2006 - %3, February

GOP Requests Church Directories

| Tue Feb. 21, 2006 9:24 PM EST

North Carolina Republicans know where to find their friends, and aren't afraid to give them a call. That is, if they can get the correct phone numbers. Over the protests of local national religious leaders, the North Carolina Republican party called on its members to submit their church directories to the party, stating that "people who regularly attend church usually vote Republican when they vote."

Bill Peaslee, the party's chief of staff, claimed he was simply targeting his demographic base. "The Republican Party believes that people shouldn't leave their moral and spiritual beliefs at the door of the polling place," the chief of staff said. "We're just appealing to one of our constituencies, just as the Democrat Party does. ... The Democrats may feel it's more profitable to go and do voter registration drives at a homosexual convention. We feel more comfortable going to churches."

According to the Internal Revenue Service, a church's tax exempt status may be revoked if it engages in "any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office." In this case, local North Carolina clergy have called the practice of soliciting directories unethical, especially if it could potentially call the leanings of the church into question.

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The Last Days of the Ocean

| Tue Feb. 21, 2006 6:19 PM EST

The fate of the world's oceans doesn't get a whole lot of press coverage these days—if any—but in fact they're all an utter mess, and it's a real problem. From Julia Whitty's now-online cover story from the March issue of Mother Jones: "Science now recognizes that the ocean is not just a pretty vista or a distant horizon but the vital circulatory, respiratory, and reproductive organs of our planet, and that these biological systems are suffering." Read on for the gruesome details.

You can read this month's complete oceans package online here, with articles on, among other things, the effects of over-fishing and how the fishing industry is allowed to regulate itself; how polar bears now face extinction; how Navy sonar is killing whales, and how a company set up by George H.W. Bush is killing off the most important fish in America you've never heard of.

Supreme Court to Consider Partial Birth Abortion Ban

| Tue Feb. 21, 2006 5:40 PM EST

The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear a challenge to the Partial Birth Abortion Ban passed by Congress in 2003:

Chris Cox' Tenure So Far

| Tue Feb. 21, 2006 4:37 PM EST

Those of us who follow corporate scandals and governance issues were certainly expecting the worst when President Bush nominated Chris Cox to head the SEC, after the former chairman, William Donaldson, was forced out (Donaldson, despite being Republican, had a bit too much of a reformist for this administration to stomach). Cox, after all, had spent his entire career in the House working to weaken corporate regulations. But in the early months after his nomination, some commentators suggested that Cox might not be the right-wing nutcase everyone expected, but would instead carry out some of Donaldson's modest reforms and do his best to try to avoid another wave of corporate scandals similar to those in 2002.

Or at least that was the thought. But now Roger Lowenstein has a piece in the February American Prospect arguing that, no, no, the worriers were right all along; Cox probably will be as bad as everyone expected. Corporate America, after all, needs some serious reforms—and fast—in order to avoid meltdowns in the relatively near future:

The American Right Goes Global

| Tue Feb. 21, 2006 4:08 PM EST

Rachel Morris of Legal Affairs has an intriguing report on conservative Christian legal groups that are going abroad to fight various legal cases abroad, before those cases end up as fodder for Supreme Court decisions here at home. Justice Anthony Kennedy, after all, has suggested that the interpretation of Constitutional law should at least listen to what foreign courts are saying—see Jeffrey Toobin's profile of Kennedy in the New Yorker for more on this—and Stephen Breyer has more-or-less agreed.

Scholar Convicted of Holocaust Denial

| Tue Feb. 21, 2006 3:20 PM EST

Yesterday in Austria, David Irving, a once-respected British scholar, was sentenced to three years in jail after being convicted of denying the Holocaust. Before his arrest in November, Irving had already banned in both Austria and Germany because of his views. He further cemented his reputation when he unsuccessfully sued an American historian, Deborah Lipstadt, for calling him a racist in her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.

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Privacy and Civil Liberties Board still has not met

| Mon Feb. 20, 2006 2:56 PM EST

What do the White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and the Vice President's Terrorism Task Force have in common?

Neither believes in holding meetings. Ever.

Though the media never talked or wrote about it much, Dick Cheney's Terrorism Task Force, formed in May of 2001, never held a meeting. Such is also the case with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, formed at the recommendation of the over-praised September 11 Commission in December of 2004. There has been conflict over the board's budget, its powers, and its membership. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved two of Bush's nominees to the board, but it is estimated that it could take months before the board is actually ready to work.

Carol E. Dinkins, an attorney and former member of the Reagan Justice Department, is chairwoman of the board. She was the treasurer of George W. Bush's 1994 campaign for governor of Texas, and co-chair of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney, an organization which recruited attorneys to handle legal conflicts after the 2004 election. She is also a member of the law firm where Attorney General Alberto Gonzales once worked.

Only one board member, vice chairman Alan Charles Raul, appears to have any experience in the field of civil liberties.

New York judge throws out Canadian's rendition suit

| Fri Feb. 17, 2006 4:28 PM EST

Yesterday, Judge David Trager of the Eastern District of New York threw out a suit filed by a Canadian citizen who was arrested by U.S. authorities at John F. Kennedy airport in 2002 and sent to Syria to be interrogated. The plaintiff, Maher Arar, was suspected by the U.S. government of being a member of al Qaeda. He spent ten months in a Syrian jail, where he claimed he was tortured. Arar also said he was tortured in detention at Kennedy Airport. The United States government has never filed any charges against him.

With the assistance of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Arar filed suit against former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and several other officials. In his 88-page ruling, Judge Trager said that the courts could not interfere with national security or in matters of foreign relations. However, Trager did invite Arar to resubmit his claim that he had been denied due process because of the conditions of his imprisonment.

Barbara Olshanksy, Deputy Legal Director with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said " We will not accept this decision and are committed to continuing our campaign to obtain the truth about what happened to Maher and demand accountability on behalf of the Administration."

Time for a Gas Tax

| Fri Feb. 17, 2006 4:05 PM EST

In the New York Times, Robert Frank discusses the gas tax: "A Way to Cut Fuel Consumption That Everyone Likes, Except the Politicians." Indeed, it's not clear why a $2-a-gallon gas tax—which would then be refunded to Americans through reduced payroll taxes—is so politically unviable, except that it was unpopular when Jimmy Carter first proposed it, and has been stuck with a bad reputation ever since. But here's the bottom line: "In the warmer weather they will have inherited from us a century from now, perspiring historians will struggle to explain why this proposal was once considered politically unthinkable." Right, exactly.

Now there are some decent arguments that a gas tax would have an unfair impact on certain people in the United States: it would fall especially heavily on those who live in rural areas and can't easily adjust their driving habits. Perhaps regional tax credits of sorts could help those who are being disproportionately hurt, but yes, there will be quite a bit of pain. Moreover, there's some evidence that stricter CAFÉ standards on automakers could increase fuel efficiency more gently than gas taxes would (although drivers might just respond by driving more, and total fuel consumption wouldn't go down).

Still, the main point here is that reducing fuel consumption in the U.S. and somehow averting global warming is going to be a massive and radical undertaking—perhaps a near-impossible one. The idea that we can somehow achieve this by doing stuff that doesn't inflict any pain whatsoever is an unrealistic one.

The Internet Debate Heats Up in Congress

| Thu Feb. 16, 2006 10:55 PM EST

Yesterday the Congress human rights subcommittee held a seven-hour hearing on the internet censorship debate. Republicans and Democrats chastised internet giants Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Cisco for allowing the Chinese government to limit citizens' access to preapproved websites. Tom Lantos (D-CA), co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, accused the four companies of "nauseating collaboration with a regime of repression," while Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) equated support for China's totalitarianism with assistance to the Nazi's during World War II. Smith later brought Google to center stage, mocking their motto "Don't Be Evil", calling the conglomerate "evil's accomplice."