Terms of endearment...
No one is arguing that Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the newly elected whip for the House Republicans replacing Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, has some big shoes to fill. In his eight years in the No. 3 spot in the House GOP leadership, DeLay redefined the job, reminding people just how political power can be wielded. There are a few folks, however, who are wondering about Blunt's priorities. At the top of Blunt's "to do list" is to persuade his colleagues that the term limit imposed on the House speaker in 1995 should be rescinded.
The idea of limiting the terms of the House speaker and the full committee chairmen was proposed as a vaccine against the kind of empire building that some commentators believed led to the House Post Office and Bank scandals -- and as a bridge to the powerful reform movement seeking to limit the total number of terms members of the House and Senate could serve in Congress. The speaker was limited to eight years in office and full committee chairmen were told they could hold the gavel over a particular committee no more than six years.
These reforms, more than any other enacted by the 104th Congress, have produced real change including the rotation and retirement of committee chairman beginning in 2000, meaning the era in which a single chairman could rule over a portion of the federal government for more than a decade had ended.
Blunt's effort is not going over well with limited government activists and good government reformers. Grover Norquist, the influential political strategist who runs Americans for Tax Reform, a fiscal conservative watchdog group, told the Wall Street Journal, "Letting the speaker serve indefinitely is the first step towards scrapping term limits on committee chairs, which is a key safeguard against abuses of power and overspending," giving voice to the concerns of many who wish Blunt would pick something else to focus on when the new Congress comes in January.
The announcement Friday morning that the first known human clone had been produced brought a sharp rebuke from at least one women's political organization. Concerned Women for America, the nation's largest women's public policy organization, used the announcement as an opportunity to renew its call for Congress to ban human cloning as soon as the next session opens.
"This may be merely a media stunt by Clonaid (the firm that purports to have produced the clone), but it is still a reminder that we desperately need a national ban on all forms of human cloning," CWA Vice President Michael Schwartz said. Holding out the prospect of a nightmare scenario, Schwartz said cloning "raises serious human rights problems."
"Some say we can solve the problems by not allowing clones to live -- but then we are creating lives solely to serve as organs and body parts for other people. And there will still be other human rights abuses.... Women in the third world will be exploited as the source for the millions of eggs needed to carry out this mad science ... (and) will also be exploited as their wombs are used as incubators for children who will be harvested and used rather than loved and respected," Schwartz predicted.
Blowing in the wind...
On Friday the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report detailing the effects of airborne pollutants released into the atmosphere when the Twin Towers collapsed Sept. 11, 2001. In the draft, EPA concludes that -- "with the exception of those exposed immediately following the collapse and perhaps during the next few days" -- that most residents of the tri-state area around New York City are not likely to suffer serious long or short term health effects.
The draft will now be submitted for peer review by a panel of independent scientific experts and will also be open to public comment for 60 days. The draft document is available on the Internet at www.EPA.gov/ncea/wtc.htm.
Somebody call a doctor...
Liberal feminist groups are none too happy about some of President George W. Bush's most recent appointments to the federal Food and Drug Administration's Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs. Calling the new committee members "a Christmas gift to religious extremists," Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt said, "President Bush's brand of ideological science will be a nightmare for women's health. If allowed to continue unchecked, they will surely turn back the clock on all reproductive health technologies."
One of the new appointees, Dr. W. David Hager of Kentucky, has come under fire from feminist groups because he counsels prayer as one aspect of treatment for women suffering from premenstrual syndrome and because he has been active in the fight against FDA approval of the so-called abortion drug mifepristone.
Also under fire is Dr. Joseph B. Stanford, who is being criticized for what PPFA says is his refusal to prescribe contraceptives of any sort and Dr. Susan A. Crockett, an at-large board member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Would you like to play a game?
Using a computer simulation model, scientists affiliated with Johns Hopkins University have been able to illustrate the effects of a bioterrorism outbreak of smallpox in a hypothetical American county and have developed an alternative to the Bush administration strategy for vaccinating against smallpox.
The Johns Hopkins model was calibrated with data based on 49 outbreaks of smallpox in Europe from 1950 to 1971. The simulation creates an artificial county containing two towns of 400 people each with 100 households of two working adults and two school-aged children and can be seen at www.brookings.edu/dynamics/models/bioterrorism.htm.
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