Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

Obama has signed the Omnibus Appropriation Bill, which will increase access to contraceptives:

Last night the Senate passed the omnibus appropriations bill, including the “Affordable Birth Control Act.” This provision is a no-cost fix to the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which contained language that stopped pharmaceutical companies from providing prescriptions at lower than market costs to health clinics and College and University health centers. Previously, companies were supplying schools and safety-net providers with low cost or no cost birth control. As a result of the DRA, low income women and college students were forced to pay market price, approximately $40-$50 per month.
The same bill resumes funding for the UN Population Fund:
President Obama yesterday signed legislation containing a $50 million contribution to UNFPA. This puts in motion the restoration of U.S. funding for UNFPA, which had been suspended since 2002.

"This is a much needed support," added Ms. Obaid, "which will allow UNFPA to maintain its life-saving work, particularly improving maternal and reproductive health, in the world's poorest communities, especially during this financial crisis."
Incidentally, there was an attempt to strip the UNPF funding from the bill:
The bill was rejected in a near party-line vote with the Republican Senators Snowe (ME), Specter (PA), and Collins (ME) voting against the amendment and Democratic Senators Bayh (IN), Nelson (NE), and Casey (PA) voting for the amendment.
There's also talk of rescinding yet another of BushCo's anti-life policies:
Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) applauds the Obama administration for proposing a rule to rescind a Bush midnight regulation that undermines the country’s ailing health care system as well as patients’ access to health care information and services.

“This proposed rule clearly states that the Obama administration is committed to putting patients’ care first,” said Cecile Richards, president of PPFA. “As was made clear at the White House Summit on Health Care yesterday, we should be working together to increase, not hinder, access to care. Patients, especially low- income women, deserve access to complete and accurate health care information and services and today’s action shows that this administration understands and will meet this need. This is a commonsense fix.”
Perhaps sanity is contagious. Australia has just lifted its version of the Global Gag Rule:
The Australian government announced a decision yesterday to repeal a foreign aid ban that mirrored the Global Gag rule in the US. Australia's current policy dates to 1996 and prohibits "any overseas development funding from being used for activities which involve the termination of a pregnancy," according to Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

In a statement, Smith said "This is a difficult issue and the Government recognizes that there are strong views, firmly held, on all sides….I have decided to change the Family Planning Guidelines for Australia's overseas development assistance program to support the same range of family planning services for women in developing countries as are supported for women in Australia, subject to the national laws of the relevant nation concerned."
The FDA has approved a new female condom:
The polyurethane sheath, originally approved in 1993, costs anywhere from $2.80 to $4 a piece ndash; a steep price for women in developing countries to whom the condom was marketed (never mind those in the U.S., who could pick up several of the male version for not much more than that -- or for free), Reuters reports. That may change, now that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a next-gen female condom made of synthetic nitrile (a form of rubber) that costs less money for its manufacturer, the Chicago-based Female Health Company, to make. The cost of the new female condom, FC2, could fall to around 60 cents per device for health groups and government agencies that want to buy them, according to the newswire.
Time will tell whether this statement from Obama is serious, or simply a nice gesture, but I like the sound of it:
Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.

The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions. If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public.
A judge in Florida has ruled that school officials cannot ban a gay student club:
Adams ordered a local school board to grant official recognition to the Gay-Straight Alliance and afford it the same privileges as any other student organization.

The school district had argued in court that it would grant school access to the group if its name were changed, citing the name as its chief objection. But the judge ruled that the group did not need to make a change.
Bwahahaha, as the saying is.

Passage of the Omnibus bill will also make it easier to scrap Bush's anti-environmental regs:
Congress today passed an omnibus appropriations bill that gives the Obama administration power to rescind rules weakening both the Endangered Species Act and protections for the polar bear. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will now be able to rescind rules without going through a new, formal rulemaking process. This legislation gives the administration authority above that utilized in President Barack Obama’s memorandum issued last week, which directed federal agencies to follow the old rules.

“This legislation makes it much easier for the administration to remove rules weakening both the Endangered Species Act and protections for the polar bear,” said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is Secretary Salazar’s first opportunity to really set himself apart from the previous administration.”
And it'll change corporate reporting rules for toxic chemicals:
The measure -- which affects chemical manufacturers, oil refineries, automakers and electronic manufacturers nationwide -- reverses a 2006 regulation enacted by President George W. Bush that eased the reporting requirements for nearly 600 chemicals, including arsenic, benzene and cadmium. The legislation restores the standard established by law in 1986, compelling all facilities to inform the public of any chemical releases that total 500 pounds a year or more, lowering the 2,000-pound threshold Bush had adopted.
An important wildlife protection act has been expanded:
Enacted in 1900 by William F. McKinley the Lacey Act is the oldest wildlife protection law in the US; for a over a century it has protected animals from being illegally hunted and trafficked. An amendment made last year has now extended the law to protect plants for the first time, making it possible for the US to support efforts abroad and at home to combat illegal logging.

According to an article by the International Tropical Timber Organization, any wood that is harvested illegal in its native country now comes under the Lacey Act and “anyone who imported, exported, transported, sold, received, acquired or purchased the wood products made from that illegal timber, who knew or should have known that the wood was illegal, may be prosecuted for violation of the Lacey Act”.
Treehugger has created a slide show of things that Obama's stimulus bill will help you to buy (h/t: Karin). As they put it, "tucked into the thousands of pages of confounding language, there are tons of fantastic new tax credits you can get simply for buying great green stuff." (And of course, it's also a diabolical plot against gun owners everywhere, so what's not to love?)

A new study suggests that Munich could cut CO2 emissions by 90 percent without affecting quality of life (or without worsening it, anyway):
Using examples, the study demonstrates that many investments in efficiency measures are, in fact, cost-effective. For instance, to meet the requirements of the energy-saving passive house standard – which is stricter than the 2007 Energy Savings Ordinance now in force – Munich will have to invest an additional €13 billion by mid-century in the renovation of old buildings and the construction of new ones. This amount comes to roughly €200 per city resident per year – about one third of an annual gas bill. However, these added costs will be offset in 2058 by energy cost savings of between €1.6 billion and €2.6 billion – that is, of some €1,200 to €2,000 per resident. If all savings potentials in the area of electrical power are realized, the lion’s share of the city’s electricity needs can be met by renewable low-carbon sources. Although relatively high at first, initial investments in efficient energy-saving technologies generally pay for themselves through energy savings.
In related news, it looks as though the EPA plans to make an important statement on CO2 in April:
a leaked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document shows that the agency “is fast-tracking its response to the Supreme Court’s 2007 climate decision with plans to issue a mid-April finding that global warming threatens both public health and welfare.”

This is very big, very historic, very exciting news – this action by EPA will set the stage for the first-ever national regulation of CO2 in US history. This so-called endangerment finding is the first step the Obama administration must take to start regulating global warming pollution from cars, coal plants, and other sources.
Rodale is promoting organic no-till farming as a carbon sequestration method:
No-till agriculture, in which farmers don’t plow their fields anymore, is one practice said to promote carbon sequestration in the soil. Organic farming is another. Researchers here at the nonprofit Rodale Institute are now developing a hybrid “organic no-till” farming system that they say could sponge up more carbon than any other way of growing food.

The claim: If organic no-till agriculture were used successfully on all of the earth’s 3.5 billion tillable acres, it would absorb and sequester more than half of all present-day CO2 emissions every year, according to Rodale Institute research director Paul Hepperly.
Scientific American examines claims that geothermal power may be "cheaper" than coal — we're pretending here that external costs don't exist, as sensible people should) — and finds some problems, and some grounds for optimism.
{T]he new analysis is backed up by earlier ones, such as a 2006 Western Governor's Association (WGA) report on geothermal resources in the U.S. Southwest. Using nearly the same economic model, but assuming a higher cost of capital than the one used in the Credit Suisse analysis—in other words, the interest rate that is so troublesome in today's economy—the WGA found that geothermal could be produced from existing resources, using existing technology, for around 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, once a 1.9 cent per kilowatt-hour tax credit furnished by the federal government is included.
A bill called the Complete Streets Act is currently being debated in Congress.
Good news: the Complete Streets Act, which is before the House and the Senate right now, would ensure that stimulus funds spent on new transportation projects adhere to “complete streets” guidelines. Streets would have to have sidewalks, raised medians, better bus stop placement, and various traffic-calming features, among other things.
Click the link to see how similar legislation improved a street in La Jolla, CA, and then contact your representatives to support the bill.

AfriGadget reports on an "analog blogger" in Liberia:
Alfred serves as a reminder to the rest of us, that simple is often better, just because it works. The lack of electricity never throws him off. The lack of funding means he’s creative in ways that he recruits people from around the city and country to report news to him. He uses his cell phone as the major point of connection between him and the 10,000 (he says) that read his blackboard daily.

Cadbury is switching over to fair trade:
The move, which also includes Cadbury’s hot chocolate beverage, will result in the tripling of sales of cocoa under Fairtrade terms for cocoa farmers in Ghana. It will both increase Fairtrade cocoa sales for existing certified farming groups, as well as open up new opportunities for more farmers to benefit from the Fairtrade system, according to the company.
This is interesting:
She could have gone down in history as the woman who developed a cure for scurvy, the scourge of sailors the world over. Ebbot Michell seems to have concocted a remedy decades before physician James Lind published his revolutionary Treatise Of The Scurvy in 1753 - but her name is forgotten and appears in no medical text book.
And so is this:
Scientists have used a substance from the shells of shrimp to create a new material that repairs itself when exposed to ultraviolet light. The properties of the polymer, described in the March 13 Science, are still being investigated, but it could in a matter of years make its way into all kinds of coatings, such as paints, and surfaces on everything from surgical instruments to countertops.
And this:
Administration of a tissue-cultured smallpox vaccine showed signs of an effective vaccine response with no serious adverse events, according to a study in the March 11 issue of JAMA.

"The threat of smallpox bioterrorism has prompted reconsideration of the need for smallpox vaccination. Serious adverse events associated with first-generation vaccines such as the New York City Board of Health (Dryvax), Lister, and Ikeda strains have raised obstacles to vaccination campaigns in the United States," the authors write. They add that certain second-generation vaccines are also often accompanied by a high frequency of adverse events. "Developing a vaccine that is safer than first-generation vaccines yet highly immunogenic [producing immunity or an immune response] is crucial to constructing a prevention plan in the event of bioterrorist attack."
The photo at the top is from Fritz Fabert's Archaeology of Work. It comes to you via wood s lot, as do these photographs by Maria Levitsky (the empty interiors and crime scenes are particularly evocative). Also, strange paintings by Josh Keyes. And a lovely image of Manhattan Bridge at Night.

Models of surfaces. Notes on computerized love poems from 1952, with examples. A bestiary of Uniform Polychora. And some stunning images from Reed Flute Cave.

Also: A beautiful photographic survey of NYC's Chinatown. Astonishing negatives from Russia and Tibet (via Dark Roasted Blend). Forays into fluorescence, and stereoscopic micrographs.

Last, a tour of Holland, consisting entirely of its reflection in water.

UPDATE: I hope you can stand a little more good news....
In a move that represents both a formality and a historic gesture, the Obama administration has announced that it's withdrawing the designation of "enemy combatant" for Guantanamo detainees. The Bush administration had drawn widespread criticism for its use of that designation, which allowed it to deny detainees rights they otherwise would have been entitled to.


chris said...

It works!
It really works!
Oops, it's still Thursday. Drat!

h/t Butterflies&Wheels

Jazzbumpa said...

Re: all the Obama stuff. Every once in a while my wife or I will say something along the lines of, "It's good to have adults back in charge."

Jazzbumpa said...

Oh, wow! I just followed Chris's link. I can't wait to try it. Well, actually I can, since i'm going to bed now.

But, I want to meet the other me -- the one who is rich, famous, handsome, and can improvise on diminished scales without losing his fundamental tonality.

Not the one who is a methane breathing squid.

WV: ankin, as in "I got an ankin to travel."

Across dimensions.

Like, wow, man.

Jazzbumpa said...

It' 11:50 in my time zone. Don't want y'all to think I'm poopin' out early on a Friday, just 'cause I'm old . . .