Friday, November 28, 2003
1. ENERGY: WATER SMELLS LIKE KEROSENE? RELAX, IT'S ONLY M.T.B.E.
The first attempt in a decade to establish a new energy policy for the nation was an exercise in majority-party excess. The energy bill sank under the weight of special interest deals. It cost too much, it was filled with scandalous industry giveaways and Democrats weren't even allowed to see the bill until 48 hours before the scheduled vote (WN
24 Oct 03). But in the end, it was methyl tertiary butyl ether (M.T.B.E.) that doomed the bill for this session. Added to gasoline to increase octane, Municipal governments in 17 states have filed suits against the makers of M.T.B.E., which has a way of winding up in groundwater. All of this stuff seems to be made in or near the Houston district of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. DeLay insisted the bill have a provision immunizing the makers against lawsuits. To calm the resulting outrage, Delay proposed banning M.T.B.E. by 2015 -- while giving the makers $2B to!
help them shift to other products.
2. DEFENSE: A MUSHROOM CLOUD? RELAX, IT'S ONLY A MINI-NUKE.
The $400B Defense Authorization bill was signed by the President on Monday. Among other things, it lifted a decades-old ban on research into low-yield nuclear weapons and authorized $15M for continued research on a nuclear bunker-buster. The deal was that only 6.1 (basic) and 6.2 (applied) research could be funded. Advanced development (6.3), which includes testing, is ruled out, but that's clearly where we're headed. As the leaked Nuclear Posture Review made clear (WN
15 Mar 02), the real goal of mini-nukes is to blur distinctions between conventional and nuclear. The bill also exempts the military from the provisions of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
3. FBI: IDENTICAL BULLETS? RELAX, COULD THE FBI MAKE A MISTAKE?
In the next few weeks, according to an Associated Press story, the National Academy of Sciences is expected to release a study of the procedures the FBI has long used to match bullets to crimes. Having already shown the Polygraph test, much beloved by the FBI, to be about as accurate as a coin toss (WN
18 Apr 03), NAS now finds the techniques used by the FBI to match bullets through their lead content to be flawed or imprecise. The FBI analysis relies on the assumption that bullets from the same batch of lead share a common chemical fingerprint. But the NAS report urges FBI chemists to stop "data chaining," in which they conclude that if the lead content of bullet A matches bullet B, and bullet B's content matches that of bullet C, they can assume that bullet A and bullet C match. The effect is to increase the range of difference that would be allowed for a "match" without acknowledging a relaxed standard.!
Thousands of criminal cases could be affected. On this Thanksgiving, be thankful we live in a country where law enforcement agencies can be challenged.