Political MoJo

Civil War in Iraq?

| Wed Feb. 22, 2006 6:30 PM EST

Swopa rounds up evidence—okay, more like the barest of hints—that the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra yesterday may have been the work of militant Shiites looking to provoke some serious sectarian warfare. It's not impossible, I guess. And it certainly appears to be working, with Shiites and Sunnis battling it out all across the country. Quite obviously a lot of different groups in Iraq have a lot of different motives for edging the country closer to civil war, and it seems like that will only become increasingly easier to do as time goes on.

Meanwhile, it was only a few days ago that Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad threatened to withdraw aid from the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government if it insisted on engaging in sectarian warfare with the Sunnis. And now top Shiite leaders are blaming Khalilzad for encouraging the insurgents with that statement all while… engaging in sectarian warfare. So what will the U.S. do? President Bush sounds like he's planning to back the Shiite government and oppose the "terrorists" while calling for "restraint" on all sides. But this doesn't seem like the sort of thing you can really finesse in this way. Juan Cole says this is an "apocalyptic day." Very bad.

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Should Corporations Handle the Ports?

| Wed Feb. 22, 2006 6:25 PM EST

Kevin Drum says he doesn't see why the sale of operations of six American ports to Dubai Ports World, a shipping company owned by the United Arab Emirates, is such a scandal. After all, the company wouldn't even be handling port security in those ports; the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Security would. Plus, over 30 percent of this country's port terminals are already operated by foreign companies anyway. And DPW already does this sort of thing in ports all over the world, and other countries seem okay with that. Okay, I'll buy all that.

But The Nation's John Nichols, meanwhile, asks an interesting question: Why are ports run by corporations at all? Shouldn't this sort of vital national infrastructure be operated and run by the government? Well, my understanding here is that ports are run by the government, mostly: port operations (i.e., moving ships in and out of terminals) are handled by corporations, true, but the regulatory apparatus (i.e., security, customs, licensing, etc.) is handled by the state, and all major U.S. ports are owned by public port authorities, which oversee development, construction, port policies, etc.

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.

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:

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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.

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."