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Archive for April, 2005

WA Gov. controversy takes an ugly turn

[ 0 ] April 30, 2005 |

The lead sentence in a PI article on the gubernatorial election:

What started out as an election contest between Democrat Christine Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi may be turning into a fight between Democratic felons and Republican felons.

Now that would be exciting.


Pretty Vacant

[ 0 ] April 30, 2005 |

Speaking of Colorado wingnuts, Josh Marshall finds Senator Wayne Allard bemoaning “a vacancy crisis that threatens the service of the very justice upon which our great nation depends.” Oh, the humanity!

Now, in fairness, he’s not the only person to complain about Senate machinations preventing the President from putting nominees on the federal courts. For example, Chief Justice Rehnquist has argued that “Vacancies cannot remain at such high levels indefinitely without eroding the quality of justice that traditionally has been associated with the federal judiciary.”

Strange thing, though–this came from the 1997 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary. Rehnquist also noted: “Some current nominees have been waiting a considerable time for a Senate Judiciary Committee vote or a final floor vote. The Senate confirmed only 17 judges in 1996 and 36 in 1997, well under the 101 judges it confirmed during 1994.” So, following Allard’s logic, I can only conclude that Senate Republicans were responsible for 9/11.

Bad Faith

[ 0 ] April 30, 2005 |

Dr. B points us to this remarkable story:

Imagine two rape victims taken to the same hospital emergency room. Imagine them put in adjoining examination rooms.

Let’s say they have identical injuries.

Presume everything about them is the same except for where they are in their menstrual cycles.

Do they deserve access to the same medical treatment?

At most Catholic hospitals in Colorado, they can’t get it.

The protocol of six Catholic hospitals run by Centura calls for rape victims to undergo an ovulation test.

If they have not ovulated, said Centura corporate spokeswoman Dana Berry, doctors tell the victims about emergency contraception and write prescriptions for it if the patient asks.

If, however, the urine test suggests that a rape victim has ovulated, Berry continued, doctors at Centura’s Catholic hospitals are not to mention emergency contraception. That means the victim can end up pregnant by her rapist.

Now, admittedly, it would be possible for these hospitals to act in a principled manner. “Women cannot be informed about contraception and are obligated to bear their rapist’s child” is a disgusting, antihuman principle, but it is a principle. They could explain to their patients why emergency contraception is immoral, or perhaps even not disclose the information. But they’re not even willing to do that. The hospital is willing to discuss emergency contraception, and permit women for whom it is likely (but, if I understand correctly, not certain) to be unnecessary. They don’t mind women spending their money–most likely in vain–and supporting the manufacturers of emergency contraception. They will only refuse to disclose the information when it’s most likely to work. So not only are these hospitals bastions of irrationality and contempt for the lives and freedom of women, they’re not even consistent about it. (And, needless to say, withholding information about emergency contraception will increase the numbers of abortions. But, if there’s anything we know about the vast majority of “pro-lifers,” it’s that they could care less.) Make sure to remember this the next time someone named “A. Sullivan” tells you that pro-choicers should accept the vast moral superiority of the pro-life position.

Then there’s this:

Time is running out for legislators to try to override the governor’s ridiculous veto of an emergency-contraception notification bill for rape victims.

So, just to be clear, Bill Owens is a scumbag who thinks that state-licensed doctors should be permitted to deny crucial medical information to women, so that women will get more abortions and be more likely to bear their rapist’s child. You may wish to give his opponent some turkee in the next cycle. And remember that James Dobson wants to be as influential in the national party as in the Colorado one, and he and his ilk have already gotten Bush to reinstate domestic and global gag orders…


[ 0 ] April 29, 2005 |

North Korean ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons are terrifying things, no doubt. The possibility of their existence makes me just a bit happier to be moving to Lexington, where I only need worry about Russian, British, and French ballistic missiles.

However, I can’t give our Dear Leader a pass on this one:

At a White House news conference on Thursday, President Bush said that given the uncertainties, he was worried about the progress North Korea had made on its nuclear program under its leader, Kim Jong Il. “There is concern about his capacity to deliver,” he said. “We don’t know if he can or not, but I think it’s best when dealing with a tyrant like Kim Jong Il to assume that he can.”

That sounds reasonable, and we almost don’t notice that we’ve been bait-and-switched. What the President is doing, ladies and gentlemen, is deriving capabilities from intentions. Instead of referring to any actual intelligence, he derives from the expected intentions of Kim Jong Il the capabilities that North Korea has at its disposal. Again, this sounds almost reasonable until we remember that assessing intentions is actually much, much more difficult than assessing capabilities, and that trying to derive the latter from the former is an exercise in futility.

Because the Soviet Union hates freedom and wants to destroy us, it must be spending three times as much on defense as any evidence we have suggests. Because Saddam Hussein hates freedom and wants to destroy us, he must be hiding the stockpiles of WMD that we can’t find. Because Hugo Chavez hates freedom and wants to destroy us, he must be assembling a vast army to assail us.

Works every time. Try it at home!

In other news, I must apologize for the relative paucity of posts over the last week; life intrudes. Likely no posts this weekend, either.

[ 0 ] April 29, 2005 |

Friday Cat Blogging. . . Stromboli Posted by Hello

Parental Notification On the Ground

[ 2 ] April 28, 2005 |

Even casual readers of this blog will not be surprised that I think that Matt’s unequivocal opposition to laws requiring that adolescents notify their parents in order to procure an abortion is correct. In comments, a couple of readers have argued that the ability to get judicial waivers eliminates the potential problems. Theoretically, I think this is wrong, because of course it cuts both ways. Young women in stable families and who have good relationships with their parents will not require legal coercion to inform them. For the most part, these laws are only relevant to young women in the worst family situations; there is no legitimate purpose fulfilled by forcing them to go through an intimidating process to waive parental consent requirements.

In addition, however, there is the question of how waivers to parental notification laws work on the ground, and here the picture is even more dismaying. The political scientist Helena Silverstein was written a series of terrific articles studying how these laws–which inevitably give a great deal of discretion to judges–are actually applied on the ground. Studying the application of these laws in Pennsylvania and Alabama, she found courts that were ill-equipped to enforce the statutes, unwillingness to provide necessary information to young women who wanted to exercise their rights, extremely wide disparities in how the laws were applied, and a number of judges who simply refused to apply the law and grant waivers. Nearly half of the juvenile courts in Alabama were unable or unwilling to grant waiver hearings. Here, for example is what one juvenile probation officer told Silverstein and her co-author:

But I can promise, unless you have some serious medical condition, it won’t be granted. My judge is anti-abortion, and he doesn’t believe a child should have this done without her parents. You have the right to file, and the right to file in your initials; your name won’t even be on the petition. But that doesn’t mean he will grant it. We had one [case] one time … and her doctor advised her to have an abortion for medical reasons, and [the judge] still would not grant it.*

Moreover, even in the courts that were theoretically willing to issue waivers, large numbers of roadblocks–bad information, games of telephone tag, an unwillingness to disclose necessary information–were placed in the path of young women seeking them.

It should be emphasized, as well, that this is the issue with many of the judges currently being filibustered in the Senate. As many of you know, Priscilla Owen is one of the two judges that the Bush Administration plans to use to bring the filibuster issue to a head. She also willfully misapplied a parental notification statute, and in a manner so egregious that Alberto Gonzales called her reading an”unconscionable act of judicial activism.” In particular, Owen would have effectively required–without any authorizing language in the statute–minors seeking an abortion to obtain religious counseling. So, in other words, Owen distorted a statute not only to deny both the privacy rights of young women but to violate the Establishment and free exercise clauses of the 1st Amendment as well–and this is the key issue. The problem isn’t that Owen opposes abortion as a policy matter, but that she willfully distorts statutes in order to force her religious convinctions on others. There’s religious discrimination here, alright, but it sure isn’t coming from people who oppose Owen. And as Silverstein has noted#, judges creating requirements for religious counseling is not uncommon.

Parental notification requirements, therefore, are bad on paper and worse in practice . And the way these laws are applied makes is clear why Kevin Drum’s comparison of abortion with other surgical procedures won’t fly. The purpose of parental notification statutes with respect to abortion is to prevent abortions; this is not the case with other surgical procedures. Of course, progressives should strongly oppose judges who will not enforce waiver requirements properly, but these judges should not be given the chance in the first place.

* Helena Silverstein and Leanne Speitel, “‘Honey, I Have No Idea’: Court Readiness to Handle Petitions to Waive Parental Consent for Abortion,” Iowa Law Review, 88:75 (2002).

# Silverstein and Kathryn Lundwall Alessi, “Religious Establishment in Hearings to Waive Parental Consent for Abortion,” University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, 7: 473 (2004).

In Chile, Pensions Grow on Trees

[ 0 ] April 28, 2005 |

Dave and Erik do the necessary work of flushing John Tierney’s latest tripe on the Chilean privatized pension system.

The only thing that surprised me about Tierney’s column was how far behind he is on the Republican message. The Chilean “success” was trashed several months ago, but perhaps John didn’t receive the memo. In the future, he should try a bit harder; it can’t be that difficult to find a single relatively representative Chilean who has derived some benefit from the pension system. Also, I thought that the boys at Tech Central Station had moved beyond the unrepresentative supporting anecdote and toward the poorly manufactured supporting statistic.

On "Borking"

[ 0 ] April 28, 2005 |

Lindsay is very good on the attempts of various bloggers to defend the specious accusations of religious bigotry being dragged by various persons of bad faith into a debate about judicial nominations. (Do you think that Professor Bainrbridge as appalled that a non-believer would have no chance of being elected to major office in this country? Me thinks not. And, by his logic, this makes him a religious bigot.)

Since the term came up, a brief comment about “Borking.” One odd thing is that Bork’s failed nomination to the Supreme Court has become the definition of a bad nomination process, when in fact it was a case where the process worked as it should work. The Thomas nomination, in which legitimate questions about the substance of his judicial philosophy became eclipsed by personal issues of extremely marginal relevance to the position we was nominated for, represents a bad process. But the Bork nomination involved a substantive discussion of judicial philosophy without diversionary “character” questions. He was appointed for political reasons, of course, and rejected for political reasons, and in both cases the reaction was perfectly appropriate. It was Reagan’s right to appoint somebody who believes that the Court’s entire line of privacy cases is wrongly decided and that the federal government can legally segregate and that the 1st Amendment should be read extremely narrowly. And it was the Senate’s prerogative to reject someone with these views. The system worked as it should.

The other thing the Bork nomination shows is that, of course, Democratic opposition to reactionary jurisprudence has nothing to do with religion (not surprisingly, since you can’t get elected to the Senate if you’re a non-believer.) I’m not sure if Bork had converted to Catholicism at that point, but if so it certainly wasn’t widely known, and his religion was not a factor in defeating his nomination. What was widely known was a paper trial showing him to be a striking moral skeptic. I am unaware of any religious discourse that would refer to moral principles as “gratifications,” but Bork did. The philosophy of most of the judges Bush has nominated would, of course, be opposed by most Democrats irrespective of a judge’s religion.

Great Moments in Wingnuttery

[ 0 ] April 27, 2005 |

Abu Ghraib apologist Rush Limbaugh continues his ongoing inability to distinguish between consensual and non-consensual behaviors.

Down The Slope

[ 0 ] April 27, 2005 |

Matt Yglesias raises the interesting point that it’s entirely possible that–whether or not it’s a “slippery slope” in the sense of being logically inevitable (and I don’t think it is)–the recognition of same-sex marriage will lead to the formal recognition of polyamorous relationships. Assuming for the sake of argument that he’s right–is this something that one should worry about?

Matt says no. For a while, my response to this was to say that this wasn’t necessarily desirable, given the gender subordination inherent in bigamous marriages. My old arguments, though, are I think quite transparently wrong, for a couple of reasons. The biggest one is that, of course, this makes claims about bigamous marriages that was generally true about marriage as a whole. Until quite recently, a wife was essentially legally defined as the sexual property of her husband, and also subordinated any number of property rights and other rights. Marriage between two people both reflected and reinforced male supremacy, so it’s hardly surprising that marriages between men and multiple women would do the same. But there’s nothing inherently male supremacist about marriage–in the sense of people making a formal commitment of partnership with a bundle of concomitant legal rights and privileges–and an underlying (if not necessarily formal) assumption of erotic intimacy, and I think this is equally true of marriages between two and multiple partners. On a related point, when I thought of “bigamy” I generally thought of bigamous marriages within Mormon communities–which are certainly male supremacist. But where they worse than two-person marriages within these communities? I’m not a sociologist, but I rather I doubt it. And I think many of us have known people in informal polyamorous (or, at least, “open”) relationships that are not predicated on reactionary gender roles. Polyamorous relationships may not work for many people, but then most people won’t choose to marry someone of the same gender either. I wouldn’t assume that formal polyamorous relationships are any less stable than those between two people, and we certainly have no way of knowing.

So, I’m inclined to think that there’s really nothing to worry about should we proceed down the slippery slope; perhaps people can explain why we should, but I don’t see it. And there is–as Evan Gerstmann has pointed out–a moral slippery slope if not a causal one. If there is a reason to codify same-sex marriages but not polyamorous ones, I think the burden of proof is on those who would deny the right.

Take The "7" Train

[ 0 ] April 26, 2005 |

As someone who believes that spring break should be used for scholarly purposes, I thought it would be a good idea to observe oral arguments in the compelling case of Martinez v. Smoltz of Fulton County, Georgia. The latter have more precedents on their side than one might prefer, but they will face some very tough questioning…

Bobo, Health, and Obesity

[ 0 ] April 26, 2005 |

Lindsay and iocaste are quite correct that John Tierney and David Brooks are drawing the wrong lesson from the recent studies which show that being modestly overweight correlates with longer life expectancy than normal weight. “It’s now OK to eat fast food and exercise less” is most certainly not the lesson one should draw from these studies.

However, while I won’t belabor the point because I’ve made it before, I think that the way Lindsay has framed her argument is unfortunate, and plays into the arguments that Tierney is making. I still don’t believe that the study–which claims that obesity is “associated” with 120,000 deaths a year–proves that obesity causes 120,000 deaths a year, a much higher standard. (Of course, the more overweight one is, the more likely this is to be the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices.) But, in a sense, Tierney and Brooks are reacting to the focus on obesity rather than health more broadly; when evidence emerges that weight per se is less important than is generally asserted, well then go ahead and eat that second Double Quarter Pounder. But, of course, eating fast food regularly is unhealthy, as is being sedentary, and this is true whether it makes you obese or not (and in many cases, especially among young people, it doesn’t.) Focusing on preventing obesity as an end in itself, I think, is not helpful in making this point (and Brooks is certainly correct in implying that aesthetic and health concerns, which should be kept distinct, are obviously being conflated.) We should focus on encouraging people to exercise regularly and heating a healthy diet rather than on what their bodies look like. This will, of course, reduce obesity as well, but that’s a side effect; that shouldn’t be the primary goal, and defining the goal in these terms I think ultimately plays into the hands of the fast food lobby.

battlepanda makes a good point in comments. One data point from the study that is interesting is that underweight people experience negative health effects similar to those who are obese. Again, I don’t believe there’s strong causation there. But what it should tell us is that ideal body images have nothing to with healthy lifestyles, even when they coincidentally intersect. Encouraging young women to eat irregularly, not to build muscle mass, etc.–whatever one thinks of the aesthetics–sure isn’t healthy. And, really, the lack of connection between the aesthetics and health here is so obvious I shouldn’t have to point it out. How many primary school kids who pick on the fat kid are reading peer-reviewed medical studies? How many of their parents are? The whole argument is silly.

Ampersand, who I hope you all read regularly anyway, offers a rather more eloquent and detailed argument on the topic. (I’m reluctant for bloggers to start praising posts by saying they should be nominated for a Koufax–which could become like Peter Travers claiming every third performance is Oscar (TM) worthy!–but I do hope this one is remembered when the time comes.)

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