"Do or Do not. There is no try."

There Is A Judicial Confirmation Crisis, And The GOP Is Causing It

In Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address, President Obama called on the Senate to “put an end” to the unprecedented obstruction of his judicial and executive branch nominees, insisting that “neither party has been blameless in these tactics.” He was right to call out the problem, but he was wrong that it’s a bipartisan issue. It’s fine for the president to be magnanimous, but the fact is only one party has systematically held hostage even the most basic tasks of governing in the hopes of making minor political gains. And that party is not the president’s.

The nominations crisis that we face today exists largely because it can easily fly under the radar—and the GOP politicians behind it know that. This Republican Congress’s intransigence has caused harm beyond the very public battles over the debt ceiling and tax cuts for millionaires. Under the unglamorous cover of judicial and executive branch confirmations, the Senate GOP has launched a campaign of strategic obstruction to prevent parts of the federal government from functioning at all.

This became clear in the relatively public battle to confirm Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Senate Republicans admitted they had no problem with Cordray himself. Instead, all but two stated in a letter to the president that they would refuse to confirm him unless the new, congressionally created agency he was nominated to head was first substantially weakened. It was an unprincipled attempt to legislate via the Senate’s power of advice and consent, which the president rightly sidestepped by installing Cordray with a recess appointment.

But the Cordray nomination was just the tip of the iceberg. With far less public attention, the GOP has been decimating the nation’s courts, causing the judicial branch to face a historic vacancy crisis and Americans seeking their day in court to face unconscionable delays. This crisis is largely due to the chronic inaction of the Senate, which has been crippled by the Republican minority’s abuse of the chamber’s rules to block even consensus nominees from getting a yes-or-no vote.

More than 10 percent of all district and circuit court seats in the country are now or will soon be vacant, in what is the longest period of historically high vacancy rates in 35 years. Thirty-two of these open seats have been labeled “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The term isn’t bureaucratic hyperbole. As the number of criminal cases surges—a 70 percent increase in the past decade—civil cases are necessarily put on the back burner, resulting in often years-long delays for Americans seeking justice in consumer fraud, copyright infringement, discrimination, civil rights, and other civil claims. Judges in their 80s and 90s have continued working to keep the system running. One told the Washington Post last year,  “I had a heart attack six years ago, and my cardiologist told me recently, ‘You need to reduce your stress.’ I told him only the U.S. Senate can reduce my stress.”

Outside of the Senate, there’s near-unanimous agreement that the current pattern of obstruction needs to end. Legal groups and prominent judges across the political spectrum—including Chief Justice John Roberts—have urged that  partisan politics be set aside for the good of the justice system. But instead, Senate Republicans have dug in their heels. Once being confirmed by the Judiciary Committee—usually without opposition—President Obama’s circuit court nominees have waited a staggering average of 136 days for a vote from the full Senate, compared to just 30 days for President Bush’s nominees at the same point in his presidency. For district court nominees, historically confirmed quickly and easily except under the most extraordinary of circumstances, the average wait after committee approval has been 90 days under Obama, in contrast to 22 days under Bush. Even among the nominees who were fortunate enough to be confirmed last year, more than a quarter were holdovers from 2010, denied votes from the full Senate until the year after they were approved by the Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile the dry numbers of the vacancy crisis obscure its devastating impacts. Cases that require urgent resolution face grueling delays and occasionally put on indefinite hold. In Utah, Dave Calder’s two-year-old daughter died in 2005, when a gas can exploded inside his trailer, leaving him with severe burns over a third of his body. After he sued the maker of the faulty can in 2007, he had to wait two and a half years for a jury verdict. In Merced, California, 2,000 citizens who filed suit over toxic chemical contamination stemming from a 2006 flood are still awaiting resolution, and only one civil trial has been held in the matter.

Republicans in this Congress have again and again put the politics of obstruction over the good of the American people. President Obama was right to call out the problem, but he should have put a name to it. Americans deserve a Senate that, at the very least, does the basic job it was hired to do. When it comes to confirming nominees, it is clear which party has been shirking its duties.


By: Marge Baker, U. S. News and World Report, January 27, 2012

January 27, 2012 Posted by | Congress, Senate | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Newt Gingrich: “Deconstructing A Demagogue”

When not holding forth from his favorite table at L’Auberge Chez François, nestled among the manor houses of lobbyist-thick Great Falls, Va., Dr. Newton L. Gingrich likes to lecture people about food stamps and how out-of-touch the elites are with real America.

Gingrich, as he showed in a gasping effort in Thursday night’s debate in Florida, is a demagogue distilled, like a French sauce, to the purest essence of the word’s meaning. He has no shame. He thinks the rules do not apply to him. And he turns questions about his odious personal behavior into mock outrage over the audacity of the questioner.

After inventing, and then perfecting, the modern politics of personal destruction, Gingrich has decided now to bank on the dark fears of the worst element of the Republican base to seize the nomination — using skills refined over four decades.

Monica Almeida/The New York TimesNewt Gingrich spoke at the 1998 Republican National Convention winter meeting in Indian Well, Calif.

Deconstructed, Gingrich is a thing to behold. Let’s go have a look, as my friend the travel guide Rick Steves likes to say:

The Blueprint. Back in 1994, while plotting his takeover of the House, Gingrich circulated a memo on how to use words as a weapon. It was called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” Republicans were advised to use certain words in describing opponents — sick, pathetic, lie, decay, failure, destroy. That was the year, of course, when Gingrich showed there was no floor to his descent into a dignity-free zone, equating Democratic Party values with the drowning of two young children by their mother, Susan Smith, in South Carolina.

Today, if you listen carefully to any Gingrich takedown, you’ll usually hear words from the control memo.

He even used them, as former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams wrote in National Review Online this week, in going after President Reagan, calling him “pathetically incompetent,” as Abrams reported. And he compared Reagan’s meeting with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.”

The Method. Even a third-grader arguing with another kid over the merits of Mike and Ikes versus Skittles knows better than to play the Hitler card. But Gingrich, the historian who never learns, does it time and again. Thus Democrats, he said last year, are trying to impose “a secular, socialist machine as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany.”

He has compared the moderate Muslims trying to erect a mosque and social center near Manhattan’s ground zero to Nazis, and made the same swipe at gays. People who love members of the same sex, he said, were trying to force “a gay and secular fascism” on everyone else.

Deny the Obvious. Gingrich is the rare politician who can dissemble without a hint of physical change, defying Mark Twain’s maxim that man is the only animal that blushes — or needs to. He’s also skilled at attacking the very things he practices. In the South Carolina debate last week, when Gingrich went ballistic over a question on an ex-wife’s claim that he wanted an open marriage, he said he had offered ABC numerous witnesses to rebut the charge. In fact, his campaign admitted this week, there were no such witnesses — only character rebuttals by children from a previous message.

His claim that he was paid at least $1.6 million by the mortgage backer Freddie Mac for work as a “historian” was a laughable fiction. This week, those contracts were released, and show no mention of historian duties; it was old-fashioned influence peddling.

He got caught by Mitt Romney Thursday in a classic political move. After Gingrich blasted Romney for investments that contributed to the housing crisis, Romney turned around and asked him if he had some of those same kinds of investments. Um, yes, Gingrich admitted, he did.

Go for the Hatred. It was Gingrich, even before Donald Trump, who tried to define the president as someone who is not American — “Kenyan, anti-colonial.” And there he was earlier this week, pumped by a big audience in Sarasota, Fla., reflecting back at him these projected fears. When he said he wanted to send President Obama back to Chicago, the crowd took up a chant of “Kenya! Kenya!”

Calling Obama “the best food stamp president ever” is a clear play on racial fears. In the crash of the last year of George W. Bush’s administration, food stamp use surged, but Gingrich would never associate a white Texan president with dependency.

A favorite target is the press. He’s snapped at debate moderators from Maria Bartiromo of CNBC, Chris Wallace of Fox and the preternaturally fair John King of CNN for asking relevant questions. It was a tired and predictable ploy when he tried it on Wolf Blitzer Thursday — he tried to deflect a question on his attacks by calling it a “nonsense question” — and Blitzer didn’t back down. But the outrage is selective and always calculated.

So, Gingrich was the picture of passive redemption when the Christian Broadcasting Network asked him, twice over the last year, about his many wives. In one case, Gingrich said he cheated because he loved his country so much. This week, he said his infidelities made him “more normal than somebody who walks around seeming perfect.” But he never flipped out at the Christian questioner, as he did at King, calling the CNN reporter’s query “close to despicable.” (Another favorite word.)

The general public can read this particular character X-ray, given that Gingrich’s unfavorable rating is off the charts, higher than any other major politician’s. And so could his former Republican colleagues in the House; witness the paucity of endorsements from those who served with him.

But he has a vocal constituency, weaned on the half-truths of conservative media. It makes perfect sense, then, that Gingrich this week demanded that crowds at future debates be allowed to cackle, whoop and whistle at his talk-radio-tested punch lines.

Let’s grant him his wish, and allow audiences to vent at will, as they did Thursday night in Florida. This kind of noise — from Republican debate crowds who have booed an American soldier serving overseas, cheered for the death of the uninsured and hissed at the Golden Rule — are a demagogue’s soundtrack.


By: Timothy Egan, The New York Times Opinionator, January 26, 2012

January 27, 2012 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Evangelicals Don’t Like Mormons

According to a CNN exit poll of South Carolina Republican primary voters, Newt Gingrich, a thrice-married Catholic, won twice as much support from evangelical Protestants as Mitt Romney, a Protestant. And among voters for whom religion meant “a great deal,” 46 percent voted for Mr. Gingrich and only 10 percent for Mr. Romney.

This is the second evangelical-heavy state Mr. Romney has lost. With a third, Florida, next on the list, it’s important to consider the often antagonistic skepticism that many evangelicals have of Mr. Romney’s brand of Protestantism: Mormonism.

For many evangelicals, that faith — a “false religion,” as the Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress called it — raises serious doubts about Mr. Romney’s suitability for office. But such concerns ultimately say more about the insecurities of the establishment denominations than about Mormonism itself.

Many evangelicals assert that Mormonism denies the divinity of Christ and is therefore not a branch of Christianity. But the Mormon belief is that Jesus was the first-born child of God and a woman, and that humans can aspire to share his spiritual essence in the afterlife.

What’s more, if a belief in Christ’s divinity were used as a test of our politicians, many past American leaders would fail abysmally. Most of the founding fathers — including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine — endorsed deism, which sees Jesus as a very good human being, not part of the godhead.

It was precisely the founders’ religious tolerance that, over the years, has given rise to many new denominations and sects — particularly during the so-called Second Great Awakening, the 19th-century period of religious revivals that energized existing churches (including the Baptist and Methodist churches, bulwarks of today’s Bible Belt) and yielded new ones, including the Mormons.

In that era, it was a short step from feeling that one was possessed by God, as often happened at revivals, to feeling that one was appointed by God for a special mission. Joseph Smith Jr., who founded Mormonism after experiencing a vision of an angel, was among them.

But Smith wasn’t alone; many religious groups sprouted during the period. Like Mormonism, some were founded by people considered divinely inspired by their followers — for instance, Ellen G. White by Seventh-day Adventists and Mary Baker Eddy by Christian Scientists — while others, like Charles Taze Russell of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, were admired for their charisma.

There’s plenty about these and other surviving Protestant groups that’s out of sync with mainstream religion. Christian Scientists, for instance, eschew doctors and medicine. Seventh-day Adventists have often set dates for the end of the world that have come and gone, while Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the doctrines of the Trinity and eternal punishment.

But neither those nor other American-bred religions arouse nearly the degree of anxiety that Mormonism does. Why?

For one thing, many people associate Mormonism with polygamy; according to a recent poll, 86 percent of Americans aren’t sure whether Mormons practice polygamy, despite the fact that the church banned the practice in 1890.

Then there’s the issue of race. In 1852 the church banished blacks from the priesthood and did not allow them back in until 1978. But while this is undoubtedly a stain on the church’s history, it was also a reflection of the country’s racial attitudes at the time.

Still, the church’s doctrines and practices, past and present, don’t fully account for evangelical uneasiness. After all, there are hundreds of religious groups in America today, some of whose tenets or practices are far more distant from the mainstream.

The real issue for many evangelicals is Mormonism’s remarkable success and rapid expansion. It is estimated to have missionaries in 162 countries and a global membership of some 14 million; it is also, from its base in the American West, making inroads into Hispanic communities. Put simply, the Baptists and Methodists, while still ahead of the Mormons numerically, are feeling the heat of competition from Joseph Smith’s tireless progeny.

Some evangelical leaders take this a step further to accuse Mr. Romney of vaguely conspiratorial motives. The Baptist minister R. Philip Roberts, author of “Mormonism Unmasked,” recently said that evangelicals are concerned not about Mr. Romney promoting his faith as president, but about the great boost a Mormon presidency would give to the church’s proselytizing efforts.

There is particular worry that Mr. Romney, a wealthy, prominent figure in the church, is too close to his faith. How else to explain the concern among evangelicals when it became public that Mr. Romney had tithed some $4 million to the church over the last two years?

Interdenominational competition may also explain why the faith of Mr. Romney’s father, George Romney, went unchallenged when he ran for president in 1968. Back then Mormonism was a much smaller, and therefore less controversial, part of the religious landscape.

Amid the passions of this election season, it’s time to revive the tolerant spirit of the founding fathers. Religious competition of any kind, they believed, can breed bigotry, repression and hatred. The founders made an earnest effort to keep religion out of politics. Let’s do the same as we carry out the important work of choosing our next president.


By: David Reynolds, The New York Times Opinion Pages, January 25, 2012

January 27, 2012 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Blind Trust Ruse”: Romney Does Not Dispute He Profited From Foreclosures In Florida

ThinkProgress reported Wednesday that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has profited from thousands of Florida foreclosures through a Goldman Sachs investment fund. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) blasted Romney on the trail today for those investments, and re-upped those attacks in tonight’s CNN debate.

Romney attempted to explain away the investments, saying he didn’t control them because they were part of a blind trust:

GINGRICH: Governor Romney has investments in Goldman Sachs, which is today foreclosing on Floridians. So maybe Governor Romney, in the spirit of openness, should tell us how much money he’s made off of how many households that have been foreclosed by his investments.

ROMNEY: First of all, my investments are not made by me. My investments for the last 10 years have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee. Secondly, the investments they’ve made, we’ve learned about this as we made our financial disclosure, have been made in mutual funds and bonds. I don’t own stock in either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. There are bonds the investor has held through mutual funds. And Mr. Speaker, I know that sounds like an enormous revelation, but have you checked your own investments? You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Watch it:

Notably, Romney never denied the charge that he made money off of foreclosures. Later in the debate, Romney was asked about the $3 million he kept in a Swiss bank account before it was closed in 2010. Again, Romney attempted to brush aside the question, saying, “I have a trustee” who manages a blind trust.

Romney’s reliance on blind trusts is interesting, considering it was he who called them “a ruse” when running against former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) in 1994. And as ABC News noted, the trusts are “not so blind,” since they have been noted on his financial disclosure forms. The trusts are also maintained by Romney’s personal lawyer and don’t meet federal standards for elected officials. Romney’s original investments into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, meanwhile, were never in a blind trust.


By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, January 26, 2012

January 27, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mitt Romney, “Hero of Finance”

Romney’s backers say he did the tough work needed to restructure the economy. Actually, he seized opportunities that the tax, securities, and bankruptcy laws should never have given him.

“Creative destruction” is Mitt Romney’s best defense for his career in private equity and the trail of displaced workers some of his ventures left behind. The idea comes from the economist Joseph Schumpeter, who argued that capitalism generates economic growth through “gales of creative destruction” that sweep away obsolete technologies and products. As Romney’s advocates have it, that’s what his firm, Bain Capital, has advanced—painful economic changes that are essential to a rising standard of living.

If Romney made his fortune that way, he deserves the praise that some conservatives have lavished on him for contributing to American competitiveness. But that isn’t the whole story. Much of the work of Bain and other private—equity firms has little to do with the kind of wrenching Schumpeterian change that contributes to growth, still less to the job creation for which Romney claims credit.

Technological innovation was at the heart of Schumpeter’s vision, and no one today objects to the role of venture capital in financing tech start-ups or to the re-engineering of businesses to take advantage of new technology. Reorganizing firms to exploit special provisions in tax, securities, and bankruptcy laws is a different proposition. That kind of restructuring can be immensely profitable, transferring wealth to investors while making no positive contribution to growth and employment.

The standard operating procedure for private equity has been to buy firms, take them private, and load them up with debt. By taking them private, the new owners escape from the securities laws, which apply only to publicly traded companies. By loading them with debt, they cut the companies’ taxes because the interest is fully deductible from profits, and they use those tax savings to pay themselves generous fees and dividends. If an overleveraged enterprise then fails, they take it into bankruptcy, firing workers and stiffing creditors even though their own firm has already pocketed large gains. And because private-equity partners can receive those gains as “carried interest” (taxed only at 15 percent), they benefit from special legal advantages in yet one more way.

This kind of restructuring doesn’t just siphon off wealth; it can also interfere with genuine innovation because debt-burdened companies are sometimes starved for capital to invest in new technologies and products. Private equity has generally sought a high return with a quick exit instead of providing patient capital for long-term gains. That’s great for those who are in on the deal, but not for the national economy.

Private equity has also contributed to a broader change related to rising economic inequality. Instead of corporations serving a complex of interests—owners, workers, and communities—they have increasingly become wholly dedicated to maximizing returns to owners. This “shareholder-value revolution” has helped to drive the overexpansion of the financial sector and to funnel the gains from economic growth into fewer hands—Romney’s, for example.

That Romney served investors well at Bain, no one doubts. That’s not a credential, however, for solving the nation’s problems. We ought to be reducing the incentives for the maneuvers that enriched Romney—for example, by cutting the deductibility of interest on debt incurred in acquiring companies and raising taxes on “carried interest” so that financiers pay no lower a tax rate than the rest of us. Good luck with that in a Romney presidency.

There is a larger point about Romney’s career and good public policy. The turmoil in the private economy, whether generated by creative destruction or financial manipulation, is a reason we need progressive government. Individual firms cannot be counted on to retrain workers for new jobs or to provide them with long-term security; the very instability of private employment is why workers need to be able to count on government when they get displaced to help them obtain the education and skills to adapt. The best “national innovation systems” minimize the harms to workers while advancing technological progress.

Schumpeter’s 1942 classic, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, was a dour book. A true believer in capitalism, Schumpeter nonetheless thought it was doomed because people wouldn’t put up with creative destruction, and businessmen lacked the heroic qualities to become effective political leaders. He was wrong on both counts. Instead of resisting innovation, we welcome it, and some business leaders, like Steve Jobs, have become popular heroes.

But Romney is no Jobs, and even his most successful investments—Domino’s Pizza, Staples, and Sports Authority—don’t quite make him a Schumpeterian hero. There is one good thing about his candidacy, though. It highlights the inequities that have helped make people like Romney so wealthy and powerful.

By: Paul Starr, The American Prospect, January 26, 2012


January 27, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: