Roubini’s Crystal Ball | Prosecuting the Bushies (If Not Bush)

Roubinomics—New York University economics professor Nouriel Roubini predicted and defined the current economic collapse in 2006. He now says we are in the “worst U.S. recession in the last fifty years.”

What does the economist who foresaw this economic crisis prescribe to end it? “A major aggressive fiscal stimulus, government spending on goods and services, because private demand has collapsed,” Roubini said in a Bloomberg.com interview posted on his RGE Monitor website. Roubini said that “by failing to inject $3 billion to $4 billion in government spending on goods and services, food stamps, unemployment, money to state and local governments for infrastructure spending . . . today and not in February” the government will protract the recession. He also advocates that the government provide $50 billion in low-interest loans to Detroit automakers. “We’re giving two or three trillion dollars to financial systems,” he said. “Otherwise there will be systemic effects. There are two million jobs directly and indirectly related to the auto industry.”

With the lame duck Congress heading home, it is unlikely that anything as ambitious as what Roubini and other economists say is needed to turn the economy around will be done before the end of the year. To stave off an even deeper recession, the Obama administration will need to have a major economic package ready to move through the new Congress during the first ten rather than the first 100 days.

Bush Behind Bars?—The prosecution of the former president by the Obama Department of Justice is unlikelyas is the prospect of Dick Cheney in an orange prison jumpsuit. Yet an Associated Press report that predicts that there will be no prosecution of officials lower down on the Bush administration organizational chart seems premature. Based on information from two unnamed Obama advisers, the AP reported that “there is little if any chance that the incoming president’s Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out the interrogations [of detainees] that provoked worldwide outrage.”

But an outside adviser to the Obama campaign tells the Washington Spectator that it will be difficult to avoid some prosecutions, because no one nominated to serve as attorney general would accept a precondition that requires ignoring criminal acts.

A similar argument was made by a law professor who worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton administration. “The attorney general has an obligation to investigate allegations of serious wrongdoing,” Dawn Johnsen said in an interview. Johnsen said it will be hard for Barack Obama’s AG to ignore crimes committed in the previous administration. But she cautioned that OLC opinions, which provide legal advice to the president, establish a level of protection that will make the prosecution of Bush administration lawbreakers difficult.

Just how difficult is the subject of a debate that has been under way in Congress since the Democrats recaptured the majority in 2006. Speaking before a House Judiciary subcommittee in May 2008, National Lawyers Guild President Marjorie Cohn advanced the argument that lawyers can be held accountable for legal advice given in bad faith. (See the Washington Spectator,June 15, 2008.)

Cohn cited the U.S. War Crimes Act and other laws that “punish torture, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and inhuman or degrading treatment.” She said that when the 2003 “Torture Memo,” drafted by OLC lawyer John Yoo, was made public, it was withdrawn, and a second memo rescinded it. The “Torture Memo” was withdrawn by Yoo’s successor, testified Georgetown Law Professor David Luban, because “it had no foundation in prior OLC opinions or in judicial decisions or in any other source of law.” Cohn argued that a lawyer cannot in good faith advise a president to break the law. “Yoo and other DOJ lawyers were part of a common plan to violate U.S. and international laws outlawing torture,” Cohn said.

While there is the risk of a public backlash if the DOJ drags members of the previous administration into the dock, there are so many obvious allegations of Bush administration criminal acts that no AG who has taken an oath to uphold the law can afford to refrain from acting.