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Archive for April, 2009

OKLAHOMA COURAGE: Governor Brad Henry and Chamber of Commerce Take Stand For Stem Cells

By Don C. Reed

Imagine you are Brad Henry, Governor of Oklahoma—a Democrat in a state as overwhelmingly Republican as California is Democratic—and you are a strong supporter of stem cell research.

Now, Governor, you have just been handed a bill: Senate Bill 1326.

The bill would criminalize embryonic stem cell research.

You have three choices: sign the bill into law, let it become law without your signature, or reject it by a veto.

What would you do? Remember, SB 1326 would actually make the research a crime, so scientists would be arrested for trying for a cure for disease or disability.

First, probably, you would study the odds: see what armies you were up against.
The bill, SB 1326, is backed by the Religious Right, one of the strongest power sources of the Republican party.

And how is the law doing so far?

It passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives by a staggering margin: 82 votes in favor of criminalization: only 6 to protect the research. The Senate? 38-9.

If you veto it, Governor, there will be an orchestrated firestorm of anger—and perhaps political retaliation, maybe blocking some other bills you want to see become law—and the bill is almost certain to pass anyway…

Remember, with a 2/3 majority, (68 in the House, where they got 82, and 32 votes in the Senate, where they got 38) SB 1326 will become law—overriding your signature.

What would you do?

Sign the bill, knowing it was going to pass anyway, and you might get some political credit from the ultra-conservatives?

Veto the bill, infuriating the opposition, which will immediately re-submit the bill for a veto over-ride anyway?

Or let the bill become law without your signature, so at least your friends know you did not approve?

Those were the options the real-life Governor Brad Henry faced, just a few days ago, in the Governor’s office, in Oklahoma.

Now, the man is not without political courage. He could not be where he is without being willing to buck the tide. But no politician wants to stand alone. Without political backup, Governor Henry’s options were extremely limited.

In that state’s entire House of Representatives, only one Republican was willing to vote in support of the embryonic stem cell research which President Obama supports.

“We don’t want to cut off research on cells that are going to be discarded,” said emergency room doctor Rep. Doug Cox (R-Grove)—Tim Talley, AP, 3/24/09

He was referring to the fact that embryonic stem cell lines are made from cells already scheduled for destruction. These are the microscopic blastocysts left over from In Vitro Fertility procedures. There are roughly half a million currently frozen.

The other Republicans, however, seemed to be having a contest to see who could talk the most trash, referring to embryonic stem cell research as “killing babies”, “harvesting children”, and other biological falsehoods.

Common sense makes clear the fallacy in their argument. It is impossible for a baby to be born without the involvement of his or her mother. Without a sheltering womb, there can no child. Unless implanted in a womb, a blastocyst can never become a child.

Embryonic stem cell research is cells, cells, nothing but cells: essentially invisible dots in a dish.

“This is about using embryos that are currently frozen in banks that are going to be destroyed and thrown away,” said Roy Williams, President of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.

But facts and reason do not always sway voters. Emotion does.

In my minds eye, I see Governor Henry at his desk, considering. The pen is before him, in its little marble block. It would be so easy to just shrug, and sign the bill, or let it pass into law without his signature.

And then, everything changed. Somebody stood up, and said: don’t sign that bill.

Who was it? Scientists? Advocates? Some were involved, of course. Wherever there are patients willing to be counted, they or their families will become advocates, fighting for themselves, or their loved ones. Universities also are increasingly willing to speak up.
But these were expected, and accounted for.

This was something new.

It was the Chamber of Commerce, traditional source of Republican power. And no small chamber, either; these were the two largest cities in the state: Oklahoma City, (population 506, 132, US census 2000) and Tulsa (population 393,049); the next largest city is less than one-fourth their size: Norman, with a population of 95,694..

“The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber has been working for more than 10 years to create a national image of Oklahoma as a center of bioscience research,” said Mark Funke, vice chair of bioscience for the chamber. “For our state to pass the most restrictive stem cell law in the country would be detrimental to recruiting scientists to our state, hampering our ability to reap the economic benefits can have in Oklahoma.”—Randy Ellis, April 19, 2009, http://www.newsok.com

Why should embryonic stem cell research be protected?

“With the medical and research infrastructure in place, this would be an opportunity to save hundreds of thousands of lives in the future,” said Tulsa Metro Chamber President Mike Neal…The chamber points out that healthcare is considered to be one of the fastest growing industries in the country, and banning embryonic stem cell research may mean fewer jobs for Oklahomans in the future.”—Chris Wright, News on 6, Apr. 23, 2009

When it comes to business, no group is more respected than the Chamber of Commerce—because it is made up of the businessmen and women themselves.

These are loyal Republicans, tried and true– members of a party which in last year’s Presidential campaign pledged to criminalize embryonic stem cell research.

But they also have families. They know what it is like to see a loved one suffer, and to feel helpless to ease their pain.

They know that inability to pay medical costs is ruining families– and businesses—unable to afford health insurance.

And one thing more. These are the leaders of business. Unless the Republican party is going to disavow free enterprise, they need to consider the wishes of the people at the wheel of the engine which drives our economy. Who better to raise the issue of jobs?

The biomedical revolution is not only a gift of life; it may also keep food on a family’s table. This matters. Business has a right—and a responsibility– to raise this point.

Governor Brad Henry vetoed the bill. He issued a statement, saying: “I don’t think this bill is consistent with Oklahoma values, and I cannot approve it in good conscience.”

He also thanked the “Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the Tulsa Metro Chamber and all the health care advocates for working to cut through misconceptions and educate people about the dire consequences of this bill. They have been unjustly and unfairly criticized for their principled stand, and I think they deserve praise.”

Then came the reaction: furious words, untrammeled by truth, accusations of baby-killing, child-harvesting, and other vile inaccuracies—attacking not only Governor Henry, but also the Chamber of Commerce– impugning the motives of those who had taken a stand in favor of research for cure.

SB 1326 author Rep. Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City) said of the Chamber:

“If these people value money more than human life, then they need to find another state, or even another country.”

Forgotten were the thousands of times the Chamber had stood up for free enterprise, supporting the Republican party’s position with almost 100% regularity.

This was the Chamber of Commerce, and they were being told, they were not welcome in their own home state?

That may have been part of the reason for what came next.

Remember, a 2/3 majority in both houses would pass the law, criminalizing the research, no matter what the Governor wanted.

And when the votes were counted?

The House of Representatives voted to override the Governor’s veto, so the bill to criminalize the research would pass, and become law.

But– instead of 82-6, this time the vote was 68-26. They got what they needed, but just barely, and the House is more conservative than the Senate.

Suddenly, there was a flicker of hope.

The Senate.

In the Oklahoma Senate, 32 votes were required to override. On the first vote, 38 had sided with the anti-research effort.

But the ground had shifted.

This time, the vote was 26 to 19. The Governor’s veto was not over-ridden.

Embryonic stem cell research is still legal in Oklahoma.

On behalf of my paralyzed son, Roman Reed, and the millions of American families who endure chronic disease and disability, I want to stay a special thank you to Governor Brad Henry. Thank you, Chamber of Commerce.

One day, I believe my son will fulfill Christopher Reeve’s great prediction, and rise up from his wheelchair, and walk away from it forever.

And when that happens, we will remember, that one of those first steps was taken in Oklahoma.

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TEXAS TORNADO: Three Billion dollars in Cancer Research May be Swept Away

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recent recommendation that Texas secede from America was nonsensical. If the Governor is so uncomfortable in our country that he wishes to leave, that is his right; but he will not take Texas with him. Recent polls show the rest of his state is quite happy being associated with the United States.

This fuss and furor is just a blustering dust storm, stirred up for whatever temporary political purpose the Governor hoped to achieve. Few people took him seriously; I doubt very much he did either. (When Mr. Perry’s political biography is written, it will quite rightly pay more attention to the kindness of the Governor when Hurricane Katrina created homeless refugees—and Texas took them in—than this secession nonsense.)

But there is another Texas tornado which is deadly serious, and which may cost Texas families a great deal.

Anyone who has cancer (my sister has it; my mother died of it) wants the research for cure to move forward.

Lance Armstrong is a fighter for research, and he helped Texas pass an amazing
$3 billion dollar research bill dedicated to finding a cure for cancer. That money came with no restrictive anti-research strings attached.

Unfortunately, Senator Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) is attempting to block a vital component of that research: shutting down embryonic stem cell research in Texas.

Ogden is a cunning politico; this guy is legitimately tough, and knows how to street fight—unfortunately he is using his very real strengths to back an anti-research vision that is as out of step with America as the Governor Perry’s secession plan.

At a time when the rest of the country is embracing cure research, Mr. Ogden wants to ban it.

Because he knows he is out of touch with Texas voters, he first tried to do the damage quietly.

Senator Ogden inserted a “rider” onto the state’s must-pass budget bill, Senate Bill One. This rider bans state funding of embryonic stem cell research.

As Committee chairman, Ogden waited until pro-research committee members were out of the room, and then rushed through a quick vote, which passed 6-5.

There was no public notice, no testimony, no discussion. When asked about this undemocratic procedure, he replied that the members had been talking about it “privately”. No worries about sunshine or openness for Mr. Ogden!

Now, like a tick on the neck of a horse, that anti-research rider is attached to the budget, to suck the life out of the cancer research bill, and weaken that state’s hope for cure.

Asked if he thought this would end embryonic stem cell research in his state, the Senator reportedly replied, “If that bill won’t do it, the next one will.”

The Senate let his rider stay on—the House stripped it off—now the two houses will confer, and one will win and one will lose…

The next attack he spoke of, is Senate Bill 1695.

We need to let Senator Ogden know—politely but firmly—that the families of Texas and America deserve better.

Now here’s the catch. The Senator is an old pro, and as such knows how to block unwanted correspondence.

I called yesterday and left a message. Then I emailed him.

I doubt very much either message will reach him.

But I am also going to send him a personal letter, the old-fashioned kind, remember those, they have stamps on them? And that—even if thrown away—will be noticed.

Because nobody writes letters anymore. Any personal letter gets attention, and the Senator’s staff will be tallying the responses.

The Senator expects, I am sure, to hear nothing but letters of support from his allies in the Religious Right.

Let us surprise him. Politely, of course: rudeness only makes us look like fringe elements, instead of mainstream America, which is what we are.

I will be sending three copies of my letter to the Senator: one to each of his three public offices.

Those addresses are:

1. Sen. Steve Ogden, Texas Senate, P.O. Box 12068, Capitol Station, Austin, TX 78711

2. East District Office, 3740 Copperfield Drive, Suite 103, Bryan, Texas 77802
979/776-0521

3. West District Office, 309 West Main, Suite 115, Round Rock, Texas 78664
512/828-5224

Want some background? Below is probably more than you need, so if you already are up on the effort, feel free to skip over it—but please, help me with a letter, a call, or an email—don’t leave it to somebody else.

This is for Texas, but it is also for everyone. Texas is a wonderful state, huge, full of diverse energy and power—we need the scientists and colleges and patients and advocates and political leaders of the Lone Star State—we need Texas, and so does the world..

The following info is from my friends at TXAMR—Texans for the Advancement of Medical Research.

SB 1695 BY OGDEN (this is the second wave of attack I mentioned earlier–dr)

Bill Background info: Would limit the use of state money or facilities for research involving the destruction of human embryos, even those destined for discard as medical waste by IVF clinics and used to create stem cell lines for research. The rider would also ban IVF treatments.

WHAT THE BILL DOES:

• Ban research on stem cell lines created using fertilized eggs from fertility clinics, eggs that were destined to be discarded as medical waste. Using these eggs that would otherwise be thrown out to study diseases and to search for treatments and cures, offers the hope of healthier life for thousands of Texans.

• Ban research currently being conducted in state research institutions around the state. SB 1695 does much more than ban funding for embryonic stem cell research; it bans the conduct of the research by NIH funds as well as private funding.

• Ban current research on previously approved federal stem cell lines. Research studies using the embryonic stem lines approved by President Bush in 2001 would come to a halt in Texas.

• Stop all embryonic stem cell research in all state institutions in Texas

• Senator Ogden’s bill would prohibit the use of state dollars to pay the salaries of our state employed researchers who work with embryonic stem lines.

• Senate Bill 1695 would prohibit the use of state supported labs for embryonic stem cell research even if the research money comes from federal grants.

• Under Senator Ogden’s bill, researchers will face a choice of leaving state institutions or stopping their research. The state of Texas will likely lose our best researchers, their staff, their research grant money and their graduate students and medical students to other states and countries that appreciate good science and good medicine.

• Under Senator Ogden’s bill, cancer research conducted at the newly established Cancer Research Initiative, and research into other life threatening diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes will be severely limited.

• Senator Ogden’s bill would halt the gains we have made at better understanding how cells function and where malignancies or mutations occur and why. Researchers have repeatedly said that studying embryonic stem cells helps in the development of adult stem cell therapies.

WHAT YOU MIGHT WISH TO SAY:

I urge Senator Ogden to abandon his plans to push SB 1695 in Senate Finance Committee.

As a state with premier research institutions, citizens across the country are hopefully awaiting treatments and cures for life threatening diseases and conditions that may be discovered in Texas.

Texas has too much to lose in banning the funding of ethical, regulated embryonic stem cell research.

I urge Senator Ogden to carefully consider the human and economic losses in not supporting legal, ethical and safe embryonic stem cell research in this state.

Here is my letter (Don Reed)

Dear Senator Ogden:

First, thank you for being a Senator– I am sure it is never an easy job!

As the father of a paralyzed young man, Roman Reed, I am deeply distressed by SB 1695. I am very familiar with embryonic stem cell research, having been the citizen sponsor of a small law in California, the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999. “Roman’s Law” funded the first state-sponsored embryonic stem cell research in the nation—the spinal cord injury research experiment which goes to human trials this Summer.

I have seen it work. On March 1, 2002, in the laboratory named after my son (the Roman Reed Laboratory, within the Reeve-Irvine Research Institute at UC Irvine) I held in my hand a laboratory rat which had been paralyzed, but which walked again, thanks to embryonic stem cell research.

Biblically, I tend to go along with Psalm 139, which says, “He knit me together in my mother’s womb”. That is where an individual life begins. Scientifically, as you know, it is biologically impossible to create a child without a mother’s womb– and accordingly, cells in a Petri dish can never become a child.

I respect your right to your views, Senator Ogden, but please be aware there are millions of Americans who suffer every day, and who want the research to move forward.

Do please reconsider your advocacy for SB 1695. If enacted into law, it would slow the progress of Lone Star scientists as they work their way toward cure.

Thank you,

Don C. Reed

Want to know more, do more? More from our friends in TXAMR
About Stem Cell Research Bills Now Pending in the Texas Legislature
If you had a chance to make a call to your state senator and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, many thanks. If you didn’t, here’s another opportunity to make calls in support of stem cell research. Below is information on what’s happening right now and how you can help. At the bottom are an editorial and an op-ed further explaining why this is so important. Again, please pass this on to your friends and family.
If you are not sure who represents you, click here and enter your home address under “who represents me” to find your senator and representative and their phone number.
Texans for Advancement of Medical Research (TAMR) thanks you for making your voices heard — we had word that the majority of calls coming in to the offices were in support of research.
We also appreciate your passing these emails on to others. (If you are not receiving TAMR’s alerts, sign up here to be an advocate.)
Unfortunately, the budget bill, SB1, passed with the rider still attached. Five senators, Kirk Watson, Eliot Shapleigh, Mario Gallegos, Rodney Ellis and Wendy Davis had the courage to vote against the bill that carried this destructive rider.
What happens next?
The House will act on its own budget bill, HB1. Then, both bills go to a Conference Committee with 5 people chosen from each of the committees that heard the bill. These 10 people will decide whether the rider becomes part of the budget for the next two years.
Finance chair, Steve Ogden changed his rider that will go before the committee to read:
Sec. 17.13 No Destruction of Human Embryos for Research Purposes. Until legislation is passed by the Texas Legislature and becomes law authorizing and regulating embryonic stem cell research, no funds appropriated under this Act shall be used to directly fund research, which involves the destruction of a human embryo.
This is not acceptable.
Even if the budget bill is stripped of the rider, we still have to deal with Ogden’s bill SB 1695, co-authored by Dan Patrick and Jane Nelson, that prohibits the use of state money for research involving destruction of human embryos. This is written broader than the rider to the budget and would end all embryonic stem cell and IVF research in any of the laboratories of our state and private universities (because all receive state funding.)
SB 1695 reads:
A person may not use state money or a facility owned, leased, or managed by a state agency, department or office for research involving the destruction of human embryos, including embryonic stem cell research, or to support research involving the destruction of human embryos.
So, the bottom line is:
We need you to keep up the good work and watch your email for alerts, as your help is certain to be needed over the next few weeks.
If you have not had the opportunity to make these three calls, please do so with this message:

“I want you to understand the importance of stem cell research, and the impact it will have on Texas if it is banned–for the institutions, researchers, patients, and the economy. I am asking you not to let a ban on embryonic stem cell research or the funding for it happen in Texas, either in a stand-alone bill like SB 1695 which has been filed, but has not yet been heard in committee, or in the budget for the state.”
Call: Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (512) 463- 0001 (He will appoint 5 Senate members to the Conference Committee for the budget, where the rider that bans hESC will be stripped or retained.
Call: Speaker of the House Joe Straus (512) 463-0686 He will appoint 5 House members to the Conference Committee for the budget, where the rider that bans hESC will be stripped or retained.
Call: Rep. Jim Pitts (512) 463-0516 Chair of House Appropriations
Call: Rep. Leo Berman (512) 463-0584 District 6 or Rep. Tommy Merritt (512) 463-0750 District 7

If you missed the recent editorial from Houston Chronicle or the op-ed from Bernard Weinstein, economist, please read them below. I think you will find them interesting.

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/6354531.html

Stealth legislating: Vote down ban on state funding for stem cell research
By injecting an amendment into the Texas Senate budget bill to ban state funding for stem cell research that involves the destruction of a human embryo, Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, has provided a textbook example of how powerful elected officials can end-run democratic processes to suit their own ideological agendas.
Passed with scant discussion by Ogdens committee 6-5, the budget bill includes a rider that if allowed to become law, will inflict serious damage to efforts to boost regenerative medicine research in Texas, particularly at state institutions, including the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
Proponents of the stem cell funding ban have failed to pass bills in previous legislative sessions, as lawmakers from both parties have opposed it. Republican House members Beverly Woolley of Houston and Rick Hardcastle of Vernon are among the key supporters of responsible stem cell research, as is U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Now that the administration of President Barack Obama is dismantling federal barriers to expanded fetal stem cell use, new state funding restrictions would drive talent and research dollars to other states.
An open letter to legislators from pre-eminent members of the states scientific community contends that the ban would halt ongoing research projects and negatively impact the ability of the Texas academic health institutions, both public and private, to competitively recruit and retain world-class scientists, professors and medical students in the biological sciences. They contend that since private funding is almost never available for early-stage biomedical research, a ban such as this would effectively stifle this research in Texas. The letter is signed by researchers from Baylor College of Medicine, the UT Health System and Rice, as well as two Nobel Laureates and a former presidential science adviser.
Bernard L. Weinstein, who directs the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas at Denton, says the ban would run counter to a campaign by Gov. Rick Perry to boost the Texas biotech industries. It would cost the state billions of dollars in economic activity while undermining Texas image as a hospitable environment for research.
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, a Democrat whose district includes the Texas Medical Center, says the amendment was passed with no public debate or input from the thousands of doctors, researchers and medical professionals responsible for extending so many lives I cannot stand by silently when the voices of so many responsible for so much good are not even heard.
Ogdens amendment is no minor technical measure inserted for some hometown special interests. It is an attack on the viability of a vital sector of the state economy and upon the well-being of future thousands of desperately ill Texans who could benefit from the cures resulting from stem cell advances.
Late Wednesday the Senate passed the budget, including Ogdens amendment, by a vote of 26-5. Before the vote, he explained that his intent was not to ban all such research but to keep state money from being used directly for research involving the destruction of a human embryo. Whatever his stated intent, more progressive members should strike the ban when the budget reaches conference committee.
While claiming the moral high ground in defense of fertility clinic embryos that are routinely discarded, Ogden used the amendment route rather than relying on his own bill with similar wording that would have faced public hearings and an up-and-down vote by colleagues.
This issue is far too important to be decided by a back-room legislative maneuver. It is now up to responsible lawmakers in the Texas Senate and House to counter Ogdens power play and approve a budget that does not undermine the ability of our medical institutions to participate in the renewed national effort to advance a promising field of medical research.
===
Proposed Restrictions on Stem Cell Funding May Kill Texas’ Emerging Biotechnology Industry
By Bernard L. Weinstein*
Recent scientific advances have caused tremendous excitement in the burgeoning field of regenerative medicine, which focuses on developing therapies to restore or replace damaged cells and tissues in the human body. Stem cell research has proven to be one of the most promising areas of research, offering the opportunity to revolutionize medical treatment, drug development and biomedical research.
From heart disease and diabetes, to Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries, stem cell research in its many forms-including embryonic stem cell research-holds the key that could potentially unlock the secrets to treatments and cures that have long eluded patients suffering from some of the most devastating diseases.
Unlike Texas, many other states are making strong commitments to stem cell research, not only to improve public health but also to capitalize on its economic development potential. Institutions in California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Wisconsin have been the leaders in this field, in part because of state laws that ensure the legality of embryonic stem cell research. By contrast, the Texas Senate Finance Committee has just reported out a budget bill for the next biennium that would prohibit the use of any state funds for embryonic stem cell research, even as restrictions on federal funding for such research have been removed.

An even greater irony is that Governor Rick Perry has targeted the biosciences as a growth sector for the Texas economy. (emphasis added, dr) Texas currently possesses a biotechnology industry comprised of about 950 private companies as well as world-class universities and research facilities and the largest medical center in the world. But putting legislative restrictions on stem cell research runs the risk of damaging the entire biotech sector, as serious researchers are likely to locate in states with more accommodating political climates. The potential economic and humanitarian losses could be huge.
Texas currently accounts for only 2.9 percent of the nation’s biotechnology industry compared with almost 8 percent of its gross domestic product. Just increasing our share to the national average would contribute an additional $87.4 billion to state economic activity and support over 230,000 direct, indirect, and induced jobs paying more than $12.8 billion in salaries and wages. State and local tax receipts would be boosted by more than $8 billion annually.
The fruits of stem cell research also promise to reduce the financial burden of treating serious diseases such as stroke, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson ‘s disease, and spinal cord injuries. Currently, the cost of treating Texans with these ailments is nearly $14 billion a year. Reducing these costs by as little as one percent would save almost $140 million each year. Over a thirty-year period, these cost reductions would sum to $4.2 billion. Savings would also be achieved in the state’s Medicaid program.
If Texas is to be a leader in the biosciences, with all the anticipated health and economic benefits that will follow, the state must maintain a hospitable environment for research and development. At a minimum, Texas needs to be known as a “safe haven” for medical research, including embryonic stem cells. Indeed, if we’re serious about becoming a major player in the global bioscience arena, we should be allocating-not prohibiting-state funding for such research.
*Weinstein is director of the Center for Economic Development and Research and a professor of applied economics at the University of North Texas in Denton. His email address is bernard.weinstein@unt.edu
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Thanks, Folks!

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OBAMA AND THE DISABILITY COMMUNITY

Before my son Roman received a spinal cord injury, I never gave much thought as to what it meant to be disabled. I was polite, of course. If I met a person in a wheelchair, I just went around. But what was it like to be denied the use of one’s limbs? Or to be unable to hear? Aside from an occasional movie, like the “The Miracle Worker”, Helen Keller’s true story of being both blind and deaf, the subject never seemed to come up.

Disability was just a word.

Then, in an instant, everything changed. Roman became paralyzed, and he (and indirectly his family) became part of the disability community.

I had no idea how many citizens with disabilities there were.

According to the most recent U.S. Census, roughly one in five Americans has a disability: meaning she or he has difficulty with everyday activities: like breathing, or seeing, or getting dressed in the morning.

The disability community is America’s largest minority—even without their families! If organized, we can win any election.

This vast potential power has not gone unnoticed.

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Sarah Palin and John McCain tried to rally the disability community against the Democratic party. Their campaign stated that Obama’s tax plan would hurt disabled people, by taxing families who had set up trust funds for their special needs family members.

That was a surprise to me. Trust fund? Most folks in the disability community are poor: financially struggling to make ends meet. Even in the best of times, unemployment for disabled workers is like the Great Depression. When you are worried about scraping together enough money to put food on the table, there is no extra cash for stocks or bonds or any kind of trust fund.

I was glad to hear Obama spokespeople respond strongly. One advisor, Jason Furman, called the attack a “blatant lie”, saying that Obama would work with the Treasury department to “make sure tax rates do not…increase on any family making less than $250,000 a year.” Another (Bill Burton) said that Mr. Obama “has a comprehensive plan to support families that have children with special needs and empower individuals with disabilities.” –Wall Street Journal, Chozick and Timiraos, October 24, 2008.

Were they telling the truth?

Like millions of Americans, I was a volunteer worker for Obama, seeing his leadership as crucial for the nation as a whole, and the disability community in particular.

One of the people I worked with on the campaign was Kareem Dale. He was in charge of outreach to the disability community. We never met, just talked on phone conferences, where he was invariably calm and affable, very focused and on top of the situation. I did not realize till much later that he was blind.

So, after the campaign, did Mr. Dale go back to what he had been doing before? Did the Obama campaign tell him, thank you very much, we appreciate your support, see you next election?

Not exactly.

A new position was created in the White House.

And a few days ago, I received the following information from Kareem Dale, now Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy..

Kareem Dale may be visually challenged, but he sees deeply into the problems of the disability community, and he is right there beside the President, making sure our families will never be forgotten.

Remember the disability community saying, “Nothing about us, without us”? Disability folks do not want occasional handouts, crumbs tossed from the table—we want to be seated at the table of power, contributing and participating when decisions are made.

The rest of this column is from Kareem Dale, listing some of the steps the Obama Presidency has already taken in support of Americans with disabilities.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN DISABILITY COMMUNITY IN FIRST 60 DAYS

SIGNINGS

 (President Obama) signed SCHIP, which will provide insurance to millions of children, including children with disabilities.
 Signed stem cell Executive Order, which will open the door to potential cures for many disabilities.
 Signed Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, which will, for the first time in history, bring together the best minds across the country to collaborate on research, rehabilitation and improvement of quality of life for people living with paralysis.

RECOVERY ACT

 People with disabilities were included as never before in the recovery plan.
 Provided a one-time additional payment of $250 to people who receive Social Supplemental Income.
 Provided $500 million to the Social Security Administration to help reduce backlogs.
 Provided $87 billion in Medicaid funding for states.
 Provided $140 million in funding for independent living centers.
 Provided over $500 million in funding for vocational rehabilitation services to help with job training, education and placement.
 Provided $12 billion in funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

APPOINTMENTS

 Appointed a Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy with responsibilities in the Domestic Policy Council and Office of Public Liaison for the first time in history.
 Appointed a Special Assistant to the President in the White House Office of Personnel to focus on disability appointments for the first time in history.
 Appointed a Senior Advisor on Disability Policy in the Domestic Policy Council for the first time in history.
 Nominated a person with a disability, Kathy Martinez, to be Director of ODEP.
 Nominated Seth Harris, a long time disability advocate, to be Deputy Secretary of Labor.
 Nominated Tom Perez, a long-time supporter of the disability community, to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

OUTREACH

 President hosted a greet with 10 disability leaders following the signing of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act.
 Vice-President led a delegation to the Special Olympics.
 Included people with disabilities at all public White House events.
 Invited Carmen Jones, an African American woman with a disability, to participate in the small group meeting with seven other small business owners to discuss issues with the President facing small business owners.
 Invited six leaders from the disability community to the signing of SCHIP.
 Invited disability leaders to participate in the White House and regional healthcare summits, including members of CCD, ADAPT, National MS Society, mental health groups, autism groups and many other disability groups across the country.
 Invited CCD to participate in the fiscal summit.
 Hosted outreach meetings with disability leaders and organizations.
 Hosting briefing and meeting for presidents of national disability organizations.

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NORTH DAKOTA, STEM CELLS, AND THE GREAT “PERSONHOOD” LIE

Filling sandbags against a raging river, North Dakota citizens inspired the world not long ago. Shoulder to shoulder the residents of Fargo, North Dakota worked, long nights in the pouring rain– and they built that sandbag dam, protecting the lives and homes of their neighbors.

But now imagine a piece of foolishness: suppose a new law has been enacted, criminalizing the making of sandbags. The legislation says each grain of sand has an existence of its own, and must be allowed freedom, independence, and a lawyer: full standing in a court of law.

The new legislation permits—no, requires!—that every sandbag be set free, yanked out of those North Dakota dams. And so the floods come roaring down, on the undefended homes…

Ridiculous? Don’t laugh too soon.

On February 17th, 2009, North Dakota’s House of Representatives passed an equally short-sighted bill with potentially devastating real-life consequences. That bill goes now to the state’s Senate.

House Bill 1572 is a “personhood” law… establishing microscopic human cells as a person, a full-fledged human being.

It sounds harmless enough, at first.

But this new definition of personhood—giving legal status to tissue samples smaller than a grain of sand– could blast the entire field of embryonic stem cell research.

Let’s take a quick run through this bill, which would so casually criminalize one of humanity’s best hopes.

Here are a few brief highlights; complete text follows at the end.

98312.0200 Sixty-first Legislative Assembly HOUSE BILL NO. 1572 of North Dakota, Introduced by Representative Ruby.

“Section 1. Equality and rights guaranteed to all human beings….

a. “Human being” means any organism, (emphasis added) including the single-cell human embryo… (which) possesses a genome (for)… the human species.”

Comment: According to the Human Genome Project, the genome is “found in every nucleus of a person’s many trillions of cells…”
(http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/publicat/primer/prim1.html)

There are approximately 100 trillion human cells in every human body—according to the new definition, how many are human beings?

“2. The state shall naturalize all preborn persons and shall afford to them all the privileges and immunities of state citizenship, except that the state is not required to include preborn children in state and local censuses.”

Comment: The great commentator and comedian Will Rogers once said, “When Congress makes a joke, it’s a law.” HB 1572 does contain some unintended humor, like the above-named census exemption.

With trillions of newly-defined “preborn persons”, a census would indeed be difficult— not to mention the income tax complications — could we claim our own cells as dependents?

But the proponents of this bill are deadly serious.

In a clear attempt to tar stem cells by association (like repeatedly naming a Congressman in an article on horsetheft) HB 1572 contains numerous references to: incest, abortion, dismemberment, torture– and the killing of children.

“Section 3, part d:

“Because scientists have discovered a way of creating pluripotent cells using umbilical stem cells, there is no need to kill children to obtain their embryonic stem cells.”

There it is: the great personhood lie– the pretense that there are children involved in embryonic stem cell research.

And what a shameful deception it is.

A blastocyst in a Petri dish is living tissue, not a life.

To prove this, we need only ask ourselves one question:

Can a sperm and egg become a child—outside the womb?

Common sense provides the answer. Without the nurturing shelter of a mother’s womb, it is biologically impossible to make a child.

No mother, no child: this is not rocket science.

Stem cell research, as the name implies, is cells, cells, nothing but cells—and the possibility of cure.

Why would such a ludicrous bill even be considered?

First, the opposition is running scared. They are losing, and they know it. When President Obama overturned the Bush restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, that put the Federal government officially on our side. The game is almost up.

However: if personhood laws can re-define life as having citizenship at the single-cell level, the U.S. Supreme Court (remember, the Roberts Court is very conservative) might actually find grounds to criminalize the entire field of embryonic stem cell research.

Impossible?

The Dickey-Wicker Amendment already blocks federal funding for any new embryonic stem cell lines—and it does so with personhood language and concepts.

To be continued…

As promised, here is the full text of HB 1572.

“98312.0200 Sixty-first Legislative Assembly
HOUSE BILL NO. 1572 of North Dakota
Introduced by Representative Ruby

A BILL for an Act to provide for equality and rights to all human beings at every stage of
biological development; to create and enact two new sections to chapter 12.1-17, relating to the crimes of dismemberment and torture; to amend and reenact subsection 3 of section 12.1-20-03, section 12.1-20-11, subsection 2 of section 12.1-20-17, and section 12.1-27.2-04.1 of the North Dakota Century Code, relating to penalties for crimes against born alive children; to provide legislative intent; and to provide a penalty.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF NORTH DAKOTA:
SECTION 1. Equality and rights guaranteed to all human beings.

1. For purposes of this Act:
a. “Born”, “birth”, “partially born”, “born alive”, and any derivation thereof, apply
to any child located inside a uterus, which is pulled out of the mother; or who
has ever had any part of its body, including the head, pulled out of the uterus,
such as during natural birth, artificial birth, or abortion.

b. “Human being” means any organism, including the single-cell human embryo,
irrespective of the method of reproduction, who possesses a genome specific
for and consistent with an individual member of the human species.

c. “Human embryo” means all human beings from the beginning of the
embryonic period of their biological development through eight weeks,
irrespective of age, health, function, physical dependency, or method of
reproduction, whether in vivo or in vitro.

d. “Human fetus” means all human beings from the beginning of the fetal period
of their biological development, which begins at nine weeks gestation through
birth, irrespective of age, health, function, physical dependency, or method of
reproduction, whether in vivo or in vitro.

e. “Human genome” means the total amount of nuclear and extra-nuclear DNA
genetic material that constitutes an organism as an individual member of the
human species, including the single-cell human embryo.

f. “Person” or “individual” means the legal recognition of a human being’s full
status as a human person that applies to all human beings, irrespective of
age, health, function, physical dependency, or method of reproduction,
including their preborn offspring at every stage of their biological
development.

2. The state shall naturalize all preborn persons and shall afford to them all the
privileges and immunities of state citizenship guaranteed in section 21 of article I of
the Constitution of North Dakota, except that the state is not required to include
preborn children in state and local censuses.

3. The state shall afford the equality and inherent rights guaranteed to individuals in
section 1 of article I of the Constitution of North Dakota and the right to due
process guaranteed to persons in section 12 of article I of the Constitution of North
Dakota to all human beings, including the preborn, partially born, born alive, and
born alive who reenter the womb.

4. Personhood may not be denied:
a. If all the body parts are pulled out of the uterus except the legs or arms or
portions of legs or arms are still inside the uterus;
b. When the child is about to be born;
c. When the child’s head is taken out and placed back inside the uterus;
d. If a child’s head is pushed back inside the uterus;
e. To partially born or born alive babies; or
f. Once a uterus is placed back inside the mother.

SECTION 2. Legislative findings regarding certain effects of establishing
personhood.

1. With respect to preborn personhood, it is the intent of the legislative assembly to:
a. Immunize a woman from criminal prosecution for abortion.
b. Increase and decrease the penalties for crimes against persons.

2. It is the intent of the legislative assembly that every available means to assert
preborn personhood be used, which has been denied to even late term preborn
and partially born children.

3. It is the finding of the legislative assembly that:

a. The right to life is the paramount right of a person. The right to life is a more
fundamental right of a preborn child than the mother’s right to liberty or pursuit
of happiness, which does not include the right to kill other people. In no way
does a child’s right to life interfere with a mother’s right to life.

b. The state does not need to prove that it has a prerogative or a compelling
interest before the courts allow this state to recognize that all children are
persons and human beings, which they are. The legislative assembly may
not attempt to immediately solve all the effects of preborn personhood until
after thorough study and more importantly until after actually establishing
preborn personhood and waiting for the courts to recognize it.

c. When the uterus with a child inside is placed back inside the mother,
personhood extends to all other preborn children due to equal protection of
the laws.

d. Because scientists have discovered a way of creating pluripotent cells using
umbilical stem cells, there is no need to kill children to obtain their embryonic
stem cells.

e. It is not yet possible to conclusively determine whether all chemical
contraception is abortifacient or not.

f. All abortions, whether surgically or chemically induced, terminate the life of a
whole, separate, unique, living human being. There is an existing relationship
between a pregnant woman and her preborn child during the entire period of
gestation.

g. Because all preborn children are persons, no abortion performed with specific
intent is legal. A direct abortion is always performed with the specific intent to
bring death to a preborn child; it is a deprivation of the right to life and the right
to the equal protection of the law and is the ultimate manifestation of the
involuntary servitude of one human being to another.

h. A mother is not going to die by recognizing her child’s right to life. When the
mother needs a life-saving medical operation, then an indirect abortion is not
legally or morally considered abortion because it is not performed with specific
intent to bring death to a preborn child. The death of the child may be
permitted as an indirect and unavoidable result of steps necessary to save the
mother’s life. Physicians shall make, in all cases, every effort to preserve
both the life of the mother and the life of the preborn child. Physicians shall
provide equal care and equal consideration to the mother and child.

i. Medical treatment that has as its primary purpose to cure a disease of the
pregnant woman or of a twin preborn human being may not be considered
abortion. The pregnant woman must be given the choice of which treatment
to receive provided it is treatment intended to act upon or cure a disease.
This excludes the possibility of ever performing an abortion under the
pretense of a medical necessity since a preborn human being is not a
disease.

j. In the case of twins, all medical procedures designed to address specific
medical conditions that affect both twins are lawful provided as the physician’s
actions are performed with the specific intent to save the life of the preborn
human being with highest chance of survival.

k. If a pregnant woman’s health is in danger during a pregnancy, the physician
may not be held criminally responsible for unintentionally causing the death of
the preborn human being from legitimate treatment administered to the
pregnant woman. Chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and other medical
procedures that are not intended to cause the death of the preborn human
being but that are likely to do so, may not be prohibited if prescribed to cure
the pregnant woman. Under no circumstance may abortion be considered
legitimate treatment.

SECTION 3. Two new sections to chapter 12.1-17 of the North Dakota Century Code
are created and enacted as follows:

Dismemberment – Penalty.

1. A person is guilty of an offense if that person intentionally dismembers the body of
another human being, as defined in section 1 of this Act, without causing the death
of the other human being.

2. The offense is a class C felony, except if the victim is a born alive child, as defined
in section 1 of this Act, the offense is a class B felony.

Torture – Penalty.
1. A person is guilty of an offense if that person intentionally inflicts excruciating pain
on another human being, as defined in section 1 of this Act, without causing the
death of the other human being.

2. The offense is a class C felony, except if the victim is a born alive child, as defined
in section 1 of this Act, the offense is a class B felony.

SECTION 4. AMENDMENT. Subsection 3 of section 12.1-20-03 of the North Dakota
Century Code is amended and reenacted as follows:

3. a. An offense under this section is a class AA felony if in the course of the
offense the actor inflicts serious bodily injury upon the victim, if the victim is a
born alive child, as defined in section 1 of this Act, if the actor’s conduct
violates subdivision a of subsection 1, or if the actor’s conduct violates
subdivision d of subsection 1 and the actor was at least twenty-two years of
age at the time of the offense. For any conviction of a class AA felony under
subdivision a of subsection 1, the court shall impose a minimum sentence of
twenty years’ imprisonment, with probation supervision to follow the
incarceration. The court may deviate from the mandatory sentence if the
court finds that the sentence would impose a manifest injustice as defined in
section 39-01-01 and the defendant has accepted responsibility for the crime
or cooperated with law enforcement. However, a defendant convicted of a
class AA felony under this section may not be sentenced to serve less than
five years of incarceration.

b. Otherwise the offense is a class A felony.

SECTION 5. AMENDMENT. Section 12.1-20-11 of the North Dakota Century Code is
amended and reenacted as follows:

12.1-20-11. Incest. A person who intermarries, cohabits, or engages in a sexual act
with another person related to him within a degree of consanguinity within which marriages are declared incestuous and void by section 14-03-03, knowing such other person to be within said degree of relationship, is guilty of a class C felony. If the victim is a born alive child, as defined in section 1 of this Act, the person is guilty of a class B felony.

SECTION 6. AMENDMENT. Subsection 2 of section 12.1-20-17 of the North Dakota
Century Code is amended and reenacted as follows:

2. A person who, knowing that that person is or has been afflicted with acquired
immune deficiency syndrome, afflicted with acquired immune deficiency syndrome
related complexes, or infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, willfully
transfers any of that person’s body fluid to another person is guilty of a class A
felony. The person is guilty of a class AA felony if the victim is under the age of
fifteen or the victim is a born alive child as defined in section 1 of this Act.

SECTION 7. AMENDMENT. Section 12.1-27.2-04.1 of the North Dakota Century Code
is amended and reenacted as follows:

12.1-27.2-04.1. Possession of certain materials prohibited. A person is guilty of a
class C felony if, knowing of its character and content, that person knowingly possesses any motion picture, photograph, or other visual representation that includes sexual conduct by a minor. A person is guilty of a class B felony if the minor is a born alive child as defined in section 1 of this Act.

SECTION 8. STATE TO DEFEND CHALLENGE. The legislative assembly, by joint
resolution, may appoint one or more of its members, as a matter of right and in the legislative member’s official capacity, to intervene to defend this law in any case in which its constitutionality is challenged.

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