ThinkFast: July 17, 2009

Pat Buchanan, thumbs up

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Last night, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow debated her colleague Pat Buchanan on the role of affirmative action in the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. When Maddow pointed out that 108 of 110 Supreme Court justices have been white, Buchanan responded, “White men were 100% of the people that wrote the Constitution, 100% of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100% of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, probably close to 100% of the people who died at Normandy. This has been a country built basically by white folks.”

In his first speech before the NAACP since taking office, President Obama told the audience that, while “the pain of discrimination is still felt,” there’s “never been less.” He also issued a challenge to African-Americans: “We’ve got to say to our children…you will face challenges [but]…that’s not a reason to get bad grades, that’s not a reason to cut class, that’s not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school.”

Senators “friendly to labor” have decided to drop card-check, the central provision of a bill that would have made it easier for workers to organize simply by signing cards saying they wanted a union. Several “moderate Democrats opposed the card-check provision as undemocratic.” Instead, “the revised bill would require shorter unionization campaigns and faster elections.”

The House Ways and Means Committee passed a health care reform package that includes a robust public option. The plan includes a surtax on the wealthy to pay for it. “We’re very, very proud of what we’ve done,” Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) said. The American Medical Association had endorsed the plan.

The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a $2 million check in return for the group’s endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay,” Politico reports. After FedEx turned down the offer, ACU signed on to a letter supporting UPS’ position on legislation that would have FedEx “negotiate union contracts for individual locations.”

The Senate voted yesterday to extend hate crimes legislation to include “people attacked because of their sexual orientation or gender.” The bill will also “make it easier for federal prosecutors to step in when state or local authorities are unable or unwilling to pursue hate crimes.” The House passed a similar bill in April.

A new study from the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and UC, San Francisco “found that more than one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who enrolled in the veterans health system after 2001 received a diagnosis of a mental health problem, most often post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.” The number of vets with mental health problems “rose steadily the longer they were out of the service.”

Two suicide bombers attacked two luxury hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia early this morning, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 50. “There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks on Friday, but initial suspicion is likely to be directed at Jemaah Islamiyah, which the United States government has placed on its list of terrorist organizations.”

Iranian opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi, will attend Friday prayer services today, making his first official appearance since last month’s disputed presidential election. “As word of Mr. Moussavi’s planned appearance spread, opposition supporters vowed to show up in large numbers to the vast prayer hall where Friday’s sermon and prayers will take place. There were reports that green prayer mats — the color of Islam and of Mr. Moussavi’s election campaign — were sold out across the city.” Check out Nico Pitney’s coverage of the Iranian uprising.

And finally: “We’re going to do that crack cocaine thing,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said to a bemused witness at yesterday’s Sotomayor confirmation hearing. The hearing room quickly cracked up. Sessions laughed along with the crowd, saying “I misspoke.” He then clarified to the witness, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, that “we’re going to reduce the burden of penalties in some of the crack cocaine cases and make them fair.”