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Happening Today

May 28, 2009. It would be great to be in Accra, Ghana, today to attend the Center for Inquiry seminar on witchcraft and its destructive impact on development in African countries. Led by Leo Igwe, the campaign against witchcraft is the first major organized effort to dispel superstitions and myths that are deeply harmful to African societies. Igwe is launching his campaign just before President Barack Obama visits Accra on June 10. Today’s seminar was held at the Society for Women and AIDS in Africa (SWAA), and will be followed by major events in Cape Town,South Africa, and Lilongwe, Malawi. If you’d like to know more about the anti-witchcraft and magic campaign, contact Norm R.
Allen, CFI’s executive director of African Americans for Humanism at nallen@centerforinquiry.net.

May 21, 2009. The United States has joined the United Nations Human Rights Council for the first time. We were members when the body was called the Human Rights Commission, but in 2006 when it became the Human Rights Council with 47 members, the United States did not seek election. When the UN General Assembly this month elected 18 countries for three-year terms, the United States received 167 votes.
Membership in the UN Human Rights Council puts the U.S. back into the international discussion of human rights in an arena where definitions of “rights” vary widely among member nations, which now include Saudi Arabia, China, and Cuba.

May 14, 2009. More on bisphenol-A, or BPA, the chemical that hardens plastics. In this columnn on November 2, 2008 and again on March 6 this year, we reported that six large manufacturers have stopped using BPA in baby bottles because the chemical may have adverse effects. Yesterday the city of Chicago adopted a measure that will ban the use of BPA beginning in January next year. Chicago is the first city to ban BPA, but Suffolk County NY and the states of Minnesota and Connecticut have their own bans. Bills are pending in the U.S. Congress to ban BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups throughout the nation. Chemical industry lobbyists continue to argue that there is little evidence that BPA is harmful, but pediatricians are suggesting that parents replace their baby bottles with BPA-free brands.

April 23, 2009.  If you are a 17-year-old in need of emergency contraception, today is your day–you can go to a pharmacy and buy Plan B, the emergency contraceptive, without a doctor’s prescription.  The Food and Drug Administration  (FDA) is complying with a federal judge’s order (see March 24 below) to make Plan B available to 17-year-olds.  We’re hoping that subsequent orders will lift the age-related restriction entirely and make Plan B available to all who need it.  Teenage pregnancy rates have recently trended upwards, so Plan B could help to reverse that trend.

And–totally unrelated–today is Shakespeare’s birthday!

April 22, 2009. Yes, it’s Earth Day. But it’s also another anniversary: 15 years ago, Joe Biden, then a Senator from Delaware and now Vice President, sponsored the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  The bill funded training of medical personnel on violence against women; promoted collaboration among health care and social work professionals to provide assistance for victims; and research into effective interventions. It has been reauthorized regularly since its inception, most recently in 2005.  For his support of the VAWA, Vice President Biden will be honored with the Legal Momentum Hero Award at a Georgetown University symposium today.

April 8, 2009. Vermont is now the fourth state to recognize same-sex marriages, and the first where same-sex marriage was enacted in the legislature. In the other three states–Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa–same-sex marriage was mandated by the state supreme court. As we saw in California, the courts may be ahead of popular opinion.  The Center for Inquiry supports same-sex marriage on grounds of equality: read our position paper, Same-Sex Marriage–and Marriage, on our website, http://www.centerforinquiry.net/OPP.

April 6, 2009.  Three days to go! You still have time to send your comments to Health and Human Services (HHS) asking them to undo the “provider refusal” regulation.  The deadline is April 9.  Send an email to proposedrescission@hhs.gov, saying that the provider refusal regulation must go.  The regulation was implemented in the very last days of the Bush administration and says that medical personnel at all levels–surgeons through janitors–may refuse their services in federally funded institutions if they have religious or ideological objections to procedures. It affects not only abortion and contraception, but also HIV, fertility, and end-of-life patients. Send that email NOW!

April 1, 2009. Toni Van Pelt, OPP Public Policy Director, will be speaking to the sophomore Leadership Development Class at American University today.  Toni is going to speak about the challenges she faced when she was an officer in the National Organization for Women in Florida, before coming to D.C.   The class discussion will focus on the perceived decline of the feminist movement. Toni is living evidence that it hasn’t declined.

March 31, 2009.  Actually this happened last week. The Texas Board of Education voted–almost–to defeat creationist teaching in the state’s school science classes. They voted that the phrase “strength and weaknesses” of evolution should be omitted from the Texas science standards. But they added a series of amendments that only insiders could understand to pressure textbook publishers into inserting phony arguments attacking established science into science textbooks. Among the protesters attending Texas Board of Education meetings and lobbying for an end to creationism in science teaching was Clare Wuellner, Executive Director of CFI Austin.  Congratulations, Clare, on a well earned victory!

March 24 2009. Great news! Plan B (emergency contraception) will be available over the counter to 17 year-olds within 30 days without a prescription and may be available to younger people soon. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled in favor of the Center for Reproductive Rights and ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop restricting the sale of Plan B. The court said that the FDA rule based on age was “arbitrary and capricious,” the result of political interference in a scientific matter.”

March 20, 2009. Two science nominees and one judicial nominee are now on the job. Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Jane Lubchenko to be Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and John P. Holdren to be Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). They join Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy, in a three-person team chosen by President Barack Obama to move the U.S. ahead on issues of renewable energy and environmental conservation.
Elena Kagan was confirmed as Solicitor General of the U.S. She is the first woman to hold that position.
Congratulations to everyone–including us. We’re fortunate to have such talented and experienced people in important government positions.

March 17, 2009. Today President Barack Obama nominated his first candidate to an appeals court seat. There are 17 vacancies on the appeals courts, which are often important stepping stones to the U.S. Supreme Court. Presidents nominate judges and they are confirmed by the U.S. Senate, where their home state senators usually support them.
Today’s nominee is Judge David F. Hamilton, a trial judge in Indiana, who is being nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, based in Chicago. Judge Hamilton is widely regarded as moderate judge, apparently not influenced by ideology.
More judges will be nominated during the next few weeks. Keep watching the news.

March 11, 2009. The big news today may be the signing of the omnibus bill funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year, but something else may ultimately overshadow it in importance: President Barack Obama will sign an executive order forming a White House Council on Women and Girls. He’s appointing one of his most powerful supporters to be its chair–Valerie Garrett, the Chicago businesswoman who helped steer his course to the presidency.
Women are getting emphasis abroad as well as at home: the position of Ambassador at large for Global Women’s Issues has been created at the state department.
Women and their issues may be finally getting the attention they deserve.

March 10, 2009. Newspaper photos this morning show President Barack Obama signing the executive order restoring federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Behind the seated president and to the right stands Representative Diana DeGette, (D, CO), who has been a bulldog in her fight for restoring embryonic stem cell research. Rep.DeGette has a diabetic daughter, so she has a personal stake in research that may in the future help diabetics as well as sufferers from Alhzeimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and spinal cord injuries, among many others.
Representative DeGette is one of six representatives who will receive the CFI Science and Reason Award on March 25. The next day, March 26, Representative DeGette will visit CFI/DC on Pennsylvania Ave.SE for a lunchtime speech and reception.

March 9, 2009. Good things come in pairs, it seems. Today just before noon, President Barack Obama will sign an executive order removing restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
He will also sign an executive memorandum affirming the integrity of scientific research, making clear that in his administration, there will be no political interference with science. In the previous administration, political operatives suppressed publication of results on global warming; interfered with the licensing of Plan B, the emergency contraceptive; and funded “abstinence-only” sex education in the face of research evidence that it is ineffective. No more of that, says President Obama: science is science and will be the basis of his administration’s policies.

March 7, 2009. Two great pieces of news: first, the Department of Health and Human Services (the new one under the Obama administration) has issued regulations to rescind the “provider refusal” regulation which allowed reproductive health care providers to refuse their services on religious or ideological grounds. There’s a 30-day comment period: we hope everyone will speedily urge HHS to rescind the rule. Go to http://www.regulations.gov, click on “Comment or Submission,” and enter the keywords “Rescission Proposal.” You’ll get a box in which you can write or paste your comments.
And the second piece of news: President Barack Obama will lift restrictions on embryonic stem cell research on Monday 9 March at 11:54 A.M. He may sign an executive order or he may combine that with Congressional action.
Two great sighs of relief.

March 6, 2009. Remember bisphenol A? We wrote a post about it on this blog on November 2, 2008, when we said that scientists were cautioning that it should not be used in baby bottles. Bisphenol A, usually called BPA, is a chemical widely used in plastics such as beverage containers, eyeglasses, and compact discs. Today the six largest manufacturers of baby bottles announced that they will stop selling baby bottles made with BPA. State attorneys general from Connecticut and New Jersey asked the manufacturers to stop selling the bottles voluntarily.
However, one of the manufacturers says that although the sales of bottle made with BPA will stop in the U.S., they will continue to market them overseas. What is wrong with this picture?

March 1, 2009. Don’t miss Susan Jacoby’s op-ed in the New York Times arguing eloquently against President Obama’s faith-based initiative. Nice to see such prominence given to a secular humanist argument.

February 27, 2009. Today the Obama Administration did the right thing about the “provider refusal” regulation (see post on main page). The Department of Health and Human Services announced that a new rule would soon be published, rescinding the original. It will have a 30-day comment period, so you will soon get a request for your comments. We responded so well when we opposed the regulation, so now we hope for an even better response when we support rescinding it.

February 12 2009.  We know about the Two Big Birthdays–Happy 200th to Lincoln and Darwin!–but here’s another milestone. Today the New Hampshire state legislature became the first in the U.S. to have a majority of women. Women rule in the Northeast: the two Maine senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are major leaders in securing the passage of the stimulus bill in the Senate.

February 7, 2009. Senate wrangling over the contents of the stimulus package–formally known as the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act–continues over the weekend. We are urging the Senators NOT to reduce science funding, which is the engine of our future economy. Stay tuned: the vote will be on Monday, they say, and then there will be more wrangling in the House-Senate conference committee.

February 5, 2009. Humanists and secular groups were mentioned three times by President Obama in his National Prayer Breakfast speech this morning. He included humanists in a list of different faiths ending with “followers of Confucius and humanists,” and he mentioned secular groups in the context of his White House Council on Faithbased and Neighborhood Partnerships: religious groups will not be favored over secular groups, he said on one occasion in the speech. Have we attained equality at last?

February 3, 2009.  Today Eric Holder is sworn in as Attorney General of the U.S. The Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy has been active in helping to get his nomination confirmed: we’ve sent FAXes to everyone of the Senators twice urging his confirmation. We feel vindicated today and wish Attorney General Holder the best of luck and judgment in returning the U.S. Department of Justice to its rightful place of honor in the government.

January 29, 2009. Well, yesterday to be exact. Three CFI representatives–Toni Van Pelt, director of the Office of Public Policy; Ruth Mitchell, staff associate; and Melody Hensley, Volunteer and Events Manager for CFI/DC–were present at the Senate hearing when Eric Holder was confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 17 to 2 as the first African-American to serve as Attorney General of the United States. The full Senate will vote on Holder next Monday.  We at CFI are proud of the support for Holder provided by Friends of the Center.

January 14, 2009. ” Science, science, science, science!” These are the four words Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has for us this morning–and it’s the CFI agenda.  Pelosi was speaking in an interview on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99321116 about the economic stimulus package. She says that science and technology will be applied to the major components of the package which are: infrastructure; innovation; health care; and energy independence. No earmarks allowed, says Pelosi, who vows that the package will be passed in Congress before Presidents’ Day in February–or no vacation for members.

January 11, 2009. The New York Times Magazine has a face on the cover today that will be familiar to CFI Friends, especially those who were on the Amazon cruise this spring–Steven Pinker. He is writing about the recent sequencing of his genome that was published on the Internet. Article includes a two-page full-length photo of Steve.

January 10, 2009

You can read the report of the vote in the House of Representatives to pass the Lily Ledbetter Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act in the New York Times, page A13. It includes a photo of Speaker Nancy Pelosi greeting leaders of groups that supported the bill.  Toni Van Pelt represented CFI/OPP at the meeting and watched from the gallery as the bills passed.

January 9, 2009

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is greeting members of the coalitions who supported the Lily Ledbetter bill and then seating them in the House gallery to watch the debate and passage of the bill.  Our own Toni Van Pelt, director of the Office of Public Policy, will be there.

January 8, 2009

We’re working with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) and other coalitions to support the nomination of Eric Holder to be attorney general in the new administration. We were signatories on the LCCR letter, but we also sent our own. Here it is

January 7, 2009

Chairman Patrick Leahy

U.S. Senate

433 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington DC 20510-4502

Ranking Member Arlen Specter

U.S.Senate

711 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington DC 20510-3802

Dear Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Specter:

On behalf of the Center for Inquiry, a grassroots organization that encourages policy-making based on evidence and reason, we want to express our strong support for the nomination of Eric Holder to become Attorney General of the United States.

Mr. Holder is the right man at the right time—not only the first African-American nominated to the post, but also uniquely qualified to restore the U.S. Department of Justice to its rightful place as an example of integrity and fairness.

Mr. Holder’s record is stellar: he has been a Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and a judge. What is probably most telling in his record, however, is his independence in prosecuting those who may have committed crimes, regardless of their political party or loyalties. Mr. Holder prosecuted Democratic Congressman Dan Rostenkowski when he was U.S. Attorney for D.C. As Deputy Attorney General he advised Attorney General Janet Reno to expand the scope of Kenneth Starr’s investigation, which ultimately led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Of course he was heavily criticized by members of his own party, but Mr. Holder put principle over party. He acted similarly when he advised Attorney General Reno to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Bruce Babbitt, then Secretary of the Interior. Mr. Holder created a task force which developed a regulation which guides the appointment of special counsels in high-level federal investigations.

This record should argue convincingly against any suggestion that Mr. Holder might extend favorable treatment to members of his own party.

It would be difficult to find a candidate more qualified than Mr. Holder to become U.S. Attorney General. He is experienced in all aspects of the law; committed to its principles of equal justice for all; forceful in his defense of civil and voting rights; impartial in all his dealings. We applaud the choice of Eric Holder and look forward to his confirmation by your committee and the Senate.

Sincerely,

Paul Kurtz, Founder and Chair.  Toni Van Pelt, OPP director.

January 6, 2009.

Congress hits the ground running and CFI OPP is working right beside them.

The House is expected to vote soon on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act — key bills that would give women the tools they need to challenge pay discrimination. The Senate may follow with a vote as soon as early next week.

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