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Getting to know Sotomayor May 29, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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We’re all trying to find out where President Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, stands on our favorite issues. We’re looking at her record on Church-state issues, on reproductive freedom, on LGBT concerns. But we shouldn’t be worried that her judicial opinions have been reversed more than is usual.
A Huffington Post blog by Sam Stein points out that her opinions haven’t been reversed more than is usual. And in two cases where the U.S. Supreme Court overruled her, her opinion was shared by Justice David Souter, the judge she will replace.
In an 11-year career as an appellate judge, Judge Sotomayor issued 380 opinions, of which five were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and three were reversed. That’s a lower rate of reversal than the Supreme Court usually hands down–75 percent of cases in 2008 were reversals.
So far it seems that Judge Sotomayor is pretty much in the mainstream of legal opinion. Stay tuned as we learn more.

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Tell NIH to Go Ahead with Stem Cell Research! May 18, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Action Item.
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When President Obama issued his March 9 Executive Order lifting the Bush administration’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, he instructed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop guidelines for funding research using federal dollars. These guidelines have now been issued and NIH wants written comments on them by May 26. Please send your comments either by pasting in the accompanying letter or writing your own comments to http://nihoerextra.nih.gov/stem_cells/add.htm TODAY.
Please note: in order to submit comments, you have to paste them in. There is no other way to send comments
The Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy thinks the guidelines are scientifically sound and offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat diseases including Alzheimer’s diseases, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
But the guidelines don’t go far enough. They need to open up stem cell research to embrace all scientific approaches.
Let’s review what the guidelines permit:
 Federal funding will be granted for research using human embryonic stem cells that were derived from embryos created during in vitro fertilization and no longer needed for reproductive purposes;
 Research on adult stem cells will also continue, although there’s controversy about how promising this research is.
And here’s what the guidelines do not permit:
o Funding will be not available for the creation of human embryos—although creation of embryos is routine in private fertility clinics;
o It won’t be available for somatic cell nuclear transfer, a technique that could overcome rejection of implanted tissue.
The present NIH guidelines will expand the number of embryonic stem cell lines available for federal funding, but not as much as they could or should. Research on human embryonic stem cells, somatic cell nuclear transfer and adult stem cells needs to continue in parallel. All are part of a research effort that seeks to expand our knowledge of how cells function, what fails in the disease process, and how the first stages of human development occur. It is this combined knowledge that will ultimately generate safe and effective therapies. This should be funded with federal money in order to move the research as quickly as possible.
There’s a political angle to this, too: those who oppose stem cell research on ideological or religious grounds will try to overwhelm NIH with negative comments on the guidelines. They will raise preposterous images of clones and human-animal monsters in the minds of those who do not understand the scientific basis of stem cell research. We don’t want to lose any form of this research, so we must ensure that our approval of the NIH guidelines is heard loud and clear.
PLEASE SEND YOUR COMMENTS TODAY! Send the text below or write your own. But do it. The opportunity to see an end to Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases is too precious to lose.
Thank-you.
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Sample letter to paste in http://nihoerextra.nih.gov/stem_cells/add.htm

I am a member of the Center for Inquiry, a transnational organization devoted to science and reason as the basis of public policy. I have read the NIH guidelines for federal funding of stem cell research and urge the NIH to promote the widest range possible of research in this field because of its potential for improving health and curing diseases.
Your present guidelines are admirable in expanding the number of embryonic stem cell lines eligible for federal funding and maintaining research using adult stem cells. At a minimum, these guidelines should be maintained, especially because a large majority of the people in the U.S. report in polls that they support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
But I would like to see the guidelines expanded to allow federal funding of all avenues of stem cell research. Research on human embryonic stem cells, somatic cell nuclear transfer and adult stem cells needs to continue in parallel. All are part of a research effort that seeks to expand our knowledge of how cells function, what fails in the disease process, and how the first stages of human development occur. It is this combined knowledge that will ultimately generate safe and effective therapies. This should be funded with federal money in order to move the research as quickly as possible.
While approving the present guidelines as an excellent first step, I urge you to continue to monitor developments in the field and update these guidelines as the research progresses.
Thank you for your attention.

What’s at stake
Stem cell research of all kinds is the most promising field of biomedical research to treat diseases as varied as diabetes and heart disease, because stem cells—and embryonic stem cells in particular—may be induced to develop into any type of cell in the body. During the Bush administration, federal funding for this research was severely restricted on ideological grounds: scientists could only use stem cell lines already established and could not develop new ones.
On March 9 this year, President Obama issued Executive Order 13505 lifting the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. He asked the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop guidelines for federally funding research. These guidelines have now been issued and the NIH has asked for public comment until May 26.
Now this is a great opportunity for us, as members of the Center for Inquiry who want to see scientific research used to improve everyone’s health, to let the NIH know that we approve of stem cell research and that our tax dollars should support it.
BUT the request for public comment is also an opportunity for those who oppose stem cell research to tell the NIH they oppose it and do not want it federally funded. What’s at stake is the future of federally funded stem cell research.
The NIH guidelines have scrupulously avoided—too drastically, we think—any charge that embryos will be created only to be destroyed in research. They have also banned somatic cell nuclear transfer, a technique that might overcome rejection of implanted tissue; or any form of “cloning.” In other words, the guidelines are designed to permit federal funding of research that the majority of Americans would agree to.
We at CFI would like the guidelines to expand any and all avenues of research into stem cells because of their potential to cure diseases that now shorten or devastate life for so many people. We ask you to send your comments NOW telling NIH to go ahead, but to continue work on expanding the guidelines.
YES, OUR TAX DOLLARS SHOULD SUPPORT EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH!

Talking points
1. Stem cell research of all kinds should be federally funded under NIH guidelines.
2. Use of embryonic stem cells in research is not equivalent to abortion—the cells are no longer needed in reproduction and have been donated to research.
3. Stem cell research has immense potential to cure diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
4. Only federal funding under NIH supervision can assure that the research will go ahead with scientific objectivity.
5. Although these guidelines are scientifically sound and politically balanced, they should be revisited to expand their scope and make every possible avenue of research available.
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Civic Days at the OPP July 18-21! You all come! May 13, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Action Item, Annoucements, Press Release.
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Change has come to Washington DC—
and So Should You. Join Us!

The CFI Office of Public Policy invites you to participate in the second annual

Civic Days at the Capital, 18-21 July 2009

Come to Washington for four days of immersion in how Congress and the nation’s capital city work. You will hear about what’s on Congress’s agenda right now; about lobbying works; about The Credibility Project, an OPP-sponsored project exposing fake “scientists” who oppose global warming; visit the National Archives and other historical sites; go on a walking tour of Robert Green Ingersoll’s life in Washington; meet and hear from Congressional staffers; and lobby your own members of Congress. And you will also enjoy networking with other Friends of the Center from across the country.

The following is a tentative schedule of events. First lesson of Washington: Congress sets the agenda and we have to follow.

When: July 18, Saturday-July 21, Tuesday
Where: CFI Office of Public Policy, 621 Pennsylvania Ave. SE Washington DC 20003

July 18 Saturday
Informal welcome social at the OPP office from 12 noon to 9:00 PM.
Participants will be greeted by Toni Van Pelt, Director of Public Policy; Ruth Mitchell OPP staff associate; Melody Hensley, CFI/DC executive director; and members of the Civic Days Planning Committee.

July 19 Sunday
• What’s moving through the Congress. Briefing by Toni Van Pelt
• The Credibility Project, an analysis of the 650 global warming denier “experts.” Thomas O’Brien and Dr. Stuart Jordan, emeritus senior staff scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
• Private docent visit to the National Archives
• Ingersoll’s Life in DC, 1.5 mile, 2 hour walking tour. Steve Lowe, member of the Civic Days Planning Committee.Bring your favorite Ingersoll quotation to share.
• Private briefing with Friends of the Center congressional staff members.

July 20 Monday
• Briefing about current issues by a member of Congress (tba)
• Tour of Capitol Visitors Center
• Group Photo in front of Library of Congress
• Tour the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, on Capitol Hill, a museum devoted to the history of women’s emancipation
• Teaming up, role playing and coordinating our lobbying appointments.
• Dinner together at Union Station
• Evening walk round the monuments.

July 21 Tuesday
• Day in Congress, beginning with breakfast in a House Office Building cafeteria.
• Meetings with legislators, attendance at congressional briefings or hearings.
• Fly home tonight.

Accommodations
We have several suggestions for hotel and b-and-b accommodations which will be e-mailed to registered participants upon request. We’ll include maps for easy Metro, bus, and walking directions to the OPP office and our other destinations.

Registration
Please go to http://ga1.org/center_for_inquiry/events/civic_days.

The phone number for the CFI/OPP is 202-546-2330. Toni Van Pelt can be reached by email at tvanpelt@centerforinquiry.net.

We’re looking forwarding to introducing you to Washington and its ways!

“Largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American History” April 28, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary, Press Release.
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President Barack Obama yesterday gave a major speech on science to the National Academies of Science. He detailed what he calls “the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history,” consisting of funding basic research; developing technologies to produce new energy; reforming the U.S. health care system; and dramatically improving student achievement in math and science.

To read the whole speech, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-the-National-Academy-of-Sciences-Annual-Meeting/

Today is Equal Pay Day April 28, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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Today, April 28, is 180 days after the end of 2008. But for the average woman to receive the same pay as the average man in 2008,  she would have to work until today.
Working women are still paid only 78 cents on average for every dollar earned by the average man. Better than last year, when the average was just over 77 cents, and a lot better than the 59 cents earned by the average woman in the 1963 photo below.
But not good for any woman, and especially not for African American women, who earn on average 66 cents for every male dollar, and not for Hispanic women, who don’t do any better than women as a whole did in 1963–they still make only 59 cents for every male dollar.   On average a woman takes home $9,575 less than a man every year, about $434,000 over a lifetime.
What can we do about it?  Across the nation, protests and demonstrations are using the dramatic idea of a year extended 180 days to make pay equal across genders to increase awareness of the problem. There are demonstrations at state capitols,  hearings, speeches, newspaper editorials.
Here in Washington DC, the House and Senate Joint Economic Committee (JEC) will hold a hearing entitled “Equal Pay for Equal Work? New Evidence on the Persistence of the Gender Pay Gap.” Chaired by Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, the hearing will focus on a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the gender pay gap in the federal government.
Supporters are also using Equal Pay Day to stimulate support in the Senate for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which will close gaps in equal pay legislation that have permitted employers to find excuses not to pay women equally.  The House passed the Act at the same time as the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but the Senate  has not yet passed the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Equal Pay Day is not a holiday or a celebration. In fact, if we are successful in gaining gender pay equity, there will never be another year when women have to work into the next year to receive equal pay.
The photo shows President John F. Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act in 1963, surrounded by those who worked tirelessly to secure its passage.

 

Equal Pay Act Signing

 
 
 
 
 

Obama Urged to Focus on Poverty, Not Marriage March 3, 2009

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The Obama administration should focus on reducing family poverty in federal programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), not on promoting marriage and fatherhood, say researchers and advocates from universities and national organizations who have jointly published a position paper, Reduce Poverty Using Proven Methods: Eliminate Federal Funding of “Marriage Promotion” and Staff HHS with Appointees Who Value All Families, “http://”>/www.unmarried.org/images.

The authors report that from 2006 to 2010, TANF was permitted to award $750 million in grants to support projects promoting healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood. But they point out that no research supports the idea that marriage and fatherhood help alleviate poverty.
The focus on family structure endorsed by the Bush administration and its appointees is misplaced. Family structure has become less important in economic status since the 1980s. Although many factors that affect family structure–single parenting, divorce, cohabitation, LGBT parenting–have increased in the last fifty years, the welfare of children has actually improved.
The focus should be directly on poverty, say the authors. This means that administrators of programs like TANF should be committed to serving the needs of children in all family structures. Alleviating poverty should prioritize proven methods, such as increasing cash benefits; providing childcare and job skills training; improving educational opportunities; raising the federal minimum wage; empowering unions; attacking discrimination of all kinds; and creating decent jobs.
They call for an immediate stop to allocating federal funds for the promotion of marriage and fatherhood and for the removal of all references to and allocations for it in future legislation. No more federal money should be diverted from the real needs of children and of families, no matter how they are constituted.

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“In the year of our Lord” unnecessary relic, says CFI Task Force chair February 4, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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The Center for Inquiry is looking forward to how President Obama will strengthen the separation of church and state with his judicial appointments.  In the realm of keeping government neutral in matters of religion, it is important that all branches of government convey a message to nonbelievers and minority religions that they are no less a part of the community than are the majority Christians in our nation.

Thus, while the practice of issuing presidential proclamations designating the year of the proclamation as the “in the year of Our Lord” is not as grave a threat to government neutrality in matters of religion as would be the restoration of official prayers in public schools or exempting religious books from sales tax but imposing those taxes on secular books, it is still a practice that should now be retired.  The phrase “in the year of Our Lord” is the English translation of the Latin “anno domini.”  This is an unambiguous reference to Jesus.

Government is supposed to be neutral as between believer and nonbeliever and as between one religion and another religion.  This phrase shows a predisposition to belief over nonbelief and to Christianity over Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, and all the other minority religions.

Again, this is not the most pressing issue on which the future of secular government versus theocracy balances.  However it is an unnecessary relic of the Christian tradition that, ultimately, should not find expression in official government proclamations.

Edward Tabash

Chair, First Amendment Task Force, Center for Inquiry, Council for Secular Humanism.

Beware these bills! February 2, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements, Commentary.
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Bills by the hundred are introduced daily in Congress. Many of them concern trivial and local matters like recognition of local heroes and support for specific individuals, but some malicious bills are slipped in, hoping that no-one will notice.

Recent examples are the House and Senate bills S.270 and H.R. 605, mentioned in the following post “When Two Bills Look Alike.”  S.270 and H.R. 605 are two versions of a bill purporting to help pregnant women. Don’t be deceived–these bills are sponsored by Democrats for Life and supported  by the U.S.Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  They don’t provide funds for contraception and real sex education, but refer throughout to “unborn children,” an common anti-abortion tactic to promote an emotional response to pregnancy.  The bills are intended to coerce women into bearing children, whether they want to or not.

Last week another no-good, very bad bill was introduced in the Senate–S.346, sponsored by Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. This bill would extend the protection of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution to what are called “preborn persons.”  They mean fetuses, but deliberately don’t use the correct scientific term.  If  by any chance this bill were to become law, it would change the constitution so that a fetus would be a person and abortion would become murder.

We’ll keep you posted on the progress of these bills. At the moment they are all three in committee, a common graveyard for unpopular bills. Let’s hope they stay there.

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When two bills look alike February 2, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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When you see two bills whose titles look almost the same, you think they must be the same bill. There’s a bill that’s just been introduced in the House of Representatives, H.R. 605, that says it is intended to “provide for programs that reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents.” Looks good—why would anyone oppose such a bill?

But then you find that newspaper editorials and bloggers are praising another bill, which claims to “provide for programs that reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents.” That looks good too. Are they the same bill?

No, they are essentially different. It’s important for secular humanists to know that the first bill is sponsored by Democrats for Life, an anti-abortion group sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church. Its shorter title is “The Pregnant Women Support Act.”

The second bill, known for short as “The Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act,” is a significant attempt to seek middle ground between the anti-abortion and pro-choice forces. It is supported by a group called Third Way, which like the Center for Inquiry, brings reason to bear on divisive social problems.

The similar naming of the bills is tactically intended. You’re supposed to be confused and not recognize the differences between them. The first bill (which has a companion in the Senate, S.270) has just been introduced in the 111th Congress (the one that started January 3, 2009) and is now in committee. The other bill was introduced in 2007 during the 110th Congress by Representatives Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Tim Ryan of Ohio and will shortly be introduced again.

We’ll focus on the Ryan-DeLauro bill—remember it’s called “The Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act.” Its first and major emphasis is on the reduction of unintended pregnancies by education of vulnerable women, involvement of parents, and extending coverage of contraception through Medicaid and Title X of the Public Health Service Act. These provisions follow the logic of contraception: if you want to reduce the number of abortions, prevent pregnancy in the first place.

The Democrats for Life bill doesn’t do that. Although research shows that contraception reduces the probability of abortion by 85%, religious doctrine forces anti-abortion activists to oppose contraception as well as abortion. They also support abstinence-only sex education, which is now widely rejected as a failure.

The language of the Democrats for Life bill betrays its intent: it replaces scientific words such as fetus with “unborn child,” so that pregnant women will have an emotional reaction to their situation. It provides grants for the purchase of ultrasound equipment, widely used in Crisis Pregnancy Centers in coercive attempts to persuade women against abortion.

The Ryan-DeLauro bill is not all about preventing pregnancy or offering abortion services. It embraces a compromise (the Third Way, remember?) by also offering support to women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term, especially students in institutions of higher education. It increases support for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and the food stamp program, and funds free home visits for teenage and first-time mothers which includes contraceptive counseling.

Watch for the Ryan-DeLauro bill when it is introduced in Congress. Don’t be deceived by similarities in title with the other bill—the Ryan-DeLauro bill combines prevention and support in a positive package that affirms the value of women and children alike.

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Plea for End to the Hyde Amendment January 16, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements, Commentary.
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On December 12, 2008, our OPP director, Toni Van Pelt, was among a group who met with Melody Barnes of the Obama transition team to urge an end to the Hyde Amendment, which restricts access to abortions for women enrolled in Medicaid. After the meeting, the 119 organizations, including the Center for Inquiry,  in the National Network of Abortion funds sent this letter to Ms.Barnes.

Fund abortion. Protect dignity and justice for all women.

January 8, 2009
Melody Barnes
Dear Director Barnes:
Thank you for taking the time to meet with members of the reproductive health and rights community on Friday, December 12, 2008. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the Obama-Biden Transition Project’s information-gathering process. We look forward to working with you and the new Administration to ensure real reproductive choices for all women.
We wish to underscore the importance of our request that President Obama strike language in his first budget that blocks women’s access to abortion care, including restrictions on abortion funding for Medicaid-eligible women and Native American women (the Hyde Amendment), disabled women covered under Medicare, federal employees and their dependents (FEHB), residents of the District of Columbia, Peace Corps volunteers, and women in federal prisons. Women in the military and military families are also negatively affected by abortion funding bans. Though attached to different funding streams, we consider these restrictions to be a single issue requiring consistent and equal treatment by President Obama.
For more than thirty years, the Hyde Amendment and other funding restrictions have affected the poorest and most vulnerable of low-income Americans, with a disproportionate impact on women of color and immigrant women. The Hyde Amendment denies abortion access to the seven million women of reproductive age who are currently enrolled in Medicaid. These funding restrictions are the most detrimental of all attacks on safe, legal abortion care, and represent a clear violation of low-income women’s human rights.
In addition, abortion funding restrictions marginalize abortion care and disregard the fact that it is an integral part of the continuum of women’s reproductive health care.
By striking funding restrictions, President Obama can place abortion back in the context of health care, thereby setting a new tone and signaling to Congress his commitment to comprehensive women’s health care.
Further, this early commitment will bolster the efforts of our diverse and growing grassroots advocacy campaign as we continue educating the public and Members of Congress about the urgent need for a full repeal of these restrictions. There is precedent for a President who supports reproductive freedom to take this action, and we look forward to working with and supporting President Obama as he takes this step.
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Today, more than ever, low-income women in the United States must have access to the resources that allow them to determine the size and timing of their families. Many of these women are already balancing the demands of jobs, children, school, diminishing paychecks, and the disproportionate burden of an economic downturn. Funding restrictions are often insurmountable obstacles for women with limited resources. Removing them is the first step to true health care reform, to abolishing class- and race-based discrimination, and to placing control, dignity, and self-determination back in the hands of the women to whom it belongs.
The signatories of this letter are members of a diverse and growing coalition of organizations who have come together to fight restrictions on abortion funding in order to ensure true access to abortion for the most marginalized women in our society. The Hyde – 30 Years is Enough! Campaign is coordinated by the National Network of Abortion Funds and was formed to mark the 30th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment in October, 2006. Since that time, the seventy organizations and more than 100 abortion Funds of the Network have worked to educate the public about the impact of funding restrictions and build public support for their repeal. These organizing efforts are successfully laying the groundwork for public support for an end to these damaging and discriminatory restrictions.
We look forward to continuing this conversation with the new Administration and encourage you to contact us with any questions. In the meantime, we thank you again for your commitment to women’s health and well-being.
Sincerely,
National Network of Abortion Funds