Heather Wokusch

Bush in Your Bedroom

Note: this column is partially excerpted from The Progressives' Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now.

"On September 11, we saw clearly that evil exists in this world, and that it does not value life … Now we are engaged in a fight against evil and tyranny to preserve and protect life." - George W. Bush in 2002, linking abortion rights with terrorism, as he declared the 29th anniversary of Roe v. Wade to be "National Sanctity of Human Life Day."

Bush has used his Oval Office years to limit reproductive freedom and stack critical posts with right-wingers bent on rolling back the clock.

And now it appears yet another reactionary Bush appointee is on track to get a lifetime position as a federal judge…

Bush nominated Wyoming lawyer and former state representative Richard Honaker to the US District Court back in March, but the reproductive rights group NARAL believes he may soon get a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Honacker authored a 1991 bill which would have outlawed most abortions, and has said that abortion is "wrong, and no one should have the right to do what is wrong."

If the nomination goes through, Honacker will stay on the bench long after Bush is out of office, and he'll join a growing list of appointees eager to regulate your sexuality. A Top Ten list, so far…

1. Patricia Funderburk Ware

In 2001, Bush named abstinence-only proponent Patricia Funderburk Ware to be Executive Director of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). Ware's qualifications for the job of promoting "effective prevention of HIV disease" included criticizing condom use and lobbying against HIV/AIDS being in the Americans With Disabilities Act. Two years later, Ware recommended that a controversial character named Jerry Thacker join the PACHA panel. Thacker has called AIDS a "gay plague" and homosexuality a "deathstyle." Amid public protest, Thacker soon withdrew his nomination and Ware left her PACHA post.

2. Tom Coburn

Bush nominated then-Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to be PACHA co-chair in 2003. Coburn supports mandatory reporting to public authorities of the names of those testing positive for HIV/AIDS. He favors "the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life."

According to Coburn, the gay community "has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power… That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. Why do you think we see the rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners? That's a gay agenda." Who else would you want advising the Bush administration on AIDS?

3. David Hager

Hager was one of three religious conservatives that Bush put on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs in 2002 and only public outcry prevented him from becoming its chairperson. Critics argued that in his gynecology practice, Hager had refused to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women and had recommended Scripture readings to alleviate headaches and premenstrual syndrome. A memo which Hager wrote helped persuade the FDA to overrule its own advisory panel in 2004, thus preventing the emergency contraceptive "Plan B" from being made more easily available. Critics assailed the FDA's decision as ignoring scientific evidence, but in Hager's assessment: "Once again, what Satan meant for evil, God turned into good." A downright criminal side of Hager emerged when his former wife went public with the fact that he had been emotionally, physically and sexually abusive during their 32-year marriage, forcibly sodomizing her on a regular basis. As Hager's ex-wife told The Nation magazine in May 2005, "it was the painful, invasive, totally nonconsensual nature of the [anal] sex that was so horrible."

Hager left the FDA committee soon after The Nation article was published.

4. & 5. Lester Crawford and Norris Alderson As Acting Commissioner of the FDA, Lester Crawford was notorious for blocking over-the-counter access to emergency contraception (EC).

Democratic senators initially halted Crawford's confirmation to head the FDA, but gave approval in June 2005 after he promised to take action on EC by September 1, 2005. Once sworn in, however, Crawford stalled yet again, despite the FDA Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee's having voted 23 to 4 in favor of making EC available over-the-counter. Dr. Susan Wood, the well-respected head of the FDA Women's Health Office, soon resigned in protest - and that's when things got really bizarre. Weeks after Wood stepped down, the FDA Women's Health Office sent out a mass email announcing that she would be replaced by Dr. Norris Alderson, who was duly listed on the FDA site as: "Acting Director, Office of Women's Health, Associate Commissioner for Science." One small problem. Alderson is a veterinarian.

The administration appointed an animal doctor to be in charge of women's health. Speaks volumes, doesn't it? After predictable outcry, the FDA tried to pretend that Alderson had never been appointed in the first place. Recipients of the initial mass emailing, of course, knew otherwise. To make things even weirder, Crawford himself suddenly resigned as head of the FDA in September 2005 (just months after having been confirmed), amid allegations of not having properly disclosed his financial holdings to the Senate.

In August 2006, the FDA finally approved making the EC "Plan B" available over-the counter to consumers 18 years and older.

6. John G. Roberts

Progressives balked in September 2005 when Bush put forward far-right extremist John G. Roberts to head the US Supreme Court. In Robert's illustrious career, he had fought against minority voting rights, argued against women's educational rights, and tried to limit the rights of women prisoners. A legal brief Roberts contributed to said that Roe vs. Wade was "wrongly decided and should be overruled."

Roberts became Chief Justice within weeks of his nomination, and as expected, has dragged the Supreme Court to the right. In the past two years, for example, the Roberts' court upheld the constitutionality of a federal anti-abortion law (the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Act) and decreased public school students' rights to free speech.

7. Samuel Alito

In January 2006, the stridently anti-choice Samuel Alito was sworn in to the US Supreme Court. Alito had previously argued that the strip-search of a mother and ten-year old girl without a warrant was constitutional and that women should be required to tell their husbands before getting an abortion. Alito stated in a 1985 application to be Deputy Assistant Attorney General: "I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to abortion." For good measure, he added, "I am and always have been a conservative."

Alito replaced the moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the nation's high court. The obvious shift to the right caused by the addition of Roberts and Alito led Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to observe: "It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much."

8. Paul Bonicelli

In October 2005, Paul Bonicelli was appointed as Deputy Assistant Administrator for the US international development agency's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA). Bonicelli's main prior claim to fame was being Dean of Academic Affairs at the fundamentalist Patrick Henry College, where the Student Honor Code mandates: "I will reserve sexual activity for the sanctity of marriage." Patrick Henry College also has a 10-part Statement of Faith which says

that hell is a place where "all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity."
Bonicelli's current office at DCHA is responsible for: "strengthening the rule of law and respect for human rights; promoting more genuine and competitive elections and political processes; increasing development of a politically active civil society; and implementing a more transparent and accountable governance." In other words, a guy who thinks that non-believers "shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity" has been put in charge of promoting human rights across the world.

9. Eric Keroak

In 2006, Bush tapped Eric Keroack to be Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs at the Health and Human Services Department. Keroack opposes contraception, has described premarital sex as "modern germ warfare," and espouses the bizarre, unscientific belief that casual sex depletes "bonding" hormones. He was previously medical director of a Christian pregnancy counseling service which described contraception as "demeaning to women." And that's who the Bush administration chose to oversee the distribution of $283 million in family planning funds for the nation.

Keroack resigned in March 2007, after state Medicaid officials began taking action against his private medical practice.

10. Susan Orr

Keroack was replaced by Susan Orr, who had been "Senior Director for Marriage and Families" at the anti-gay, anti-reproductive rights Family Research Council. In her prior career, Orr had opposed the emergency contraception RU-486 and gushed that Bush was "pro-life… in his heart" for withholding funds from international family planning groups which even discussed abortion. Orr has claimed that contraception is "not a medical necessity." Yet she now is in charge of facilitating access to both contraception and sex education for low-income families across the nation.

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While presidential candidate George W. Bush insisted that he would put "competent judges on the bench, people who will strictly interpret the Constitution and will not use the bench to write social policy," his judicial and other appointments have proven otherwise. And these appointees will not leave office when Bush does. Take Action

1. Oppose the nomination of Richard Honaker NARAL Pro-Choice America has made it easy for you to urge your Senators not to support a lifetime judgeship for Richard Honaker. Check it out here: 2. Learn more about reproductive rights

How does your state stack up when it comes to reproductive rights? NARAL Pro-Choice America has a quick and easy way to find out via its "In Your State" index. For example, if you choose Wyoming, you'll find that the legislature is considering two anti-choice bills including one requiring women to receive a "state-mandated lecture, which may include medically inaccurate information, prior to obtaining abortion services and prohibits abortion unless women wait an additional 24 hours after receiving lecture." If you choose Tennessee, you will also find three separate anti-choice bills, including one "proposing a constitutional amendment to restrict low-income women's access to abortion." The site also lets you see your Congress members' reproductive rights voting records. Definitely worth a visit.

The Pope Versus the President

The Vatican's recent snub of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is only the latest salvo in the battle between Pope Benedict XVI and President George W. Bush. This tug of war has profound implications for both U.S. foreign policy and the critical Catholic vote in 2008's presidential race.

Overlapping Agendas

Things haven't always been tense between Bush and Benedict. They share similar views regarding abortion, gay marriage, and other hot-button conservative issues. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (as Benedict was known before becoming Pope in April 2005) even helped Bush secure the White House for a second term.

Specifically, after Bush visited the Vatican in June 2004, complaining that "Not all the American bishops are with me," Ratzinger sent a letter to US bishops, ordering them to refuse Communion to "a Catholic politician … consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" - a thinly-veiled reference to John Kerry. Ratzinger added that any person even voting for this Catholic politician "would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion." Probably no surprise, then, that Bush increased his margin among Catholics by 6% from 2000 to 2004.

In an interesting twist, Ratzinger also partnered with George W. Bush's brother Neil in a foundation "to promote ecumenical understanding and publish original religious texts" in 1999. Oddly enough, business credit reports listed the foundation as a "management trust for purposes other than education, religion, charity or research," leaving the true nature of the Neil Bush/Cardinal Ratzinger venture unclear.

In 2005, Ratzinger was named as a defendant in a U.S. lawsuit suit accusing him of conspiring to cover up the sexual abuse of minors. At the center of the controversy was a May 2001 confidential letter he had sent Catholic bishops across the world ordering them to keep evidence of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy secret until 10 years after the child had reached adult status.

Soon after becoming Pope, however, Ratzinger was dismissed from the case. A US federal judge decided the lawsuit would be "incompatible with the United States' foreign policy interests."

Disagreements Multiply

On many contentious issues since then, Pope Benedict XVI has disagreed with the Bush administration's policies, but only politely and indirectly. For example, Benedict has spoken in favor of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is often at loggerheads with Bush administration foreign policy.

Similarly, Benedict's Vatican has taken a firm stance against global warming, even acquiring a carbon offset forest to make the Vatican the "first entirely carbon neutral sovereign state." He has called for greater international co-operation to fight ozone depletion, yet not overtly criticized White House foot-dragging in that area.

The gloves came off, however, regarding the war in Iraq. In a May 2003 interview, Ratzinger said, " There was not sufficient reasons to unleash a war in Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war.'"

The U.S. invasion of Iraq was similarly contentious for former Pope John Paul II, who sent a special envoy to the White House in March 2003 in an effort to prevent an attack. The papal envoy's pleas fell on deaf ears.

Vatican criticisms of the Bush administration's military intervention in Iraq have continued unabated. French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told an Italian magazine in August 2007, "The facts speak for themselves. Alienating the international community (with the U.S. push for war) was a mistake." Tauran, who has referred to the invasion and occupation as a "crime against peace," also said that Christians in Iraq "paradoxically, were more protected under the dictatorship" of Saddam Hussein.

Rice Rebuffed

As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that Benedict failed to honor Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's urgent request for a private meeting last month. The Italian periodical Corriere della Sera reported that Rice was hoping to capitalize on the Pope's moral authority by having a papal audience focused on the Middle East. Instead, Rice was told that Benedict was on holiday and had to settle for a telephone conversation with a lower Vatican official.

The ongoing tensions between Bush and Benedict over Iraq put America's over 75 million Roman Catholics in a tricky position for 2008. By supporting candidates hawkish on the Bush administration's Iraq policies, are they defying the Pope and the Catholic Church?

For its part, the powerful United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has taken a firm stance against the US presence in Iraq. A July 2007 letter to House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH), USCCB noted, "The current situation in Iraq is unacceptable and unsustainable, as is the policy and political stalemate among decision makers in Washington … our nation must have the moral courage to change course in Iraq."

Dissent is swelling up from the grassroots as well. In August 2007, an alliance of religious groups calling itself Catholics for an End to War collected 10,000 signatures for an online petition "urging leaders to commit to a responsible withdrawal of U.S. troops." Sister Simone Campbell of the national Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK said, "Church leaders and individual Catholics have opposed U.S. policy in Iraq since before the war began," adding that the petition "lets thousands of Catholics unite to speak out even more strongly for an end to the violence and occupation."

In other words, being dovish on Iraq might help the next Democratic presidential contender win Roman Catholic votes. Whether the current front-runners qualify for that distinction, however, is another matter.

Meltdown Madness

President Bush has always been a good friend to the nuclear industry, but his recent overtures should sound alarm bells.

The White House has begun pushing to replace governmental safety standards at federal nuclear facilities with requirements penned by contractors. As Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) quipped, "It's like the fox guarding the hen house."

What prompted the Bush administration's move? Congress insisted the government start fining contractors for violations.

The proposed weakening of safety standards would affect more than 100,000 nuclear plant workers and comes at an especially lousy time to lower their morale.

A strike by 276 operations and maintenance workers was narrowly averted in January at the Indian Point 3 plant, 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan. When the plant's owner proposed substituting managers for striking workers, union spokesman Steve Mangione observed, "Anyone would want the people who work there every day--not managers who take a crash course--to be the ones running the plant."

Happy, well-trainded workers are key to nuclear safety: When problems occur, they often result from worker error. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) reported 728 worker-caused mishaps during a recent two-year period, an average of more than three mistakes per year at each plant.

Even worse, government security contractors have apparently been lax in monitoring worker effectiveness. The Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee, for example, made headlines recently when it reported missing 200 keys to protected areas. Then news surfaced that security personnel guarding the nation's nuclear stockpiles, including tons of enriched uranium at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., had been cheating on their antiterrorism drills.

An Energy Department investigation discovered that contract security guards at the Y-12 plant had been given access to computer models of antiterrorism drill strikes in advance, rendering the tests useless. A representative from Wackenhut, the longtime government contractor charged with securing the facility, claimed security at Y-12 was "better than it's ever been" but few are convinced. A January 2002 study found only 19 percent of Wackenhut guards at Indian Point reported feeling able to "adequately defend the plant."

Almost 25 years ago, the reactor core meltdown at Three Mile Island struck fear into the nation, but consequences could have been much worse. A 1982 study by the Sandia National Laboratory predicted an accident at the Limerick nuclear plant outside Philadelphia could result in 74,000 people killed within the first year and a further 610,000 afflicted with radiation-related illnesses. Add to that $200 billion in relocation and clean-up costs.

By all appearances, however, stateside nuclear facilities are functioning well. Pennsylvania's Susquehanna nuclear plant just announced an electricity-generation record for 2003, which it attributes to "maintaining the highest safety and reliability standards," and Maryland's Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant (CCNPP) is hard at work assuring the public it's a friendly neighbor; the CCNPP Web site includes references to its "forest management and wildlife protection."

But the CCNPP site also lists protective measures to be taken in case of an accident, such as "put uncovered food into the refrigerator" and "washing yourself and your clothes removes radioactive material you may have picked up."

How effective these steps would be in a meltdown is debatable--perhaps similar to clasping seatbelts tight when an airplane is nose-diving. One factor is clear: CCNPP's location (60 miles from Baltimore and 50 miles from Washington, D.C.) might make it a target for terror. Other reactors across the country could be similarly at risk.

Regardless, the Bush administration has been pumping money into the nuclear industry, including a fresh $35 million infusion last year to build 50 new U.S. reactors by 2020. Given each reactor costs more than $1.5 billion to produce, and the public assumes liability in case of an accident or attack, U.S. taxpayers should be forewarned.

The White House also is leaning on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to weaken regulations regarding nuclear waste transport and storage.

How ironic that alternative energy sources receive relatively little in government subsidies, especially in light of new satellite mapping techniques showing that the Great Plains region could generate three times as much energy in wind-power as the United States consumes.

What then explains our government's obsession with nuclear power?

Follow the money. Nuclear plant PACs invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign, and almost half a million dollars in the 23 members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2002 alone.

That's no excuse for poor energy policy. The risks of nuclear plants must be considered before dumping any more money into this losing game. And as long as the nation's 100-plus nuclear plants continue to operate, the toughest of safety standards must be enforced.


Heather Wokusch writes on WMDs and nuclear issues.

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