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More on the Muzzling of Dissident Voices

[ 0 ] July 11, 2007 |

Simon Heller and Vivian Labaton of the Center for Reproductive Rights have more on the muzzling of Bush administration officials both before and after their departures from the administration (happy now CJR?). Their experience is based on the Center’s lawsuit against the FDA to get over-the-counter approval for emergency contraception:

In the course of our lawsuit against the FDA first filed in 2005, we discovered that one high-ranking FDA official told a subordinate that the Plan B over-the-counter application was being rejected in order to appease the Bush administration’s constituents. Another high-ranking scientist within the FDA testified that the decision to reject over-the-counter status for Plan B was made in consultation with the White House. All the FDA scientists who would ordinarily make the decision whether to make P B available without a prescription strongly favored that action, but their authority to make the decision was taken away from them early on in the process when the agency’s Commissioner began to express vague concerns about easier access to Plan B for young women. We also know that scientists at the FDA were fearful that their positions in the agency would be in jeopardy if they did not fall in line behind the Bush administration’s political opposition to wider access to Plan B.

We shouldn’t be surprised to read that the Administration exerted political pressure on a decision like this (especially because the fallout at the time made it clear that that had occurred), but with the Carmona testimony, there’s a new twist:

Former FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan admitted that he spoke from time to time about the Plan B application with the White House, but claimed that this was simply to update the White House about a controversial matter so that it could respond to press inquiries. We find this explanation for his repeated contacts with the White House highly suspect, especially in light of Dr. Carmona’s testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform yesterday. McClellan’s appointment calendar also reflects that he spoke with Dr. Carmona about Plan B within days after the application was filed with the FDA in 2003. And we now believe it is likely that this conversation passed on instructions from the White House to Dr. Carmona to adhere to the White House’s ultra-conservative positions against women’s access to this important drug.

It just keeps getting better and better. Or should I say worse and worse?

Fighting Indian Fighter Aces…

[ 0 ] July 11, 2007 |

Matt writes, in respone to David Axe’s suggestion that F-22s ought to be unleashed against Indian or British aggressor squadrons:

Uh huh. But think about that. Why would the US Air Force be fighting Indian aces in Su-30s? And that’s to say nothing of the Royal Air Force. I don’t want to say it’s inconceivable that the United States would find itself engaged in a struggle for air superiority with a near peer-competitor but it’s way, way, way, down on the list of contingencies that any reasonable person would be hedging against. Alien robots seems like an only slightly less plausible adversary.

Well, I think that Axe is just suggesting that we include F-22s in the Cope India exercises, which seems like a good idea to me. Why fly F-15s when we can fly F-22s (given that we’ve already bought the damn things), especially when the Indians can beat our F-15s? Makes them better, makes us better. I would also dissent a bit from Matt’s argument that we don’t need to think so much about air superiority; I’d say that a conflict with China over Taiwan is plausible, and that if it happens, the Chinese will contest the skies for at least a while. And the Chinese fly Su-30s…

Whether we need the Air Force or the F-22 are separate questions; now that Matt is taunting me, maybe I’ll need to write that article.

Boomer Nostalgia Is Not An Argument

[ 0 ] July 11, 2007 |

At the end of an excellent post about the nature of allegedly “traditional” marriage, Dana Goldtsein concludes: “What’s at stake for conservatives aren’t marriages that raise happy children, but a fear of sex and women’s liberation, especially in combination.” Completely correct, and it’s really palpable in Brooks’s column.

This whole “the idealized marriage I remember from the precise moment when I was a kid must be the optimal form of family relations” line of non-reasoning reminds me of nothing so much as the assertion that America “lost its innocence” when…it found out quiz shows were being fixed (or some other trivial event that happened well over a century after America’s decidedly non-virgin birth when the person making the argument was a naive child.) Solipsism and nostalgia are really not sound justifications for maintaining unjust or irrational social institutions, and tends to lead to the distortion of history as well.

You Know What they say About Karma

[ 0 ] July 11, 2007 |

From today’s NYT story about the political pressure placed on Dr. Carmona, W.’s first Surgeon General, and other Surgeon Generals:

Similarly, Dr. Carmona wanted to address the controversial topic of sexual education, he said. Scientific studies suggest that the most effective approach includes a discussion of contraceptives.

“However there was already a policy in place that did not want to hear the science but wanted to preach abstinence only, but I felt that was scientifically incorrect,” he said.

Dr. Carmona said drafts of surgeon general reports on global health and prison health were still being debated by the administration. The global health report was never approved, Dr. Carmona said, because he refused to sprinkle the report with glowing references to the efforts of the Bush administration.

“The correctional health care report is pointing out the inadequacies of health care within our correctional health care system,” he said. “It would force the government on a course of action to improve that.”

Because the administration does not want to spend more money on prisoners’ health care, the report has been delayed, Dr. Carmona said.

“For us, the science was pretty easy,” he said. “These people go back into the community and take diseases with them.” He added, “This is not about the crime. It’s about protecting the public.”

Here’s what I love about this excerpt (and really, the whole article): The Bush administration’s bad acts are coming back to bite them in the ass. The ways in which they manipulated important issues that should be one step removed from Congress may not harm his electoral chances (since he’s a dead duck at this point), but will, I think, affect the GOP for years to come.

What’s also great: finally someone, somewhere in some way attached to the U.S. government (even if only formerly) is speaking out about and making sense of health care for the over 2.25 million men and women who are incarcerated in this country. Carmona’s right to frame prisoner health as a public health issue both for actual (it *is* a public health issue) and political (helps deflect attention from the fact that – gasp – we might actually do right by prisoners for once). HIV and other STDs spread rampantly in prisons. So do other infectious diseases. People then get out of prison and return to their communities. The lack of care they receive would be a human rights violation if we discussed such things more forcefully in this country; to frame it as an issue affecting the larger community is the smart way to get it heard now.

And of course, abstinence only is easy. It doesn’t work. It’s misogynist and heterosexist. Yet the Bush administration continuse to bend the science to fit its political and ideological goals. Carmona’s point about this surprised me not at all. The fact that someone was even thinking about any sort of prison reform in the Bush administration did.

But – as we all know too well at this point – speak out against GWB, lose your job.

Can This State Intervention Be Saved?

[ 0 ] July 11, 2007 |

In this thread, Bean suggests that the solution to the issues created by prostitution may be decriminalization but not legalization, and another commenter suggests a model that would make the purchase of sex but not the selling of sex illegal. To start with the question of whether state intervention is defensible even if one agrees with the ends:

  • To me, upholding traditional conceptions of sexual morality is not a valid reason for making prostitution, or any other sex work voluntarily engaged in by adults, illegal.
  • It is, however, legitimate for the state to protect sex workers the way it protects other workers.
  • With respect to the legitimate justification, the criminalization of prostitution is obviously a disaster. By creating strong disincentives for sex workers to seek protection from the state, it makes them more vulnerable to violence and particularly gross exploitation at the hands of both johns and pimps (the latter representing the informal authority that will inevitably fill the vacuum left by the state.)
  • Bean’s solution is preferable but also strikes me as problematic. It reduces the disincentives, which is good, but still leaves a significant disincentive in place, which is bad. Moreover, from a feminist perspective I just don’t see what good fining sex workers is supposed to accomplish; the same analysis that would make one concerned about the exploitation of women makes it very strange indeed to further punish women who sell sex (and given how likely these women are to be poor, the effect of fines is hardly trivial.)
  • We can get beyond this problem, however, by imposing fines only on people who purchase sex.

So that’s a potentially defensible solution. Do I support it?

I’m open to persuasion, but I would have to say no. This isn’t because I’m sanguine about the exploitation involved in sex work in this particular cultural context, and personally prostitution makes me especially uncomfortable. But I still think that the punishment of sex work involves some sort of claim about false consciousness. They key question is not whether sex work is often exploitative, but exploitative compared to what? Maybe there’s a reason why paying poor women to have sex is categorically worse than paying women to clean toilets for minimum wage, but this tends to be assumed rather than argued (and is often, I think, bad moralistic justification #1 being smuggled in behind good feminist justification #2.) In addition, the kind of worker-protecting regulations that become possible after legalization: restrictions on employers, informed consent requirements, health services/standards, etc. seem like a more narrowly tailored way of addressing the state’s legitimate concerns. At a minimum, in an ideal policy world we would try this before seeking to punish johns, and would avoid punishing sex workers at all.

Is he kidding? I don’t think he’s kidding.

[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

Shorter Verbatim Mark Noonan (no relation, I swear):

For my fellow Americans who are gay – I just advise you how Bill Clinton treated your cause in 1993 after you went flat out for him in 1992. You will be betrayed again, if you are fool enough to back Democrats in 2008. True, we conservative Christians might not seem the logical home for you, but you do know where we stand, we are ready to compromise and we will never, ever betray you.

If “Blogs for Bush” eventually morphs into “Blogs for Giuliani” or “Blogs for Thompson,” I really can’t recommend strongly enough that the last sentence here be edited into a bumper sticker.


[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

It was obvious as soon as it glanced off the banner… still, good throw by Griffey to nail A-Rod at the plate.

Cows are animals too

[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

Sheesh, two animal-themed days in a row.

I can’t wait to see the anti-feminist wingnut reaction to this one: According to an AP report, a group of female Spanish students have created a petition seeking full equality with regard to the beloved Pamplonan tradition, the Running of the Bulls. According to their petition, the male cows (bulls) get to run, and their female peers too want to be free (of course, there’s no mention of female cows wanting to be killed in cowfights, but that’s another story). So they propose a running of the cows: women running after cows running after women. According to the group’s statement (via the AP article), everyone wins:

”A cow-run would fill a fundamental void: what do we women do at 8 in the morning when the boys are risking their lives?” the manifesto asked. ”A little exercise after so much alcohol and food would do us no harm.”

It said the introduction of a cow-run ”would make our festival greater and place Pamplona at the vanguard of traditional fiestas with total equality between males and females, men and women.”

The running of the bulls is not closed to women. Though it’s a traditionally male event, women are invited to take part.

So here’s what I can’t figure out. A Pamplonan government official seemed to level the right critique when she said:

“At the moment women can run with the bulls. What really would be discriminatory would be a women-only run with cows.”

I totally agree. If I were crazy enough to want to take part in this event, and I were told I had to run with cows…I would be mad as hell. So what are the tongue-in-cheek originators of this petition getting at here? If it’s the general outlandishness of this event, I don’t think any such petition was necessary (with apologies to many years of Pamplonan history).

Winning and Losing

[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

Part of me is sympathetic to the Jon Tester’s “we won the Iraq War, let’s go home” tactic. On the one hand, it might help end the war and consequently save some American (and potentially Iraqi) lives. On the other, it might forestall the cries of “stabbed in the back!”, although, since the wingnutty have been almost as enthusiastic about blaming defeat on liberals as actually winning the war, that’s probably a forlorn hope. Another reason why someone might argue that the war ended in victory is reputational; denying victory to the enemy by claiming it for ourselves enhances our global position, or at least stops the bleeding. I don’t buy that argument myself, as the Iraqi insurgents and Al Qaeda will claim victory no matter when we leave or under what circumstances, but it is nevertheless a case for declaring victory.

Mostly, though, I agree with Brad Plumer:

More importantly, these myths have consequences. Part of the reason so many people supported the war in Iraq—and why they support all sorts of ill-conceived wars—is that many Americans believe that the United States is always virtuous; that our leaders’ intentions are always honorable; that when the president says that he’s going to war for the sake of freedom and democracy, he means it; and that the U.S. military is only ever used for benevolent and noble ends. Not to be too shrill about it, but these are the sort of myths that enable war and imperialism, and Tester is trying to perpetuate them.

I would put it a bit differently; the use of force has real, often unpredictable consequences, and any assessment of using force has to take into account the practical difficulties of doing what we want to do. The Iraq War was sold as platitude, with predictable disastrous effect. The point, though, remains the same; the only way to learn from a complete disaster is to recognize that it was a complete disaster.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

The Verdict of History

[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

I think Rob gets credit for coining one of my favorite LG&M tags — “wingnut butchery of history” — a phrase that aptly summarizes aptly describes the subject of David Halberstam’s posthumous Vanity Fair article, “The History Boys.” (h/t Ralph Luker). [NOTE: Sorry for the ambiguity in the original sentence . . . ]

There, Halberstam takes up a question about which I’ve written with less elegance many times before, both here and elsewhere — namely, the pathetic manner in which George W. Bush and his defenders take refuge in the “verdict” (which they can only conceive as “vindication”) of history. As I wrote here a few months back, these folks

frequently cite “great” presidents whose reputations were later resuscitated, hoping perhaps to wake up one day and discover that Iraq has flourished, that the national debt has been retired, that the global Islamofascist conspiracy has bowed to the presbytery, that Katrina never happened, and that winged ponies shit golden eggs.

Halberstam’s piece is especially useful for deconstructing the Truman Analogy, by which true believers continue to find hope in Bush’s entrenched approval ratings, his “bold” doctrinal pronouncements regarding freedom, and his oversight of an inconclusive and increasingly unpopular war. The logical pattern here is familiar. Just as many contemporary conservatives profess their love for a civil rights movement they most certainly would have opposed in its day, Bush and friends genuflect at the altar of Harry, even as they behave in a way that most closely resembles Truman’s bitterest foes.

In one of the more useful sections of the article, Halberstam reminds us of one of the lowest — and least noticed — instances of Bush’s historical butchery, which was a speech he gave in Latvia in May 2005:

Hailing Latvian freedom, Bush took a side shot at Roosevelt (and, whether he meant to or not, at Churchill, supposedly his great hero) and the Yalta accords, which effectively ceded Eastern Europe to the Soviets. Yalta, he said, “followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.”

. . . After some 60 years Yalta has largely slipped from our political vocabulary, but for a time it was one of the great buzzwords in American politics, the first shot across the bow by the Republican right in their long, venomous, immensely destructive assault upon Roosevelt (albeit posthumously), Truman, and the Democratic Party as soft on Communism — just as today’s White House attacks Democrats and other critics for being soft on terrorism, less patriotic, defeatists, underminers of the true strength of our country.

I’ve got nothing to add to that.

Which Lucky Victim?

[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

Noah at Danger Room:

The Army is working on a $200 billion modernization program called Future Combat Systems, or FCS. The plan is to remake the entire force, pretty much from top to bottom — how units are organized, how they communicate, how they attack enemies, and how they defend themselves.

FCS is modeled, in part, on the invasion and occupation of one particular country. Which one is it? I’ll give you eleven choices — and until Wednesday afternoon to vote. Then I’ll reveal the right answer.

Vote early, vote often!

The Vacuity of the "Judicial Activism" Charge

[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

One one level, I’m sympathetic to Ilya Somin’s response to Adam Cohen’s “gotcha” column about “judicial activism.” It’s true that most conservatives have never claimed that the Courts should never overturn laws or applications of laws by the executive branch, and in this sense individual cases of conservative courts doing so isn’t necessarily a deep contradiction with the values of conservative jurisprudence.

However, the problem is that once you — like Somin — divorce the concept of “judicial activism” from the frequency with which courts (for better or worse) strike down actions of the political branches the term becomes an empty tautology. The concept of “activism” ceases to do any real work; everything comes down to whether one considers decisions correct or not for reasons independent of “judicial activism” per se. And in this sense, Cohen’s column is fair; whatever the details when you look under the hood, to the lay public decrying “judicial activism” certainly implies that you want courts to be more deferential to the political branches. The fact that conservative courts aren’t, on balance, more deferential (they tend to be more deferential to state legislatures and less deferential to Congress) does not, in itself, mean that conservative jurisprudence is wrong — but it does make the pejorative use of the term “judicial activism” misleading and deprives the term of any value. It’s certainly fair to use the Roberts Court to illustrate that “judicial activism” means nothing more to most people using the label than “judgifying I don’t like.”

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