Domestic Policy

  The Oil Land GrabJuly 30, 2008 16:40 The White House on Wednesday made a new push for expanded offshore drilling to help lower fuel prices, days after new government data showed American petroleum product exports hit record levels.
Flanked in the White House Rose Garden by his cabinet after meeting to discuss energy issues, President George W. Bush called on Congress to pass legislation before its month-long August recess to allow more offshore drilling.
"To reduce pressure on prices, we need to increase the supply of oil, especially here at home," Bush told reporters.
Bush this month lifted an executive order that had banned drilling in most U.S. waters and wants Congress to end its own drilling ban before lawmakers leave town in August.
"The sooner Congress lifts the ban, the sooner we can get this oil from the ocean floor to your gas tank," Bush said.
Critics of the offshore drilling plan noted that the Energy Department released data this week showing that U.S. exports of finished petroleum products, including gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel, soared to 1.592 million barrels per day in May.
The exports set a record for the month and were up 31 percent from a year ago.
Jim Greeff, deputy legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters, said the export data shows it was "misleading" for the administration or the oil industry to suggest new offshore supplies would reduce U.S. pump prices.
"The oil companies pushing for drilling is nothing more than a land grab," Greeff said.

  Roadless Plan For Colo. Up For ReviewJuly 29, 2008 08:38 The U.S. Forest Service is launching a public review of a proposed rule for national forests in Colorado that could weaken protection for about 4.1 million acres of federal “roadless” lands in the state.

The latest version of the rule, specific to Colorado, leaves loopholes for mining, logging, ski-resort expansions and energy development, according to conservation groups.

The controversial roadless rule affects about 58 million acres nationally, including about 60,000 acres in Summit County — mostly big chunks of federal land adjacent to existing wilderness areas.

Conservation groups said the comment period triggered by the July 25 publication of the rule in the Federal Register is a chance for Colorado once again to adopt the more stringent protections offered by the original version, first unveiled in the final months of the Clinton administration.

The proposed rule now open for review is based on a plan drawn up by a statewide roadless task force that convened after the nascent Bush administration opted for state-by-state standards for managing the roadless areas rather than a single national policy.

Both the Clinton rule and Bush's replacement were challenged in court, with appeals still pending.

Strong public support
The Colorado version makes broad exceptions to leaving the land in its natural state for forest-health logging projects far in the backcountry, and it would remove protections for about 3,000 acres of so-called “inventoried” roadless areas in the White River National Forest to expand ski areas.

But in a series of hearings around the state, the task force heard strong public support for giving the roadless areas the highest possible level of protection short of formal wilderness designations by Congress.
  Gop Chose Base, Not Bush In Housing VoteJuly 25, 2008 18:49 President Bush pulled the rug out from under Republicans this week when he abruptly dropped his opposition to a massive housing rescue.

Their reaction? Good riddance.

Three-quarters of House Republicans defied Bush and voted against the package, designed to help 400,000 homeowners stave off foreclosure and inject a dose of stability into jittery housing and financial markets.

The split reflected an every-man-for-himself mentality that has taken hold in GOP circles in a challenging political environment in which Bush, with record-low approval ratings, is seen as an albatross around the necks of vulnerable Republicans.

"For these members — particularly those on the bubble — there's no percentage in being seen as a Bush lackey," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. The president's decision to drop this threat to veto the bill "probably made it easier to vote against it, because then you don't get beat up for siding with Bush."

  Sick Truckers Causing Fatal WrecksJuly 21, 2008 11:10 Tractor-trailer and bus drivers in the United States have suffered seizures, heart attacks or unconscious spells behind the wheel that led to deadly crashes on highways. Hundreds of thousands of drivers carry commercial licenses even though they also qualify for full federal disability payments, according to a new U.S. safety study obtained by The Associated Press.

The problems threatening highway travelers persist despite years of government warnings and hundreds of deaths and injuries blamed on commercial truck and bus drivers who blacked out, collapsed or suffered major health problems behind the wheels of vehicles that can weigh 40 tons or more.

The U.S. agency responsible for cracking down on unfit truckers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, acknowledges it hasn't completed any of eight recommendations that U.S. safety regulators have proposed since 2001. One would set minimum standards for officials who determine whether truckers are medically safe to drive. Another would prevent truckers from "doctor shopping" to find a physician who might overlook a risky health condition. It's unclear whether any of the eight recommendations will be done before President Bush leaves office.

"We have a major public safety problem, and we haven't corrected it," said Gerald Donaldson, senior research director at the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, whose members include consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies. "You have an agency that is favorably disposed to maintaining the integrity of the industry's economic situation."
  White House Threatens To Veto Oil Drilling LegislationJuly 18, 2008 08:51 The White House on Thursday threatened to veto legislation being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives that would force oil companies to give up undrilled federal leases and ban the export of crude drilled in Alaska.

The bill, which the House was to vote on later on Thursday, has a "use it or lose it" provision that requires oil companies to diligently develop their existing federal leases or turn them back to the government before they could obtain new acres to drill.

"By blocking some firms from competing for new leases, this legislation would further increase gasoline prices that already exceed $4 per gallon and result in unintended consequences due to litigation," the White House said in a statement.

"Even though new leases will take years to develop, oil markets are forward-looking, and an expected decline in future supply will raise prices today," the White House said.
  The Distraction Of Offshore DrillingJuly 18, 2008 08:44 There is no quick fix to $4.50-a-gallon gas, no way to provide instant relief to consumers we know are hurting. Yet President Bush and others continue to push the false promise of offshore oil drilling.

Just this week, the president lifted the executive order banning drilling that George H.W. Bush put in place in 1990. And he's asked Congress to lift its own moratorium on oil exploration on the outer continental shelf -- which includes coastal waters as close as three miles from shore.

This would be a terrible mistake. It would put our nation's precious coastlines in jeopardy and wouldn't begin to fix the underlying energy-supply problem. And it surely wouldn't ease gas prices any time in the near future.

The vast majority of the outer continental shelf is already open to oil exploration: Areas containing an estimated 82% of all of the natural gas and 79% of the oil are today available to energy companies through existing federal leases. Federal agencies are issuing drilling permits at three times the rate they were in 1999 -- but that hasn't slowed oil prices during the climb from $19 to beyond $140 a barrel.

Meantime, energy companies haven't fully utilized their existing permits to drill on another 68 million acres of federal lands and waters. Exploiting these areas probably could double U.S. oil production and increase natural gas production by 75%.

Opening the protected areas of the continental shelf, on the other hand, wouldn't produce a drop of oil for seven years or longer. It takes a minimum of two years to process the new leases. Industry experts tell us that there's a three- to five-year waiting list for new drilling ships and other equipment.

And with any drilling, oil spills are a very real threat. Californians have learned the hard way how much damage -- environmental and economic -- can be caused by a major spill. A healthy coast is vital to California's economy and our quality of life. Ocean-dependent industry is estimated to contribute $43 billion to California each year.

We cannot drill our way out of the energy problem. Our nation doesn't need smooth talk and rosy scenarios. We need a clear-eyed view of our energy situation.
  Budget Woes Doom Ambitious Plan For Moon ShipJuly 17, 2008 09:21 Money problems will likely force NASA to abandon its ambitious internal goal of having a new moon spaceship ready by 2013, a top space agency official said Wednesday.

The agency should still be able to meet its public commitment to test launch astronauts in the first Orion capsule by March 2015, the official said, unless national budget stalemates continue.

But the agency's own plan to get the job done even earlier — with a first launch by 2013 — will "very likely" be changed during meetings this week in Houston, said Doug Cooke, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration.

"We're probably going to have to move our target date," Cooke said in a phone interview. An actual astronaut moon landing is still set for 2020. Orion initially will just orbit Earth before attempting a more complicated moon launch that also will involve unmanned rockets.

Cooke acknowledged the slipped launch target date during an interview about an internal NASA report leaked to the Web site, NASA Watch. The document shows that the space agency's overall moon plan has encountered financial and technical problems, which NASA says it can overcome.

The leaked report reflects typical problems of a program this early, Cooke said.
  Gore: Use Only Earth-Friendly Energy In U.S. In 10 YearsJuly 17, 2008 09:20 Just as John F. Kennedy set his sights on the moon, Al Gore is challenging the nation to produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, sun and other Earth-friendly energy sources within 10 years, an audacious goal he hopes the next president will embrace.

The Nobel Prize-winning former vice president said fellow Democrat Barack Obama and Republican rival John McCain are "way ahead" of most politicians in the fight against global climate change.

Rising fuel costs, climate change and the national security threats posed by U.S. dependence on foreign oil are conspiring to create "a new political environment" that Gore said will sustain bold and expensive steps to wean the nation off fossil fuels.

"I have never seen an opportunity for the country like the one that's emerging now," Gore told The Associated Press in an interview previewing a speech on global warming he was to deliver Thursday in Washington.

Gore said he fully understands the magnitude of the challenge.

The Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan group that he chairs, estimates the cost of transforming the nation to so-called clean electricity sources at $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion over 30 years in public and private money. But he says it would cost about as much to build ozone-killing coal plants to satisfy current demand.

"This is an investment that will pay itself back many times over," Gore said. "It's an expensive investment but not compared to the rising cost of continuing to invest in fossil fuels."
  Price Jump Worst Since '91 On Record Gas, Higher FoodJuly 16, 2008 09:28 Record gas and higher food prices drove inflation to the biggest annual jump since 1991 and fanned fears about growing pressures on consumers.

The Labor Department reading on Wednesday is another sign, along with mounting job losses and declining home prices, of the economic pain suffered by Americans as prices outstrip increases in paychecks.

The latest reading came as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in testimony on Capitol Hill, was warning that inflation could pose a major drag on the economy for the rest of this year.

Retail prices were up 5% annually in June, the biggest 12-month change since May 1991 - an annual figure that was skewed by the surge in gasoline prices related to the first Gulf War.

A separate Labor Department report showed the average hourly wage up only 3.4% over the same 12-month period, meaning the typical American is having trouble keeping up with the price increases.

"The government report confirms what every consumer in America has known for months now: inflation is soaring and it's having an adverse impact on the economy," said Rich Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research.

On a monthly basis, the Consumer Price Index was up 1.1% in June, after a 0.6% rise in May. Economists surveyed by had been looking for only a 0.7% rise.

Energy prices were up 6.6% in the month, led by a 10.1% jump in gas prices. That left gasoline prices up nearly a third from a year earlier.

  Bush Lifts Executive Ban On Off-Shore DrillingJuly 15, 2008 12:43 U.S. President George Bush is stepping up pressure on Congress to open up off shore oil exploration. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports Mr. Bush has lifted an executive order banning offshore drilling and is urging lawmakers to complete the process by dropping a legislative prohibition.

President Bush is upping the stakes in his battle with Congress over domestic oil exploration.

In order for offshore drilling to resume, both Congress and the president have to remove existing prohibitions. One was imposed by the legislature. The other - an executive order - was signed by the president's father - President George H.W. Bush - in 1990.

Both were put in place at a time when the environmental concerns linked to off-shore drilling were high. President Bush says with new technology in place, and the need for domestic sources of energy rising, the ban is no longer warranted.

At first, he wanted Congress to take the lead. But his calls on the legislature to act got no results. And so Mr. Bush decided to go first, and lift the executive ban as a way to pressure lawmakers into action.

"With this action, the executive branch's restrictions on this exploration have been cleared away," said President Bush. "This means that the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress."

Mr. Bush stressed failure to act on the part of Congress is unacceptable, adding the American people deserve better as energy prices continue to rise.

"Now the ball is squarely in Congress' court," he said. "Democratic leaders can show that they have finally heard the frustrations of the American people by matching the action I've taken today, repealing the congressional ban, and passing legislation to facilitate responsible offshore exploration."
  Bush, Oil And The Irrefutable FactsJuly 15, 2008 10:30 Just as Bush exploited the fear over 9/11 to lie America into the disastrous Iraq war, he is now using Americans exasperation over high energy prices to scare Americans into approving drilling in pristine areas of our country - not to help lower the price of energy, but to enrich the coffers of his oil cohorts he's in bed with - and profits personally from.

Here are the irrefutable facts:

1) We use 25 percent of the world's oil, yet have only three percent of the world's reserves - we cannot drill our way out of this situation.

2) The oil companies have hundreds, if not thousands of drilled - and capped wells in Alaska, yet wish to exploit and destroy ANWR for six months worth of oil that will take 10 years to reach the market, and likely be sold to Asia.

3) The oil companies have leases on 68 million acres of coastal waters already open to offshore drilling, but they have yet to even begin exploration in these areas

4) Oil is traded on a global market, so the tiny amount of additional oil produced - would be immediately sucked up and diluted by the world's thirst for oil, doing little to alleviate supply or price issues here in the U.S.

5) The only way for America to become energy independent and to provide affordable energy is through alternative energy, something Bush underfunded - sacrificing our national security to enrich his oil company compadres fleecing the middle class, as they "earn" record profits.

Finally, the disgraceful manipulation by commodity traders - two-thirds of whom are not involved in the oil business, and adds as much as $60 per barrel of oil must be stopped immediately - something that would bring immediate relief to consumers, but Bush refuses to enact this vital legislation that is destroying our economy.
  Schumer: Don'T Blame Me For Indymac Failure - Cnn.ComJuly 13, 2008 22:12 Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday the Bush administration is trying to "blame the fire on the person who calls 911" by suggesting he had a role in one of the costliest U.S. bank failures.

Federal regulators with the Office of Thrift Supervision were "asleep at the switch" when it came to IndyMac's "reckless" behavior, the New York Democrat complained.

The OTS announced Friday that it was taking over the $32 billion IndyMac and transferring control to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

The OTS pointed the finger directly at Schumer for the failure, accusing him of sparking a bank run by releasing a letter that "expressed concerns about IndyMac's viability."
  Bank Regulators Close Indymac, Transfer To FdicJuly 11, 2008 21:24 In what could turn out to be the most expensive bank failure ever, troubled mortgage lender IndyMac Bank was taken over by federal regulators on Friday.

The operations of the Pasadena, Calif.-based bank - once one of the nation's largest home lenders - were shut down at 3 p.m. by the Office of Thrift Supervision and transferred to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

According to the FDIC, 10,000 IndyMac customers could lose as much as $500 million in uninsured deposits. The agency says the failure will cost the Deposit Insurance Fund between $4 billion and $8 billion, based on preliminary estimates.

"It's possible this will be the most costly bank failure in history, but it's too soon to say," FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said in a conference call late Friday night. The failure could also affect premiums paid by all banks for deposit insurance, she added.

IndyMac, with assets of $32.01 billion and deposits of $19.06 billion, is the fifth bank to fail this year. Between 2005 and 2007, only three banks failed. And in the past 15 years, the FDIC has taken over 127 banks with combined assets of $22 billion, according to FDIC records.

"There will be increased failures, but it will be within range of what we can handle," Bair said. "People should not worry."
  Court Strikes Down Emission Rule, In Blow To Bush AdministrationJuly 11, 2008 21:09 A federal court struck down a rule Friday to cut air pollution from power plants in the eastern U.S., roiling environmental markets and dealing a blow to Bush Administration policy.

The decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit eliminates a federal program to improve air quality in 28 states using an existing market-based system created to address acid rain.

"We find more than several fatal flaws in the rule," wrote the court, ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to write new regulations.

The EPA program faced opposition from states and the power industry, challenging in federal court the regulations finalized in 2005. Their concerns ranged from the costs of compliance to the speed at which the rules addressed pollution carried by winds across state lines.

The court decision had an immediate effect on environmental markets established more than a decade ago to reduce acid rain. The EPA rule aimed to make additional improvements in air quality through an existing cap-and-trade system established for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Prices dropped sharply in response to the ruling, with sulfur dioxide allowance prices trading as low as $102.50 apiece Friday after closing around $300 on Thursday, according to Evolution Markets, an advisory and brokerage for coal and environmental markets.

"Supply and demand shifted with the stroke of pen here," said Peter Zaborowsky, a managing director at Evolution Markets.

The EPA rule was to combat the movement of particulate matter from power plants in the Midwest to the East Coast by tightening the cap on sulfur dioxide emissions and establishing a new cap on emissions of nitrogen oxides. The rules would have required power plants, starting in 2010, to use two allowances instead of one to emit a ton of sulfur dioxide, nearly cutting the supply of allowances in half, Zaborowsky said.

The ruling went in favor of the power industry, with Duke Energy Co. (DUK) and other utilities saying the EPA regulations would have increased costs because allowances would have been allocated unfairly. At the same time, states applauded the ruling, saying the decision eliminated an EPA program that failed to adequately address the issue of air pollution.

"The irresponsibly weak and worthless EPA rule allows power plants in upwind states to spew harmful emissions for years, delivering their dirty air to Connecticut and other states deprived of achieving national air quality standards," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a press release Friday.
  Fannie, Freddie Turmoil May Hike Rates, Slow RecoveryJuly 11, 2008 21:07 A failure or government bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could push mortgage rates above 7 percent for the first time in six years and delay a recovery in the U.S. housing market.

Home loan rates would go up by one percentage point, to about 7.3 percent, if the companies failed because borrowers would have to pay private market rates, said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage research firm HSH Associates in Pompton Plains, New Jersey. Even if the government steps in, rates could gain as much as half a percentage point as the cost of selling mortgage-backed securities rises, he said.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own or guarantee about half of the nation's $12 trillion of home loans, have lost about half of their market value in the past week on concern the companies have insufficient capital to cover losses on mortgages they hold. The turmoil may limit the companies' role in reviving the housing market, said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

``We were all counting on Freddie and Fannie to step up and get the housing market rolling again, but they've been completely overwhelmed by the subprime tsunami,'' Zandi said in an interview.

Sales of previously owned homes probably will drop to an eight-year low of 5.31 million in 2008, the National Association of Realtors said in a June 8 forecast. The median sale price is set to tumble 6.2 percent, four times the 1.4 percent drop last year that was the first decrease in the national median since the Great Depression in the 1930s, according to Lawrence Yun, the Chicago-based group's chief economist.

Late Payments, Defaults

Almost one in every 10 U.S. home loans had a late payment or had defaulted in the first quarter, according to a June 5 report by the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington. The total inventory of homes in foreclosure increased to 2.47 percent and the delinquency rate, loans with payments 30 days or more overdue, grew to 6.35 percent. Both were all-time highs, the trade group said.

  Teen Pregnancies Up For First Time In 15 YearsJuly 10, 2008 22:55 Clearly those abstinence programs are working.

Teen pregnancies rose in the United States for the first time since 1991, the National Institutes of Health reported Friday.

The new data also show that eighth-graders smoke less, according to the report "America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being 2008."

The report comes after a spate of high-profile teen pregnancies: that of 17-year-old TV star Jamie Lynn Spears, who recently gave birth to a daughter, as well as the pregnancies of numerous students at Gloucester High School in Massachusetts.

Federal health experts said they don't know why the teen pregnancy numbers went up from 2005 to 2006, and that not enough data have been collected to say whether it's a trend.

"It may be a blip in the data, and it may come down," Edward J. Sondik, Director of the National Center for Health Statistics in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.

Among other key findings from the study: Injury and mortality among adolescents ages 15 to 19 went down from 2004 to 2005. But more youth offenders ages 12 to 17 were involved in serious violent crimes in the same time period. The number of students who reported using illicit drugs over the past 30 days did not change significantly from 2006 to 2007 among eighth-, 10th-, or 12th-graders.
  Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac too big to failJuly 10, 2008 16:43 Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the largest buyers of U.S. home loans, are too big for the government to let them fail, leading Republican and Democratic lawmakers said.

The government-chartered companies, which own or guarantee about half the $12 trillion of U.S. mortgages, can count on a federal lifeline, said Republican Senator John McCain, of Arizona, and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, of New York.

The remarks by the presumptive Republican presidential candidate and the head of the congressional Joint Economic Committee followed a slide in the firms' shares to the lowest level since 1991. They indicate Congress would push the administration to use government funds to prevent the companies from failing and threatening a deeper housing recession.

``They must not fail,'' McCain said today during a campaign stop in Belleville, Michigan. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ``are vital to Americans' ability to own their own homes,'' he said at an earlier stop in the state, one of the worst affected by the surge in foreclosures.

Central banks, pension funds and other investors hold $5.2 trillion in debt sold by the companies.

While bondholders can count on a backstop, equity investors can't expect the government to halt a tumble in the companies' shares, Representative Spencer Bachus, the senior Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, said today.

  Kennedy Returns To Help Pass Medicare BillJuly 09, 2008 22:50 Senator Edward M. Kennedy made an extraordinary return to the Senate on Wednesday to deliver Democrats a decisive victory on a signature health care issue despite his own treatment for brain cancer.

Mr. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, flown in virtual secrecy to Washington, stirred the normally staid chamber to a rousing ovation and moved many colleagues to tears when he made a surprise appearance in the Senate in the late afternoon to break a Republican filibuster on a Medicare bill.

Looking steady but flushed in his first visit to the Capitol since his cancer was discovered in late May, Mr. Kennedy was quickly surrounded by senators who could barely keep from overwhelming him despite cautions to keep their distance because his treatments have weakened his immune system.

Democrats were overjoyed and Republicans stood, smiled and applauded as well, though some looked uneasy as it dawned on them that once again Mr. Kennedy was about to hand them a stinging defeat on health care policy. The defeat was sealed once Mr. Kennedy delivered a clear “aye” in his familiar but recently absent baritone accompanied by twin thumbs-up.

“I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be able to express my voice and my vote,” Mr. Kennedy told reporters as he left the Capitol to return to Massachusetts and resume his treatments.

Mr. Kennedy’s appearance was the product of a covert operation coordinated with Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, after the bill to block a cut in doctor fees paid by Medicare fell one vote short two weeks ago. Few Democrats were made aware of the plan until minutes before the vote, and Republicans were blindsided, giving them no time to plot a counterstrategy.

Mr. Reid escorted Mr. Kennedy into the chamber along with Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the Democratic presidential contender who was in the Senate for the Medicare vote as well as an earlier terror surveillance vote. Also serving as informal bodyguards were Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Representative Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island, Mr. Kennedy’s son.
  Supreme Court Decision Ignores Precedent, Common SenseJuly 06, 2008 20:58 Christmas came early for the NRA this year. The big gift: the Supreme Court's June 26 ruling in the case of District of Columbia vs. Heller, which struck down the District's decades-old handgun ban and held that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense.

The court did just what the gun lobby wanted - it disregarded long-standing judicial precedent (including a 1939 Supreme Court decision holding that the Second Amendment confers a right to bear arms only in the context of a well regulated state militia) and opened the floodgates to litigation challenging our nation's gun laws. It is ironic that Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the narrow 5-4 conservative majority, has proved himself to be one of the so-called activist judges he has so harshly criticized in the past.

Fortunately, the Heller decision didn't entirely fulfill the gun lobby's wish list. The court found that the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited, i.e., it is "not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." The opinion provides examples of permissible firearms laws, including those prohibiting the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, and forbidding firearm possession in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings (the court would not want to suggest that the prohibition on guns in its own workplace would violate the Constitution). The court also found that laws imposing conditions on the commercial sale of firearms and banning dangerous and unusual weapons, such as M-16 rifles used by the military, would pass muster.

So the good news - if indeed good news can be found in an intellectually dishonest, outcome-driven decision by our highest court - is that Heller leaves the door open to a variety of gun laws. The bad news, however, is that the opinion provides no guidance whatsoever to lower courts regarding the standards they should use to review those laws.

Instead, the decision creates uncertainty where none existed before, inviting the gun lobby to file lawsuits and forcing litigants to battle it out in the courts on a haphazard, case-by-case basis. The first salvos in that battle were fired immediately after the Heller decision was issued, when the gun lobby sued San Francisco, Chicago and other Illinois cities that ban handgun possession (the San Francisco prohibition applies only to public housing).

Although the Heller case has changed the legal landscape surrounding gun regulation, it has not changed the realities surrounding gun violence in our nation. It has not changed the fact that more than 30,000 Americans die each year from firearm-related homicides, suicides and accidental shootings - an average of 80 gun deaths each day. It has not changed the fact that the rate of gun deaths in America is higher than in all of the other industrialized nations of the world, or that our gun laws are incredibly weak when compared to the laws of those nations. It has not changed the fact that most Americans support commonsense laws to reduce firearm-related deaths and injuries. Nor has it changed the fact that many legislators throughout our country - particularly in cities and states most ravaged by gun violence - are willing to do battle with the NRA to secure passage of such laws.