- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

Mercury’s in the tuna, too

Your recent story about removal of chemicals like mercury from D.C. schools (“Chemicals ordered removed,” Metro, Friday) shows Superintendent Clifford B. Janey taking action, but continuing to overlook another serious and ongoing mercury problem at the schools. Parents should also know that the schools’ cafeterias frequently serve tuna, a food often contaminated with mercury. In this way, Cardozo, Hardy and other schools like them are virtually guaranteeing that students are exposed to mercury even when the chemistry labs are cleaned out.

It’s not really the schools’ fault. There is a general lack of public understanding about the risks of mercury and how it gets in humans. Everyone — especially the young — has a right to know if there is a dangerous chemical in their food. The Food and Drug Administration has warned that women of child-bearing age and childrenshould eat no more than 6 ounces of albacore tuna each week. For adults, that’s about one sandwich. How can parents ensure their youngsters stay below the mercury consumption limit? They have to count school lunches which may contain albacore or light tuna (for which 12 ounces per week are allowed).

Parents and youngsters have a right to know about the FDA advisory, but unfortunately, while communities are justifiably up in arms about mercury found on the floors, people are generally unaware of the mercury on school lunch plates.


Director, Pollution Campaign, Oceana


Abbas’ accomplishments

The editorial “Can Abbas deliver?” (Monday) says the main problem of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is that “Mr. Abbas has barely begun to do all that will be necessary” to solve the problem of political violence in the occupied territories. Yet Mr. Abbas already has accomplished more in his very brief time as PA president than Yasser Arafat was able (or willing) to do in his final years.

Obtaining a truce with militant anti-Israeli factions has proved enormously difficult for the PA to achieve and enforce because of Israeli destruction of the PA infrastructure during the last days of Mr. Arafat’s tenure. Still, Mr. Abbas secured a pledge from Hamas and Islamic Jihad for a conditional halt to attacks against Israeli targets until the end of this year.

Senior Israeli intelligence official Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser recently praised the Abbas administration for its efforts at stopping many militant attacks. Shortly after being elected, democratically no less, Mr. Abbas deployed 3,000 police officers to northern Gaza in an attempt to halt rocket attacks against Israeli settlements. These efforts hardly seem characteristic of a man who has done little to stop violence against Israel.

Confidence must be reciprocal to succeed. The editorial states: “Under [Ariel] Sharon’s leadership, Israel is taking the necessary steps to give peace a chance.” It is true that Israel has reciprocated for many of Mr. Abbas’ efforts, but expanding West Bank settlements as a price for withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is certainly not going to instill confidence with Palestinians or their leaders. In fact, it could lead to more violence.

About 3,500 homes are planned for Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem. More settlements are planned in the northern West Bank and at Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem. Israel’s announcement came shortly after Mr. Abbas extracted the pledges of a truce, like a slap in the face. Resolving the issue of settlements is high on the Palestinian agenda. Handing over control of Palestinian towns does little if the Israel Defense Forces still control the checkpoints around them. These actions only erase Israel’s other statements and actions in praise of PA President Abbas and make his peace initiative more difficult to achieve.


Research analyst

Middle East Institute


Don’t tip the scales in Virginia

As someone who’s lived in Northern Virginia for 36 years and observed that interstate highways are increasingly clogged with 18-wheelers, I was astonished to read about Virginia’s and Maryland’s truck weigh stations (“Weight sensors will be embedded in D.C. road,” Page 1, Wednesday). I’m convinced that those weigh stations, 43 in all, must be either strategically located along rural roadways or invisible. I’ve never witnessed any of the “12 mobile crews … equipped with portable scales” in Virginia.

Both Maryland and Virginia should allocate sufficient funds to ensure that truck weigh stations operate seven days a week. Truckers should not be given the opportunity to outwit a weighing program.



Repeating filibuster history

In his Op-Ed, Sen. George Allen of Virginia urged fellow Republicans to “Call Senate Democrats’ bluff” (Tuesday). He claimed senators “have a constitutional responsibility to give our ‘advice and consent’ regarding the president’s judicial nominations and [it] is being thwarted by a minority of Democrats who don’t agree with the nominees’ ideological positions.” Mr. Allen also urged senators “to get off their haunches and vote yes or vote no on these nominees.”

If Mr. Allen, his GOP and Democratic colleagues and President George W. Bush do not remember the modern, tortured history of the judicial selection process, they will be doomed to repeat it. Last month, Mr. Bush renominated 12 appellate nominees whom the 108th Senate had not confirmed because of Democratic opposition, asserting he had discharged his constitutional responsibility and was now urging the Senate to fulfill its “constitutional duty” with “up or down” votes.

Mr. Bush and GOP senators have also argued that Democrats’ reliance on filibusters to block nominees is unconstitutional. The majority leader, Sen. Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, has threatened to thwart filibusters. However, the minority leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, has promised that Democrats would not cooperate in the conduct of Senate business if the GOP exercises the “nuclear option” to move the nominations forward. Mr. Frist replied “To shut down the Senate would be irresponsible and partisan. [We must] return to 200 years of tradition and allow up or down votes on judges.”

Mr. Bush and the Senate should remember Oliver Wendell Holmes’ remark that a page of history is worth a volume of logic. Mr. Bush’s renominations continue the unproductive dynamics of accusations, countercharges and paybacks we have seen since 1987 with the failed nomination of Judge Robert Bork. This battle apparently created the mold. It was followed by the divisive 1991 confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas, nominated by President George H.W. Bush. In President Clinton’s first two years, his party’s Senate majority helped appoint 120 judges. After the GOP’s 1994 recapturing of the Senate, confirmation slowed, and fewer than 20 judges received confirmation in 1997. Republicans asserted that many of Mr. Clinton’s nominees were unpalatable as potential “judicial activists.” A backlog of 100 vacancies led Chief Justice William Rehnquist to remonstrate Mr. Clinton and the Senate. Sixty judges were approved, however, the pace slowed in 1999 due to impeachment and in 2000 because it was a presidential election year. Sixty Clinton nominees never received up or down votes. More than 80 vacancies existed upon President Bush’s January 2001 inauguration.

The Senate ultimately approved 204 lower court judges submitted by the Bush administration, but 36 vacancies remained in the first term. The Senate confirmed 35 of 52 Bush appellate nominees, figures similar to the 35 out of 51 approved in the final Clinton term.

Mr. Bush’s renomination of many nominees whom Democrats have opposed will exacerbate the counterproductive dynamics that have plagued selection. The GOP and Democrats share much blame for this deteriorated condition, which undermines respect for the Senate, the executive and the judiciary. If Republicans and Democrats continue ignoring this troubled history, both parties will do so at their collective peril and that of the nation.


Williams Professor

University of Richmond School of Law


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