A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
The Friday News Roundup: The Supreme Court upholds a Michigan law banning affirmative action. The FCC announces plans for new net-neutrality rules. And Georgia’s governor signs an expansive gun-carry law.
- Ed O'Keefe congressional reporter, The Washington Post.
- Laura Meckler staff writer, The Wall Street Journal.
- Manu Raju senior congressional reporter, Politico.
Watch A Featured Clip
The Supreme Court’s decision this week to uphold Michigan’s ban on affirmative action at state institutions could open the door for more states to put similar laws in place at their own institutions.
Seven states including Michigan currently have similar laws on the books, Manu Raju, a senior congressional reporter for Politico, said during Diane Rehm’s weekly domestic news segment. With this new ruling, “we could see a lot more,” he said, along with more concern from some voters about racism.
Watch the full discussion below
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Watch the full Domestic News Hour segment below.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Supreme Court upholds a Michigan law banning affirmative action. The FCC announces plans for new net neutrality rules. And Georgia's governor signs an expansive gun-carry law. Here for the national portion of the Friday New Roundup, Manu Raju, senior congressional reporter at Politico, Laura Meckler, staff writer at The Wall Street Journal, and Ed O'Keefe, congressional reporter for The Washington Post. You are always an important part of the program, so do join us by phone.
MS. DIANE REHMCall us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And it's good to see all of you.
MR. ED O'KEEFEGood to see you, Diane.
MS. LAURA MECKLERGood morning, Diane.
REHMThank you. Laura Meckler, let's talk about Supreme Court decision. Does it spell the end of affirmative action?
MECKLERNo, I don't think it does really. It doesn't really address the heart of whether affirmative action itself is constitutional. The Supreme Court has already said that under certain circumstances, colleges and universities can have constitutionally permissible affirmative action programs. And this doesn't change any of that. What this does say is, frankly, it affirms what a lot of people thought was the law for a long time, which is that if voters want to pass an initiative, as they did in Michigan, that says, no, we don't want affirmative action, that's okay.
MECKLERSo that had been challenged by a lower court ruling that had said, no, it was unconstitutional. Now, the Supreme Court basically said, yes, it is. But, you know, having said that, I will add one thing, which is that the decisions that the court produced, you know, so many different decisions there were -- showed that the court is very fractured on this issue. Not only do you have a liberal wing and a conservative wing, who view the underlying issue very differently, but even the legal reasoning is different among conservatives and liberals. So this issue is far from settled on the court. But for now, at least, affirmative action itself still is constitutional.
MR. MANU RAJUYeah, I mean, even though the decision was 6 to 2, it was sort of a narrow and modest decision. I mean, Anthony Kennedy, the justice who wrote the opinion, said that this is essentially something that should be determined at the ballot box rather than at the court level. So, you know, they even have the support on the majority side from a liberal justice, Stephen Breyer, who really surprised a lot of folks in siding with the conservative majority on this issue. But he said that, look, he doesn't think that race-based admissions process should be the determining factor in a college admission, but it should be a factor.
MR. MANU RAJUSo he's sort of consistent with the Michigan -- with the approaches that say states should have the authority to make the rules themselves. So when this issue does come back up to the Supreme Court, I don't think we can necessarily say...
REHMAnd it will.
RAJUAnd it will. And I don't think we can say that they're definitely going to rule and end all affirmative action in college admissions processes.
REHMAnd Ed O'Keefe, what about Justice Sotomayor's...
O'KEEFEWell, she had the most interesting, I think, opinion on all this, in that, she expressed it at all. Four-and-a-half years into her tenure on the court, for the first time she read a dissent from the bench. Only a few months after saying that she doesn’t' like the idea of justices doing that, because she doesn't think they should -- felt so strongly on this one, however, that she read big chunks of it. And she said, it's worth repeating here, the refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable.
O'KEEFEAnd she argues throughout her 60-plus page opinion, look there are people in this country who need this assistance. She refuses to call it affirmative action. There's a lot of people actually who have suggested that when it comes to college admissions, you shouldn't use that phrase. Her phrase is race-sensitive admissions policy. And there's someone who would not be in the position she's in today, were it not for policies like that at Princeton and at Yale Law School. And she's perfectly happy to talk about that -- spent most of her book talking about it.
O'KEEFEVery clear, she was very upset with this. But it earned an interesting retort from Chief Justice Roberts, of course, because she had said that there are people who -- well, she said that the court should not sit back and wish away these issues of race. And he retorted very quickly to say that -- to disagree with the sense -- view on the cost and benefits is not to wish away rather than confront racial inequality. He says people can disagree in good faith. But perhaps we shouldn't be as personal as she was in her dissent. Interesting comments from her, though.
REHMInteresting. Yeah. Ed O'Keefe, he's with The Washington Post. Let me also say, we are video-streaming this hour of the Friday News Roundup. Georgia gun law, tell me about that Manu.
RAJUOh, yeah. It's kind of referred to as the 'gun everywhere' law. This is a law that Nathan Deal, the governor, signed that essentially allows folks to bring guns virtually everywhere where people may allow it. It includes bars, churches, if the church owner -- owner of the church allows that to be brought on to the premises, airport screening areas, all the way up to the actual security checkpoint, government buildings up until the security building itself.
RAJUThe NRA really cheered this law on. This was a big pro-Second Amendment law. You know, when you look at the politics in this state, I mean Nathan Deal is up for reelection. He's facing a primary challenge on the right. The gun issue is as potent as ever. Even after Sandy Hook, you're seeing more states actually loosen gun restrictions rather than tighten them. And the result of that being that the power of the gun lobby and the gun-control folks just don't have that kind of clout, particularly in a conservative Southern state like Georgia.
MECKLERWell, and it's notable though that his sole Democratic opponent for governor, a state senator named Jason Carter, also voted for this measure. I think the notable thing, you know, we've talked -- even I -- on this program before -- I've talked and I know you've talked many times about gun control, especially in the wake of the Sandy Hook disaster -- massacre, of not that long ago. And, you know, a lot of people predicted that we were going to finally have some gun-control laws after that -- that that had be -- there had been political space open for it.
MECKLERBut as we have seen, in fact, there have been more pro-gun laws passed in the wake of that than -- or I should say following that than really further gun-control measures.
REHMAnd how do you account for that, Ed O'Keefe?
O'KEEFEWell, I was counting it up just before we started again. Essentially five big states enacted stricter laws after Sandy Hook -- California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and New York. They all either put in new restrictions or new requirements in their background checks. They limited the access to or the size of weapons. It's caused some blowback in New York for Andrew Cuomo, because there was concern among moderate Upstate voters that he perhaps had gone too far. And one of the gun manufacturers is planning to move out of the state and move down to Alabama, a more gun-friendly state, because of it.
O'KEEFEBut there are other states who have also an active interest in pro-gun laws. Georgia's not in a vacuum. South Dakota permits school boards to establish school sentinel programs that would allow either school employees or volunteers to show up with a weapon...
O'KEEFE...and perhaps protect the school, if they pass a training program. In Tennessee, they allow people to have them in their cars, no matter where that car is parked. In Wyoming, a judge can decide whether or not he, or someone else in his courtroom can be holding a gun. All of these things have happened, essentially, since Sandy Hook. Nathan Deal following up on that. We should note, today, the NRA having it's national meetings. So he signed this bill just in time, essentially, to probably bask in the glow of those -- at the convention. And undoubtedly it will help him a little bit in November.
RAJUAnd I would add that the state -- one of the states that did enact a tougher gun-control law, Colorado, saw some blowback from some of those legislators who voted for that gun-control measure. Two state senators were recalled in the elections that were heavily funded by the NRA, showing the clout of the gun lobby in a state like that. And also could have implications for Mark Udall, who's up for reelection in Colorado, voted for the Manchin-Toomey Background Checks Bill. That's something that the NRA is targeting in that state.
RAJUThere's going to be -- it's going to be one of the closest senate races in the country. So even in some of these states where they have tried to go further, they have experienced this kind of blowback. And that's why you're seeing people like Michael Blumberg come in and promise to spend, you know, $50 million to try to create that kind of momentum -- that kind of fierce political machine on the gun-control side to push back against the NRA. We'll see if it works.
REHMBut how -- how big is $50 million against the gun lobby, Laura?
MECKLERWell, I don't know the specific numbers, but the gun lobby has proven itself, you know, year in and year out to be incredibly well funded and powerful. And what I think people who look at this have concluded is the issue isn't so much that necessarily large majorities of everyday Americans support their cause, but the people who care about this issue on the pro-gun side, really care about this. The intensity is very, very intense. Whereas the people who would like to see more restrictions maybe favor it, but it's not necessarily their number-one issue.
MECKLERSo, you know, and I shouldn't have, in my previous comments sort of dismissed the fact that, as Ed pointed out, there have been states that have enacted more...
MECKLER...gun-control measure. And I don't know what the exact figures of pro versus con in the states is, but I just think that it's striking, given that the tragedy that we saw was of just such enormity and it touched so many people on such a core level. I mean, as a parent, you know, I felt, you know, so sad for those parents. And I think that so many people felt that way, that you thought maybe something was going to happen. But it doesn't seem that way...
MECKLER...at least in many states.
O'KEEFEThey tried and they failed certainly at the federal level. In fact, after that shooting at Fort Hood just a few weeks ago, one of the first things Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters was, well, you know, why can't we at least get that background check proposal passed, the one that 9 in 10 Americans were in favor of, at least in The Washington Post poll. He said it and it didn't cause any kind of reaction in Capitol Hill, because people were like, we're over that. We've moved on. And until the political will develops itself, either through the November elections or in some other way, they're not going to take it up.
RAJUBut of the pro-gun people, they will say that they wanted -- they've actually responded on the school safety issue, such as in this Georgia law, which actually allows schools to arm staff members. So that's been the argument from the NRA to say that, look, we should allow more guns for security guards, people in school to fight back in case someone -- a mad man comes into the school and does something as tragic as they did in Sandy Hook.
REHMBut in the Fort Hood situation, individual guns were not supposed to be allowed on that base.
O'KEEFERight. And in response, and for several years, there have actually been proposals to allow service members to have at least a personal weapon with them when they're on a military base. Because, you're right, you're not supposed to. The argument's been, A, you're infringing on our service members' Second Amendment rights and, B, if someone does try to cause trouble on a military base, they can take out their weapons and stop them.
REHMEd O'Keefe of The Washington Post, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Manu Raju of Politico -- they're all here to answer your questions, your comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the National Hour of the Friday News Roundup, today featuring Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal, Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post, Manu Raju of Politico. Let's go from guns in Georgia to Cliven Bundy, the standoff between a Nevada rancher and the federal government. Ed O'Keefe, it's come to an end. Tell us what it's all about.
O'KEEFEYeah, to some extent it's come to an end, though here we are still talking about it. But he essentially made comments in the New York Times, I guess, yesterday where he suggested that he's driven through some parts of Nevada where low-income African Americans life. And he's wondered to himself whether they'd be better off still being slaves. I think that's one way to characterize it.
O'KEEFEAlmost immediately all those Republicans who had run to his defense started to separate themselves from him -- distance themselves. Rick Perry, the Texas governor suggested that Bundy was the side issue to the greater concern the conservatives have about the federal government, the Bureau of Land Management having such wide control over big swaths of western states.
REHMAnd take us back to what started the whole argument.
O'KEEFEBundy has cattle that had been grazing on BLM property for several years. And the agency basically came in and said it's time to stop that.
O'KEEFEI believe it -- yeah.
O'KEEFEYeah, generations. And they essentially removed the cattle and it caused this great uproar among his supporters and himself. And it became a cause célèbre for conservative lawmakers, for conservative radio talk show hosts, for some elements of the Fox News channel and other places. And it speaks to a concern that a lot of people out west, and frankly here in the District of Columbia, have about the federal government controlling property.
O'KEEFEAnd A. people being allowed onto that property either to raise cattle, to raise crops, to develop it for commercial purposes or also in some states, and here in the district, not having access to that land for taxable purposes. PILT is an acronym you hear a lot from western lawmakers, payment in lieu of taxes, because a lot of these big chunks of land are controlled by the federal government. And those states argue, if they weren't there's an opportunity for tax revenue.
REHMHere's an email from Robert on this subject. He says, "Focusing on Bundy's claim, isn't he essentially saying he's entitled to steal taxpayer property because he's always done so? The purloin property is federal and belonging to millions of American citizens."
RAJUAnd that's been the hard thing for some of these Republican lawmakers to square. While they say that, look, the government should not have this kind of overreach and not reach into the lives of ordinary citizens going about their lives, you know, he has broken the law. So the question -- they also say that he should be abiding by the law. So how do you square the two? He owes the government about a million dollars in fees that he stopped paying because of his protests that would -- the deal I'm saying that, you know, you're not allowed to graze your cattle on the federal land while they were trying to protect an endangered species, the endangered desert tortoise in an area west.
RAJUSo, you know, that's been the issue that, you know, yes, the government may not -- maybe shouldn't have this kind of power and this overreach but you should also kind of follow the law.
REHMIt was interesting that Senator Rand Paul and Senator Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, referred to Mr. Bundy's supporters as patriots. And when Mr. Bundy made those comments about slaves, apparently Rand Paul said, at first, he had no comment.
MECKLERWell, by the end of the day he had a comment and, you know, he was definitely working hard to distance himself saying, you know, repudiating those comments about race that he had made. So, I mean, it definitely is a object lesson in you've got to be careful who you put up on a pedestal, especially -- you know, presumably none of these national political figures, you know, knew this guy, you know, maybe had ever met this guy, had any kind of understanding of where he was coming from other than the discreet issue at hand.
MECKLERSo it didn't take much for this stuff to come up. This was not some, you know, investigative reporter who went and found something he wrote in college. This was a reporter from the New York Times who showed up, was the only one who did show up at a press conference slash rally for his supporters and just, you know, put on the tape recorder and listened. I mean, it was just that simple.
REHMSo what happens now, Ed?
O'KEEFEWell, you know, a lot of these people who have -- and we should point out, Rand Paul wholeheartedly disagrees with Mr. Bundy. And Senator Heller clarifies that he completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy's "appalling and racist statements" unquote.
MECKLERYou're using air quotes as you say those things. They don't realize that.
O'KEEFEYes, I am. The web audience can see this, the radio people have no idea. What happens is, you know, clearly people who were with him and now are against him are going to try to distance themselves and hope that this goes away. But there is that issue of, you know, does the federal government perhaps have too much control of certain parts of western states, of Alaska, even here in the district. And should there -- is there a way to find some kind of happy medium?
O'KEEFEWhen I say the district, I mean the restrictions they put on the National Mall, the fact that they -- you know, there's a lot of property in this city that is not on the tax rolls that the city government would like to be taxed. That's what I mean when I say that.
REHMBut isn't that somewhat different among -- yeah.
O'KEEFEIt is, it is, it is. But what I'm saying is that there are lawmakers out there who would like to have a conversation about federal control of land...
MECKLERBut you know...
O'KEEFE...and that separate of Bundy they've been trying to have it for years. At first they saw this as an opportunity to finally highlight it and he's totally perverted the situation.
RAJUNow they want...
REHMNow what is going to happen to Mr. Bundy's cattle?
RAJUThat's the million dollar question. I mean, they're still guarding the cattle as far as I know and they're...
REHM...with drawn guns.
RAJU...drawn guns. And, you know, whether the government can actually seize that remains to be seen. But look, if people stop paying attention to him, stop talking about him, if the rights stop talking about him, particularly in light of his comments, maybe that'll lose some of his power and his clout. I don't know, maybe he backs down. But maybe he doesn't care either so it's hard to know.
MECKLERWell, you know, I think the more important, frankly, potential fallout of this whole thing is less about his cattle, which at the end of the day are just sort of a symbol of the whole thing anyway, and more important is that the Republican Party has a huge political problem with its appeal to minorities in this country. And -- both African Americans and Hispanics. And, you know, they -- the party sort of powers that be are very aware of this. And they've been trying to work on it and trying to do more outreach.
MECKLERBut, you know, you can open up, you know, a hundred outreach offices in African American neighborhoods and that will be just squashed with a comment -- if you find out Republican powers are backing this guy who said these offensive things. And I don't know if this will take off like that within the African American community or the Hispanic community or not. But if it does, then that is very damaging, I think, for something much bigger than this one guy and his cattle.
REHMAll right. And another land issue, the XL Pipeline.
REHMAnd President Obama has postponed his decision, why?
O'KEEFEWell, the excuse that the State Department is using now is that there is a court case working its way through the State of Nebraska. And until that one is resolved, federal agencies shouldn't have to necessarily weigh in in the regulatory process.
REHMAnd why is that seen as an excuse?
O'KEEFEBecause the concern is that if the court rules in one way or another, either for it or against constructing the pipeline, that's going to change the agency opinions, which they would have to change anyway with State Department claims. Look, final opinions from about eight federal agencies were due by the end of the month.
O'KEEFEThis court case is underway in Nebraska, which essentially stopped the construction of the pipeline, or even planning for it, because a state court ruled that the state legislature and the governor had overstepped their bounds by giving TransCanada, which is the company that wants to build this pipeline, the authority to start doing so, arguing that there was a public works commission that essentially had the right. And they hadn't yet ruled in.
O'KEEFEWhat this does is it really upsets the applecart for about six Senate Democrats, maybe seven Democrats who are running for Senate seats across the country who are on the record saying, I want this thing built yesterday, that it has to happen, that it's good for the economy, it's good for our national energy usage.
O'KEEFEAnd it continues to put this divide now between more moderate Democrats who are, you know, in favor of expanding our energy capabilities and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party that wants nothing to do with this, that will stand in the way of it, has supported the State Department slow-walking it and is creating incredible headaches for not only the president but Secretary Kerry.
MECKLERI mean, at his heart I think the reason why Ed has called this an excuse is because what this does is it allows President Obama to push the decision off again past this November's election. And making a decision requires making a choice between, as he said, moderate senators and dangerous senators like Mary Landrieu from Louisiana who has campaigned for this, and environmentalists who believe that this would be a disaster.
MECKLERSo this has been a tension that the president has faced for years on this. And it's been postponed -- you know, kicked down the road one time after the next. So, you know, it's going to be -- at some point presumably someone's going to have to make a decision one way or another. But evidently it's not going to be in 2014.
RAJUI think if you look at the raw politics of this, I mean, the president probably made the only decision that he could. Because, look, if he built the pipeline, the moderates and the Republicans say, it's about time. They're not going to give him any credit for it. But if he punts it, the liberals and the donors are happy about it. And the donor class is furious about this pipeline. They don't want it to go through. And those are the people that the White House needs to put money into the Super PACs and the Democratic Campaign committees in these midterm elections.
RAJUSo if you depress your base, that's going to hurt you in the end. And for these moderate Democrats, yes, they are on record calling for the pipeline but it gives them an opportunity to say, I'm fighting the president on this issue. And so then it allows them to distance themselves from the White House.
REHMWhat is the truth about the number of jobs that the Keystone XL Pipeline would create of a permanent nature?
RAJUI think that number is in dispute. You hear of people from the environmental community saying that this is -- these are temporary jobs, that they've given the White House disputes whether this will have a long term job creation. Others say that it'll be shovel-ready. The other question is about the environmental impacts as well, you know. But the State Department, when they did its environmental assessment, essentially said that the environmental impact would be somewhat negligible
O'KEEFEBecause they said that the oil would find its way into the country no matter what, even if this pipeline wasn't built. And if it was done through trucks, for instance, that could have a worse impact for the environment. So, you know, you'll see these -- the debate happen on both sides about whether this makes sense moving forward.
REHMBut I think we have to remember also that this oil is not for us.
MECKLERWell, I mean, no oil is for us or not for us. I mean, it's a world market for oil. So you can either -- it's sort of a misnomer to think about whether any particular barrel of oil is going to any particular place. It all kind of gets produced throughout the world and it goes onto a world market and it gets distributed. So it's not -- I think the people who really are expert in this would not necessarily say it was true one way or the other.
REHMSo what's ultimately going to happen, Ed?
O'KEEFEI suspect there will be a Friday afternoon in late November or December of this year when yet another announcement is made...
RAJU...before a holiday.
O'KEEFE...I'm thinking Black Friday -- Black Friday of this year the State Department will finally tell us what's next. And it will upend our weekend and we'll be talking about it the following week on this show.
RAJUAnd if the Republicans will control the Senate, I bet they approve that pipeline pretty quickly.
REHMManu Raju and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." The Justice Department announced they're going to consider clemency for certain nonviolent criminals who were put in long term sentences for drug use, sale and so on. Tell me about this.
MECKLERWell, essentially what the Justice Department said this week was that they're going to canvas the entire federal prison population essentially to find inmates who committed these low-level drug crimes and could be released early. And, in fact, would already be out if the sentencing guidelines that are now in place were in effect when they were -- when they were sentenced it was at sort of the height of -- many of them height of the drug war. And there were tougher and tougher consequences for drug crimes.
MECKLERAnd now there's been an adjustment and I think what we're seeing with this review of the offer, essentially encouragement of these people to apply for clemency is what it comes down to. Which then the president can grant if he so chooses. Essentially they're welcoming those applications. And it's part of, I think, the overall reassessment of this sort of war on drugs and a recalibration of how it should be approached, that maybe, you know, stuffing our federal prisons with low-level drug criminals was not the smartest move...
REHM...and the overcrowding of those prisons.
MECKLERRight. I mean, there's financial implications of this and the idea...
REHMYeah, of course.
MECKLERSo you have essentially people -- the people eligible for this, I believe, have to have already served ten years in prison and who would've received a shorter sentence had their case been heard today.
REHMSo are both Democrats and Republicans in favor of this?
O'KEEFEFor different reasons, yes. You know, Peter Baker's a frequent guest of yours on this show. In his book about Bush and Cheney, was it "Days of Fire" I think it's called, there's a passage in there where he reports that on inauguration day as they were driving to the capitol, George W. Bush turned to President-Elect Obama and said, you've got to establish a clemency and a part in policy in your administration as soon as you can because it's going to cause problems for you. Remember Scooter Libby, the parting of the clemency for him was a big headache at the end of the Bush presidency.
O'KEEFEThis appears to be the president trying to do that and to try to focus the power of clemency on people that aren't powerful, people that are not Scooter Libby or Mark Rich, but on people who are languishing in prisons unnecessarily, at least in the views of the Justice Department. Why this is a very popular issue on Capitol Hill at least among both parties is for different reasons.
O'KEEFEConservatives see it as a government efficiency and spending issue that there's too much money being spent needlessly to put these people away for minor offenses.
O'KEEFELiberals, Democrats turn around and say, there's an issue of disparity in sentencing...
O'KEEFE...the erosion of inner city families especially more than any other and an economic effect. If all of these people are going to be put into prison then they're not providing for their families in some meaningful way outside. There are at least four different legislative proposals in the works right now on the Hill. Pat Leahy and Rand Paul have one. Mike Lee and Dick Durbin have another. Rand Paul and Cory Booker are preparing to work on one together as well. And there's a House Republican proposal, all of them moving through the process with an understanding among everyone that at some point they'd like to do something legislatively.
RAJUYeah, it's a real shift in the whole tough-on-crime political dynamic that's kind of ruled politics in the past generations. I mean, remember 1988 the infamous Willie Horton ad that was used against Michael Dukakis, made him look weak on crime. Those days are sort of over. And part of it also on the Republican side has been the belief from the religious community pushing hard for a more compassionate approach to folks who were involved in these nonviolent offenses.
RAJUAnd that argument does resonate with folks on the right. So you have that combination with the cost concerns that Ed mentioned as bringing Republicans to take a different look on this. And, you know, there's actually chances of passage, maybe not this congress, but potentially the next one.
REHMIsn't there also the reality that even within these prisons you have lots of drug use?
MECKLERYou know, I'm not an expert on that subject. I wouldn't doubt it, but that doesn't necessarily -- I think, you know, if they're in prison...
REHMIt doesn't figure in here, yeah.
MECKLER...still using drugs, I'm not sure that helps their clemency application frankly, 'cause, you know.
O'KEEFEWell, it is one of the criteria. You have to have good conduct in prison. So if you've been using drugs in prison you're probably not going to get pardoned.
REHMOkay. All right. Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we've still got other things to talk about. But I want to get to the phones, so stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. I'm going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. To Houston, TX. Hi, Rebo, you're on the air.
REBOListen, I -- this racist statement is one of the main reasons why I think affirmative action and other things that will help other people of color to excel in whatever they want to do if they want to enhance their lives, this is the epitome of why we need it. Because there -- the mindset have been embedded for years and years. And also, on the other side, the mindset of slavery. And that mentality has been embedded for years and years.
REHMAll right, Manu?
RAJUWell, I think that the real concern from folks who support the affirmative action programs and the concern with what the Supreme Court did is that it's going to depress minority students in schools and public schools and in institutions. Right now, there are seven states that have these laws on the books that are similar to Michigan's that would deny the use of affirmative action in using public schools in their admissions process.
RAJUBut you're going to see potentially a lot more now with the Supreme Court rule. So folks like the caller certainly are going to continue to voice those concerns.
MECKLERI'll just add, though, that the rationale that universities used for affirmative action is very different than what the caller mentioned. What the universities say is this is not about limiting past of current discrimination, it's about the value of a diverse student body.
MECKLERSo just to be clear about that.
REHMAll right, let's go to Daytona Beach, FL. Hi, Becky.
BECKYHi, Diane. Yeah. Well, regarding Georgia's expansive gun regulations, it can't beat Florida. Here gun owners are now building gun range in their backyards and it's legal because a few years ago, Governor Scott signed a bill where local officials can be find and removed from office if they interfere with new state gun laws. The problem is the police -- their hands are tied. All they can do is ask the backyard shooters to call before they start shooting.
BECKYSo the police can separate felons from the backyard shooters. There's no regulations on how these ranges can be built. You can hang a few cans from a clothesline. Besides accidental shootings, my fear is that this will lead to more stand your ground cases where neighbors will confront these gun range nuts, and you can figure out the rest from there.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. And I'm sure gun owners would not like to be referred to as nuts.
O'KEEFEYes, that's true.
REHMIs that all you have to say?
O'KEEFEYeah. I mean, look, there's the Second Amendment. As long there's a Second Amendment, there's going to be discussion about this.
MECKLERYou know, my question for the caller is how many people is she and how many people does she know, like, have this as their central issue? You know, how important is this...
MECKLER...to people in terms of their voting for members of the legislature who passed this.
O'KEEFEYeah. And Rick Scott up for reelection.
O'KEEFEHow much will that drive there if the voting turn against him.
REHMExactly. All right to Kings Mountain, NC. Hi, Eric.
ERICHello, Diane. It's an honor to be on your show.
ERICYou're the greatest and listen to you for years.
REHMThank you so much.
ERICI just wanted to say that in the whole debate about guns and school and concealed carry and everything, on your show or various others, I've never heard anybody talk about Pearl, MS shooting where the assistant principal prevented further children from being killed by using his own gun.
REHMAnd, Ed, you're shaking your head yes.
O'KEEFEIt's true. And that's -- and he's right. Everyone cites that as an example of if there's someone at the front door, whether it's a resource officer or whether people know that in the principal's office, the assistant principal is packing heat, it might deter somebody from walking in and hurting children. And that is why, in many of these states, you've seen these bills advanced because that's a hard argument to fight against.
REHMAll right. Let's go to St. Louis, MO. Jerry wants to talk about something completely different. You're on the air, Jerry, go right ahead.
JERRYHello. Thank you, Diane. My son, back a couple of years ago, committed an awful crime. It was an armed robbery where he robbed the pizza car driver and was subsequently convicted and received a 10-year sentence. A few months later, an African American young man committed exactly the same crime, robbed the pizza car driver and he used a BB gun. He got a 20-year sentence.
JERRYIf anyone could explain to any of us why that disparity in sentence and why that young man will serve double the time as my son and others have served much less, you know, given our justice system. You know, I just wanted to outline this issue, the sentencing disparities that I think run throughout our criminal justice system.
REHMYou are right on. Go ahead.
RAJUYou always hear a lot of folks who are pushing hard to reform the criminal justice system, advance that argument that there are a disproportionate amount of African Americans who get longer jail sentences that most white folks do. And that's a big argument. You hear people like Cory Booker who have aggressively made that case. And I think that's one of the reasons why people are taking this seriously right now.
REHMAnd to Cleveland, OH. Tracy, you're on the air.
TRACYThank you. I have some questions about the Georgia gun decision. Does the Georgia governor consider all those dead children just collateral damage? I mean, in other words, a necessary side effect to the all-important right of permit holders to carry their guns almost anywhere?
MECKLERWell, I don't think that was actually a question. I think it was more of a statement in the form of a question, so I think we can just let it lie where it is.
REHMAll right. And finally to Wendy in St. Augustine, FL. Hi there, you're on the air.
WENDYHi. Hi. Thank you. I have questions about Florida's system. My son is presently in prison and he was put in prison the year after they did away with parole in Florida. So I'm concerned that there is no such thing as parole. And also, the 10-20-Life thing gives the judges no discussion on individual cases in deciding a case on its own merits and what the person did, their history. The 10-20-Life thing rule that they must give them 10, 20 or life.
REHMAnother bid for reform.
O'KEEFEAnd that's one of the biggest tension points is why have judges, if legislators are going to be setting these mandatory sentences that you've heard for years, judges on the bench complained that they have to impose different sentences than they'd like because of the law. So it's another element of the debate. You're hearing it all here.
RAJUYeah. No, I agree. I mean, I -- you know, in terms of the legislative prospects this year, I think you may actually see a vote in the Senate, which is, you know, while there are going to be a bunch of show votes that will take shape for the rest of the year, this is actually something that has a bipartisan support that can get through the Senate because of concerns like these that are real and that people recognize.
REHMLet me ask you all about the FCC this week talking about so-called net neutrality rules. How surprising was Tom Wheeler's comment, Manu?
RAJUWell, I'm not sure if it was totally surprising because they said that they really have no choice but to do what they did because of the way the court has ruled -- courts have ruled on this issue. You know, it has to do with this idea of net neutrality or the concept that all internet traffic should be treated equally. But what the FCC did is that they're still allowing or they're proposing to allow broadband providers to charge a content. Providers with access to these fast lanes. In other words, to allow for their traffic to move quicker.
REHMSo they're going to charge them more for a faster...
RAJUTo have access to those lanes.
REHMIf you're on a highway and you're going 65 miles an hour, you're going to pay to go 80 miles now?
O'KEEFEYou're going to pay 80 miles an hour in those express lanes, those high occupancy express lanes essentially. That's the way to describe it, especially for listeners in the car right now. The argument is -- I actually was thinking about this last night.
O'KEEFEConsider the possibility that one day Amazon.com and its owner, Jeff Bezos, who now owns the Washington Post and News Corporation, which owns Wall Street Journal, will be able to afford to pay top dollar for the fastest internet service. Allbritton Communications that owns Politico and WAMU which owns your show might not be able to -- and American University...
MECKLEROh, I think Politico, at least, can afford it.
O'KEEFEWell, but they might not be able to pay as much.
O'KEEFESo conceivably, someone's not going to be able to stream your Web show one day if these types of rules are in place.
MECKLERI mean, I think actually the analogy to a highway is an interesting one. In some ways, it is the same. You do pay -- you can pay to be in a lane with fewer car, which therefore allows you to get to where you're going faster, which is a similar thing. But the difference is that the internet is essentially such a huge part of our communications of how we...
REHMA public part.
MECKLERSure. I mean, highways are public too, I will say. But, yes, it is a part of how we communicate, how we get information that's essentially almost the backbone of our society today. I don't think that's going too far. And so, then the questions become a little tougher. Well, we're not just talking about how quickly do you get to work.
MECKLERWe're talking about, do I get to see content from, you know, just big media companies like ours or do I also get to, you know, if I go on to some little sort of startup website, you know, it's just taking forever for these videos to load. It's just not worth it. I'll just go and watch them at the Wall Street Journal. And that's what I think the concern is...
MECKLER...that you get to issues of speech and you get to issues of access to information. As a practical matter, I think what it more means is that Netflix is going to be able to stream your movies. You're going to be able to watch a movie more easily and maybe the price you pay is that you're small political site takes longer to load. But...
RAJUAnd that the price you pay may be that you'd get charged more for Netflix when they pass that cost onto the consumer. You know, it's -- I think that also the concern is that it'll allow these big players to get even more powerful and prevent these insurgent startups to try to shakeup the industry, which, you know, people say, well, maybe there won't be another Facebook or Twitter if there is these telecom giants who start to dominate the internet because of these rules.
REHMSo what happened to the idea of net neutrality?
RAJUIt sort of died because of the courts. I mean, this is a shift from the -- the president campaigned on the idea of free internet, keeping it equal. You know, this idea of net neutrality. But, you know, trying to get this through the courts, they've run into roadblock after roadblock and they say that they have had really no other choice.
O'KEEFEWe'll see what happens. And I think...
REHMYeah. What happens now?
O'KEEFEWell, what happens now is they proposed a regulation, I believe it's next week, and then there's a comment period. And I suspect that over that public comment period the industry, the FCC...
O'KEEFE...Washington will begin to realize -- hold on a second, we have to really think about this.
REHMAll right. Let's go back to the phones to Cecilia in Detroit, MI. Hi, you're on the air.
CECILIAHi. I just wanted to comment that I think the clemency issue for, like, a mere 23,000 people is just appalling in light of the fact that 2.5 million people in this country are incarcerated. And there are many, many, many more people in prison who should be out. This is -- the criminal justice system is so criminal that there is no justice.
RAJUI mean, we'll see how many actually are, you know, pardoned because of this new approach at...
REHMWho used the figure 23,000?
O'KEEFENo, there's 212 or so roughly a thousand federal inmates. The rest are in local county or state jails. And it does hover closer to two million at this point. So while he -- all the president and the Justice Department can do is deal with about 200,000 people. If a state decides to do this, that's up to the state.
MECKLERI mean, I'd just like to comment on the fact that it sounded like that caller was very emotional.
REHMI agree. I agree.
MECKLERAnd it's clear that there's something probably going on with someone she knows. And in -- we need to, you know, keep in mind that these are not just numbers, these are people.
MECKLERAnd individual stories are different. And I'd also like to comment at the earlier caller whose the case he made was not my son got the short end, but he's essentially making the opposite case.
MECKLERWhich I think kind of takes a certain type of person.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." The FDA has been under pressure for quite a while to regulate e-cigarettes. Number one, why did it take so long? Number two, why now?
MECKLERWell, asking why it takes so long for the government to do something is, you know, like asking, you know, why did the sun rise this morning?
REHMAnd how tough are the new rules?
MECKLERWell, you know what, I think the most sort of advocates for controlling smoking or eliminating smoking think that it is a step in the right direction, a positive step. It didn't do everything that they would have liked. Well, so let's talk about what it did. What it did was that we're going to be regulating these. Right now they're unregulated. And let's keep in mind, it wasn't that long ago before the FDA didn't regulate any tobacco products.
MECKLERBut now they do and they're saying this extends to these e-cigarettes. So what this does say is that they're going to ban the sale of these to people under the age of 18. They're going to require FDA approval for these products. They're going to have to disclose what's in the chemicals that are in them. They're not going to be able to give out free samples. There are going to be health warnings.
MECKLERBut at the same time, they're not doing some of the things they do for regular cigarettes. They're not banning the certain type of ads and they're not -- and they're also not banning the use of flavors.
MECKLEREvidently the way these things work is they add flavors to make them, you know...
REHMHere's something I want to know. Here at American University and WAMU, cigarette smoking totally banned. Are there places that are going to even now allow e-cigarettes where they don't allow smoking?
O'KEEFEI was a student when they banned them at A.U. Have they banned e-cigarettes?
REHMThat's what I'm asking.
O'KEEFEI don't know. And I don't...
RAJUIt depends on the city and state.
O'KEEFEI think it does, yeah.
RAJUYeah. I think they've -- all sorts of jurisdiction have taken different approach to this because it's such a new product and they haven't figured out how to regulate this.
REHMYeah. What is it that people are taking in, it's a steam-like product.
RAJUYeah, it's a vapor. And really what it is, it's nicotine. I mean, it allows them to -- folks who want to feed the nicotine addiction to get that. You know, it's actually interesting, there's actually a split in the public health community about whether this is the right approach. You have some folks who say that the hardcore smokers -- this is good for hardcore smokers because they can get off tobacco and this will actually feed their nicotine addiction in a less harmful manner.
REHMBut the opposite is to...
RAJUBut there are also people who say, in the public health community that say, this is going to hook a new generation of smokers...
RAJU...very early on, particularly young smokers are going to get on to these e-cigarettes and they're going to move on to regular cigarettes. So this is a very divisive issue within the public health community right now.
O'KEEFEI just wanted to, as we near the end...
REHMWe're almost there.
O'KEEFE...to help the listener string this all together. You look at what we talked about today -- clemency, net neutrality, regulating e-cigarettes. All of these consistent with what the president said at the beginning of the year would be a year of action for his administration. It's federal agencies, federal regulatory bodies trying to do things that Congress has failed to do. All of these things, as our listeners have told us, are of concern. But Congress can't get its act together, so he has compelled his agencies to come forward with these ideas and we'll see how they flush out.
REHMAnd on that word, we will close the week. Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post, Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal, Manu Raju of Politico. I do want to tell our listeners that the poem, "Old Wives," is now up on our website. So many of you requested it. It is, of course, by E.J. Mudd, one of my favorite poets in all the world. Thanks for listening all. Have a great weekend. I'm Diane Rehm.
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