Hannah Levintova

Hannah Levintova

Assistant Editor

Hannah came to Mother Jones after stints at NPR and the Washington Monthly. A proud New Englander, she enjoys tea, good books, and cold weather.

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Scientific Community Slams Plan B Decision

| Fri Dec. 9, 2011 5:41 PM EST

On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled FDA findings showing that Plan B One Step is safe to be sold to all females of childbearing age without a prescription. As we've already mentioned, there are some hefty problems with this ruling, including that now the emergency contraceptive will be kept behind pharmacy counters instead of on store shelves, where women will have to present either a prescription or identification proving they are older than 17 in order to purchase it. Yesterday, the president announced his support for the HHS decision.

The reproductive rights community has reacted strongly against the decision, wondering whether it really has to do with data. "When it comes to FDA drug approvals, contraceptives are being held to a different and non-scientific standard—in a word, politics," Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said in a press release from the group.

Meanwhile, a less likely voice has entered the mix: that of the scientific community. The Union of Concerned Scientists published a statement yesterday on their website decrying the HHS decision—and Obama's support of it—as an attack not only on reproductive rights but also on sound science.

The UCS points out that this is the first time an HHS secretary has overruled the FDA on a drug approval. But as Erin Matson, action vice president of the National Organization of Women, noted on Twitter, the administration rarely disagrees with the FDA—drugs or no drugs. She tweeted: "Perhaps the last time the FDA was overruled: A cranberry recall in 1959. Now Obama admin after emergency contraception in 2011. OUTRAGE."

As such, yesterday's decision sets an ugly precedent for scientific assessment of drug safety. "The agency needs to be able to do its job without fearing that the integrity of its work will be compromised," says Francesca Grifo, director of the UCS's Scientific Integrity Program.

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Obama Admin Ignores FDA on Plan B

| Wed Dec. 7, 2011 8:32 PM EST

Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services upheld their decision to dispense Plan B One-Step—a one-pill emergency contraceptive—to young women only with a doctor's prescription, overruling an FDA request to make the drug available over the counter to women of all ages. The restriction only applies to women under the age of 17. In a statement on the HHS website, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined the administration's reasoning: The FDA's conclusion that the drug is safe, she says, did not contain sufficient data to show that people of all ages "can understand the label and use the product appropriately." The outliers, she says, are the 10 percent of girls who are physically capable of child-bearing at 11.1 years old, and "have significant cognitive and behavioral differences." HHS makes no mention of women older than 11 and younger than 17—statistically, those far more likely to be having sex, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The Little Office Behind Obama's Big Enviro Flops

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 6:00 AM EST
President Obama and Cass Sunstein, OIRA administrator, chat near the West Wing.

For a while now, Obama's environmental record has been mixed—at times great, at others shoddy. But a new report (PDF), released Monday from the Center on Progressive Reform (CPR), suggests that when it comes to dismantling environmental reforms, Obama's administration is actually on par with that of former President George W. Bush. What's worse, the report shows, is that their combined decade of damage has a common denominator: an elusive federal entity called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) that has, under the auspices of both administrations, waged war on environmental, health, and safety protections.  

2-Stepping With the Blind Boys of Alabama

| Mon Nov. 21, 2011 6:00 AM EST

After seven decades, you wouldn't expect the Blind Boys of Alabama to be dabbling in reinvention. After all, with five Grammys, more than 60 albums, and a spot in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame under its belt, this legendary group has quite clearly cracked the elusive code to stardom.

And yet, the Blind Boys are always shaking something up: Their classic songs of praise have backed everything from cuddly Disney movies to gritty TV dramas like The Wire and Lost. Bucking partisanship, they've performed at both the Bush and Obama White Houses. These seven men—four blind, three sighted—have taken their sound far beyond religious settings, sharing a stage with Prince, sampling styles from rock to reggae, and even treading the late-night circuitLeno, Conan, Letterman—with unflappable poise. Now on tour for Take the High Road, their first ever country-gospel record, their quiet rebelliousness is alive and well.

But if you ask what drives their medley of achievements, the answer is streamlined and unequivocal: "It all has to be centered around gospel," says vocalist Jimmy Carter. "We don’t deviate from that."

DJ Spooky's Icy Philharmonic

| Mon Oct. 17, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

Where most artists hone in on one medium, DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid—né Paul Miller—has spent his career breeding a tizzying, singular brand of organized, multimedia chaos. He's all over the place, and yet remarkably put together. One reviewer called him "Einstein with a better haircut."

Spooky's The Book of Ice, released this past summer, is a motley collection of photos, essays, data, and relics of an imagined People's Republic of Antarctica. It's also just one chapter of Spooky's Antarctic opus, which includes a film (North/South), and Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica—an acoustic portrait of melting ice molecules that's part science experiment, part symphony, and part cautionary climate-change narrative.

Climate change is just one of several causes Spooky, 41, has tackled over the years. His 2009 album, The Secret Song, slams corporate America with tunes like "The War of Ideas," a new version of The Coup's "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO," and a title track whose lyrics are based on economist Adam Smith's "invisible hand" theory. "The Secret Song," Spooky says, is the sound of "credit card fraud and jazz motifs made into stock exchanges." The album's brainy tracks are also supposedly hidden in smart-phone-scannable barcodes scattered around Manhattan. (Occupy Wall Streeters, after all, could perhaps use some additions to their repertoire.) His remake of D.W. Griffith's 1915 film "Birth of a Nation" turns the original—a glorification of racism and the Klan—on its head, making a once-silent film into one of rich sound and transforming a work of bigotry into a powerful educational tool.

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