Saturday, April 28, 2007

Washington shields journalists

I realise that blogs are commonly characterised by criticism, but I just thought I'd give a little praise to Washington State for getting out a shield law for journalists. Not every state gives journalists the ability to keep sources confidential and avoid going to jail, and I am glad to see another state do so.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Save the Bees and Mind Your Own Dam Business by Investing in Research

Single environmental issues seem to create serious problems when it comes to obtaining real legislation, but I have to wonder if there is an even bigger impediment to environmental legislation than apathy, or political disagreement, or even Bush's policy on Kyoto. The problem may be sheer complexity of environmental issues that make a single comprehensive climate change bill impossible. The result may be not just one up-hill battle for the environment, but thousands. And much of the action being taken right now we don't really have great answers for.

For example, we have no idea what to do about the bees disappearing. I'm not making this up, please see the NY Times article at

Like many environmental issues, we know the bees are disappearing, we have a laundry list of causes, but the situation is complex. How do you save the bees when you don't know what to save them from? It may seem like a silly issue, but the potential environmental impact and economic impact is absolutely enormous. Perhaps I need a bumper sticker from Bee Watch.

On the other hand, sometimes we know the science involved but the situation is complex enough that it is difficult to tell course to take to minimize harm. A great example involves current fights over Dams in Oregon used for hydroelectric power. Do we like the dams for their (relatively) clean hydroelectric power, or do we hate the dams because they kill all the delicious (Read: ecologically vital) salmon?

What is the point? The point is that as much as we need lobbyists and all of the political pressure on reducing emissions and such, many of the real environmental problems out there
need funding for research before we can even begin to make informed choices. Saving the planet with your vote needs to be accompanied with saving the planet with your wallet.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The deadissue of gun control

I am reluctant to turn the horrible tradgedy at Virginia Tech into a political issue. My heart goes out to both those who lost loved ones and those who did not. I lived in Blacksburg as a child, and I can only imagine what it has been like for our family friends still living there.

At the same time, I have been surprised by the political reaction to this recent tradgedy. After Columbine, politicians were up in arms (pun intended) about gun control and President Clinton went after hand guns. Today the favored political response seems to be altering the laws and rules governing University responsibility for getting help for the mentally ill. Gun control has received little attention even from the myriad presidential hopefuls.

In fact, nearly the only gun-control related comment Fox News made was to interview members of the Virginia Tech Gun Club who hinted that they could have avoided the tradgedy if they were allowed to come onto campus armed and that their guns would have made them feel less helpless. It's Fox News, but come on!

i guess I knew gun control was a dead issue, but now I really know.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Follow-Up to Gary Feinerman, Solicitor General of Illinois

Our roundtable lunch with Gary Feinerman, Solicitor General of Illinois provided an in-depth look at the operations of the Solicitor General's office as well as a testimonial about how Feinerman fulfills the duties of the position while still honoring his own convictions. After prepared remarks by Mr. Feinerman, students had the opportunity to pose questions about cases that he cited, his own career trajectory, and his views about the judicial system.

I thought I'd offer links to opinions from the cases we discussed, in case anyone is interested:
Illinois v. Caballes
Hosty v. Carter
Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett

Please feel free to post lingering questions or comments about this event!
- Karen

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Name Your Baby 'Metallica'

Apparently a couple in Sweden is upset because they are not allowed by the Swedish authorities to name their baby 'Metallica.' "Why do I post this on the ACS blog" you ask? 1) because the EPA case seems to have garnered no attention whatsoever, and 2) because it has interesting legal implications.

There are two ways to look at the experience of this couple: Either this is an example of stupid bereaucrats limiting freedom of expression through unconventional means, or it may be a case for limiting the scope of government involvement in every-day choices. Is not being able to name your baby 'Metallica' a potential drawback of living in a pseudo-socialist state where the government is involved in everything (so what if this is a gross mischaracterization of Sweden, this is a blog)? I prefer to think the officials here were just stupid, but it does provoke thought. Or does it?

Monday, April 2, 2007

Massachusetts v. EPA: A Hollow victory unless we do something about it

Some news sources seem to be touting Massachusetts v. EPA as a slap in the face of Bush's environmental policy, but the real result is that the EPA (under Bush's direction) can continue to avoid making serious inroads against global warming unless someone forces the EPA to do so.

I am grateful that the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA can regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. I realize that such a ruling was by no means certain, but, at the same time, most Americans probably thought that the EPA was regulating tailpipe emissions all along. I realize that this is a naive view of administrative law, but if the EPA can't regulate tailpipe emissions what is the point of the EPA?

But far from some enormously helpful, pro-environment opinion, Massachusetts v. EPA actually does little to help the environment. Much of the case was focused on whether the EPA was required to regulate tailpipe emissions. The EPA argued that it had discretion to decide whether or not to regulate tailpipe emissions. The Supreme Court did not explicitly rule that the EPA had to regulate tailpipe emissions, instead it said the EPA had to re-evaluate its contention and to come up with a better (read: closer to the Clean Air Act) reason not to.

Basically the court declined the EPA to do what I see as its job! I can understand all of the legal reasons why the court did it, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It makes me wonder when some branch of government will finally make the EPA do something.

Who can make the EPA regulate tailpipe emissions now that the Supreme Court has declined to do so?
1) The President could do something, but don't hold your breath.
2) Perhaps the most interesting part of this case is that it allows States to challenge EPA decisions in court. Again, this at first seems really exciting, but if Massachusetts v. EPA is any indication, the ability of any state to force the EPA to be tough on environmental issues will probably be limited.
3) Ultimately, this case seems like a plea for us to elect Legislators who will actually force the EPA to take measures to counteract global warming.