Sotomayor describes herself as an objective judge; House Democrats unveil health care bill.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 15 2009 6:30 AM

Sotomayor: I'm Just a Judge

Most of the papers lead with Sonia Sotomayor's second day in the hot seat at the Senate judiciary committee, where the Supreme Court nominee calmly answered hours of questions and assured skeptical Republicans that she doesn't let who she is and where she comes from affect her judicial decisions. She bowed to the power of precedent and even distanced herself from President Obama's claim that a judge needs to have empathy. "I wouldn't approach the issue of judging in the way the president does," Sotomayor said. As expected, she avoided answering directly about controversial issues. Overall, "the day produced few of the anticipated fireworks," says the New York Times. "At times, it had more the feel of a law school seminar about statutes of limitation and strict scrutiny standards."

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, House Democratic leaders unveiled a sweeping health care bill that takes the lead spot in the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox. The bill would cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years and create a new public insurance option. The measure would raise more than $500 billion by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans and penalize businesses that don't provide health insurance. The WSJ focuses heavily on this penalty, noting that it would "hit all but the smallest businesses."

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The highlight of the day was when Sotomayor addressed her much-publicized comment that a "wise Latina woman" could reach better decisions than white males. She managed to elicit some laughter from the room by noting that "no words I have ever spoken or written have received so much attention." Sotomayor explained she was trying "to inspire young Hispanics, Latino students and lawyers" but dismissed the words as "a rhetorical flourish that fell flat." It's not that Sotomayor believes that who a person is and what she experiences in life is meaningless, but rather that judges must be able to "recognize those feelings, and put them aside."  The Los Angeles Times notes, "After watching Sotomayor fend off their best questions, opposing senators on the Judiciary Committee all but conceded that her confirmation was certain."

Above all, Sotomayor remained calm. Even when she was read unfavorable reviews she received from anonymous lawyers who described her, among other things, as "a terror on the bench" and Sen. Lindsey Graham asked her if she has a "temperament problem." She paused, and then said that she does "ask tough questions at oral argument." When asked about a statement she made about appellate judges making policy, Sotomayor assured lawmakers that it's "the job of Congress to decide what policy should be for society." The NYT notes inside that the judge, who is often described as passionate, "took pains to make herself as boring as possible." Throughout the questioning, "She refused to be pushed further than she wanted to go, by either Democrats or Republicans," notes USA Today.

Republicans weren't happy, and some Republicans on the committee said her testimony didn't really match with previous public remarks. "That's what we're trying to figure out," said Sen. Lindsey Graham. "Who are we getting here?" She was unmoved and kept referring back to her record as proof that "I don't base my judgments on my personal experiences—or my feelings or my biases."

Several of the papers end up analyzing Sotomayor's body language, noting that she "uses her hands extensively to communicate," as the Washington Post puts it. The Post also points out that Sotomayor "is a big toucher," which is apparently "the disarming move of a confident and mature woman."

Repetition ended up being Sotomayor's best friend. "If repetition were the qualification for a Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor would already be on the high court," declares the WSJ. Over and over again she assured lawmakers that she didn't think she could do their job for them. The LAT points out that Sotomayor's confirmation hearings bore a striking resemblance to those of Justice Samuel Alito in 2006. They both have long records as appellate judges and are skilled at explaining rulings without hinting at their personal views. "Where Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. dazzled the Judiciary Committee in 2005 with his deft command of the law, Alito succeeded, and now Sotomayor appears to be as well, by proving they are smart, careful and capable, if not flashy," says the LAT.

Under the legislation to overhaul health care that House Democrats unveiled yesterday, employers that don't provide coverage would have to pay a penalty equivalent to 8 percent of their payroll. Only businesses with payrolls less than $250,000 would be exempt, while those with payrolls between $250,000 and $400,000 would pay a smaller penalty. Taxes would also increase for individuals with an adjusted gross income of more than $280,000 and $350,000 for couples at rates ranging from 1 percent to 5.4 percent for those making more than $1 million. The Post notes that this surtax "would drive the top federal tax rate to 45 percent, the highest level since lawmakers rewrote the tax code in 1986." Nearly all Americans would be forced to get health insurance or pay a penalty, although there will be assistance for those who can't afford it. The bill would also prohibit the insurance industry from denying coverage for the sick and excluding certain treatments from their plans.

The House proposal is "among the most liberal of several competing blueprints," notes the LAT. Republicans immediately decried the bill as a jobs killer and even Democrats in the Senate expressed skepticism. "I don't think it's going to go anywhere in the Senate," Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman said. Senators are trying to figure out a way to increase revenue through other means besides increasing taxes on the wealthy.

The WSJ, NYT, and LAT front Goldman Sachs posting the most profitable quarter in its history yesterday. In Wall Street, "jaws dropped" (NYT) when Goldman announced a net income of $3.44 billion, more than it earned in all of 2008 and significantly higher than the $2 billion that analysts had been predicting. By taking advantage of weaknesses in its competitors and increasing risk, Goldman "appears to be pulling off one of the biggest market-share grabs in Wall Street history," declares the WSJ. If things continue this way for Goldman, its employees are set for nice bonuses that "could rival the record paydays of the heady bull-market years," says the NYT. While some argued that the earnings show the markets are turning around, others said that Goldman benefitted too much from government aid, and huge bonuses will only increase public anger at a time when unemployment is on the rise.

Although Goldman insists that it was practically forced to take $10 billion in bailout money, the LAT points out that the company benefitted in other ways. Goldman could have seen lots of red ink in its books if the government hadn't rescued American International Group, for example. The WSJ notes that while Goldman increased risk-taking this quarter, it also reduced its leverage, meaning it didn't use borrowed money as much.

The LAT's Borzou Daragahi takes a look at how the image of Iran's supreme leader has changed after he decided to openly support President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei "has gotten his hands dirty" and subsequently set "in motion an unpredictable series of events that could fundamentally change the Islamic republic," writes Daragahi. The man who was seen as God's representative is now criticized and laughed at by disappointed Iranians. And it's not just among reformists. Even conservative Ahmadinejad supporters say Khamenei made a mistake by so eagerly supporting the election results before they were officially ratified. "For nearly two decades Khamenei has wielded power without accountability," an analyst said. "Those days are over."

The NYT looks into the history behind the rise of the gyro in the United States. There are approximately 50,000 vertical broilers across the country that spin those off-color gyro meat cones that are often manufactured by large companies in factorylike settings. And what's in those cones anyway? At the world's largest manufacturer of gyros, raw beef and lamb trimmings are "run through a four-ton grinder, where bread crumbs, water, oregano and other seasonings are added. A clumpy paste emerges and is squeezed into a machine that checks for metal and bone." Then 60 pounds per square inch of hydraulic pressure is used "to fuse the meat into cylinders, which are stacked on trays and then rolled into a flash freezer, where the temperature is 20 degrees below zero." Sounds like you're better off just thinking about it as mystery meat.

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