Political MoJo

Repro Rights Groups Asks Judges to Subpoena White House Docs in Lawsuit Over Plan B

| Thu Oct. 12, 2006 1:57 PM EDT

Yesterday the Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of the several women's rights groups, asked federal judges to grant a subpoena of White House documents and officials in its lawsuit against they filed last year against the FDA. The suit claims the prescription drug regulatory arm did not follow procedure when it sent a "not approvable" letter in response to the original application for sale of Plan B over-the-counter. The May 2004 letter ultimately led to a more than two year delay of non-prescription access to the emergency contraceptive.

Chris Mooney wrote for Mother Jones about the letter, which was sent in spite of a 23-4 vote in favor of approving the drug by the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. One opposed adviser was David Hagar, a Kentucky obstetrician who was staunchly opposed to RU-486, had attacked the birth control pill for promoting promiscuity, and had written a book in which he advised Bible readings to relieve premenstrual syndrome, all before he was appointed by George W.

The FDA's letter cited Hager's concern for "inadequate sampling of younger age groups" saying there needed to be more data on Plan B's use among girls younger than age 16. Never mind that scores of drugs are approved every year without data targeting specific age groups.

Barr Laboratories (now Barr Pharmaceuticals) subsequently submitted a revised application to make the drug available without a prescription only to girls and women ages 16 and older. The drug was finally approved for sale to those 18 and older, in August. (See Mother Jones' full timeline of Plan B hurdles here).

The FDA says it plans to file a motion for dismissal.

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Angelides vs. Leno

| Thu Oct. 12, 2006 1:40 AM EDT

You know things are getting bleak when the best California's Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides can do is to whine about not getting as much face time with Jay Leno as Leno's old pal Arnold Schwarzenegger. Protesters gathered outside Leno's studio and Angelides' campaign manager sent a letter to NBC to decry what they called the network's unfair gift of extra exposure to Arnold, in the form of a cozy interview yesterday. OK, it's true that Schwarzenegger has refused to participate in more than a single debate with Angelides, thereby limiting the Dem's free time on broadcast TV. But c'mon, Phil. Maybe if you had some actual ideas or positions that anyone was excited about, Jay would want to talk to you, too.

Schwarzenegger's Affirmative Electoral Action

| Thu Oct. 12, 2006 1:19 AM EDT

Republicans have been muttering about wooing African American and Latino voters away from the Democrats for years - and Arnold Schwarzenegger is the latest to give it a serious shot. Not content with the stomping in the polls he's already giving his challenger, state treasurer Phil Angelides, California's depressingly popular governor has been stumping hard in black and brown neighborhoods in Los Angeles and elsewhere. His staff is even helping black churches apply for grants from the after-school program he helped launch before his run for office. It seems to be paying off: polls are showing that while only nine per cent of California's African Americans are registered Republicans, 20 per cent support Schwarzenegger.

Who Decides What A Dual-Use Item Is?

| Wed Oct. 11, 2006 8:56 PM EDT

Robert M. Thorson, a Connecticut geologist, has traveled throughout his career to conferences and conventions, and for the last three years, he has taken with him one of his favorite rocks, a banded piece of the Hebron Gneiss, which he describes as resembling "a broken slice of layer cake composed of licorice and cream cheese." This is one of Thorson's favorite rocks, and, he says, a touchstone for those who have attended his lectures.

While attempting to fly to Hood River, Oregon, to attend the Stone Foundation's annual meeting, Thorson had his rock confiscated by TSA staff at Bradley International Airport. Thorson does not check luggage on business trips, so the rock was in his carry-on bag. A TSA employee pronounced it a "dual-use item," then called her supervisor, who inspected the specimen and also declared it a dual-use item. Thorson was given the option of going back to the ticket counter and checking his rock as baggage, but he did not think he had time to do so. He then asked if he could claim the rock upon his return, and was told that he could not.

In his editorial in the Hartford Courant, Thorson muses that perhaps a stethoscope should be considered a dual-use item because a doctor could strangle someone with it. For some time now, I have been asking why pockets knives have to be confiscated, but neckties and tube socks are okay, despite the fact that both could be used to strangle someone, as could the cord of a notebook computer or other electronic device or appliance.

Says Thorson:

Who knows? Perhaps your tax dollars will be used by an internal think tank of agency hire-ups to ponder why on earth a geologist would travel with a rock. Who knows? Perhaps the government will wiretap my phone or check my library records to see whether I have checked out a Koran or a book about stone-age warfare.

Pombo Denies Abramoff Ties, Even as Evidence Mounts

| Wed Oct. 11, 2006 5:04 PM EDT

Recently released documents from the Northern Mariana Islands indicate that Richard Pombo's (R-Ca) relationship to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was much cozier than he has let on.

The AP is reporting that previously unseen lobbying records from the Marianas show Abramoff billed for phone calls to Pombo's office in 1996. They also establish that between 1996 and 2001 Abramoff and his associates met with Pombo's staff on more than two dozen occasions.

Pombo's spokesman Brian Kennedy told the AP that those meetings "never happened" and the staff-level contacts were "greatly inflated." Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in a congressional corruption investigation, is "an admitted felon" who can't be trusted, Kennedy said.

As Mother Jones reported in September, Pombo has received at least $31,250 from Abramoff, his associates and clients, and even accompanied him on a delegation to the Marianas in 2004.

Will this influence voters' come November 7? Pombo and his opponent Jerry McNerney are in a tight race for California's 11th congressional district seat; as of last week Pombo held a two-point lead in the polls. Last Thursday, at the first and only debate between the candidates Pombo said of Abramoff "I met the guy two or three times in my whole life--he never once lobbied me on anything."

--Amaya Rivera

Firm Must Pay for Asbestos Cleanup in Libby, Montana, Say Supremes

| Wed Oct. 11, 2006 4:53 PM EDT

Yesterday the Supreme Court let stand earlier rulings that W.R. Grace, which had operated an asbestos mine in Libby, Montana, must pay $54 million to the EPA for Superfund cleanup costs at the mine, according to the Los Angeles Times.

For a devastating portrait of the town, whose residents, according to an EPA toxicologist, suffered "the most severe residential exposure to a hazardous material this country has ever seen," read Maryanne Vollers and Andrea Barnett's "Libby's Deadly Grace" from the May/June 2000 issue of Mother Jones.

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Bush's New Space Policy: To Infinity and Beyond

| Wed Oct. 11, 2006 4:37 PM EDT

Via Secrecy News, we learn that the Bush administration just cranked out a new National Space Policy. Much of it's similar to Clinton-era policy, but there are some stellar exceptions. Like this one:

The previous policy prudently reserved judgment "on the feasibility and desirability of conducting further human exploration activities" beyond the International Space Station in Earth orbit.

But in a rhetorical flight of fancy, the new Bush policy purports to adopt a new national "objective of extending human presence across the solar system," no less.

Less fanciful, yet more predictable, is the insistence that "The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space." In other words, in space no one can hear you whine about international law.

The True Cost of the War: 600,000 Iraqis Dead?

| Wed Oct. 11, 2006 12:45 PM EDT

In his current column, Wall Street Journal pundit Bret Stevens recounts this story of Condi Rice meeting with the paper's editors last year:

[...] she said that she had telephoned George W. Bush as she flew out of Baghdad on her (then) most recent visit: "Mr. President," she said (and I quote from memory) "this is going to be a great country."

Meanwhile, there's new evidence of just how far from greatness Iraq really is. A new study [PDF] in the Lancet finds that over 600,000 Iraqis may have died in the wake of the American invasion. This, as the Journal reports, is considerably higher than any previous figure, including the "30,000, more or less" that President Bush tossed out last December. That figure, as Adam Shemper wrote in the May/June issue of Mother Jones, came from Iraq Body Count, a website that has been diligently tallying reports of civilian deaths. But IBC uses a conservative, media-based approach, while the new report from Johns Hopkins uses a statistical model known as "cluster sampling." No doubt there will be plenty of academic and partisan sniping about what the real number is. Whatever the final figure, it's a stark reminder of the daily barrage of violence facing average Iraqis. Stephens notes that Rice did not repeat her "great country" story when he met with her recently. He chooses to remain optimistic. "Perhaps she feels that way still: It would be distressing indeed if she did not." But wouldn't it be just as distressing if she still thought Iraq is on the path to greatness?

Update: In this morning's press conference, Bush said he doesn't believe the report is credible and is "amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they're willing to—you know, that there's a level of violence that they tolerate."

Dogs Used To Both Intimidate and Bite Prisoners

| Tue Oct. 10, 2006 9:12 PM EDT

This sounds like another Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib story, but the practice of using dogs to both terrify and bite uncooperative prisoners is one that takes place in Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota, and Utah. According to Human Rights Watch, in these five states, dogs are used on prisoners who refuse to leave their cells. First, the dogs are used to intimidate the oppositional prisoners. If the intimidation does not work, the dogs are instructed to bite.

The practice is most common in Connecticut and Iowa prisons, according to Human Rights Watch. Arizona and Massachusetts banned the use of dogs this year.

Both German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are used for cell extractions. When a handler and his dog enter a cell block to perform a potential cell extraction, the dog barks loudly, jumps against the cell door and scratches at the window. If the sight and sound of the dog does not get the prisoner to comply, the dog is then released. The officer with the dog is supposed to maintain a hold on the leash, but that does not always happen.

The dog is trained to bite whatever part of the prisoner it can get to, and there is always at least a puncture wound resulting from the bite. A prisoner who continues to resist can wind up with muscle or tissue tearing.

GOP Rule and North Korean Nukes

| Tue Oct. 10, 2006 7:20 PM EDT

Think Progress brings to our attention that most of the growth of North Korea's nuclear weapons program occurred under "conservative administrations known for their supposed 'strength' on defense" beginning in the mid-1980s under Ronald Reagan. Read their full timeline of events here.