Thursday, July 28, 2005

Scientists Discover Most Awkward Gift Item Ever

And perhaps a sign that Japan's problems may go deeper than cronyism in the banking industry.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tactical Differences

Via the AP, the Guardian reported yesterday that new anti-torture amendments introduced in committee by Senators McCain and Graham to a large defense spending bill have attracted a surprising amount of Republican support. The whole article's worth reading, but here's a relevant excerpt:

One of McCain's amendments would make interrogation techniques outlined in the Army field manual - and any future versions of it - the standard for treatment of all detainees in the Defense Department's custody. The United States also would have to register all detainees in Defense Department facilities with the Red Cross to ensure all are accounted for.

Warner introduced a watered-down version of McCain's amendment that would give the defense secretary the authority to set standardized rules over detention and interrogation of terror suspects, but he denied that he offered the alternative because of administration pressure.

Another McCain amendment would expressly prohibit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody no matter where they are held.

Graham's amendment would put into law the procedures the Bush administration has in place for prosecuting cases of detainees at Guantanamo and, therefore, would provide a congressional stamp of approval to the Bush administration's legal policies, including of holding of detainees indefinitely.

"We need to have a congressional buy-in into this matter," Graham said.

His amendment also would allow any detainee to have a military lawyer - not just a military representative - available when appearing before annual review boards that determine whether a detainee should remain in custody.

Needless to say, these measures would represent progress on several fronts for anyone troubled by administration policies concerning prisoners in the war on terror. The first McCain amendment mentioned looks like it would put an end to the practice of "ghost" detention. I can't really say I'm as enthusiastic as Lindsey Graham seems to be about legitimizing the status quo policy of indefinite detention, but providing detainees with their own lawyers is certainly a positive step.

If these amendments really do have the support of ten Republican Senators plus McCain, Graham, and Warner, they might even be able to make it pass the veto President Bush is threatening. Of course, the seeming inevitability of that veto speaks volumes about the administration's regard for the rule of law, and America's image abroad.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Save Your Energy

Looks like that energy bill is about to make it through Congress:

WASHINGTON, Tuesday, July 26 - House and Senate negotiators came to agreement on broad energy legislation early today, hoping they have put together an overhaul of national energy policy that can clear Congress after years of stalemate.

"We hope to have the bill on the House floor on Wednesday and I think the Senate is going to put it up on Thursday,'' said Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, as he concluded negotiations shortly before 3 a.m. Eastern time.

The measure touches on virtually every aspect of American energy production and consumption, including the electrical grid, hybrid cars, traditional oil and gas drilling, and incentives to develop new energy sources. But it does little to immediately lower the price of gasoline at the pump.

As one might expect, the bill's a mixed bag - a massive ethanol subsidy found its way in, to no one's surprise, though existing air pollution standards were upheld and the House's odious MTBE liability giveaway to the oil industry was cut in conference committee. I suppose this bill is somewhat more benign than most people were expecting from anything that had to pass through the straits of Joe Barton's House Energy Committee, but that doesn't excuse its failure to put any meaningful improvements to our nation's energy policy on the table. What would a sensible energy bill look like? It would probably have a lot fewer subsidies for oil producers, and substantial incentives for renewable energy production. Higher M.P.G. requirements combined with substantial tax breaks for solar, wind, and nuclear energy production and research seem to me like the best ways to decrease our reliance on autocratic petrostates abroad and to combat pollution here in America, but these measures are nowhere to be seen in the Congressional energy bill.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Don't Get Distracted

Surprise! The major focal point of the upcoming confirmation process about John Roberts might not be about abortion? I really couldn't believe this article when I read it the other day--not because I disagree with the content, but rather the attitude that it should be assumed that abortion will be the #1 issue for the nomination process. It gets people agitated enough to start sending money to whichever political group suits their fancy, but it doesn't really represent even a significant amount of what the Supreme Court really works on.

In fact, people should really quit all the inane, senseless, and just plain over-emotionalized abortion talk because the Supreme Court deals with issues that affect our daily lives in just as if not (ooh, surprise) more signifcant ways. I really hope the confirmation process involves an investigation of how Roberts really thinks about significant issues of jurisprudence: modern interpretation of the commerce clause, police powers for surveillance/searches/ interrogation/imprisonment, designation of enemy combatant status etc.

Take for example searches without any due cause on the New York subway system. Apparently, it won't do a thing to deter terrorists because the search can be denied and you can exit and try your luck again. Mayor Bloomberg said that the purpose of these searches was "to make people feel comfortable ... and keep the potential threat away." Notably, he mentioned the comfort factor first because any rational person would have to realize that the only purpose such a system could have is to satisfy the public that the authorities are doing something. Sadly, such measures do very, very little to protect us while very significantly marginalizing our civil rights. It's a great PR stunt to make people feel safer, but I'd much rather see the time and money invested in this effort going into intelligence work that will catch potential terrorists no matter what kind of target they end up choosing.

I single this issue out because I find it particularly alarming, and I expect that this will shortly be challenged in court (and probably lose).

I for one am just relieved that Roberts doesn't adhere to The Constitution in Exile (<-- uses Jeffrey Rosen as the main source) We don't know that much about him yet, but we certainly won't learn anything valuable by talking about him with regards to the culture wars.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Open Court

Sandra Day O'Connor's letter to the President annoucing her retirement seemed to portend an epic conflict in the Senate. Many anxiously awaited President Bush's nomination, with names ranging from Alberto Gonzales to Roy Moore (the "Ten Commandments" Judge) being tossed about the political landscape. E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote in the Washington Post on July 9th a column titled "Let's Have This Fight," encouraging special interest groups to ignore the calls of others to be quiet "because these groups tell the truth about how important this battle is for the future of our country." One could have plausibly forecasted the decibel level of the reaction to Bush's annoucement yesterday at 9 pm to be on par with that of a shuttle launch. However, the uproar, like the Discovery, appears to have been at least delayed from blasting off for the time being.

The reason? No one really expected John Roberts, or a man like him, to be nominated. Sure, Jeffrey Rosen floated his name in a short list of potential nominees that The New Republic published in November, before anyone knew of O'Connor's resignation. Rosen wrote, "Roberts appears willing to draw sensible extremely able lawyer whose committed conservatism seems to be leavened by a judicious temperament." However, the most recent issue of TNR had the editors writing as if Alberto Gonzales had been selected long ago. Most analysts have expressed similar surprise.

However, the reaction has not been entirely silent. Although many Democrats have publicly said, in essence, that they're going to wait and see until more about Roberts is known, various groups have already passed judgement. sent out a mass email today proclaiming, "This much is clear already. Judge Roberts is no Sandra Day O'Connor...President Bush wants to replace a woman who voted to uphold Roe v. Wade with a man who argued against Roe v. Wade, and that sends a clear signal that this White House remains bent on opening old wounds and dividing America." What the email fails to mention is that Roberts was deputy solicitor general at the time, and he was charged with advocating on behalf of the first Bush Administration, which had openly stated it wished to overturn Roe. However, Roberts, during his career as a lawyer, also advocated for prisoners' rights and affirmative action. The truth is that none of these things tell us anything about Roberts's personal beliefs, as all of these arguments were made on behalf of his clients, not himself.

And of the charge that Roberts is no O'Connor? The reported O'Connor's immediate reaction to the news that Roberts was being nominated to replace her was, "That's fabulous!" going on to say "He's good in every way, except he's not a woman." That, at least, we can be certain about.

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