Political MoJo

The American Right Goes Global

| Tue Feb. 21, 2006 1:08 PM PST

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.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Scholar Convicted of Holocaust Denial

Tue Feb. 21, 2006 12:20 PM PST

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.

Privacy and Civil Liberties Board still has not met

| Mon Feb. 20, 2006 11:56 AM PST

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 1:28 PM PST

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 1:05 PM PST

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 7:55 PM PST

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."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Tracking the RFID Revolution

Thu Feb. 16, 2006 5:21 PM PST

Tiny chips implanted under your skin tracking access and movement: that may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but these identity tags, more commonly known as RFIDs, could become the wave of the future. As tiny as a grain of rice and medically implanted in your forearm, the chip functions like a UPC code, scanned to access restricted areas, or to help morgue workers identify missing persons or remains. At the moment, the RFID is technically a "passive" chip and doesn't send out any sort of signal, and and isn't used for tracking or surveillance -- at least not yet. With implant machines already used for a wide range of benefits, I wonder how resistant most people would be to adopting something like this. After all, if you're hearing impaired, you get a cochlear implant. Heart problems are often relieved with a pacemaker. So are RFIDs entirely out of the question?

The Pakistani-U.S. Alliance Evolves

Thu Feb. 16, 2006 2:50 PM PST

Despite nearby chants of "death to the U.S.," a lasting result of the cartoon controversy raging in Europe, U.S. army medics held a small ceremony in Pakistan yesterday to say goodbye to the last U.S. MASH unit there.

The Mobile Army Surgical Hospital has been stationed in Pakistan for the last four months in response to the October 8th earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people. The $4.5 million unit in Northern Pakistan consisted of 84 beds, a surgical suite with two operating tables, two intensive care units, a pharmacy, laboratory, radiology units and a power generation system. The entire operation was donated to Pakistani doctors as the U.S. transitions into using smaller, more flexible, traveling medical teams.

According to U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the MASH unit "caused tens of thousands of Pakistanis up in this area to change their view of America." Crocker called the recent violent uprisings and slogans the product of a few "agitators," claiming they are not representative of broad Pakistani sentiment towards America.

New Abu Ghraib Reports

| Thu Feb. 16, 2006 12:22 PM PST

Hard to say which is worse in this Sacramento Bee story about Abu Ghraib. Is it the fact that military officers were harassed and demoted for speaking out to their superiors?

Spc. Samuel Provance, also dressed in Army green, said he was demoted and humiliated after telling a general investigating the Abu Ghraib scandal that senior officers had covered up the full extent of abuse during interrogations of detainees at the U.S. military prison in Iraq.
Or is it reports that children were allegedly being kidnapped and used as "leverage" in interrogations?
Provance made a new allegation about the Abu Ghraib controversy, saying that U.S. forces had captured the 16-year-old son of an Iraqi general under Saddam Hussein, Hamid Zabar, to pressure the general into providing information.
Meanwhile, Salon has obtained thousands of new documents and several new photos related to Abu Ghraib. One early observation: As Jeanne of Body and Soul notes, at first glance, it certainly doesn't appear that a lot of the more horrific allegations by, for instance, Seymour Hersh in his public speaking engagements (notably, of "boys being sodomized") are backed up here at all. Either that means there's still more evidence to come or else Hersh was simply wrong. I would hope the latter, but it's hard to know what to think, really.

San Francisco's Newest Archbishop

Thu Feb. 16, 2006 11:59 AM PST

When San Francisco Archbishop William Levada left for a new position in Rome last year, gay Catholics were left wondering if a conservative ideologue would replace him. Yesterday afternoon, George H. Niederauer, who is rumored to be sympathetic to homosexuals in his flock, was installed as the eighth archbishop of San Francisco. Several thousand attended the mass at St. Mary's Cathedral—including Mayor Gavin Newsom—where the mood was joyous.

Niederauer, a native of California who earned a PhD in English Literature at the University of Southern California while a priest, spent much of his homily discussing Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical Deus Caritas Est [God is Love, issued three weeks ago], and referenced poets Robert Frost and T.S. Elliot, as he extolled the values of humility, charity, and love for all. It is still uncertain what the new appointment will mean for San Francisco's gay believers, but Niederauer did praise the "rich diversity" of Catholics in the city. As one longtime Bay Area Catholic in attendance remarked, "Now we wait and see."