Energy Fix

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 22 2003 6:57 AM

Energy Fix

All the papers lead with yesterday's Senate filibuster, which prevented the Republican leadership from bringing the energy bill to a vote. The bill's supporters will try to flip two senators and hold one more vote before Congress adjourns.

Support for the $31 billion energy bill, which benefits the farm industy, split less on partisan than on regional lines. Most of the six Republicans opposing the bill are from non-farm states, and most of the 13 Democrats supporting it—including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.—are from farm states. (Last Saturday, the New York Times quoted lobbyists confidently predicting that a filibuster would fail if Daschle supported the bill.) Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., may try to placate some Democrats (and the trial lawyers who support them) by deleting a provision that gives tort immunity to a polluting fuel additive, but this would require the House of Representatives to hold another vote.

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The papers devote many column inches to the energy bill's pork. (There are even some goodies for President Bush: The Washington Post's off lead chronicles how dozens of his top fundraisers are affiliated with companies that would benefit.) But this focus is slightly unfair: Wasteful presents to local districts are par for the course in large spending bills. What would be more helpful to readers is a breakdown of the $31 billion: What percentage goes to coal, to nuclear, and to hydroelectric, respectively? What percentage can fairly be classified as conservation?

The NYT and WP front House and Senate agreement on legislation to counter e-mail spam. The bill, which is expected to become law, would expose spammers to civil fines (the Post says criminal penalties) if they disguise their identity. It would also authorize, but not require, the Federal Trade Commission to devise a "do not e-mail" registry, similar to the one recently instituted for phone solicitation. (The FTC opposes a registry because, the Post says, it doesn't think it would be effective.) The bill—which would override 35 state anti-spam laws, including one in California deemed more restrictive—has the support of both the marketing industry and major Internet providers.

The NYT front page reports that Army planners are assuming that 100,000 troops will remain in Iraq until early 2006. The story, sourced to a "senior Army officer," stresses that this is a non-political estimate of military strategists, not an approved White House decision. (And don't take the number too seriously: On Oct. 19, "several senior Army officers" told the WP that the military's timetable called for a troop reduction to 50,000 by 2005.) Iraqis may be forgiven for wondering why the U.S. military is calculating troop levels into 2006, just one week after receiving a U.S. promise to grant national sovereignty in six months.

Those mysterious "senior Army officials" are everywhere today: One of them tells the Los Angeles Times that the U.S. has asked for, and received, advice from Israel on urban anti-guerrilla tactics for use against Baathists in Iraq. Two Israeli defense officials confirm this account, and add that U.S. officials have visited Israel for this purpose, and vice versa. The LAT also fronts a photo of U.S. soldiers inspecting a donkey cart used by insurgents to launch missiles at two Baghdad hotels and an oil ministry on Friday. It is eerily reminiscent of Vietnam-era photos of G.I.'s scouring thatch huts and rickshaws for Vietcong.

According to a draft report by the National Research Council leaked to the Post, FBI labs have for decades matched bullets using a scientifically invalid technique. The yet-to-be-finalized study, which was commissioned by the FBI's laboratory chief last year, concludes that matching the lead type in a bullet found at a crime scene with that of bullets found on a defendant does not prove they came from the same ammo box. If it holds up, this charge could invalidate hundreds of criminal cases.

The LAT reefers new details on the Michael Jackson case. A source "close to the [alleged victim]'s family" tells the paper that the boy in question told his therapist that he was molested by Jackson. The therapist reported this to the county sheriff in June. The LAT also digs into the boy's troubled childhood: In addition to surviving leukemia, he may have suffered child abuse. (His father was charged with nine counts of willful cruelty to several of his children; he pleaded no contest to one of them.) A NYT editorial pronounces Jackson guilty of living in a neverland of childhood innocence. The King of Pop's neurotic infantilism "is for him a refuge from a career that both deprived him of his childhood and gave him the means to try to reclaim it. His seemingly helpless protestations of his own pure-heartedness clearly betray a distrust, if not a loathing, of adults."

Bonnie and Clyde they ain't: A nugget inside the NYT recounts how technology tripped up two dimwitted burglers in Oklahoma. A police officer investigating the case called the perps on their stolen cell phone. They told the officer to go to hell—and forgot to hang up. Authorities used this convenient wireless bug to fix their location and record their philosophical musings about whether to kill a nearby state trooper.

Michael Brus, a former Slate assistant editor, is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City. He is on the clinical faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

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