meaning of the statute. It is, I think, inevitable that lawyers thinking about the application of the AUMF to targeting will consider carefully what the courts have said it means.
I agree with that. Do you?

"There are many values an OLC lawyer is called upon to honor. Fidelity to his own past incidental writings -[moot]- is not one of them." We agree again. The values of an OLC lawyer are different than that of a private lawyer. That's exactly my point. Lederman traded the values he held as a private lawyer for the values of an OLC lawyer.

Note that I said values, not viewpoints, which will change based on position. But even more important is that you can't hide behind the usual lawyers' defenses: a lawyer's duty is only to the client or they are simply playing a role in an adversarial system. Neither apply to the Office of Legal Counsel. The OLC's client is the law itself and there is no adversary opposing its opinions. While "if the President does it, then it's not illegal" is of course wrong, what the OLC does isn't that far removed: the law means what they say it means.

The only caveat is that eventually Congress could write new laws and usually the courts get the final say. However, in the case of some national security issues, the opinion is top secret and the courts are very reluctant to weigh in. So there are no institutional checks or balances, just the power and the values of the OLC lawyers themselves. As Lord Acton said, power tends to corrupt values.[1] It did in Lederman's case.

Finally, it is extremely noteworthy that you cannot bring yourself to mention the subject of Lederman's memo: a man's life. A life that was taken by the United States based on secret evidence and secret reasoning. Justifying that is a mug's game. And you're the mug.

[1] Not legal corruption. Corrupted meaning changing your values depending on the position you hold. Again, if Lederman came out and said "I was wrong before. Now I'm right." I would have to withdraw the charge. He is entitled to change his mind. But you and he haven't claimed that. You (and as I said, I suspect he) have rationalized the change away. Congratulations. But I didn't buy it then, and I don't buy it now. Also, I can't find anything Lederman, who is back in private life, has written about this since al-Awlaki was killed. This is all I found: Francis Scott Key* v. James Marshall Hendrix? and Reflections on Hosanna-Tabor — Justice Breyer’s statutory question.