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

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 5:30 PM EDT

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.

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Boys Are on the Decline

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 5:27 PM EDT

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 5:16 PM EDT

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 2:29 PM EDT

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."

Supreme Court Guts Roe: Abortion Rights Groups Weigh In

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 2:25 PM EDT

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 12:58 PM EDT

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!

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What Was Cho Seung-Hui On?

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 4:14 AM EDT

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

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 2:45 AM EDT

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 9:44 PM EDT

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

Chimpanzees Are Like People Too

| Tue Apr. 17, 2007 9:24 PM EDT

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."