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In less than one year, stem cell researchers will begin to tap into the $30 billion per year NIH budget that President Bush has locked away from them since 2001.  The battle will be over.  We will have won.  No matter who wins the White House this year, it will be a candidate who supports stem cell research.  Clinton, Obama, and John McCain all support federally-funded stem cell research.

However, the victory in this long-fought battle will be bittersweet if there is insufficient funding to pay for the newly allowed stem cell research.  Without an increase in the NIH budget, the new stem cell initiatives will be underfunded, or will take money away from ongoing basic research that is necessary for stem cell work to succeed.  It's a zero-sum game: As long as Bush's NIH cuts remain in place, his legacy of blocking stem cell research will continue.

But, there is something you can do today to help stop Bush's legacy and fund stem cell research as early as possible in 2009.

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In a report today that may signal new promise for the pro-war campaign of Senator John McCain, the State Department has released figures showing a decrease in US spending in Iraq of 1/24th, or nearly 5%, on Sunday compared to the same period one week ago.

The savings of approximately $17 million, or about what the US spends each hour in Iraq (I'm not making that up), was heralded by Sen. McCain as yet another sign that the Iraq occupation is finally paying dividends.

The report was met with skepticism by some of the nation's top scientists, who ascribed the change in spending to an annual phenomenon they call "daylight savings time," and which they believe relates to the Earth's orbital position around the sun.  President Bush and other Republican leaders called these studies "inconclusive."

Meanwhile, Sen. Obama and Clinton have released dueling plans that would each reduce annual spending in Iraq by a whopping 20%.  Sen. Obama's plan, already endorsed by several labor unions, calls for the creation of a non-mandatory 130-hour week, while Sen. Clinton wants to maintain the current 168-hour week while cutting February and July.


or, "Who has won 'the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party'?"

This post begins with a hypothesis:  that Obama's wins have been bigger in red states than in blue states.  It was based on the recollection that Clinton had fared best in the northeast and California, including the Big Blue threesome (CA, MA, NY) while Obama had been sweeping the south and west.  If true, it seemed to challenge the conventional wisdom that one must run left in a Democratic primary to win, and the perception that Clinton is the more centrist candidate.  If true, it might also bring interest to how the coin will fall in the remaining Big Blue states, Vermont and Rhode Island, whose March 4 primaries are otherwise overshadowed by the more delegate-rich contests in Texas and Ohio.  

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The House spent some quality time this week with Roger Clemens at hearings that occupied both the attention of Representative Henry Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as well as a big chunk of my morning paper's front page.  These hearings were, to all extents and purposes, completely useless.  

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Mon Feb 04, 2008 at 09:05 AM PST

Ode to the Undecided Voter

by emptypockets

Who are you undecided jerks
who know not where you stand
who in political shadows lurk
and never show your hands?
Are you so indecisive?
Or just uninformed?
I mean all due respect, but
really, it's no way to live.
Your opinions come pre-warmed
by pundits - stop, and listen to your gut!

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Sat Feb 02, 2008 at 12:28 PM PST

The Only Issue is (Still) Iraq

by emptypockets

A month ago there was a spate of "sky is green" articles claiming that Iraq is no longer the most important issue for voters:

Iraq War Fades as an Election Issue (NPR, Dec 6)

Pocketbook issues push past Iraq in poll (USA Today, Dec 28)

Domestic issues now outweigh Iraq (NY Times, Jan 3)   "...the war is becoming a less defining issue among Democrats nationally... Instead, candidates are being asked about, and are increasingly talking about, the mortgage crisis, rising gas costs, health care, immigration, the environment and taxes."

The funny thing is, when this voter sees "health care," "mortgage crisis," "rising gas costs," "the environment," and "taxes" I read them all as a single four-letter word:  Iraq.

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I've got to admit, I've pretty much stopped reading this site.

It used to be great for a 5, 10, 15... 25... minute break from work, but lately I find that by the time the 18th YouTube video loads, my coffee break is over.

And, to my tremendous surprise, I haven't missed it much.  Maybe it's because the site changed.  Maybe it's because the political climate changed.  Maybe I changed.  Who cares?

The point is, of all the things I thought I might miss, the last I thought it would be is one of those gabby, goofy, unthoughtful, unanalytical open threads.  Yet what's bringing me back here is -- somehow -- Project Runway.  

I don't even really LIKE this show!  (Do I protest too much?)  But let's just say, in my household it's a not-to-be-missed, and one of the biggest enjoyments for me was the live blogging thread I'd find here.

I didn't see one posted yet tonight, for the season's premiere.

Runway watchers, are you out there?


Sat Aug 11, 2007 at 07:43 AM PDT

Bushwatch: Unbuilding America

by emptypockets

"Maybe I'm missing something here. I mean, we're going to have kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not."
George W. Bush, October 11 2000

Currently, the Department of Defense has budgeted over $140 billion in 2008 for Iraq and Afghanistan.  Under President Bush, the U.S. has appropriated over $600 billion for activities relating to Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Sun Aug 05, 2007 at 10:53 AM PDT

The Six Stages of Political Grief

by emptypockets

Following Saturday night's Constitutional shred-a-thon, climaxing in the passage of the FISA bill legalizing six months of warrantless wiretaps on domestic communications, I was stunned and appalled.  Fortunately, so were the rest of you.  And so together we are going through The Six Stages of Political Grief:

abandonment, paranoia, rationalization, unfocused anger, focused anger, action.

Each of these stages is necessary, though we each experience them differently.  The diaries and comment threads below helped me move through them.  I hope they help you as well.  Together, we will transcend this.  Because we're good enough, we're smart enough, and gosh darn it people -- well, ok, people don't like us, but they damn well need us.

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This is a community action project:

  1. Go to
  1. Search for your Congresspeople and Senators
  1. If they have not yet completed the 15 question survey about their views on health care research, then please use the form to ask them to put their views in writing.

The survey, which they received in May, asks their views about funding for NIH, CDC, and science education; American health care coverage and Medicare; and stem cell research.  They can complete it by mail, fax, email, or on-line.  

There is no excuse for any Congressperson to refuse to let their constituents know where they stand -- and to let us hold them accountable if their words are not backed up by actions.

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Are Congressional Democrats really going to support stem cell research, or were stem cells simply a political device for the campaign trail?  

We have seen that stem cell research is a useful political wedge to separate fundamentalist candidates, beholden to the extreme religious right, from an electorate of mainstream Republican voters (who support stem cell research).  Democrats have done a great job stumping on stem cells and using legislation sure to be vetoed as a means to get incumbent Republicans on record voting against the publicly popular research.

But their policy action so far is disappointingly mixed.  Democrats have continued to champion federal funding of stem cell research as a legislative matter -- that is, they have passed legislation aimed at reversing Bush's directive to the NIH and thereby freeing up federal money for the research.  (A similar bill was also passed by the Republican-controlled House in May 2005 and the Republican-controlled Senate in September 2006.) However, when it comes to appropriating funding that would pay for that research, the current budget bills show a meager allocation for NIH, on par with the 2004-2006 budgets set by Republicans.  

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A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece at The Next Hurrah called "So what's wrong with doubling the NSF budget anyway?," where I argued that plans to double the National Science Foundation's budget through Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative made for bad policy.  

I gave three reasons: first, I thought it was political posturing with no action behind it; second, I thought it was a "pro-science" front used to cover up lack of funding for NIH; and third, I said that Clinton's NIH budget doubling had shown that rapid, unsustainable funding bursts create boom-and-bust cycles that, in the long run, hurt science, and that sound policy calls for slow, steady, sustainable growth.  

That last item bears repeating and, fortunately, a column on Science magazine's web site last week makes the point again for me:

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