Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

"The Buzz" Continued...

Issue: "NextGen worship," July 26, 2008

Warranted wiretaps

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.

Fall fight

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."

Unchanging text

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.

New record

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.

High crimes

High crimes

"All of Darfur is a crime scene," says prosecutor

By Mindy Belz

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

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