2005 - %3, December

What's at Stake in Ayotte

| Thu Dec. 1, 2005 9:38 PM EST

Okay, it's the height of redundancy to quote in full the top New York Times editorial from yesterday, but Gail Collins and crew perfectly described the stakes in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, the abortion case being heard before the Supreme Court right now, and it's worth repeating:

The substantive issue first: The Supreme Court has ruled that states can require that doctors notify a pregnant teenager's parent before performing an abortion. But the court has also made it clear, beginning with its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, that any restrictions on abortion rights must contain exceptions to protect a woman's health and life. This is a core principle that New Hampshire lawmakers ignored in 2003 when they passed a parental notification law that omitted any exception for medical problems that were not life-threatening.

Quite predictably, the law was challenged. Two days before it was to take effect, a federal trial judge in New Hampshire issued an injunction barring its enforcement. Neither the trial judge nor the reviewing appellate court had any trouble dismissing the claim by New Hampshire's attorney general, Kelly Ayotte, that the state had covered the problem of the health exception by giving a pregnant minor the option of seeking permission for an abortion from a judge. Neither should the justices. In an emergency, as Planned Parenthood of Northern New England notes in its brief, a young woman needs to get to a hospital, not a courthouse.

The implications of the procedural issue are even more serious. With support from the Justice Department, Ms. Ayotte is asking the court to end, or severely constrict, the longstanding power of federal courts to do what the trial judge in New Hampshire did: bar the enforcement of potentially dangerous and unconstitutional abortion restrictions before they go into effect and injure people. Though it is obscured by technical-sounding legalese, this issue concerns what would essentially be a radical court-stripping plan, one that would leave state legislatures free to ignore the Supreme Court's parameters for abortion regulation until a minor, already unconstitutionally endangered and in the midst of a medical crisis, somehow made it to court to challenge the law.Basically, the Supreme Court could conceivably vote to neuter Roe completely. As best I can tell, it's very, very hard to see how this will be decided. Sandra Day O'Connor, a somewhat pro-choice vote, is still on the court and her vote will only count if she's still there when the case is handed down—that is, if Alito's nomination is held up for whatever reason. (A filibuster, perhaps; hint, hint.) Jack Balkin and Lyle Denniston get into the complex procedural issues here, if you're interested. But it's extremely uncertain how this case will turn out. Also read Dahlia Lithwick, who's covering the hearings: from her account, it doesn't sound like the justices are very sympathetic to Planned Parenthood.

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Abused, Neglected, and Now Used for Testing?

Thu Dec. 1, 2005 8:41 PM EST

Ah, the federal Environmental Protection Agency: often the target for anti-regulation zealots and frequently the bane of restive developers. But now it may open the door for chemical testing on abused, neglected, and orphan children. As surreal as that may sound, the EPA is indeed revising its testing procedures to allow for just that, in response to a Congressional order given in the beginning of this August for the EPA to ban testing on children and pregnant women without exception.

Critics say that the regulation, in defiance of the Congressional mandate, creates allowances for chemical testing on children:

  • if they "cannot be reasonable consulted"—for example, those who are mentally handicapped or newborn orphans
  • if their guardians' parental competencies are legally compromised, such those deemed negligent
  • if the EPA tests are operated outside the U.S., with administrative approval.
  • The EPA dismissed these concerns, stating in a press release that "EPA will neither conduct nor support any intentional dosing studies that involve pregnant women or children." However the plain text is available for the public to pursue and draw its own conclusions.

    The misnamed document, Protections for Subjects in Human Research, filed with the federal register on September 12 of this year, includes the following loopholes (emphasis mine):

    The IRB (Independent Review Board) shall determine that adequate provisions are made for soliciting the assent of the children, when in the judgment of the IRB the children are capable of providing assent... If the IRB determines that the capability of some or all of the children is so limited that they cannot reasonably be consulted, the assent of the children is not a necessary condition for proceeding with the research. Even where the IRB determines that the subjects are capable of assenting, the IRB may still waive the assent requirement..."

    If the IRB determines that a research protocol is designed for conditions or for a subject population for which parental or guardian permission is not a reasonable requirement to protect the subjects (for example, neglected or abused children), it may waive the consent requirements... "

    To What Do These Regulations Apply? It also includes research conducted or supported by EPA outside the United States, but in appropriate circumstances, the Administrator may, under § 26.101(e), waive the applicability of some or all of the requirements of these regulations for research...An invitation for open public comment on this docket will continue from today until December 12. The Organic Consumer's Organization, ever alert to chemical regulation, is leading the fight to erase the offending articles with an urgent action alert. The EPA intends to create a final draft of the rule by the end of January 2006.

    AIDS still prevalent among African American women in the U.S.

    | Thu Dec. 1, 2005 7:18 PM EST

    Today is World AIDS Day, and a lot of attention is being focused, as it should be, on the terrible AIDS crises in Africa and India, as well as other parts of the world (but little or no attention on how U.S. policies have made the problem worse). But there is also an AIDS problem in the United States, and it involves African American women, who now account for 70% of our new AIDS cases.

    About twenty African American women become infected with HIV every day, 67% of them receive the infection through heterosexual sex, and among black women ages 24-35, AIDS is one of the top three causes of death. The prevailing opinion is that most of these women are infected by gay or bisexual men on the "down low," who believe they must keep their homosexual contacts a secret.

    Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker has written tirelessly about the abadonment of black gay and bisexual men by black clergy, and some change has taken place in Atlanta. But there needs to be much more. The social conservatism of black America keeps men on the down low, and puts women, as well as gay and bisexual men, at great risk. More black clergy will have to get involved in creating AIDS education, promoting safe sex, and practicing acceptance of the gay and bisexual community. It is hard enough to be black in a society fueled by bigotry and fear; to be black and gay is a burden no one needs to carry alone.

    Psychological Warfare

    | Thu Dec. 1, 2005 6:55 PM EST

    Laura Rozen has an excellent post on recent reports that the Pentagon has been paying millions of dollars to plant pro-American stories in the Iraqi press, along with even more reports that psychological warfare specialists are influencing international journalists. And, says, Laura, there's more to come. It's an outrage, to be sure, and possibly illegal, but hardly unexpected. For some context here, it's worth revisiting James Bamford's Rolling Stone piece on this very subject:

    By law, the Bush administration is expressly prohibited from disseminating government propaganda at home. But in an age of global communications, there is nothing to stop it from planting a phony pro-war story overseas -- knowing with certainty that it will reach American citizens almost instantly. A recent congressional report suggests that the Pentagon may be relying on "covert psychological operations affecting audiences within friendly nations." In a "secret amendment" to Pentagon policy, the report warns, "psyops funds might be used to publish stories favorable to American policies, or hire outside contractors without obvious ties to the Pentagon to organize rallies in support of administration policies."

    The report also concludes that military planners are shifting away from the Cold War view that power comes from superior weapons systems. Instead, the Pentagon now believes that "combat power can be enhanced by communications networks and technologies that control access to, and directly manipulate, information. As a result, information itself is now both a tool and a target of warfare."Bamford notes that this sort of thing has been going on for a very long time—the Rendon group, hired by the Pentagon, worked to influence the press both during the invasion of Panama, and as part of its push to "sell" the first Gulf War to the American public—and that it's definitely official policy. His piece is very much worth a read.

    The Verdant Concertina Wire of Guantanamo

    Thu Dec. 1, 2005 4:06 PM EST

    Military leaders at the US Guantanamo Bay Naval Station have been appalled by the media's failure to update its outmoded image of the detention facility and report on the camps improved attributes.

    The hastily-erected Camp X-Ray, composed of open-air chain link cages, originally became notorious when pictures of detainees blindfolded, handcuffed, and kneeling under the humid Caribbean sun reached the American public. James Yee, a former US Army Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo, recounts the urgency of building a facility to detain "enemy combatants" in his new book For God and Country:

    According to Captain Les McCoy of the navy, a former Guantanamo base commander, the military placed a call to the naval base soon after September 11. "We got a plane full of terrorists and we're on our way," the commander said at the time, Navy Captain Robert A. Buehn, was told, "start building a prison."
    But officials there insist that, along with the closure of the temporary Camp X-Ray in early 2002—since overrun by vines along its concertina-wire walls, there have been many improvements in detainee housing, including a permanent new $16 million-dollar unit modeled after correctional facilities in the United States.

    Could it be that the press' delayed awareness is due to the importance of these housing improvements being trumped by the much larger, pressing story of mounting evidence to substantiate torture allegations collected by independent sources? Nah!

    As late as last November the International Red Cross, which has monitored detainee treatment since 2002 under conditions of confidentiality, remained concerned that there persisted "significant problems regarding conditions and treatment at Guantanamo Bay have not yet been adequately addressed."

    "We welcome people to come in," said Army Brig. Gen. John Gong, indicating media and clearly not the United Nations. Earlier in November the UN was forced to reject an invitation to the review detainee conditions due to the US's denial of adequate capacities to form an assessment.