Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The coolest car you'll never drive

The Ford Nucleon was a nuclear-powered concept car developed by Ford Motor Company in 1958. No operational models were built. The design did not include an internal-combustion engine, rather, a vehicle was to be powered by a small nuclear reactor in the rear of the vehicle. The vehicle featured a power capsule suspended between twin booms at the rear. The capsule, which would contain radioactive core for motive power, was designed to be easily interchangeable, according to performance needs and the distances to be traveled.

The passenger compartment of the Nucleon featured a one-piece, pillar-less windshield and compound rear window, and was topped by a cantilever roof. There were air intakes at the leading edge of the roof and at the base of its supports. An extreme cab-forward style provided more protection to the driver and passengers from the reactor in the rear. Some pictures show the car with tailfins sweeping up from the rear fenders.

The drive train would be integral to the power module, and electronic torque converters would take the place of the drive-train used at the time. It was said that cars like the Nucleon would be able to travel 5,000 miles or more, depending on the size of the core, without recharging. Instead at the end of the core's life they would be taken to a charging station, which research designers envisioned as largely replacing gas stations. The car was never built and never went into production, but it remains an icon of the Atomic Age of the 1950s.

The mock-up of the car can be viewed at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Bush Is Not Above the Law

LAST August, a federal judge found that the president of the United States broke the law, committed a serious felony and violated the Constitution. Had the president been an ordinary citizen — someone charged with bank robbery or income tax evasion — the wheels of justice would have immediately begun to turn. The F.B.I. would have conducted an investigation, a United States attorney’s office would have impaneled a grand jury and charges would have been brought.

But under the Bush Justice Department, no F.B.I. agents were ever dispatched to padlock White House files or knock on doors and no federal prosecutors ever opened a case.

The ruling was the result of a suit, in which I am one of the plaintiffs, brought against the National Security Agency by the American Civil Liberties Union. It was a response to revelations by this newspaper in December 2005 that the agency had been monitoring the phone calls and e-mail messages of Americans for more than four years without first obtaining warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

In the past, even presidents were not above the law. When the F.B.I. turned up evidence during Watergate that Richard Nixon had obstructed justice by trying to cover up his involvement, a special prosecutor was named and a House committee recommended that the president be impeached.

And when an independent counsel found evidence that President Bill Clinton had committed perjury in the Monica Lewinsky case, the impeachment machinery again cranked into gear, with the spectacle of a Senate trial (which ended in acquittal).

Laws are broken, the federal government investigates, and the individuals involved — even if they’re presidents — are tried and, if found guilty, punished. That is the way it is supposed to work under our system of government. But not this time.

Last Aug. 17, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the United States District Court in Detroit issued her ruling in the A.C.L.U. case. The president, she wrote, had “undisputedly violated” not only the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, but also statutory law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Enacted by a bipartisan Congress in 1978, the FISA statute was a response to revelations that the National Security Agency had conducted warrantless eavesdropping on Americans. To deter future administrations from similar actions, the law made a violation a felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.

Yet despite this ruling, the Bush Justice Department never opened an F.B.I. investigation, no special prosecutor was named, and there was no talk of impeachment in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Justice Department lawyers argued last June that warrants were not required for what they called the administration’s “terrorist surveillance program” because of the president’s “inherent powers” to order eavesdropping and because of the Congressional authorization to use military force against those responsible for 9/11. But Judge Taylor rejected both arguments, ruling that even presidents must obey statutory law and the Constitution.

On Jan. 17, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales unexpectedly declared that President Bush had ended the program, deciding to again seek warrants in all cases. Exactly what kind of warrants — individual, as is required by the law, or broad-based, which would probably still be illegal — is as yet unknown.

The action may have been designed to forestall a potentially adverse ruling by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati, which had scheduled oral arguments on the case for today. At that hearing, the administration is now expected to argue that the case is moot and should be thrown out — while reserving the right to restart the program at any time.

But that’s a bit like a bank robber coming into court and arguing that, although he has been sticking up banks for the past half-decade, he has agreed to a temporary halt and therefore he shouldn’t be prosecuted. Independent of the A.C.L.U. case, a criminal investigation by the F.B.I. and a special prosecutor should begin immediately. The question that must finally be answered is whether the president is guilty of committing a felony by continuously reauthorizing the warrantless eavesdropping program for the past five years. And if so, what action must be taken?

The issue is not original. Among the charges approved by the House Judiciary Committee when it recommended its articles of impeachment against President Nixon was “illegal wiretaps.” President Nixon, the bill charged, “caused wiretaps to be placed on the telephones of 17 persons without having obtained a court order authorizing the tap, as required by federal law; in violation of Sections 241, 371 and 2510-11 of the Criminal Code.”

Under his program, President Bush could probably be charged with wiretapping not 17 but thousands of people without having obtained a court order authorizing the taps as required by federal law, in violation of FISA.

It is not only the federal court but also many in Congress who believe that a violation of law has taken place. In a hearing on Jan. 18, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said, “For years, this administration has engaged in warrantless wiretapping of Americans contrary to the law.”

His view was shared by the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who said of Mr. Bush, “For five years he has been operating an illegal program.”

And Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, noted that much of the public was opposed to the program and that it both hurt the country at home and damaged its image abroad. “The heavy criticism which the president took on the program,” he said, “I think was very harmful in the political process and for the reputation of the country.”

To allow a president to break the law and commit a felony for more than five years without even a formal independent investigation would be the ultimate subversion of the Constitution and the rule of law. As Judge Taylor warned in her decision, “There are no hereditary kings in America.”

NY Teen in Piracy Lawsuit Accuses Record Companies of Collusion

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- A 16-year-old boy being sued for online music piracy accused the recording industry on Tuesday of violating antitrust laws, conspiring to defraud the courts and making extortionate threats.

In papers responding to a lawsuit filed by five record companies, Robert Santangelo, who was as young as 11 when the alleged piracy occurred, denied ever disseminating music and said it's impossible to prove that he did.

Santangelo is the son of Patti Santangelo, the 42-year-old suburban mother of five who was sued by the record companies in 2005. She refused to settle, took her case public and became a heroine to supporters of Internet freedom.

The industry dropped its case against her in December but sued Robert and his sister Michelle, now 20, in federal court in White Plains. Michelle has been ordered to pay $30,750 in a default judgment because she did not respond to the lawsuit.

Robert Santangelo and his lawyer, Jordan Glass, responded at length on Tuesday, raising 32 defenses, demanding a jury trial and filing a counterclaim against the companies for allegedly damaging the boy's reputation, distracting him from school and costing him legal fees.

His defenses to the industry's lawsuit include that he never sent copyrighted music to others; that the recording companies promoted file sharing before turning against it; that average computer users were never warned that it was illegal; that the statute of limitations has passed; and that all the music claimed to have been downloaded was actually owned by his sister on store-bought CDs.

Santangelo also claims that the record companies, which have filed more than 18,000 piracy lawsuits in federal courts, "have engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy to defraud the courts of the United States.''

The papers allege that the companies, "ostensibly competitors in the recording industry, are a cartel acting collusively in violation of the antitrust laws and public policy'' by bringing the piracy cases jointly and using the same agency "to make extortionate threats ... to force defendants to pay.''

The Recording Industry Association of America, which has coordinated most of the lawsuits, issued a statement saying, "The record industry has suffered enormously due to piracy. That includes thousands of layoffs. We must protect our rights. Nothing in a filing full of recycled charges that have gone nowhere in the past changes that fact.''