Even before Clinton could get out of town Saturday, the Bush team was signaling changes to Clinton administration policies, including reconsideration of approval for RU-486. “It’s a new drug, it’s contentious and controversial and the safety of it, as I understand it, is in question,” said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, who opposes abortion, at his confirmation hearings. On Monday, the new administration took steps to end federal funding to groups that provide abortion counseling abroad. “The president does not support using federal funds to promote abortion,” said Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary.
Asked on Fox News whether he’d rule out ordering the Justice Department to seek a change in Roe v. Wade, Bush said, “Well, not at all. . . . As you know, I campaigned as a pro-life candidate.”
Meanwhile, Bush’s nominee for interior secretary, Gale Norton, strongly hinted that she would support plans for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “I have been told production there would impact only about 2000 acres in an area well over the size of many of our states,” she said in confirmation testimony.
Desperately moving to block Clinton’s last-minute blizzard of rules and regulations, the Bush team targeted new industry-opposed environmental restrictions on runoff from animal-feed lots, as well as 800 pages of guidelines for Medicare managed-care programs.
On Larry King Live last Thursday, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the dean of the U.S. Senate, said he would probably vote to confirm John Ashcroft as attorney general. Byrd’s reasoning, shared by other Democratic senators, is that Ashcroft as a legislator—he has just finished serving as a Missouri senator—could say what he wanted about issues. However, on assuming an executive function, he must enforce the law. Byrd seems confident that is what Ashcroft will do.
But that’s just the point. It was as a powerful state official—first as attorney general and then as governor of Missouri—that Ashcroft aggressively pushed through his own agenda. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Ashcroft denied that he opposed desegregation in the St. Louis schools. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. He has also said, “I don’t oppose desegregation,” and “I am in favor of integration.” But in 1984, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, Ashcroft called a St. Louis desegregation plan an “outrage against human decency.” In his 1984 gubernatorial campaign, he widely advertised his fight against desegregation as a campaign theme, claiming he had done “everything in his power legally” to fight the plan, and advertised the fact by saying, “ask Judge [William] Hungate, who threatened me with contempt.”
Consider the following key points in the debate, based on Senator Kennedy’s factual research and a detailed report by People for the American Way (www.pfaw.org):
Ashcroft’s claim: “While I was attorney general, I inherited a desegregation lawsuit in St. Louis from my predecessor in office, Jack Danforth. I argued on behalf of the state of Missouri that it could not be found legally liable for segregation in St. Louis schools because the state had never been party to the litigation.”
Fact: The state had been made a party to the litigation while Ashcroft—not Danforth—was attorney general. In response to a submission by Ashcroft, the Court of Appeals stated: “the state of Missouri, the Missouri Commissioner of Education, and the Missouri Board of Education were added as defendants pursuant to various district court orders in the summer of 1977.”
Ashcroft’s claim: ” . . . the court sought to make the state responsible and liable for the payment of these very substantial sums of money, and the state had not been found really guilty of anything.”
Fact: In March 1980, the Court of Appeals reversed a lower court, ruling that both the state and city school board were liable for segregation, and in a June 1980 finding of fact the district court said that “the state of Missouri, which prior to 1954 mandated school segregation, never took any effective steps to dismantle the dual system it had compelled by [the] constitution, statutory law, practice, and policy.” And after further legal analysis, the court declared, “the state defendants stand before the Court as primary constitutional wrongdoers who have abdicated their remedial duty. Their efforts to pass the buck among themselves and other state instrumentalities must be rejected.”
In 1982, Ashcroft was back in the Court of Appeals, arguing the district court could not order the state to help fund voluntary city-suburb desegregation. The Court of Appeals again rejected the argument, repeating once more that the state defendants were “primary constitutional wrongdoers.”
Ashcroft’s claim: “In all of the cases where the court made an order, I followed the order, both as attorney general and as governor.”
Fact: In March 1981, a federal district court threatened to hold the state in contempt if it did not meet the latest desegregation deadline.
One way conspiracy buffs can get a handle on the new Bush administration is by examining the many ties between the president’s team and Monsanto, the big Missouri chemical company that promotes genetically engineered foods.
For starters, consider the fact that Bush Sr. appointed Clarence Thomas, a Monsanto attorney, to the Supreme Court. Thomas cast a key vote in the decision that handed the White House to George Jr.
In addition, John Ashcroft, Dubya’s choice for attorney general, was the top recipient of Monsanto contributions during his losing reelection campaign for the U.S. Senate. While he was in the Senate, Ashcroft fought hard for Monsanto. He was active abroad in convincing hesitant nations to accept genetically engineered crops and is credited with persuading the British to push for European Union acceptance of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn.
Other links include Donald Rumsfeld, the new secretary of defense, who was president of Searle Pharmaceuticals, now owned by Monsanto, and Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, who was on the board of directors of Calgene Pharmaceuticals, another Monsanto affiliate.
Over at HHS, there’s new secretary Tommy Thompson. While he was governor of Wisconsin, Thompson was a good friend to Monsanto and other biotech firms. He received $50,000 from biotech companies in his election campaign, and got the state to set up a $37 million biotech zone in Wisconsin.
Darkness at Noon
On energy, Bush’s first challenge lies in California, where the power crisis looks more and more to have been rigged by electricity suppliers. However, as of Monday, the new president’s analysis of that potentially explosive situation was contained in the oblique statement that “Californians need to address the law.” Although power in California is still distributed by big systems like PG&E and Southern California Edison, the actual production of electricity in certain key areas comes from out-of-state providers in Nevada as well as elsewhere in the inter-mountain West, and from hydroelectric projects in Oregon and Washington.
The usual practice has been for hydroelectric producers up the coast to swap power with California, sending huge blocks south to help out with air-conditioning during the summer. During the winter, when Oregon and Washington experience peak demands, California returns the favor. But recently this process has changed. Because of reduced snow and rain in the north, the amounts of electricity being sent south have declined, and because the output of old, polluting plants in California has been reduced, the amounts going north have also gone down.
This situation may have worsened the crisis, but it doesn’t explain what is going on now. Last Friday, the Washington, D.C.-based group Public Citizen issued a report charging that demand for electricity in California has declined—not increased—over the last six months. At the same time, state data reveals that a huge block of power—11,000 megawatts—is not being used. “Power producers are inappropriately citing increased demand to justify building new plants,” states the report, “and they are hoping to speed the process by suspending California’s environment-friendly standards.”
This information alone makes the crisis look fishy. Last week, San Francisco went to court against 13 suppliers charging them with manipulating the market.
What remains a mystery is why the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulated the wholesale prices of electricity between states at reasonable prices, doesn’t step in and order that supplies be made available.
Arkansas Republican Asa Hutchinson, a House manager in the fight to impeach Bill Clinton, is being seriously considered for the No. 2 spot at Justice, Voter.com reports. A former U.S. attorney, Hutchinson got his college degree from Bob Jones University.
Additional reporting: Rouven Gueissaz
Right-Wing Pick for Attorney General Dogged by Record on Gay Rights
by James Ridgeway