From the category archives:

Politics

The upcoming sequester means that several federal agencies and organizations will soon be facing the possibility of huge cuts to their budgets. But in a public address this Monday, on the 150th anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences, President Obama expressed his support for the science industry by stating that he will do whatever he can to keep the budget cuts from stalling the depth and pace of research.

“What I want to communicate to all of you is that as long as I’m president, we’re going to be committed to investing in promising ideas that are generated by you and your institutions, because they lead to innovative products, they help boost our economy, but also because that’s who we are,” Obama said to an audience of scientists, engineers and doctors. “I’m committed to it because that’s what makes us special, and ultimately what makes life worth living.”

When policymakers were unable to reach an agreement to avoid government-wide spending cuts earlier this year, $85 billion in across-the-board cuts was signed into law on March 1.

Making deep cuts to research and development programs could jeopardize the country’s competitive edge, and it hinders the widespread benefits that these efforts could have, Obama said.

“What we produce here ends up having benefits worldwide,” continued Obama, after explaining his belief that deep cuts to research and development programs could jeopardize the country’s competitive edge. “We should be reaching for a level of private and public research and development investment that we haven’t seen since the height of the space race, that’s my goal.”

Currently, the National Institutes of Health is expecting to face $1.5 billion in cuts, the National Science Foundation is estimating a $283 million cut, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science is estimating an $8.6 billion cut this year.

“It’s hitting our scientific research,” said Obama. “Instead of racing ahead … our scientists are left wondering if they’ll be able to start any new research projects at all, which means we could lose a year, two years, of scientific research.”

“In all the sciences, we’ve got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they’re not subject to politics, that they’re not skewed by an agenda.”

 The president promised that his administration will do whatever they can to make subjects like science, technology, engineering and math seem more appealing the next generation of Americans, to ensure a better future for the country.

“We want to make sure we’re exciting young people around math and science and technology. We don’t want our kids to just be consumers of the amazing things that science generates. We want them to be producers as well.”

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This week, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments on a California case which could transform gay and lesbian marriage laws nationwide.

Charles J. Cooper and Theodore B. Olson, both former Reagan administration lawyers, defended the two sides, with Olson contending an equal right to marry is basic to American liberty and Cooper saying the decision on changing state marriage laws should be left to the voters in each state. The Obama administration’s top courtroom lawyer also appeared to argue that California’s Proposition 8 and its ban on same-sex marriage should be struck down as unjust discrimination against gays and lesbians. The Supreme Court will decide whether or not a state’s ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.

Cooper will be given 30 minutes to argue for allowing the voters of each state to decide for themselves on whether to “redefine” marriage, and to keep California’s current ban. Olson will then have 20 minutes to argue that denying marriage to committed gay and lesbian couples denies them the “equal protection of the laws” promised by the Constitution.

In June, the Supreme Court will either use these arguments to decide to: uphold Proposition 8 and rule gay marriage is not a constitutional right (leaving the issue in the hands of each state), dismiss the appeal on procedural grounds and return the Proposition 8 case to a federal court in San Francisco, strike down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional on a narrow basis (affecting only California), or rule broadly that denying marriage to committed gay couples is unconstitutional, a decision that could legalize gay marriage nationwide.

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President Barack Obama made his first presidential trip to Israel yesterday to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres and newly re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Israel has no better friend than the United States of America,” said Netanyahu during a joint appearance in Jerusalem. “I want to thank you once again for always making clear that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

While he and Netanyahu have not always had the best relationship in the past, Obama reaffirmed the importance of a strong relationship between the US and Israel.

“We’ve spent more time together, working together than I have with any leader and this speaks to the closeness of our two nations; the interests and the values that we share and the depth and breadth of the ties between our two people.”

He later went on to vow he would do “what is necessary” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and to investigate reports that Syria had used chemical weapons for the first time in its two-year civil war. Obama warned Syrian leader Bashar Assad that use of such weapons would be a “game-changer” and could potentially draw the U.S. military into the conflict for the first time. 

“The Assad regime must understand that they will be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons or their transfer to terrorists.”

Obama has promised to talk about peace efforts more expansively in a speech to Israeli youth. He will also make a quick trip to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, visit a youth center in Ramallah, deliver a speech and attend a formal dinner with Peres in Jerusalem, and then travel to Jordan in order to pledge American support in dealing with the 450,000 Syrian refugees that have flooded over the border.

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Yesterday, Catholic cardinals gathered at the Sistine Chapel to pick a new pope from among their midst — Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, the first South American to ever lead the church and the first non-European leader of the church in more than 1,000 years.

Bergoglio, 76, will be called “Francis,” the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. Francis was born to Italian immigrant parents and was raised in the Argentine capital. He had been the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and in choosing him, the cardinals sent a powerful message that the future of the Church lies in the home to the bulk of the world’s Catholics, the Global South.

“I would like to thank you for your embrace,” said Francis from the white balcony on St. Peter’s Basilica. “My brother cardinals have chosen one who is from far away, but here I am.”

“Habemus papam!,” “We have a pope!,” and “Viva il Papa!,”members of the crowd shouted.

The Church has been facing with an array of challenges that intensified during his predecessor Benedict XVI’s time as Pope. These challenges include a priest shortage, growing competition from evangelical churches in the Southern Hemisphere, a sexual abuse crisis that has undermined the church’s moral authority in the West, and difficulties governing the Vatican itself. Benedict ended his eight-year papacy last month, announcing he was no longer up to the rigors of the job and becoming the first pontiff in 598 years to resign.

Before beginning the secret ballot voting in the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday, the cardinals swore an oath of secrecy in Latin, a rite designed to protect deliberations from outside scrutiny  and to protect cardinals from earthly influence as they seek divine guidance.

“The pope’s election is something substantially different from a political election,” Cardinal Schönborn told the NY TImes, stating that the Pope is not “the chief executive of a multinational company, but the spiritual head of a community of believers.”

Francis will also inherit power struggles over the management of the Vatican bank, and will have to help make the Vatican bureaucracy work more efficiently for the good of the church.

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Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco, eBay, Electronic Arts, Intel, Intuit, Oracle, Twitter and Zynga are all joining together… to fight same-sex marriage restrictions.

These and hundreds of other companies have signed on to a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that federal same-sex marriage restrictions hurt their businesses. They hope to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act, as laws which bar federal recognition of same-sex marriage burdens them with extra costs and bureaucratic tangles. DOMA puts the companies in a position that “forces us to treat one class of our lawfully married employees differently than another, when our success depends upon the welfare and morale of all employees.”

The companies argue federal law forces them to engage in administrative acrobatics to offer equal benefits to all employees “to compensate for the discriminatory effects of DOMA,” such as unequal tax treatment of opposite-sex versus same-sex couples. As a result, keeping morale high and recruiting new talent becomes harder, affecting their bottom lines. They also say that DOMA forces them to betray their principles, as it “conscripts (companies) to become the face of its mandate that two separate castes of married persons be identified and separately treated,” the brief complains, even in states, counties and cities that ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and marital status.

Stanford University law professor Jane Schacter believes that this support from big companies will force the court to decide if the government has good reason to discriminate against one class of people.

“It’s likely to look to the court more like an issue of prejudice and intolerance.”

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