Archive: This Week's Issue

This Week's Debate: Money and Politics

Plenty of leeway this week to discuss all kinds of interesting tidbits and grand concepts. I was inspired by an issue involving some arguably unscrupulous debt collection tactics and the intense lobbying that's backing them up. (Details in an upcoming post.) We'll get into proposed lobbying reforms and the influence of big money on politicians over the next several days. Any specifics you'd like to discuss?...

By Emily Messner | May 2, 2006; 11:22 PM ET | Comments (4)

This Week's Debate: Foreign Oil Dependence

In my neighborhood, the highest gas prices can be found at the Exxon on the corner, where a gallon of regular was $3.09 when I left for work Friday morning, $3.15 when I came home, and $3.19 by Saturday evening. And so we dedicate this third installment in our debate on energy to all the gas stations where regular unleaded has topped $3 per gallon. We've already discussed various reasons for the rising fuel prices, but one of the key causes clearly deserves a whole week of its own: the U.S. dependence on foreign oil. A recent poll finds that Americans have a low opinion of the government's performance in weaning the country off foreign oil -- and the fact that U.S. gasoline prices are approaching their all-time high can't be helping. Since the first day of the gas prices debate three weeks ago, the average per gallon cost has...

By Emily Messner | April 24, 2006; 10:39 AM ET | Comments (113)

This Week's Debate: Nuclear Power

In an eye-opening piece in the Post's Sunday Outlook section, a founder of Greenpeace explains why he's changed his mind about nuclear power. The former Greenpeace activist who wrote the article, Patrick Moore, discusses his views in a live online chat today -- should be an interesting exchange. Moore argues that Three Mile Island was a "success story" because the containment structure did precisely what it was supposed to: it contained the radiation and no one was hurt. He explains why he believes that nuclear power is safe, cost effective and reliable -- and necessary, if we are to avert the catastrophic effects of global warming. Greenpeace, however, does not agree with Moore's conclusion. This week, we'll debate nuclear energy, including how to handle rogue nations with uranium enrichment capabilities (Iran, anyone?) and overcoming the not-in-my-backyard mentality that could hinder the construction of new nuclear power plants in the United...

By Emily Messner | April 17, 2006; 10:56 AM ET | Comments (135)

This Week's Debate: Punishing Terrorists

What is the appropriate punishment for Zacharias Moussaoui? Should he be put to death for his involvement in the 9/11 plot? Or would it be a more severe punishment to put him in prison for the rest of his life, denying him the martyrdom he so desires? We'll debate the Moussaoui case and related issues this week as we examine the complexities of punishing terrorists. How should suspected terrorists be tried? By military tribunals? In the U.S. justice system? By an international court designed specifically for this purpose? What sort of punishment would serve as an effective deterrent against terrorism? (Can any punishment deter terrorists?) I will be relying heavily on your discussion as we try to navigate these murky waters. Any other big questions we should debate while we're on this subject?...

By Emily Messner | April 10, 2006; 09:46 AM ET | Comments (47)

This Week's Debate: Gasoline Prices

As oil refineries undergo spring maintenance, the temporary capacity reduction has helped push gas prices up to around $2.50 nationally for regular unleaded. Media reports quote economists and assorted experts predicting $3 a gallon "this summer." It's not time to panic yet, says the Free Market Project, noting that the media's dire warnings regarding gas prices don't always pan out. That said, more factors are at work here that just the standard seasonal uptick. For one, gasoline additive MTBE is out and ethanol is in, throwing another variable into the production timetable. On the international scene, the U.N. standoff with Iran sparks fears that crude shipments from the oil-rich country could be disrupted. Also not helping: The fact that nearly 23 percent of petroleum production in the Gulf region remains offline after last year's brutal hurricane season. Some economists say that the "sticker shock" of the post-Katrina price spike has...

By Emily Messner | April 3, 2006; 05:17 AM ET | Comments (57)

This Week's Debate: Immigration

As the Senate Judiciary Committee heads toward a vote on immigration reform a week from today, The Debate turns its attention toward this divisive issue. We will debate the clash between America's fondest ideals of immigration -- "give me your tired, your poor," etc. -- and the country's informal, but perhaps more ingrained, tradition of xenophobia. Up for discussion: the Border Patrol vs. the border crossers; the wisdom of guest worker programs vs. amnesty; concerns over terrorism and drug trafficking; and the disparity between federal immigration laws and federal enforcement of those laws. The failure of enforcement spawned groups like the Minutemen, originally dedicated to assisting the U.S. Border Patrol (which adamantly insists the help isn't needed.) The Minutemen movement has spread across the country, fighting a guerrilla war against illegal immigration. In Herndon, Virginia, the Minutemen spend their mornings trying to intimidate day laborers. For a balanced and intimate...

By Emily Messner | March 20, 2006; 07:21 AM ET | Comments (57)

This Week's Debate: Performance - Enhancing Drugs

The buzz about performance-enhancing drugs is back in anticipation of the March 27 release of Game of Shadows, a book detailing alleged steroid use by baseball superstar Barry Bonds. The issue is of such great concern that Congress held hearings about it last year, and given the allegations in this book, might take up the issue again soon. Some of the testimony given to members of Congress last March was less than encouraging. Jose Canseco testified that steroids were perfectly acceptable in baseball throughout the 1980s and early '90s. Mark McGwire repeatedly refused to talk about "the past," saying "my lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family and myself." Rafael Palmeiro denied having ever used steroids, only to test positive six weeks later -- leading Congress to investigate his testimony. Palmeiro served a short suspension for the offense in August. This...

By Emily Messner | March 13, 2006; 10:04 AM ET | Comments (37)

The Administration and the Law

Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, has found himself back in the news over the last few days, thanks to reports like the National Journal's indicating that his defense against criminal charges will claim that Vice President Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials had encouraged and authorized him to share classified information. If that turns out to be the case, it suggests a tidy little double standard: the same administration that went ballistic at the leak of its spying program has a history of encouraging leaks of classified information. Such a contradiction wouldn't surprise those who have followed the warrantless surveillance controversy. Consider Bush's statement in 2004 that "a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so." Of course, it turned out that...

By Emily Messner | February 13, 2006; 08:16 AM ET | Comments (91)

This Week's Debate: Domestic Surveillance

The founding principle of our great nation is that a government's most fundamental responsibility is to secure the natural rights of the people. Also called inherent or unalienable rights, these include the rights to life, liberty and property. It is this vital governmental role that is at the crux of the debate over warrantless wiretapping of U.S. persons. Are our natural rights best protected by a strong executive asserting wartime powers (in the absence of a formal declaration of war)? Or are they better protected by a system of checks designed to ensure that no one branch of government violates these rights under the guise of securing them? Within this framework, we can examine other key questions: · Where is the line between Fourth Amendment rights and national security? · When, if ever, is it legitimate for the president to bypass the courts in a matter over which they, by...

By Emily Messner | December 30, 2005; 11:09 AM ET | Comments (201)

This Week's Debate: Congress and the Budget

Flashback to 1994: Anyone remember the Contract with America? It was that less-than-1000-word document that outlined what Republicans would do if they gained control of the House. And lo, they rode that contract right into the majority. Item number one of the contract promised "a balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out-of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses." As it turned out, they couldn't muster the votes to pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution -- which would have been a dangerous limitation in times of crisis when some deficit spending really is necessary -- but that doesn't mean they had to abandon the very principle of a balanced budget. At the least, it would be nice if they produced a budget that was reasonably close to balanced. (Of course the Contract...

By Emily Messner | December 14, 2005; 05:07 AM ET | Comments (40)

This Week's Debate: The Case for War

With the couple hundred comments on the last post, my fellow Debaters have set the stage for this week's Debate on the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq. You made many excellent points, and I hope we'll have a chance to address each of them in more detail over the next few days. Today, we'll start off with an overview of the questions that must be answered to get to the bottom of this complicated issue. First, did the administration know more than it chose to reveal? If officials were holding back information because revealing it would have endangered national security, that would be understandable, but if information was disregarded simply because it didn't bolster their case, that's a pretty egregious lapse. One possible example of this: In September 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency produced a report that concluded that while it was thought that Saddam Hussein probably possessed...

By Emily Messner | November 28, 2005; 01:32 PM ET | Comments (197)

This Week's Debate: U.S. Treatment of Detainees

This week we'll be debating abuse of prisoners by U.S. personnel in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Have these documented incidents gravely damaged the U.S. image in the world? Have we lost our moral high ground and helped Al Qaeda recruit more terrorists? Are our troops in more danger now than before? Or, are abusive interrogations a useful tactic to elicit key information? Bing West, a former assistant secretary of defense, writes that the stories of prisoner abuse are overshadowing the heroic things our soldiers are doing each day. This is undoubtedly a concern -- but what's the solution? Should we stop talking about the abuse or should we insist that our government put a stop to it categorically and in accordance with international law? Senator John McCain and 89 of his Senate colleagues favor the second option and passed an amendment to a defense spending bill prohibiting torture. But...

By Emily Messner | November 10, 2005; 09:05 AM ET | Comments (44)

Thoughts on the Plame Leak Case

Under the big, bold headline, "Rove, Libby Cleared!" the New Wars blog points to a Newsmax story that says indictments charging the two aides with releasing classified information are not likely, supposedly based on a New York Times story. New Wars blogger Mike Burleson ends his post with, "If the NYT is reporting good news about the White House, it must be true!" We'll know soon whether the headline is true or not -- Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald is expected to outline possible charges to the grand jury as early as today. But I wouldn't put my money on both aides walking away, and certainly not based on the Newsmax story, which is completely misleading. Its headline screams, "NY Times: Karl Rove, Lewis Libby Likely Cleared on Leakgate Charges," but if one takes the time to read the Times story itself, it is clear that not only are indictments...

By Emily Messner | October 26, 2005; 09:00 AM ET | Comments (14)

This Week's Debate: Iraq's Constitution

This Saturday, Iraqis will head to the polls to vote on a proposed constitution. For a while now, the breakdown has been Shiites and Kurds in favor, Sunnis (whose minority sect ruled the country under Saddam Hussein) against. The big news right now is about a deal pushed by the American ambassador and brokered by various Iraqi political insiders, that has persuaded some Sunni leaders to encourage voting for the constitution. If the proposed constitution is approved, will it turn out to be all it's cracked up to be? (Or all it's feared to be?) In an editorial today, the San Francisco Chronicle is understandably concerned that the constitution will split the country further, not unite it. The editorial also points out that Sunni leaders are still split -- some are telling their people to vote Yes, others still urging a No vote. To understand how the constitution could...

By Emily Messner | October 13, 2005; 09:37 AM ET | Comments (7)

This Week's Debate: The Harriet Miers Nomination

What do we know about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers? Very little, so far -- and what is known has prompted dissatisfaction from both the Administration's opponents and a surpising numbers of its reliable supporters. Hopefully, more information will surface as we debate this crucial nomination over the next week. Here's a quick rundown of what we do know from the opinions already voiced. We know Miers is a loyal member of the president's inner circle. In a LiveOnline discussion yesterday when asked about Miers's statement that Bush is brilliant, Gene Robinson replied, "I think it's good that a president would have aides who were so admiring and loyal. I'm not sure it's good to put them on the Supreme Court." Bush's relationship with Miers is so close and longstanding that Bush says he knows her heart. Of course, this is the same man who claims to have seen Russian...

By Emily Messner | October 6, 2005; 11:04 AM ET | Comments (2)

This Week's Debate: Global Warming

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have rekindled the debate over global warming, with some declaring that these monster storms are evidence that global warming has reached the point of no return, and others saying that this is just nature running its course. This week, we'll look at the controversy surrounding global warming, the scientific evidence supporting (or denying) it, the political ramifications of U.S. policy on the subject, and where we go from here to ensure we don't bake ourselves into extinction, or turn the entire human race into People Popsicles, depending on which computer model you believe. But first I want to leap past the overall scientific debate as to whether temperatures are rising because of carbon dioxide we've launched into the atmosphere and look into what's really in the news. Are increased temperatures causing killer hurricanes?...

By Emily Messner | September 28, 2005; 03:07 PM ET | Comments (96)

This Week's Issue: Rebuilding After Katrina

After a pleasant diversion for the Roberts hearings, we're back onto the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This week, we'll be focusing on the reconstruction -- and the debate over how we're going to pay for it. The challenge, as a Post editorial points out, is "to respond not only with compassion and generosity but with wisdom." We are talking about huge amounts of money here, and that's on top of an already astronomical deficit. The Post's guest blogger (pretty cool, eh?), the one-and-only Andrew Sullivan, points out that it will soon cost "two Katrinas a year" just to pay off the interest on our (Bush's) debt. Americans' tax rates could be affected (understandably) for generations. The president and many Republicans so far have refused to consider allowing the tax cuts -- even for the wealthiest 5 percent or so -- to expire. Bush says he'll pay the $200 billion in...

By Emily Messner | September 21, 2005; 09:20 AM ET | Comments (15)

John G. Roberts: Unlikely To Be 'Borked'

Some opinion writers and interest groups here and there are railing against John Roberts, but as the Los Angeles Times writes, "few he has encountered have anything bad to say about him." That seems to be the fairly broad consensus on Bush's nominee for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court -- his views are conservative, yes, but it's tough to find anything really awful to pin on him. In short, it doesn't look like we've got another Bork on our hands, much to the disappointment of many on the right and on the left who were spoiling for a fight. It seems that, very much to his credit, Bush chose well on this one. Again, that's an impression that could change over the next week or two, but for now it looks like Democrats would be wise to hold their fire for the nominee to O'Connor's seat. In the meantime,...

By Emily Messner | September 12, 2005; 09:00 AM ET | Comments (16)

This Week's Issue: Hurricane Katrina

You and I don't know each other very well yet, but in the hopes of starting off this relationship with an element of trust, I'm going to reveal one of my darkest secrets. I am a Weather Channel junkie. There, I said it. And now that it's out in the open, you'll understand why I spent all day Sunday glued to the television, taking in every bit of Hurricane Katrina coverage and growing increasingly concerned that this was more than just the typical over-hyped storm. On Monday evening, I started to think I had been unduly swayed by all the breathless reporting and dire warnings. Parts of New Orleans were under several feet of water, but it hardly seemed to have become the new Atlantis and relieved evacuees thought they would soon be able to return home. Less than 24 hours later, water was pouring into New Orleans from neighboring...

By Emily Messner | August 31, 2005; 05:20 AM ET | Comments (67)

 

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