Iran: test fires and misfires
Did it work? If Iran's two episodes of test-firing medium- and long-range missiles over the Persian Gulf July 9 and 10 were meant as a provocation, then the United States has replied by sending its No. 3 diplomat from the State Department to meet with Iran's top arms negotiator in Geneva. The scheduled July 19 talks are the highest-level contact between the two nations since 1979. Undersecretary of State William Burns will attend to underscore the urgency of Iran halting its nuclear enrichment program and avoiding threatened retaliation from Israel.
Arabic-language television claimed the missiles were launched from an undisclosed location in the Iranian desert, with a range of about 1,250 miles-or capable of reaching Cairo, Athens, Istanbul, New Delhi, and Jerusalem. But subsequent reports showed Iran had doctored the missile photos and exaggerated their capability.
No cuts wanted here
A bill to stop a cut in doctor fees paid by Medicare seemed headed for defeat in the U.S. Senate after its July 4th recess. Democrats were one vote short of the 60 needed to block a Republican filibuster over the measure, which the House had passed overwhelmingly.
Then there was a stir in the Senate chamber that became a rousing ovation: An ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy, in a surprise return to the Capitol for the first time since undergoing brain surgery, made his way to the floor to break the impasse. Accompanied by presidential hopeful Barack Obama, Kennedy voted "aye," then returned to Massachusetts to resume his cancer treatment. His dramatic return-which Democratic leaders had carefully staged-prompted nine Senate Republicans up for reelection this year to change their position and support the bill. It passed with 69 votes. President Bush promptly vetoed the measure, but it passed both houses with veto-proof majorities and his veto was easily overriden on July 15. At issue: whether the fees Medicare pays to doctors would be cut by 10.6 percent. Democrats instead want to cut payments to private insurers who provide coverage under Medicare Advantage.
Taking the campaign abroad
Sen. Barack Obama begins a week-long overseas tour July 21 with stops in Jordan, Israel, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. At the end of that week, the Democratic presidential contender is expected to visit Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a congressional delegation. The group is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani. While the trip is meant to shore up the candidate's foreign policy bona fides (polls show voters view Sen. John McCain more favorably on questions of national security), he may have overstepped the boundaries for someone not yet in office when his campaign asked that he be allowed to give a speech in Germany July 24 before Berlin's historic Brandenburg Gate. German Chancellor Angela Merkel balked at the request, and her spokesman said no German politician running for high office would dream of staging a campaign event on the Mall in Washington.
A California juvenile court on July 10 ended its oversight of the "L" family, the people at the center of a controversial case in which a state appeals court first outlawed homeschooling then granted a rehearing, reversing itself. Since that reversal, homeschooling has proceeded as before in California. Now the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), which represents Sunland Christian School, the homeschool program in the case, said the juvenile court's action should make a rehearing moot, and effectively end the matter. "The lower court's jurisdiction was a major premise on which the children's court-appointed attorneys have been pushing for their forced enrollment in public school," said PJI attorney Matt McReynolds. "Therefore the case should be over. It's certainly not clear that's what the appeals court will do, but according to jurisdictional principles, that's what we believe should happen."
Not helpful enough
Marcia Walden, a licensed counselor in Georgia, took the government to court July 14. Her complaint: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered Walden "removed" from her contract counseling position over her refusal to counsel an employee seeking help with a same-sex relationship. According to Walden, a female CDC employee sought her counsel last August, and Walden, a Christian, told the woman that to help her would conflict with her religious beliefs; therefore, it would be unfair for Walden to serve as the woman's counselor. Walden alleges she referred the woman to a colleague, who was able to see her immediately. But the client filed a complaint against Walden, charging that she was "homophobic." A week after the initial incident, the CDC ordered Walden removed from the counseling contract and her contractor fired her. Alliance Defense Fund filed suit on Walden's behalf in U.S. district court-the latest in a series of legal clashes pitting homosexual preference against citizens' religious rights of conscience.
After heated skirmishing, the Senate passed a bill revising surveillance rules and sent the FISA Amendments Act to President Bush for a July 10 signing. The debate pitted civil liberties against national security, with some decrying the National Security Administration's warrantless wiretapping program and with Bush insisting on retroactive immunity for the telephone companies that engaged in the wiretapping.
The Senate approved the bill 69-28, with Sen. Barack Obama voting in favor of it and Sen. John McCain missing the vote to campaign. The bill grants the companies immunity, dismissing 46 lawsuits that allege the White House broke U.S. law when it engaged in wiretapping without going through the FISA court. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who fought unsuccessfully against the immunity provision, said, "This President broke the law." Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the lawsuits would "hurt or harm the national security."
Within hours of the signing, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the bill's constitutionality.
President Bush last week may have set the stage for a political fight that will reach its peak just as the fall election campaign does the same. By ending an executive ban on expanded offshore oil drilling, Bush turned the spotlight to Congress, which is now the only impediment to such drilling at a time of $4 per gallon gasoline.
A congressional ban on expanded offshore drilling is set to expire at the end of September. At that point, the Democratic-controlled Congress will have to renew the ban or allow oil companies to begin exploration offshore. Any renewal of the ban would likely face a Bush veto, and numerous polls show a majority of Americans oppose the ban.
Bush urged Democrats not to wait until the fall to act: "The sooner Congress lifts the ban, the sooner we can get these resources from the ocean floor to the refineries, to the gas pump."
With Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in Madrid to open an interfaith dialogue conference July 16, a new report from Washington shows that Saudi textbooks continue to advocate violence against non-extremists. Under an arrangement with the U.S. State Department, the Saudi Ministry of Education had agreed to a "comprehensive revision" by Sept. 1. But the latest textbook editions, according to a report from the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, continue to call Christians, Jews, and Muslims who do not share Wahhabi beliefs and practices hated "enemies." Jews and Christians are apes and swine, the textbooks claim, and a lesson from a 10th-grade text also posted on the Saudi Ministry's website sanctions the killing of homosexuals and discusses methods for doing so. The texts, used in Islamic schools throughout the world (including the United States), show the Saudi government continues to advocate "a worldwide theocratic dictatorship," writes former CIA director R. James Woolsey in the foreword of the report. "These are essentially the same basic beliefs as those expressed by al-Qaeda."
Off the hook
After a six-month investigation, a Kansas grand jury declined to indict late-term abortionist George Tiller, saying there was not enough evidence to indicate he violated any abortion laws. Although the citizen-initiated jury noted that Tiller's medical records "revealed a number of questionable late-term abortions," it said state legislators will need to clarify Kansas abortion law before an investigation is likely to yield charges against him. Tiller, however, still faces 19 misdemeanor charges, which the Kansas attorney general's office filed against Tiller alleging that he failed to obtain an independent, second opinion for some late-term procedures, as is required by law. The previously postponed trial is scheduled to begin July 28.
Apple's iPhone G3 surpassed 1 million in sales in the first three days the device was available, crushing the previous record set even by the iPhone debut a year ago.
The phone, available in 22 countries now, including the United States. It took 74 days to sell the first 1 million original iPhones, which Apple sold only in the United States.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) for the third time charged a sitting head of state under its statutes. The July 14 indictments against Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir are its most sweeping-for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes-and carried with them a warrant for Bashir's arrest. But as riots in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum and angry denunciations from the Arab League spilled out in the days following, it remains unclear how The Hague will bring Bashir to trial. What's clear: Bashir is a diminished leader and the spotlight is again on the death-plagued region of Sudan known as Darfur.
"All of Darfur is a crime scene," said ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, "and al-Bashir controls everything in Darfur." Moreno-Ocampo told CNN that Bashir "is the president of the country, the chairman of the National Congress Party, the commander-in-chief of the army." In those positions, he said, the evidence shows that he authorized the janjaweed militias, air support, and other features of attacks that have resulted in killing over 300,000 people in Darfur and displacing another 2.5 million.
The action puts new pressure on European countries, which have long championed the ICC while the United States has held it at arm's length. Moreno-Ocampo also specifically asked "the Arab community" to take steps to bring Bashir to trial and end the atrocities in Darfur. With Sudan calling an emergency meeting of the Arab League, its allies are more likely to circle wagons. But the 21-page indictment and its accompanying documentation constitute the most sweeping and official case brought against the Sudanese dictator, who has also been implicated in over 2 million deaths in Khartoum's civil war with South Sudan. Said Moreno-Ocampo: "I don't have the luxury to look away. I have the evidence." Arab leaders and Bashir allies, too, will have to decide if they can countenance an international pariah with a growing list of crimes. - Mindy Belz