Today’s Papers,Gun Laws,Gun Control?,Virginia Tech Tragedy,Imus Controversy

The Imus Sanction

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THE LOW POST The Imus Sanction

In a media storm, everyone ducks for the cover of easy moral outrage

MATT TAIBBI

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Ultimately, the fact that rappers are now being held accountable for something Imus said shows the bias many people have against hip-hop culture. Hip-hop is often the scapegoat of everything gone wrong in America, but hip-hop didn’t slander the Rutgers women’s basketball team, Don Imus did, so let’s stay on point here…The point is, hip-hop didn’t invent cursing, slurs, bad language, sexism or misogyny, though hip-hop like so many other fictional forms of the culture uses this type of language as a form of expression, however problematic it might be. This expression represents the way people in the streets talk. It might not be pretty or politically correct, but it is a unique form of fictional expression that emerges from the minds and mouths of young black men.

— Dr. Todd Boyd, professor of critical studies at USC, writing for ESPN.com

The most annoying thing about the Don Imus fiasco? The instant it blew up into an absurdly overdone national controversy, we all knew exactly how everyone was going to play it — or overplay it, as it were.

We all knew that the angry-white-guy columnists of the Townhall.com ilk were going to turn even the previously-hated liberal Imus into a martyr of the political correctness age ("Imus, Political Correctness and the end of America" was Douglas McKinnon’s not-at-all-hysterical offering). We knew Al Sharpton would show up, business card in hand, at the back of the ambulance, offering his services. We knew campus feminists would surface en masse to paint Imus as a hatemongering symbol of the old-boy white male power structure that secretly still insists on its power and privilege in American society, his show a daily vulgar wink to fellow members of the Matrix. And we knew — or at least I knew, since I’ve personally been through a couple of these media ass-whippings before — that virtually every editorial denouncing Imus would include a line in there that would read something along the lines of, "And the worst thing is, his so-called ‘jokes’ aren’t even that funny."

Canny observers of the cultural issues underlying the Imus controversy could have also made a few other predictions. The first is that the angry-white-guy crowd would try to turn the tables on Imus’ accusers and point the finger at the hip-hop culture that introduced old white liberals like Imus to words like "nappy-headed hos" in the first place. The second is that black intellectuals like the above-quoted Dr. Todd Boyd of USC would use their advanced degrees to find a way to split the necessary rhetorical hairs to repel these attacks, dismissing Imus as a worthless bigot on the one hand while upholding rap and hip-hop as a "unique form of fictional expression" deserving of the broad indulgence we grant to true art forms.

They’re all full of shit, all of them. With very few exceptions almost everyone who jumped onto the Don Imus pigpile was a shameless opportunist whose mind was made up years before this incident even happened, and used the occasion of a radio jock stepping in shit to robotically jerk off his constituency for a cheap buck.

First of all, let’s just get this out of the way: The idea that anyone in the media world gives a shit about the dignity of women, black or white, is a ridiculous joke. America’s TV networks have spent the last forty years falling over each other trying to find better and more efficient ways to sell tits to the 18-to-35 demographic. They make hour-long prime-time reality dramas these days about shopping-obsessed sluts hitting each other with pocketbooks, for Christ’s sake. Paris Hilton — dumb, rich — gets her own prime-time show. MTV, the teenie mags, the pop music industry, they’re basically all an endless parade of skinny, half-naked brainless women selling makeup and jeans to neurotic, self-hating, weight-obsessed little girls.

The idea that NBC — the company that proudly produced 241 episodes of Baywatch, a show whose two main characters for nearly a decade were Pamela Anderson’s tits — was "offended" by the use of the word "ho" is beyond preposterous. Until this incident, I would have wagered very good money that "ho" would be in the title of at least one NBC-produced reality pilot within the next ten years. You can’t see that? Trivia-battling sluts in Ho-llywod Squares? An irony-for-irony’s-sake callgirl-improvement show called Pimp My Ho? Would you bet real money that the Paris-and-Nicole vehicle The Simple Life wasn’t originally called Whore Acres at some stage of the pre-production process? I sure as hell wouldn’t. Programming decisions of the The Bachelor ilk aren’t spontaneous mid-show farts by an aging drug-battered brain like the Imus deal — they’re wide-awake decisions, forged in the crucible of number-crunching corporate reflection, to use reactionary images of cheap brainless skanks to sell Fritos and pickup trucks.

The race question is even more ridiculous. Dr. Todd Boyd notwithstanding, there’s just no way to talk about the Imus incident without talking about hip-hop and rap culture. Let me just say right up-front that I listen to a lot of rap music. I’m one of those revolting well-off suburban white kids who grew up on PE and NWA and privately mourns the fact that he looks like an idiot in a Starter jersey. I love rap music, always have. But as an adult white male I also know a minstrel show when I see it, and that’s what rap has turned into.

Satan himself couldn’t have designed a more effective vehicle for marginalizing black culture than modern hip-hop. In the early days rap music was scary social commentary; it was raw and real and it vividly described a violent street culture that white people didn’t know about and didn’t want to know about. But very quickly rap turned into a multibillion-dollar industry in which the same corporate behemoths who sold us crap like Garth Brooks and boy bands and Britney Spears made massive profits selling a stylized, romanticized version of black misery to white kids in the suburbs.

That was bad enough, but even worse was the way black politicians and black intellectuals so easily bought into the idea that these endless video images of gun-toting, ho-slapping black men with fat wallets, rock-hard tattooed abs and fully-accessorized rides were positive living symbols of "black empowerment" and "black manhood." Like Tupac was the next Malcolm or something.

Yeah, right. Seriously, how dumb do you have to be to not see through this shit? Here you’ve got the modern-day version of The Man signing big checks to back your record deals and cheering along as all the artistic talent from the black community starts walking around in public wearing one-word stage names like strippers, writing song lyrics featuring preschool-level spelling and primping endlessly for the cameras with gold teeth and swimming pools and pimped-out cars — all of them absurd caricatures of the capitalist wealth fantasy. How exactly is any of that that different from the minstrel show, the conk and the zoot suit? The black man who can dance and sing, but can’t control his urges, can’t resist pussy and just can’t get enough of what Whitey is selling, can’t stop preening in his Caddy…that’s innovative? That’s empowering?

Bullshit. Rap was real once, but once it became an industry it turned into the same con white people have been playing ever since they set foot in this country. It’s a bunch of shiny trinkets for the isle of Manhattan. Here’s your Hummer and your bitches, knock yourself out. You need us, we’ll be buying the African grain market. Oh, and, thanks for the cap, my kid loves it, he wears it sideways just like you…No matter how catchy the music is, on a deeper level, that’s what big-money rap acts amount to now. And the longer the black community eats it up, the more time Whitey is going to have to laugh all the way to the bank, like he always has.

Pop Quiz: Where did the practice of calling all black women, and especially black women who are not actual prostitutes, hos? I seem to remember a line from Boyz n the Hood where some girl complains to Ice Cube about his habit of calling all women bitches. "Oh, I’m sorry, ho!" is the answer. Laughs all around. When the Imus thing hit, we heard Snoop Dogg explain that the difference between rappers using the word "ho" and Don Imus using it is that unlike "old-ass white men" like Imus, rappers are "not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We’re talking about hos that’s in the ‘hood that ain’t doing shit." Oh, I get it, Snoop — you were satirizing the hos and bitches. You obviously checked the crowd to make sure nobody had a degree when you did your "So all the niggaz and the bitches, raise your muthafuckin hands in the air!" act. And it was satire when Ludacris did his thing: "but hos dont feel so sad and blue/cuz most of us niggaz is hos too."

People say that Don Imus isn’t funny, but let’s face it, there is a joke in all of this. It’s a joke on the black community. And the joke is this: white people don’t even have to call black people niggers and bitches and whores anymore. They do it for us. From Whitey’s point of view that’s a hell of a punchline. The mistake Imus made was saying it out loud.

As for the people who say there’s no connection between hip-hop and what Imus said, they’re out of their minds. Without Ludacris and 50 Cent and "We Luv Deez Hoez," Don Imus doesn’t even know what a ho is. The unspoken truth about the Imus story is that there is no difference at all between what Imus does and what Snoop Dogg does. They both get paid to make ethnic slurs. In this case they both use the same one, one stealing from the other. The only difference is that Snoop doesn’t know the joke is on him, too.

That is a dark and ugly truth and I suspect that its very ugliness is what so many people were hiding from when they pretended to be "outraged" by Don Imus. Because everyone knows that the issue with Don Imus isn’t what he said, but who said it and in what context.

We’ve got a TV entertainment industry that ritualistically demeans women, a recording industry that makes billions cartoonizing black culture and a radio and film comedy industry that lives almost exclusively off lowbrow racial stereotyping. Guys like Carlos Mencia even use the same jokes over and over, changing words here and there to fit the different stereotypes. (Mencia did "That’s like going to Compton and finding the only Hispanic teenage girl who isn’t pregnant" and he also did "That’s like going to a NASCAR event and finding the only white girl who doesn’t have a black eye.") Every comic in America does this shit. It’s gone so far that we even make jokes about making jokes about ethnic groups (Sarah Silverman’s song about "I love you more than Asian people are good at math" comes to mind). And we get critics to bail out these comics by saying things like "He/she mocks bigotry and stereotypes by ironically embracing them" (the Voice‘s Michael Musto has used that one before) but deep down inside we all know that’s bullshit. I dare anyone to watch tape of Richard Pryor doing his impression of a stuttering Chinese restaurant owner and then tell me with a straight face that Pryor is "mocking Asian stereotypes by ironically embracing them."

Of course he isn’t. He’s laughing at stuttering Chinese people. And the way Richard Pryor does it, it’s funny. If Pryor were still alive and coherent today we’d put him on HBO, where he’d do huge ratings with the very same people who are pretending now to be appalled by Don Imus. Because we love our black jokes, we love our Jew jokes, we love our redneck jokes and we love our misogyny — we just don’t want it all on the wrong network in the wrong time-slot, coming from a white guy, in whose mouth it might very well sound like the bigot in all of us. And when it does pop up in the wrong place, coming from the wrong person, we’ve got to pull the "I’m shocked, shocked" act and pretend it’s a criminal aberration. Because that’s much easier than facing the truth about what we just heard.

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Posted Apr 18, 2007 11:44 AM

 
Today’s Papers

Is This the End?
By Daniel Politi
Posted Friday, April 20, 2007, at 5:45 A.M. E.T.

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with the harsh criticism Attorney General Alberto Gonzales endured yesterday from senators of both parties as he tried to, once again, explain the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year. By all accounts, he wasn’t successful ("Gonzales lost more ground," says the WSJ). Only one GOP lawmaker came to the attorney general’s defense and one Republican senator went as far as to directly call for his resignation. In a daylong appearance before the Senate judiciary committee, Gonzales apologized for the way the firings were handled, but insisted that, ultimately, firing the U.S. attorneys was the right decision.

USA Today leads with a look at the many walk-in clinics run by the Department of Veterans Affairs that are lacking staff. While the number of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan that visit these clinics has doubled since 2004,the staff has increased by less than 10 percent. The Washington Post off-leads Gonzales but leads with news that the House of Representatives passed a bill that would give Washington, D.C., its first voting seat in Congress. But the paper notes up high that the District’s victory might be short-lived because there don’t appear to be enough votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster and President Bush has threatened to veto the bill.

Gonzales said he didn’t know why two of the U.S. attorneys were fired until after the fact and admitted that he never looked at any of the performance reviews before the prosecutors were dismissed. Senators were visibly angry with Gonzales’ changing explanations and his claim that he wasn’t closely involved with the process. Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick succinctly summarizes Gonzales’ position on the firings: "The process was a total, ad-hoc wreck. The decisions were rock solid." The senators seemed to be most frustrated with Gonzales’ repeated use of the phrase "I don’t recall," words he uttered more than 50 times yesterday. As exasperated as the senators might have been, all the papers remind readers that only the president has the power to fire the attorney general, and yesterday the White House expressed its support for Gonzales. The hearing resulted in Slate‘s Gonzo-Meter increasing the chances of Gonzales leaving to 95 percent—"If he persuaded even a single soul of his great competence, we’ll eat our meter."

The NYT fronts word that as many as eight of Cho Seung-Hui’s teachers at Virginia Tech had created what one described as a "task force" in the last 18 months to try to figure out what to do about the student who would eventually go on to kill 32 people. Having read Cho’s writings, the professors and students in the English department "appear to have worked harder than anyone to intervene in his life." Members of this "task force" tried twice to ask for help from university officials, but they never got anywhere. The paper also reveals that one of the students who was killed had a connection to Cho before the massacre. Several students said Ross Alameddine, a 20-year-old English major, had tried to talk to Cho on several occasions.

The LAT fronts, and everyone mentions, the way in which NBC was forced to go on the defensive yesterday as criticism increased over the network’s decision to air some of the photographs and videos mailed in by Cho. Many warned that airing the footage could encourage copycats, while some, including members of the Virginia Tech community, criticized NBC for giving a platform to a man who had caused so much pain. Despite the protests, it should come as no surprise that NBC’s newscast won the ratings war on the night the images were released. Yesterday, NBC and the other networks announced they would severely limit their use of the images. Meanwhile, the NYT reports that some of the network’s competitors criticized the way the images were distributed—they came with a list of rules and a requirement that NBC News be credited. Slate‘s Jack Shafer says, "The real story … is the odd restraint NBC News showed" when it chose not to air several of the photographs and videos Cho sent.

The Post fronts the announcement by Virginia Tech that students will have flexibility in how they choose to end the few remaining weeks of the semester. Returning to class won’t be mandatory and students can decide to get credit with the grades they earned before the shootings.

The LAT fronts word that the U.S. military is building a 3-mile-long wall in Baghdad to separate the largely Sunni district of Adhamiya from the surrounding Shiite neighborhoods. This would mark the first time that a barrier is being constructed based on sectarian lines. The construction, which was first reported yesterday by Stars and Stripes, has succeeded in uniting Shiites and Sunnis against the wall. Many worry that this could be the beginning of a plan to carve up Iraq’s capital into sectarian areas.

It’s not Hollywood, but it’ll have to do. … Sanjaya Malakar may have been booted from American Idol but that doesn’t mean his fun is over. On Saturday, Sanjaya will be able to mingle with all the hot-for-D.C. personalities at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, reports the WP‘s Reliable Source. The 17-year-old with a weak voice (but great hair) who threatened to bring down the most powerful franchise on television will be attending the festivities as a guest of People.

Virginia Tech Tragedy

Since Monday afternoon I have been trying to fathom what has occured in Virginia. I have no understanding of how something like this could have happened, and as the father of young children it is something horrible and impossible to imagine how I would feel if this were to happen to my son or daughter.

It seems somehow inadequate to say that I will pray for the victims and their families, because I honestly do not know how my prayers will help to lessen the never ending pain of loosing a child in such a violent, unexpected and unjust way.

All I keep wondering is WHY?

Why did this happen, why do people go crazy and become violent, why did not someone follow up on this individual, and why did not the Campus Police act with more deliberate means after the first two victims were murdered.

I know that hindsight conveniently makes decisions seem faulty, but if there is a person who cold bloodedly kills two people on a college campus, and I do not know his exact whereabouts or movements, then it would seem that I might be taking steps to alert the surrounding community.

This is by no means to criticize the Virginia Tech Police, but I cannot understand what they must have been thinking, even if they did believe they had a suspect in their viewfinder. It would somehow seem appropriate to make better safe than sorry. I know as a parent I would surely be asking these questions if my son or daughter were injured or, God Forbid, murdered in such tragic circumstances.

I am saddened by all of this. I hope and pray that we somehow find a way to get the political concensus necessary to get a handle on this gun problem once and for all. It is absurd at a point in time when we have the technology to manage infinite data bases of all kinds so as to construct impossibly complex computer generated strategies employed for commercial benefit, meanwhile we cannot somehow manage to identify someone who has been flagged by our mental health and law enforcement agencies before they purchase weapons that can be used almost exclusively for death and destruction.

Whoever thinks that handguns being purchased and stockpiled with ease is somehow integral to our freedom under the Constitution, would they please explain to me where this madness will end. How many more children will have to die so as to uphold this "right to bear arms" obsession.?

This has been a very sad, unexplainable, disturbing, painful, overwhelmingly tragic week in the history of our nation.

I am so sorry for all of the people who have been unfairly hurt by this unbelievable tragedy.

With Love, Thoughts, and Prayers,

Michael P. Whelan

 
How Sorry Are We?

For Blacksburg, not enough.
By Timothy Noah
Posted Wednesday, April 18, 2007, at 5:57 P.M. E.T.

A news article in the April 18 Wall Street Journal states that one reason the Blacksburg killings are prompting few cries for gun control is that

both pistols recovered in the Virginia Tech shootings—a Glock 9 mm and a Walther P22—were purchased legally, according to a gun trace by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In the past, opponents of gun control have made the precise opposite argument. Appearing on CNBC’s Rivera Live after Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris slaughtered 12 fellow students and one teacher at Columbine High School, Ann Coulter pooh-poohed Geraldo Rivera’s call for beefed-up background checks by saying, "What difference would that have made? They … purchased the guns illegally."

A psychopathic mass-murderer buys a gun legally. That’s an argument against gun control. A psychopathic mass-murderer buys a gun illegally. That’s an argument against gun control, too. Everything is an argument against gun control.

The political reality is that, for the various reasons outlined by Slate editor Jacob Weisberg, gun control is a dead letter, even though polls consistently show that a majority of American voters support it. (Blame the anti-majoritarian Senate and Electoral College. A plurality of American voters chose Al Gore to be their president in 2000, but that didn’t happen, either.) If the United States wanted to restrict gun ownership badly enough, we’d have significant restrictions on firearms, and we certainly wouldn’t allow the weak restrictions already on the books to expire. Possibly we’d have a nationwide ban on all handgun ownership, which is what I favor (carving out an exception for anyone with a valid occupational reason to pack heat). I don’t kid myself that a handgun ban will become law in the foreseeable future. Indeed, a local handgun ban in the District of Columbia was recently struck down by the D.C. Court of Appeals; it remains in force while the city government seeks a review by the full D.C. Circuit. So, even if Congress were to legislate significant restrictions on gun ownership, there’s a decent chance the courts would rule them unconstitutional. That’s the political state of play, and if I were advising a Democratic presidential candidate, I would tell him or her to steer clear of the issue. This country, speaking through its government, does not favor gun control.

The massacre at Virginia Tech is a logical consequence of that reality. Are we sorry that 32 people, most of them no older than 22, were killed? Of course. But we aren’t so sorry that we intend to do anything to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. We value the lives of Mary Read, Ryan Clark, Leslie Sherman, and all the rest, but we value more their killer Cho Seung Hui‘s untrammeled right to purchase not only a Glock 19 and a Walther P22, but also the ammunition clips that, according to the April 18 Washington Post, would have been impossible to obtain legally had Congress not allowed President Clinton’s assault-weapon ban to expire three years ago. "If Democratic leaders cannot muster the votes to reinstate the full assault weapons ban," report Jonathan Weisman and Jeffrey Birnbaum in the April 18 Washington Post, "some suggested that at least the clip-capacity portion could be passed." That would do roughly as much good as banning all gun sales to guys named "Cho." Washington’s lack of interest in gun control is so pronounced that the city scarcely took notice when a United States senator (coincidentally, from Virginia) hinted publicly that he does not obey the District’s handgun ban when he drives in from Virginia.

There are people in this country today who, one day in the future, will be gunned down by psychopaths like Cho Seung-Hui. Future presidents will be assassinated, if the past is any guide, and probably the odd pop star, too. We could spare these lives—some of them, at least—by making it difficult or impossible to acquire a handgun in the United States. But we choose not to. Tough luck, whoever you are.Timothy Noah is a senior writer at Slate.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The gun law that would make a real difference.

After Blacksburg
By John T. Casteen IV
Posted Tuesday, April 17, 2007, at 5:42 P.M. E.T

Yesterday’s rampage at Virginia Tech is pure tragedy: Families and friends are grieving, the university and Blacksburg need to make themselves whole again, and we all share something of the shock and loss caused by a horrific act of violence. With few of the facts resolved, and as survivors struggle to recuperate and victims are laid to rest, it’s inappropriate to frame the tragedy in political terms. Yet as early as Monday afternoon, both gun-rights and gun-control advocates sought to use the killings to their advantage. The timing makes that an obscene gesture. Still, Monday’s events will move gun policy near the front of the domestic political agenda for the upcoming election cycle.

The most sweeping and controversial bill currently before Congress, however, proves only that federal lawmakers engage in gun policy to further their self-interest, not to solve problems. The bill, HR 1022, would renew and strengthen the assault-weapons ban, which Congress allowed to expire in September 2004. Like its predecessor, HR 1022 is a great political tool for both sides, but would have very little practical effect. Assault weapons may be photogenic, but they’re used in only a small fraction of violent crimes. (The Virginia Tech shooter apparently used two handguns, which neither ban would cover.) Furthermore, loopholes in the assault weapons ban allowed for open and legal sale of all banned guns and paraphernalia. These bans distract us from the smarter legal steps we should be taking.

The new bill’s champions argue that it’s necessary to prevent gun crime, and its opponents counter that it will ban millions of legitimate sporting weapons. Both claims are as empty as they are shrill. The bill will likely have almost no measurable effect on gun violence. The major gun-control groups know as much, which is why they haven’t gotten behind it. And the proposed law is written specifically to exclude the semiautomatic rifles and shotguns Americans own for hunting, target-shooting, and self-defense. Both sides assume their constituents won’t look up crime statistics or the text of the bill, and so will accept the hyped-up claims of politicians rather than assessing the policy more thoroughly.

HR 1022, which stands almost no chance of passage, is a fund-raising bill, a marketing tool, designed to exploit a wedge issue for the benefit of politicians who need to raise money for the next election. It’s designed to get Congress off the hook for debating laws that would show national leadership and make a real difference in restricting violent peoples’ access to guns.

The law we need doesn’t address a narrow class of guns, and it relies on the principles of a law we already have: the Brady Law. Brady mandates a federal background check before the sale of a gun by any seller who holds a federal firearms license. It applies to Internet gun deals, gun-shop purchases, and sales by FFL sellers at gun shows. It does not apply, however, to the estimated 40 percent of gun transfers that take place between individuals: non-FFL sellers at those same gun shows, and person-to-person sales made through personal contacts or Internet and print classified ads. That’s a far larger volume of guns and gun sales than HR 1022 would affect. As our law stands now, anyone may sell a gun to anyone else; the FFL is required only of those who do so as a commercial venture. Sellers without an FFL may not buy and sell new guns for retail, but may trade in used guns—without background checks—to their heart’s content. The bill we need would address that large loophole by requiring that every transfer of ownership be preceded by a Brady background check.

Background checks aren’t perfect, of course. They can’t absolutely predict future behavior; the Blacksburg killer may well have passed one, for example. No gun law, however, can claim to prevent future acts of violence. The universal check would be valuable because it would restrict access by those who go to private sellers knowing they’d fail the check at a gun shop. The checks don’t keep people with clean records from becoming violent. But they keep those with criminal backgrounds from evading the check system we have in place now.

Despite the advantages, however, Congress isn’t talking about closing the background-check loopholes because such a step requires an uncomfortable compromise on the part of advocacy groups and politicians on both sides. Gun-control advocates know that a universal background check would represent a financial windfall for FFL dealers. Those dealers would perform the checks and so reap the benefit of higher ancillary sales of ammunition, holsters, and orange hats—the merchandise on which they collect high profit margins. Person-to-person sales would continue exactly as they do now, except that the transaction would involve a trip to the local gun shop and the Brady check’s nominal fee—sort of like the paperwork involved in selling a car. For the most part, gun-control advocates have not pushed for a universal background check; the exception is the Brady Campaign, which admirably has adopted the check as part of its legislative agenda. Gun-rights groups oppose such a measure because they contend, quixotically, that it would further erode their constitutional prerogatives.

While the Blacksburg tragedy reminds us that we cannot know for certain who will or will not turn a gun to violent ends, the universal background check could guarantee that no one with a criminal record could legally buy a gun in this country. That knowledge can’t assuage the pain caused by yesterday’s murders, or by monstrous acts of violence committed with guns every day. But as we resume the national debate over weapons, violence, safety, and freedom, let us demand of Congress meaningful change rather than placeholders and platitudes.John T. Casteen IV serves on the editorial staff of the Virginia Quarterly Review.

 

Today’s Papers

The Court’s First Time
By Daniel Politi
Posted Thursday, April 19, 2007, at 5:59 A.M. E.T.

Everybody leads with yesterday’s Supreme Court decision that upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act passed by Congress in 2003. The 5-4 vote marked the first time the court has upheld a ban on a specific abortion procedure. It was also the first time an abortion law was upheld that did not include an exception for a pregnant woman’s health, although it does allow the procedure to save her life. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the majority and said Congress has the right "to show its profound respect for the life within the woman." Seven years ago, the court struck down a similar Nebraska law with a 5-4 vote, in which Justice Sandra Day O’Connor sided with the majority. This time around, her replacement, Justice Samuel Alito, voted to uphold the ban.

The New York Times notes up high that the decision means doctors who perform the banned procedure could face "criminal prosecution, fines, and up to two years in prison." USA Today makes clear "the decision is unlikely to reduce abortions." That’s because the abortion method that was banned, which involves partly delivering the fetus, is not the only way to perform a late-term abortion. But, as the Los Angeles Times notes in the second sentence, the real significance is that the "decision clears the way for states to pass new laws designed to discourage women from having abortions." The Washington Post quotes the president of the Christian Coalition of America predicting, "It is just a matter of time before the infamous Roe v. Wade … will also be struck down by the court." The Wall Street Journal notes that some see the decision as the first step "in chipping away at the landmark 1973 decision rather than attacking it head on," a strategy Alito proposed while he was an aide to Ronald Reagan.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the decision was a clear attempt to remove "a right declared again and again by this court." Ginsburg also took aim at Kennedy’s insistence that the ban is good for women because it would prevent them from regretting their decision to have a procedure they might not fully understand. Instead of giving women more information, "the court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice," Ginsburg wrote. Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick characterizes the decision as "a strange reworking of Taming of the Shrew, with Kennedy playing an all-knowing Baptista to a nation of fickle Biancas."

Everybody fronts the latest in the Virginia Tech massacre, which took an even more chilling turn yesterday when NBC News received a package from the gunman containing videos, photographs, and writings. The package was sent from Blacksburg at 9:01 a.m. Monday, which means there could be an answer to what Cho Seung-Hui did in between the first and second round of shootings. If more proof was needed that Cho was mentally disturbed, the package provided it, as he ranted, often nonsensically, against the rich and compared himself to the Columbine killers and Jesus. Everybody notes it appears that Cho began working on the package at least six days before the shootings. Everybody fronts the photograph that shows Cho aiming two handguns at the camera.

Meanwhile, another day brought even more evidence that Cho’s mental-health problems were not a secret to many on campus. After two female students complained that Cho was bothering them, authorities questioned him and tried to have him committed to a psychiatric hospital. A judge even said Cho "presents an imminent danger to self or others" and sent him to a hospital for evaluation, but a doctor determined he didn’t pose a real threat. Despite this past, nothing was done when one of Cho’s professors expressed concern, and he was also legally allowed to buy the guns he used Monday.

The NYT fronts a piece on how universities have few options when trying to deal with students who are mentally ill. Inside, the LAT says schools take different approaches to dealing with students who might have mental-health problems and some make a concerted effort to monitor them closely.

The Post fronts a great piece by David Maraniss that joins facts and testimonies of the last few days into a comprehensive narrative of Monday’s events.

Everybody fronts the five car bombs that exploded in and around Baghdad yesterday that targeted mostly Shiite neighborhoods and killed almost 200 people. It was the deadliest day in Baghdad since the beginning of the new security plan earlier this year. Before the bombings, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said his government would take over security for all of Iraq by the end of the year.

The WP goes inside with word that congressional Democrats are moving toward making any deadlines in their war spending bill "advisory," rather than mandatory. Democrats, who risk losing support from the more liberal lawmakers, want to portray themselves as flexible and put President Bush on the spot.

As Attorney General Alberto Gonzales heads to Congress today to answer questions about the fired U.S. attorneys, the Post fronts a look at the premium Bush places on loyalty. Many say that under a different president, the attorney general would have already been fired. The NYT‘s op-ed page asked four legal experts, including fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, to list three questions they would ask Gonzales. Slate has a list of the "big and awkward questions he’s likely to be asked" and will fill in the answers as they become available.

They don’t call ’em CrackBerrys for nothing. … The LAT fronts, and everyone mentions, the panic that ensued among many of the 5 million BlackBerry users when they couldn’t access their e-mail Tuesday night. It was the first nationwide outage in more than two years. While some used the time to give their thumbs a few hours of well-deserved rest, others realized just how addicted they have become to the little devices as they desperately tried to fix the problem.Daniel Politi writes "Today’s Papers" for Slate. He can be reached at todayspapers@slate.com.

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