Blogs

No Domestic Partner Benefits For State Employeees In Minnesota

| Tue May 8, 2007 11:19 PM EDT

After Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty made it clear that he would veto any bill giving domestic partnership benefits to several state employees, the Minnesota legislator dropped the matter last week. Members of the House and Senate eliminated language in a major spending bill that would have given such benefits to domestic partners, including gay partners.

The original language provided benefits for gay couples only, but was expanded to cover other domestic partners, including siblings. The language was changed because of Pawlenty's threat to veto any bill that included giving benefits to same-sex partners of state employees. A spokesman for the governor said: "we really haven't had a chance to review" the new language, but added that "generally, the state government finance bill has a lot of question marks."

Extending insurance coverage to non-married partners had the backing of the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Association of Small Cities.

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Spider-Man 3 Proves Crappy Movies Make Buttloads

| Tue May 8, 2007 6:56 PM EDT

spiderman3_rt.jpgThis weekend, Spider-Man 3 had the highest grossing weekend ever. This after last week's reviews promised "The angst-filled Spider-Man 3 is all plot-holes and Band-Aids," describing the movie as "overlong, visually incoherent, mean-spirited and often just plain awful," "[a]esthetically and conceptually wrung out, fizzled rather than fizzy," "ungainly, cumbersome" and inspired by no more than the bottom line. Do Americans not even read movie reviews, or is their taste in movies single-mindedly focused on special effects rather than plot, acting, or even—gasp—meaning?

Weird Weather Watch

| Tue May 8, 2007 6:07 PM EDT

MoJo is tracking the effects of changed weather patterns on towns and wildlife. Read about the Southern California spring with no flowers or berries—but with serious economic impacts—on The Blue Marble.

Weird Weather Watch: Bone Dry Spring Means No Flowers or Berries

| Tue May 8, 2007 6:02 PM EDT

I've blogged in the past about the severe drought in Southern California, which has kicked fire season off early. It's also putting a serious damper on spring flora and fauna activity. The L.A. Times reports:

Seasonal ponds are cracked dry, leaving no haven for some frog eggs or fairy shrimp to hatch. Some flower-dependent butterflies are staying dormant for another season. Plants aren't bearing berries; some oak trees aren't sprouting acorns. Bees are behaving strangely.

Ranchers are sending a stronger signal to the economically-minded: The grass is too dry for cattle to graze, and ranchers are selling cows cheap or moving them out of state.

Not only are bees "behaving strangely"—their numbers are way down around the globe—but they have no flowers to pollinate, and no pollination means no honey. So it's official: California is not the land of milk or honey.

D.C.'s Gun Ban Could Be Headed to the Supreme Court, Gun Laws Beware

| Tue May 8, 2007 4:30 PM EDT

Last month, I interviewed Robert Levy, the Cato Institute senior fellow and constitutional lawyer, who successfully used a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment to overturn the D.C. gun ban in March. When the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Levy's case, Parker v. District of Columbia, it dissolved the strictest gun regulations on the books in any state and marked the first time this interpretation of the Second Amendment has been used to successfully overturn a state's gun law. When Levy and I spoke about his victory, he mentioned the likelihood that Parker would go before the Supreme Court. Today, that likelihood just got greater. The D.C. federal appeals court denied D.C.'s request for a second ruling before the entire court. (Originally, the case was heard before a three-judge panel.) So, Levy is likely off to the Supreme Court. Gun laws beware! If Parker is upheld in the Supreme Court, the ruling will jeopardize state gun laws across the nation, making them vulnerable to more legal challenges.

Hospitals Fleece the Uninsured

| Tue May 8, 2007 3:36 PM EDT

Going without health insurance really wouldn't be so bad if independent patients could pay the same per procedure as insurance companies do. But U.S. hospitals charge patients without health insurance an average of 2.5 times more for services than fees paid by health insurers, and 3 times more than Medicare does. According to a new study, that gap has more than doubled in two decades. It effectively excludes the uninsured from the system. "Fifty years ago, the poor and uninsured were often charged the lowest prices for medical services," according to one author of the study, Gerard F. Anderson, director of the Center for Hospital Finance and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. "The markups on care for those who can least afford it have got to end."

In other bad news, the Senate yesterday killed a move to allow patients to buy prescription drugs from abroad at a significant savings. They killed it by adding an amendment to require U.S. officials to certify the safety and effectiveness of each drug first, which would not be funded or feasible. To check for your own senator's vote, here's the roll call. A yes vote on the amendment meant they opposed drug imports. Obama, Brownback, and McCain didn't vote. Clinton voted no. Hagel, Kerry, and Kennedy voted yes to the amendment.

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Premature Births Linked to Pesticides

| Tue May 8, 2007 3:21 PM EDT

Premature births vary with the season, but there's nothing natural about it. Preterm birth rates peak when pesticides and nitrates measurements in surface water are highest, from April through July, and bottom out when nitrates and pesticides were lowest, in August and September, a new study found. A previous finding was that birth defects peak from April through July, the same months as pesticides and nitrates reach their maximum concentrations in surface water. The rate of premature birth in the United States has risen almost a third since 1981. Here's more on the effect of endocrine disruption in child development.

NY Times Hears the Call on Postal Rate Increases

| Tue May 8, 2007 2:01 PM EDT

If you aren't following the story of USPS's postal rate increase that unfairly targets small, independent magazines, read up!

Now that the New York Times is on board, the fight is going mainstream!

Six Arrested in New Jersey for Worst Plot Ever

| Tue May 8, 2007 12:29 PM EDT

If you've scanned the news today, you've probably seen the story about the six men who were arrested before they could execute a plan to attack New Jersey's Fort Dix Army base and "kill as many soldiers as possible."

According to a federal spokesman, four of the men were born in the former Yugoslavia, one was born in Turkey and one was born in Jordan. A report on this that I saw earlier had a quote from a federal official calling their plot a potential act of terrorism, but that quote has been removed -- this is where definitions get murky -- and currently there is no evidence that a foreign terrorist organization was involved.

I will say this: Worst. Plan. Ever. Not to make light of a plot to kill American servicemen (or anybody, really), but is there a worse place for six random dudes to attack than a United States Army base? Why not rob the police station while you're at it? They couldn't think of something that might have a higher chance of success and lower than a 100% chance of death?

I guess that's the point -- martyrdom -- but seriously, folks.

One in Eight Iraqi Children Dies Before Turning Five Years Old

| Tue May 8, 2007 10:53 AM EDT

Incredibly depressing news about Iraq: "One in eight Iraqi children died of disease or violence before reaching their fifth birthday in 2005." I know this sounds simple-minded but my God, what an unbelievable horrible place to be a child, or maybe even worse, be a parent.

So yeah, the child mortality rate in Iraq has soared in recent years, and the war-torn country now ranks last in Save the Children's "child survival rankings." Ranking first is Iceland. The United States didn't do so well:

The U.S. placed 26th, tied with Croatia, Estonia and Poland. Nearly seven children die for every 1,000 live births in the United States. That was more than double the rate in Iceland, and 75 percent higher than rates in the Czech Republic, Finland, Japan and Slovenia.

Health care reform, anyone?