David Cole on Dawn Johnsen, Greg Kaufmann on Stephen Friedman’s windfall profits and Clarissa A. León on Islam Siddiqui, "pesticide pusher"


A LOSS FOR LAW: It is deeply saddening that Dawn Johnsen, President Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, has withdrawn from consideration after waiting more than a year without a vote from the Senate. Johnsen, a widely respected moderate, distinguished constitutional scholar and former acting head of the OLC, was more than well qualified. Indeed, no one disputed that. The concern, rather, was that she criticized her Bush administration predecessors for authorizing unchecked executive power and facilitating torture. Her eminently reasonable criticisms were founded on the importance of checks and balances and candid, objective legal advice. That’s precisely the kind of person one would think Congress would be delighted to see advising the president.

Johnsen’s only other political "sin" was to have worked as a young lawyer for one of the nation’s leading prochoice legal organizations, NARAL. But no one ever explained why a prochoice president cannot pick a prochoice lawyer to serve in his administration, or why that is even a relevant consideration for a job that focuses almost entirely on the separation of powers.

That the Senate never brought Johnsen’s nomination to a vote, even after her nomination advanced out of committee, is unconscionable. That the Obama administration never seems to have gone to bat for her–and even shied away from making her a recess appointment when it recently appointed fifteen others in that way–is mystifying. The result is a real loss for the rule of law, at a time when resurrecting respect for the rule of law should be at the top of the agenda.   DAVID COLE

DEMS NOT DOWN: Which party has won every House seat, whether in traditionally Democratic or Republican districts, in every special election held since Barack Obama assumed the presidency? The Democrats. Their party has now carried six special elections–including several for seats that Republican strategists and pundits said were ripe for the picking. The latest victory came on April 13 in Florida, where Ted Deutch won the seat vacated by Democrat Robert Wexler.

The Florida seat leaned Democratic, but local and national Republicans tried to talk up the notion that senior citizens and swing voters were so horrified by healthcare reform that they would make the switch. Deutch ran as a champion of reform and won 62 percent of the vote, defeating Republican businessman Ed Lynch. "We’ve heard for months that [the vote] is a referendum," Deutch said on election night. "What we learned today is that…the Democratic Party is alive and well."

In truth, Democrats have many tough fights ahead of them this year–including at least three more special elections. Republicans could still achieve more "Massachusetts miracle" wins in traditionally Democratic districts against weak standard-bearers. But it is notable that Deutch’s election came the same day a CNN poll found (for the first time since last year) that voters nationally are more inclined, by a 50-46 margin, to back Democrats for House seats.   JOHN NICHOLS

FRIEDMAN FOILED? In February The Nation reported on questions being raised about Stephen Friedman, former chairman of the board of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and a member of the board of directors of Goldman Sachs. On December 17, 2008, just over one month after the New York Fed directed AIG to pay its counterparties full value for insurance on mortgage-backed securities, Friedman bought 37,300 shares of Goldman stock for about $3 million.

Friedman purchased the stock at a time when Fed policy prohibited him from owning Goldman shares, and before AIG’s payment to Goldman was disclosed to the public. Friedman and other Goldman board members had been regularly briefed in late 2007 and early 2008 regarding how much money AIG owed Goldman.

The Nation suggested that further investigation from the House Oversight Committee and the Justice Department was in order–not only to determine whether Friedman profited from inside information and violated Fed rules but also to shed light on the arcane regulations and conflicts of interest that riddle the Federal Reserve system.

After completing a review of internal Fed documents in early April, committee chair Edolphus Towns and member Stephen Lynch issued a joint statement saying that "closer examination of this issue is necessary, especially when Congress is considering increasing the Fed’s powers." A hearing will take place "to learn more from Mr. Friedman and senior Fed officials about how he was permitted to make windfall profits by trading stock in a company he had a role in regulating." Stay tuned.   GREG KAUFMANN

PESTICIDE PUSHER: While many applauded President Obama’s long-awaited recess appointments on March 27, agricultural activists slammed his decision to appoint "pesticide pusher" Islam Siddiqui as the chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the US trade representative. Siddiqui is currently vice president for science and regulatory affairs for CropLife America, a global agribusiness lobbying group representing Monsanto, DuPont, Dow and other pesticide corporations.

In March 2009 these companies urged first lady Michelle Obama to reconsider her decision banning the use of pesticides in her organic White House garden. In August 2005 they petitioned the EPA to use children in pesticide experiments–a move that prompted environmental groups to sue the EPA for failing to protect children. As an official at the USDA, Siddiqui oversaw the first proposed federal standards for organics. But when those rules allowed genetically modified organisms, irradiation and toxic sludge, the USDA received 300,000 public comments in protest, and only then tightened the standards.

Last year Siddiqui’s appointment stalled when 90,000 people and more than eighty consumer advocacy groups objected to his appointment. This year at least 110 organizations, spearheaded by the Pesticide Action Network and the National Family Farm Coalition, have once again urged the Senate to reject his appointment, in the interest of "family farmers, farmworkers, consumers and the planet."   CLARISSA A. LEÓN

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