President Barack Obama has overturned a ban on federal funding for stem cell research, reversing the policy of his predecessor George W. Bush.
President Obama: “When it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between
sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research, and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.”
Religious conservatives have generally opposed embryonic stem cell research, because it involves destruction of embryos, which they view as human life. On Monday, President Obama said the research will not be used for cloning humans.
President Obama: “I can also promise that we will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted. We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society or any society.”
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has refused to expand the protections for minorities under the federal voting rights law, a decision that may affect the redrawing of legislative boundaries after the 2010 Census. The court’s conservative majority ruled only electoral districts with majority of blacks or other minorities are to be protected by a provision of the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights groups said the ruling could result in more districts with minorities constituting less than half the population, diluting their voting strength.
In business news, the pharmaceutical giant Merck has announced plans to buy one of its chief rivals, Schering-Plough Corporation for $41 billion. The move comes just weeks after Pfizer said it would buy Wyeth. The two mergers in the pharmaceutical industry are expected to result in 35,000 job losses. Questions have been raised over the link between the mergers and the taxpayer bailouts of the banking industry. Dr. John Abramson of Harvard Medical School said the mergers are only happening now because the drug companies can get the money from the banks thanks to the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program. Abramson said, “The TARP money is supposed to be loosening up credit and keeping Americans employed. They shouldn’t be using bailout money to get rid of people.”
In other news from the White House, the Obama administration has called into question the legitimacy of all signing statements issued by President Bush. The New York Times reports Obama has ordered executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric Holder before relying on any of them to bypass a statute. However, President Obama has refused to rule out using signing statements himself.
In Iraq, at least twenty-five people died today when a suicide bomber attacked a group of tribal leaders as they left the mayor’s office in the town of Abu Ghraib. Police officers, soldiers and journalists were said to among the dead.
The Dalai Lama marked his fiftieth year in exile earlier today by demanding “meaningful autonomy” for his Tibetan homeland, where Chinese authorities have tightened security to stifle protests against their rule. The Dalai Lama slammed China for bringing “untold suffering and destruction” to Tibet and turning the region at times into a “hell on earth.” His words came on the fiftieth anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese troops, which led to his exile.
Protests are being held today around the world to commemorate fifty years of Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule. On Monday, pro-Tibet activists gathered outside the White House.
Tsering Palden, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress in New York and New Jersey: “Today fifty years ago, the Tibetans in Tibet have voluntarily rose up against the Chinese occupation. So that resistance still continues, and we wanted to keep this force of resistance alive and be the voice of those Tibetans inside Tibet, because they don’t have any voice outside, because they closed Tibet from the outside world. No foreigners are allowed. No journalists are allowed. The whole of Tibet has been militarized. It has become virtually — Tibet is under virtually martial law.”
Yangchen Lhamo of Students for a Free Tibet also spoke.
Yangchen Lhamo: “We’re here really with tens of thousands of Tibetans and supporters around the world today to mark this anniversary by taking these fifty years of resistance, the spirit of the fifty years of resistance, to the streets of our cities and our towns and to urge — here in our nation’s capital, to urge the US government to increase the pressure on China to meet with the Dalai Lama and engage in meaningful negotiations and also just to immediately withdraw all of the troops that have been deployed in Tibet.”
The Wall Street Journal reports key Senate Democrats are wavering in their support of the Employee Free Choice Act, dealing a potential blow to organized labor. The bill would stop employers from demanding secret-ballot elections and require them to recognize unions if a majority of workers consented. The bill has been fiercely opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. At least six senators who have previously supported the proposal now say they are opposed or not sure. Senators on the fence include Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and both of the Democratic senators from Arkansas, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln.
In other labor news, Ford and the United Auto Workers have reached a deal where the union has agreed to cuts in their compensation package, including a freezing of wages and restructuring retirement benefits. In exchange, Ford made commitments to the UAW to seek sacrifices from its executives, salaried employees and bondholders. The new deal is expected to save Ford millions of dollars.
A British convoy carrying aid for Palestinians arrived in Gaza Monday. The convoy left London last month and traveled through at least seven countries in Europe and North Africa. Members of the “Viva Palestina” convoy included British parliamentarian George Galloway.
George Galloway: “We have brought with us many vehicles, much equipment, much medicine — everything we could carry. And we will hand it to Ismail Haniyeh, the elected prime minister of Palestine.”
The top cyber security chief at the Department of Homeland Security has resigned and has accused the National Security Agency and the military of trying to take control of the government’s cyber security efforts. Up until last week, Rod Beckstrom served as head of the National Cyber Security Center. Beckstrom opposed efforts by the NSA to move the National Cyber Security Center to its base at Fort Meade in Maryland.
In media news, the McClatchy newspaper chain has announced plans to eliminate 1,600 jobs, or 15 percent of its workforce. Newspapers affected by the layoffs include the Sacramento Bee, the Kansas City Star, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Fresno Bee. Meanwhile, the New York Times has announced it has sold twenty-one floors in its fifty-two-story headquarters in Times Square in an effort to raise $225 million. Under the terms of the deal, the paper will lease back the floors for the next fifteen years.
The Bolivian government has ordered a senior US diplomat to leave the country after President Evo Morales accused him of participating in a “conspiracy” against his government. Morales said Francisco Martinez was in contact with opposition groups involved in anti-government unrest. Martinez was the second secretary of the US embassy in La Paz.
Thirty members of the US House of Representatives have sent President Obama a letter calling for US neutrality in Saturday’s presidential election in El Salvador. Polls indicate the leftist FMLN party will beat the right-wing ARENA party, which has ruled for the past two decades. Historically, the ARENA party has had close ties to Washington. Five years ago, the Bush administration was accused of threatening to cut off aid to El Salvador if voters supported the FMLN.
In Northern Ireland, tension is rising after another member of the security forces has been shot dead. A police officer was killed last night in County Armagh after he responded to a call for help. This marked the first murder of a police officer in Northern Ireland since 1998. The shooting came two days after a pair of British troops were shot dead outside a British military base in Northern Ireland. The dissident republican group, the Real IRA, claimed responsibility. On Monday, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams condemned the killings.
Gerry Adams: “Just make it clear, on the one hand, that the people who carried out this attack don’t have any support within the broad republican family or the broad republican constituency and that Sinn Feinn will go toe-to-toe and ensure that there is no ambiguity around the unworthiness of this action and the fact that this action should not have taken place.’’
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Northern Ireland on Monday and said the peace process cannot be shaken.
Gordon Brown: “What I’ve seen this morning is the unity of the people of Northern Ireland and the unity of the political parties, that they stand united behind the peace and political process that they’ve been building for many, many years, that they are going to continue to work together, and they want to send out a message to the world, as I do, that the political process will not and never be shaken. In fact, the political process is now unshakable.’’
Opening statements begin today in Denver, Colorado in Professor Ward Churchill’s trial against the University of Colorado at Boulder. Churchill sued the school after he was fired in 2007 on charges of research misconduct. But Churchill maintains that the allegations were a pretext to remove him for his unpopular political views. In 2005, he described the September 11 attacks as a response to a long history of US abuses and called those who were killed on 9-11 as “little Eichmanns.”
And more people rode the nation’s public buses, subways and commuter trains last year than in any year since 1956. This according to a new report by the American Public Transportation Association. The trade group estimates Americans took nearly 10.7 billion rides on public transportation in 2008.