Atheists rallied, I think. I was told, but didn't see it myself, so I can't confirm it, that about 20,000 atheists gathered in Washington on Saturday for a so-called "Reason Rally." Such apostles of unbelief as Richard Dawkins and the rock band Bad Religion may or may not have been there, depending on whom you believe. Dawkins called on the crowd not only to challenge religious people but to "ridicule and show contempt" for them. David Silverman, Reason Rally organizer and American Atheists president, defended his "unpopular but necessary" lawsuits against religious groups, and called for "zero tolerance" for anyone who disagrees with or insults atheism. "Stand your ground!" Silverman proclaimed. I always find it humorous and interesting when those who refuse to acknowledge Certainty behave and act with such, well, certainty. I also found it ironic that the group met near the Washington Monument. It was George Washington who wrote to Thomas Nelson in 1778: "The Hand of providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations."
The likeliest unlikely choice. President Obama has nominated Jim Yong Kim to lead the World Bank, and it's a savvy choice. Kim, a Korean-American medical doctor and health expert, is well known among development experts for his work in fighting HIV/AIDS and bringing healthcare to the poor. After a long tenure at Harvard, he was appointed president of Dartmouth College. He's also received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant and was named by Time magazine in 2006 one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Emerging economies such as China, India, South Africa, Brazil, and Russia have sought to use their growing economic clout to pry open the selection process for the heads of the World Bank and its sister organization, the International Monetary Fund. But Kim's impeccable credentials and diverse background will likely defuse that conflict for at least a few years. Make no mistake, though, Kim is also a hardcore Democrat. According to Open Secrets.org, he has been a heavy contributor both to Barack Obama and to Sherrod Brown, the senator from Ohio. Which caused me to wonder: Why would a New Englander donate to a senator from Ohio? One possible answer: Brown has been active in healthcare issues, and he is on the powerful Appropriations Committee.
Finally, transparency. The Obama administration this week released paperwork showing the details of a grant to a branch of Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire-but it took a lawsuit to get it to do so. Last year, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE), which runs six clinics in the state, got a $1 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). New Hampshire Right to Life filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out if HHS followed its own rules requiring a competitive bidding process for federal grants. When the Obama administration failed to comply, the group sued. On Feb. 24, a federal judge ordered the government to release the documents by April 1-more than 125 days after receiving the FOIA.
The Obama recovery? The number of first-time filers for unemployment benefits fell to a four-year low last week. About 348,000 people filed for initial jobless claims, down from the previous week's 353,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Unemployment claims are considered a key indicator of the job market's strength, and recently they have fallen back to levels consistent with a healthy labor market. Even when the economy was strong, in 2005 and 2006, it was common to see Americans file somewhere around 350,000 new claims a week, just due to the usual turnover. The unemployment rate remains stuck at 8.3 percent, still historically high, but it's been trending in the right direction, and the president's narrative in the past few weeks has been clear: We're not where we want to be, but we're moving in the right direction. Whether this story will be enough to win him reelection or not will be a question that will likely keep the presidential race interesting right up until November.