Mojo - January 2012

Newt Rips Romney for Millions in Goldman Sachs Investments

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 5:48 PM EST
Newt Gingrich.

Is Newt Gingrich a Mother Jones reader? You'd be forgiven for thinking so after hearing Gingrich's new line of attack on GOP front-runner Mitt Romney. On the campaign trail in Florida Thursday, Gingrich singled out Romney's dozens of investments Goldman Sachs-run funds for criticism. "Let's be clear: you're watching ads paid for with the money taken from the people of Florida by companies like Goldman Sachs, recycled back into ads to try to stop you from having a choice in this election," Gingrich said in Florida Thursday, according to Politico. "That's what this is all about."

Newt went on:

"The question you have to ask yourself is, what level of gall does it take to think that we collectively are so stupid that somebody who owns lots of stock in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, somebody who owns lots of stock in a part of Goldman Sachs that was explicitly foreclosing on Floridians, somebody who is surrounded by lobbyists who made a living protecting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, can then build his entire negative campaign in Florida around a series of ads that are just plain false."

Last week, Mother Jones reported that Romney and his wife, Ann, profit off of almost three-dozen investments in funds run by Goldman Sachs in the couple's blind trusts and individual retirement accounts. Though Romney filed his latest personal financial disclosure last August, we were one of the first news outlets to report on his extensive Goldman holdings. The investments are worth between $17.7 million and $50.5 million.

You can read the full story here.

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Bob Dole Slams Gingrich for Carrying Around an Ice Bucket

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 5:32 PM EST

It was one of the oddest lines of the already plenty-odd 2012 campaign. On Thursday, the Mitt Romney HQ zapped out a statement from former Republican Senator Bob Dole blasting Newt Gingrich for being erratic, arrogant, and a liability to his party. This was hardly a shocker, given that Dole can partly (but only partly) blame Gingrich for his loss to Bill Clinton in the 1996 contest. But the Dole statement did contain a weird sentence referencing that campaign:

Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty ice-bucket in his hand—that was a symbol of some sort for him—and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it.

Gingrich and an ice bucket? Sounds surrealistic. But last week, my colleague Tim Murphy explained the connection between the then-House speaker and his bucket:

Leading up to the 1996 election, Gingrich criss-crossed the country brandishing a white bucket, as a symbol of how Gingrich had cut bureaucratic waste by eliminating an anachronistic ice delivery service to congressional offices. Dating back to before the advent of refrigeration, ice had been delivered via white buckets to each office twice a day at no cost. Gingrich boasted that the program had cut $400,000 per year from the federal budget by eliminating 23 paid staff positions. "If there was any one symbol I wish we could be remembered by, I believe it should be an ice bucket," Gingrich said at the time. "We didn't authorize a study, we didn't phase it out, we didn't call for a training program, we just went cold turkey."

There was, of course, a catch:

Gingrich didn't actually end the free ice service at the Capitol; he just created a new system. Under Gingrich's watchful eye, Congress set up five ice distribution centers around the Capitol complex, so that staffers could haul their daily load of ice back to the offices. The ice was still free, in other words, and it was still being distributed. According to Roll Call at the time, Gingrich was himself taking advantage of the free ice entitlement he derided, dispatching a staffer to the ice distribution center twice a day to fill a bucket.

No wonder Bob Dole remains mystified to this very day.

Charts: Wall Street Blows All Other Political Donors Away

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 5:24 PM EST

Wall Street's outsized political influence is no secret, but some new data shows just how much it's ballooned. According to the Sunlight Foundation, campaign spending by elite donors from the finance, insurance, and real estate sector has jumped 700 percent in the past two decades, far outpacing individual donations from all other industries.

Sunlight found that donors who give more than $10,000 to candidates, parties, and outside spending groups—the "political one percent of the one percent"—account for 25 percent of total individual contributions. Among those elite donors who work in the so-called FIRE sector, contributions have risen from $15.4 million in 1990 to $178.2 million in 2010. According to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, the finance part of the FIRE trio (i.e., Wall Street) accounts for around two-thirds of the sector's donations. (Not surprisingly, a significant chunk of 2012's biggest super-PAC donors are current or former Wall Street execs.)

During the 2008 election cycle, FIRE's top donors gave $328 million, outspending their closest competitors—lawyers—by more than $200 million.

After a brief Democratic fundraising advantage before Barack Obama's election, Republicans are once again reaping the majority of the sector's money.

Take a look at all the charts and findings here.

This post has been updated to more accurately explain the difference between the FIRE sector and Wall Street.

Another Reason To Be Glad Rick Perry Won't Be President

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 4:08 PM EST
Texas governor Rick Perry.

Woe is the injured consumer or medical patient in Texas who brings a lawsuit against a big corporation or the government. A new report out from the nonprofit advocacy group Texas Watch has taken a hard look at more than 600 decisions by the Texas Supreme Court over the past decade and found that consumers and plaintiffs are routinely taking it on the chin. And consumers are losing far more often in the court than they were before short-lived GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry became governor.

Since 2005, consumers have lost nearly 80 percent of Texas Supreme Court cases in which a consumer was pitted against a big corporation or the government. Most of the time, the consumer plaintiffs had already prevailed before a jury—the high court overturned jury verdicts in 74 percent of consumer cases, with very little dissent.

Texas Watch attributes the massive scale-tilting to the fact that the court is now dominated by judges who were appointed by Perry starting in 2000. Six of the nine judges on the all-Republican court were initially appointed by Perry. In Texas, the judges are elected, but when a vacancy occurs, a governor can appoint a judge to fill out the remaining term, a move that all but guarantees the judge will prevail in the general election. And in Texas, Republican judges who've wanted to retire have often done so mid-term, allowing Perry to appoint their replacements.

Plaintiffs never did all that well in Texas courts compared with the big companies they were suing, but once Perry took office, the little guy's odds got even worse. See this:

Texas WatchTexas WatchThe trend doesn't help the case of those who suggest the solution to the influence of money in judicial elections is to have appointed judges. The data also don't reflect the fact that since 2003, simply getting a plaintiff's case into court in Texas has become far more difficult, especially in medical malpractice cases. Changes in state tort laws have kept thousands of consumers and injured patients out of court all together. According to the most recent data from the National Center on State Courts, in 2008 (the most recent year available), there were 10,000 fewer tort cases filed in Texas than in 1999. Those numbers fell even though the population of Texas jumped 20 percent over the past decade. 

The decisions made by the Texas Supreme Court in individual consumer cases have wide reach. In one case highlighted by Texas Watch, the court essentially ruled that the state does not have the authority to pass laws creating stricter consumer protections than those that exist at the federal level—a remarkable opinion in a state that is openly hostile to the federal government's rule of law.

The trend doesn't look to end any time soon, Texas Watch notes gloomily:

Justices that Governor Perry has appointed to the bench, and who were subsequently elected, have relentlessly and recklessly pursued an activist ideological agenda focused on immunity for corporate and state wrongdoers, subverting the rule of law from within and effectively turning the granite walls of the court into a mausoleum for plaintiffs.

Santorum Trashes Public Colleges, Then Stumps at One

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 3:35 PM EST

Between a morning prayer breakfast with state Republican leaders in Tallahassee and tonight's primary debate in Jacksonville, dark-horse presidential candidate Rick Santorum stopped at a half-full auditorium at Florida State University to deliver his anti-Obama message to young conservatives. But at this hard-hit public college in a capital racked with budget woes, Santorum sidestepped the biggest issues facing the school's students.

A small grouping of sign-carrying protesters gathered outside the student union, while even more students circulated unawares through the nearby campus Chili's, as Santorum told the crowd of aboout 200 that the "foundational premise of America" is "the belief in God."

After a brief exposition on the differences between France, with its guillotines, and the United States, with its freedom and vest-pocket-sized copies of the Constitution (one of which he brandished), Santorum knocked Newt Gingrich's latest space-colonization plan and said the former House speaker "wants to spend money like Obama." He added: "The idea that anybody's going out and talking about grand new very expensive schemes to spend more money at a time when we do not have our fiscal house in order, in my opinion, is plain crass politics."

Newt Gingrich vs. Ronald Reagan: A Brief History

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 1:55 PM EST

Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan in 1985.: Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan LibraryNewt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan in 1985.: Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan LibraryOn Wednesday, Republicans took aim at Newt Gingrich for his past criticisms of Ronald Reagan. The Drudge Report featured 10 anti-Newt stories as of yesterday, none more prominently than Elliot Abrams' takedown of Gingrich at the National Review. The former speaker, Abrams wrote, "spewed insulting rhetoric" and "was voluble and certain in predicting that Reagan's policies would fail."

Set aside, for a minute, the fact that Nancy Reagan considered Newt to be the torch-carrier for her husband's legacy. The problem with Newt Gingrich's 1980s criticism of Ronald Reagan is that it presents today's Republicans with an uncomfortable truth: Gingrich attacked Reagan from the right because there was room to do so. Reagan wasn't always the tax-cutting arch-conservative Republicans make him out to be. He was often a military hawk but not always. He wasn't, frankly, the Ronald Reagan that Republicans speak of with so much reverence today.

Here's a quick guide to Newt's 1980s Reagan bashing (via Lexis and newspaper clippings):

  • 1982: Carter II: From the New York Times: '''It has all the things that Jimmy Carter used to propose that we used to beat up on,' observed Representative Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican prominent in the Congressional revolt against the President's $98.9 billion tax bill. That revolt within the President's own party, he added, ''is really a grass-roots rebellion over wrong policy.''' Elsewhere, he publicly bashed Reagan's budget as a "Jimmy Carter tax bill."
  • c. 1982: Failed economic policies: "Really, Reaganomics has failed. We must regroup. The national government is running amuck. Without a freeze, I don't see breakout out of higher and higher deficits."
  • 1983: Soft on drug abuse and crime: "Beyond the obvious indicators of decay the fact is that President Reagan has lost control of the national agenda."
  • 1985: Appeasement! Gingrich calls Reagan's summit with Gorbachev, ''the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Chamberlain in 1938 at Munich.'
  • 1986: Soft on the Soviet Union: "Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire's challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic fundamental change in strategy will continue to fail."
  • 1987: Betrayed public trust: Per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "'There were two things that people felt they knew about Ronald Reagan. That he was fundamentally honest and that he was a strong America leader who would stand tall and not deal with terrorists,' Gingrich said. The Iran-Contra affair 'violated' both parts of the trust, Gingrich said, 'and it has sahaken people's beliefs.'"
  • 1987: Reagan's legacy is dubious: "The sense of our overpowering belief in Reagan as the most effective president since FDR is probably not retainable."

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Obama Defense Plan: Fewer Troops and More Drones

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 12:45 PM EST

Kevin Baird/FlickrKevin Baird/FlickrOn Thursday, the Pentagon's top leaders are expected to release new details on how they'll scale back military programs to meet President Obama's goal of $487 billion in defense cuts over the next decade. But Republicans in the House and Senate are already plotting how to blunt the impact of the proposed cuts.

At a briefing Thursday afternoon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will announce they're slashing Army troop levels by 80,000 soldiers, or 14 percent of the force, while expanding bases for drones and increasing spending on the types of special forces that killed Osama bin Laden and rescued an American hostage in Somalia this week, according to the Wall Street Journal. "The administration has done a very good job of drafting a budget that meets our strategic needs. The budget reflects a sound understanding of the threats we face, and matches the resources to meet those threats," Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told Politico after being briefed on the defense plan.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 26, 2012

Thu Jan. 26, 2012 11:01 AM EST

US Army Pfc. Eric Guzman, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Spartan, provides security alongside Afghan Border Police officers while patrolling a village in Khowst province, Afghanistan on January 18, 2012. Photo by the US Army.

Romney Rejects Personhood Group, Again

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 9:00 AM EST

On Saturday, Personhood USA–the group behind the flood of bills that define life as starting at conception—will co-host its third forum of the GOP presidential primaries, at Aloma Church in Winter Park, Florida. And, for the third time, Mitt Romney won't be in attendance.

Personhood USA has been busy working its model zygote-is-a-person law around the country, most recently in Mississippi. And it has won endorsements from Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul, who signed the group's pledge. But Romney has neither signed their pledge nor come to their previous events in Iowa or South Carolina.

While Romney has waffled on the question of whether he actually thinks fertilized eggs should be granted the same rights as people, he's at least been consistent in not supporting the explicit demands of Personhood USA. And this has roiled the extreme anti-abortion crowd:

Governor Romney, again expressly invited, has again neglected to notify organizers of his willingness or disinclination to participate.
"Following President Obama's statement celebrating the Roe v. Wade decision – effectively celebrating the deliberate killing of 54 million innocent American citizens – Personhood USA recognizes the urgency of ensuring that we know where our candidates stand,” stated Keith Mason, President of Personhood USA. "We need a president who values life, and will defend the innocent in word and in deed. We certainly don’t need a candidate who cares nothing for the Sanctity of Life, nor one who will join President Obama in celebrating the deaths of millions."

It's quite interesting that Romney, who has struggled to establish his pro-life cred in this primary, has not been willing to bend on this so far.

Your Daily Newt: Gingrich Gets Blanket-Tossed

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 7:00 AM EST
Blanket tossing looks like one of the funnest things in the world. It was also one of Newt Gingrich's final acts as speaker.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich called his 1998 swing through Alaska's North Slope "an eye-opening experience" that helped him better understand the challenges that environmental regulations pose to residents of the Last Frontier. "Don Young has been telling me for years—come to Alaska and see for yourself," he said, of the state's Republican congressman. "Seeing is believing!"

Crippling nanny state regulations weren't the only revelation of the trip for Gingrich, though. He also participated in his first traditional blanket toss, an activity in which a tossee is tossed (by tossers) about 20 feet in the air—ostensibly so that they can look across the tundra for caribou, but mostly because it looks really, really fun:

Things didn't go quite so smoothly for Gingrich, though. As Jack Hitt explained in MoJo later that year:

At an Eskimo blanket toss in Barrow, Alaska, when Gingrich insisted on having a turn, 15 Native Americans heaved-ho (for the love of God, have they not suffered enough?) to try to pop the enormous Gingrich off the blanket. An unidentified bystander observed, "He never really caught major air."

Maybe it was symbolism. A little more than two months later, Gingrich announced that he was stepping down as speaker of the House.