2007 - %3, April

Partial Birth Abortion Ban's Both Arbitrary and Dangerous

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 11:29 AM PDT

Before we get into the Supreme Court decision that will allow a ban on late-term abortions, let's get one thing clear: there is no such thing as a "partial birth abortion." This term was born of the clever marketing of the anti-choice movement (or "pro-life" as they like to be called) and has no medical foundation whatsoever.

Still, today the high court ruled today that the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act does not violate a woman's constitutional right to an abortion. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority opinion said that the bill's opponents "have not demonstrated that the Act would be unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases."

The case is the very move that choice advocates have feared since the ascendancy of a conservative court under President Bush. Of the million or so abortions that happen each year in this country, 90% happen within the first trimester and are not affected by this ruling. It's the other 10%, the women who, whether it be after moving through the hoops of waiting periods, parental notification, or the lack of clinics, who will be impacted. What will become of these vulnerable women, who have already made what's likely the hardest decision of their lives? Doctors may spurn the ruling and go ahead with the abortion anyway, but those who do face fines and jail time. For all involved, what is considered a safe procedure just got more dangerous.

"Partial Birth Abortion" is an arbitrary legal term, not a medical one. A late-term, or second or third trimester abortion usually involves a different method of removing the fetus, usually D&X, or Dilation and Extraction, which means the fetus is removed intact. The PBAB puts a broad interpretation on the type of extraction method, making a medical judgment call on procedure rather than a time frame. Because the ban refers to a type of procedure rather than a time limit, say 12 weeks, any abortion performed where protecting the health of the mother with a less-invasive D&X would be preferable, is now illegal.

"Today's decision is alarming," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the dissenting opinion. It flies in the face of previous high court abortion decisions and "refuses to take them seriously."

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Supreme Court Guts Roe: Abortion Rights Groups Weigh In

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 11:25 AM PDT

This morning's Supreme Court decision in Gonzalez v. Carhart goes a long way to overturning Roe v Wade. Lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a press conference just a few minutes ago, said the ruling turns the decision of whether a woman can or cannot have an abortion from doctors to the politicians in state legislatures.

The decision could end up affecting abortions from the 13th week on. Justice Kennedy writing for the 5-4 majority makes it clear he expects the decision to be enforced. The question is how? Lawyers for both groups said doctors should now consult with their attorneys. The decision will go into effect in 25 days.

Eve Gartner, Lead Counsel for Planned Parenthood, said the decision amounts to "politicians playing doctor.'' Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the ruling "gutted protection for women's health."

Lighten Up Your Day with Impeachment Humor

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 9:58 AM PDT

Recently, thirty-eight Vermont towns and villages voted to impeach George W. Bush. That led to this truly excellent series of Doonesbury cartoons. Take a gander.

The impeachment drive got shut down in the state legislature by a Democrat, leading to all sorts of intra-party fighting and tension. Trouble brewing in the Green Mountain state!

What Was Cho Seung-Hui On?

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 1:14 AM PDT

The Times reported that Cho Seung-Hui was taking a psychoactive medication. Was it an antidepressant? No doubt antidepressants save many lives, but they also cause side effects. Psychiatrists know that in a percentage of patients, they trigger mania, exacerbate delusional thinking, and agitate suicidal ideation. [See NIH links for data]. In short, they sometimes push troubled people over the edge. Antidepressant manufacturers years ago actually teamed up with district attorneys to make sure the Zoloft defense didn't fly. As Rob Waters reported:

In the early 1990s, Eli Lilly, the maker of Prozac, started the practice of aiding district attorneys who were prosecuting defendants who blamed the drug for their acts of violence. Lawyers for Pfizer, the world's largest pharmaceutical company, later created a "prosecutor's manual" for the same purpose.
The Zoloft manual itself is a closely held secret -- and Pfizer has fought hard to keep it that way.
In 2001, a widow sued Pfizer because her husband shot and killed himself after six days on Zoloft. Her lawyers discovered in Pfizer's records a reference to a document called "prosecutor's manual," and requested a copy.
Pfizer fought the request, claiming it was privileged information between the company and its attorneys. The judge allowed the manual to be introduced -- noting it was designed to prevent "harm to Pfizer's reputation" if a defendant successfully raised "a Zoloft causation defense" -- but he agreed to thereafter seal the manual and keep it out of the public record.
James Hooper, an attorney for Pfizer, says that "in rare cases"" the company's attorneys have provided the manual to prosecutors if a defendant "is attempting to blame some sort of criminal behavior on the medicine." Read on.....

Let's be clear: Cho may not have not been on antidepressants. If the Times was right that he took a pill around 5 a.m. on Monday, it might have been something else. But it will be interesting to find out.

Net Neutrality: The Dead Trees Version

| Tue Apr. 17, 2007 11:45 PM PDT

On the scale of giant social troubles, this one won't register, but as a breathtaking example of corporate influence and regulatory cronyism, it can't be beat.

After almost a year of hearings, last month the Bush-appointed US Postal Service Board of Governors tossed out their own staff recommendations and at the last minute approved a 758-page plan submitted by Time Warner that will increase mailing costs between 18 and 30 percent a year for small-circulation magazines like Mother Jones, while postal costs for the big guys - Time, Newsweek, People - will actually go down. The Board of Guvs opened up their decision to public comment for a grand total of 8 days, and then scheduled it to go into effect this coming July.

Consider this the print-side version of the fight over net neutrality.

America's founders understood that the First Amendment wasn't worth much without a postal system that encouraged broad public participation in the public debate. To ensure that a diversity of viewpoints were available to "the whole mass of the people," they created affordable postal rates that gave smaller political journals a voice. The Time Warner rate increase reverses this egalitarian ideal.

Our friends at Free Press have taken the lead in organizing a campaign to put the brakes on this deal. In the odd-bedfellows department, we've signed onto a publishers letter to the Postal Service Board of Governors along with many other independent magazines, both conservative and progressive, from The Nation and The New Republic to The Weekly Standard and American Spectator.

But it will take more than a letter. The Postal Service Board of Governors will be taking comments until Monday, April 23rd; you can learn more, or let your opinion be known, via a special site set up by Free Press. Or just click on the "Stop The Post Office" postage stamp over there on the right hand side of this page.

Disclosure: Mother Jones, along with Free Press, is involved in a project called The Media Consortium, a network of 36 independent journalism-based organizations that are working together to amplify our collective voice.

What If He Was North Korean?

| Tue Apr. 17, 2007 6:44 PM PDT

Then would we start dropping bombs tomorrow on Kim Jong Il? Or Arab? That would have been convenient, because it would have immediately made it an act of terror. Which it was of course. An act of terror on the homefront, by a citizen of this country. The shooter came here when he was eight years old, so the mental instability and rage that manifested itself yesterday? Made in America.

Seriously folks, let's not make this about race. Already Korean-Americans (or Asians in general since the many races are often lumped into one category), are anticipating the backlash to come. When teenagers shot up Columbine and when Timothy McVeigh bombed babies in Oklahoma City did we blame white males?

Does race play a role in all that goes down in this country? Of course. Discrimination, cultural values and norms, race is one of many things that contributes to who we are, the good and the bad. But there are actual substantive issues to deal with here, issues that don't lead us to easy, bigoted conclusions.

Take mental health dollars. Did you know that last year the Bush Administration failed to fully fund the promised $300 million for mental health services for veterans? Talk about a vulnerable population.

In fact, the Bush Administration has tried to cut mental health funding across the board, year after year, budget after budget. These are dollars that go to health centers, schools, hospitals, where they can help us address serious illness before we get to this point.

In his latest budget proposal the president has proposed the following:

-a $159 million cut for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
-a $77 million cut for the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS)
-a $20.8 million cut for Mental Health Transformation Grants (planning grants for states)
-a $2.64 million cut for Youth Suicide Prevention

And, you knew this was coming:
-a $17.3 million cut for School Violence Prevention

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Chimpanzees Are Like People Too

| Tue Apr. 17, 2007 6:24 PM PDT

chimp_knuckels_130x140.jpg

Knuckels has cerebral palsy. He's the chimp clowning around in this photo, the one on top. The disability makes him an easy target, but scientists have never seen any fellow apes taking advantage of him. That's pretty humane of them.

Some evolutionary psychologists have sought false connections between apes and human behavior. One psychologist, for example, found "evidence" that female monkeys have a fondness for pots and pans.(Chimps may use stones to crack open nuts, but do they have an innate grasp on the concept of stove-top cooking?) However, this New York Times story points out strikingly humane behavior that primatologists have noticed over the years of close observation:

•Chimps mourn. One chimp mom carried her her young daughter's corpse on her back for a few days.
•After fights between two chimps, scientists have seen other chimps consoling the loser and otherwise trying to restore peace.
•Chimps outperformed humans in some memory tasks.

For more on apes, check out the Great Ape Project, which seeks to extend basic human rights to chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. That includes "the right to life, the freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and protection from torture." In their eyes, it may be narrow-minded of me just to call chimpanzees "humane." However provocative, their concept makes more sense now than ever, with some great ape species on the verge of extinction, such as orangutans, known in Southeast Asia as "the people of the forest."

Sen. Reid Finally Pulls Up His Civil Liberties Score

| Tue Apr. 17, 2007 6:19 PM PDT

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, not that long ago, had a high ACLU score of 44%, and his score has been even as low as 40%, not very fitting for the supposedly liberal wing of the Senate. In the latest ACLU compilation, however, Reid scores 67%, a significant improvement, though nothing to brag about.

In the spring of 2006, Reid voted for the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. And last summer, he voted for the flag desecration amendment and for the Child Custody Protection Act, which would make it a crime for anyone other than a parent to accompany a minor across a state line to obtain an abortion. He scored better in the areas of judicial protection for detainees, the Military Commissions Act, voting rights reauthorization, the Federal Marriage Amendment, new worker database privacy protection, the Alito confirmation, and in the Patriot Act reauthorization cloture vote.

The highest current civil liberties scores in the Senate go to Sen. Tom Harkin, former Sen. Jon Corzine, Sen. Jeff Bingamin, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Russell Feingold, all of whom scored 100%.

The lowest scores go to Sen. Jeff Sessions, Sen. Wayne Allard, Sen. Pat Roberts, Sen. Thad Cochran, Sen. Tom Coburn, Sen. James Inhofe, and Sen. John Cornyn, all of whom scored 8%.

Scores of interest:

Sen. Hillary Clinton--83%
Sen. Barack Obama--83%
Sen. John McCain--33%
Sen. Sam Brownback--25%
Sen. Chuck Hagel--36%

NRA's New President: A Rough First Day on the Job

| Tue Apr. 17, 2007 5:24 PM PDT

John Sigler, longtime NRA board member and retired police captain from Delaware replaced Sandra S. Froman as NRA president yesterday. Of course, you'd never know it from their website, where Froman's President's Column is still up. Or if you read the news. There were no news stories on Sigler's first day, nary a press release.

We heard about the changeover via NRA radio (they have a nightly show at 9pm EDT):

As you can imagine this is not the way I wanted my presidency to begin, but it is important for our members to understand that we will do everything we can. If there is any way we can assist with law enforcement or with the families- I have no idea what that would be, it's probably a hollow offer at best. We hope for an early resolution so the families can put this behind them.

The NRA too would surely like to see this incident behind them. But for now be sure that, yes, they will do everything they can to fight what will surely be a slew of new legislative proposals, on handgun purchases, background checks, concealed weapons, the gamut.

Froman, who was the second female president in the history of the NRA, gave a speech two weeks ago at Harvard Law School where she railed against New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's decision to confiscate guns from residents immediately following Hurricane Katrina. She said that the New Orleans government was "profoundly incompetent" and added that a person having a gun could have served as a safety net: "If the government isn't protecting you, then it's an insurance policy."

Vigilante justice anyone?

Poll: Obama Has Most Supporters of Anyone in Either Party

| Tue Apr. 17, 2007 4:35 PM PDT

A new Rasmussen poll out today asked people if they would "definitely" vote for someone or "definitely not" vote for someone. Because it's early and few people have made their selections, it's really hard to get a high number in the "definitely vote for" category, and it's nearly impossible to have more "definitely fors" that "definitely againsts." Last month, Rudy Giuliani was the only person who had more people saying they would definitely vote for him than definitely vote against him, and this month no candidate can claim such a sweet seat. (By the way, someone will want to explain the definition of the word "definitely" to those ex-Rudy supporters.)

Obama's doing the best; Gingrich the worst. Here are the numbers:

Obama
Def FOR: 33%
Def AGAINST: 33%
Differential: Even

Giuliani
Def FOR: 29%
Def AGAINST: 34%
Differential: -5%

Fred Thompson
Def FOR: 19%
Def AGAINST: 29%
Differential: -10%

Edwards
Def FOR: 26%
Def AGAINST: 37%
Differential: -11%

McCain
Def FOR: 23%
Def AGAINST: 35%
Differential: -12%

Romney
Def FOR: 17%
Def AGAINST: 33%
Differential: -16%

Clinton
Def FOR: 30%
Def AGAINST: 48%
Differential: -18%

Richardson
Def FOR: 10%
Def AGAINST: 28%
Differential: -18%

Biden
Def FOR: 9%
Def AGAINST: 38%
Differential: -29%

Gingrich
Def FOR: 20%
Def AGAINST: 49%
Differential: -29%

Gainers include Obama, Edwards, and Fred Thompson. Discuss.