Mojo - April 2007

Hour 150 of the Stanford Hunger Strike - Now With Video

| Thu Apr. 19, 2007 10:37 AM EDT

Stanford students fasting for a real living wage for workers on their campus have been providing us with regular updates on their progress -- both the progress of their health and the progress of their negotiations with the university administration. You can find all of that here.

As the students try to survive day six without food, we've added video. You can see one such video below, visit their collection on YouTube, or visit the regularly updated page linked to above.

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Gonzales to Testify Today on U.S. Attorney Firings

| Thu Apr. 19, 2007 10:07 AM EDT

Alberto Gonzales will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, where he can expect harsh questions from Chuck Schumer and others about the U.S. Attorney firings. Even though Gonzales is expected to be extremely apologetic, he will continue to insist, "I know that I did not, and would not, ask for a resignation of any individual in order to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain. I also have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason." The quote is from an advance copy of the prepared text of his opening statement.

Frankly, I don't know what administration gains from dragging America through this any longer. Gonzales certainly isn't a superstar worth paying a heavy price to save, and have no doubt about it, the administration pays a heavy price by prolonging the USA scandal and the speculation about whether or not Gonzales will resign. In keeping the scandal alive, they are giving Democrats an open-ended opportunity to dig for more dirt, and they are crippling their own ability to make law enforcement policy. Gonzales has been prepping for this testimony for days, if not weeks -- he certainly isn't getting anything done in respect to his real duties as AG. That's obviously not in America's interest. I'm wondering how it's in the Administration's.

Update: The American Prospect has 14 questions the Senate Judiciary Committee should ask Gonzo. Read them in you need to bring the scandal into focus.

Mental Health Care Funding May Finally Get its Due, Probably Not

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 9:53 PM EDT

That Cho Seung-Hui was on medication and was entered for a time in two mental facilities is telling, as it reveals what most people thought of the unknown gunman, that he was mentally unstable. That there were several authority figures who were alerted to this fact before the shootings, the school counselor, the campus police, the Blacksburg police, is of interest but what should they have done exactly? The school could have expelled him, I guess, but for writing a play with violent content? For being anti-social? The stalking thing? Probation maybe, but there was no way to lock the guy up, the woman called him "annoying," not a sociopath.

One problem this exposes is that we aren't a prevention-oriented society. We put people on meds rather than into counseling. And we address problems after they manifest, not before. Which is why we'll soon see Bush changing his commitment to school violence prevention funding, which he recently proposed cutting by $17.3 million.

Mental health always gets short shrift in funding circles because it is seen as relatively invisible in terms of illness. The mental health of young people, and I'll say this again, of the troops returning from Iraq, is something we can ignore for only so long. Incidents like this jolt us into reality. What happened in that classroom building is every day in Baghdad for thousands of young men and women, some of whom came from unstable backgrounds to begin with.

And at some point we are going to have to get back to the everyday reality of mental illness and finding ways to address what we all realize now is deadly serious. And we're also going to have to realize that we're still at war, a war that this month alone has meant the deaths of 63 U.S. soldiers, and that we just can't afford to stray and linger on any one rampage for too long.

Cho's Dark Manifesto Points to Lessons Not Learned

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 8:46 PM EDT

cho_rambo.gif

So maybe you're feeling news-blitzed about the Va. Tech rampage. I was feeling that way until about 10 minutes ago, when I stepped out to get some coffee. On the way, I saw the huge headline on the local paper: "Nation Asks Why." When I returned, there was breaking news that Cho had sent a "multimedia manifesto" to NBC news and that it was "disturbing" and "incoherent": more evidence that Cho was mentally ill.

Really it's a simple math equation. Mental illness exists. Specifically, schizophrenia (which despite April's earlier post is almost certainly what Cho suffered from) occurs in about 1 percent of the population. Untreated schizophrenia almost always leads to violent behavior, and mental health care in this country is abysmal and difficult to come by—and yet Bush is still cutting funding for it. You know what's easy to come by? Guns. If you don't have a record, just pop in to a gun store and pick one—or two, or three—up. There's no legal limit on how many rounds each of them can fire. If you do have a record, just go to a gun show and voilà. As long as guns are easier to get than mental health care, we will continue to have tragedies like this.

The other thing that the mystified question "Why?" overlooks is that mental illness can look kind of banal from the outside. Cho was aloof, quiet. The warning signs were not especially dramatic. He inappropriately contacted two female students. He wrote violent things in creative writing class. But it wasn't until his private thoughts were submitted to NBC and made horrifyingly real to the students of Virginia Tech that we could see how devastating mental illness is. Maybe the university could have done more, but they did force him into a mental health facility at one point and he still slipped through the cracks. You can't detain every deranged person. But you can keep them from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. And the Rambo-like photos of himself Cho sent NBC also make it pretty clear that glorifying violence doesn't help either. Americans talked a lot about that after Colombine and then did exactly nothing.

Why Don't We Talk about Gun Control Anymore?

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 5:48 PM EDT

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 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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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!