On October 23, I attended the Institute for Legal Reform's (ILR) 14th Annual Legal Reform Summit to listen to right-wing columnist Peggy Noonan and a gang of corporate lawyers frighten each other into believing that there's an approaching tsunami of frivolous lawsuits.
The theme of this year's summit was "Healing the U.S. Lawsuit System," with panels ranging on topics from class action litigation to the spread of "U.S. style litigation" abroad, and speakers representing multinational corporations and some of the biggest law firms in the country. The keynote speaker for this event was conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. It was not entirely clear why Noonan was selected for this task -- though she is a reliable conservative ally, she hasn't written extensively on tort reform. In fact, she didn't make much of an attempt to tie her remarks into the theme of the event at all. Instead, she spent most of her speech complaining about Obamacare (problems with the healthcare website are "deeply IT-related. Deeply, federally, IT-ly related"), and making suggestions on how the Obama administration might "enhance its mystique" (don't go on TV so much). The closest she came to talking about tort reform was when she told a joke about a lawyer whose arm fell off after getting hit by a truck (the lawyer, naturally, was more concerned with losing his Rolex than his arm).
The ILR, an off-shoot of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is deeply troubled by the apparent onslaught of "frivolous lawsuits," and its stated goal is to "restore balance, ensure justice, and maintain integrity within the civil legal system." For ILR, this means advocating for federal and state-level "reforms" that make it more difficult for consumers to access civil justice and make it easier for corporations to avoid liability. The Chamber seems particularly disturbed by lawsuits, which is why, 15 years ago, it founded ILR. According to ILR President Lisa Rickard, back then "jackpot jurisdictions dominated the landscape," but thanks to reforms proposed by ILR, there have been positive changes in some of the nation's "worst jurisdictions."
For a group so concerned with lawsuit abuse, none of the attendees seemed disturbed by the fact that the Chamber itself brings a significant amount of lawsuits every year -- not just against the federal government, but regular people who just happened to piss them off. During Chamber President Tom Donohue's speech, he admitted that the Chamber has sued the federal government 170 times this year alone -- that works out to about three lawsuits a week. Despite all those (completely non-frivolous, I'm sure) lawsuits, Donohue insisted, "what we're doing is right. What they're [plaintiffs' lawyers] doing is wrong." Donohue continued, "What we do protects corporations from advancing their interest without being sued for trying to do their best" but still insisted that the Chamber "support[s] the truly wronged from being compensated." Donohue didn't stop there. "This is a war of attrition," he said. "The group with the most money will come out on top, and it better be us."
The Wall Street Journal op-ed page continues to be a primary source of life support for the fizzling "scandal" involving the IRS's targeting of non-profit groups. Peggy Noonan writes in her July 19 column that a massive "bombshell" landed this week courtesy of House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa's latest hearing into the matter: "The IRS scandal was connected this week not just to the Washington office -- that had been established -- but to the office of the chief counsel." This new, shocking information, per Noonan, is a "bombshell" because "the chief counsel of the IRS is one of only two Obama political appointees in the entire agency."
Noonan need not have waited for Darrell Issa to drop the "bombshell" news that the IRS chief counsel's office was linked to the targeting. She could have just re-read her own Wall Street Journal column from May 18:
It is not even remotely possible that all this was an accident, a mistake. Again, only conservative groups were targeted, not liberal. It is not even remotely possible that only one IRS office was involved. Lois Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt groups for the IRS, was the person who finally acknowledged, under pressure of a looming investigative report, some of what the IRS was doing. She told reporters the actions were the work of "frontline people" in Cincinnati. But other offices were involved, including Washington. It is not even remotely possible the actions were the work of just a few agents. This was more systemic. It was an operation. The word was out: Get the Democratic Party's foes. It is not remotely possible nobody in the IRS knew what was going on until very recently. The Washington Post reported efforts to target the conservative groups reached the highest levels of the agency by May 2012--far earlier than the agency had acknowledged. Reuters reported high-level IRS officials, including its chief counsel, knew in August 2011 about the targeting.
So Noonan's "bombshell" exploded two months ago, but she's only now sensing the vibrations.
Despite the right-wing media's most recent attempt to generate a "Watergate" style scandal imploding on live TV, The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan continued to push the conspiracy theory that a recent break-in at a Texas law firm was orchestrated by the government in response to a whistleblower's allegations of misconduct among State Department employees.
Following June 29 and June 30 robberies at the Dallas office of Schulman & Mathias, lawyer Cary Schulman has suggested that State Department officials were responsible for the break-in. Schulman & Mathias represents a former investigator at the State Department's Office of the Inspector General named Aurelia Fedenisn, who provided documents to CBS News alleging misconduct among State Department employees.
In a July 9 Wall Street Journal blog post, Noonan baselessly speculated that the government was behind the break-in at Schulman's law firm, comparing the break-in to the Watergate scandal of the 1970s that resulted in the impeachment proceedings -- and ultimately resignation -- of President Richard Nixon. Noonan wrote:
Still, the Nixon-era whistleblower whose psychiatrist's office was broken into has some tough words, in an op-ed piece, for the current administration -- just as word comes that an Obama-era whistleblower's lawyer's office was broken into by . . . someone.
Just hours before Noonan's post was published, Schulman appeared on Fox News' America Live with guest host Martha MacCallum in a segment hyped as "'Watergate' Style Spy Claims." Schulman said that one reason to suspect State Department involvement in the burglary was because the perpetrators "have been unwilling to come forward with evidence of the crimes voluntarily and we don't know their whereabouts." When asked by MacCallum if he had any evidence to support these allegations, Schulman was forced to admit, "No I don't. All kidding aside, I was joking earlier. I don't know who did it."
The admission by Schulman that he has no evidence and was only "joking" about State Department involvement in the burglary did not stop Noonan from speculating that the government was somehow involved. Noonan concluded, "The burglary may or may not be a scandal -- but if it is, it's a big one."
Associations representing the OB/GYNs and hospitals of Texas say that a Texas bill mandating new restrictions on on doctors and clinics that provide abortions does nothing to improve women's health care and has no medical basis, but conservative media figures are ignoring that medical opinion to claim the bill is needed to protect the health of women seeking abortions.
A Texas bill that is being reintroduced in a July 1 special legislative session would mandate new regulations that would force all but five of the 47 clinics providing abortions in the state to close and require doctors who perform abortions to have admittance privileges at a local hospital. Texas Republicans argued that they introduced the bill not to restrict access to legal abortions, but to improve the safety of women obtaining them. On the June 30 edition of ABC's This Week, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan parroted these claims, saying "the bill does not specifically try to close abortion clinics, it says they have to meet certain medical standards in order to operate."
But the Texas District of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has expressed opposition to the bill, which it says imposes requirements on doctors and facilities providing abortions "that are unnecessary and unsupported by scientific evidence" and have no "basis in public health or safety." The organization's June 25 statement further stated:
The Texas District of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposes SB 5/HB 60 and other legislative proposals that are not based on sound science or that attempt to prescribe how physicians should care for their individual patients. As a District of the Nation's leading authority in women's health, our role is to ensure that policy proposals accurately reflect the best available medical knowledge.
SB 5/HB 60 will not enhance patient safety or improve the quality of care that women receive. This bill does not promote women's health, but erodes it by denying women in Texas the benefits of well-researched, safe, and proven protocols.
Texas-ACOG further states that the bill creates "over reacting requirements for abortion facilities" that "does not promote the public health objective it claims to enhance," and calls the requirement that doctors who provide abortions have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles "unneccesary."
Additionally, the Texas Hospital Association (THA) issued a statement about the hospital admittance requirement, arguing that it does nothing to improve women's health because emergency room physicians would be the ones to treat a woman who needs emergency care due to complications from an abortion. From the statement:
THA agrees that women should receive high-quality care and that physicians should be held accountable for acts that violate their license. However, a requirement that physicians who perform one particular outpatient procedure, abortion, be privileged at a hospital is not the appropriate way to accomplish these goals.
Should a woman develop complications from an abortion or any other procedure performed outside the hospital and need emergency care, she should present to a hospital emergency department. Requiring that a doctor have privileges at a particular hospital does not guarantee that this physician will be at the hospital when the woman arrives. She will appropriately be treated by the physician staffing the emergency room when she presents there. If the emergency room physician needs to consult with the physician who performed the abortion, the treating physician can contact the doctor telephonically, which is often done in other emergency situations.
Image Credit: Whole Women's Health
Sunday talk shows on NBC, CBS, and ABC compared reports that the Internal Review Service (IRS) applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups to President Nixon's Watergate scandal, a comparison which people who worked on both sides of the Watergate scandal agree is baseless.
Peggy Noonan goes full wingnut in her Wall Street Journal column this morning, asking if the White House's response to the Benghazi attack "cost American lives." The argument she lays out is that President Obama and his team, faced with the death of an ambassador and three other Americans, deliberately scuttled any sort of military response to keep the story from looking bad.
All of this is bad enough. Far worse is the implied question that hung over the House hearing, and that cries out for further investigation. That is the idea that if the administration was to play down the nature of the attack it would have to play down the response--that is, if you want something to be a nonstory you have to have a nonresponse. So you don't launch a military rescue operation, you don't scramble jets, and you have a rationalization--they're too far away, they'll never make it in time. This was probably true, but why not take the chance when American lives are at stake?
Mr. Hicks told the compelling story of his talk with the leader of a special operations team that wanted to fly to Benghazi from Tripoli to help. The team leader was told to stand down, and he was enraged. Mark Thompson wanted an emergency support team sent to the consulate and was confounded when his superiors in Washington would not agree.
Was all this incompetence? Or was it politics disguised as the fog of war? Who called these shots and made these decisions? Who decided to do nothing?
Again, Peggy Noonan is arguing that the intent of the Obama administration was to leave Americans in harm's way after four had already been killed in order to make the whole thing a "nonstory."
That is insane, and I'll let Marc Ambinder at The Week explain why:
One of the reasons why Americans aren't outraged about Benghazi is that the event is a series of tragedies in search of a unifying explanation, and one that "Obama is evil" doesn't cover. Because really, to suggest that the Pentagon or the White House would deliberately -- and yes, this is EXACTLY what Republicans are suggesting -- prevent special operations forces from rescuing American diplomats BECAUSE they worried about the potential political blowback because they KNEW exactly who was behind it (al Qaeda) is --well, it is to suggest that Barack Obama is simply and utterly evil.
As for who decided not to send the Tripoli special forces and other military assets Noonan acknowledges couldn't have made it to Benghazi in time to make a difference, one of the vaunted "whistleblowers" from Wednesday's House Oversight Committee hearing on Benghazi testified that the special forces team were ordered to stand down by Special Operations Command Africa.
But what do they know? Had Gen. Peggy Noonan been in command that night, she obviously would have "taken the chance." Hindsight being what it is and all.
Peggy Noonan is lucky, in a way, for the existence of Karl Rove and Dick Morris. The duo absorbed most of the mockery and heat for their irrationally optimistic predictions that Mitt Romney would trounce President Obama last November, allowing pundits like Noonan, who were no less sanguine about the impending Romney ascendance, to ease into 2013 relatively unscathed. The day before the election, you'll recall, Noonan explained on her Wall Street Journal blog why Romney would win. "All the vibrations are right," she sensed, "Something old is roaring back."
Election Day came and went and now Noonan has to grapple with the fact that her political seismometer was off and explain why the president she thought so feeble was able to sew up reelection so easily. To that end, she's written a Journal column speculating on whether Obama is already a lame duck, and argues that part of what's keeping Obama back is that he was too good at getting reelected.
Which has me thinking of two things that have weakened the Obama presidency and haven't been noted. One was recent and merely unhelpful. The other goes back, and encouraged a mindset that became an excuse, perhaps a fatal one.
The recent one: In the days after the 2012 election the Democrats bragged about their technological genius and how it turned the election. They told the world about what they'd done--the data mining, the social networking, that allowed them to zero in on Mrs. Humperdink in Ward 5 and get her to the polls. It was quite impressive and changed national politics forever. But I suspect their bragging hurt their president. In 2008 Mr. Obama won by 9.5 million votes. Four years later, with all the whizbang and money, he won by less than five million. When people talk about 2012 they don't say the president won because the American people endorsed his wonderful leadership, they say he won because his team outcomputerized the laggard Republicans.
This has left him and his people looking more like cold technocrats who know how to campaign than leaders who know how to govern. And it has diminished claims of a popular mandate. The president's position would be stronger now if more people believed he had one.
Ah yes, the aura of competence that every politician so dreads.
There's been a lot of talk lately about the Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power, wherein the dithering Congress can be whipped into shape by the president's mystical powers of persuasion and leadership. What Noonan is describing here is the Iron Man Theory of Presidential Politics, arguing that Obama, stripped of his technology, would have been as vulnerable and powerless as Tony Stark without his impressive suit of armor. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it does help to explain why Noonan was misled by the "vibrations" -- Obama flipped a switch and activated his army of robot voters.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan attacked President Obama for "having a problem with the levers of power" after the Senate failed to pass background checks for gun sales despite the legislation receiving majority support -- the final vote was 54-46, with 41 Republicans voting against the measure. Previously Noonan has dismissed concerns about historic Republican obstruction in Congress with a sarcastic "boo hoo."
Appearing on Meet The Press, Noonan responded to the Senate's inability to pass background checks by referring to "a problem" when "90% of the American people" supported it but President Obama "can't make anything move."
Noonan neglected to mention that the measure required 60 votes in response to a Republican-led filibuster, so even though the vote was 54 to 46 in favor, the legislation failed.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan attempted to join other right-wing media in attacking a New Republic article on Republican nullification efforts, but failed to address the article's main points in her rebuttal.
Noonan skips over the substance of the article to instead misrepresent the controversy around photo voter IDs and ignores the fact that rejections of federal authority through an appeal to "states' rights" are now commonplace in the Republican Party. This increase in attempts at nullification extend from unconstitutional state laws to filibusters of President Obama's nominees.
The article Noonan criticizes, "Why The GOP Is And Will Continue To Be The Party Of White People" by Sam Tanenhaus, argues that the Republican Party has built itself on the myth that states can lawfully resist federal laws with which they disagree. Rather than engage the theory - a concept that originated with John Calhoun's resistance to anti-slavery efforts - Noonan dismisses the argument because she never hears this 19th-century originator of nullification mentioned by name in conservative circles.
Instead, Noonan completely mischaracterizes the recent Republican push for government-issued photo voter ID, which is one of Tanenhaus' examples of the GOP's embrace of nullification. Contrary to Noonan's description, which explains that "vote rigging is part of our history" and "vote fraud happens," these laws are redundant and unnecessary layers of additional identification for a problem of in-person voter impersonation that is virtually non-existent.
As President Obama gears up for a reinauguration that, right up to Election Day, conservatives truly believed would never happen, the right is trying to figure out what went wrong and what can be done to set things right. A schism has emerged between those who think Republicans and conservatives simply need to tweak their messaging (a majority of Republicans believe this) versus those who think the party needs to update its policies (a majority of all Americans agree on this point). Both these factions get find their voice in separate columns from prominent conservatives today.
Jim DeMint, fresh off his resignation from the Senate to take over the Heritage Foundation, plants his flag firmly in the "messaging" camp in a Washington Post op-ed. Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal that Republicans in Congress should raid the Democratic policy chest like seafaring privateers: "Really: It's pirate time."
Both columns, though, demonstrate that the lessons of 2012 have been ill-learned, and the intractability of the problems facing conservatives.
Let's start with DeMint and his missive in support of message tweaks. Here's what DeMint saw in 2012:
Unfortunately, welfare reform and missile defense have something in common beyond Heritage's intellectual paternity. They both have been gutted by President Obama. Always faint-hearted about missile defense, the president in his first year dismantled our programs in Poland and the Czech Republic. He disabled welfare reform last year, when he took away the work requirements that were at the heart of that law's success.
How could the president get away with hobbling two successful programs with barely a peep from the media or backlash from the millions of Americans whose lives are made better and more secure by these initiatives? That's a question and a challenge I take very personally.
DeMint's solution is to do "research" to make sure going forward conservative messaging on topics like missile defense and welfare is more effective. Of course, anyone who paid even casual attention to the 2012 race knows that Mitt Romney's attacked Obama relentlessly-- and falsely -- for "gutting welfare reform," and those attacks were covered extensively by the political press. The problem with the attack (which originated with Heritage) was that it was over-the-top and wrong, and undermined by the fact that Republican governors were embracing the welfare policies Romney was attacking.
If there's a coherent point to Peggy Noonan's January 3 Wall Street Journal column on President Obama and the fiscal cliff, it's not readily apparent. The general thrust seems to be that the president is constitutionally incapable of cutting deals with his Republican adversaries in Congress, but Noonan's arguments are almost completely untethered to the actual story of the fiscal cliff negotiations.
Noonan writes of the president:
He didn't deepen any relationships or begin any potential alliances with Republicans, who still, actually, hold the House. The old animosity was aggravated. Some Republicans were mildly hopeful a second term might moderate those presidential attitudes that didn't quite work the first time, such as holding himself aloof from the position and predicaments of those who oppose him, while betraying an air of disdain for their arguments. He is not quick to assume good faith. Some thought his election victory might liberate him, make his approach more expansive. That didn't happen.
"Some Republicans were mildly hopeful a second term might moderate those presidential attitudes that didn't quite work the first time." What? Obama won reelection comfortably. He won reelection after passing sweeping health care and economic recovery bills in the face of unified Republican opposition. To the extent that Obama had "presidential attitudes that didn't quite work," they weren't dysfunctional enough to derail his agenda or make the 2012 race a nail-biter, so what exactly is Noonan talking about?
And what reason does the president have to "assume good faith" on the part of the GOP? On the day of his first inauguration the GOP congressional leadership plotted out its strategy to act in bad faith with the intention of unseating him. Is Obama supposed to trust them now because that goal is no longer operative? None of this makes sense.
The president didn't allow his victory to go unsullied. Right up to the end he taunted the Republicans in Congress: They have a problem saying yes to him, normal folks try to sit down and work it out, not everyone gets everything they want. But he got what he wanted, as surely he knew he would, and Republicans got almost nothing they wanted, which was also in the cards. At Mr. Obama's campfire, he gets to sing "Kumbaya" solo while others nod to the beat.
Obama had the stronger hand, but he did not get everything he wanted. The White House wanted tax rates to go up on household income exceeding $250,000; in the end they settled on $450,000. The president wanted the estate tax bumped to 45 percent and the exemption knocked down to $3.5 million; in the end it was set at 40 percent with a $5 million exemption. And that compromise came about by negotiating with the Senate while the House GOP fumbled about with the abortive "Plan B" -- Boehner's bill to raise rates on people making $1 million plus that failed when his own caucus refused to support it -- and threatened to scuttle the Senate deal before finally approving it.
Sticking with Noonan's campfire metaphor, Obama was singing "Kumbaya" while Senate Republicans mumbled along and the House GOP were off in the woods whacking each other with whiffle bats.
Fox is criticizing the Obama administration's Hurricane Sandy relief efforts by comparing them to the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. In fact, there are few similarities between the responses, and the Obama administration's response to Sandy has been widely praised by members of both parties.
From the September 23 edition of CBS' Face the Nation:
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Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin is very angry. Again.
Malkin is very angry the "lap dog" press is being so mean to Mitt Romney and is making a big deal about the "47 percent" comments he made behind closed doors to wealthy donors about how nearly half of Americans are lazy, irresponsible and unwilling to work hard to improve their lives.
Typing off the age-old conservative script, Malkin robotically blamed the press for Romney's latest campaign stumble, claiming there's a conspiracy among journalists and Democrats to shift the attention away from Obama and focus on alleged Romney gaffes.
But there's a slight problem this time around with the blame game: Lots of conservative pundits, such as The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol (as well as Republican members of Congress), have also denounced Romney's "47 percent" comments as irresponsible and misguided.
Malkin's response? Fox News contributor Kristol's part of the media problem and he's in on the colluded effort to doom Romney's campaign!
The intramural name-calling highlights the right-wing media fracture visible in the wake of Romney's "47 percent" debacle. Sides are being taken as to whether Romney's remarks were imprudent (i.e. "stupid and arrogant," as Kristol put it), or whether they can be used as a rallying cry to rescue his campaign.
More traditional Republican partisans in the press, such as the New York Times' David Brooks ("Thurston Howell Romney") and the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan ("Time For An Intervention"), have come down hard on Romney and belittled his campaign efforts.
By contrast, name-callers like Malkin and the more radical, Tea Party-leaning elements of the far-right media, including Fox News, have cheered the candidate's derogatory remarks and urged Romney to repeat them often on the campaign trail.
For this faction, virtually any criticism of their candidate is deemed off-limits, and heretics like Kristol must be publicly condemned.
Besides, Malkin insists Romney's attack on U.S. voters was dead-on [emphasis added]:
He's talking, of course, about the Peggy the Moochers and Henrietta Hugheses of the world - savior-based Obama supporters for whom the cult of personality trumps all else. He's talking about the Sandra Flukes and Julias of the world - Nanny State grievance-mongers who have been spoon-fed identity politics and victim Olympics from preschool through grad school and beyond. And he's talking about the encrusted entitlement clientele who range from the Section 8 housing mob in Atlanta that caused a near-riot to the irresponsible debt-ridden homeowners who mortgaged themselves into oblivion and want their bailout now, now, now.
Malkin despises all these people and loved Romney's closed-door attempt to demonize them during the campaign season. For Malkin and her Tea Party friends, that's what national campaigns are about, pitting Americans against each other by depicting political foes as parasites who feed off the generosity of hard working taxpayers. "This election is about America's makers versus America's takers," Malkin declared confidently.
Lots of Republican commentators disagree.
In her Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan, who served as an assistant to President Ronald Reagan, wrote of Mitt Romney's upcoming convention speech:
Much is uncertain, no one knows what will happen this year, how it will turn out. But when I think of Mr. Romney's speech I find myself thinking of Alan Shepard.
It's May 5, 1961, in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and everyone's fussing. This monitor's blinking and that one's beeping and Shepard is up there, at the top of a Redstone rocket, in a tiny little capsule called Friendship 7. Mission Control is hemming and hawing: Should we stay or should we go? Finally Shepard says: "Why don't you fix your little problem and light this candle?"
That's what a good speech and a good convention right now can do. There's a great race ahead. Make it come alive. Come on and light this candle.