On Hannity’s America tonight, host Sean Hannity interviewed conservative talker Rush Limbaugh. In one of his first questions, Hannity attempted to portray the media as being unfair to Limbaugh by characterizing him as wanting President Obama to fail as president. Limbaugh, however, quickly corrected Hannity, insisting that he does indeed want Obama to fail:
HANNITY: Last time I’m here, I ask you…do you want [Obama] to succeed. You gave a very long answer that got reduced to Rush wants Obama to fail. Which wasn’t what you said.
LIMBAUGH: Well, in a sense it was. It was. I don’t hide from it, I do want and I still want Obama to fail.
Later in the interview, Limbaugh reiterated his belief that Gen. Colin Powell endorsed Obama only because of his race and that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a racist. Limbaugh, however, said that he may be able to “overlook” her racism and support her nomination if he comes to believe that Sotomayor is anti-choice.
Fresh off arguing that GOP senators should “stand up for the white working class” by obstructing Judge Sotomayor, Pat Buchanan accused Sotomayor on MSNBC yesterday of “insanity” because “she tried to overturn a law in New York State which prohibits felons from being allowed to vote who are in the penitentiary.” Watch it:
Buchanan’s attack echoes a claim by the conservative Washington Times that “[t]here is growing evidence that Judge Sotomayor believes some races are more equal than others,” in part because Sotomayor voted to allow a challenge to New York’s felony disenfranchisement law to move forward:
In Hayden v. Pataki, a number of inmates in New York state filed suit claiming that because blacks and Latinos make up a disproportionate share of the prison population, the state’s refusal to allow them ballot access amounts to an unlawful, race-based denial of their right to vote. [...]
Yet, operating on a dubious and extremely broad reading of the Voting Rights Act, Ms. Sotomayor dissented from the decision. In a remarkably dismissive, four-paragraph opinion, she alleged that the “plain terms” of the Voting Rights Act would allow such race-based claims to go forward.
These attacks misrepresent Sotomayor’s decision. First of all, Sotomayor did not “tr[y] to overturn” anything. The majority in Hayden voted to toss several inmates out of court before they could be given a trial to determine whether New York engages in race discrimination. Judge Sotomayor’s dissent—and the 20 page dissent by Judge Parker which Sotomayor joined—said nothing about whether New York violated the Voting Rights Act; the dissents merely argued that the inmates should be given the opportunity to prove their discrimination claims at trial.
More importantly, Judge Sotomayor based her dissent, not on the notion that “some races are more equal than others,” but instead on the radical notion that judges should follow the law as it is written.
The plaintiffs in Hayden claimed that New York systematically discriminates against people of color by incarcerating them at higher rates than white New Yorkers. Although only 31% of New Yorkers are racial minorities, the plaintiffs claimed that 86% of the prison population are non-white. Moreover, the Voting Rights Act provides that no state may impose any voting restriction which sorts its citizens by race:
No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color . . . .
In a case called Chisom v. Roemer, the Supreme Court held that a state law violates the Voting Rights Act even if it unintentionally causes people to lose their right to vote on account their skin color. So if New York actually does systematically disenfranchise minorities by overincarcerating them, the Voting Rights Act forbids New York from continuing this practice.
Nevertheless, a majority of the court held that felony disenfranchisement laws are immune to scrutiny under the Act. Essentially, the court said that Congress did not really mean it when it enacted a law providing that “no voting qualification” may discriminate.
This is why Sotomayor dissented from the majority’s decision. As she explained in dissent, “[t]he duty of a judge is to follow the law, not to question its plain terms. I do not believe that Congress wishes us to disregard the plain language of any statute or to invent exceptions to the statutes it has created.” This textualist approach to the law is exactly the same approach advocated by conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Judge Sotomayor did nothing more than insist that judges cannot second-guess Congress—by its express terms, the Voting Rights Act applies to felony disenfranchisement laws. Perhaps this explains why 19 state governors, including conservatives like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and then-Texas Governor George W. Bush “have either restored voting rights to people in the criminal justice system or eased the restoration process.”
In April, the Environmental Protection Agency “formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, setting in motion a process that will lead to the regulation of the gases for the first time in the United States.” Though President Obama has said that he would “prefer that Congress address global warming rather than have the EPA tackle it through administrative action,” the EPA’s finding allows the agency to move forward with regulations to limit greenhouse gas pollution to build a clean-energy economy.
In a speech for the Heartland Institute yesterday, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said that the Senate could just “stall” any EPA regulation:
INHOFE: Don’t be distressed when you see the House passes some kind of cap-and-trade bill. And you know it could be worse and she could still pass it, so it’ll pass there. The EPA has threatened to regulate this through the Clean Air Act. That isn’t going to work in my opinion because we can stall that until we get a new president – that shouldn’t be a problem.
Make no mistake, Inhofe is an avowed opponent of EPA regulation. On the day that the EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced the endangerment finding, Inhofe released a statement arguing that “Congress should pass a simple, narrowly-targeted bill that stops EPA in its tracks.”
Unsurprisingly, Inhofe is also against a cap-and-trade program, which he calls “another bad option.” In his Heartland Speech, Inhofe confidently predicted that he will be able to block any cap-and-trade legislation that passes the House, saying that “in the Senate it will not pass” thanks to obstructionists like him.
But Obama’s recognition that we must finance health care reform — a good bulk of the $1.5 trillion over ten year estimate — from money already in the system is significant. The President has already identified about $300 billion in savings in his budget. Now, as Jonathan Cohn points out, he “is putting another $200 to $300 billion on the table” from additional savings in Medicare and Medicaid.
This makes the public plan all the more important. If MedPAC is identifying payment reforms that would lower health care spending, then the public health option could transfer those methods into the private insurance market by itself adopting these efficiencies and (through the miracle of competition) coax private insurers to do the same.
MedPAC’s recommendations will likely yield a good chunk of the change, as will the offsets Obama has already proposed. But if the President truly believes, as he states in the letter, that “without a serious, sustained effort to reduce the growth rate of health care costs, affordable health care coverage will remain out of reach” then he’ll likely have to add some teeth to his public option rhetoric. That means allowing the public option to use Medicare leverage to negotiate with providers.
I have been researching what may be the single biggest game changer for climate action in the next two decades — U.S. natural gas supply. Last week I attended a workshop where some of the country’s leading gas experts presented the remarkable new projections for near- and medium-term supply and then answered questions from some of the country’s top energy experts.
The bottom line is staggering. As one of the presenters put it, “If the current trend continues” for production of unconventional gas, then by 2020 “natural gas could displace half of the coal burning power plants.” If that is true, and the projections by the other experts were comparable, then natural gas alone could essentially meet the entire Waxman-Markey CO2 target for 2020 — without requiring gobs of new power plants to be sited and built or thousands of miles of new transmission lines.
There is simply no doubt that, other than energy efficiency and conservation, the lowest-cost option for achieving large-scale CO2 reductions by 2020 is simply replacing electricity produced by burning coal with power generated by burning more natural gas in the vast array of currently underutilized gas-fired plants (as I will discuss in more detail in Part 2). Natural gas is the cheapest, low-carbon baseload power around.
And it’s not just suppliers and industry experts calling for a major expansion of natural gas. In its detailed analysis of how the U.S. can quickly slash CO2 emissions and transition off of coal without building new nukes, Energy [R]evolution, Greenpeace (!) assumes a 50% growth in natural gas power generation by 2020.
UPDATE: I should note that a modern natural gas combined cycle plant has 60% or more lower CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour than a typical coal plant — and substantially lower (if not near-zero) emissions of a variety of toxic pollutants harmful to human health, perhaps most notably mercury. That’s why it is widely seen, even by groups as green as Greenpeace, as a plausible transition fuel for the next two to three decades as we aggressively ramp up wind, solar PV, concentrated solar thermal, biomass, geothermal, and other ultra-low-carbon energy sources.
The explosion in unconventional gas supply is being led by so-called shale gas (see Wikipedia entry here). Significantly, candidate Obama’s energy plan actually called for “early identification of any infrastructure obstacles/shortages or possible federal permitting process delays to drilling in “Unconventional natural gas supplies in the Barnett Shale formation in Texas and the Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas.” But shale gas extends way beyond those two plays:
Everyone who cares about clean energy and climate issues needs to become knowledgeable on shale gas — both its supply potential and the environmental risks associated with extracting it. Where to start? I’m glad you asked.
Reinforcing his ideological approach, Sanford claimed that regulating payday loans was incompatible with “limited government and maximized individual freedom.” State Sen. Joel Lourie (D) replied, “His vision for South Carolina is for ineffective, underfunded schools, for kids buying cheap cigarettes and for unprotected consumers.”
“I’m not trying to bring firearms inside the school,” said [Sen. Shane] Martin, R-Spartanburg. “You don’t need to carry it inside the school. But I’ve had teachers tell me they can’t exercise their (Second Amendment) rights traveling to and from school. They ought to be able to travel to school without having to leave their weapon.”
So while Sanford refuses to fix crumbling schools or prevent thousands of teacher layoffs or crack down on some of the most predatory lending practices around, he was willing to join a freshman senator’s “grand gesture” to the NRA. It must be more of that “reform” Sanford has trumpeted.
This morning, Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, spoke on the special challenges and opportunities for building an international climate change agreement with China, now the world’s top emitter of global warming pollution. In a speech at the Center for American Progress, where he had been a senior fellow before his appointment to the State Department, Stern explained that “the status quo is unsustainable” and that developing countries like China need to commit to measurable change:
China, and other developing countries, do not need to take the same actions that developed countries are taking, but they do need to take significant national actions that they commit to – internationally – that they quantify, and that are ambitious enough to be broadly consistent with the lessons of science. While this choice may be the more difficult one in the immediate term, it is in fact the road to prosperity and success.
In a new memo, CAP’s Andrew Light and Julian Wong explain the impressive gains China has made in building a clean-energy economy, though like Stern they note China is “not there yet.” Stern heads to China on Saturday with “John Holdren, the President’s Science Advisor, David Sandalow, DOE’s lead international official, and others from Treasury and EPA” for a four-day mission.
Todd Stern’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Thanks John. It’s a great pleasure to be back at CAP. I’m one of only, say, 3 or 400 people in this town who owe more than they can say to John Podesta – although I probably have a longer and richer pedigree in that department than most. In a nutshell, when it comes to commitment, integrity, toughness and smarts, John writes the book and the rest of us just do our best to keep up. I am honored to be here.
John and the CAP team have been at the forefront of the climate and clean energy debate for years, taking the fight to those who say we can’t, we shouldn’t, we don’t need to, it will cost too much, we should go slow; and promoting a comprehensive vision of a low-carbon future that strengthens the U.S. economy and protects our security and environment. It might seem second nature now to many of us to think of climate change as the spur to a low-carbon transformation of the global economy – a transformation rich with economic opportunity. But it wasn’t always so, and it was CAP that led the way toward this new understanding.
Of course, the need for action could hardly be more evident. With every passing month, the news from the natural front seems to get worse. Broadly speaking, we are seeing a convergence of two problematic sets of numbers – those showing global CO2 concentrations rising substantially faster than even the worst case scenarios of recent models and those indicating that dangerous climate impacts are likely to happen sooner than scientists used to think.
And we are all too familiar with the accumulating evidence of change: Among many other things, Arctic sea ice is disappearing faster than expected. The melting of permafrost in the tundra raises the risk of a huge methane release, with dangerous feedback potential. The Greenland Ice Sheet is steadily shrinking. Sea level now threatens to rise much more than previously anticipated, and water supplies are increasingly at risk with the melting of glaciers in Asia and the Western Hemisphere.
These facts on the ground send a simple and stark message: the status quo is unsustainable. That may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often the obvious is resolutely overlooked. It seems to me that anyone who wants to argue about how policy measures — such as the Waxman-Markey bill for example — are in some way too onerous should be required to explain what they would propose instead. Because the unspoken assumption of these critics — that we can carry on as we are — is just not so.
The tendency, when Americans focus on the upcoming Lebanese elections, is to see the conflict between the ruling March 14 Coalition and the opposition as a fight that’s all about Hezbollah. In reality, nobody can get anywhere in Lebanon without some kind of coalition, and the pivotal figure in determining the outcome will in many ways be Michael Aoun, a Christian. Elias Muhanna explains in a great piece for The National:
If the opposition prevails on June 7, headlines around the world will read “HIZBOLLAH WINS” even though the Shiite party is likely to hold no more seats in parliament than the dozen or so that it occupies today. It will, in fact, be the gains of the Free Patriotic Movement – and the affiliated parties of its Change and Reform Bloc – that will push the opposition into the majority, giving Aoun and his allies control of the largest block of seats in parliament.
Analysts and commentators have produced millions of words in an attempt to understand Hizbollah and its intentions, but Aoun and his movement have been overlooked. The FPM touts its ambitious and sweeping reform agenda, but the party – which sent representatives to parliament for the first time in 2005 – has only a brief track record in government and a leader renowned for his mercurial behaviour. Predicting the country’s course after the election is impossible, but it is clear that Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement are poised to play a major role – one that will test the party’s sincerity and determination to reform what it regards as a weak and ineffectual state.
The whole piece is very interesting. Not sure it has a quick “takeaway” conclusion, but the point I would emphasize to people looking at western press coverage of these events is that Lebanese politics is much more complicated than a black hats versus white hats struggle between Hezbollah and “the good guys.”
While many on the far right have railedagainst Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, comparing her to David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, no one has been quiet as virulent in their opposition as MSNBC’s Pat Buchanan. From insisting she is an “affirmative action” choice to mocking her efforts to learn English, Buchanan has set his target squarely on Sotomayor’s forehead. Media Matters made a compilation of his attacks. Watch it:
Today, ThinkProgress’s Ian Millhiser appeared on MSNBC to discuss Sotomayor, opposite Buchanan. Buchanan declared Sotomayor favors a system in which “white males” get “retarded and held back.” Millhiser replied:
When you look at her record, you understand that this is a judge who understands that she has to follow the law, regardless of what is popular. … It doesn’t matter what Judge Sotomayor thinks about affirmative action personally, because when you look at her record, she has consistently followed the law.
“Judge Sotomayor is not waging a culture war against white America,” Millhiser added. Watch it: