Pulpit Bulls

Policy, Politics, and What's In Between

California’s Obama Eight

Posted by Eric on June 10, 2009

My friend Chris has been doing an excellent series of posts over at his blog Packherd detailing the eight congressional districts in California that Obama carried, despite being represented by Republicans in congress. Chris runs some numbers, makes some maps, and has a great run-down on the Democrats’ future chances in each of these districts. If I worked for the DCCC or the California Democratic Party, I’d snatch Chris up quickly.

If you are a California native like me or just a political junkie who wants to know the going-ons in every race anywhere (also like me) you will want to check out this recent post about California’s 25th congressional district.

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Posted in California, Politics | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Newsflash: ‘Strict Constructionists’ Really Just Strict Republicans

Posted by Eric on June 9, 2009

Yesterday in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that elected judges must disqualify themselves from hearing cases involving a person who contributed a significant sum of money to the judge’s campaign coffers. The case comes amidst the Sotomayor “judges as policymakers” hullabaloo and what’s interesting is Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissenting opinion makes clear reference to the policy implications of the court’s decision. Matt Zeitlin explains:

[Roberts] then goes on to list 40 possible sources of bias that state courts would have to consider — with no guidance from the Supreme Court — and argues that because the Court’s decision could open up a Pandora’s box of bias claims, “This will inevitably lead to an increase in allegations that judges are biased, however groundless those charges may be. The end result will do far more to erode public confidence in judicial impartiality than an isolated failure to recuse in a particular case.”

Now, these are perfectly fair points to make and the issues that Roberts raises are something that the Court should consider. But you’ll notice that they have nothing to do with the letter of the law or the due process clause specifically. Instead, Roberts is pondering the policy implications of the majority’s decision and coming to the conclusion that those outcomes would be negative ones.

This isn’t really surprising for judicial observers but it is something that always bears repeating. With the sometimes-exception of Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court is an extremely partisan body. The Rehnquist Court was no different. Take the decision in Bush v. Gore: There you had five supposedly state’s rights conservatives forcing the state of Florida to stop counting ballots, making conservative George W. Bush the de facto president. The dissenters were four liberals siding — not with the federal government, as their judicial philosophies would seem to imply they would — but with the state of Florida. That is, none of the nine justices rooted their decision in explicit Constitutional mandates or even meaningfully on past precedent. Rather, the Republicans voted like loyal Republicans and the Democrats voted like loyal Democrats.

All this talk about “strict constructionists” and “activist judges” makes for good talking points, but it has little to do with how the court operates. When conservatives oppose Sonia Sotomayor for being a judicial activist, they are for all intents and purposes opposing her for being a Democrat. That may or may not be a reasonable action, but it should be understood for what it is.

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Conservatives Criticize Kennedy Health Care Plan For Being A Health Care Plan

Posted by Eric on June 8, 2009

I recently stumbled on Keith Hennessey’s blog. He’s a conservative policy wonk and was an economic policy coordinator in the Bush White House. Today he wrote up a summary of Ted Kennedy’s health care bill, which is a pretty straight forward overview and commentary from the Republican side of things. His post gives me the opportunity to address this point, which we are sure to hear more about soon:

Health insurance plans could not charge higher premiums for risky behaviors:  “Such rate shall not vary by health status-related factors, … or any other factor not described in paragraph (1).”  Smokers, drinkers, drug users, and those in terrible physical shape would all have their premiums subsidized by the healthy.

In the coming months conservatives are sure to raise hell over healthy people subsidizing sick people’s health care. But this isn’t some malevolent consequence of a universal health insurance system — this is a consequence of health insurance! That’s what a risk pool is — the healthy pay into the pool, subsidizing the sick, with the knowledge that eventually when they need care, it too will be subsidized by those who are healthy. That’s how Hennessey’s health care worked when it was bankrolled by the government while he worked in the White House. That’s how his care works now that he is (presumably) insured on the private market. When Hennessey retires, that’s how his Medicare will work too.

Anyway, if you are interested you can download the draft of Kennedy’s legislation here.

Posted in Health Care, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Don’t Mess with Pirates

Posted by Eric on June 8, 2009

JollyRoger

As the creators of bit torrent website Pirate Bay continue to slog through legal waters — defending their website over charges of copyright evasion — Pirate Bay users aaaarrrrrrrrr striking back against those who would shut the service down:

Lawyer Henrik Pontén knows all about getting on the wrong side of pirates and just recently had yet another reminder that he is widely hated on the Internet.

Just recently Pontén received a letter from the Swedish tax authority (Skatteverket) informing him that his request for a change in his personal details had been accepted, which came as quite a surprise since he had made no such request.

From May 29th 2009, said the letter, 43 year-old Henrik Pontén would have his name changed and become known as Pirate Pontén, undoubtedly to the high amusement of millions of file-sharers.

Of course piracy is a crime and these types of shenanigans are not the least bit funny. I wish Mr. Pirate Pontén the best in getting his original name back.

In related news, the Swedish Pirate Party — a political party fighting to legalize filesharing — just won 7.1% of the vote in the EU elections and will get one or two members in the European Parliament. Shiver me timbers!

Posted in intellectual property | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Moocows’ Methane Madness

Posted by Eric on June 7, 2009

CowJamelle has an interesting post up about the environmental threat of cattle. Methane gasses emitted by cow burps and farts severely damage the environment, and curbing the amount of methane released will undoubtedly have to be a part of any adequate plan to address the threat posed by global warming. Studies have shown that converting a cow’s diet from (heavily-subsidized) corn and soybeans to easily digested feed like flaxseed and alfalfa would be an important step.

Jamelle mentions the political problems posed by shifts away from corn feed, although I think he gets it backwards when he writes, “our high rate of beef consumption is key to maintaining an absurd and outdated subsidy regime. And while reducing our beef consumption certainly won’t put an end on our massive and unsustainable agricultural (read: corn) subsidies, it could play a part in reducing the “need” for said subsidies.” But corn isn’t subsidized because cattle farmers needed cheaper feed, rather corn is fed to cattle because it’s cheap, in part because of heavy federal subsidies.

One last note: even changing cows’ diets, won’t make beef production sustainable. It takes about 15 pounds of feed to make 1 pound of beef, 6 pounds of feed for 1 pound of pork and 5 pounds of feed for 1 pound of chicken. Red meat just isn’t efficient and if we are serious about addressing the harms of anthropogenic climate change, there are going to be some tough choices to make in the coming years regarding our diets.

Lastly, I apologize for the title of this post and promise that in the future I will refrain from any use of the word moocow.

Posted in Environment, Food Policy | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Sotomayor a Lackluster Wordsmith?

Posted by Eric on June 7, 2009

Last week, Stephanie Mencimer penned a smart Mother Jones article on Sonia Sotomayor’s way with words. Although impressed with her intellect and accomplishments — and still confident in her ability to do the job — Mencimer worries that her prose may not be on par with some of the court’s heavy weights:

The court’s influence and lasting legacy is what it commits to paper. Sotomayor may be a force of nature in the courtroom, where she’s said to shine, but it’s hard to imagine her going head to head in print with, say, Antonin Scalia. The conservative justice is the master of the wicked one-liner and, while something of a smart aleck, he influences the public debate on so many issues because of his writing—whether he’s in the majority or dissenting and whether he’s right or wrong. Scalia’s opinions are cited in leading constitutional law casebooks more than any other sitting justice. In the 2002 case Republican Party v. White, for instance, he quipped, “campaign promises are—by long democratic tradition—the least binding form of human commitment.”

Because of the subjective nature of jurisprudence, it is incredibly important to have well-written opinions; a precedent articulated forcefully will be much more persuasive when future courts look towards the ruling. In that regard, you would expect that this would make conservatives more receptive to her nomination while giving liberals some pause, but of course it won’t play out that way.

On a tangential note, I will say I’m a bit surprised that justices still write their own opinions. Nobody minds that the president has a team of speechwriters and I doubt anyone would be shocked to learn that most Senators and Representatives don’t author their floor speeches, and none of them write their press releases or constituent letters. Presumably respected justices have clerks with quality phrase-turning skills, so why don’t they get them in on drafting the language of their judicial decisions?

Posted in SCOTUS | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Outlawing Tobacco

Posted by Eric on June 5, 2009

Outlawing Tobacco Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has just proposed full-scale tobacco prohibition as an alternative to the Family Smoking Prevention Tobacco Control Act — a piece of legislation that would increase the federal government’s ability to regulate tobacco.

Obviously this is a really horrendous idea and the last thing we should do is create a black market of nicotine-products ruled by gangsters and drug-cartels. However, I’m pretty sure it’s in the job description of “Oklahoma Republican” to propose really horrendous ideas, so on that count it’s good to see that Coburn still takes his job seriously.

I will admit to being a bit surprised by this news since in the past Coburn has voted against things like tobacco taxes paying for increased access to children’s health insurance. However, I guess you need to figure that this is really just pretty typical Republican reasoning insofar as the thinking goes that government intervention into the personal lives of citizens is terrific, so long as that intervention doesn’t lead to important social services like health care for kids.

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Race-Baiting Just Doesn’t Work Like It Used To

Posted by Eric on June 4, 2009

So former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Some-Place-Where-They-Really-Hate-Immigrants) likens Sonia Sotomayor to some kind of brown-skinned klanswoman while RNC Chairman Rush Limbaugh says the way you get ahead in the Obama Administration is by hating white people. Yet Sotomayor is still popular and Barack Obama is still really popular. That reminded me of this Politico post back in the 2008 election from a GOP-conducted focus group where some attack ads were shown to conservative-leaning swing voters backing Obama:

54 year-old white male, voted Kerry ’04, Bush ’00, Dole ’96, hunter, NASCAR fan…hard for Obama said: “I’m gonna hate him the minute I vote for him. He’s gonna be a bad president. But I won’t ever vote for another god-damn Republican. I want the government to take over all of Wall Street and bankers and the car companies and Wal-Mart run this county like we used to when Reagan was President.”

The next was a woman, late 50s, Democrat but strongly pro-life. Loved B. and H. Clinton, loved Bush in 2000. “Well, I don’t know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I’m sick of paying for health insurance at work and that’s why I’m supporting Barack.”

Now it’s the same rub, but it’s Sotomayor instead of Jeremiah Wright or Bill Ayers. It didn’t work then and it’s hard to see it working now. The people who already hate Obama because he hates white people, well, they already hate Obama because he hates white people. Repeating this nonsense doesn’t seem to be effective at all but the Republicans don’t really have any attack that works and it makes for entertaining television, so what the hell.

In the end I am sure that the media will perk up while Tom Tancredo and Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan keep spouting off with this type of stuff that nobody cares about.

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Mr. Obama Goes to Cairo

Posted by Eric on June 4, 2009

Certainly Barack Obama speaking in Muslim countries won’t, on its own, change the regional political dynamics in the Middle East. Juan Cole thinks that yesterday’s Bin Laden tape demonstrates Bin Laden’s fear that Obama will become “an opinion leader for the Middle East” noting that “Obama does have a chance to be much more widely admired and emulated there.” Of course, changing the perception of the West in the Muslim world will hinge on things like not starting needless wars in Arab countries, reducing our military presence there, and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With that said, this speech was a really terrific idea and was smart, nuanced, and mature. Watch the whole thing:

I am sure conservatives will frame this speech as some sort of Chamberlain-esque act of appeasement. If you want a taste of right wing nitpicks, head on over to The Corner, although I felt the jabs were disappointingly muted. However, Andy McCarthy does provide some very strange criticism over Obama’s evocation of John Adams (who once wrote something not antagonistic about Islam) and the fact that Thomas Jefferson owned a Koran. McCarthy points out, however, that the founding fathers didn’t really like Islam or Muslims all that much, and he apparently thought this would have been an appropriate event in which to correct the record.

For those interested, I have posted the White House’s full text of the speech below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

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What Can We Do About Cuba?

Posted by Eric on June 3, 2009

CUBA
The Obama Administration’s Cuban quid pro quo of democratic reforms in the island nation in exchange for increased access to trade and mobility seems to have hit a roadblock:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton emerged from talks with the foreign ministers of nine North and South American countries after an unsuccessful struggle to hash out a compromise that would have granted Cuba membership, provided its regime accepted democratic principles. […]

One after another, the leaders stepped forward to demand that the 47-year-old suspension of Cuba’s membership be lifted immediately. Several condemned it as a relic of the cold war.

On theoretical grounds the White House’s new approach to Cuba still doesn’t really make sense; we have relations with tons of countries with authoritarian leaders and economic structures we don’t approve of, so why not have relations with Cuba? On more pragmatic grounds though I do think this approach has an upside. Cuba-US relations would be a positive sum development for both nations and if we could somehow use the promise of these relations to give more political freedom to Cubans, well that would be pretty great.

However, Latin American leaders seem averse to this trade off and just want the US to stop treating Cuba differently than every other country. Without Latin American support, it’s more likely that Cuba will call the Administration’s bluff and if that happens, we should probably just take a step back, admit that the status quo is idiotic, and agree to start trading with the Cubans, whether or not Havana wants to be nicer to their people.

Posted in Cuba | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

A New Member of the Nuclear Family

Posted by gregoryholmes on June 2, 2009

There has been quite a bit of chatter this week about North Korea’s second nuclear test and what the United States should do about it.

First of all, even though North Korea is testing a nuclear device on par with Fat Man and Little Boy, I believe that this development ultimately changes little in terms of the balance of power in East Asia for the same reason that North Korea is allowed to develop nuclear technology.  To illustrate my point, look at what happened to Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007.  In both cases, these countries were attempting to develop nuclear technology but in both cases their programs were taken out by precision air strikes because neither country had any credible capability to execute a serious reprisal, whereas North Korea has the military capability to instantly strike against Seoul and inflict thousands of casualties.

As long as there are 23 million South Koreans living within instantaneous reprisal distance of missiles and artillery aimed at them from right across the demiliterized zone, North Korea has a credible threat hostage and can continue its nuclear program.  We can tighten sanctions, but sanctions are already about as tight as they can go.  We can attempt a military strike but, without the ability to instantly suppress the entirety of the North Korean military, (a task that would require something as powerful as a nuclear weapon) we would have to be prepared with immediate war on the Korean penisula and thousands of South Korean casualties.

The reality of the situation is that there is no way to put pressure on a self-sufficient military dictatorship without putting millions of South Koreans at risk.  North Korea is the most isolated nation in the world and trade sanctions are only likely to hurt the civilians, not encourage them to revolt.

Without the ability to instantly take out both the North Korean program and suppress the military response to such a strike, North Korea has free reign to continue its research.  The good news is that, while it has the bomb, it is not nearly as close to developing the requisite technology to build accurate mid to long range missiles.  ICBMs are some of the most advanced technology that mankind has developed, and their development was the byproduct of an arms race between two superpowers.  North Korea is not a superpower and its development is not going to continue as such.  Moreover, North Korea knows that any use of such technology would result in their ultimate destruction.

At the end of the day, the North Korean nuclear technology does not change the balance of power on the peninsula.  It does make North Korea more of a threat but only to South Korea, which is nothing new.

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The Invisible Hand in Health Care

Posted by Eric on June 2, 2009

From CQ, Jane Norman writes about the palpable discouragement of free market types with regard to coming health care reform:

“I have never seen the free-market proponents in a debate as discouraged as they are over health care,” Greg Scandlen, a health expert at the Heartland Institute, wrote on the group’s Web site. The bleak mood, he said, was compounded by the fact that “there was no unity. Everyone has his or her own pet peeve in health care and is uninterested in unifying around a theme.”

Interviewed later, Scandlen had few kind words for Republicans in Congress, who would seem to be natural allies. While they are often criticized for being too ideological, he said, they have displayed no ideology on health care, and not even much real interest. “They are virtually useless,” Scandlen said. “There are a few bright lights, but not many.”

This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. The American public wants health care reform and politicians are accountable to these people. Reducing moral hazard among the insured so that patients feel more financial risk isn’t going to deliver any votes.

What is surprising (or at least pretty stupid) is that these conservative groups really want to push Republicans to beat the free market drum. Imagine the repercussions if you increased the US health care system’s susceptibility to market pressures. Cuts to S-CHIP mean less care for kids. Eliminating preexisting condition clauses allow insurance companies to deny care to a greater number of sick people. Eliminating the employer tax exclusion for health insurance would lead a lot of employees to seek insurance on their own where they would feel the true brunt of health care costs. This is what free market health care looks like. And where does it lead? To a lot of people even angrier than they are now, in more precarious circumstances. Pretty soon these people will have had enough, and they will be demanding reform. If this ever happens you can bet we’d get reforms a whole lot more sweeping than what the Democrats are proposing now.

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The Original Queen of Comedy

Posted by Eric on June 1, 2009

Writing on Sotomayor and the now infamous Ricci v. DeStefano ruling, Ann Coulter drops some hilarity:

If only successfully applying a condom were relevant to firefighting, public school graduates raised in single-parent homes would crush the home-learners!

I know Coulter rubs some folks the wrong way, but truly she is a comic genius. No question. She invented the “Stephen Colbert.” She was impersonating rightwingers when Colbert was still doing Strangers With Candy. She was doing the Colbert when Stephen still pronounced his name Col-BURT.

And the woman never breaks character!  She even tricked conservatives into inviting her to CPAC where she satirically called John Edwards a “faggot” and actually got the attending Republicans to laugh!

Seriously, someone give this lady a medal.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Relocating the Palestinians

Posted by Eric on June 1, 2009

As if the obstinacy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his pushback against the Obama administration’s efforts to end Israel’s settlement expansion wasn’t enough, we get encouraging developments like this:

But 53 Israeli parliamentarians have moved to explore another kind of expulsion: Under a proposal to be reviewed this week, Jordan would become the official homeland for Palestinians now living in the West Bank.

Among the challenges facing the proposal is this: nobody asked Jordan if it would support such a plan.

Nobody asked the Palestinians either, I’d imagine. Now this is not official Israeli government policy, but the Knesset is made up of 120 members. That’s frighteningly close to half of the Israeli parliament who thinks it is appropriate to entertain these kinds of proposals.

There have been hopeful signs that the White House is serious about ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But things like this remind us that we are dealing with a number of right wing Israeli government officials who are unwilling to make an honest attempt at peace. The Palestinian government, on the other hand, has an armed faction that is a terrorist organization.

I really do hope the White House continues their efforts here. But not to state the obvious, peace really isn’t possible when you have two sides both unwilling to recognize the other side’s right to exist.

Posted in Israel-Palestine | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Hip Hop Makeover Continues

Posted by Eric on May 30, 2009

Via Smooth Like Remy, we get this music video from Young Cons, two white rapping Republicans:

If I was you, I would just imagine what such a video would consist of and not actually watch the thing. Take that as a warning.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

A Quick Thought

Posted by Eric on May 29, 2009

Texas Republican Sen. Jon Cornyn on Gingrich’s and Limbaugh’s relentless attacks on Sonya Sotomayor:

“Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials [and] I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.”

Elected Republicans are obviously fearing a female and Latino backlash and trying to figure out how to approach the Sotomayor nomination. I think that ultimately some Republicans on the Hill who may have opposed her are going to decide that they cannot afford to be seen as contributing to these racist and sexist attacks and are going to (a) go soft on her in the hearings and (b) eventually vote in favor of confirmation. The base’s biggoted bullshit is counterproductive to the GOP’s future electoral success and will likely prove to have been counterproductive in impeding Sotomayor’s nomination. A circular firing squad at its most entertaining.

Posted in SCOTUS | Leave a Comment »

Politics and Performance Parking

Posted by Eric on May 29, 2009

Matt Yglesias writes up a nice post about performance parking. The basic argument  is that parking spaces in cities are under priced. Cheap parking is a product of irrational worries by business owners and city policymakers that if parking gets more expensive, people won’t be willing to go to their shops. But of course the two choices aren’t between overly cheap parking that results in parking spots that are always occupied and expensive parking where spots are always empty. Parking prices can be adjusted to a point where they are still as in-demand as they are now, while generating increased revenue for a city. In fact, you would probably make shoppers less likely to dawdle after a meal or stop to chat on their cellphone, allowing more people to use a parking spot in a single day, and thus actually creating a greater influx of daily commerce. Upon performance parking’s political feasibility, Yglesias writes:

But politically speaking, the best way to make change appealing is probably to earmark the revenue specifically for use in the area getting the performance parking. That way instead of just having the argument about the correct pricing of space on the street, you can sell it to the neighborhood by saying “performance parking is going to repair the sidewalk, refurbish the bus shelter, spruce up this park, and then provide ongoing revenues necessary to keep everything spic and span going forward.”

Sure, it would be great at first, until some enterprising politician comes along and defeats his opponents on the grounds that we should cut “parking taxes” to help consumers and businesses alike, while promising no cuts in services. Soon, you’re back to cheap parking, plus paying for extra street repairs and park maitenance that you can’t afford. Ah, democracy! Gotta love it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Taxin’ and Relaxin’ in the Golden State

Posted by Eric on May 28, 2009

Michael Hiltzik in the LA Times argues that the impetus of California’s cataclysmic budget woes aren’t my home state’s uptick in spending over recent years. Kevin Drum disagrees, before concluding:

California has multiple problems.  Prop 13 reduced our tax base permanently and made it all but impossible to adjust other taxes to make up for it. Citizens have approved bond measure after bond measure in the seeming belief that because they don’t raise taxes, they also don’t cost any money.  The governor and the legislature have relied on way too much smoke and mirrors.  But spending has also gone up.  There’s just no way to understand the whole picture without acknowledging that.

While spending isn’t the sole problem that many Californian conservatives would like to blame for the state’s fiscal woes, it’s also not as blameless as Hiltzik implies. Also worth mentioning is California’s outlay to tax ratio. Californians only get back 78 cents for each dollar of federal taxes, ranking it 43rd of 50 for money tossed back into the state. It’s a high income state (although also one with high cost of living), so it should be expected to pay more than your average state. With that said, when discussing California’s budgetary abyss and potential funding solutions, it’s certianly something that should be brought to the table.

Posted in California, Taxes | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Making Conservative Democrats Squirm

Posted by Eric on May 28, 2009

The LA Times reports on the long road ahead for Republicans attempts to stop Sotomayor’s confirmation:

They are spotlighting her decisions on wedge issues such as gun rights that could put pressure on Democrats from conservative states. And they are preparing for confirmation hearings that they hope will spotlight major differences between the political parties’ legal philosophies. […]

But other conservative activists see lines of attack that would make a filibuster unnecessary: They aim to paint a portrait of Sotomayor to make conservative Democrats squirm, eroding support from within Obama’s party.

Really? My suspicion is that the number of Senators who have ever lost re-election based on their “party’s legal philosophy” or have been defeated because of their Supreme Court confirmation vote hovers around zero. The GOP can flip a coin: heads they decide to piss off the base and support Sotomayor and she gets confirmed. Tails, they decide to please their base and oppose Sotomayor (while pissing off Latinos everywhere) and she gets confirmed anyway. Those are the two options and any pipe dreams about sinking Sotomayor’s nomination are just that.

Posted in Politics, SCOTUS | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Sotomayor Smears v. The Truth

Posted by Eric on May 27, 2009

Rightwingers have been dropping mad diss tracks smack talkin’ Sonia Sotomayor. Smart people have given some pretty convincing rebuttals that you should hear. Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of original thoughts to add, so what can I do? I know: aggregate! For an awesomely convenient list of criticisms and responses concerning our new Supreme Court nominee, meet me below the fold…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in SCOTUS | Tagged: | 1 Comment »