Political MoJo

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.

    Strategy Word Count

    Wed Nov. 30, 2005 5:48 PM EST

    Word counts from the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," put out by the White House to correspond with President Bush's speech this morning.

    Terrorists:      59
    Kill:      9
    Torture:      0

    Victory:      34
    Success:      17
    Win:      8

    Casualties:      1
    Death count:      0
    Backdoor draft:      0

    "Our strategy is working":      2
    Reality:      1
    Truth:      0

    Saddam:      31
    Osama:      4
    September 11th:      1

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    Terrorist Financing is Boring

    | Wed Nov. 30, 2005 4:53 PM EST

    The New York Times gets wind of a soon-to-be-released GAO report on the Bush administration's efforts to crack down on terrorist financing:

    More than four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, "the U.S. government lacks an integrated strategy" to train foreign countries and provide them with technical assistance to shore up their financial and law enforcement systems against terrorist financing, according to the report prepared by the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress.
    That's comforting. Most of the problems seem to stem from infighting among the State and Treasury departments, who can't even agree on who's in charge. But Douglas Farah suggests there's a larger problem here:
    While the report focuses on the U.S. efforts to train other countries in ways to combat terror finance, it confirms a larger problem within the administration, as described to me by people in government and those who served there for many years. There is simply little interest on following up on issues raised on terror finance, and almost no leadership provided by those who sit in the principals' meeting in funding, attacking or seriously focusing on the issue. The CIA, according to one source, still has noone dedicated to tracing terror finance issues, never mind a special unit.
    And the Bush administration isn't the only one getting bored by the issue:
    This lack of interest in the administration is dangerously coupled with a steep drop in the quality and quantity of the work of the UN committee tasked with following the finances of al Qaeda and the Taliban. The panel has been downgraded, the staff cut and the quality of the work is considerably diminished, as is the importance it is given within the UN Secretary General's office.

    More Tea Leaves

    | Wed Nov. 30, 2005 3:42 PM EST

    I don't know what anyone would possibly say about the president's new "Strategy for Victory" in Iraq. There's nothing new here, besides hope that everything ends up working. But that aside, this Time piece on Iraq is actually pretty good, and has some commentary on the various Pentagon plans being floated for withdrawing troops:

    There isn't one plan, but several, each containing various options for Army General George Casey, the top U.S. military officer in Iraq. Pentagon officials acknowledged last week that the number of U.S. troops could be cut to 100,000 by the end of 2006. But Casey will face two "decision points" next year--one in March, when he can fully assess the effects of the Dec. 15 election, the other in June, when major U.S. units have to be told if they will deploy.

    At this stage, almost no one is talking about a rapid, large-scale troop drawdown. Inside the Pentagon, officers privately caution that troop levels could even rise if Iraqi security forces don't shape up as expected, if the insurgency grows more fierce or--of greatest concern--if civil strife evolves into full-fledged civil war. In fact, a senior Pentagon official tells TIME that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asked his planners last week to make sure they have a contingency option if things go very badly in Iraq next year.

    Even if the U.S. does decide to withdraw troops, it won't simply flee. Washington is spending millions on fortifying a few Iraqi bases for the long haul. "The challenge for us is, what is the right balance--not to be too present but also not to be underpresent. This will require constant calibration," U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad tells TIME. Indeed, last August, Army chief of staff Peter Schoomaker said that as many as 100,000 Army troops could remain in Iraq for four years.Presumably this also depends on what the new Iraqi government wants, which may be what comes up in that March "decision point." I have no idea whether it's even logistically possible to keep 100,000 troops in Iraq for the next four years, or whether a "contingency option"—sending more troops in if civil war breaks out?—is at all feasible. I assume a lot of soldiers would have to go back for fourth or fifth tours, with all the bad effects that will have. Still, Time doesn't make it sound like a big drawdown is in the cards, though admittedly it's like reading tea leaves here.

    Also of interest: Elaine Grossman of Inside the Pentagon recently reported on actual debates within the military about strategy in Iraq. Officers "have complained privately that the military strategy seemed adrift, lacking clear objectives or measurable progress." Originally the strategy involved killing lots of insurgents. Then in spring 2004 the military shifted focus, making Iraqi troop training its first priority. But after that happened, insurgent attacks on civilians went up dramatically, so now the military wants to focus on protecting civilians. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is apparently very interested in Andrew Krepinevich's "oil-spot" theory and very recently had a "Red Team" of analysts recommend a new strategy along those lines. Part of this new approach, it seems, would involve recruiting Sunni tribal leaders for security purposes—"with mixed results" so far. (They're also putting together three "provincial reconstruction teams"; why this wasn't done before, I have no idea.)

    So that seems to be where things are heading (again, tea leaves…), although not surprisingly, a number of onlookers think it's way too late for any of this to work, especially since the new plan will, it appears, rely heavily on local militias—death squads—to "protect local populations," not exactly a recipe for stability. Not to mention the fact that there are a lot of things in the country the U.S. can no longer control…

    The Varieties of Corruption

    | Tue Nov. 29, 2005 10:01 PM EST

    This Mark Schmitt post brings up a good point. Yesterday I posted on how the defense appropriations process was heavily swayed by the $40 million spent on lobbying each year. Not that I know personally; most of that comes from reading Wastrels of Defense, by Winslow Wheeler, the former national security staffer for Pete Domenici. He's in the know, and if he's saying there's a ton of "legal corruption" going on, there probably is. (Plus, he makes a good case.)

    Still, in theory it's possible that some lobbying dollars are much less insidious. In the case Schmitt mentions, Byron Dorgan (D-ND) wrote a letter requesting funds for a school desired by a Louisiana Indian tribe, and two weeks later Jack Abramoff told the tribe, a client of his, to send Dorgan $5,000 in campaign contributions. That could be corruption—i.e., Dorgan was paid to write the letter—but it might just be that Dorgan was going to write the letter anyway, seeing as how he's always done a lot of work for Native Americans, and Abramoff knew this, and so he had the tribe send some money to make it look like his lobbying efforts were worthwhile, even though Abramoff had done nothing. I guess it's inevitable that the people who hire lobbyists will be the ones getting ripped off now and again. But that doesn't mean all campaign contributions are innocent, either.

    Landrieu considering blocking Senate holiday recess

    | Tue Nov. 29, 2005 9:49 PM EST

    Louisisana Senator Mary Landrieu said yesterday that she is giving some thought to blocking the U.S. Senate's holiday recess until the government has agreed to pay for flood protection improvements along Louisiana's coast. There has already been considerable talk of a Louisiana citizen march on Washington, which might get more attention if Landrieu prevents the Senate from going home for Christmas.

    Some of the levees in New Orleans were never constructed properly, it is now clear, nor have they been inspected properly. There is also suspicion of corruption in the construction of the levees. There needs to be both a re-design of the levees and a strengthening of the levee system so that the city can withstand a Category 4 or 5 storm. Today, White House hurricane relief advisor Donald Powell announced that he has yet to decide whether New Orleans' levees should be strengthened, and he would not say when a decision will be made.

    As badly as the Corps of Engineers and the engineering firms involved botched the levees, the city has also had to deal a with a federal government that has shown no interest in protecting the city from hurricanes. Louisiana's budget cannot handle a job of this size, especially since the state has been denied a share of royalties from its considerable oil and gas production, and the Bush administration has opposed making any changes in this unjust system. The Bush administration has also opposed giving the state money to rescue its eroding coastline, though Bush has relented somewhat on this matter.

    As for Senator Landrieu, a conservative Democrat--she is at her best when angry. Her filibuster speeches against some of Bush's court nominees were some real pieces of work, especially her "I will not yield" excoriation of Orrin Hatch. If she decides to obstruct the Senate recess, I highly recommend you get a good seat in front of your favorite C-Span screen.