Mojo - March 2005

Pharmacist "rights"

| Wed Mar. 30, 2005 2:50 PM EST

Heh. I was trying to think of a clever take on this old Washington Post story about pharmacists who want the "right" to refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions. But no, Professor B got it exactly right:

If you have a problem providing health care to anyone, on moral grounds, then do something else for a living.

Quoting the Hippocratic Oath—"I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings"—is good too. More to the point, the whole idea of a "conscience clause"—in which pharmacists don't have to fill any prescriptions that violate their beliefs—is ripe for all sorts of slippery-slope extensions. Why not a "conscience clause" for teachers who, say, don't want to teach dirty kids? Why not a "conscience clause" for doctors who, say, don't want to operate on a patient that might have sinned? Oh, right, because it's ridiculous, that's why.

UPDATE: The pseudonymous Shakespeare's Sister brings up a very good point: "[H]ow long do you think it will be before those healthcare providers who accept commonly discriminated-against patients raise their fees? How long before the insurance industry hikes up their premiums? I mean, what greater health risk is there than being someone a whole slew of doctors refuses to treat?

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A case for John Bolton?

| Wed Mar. 30, 2005 2:09 PM EST

Steve Clemons has been actively—some might say obsessively—following Bush's nomination of John Bolton to the ambassadorship to the UN. A post today brings up some interesting tidbits about Bolton's past:

One of the more interesting tidbits I picked up in these conversations -- with several people -- is that John Bolton regularly and frequently defied command and control within the State Department. The first major example of this flamboyant disregard for authority above him -- disregard for Secretary of State Powell and the White House -- was Bolton's August 2001 announcement to Russian media that Russia had a deadline of November 2001 to accomodate the U.S. position on ballistic missile defense testing or the U.S. would initiate abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Several sources report that Secretary of State Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage were livid that Bolton had threatened (intentionally or unintentionally) the Russians with a deadline -- and more importantly, had taken the lead himself (without vested authority) to argue under what terms the United States would abrogate the ABM treaty. According to insiders, Bolton had gotten ahead of the process and had spoken too early -- particularly when Bush was trying to "play nice" with Russia.

Hm. This actually brings up a possible case for the Bolton nomination, though only a tentative one. Follow me here. One of the most noteworthy things about the Bush administration over the past four years is that the public hasn't heard a lot of dissent within the administration over various issues. Certainly dissent exists—the gridlock over how to deal with North Korea and Iran was largely the result of feuding between the hawks around Dick Cheney and the diplomats in the State Department—but we don't hear much about it. As a result, the Bush administration's foreign policy can often seem more moderate than it really might be. Most people, at least here at home, think an attack Iran would never happen, but more than a few "mid-level Pentagon officials" think that that's the likely course of action.

So what if these feuds were all made public? Isn't it possible that the hawkish Bolton might end up using his UN bully pulpit to embarrass the hawk camp, and weaken their hand? Or, to put it another way, having John Bolton as the loud, angry, public face of administration policy could force the White House to moderate its stances behind the scenes. Imagine, after all, if during the run-up to the Iraq war our UN representative was boasting that we were going to invade Iraq, set up permanent bases, and break the back of OPEC. A bit of evil laughter here and there. Obviously no one would ever say that, not even Bolton, but you can see how too much wingnuttery might bog down the war party.

At any rate, this all seems quite frivolous, and it would no doubt be better for all involved if Bolton's nomination went down in flames, but there's at least a potential case for having our hawks overly loud and cartoonish.

Housing matters too...

| Wed Mar. 30, 2005 12:30 PM EST

Nathan Newman has a great post on why progressives ought to think more about housing policy. Indeed, it's hard to think of topics more boring than anti-height restrictions and rent control, but those things do after all affect the biggest single chunk of many families' budgets. Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, have more or less signed on to the Republican fixation with promoting homeownership among low-income families, even though these policies can often saddle young families with more debt than they can handle, while leaving tens of millions of renters behind.

Nor does this have to be, strictly speaking, an urban issue or a low-income issue. In the New York Times Magazine last weekend, there was a long piece about new exurban megachurches, which was interesting in its own right, that had a small aside noting that most people move out into Republican-friendly exurbs like Surprise, AZ, simply to find affordable housing. Now it's long been true that the GOP has found reliable support among these young, mostly-white married couples looking to move up into the middle-classes. And sure, many of these families, of course, will always and forever endorse the Republican approach housing policy, which relies heavily on making loans readily available to prospective homeowners. But it's also reasonable to think that a good number of these exurban families might never even leave the cities or suburbs if they could find affordable housing there. So it's not out of hand to think that the Democrats can make some inroads in this demographic with a smarter, more progressive housing agenda.

Culture of life (death-threat edition)

| Wed Mar. 30, 2005 12:10 PM EST

From Rev. Moon's Washington Times:

A leading player in the Terri Schiavo debate is a Florida judge whose fame began five years ago when he ruled that no compelling evidence showed Mrs. Schiavo wanted to be kept alive.

Pinellas County Circuit Judge George W. Greer, 63, has held firm on that ruling, despite a sea of death threats, angry e-mails, phone calls and criticisms from disability rights groups and others that he is biased in favor of Mrs. Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo.

George Greer and "judicial activism"

| Wed Mar. 30, 2005 12:03 PM EST

Ed Kilgore's New Dem Dispatch yesterday about the Terry Schiavo case—set within a larger argument about activist judges—brings up a point I haven't heard before:

Now, let's take a look at those "robed masters" in Florida who Kristol says are trampling on democracy in so egregious a manner that Washington must intervene. Unlike federal judges, all Florida state judges serve limited terms of six years, and can be deposed by voters at the end of each term. Moreover, Florida's Circuit Court judges, its trial judges, must face a non-partisan election every six years with opponents given every opportunity to run against them.

Consider Circuit Court judge George Greer, whom Kristol basically accuses of deciding, as an act of judicial arrogance, against saving Terri Schiavo's life. Greer was re-elected by the voters of his circuit last year by a two-to-one margin, despite drawing an opponent who was strongly supported by those angry at his role in the Schiavo case.

Messing around on Google, you get a lot of hits for "George Greer" and "activist judges," as one might expect, but it's important to remember that the latter term doesn't really mean anything. (In case anyone needs a refresher, read Don Herzog here, here, and here as to why, oddly enough, there's no "one obvious interpretation" of the Constitution.) This goes double in Greer's case. The courts approved of his decision. Voters approved of his decision. It was all part of a well-functioning democratic process. Obviously there will be people who disagree, and that's fine, but in this case nearly everyone, it seems, save for Tom DeLay and some hyperactive right-wingers in Congress thought Greer did a fine job handling a hard case. So who, pray tell, is the activist here?

"Real journalism" prevails!

| Tue Mar. 29, 2005 2:48 PM EST

Breaking news! Scientific American has decided to give up science reporting and take a stab at, um, "real journalism":

Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody's ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end the practice of expressing our own views in this space: an editorial page is no place for opinions.

Get ready for a new Scientific American. No more discussions of how science should inform policy. If the government commits blindly to building an anti-ICBM defense system that can't work as promised, that will waste tens of billions of taxpayers' dollars and imperil national security, you won't hear about it from us. If studies suggest that the administration's antipollution measures would actually increase the dangerous particulates that people breathe during the next two decades, that's not our concern. No more discussions of how policies affect science either—so what if the budget for the National Science Foundation is slashed? This magazine will be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science, and not just the science that scientists say is science. And it will start on April Fools' Day.

The rest is quite funny too.

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A new twist in the war on terror: "reverse rendition"

| Tue Mar. 29, 2005 1:57 PM EST

This from Human Rights Watch.

A Yemeni businessman captured in Egypt was handed over to U.S. authorities and "disappeared" for more than a year and a half before being sent to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. ...

HRW details the previously unreported case of Abd al-Salam Ali al-Hila, who was "essentially kidnapped on the streets of Cairo and then 'disappeared' into US custody," and says this is no one-off.

While considerable attention has been paid recently to U.S. renditions of suspects to third countries, the al-Hila case is new evidence of the reverse: foreign authorities picking up suspects in non-combat and non-battlefield situations and handing them over to the United States without basic protections afforded to criminal suspects.

Lingering intelligence issues

| Tue Mar. 29, 2005 1:32 PM EST

In blog-time, it's practically ancient history by now, but back last summer, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report (pdf) on prewar intelligence failures over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The investigation, notably, focused mainly on the agencies responsible for the failures, without getting into thornier questions of administration involvement. At the time, I trawled through the report and noted that it didn't answer several still-glaring questions about administration pressure on various analysts and agencies to push the intelligence in a direction more congenial to Iraq hawks, or how the White House used the intelligence it received.

Those questions and others were supposed to be answered in a follow-up Senate report, conveniently scheduled to be released after the 2004 election, which would deal primarily with how the Bush administration used the intelligence it received. But now, as David Corn reports in the Nation, the Senate Intelligence Committee has decided to punt on that second report:

In mid-March, [Republican chairman of the intelligence committee Pat] Roberts declared further investigation pointless. He noted that if his committee asked Bush officials whether they had overstated or mischaracterized prewar intelligence, they'd simply claim their statements had been based on "bum intelligence." Roberts remarked, "To go though that exercise, it seems to me, in a postelection environment--we didn't see how we could do that and achieve any possible progress. I think everybody pretty well gets it."

Um, no, everybody does not "pretty well get it." There are two reasons why this second report is important. One, if the White House did in fact pressure agencies or distort intelligence on the march to war in Iraq, the public deserves to know about it. Period. But on a more practical note, inquiries like these help policymakers figure out exactly whether and how the lines of intelligence and decision-making are broken, so that they can be fixed.

Over the next four years the White House will need to prepare to deal with nuclear programs in both Iran and North Korea. Having good and proper intelligence on both countries—and being able to use that intelligence clearly and honestly—will be hugely important for setting the proper policy and persuading allies to sign aboard American strategy. Already there are signs that the White House has fudged intelligence on both North Korea and Iran, and the mistakes of the past, if not being exactly repeated, are certainly creating disturbing echoes. An investigation into how and why this is happening is not, whatever Pat Roberts might think, a trivial matter.

New at Mother Jones

| Mon Mar. 28, 2005 4:47 PM EST

The Asthma Trap
All it takes to control asthma is the right medication, clean air, and a reasonably stress-free life. But for millions of children caught up in the epidemic, none of those things are anywhere within reach. By Sara Corbett

Bushspeak: Cracking the Code Entries for a Devil's Dictionary of the Bush Era, By Tom Engelhardt et al.

Energy industry starting to budge

Mon Mar. 28, 2005 3:47 PM EST

In a sign that the financial markets are starting to take climate change seriously, investors are now demanding to know how the energy industry plans to react to impending CO2 emission regulations, and how those reactions will affect their bottom lines, according to the Wall Street Journal. This year, shareholder groups have put out 31 resolutions at 20 different energy companies asking the firms to divulge their internal deliberations on the matter. Six of those companies, including Chevron-Texaco, have already persuaded shareholders to drop their resolutions in exchange for promises to address climate change directly.

This month, moreover, the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that ExxonMobil Corporation—the world's largest publicly-held company—is obligated to provide its shareholders with explanations of its position on global warming, as well as its plans to meet Kyoto Protocol emissions cuts at its overseas facilities. The ruling is unique in that it demands the company reveal details of how its management uses scientific data to formulate climate change policies. Over the years, Exxon has repeatedly and publicly regarded the science of climate change as "inconclusive", a stance it has used to justify its resistance both to curtailing emissions and investing in alternative and renewable energy sources.

In light of the fact that other companies have begun to pursue voluntary emissions-reduction programs, the resolution against Exxon-Mobil asks that the company's board of directors estimate the difference in costs between immediate, voluntary action and the potential cost of new regulations, should they be enacted in the future. The assumption here is that if it's cheaper to begin reducing emissions voluntarily, it would be financially irresponsible for the company not to do so.

This is all an early sign that the Kyoto Protocol, which has been criticized as weak and ineffective, is already starting to influence industry behavior. Still, many believe that the industry response will be slow, and Exxon's past behavior, which also includes financial support for a new action plan (PDF) aimed at debunking the science of climate change, should continue to receive increased scrutiny.