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Teens Take Prayers to New Heights

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 1:02 PM PDT

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Ten private planes will be circling over Ohio this afternoon filled with people praying for the state's 11 million residents. "You see rows and rows of houses, and you know they are full of people you are praying for," says Samantha Ciminillo, 18, a member of Teens for Christ. It's one way to get closer to God, who occasionally comes down to earth, but spends most of His time sitting on clouds, ordering angels around, His beard blowing in the wind.

High Deductible Health Plans Penalize Women

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 12:52 PM PDT

A recent Harvard study has found that having breasts and a cervix may cost women an arm and a leg when it comes to healthcare.

Women enrolled in high deductible health plans pay up to three times more in medical costs than men. High deductible plans, pushed by Bush as a way to reduce costs, require the insured to pay at least $1,050 and up to $5,000 out-of-pocket before insurance kicks in.

The Harvard researchers found that women's (age 18-64) healthcare costs were, on average, $1,844, while men's were $847. The reason for the disparity, the study found, is that women's yearly routine health costs--pap smears, breast exams, birth control prescriptions--are more than men's.

"High deductible plans punish women for having breasts and uteruses and having babies," the study's lead author, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, told the Washington Post. "When an employer switches all of his employees into a consumer-driven health plan, it's the same as giving all the women a $1,000 pay cut."

According to Hillary Clinton's recent speech, that's not something that women can afford: working full-time, year-round, they still only make 77 cents to a man's dollar.

--Jen Phillips

National Guard: One Weekend a Month...And Two Years in Iraq

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 10:22 AM PDT

Guard units who have already served their year in Iraq are headed back yet again. No one is surprised by redeployments at this point. But 14,000 National Guard troops? That's a heck of a lot of one-weekend-a-monthers who have to, again, leave their real jobs and homes and lives for another tour of duty.

To date no National Guard brigades have been redeployed. Why? The Pentagon's policy, in place since the Iraq invasion began, has been for Guard and Reserve units to be deployed for a maximum of 12 months every five years. The rest of those years the Guardsmen and women are supposed to be available to secure the homefront.

But when Bush announced his surge plan in January, that policy was obviously scratched. They've already sent active-duty troops back again and again, have increased incentives and slashed standards for recruits, without a draft where else would they turn?

Guard troops are not the only one's suffering of course. Active duty troop deployments are now on the fast track. On Monday, the Pentagon said it would send about 4,500 active duty troops to Iraq within a year of their last deployment. The Pentagon's goal for active-duty troops is two years at home for every one year deployed.

How the Sudan Thwarts Humanitarian Work

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 5:41 PM PDT

The world is failing not only to curb a genocide but also to lift a finger for Darfur refugees across the border in the Central African Republic. Only 18 percent of the United Nations' $54 million appeal for refugee aid there has been financed. That's less than the cost of a new high school gym. If your eyes are glazing over those numbers, here's what else John Holmes told the U.N. Security Council yesterday. (Holmes is—this is a mouthful—Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator.)

On his way to a refugee camp, Holmes was stopped and turned around at a military checkpoint. "The Government had later apologized, but, if such an incident could happen on such a visit—with journalists documenting every step—one could easily imagine the daily struggle faced by aid workers on the ground." Yeah, their daily struggle is aggravated by a propaganda suggesting they are spies and have a hidden agenda. Also, Sudanese officials in January orchestrated a raid on offices of the United Nations, the African Union Mission in the Sudan, and humanitarian agencies. Twenty staff were assaulted, arrested, and, just to add insult to injury, criminally charged.

To put this in context, the Sudanese capitol of Khartoum is flush with oil revenue in one of the biggest economic booms anywhere. Why isn't the U.N. using more muscle? Word is that as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, China has thwarted attempts. No accident that more than half of Sudan's oil exports go to China, and Beijing is the Sudan's leading arms supplier. Still, China seems like a lame excuse for other countries to feebly stand by and wait till it's over. There's a lot more we could do, far short of military intervention. Just imagine what that 20,000 troop surge in Iraq could do for Darfur. For more from Mother Jones, check out this photo essay.

Humpback Whales Make Longest Mammal Migration

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 4:25 PM PDT

Humpback whales in the Atlantic have been tracked making the longest migration on record. New Scientist reports that seven individual whales swam 5,160 miles between Antarctica and the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. One mother and calf made the trip in 161 days. While some researchers claim that gray whales hold the record for longest mammalian migration—from Mexico to the Arctic, at 4700 miles—no individual gray whale has been documented travelling the full extent of their migratory range, and it's possible that no individual makes the entire migration. Kristin Rasmussen at Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Washington, says the new humpback data are important in light of proposals to hunt humpbacks, including Japan's decision to catch 50 humpbacks each year as part of its [bogus] scientific whaling program. "Whales don't respect political boundaries," she says. "Killing whales in one area could potentially impact their population half way around the world."--Julia Whitty

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Mushrooms Now Grow Longer And Fruit Twice As Often

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 4:01 PM PDT

Mushroom season in Great Britain has more than doubled in length since the 1950s. Nature reports the season has increased from 33 days to 75, with some species fruiting twice a year, in both autumn and spring. This is a clear response to rising temperatures, says Alan Gange of the University of London. Although it's been shown that climate change is making birds nest and flowers bloom earlier, he knows of nothing else that has added a complete extra breeding season to its life cycle. Will fungi come to rule the world? They have before. --Julia Whitty

Cameras that Watch and Comment

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 3:46 PM PDT

camera.jpgMother Jones has made the point that there are quite a few surveillance cameras watching Americans. But Americans have it good compared to Britons: The UK has one surveillance camera for every 14 citizens. Now, the cameras are going to get voice hookups, so they will be able to scold you if you litter or pick your nose. (Like, why are you watching me if you don't want to see me pick my nose?) Human observers will be making the commentary, so perhaps it will also include catcalls. Ay, mamita, I can't wait.

If Bush Could Give the Man who Murdered a Senator's Mom a Recess Appointment, He'd Do It

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 3:22 PM PDT

Democrats don't much care for Sam Fox, who was Bush's nominee to be ambassador to Belgium. Fox was a major contributor to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that hit Kerry way below the belt in the 2004 campaign. Senate Democrats were so outraged by Fox's nomination that Bush ultimately withdrew it. Pundits cooed that Bush was really getting the hang of working with Democrats.

No, he's just a nasty, nasty man. With the Democrats gone for spring vacation, Bush gave Fox—and two others—recess appointments. But, he protested innocently, Fox won't draw a government salary. (A) That may be unconstitutional, and (B) Fox is a multi-millionaire.

Who were the other two recess appointments? Well, it just gets better. Bush named Andrew Biggs, a champion of privatization—another issue on which many believed Bush had conceded defeat—as the deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Bush also named Susan Dudley, to whom all regulation looks like a sharpened silver cross does to a vampire, to lead the Office of Management and Budget—you know, the office that has to sign off on most government regulation. Her appointment promises to be particularly damaging following as it does on the heels of an executive order giving the OMB increased control over such important agencies as the EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The New York Times reached Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Democratic caucus in the House, who managed to say, "Clearly, these are politically provocative acts." I hereby nominate Sarah Feinberg for the grace under fire award.

Bush's Shell Game Continues

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 2:36 PM PDT

bush_talking.jpgTuesday, President Bush almost seemed to be his old swaggering self in a Rose Garden press conference. But it's easy to go on the offensive when the defense has called time-out: Congress is on spring recess. Bush attacked the Democratic leadership for leaving without finishing the Iraq war funding bill before they left. The president said if Congress doesn't step to, he may be "forced to consider cutting back on equipment, equipment repair and quality-of-life initiatives for our Guard and Reserve forces," to ensure funding for "troops on the front lines."

This assessment was absolute balderdash. A stop-gap funding measure has already provided $70 billion for the Iraq war. Congressional Democrats have reminded that Bush's refusal to be more honest about the costs of the war in his own budget has forced them to approve a series of piecemeal spending packages. And last spring, the Republican-led Congress also left for spring recess without finalizing an Iraq spending package—in fact, they didn't do so until the middle of June.

In the same press conference, Bush charged that the $70-billion supplemental spending bill is loaded with Democratic "pork." The president's War on Pork (WOP) began just as the Democrats took power. Nifty, huh? Yesterday, the White House unveiled an online database of all the earmarks in the 2005 fiscal year budget. Well, all the congressional earmarks, which total $19 billion. The White House neglected to include its own pet pigs, which bring the total to $48 billion.