Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

"The Buzz" Continued...

Issue: "The waiting game," March 22, 2008

Banners left at the crime scene scoffed at the environmentally friendly innovations in the homes, referring to the structures as "McMansions" that were built black, not green. The signs also ascribed credit for the arsons to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), a loose band of radicals responsible for dozens of eco-terrorist acts over the past two decades.

The fires coincide with a trial in Tacoma of one alleged ELF member connected to a 2001 firebombing of the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture. Thus far, no signs have emerged of any link between the two cases.

China OK'd

The United States dropped China from its list of the world's worst human-rights violators, but added Syria, Uzbekistan, and Sudan to its top 10 offenders in an annual report released March 11. The State Department's 2007 Human Rights Report said China, which has raised hopes it would improve human rights by hosting the 2008 Olympics, still had a poor record overall.

Human-rights groups criticized the move, with Reporters Without Borders saying it was "a bad decision at a bad time" amid global moves to pressure Beijing into improving its record ahead of the August Olympics, particularly in the Darfur region of Sudan, where it has extensive investments and has blocked insertion of a UN peacekeeping force. China had been fingered as one of the worst violators in the department's 2006 and 2005 reports.

Iraqi archbishop found dead

"May God bless his soul in His kingdom," remarked one clergyman in Mosul after church officials received word March 13 that Paulus Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, was dead at the hands of terrorist kidnappers. The unnamed militants phoned church leaders (who asked not to be identified because their lives, too, are in danger) the day before, saying Rahho, 65, was buried in a cemetery in Mosul. His corpse was recovered and identified at a local hospital.

U.S. and Iraqi forces had searched for Rahho since militants kidnapped him Feb. 29 as he was leaving a service at his Mosul church, 225 miles north of Baghdad. Armed militants in four vehicles blocked his path and killed his two bodyguards and driver before abducting him. Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, at the time said the kidnapping looked like the work of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has regrouped near Mosul since its terror cells were forced out of Baghdad. Kidnappers issued extraordinary ransom demands-at least $2.5 million, which church leaders said were "impossible to fulfill." The well-known clergyman also was on heart medication and in poor health, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made an unusual plea for his release prior to his announced death: "Any assault on [the Christian sect in Iraq] represents an assault on all Iraqis," Maliki said in a statement.

Just one word

Sometimes pro-life fights come down to a single word. At the annual session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women last week, pro-life lobbyists kept vigil until the wee hours of Saturday morning, March 8, to battle to keep the term "sexual and reproductive health and rights" out of CSW documents. Despite opposition from the European Union, pro-lifers managed to excise "rights" from the clause-a partial victory since pro-abortion NGOs use the phrase to advocate abortion worldwide.

War powers

In a move consistent with his administration's tough prosecution of the war on terror, President George W. Bush has vetoed a bill that would have prohibited the CIA from employing harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding. In defending his position, Bush did not explicitly endorse any specific tactics but credited the CIA with keeping the United States safe. He said the country must continue "to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists."

The bill would have restricted the CIA to guidelines outlined in the Army field manual, which bans physical force against prisoners. Congressional Democrats vowed to raise the issue again and criticized Bush for ignoring military testimony that harsh interrogations produce unreliable information.

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee and an outspoken opponent of waterboarding, sided with Bush, arguing that the Army field manual is too restrictive for CIA intelligence-gathering purposes.

Separately, as House Democrats headed toward passage of a bill that would reject retroactive legal immunity for telecommunications companies that have cooperated with the government in warrantless wiretapping of suspected terrorists, Bush signaled also that he would veto that legislation.

The governor's double-cross

In 2004 then state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer won indictments against an international sex tourism business trafficking women and girls into New York. He proclaimed it the first criminal charge against sex traffickers based in the United States. Spitzer resigned as governor of New York on March 12 after being clearly implicated as a paying customer in a similar prostitution ring. Human-rights groups that fight sex trafficking and helped elect the rising Democrat called his actions a betrayal. Wall Street, where Spitzer routinely brought heavy-handed charges against financial heads and threatened whole firms with prosecution, was gloating. "Governor Spitzer, who made his career by specializing in not just the prosecution, but the ruin, of other men," read a Wall Street Journal editorial, "is himself almost certainly ruined."

Numb on marriage

California Supreme Court will rule on same-sex vows

By Lynn Vincent

Paul Sakuma/AP

The seven justices of the California Supreme Court on March 4 haggled with attorneys -and each other-during oral arguments in what may be the state's pivotal showdown over same-sex marriage.

Demonstrators on both sides chanted and waved placards outside the high court as they waited for arguments to begin. But the hubbub was only a fraction of what took place during court challenges to same-sex marriage in 2004 after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered his clerk to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses, triggering the current legal battle.

"In just four years, we have become numb" to the idea of same-sex marriage, said Advocates for Faith and Freedom general counsel Robert Tyler, who attended the March 4 arguments. "It's nothing now."

Inside the courtroom, some seemed to agree. Chief Justice Ronald George cited Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down sodomy bans. He also repeatedly invoked the 1946 California high court ruling that outlawed a ban on interracial marriage, focusing on a phrase that says marriage is the right to wed "a person of one's choice," without reference to gender.

San Francisco city attorney Terry Stewart told the court that "the sense of equality in California is ahead of the rest of the country," and that it was time for "this court to bring equality."

Justice Carol Corrigan wasn't so sure. She wondered aloud whose role it is to mediate changing societal views on marriage-the courts or the people. In 2000, nearly two-thirds of California voters passed Prop 22, an initiative that recognized marriage as between a man and a woman. A 2006 state appeals court ruling upheld the measure.

"It's going to be a very close decision," said Tyler, echoing other observers who said traditional marriage in California will either stand or fall by one vote. The court must rule within 90 days.

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