The Sotomayor News from Planet Conservative

Richard Viguerie, one of the founders of the modern conservative movement and a direct-mail king of the right, thinks the Senate GOPers are doing a pretty good job at the confirmation hearings of Justice-to-be Sonia Sotomayor. He put out this statement:

Led by Senator Jeff Sessions, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are starting to do what the McCain campaign and the Republican Party failed to do in the 2008 election: defining Barack Obama, his ideology, and his unconstitutional, authoritarian approach to governing.

By making the Sotomayor confirmation hearings about President Obama's governing philosophy—including his beliefs that judges should change constitutional principles and the law—Senate Republicans are showing that Obama's views are radical and dangerous. As Senator Sessions said at the hearings, those views are so inconsistent with the Constitution that they could be 'disqualifying' for Obama's judicial nominee.

Win, lose, or draw in this confirmation battle, that approach will pay huge dividends for Republicans. Exposing the President in these hearings will help Americans better understand that, constitutionally speaking, Obama cannot be trusted...

So hats off to Senator Sessions and the other Republicans who 'get it'.

Wow. He really is watching a different channel. How many Americans—of the small percentage of those who have watched the hearings for any extended length of time—are jumping off their couches and saying, "Gee, after seeing Senator John Kyl grill her, I now realize that Obaama is destroying the Constitution and cannot be trusted. Get me my pitchfork!"

I respect Viguerie for constantly putting ideology ahead of partisan loyalty. He blasts the Republicans whenever he thinks they're squishy. But if he believes the hearing so far has been a net win for the Rs, he's engaged in observational activism. A strict constructionist reading of the proceedings would score the GOPers as marginally significant at best. They have done nothing to bruise Sotomayor. They have done nothing to make the hearings a noticeable platform for advancing their retro views about the role of judges. I even wonder if the conservative base is following the hearings closely enough to be fired up by whatever Jeff Sessions and the others are doing, as Viguerie suggests. Let's see if GOP candidates next year run on these hearings. If that's what Viguerie is hoping for, I'll bet he's disappointed.

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A member of the Afghan national army calls for help as a member of the Afghan border police fires at anti-Afghanistan forces in the mountains surrounding Barge Matal in Afghanistan's eastern Nuristan province, during Operation Mountain Fire, July 12. Afghan national security forces and International Security Assistance Force's fought side-by- side during the gun battle, which started in late afternoon and lasted until coalition and ANSF forces forced the insurgents to flee in the early evening. Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew C. Moeller, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Cute Endangered Animal: Kangaroo Rat

This week's cute endangered animal is the kangaroo rat. Now you might not think that any animal with "rat" in its name would be cute, or in danger of disappearing, but both are true for several species of kangaroo rats here in the U.S. Despite its name, the kangaroo rat is not actually a rat, but rather a relation the gopher family. Currently, six species of kangaroo rats (genus Dipodomys) are facing extinction. They all live in the Western half of the US, starting in the Dakotas and extending West to California and Nevada, preferring desert habitats. The tiny animals measure just 2" at the shoulder, and like to get around by hopping like kangaroos (as much as 6" a leap!). Kangaroo rats are known for their love of dust baths, for cramming an incredible amount of food into their cheek pouches and, on occassion, for hiding under the crotches of hapless biologists.

The native kangaroo rat was thriving until the 1950s, when a two-tiered threat of agriculture and human development hit them: the farmers carried out pest-control campaigns against the rats (who found newly-tilled soil perfect for burrows), and new roads made it hard for rats to find new habitat. More recently, oil and natural gas exploration has been painted as a possible culprit in a number of rat deaths. Also, given that the rats relate their mating status and territory by thumping their long hind legs on the ground, one can only imagine that development also hinders intra-species communication.

The kangaroo rats' survival is important to environmentalists because the animals are a "keystone species" in their environments. With kidneys four times as strong as humans', kangaroo rats get most of their daily moisture from their food: seeds and nuts. By eating plants with the largest seeds, they allow plants with smaller seeds to flourish, which in turn effects the surrounding insect and bird populations.

Despite their importance to the ecosystem, the federal government has not been pro-active in protecting the kangaroo rat. Just last year, US Fish & Wildlife proposed cutting a California kangaroo rat's protected habitat by about 2/3. Conservation groups said they were going to sue the department, and Fish & Wildlife relented by changing the planned habitat reduction. Scientists said last year that they will use an Israeli satellite to take pictures of the rats habitat which will help them get an accurate population count. Though just how accurate the satellites will be remains unknown. "It's fairly rare for something so small to be a keystone species," UC Berkeley's Tim Bean told USA Today. "It's easier to track, say, bison."

Eco-News Roundup: Wednesday July 15

Curious what you might have missed yesterday? Here's a list of Blue Marblish stories from our other blogs.

Dept. of CYA: What does the new House committee healthcare report mean for you?

Dept. of IDK: When thinking about healthcare, should we factor in how it could be used for... evil? What if we get another Cheney in office? What then

Dept. of GITMO: DC Bureau Chief David Corn talks torture on NPR.

Dept. of TCB: Elvis wanted to work as a drug enforcement agent for Nixon.

 

Progressives

I've finally given up on progressives.

Lenses, that is.  I tried 'em for over a month and just couldn't adjust.  Distance vision was fuzzy everywhere except dead center, and the reading portion didn't work at all.  So I took them back and in a few days I'll have a pair of genuine old-man bifocals.  Just like my hero, Benjamin Franklin.

Welcome! 15 Baby Chinese Alligators

Very good news today from a place you might least expect it—the mouth of the Yangtze River: third longest river in the world, most economically important waterway in China, home to massive industrial development and the world’s largest hydroelectric dam.

Despite these obstacles, 15 critically endangered Chinese alligators—the most endangered of all crocodilians—hatched at the mouth of the Yangtze. They are the offspring of the first captive-born parents to successfully breed in the wild.

The hatchlings represent 10 years of work by the Wildlife Conservation Society and China's Department of Wildlife Conservation and Management of the State Forestry Administration, among others.

The efforts began after a 1999 survey of the only remaining wild home for Chinese alligators found fewer than 130 animals in a shrinking population.

Subsequently recommendations were made to reintroduce a group of captive-bred animals into the wild. Three alligators bred in China were released in 2003. A dozen more followed from North America, including some from the Bronx Zoo.

By 2008, three of the North American alligators released into the wild in China had successfully hibernated, paired up, and laid eggs... fueling hope the Chinese alligator might outswim extinction longer than the Three Gorges Dam—that killer (in part) of the near-extinct Yangtze river dolphin and destroyer of habitat of the critically endangered Siberian Crane. Short may this dam live.

But, hey, good job alligators and all those who are helping them.

 

Dear Nixon, Love Elvis

Elvis Presley may have been the king, but he wasn't much of a letter writer. In a 1970 missive to Richard Nixon in which he asked to be made a special agent in the budding War on Drugs, his sentences run together with the reckless abandon of a semi-literate speed freak. Plus, he also appears to really like Nixon, a hazy choice at best.

A few choice quotes from Elvis's letter to Nixon:

"The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do not consider me as their enemy or as they call it the establishment. I call it American and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out. I have no concern or motives other than helping the country out..."
"Sir, I am staying at the Washington Hotel, Room 505-506-507...I am registered under the name Jon Burrow. I will be here for as long as long [sic] as it takes to get the credential of a Federal Agent. I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good..."
"I was nominated this coming year one of America's Ten Most Outstanding Young Men...I am sending you the short autobiography about myself so you can better understand this..."
P.S. "I believe that Sir, were one of the Top Ten Outstanding Men of America also."

See the full Elvis letter here [pdf], or read a transcript here.

Video: America on $195 a Week

Sasha Abramsky, a frequent Mother Jones writer and the author of Breadline USA: The Hidden Scandal of American Hunger and How to Fix It, went on GRITtv with Laura Flanders Monday to talk about hunger and homelessness in the US. Joining him on a larger panel was Aubretia Edick, the Wal-Mart employee he wrote about here.

Watch the full video here, or a snippet below:

GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV), on cable, public television, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GritLaura on Twitter.com.

Who says the arcane job of rewriting the laws that govern hard-rock mining isn't of interest to Joe Sixpack? Certainly not Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who in testifying before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources today, deftly linked the reform of the nation's mining laws to the production of better beer. "Relative to the water that was used for Coors beer," the former Colorado Senator said, "we know that Clear Creek comes off the headwaters. . .where we have thousands of abandoned mines."

Salazar was testifying in support of two senate bills that would end the giveaway of minerals on federal land--a federal law from 1872 still allows companies to extract gold and other minerals royalty-free--and use the money to finance the cleanup of mining sites.  An estimated 500,000 abandoned mines have contaminated the headwaters of 40 percent of the West's streams. Cleaning them up will cost at least $32 billion.

For Salazar, citing Coors' iconic Clear Creek was a tip of the cowboy hat to Republican brewery scion Pete Coors, whom Salazar narrowly defeated in a 2004 Senate race. For decades, the Coors family has been a major donor to conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and John Birch Society and target of environmentalists. On several occasions, the Coors brewery in Golden, Colorado, dumped thousands of gallons of beer into Clear Creek, at one point killing up to 50,000 fish (perhaps they at least died happy). But starting in the early 1990s, Coors also began paying more attention to preserving its watershed. It joined forces with state agencies to clean up an abandoned mine along the creek and cap, grade, and replant the site.

The mining reform bill would bankroll those cleanups by requiring new mines to pay into a fund. But Salazar would like to see it go further by creating new incentives for companies such as Coors to clean up mines on their own. In 2006, he sponsored a "Good Samaritan" bill that would have allowed private interests to mop up contaminated sites without fear of being held liable for the pollutants found there. For example, in the 1990s, the State of Colorado and Coors had planned to stanch the flow from a mine tunnel that was leaching ten pounds of heavy metals into Clear Creek each day, but the state killed the project for fear of lawsuits.

Salazar's plea for better beer through mining reform was a big hit with freshman Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who has replaced him on the committee. "Your comments about Coors are particularly relevant to me, since Colorado is the number one producer of beer on a state-to-state basis," he said. "It's an important industry in Colorado and it's important to all of us."

Then the microphone was passed to Senator James Risch (R-ID), who was none too impressed. "Colorado may brew it," he said, "but Idaho grows the barley and the hops."

Innovation in Healthcare Arguments

Conor Friedersdorf has three reasons he doesn't think he'll be able to support any of the progressive healthcare reforms currently on tap.  Here's #2:

It shouldn't be too difficult to imagine another Dick Cheney or Richard Nixon in the White House. Are we really comfortable assuming that the state will never use its role in health care to pressure political opponents, or collect frightening kinds of data, or politicize medical decisions more than is now the case? Isn't there any size and scope of government that progressives deem to be too big on prudential grounds? Why doesn't this put us there?

Points for originality here: I don't think I've ever heard this objection before.  And around here we like new and different.  Still, while I bow to no man in my contempt for either the Trickster or the Dickster, even I can't really see either one of them scheming to deny Ralph Nader a liver transplant or something.  But then again, maybe my imagination isn't active enough.

On the more conventional front, here's reason #3:

I keep seeing the argument that America is the leading health care innovator, and that if our system looks more like what Europe has, there won't be anyone left making strides in research and development. I haven't seen a convincing rebuttal, though there may well be one. Links?

This is actually the only objection to national healthcare that I find sort of interesting.  But here's the problem: the reason it's hard to find a convincing rebuttal is because the argument itself is purely speculative in the first place.  Sure, it's possible that the only thing keeping medical innovation alive is the (approximately) one-fourth of global healthcare spending accounted for by the quasi-private portion of the American market.  But that's all it is: possible.  There's no real empirical argument at work here, and given the current state of the global healthcare market, there probably can't be.  That makes it pretty hard to construct an empirical rebuttal.

So I guess I'd reframe this.  Instead of simply suggesting that innovation will die if America adopts national healthcare, how about breaking that down into three or four very specific arguments about what kind of innovations we're talking about and why they'd be destroyed if the feds funded 80% of American healthcare instead of the current 45%?  Let's hear some details and some proposed mechanisms.  Then maybe we can take a crack at having a discussion about it.