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The search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us

Saturday, December 20, 2008

By Dave Rochelson

In the latest weekly address, President-elect Barack Obama took a bold stand for making decisions based on science and facts rather than ideology as he introduced leading members of his science and technology team.

“The truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources—it’s about protecting free and open inquiry,” President-elect Obama said. “It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States—and I could not have a better team to guide me in this work.”

President-elect Obama announced his appointment of Dr. John Holdren as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). He also announced Dr. Harold Varmus and Dr. Eric Lander as the other co-chairs of PCAST, which the President-elect said he hopes will be “a vigorous external advisory council that will shape my thinking on the scientific aspects of my policy priorities.” Addtionally, he named Dr. Jane Lubchenco as his choice to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“I am confident that if we recommit ourselves to discovery,” President-elect Obama said,” if we support science education to create the next generation of scientists and engineers right here in America; if we have the vision to believe and invest in things unseen, then we can lead the world into a new future of peace and prosperity.”

Watch the weekly address and read the text below.

Remarks of the President-Elect Barack Obama
Science Team Rollout Radio Address
Friday, December 17, 2008
Chicago, Illinois

Over the past few weeks, Vice President-Elect Biden and I have announced some of the leaders who will advise us as we seek to meet America’s twenty-first century challenges, from strengthening our security, to rebuilding our economy, to preserving our planet for our children and grandchildren. Today, I am pleased to announce members of my science and technology team whose work will be critical to these efforts.

Whether it’s the science to slow global warming; the technology to protect our troops and confront bioterror and weapons of mass destruction; the research to find life-saving cures; or the innovations to remake our industries and create twenty-first century jobs—today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation. It is time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America’s place as the world leader in science and technology.

Right now, in labs, classrooms and companies across America, our leading minds are hard at work chasing the next big idea, on the cusp of breakthroughs that could revolutionize our lives. But history tells us that they cannot do it alone. From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way: leaders like President Kennedy, who inspired us to push the boundaries of the known world and achieve the impossible; leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process.

Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources—it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States—and I could not have a better team to guide me in this work.

Dr. John Holdren has agreed to serve as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. John is a professor and Director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, as well as President and Director of the Woods Hole Research Center. A physicist renowned for his work on climate and energy, he’s received numerous honors and awards for his contributions and has been one of the most passionate and persistent voices of our time about the growing threat of climate change. I look forward to his wise counsel in the years ahead.

John will also serve as a Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology—or PCAST—as will Dr. Harold Varmus and Dr. Eric Lander. Together, they will work to remake PCAST into a vigorous external advisory council that will shape my thinking on the scientific aspects of my policy priorities.

Dr. Varmus is no stranger to this work. He is not just a path-breaking scientist, having won a Nobel Prize for his research on the causes of cancer—he also served as Director of the National Institutes of Health during the Clinton Administration. I am grateful he has answered the call to serve once again.

Dr. Eric Lander is the Founding Director of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard and was one of the driving forces behind mapping the human genome—one of the greatest scientific achievements in history. I know he will be a powerful voice in my Administration as we seek to find the causes and cures of our most devastating diseases.

Finally, Dr. Jane Lubchenco has accepted my nomination as the Administrator of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is devoted to conserving our marine and coastal resources and monitoring our weather. An internationally known environmental scientist and ecologist and former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Jane has advised the President and Congress on scientific matters, and I am confident she will provide passionate and dedicated leadership at NOAA.

Working with these leaders, we will seek to draw on the power of science to both meet our challenges across the globe and revitalize our economy here at home. And I’ll be speaking more after the New Year about how my Administration will engage leaders in the technology community and harness technology and innovation to create jobs, enhance America’s competitiveness and advance our national priorities.

I am confident that if we recommit ourselves to discovery; if we support science education to create the next generation of scientists and engineers right here in America; if we have the vision to believe and invest in things unseen, then we can lead the world into a new future of peace and prosperity.

Thank you.

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Colorado Senate: Polls Show Hickenlooper, John Salazar Strong

By brownsox
Daily Kos

With the recent selection of Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to be Secretary of the Interior, Public Policy Polling has done a preliminary poll of the prospective 2010 race to fill Salazar's seat.

Colorado's Democratic Governor, Bill Ritter, is in charge of appointing a successor to Salazar, and two of the names frequently mentioned are Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. John Salazar (Ken's brother).

PPP has polled them against two logical potential Republicans - retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo and former Governor Bill Owens - and finds both Democrats putting up strong numbers.

Public Policy Polling. 12/16-17. Registered voters. MoE 3.7% (No trend lines).
Hickenlooper (D) 54 
Owens (R) 40

Hickenlooper (D) 54 
Tancredo (R) 37
And here are the numbers for Congressman John Salazar, who hails from the Western Slope-based Third Congressional District:
Salazar (D) 52 
Owens (R) 43

Salazar (D) 53 
Tancredo (R) 40
Not a lot to complain about from these numbers - it's interesting that despite Salazar's name, and his base in a Republican-leaning swing district (old PVI of R+3), Hickenlooper actually polls better.

It's rumored that the job might be Hickenlooper's if he wants it, but it's not yet clear whether he does. Hickenlooper is a popular mayor and owner of a brewery, and while his ability to win votes outside of Denver and Boulder had been questioned, his numbers in this poll are rather impressive, particularly the numbers against former Governor Owens (who won reelection with 63% of the vote in 2002)....(Click for remainder).

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Torture Chamber

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Maybe Vilsack Won't Suck?


By Kat
Eating Liberally

Obama's selection of GMO-lovin', bio-fuelish, feedlot-friendly Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture drew a resounding "Bleech!" from the blogosphere this week. Vilsack has a long history of Agribiz alliances that's giving progressive foodies a bad case of heartland heartburn.

Vilsack's cozy with that agrarian Antichrist, Monsanto, for starters--and if you don't know what's scary about that, you haven't heard that Monsanto's apparently hellbent on seizing control of our entire food chain. Kind of like a cheesy Austin Powers plot, except that IT'S REALLY HAPPENING.

His support of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) brings to mind another kind of movie--a horror film in which mad scientists tinker away in their labs and unwittingly unleash a Pandora's box of unforeseen--and disastrous--consequences. I know, it sounds like another low-budget sci-fi flick, but as Jill Richardson ably documented this week, IT'S HAPPENING NOW (apologies for invoking Wolf Blitzer.)

And don't forget the biofuel boondoggle. Clearly, corn-based ethanol--which Vilsack endorses--is a lose-lose proposition; it's not going to solve our energy problems, and it's exacerbating the global food crisis. What about cellulosic biofuels? Vilsack and Stephen Chu, Obama's newly appointed Secretary of Energy, are all gung-ho about those cowpie-in-the-sky fuels-of-the-future, too. But Tom Philpott's written a compelling post over on Grist about the folly of emphasizing biofuels over more low-impact energy sources, conservation, and public transportation.

OK, so it's pretty easy to villify Vilsack. He doesn't have much in common with the dream candidates endorsed by the more than 57,000 folks who signed on to the Food Democracy Now! petition launched by activist David Murphy, who, in the words of Ethicurean Bonnie Powell, "tilted tirelessly at Washington’s windmills like a madman with a laptop for a lance."

Then again, Vilsack is someone's dream candidate--that someone being Jennifer Donahue, who happens to be a personal friend of Vilsack's. Donahue, political director at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, wrote a post for HuffPo with the Onion-esque title "Vilsack Best Possible Secretary Of Agriculture," in which she lauded Vilsack's ability to listen....(Click for remainder).

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Obama backs the workers and free trade

By Andrew Ward
The Financial Times

(WASHINGTON) Barack Obama on Friday promised to promote free trade as US president, but said that future trade deals must benefit all Americans – not just big corporations.

The commitment came as the president-elect nominated a supporter of open markets as US trade representative, while choosing a champion of workers’ rights as labour secretary.

Mr Obama said Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas, would push to open more markets to US products as trade representative. But deals must include tough labour and environmental standards. “He knows there is nothing inconsistent about standing up for free trade and standing up for American workers,” said the president-elect.

The choice of Mr Kirk sent a reassuring signal to supporters of trade liberalisation because he was an advocate of free trade as mayor and backed the North American Free Trade Agreement. He was elected as the first black mayor of Dallas in 1995 and served for six years before stepping down to make an unsuccessful run for the US Senate.

Some trade experts voiced concern at his lack of experience in international talks, but the US Chamber of Commerce praised his “keen understanding” of trade and its benefits. Mr Kirk is expected to work closely with Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor and another free-trade advocate, who has been nominated as commerce secretary.

However, the announcement of Hilda Solis, a California congresswoman and critic of recent trade deals, as labour secretary highlighted the risk of tension within the Obama administration over the issue....(Click for remainder).

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Statement of Congressman Frank on President Elect Obama Choosing Rick Warren to Give Inauguration Invocation

News Release from Barney Frank

Congressman, 4th District, Massachusetts
2252 Rayburn Building · Washington, D.C. 20515 · (202) 225-5931

House.gov/frank

For Immediate Release:

December 18, 2008


STATEMENT OF CONGRESSMAN FRANK ON PRESIDENT ELECT OBAMA CHOOSING RICK WARREN TO GIVE INAUGURATION INVOCATION

“I am very disappointed by President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to honor Reverend Rick Warren with a prominent role in his inauguration. Religious leaders obviously have every right to speak out in opposition to anti-discrimination measures, even in the degrading terms that Rev. Warren has used with regard to same-sex marriage. But that does not confer upon them the right to a place of honor in the inauguration ceremony of a president whose stated commitment to LGBT rights won him the strong support of the great majority of those who support that cause. 

“It is irrelevant that Rev. Warren invited Senator Obama to address his congregation, since he extended an equal invitation to Senator McCain. Furthermore, the President-Elect has not simply invited Rev. Warren to give a speech as part of a series in which various views are presented. The selection of a member of the clergy to occupy this uniquely elevated position has always been considered a mark of respect and approval by those who are being inaugurated.”

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Does Obama agree with Rick Warren that gays should live their entire lives without sex?

By John Aravosis

Yeah, he said it. He also said that gays prove that evolution doesn't exist, because if evolution were a correct theory, we'd have died out long ago. Nice man.

Below is the transcript of Warren on Larry King, via Rude Pundit. Rude Pundit calls Rick Warren "Tubby" because Warren is, well, fat. A glutton, presumably. That's one of the seven deadly sins. You see, gays are supposed to abstain from sex for life when Rick Warren can't even abstain from Twinkies.

Then again, gluttony is a "Catholic"-defined sin, and evangelicals think Catholics worship Satan, they call the Catholic church "the great whore," so maybe it's okay for Warren to eat, a lot.

Speaking of which, does Warren agree that Catholics worship Satan and are going to hell? Does Obama think that the notion that Catholics are a "whore" faith that worships Satan is something we should all agree to disagree about?

TUBBY: Well, again, I would just say I think to me the issue is, is it natural? Is it the natural thing? I mean here's an interesting thing I have to ask. How can you believe in Darwin's theory of evolution and homosexuality at the same time? Now think about this.

If Darwin was right, which is survival of the fittest then homosexuality would be a recessive gene because it doesn't reproduce and you would think that over thousands of years that homosexuality would work itself out of the gene pool.

KING: So, we take the reverse. The creator then approves of it.

TUBBY: Well, I believe...

KING: Darwin's wrong. The creator is right. Gays are right.

TUBBY: Yes well, of course, I believe that God created one man for one woman for life. A lot of the problems -- as a pastor I've notice that when God gives certain rules they're really for our benefit. They're not because God's capricious or just "I think that I'm going to make your life miserable."

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Belgium in limbo again after government collapses


By Philip Blenkinsop
Reuters UK

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium was left scrambling for political leadership for the third time in a year on Saturday after the government collapsed following its botched attempt to bail out troubled financial group Fortis.

Prime Minister Yves Leterme tendered his government's resignation on Friday after a damning report by the Supreme Court found signs of political meddling to sway a court ruling on the future of the bank, a victim of the credit crunch.

Belgium's King Albert, who under the constitution must decide whether to accept the resignation, held late-night talks with Leterme in the palace about the resignation offer on Friday but deferred any immediate decision.

"We'll have to look at how we assure stability in our country -- political stability we don't have at the moment," Finance Minister Didier Reynders said.

Leterme has been in power only for nine months as leader of a fragile, five-party coalition meant to ease a dispute between Belgium's linguistic groups that had reignited speculation the 178-year-old country could break up.

Opposition parties demanded fresh parliamentary elections, although analysts doubted the ruling parties in Leterme's coalition will want to test voters just as Belgium slips into recession, and with the Fortis debacle fresh in their minds....(Click for remainder).

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Brown asks state high court to overturn Prop. 8

By Bob Egelko
San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO -- State Attorney General Jerry Brown, in a surprise turnabout, asked the California Supreme Court on Friday to overturn Proposition 8, saying the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage violates basic rights guaranteed in the state Constitution.

Brown, who is required to defend state laws unless he cannot find reasonable legal grounds to do so, said after Prop. 8 passed Nov. 4 that he would support the initiative before the state's high court.

But in a lengthy filing late Friday, he argued that the measure was "inconsistent with the guarantees of individual liberty" in California's governing charter.

"Proposition 8 must be invalidated because the amendment process cannot be used to extinguish fundamental constitutional rights without compelling justification," Brown said.

The authors of the state Constitution, he said, did not intend "to put a group's right to enjoy liberty to a popular vote."

Hours earlier, sponsors of Prop. 8 filed arguments asking the court to uphold the ballot measure, which passed with a 52 percent majority. Andrew Pugno, attorney for the Yes on 8 campaign, said he was disappointed by Brown's stance.

"It's unfortunate that the attorney general would not do his duty to defend the will of the voters," Pugno said.

The position of the attorney general, the state's top lawyer, ordinarily carries considerable weight with the court. Brown's office was on the losing side, however, when the court overturned California's previous ban on same-sex marriage in May....(Click for remainder).

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