Blogs

Attention Boston Bloggers: Iceland wants you!

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 3:32 PM PDT

In an effort to "put web attractions in print" and reinvent notions of what a traditional newspaper provides, the new and free publication BostonNOW is grabbing up bloggers that will produce content for print.

BostonNOW is funded by an Icelandic company, Dagsbrun, that hopes to have NOW papers in eight to ten different cities in two years, with every one built from the bottom-up – or from the blog-up.

"It will be fun," Editor-in-Chief John Wilpers told NPR. It will also be a chance for bloggers – and maybe even self-described "sloggers" who blog about their sex lives – to see their name in print and potentially reach a wider audience. Initially bloggers will comprise about 10 percent of the paper's content, but the plan is to expand that to as much as 50 percent. Whether or not the blogs will be uninformed columns, personal diatribes or quick, informed snippets remains to be seen.

Wilpers is right, it probably will be fun. It will also be cheap. Bloggers won't be paid, although a business model that could pay bloggers is allegedly being developed. So is this the latest in crowd sourcing? Probably. Could it be a great strategy for providing fresh, irreverent content? Maybe.

-- Gary Moskowitz

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Why Don't We Talk about Gun Control Anymore?

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 2:48 PM PDT

Remember the Democratic Revolution of '06? It ended this week. The court just ruled against abortion rights and for a ban that tells doctors how to treat their patients. Monday, it became glaringly obvious, again, that gun control is the only reasonable position to hold, yet even the Democratic power centers in Congress oppose it: Dean, Webb (who needed to have his gun in the Senate) and Reid.

Looking at the MoJo Top Story box—when it was about gun control, that happier time of yesterday—I wondered why all of the stories except this one dated back to the '90s. Well, I'm here to tell you it's not our fault. It's because the Democrats dropped gun control like a hot potato in 2000. Many analysts blamed Gore's strong gun-control position in the Democratic primary for his loss to Bush in the general election. The Dems believed that swing-state voters were relatively pro-gun—which seems like a pretty inaccurate conclusion since the issue isn't banning hunting rifles but semi-automatic assault weapons.

But gun control is another one of those issues where the sane position is lost amid the ruckus the crazies make. Most Americans support gun control: In a recent Gallup poll, 49 percent of Americans said gun-control laws should be made stricter, and only 14 percent said they should be less strict. A Salon article explains the Dems' punt thusly: Robert J. Spitzer, author of "The Politics of Gun Control," says that "the typical gun control supporter is somebody for whom the issue is not a No. 1 concern, it's No. 6 or No. 8." Slate looks at it this way: The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence—the nation's gun-control lobby—donated $90,000 to pro-gun-control candidates in 2006. Pro-gun groups gave their candidates $3 million—33 times more.

The result? The federal assault weapons ban, passed in 1994, was allowed to expire in 2004. One of the guns Cho Seung-Hui used was in fact illegal under the assault weapons ban, and became legal again in 1994. And Slate reports:

The only meaningful federal restriction on handgun purchases, the Brady Bill, was considered a huge accomplishment when it finally passed in 1993 after a decade of lobbying. But thanks to the private-transfer or "gun show" loophole, about 40 percent of gun sales remain invisible to law enforcement, rendering the law's mandatory background checks easily avoidable.

Isn't it time we stopped allowing crazypantses like Wayne La Pierre to dictate our gun policy? After all, there are nearly 30,000 deaths from firearms a year in this country—2 to 3 times as many as in other developed countries.

Another Drop in the Bucket, Baghdad Government Pledges $25 Million in Aid for Refugees

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 2:30 PM PDT

Iraq has promised $25 million in aid for Iraqi refugees who have fled Iraq. This was announced yesterday at the UNHCR (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees) meeting in Geneva. The Baghdad government is actually being more generous than the United States has been. Not hard to do -- Bush has pledged a paltry $18 million to handle a crisis his State Department has deemed its "top priority." (I guess if dollar amounts are any indication of priority, it's pretty clear what the U.S.'s are.) The only problem with Baghdad's pledge? It's nowhere near enough. As Kos notes, today at the meeting in Geneva, both Jordan and Syria claim they spend a billion dollars each year managing the rapid influx of Iraqis flowing across their borders. Currently, Syria is home to more than a million Iraqis and Jordan houses nearly that many as well. The International Organization for Migration claims one million more will flee Iraq this year. Last month, a UNHCR spokesperson, Lauren Jolles, painted a picture of life in Syria, of a country bursting at the seams:

Syria's economy is now groaning under the strain. The population suffers from water scarcity, electricity blackouts, increased competition for jobs and higher rent and food prices.

Jolles said that the United Nations aid conference will have to yield a very large aid package for these countries bearing the brunt of the exodus. I don't think $25 million is what Jolles had in mind.

Boys Are on the Decline

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 2:27 PM PDT

Seriously. This is scary. From William Saletan: Birth ratios have shifted so much since 1970 that the U.S. and Japan are "missing" about 260,000 men. Researchers say environmental toxins can prevent men from passing on the Y-chromosome. The full report here.

The scariest thing about "endocrine disrupters" are that they too tiny to research. Only in the past few years have we developed machines precise enough to test the presence of some of these chemicals in the body, in parts per million, billion, and even trillion. The machines cost a million dollars. So we can't run test thousands of people and aggregate the statistics.

The most shocking evidence of the effect of pesticides came out of comparing drawings by Mexican children in an agricultural valley to those by children in foothills nearby. Here's the story. And here are their drawings:

su06YaquiDrawing.gif

Would You Have Voted For McCain the Independent?

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 2:16 PM PDT

John McCain didn't waste anytime trying to score Jesus-points after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in support of the "Partial Birth Abortion" ban:

"The ruling ensures that an unacceptable and unjustifiable practice will not be carried out on our innocent children."

Since the world does not need another political eulogy for John McCain, I offer instead a "what-if." Instead of his current stumble to the right, what if McCain had chosen to run as an Independent? Sure '08 represents his last shot, and many argue that without RNC money he can't win a bid for the presidency. Maybe so, but it's getting clearer every day that the "New McCain" can't win either.

In 2000, the "Old McCain" (remember who walloped Bush in New Hampshire's open primary) had broad support among moderate swing-voters, McCain looked like a sure contender for the White House before he was smeared by Rove's push polling.

Had he run this time as an Independent, he could have distanced himself rather than thrown all his chips in on Iraq. McCain, the campaign finance reformer and the closest thing the conservatives had to a Global Warming Paul Revere, was actually admired by quite a fair share of Democrats. Had McCain run on his own ticket, he would have at the very least had done what Ralph Nader tried unsuccessfully to do--add some life to the corporately-sponsored and painfully-orchestrated presidential debates (No offense Jim Lehrer).

Instead, he has set a new bar for pandering to the kingmakers on the religious right and made assessments of the situation in Iraq that make Bush's seem factual. If he manages to win the Republican nomination, he will be seriously damaged goods and it's hard to imagine how he might ever re-capture his once revered reputation as a "straight-talker"[You Tube]. And to tell the truth, despite statement like today's, he seems to be having trouble proving the authenticity of his religious zealotry.

—Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

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.