Environment

Palin takes her cartoonish extremism to the next level, endorses comparison of Obama to Hitler

Late last night, Sarah Palin followed in the footsteps of Glenn Beck and started echoing hysterical right-wing cries of  “Obama=Hitler!” She tweeted an endorsement of a recent article by Thomas Sowell, which has been making the rounds in right-wing circles, that compares the Obama administration to Hitler’s Nazis via the $20 billion fund provided by BP to compensate victims of the Gulf oil spill. Apparently Palin agrees with Sowell that Obama’s decision to accept money offered by BP is exactly the same as Hitler forcibly seizing private assets from German companies.

Sowell’s piece also compares Obama voters in 2008 to the people whose support helped put Hitler in power – so-called “useful idiots,” who had not been involved in the political process before and were easily manipulated.

Palin routinely takes some of the most extreme positions out there, and proves both her ignorance and her detachment from reality, in her tweets and Facebook posts. These make up the bulk of her communications operation and are picked up and echoed widely in both the right-wing and, what she calls, “lamestream” media. On both her Twitter feed and Facebook page, she recently blamed environmentalists for the BP disaster, ridiculously implying that it was THEIR idea to conduct deep sea offshore drilling. And her most recent tweet laughably refers to Alaska as the “USA’s Fort Knox,” as if the actual Fort Knox is somewhere other than the U.S.

Despite Sarah Palin’s best efforts to marginalize herself, she still plays kingmaker in the Republican Party, actively endorsing and stumping for candidates. And she enjoys a platform on FOX News, on which she’s a regular contributor. This latest statement of hers comparing the president to Hitler, however, should be a cause of concern for anyone with close ties to the former Alaska governor.

In endorsing Sowell’s views, Palin has done three things that really cast her at odds with most Americans and seem to take extremism to a new level.

  1. She essentially called Obama voters in 2008 (53% of the electorate) “idiots,” doubling down on how she mocked Americans’ economic pain when she asked in her Tea Party Convention speech earlier this year, “how’s that hopey changey stuff workin’ out for ya?”
     
  2. She equated holding BP accountable with Nazism and Adolph Hitler – this is more egregious than Rep. Joe Barton’s apology to BP for its having to bear some responsibility for the Gulf disaster and is squarely at odds with Americans’ desire for more corporate accountability, not less.
     
  3. She clearly put herself out there with the most extreme fringes of the Tea Party and Radical Right by absurdly, and offensively, equating Barack Obama with Adolph Hitler.

Sarah Palin really should be made to answer for this. And the candidates she is on the campaign trail with and supporting – like Rand Paul in Kentucky, Sharron Angle in Nevada and a long list of other Republicans – need to, despite having their own extreme views, consider whether Palin’s over-the-top views are really something they want to be associated with.

PFAW

Oil and the Courts: Will History Repeat Itself?

As BP begins a risky attempt to stem its still-leaking oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and oil starts to lap against the shores of the Gulf Coast, lawsuits against the oil giant have begun. The devastating oil spill has already surpassed the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, and the litigation that follows it is sure to be just as contentious and lengthy. Two years ago, 19 years after the Valdez spill, the tens of thousands of victims of the disaster saw their case end up before the Supreme Court…and the Court gave Exxon Mobil a huge handout. While the facts this time are different and the legal issues won’t be exactly the same, if their case ends up before the high court, victims of the BP spill will have a legitimate reason to worry –the Roberts Court has displayed a clear willingness to go out of its way to keep individual citizens from holding big oil accountable.

In 1989, an Exxon oil tanker carrying over a million barrels of crude oil crashed off the coast of Alaska, spilling at least ten million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound. The spill destroyed wildlife habitats and the livelihoods of fishermen up and down the Northwest coast. Those affected by the spill entered into years of litigation to try to recover from Exxon some of what they had lost. In 1994, a jury awarded the 32,677 plaintiffs in the case $5 billion in punitive damages. An appeals court judge halved the amount to $2.5 billion.

Then, in 2008, the Supreme Court gave Exxon Mobil a $2 billion gift. As our Rise of the Corporate Court report explains:

[E]ven this pared-down judgment was way too much for Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Souter and Scalia. In 2008, this bloc reduced the punitive damage award from $2.5 billion to $507.5 million. Indeed, the only thing that stopped them from deleting the award altogether was that they were one vote short of being able to find that a corporation is not responsible for the reckless acts of its own managers acting in the scope of their employment.

What the 5-justice majority found, over the objections of dissenting liberal justices who accused them of legislating from the bench, was that it would impose in maritime tort cases a 1-1 ratio between compensatory and punitive damages—a formula found nowhere in the statute and essentially pulled out of a hat made by a big corporation. In dissent, Justice Stevens chastised the majority for interpreting the "congressional choice not to limit the availability of punitive damages under maritime law" as "an invitation to make policy judgments on the basis of evidence in the public domain that Congress is better able to evaluate than is this Court."

But Exxon, which amazingly ended up making money on the spill because of the resulting increase in oil prices, got its way with a corporate-leaning Court and ended up paying punitive damages equal to a day or two of company profits.

The Exxon Valdez spill was the largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters. Until now, that is.

As oil keeps leaking from a BP oil rig into the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Coast has started to feel the impact of what the White House yesterday declared to be the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

President Obama called the spill a "potentially unprecedented environmental disaster." 11 people died in the rig’s explosion, and the resulting spill has already begun to destroy Gulf Coast ecosystems and has started a devastating ripple effect through the economy.

An early estimate put the economic impact of the spill at $12.5 billion. And the damage could continue for decades.

Not surprisingly, the lawsuits from those who are losing their livelihoods have begun. As of May 21, more than 130 had been filed.

Lawsuits against BP will no doubt involve millions, and probably billions of dollars in both compensatory and punitive damages. While compensatory damages are essential to helping victims recover from a disaster of this size, punitive damages serve to dissuade the company and others like it from acting recklessly in the future. The Roberts Court’s willingness to invent a rule capping punitive damages against Exxon doesn’t bode well for anyone hoping to hold BP accountable for this disaster and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The Court has a responsibility to ensure that ordinary people get treated fairly, even when pitted against big corporations—but the current Supreme Court has made it clear that we can’t always count on that.

This disaster is a tragic reminder of why we need Justices who won’t favor the interests of the powerful over the rights of ordinary citizens.

 UPDATE (May 28, 2:30 PM):

For a sense of the scale of the disaster, take a look at NASA's stunning time-lapse video of the spill unfolding (via Mother Jones):

PFAW

Senator Shelby Should Maybe Review His Website

There are plenty of reasons to be outraged by Senator Shelby's decision to put a blanket hold on all executive branch nominations in an effort to steer more federal dollars to his state.  After all, most people would agree that it's good for the country for the Senate to be able to move forward on key nominations to the Army, Air Force, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense.

Senator Shelby, of course, would rather have more pork for his state, but you'd think that even he would be outraged by the principle of refusing an up or down vote on nominations.  After all, his own senate website rails against filibusters on judicial nominees.

As a U.S. Senator, I believe that the review of judicial nominations is one of the most important responsibilities of the Senate, and I firmly believe that each of the President's nominees should be afforded a straight up-or-down vote. I do not think that any of us want to operate in an environment where federal judicial nominees must receive 60 votes in order to be confirmed. To that end I firmly support changing the Senate rules to require that a simple majority be necessary to confirm all judicial nominees, thus ending the continuous filibuster of them.

And that's how he feels about nominations for lifetime seats on the federal bench.  If he's that committed to guaranteeing up or down votes on nominees who will have their positions for life, then obviously he'd support up or down votes for nominees who serve at the pleasure of the president.

Yet Senator Shelby is still obstructing these nominees to gain political leverage for his own pet projects.

I think there's a word for that.

PFAW

Business at the Court

It's the first Monday in October, and that means another Supreme Court term is upon us. In addition to cases addressing church-state separation and First Amendment protections, the Court will be hearing a load of cases relating to business and finance that could have broad implications for all Americans.

The justices’ decisions will be closely watched at a time when, constitutional scholars say, Obama administration initiatives are generating fundamental questions about the structure and limits of government power that will, in short order, reach the court.

“There will be major ways in which these interventions will produce legal and constitutional issues,” said Michael W. McConnell, a former federal appeals court judge who is now director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center.

And these aren't even the kinds of business cases we're used to talking about with relation to the Court.

In recent terms, the business docket was studded with cases about employment discrimination, federal pre-emption of injury suits and the environment. With the exception of a single employment case, all of those categories are missing.

In their stead, important questions about bankruptcy, corporate compensation, patents, antitrust and government oversight of the financial system will confront the justices.

PFAW

If You Care About the Environment . . .

You should also care about the Supreme Court.

In a setback for environmentalists, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that federal regulators may consider costs when deciding whether to order the operators of power plants to install protections for fish.

By 6 to 3, the court overturned a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, which had ruled that the Clean Water Act barred the Environmental Protection Agency from engaging in the kind of cost-benefit analysis that it had proposed.

The recent narrow-but-good decision in Massachusetts v. EPA shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking that the Supreme Court is a particularly green institution at the moment, and today’s 6-3 decision (Justice Breyer wrote a concurrence) should be a reminder that the “liberal” wing of the Court is far from uniform. There’s a big difference between a good Justice and a great one, especially when it comes to environmental issues.
 

PFAW

Rebuild and Renew America Now

Yesterday, People For the American Way joined a growing coalition of organizations in support of President Obama's budget priorities. While People For doesn't "do" health care or housing or the environment, we do "do" equal opportunity and justice for all -- and that's what this bold and progressive budget is about. You can read the statement of support we joined here. The Rebuild and Renew America Now campaign has a lot of work ahead of it. I hope we all do our part to realize this budget's vision of an America that has turned its back on the "harsh trend of rising poverty, unemployment, hunger and homelessness."  

PFAW

Washington Post Editorial Gets It Wrong On Nominees

An editorial in today's Washington Post calls on the Senate to act quickly on President Bush's nominees to the Fourth Circuit. But as PFAW Legal Director Judith E. Schaeffer pointed out in a Letter to the Editor, the Post has ignored serious concerns that make these nominees very controversial, and the Senate should not rush to confirm them. You can read that letter below:

To the Editor:

PFAW