Sonia Sotomayor's road to becoming the nation's first Hispanic justice was relegated to the media's back pages under a sense that her confirmation was a fait accompli-once the Senate Judiciary Committee cleared her 13-6 on July 28. But Manuel Miranda, chairman of the Third Branch Conference, believes that floor debate over the likely next Supreme Court justice "should be nothing less than magnificent." With five Republicans pledging support, Senate fireworks are unlikely to change the outcome. But Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice, said Republicans deserve credit for putting principles above politics. Despite fears they might alienate Hispanic voters, Republicans asked tough questions about Sotomayor's commitment to the law. "The predictions that Republicans would roll over were proven wrong," Levey said. The fact that her answers seemed at odds with her previous statements left most Republicans confused: "I am not certain that Judge Sotomayor won't allow those personal beliefs and preferences to dictate the outcome of cases before her," worried Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa. But Lindsey Graham, the one Republican senator on the committee who supported Sotomayor, spoke the words that may be the reason why this process has lost its heat: "She can be no worse than Souter from our point of view," he said, meaning that Republicans may be willing to replace one liberal justice (the retiring David Souter) with another-thus saving their gunpowder for another fight.
The last time presidential elections were held in Afghanistan, George Bush was running for reelection and U.S. forces had been on the ground there for barely three years. Afghans prepare to go to the polls Aug. 20 amid rising violence and a U.S.-led war against the Taliban about to enter its ninth year. The resurgent Taliban is already at work disrupting the election, which includes 40 candidates challenging incumbent President Hamid Karzai. Gunmen last week opened fire on a campaign manager for former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is the lead challenger to Karzai, and have vowed they will not allow polls to open in Taliban strongholds.
Another advance in stem-cell technology is reinforcing Dr. Mehmet Oz's statement to an Oprah audience: "The stem-cell debate is dead." Chinese scientists took mature skin cells from mice and reprogrammed them into an embryonic-like state, then injected those reprogrammed cells into mice embryos to create live mice offspring. This seems to prove that these reprogrammed cells have the versatility of embryonic stem cells: They can turn into any other cell in the body.
Change of script
President Obama, in his first remarks addressed to Chinese leaders, called on the government to respect freedom of speech and religion-an unexpected departure during the first meeting July 27-28 of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue: "That includes ethnic and religious minorities in China, as surely as it includes minorities within the United States," he said. Recent violence between the minority Uighur population and law enforcement in western China has brought the issue of religious freedom to the fore. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have soft--pedaled the issue of human-rights abuses in China on recent trips there.
Five years after Congress declared in a resolution that genocide was unfolding in Sudan's western region of Darfur, lawmakers met on Capitol Hill to learn what a new administration would do about a problem still threatening millions of lives. But top Obama officials display marked differences over Sudan policy: UN Ambassador Susan Rice has spoken of ongoing genocide in Darfur, while Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, Obama's newly appointed U.S. envoy to Sudan, called the situation in Darfur "the remnants of genocide." Rice told a House committee last month that the government in northern Sudan must allow more aid to flow into Darfur, after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir expelled a dozen aid groups after his indictment by the International Criminal Court in March. The UN says that action could cut off food aid to as many as 1 million people. Roger Winter warned Congress to remember South Sudan in addition to the western province of Darfur. The former U.S. special representative to Sudan said the government continues to violate the terms of a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with South Sudan, and to be complicit in massive casualties without being held accountable. "Surely 3 million deaths is unambiguously a Holocaustic number," Winter said in testimony before the same House panel July 29, referencing the deaths at the hands of government forces and government-backed militias in recent years.
Art of abuse
The sign next to a publicly funded art display in Glasgow, Scotland, is almost an invitation to abuse: "If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it." According to the London Times, people responded by scrawling obscenities on the Bible's pages: "This is all sexist pish, so disregard it all" and "I am Bi, Female & Proud. I want no god who is disappointed in this." The Gallery of Modern Art's "Made in God's Image" display "challenges the assumption that one cannot lead a fully spiritual life" while identifying as LGBT, and solicited the involvement of the religious community, including Al-Jannah, an LGBT Muslim group. But the artists chose the Bible for defacement instead of the Quran, at the suggestion of the Metropolitan Community Church, a denomination that actively promotes the LGBT lifestyle. One church minister, Jane Clark, told the Times the church never meant for people to abuse the Bible: "It was our intention to reclaim it as a sacred text."
Lance Armstrong's comeback bid to nab an eighth victory in the Tour de France fell short, as the cycling superstar finished third behind teammate Alberto Contador and runner-up Andy Schleck.
Though gracious in defeat, the seven-time champion appeared uncomfortable with his lowered place on the ceremonial podium. Adding to that discomfort, Contador and Armstrong share almost as much personal disdain for each other as they do mutual athletic respect. The pair will not continue their strained partnership as fellow members of team Astana. "We're totally incompatible," Contador said.
Armstrong, 37, insisted that he was satisfied with his third-place finish but intends to take another shot at his Spanish rival next year. Already the second-oldest rider ever to reach the podium, the aging star admits that the task ahead of him is daunting-and not just for lack of youth: "Alberto rides faster [up a mountain] than I ever did. Even at my best, I didn't ride that fast."
Bring cupcakes. Bring presents. Bring swine flu? Internet chatter on several health blogs and medical discussion websites indicates some concerned parents have begun toying with the idea of swine flu parties to inoculate their children from potential future strains of the virus that could prove more deadly. After much hype and fear-mongering, the current strain of the disease has proven rather mild with 302 confirmed deaths in America out of some 44,000 confirmed infections-though many analysts put the figure of unreported U.S. infections at about a million.
Future strains are not expected to be so mild. Federal health officials have expressed concern that H1N1 could infect up to 40 percent of Americans over the next two years, potentially resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths if vaccination campaigns fail. The World Health Organization says the number of global cases could balloon to 2 billion.
Still, health officials say the idea of intentional exposure to the current strain is a bad idea. Richard Jarvis, chairman of the British Medical Association's public health committee, admitted that the virus is mild but warned that its effects are not desirable: "I would not want it myself." Richard Besser, acting head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has likewise discouraged the idea given the medical community's limited knowledge of the disease.
Lisa Miller returns to court this month after her former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins, filed another motion seeking a transfer of custody of Miller's 7-year-old daughter Isabella. The hearings, set for Aug. 21 in Vermont and Aug. 25 in Virginia, will also evaluate whether Miller will face sanctions for failing to send Isabella on court-mandated visits with Jenkins. The court dates come after a ruling by a Utah judge against a lesbian woman who sought parental rights over a 2-year-old boy born to her former partner. The June 30 decision upheld Jana Dickson's right as the boy's biological parent to refuse visitation to Gena Edvalson.
It may have sounded significant when President Obama last week proposed ways to reduce government spending by $100 million. But with the federal budget deficit nearing $2 trillion, $100 million is less than meets the ear.
Jack Uldrich at jumpthecurve.net gives an example of the difference between 1 million, 1 billion, and 1 trillion in his futurist lectures. He asks readers and listeners to think about seconds going backwards . . .
• 1 million seconds ago = 12 days ago
• 1 billion seconds ago = 30 years ago
• 1 trillion seconds ago = 30,000 b.c.
China's coercive population policies have created a population crisis that Shanghai is now scrambling to correct, but the same policies are still coercing the rest of the country into forced abortions and sterilizations.
China's population is graying-the Center for Strategic and International Studies has warned that by 2035, China will have two elderly people for every child-and family-planning officials are now worried about supporting this elderly population with a dwindling work force. In Shanghai, officials say they are now urging some couples to have two children.
But birth quotas and coercive policies still remain. Some urban couples have chosen not to have any children, and so Shanghai's fertility rate is lower than officials have planned. Allowing two children, said Steve Mosher, president of Population Research Institute, will merely fill birth quotas already in place: "The government knows quite well that for every couple that elects to have a second child, another will elect to have none. So it remains a de facto one-child policy."
In more rural populations, people often want more children because they have more room and more use for children. There, Mosher said, PRI investigations show that "the one-child policy is still being pursued with a vengeance."