Transparency? Why Would You Want That?

•October 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Transparency

It is no secret that our lawmakers don’t read many of the bills that they sign.  It really angers me that they do so on major issues, but doing it at all should upset all Americans.  The public’s lack of engagement with the political process is a major concern of mine going forward, but I feel with the focus on health care lately, we should take advantage of the publics interest now.  The public needs to be made aware that our elected officials sign bills into law that affect their lives frequently, oftentimes without reading them. 

Do you remember the outrage over employee bonuses from the stimulus package?  Well, that was in there. 

The stimulus bill, for example, was 1,100 pages long and made available to Congress and the public just 13 hours before lawmakers voted on it. The bill has failed to provide the promised help to the job market, and there was outrage when it was discovered that the legislation included an amendment allowing American International Group, a bailout recipient, to give out millions in employee bonuses.

Flawed System

Here are a couple examples demonstrating the fact that our leaders are not reading what they sign.

» House energy and global warming bill, passed June 26, 2009. 1,200 pages. Available online 15 hours before vote.

» $789 billion stimulus bill, passed Feb. 14, 2009. 1,100 pages. Available online 13 hours before debate.

» $700 billion financial sector rescue package, passed Oct. 3, 2008. 169 pages. Available online 29 hours before vote.

» USA Patriot domestic surveillance bill, passed Oct. 23, 2001. Unavailable to the public before debate.

Flawed System

What really angers me is that the political parties use this tactic as a means to gain power or leverage.  The Republicans did it with the Patriot Act, and now it is the Democrats who are strongly opposing transparency.  While both sides are failing us spectacularly, it’s a disgrace and the fact that they don’t want the public to be able to read bills before they are passed both goes against Obama’s claims of supporting transparency in government and our leader’s civic duty. 

While I don’t expect our leaders to be able to fully understand every law-simply not possible as they are written in “lawyerese”…and have you ever talked with your representative?  They are unlikely to be the most intelligent person you have ever met-I think that opening them up to the public is what needs to be done.  The public is likely to be apathetic at large, and the various media outlets will spin the information towards their political leanings, but the information would be out there for intelligent people to debate.  That is the most important thing.  We have the means to create an informed populace, and that can only benefit everyone. 

Remember when Obama said this:

Mr. Obama promised that he, “…will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.”  Just to make sure we understood him, Mr. Obama repeated in many of his campaign speeches, “When there’s a bill that ends up on my desk as president, you the public will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government’s doing.”

Here is what he did:

The first two bills he signed were not posted on the White House website for five days (both were signed within two days of hitting his desk).  In late May, Mr. Obama signed four bills in four days, the day after each arrived on his desk.  You could argue that the Recovery Act/stimulus bill was an “emergency” (I wouldn’t) but Mr. Obama signed the Recovery Act less than 18 hours after the bill was finalized and well before almost any member of Congress, let alone the public , had read the Bill.

Source

We deserve better.

We’re All Criminals Right?

•October 6, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

criminal-main-image

"You don’t need to know. You can’t know." That’s what Kathy Norris, a 60-year-old grandmother of eight, was told when she tried to ask court officials why, the day before, federal agents had subjected her home to a furious search.

The agents who spent half a day ransacking Mrs. Norris’ longtime home in Spring, Texas, answered no questions while they emptied file cabinets, pulled books off shelves, rifled through drawers and closets, and threw the contents on the floor.

The six agents, wearing SWAT gear and carrying weapons, were with – get this- the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Kathy and George Norris lived under the specter of a covert government investigation for almost six months before the government unsealed a secret indictment and revealed why the Fish and Wildlife Service had treated their family home as if it were a training base for suspected terrorists. Orchids.

That’s right. Orchids.

Criminalizing Everyone – Washington Post

The overcriminalization of the populace by our government is going to become a growing concern.  As information increases exponentially and technology facilitates the creation of laws and prohibitions by people who may lack the requisite knowledge to do so, we are all increasingly in danger of becoming criminals.  While it is my opinion that there are too many laws on the books in our country (many of them contradictory), it simply isn’t reasonable to expect our lawmakers to be experts on every topic.  It is their responsibility however, to draft laws based upon a common understanding, driven by a common good for the benefit of the public.  I agree with The Cato Institute’s Timothy Lynch, an expert on overcriminalization, who called for "a clean line between lawful conduct and unlawful conduct." A person should not be deemed a criminal unless that person "crossed over that line knowing what he or she was doing." Seems like common sense, but apparently it isn’t to some federal officials.

 

On Cancer

•October 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

cancer

As someone who follows cancer developments closely for various reasons, I must admit that I am amazed by the sheer volume of promising research being done.  Last month for example, I tracked 21 promising developments by researchers over the 30 day period.  It seems that every day that goes by, science is learning something new, or has devised a way to combat the illness in some new, often radical fashion.  Therein lies the rub.  Many of these discoveries, while promising, are years away from any sort of clinical trial, let alone potential cure for the malady.  Sadly, it is far too late for some people…

Let me share some of my discoveries for today:

Researchers Develop Method to Deliver Drugs Inside Cells

Researchers working at Queen Mary, University of London have made a breakthrough with a process called "Micro Shuttle" drug delivery. The new process could one day mean an end to traditional methods of delivering drugs and allow doctors to deliver medications directly inside the cells of the body.

The technique is described as a way to shrink wrap medications to be buried under the skin or inside the body. These shrink wrap micro shuttles can be loaded with doses of specific medications and then opened remotely.

The capsules are about two micrometers in size, making them roughly the size of bacterium. They are constructed by wrapping strands of a metabolism-resistant material around spherical particles. These spherical particles are then dissolved in acid leaving behind an empty container.

To get medications into the empty container the capsules are heated in a solution that contains the desired medication. The heating process causes the capsules to shrink and traps some of the medication solution in the process.

The capsules make their way inside live cells using a technique called electroportation that administers a tiny shock to make the cell walls permeable for the tiny capsules. The researchers say that the cells are not harmed by the process.

Micro Shuttle Drug Delivery Research

This is very promising for those who have to endure the hell that is chemotherapy.  I am certain that such a method will be used in the near future, but it may substitute nanobots as the means for the medicine as there is promising research being done in that area as well.

Social Isolation Worsens Cancer

The researchers then turned their attention to how the chronic social environment affected the biology of cancer growth. In other words, they sought to discover the precise molecular consequences of the stressful environment.

To do this, they studied gene expression in the mouse mammary tissue over time. Conzen and her colleagues found altered expression levels of metabolic pathway genes (which are expected to favor increased tumor growth) in the isolated mice. This was the case even before tumor size differences were measurable.

These altered gene expression patterns suggest potential molecular biomarkers and/or targets for preventive intervention in human breast cancer.

These findings do suggest novel targets for chemoprevention, according to Caryn Lerman, PhD, Scientific Director of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Deputy Editor of Cancer Prevention Research. "Future studies should evaluate whether these molecular processes can be reversed by chemopreventive agents."

The findings also support previous epidemiologic studies suggesting that social isolation increases the mortality of chronic diseases, as well as clinical studies revealing that social support improves the outcomes of cancer patients.

Social Isolation Worsens Cancer

Cancer is an interesting ailment because as it worsens, it debilitates the patient both mentally and physically to the point that they don’t have the desire or ability to associate with other people.  In effect, it becomes just the person and cancer.  This study shows that this phenomenon is detrimental to recovery.  This isn’t limited to cancer however, as this affects many, if not all, diseases.  People are social creatures, and being around others helps us to heal.  I apologize for my lack of cognizance, as I currently lack much energy myself.  Perhaps a nap is in order…

Cause of Death? Lack of Insurance

•October 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

A new Harvard study estimates that nearly 45,000 Americans die each year because they don’t have health insurance — and that’s after other factors like income and unhealthy behaviors are taken into account.

"Deaths associated with lack of health insurance now exceed those caused by many common killers such as kidney disease," an article by the Cambridge Health Alliance reports.

The study says the uninsured have a 40% higher risk of death than people who have private health insurance — like the insurance you get through your job. Or, to put it another way, a person dies because of a lack of insurance every 12 minutes. 

Of course, some people neglect their health. But many, we suspect, don’t see a doctor because they’re afraid of the cost. Doctor visits and tests can add up to an intimidating amount, even if you’re uninsured but have a good income. A CNN story put a human face on some of these avoidable deaths — a freelance cameraman, a self-employed mother of two, and a 25-year-old woman who worked in a movie theater.

Source: Smart Spending Blog

healthinsurance

Let me explain my stance on the matter.  I am not a fan of insurance in principle.  The idea of paying for something in the case that something “might” happen is a similar model to what the mafia used during its protection racket heyday.  The sad truth is that healthcare costs have become so astronomical that the “necessity” of insurance has become a prominent concern for everyone.  I happen to believe that insurance is one of the leading contributors to the rising costs, but that is merely my opinion. 

I happened to have an enormous amount of medical bills, and don’t have insurance.  While I won’t get into the fact that if you ever do get sick insurance companies will do ANYTHING they can to get rid of you, I will admit that having insurance initially could have saved me a lot of money.  With that being said, there is no doubt that my overall costs would be unaffected because I would have been dropped from any policy that I may have been on. 

Last night, I was notified that DeVry and Keller School of Management students HAVE TO have insurance through the school.  This really pisses me off, and screams of a cash grab by the university.  We don’t have an option and the minimum cost of $280 will automatically be applied to our accounts.  I am all for healthcare for everyone, but I don’t want the private sector making it mandatory!  This is especially true when the policy is something that I have no control over! 

Rep. Alan Grayson: "Has the Federal Reserve Ever Tried to Manipulate the Stock Market?"

•September 27, 2009 • 1 Comment

Representative Alan Grayson asks some tough questions of the legal counsel of the Fed.  I applaud his persistence at what is the counsel’s typical attempts to dodge the inquiries.  This is definitely worth a look:

Failing at Education

•September 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

system_failure 

I am certainly not a fan of the state of education in our country.  It is an underfunded, under-resourced, under-staffed mess.  The state of teachers fares no better.  The nation is filled with incompetent imbeciles who are allowed to keep their jobs due to the backing of one of the most (and one of the last) powerful unions in the country.  The “No Child Left Behind” policies didn’t help the matter either.  It reeked of political half-assery—you know, where they make promises to get votes, without any clear implementation plan—and has eroded science education significantly.  Parents can’t be let off the hook either.  In the busy lives of the average American, the vast majority don’t spend any quality time with their children, if they spend any time at all.  Take a look around, and I bet you will notice that many parents spend much more energy placating their children than they do anything else with them. 

I was floored recently by a study conducted in Oklahoma by Strategic Visions that was aimed at determining the level of basic civics knowledge of Oklahoma High School students.  They took 10 random question from the test that is administered to applicants for U.S. citizenship.  Are you ready to be awestruck by the results:

Question % of Correct Answers
What is the supreme law of the land?    28
What is the supreme law of the land?    26
What are the two parts of the US Congress? 27
How many justices are there on the Supreme Court? 10
Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?    14
What ocean is on the east coast of the United States? 61
What are the two major political parities in the United States? 43
We elect a US senator for how many years? 11
Who was the first President of the United States? 23
Who is in charge of the executive branch? 29

 

While one could argue that high school students may not know how many justices are on the Supreme Court, I find it hard to believe…and stomach…that less than 1:4 knew who our first President was.  Many of these results are sickening to me.  Only 2.8% of students that took the test passed the 60% mark required for citizenship.  Before you place blame with Oklahoma however, it should be mentioned that the same results came from Arizona where just 3.5% of students passed the test.  Something needs to be done in this country regarding education and I think it starts with a complete reboot of the entire system.

Source:  Study

A Monumental Invention: Could Save Billions

•September 15, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

Slingshot Are you familiar with Dean Kamen?  No?  Well, perhaps you should be.  He is an inventor, whose inventions have typically been in the area of robotics (he invented the Segway, the Luke robotic arm, and the F.I.R.S.T. robotics competition), but he has really created something that has the potential to alter life on this planet.  He has created something called the Slingshot which is capable of filtering 97% of the Earth’s undrinkable water.

I must state that this device isn’t new, but rather something that he has been developing for 10 years and he has had working prototypes in Honduras in 2006. 

The crux of the invention is the "vapor compression distiller" which sits between the tank of dirty liquid and the tank of clean drinking water.  This device operates at low power and boils, distills, and vaporizes liquid water from the dirty mix, leaving behind impurities in the water.  The device requires little maintenance.

The device produces 250 gallons a day, enough to support 100 people.

Slingshot Can Clean 97% of Earth’s Undrinkable Water

Of course there is a catch right?  Well, there is at this point and it is the one you are most likely to suspect:  cost.  Currently the device costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, but keep in mind that this is without any sort of mass production plan.  Kamen states that he would like to get the cost down to around $2000 per device, and he is actively seeking humanitarian groups and individuals to become involved in bringing this device to those in need.

drought

Why is this important?  Currently, there are roughly 900 million people who don’t have access to clean drinking water.  In terms of intellectual coherency, the idea passes muster. Water’s just as essential to life as food, which makes an appearance in Article 25 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As of now, the World Health Organization estimates that inadequate water is responsible for nearly one-tenth of the world’s disease burden, and that six percent of all deaths could be prevented by universal access to safe drinking water and better sanitation.  According to the UN, 2.8 billion people won’t have enough water to meet their basic needs by 2025.

Water Should Be a Human Right

 
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