Friday, June 29, 2007

Romney, The Hoser

Except Mormon Romney can't blame it on beer-drinking.

What Was It Like For Romney's Dog? Scientists weigh in on Mitt Romney's dog's experience of being on roof of car for 12-hour road trip. ABC News reports:
It may sound like a scene from Chevy Chase's "National Lampoon's Vacation." Mom and Dad pack their five boys into a white Chevy station wagon, load the luggage into the back, strap the dog to the top of the car and begin the annual family road trip from Boston to their summer home in Ontario.

Actually, it's not a movie. It's the true story of Mitt Romney's 1983 family vacation, according to an article in Wednesday's Boston Globe.
The article pegged Romney, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts, as a family man, father to five sons, adoring husband and dog's not-so best friend. Using a 1983 family vacation to talk about Romney's family values, a shocking paragraph caught the eye of animal rights groups and angered pet owners across the country.

"Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family's hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon's roof rack. He'd built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog," read the article.

Jordan Kaplan, the owner of Petaholics, a dog walking service in New York City, and a lifelong dog owner and dog lover, said Romney's actions were uncalled for.

"It would be one thing if someone put it down or forgot and then drove 50 feet and realized what they did," said Kaplan. "I don't know anyone who would purposefully do that to a dog."

Physicist Dr. W.J. Llope, a senior faculty fellow at Rice University in the department of physics and astronomy, has his theory about the Romney's decision to strap Seamus to the top of the car.

"Seeing the inside of the car is full, Romney absentmindedly says to himself, 'Where am I going to put ole Seamus here?' and hearing his name, the dog says, 'Roof, roof,'" said Llope.

What Happens to a Dog on a Roof Traveling 50 MPH?

All kidding aside, what exactly would be the dangers of strapping the family pet to the roof of a speeding vehicle for 12 hours?

Llope said putting a dog on top of a car is just like putting anything or anyone else on the roof.

"What happens to a dog in this situation is precisely what would happen to any of us in the same situation: Trapped in a box for 12 hours would be no one's idea of comfortable," said Llope.

Dr. Russell Cumming, a professor of aerospace engineering at California Polytechnic State University, got a little more technical.

"At that speed, assuming sea level conditions, the poor little dog would have about 10 pounds per square foot pressing against his head," said Cumming.

And in layman's terms?

"He would constantly feel a little less than 3 pounds pressing on his head for the entire trip," he added. "The windshield would help, but boy that would get tired."

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Douglas Osheroff of physics at Stanford University said the dog crate on top of the car would change the air flow around the vehicle.

"Beyond a certain velocity, the air flow becomes turbulent," said Osheroff. "The airflow isn't going to be laminar," which means it won't have a uniform distribution.

Cumming said that's bad news for Seamus.

"Chances are the windshield would only protect the front of the dog, but the air flowing around the windshield would buffet the side of the dog -- that would be tiring," said Cummings. "My wife's a vet, and she would be more worried by the dehydration of the dog's eyes under those conditions."

In addition to dehydration, fatigue and fright, Seamus was strapped on top of a car for 12 hours with limited or no bathroom breaks -- a condition that was highlighted in the Boston Globe article.

"A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who'd been riding on the roof in the wind for hours," the article said.

After his son noticed the liquid, Romney pulled the car over and hosed down Seamus at a gas station before putting him back into the crate on top of the car and continuing on with the drive.

Just a Sign of the Times?

The incident happened more than 20 years ago, at a time when Pet Palaces and Doggie Day Cares didn't exist, so were the Romneys just following a trend? Maybe, said Kaplan, but that doesn't make it any more acceptable.

"Certainly, a lot has changed as to how we view our dogs, our pets since 1983. The dogs would stay in the basement with just a bowl of food, and now we have products and services for dogs that didn't exist 20 years ago," said Kaplan. "But I just couldn't imagine anyone would ever do that to a pet. What if they got hit? I would never do that to any animal."

But Osheroff said the inside of a car may not be any safer for the family pooch in the case of an accident.

"In general, if you have a dog in a car, that dog is not wearing a seat belt. And I dare say there were no seat belts for dogs [in 1983], so I don't know if it makes any difference where the dog is," said Osheroff.

He equated it to a dog riding in the back of a pick up truck, a sight commonly seen on America's roadways.

Political Implications: Pet Lovers Protest Romney

Will this nearly quarter-century-old tale affect Romney's presidential bid in 2008? That remains to be seen, but for now pet owners across the country are speaking out in defense of dearly departed Seamus.

Dog lovers certainly aren't happy. Thousands of readers have posted comments on The New York Times Web site attached to a blog discussing the anecdote.

"This can't be real, this has to be a joke, right? Who, in their right mind straps their dog to the roof of the car? I don't care if he's got a windshield on this dog carrier," read one comment.

"I'm also amazed the story didn't end with the death of the dog," read another. "Did he make any trips where he strapped his wife or one of his children up there?"

Others related Romney's actions to the type of president he would be.

"The people who will vote for him are those who think torturing animals, making them suffer is OK. He's a disgusting man, presidential candidate, NOT," wrote one poster.

Yet others seem to think Romney's seemingly lack of concern for Seamus' well-being was a quality that will help him win over voters.

"Mitt Romney will be a great president, he can think dispassionately, with a clear head and objectively," one poster said.

This story didn't come to light through dogged-research by investigative journalists. Romney volunteered it as an example of his cool-headed management skills, "'emotion-free crisis management': Father deals with minor — but gross — incident during a 1983 family vacation, and saves the day."

It's more like, "When Romney's policies create shitstorms, he hoses them down."

Romney's response to the controversy:
Per WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh: "Romney answered questions about a Boston Globe feature story that mentions how he strapped his dog's cage, with the animal inside, to the top of his family's car during a 12-hour road trip 24 years ago. He said Thursday that the pet enjoyed the experience, and he took a shot at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a group that has labeled his actions as cruelty."

"You know, PETA has not been my fan over the years," Romney said. "PETA has been after me for having a rodeo at the Olympics and were very, very upset about that. PETA was after me when I went quail hunting in Georgia. And PETA is not happy that my dog likes fresh air."

After eight years of selfish, greedy sadists, Republicans want to saddle us with another clueless, insensitive ass. (Romney is the Bush family's choice in the 2008 elections.)

With Bush on Vacation in Kennebunkport, Cabinet Meets At White House . . . .

. . . . Who's presiding over Cabinet meeting? Cheney?

Bush, left, casts as his father former President George H.W. Bush watches as they fish near Kennebunk, Maine, Friday, June 29, 2007. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

The AP reports:

In the aftermath of the London bomb discoveries, the U.S. government asked Americans to be vigilant about suspicious activities.

Officials on Friday said they don't see any specific signs of a terrorist threat in the U.S. ahead of the Fourth of July holiday.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said there are no plans to raise the U.S. national threat level, which was currently at yellow, or elevated.

A Cabinet-level meeting was called Friday at the White House to discuss the developments in London.

President Bush was briefed at his family home in Maine, where he'll meet Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

White House Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend told Bush by phone what British officials had learned about the bombs.

Bush spokesman Tony Snow said officials with the CIA, the FBI and other agencies have been in touch with their counterparts in London.

Snow said British authorities haven't yet been able to determine if there's a link to any terrorist group.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sluts R Us

Exasperation rises as suggestive clothes for girls spread from teens to toddlers

The Arizona Republic reports:
From spaghetti straps for preschoolers to ultra-miniskirts on tweens, girls clothing is getting noticeably skimpier.

Kid-magnet chains, including Limited Too and Abercrombie Kids, as well as discount stores such as Target are focusing their marketing efforts on a much younger demographic, luring young girls into ensembles that in years past had been reserved for their teenage sisters.
GapKids recently featured a white, crocheted string bikini you'd likely see Anna Kournikova wearing on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The bikini was for a 12-month-old.

I did some web searching for these items and came up empty. This is the extent of the swimwear for toddlers at Gapkids. I found a fair number of skinny-strapped sundresses and tank tops/camisoles for little girls (toddlers, age 1-5) that are diminuitive teen/adult designs (with smocking, darting, gathering, etc., for drawing the eye to and enhancing the breast area). I found this little number at babyGap, which looks to me like what Ann Coulter wore (in black) on Hardball earlier this week:

Racks at Target held several bathing suits perfect for a Hawaiian Tropic bikini competition. The crocheted and camouflage-designed suits started at Size 4 in the little girls' section.

Inseams on "classic" shorts at stores such as Abercrombie Kids and Hollister Co. are microscopic. And halter tops, shirts often lauded by fashion consultants for their ability to enhance a less-than-voluptuous chest, are everywhere for every age.

Moms hoping to find anything even mildly modest have to be happy Bermuda shorts are trendy again.

"It's a very scary phenomenon," said Patricia Leavy, a sociology professor at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. "I don't think it's going to go away. I think it's going to get worse before it gets better."

Leavy said the clothing trend is only piggybacking off pop culture and the toy industry, where Bratz dolls have spun off Baby Bratz and celebrities such as Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have grown up much faster than the fans who follow them.

"The reason it's really happening is money," Leavy said.

There's serious money at stake. From clothing to games to snacks, kids 12 to 19 spent $179 billion in 2006, according to Teen Research Unlimited. Retailers want a piece of that pie, and they are looking for lifelong shoppers. The younger they snag them, the longer they'll have them, Leavy said.

As if shopping for a teen or tween wasn't difficult enough, there now is a new category: the pre-tween.

Yes, your child goes from toddler to pre-tween, skipping the "plain old kid" level altogether.

Cindy Istook, a professor of textiles at North Carolina State University, said retailers aren't designing clothes for kids. They are simply making mini adult clothes.

"We all think about the JonBenet Ramsey thing (the 6-year-old beauty-pageant veteran whose killing remains unsolved) and look at how obscene it was," Istook said, "and we're all shocked, but, really, it's pretty common for kids to dress like that all the time."

It is? Like this?:

Kaydi Lynn, 2 years-old, Baby/Toddler Photo Contest Winner at Southern Moms online
T-shirts and tanks are cut slimmer. Shorts are shorter. Makeup for tweens, once controlled by the sheer colors of Bonne Belle, is glittery and glossy, marketed as of-the-moment must-haves.

In some cases, mini-adult is cute. Poufy skirts from the Crew Cuts line at J. Crew are impractical but adorable nonetheless. Big, vintage-style sunglasses for toddlers at GapKids are fun and useful if the little ones will oblige you and actually wear them. An infant-size shirtdress from Old Navy is funny, as if she's off to a big meeting.

But there's a line between cute and "not in a million years."

Kathleen Waldron, a faculty member in Arizona State University's College of Human Services, ran into trouble with her daughters when they hit the tween sizes.

"All the sudden, the clothing styles are not little-girl cute," she said. "I couldn't find clothing that I thought was appropriate."

Waldron instead bought a sewing machine, though she was the first to admit she's no Vera Wang.

Lila Metcalf said it doesn't have to be that way. As the owner of Urban Kidz boutique in Scottsdale, Metcalf knows that shopping for girls can be a struggle. The boutique specializes in tween fashions that are trendy but include a dash of modesty.

Moms regularly come into her store exasperated, Metcalf said.

"Moms and daughters in that age group are constantly fighting a battle," she said.

Laura Terrones, 29, admitted that a rift is forming between her and her 10-year-old daughter, Kelsey. Terrones said it's not easy to find clothes that both she and her daughter approve of.

"We have a really hard time," she said, browsing through swimsuits at Fiesta Mall in Mesa. "We're trying to work together."

Evidence of the compromise? Kelsey was able to wear the strapless tube dress she wanted while they shopped, but she had to wear a T-shirt over it.

Terrones said it's even difficult to find appropriate clothes for her 4-year-old daughter.

That's why Chris Frueh, 36, is trying something different. The former middle school teacher owns U Go Girlz, a local clothing company that produces T's with positive messages. One says, "An original is worth more than a copy," and another, "Breathe life into your dreams."

Frueh started the company with the intention of giving back, and she does with charitable donations with every purchase. But she has seen the dicey, innuendo-stamped T's that girls are wearing.

"When you wear these things, you are sending a message, whether you think you are or not," Frueh said.

Despite her conviction to sell something positive, she knows hers is an uphill climb.

"It's so easy to cave in because it sells," she said. "They (girls) seem to want the more vulgar the better."

It looks to me as if there's a market out there just waiting to be filled by some enterprising American entrepreneurs looking to bring manufacturing back to the homeland.

Iconic Americans

Fifty years ago today:

Lou Costello, Elvis Presley and Jane Russell at a benefit for St. Jude's Hospital at Russwood Park, Memphis, Tennessee. Also appearing before a crowd of 11,000 were singers Roberta Sherwood, Ferlin Husky and actress Susan Hayward.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Boy, Do I Miss Molly Ivins

Conspiracy Charges Dismissed Against Tom DeLay in 5-4 Ruling By All-Republican Court In Texas

McClatchy reports:
Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and two associates won a big legal victory Wednesday when the state's highest criminal court ruled that they had been improperly indicted on charges of conspiracy to violate the Texas election code.

The 5-4 ruling by the all-Republican court upholds decisions by lower courts that the men had been accused of violating a law that was not on the books when the action was said to have taken place. The ruling, however, leaves intact indictments accusing DeLay and associates John Colyandro and James Ellis of money laundering and conspiring to launder money.
But DeLay, now a consultant in Washington, was quick to hail the ruling as a vindication of his long-held claim that he was the victim of a political witch hunt by Democratic District Attorney Ronnie Earle of Travis County.

"Ronnie Earle's politically motivated indictments cost Republicans the leader of their choice, and my family hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees," DeLay said in a statement. "The damage he has done to my family and my career cannot be rectified, but the courts have recognized a significant portion of the injustice and ruled accordingly.

"What Ronnie Earle accomplished is no rookie error -- it's a political attack using our legal system as the primary weapon."

Earle said the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals appears to have missed the mark.

"Under the rationale of today's majority opinion, the Legislature has blessed these criminal conspiracies as long as the felony they agree to commit is not in the penal code," he said. "Of course, it is illegal for them to actually commit the crime, but they can legally conspire to do it all they want. This is a tortured result."

The legal case against the once-powerful Texas Republican stems from his efforts in 2002 to end the Democrats' generations-long control of the Texas House. He was accused of improperly soliciting and accepting corporate money to help the campaigns of House GOP candidates.

Republicans swept to power in the House that year and completed the GOP takeover of every branch of state government. That allowed Republicans to redraw Texas' congressional districts in 2003, resulting in a GOP majority in the state's Washington delegation for the first time since Reconstruction.

The legal battle forced DeLay, a 21-year Washington veteran, to give up his powerful leadership post in Congress and then quit Texas politics altogether and move to Virginia before the 2006 election.

DeLay's seat was won by Democrat Nick Lampson, one of the congressmen ousted by redistricting.

DeLay and his two co-defendants are accused of illegally funneling $190,000 in banned corporate money into the 2002 elections to help Republican candidates. The three, through their attorneys, had argued from the outset that the charge of conspiring to violate the election law was bogus because no such law existed at the time. Their view prevailed in the criminal appeals court decision.

But Judge Cathy Cochran dissented, arguing that "any felony offense is subject to the Penal Code conspiracy provision."

"Thus, a person may be prosecuted for conspiring to commit any felony offense, whether that felony is defined in the Penal Code or elsewhere in Texas law," Cochran said in her written dissent. "The plain language of the conspiracy statute requires this result."

But Judge Mike Keasler, writing for the court's majority, said that for Cochran's argument to hold sway, the Legislature should have written the law to explicitly say as much.

Still pending against DeLay, Colyandro and Ellis are two charges of money laundering and one charge of making illegal contributions of corporate money.

DeLay said he is eager for the courts to settle those indictments.

"For nearly two years I have been willing and eager to go to trial," he said. "And with this ruling, we are thankfully closer to that day."

Read University of Texas School of Law's Professor George Dix's op-ed on the charges against DeLay and his associates.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

And The Winner Is . . . .

Elwood, Chinese-crested/Chihuahua mix, was crowned the World's Ugliest Dog

Canines from all over flock to Petaluma to vie for dubious honor of being named the World's Ugliest Dog at Sonoma-Marin Fair

SF Chronicle reports:

The dogs came to Petaluma with looks that define their celebrity status -- in large part so their owners could prove their pets aren't defined by those looks.

The comedian and animal rights activist from southern New Jersey wanted to promote a message of tolerance. The punk-rock type from Philadelphia, complete with mohawk and skull-logo T-shirt, came to support animal charities.

But they all had one thing in common: a desire for their genetically unfortunate pooch to be crowned the World's Ugliest Dog.

The anti-beauty contest, an increasingly popular event at the Sonoma-Marin Fair, celebrates physical repulsiveness -- and inner beauty.

Elwood, the Chinese crested-Chihuahua mix from Jersey, was crowned the World's Ugliest Dog after holding off challenges from previous winners.

He sports a mohawk, a scrunched face, a droopy tongue and Yoda ears that make him a natural funny guy.

What these dogs lack in looks -- and that's a whole lot -- they make up for in personality.

"You see him and you can't not laugh," said Elwood's owner, Karen Quigley. "He's funny. He's funny-looking. And that's the first instinct, but when you get past that, he has a very loving personality."

A face only a mother could love.

That's the foundation of camaraderie among the owners, who bring their unattractive darlings to the competition, which has taken place at different Petaluma venues since 1976, for a shot at up to $1,600 and a 4-foot trophy.

Winners from the purebred and mutt divisions are chosen by a handful of local celebrity judges, and the 2007 winner was selected from those two. Elwood then went on to challenge previous winners for the world title.

None of the dogs appeared especially aware of the ramifications of participating in, or even passing, the pre-qualification round, established because too many wannabe participants were not "legitimately ugly dogs," fair spokeswoman Bethrenae Tribble said.

For Rascal, the 2002 winner from Sunnyvale, the competition was just one more stop in a list of high-profile appearances. Ugly runs in the bloodline of the purebred Chinese crested, a lapdog who is hairless save for the squiggly white mane on his head. His grandfather earned the title seven times, and his mother and grandmother have won, too.

Not a surprise, given that owner Dane Andrews has been participating in the competition since 1979. Rascal first found fame with an appearance on the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno before winning World's Ugliest Dog in 2002, a victory that shocked the doting Andrews.

"I guess I should have had a hint when they had him on Leno that he was that ugly, but I don't really find him ugly at all," Andrews said.

Passers-by, on the other hand, often balk, grimace or laugh -- all common reactions to most of these dogs.

PeeWee Martini, the 2-year-old Chinese crested-Japanese chin mix from Philadelphia, made his second appearance at the anti-beauty battle Friday after coming in second last year. His contorted nose and hanging tongue, which earned him "ugliest face" in judges' comments last year, often prompt strangers to ask what illness he has or if he was hit by a car.

But as with many of his opponents, PeeWee's genes are at fault for the warts, the snorts and the three random hairs sticking off his tail.

Kristen Maszkiewicz holds 2-year-old PeeWee Martini, who won second place in the World's Ugliest Mutt category.

Karen Nau, vice mayor of Petaluma and a contest judge, said Elwood's personality propelled to him victory over the others.

"It was almost like a caricature," Nau said, "like one of those cartoons."

Quigley, Elwood's owner, called it "sweet satisfaction" that the dog was being rewarded for his ugliness after being saved from a breeder who wanted to have him killed because he was so unsightly.

Big prize for a little lady (and dog).

Women's Health Care Sliding Back To The Middle Ages

No matter what they call themselves, 'pro-lifers' are misogynists.

On Hardball with Chris Matthews:

On the same day as this MSNBC broadcast of Chris Matthews' Hardball, MSNBC reports:
In a survey published this year in The New England Journal of Medicine, 63 percent of doctors said it is acceptable to tell patients they have moral objections to treatments, and 18 percent felt no obligation to refer patients elsewhere.

Lori Boyer couldn't stop trembling as she sat on the examining table, hugging her hospital gown around her. Her mind was reeling. She'd been raped hours earlier by a man she knew — a man who had assured Boyer, 35, that he only wanted to hang out at his place and talk. Instead, he had thrown her onto his bed and assaulted her. "I'm done with you," he'd tonelessly told her afterward. Boyer had grabbed her clothes and dashed for her car in the freezing predawn darkness. Yet she'd had the clarity to drive straight to the nearest emergency room — Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon, Pennsylvania — to ask for a rape kit and talk to a sexual assault counselor. Bruised and in pain, she grimaced through the pelvic exam. Now, as Boyer watched Martin Gish, M.D., jot some final notes into her chart, she thought of something the rape counselor had mentioned earlier.

"I'll need the morning-after pill," she told him.

Dr. Gish looked up. He was a trim, middle-aged man with graying hair and, Boyer thought, an aloof manner. "No," Boyer says he replied abruptly. "I can't do that." He turned back to his writing.

Boyer stared in disbelief. No? She tried vainly to hold back tears as she reasoned with the doctor: She was midcycle, putting her in danger of getting pregnant. Emergency contraception is most effective within a short time frame, ideally 72 hours. If he wasn't willing to write an EC prescription, she'd be glad to see a different doctor. Dr. Gish simply shook his head. "It's against my religion," he said, according to Boyer. (When contacted, the doctor declined to comment for this article.)

Boyer left the emergency room empty-handed. "I was so vulnerable," she says. "I felt victimized all over again. First the rape, and then the doctor making me feel powerless." Later that day, her rape counselor found Boyer a physician who would prescribe her EC. But Boyer remained haunted by the ER doctor's refusal — so profoundly, she hasn't been to see a gynecologist in the two and a half years since. "I haven't gotten the nerve up to go, for fear of being judged again," she says.

Doctors refusing treatment
Even under less dire circumstances than Boyer's, it's not always easy talking to your doctor about sex. Whether you're asking about birth control, STDs or infertility, these discussions can be tinged with self-consciousness, even embarrassment. Now imagine those same conversations, but supercharged by the anxiety that your doctor might respond with moral condemnation — and actually refuse your requests.

That's exactly what's happening in medical offices and hospitals around the country: Catholic and conservative Christian health care providers are denying women a range of standard, legal medical care. Planned Parenthood M.D.s report patients coming to them because other gynecologists would not dole out birth control prescriptions or abortion referrals. Infertility clinics have turned away lesbians and unmarried women; anesthesiologists and obstetricians are refusing to do sterilizations; Catholic hospitals have delayed ending doomed pregnancies because abortions are only allowed to save the life of the mother. In a survey published this year in The New England Journal of Medicine, 63 percent of doctors said it is acceptable to tell patients they have moral objections to treatments, and 18 percent felt no obligation to refer patients elsewhere. And in a recent poll, nearly 1 in 20 respondents said their doctors had refused to treat them for moral, ethical or religious reasons. "It's obscene," says Jamie D. Brooks, a former staff attorney for the National Health Law Program who continues to work on projects with the Los Angeles advocacy group. "Doctors swear an oath to serve their patients. But instead, they are allowing their religious beliefs to compromise patient care. And too often, the victims of this practice are women."

Compared with the highly publicized issue of pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth control and emergency contraception, physician refusals are a little-discussed topic. Patients denied treatment rarely complain — the situation tends to feel so humiliatingly personal. And when patients do make noise, the case is usually resolved quietly. "The whole situation was traumatizing and embarrassing, and I just wanted to put it behind me," Boyer says. She came forward only after a local newspaper reported an almost identical story: In July 2006, retail clerk Tara Harnish visited the same ER after being sexually assaulted by a stranger, was examined by the same Dr. Gish — and when her mother called Dr. Gish's office the next day to get EC for Harnish, she was refused. "Then I knew it wasn't just me, that this was a larger problem and it could happen to anybody," Boyer says.

Harnish, 21, was shocked by the way the doctor treated her. "He seemed more concerned with saving the (potential) pregnancy than he was with my health," she says. "He turned me away when I needed medical help. That's not what a doctor is supposed to do." Harnish was too shaken by her rape to pursue the matter; her mother called Harnish's gynecologist for a prescription. Then she called the newspaper. Despite the attention the story attracted, Dr. Gish continues to work at Good Samaritan Hospital. Spokesman Bill Carpenter will only say that "the issue has been resolved internally, and we're going to move forward."

In many cases, women don't even know a doctor is withholding treatment. Boyer and Harnish, for example, wouldn't have realized they'd been denied care if they'd been among the estimated one in three women who don't know about EC. In the New England Journal of Medicine survey, 8 percent of physicians said they felt no obligation to present all options to their patients. "When you see a doctor, you presume you're getting all the information you need to make a decision," notes Jill Morrison, senior counsel for health and reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C. "Especially in a crisis situation, like a rape, you often don't think to question your care. But unfortunately, now we can't even trust doctors to tell us what we need to know."

An ethical dilemma
To many doctors, however, the issue represents a genuine ethical dilemma. "The physician's number-one creed is 'First, do no harm,' " says Sandy Christiansen, M.D., an ob/gyn in Frederick, Maryland, who is active in the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, a 16,000-member group for health care professionals based in Bristol, Tennessee. "I know that life begins at conception, and that each person has inherent value. That includes the life of the unborn." Dr. Christiansen says she will not give abortion referrals, opposes EC and, while she has prescribed birth control, is reconsidering the morality of that position. "Doctors are people, too," she adds. "We have to be able to leave the hospital and live with ourselves. If you feel in your heart an action would cause harm to somebody — born or unborn — it's legitimate to decline to participate."

The American Medical Association in Chicago, the nation's largest physician group, effectively agrees with her; its policy allows a doctor to decline a procedure if it conflicts with her moral ideology. The law also favors medical professionals. In 1973, following Roe v. Wade, Congress passed the so-called Church Amendment, allowing federally funded health care providers to refuse to do abortions. In the years since, 46 states have adopted their own abortion refusal clauses — or, as proponents call them, conscience clauses — allowing doctors to opt out. Now many states have gone further. Sixteen legislatures have given doctors the right to refuse to perform sterilizations; eight states say doctors don't have to prescribe contraception. "This is about the rights of the individual, about our constitutional right to freedom of religion," says Frank Manion, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal group in Washington, D.C. Founded by minister Pat Robertson, the organization has represented health care providers and lobbied for laws that protect them. "We're not trying to deny anybody access to treatment," Manion adds. "We're saying, 'Don't make your choice my choice.' "

When Elizabeth Dotts walked into her new doctor's office for a gynecologic exam and checkup, she didn't realize she was treading into the front lines of a culture war. "I was just going for my annual visit, nothing out of the ordinary," says the 26-year-old YWCA grant coordinator. Dotts, who was single, had recently moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and was seeing an M.D. recommended by a coworker. The visit was unremarkable until she asked for a refill of her birth control prescription. That's when the doctor informed her that he was Catholic and the pills were against his religion.

"The look he gave me actually made me feel ashamed," Dotts says. "Like I had this wild and crazy sex life. Like he was trying to protect me from myself." Her bewilderment quickly turned to anger — "I thought, 'Wait, what in the world? Where am I?' " — especially when she remembered that her insurance covered only one annual gynecology checkup. Dotts, who'd majored in religion in college, got tough with the doctor.

"I'm glad for you that you're faithful," she told him. "But don't push it on me. I'm here for my treatment, and I expect you to give it to me." Five minutes of verbal sparring later, the doctor relented with a six-month prescription — but only after Dotts told him she had been put on the Pill to relieve menstrual cramping, not to prevent pregnancy. Dotts grabbed the prescription and left, resolving to find herself a new gynecologist. "Before, walking into a doctor's office, I assumed we were on the same side," she says. "I don't make that assumption now. I ask a million questions and advocate for myself."

Bills to protect patients
This tug-of-war between physicians and patients is playing out in state legislatures, where a handful of bills aim to protect women. A Pennsylvania proposal, for example, would compel ER doctors to provide rape victims with information about emergency contraception and to dispense it on request — a law already on the books in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Washington. A federal version of the bill is under consideration by a House subcommittee.

But such efforts have been more than matched by those of conscience-clause activists. Since 2005, 27 states introduced bills to widen refusal clauses. Four states are considering granting carte blanche refusal rights — much like the law adopted by Mississippi in 2004, which allows any health care provider to refuse practically anything on moral grounds. "It's written so broadly, there's virtually no protection for patients," says Adam Sonfield, senior public policy associate for the Washington, D.C., office of the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research group. Sonfield notes that many refusal clauses do not require providers to warn women about restrictions on services or to refer them elsewhere. "You have to balance doctors' rights with their responsibilities to patients, employers and communities," he adds. "Doctors shouldn't be forced to provide services, but they can't just abandon patients."

In theory, the laws aren't aimed solely at women's health — a bill in New Jersey lists eye doctors and prosthetics technicians as examples of providers who'd be allowed to refuse care based on their beliefs. But Morrison warns women not to be fooled. "I ask you, what belief would keep someone from fitting a patient with a prosthetic limb?" she asks. "What they're really after is limiting access to women's health care. Reproductive health is seen as something other than regular health care" — not a straightforward matter of treating and healing, but something laden with morality — "and if you treat it that way, it becomes something providers can say yes or no to." Men, for the most part, escape such scrutiny: It's pretty hard to imagine someone being made to feel he's going straight to hell for choosing to take Viagra or get a vasectomy. And if women come to fear their doctors' judgments, a new set of problems can develop. "Then you have women who don't communicate with their doctors or avoid getting care," Morrison warns. "Any way you look at it, it's dangerous for women."

Complaint filed, but case closed
The stakes were high for Realtor Cheryl Bray when she visited a physician in Encinitas, California, two and a half years ago. Though she was there for a routine physical, the reason for the exam was anything but routine: Then a single 41-year-old, Bray had decided to adopt a baby in Mexico and needed to prove to authorities there that she was healthy. "I was under a tight deadline," Bray remembers; she had been matched with a birth mother who was less than two months from delivering. Bray had already passed a daunting number of tests — having her taxes certified, multiple background checks, home inspections by a social worker, psychological evaluations. When she showed up at the office of Fred Salley, M.D., a new doctor a friend had recommended, she was looking forward to crossing another task off her list. Instead, 10 minutes into the appointment, Dr. Salley asked, "So, your husband is in agreement with your decision to adopt?"

"I'm not married," Bray told him.

"You're not?" He calmly put down his pen. "Then I'm not comfortable continuing this exam."

Bray says she tried to reason with Dr. Salley but received only an offer for a referral at some future date. Dr. Salley disputes this, telling SELF that he offered to send Bray to another doctor in his group that day. "My decision to refer Ms. Bray was not because she was unmarried; rather, it was based on my moral belief that a child should have two parental units," he adds. "Such religious beliefs are a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States."

Bray sobbed in her parked car for another 45 minutes before she could collect herself for the drive home. "I had a lot of pent-up emotions," she remembers. "When you are going through an adoption, you have to prove that you are a fit parent at every stage. I really felt put through the ringer, and the doctor compounded that feeling."

Bray managed to get an appointment with another physician about a month later and was approved for the adoption two weeks before her daughter, Paolina, was born. But she remained furious enough that she filed a complaint against Dr. Salley with the Medical Board of California — and then was shocked when, in April 2006, the board closed the case without taking any action. When she complained to Dr. Salley's employer, a clinic official wrote back that "based on personally held conscience and moral principles" her doctor had been within his rights to refuse her as a patient. "Apparently," she says, "it's OK to discriminate against somebody, as long as it's for religious reasons."

Providers often prevail
It's true that several lawsuits have favored health providers who refuse services based on their principles. In a 2002 wrongful-termination case in Riverside County, California, for example, a born-again Christian nurse was fired for refusing to give out emergency contraception — but she was vindicated when the jury agreed that her rights had been violated, awarding her $19,000 in back pay and $28,000 for emotional distress. And in a recent case in San Diego, an appeals court ruled against 35-year-old Guadalupe Benitez. Hoping to start a family with her lesbian partner, Benitez received fertility treatments for nearly a year at North Coast Women's Care Medical Group in Encinitas. But when drugs and home inseminations failed, two doctors and a nurse all bowed out of doing an intrauterine insemination, saying their religion would not allow it.

Their reasoning is in dispute: Benitez has claimed both doctors told her they objected to her sexual orientation. Carlo Coppo, a lawyer for the doctors, says they refused because she was unmarried. Benitez, who went on to have three children with the help of another clinic, has appealed to the California Supreme Court and is awaiting its decision.

Her attorney, Jennifer C. Pizer of Lambda Legal in Los Angeles, says she's heard from numerous lesbians denied access to fertility treatments. "Reproductive medicine has given human beings choices that didn't exist in previous generations, but the rules about how we exercise those choices should be the same for all groups of people," she argues. Allowing doctors to refer a patient to someone else, she adds, is the equivalent of a restaurant telling a black person, "Go next door. We don't serve your kind here."

In the end, the women in all of the incidents above were able to get the treatment they wanted, even if they had to go elsewhere. So one could see doctor refusals as a mere inconvenience. "In 99.9 percent of these cases, the patients walk away with what they came for, and everyone's satisfied," Manion asserts. "I know there's the horror story of the lonely person in the middle of nowhere who meets one of my clients. But those cases are so rare." Access to reproductive health care, however, is already a challenge in some areas. "Out here, it's a very real issue," says Stacey Anderson of Planned Parenthood of Montana in Helena. "We have some really gigantic counties where if you're refused a service by a primary care physician or a gynecologist, you might have to drive two, three hours to find another."

Moreover, you don't need to be in a rural area to have limited access, points out attorney Brooks; all you need to be is poor. "Lower-income people who are refused health care are trapped," Brooks says. "They can't pay out of pocket for these services. And they may not have transportation to go elsewhere. So they really don't have options."

What's best for the patient
If there's one thing both sides can agree on, it's this: In an emergency, doctors need to put aside personal beliefs to do what's best for the patient. But in a world guided by religious directives, even this can be a slippery proposition.

Ob/gyn Wayne Goldner, M.D., learned this lesson a few years back when a patient named Kathleen Hutchins came to his office in Manchester, New Hampshire. She was only 14 weeks pregnant, but her water had broken. Dr. Goldner delivered the bad news: Because there wasn't enough amniotic fluid left and it was too early for the fetus to survive on its own, the pregnancy was hopeless. Hutchins would likely miscarry in a matter of weeks. But in the meanwhile, she stood at risk for serious infection, which could lead to infertility or death. Dr. Goldner says his devastated patient chose to get an abortion at local Elliot Hospital. But there was a problem. Elliot had recently merged with nearby Catholic Medical Center — and as a result, the hospital forbade abortions.

"I was told I could not admit her unless there was a risk to her life," Dr. Goldner remembers. "They said, 'Why don't you wait until she has an infection or she gets a fever?' They were asking me to do something other than the standard of care. They wanted me to put her health in jeopardy." He tried admitting Hutchins elsewhere, only to discover that the nearest abortion provider was nearly 80 miles away in Lebanon, New Hampshire — and that she had no car. Ultimately, Dr. Goldner paid a taxi to drive her the hour and a half to the procedure. (The hospital merger has since dissolved, and Elliot is secular once again.)

"Unfortunately, her story is the tip of the iceberg," Dr. Goldner says. Since the early 1990s, hospitals have been steadily consolidating operations to save money; so many secular community hospitals have been bought up that, today, nearly one in five hospital beds is in a religiously owned institution, according to the nonprofit group MergerWatch in New York City.

What is standard of care?
Every Catholic hospital is bound by the ethical directives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which forbid abortion and sterilization (unless they are lifesaving), in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, some prenatal genetic testing, all artificial forms of birth control and the use of condoms for HIV prevention. Baptist and Seventh Day Adventist hospitals may also restrict abortions. Which means that if your local hospital has been taken over — or if you're ever rushed to the nearest hospital in an emergency — you could be in for a surprise at the services you can't get.

You wouldn't necessarily know a hospital's affiliation upon your arrival. "The name of the hospital may not change after a merger, even if its philosophy has," Morrison notes. "The community is often in the dark that changes have taken place at all." The burden to know falls entirely on the patient, who can either search the Catholic Health Association's directory of member hospitals (at or ask her doctor outright. Either way, says Morrison, "it requires you to be an extremely educated consumer."

Family physician Debra Stulberg, M.D., was completing her residency in 2004 when West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, Illinois, was acquired by the large Catholic system Resurrection Health Care. "They assured us that patient care would be unaffected," Dr. Stulberg says. "But then I got to see the reality." The doctor was struck by the hoops women had to jump through to get basic care. "One of my patients was a mother of four who had wanted a tubal ligation at delivery but was turned down," she says. "When I saw her not long afterward, she was pregnant with unwanted twins."

And in emergency scenarios, Dr. Stulberg says, the newly merged hospital did not offer standard-of-care treatments. In one case that made the local paper, a patient came in with an ectopic pregnancy: an embryo had implanted in her fallopian tube. Such an embryo has zero chance of survival and is a serious threat to the mother, as its growth can rupture the tube. The more invasive way to treat an ectopic is to surgically remove the tube. An alternative, generally less risky way is to administer methotrexate, a drug also used for cancer. It dissolves the pregnancy but spares the tube, preserving the women's fertility. "The doctor thought the noninvasive treatment was best," Dr. Stulberg recounts. But Catholic directives specify that even in an ectopic pregnancy, doctors cannot perform "a direct abortion" — which, the on-call ob/gyn reasoned, would nix the drug option. (Surgery, on the other hand, could be considered a lifesaving measure that indirectly kills the embryo, and may be permitted.) The doctor didn't wait to take it up with the hospital's ethical committee; she told the patient to check out and head to another ER. (Citing patient confidentiality, West Suburban declined to comment, confirming only that as a Catholic hospital, it adheres to religious directives "in every instance.")

Turns out, the definition of emergency depends on whom you ask. Dr. Christiansen, the pro-life ob/gyn, says she would not object to either method of ending an ectopic pregnancy. "I do feel that the one indication for abortion is to save the mother's life — that's clear in my mind," she says. "But the reality is, the vast majority of abortions are elective. There are very, very few instances where the mother's life is truly in jeopardy." She can recall having seen only one such situation: During Dr. Christiansen's residency, a patient in the second trimester of pregnancy had a detached placenta; the attending physician performed an abortion to save the woman from bleeding to death. "That was a legitimate situation," Dr. Christiansen says. But in general, "it's a pure judgment call. A doctor would have to be in the situation and decide whether it constitutes a life-threatening emergency or not."

Raise your hand if you'd like to be the test case.

The state of doctor refusals
Physicians anywhere can deny you care. But some states back up M.D.s with specific laws allowing them to do so, says Elizabeth Nash, public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute research group. Whose side is your state on?

States that allow doctors to refuse care:

Every state has a law except

States that allow hospitals to refuse care:

All hospitals

Private hospitals only

All hospitals

Private hospitals only
Religious hospitals only

All hospitals

Private hospitals only

States considering new laws
Lawmakers in Missouri, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Vermont are considering sweeping bills that would allow medical professionals to refuse to provide any service they object to.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I Want To See The Documents From the 80s, Under Reagan & Casey

CIA to Release Documents on Decades-Old Misdeeds

This sure gets my antennae up and vibrating.

On 'Take Out The Trash'-Friday, CIA director General Michael V. Hayden (former head of the NSA who carried out Bush's warrantless wiretapping and who knows how many other secret surveillance programs against Americans and democracy) announced that, not today, but next week, the most secretive administration in our nation's history is directing the CIA to hold a document dump from the agency's deepest, darkest archive vaults.

What is Bush-Cheney up to?

Is it something that they've already done, or is this something they hope will distract our attention next week when the documents hit the fan? Or in their ongoing war with the CIA, is the CIA about to clue us in on more Bush-Cheney 'misdeeds,' about which Bush-Cheney hopes to defend as "nothing much compared to the Kennedy administration"?

The NYTimes reports:
The Central Intelligence Agency will make public next week a collection of long-secret documents compiled in 1974 that detail domestic spying, assassination plots and other C.I.A. misdeeds in the 1960s and early 1970s, the agency’s director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, said yesterday.
In an address to a group of historians who have long pressed for greater disclosure of C.I.A. archives, General Hayden described the documents, known as the “family jewels,” as “a glimpse of a very different time and a very different agency.” He also directed the release of 11,000 pages of cold-war documents on the Soviet Union and China, which were handed out on compact discs at the meeting, in Chantilly, Va.

In a defense of openness unusual in an administration that has vigorously defended government secrecy, General Hayden said that when government withholds information, myth and misinformation often “fill the vacuum like a gas.” He noted a European Parliament report of 1,245 secret C.I.A. flights over Europe, a number interpreted in some news articles as the number of cases of “extraordinary rendition,” in which terrorism suspects were flown to prison in other countries.

In fact, General Hayden said, the agency has detained fewer than 100 people in its secret overseas detention program since the 2001 terrorist attacks. He said the questioning of those detainees, which in some cases has involved harsh physical treatment, had produced valuable information, contributing to more than 8,000 intelligence reports.

“C.I.A. recognizes the very real benefits that flow from greater public understanding of our work,” General Hayden said at yesterday’s meeting, a gathering of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. But he also complained about “an instinct among some in the media today to take a few pieces of information, which may or may not be accurate, and run with them to the darkest corner of the room.”

Though the 1974 documents will not be released until Monday at the earliest, a research group in Washington posted related documents on the Web yesterday, including a 1975 Justice Department summary of domestic break-ins and wiretaps by the C.I.A. that may have violated American law. Also included were transcripts of three conversations in which President Gerald R. Ford was informed by aides of those activities by the agency.

In one of the conversations, Henry A. Kissinger, then serving as both secretary of state and national security adviser, denounced the efforts of William E. Colby, director of central intelligence, to push an aggressive investigation of the agency’s past transgressions.

Mr. Kissinger said the accusations then appearing daily about agency misconduct were “worse than in the days of McCarthy,” and expressed concern that they would intimidate C.I.A. officers, so that “you’ll end up with an agency that does only reporting and not operations.”

“What Colby has done is a disgrace,” Mr. Kissinger said, according to the transcript, posted along with the others by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (

“Should we suspend him?” Mr. Ford asked.

“No,” Mr. Kissinger replied, “but after the investigation is over you could move him and put in someone of towering integrity.”

A year later, Mr. Ford replaced Mr. Colby as director with George Bush.

In the 33 years since the nearly 700 pages of “family jewel” documents were compiled at the orders of Mr. Colby’s predecessor, James R. Schlesinger, much of their content has become known through leaks, testimony or partial disclosure. Most notably, the documents were described by government officials to Seymour M. Hersh, who reported on them in articles in The New York Times beginning on Dec. 22, 1974. The first article described “a massive, illegal domestic intelligence operation” that had produced C.I.A. files on some 10,000 Americans.

But the documents’ release next week may offer new details of a period of aggressive, and sometimes illegal, C.I.A. activities, directed particularly at American journalists who published leaked government secrets and activists who opposed the Vietnam War. The release also appears to signify a shift in attitude at the agency in the year that it has been led by General Hayden, a history buff who holds two degrees in the field from Duquesne University, where he wrote a thesis on the Marshall Plan.

Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, which obtains and publishes collections of once-secret government records, said the step announced yesterday might be the most important since at least 1998, when George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, reversed a decision to release information on cold-war covert actions. “Applause is due,” Mr. Blanton said.

But Mr. Blanton took issue with General Hayden’s assurance that the current C.I.A. was utterly different from the pre-1975 institution. “There are uncanny parallels,” he said, “between events today and the stories in the family jewels about warrantless wiretapping and concern about violation of the kidnapping laws.”

The six-page 1975 Justice Department summary, of C.I.A. actions that some officers of the agency had reported as possible illegalities, included the 1963 wiretapping of two newspaper columnists, Robert Allen and Paul Scott, who had written a column including “certain national security information.”

The document said those wiretaps had been approved after “discussions” with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara. A C.I.A. report described them as “very productive,” picking up calls of 12 senators and 6 members of the House, among others.

On Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews talks about the upcoming CIA document dump with former CIA operative Bob Baer, former chief of CIA operations in Europe Tyler Drumheller, and National Security Archive director Thomas Blanton:

Part 1

Part 2

Later in the program, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., joined Chris Matthews and had this to say about reports that the CIA secrets' dump will include documentation of his father's involvement in a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro:

Cheney says, "Records' Law Doesn't Apply To My Office"

Arguing that it does not apply to his office, Vice President Dick Cheney has refused to comply with a new classified document security law -- angering congressional Democrats.

The Miami Herald reports:
Vice President Dick Cheney and congressional Democrats are sparring over the vice president's refusal to comply with a 2003 presidential executive order that requires all agencies and the executive branch to protect classified material.

The skirmish is the latest in a long battle between Congress and the Bush White House -- particularly Cheney's office -- over the administration's campaign to expand the powers of the executive branch and increase the amount of information labeled as classified.

In a letter to Cheney on Thursday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., questioned ''both the legality and wisdom'' of the vice president claiming an exemption from the order, noting recent controversies involving members of Cheney's staff and classified information.
Former Cheney Chief of Staff I. Lewis ''Scooter'' Libby was convicted in March of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with a federal investigation into the identification, in a leak to the media, of CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame.

In May 2006, Leandro Aragoncillo, an aide in the vice president's office, admitted in federal court that he stole classified U.S. intelligence information and passed it on to officials plotting a coup in the Philippines.


''This record does not inspire confidence in how your office handles the nation's most sensitive security information,'' Waxman wrote. ``Indeed, it would appear particularly irresponsible to give an office with your history of security breaches an exemption from the safeguards that apply to all other executive branch officials.''

Cheney's office says it is exempt from Bush's executive order because it's not an entity within the executive branch. The order, issued in March 2003, directed all agencies and executive branch offices to report on their classified and nonclassified files to the National Archives and Records Administration.

Cheney says his office is ''unique'' because it has dual responsibilities in the executive branch and legislative branches. In addition to serving as vice president, Cheney is president of the U.S. Senate.

National Archives officials and Waxman disagree.

They say Cheney and his staff fall under the executive order because of their executive branch business. The Archive's Information Security Oversight Office has been trying to get Cheney to comply with the order since it was denied access to the vice president's office for a routine inspection in 2004.


'According to a letter that the National Archives sent to your staff in June 2006, you asserted that the Office of the Vice President is not an `entity within the executive branch,' and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders,'' Waxman wrote. ``To my knowledge, this was the first time in the nearly 30-year history of the Information Security Oversight Office that a request for access to conduct a security inspection was denied by a White House office.''

Archives officials fired off letters to Cheney's office in June and August 2006 seeking compliance to Bush's order but to no avail.

In January 2007, they wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in hopes of getting Cheney to comply.

Gonzales has not responded to the letter, according to Waxman's office. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd told McClatchy that the matter is under review.

Cheney's refusal has a familiar ring to it:

Lest anyone forget, Cheney (and Donald Rumsfeld) got his start in Nixon's White House.

The founders of the nation counted on men of good will not to push the ambiguity in the Constitution, which was necessary in order to have the three co-equal branches of government of, by and for all equal people. The founders did not anticipate the likes of a Richard M. Nixon and crowd, a group that has spent more than thirty years brooding and plotting to erode the checks and balances within the Constitution.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Another 'First' For The Bushes

Laura Bush Pitches For The GOP: "For Bush's birthday, a gift for the whole Party"

This time, they're not breaking the law, but breaking with tradition. What's wrong with this?
USA Today reports:
If it's birthday time for a politician, say it with money

Republican Rudy Giuliani held a round of birthday fundraisers in New York last month. Bobbie Edwards promised her special pecan pie recipe to anyone who contributed $6.10 for the June 10 birthday of her son, Democrat John Edwards.

Well, someone else's birthday is coming up, and our USA TODAY colleague Kathy Kiely passes along the latest e-mail solicitation. The Republican National Committee has enlisted Laura Bush to make the pitch.

The first lady asks Republicans to sign an e-card to President Bush, who turns 61 on July 6. Also, she writes, "please consider commemorating President Bush's 61st birthday with a gift our entire Party can share." Suggested gift: $61.

Republicans have slipped in fundraising since the Democrats swept Congress last fall. Democratic party committees have seen jumps, meanwhile, and Democratic candidates for president have so far outraised their Republican counterparts.

What's wrong with it is that it's unseemly.

Once elected to the office of the president, the president becomes the leader of all Americans, and his spouse, traditionally, dedicates her energies to apolitical charities and causes that improve the lives of all Americans, and not the political fortunes of one party over another.

Laura Bush has managed to retain high likeability ratings because she's remained an enigma. People have no idea who she is or what she thinks and believes. The only marks against her are for marrying George W. Bush (for which she is given sympathy, "poor dear, what she's had to endure") and having raised two aimless daughters with drinking problems ("all kids are like that" "mistakes of youth") - something for which she gets more sympathy, for bearing it with "such poise."

Laura Bush's high approval ratings are, literally, skin-deep. A demure demeanor, conservative clothing, hair and make-up, never expressing an opinion or point of view, she's a blank slate upon which people can project almost anything that's generally positive.

I've always believed her more knowledgeable and supportive of her husband's ideology and politics than she's let on. It's one thing to marry a hard-drinking George W. Bush when you're 31 years old after a 3-month courtship; it's another thing entirely to remain married to him. She wanted to be there, through years of infertility, through years of his bad and boorish drunk behavior, through his inability to succeed in business. She is George W. Bush's partner in every way, and should share whatever condemnation is heaped on him. Perhaps even a bigger share of the condemnation, for if, as George W. Bush claims, Laura was influential in his decision to stop drinking, she unleashed an able-bodied George W. Bush with extreme political ideology and radical plans to implement his politics all over the world.

Laura Bush's ideology and politics, her husband's ideology and politics, Big Corporate's fascistic ideology and politics and the evangelical Christian far-rightwing's ideology and politics are one and the same.

RNC Destroyed Rove's & Others' E-Mails

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform reports:

The Oversight Committee has been investigating whether White House officials violated the Presidential Records Act by using e-mail accounts maintained by the Republican National Committee and the Bush Cheney ‘04 campaign for official White House communications. This interim staff report provides a summary of the evidence the Committee has received to date, along with recommendations for next steps in the investigation.
The information the Committee has received in the investigation reveals:
The number of White House officials given RNC e-mail accounts is higher than previously disclosed. In March 2007, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said that only a “handful of officials” had RNC e-mail accounts. In later statements, her estimate rose to “50 over the course of the administration.” In fact, the Committee has learned from the RNC that at least 88 White House officials had RNC e-mail accounts. The officials with RNC e-mail accounts include Karl Rove, the President’s senior advisor; Andrew Card, the former White House Chief of Staff; Ken Mehlman, the former White House Director of Political Affairs; and many other officials in the Office of Political Affairs, the Office of Communications, and the Office of the Vice President.

White House officials made extensive use of their RNC e-mail accounts. The RNC has preserved 140,216 e-mails sent or received by Karl Rove. Over half of these e-mails (75,374) were sent to or received from individuals using official “.gov” e-mail accounts. Other heavy users of RNC e-mail accounts include former White House Director of Political Affairs Sara Taylor (66,018 e-mails) and Deputy Director of Political Affairs Scott Jennings (35,198 e-mails). These e-mail accounts were used by White House officials for official purposes, such as communicating with federal agencies about federal appointments and policies.

There has been extensive destruction of the e-mails of White House officials by the RNC. Of the 88 White House officials who received RNC e-mail accounts, the RNC has preserved no e-mails for 51 officials. In a deposition, Susan Ralston, Mr. Rove’s former executive assistant, testified that many of the White House officials for whom the RNC has no e-mail records were regular users of their RNC e-mail accounts. Although the RNC has preserved no e-mail records for Ken Mehlman, the former Director of Political Affairs, Ms. Ralston testified that Mr. Mehlman used his account “frequently, daily.” In addition, there are major gaps in the e-mail records of the 37 White House officials for whom the RNC did preserve e-mails. The RNC has preserved only 130 e-mails sent to Mr. Rove during President Bush’s first term and no e-mails sent by Mr. Rove prior to November 2003. For many other White House officials, the RNC has no e-mails from before the fall of 2006.

There is evidence that the Office of White House Counsel under Alberto Gonzales may have known that White House officials were using RNC e-mail accounts for official business, but took no action to preserve these presidential records. In her deposition, Ms. Ralston testified that she searched Mr. Rove’s RNC e-mail account in response to an Enron-related investigation in 2001 and the investigation of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald later in the Administration. According to Ms. Ralston, the White House Counsel’s office knew about these e-mails because “all of the documents we collected were then turned over to the White House Counsel’s office.” There is no evidence, however, that White House Counsel Gonzales initiated any action to ensure the preservation of the e-mail records that were destroyed by the RNC.

The Presidential Records Act requires the President to “take all such steps as may be necessary to assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented … and maintained as Presidential records.” To implement this legal requirement, the White House Counsel issued clear written policies in February 2001 instructing White House staff to use only the official White House e-mail system for official communications and to retain any official e-mails they received on a nongovernmental account.

The evidence obtained by the Committee indicates that White House officials used their RNC e-mail accounts in a manner that circumvented these requirements. At this point in the investigation, it is not possible to determine precisely how many presidential records may have been destroyed by the RNC. Given the heavy reliance by White House officials on RNC e-mail accounts, the high rank of the White House officials involved, and the large quantity of missing e-mails, the potential violation of the Presidential Records Act may be extensive.

There are several next steps that should be pursued in the investigation into the use of RNC e-mail accounts by White House officials. First, the records of federal agencies should be examined to assess whether they may contain some of the White House e-mails that have been destroyed by the RNC. The Committee has already written to 25 federal agencies to inquire about the e-mail records they may have retained from White House officials who used RNC and Bush Cheney ’04 e-mail accounts. Preliminary responses from the agencies indicate that they may have preserved official communications that were destroyed by the RNC.

Second, the Committee should investigate what former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales knew about the use of political e-mail accounts by White House officials. If Susan Ralston’s testimony to the Committee is accurate, there is evidence that Mr. Gonzales or counsels working in his office knew in 2001 that Karl Rove was using his RNC e-mail account to communicate about official business, but took no action to preserve Mr. Rove’s official communications.

Third, the Committee may need to issue compulsory process to obtain the cooperation of the Bush Cheney ’04 campaign. The campaign has informed the Committee that it provided e-mail accounts to 11 White House officials, but the campaign has unjustifiably refused to provide the Committee with basic information about these accounts, such as the identity of the White House officials and the number of e-mails that have been preserved.

Documents and Links
• Investigation of Possible Violations of the Presidential Records Act [.pdf]
• Deposition of Susan Ralston [.pdf]
• Errata Sheet for Deposition of Susan Ralston [.pdf]

It's time (long past) for both the Senate and House Judiciary and Oversight Committees to petition the court for a special master, subpoena and impound the machines before any Republican officials do anymore tinkering with the machines in their effort to find more emails.

I don't know what is taking Democrats so long to have done this. They should have instantly gone to court back in March when it was first discovered that the White House was using a "double-bookkeeping system" for their communications.

Friday, June 15, 2007

What's Happening To Some Of Our Most Common Birds?

Top Row, left to right: American Bittern, Black-Throated Sparrow,Boreal Chickadee, Common Grackle, Common Tern; Row 2, left to right: Evening Grosbeak, Eastern Meadowlark, Field Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Greater Scaup; Row 3, left to right: Horned Lark, Lark Sparrow, Little Blue Heron, Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Bobwhite; Bottom Row: Northern Pintail, Ruffed Grouse, Rufous Hummingbird, Snow Bunting, Whip-poor-will

The NYT reports:
Spreading suburbs and large-scale farming are contributing to a precipitous decline in once common meadow birds like the Northern bobwhite, the Eastern meadowlark, the loggerhead shrike and the field sparrow, a report released yesterday by the Audubon Society said. [List of top 20 common birds in decline.]
Twenty common birds have lost more than half their populations in 40 years. The population of the bobwhite, a rotund robin-size bird that lives in meadows from the mid-Atlantic to the Plains, has dropped more than 80 percent, to 5.5 million from more than 31 million.

The evening grosbeak, with a range from northern New England to the Pacific Northwest, has declined 78 percent, to 3.8 million from 17 million.

The report covers a period when suburbs and exurbs were being carved out of Eastern and Midwestern farmlands and Southern wetlands. It also documents the loss of large numbers of Canadian and Arctic birds like the mallard-like greater scaup, the Northern pintail and the greater tern, all affected by a combination of climate change and development along lakes and rivers.

While the report, published in Audubon magazine has a national focus, it also gives state-by-state snapshots of declines in birds in 48 states where enough information is available.

“The song of Eastern meadowlarks used to be the soundtrack of summer,” said Scott Weidensaul, a naturalist and author born in eastern Pennsylvania who has reviewed the report. “Now it’s a rare thing. The landscape is changing. Farming is much more industrialized. Development is sprawling across these valleys.”

Although the declines since 1967 are steep, the overall populations of the meadow birds still number in the millions, or in the case of the scaup 300,000, making them too robust to qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The new analysis is the first of three reports. The next will look at birds that may need federal protection. The final installment will track the effects of climate change.

The changing bird demographics largely parallel the changes in the North American landscape wrought by people. In the Northeast, the reversion of fields to forests has hurt some field-dwelling species, and some forest-dwelling species have been hurt by the loss of woodland shrubs overbrowsed by deer.

The most common backyard birds like robins, cardinals and blue jays are thriving, though blue jay numbers have been cut somewhat by West Nile virus, said Greg Butcher, the author of the Audubon report.

The birds that have done best —perhaps too well, in the case of nonmigratory Canada geese — are those most at home in the world of manicured lawns and artificial lakes.

The report coincides with Congressional deliberation of measures like the farm bill, which includes some provisions to set aside agricultural land in conservation reserve programs. Those provisions are under pressure because of the demand for expanded land for corn crops to fuel the ethanol boom.

The report is based on a statistical analysis of two long-range bird censuses, one by the United States Geological Survey and one by Audubon.

Both surveys cover 300 species, said Mr. Butcher, the director of bird conservation at Audubon and a former director of bird population studies at the Cornell Ornithology Laboratory. About 550 are covered by one or the other.

The report has not been submitted for peer review, he said, but its methodology has been vetted in a peer-review process.

On the Audubon Society's website:
How Citizen Science Revealed the Problem
For the first time ever, this analysis combined data from the world’s longest-running uninterrupted bird census — Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC) — with information from the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) to study how populations of all common North American species routinely encountered in these surveys have fared during the past 40 years. The CBC data are the product of swarms of volunteers —citizen scientists— who counted birds every winter over this period and submitted their reports to Audubon. The BBS is a standardized morning count of birds along roadsides organized by the U.S. Geological Survey and conducted by volunteers from May into July.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Shouldn't Americans Be Running America's Political Parties?

California State GOP Goes Outside The U.S. To Hire Top Aide

For the San Francisco Chronicle, Carla Marinucci reports:

The California Republican Party has decided no American is qualified to take one of its most crucial positions -- state deputy political director -- and has hired a Canadian for the job through a coveted H-1B visa, a program favored by Silicon Valley tech firms that is under fire for displacing skilled American workers.

Christopher Matthews, 35, a Canadian citizen, has worked for the state GOP as a campaign consultant since 2004. But he recently was hired as full-time deputy political director, with responsibility for handling campaign operations and information technology for the country's largest state Republican Party operation, California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring confirmed in a telephone interview this week.

In the nation's most populous state -- which has produced a roster of nationally known veteran political consultants -- "it's insulting but also embarrassing ... to bring people from the outside who don't know the difference between Lodi and Lancaster ... and who can't even vote," said Karen Hanretty, a political commentator and former state GOP party spokeswoman.

U.S. Department of Labor records show the state Republican Party applied for an H-1B visa to fill the job of "political consultant" and was granted a visa labor certification in March 2007. The three-year H-1B visa does not become valid until Oct. 1, 2007, government records show.

Party officials said Matthews has been working in the interim under a "TN" visa -- a renewable one-year special visa for Canadian and Mexican professional workers created under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Matthews was hired by Michael Kamburowski, an Australian citizen who was hired this year as the state GOP's chief operations officer. But neither new official has experience in managing a political campaign in the nation's most populous state -- and as foreign citizens, neither is eligible to vote.

Kamburowski, a former real estate agent who sold property in the Dominican Republic, is a permanent U.S. resident in the process of obtaining American citizenship and does not require a specialized work visa, state GOP officials said.

With just months until the state's Feb. 5 primary and Republicans facing a roster of formidable challenges in California -- a key political fundraising state -- some party insiders are shaking their heads at the hirings.

"There are talented Republicans in California, and the message that (party chair) Ron Nehring is sending is that there's no talent pool here," Hanretty said.

The state party and its 58 county operations face several challenges, Hanretty said, including "redistricting on the ballot, uncertain legislative races ahead of us ... and a number of Republican congressmen who are under federal investigation and are going to be challenged by Democrats."

"Who will help these candidates?" she asked. "A couple of foreign transplants who don't know the political landscape and don't know the history of the complicated politics in California?"

Nehring defended his choices by saying Matthews and Kamburowski are highly qualified political professionals who will be an asset to the party -- and dramatize the GOP ideal of welcoming immigrants.

"Chris (Matthews) was inspired by the recall and by the governor to come to California in 2003 and volunteer for the Republican Party of San Diego," said Nehring, who chaired the San Diego party's organization from 2001 to 2007.

Nehring, a conservative Republican, became state chairman earlier this year, replacing Palo Alto attorney Duf Sundheim.

Nehring said he met Matthews while overseeing a campaign school in Calgary, Alberta, "and when the recall started, Chris said he wanted to come down and be part of it."

Matthews spent a month as a volunteer and in 2004 began work as a paid consultant to the San Diego County Republican Central Committee, party officials said.

As deputy political director, Matthews will be responsible for political campaigning and technology issues because "he has a successful track record of working with the party for the last three years," Nehring said. "He's developed an incredible body of knowledge in those areas. ... He's one of the strongest campaigners I've ever met."

Nehring said he has been inspired that Matthews "has wanted to move to America and become an American citizen ... and we embrace that."

"Our job at the California GOP is to build the most effective campaign organization. ... And the fact that we have two people on staff who want to become Americans ... is a great story that is at the heart of what the Republican Party is all about."

But the party nationally has fought efforts to increase immigration, calling during the recent debate in Congress for much tighter border security and resisting efforts to providing a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the country.

The hiring of two immigrants at top Republican Party posts has handed ammunition to critics who note that many Republicans have spoken critically about the impacts of waves of Mexican immigrants.

"The hypocrisy is disgusting," said longtime Democratic Party activist Gloria Nieto, policy director at San Jose-based Services Immigration Rights and Education Network, or SIREN, an immigrant advocacy nonprofit organization.

Nieto argued that the party has painted Latinos "as the brown menace. ... But it's perfectly OK to hire people from outside the country? What does it say about the Republican Party that they import their hired guns?"

State campaign finance records show that Matthews earned almost $19,000 for work as a campaign consultant in 2005 with the San Diego GOP but has earned little in other years.

While the hiring of Matthews under the H-1B visa for "specialized workers" is legal, it appears to skirt the intention of the program -- which calls for most employers to make a good-faith effort to hire Americans first, according to U.S. Department of Labor regulations.

The H-1B program -- currently limited to 65,000 workers -- is aimed at providing workers for jobs that presumably cannot be filled by American workers, and prospective employers must publicly advertise or post notice of their intentions to hire under such visas, labor guidelines state.

A bill proposed by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., would require that all employers seeking such visas be required to pledge they have made such an effort and that the visa holder does not displace an American worker.

The H-1B program's greatest advocates are Silicon Valley technology firms, which have pushed for more visas so they can hire computer specialists from overseas.

Jon Fleischman, Southern California GOP vice chair, said he was not aware of the hiring of Matthews -- but added that hirings are routinely made without consulting party officers. He said he doesn't consider it a problem to hire foreigners if they are the most qualified job applicants.

Nehring and one of his new hires also are connected to one of the nation's most conservative activist groups, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.

Kamburowski was chair of the group's Reagan Legacy project, an effort to name landmarks in all 50 states after the deceased president.

Nehring was a senior consultant to Americans for Tax Reform and has listed Norquist as a client of his own consulting group. State GOP officials insist Matthews has never had any connection -- professional or volunteer -- with Norquist or his organization.