Archive

April 13th, 2016

The Senate is waiving its right to give 'advice and consent'

    On Nov. 12, 1975, while I was serving as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Justice William O. Douglas resigned. On Nov. 28, President Gerald R. Ford nominated John Paul Stevens for the vacant seat. Nineteen days after receiving the nomination, the Senate voted 98-0 to confirm the president's choice. Two days later, I had the pleasure of seeing Ford present Stevens to the court for his swearing-in. The business of the court continued unabated. There were no 4-to-4 decisions that term.

    Today, the system seems to be broken. Both parties are at fault, seemingly locked in a death spiral to outdo the other in outrageous behavior. Now, the Senate has simply refused to consider President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, dozens of nominations to federal judgeships and executive offices are pending before the Senate, many for more than a year. Our system prides itself on its checks and balances, but there seems to be no balance to the Senate's refusal to perform its constitutional duty.

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Shocked by the Panama Papers? Blame Switzerland

    The revelations about offshore accounts contained in the so-called Panama Papers are sensational, but they are unlikely to put an end to these tax havens favored by the world's rich and powerful.

    Rather, the disclosures are a reminder that these shelters have been around for close to a century, and have proved remarkably resilient even as they periodically aroused public outrage and calls for reform. In fact, an earlier scandal may have laid the foundation for the tax havens that are now under scrutiny.

    Switzerland has become shorthand for hidden money, and with good reason: The country has long sought to attract foreign capital to its banking system by offering a mixture of secrecy, preferential tax treatment and creative corporate structures.

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Damage control may rule Republican convention

    When House Speaker Paul Ryan released a video laying out his familiar theme that politics should be fought on ideas and issues, the Drudge Report's headline was: "Paul Ryan launches his first campaign ad."

    A dream of some Republicans is that Ryan will rescue them from a looming fiasco in the presidential election. That's not likely. As states assemble delegates for the party convention, there are already demands that no votes be cast for someone who didn't run.

    It would be rational to turn to Gov. John Kasich or Ryan, who might win the election, but neither the season nor the Republican grassroots reward rationality.

    If Donald Trump goes into the Republican convention with close to the 1,237 delegates required to win the nomination, it would be hard to deny him. It's more likely that he'll come in about 100 votes shy.

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Putin puts an army at his personal command

    President Vladimir Putin has overhauled Russia's law-enforcement operations to create a domestic army that ultimately would answer to him personally, not to one of the government ministers. It was the clearest demonstration in years of the Russian leader's concern about preserving his power.

    On April 5, Putin submitted a bill to the Russian parliament that carved out a National Guard from the Interior Ministry's Interior Troops. The Interior Ministry is essentially the police force; the 170,000-strong Interior Troops are the crack riot police and counterinsurgency units. During Putin's first two presidential terms, they bore the brunt of the fighting in the formerly secessionist region of Chechnya, and they have dispersed many unsanctioned rallies.

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The Supreme Court justices are the adults in our democracy as the other branches bicker

    Who would have predicted that the last true democrats in Washington might be found on the Supreme Court?

    As partisanship and jockeying for electoral advantage become all-consuming, Congress refuses to do its job, while the White House reaches perilously toward doing Congress's job as well as its own. The Senate majority and minority leaders no longer work together. President Obama and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan long ago gave up on finding common ground.

    When Justice Antonin Scalia died, it seemed a safe bet that the court, too, would fall victim to partisan paralysis.

    Already reviled by the left for Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. FEC, and by the right for not blocking Obamacare, the court instantly rose to the top of the presidential campaign agenda. Candidates boasted of litmus tests for appointing judges that, until recently, no self-respecting politician would have admitted to. The justices found themselves evenly divided and are likely to remain so for a long time - a scenario, if there ever was one, for gridlock and point-scoring.

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Building a Better Father

    As a child I was schooled constantly in how different mothers and fathers were. TV shows spelled it out. So did examples and conversations all around me, including in my own home.

    A mother’s love was supposedly automatic, unconditional. A father’s love was earned. Mothers nurtured, tending to tears. Fathers judged, prompting them.

    And while mothers felt pressure to lavish time and affection on their children, fathers could come and go. As long as they did their part as providers, the rest was negotiable.

    There was some of that psychology and behavior in the veteran political journalist Ron Fournier, who, at 52, is about my age. He grew up in the same culture that I did.

    But almost six years ago, he learned that the social awkwardness of his son, Tyler, wasn’t just that. It was “high-functioning autism,” in the words of a specialist. Tyler, then 12, had Asperger’s.

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Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

    — Ramona drummed harder to show everyone how bad she was. She would not take off her shoes. She was a terrible, wicked girl! Being such a bad, terrible, horrid, wicked girl made her feel good! She brought both heels against the wall at the same time. Thump! Thump! Thump! She was not the least bit sorry for what she was doing. She would never be sorry. Never! Never! Never!

    One of the world’s great inventions, only a little behind the light bulb, was Ramona Quimby, the strong-willed, lovable and exasperating star of “Ramona the Pest” and other books. For decades the Ramona books have been a gateway drug luring young readers into the spellbinding world of books.

    Ramona’s inventor, Beverly Cleary, has sold 85 million copies of her books about Ramona, Henry Huggins, Ralph S. Mouse and other beloved figures. Cleary will turn 100 on Tuesday, so I asked her about her characters, her life and her wisdom.

    Now living in a retirement home in Carmel, California, she immediately disclaimed any grand thoughts about reaching a century.

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Dinklage and Dragons: Will Tyrion Win the “Game of Thrones”?

    I had many questions for Peter Dinklage.

    I wanted to know how he feels about being the first dwarf heartthrob. I was curious why his 4-year-old daughter is named Zelig. I wondered what it was like to elope to Vegas.

    But first, I had to ask about the dragons.

    The “Game of Thrones” star is such a big animal lover that he’s a vegetarian who eats tofu masquerading as meat in the carnivorous, libidinous show.

    So now that the global hit — Season 6 starts in two weeks — has brought his character, the wily and louche “halfman” and “perverse little imp” Tyrion Lannister, into the sun-baked realm of Daenerys Targaryen, was it fun to act with the dragons? Or were they temperamental divas who chewed — or incinerated — the scenery?

    “They’re not real,” he says, looking at me solemnly with his big, droopy blue eyes.

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Snoopy the Destroyer

    Has Snoopy just doomed us to another severe financial crisis? Unfortunately, that’s a real possibility, thanks to a bad judicial ruling that threatens a key part of financial reform.

    Some background: When catastrophe struck the troubled U.S. financial system in September 2008, the proximate cause was the looming collapse of three companies — none of which were banks in the normal sense of the word, that is, institutions that take deposits and lend them out. One of them was, of course, Lehman Bros.; the other two were The Reserve, a money-market fund, and American International Group, or AIG, an insurance company.

    Lehman declared bankruptcy, while The Reserve, which had lost money with Lehman, froze customers’ accounts, and was eventually forced into liquidation. AIG was rescued by an $85 billion credit line from the Federal Reserve; in return, the Fed took 80 percent ownership of the company.

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Faith's 2016 political mysteries

    The 2016 election is transforming the religious landscape of American politics.

    It's hard to imagine a Democratic presidential candidate receiving a mid-campaign invitation to speak at the Vatican.

    But on Friday, Bernie Sanders put out word that on April 15 he'll attend a gathering of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Both Sanders and Hillary Clinton, his front-running rival, have regularly praised Pope Francis.

    And on the day of Sanders' announcement, Francis released "The Joy of Love." The groundbreaking document signaled what can fairly be called a more liberal attitude toward sexuality and the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics.

    The pope didn't change church doctrine on gay marriage but was offering another sign that he's pushing the church away from cultural warfare and toward a focus on poverty, economic injustice, immigration and the plight of refugees.

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