When Barack Obama swept into office on a campaign of "change we can believe in," human rights activists hoped that Bush-era officials who authorized torture and warrantless wiretapping would be held to account for their lawbreaking. In fact, an early version of a Justice Department investigation reportedly recommended that UC Berkeley law school professor John Yoo and federal judge Jay Bybee, two former Bush lawyers who wrote the infamous torture memos, should face disbarment for violating legal ethical standards. If Yoo had lost his law license, it could well have ended his controversial, tenured professorship at Cal.
But Newsweek reported over the weekend that a heavily reedited version of the final report will only recommend a slap on the wrist when it's released soon. The internal probe reportedly concludes that Yoo and Bybee only exercised "poor judgment," when they told the White House that it could order prisoners to be tortured in violation of US and international laws and could secretly wiretap the phone calls of Americans without a warrant.
The report's conclusions mean that Yoo's job at the Boalt School of Law is probably safe, considering the fact that campus officials have said there is nothing they can do unless legal proceedings were brought against him. Spain may ultimately decide to indict Yoo and other Bush lawyers for violating international prohibitions against torture, but it's unclear whether UC Berkeley would pay attention to the actions of an international court.
Newsweek also reported that it was a career DOJ official, David Margolis, who watered down the final version of the long-awaited probe. Sources are telling the national media that Margolis' decision was not influenced by politics. But the Obama administration's decision to let Yoo get away with it fits perfectly with the president's first year in office, in which he repeatedly attempted to assuage Republicans with bipartisanship, and then came away with nothing to show for it.
The magazine also reported that Yoo altered the first memo to say that Bush could override legal bans on torture after meeting with Dick Cheney's legal counsel David Addington. In other words, Cheney told Yoo he wanted to torture people, and the professor made up law to let him do it. It should be remembered that Yoo's arguments were so bogus that his memo was later disowned by his successors in the very same department because they could not be supported by statute or precedent.
No More Free Carpools
The Bay Area press was agog last week about the decision of the Bay Area Toll Authority to raise the commute toll on the Bay Bridge to $6. But another key decision by the authority went mostly unnoticed. Namely, that carpoolers will no longer be able to ride free across the span and will have to pay $2.50 beginning July 1. The authority made the moves to raise much-needed funds for seismic retrofits of the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges, but the carpool decision could unfortunately convince more people to drive alone, thereby adding to the region's greenhouse gas emissions.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and San Francisco County Supervisor Chris Daly, who both serve on the authority, had attempted to set the carpool toll at $2, but could not muster enough votes to get it passed. The Bay Bridge toll also will increase to $5 for non-carpoolers on weekends and will remain $4 during non-commute hours on weekdays. In addition, the authority raised the toll to $5 on all other Bay Area bridges at all times, except the Golden Gate, which is not under its jurisdiction.
MTC Gambles $70 Million
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission voted to give BART until February 17 to devise a plan that will satisfy federal authorities who threatened to withhold $70 million in funding for it controversial tramway to the Oakland airport. If BART fails to meet the new deadline, then the MTC hopes to redirect the $70 million in federal funding to cash-strapped transportation agencies throughout the Bay Area, including about $7 million to AC Transit. But there is no guarantee that the feds will agree to redirect the money before March 5, when all such federal stimulus money must be allocated or forfeited.
The Federal Transit Administration issued its threat to BART last month after learning that the transit agency had failed to analyze, as required by law, the financial hardships on minorities associated with replacing a $3 shuttle to the airport with an elevated guide way that may cost passengers $6 per ride. Although the new guide way will cost a total of $500 million to build, BART may be forced to scrap it without the federal funds.
BART could have used some of the federal stimulus money for operations, but instead it chose to eliminate 74 positions to help close a $25 million budget gap. The agency had considered another round of fare hikes and service cuts to fix its financial woes. ... Aging sewer lines apparently forced East Bay MUD to dump a whopping 170 million gallons of partially treated sewage into San Francisco Bay during the heavy rainstorms two weeks ago, according to the environmental group, San Francisco Baykeeper. ... The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to send a letter directly to the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hoping that the city's long opposition to the use of force in that country might quicken the release of the three UC Berkeley graduates being detained there. ... A statewide measure that would legalize pot apparently has enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. ... And PG&E revealed that it plans to use its new smart meters to shut off the power of customers who fall behind on their bills.