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Voice of Conscience

Anthony Lewis, who died last month, began his career at The New York Times as a reporter known for his lucid analyses of Supreme Court decisions—later developed in two best sellers: Gideon’s Trumpet, on the right to a defense attorney, and Make No Law, on the case New York Times v. Sullivan, which led to a ruling that the press could not be sued for libel unless the plaintiff could demonstrate malice in the writer’s intent. Beginning his op-ed column in 1969, Lewis moved from Washington to Boston to escape the company of those whom he might have to attack. He fought for civil rights, opposed the Vietnam War—particularly the wanton brutality of the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi—and deplored U.S. support of undemocratic regimes in Latin America. Repeatedly he condemned the murder of four American churchwomen in El Salvador in 1980 and of six Jesuits and their housekeepers in 1989 and demanded the prosecution of their killers.

Mr. Lewis’s life was a quasi-religious commitment to the First Amendment. In a lecture at Loyola University New Orleans in April 1993, he concluded, “The truth is that freedom begins not with judges but with the rest of us. The Supreme Court is the last resort, not the first, in keeping this a society that tolerates diversity of expression and ideas. And when we look at public attitudes toward free speech today, I think we have reason for concern. For a good many Americans are not ready to join [Justice] Holmes in assuring freedom for the thought that we hate.” That was only 20 years ago. We might ask ourselves whether that judgment is still true today.


George Shultz, Mr. Sunshine

Four months into President Obama’s second term, his domestic priorities are coming into focus. At the top are gun control, immigration reform and addressing the deficit. But another pressing issue has once again fallen off the domestic agenda. Aside from the heated controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline, there is still little national discussion of energy policy. For the moment, Mr. Obama seems content to pursue reform by executive order: by continuing to tighten emissions standards, for example. Given the political deadlock in Washington, one can understand, if not excuse, his reluctance to deploy political capital in the service of what could very likely be a doomed attempt to convince Congress to pass environmental legislation.

One way forward, perhaps, is to cast environmental policy as foreign rather than domestic policy. Consider the very reasonable position of former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who has been a vigorous proponent of energy policy reform. “We need to create energy where we use it and we have to avoid buying energy from governments and sources that could use the money we pay them to imperil our national security,” he said.

Mr. Shultz has proposed a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which would tax companies for carbon production but distribute the proceeds to taxpayers instead of the government. This would limit the growth of government, which might entice some Republicans to sign on. The endorsement of Mr. Shultz should also help. It may take a touch of Reagan-era bravado to move the conversation forward. “I’m driving on sunshine, and it’s free,” Mr. Shultz says of the solar panels on his roof and the electric car in his garage. “Take that, Ahmadinejad.”

Keystone State

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, intended to connect oil from tar sand deposits in Canada with U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, faced a public relations disaster when an existing long-distance pipeline burst under Mayflower, Ark., on March 29.

Officials from Exxon Mobil, which maintains the Pegasus pipeline, were quick to respond to the public relations catastrophe, low-balling estimates of the severity of the leak and containing media access. Dozens of homes were evacuated after thousands of gallons of toxic Wabasca Heavy crude washed over Mayflower’s suburban lawns. Wabasca is classified as a “heavy sour dilbit”that’s “dil” for diluted and “bit” for bitumen, a thick, low-grade oil derived from tar and oil sands. Despite efforts to prevent damaging media leakage from the spill, Exxon haz-press agents were not able to intercept some unsightly Internet video of the gurgling oil flow, which quickly went viral.

The proximate cause of the rupture remains to be determined. The capacity of the aged pipeline, designed to carry thinner oil at lower pressure, was increased 50 percent in 2009 to 90,000 barrels a day, and the system’s flow was reversed in 2006—two major sources of stress on Pegasus, a pipeline that crosses under the Mississippi River and first went into service in 1948.

Keystone XL supporters worry that the bad judgment suggested by the Mayflower spill could rupture much grander plans for Keystone, a 2,000-mile pipeline intended to move nearly 10 times the amount of diluted bitumen that passed through Pegasus each day. Keystone proponents say that compared with the total volume of oil moved by the nation’s pipeline network, that is an insignificant amount—unless, of course, one of those spills is pooling in your front yard.

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Leonard Villa
5 years 6 months ago
I don't share your views on Mr. Lewis. He was a voice of a certain conscience heavily politicized. It had positives but also negatives. Mr. Lewis and the mainstream media became tools of communist designs and propaganda that misreported the actual state of the war against the communist north (eg. the Tet offensive) and they were part of a disinformation campaign against the US to the detriment of the people of S. Vietnam who paid the price in lives of communist brutality and denomination. That brutality I don't remember making into the reporting of Mr. Lewis. That was the Jane-Fonda era putting our soldiers at risk and serving Soviet/N Vietnam propaganda objectives. The brutality and loss of lives as a result of communist domination in that area never became a real concern of Mr. Lewis and his like-minded colleagues in the national press. To the extent that Mr. Lewis contributed to the defeat of the US and the victory of communist interests in SE Asia with no subsequent concern about the Soviet/N. Vietnamese victims his was a decidedly one-sided conscience.
Robert O'Connell
5 years 6 months ago
"The brutality and loss of lives as a result of communist domination in that area never became a real concern . . . ." While Mr. Lewis certainly used his talents and earned many "attaboys" with his life, Mr. Villa's observation about communist brutality warrants emphasis: a "one-sided conscience" often misleads.
Joseph J Dunn
5 years 6 months ago
The recent rupture of the Pegasus pipeline is one more reminder that transporting oil always involves risk. But people in the U.S. will need and use oil whether or not Keystone is built. Overnight charging of those electric cars (George Shultz, Mr. Sunshine) requires electricity, most commonly generated at fossil- or nuclear-fueled electric plants. Shultz, and most of us, can change our energy usage at the margins. But the U.S. will remain dependent on carbon-based fuels, including oil, for the foreseeable future. Keystone would allow more of that oil to come from Canada, which would reduce our dependence on other foreign nations. The "peace dividend" is certainly desireable. The environmental benefit should be equally obvious: moving crude oil, or any other liquid, by pipeline over a land route is inherently safer than moving the same amount of liquid by ocean-going tanker or even by rail. We can use oil imported from Canada through a pipeline, or we can continue to rely on oil imported from the Middle-East, Venezuela, and perhaps in the future from Canada-via-China. Of the choices available, I like Keystone.


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