Archive for the ‘News’ Category
What is “gonadotropin”?
Gonadotropin, also known as hCG, has been in the news lately as the suspected source of major league baseball star Manny Ramirez’ steroid troubles. The Los Angeles Dodger’s big gun was sidelined for 50 games after testing positive for a “performance enhancing drug”, which authorities refused to outright identify as a “steroid”. Ramirez, who is not planning to appeal, claimed that the substance he tested positive for was administered by a doctor for treatment for a “personal medical issue”, and that neither Ramirez nor the doctor knew the drug was on the league’s “banned substance” list.
Gonadotropin is a glycoprotein hormone produced by an embryo soon after conception. The role of gonadotropin is to enhance the production of progesterone – a “steroid hormone” – during a woman’s pregnancy. Gonadotropin has other medical uses, mainly as replacement therapy for people whose natural production of testosterone or estrogen is reduced either by disease or injury.
The implication is that Ramirez was receiving Gonadotropin to replenish testosterone levels. Unfortunately for Ramirez, one of the main reasons that otherwise healthy individuals need to replenish such a level is abuse of steroids. This could lead to an even bigger story, as Manny Ramirez has not yet been “outed” as a potential steroid case, though many in Major League Baseball have, including stars like Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and Roger Clemens.
Added to baseball’s banned substance list a year ago, hCG is a hormone that is almost exclusively produced by the placenta or an embryo. Interestingly enough, hCG is the hormone that will signal that a woman is pregnant in home-pregnancy tests. Steroid users are attracted to hCG as a natural “restart” to the body’s normal production of testosterone following a cycle of steroids. Why is this necessary?
When you take steroids, the drug tends to “turn off” the human body’s internal mechanisms that produce testosterone. In essence, the testicles are “turned off”. They shrink in size leading to a severe decrease in the production of testosterone. The only way to get around this reduction in testosterone is to take a steroid-hormone to reverse the negative effects that steroids have on the testicles.
According to the website “anabolicsteroidsguide.com”, steroid users might take hCG injections for a period of two or three weeks during steroid use. A direct quote from that websit e– “Since occasional injections of hCG during steroid intake can avoid a testicular atrophy, many athletes use hCG for two to three weeks in the middle of their steroid treatment.”
Chemically, hCG is no mystery. Doctors often observe that during a combined steroid/hCG treatments, the athlete can see the best results in terms of gains in strength and muscle mass. The medical community has acknowledged that by taking hCG the athlete’s testosterone level increases rapidly while a large concentration of anabolic substances present in the blood is further induced by the steroids the athlete is taking.
It is unclear at this point whether or not Ramirez was taking steroids, though he has not yet tested positive for such a substance.
However, detecting steroids during an hCG treatment appears difficult. A paper published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine in 1991 depicted a case study where an athlete undergoing testosterone and hCG (illegally) before a competition tested negative for testosterone, but positive for hCG. In other words, hCG appears to have a masking effect on certain banned substances. The case against Ramirez is stacking up even while he sits idle until July 3rd.
There don’t appear to be any medical reasons for Ramirez to be taking hCG. It was thought in the 1950s that hCG could be used as a weight loss aid, although tests proved this theory false.
Rumors were floating around the mainstream press this past week that Ramirez was undergoing treatment for “erectile dusfunction” – a condition that is not treatable with hCG, and is in fact easier treated with more conventional ED drugs like Viagra. No ED drug is on the MLB’s “banned substances” list.
Who shot the rapper Dolla?
Dolla, an up and coming rapper from Atlanta, was shot in the head and killed in a brawl outside of a shopping mall in Los Angeles on Monday, May 18th. The shooting allegedly occured shortly after 3:00 PM near the La Cienega Boulevard entrance to the Beverly Center in Los Angeles, after a fight between a group of individuals broke out. Some witnesses report that a woman was seen firing a handgun. Another source told TMZ that a male suspect was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport as he attempted to board a flight — we now know the identity of the male suspect.
The Los Angeles Police Department did not immediately release the identity of the victim — the story was instead broken by his publicist, Sue Vannasing.
Dolla, whose real name is Roderick Anthony Burton II, was 21 years old at the time of his death. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dolla was shot while waiting for friends at the Beverly Center’s mall valet — Dolla was with fellow rappers DJ Shabbazz and Scrapp DeLeon. Dolla’s publicist said that just before the shooting a man and a woman were seen “trailing” the rapper. As of this writing, Los Angeles Police have “two persons of interest” in custody. The cops picked up one man at the ticketing area of the Los Angeles International Airport with a gun in his possession. As of this morning, the man in custody, Aubrey Berry, has been charged with murder — TMZ was the first to release the identity of the suspect.
Writing on his Myspace page, Dolla said “My music is universal. I can do street music or pop music. But whatever I do, I attempt to make meaningful songs with substance.” Dolla had a couple of releases under his belt, but was still hard at work on his first album for Konvict Music Records.
In fact, Dolla was in Los Angeles to continue work on his much anticipated debut album, A Dolla & A Dream. The rapper was born in Chicago, but his family relocated to Atlanta when he was five after the suicide of his father. Dolla was first a member of the Elektra Records signed group known as “Da Razkalz Kru”. After breaking with “Da Razkalz”, Dolla worked his way up the Atlanta hip hop scene, building reptutation and talent. He was eventually recruited by Sean Combs (“P. Diddy”) to be a model for Combs’ Sean John fashion line. Around the same time as Dolla began to work with Combs, the rapper hooked up with Akon, who quickly signed Dolla to the Konvict Music Records label early in 2007. At this time, Dolla recorded the hit “Who the F*** Is That?” with the artist T Pain. The song reached Number 82 on the Billboard Hot 100. Dolla’s follow-up single “Feelin’ Myself” was featured on the soundtrack of the film Step Up. Dolla’s publicist released a statement after the shooting, saying that Dolla ” . . . had a very promising career. He was being hyped as the next Tupac [Shakur]. He chose music to get off the streets.” While the comparison to Tupac may be a bit too much, we won’t ever know now how much talent Dolla had.
According to TMZ, the police picked up Aubrey Berry at LAX airport. Aubrey Berry is believed to have dropped off a rental car before he was found at the airport with a handgun. Airport police spokesman Sergeant Jim Holcomb told the media: “As the officers approached the suspect, they asked him ‘Do you know why we’re here?’ ” According to Holcomb, Berry then put his hands up in the air and said, “Yes, I’ve got a gun in my waistband. Don’t shoot me.” Police recovered a loaded 9mm semiautomatic handgun from Berry, who is currently being held in Los Angeles county on $1 million bail.
Los Angeles Police Sergeant Ronnie Crump insisted that the other unknown people with the alleged gunman are also “persons of interest”, though no arrests have been made thus far. It was not clear how many people were with the gunman or what the argument was about.
Who is the “National Council for a New America”?
The “National Council for a New America” is a brand new public policy group led by prominent Republicans. The National Council for a New America is a rebranding effort on the part of these Republicans, who believe the party must stand for more than simple opposition to Barack Obama’s policies. Concerned about the post-election perception that they GOP is the “Party of No”, the National Council for a New America is seeking a new brand which discusses new policy ideas and welcomes more opinions into the party. Prominent members of the national council are Jeb Bush and John McCain, as well as Bobby Jindal, Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour.
In fact, many of the leading members of the Republican Party have signed on to participate in the National Council for a New America. This “national panel of experts” will report to Republican congressional leaders. Among the GOP leaders in Congress who are expected to sign their name to the NCNA’s formation announcement this week are Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate GOP #2 Jon Kyl, House Minority Leader John Boehner, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence and Senate GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander. In other words, most of the GOP congressional leadership, several key Republican governors and several prominent retired Republicans are forming this organization to change the image of the National GOP.
Who Is the National Council for a New America and What are their ideas?
That’s yet to be determined. The National Council’s mission statement is to start a national debate on issues and encourage such a debate. The founders say they will welcome non-Republicans to their policy discussions. They are concerned with the perception that Republican leaders want a kind of ideological purity that marginalizes their party and drives moderates out of the GOP.
“Ideological purity” is what many conservative talk shows hosts like Rush Limbaugh call for. They want their conservatives to be conservative on every issue and call out Republicans who don’t. But Rush Limbaugh only has to draw an audience and ideological purity is good for ratings, since he appeals mainly to conservatives. Ideological purity doesn’t win national elections, though, because it alienates too many of the independent and moderate voters needed to swing close contests. Some Republicans have voiced the sentiment they would rather lose elections than compromise their principles, which appears to have frightened certain leaders of the party. Facing an uncertain future where they sit in a clear minority, GOP politicians on Capitol Hill and other Republicans have decided to seize the initiative on policy discussions away from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.
Republicans tend to have more squabbles about what it means to be a “true Republican”. Traditional conservatives would say that a conservative is someone who wants limited government or a more liberatarian view: lower taxes, fewer regulations, fewer overseas commitments. Fiscal conservatives want tax breaks for business interests, a sensible federal budget and measures to rein in the federal debt. A social conservative isn’t too much concerned about material matters: they want to end moral decline through pro-marriage and pro-life stances, as well as faith-based charity funding. The fact is, these various groups within the Republican Party are not going to always see eye-to-eye. Traditional conservatives wants to limit the power of government and they are likely to see “moral” uses of government, like federal control of reproductive rights, federal definitions of marriage and proactive use of military power to nation build and promote democracy as liberal uses of government. A fiscal conservative views military adventures as expensive drains on the budget, while social conservatives are likely to view fiscal conservatives as a bunch of big-money interests back east and just as concerned with material concerns as a liberal.
Each of these draw upon planks in the traditional GOP platform, but they are likely to see the others’ views as liberalism and not within the ideological purity of the party. All of these groups are likely to view their own stance as ideological purity, and many Republicans identify with more than one of these segments of their party. But when you try to meld these interests together, you often get illogical and even hypocritical policy positions. Scapegoating and an enemies list is great political theater, if not very good for political dialogue or solving the problems of the nation. Rush Limbaugh and conservative commentators are among the most successful at appealing to the varied interests of the GOP, because their platforms (radio, tv, books) allow for polemical arguments where there illogical positions go unchallenged. Rush Limbaugh might say a true Republican is someone who wants less government and tax cuts, but with an active, hardline foreign policy that promotes democracy. Limbaugh Republicans believe a true conservative is someone who always opposes liberals and chafes at the mainstream media and those Hollywood types.
That formula worked pretty well through the late 1990′s and most of this decade, but when less regulation leads to economic excesses and lower taxes lead to record deficits, that’s the time for a debate on these policies. When powerful Republicans refuse to learn from recent history and reconsider their stances in the name of ideological purity, then some leaders among the GOP were sure to create something like the National Council for a New America. Both political parties roll out plenty of spin and propaganda, but when you start to believe that spin (it’s not our fault; the liberals are to blame), then you cling to bad policies and losing strategies.
So Are the Republicans Going to Be a Permanent Minority Party?
Pundits and politicians tend to overstate the outcomes of the last election cycle. It was just four years ago where we saw reports that Karl Rove wanted to cement a permanent Republican majority in Congress, and those stories were taken seriously by people on both sides of the aisle. Only four years later and the Republicans have suffered major losses in two straight national elections (2006 mid-terms, 2008 presidential election), have lost control of both houses of Congress and face a young, popular Democratic president who will be tough to beat in 2012. That all happened in four years, so there’s no telling how the political winds will be blowing in 2012.
One reason the Republicans in Congress are getting the reputation as the “Party of No” is there isn’t much reason to sign on to the Obama reforms and stimulus packages. If those initiatives succeed, President Obama and the Congressional Democrats will get all the credit for those moves. The Republicans who voted along with them will largely be forgotten. But if those measures fail to produce results, if the Republicans stay at arms length, then all of the blame will fall on the Democrats. There really is every reason to be the party of “no”, besides the fact that the opposition party tends to stand in opposition and tends to have honest and long-standing differences of opinion on public policy initiatives.
Like Barack Obama said early on, if he fails to turn the economy around in three years, this country will have a new president in four years. And if Barack Obama’s stimulus packages appear to have stemmed the economic downturn and have the country pointed in the right direction, he will in all likelihood win reelection. That’s probably the way it should be: political success depending on policy success.
That’s why the Republicans are where they are right now. They had control of the White House for eight years and control of the Congress for the first six of those years, the Democrats had too small of a majority from 2006 to 2008 to beat a presidential veto. Taking all that into account, the American public decided the Republicans were to blame for most of the country’s recent problems. While Bill O’Reilly made a lot of Barney Frank’s 2005 speech about “no housing bubble”, that speech came in 2005 when Barney Frank simply couldn’t affect policy decisions unless a significant number of Republicans were also voting along with him. No one honestly thinks that Congressional Republicans were listening to Barney Frank when deciding how to vote. The Republicans got the blame for the policies or lack of policies that led to sub-prime mortgages and the global credit crash, so they got voted out of office. And since their policy ideas have been discredited for the moment, they are left with little to do than wring their hands about the Democrats’ proposed solutions.
So who is the National Council for a New America and is this something we should take seriously?
Maybe you should. American political history is full of political falls and the losing party rising from the ashes. If you lived through the New Deal years, it probably looked like the Democrats would never lose a national election. But the China fell to the Communists, the Russians got the bomb and the Truman Administration blundered into a major war versus China in Korea, so the American people decided that the country needed fresh Republican leadership in what looked like an increasingly dangerous world. When George Herbert Walker Bush had just won Desert Storm, it looked like he would have no trouble extending the Republican White House control to 16 years. But a year-and-a-half later, Bill Clinton was the new president-elect. And we’ve already covered how the American political scene looked 4 years ago.
When a party receives a major drubbing, then the old leadership is edged aside and new leaders emerge. The historical Goldwater loss in 1964 is now seen as the year that the modern Republican Party began to take shape. No one seriously thought after Kerry’s loss in 2004 that Barack Obama would emerge as a serious presidential candidate in 2008, much less the winner. The Republican Party looks devoid of leadership at the moment. New leadership will emerge in time, probably with a slightly different game plan and slightly different policies for a new generation.
The Democrats will say that this is a cynical ploy to give a different shine to the same old failed policies, that this is putting lipstick on a pig (I think we’ve heard that one before). That could very well be the case. But let’s give the Republicans forming the National Council for a New America credit that they are intelligent men and women just as puzzled as everyone else that the wheels have come off. If that’s the case, they might actually be searching for new solutions, realizing that conservative principle doesn’t have to mean a stubborn refusal to learn from mistakes. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have had their way for the past eight years, but now it’s time for the adults to take over. At least that’s what it appears the GOP leadership is saying by forming the National Council for a New America.
For the moment, the National Council for a New America looks a lot like the old leadership of the party: Romney, McCain, Boehner, McConnell. In a way, this looks like the old guard of the GOP trying to rebrand their old policies to maintain or reassert their control of the party. But along with these men, new faces are being added to the mix, and even more faces are likely to emerge in the coming years. So when you ask if we should take the National Council for a New America seriously, I would say maybe.
A shooting at Camp Liberty in Baghdad has military officials puzzled and concerned.
The United States military reported on Monday, May 11th 2009 that five American soldiers had been shot to death by a fellow American soldier. According to the military, the shooter opened fire on his fellow soldiers at Camp Liberty, which is one of the biggest American bases in Baghdad. The military also reported that the suspected shooter was in custody.
The shooting took place at around 2 p.m. local time in Baghdad. Camp Liberty is a massive and sprawling base located next to the Baghdad airport. The military did issue an official statement, though the names of the dead soldiers were being withheld pending the notification of their family, as is tradition.
The killings appeared to be the worst case of lethal non combat related casualties for the American forces in Iraq since the start of the invasion more than six years ago.
In the military statement released this morning in the United States, Colonel John Robinson, a spokesman for the military forces in Iraq, had this to say: “Anytime we lose one of our own, it affects us all.”
Major news network CNN, citing “un named officials”, said that at least three other soliders were wounded in the violent attack. According to CNN’s sources, the shooting took place at a base clinic for soldiers suffering from “war stress”.
In general, the killing of American troops by their fellow soldiers is a rare even, although it is not unheard of. The most recent Iraq incident of murder among the troops occured in September, when an American soldier was arrested following the alleged shooting of two American soldiers while they were on patrol at their base near Iskandariya. The military is concerned that this outbreak of violence is directly related to battle stress, an issue that is at the forefront of the argument against our military presence in Iraq. Not only does the military have to deal with a high suicide rate among their troops — now they must be concerned about homicide as well.
All three soldiers killed in the shooting in September were assigned to the Third Battalion, Seventh Infantry Regiment, Fourth Brigade Combat Team, Third Infantry Division of Fort Stewart, Ga. The alleged shooter is awaiting trial in America.
Back in late 2006, Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez, a soldier serving with the New York National Guard, was charged in a military court with the offense of murdering two officers in an explosion at one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in Tikrit. The attack allegedly occured in June of 2005. Before that incident, we learned that Sgt. Hasan Akbar, of the miltary’s 101st Airborne Division, was sentenced to death for a grenade attack made on his comrades in March 2003 in Kuwait, at the very onset of the war in Iraq. It is unknown what any of these attacks were motivated by.
Sergeant Akbar, the airborne soldier who killed fellow soldiers with grenades, was convicted of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder after he threw handheld explosives into tents and then fired on soldiers, killing two officers and wounding as many as 14 other soliders at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait.
The death toll from Monday’s shooting was the highest for American personnel in a single attack since April 10 of 2009, when a suicide bomb delievered by a truck driver killed five American soldiers in a huge blast near a police headquarters in Mosul.
While it is true that combat violence has dropped sharply in Iraq in recent months, a series of major bombings by insurgents has raised questions about our troops’ security. All this is happening less than two months before American forces are scheduled to withdraw their combat forces from urban centers in Iraq.
What caused Michael Jackson’s death?
Fifty years is not a long time, not anymore. With more and more people living well into their 70s and 80s, the death at the age of just fifty is always a shocker.
The shock is greater when the deceased is a much loved entertainer, a figure that’s lived in your living room for decades.
On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson fainted or collapsed at his rented home in Holmby Hills, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. According to reports, his personal physician was in attendance at the time of his death, and the physician’s attempt to resuscitate Jackson were unsuccessful. Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics received a 911 call from Jackson’s physician around 12:20 pm Pacific time, and arrived in nine minute at Jackson’s location. Paramedics have reported that Jackson was not breathing and CPR was being performed. Resuscitation efforts continued on the way to UCLA Medical Center, and another round of attempts was made as long as an hour after arriving at the hospital at approximately 1:14 pm. Attending paramedics suspect Jackson was already in a state of cardiac arrest by the time they got to his house. Jackson was officially pronounced dead at about 2:26 pm local time. Television news and other media outlets were generally very cautious about the initial reports of his death after some embarassment last year when the death of comedian Bernie Mac was reported before he was deceased.
The official cause of death is not known and will not be released until the results of the autopsy are released. From information gathered through television reports, Jackon’s death is being blamed on cardiac arrest, “heart trouble”, or even a stroke or other brain injury. Of course there are those who are already bracing for the release of Jackson’s toxicology test — some famous friends of his have hinted that he was on heavy doses of prescription medication or even illegal drugs. Let’s not forget that LAPD detectives are investigating “prescription medication” found at Jackson’s home in the Holmby Hills.
There are also allegations being made about Jackson’s doctor — incidentally the man who called 911. It is unclear if proper care was administered as Jackson was dying. Also, after Jackson’s family told police they were worried about Jackson’s Demerol addiction, police sought the doctor for questioning. Blame is spreading far and wide.
There’s much more to this story than the death of a celebrity; Jackson has been as polarizing and difficult a character as any. This is a man who is the butt of standups everywhere, who everyone thinks is an active pedophile, a man who is criticized and yet loved around the world. When Jackson appeared in court on charges of child abuse, the crowds standing in his support always dwarfed any protestors. Famously, Jackson leapt on top of his van in May of 2005 to celebrate his acquittal, surrounded by screaming fans. To his fans, Jackson was a rock star who just beat a tough rap, not a man who was accused of seven counts of child abuse and two counts of providing alcohol to a minor.
At the time of his death, Jackson was scheduled to perform a slew of concerts to over a million people in London from July 13, 2009, to March 6, 2010. During the press conferences leading up to the concert, Jackson often talked of retiring. Jackson stood to make tens of millions of dollar from his concert series, which could help to alleviate his allegedly high debts.
Is Gardasil safe?
Gardasil is a somewhat controversial vaccine. Gardasil promises to protect girls and young women from cervical cancer. Why is this drug considered controversial? Because Gardasil doesn’t actually protect against “cervical cancer” — rather, it is a vaccination against the most common types of Human papilloma virus, or HPV. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, by some reports the most common STD in America, that can cause many symptoms, the deadliest of which is cervical cancer.
You can see where this is going. Many people suggest that an education in abstinence (and the practice of abstinence itself) is the best way to protect young women from the dangers of HPV and cervical cancer. Still others (like myself) remember what it was like to be a teenager, a time when even the most steadfast of convictions was easy to overlook in the moment.
Regardless of how you feel morally about Gardasil, you have to admit that a vaccine that could prevent certain forms of cancer is a good thing. And we got even better news about Gardasil today.
A government report released today suggests that Gardasil has a record of safety in line or better than other vaccines already in wide public use. As with any drug, some serious complications and side effects have occurred from Gardasil (including at least 20 deaths and two cases of Lou Gehrig’s disease) but the evidence suggests that none of these incidents were directly related to use of the vaccine. In fact, the most common complications after a woman receives a vaccination with Gardasil are fainting episodes. There is some suggestion that Gardasil leads to an increased risk for blood clots, but the study released today suggests that these incidents are related more to the use of oral contraceptives and a high level of obesity in teen girls.
Seven million girls and young women have been given Gardasil since it was approved, making it difficult to prove that health effects in this population were caused by the vaccine itself.
Dr. Barbara A. Slade, a medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control and one of the authors of the study, had this to say: “We feel confident recommending people get the vaccine; the benefits still outweigh the risks. This is the most complete picture we have.”
The Gardasil vaccine was approved for girls and young women ages 9 to 26 and is now recommended as part of a vaccination routine for girls aged 11 and 12.
The study on the adverse effects of Gardasil analyzed nearly 13,000 reports of side effects that occurred after immunization with the HPV vaccine between June 1, 2006 and December 31, 2008. During this period, more than 23 million doses of vaccine were distributed to doctors and clinics. Sounds like a big number of vaccinations until you realize that Gardasil requires three doses over time. Final tally — over 7 million girls have been vaccinated.
The new government report says that there are an average of 53 adverse sid effect events for every 100,000 doses of vaccine distributed. Fainting occurred most frequently, though doctors are not entirely sure why 8 girls out of 100,000 that were vaccinated have been fainting. Probably it has something to do with the second most common side effect from Gardasil — dizziness. 7.5 per 100,000 girls reported dizziness after receiving the vaccine.
To determine that Gardasil is safe, reports of side effects were compared with the same reports from the use of other vaccines given to similar populations of girls around the same age. Out of the total number of reports, just 6.2 percent, or 772 total reports, were considered ‘serious events” by the CDC, including 32 reports of death after vaccination, though only 20 of the deaths could be verified. Of the 20 verified deaths, 14 of the deceased had only received the HPV vaccine, while others had received multiple vaccines. The average age of the girls who died was 18 — a high number considering the age the vaccine is normally started at. The causes of death in these cases varied widely. Two were due to diabetic conditions, one case related to prescription drug abuse, a case of meningitis, one case of juvenile Lou Gehrig’s disease, three severe pulmonary embolisms, six cardiac incidents, and two deaths related to pre existing seizure disorders.
The widely different causes of death make it difficult for anyone to determine if Gardasil is the underlying cause, or even if the vaccine played a role at all.
What is happening in Iran?
If you’ve managed to find a source of news from Iran, you’re probably not watching the mainstream media. Networks like CNN and Fox have been criticized for their lack of coverage of the crisis in Iran, a crisis that began when millions of Iranian citizens heard the results of their recent Presidential election and felt their vote had been stolen, that the results were rigged.
It is still unclear why most major American media outlets are avoiding Iran coverage — CNN spent most of the week focusing on domestic issues, such as President Obama’s speech to North Korea, and the controversy involving Sarah Palin and David Letterman. Fox News continued its “in depth fair and balanced” coverage of Sonia Sotomayor. MSNBC should get credit for covering the Iran crisis better than any other American news source, but that bar wasn’t set very high.
Here’s a timeline of events in Iran over the past week. This isn’t an all encompassing history, by any means, but should get you up to speed if you’ve been depending on any of the mainstream American sources. Please be aware that much of the information coming out of Iran is being communicated through Twitter, Facebook, and private email — the Iranian government is shutting down internet access as well as journalist’s access more and more every day, making exact reports nearly impossible.
June 10 — Excitement for the coming election builds even as political analysts in the West expect a “poor turnout”. Twitter posts from within Iran show an unbelievable amount of election frenzy, especially from Iranian young people.
June 11 — Just a few hours before the polls open in Iran, all SMS and other text messaging services go down nationwide.
June 12 — Election Day. Because of an unexpectedly high turnout, polls are open for an additional four hours. Live updates from Iran in the form of tweets and Facbeook posts appear throughout the day and into the night. As the polls close and election results begin to appear, Twitter activity skyrockets. Only a few hours after the polls officially close, President Ahmadinejad is declared the winner, with just a couple of million of ballots counted.
June 13 — Protests on the streets, some peaceful, some turning violent. The first deaths from the so called “riots” are reported. Twitter reports of “escalating violence” appear. There are reports of even more communication services being bocked throughout Iran, including attempts to shut down all social networking and news Web sites. Citizens of Iran figure out how to get around the government’s Twitter and Facebook blocks and begin reports to the outside world.
late June 14th, early June 15th — The second and first large wave of violence and government repression starts. Violent riots spread to all of the large cities of Iran. Violence against Iranian citizens is rumored to come from members of Hizbullah. Sometime on June 15th, the first repots of firearms being used against protestors appear. Protesters gather in and around Tehran University dorms, and are attacked by various military groups. The first reports of “prisoners” being taken pops up in non American news media and Twitter feeds. Der Spiegel, who will continue to report from Iran even though other Western sources won’t, claims that 5000 Hizbullah fighters are masquerading as Iranian riot police.
evening, 15th of June — The so called “third wave” of violence begins. Plainclothes militia fire weapons against civilians during a peaceful protest. Photographic evidence supports this claim originally made through Twitter. Some counts hold that around 2 million protesters took to the streets of Tehran. Reports of fighting and rioting all over Tehran circulate via Al-jazeera and Der Spiegel. At least twenty people have been killed by the end of the 15th of June.
early morning, 16th of June — Reports that students are being targeted are confirmed even in the Western mainstream media through photographic evidence — dorm rooms torn apart, computers destroyed, and students being taken as political prisoners. Der Spiegel reports that students are fighting back. Iranian Tweeters report that telephones are being bugged and the “riot police” are rounding up people known to be Tweeting or sending photos or videos outside of Iran. ISPs are shut down, while government sponsored hackers are locating sources of Tweets. According to Al-jazeera, reports of students vanishing are on the rise.
Students take over a militia base, killing its commander and eventually burning the building to the ground. For the first time, Twitter reports from Iran show that the Iranian police are somewhat on the side of the people, often joining them in protest and refusing to cooperate with militas.
16th of June – Supporters of Moussavi march in protest. People are asked to dress in black and are told to protest silently. They cooperate. The crackdown on technology and telecommunication is growing. According to Twitter reports, “Anyone with a laptop, camera or cellphone is being attacked in the street by plainclothes militias”. Tehran hotels and other buildings are under lockdown to keep the foreign press from reporting. They are told they can only file reports “from their hotels”.
late 16th of June to early 17th of June – The “fourth wave of violence” starts, but was very mild compared to previous days. The Basij, a plainclothes militia group, did not attack the pro-Moussavi march, instead they used the march as a kind of diversion and chose to attack the Tehran University dorms yet again. 2000 of the plainclothes Basij attempt to once afgain storm the male occupied dorm, but are turned back by Iranian Revolutionary Guard helicopters. Another amazing sign that certain elements within Iran are not supporting Ahmadinejad, but are backing the student’s revolution.
As of the 17th of June, Iran’s telecommunications abilities are basically dead. A list of what the government shut down or attempted to shut down:
Gmail and GTalk
AmericaOnline Instant Messenger
Twitter and many private proxies
Cellphones and SMS
As the Iranian’s ability to communicate with the outside world goes away, so do reliable sources of information on the situation there. We know that the government is faking Twitter reports, as most of the citizen’s posting to Twitter have lost their connection.
If you’re interested in following what little real journalism is coming out of Iran, there are still a few sources reporting accurate information. Der Spiegel and Al-jazeera are the most accurate and trustworthy sources as of now.
If you want to support the citizens of Iran, wear green. Green is the color of Ahmadinjead’s rival (and most likely winner of the election) Moussavi. Wear a green armband and tell people what’s really going on there. Remember the 1,000 to 10,000 political prisoners who have been taken in just the past week. Viva la revolucion.
What are America’s fattest states?
America is facing an obesity problem — some even call it an epidemic.
Overwhelmingly, the obesity problem pops up in the Southern states. Annually, a group called The Trust for America’s Health conducts a study into percentages of obese and overweight people, comparing geographical areas of the country and identifying the fattest states and regions.
The news is grim this year — not a single state grew LESS obese, though there were shifts in the dubious lineup of “fattest states”.
Adult obesity percentage actually rose in 23 states — this means that an unbelievable two thirds of adults in America are seriously overweight or obese.
What are the reasons for America’s weight troubles?
For one, the economy. When times are hard, people are more likely to go for the dollar menu at the local fast food joint than spend time shopping and preparing what seem to be more expensive foods. Also, the foods that are better for us, like organic meats and vegetables, are naturally more expensive. How much easier is it to buy a pack of prefabricated hamburger patties than to invest in organic ground beef?
While the nasty economy is doing its share to harm the nation’s health and health care statistics, many states have actually improved their nutritional standards in school lunches and raised their expectations in terms of exercise in school gyms, so it is unclear why these changes aren’t working.
There is a certain element of the American population that is sedentary — when was the last time you saw a crowd of kids playing baseball in the park? Our dependence on computers and other convenience electronics may be contributing. I work from home — which means I don’t even have to walk more than twenty feet to work. If we don’t get our country back on track in terms of exercise and diet, the number of obese people will surely continue to grow.
Which states are the fattest? The top three are no surprise — Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas. These states have been in the bottom three for years, with just their exact position changing. Eleven of the twenty five worst states in terms of obesity are in the South including the three mentioned — the others are Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.
Rounding out the bottom twenty-five are DC, Delware, New Jersey, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, West Virignia, Virginia, New York, and Michigan.
As for the “healthy” states — Utah, Montana, and Minnesota. Other states that come in with decent scores are Colorado (with an active population committed to exercise), Oregon, California, and Maryland.
In general, states in the western part of the country and in New England rank lowest in the rankings for fattest states, while states in the South and the so called “Rust Belt” tend to rank highest. Interesting correlations between “blue” and “red” states and obesity levels are already being made, as are plenty of other red herrings that the news media can toss to the masses.
Why has President Obama changed his message on health care reform?
The Honeymoon is over for President Barack Obama — actually, it may have been over for a couple of months now. With most of his approval ratings peaking or starting to drop off, the President and his Cabinet have begun reworking their overall message on health care reform. The big question now is this — can Obama and company win over Americans who already have insurance? Those of us that have little or no insurance coverage are quick to jump on the Obama bandwagon. How can Obama change the minds of those already covered adequately?
Critics of the president’s health care overhaul (and there are plenty) have organized a mass disruption of the President’s town hall meetings. Like it or not, this disruption has had some kind of effect, though the jury’s still out on what exactly that effect is. If you’re like me, you see the disruptions as the last ditch efforts of a dying party to take on a popular President’s major domestic policy — though others see the yelling and anger as a national display of dissidence. Either way, the White House has been forced to go on the defensive. There’s more disruption on the horizon, by the way — President Obama is set to appear on a string on television programs this week according to Robert Gibbs, press secretary. You better believe there will be more “civil” disobedience.
Nationwide polls are starting to show that Americans who have adequate health coverage are very skeptical of the mostly Democratic proposals to expand health care coverage to the millions with inadequate support. Obama’s plan to use town hall meetings in the always contentious state of New Hampshire will highlight how his proposals will affect workers whose employers currently provide their health insurance — a big chunk of the dissident puzzle.
When asked what President Obama would do if confronted by a rabble rouser, Robert Gibbs said “I think what the president will do is turn to that person and probably ask them to be civilized and give them an answer to their question.”
This would probably be the best move for Obama, who already appears to be a man not easily shaken in circumstances such as this. Remember that the town hall tradition is a long one in America — a tradition meant to inform people so they can make a personal decision about an upcoming change in policy. President Obama tends to shine when interacting with the public, and this town hall style meeting will likely be another example of his poise.
At the upcoming town hall in New Hampshire, President Obama will highlight his proposal to protect individuals from questionable insurance company practices. The biggest issue on his agenda is informing people about his program to keep insurance companies from denying individuals health coverage because of pre existing conditions.
Other town hall meetings are in the planning stages across the country. During a town hall in Montana at the end of this week, the President is scheduled to talk about how his plan would block companies from dropping an individual’s coverage when that person becomes ill. In Colorado, next week, the President will talk about the Democrats’ plan to put a stop to the unfairly high cost of coverage in certain areas of the country.
To support the President, the Democratic National Committee purchased air time across the country to run an ad that effectively asks the question “What’s in it for you?” White House officials reported that the ad started running Monday night in Washington and on cable — as of Tuesday the ad is running in states that Obama plans to visit, including New Hampshire and Colorado.
Major concerns over Obama’s proposal are causing heated debate in meetings and on conservative radio shows. The main impact of this dissent is that Obama’s approval numbers have drooped a bit. Is this a true threat to the President’s best known domestic policy idea? We have yet to see. But what we do know is that while Congress is in a month long recess this August, members of the House and Senate are being bombarded with questions from their constituents — people who are worried about the many divisive issues that hit the Congress just before recess. In other words, people are getting involved.
To calm citizen’s fears, Prsident Obama will spend Congress’ recess month stumping for his health overhaul for Americans, concentrating especially on the benefits of his plan for those people already adequately covered by health insurance. By starting in New Hampshire, Obama is making a strong statement. 90 percent of New Hampshire residents report being “adequately covered” by their current insurance plan.
A crowd of nearly 2,000 people is expected for today’s event in the already Democratic leaning state of New Hampshire. Of that crowd, more than half were granted admission based on a random lottery, a tactic Obama has already used to his advantage in other states, but related to less divisive issues. The lottery style admission process may be a danerous move in a state with a history of political activism like New Hampshire.
Outside of the site for the New Hampshire town hall, a handful of political groups will stage a counter rally. The makeup of these groups has been called into question by Obama and company. In fact, an Obama aide sent an email out to Obama supporters in New Hampshire, asking pro Obama groups to counter the protestors, saying that these groups are actually “organized by Washington insiders, insurance companies and well-financed special interests who don’t go a day without spreading lies and stirring up fear.” The White House is not exactly playing a clean game here, either.
What is Google Squared?
There is a new frontier in the world of web searches. Gone are the days when searching giants like Google and Yahoo could depend on the use of “keyword searches” for the best and most accurate search results. The web is all abuzz with the news of new search programs in development, like Wolfram Alpha which will attempt to approach web searches in a new and different way.
The problem is data. The internet is crammed full of data that can’t be easily searched for simply through the use of “keywords”. The new frontiers in the world of web searching is a web search program’s abilty to take all of the unstructured data spread all over the Web and treat it as though it were in fact structured or organized in a database for ease of access.
It is easier for a search to get answers out of this kind of database — one where every bit of data is labeled, categorized, or neatly presented. Unfortunately, as the volume of info on the web continues to growing, the old standby of the web (the “keyword search”) is approaching its eventual breaking point. What is that breaking point?
The best estimate for the current number of websites is somewhere around 100 million — that’s a huge number of active sources of info for a simple keyword search to mine. Think of web searching as the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack, where the needle shrinks in size as the haystack continues to grow. It isn’t just a problem of too much info to mine, either. The internet has evolved over time, and will no doubt continue to do so. With the advent of the so called “social web” in the last few years, web searching grew even more complicated. “Tagging” and other social tools made certain kinds of web searches infinitely complex. If you haven’t run a simple keyword search in a little while, give it a go. You’ll likely find the results garbled at best, and the sheer scope of the search results will limit your access to the kinds of answers you’re looking for.
Complicating things even further is the fact that the internet will soon become more dependent upon “semantic searching”, where search engines will have to develop a sense of “reasoning”. How do semantic searches controlled by a device with artificial reasoning benefit web users? To put it simply, users of the internet are growing in sophistication, and their search demands are growing right along with them. The recent appearance of Google’s “News Timeline” is a small example of this. Using “Google News Timeline”, web browsers have access to a wide range of information alongside their generic search, including events in history, related results, and content from print magazines and other periodicals. In layman’s terms, web searches must become more intuitive, or risk becoming outmoded.
Adding structure to the Web is one way to make sense of all the data clogging up our Google searchs, and Google knows this. The programming wizards at Google are starting the tackle this problem through a Google Labs project named “Google Squared”. Google Squared is a program that extracts data from Web pages and presents the search results via an online spreadsheet. For example — a search for “House cats” will returns a spreadsheet featuring names, descriptions, weights, and other information about the various kinds of house cats in neat columns and rows. It may not be the “sexiest” app that Google has ever developed, but it does show Google’s commitment to creating solutions for problems that may pop up in the future. Call it “future problem solving”.
Google Squared looks for data structures on the web that contain factual information and processes it in a spreadsheet. This may seem like a simple function, but according to Google, it takes a tremendous amount of power to create such a spreadsheet, and the very nature of Google searches must be altered. Rather than looking for keywords, Google Squared looks for keywords AND attaches a significance to them that is more akin to what a human would be looking for. Google Squared attempts to understand WHY you’d be searching for “House cats”, and presents what it “thinks” is relevant information.
This new technology has many applications for a wide range of user initiated keyword searches, including searches for products, scientific data, health-related information, etc. Google is not alone in their quest to make a search engine that is “semantic” — there are literally dozens of startups trying to impose the same kind of structure on the web. As mentioned before, Wolfram Alpha is one of these high profile startups, set to launch in the next week. Wolfram Alpha approaches semantic searches in a different way than Google — Alpha simply digs through massive amounts of information it has already added to its own database, allowing for a mine of info that the search engine can dig through in the blink of an eye. In that this kind of search is a new way of thinking about information on the web, there is a much hyped rivalry occuring between Google Squared and Wolfram Alpha — and we all know that competition can drive rival companies to new heights of success. Let’s hope the friendly tug of war between these two new search motifs will come up with something incredible, a new era of web searching.
A video of a test run of Google Squared has made its way on the web. In this video, a search for “spaceships” returns some interesting if completely irrelevant results. Shown in the search return are a Corvette automobile, and a Naval missile carrier. Clearly, Google has some work to do before they release Google Squared to the general public, outside of the comfortable realm of Google Labs.
Bill Gates: Hurricane Killer?
It may sound like the twisted plot of a comic book or the ramblings of a James Bond villain, but this week’s oddest tech story is based on a patent filed by Bill Gates himself — controlling the weather. Bill Gates and a litany of other inventors have come together to form a plan to “kill hurricanes” while they’re over open ocean and before they can hit land and wreak havoc.
Gates’ idea sounds simple enough — send barges to pull cold deep ocean water up to the surace to create a virtual road block that will weaken or even dissipate the savage forces of hurriances. Why would this work? Hurricanes, as you may remember from sixth grade science class, get their power from warm ocean waters — so cooling the water around and in front of a hurricane, theoretically, should lessen the power of that tropical storm, and potentially make it go away for good.
Five U.S. Patent and Trade Office applications, which were made public this July 9, indicate that Gates’ plan is to slow hurricanes by pumping that cold water directly in their paths, using giant barges. If the patents are issued (or “legally recognized”), Gates and his co inventors would enjoy 18 years of legal rights to the unique hurricane killing idea. This isn’t exactly pseudo science — one of Gates co inventors is the venerable climate scientist (and sometime environmental activist) Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
A hurricanes power is easy to see — just look at the deadly intensity of Hurricanes Katrina or Rita, which wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast in 2005 and 2006. The patents described by Gates and his group indicate that a strategic positioning of barges with turbine engines would use various methods to chill sea surfaces. This isn’t exactly a new idea for Gates — the idea was first floated by the software magnate sometime last year — and would use “atmospheric management, weather management, hurricane suppression, hurricane prevention, hurricane intensity modulation, and hurricane deflection” to prevent future disasters like the one that nearly wiped out New Orleans.
According to various patent experts, the scope of this hurriance stomping idea is so large that the patents may sit in patent hell for years. An issue this complex isn’t going to be rushed through the patent office. Scanning the web for various news sources on the issue, it is clear that no one associated with Gates or Ken Caldeira are willing to release a statement. Specifically, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Institution have declined to make any comment on the patent plans.
An interesting name is being floated for the venture — Big Hurricane Suck. Before you go making jokes about what a great band name that would be, understand that Gates and his co inventors are quite serious about the idea. In fact, the idea is being worked on through Microsoft’s Intellectual Ventures Lab, a think tank founded by former Microsoft executives (like Gates) to think up and develop new technologies to benefit humanity. According to Intellectual Ventures Lab, the Big Hurricane Suck isn’t a “Plan A or Plan B scenario”, but more like a last ditch effort in the face of a deadly hurriance. Writing in Intellectual Ventures Lab blog, a co inventor of the patent says that “Big Hurricane Suck would be used when humans decide that we have exhausted all of our behavior changing and alternative energy options and need to rely on mitigation technologies.”
Hurricane experts aren’t giggling at this idea — in fact, Kerry Emanuel of the Massacusetts Institute of Technology (who is a hurricane expert) had this to say — “The bottom line here is that if enough pumps are deployed, it is reasonable to expect some diminution of hurricane power.” According to Emanuel, lowering the sea surface temperature by as little as 4.5 degrees directly under the eye of a hurricane would literally kill the storm. The one downside to Gates’ plan, according to Emanuel, is that Big Hurricane Suck would have to be performed on a “massive scale”. Who knows how many turbine powered barges would have to be employed — but at least the plan is feasible.
The technology is built around the concept that ocean water gets colder and colder the deeper you go, even reaching below freezing temperatures of 28 degrees as little as 500 feet below the surface. Remember that salty water won’t freeze at the traditional 32 degrees.
The patents specifically mention sail powered barges, with pumps as long as 500 feet, moving warm water down to the depths and bringing cold water back up. If you cool the water in a region that is in the known path of a hurricane (according to the patent, this would mean about 60 square miles of ocean), the hurricane could be slowed by a category of wind speed per 60 square miles. Unfortunately, according to computer modeling included in the patent application, the path of the hurricane won’t be directly affected, just the strength.
So why are hurricanes such a problem? The National Weather Service tells us that in an average storm year, six major hurricanes will develop in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico between June 1st and November 30th. Looking back over the last 100 years, the annual cost in damages to the USA averages $10 billion, which may sound like a lot until you learn the impact of individual storms. Back in 2005, Hurricane Katrina killed around 2,000 people and caused more than $81 billion in damages — and that’s a single storm.
Will Bill Gates soon be known as the man that killed hurricanes? If he has his way, and if Big Hurricane Suck can be implemented, that may be his biggest legacy.
Who is Cristal Taylor?
Cristal Taylor is the Dallas woman at the center of an off-court controversy for an NBA star. Dirk Nowitzki and Cristal Taylor had been living together in Nowitzki’s Preston Hollow home – until she was picked up by the Dallas police for two warrants stemming from a probation violation and a theft charge.
The Dallas Mavericks 30 year old forward has been a huge part of the Mavericks seasons, averaging 26 points and 8 rebounds on 37 minutes of play per game. There had been whispers late in the season about “off court” trouble for the seven foot tall German national – but it wasn’t until the morning of May 6 that the general public found out just what kind of trouble Nowitzki was having.
Apparently, Nowitzki’s relationship with Crystal Taylor has been an issue in the Mavericks locker room and with the Mavericks ownership for some time now. Multiple Dallas Mavericks sources spoke with the media on Thursday to say that “people within the organization cautioned Dirk Nowitzki about his relationship” with Cristal Taylor, who was arrested at the star forward’s home Wednesday morning as the Mavericks were flying back from a playoff loss at Denver. The team sources said Nowitzki’s “own suspicion” prompted him to question Cristal Taylor’s past – after all, Nowitzki was allowing Cristal Taylor to live in his 6 million dollar Preston Hollow home.
Rumors are flying in the Dallas media that Taylor is pregnant with Nowitzki’s child, and that the two were engaged to be married. So far, these sources remain “anonymous” and the pregnancy rumors, as well as the information about their supposed engagement, remains unverified.
Cristal Taylor’s legal troubles started years ago in Missouri. In early 1999, Cristal Taylor was in court to answer to charges that she intentionally passed bad checks in two St. Louis-area counties. She pled guilty to four counts, including forgery and theft, and was sentenced to five years of probation. After moving to Texas and transferring her probation to Texas authorities, Cristal Taylor was once again busted committing theft by check and stopped reporting to her probation officer. The State of Missouri issued a warrant for her arrest on a charge of violating her probation back in 2001, and she has been wanted by the police ever since.
It doesn’t end there. Cristal Taylor allegedly stole checks and credit cards, even using one of the stolen cards to secure thousands of dollars worth of dental work in Beaumont, Texas, a city near the Louisiana border. This led to a charge of “theft of service” in Jefferson County. It is still unclear whether Cristal Taylor faces further charges, as she is still being held in Dallas jail – there is no bail allowed on probation violations.
Cristal Taylor could be looking at prison time for violating the terms of her probation – and that would be just fine with the Dallas Mavericks organization as well as their fans. Much has been made of the controversy and its negative effect on Nowitzki’s play and concentration. Without Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks have little chance of coming back from the 2-0 playoff deficit against the Denver Nuggets.
While most Mavericks fans probably regard the timing of the arrest as a negative, with Dallas trailing Denver in a tough second-round playoff series, Mavericks team sources characterized the news and timing as “good.” Basically, the team saw Cristal Taylor as a divisive influence between Nowitzki and his teammates and even his family members.
Asked to make a comment on Thursday, Nowitzki had little to say about the controversy: “It’s pretty obvious that I’m going through a tough time in my personal life right now. Like I always have, I want to kind of keep my private life private. I really am not at the stage where I can talk about it yet and feel comfortable talking about it. I’m more than happy to answer basketball questions, but I think at this point, I just can’t talk about it.”
The swine flu has been all over the news lately. There have been many reports on its origins and how it got started in the U.S. Just the word pandemic is scary. It is only natural that many people are worried, especially if you come down sick. All it might take is just one sneeze and soon you are thinking “Is this swine flu”? The first thing you should do is not panic. There are many, many different viruses, bacteria, and bugs that you can get. But if you are worried about catching the swine flu, here is some useful information for you on symptoms, treatments, and vaccines.
Symptoms of Swine Flu
The symptoms for swine flu can be hard to self diagnose. They are similar to the regular flu strain and include everything from a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills, fatigue, and a headache. There have even been some reports of diarrhea, vomiting, and mild respiratory ailments such as nasal congection and rhinorrhea along with the swine flu. Even conjuctivitis, commonly known as pinkeye, has been a rare occurrence with the swine flu. As you can see, all of these symptoms can be caused by a number of different factors. Even a doctor cannot diagnose you just by your symptoms alone. To know if you have the swine flu, your doctor will have to run a blood test at a lab to see if you are infected or if you have something else.
Treatment for Swine Flu
There are four different antiviral drugs that are licensed for use in the US for the treatment of influenza: amantadine, rimantadine, oseltamivir and zanamivir. While most swine influenza viruses have been susceptible to all four drugs, the most recent swine influenza viruses isolated from humans are resistant to amantadine and rimantadine. At this time, CDC recommends the use of oseltamivir or zanamivir for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with swine influenza viruses.
The antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza have proven to have some effect in treating the swine flu. The CDC has recommended those drugs to either prevent or treat swine flu. Tamiflu and Relenza have been most effective if the patient happens to take them within 48 hours after the first sign of symptoms. The drugs definitely do help but not all cases have required drugs. Some of the earlier confirmed cases (a positive blood test) recovered without drug treatment. To further help in the fight against the swine flu, the Department of Homeland Security has released a quarter of its stockpile of Tamiflu and Relenza to individual states and local officials have asked people not to hoard Tamiflu or Relenza. So don’t get in a panic and go buy up all the Tamiflu in the store. Be considerate of others because they may be the ones who really need it.
What Is Tamiflu
Tamiflu is an antiviral drug that is approved for use in the U.S. The drug is designed to fight off viruses; in particular, it fights influenza (or flu) viruses. Although there is no cure for the flu once you get it, Tamiflu can help by shortening the length of time of the sickness as well as making it less severe. So do not think that Tamiflu is going to instantly cure you if you get the flu.
How Tamiflu works is it hinders a reproducing virus that’s trying to spread from one cell to infect other cells. Viruses cannot reproduce on their own. In order to spread, a virus must latch onto a living cell and insert its genetic material into that cell. By taking over host cells, it makes copies of itself. The more cells the virus takes over, the more sick you get. Eventually, the cell dies and those new viruses break out of the host cell to start the process over, attacking other cells. When Tamiflu traps the virus in the host cell, it prevents the virus from breaking out and spreading to other cells.
Is There A Swine Flu Vaccine
At this time, there is no vaccine for humans against the swine flu. There are vaccines that are available to pigs to prevent swine influenza but there is nothing to prevent humans from swine flu. The seasonal flu vaccine will likely help give some partial protection against swine H3N2, but not swine H1N1 viruses. The best prevention against the swine flu is to be very disciplined about cleanliness and to disinfect everything that comes into contact with the virus. Wash your hands regularly and use disinfectant wipes on objects such as the phone, doorknobs, and anything else that is handled a lot. For other ways to help prevent the spread of the swine flu, you can always visit the website for the CDC.
What is Google Wave?
The engineers at Google have been busy the last couple of years.
First we saw the introduction of the fabulous Google News Timeline program, a useful research tool that shows off just a shred of what the new Web will be like – semantic, interactive, and above all ubiquitous and useful.
Then came news of Google Squared, a semantic search engine being developed for what is known as Web 3.0 – the new era of the internet when search engines will become, well, “smart”.
Now we have Google Wave, introduced today, Thursday May 29, 2009, at the Google I/O conference. Google Wave is something most of us are just going to have to use in order to really understand how it works, what it is, and why it will succeed. In the simplest terms, Google Wave is a live chat room with a collection of document options, photo displays, videos, etc. Think of Google Wave as the next wave in chat technology, a kind of mashup of Twitter, Gmail, Google News, and video displays where you can reply to any part of any message or anything that’s shared, all in real time.
Google’s idea was to re ivent email and chat, as well as video technology and instant messaging, into “real time”. Google Wave is truly a collaborative environment, meant for project sharing. Google Wave, as has been said by bloggers all over the ‘net, might be the ultimate web service for those afflicted with ADD. Looking at Google Wave, I imagine a room full of employees standing around a desk or in a meeting room scattered with individual projects and news feeds – the difference is that using Google Wave, you’re able to work on any of the projects at the same time, while simultaneously passing notes or flirting with the cute co worker across the room.
You start a “Wave” with any message, link, photo, etc. — and you bring people into the discussion or project. Each of these people can bring other people in as well, until you’re ready to start blocking others out or even kicking your friends and coworkers out.
Google Wave can be as public or private as you want it to be. According to Google software engineer Lars Rasmussen, Google tried to answer the question “What would email look like if we set out to invent it today?” In a sense, Google Wave is designed to “redesign” our normal web communication and collaboration tools, such as email and IMing.
So how does Google Wave impact the current technology war between Google and Microsoft? You may remember that Microsoft is developing a new search engine in an attempt to compete with Google Squared and Wolfram Alpha. Surprise! There’s a new name (as predicted here at AskDeb last week and at other blogs web-wide) – Microsoft has settled on the friendly name Bing for their new service. And I assure you, there will be plenty written about Bing in the near future. Bing is meant to allow Microsoft to grab back some of Google’s market share and web advertising strengths. How successful will it be? That is yet to be seen. Unlike Wolfram Alpha and Google Squared, which are attempting to develop a new way of searching the web, Bing (so far) appears to be just another search engine.
Ironically, while Microsoft is busy playing catch up to Google, Yahoo, and the rest, even if there may be a few technological innovations in Bing, Google is constantly presenting their overwhelmingly powerful vision of the next big thing in web technology. Two major announcements from this week’s Google Developer Conference prove that the company is far ahead of Microsoft in its development.
Google first demonstrated their prowess in revealing how they plan to use HTML 5. HTML 5 is the new version of the familiar HTML web development language – version 5 is aimed at allowing the easy creation of browser based apps designed to be functional and easy to use. As the web trends more toward the kind of web that consumers and businesses want, it makes sense to develop your applications for a web browser rather than a hardware bound environment like Microsoft’s Windows. Simply put – developing apps for a browser is the wave of the future, while developing apps through old school hardware is so 2007.
Second, there came Google Wave.
Wave allows indie developers to build their apps for real time collaboration and interaction between multiple sources of input. Google says that Wave tries to mimic the way we naturally interact on a face to face level. Better still, Google Wave brings together every major internet and tech trend, from social media to wikis to advanced email apps and more, Google Wave’s got it. Ultimately, Google Wave has created a totally manageable, human oriented application that crams everything we already love about the web into a single compartment.
Obviously there has never been a piece of software that was developed with human interaction in mind — we have had to learn how to use a piece of software to interact naturally based on the standard tech restraints. I haven’t been excited about the emergence of a new search engine, apart from the rumors about Google Squared, ever.
Google Wave, on the other hand, is exciting. Its beautiful, it works, and it appears to fill a niche that hasn’t been filled before.
Google has finally developed a vision that doesn’t require complex computer networks or overpowered operating systems to be at its best. Heck, Google Wave doesn’t need any kidn of special software development environment, and completely bypasses the need for software apps. These things are the realm of Microsoft, and Google is attempting to circumvent this need entirely.
My favorite comment on Microsoft’s newly minted “Bing” program comes from a technoblog – “Microsoft is going Bing, but if it doesn’t open its eyes it might one day soon be going bang.”
It’s easy to see why Google would jump in with Wave at this time – “real time” is the way the new internet will work, and since the development of social networking (especially evident in the huge burst of popularity that Twitter has gotten in recent months) everybody’s been obsessed with real time tech. Not only does Wave highlight the conversational and social aspect of real time functions – Google is pushing for the development of apps that use Wave and run within Wave. In other words, Google is proving that any available web service is now only as good as far as it can work as a self contained platform.
Google, by releasing all of these innovations now, is attempting to drown out any “buzz” that Bing might draw. At least I think its still called Bing. Who knows what we’ll be calling the new Microsoft search engine next week – if you hear something, hit me up on Google Wave.
- What is Google Squared?
- How to Watch Movies on Google
- What are Social Media Sites?
- How to Get Cheap Internet
What is Obama cutting from the Federal budget?
There’s an old saying in our nation’s capital — “$1 billion here, $1 billion there”. This is supposed to be a joke about the large amounts of money that our Federal government deals with on a daily basis, and is meant to give the common man a chuckle. However, in the case of President Obama’s recent budget cut decisions, it just isn’t true.
When President Obama organized his Cabinet, he let them know that he expected them to come up with $100 million in budget savings, and to do it pronto. Sure, $100 million pales in comparison to $1 billion, but as my mama taught me, every little bit counts.
President Obama’s Cabinet has finally delivered what the President wants. $100 million in budget cuts have been whispered to Obama, and now he’s sharing them with the country. Okay, so we’re not talking about an amount of money that will fix the economy or give back hundreds of thousands of jobs, but President Barack Obama’s budget cuts are a delivery on two promises. The first — a promise he made to his country, to his fellow citizens. The second promise — that Obama wouldn’t ask anything of us that he wouldn’t do himself. More on that last promise later. First, the cuts.
Most government agencies have agreed to go “paperless” in most cases, saving an untold amount in paper and copy machine costs. Don’t laugh — the estimate for this savings alone is over $90,000 per agency. Similarly, the Treasury Department has decided to shred classified materials (and to recycle them) instead of following their usual protocol and burning them through an outside agency. This small change will recapture about $40,000 per year.
Over at the Justice Department, the government will save an astounding $4 million in the next year by making their travel arrangements online (like the rest of us) instead of using travel agents. That’s a huge amount of savings for just one change — and by the way, who uses a travel agent anymore? Apparently, our government does.
In a move that echoes changes most of us are making in our own home, the Air Force agreed to install around 3,000 compact fluorescent light bulbs. This will reportedly reduce the Air Force’s electricity costs by about $36,000 a year.
Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture is cutting some overseas meetings and conferences (including a fancy trip to Australia), and the Department of Commerce did away with a plan to make over $140,000 in office renovations, saying that the changes were not “necessary to their operation”. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is shifting some expenses, including the maintenance and eventual disposal of temporary housing from Hurrican Katrina (120,000 housing units in all) — these changes will now be made by a private outfit. This move will save the government around $4 million in operating costs.
What is the biggest single change of them all? The Air Force isn’t just changing light bulbs — they’re saving $52 million by switching over to commercial jet fuel. The standard procedur for fuel in an Air Force jet is something known as “JP-8″. It doesn’t even there — the Air Force is cutting back a total of $18 million by transporting more soldiers per chartered airplane when they take leave. I figure they can sit the relative comfort of coach like the rest of us, but that probably won’t be a popular opinion.
The press release about the budget cuts came down the line late Monday evening with a surprisingly small amount of news coverage or fanfare. Most likely, the health care reform is clouding the news horizon, or the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. Either way, few people have heard the specifics of Obama’s cuts. And yes, Obama’s pledge to make cuts to the budget equals something near $1 for every $10,000 of his now $1 trillion budget — but he is delivering on a promise, and the angriest Birth Certificate conspiracy theory Republican can’t deny that. The budget, approved this past March, is now just a bit smaller.
Opponents of the President and his budget have been quick to compare the $100 million cut with “cutting a single foot-long submarine sandwich from the budget of a person making $60,000 a year”. Is it a strange analogy? Yes, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. After all, Americans are known for their predilection for food.
Don’t forget that the actual tally for cuts is $102 million for the year 2009, as well as an additional $165 million more in savings 2010. So, he’s cutting two sub sandwiches.
The President clearly believes that small savings add up to make a big difference. All comparisons to submarine sandwiches aside, these kinds of small changes reflect what the Federal government has been asking us to do for some years now — change little things to create big savings in energy costs. Think of these cuts as Obama practicing what he has so sternly been preaching.
By making these cuts, Obama has done exactly what he needed — fulfilled a couple of major promises he and his staff made to the American people. It may be easier for the rest of us to tighten our belts when we see our President doing the same.
What caused the recent stock boom?
The major U.S. stock index scores kept up the recent winning trend today, and have now risen to their highest levels in recent months. The up trend is caused by many factors, not the least of which is an unexpected number of quarterly results beating their estimates and a trickling upward in the home sales data.
That’s right — good news from the real estate market. Stocks are booming on news that existing home sales rose for the third consecutive month as reported from June. This boost in confidence for the stock market put to bed any previous qualms about the market. Some were saying this boom was based solely on those better than expected quarterly results, and that more evidence was needed that the economy may be turning around. For those skeptics, the new home sales numbers seems to have been the final straw.
The Dow Jones industrial average also hit a high mark, breaking through the 9,000 point for the first time since early January, this also a result of the National Association of Realtors announcing that sales of pre owned homes were 3.6% higher in June at 4.89 million annualized units, up from 4.72 million units in May. The new figures from the home market indicate a growth that is quicker annually than predicted by market analysts. With a projection for 4.84 million units in June, the analysts were under by almost 50,000 homes. This lifted shareholder’s hopes that the housing market may be heading in the direction of a gradual recovery.
On Thursday June 23, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 182. 43 points, or 2.1%, to jump to a volume of 9,063.69. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index added 22.17, or 2.3%, to close at $976.24, and the Nasdaq Composite Index shot up by 46.47, or 2.4% of its volume, to close at 1,972.85, all during a Thursday afternoon trading session.
Some stand out stocks include 3M, whose shares enjoyed heavy buying traffic on Thursday — the stock’s value closed up by $3.93, or 6.1% volume, to end at $68.60. 3M is a highly diversified tech company who recent press conference indicated that swine flu (or H1N1) fears helped sales of their respiratory masks, proving that H1N1 is having some major social and economic results. Overall though, 3M blames their good streak on “greater demand for consumer electronics”.
The recent boom in stock values is largely influence by the announcements of several companies who indicated they made more money than expected. The Dow is now up nearly 40 percent from low marks in early March of 2009. Ford Motor Co., AT&T Inc., and the aforementioned 3M Co. are just a few of the assets that have recently reported earnings that beat analysts’ expectations.
It is good to see all financial markets trending upward — it isn’t just the New York Stock Exchange, but also the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 who are also showing growth, with each one up over 2 percent today from previous highs.
Many analysts are slow to give credit to any one factor for the recent up trend in the stock market. Many say that the recent gains can be attributed not juts to companies beating their earnings estimates, but to investors coming back into the market because they don’t want to miss what is perceived as a rally, and the public’s perception that the economy is starting to recover, slowly but surely.
Another indicator of what might be causing a market boom — the tech heavy Nasdaq Composite Index, which was already on an 11-day winning streak coming into Thursday’s action, was up over 2%, helped analysts say by major gains in two of its high-profile funds following business’ quarterly reports. One major holding, EBay, was up by 10% after the online auctioneer announced that current quarter results would top analyst estimates. Interestingly enough, it was EBay’s rival, online retailer Amazon.com, that also bolstered the Nasdaq’s winning streak — Amazon gained 5.5% after announcing a surprising to all (including the CEO) profit increase. It didn’t hurt that Amazon also recently acquired major online shoe retailer Zappos.com. So is it tech stocks that are leading the financial boom right now?
Not necessarily — just look at shares of SanDisk, which plunged 13% in a day after the computer chip maker announced strong recent profits but what some analysts saw as “a disappointing outlook”. Recently, most stock analysts have downgraded the value of SanDisk to a neutral or average rating, with one reviewer saying: “Top-line weakness raises concerns about the demand environment and we believe partially reflects weaker consumer spending.” It seems that investors are still wary about tech stocks after the boom and crash in the late 90s / early 2000s.
What other sectors won big recently in the stock market? Health care, for one. Bristol-Myers announced their better than expected results (beginning to sound like a broken record?) and announced a plan to buy the much smaller Medarex company for $2.4 billion. Bristol-Myers shares were up a solid 1.6% on the day, while Medarex was the big winner, up 89%. Another health care company that did good for themselves — Wyeth, whose earnings also beat expectations. That pushed the value of the drugmaker’s shares up a full 1%.
Investors may also have responded to President Barack Obama’s press conference Wednesday evening regarding proposed health care legislation. If this is the case, they seem to have reacted positively — traders are notoriously nervous about any big moves by the Commander in Chief, and traders have been nervous about Obama’s health care package, whether it would face any major delays, if the plan could effectively control costs, if the plan would leave customers room for choice, etc.
Whatever the reason, the market is turning back into a solid investment. Part of the mini boom we’re experiencing could just be people returning to the market because their confidence has been restored.
What happened to Air France flight 447?
Amid new rumors of a bomb threat, supported by testimony from long-haul pilots familiar with the route taken by Air France flight 447, new details of the plane’s fate are popping up on world news organizations.
Investigators found debris from the plane on Tuesday, including an airplane seat, a wide fuel slick, and several pieces of white debris. The wreckage was scattered across three miles of the Atlantic ocean. Officials are saying this debris marks the site in the mid Atlantic where Air France Flight 447 plunged into the ocean. Brazilian military pilots spotted the wreckage in the ocean 400 miles northeast of small islands off Brazil’s coast. The plane, which was carrying 228 people, vanished on Sunday, June 3, 2009 about four hours into its flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.
According to Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim ” . . . the five kilometers of debris are those of the Air France plane.” The Defense Minister said no bodies were recovered and and there were no signs of life. The effort to recover the debris and locate the black box recorders, necessary for understanding the plane’s fate, is going to be quite a challenge. For one thing, the black box only emit its signals for 30 days, and officials have a huge area of ocean to search. Extremely difficult weather conditions and an area of the ocean that can be as deep as 23,000 feet will make the recovery effot next to impossible.
Brazilian military pilots first spotted the floating debris early Tuesday in two spots about 35 miles apart, suggesting a catastrophic interruption to the plane’s trajectory. This according to Brazilian Air Force spokesman Jorge Amaral. Though the area is not far off the routine flight path of flight 447, the wide range of debris lends credence to theories that the flight met with a violent end.
The actual cause of the crash can not be verified until the plane’s black boxes are recovered. If they can be found, it will take “weeks” according to French and Brazilian officials. Officially, weather and aviation researchers are discussing the possibility that the flight passed through a particularly bad storm system that potentially sent 100 mph winds directly into the path of the big airliner.
AccuWeather.com reporter Henry Margustiy explains it this way — “The airplane was flying at 500 mph northeast and the air is coming at them at 100 mph. That probably started the process that ended up in some catastrophic failure of the airplane.” While massive Atlantic storms are common this time of year near the equator, where the plane was when the signal was lost, veteran pilots of big airliners, including some who flew the same model of airliner for years, are saying it is “extremely unlikely” that Flight 447′s crew tried to pass through such a disastrous storm.
Pilots often work their way through bands of storms, watching for lightning flashing through clouds ahead and maneuvering around them, he said. If you’ve flown on a plane during a storm, you’re probably familiar with the shifting that occurs. It is possible, according to the pilots (most of whom want to remain anonymous) that the pilots of flight 447 were trying to weave in and out of the lightning storms and met a potentially deadly wind updraft. Unfortunately for investigators, the same frightful weather that might have led to the crash also could halt any recovery efforts. Large Atlantic thunderstoms move through the stretch of ocean where the plane went down on a daily basis.
The plan is to use remotely controlled submersibles to recover wreckage that may have settled deep beneath the surface of the ocean. France has dispatched a research ship equipped with unmanned submarines that can explore as deep as 19,600 feet. The United States is also lending aid in the form of Aa U.S. Navy surveillance plane. The plane in question can fly incredibly low over the ocean for up to 12 hours at a time and is equipped radar and sonar. This “spy plane” was designed to track submarines underwater.
Rescuers are still scanning a vast swath of open ocean, hoping against hope to find survivors or at least the all important black boxes. If no survivors are found, the crash of Flight 447 will be the world’s worst civil aviation disaster since the crash of an American Airlines jet in November 2001. That crash was in New York City and 265 people.
Unfortunately, investigators have few clues to explain what may have brought the massive Airbus A330 down. The crew of the plane made no distress calls before the crash — the plane’s warning system sent a standard and automatic message just before the flight’s signal disappeared. The signal reported a loss of cabin pressure and serious electrical failure. Brazilian officials have described a pile of wreckage that is around three miles long and wide, but have so far refused to make any firm conclusions about what this means about the plane’s fate. Safety consultants and accident investigators in Washington, D.C.are saying the wide path of wreckage most likely indicates the Air France airliner “came apart before it hit the water.”
Until investigators find the elusive black boxes, we will have to listen to media conjecture about the fate of those aboard Air France flight 447.
What sports are being considered for addition to the Olympics?
There are pretty strict rules about what sports get added to the Olympic program. Without going into too much detail about how new sports are added to the roster of games, the basic criteria are as follows: a new Olympic sport or discipline must be “widely practiced”. This means that a men’s sport must be played in at least 75 countries across at least four continents. For women’s sports, the number’s a bit lower — at least 40 countries participating on at least three continents.
For the 2016 Olympic Games, there is some exciting news about potential new disciplines. Soon, the International Olympic Committee will consider a short list of seven sports for inclusion. The sports under consideration are golf, rugby sevens (a smaller squad), baseball, softball, squash, karate, and roller sports. The 15 member board of the IOC is planning to submit two of these sports for full ratification by the 106-member IOC at their assembly in Copenhagen this October.
Golf and rugby sevens are the most likely sports to receive full support fo rinclusion.
An IOC board member had this to say about the new additions — “It will be a long and difficult discussion. I think there will be different opinions. We hope to be able to make a unanimous decision, but it will be hard to find a common denominator.”
While it is exciting to think of Tiger Woods and other young golf phenoms going for gold against the world’s best players, don’t buy your 2016 tickets just yet — every sport on the list has a long way to go. The first step — representatives of these seven sports made lengthy presentations to the IOC board this past June in Switzerland, the home of the IOC. These representatives have kept up their lobbying right up until this week, when a panel of IOC members will make their initial vote.
Though the majority opinion holds that golf and rugby sevens are well in the lead, other IOC members speaking anonymously suggest that softball has an equally good chance of being added to the Games. Still other board members left the door wide open, suggesting that anything is possible in the world of the Olympics negotiations.
Additions for 2016 aren’t the only big debate this week — the IOC board is also making rulings on some big changes for the 2012 London games. Debate is heated over the addition of women’s boxing, a new event in swimming (the 50 meter spring), mixed doubles in tennis, BMX freestyle bike events under the umbrella of cycling, and a new format for the modern pentathlon with an eye toward shortening the event for television coverage.
One of the big issues with the addition of gold is whether golf’s biggest names and brightest stars (already multimillionaires) would step up to compete in the Olympic Games. Professional golfers have a hefty schedule of majors and other tour events, not to mention international team competitions like the Davis Cup. To this end, a couple of big name players (specifically Annika Sorenstam and Colin Montgomerie) testified before the IOC in June that the world’s top players would certainly consider the Olympics “as important as a major”. The lack of celebrities has been an issue for other failing Olympic sports in the past, most notably baseball.
There is good news for gold — the game was played at the 1900 Paris Olympics and 1904 St. Louis Games. Where there is a precedent for a sport there is hope. Golf’s supporters say that bringing the game back into the Olympics would encourage the growth of golf worldwide. Why is that? In many countries around the world, a sport can only receive government funding and major attention if it is an “Olympic sport”.
Tiger Woods, probably the biggest sports name in the world, made his own plea for the addition of gold to the 2016 games, appearing in a video presentation to the IOC making a case for the sports to be added to the Olympics. Woods was asked by a reported yesterday if he would play Olympic golf –
“If I’m not retired by then, yeah,” said Woods, who will be just 40 years old in 2016.
The big argument for golf is that it is a global sport, played all over the planet (and even once on the moon).
Golf would be played in the Olympics much like it is played outside of the Games — a 72-hole stroke-play competition for men and one for women, with 60 players in each group. Another proposed rule to increase star’s participation — the top 15 players in the world rankings would earn an automatic spot in the tournament, and all major professional tournaments and tours would halth their schedules or remake them in order to avoid a conflict.
The case for rugby may be a bit more difficult — rugby is not a global game in the sense that golf is. Rugby has a precedent in the Olympics as well, in fact that game has been played even more recently than Olympic gold — at the 1924 Olympics rugby was played in a much longer “rugby fifteens” format. Rugby sevens would make the game faster and more interesting (and easier to follow) for sports fans.
Still, the issue remains undecided for now. Though the smaller group of IOC members has basically decided on golf and rugby sevens, it is entirely possible that a majority of IOC members will resist the recommendations, as they tend to resist any and all change to the Olympic format.
Why is the Cash for Clunkers program controversial?
After writing about the so called “Cash for Clunkers” program a few weeks ago when it was announced, I was stunned to find out that there was a contingent of people who were against the program. Some people are using it to make a case against the entire Obama administration and their economic policies — still others point to this piece of legislation as unneccessary government subsidizing. As usual, both sides have valid points.
You know about the “Cash for Clunkers” program if you’ve had the news on the past week or so — the Federal government has decided to hand out vouchers of different amounts to people for trading in their old or inefficient cars for newer models with better gas mileage. It is a sort of “fleet modernization” that is unparalleled in American history.
First, a positive sign for the American economy — nearly half of the vehicles sold to this date under the “Cash for Clunkers” buyer incentive program put money in the coffers of General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler. That’s right — the big three automakers performed way above average among people purchasing a new car with the government incentive money.
Other information about how the “Clunker” program has fared so far — small passenger cars accounted for 60 percent of the nearly 90,00 sales during the first week of the program, this according to numbers reported to the government by various retail dealers through this past Saturday. It is a good sign that Americans are looking smaller in terms of their vehicles — smaller cars are generally more fuel efficient. So far, the top selling car among buyers using the incentive program is the Ford Focus.
This represents the first major assessment of how the program is working out at the consumer level. Remember that some consumers are offered a voucher of $4,500 to trade in those clunker vehicles for more efficient models. It is good news that Americans are putting their faith back in American cars. And remember when everyone on Capitol Hill was shouting about those “big 3″ manufacturers being a major piece of the American economy? Guess what — the program’s working for them.
According to Obama administration officials, the “Cash for Clunkers” incentive will prove to be a major economic stimulator during a nasty recession. Those some officials are putting heavy pressure on the Senate to approve a proposed $2 billion extension of the program by the end of this week. Without the additional money, says Obama and company, the program will die on the vine. Obama’s already won half of the battle — the House of Representatives voted in support of the extension package late last Friday. We’ll have to wait to hear what the Senate thinks about an extension — that chamber won’t consider the extension measure until the middle of this week.
Those who oppose the “Clunkers” program think of it as another form of the bank bailouts that caused so much controversy last year. You can tell them until you’re blue in the face that “Cash for Clunkers” isn’t anywhere near as expensive a program for the taxpayers, but they will cling to their “subsidization” argument. $1 billion might sound like a huge incentive program, but the payouts to financial institutions amounted to $2.5 trillion and climbing. These same detractors will admit that the program has caused renewed auto sales and put people in the doors of dealerships. They’ll admit that the timing of the incentive program was perfect for struggling auto manufacturers.
What they’ll also tell you is that some recent analysis made of the program by non partisan economics forecaster suggests that the program will have no noticeable impact on the actual number of car sales. In other words, these were car sales that didn’t depend on the voucher — rather, these vouchers hit some consumers when they needed it most, when their older less fuel efficient cars needed replacing anyway.
The “Cash for Clunkers” program is also being cited as a perfect example of the Obama administration’s lack of understanding about the economy — critics say that “Cash for Clunkers” borrows money from one source in order to stimulate a bit of economic activity — and even worse, that this stimulation “borrows growth” from the economic future. In short, critics of “Clunkers” warn that your future tax hikes will pay for your current “new car voucher”.
What is Google Voice?
Google Voice is Google’s telecommunications service for U.S. residents (and U.S. residents only) which allows for PC-to-PC communications anywhere in the world, for PC-to-phone calls within North America (north of the US-Mexico border), and between Google Voice users and those with a Video Chat browser plug-in.
The Google Voice service allows for low-price international phone calls, while domestic phone calls to the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii, and Canada are free. Other features offered by Google Voice include voicemail, call screening, unwanted call blocks, call history, voicemail message-to-text “voice transcription”, and conference call support.
How Does Google Voice Work?
To receive incoming calls and activate your Google Voice phone number, you must have a U.S. telephone service. You then can make voice calls over your personal computer using the Google Voice interface, quite similar to what exists on Google’s famous Gmail service. There’s even an option for video service on the PC-only calls, getting the world one step closer to the communicators from science fiction programs like Star Trek.
How Many People Use Google Voice?
Due to an FCC report that was filed by mistake, we learned that Google Voice had 1,400,000 users as of October 2009. That number is likely to have increased significantly in the 15 months since, given that the service had only been on-line for about 6 months at the time. According to the same FCC report, roughly 570,000 of the Google Voice users used their service every day of the week.
How Long Has Google Voice Been Around?
Google Voice began as a service called GrandCentral in 2005. Google bought Grand Central in 2007, but seemed to stop supporting the service, leading to many complaints by old-time users about lack of customer support by Google.
In March 2009, Google relaunched Grand Central and renamed it “Google Voice”. A few months later, in mid-September 2009, Google announced Grand Central’s services were shut down, and asked everyone to move over permanently to Google Voice. Improvements were made and features added to the new service.
Google Voice and Egyptian Protests
The power of a computer-based telecommunications service has been put to the test in the recent Egyptian protests against the government of longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. As the Mubarak government blocked traditional journalistic sources of news, Google and Twitter led a collection of western Internet and social media companies in helping the Egyptian people get their word out to the world.
According to Professor Dina Ibrahim of San Francisco State University, Google Voice has been key: “”It’s very difficult to get a complete picture however, Google Voice and other services have been incredibly helpful in terms of providing alternatives for people to get their message out there,” said Professor Ibrahim.
How Google Voice Affected Egyptian Protests
Hosni Mubarak has been the president of Egypt since 1981, after Egyptian army officers assassinated Anwar al Sadat for signing the 1979 Egyptian-Isreali Peace Treaty. Over the years, Mubarak has adhered to provisions of the treaty and been a strong supporter of the United States in the Middle East, but he’s also been a repressive military figure who has squelched democracy movements in his own country. He also has failed to strengthen the Egyptian economy over his nearly 30 years in office.
With one of the best-educated populations in the Middle East, but with 9 out 10 people under the age of 30 out of work, the Egyptian people took to the streets in protest in early 2011. Western journalists flocked to Egypt to report the story, which embarrassed the Mubarak government. Eventually, the Egyptian government used an old tactic of paying mercenary thugs to attack people in the street, and these “Mubarak partisans” began attacking journalists and reporters with cameras. Within days, this eliminated traditional journalistic broadcasting.
That’s where Google, and especially Google Voice, came in.
Google and Twitter put out word to collect 1,000 Egyptian-English translators to help their service. With these translators and their new telecommunications infrastructure in place, Egyptians were able to take to their computers and get the word out about what’s going on in Cairo and other cities themselves. Western journalists used Google Voice to get the word out.
At present, Hosni Mubarak has announced he won’t run for office again. There’s a sizable chance he’ll have to step down from office in the coming days, weeks, and months, as the story goes on and international pressure mounts to see democratic institutions put in place in Egypt. Whatever happens, the power of Google Voice to get around central government power and military power has been evidenced.
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Who is Neda Agha Soltan?
It seems that every revolution or military conflict has a human face. Everyone is familiar with the video or still photograph from the Vietnam conflict showing a VC soldier shooting a civilian point blank in the back of his head, or the video of a single civilian standing up to a line of tanks at Tianenmen Square. Then there is the famous “Afghan girl” whose face was on the cover of National Geographic during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The current revolution in Iran now has its image, its video that represents all the pain and struggle in that country — in a very graphic way.
Neda Agha Soltan is a young girl whose grisly death was captured on video and immediately posted all over the internet. In the video, we see Neda (whose name means “Voice” or “Call” in Farsi) lying on the ground, dying from an alleged sniper’s gunshot which struck her in the heart. The video is graphic, so for the sake of our readers I’ll provide a link to CNN’s milder, censored version, found here — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4wSD04NU7k Other, more graphic videos can be easily found by searching the internet for “Neda Death Video”. Watch at your own risk.
Over the course of the short video, shot on a mobile phone and uploaded to the internet, we see Neda gasping for breath, clutching her wound, looking up at the camera, and eventually dying as blood pours from her mouth and nose. In the background, her father’s screams and desperate cries punctuate the horror of the moment. The video of the death of Neda Agha Soltan will no doubt be the image that most of us remember from the Green Revolution, and may be powerful enough to turn the world’s attention to the crisis in Iran.
What was Neda’s crime? Neda Soltan was a bystander, watching a peaceful pro-democracy protest in the ironically named Freedom Square in the center of Tehran.
Neda Salehi Agha Soltan, 26, has become a national symbol — posters of her face can be seen all over Tehran, and even here in America. Iranian authorities have gone as far as to order citizens to remove the posters — Iranian Revolutionary Guard soliders have even ordered Soltan’s family to take down traditional mourning posters. It is clear that the powers that be in Iran hope to stop Soltan from becoming a martyr, or a rallying figure for protestors already angry about the results of the recent presidential election.
In fact, the family of Soltan has already been forbidden from holding a public funeral or wake for Soltan and are not allowed to hold gatherings in her name. Even worse, the media in Iran (controlled by the government) have made no mention of her death. The government was concerned that any mourning posters would become a place of pilgramage for revolutionaries, and hope to prevent any further gathering of people presumed to be dissidents. To add insult to injury, the family of Neda Agha Soltan will not be allowed to hold a funeral service at a mosque.
Even though it is forbidden by the state, posters of Soltan are as common as green armbands.
We’re learning more about the circumstances surrounding the death of Soltan as her friends and family come forward to detail her last moments.
For instance, her friend and music teacher, a man named Hamid Panahi, spoke with several Western media sources, including the Los Angeles Times, to clear up the mystery of her death. According to Panahi, the car that he and Soltan were riding to Freedom Square in became stuck in traffic and they got out out of the car for some fresh air.
With moments, there was a loud crack, and Panahi saw Soltan collapse to the ground. One bullet, one shot to the chest, and Soltan was near death.
Bystanders claim to have seen the sniper, saying that he was a plainclothes militiaman known in Iran as a Basiji.
Mr. Panahi said that Neda’s last words before she closed her eyes and went unconscious were: “I’m burning! I’m burning!”
What do we know about Soltan? Neda was born in Tehran. She was the second of three children. Her father work for the government earning a modest salary, and her mother is a stay at home mom. Soltan studied Islamic philosophy at Azad university in Tehran before deciding to work in the tourism industry, even taking private lessons in Turkish in order to become a tour guide and lead tour groups abroad.
Friends of Soltan say she loved travelling, having visited Thailand, Dubai, and Turkey. A talented singer, she was a fan of Persian pop music and was taking piano lessons.
Neda Agha Soltan was in no way an activist, according to friends, but was angry about the result of the elections. Her anger drove her to the streets to watch Saturday’s protests in Freedom Square. Though her family begged her not to go, Soltan said she “was not afraid to die”. In fact, a quote from Soltan making the rounds of the internet, whether true or false, is chilling. She told her mother “Don’t worry, it’s just one bullet, and then it’s over.”
Her music teacher, Mr. Panahi, is quoted as saying that Soltan ” . . . couldn’t stand the injustice of it. All she wanted was the proper vote of the people to be counted. She wanted to show with her presence that, ‘I’m here, I also voted, and my vote wasn’t counted’. It was a very peaceful act of protest, without any violence.”
After Soltan was shot, a doctor who was standing nearby attempted to help, ordering Panahi to cover the wound with his hand and apply pressure. In the video, you can see Panahi doing just this, although almost as soon as he applied pressure, her blood begins to flow. A cab driver in the area pulled up and offered to take her to hospital in his car, but Soltan was dead before they could get to the hospital.
Because Soltan was denied any sort of public funeral or mourning, her mourners were forced to travel in groups to the cemetery where Neda was laid to rest on Sunday afternoon. Futher frustrating her friends and family, government officials were standing by to make sure the mourners didn’t “sing her praises loudly or mourn her loss”. To lose a daughter and a friend is one thing, but to be forced not to mourn her is simply wrong.
Mr. Panahi says he is not scared to speak to the media, saying that “they know where I am” and “when they want me, they’ll take me.” His final quote about Soltan speaks volumes about the revolution itself, and the people carrying it out –
“When they kill an innocent child, that is not justice. That is not religion. In no way is this acceptable.”
Who is Roxana Saberi?
Roxana Saberi is the journalist recently arrested and sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison for “spying”. Her case made headlines because she is the first American journalist to be charged with such a crime, and because the charges seemed competely ungrounded. Amazingly, Saberi’s lawyer announced on Monday, May 11th, 2009, that Saberi has been freed, and all charges against her have been dropped.
Roxana Saberi was released today after her sentence was reduced to a two-year term, which was then suspended by an Iranian court. Her lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, broke the news to the Guardian. She has been banned from reporting in Iran for five years, Khorramshahi said, but that is the extent of her punishment.
The jailing of Roxana Saberi – a freelance journalist who has worked for NPR, the BBC, and other outlets has heightened tensions between America and Iran at a cery crucial time. Recently, US president Barack Obama has been seeking better relations between the two nations. Roxana Saberi was convicted of spying just last month after a single day of trial that took place behind closed doors.
Today’s decision came after an Iranian appeals court agreed to review the case. The US government denied all reports that Saberi was spying for the United States, insisting that the charges levied against Saberi were baseless. The United States has been demanding her release since the news of her jailing broke.
Roxana Saberi grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, and was even honored as Miss North Dakota before choosing a career in journalism. After having success in the US, Saberi moved to Iran six years ago to work as a freelance journalist for several news broadcasters. Conflicting reports surrounded her original arrest. First, the world was told that Saberi was arrested for “buying a bottle of wine” — a crime in Iran that never results in the kind of detention Roxana Saberi was subjected to.
Roxana Saberi was actually arrested in late January and accused of working “without press credentials”. An Iranian judge later enhanced the charge to the far more serious crime of espionage, as it is assumed that any foreign journalist working without credentials must be a spy. During her imprisonment, Iran released precious few details about her case.
Her family was allowed to visit her in prison, travelling to Iran to lift the girl’s spirits and officially protest her imprisonment. But the country’s intelligence minister said the initial investigation was carried out by an expert on security and counter-espionage, and that the charges would stick. Officials in Iran also never publicly confirmed the arrest of Saberi.
A duty officer at the US State Department was the first to release information on her case, obtained through official channels.
Over the past few decades, human rights groups have repeatedly been on the attack against Iran for their treatment of journalists, their many arrests of journalists working legally within the country’s borders, and the general suppresion of the right to freedom of speech. The Iranian government has arrested several Iranian-Americans in the past few years, saying these citizens were allegedly attempting to overthrow the government’s Islamic regime.
The most high profile case of Iranian American imprisonment came in 2007, when Iran arrested four such citizens including the academic Haleh Esfandiari. The four were imprisoned or had their passports confiscated for several months until they were released and allowed to return to the U.S. in 2008.
What colleges earn their graduates the most money?
We’ve all heard the numbers — people with college degrees earn a ton more money than those who do not graduate from college. Also, the more degrees you earn the more money you’re worth. However, some schools seem to graduate students with higher salaries. It could be because employers are looking for specific names on resumes, or it could be that one college prepares students for the real world more than another. Whatever the reason, we now know what schools graduates earn the most money.
PayScale, a financial analysis website, spent the last couple of years collecting info from college grads about their jobs, their starting salaries, and the average mid-career salaries and put together a couple of charts ranking the ten highest median graduate salaries and ten highest initial salaries by school.
If you were expecting Harvard or Yale to top the list, you’ll be disappointed. Not even the powerhouse Massachusetts Institute of Technology took top honors. No, that spot belongs to Dartmouth College. Gradutes of Dartmouth programs report the highest median mid-career salary — an average of $129,000. As for the school whose graduates earn the average highest starting salary, that honor goes to little known Loma Linda University, a private school where graduates first year of salaray averages over $71,000.
There are a few weaknesses in the study that need to be discussed. because PayScale asked people to report their own salary information, without any kind of verification, the study may end up being about which campus graduates more people willing to lie about their salary. The study’s pool of respondents is not at all randomized — in fact, the pool is self selected and the statistics are reported by the study participants online and voluntarily. PayScale also went in a weird direction in terms of the limit of degrees earned — the study only counts the salaries of individuals with just a bachelor’s degree — lawyers, doctors, and other professionals who require post Graduate degrees are completely left out.
PayScale claims they did the study this way to show the high return one could earn from a single investment — whereas earning a Master’s or PhD requires hefty additional expense and investment of time.
Alright, so what we’re looking at here is a study of the potential return on an investment for a Bachelor’s degree. Here are the top ten colleges in both categories — highest median mid-career salary (first table) and median starting salary (second table):
1. Dartmouth College – $129,000
2. MIT – $126,000
3. Harvard University – $126,000
4. Harvey Mudd College – $125,000
5. Stanford University – $124,000
6. Princeton University – $124,000
7. Colgate University – $122,000
8. University of Notre Dame – $121,000
9. Yale University – $120,000
10. University of Pennsylvania – $118,000
1. Loma Linda University – $71,400
2. MIT – $71,100
3. Harvey Mudd College – $71,000
4. CIT (California Institute of Technology) – $69,700
5. Stanford – $67,500
6. Carnegie-Mellon University – $65,300
7. Princeton University – $65,000
8. Polytechnic University of New York, Brooklyn – $62,700
9. Renssalear Polytechnic Institute – $62,500
10. Rose Hulman Institute of Technology – $61,100
The lesson here is — tell your kids to be engineers. Engineers make tons of money, as reflected by the massive amounts of engineering schools represented inthe above tables. Especially promising for engineering students is the second table. Besides Loma Linda (which is a Seventh-day Adventist medical school in southern California), there are basically only engineering schools on the list of top starting salaries of graduates, with maybe three Ivy League schools thrown in. If you want to make good money right out of college, study Engineering.
Before you get obsessed over your next school choice, and before you die your fifth grader’s hair Stanford red, you might want to consider that this study is not exactly a one stop shop for how a school choice can impact sucess in life. The important thing is that you or your child attend college somewhere — not necessarily at one of these “top ten” schools. A college degree is what will earn a person more money over time, not necessarily a college degree from MIT or Carnegie-Mellon. There are many factors to take into account when choosing a college, and the results of this study shouldn’t be one of them.
Results from the government’s recent “bank stress test” are in, and the outlook is mixed.
Government regulators have told Bank of America that it must take serious steps to address an apparent $34 billion shortfall of funds, the biggest gap among the nation’s 19 biggest financial institutions.
Wells Fargo needs to find between $13 and $15 billion to make up their shortfall, while competitiors like GMAC, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley need to raise between $1 billion and $11.5 billion.
We need to bear in mind that not all the results have been released. Results for 6 of the smaller financial institutions have yet to be reported.
Financial markets worldwide apparently shrugged off the news. Stocks of those banks that have a great need actually rose dramatically and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 101.63 points by 4 p.m. in yesterday’s trading. The Dow Jones average closed at 8512.28, which is a four-month high. In Tokyo Thursday morning, stocks were up 4.2%, suggesting that the worldwide reaction will be mild, if not slightly positive.
Some financial gurus have said the news was less negative than initially feared. Still others held onto the notion that banks in danger would be able to boost their funds without having to seek more government assistance. The stress tests were designed to look into the individual banks abilities to withstand a negative economic future. These tests were designed to alleviate the panic that investors felt earlier this year, as many people worried that banks might have to be nationalized to stay afloat.
Still unclear is what will happen to smaller regional banks that are expected to have a hard time coming up with the extra capital the government is telling them they need. Many of these banks are facing a pileup of bad loans that went to finance local residential and commercial property construction.
Final results of the government’s tests were released Thursday after the close of trading and are expected to include detailed information about the banking industry’s chance for health in a shaky economy.
The moves to disclose the results of the stress test mark the beginning of a new phase in the banking sector and in the administration of new president Barack Obama.
One reason that financial bigwigs and investors were scared away from large banks earlier this year was a large degree of uncertainty about these institutions solvency, a problem that the stress tests were designed to clear up. The question now? Can the stronger banks stand on their own feet, and how well will the weaker banks recover in a still struggling economy.
But will the public think that these bank stress tests were, frankly, “tough enough”? From the very beginning of this testing process, many economists and banking industry analysts argued that the worst-case economic scenario presented by the government was too positive. They argued that the actual consequences of the current situation were much worse than the banks were subjected to.
Any bank needing to raise more capital has only until June 8 to develop a plan, and only until the following November to implement that plan. The banks will also be forced to review their management team and assure federal banking regulators that their leadership has “sufficient expertise and ability,” to stay solvent through the current economic environment.
What happened at the DC Holocaust museum?
On the heels of President Obama’s visit to a former Nazi death camp at Buchenwald, Germany — catastrophe at an American museum meant to both honor the victims of the Nazi holocaust, and educate the world about the tragedy.
According to multiple news sources, an elderly gunman opened fire at the Holocaust museum in America’s capital Wednesday, wounding a security guard before being wounded himself. The shooting has sparked rumors of panic in the area around the Holocaust museum — a large and popular spot for tourists. Multiple witnesses have been interviewed, and the shooting situation is “under control” according to DC metropolitan police.
Both the alleged gunman and the wounded security guard were taken to a hospital with gunshot wounds, a police spokesperson said. A third unidentified visitor to the museum was “slightly wounded”, possibly by breaking glass according to MSNBC, but did not need further treatment at the hospital and has been released.
According to DC police, the alleged shooter has been identified as one James Von Brunn, a known white supremacist. Von Brunn is being investigated as the prime suspect in the shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Apparently, Von Brunn’s vehicle was found near the museum and is being tested for explosives.
The gunman’s motive is still quite unclear, but at least two major news agencies (Fox and NBC) are repoting that their correspondents have been told that the gunman is an 89 year old white male with links to a “major white supremacist organization”. Police helicopters can be seen and heard buzzing the area and police have closed off most nearby roads. This according to DC police Sergeant David Schlosser, who further reported that the gunman walked directly into the building carrying “a long gun.” This would usually imply a rifle or a shotgun, and because there were not multiple shots, most news stations are assuming the gun was a shotgun.
The Sergeant’s statement goes on to say: “My understanding is that two other security officers at the museum returned gunfire at the man that had entered the museum. Both the security guard that was initially shot and that gunman have been transported to George Washington University hospital, and I don’t know the condition of them.”
A witness to the shooting, Maria Hernandez, was with her grandparents, walking through the various exhibits showing the devestating impact of the Holocaust as well as the genocide of six million Jews under the Nazis. Her report:
“We were in the exhibit ‘Remember the Children’ and we heard rounds fired and through the glass doors I saw a security guard firing towards the shooter and a man on his belly on the floor and when I looked back again, we were heading toward the exit, I saw blood all over the floor. He was hit real bad.”
According to other witnesses, the elderly man that entered the museum with his long gun proceeded to fire at one of the security officers. Both the security officer that had been fired upon and the gunman himself are being treated for gunshot wounds.
Witness Angela Andelson, 22, visiting from San Francisco, told reporters that she heard “possibly five shots fired”. Andelson says she was by the main entrance when the gunman came in. Her statement continues:
“I heard a shot and thought it was sort of a loud, like someone had dropped something. So I kind of turned to look and I see all these security guards kind of like ducking. I kind of glanced again and saw a gunman coming in … a long looking kind of gun. I just ran in to one of the exhibits to try to take cover.”
The shooting comes not just days after US President Barack Obama visited a Nazi death camp, but days after he visited the Middle East and all but begged Israel to halt the building of settlements in the West Bank.
A spokesman for the museum told NBC that the building, which is only about 500 yards from the White House, has been completely evacuated, and was being evacuated immediately after the first shots were heard.
The museum boasts a large amount of tourist traffic. According to the museum’s web site, more than 30 million people have visited the museum since it opened in 1993.
During Obama’s visit to Buchenwald last week, the President laid a single white rose on a plaque memorializing the camp’s 57,000 victims. Obama visited the site with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. The trio then took a tour of Buchenwald’s barracks and crematorium.
At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, officials declined to publicly confirm Von Brunn is their suspect. This wouldn’t be the first major brush with the law for James Von Brunn, who was convicted of attempted kidnapping in the early 1980s.
Joseph Persichini, who is assistant director in charge of the Washington FBI field office, police officials have dispatched officers to the suspect’s home to check his computer. He said they are investigating this as a possible hate crime or even a case of attempted domestic terrorism. Von Brunn runs a racist, anti-Semitic Web site — http://www.holywesternempire.org — and also published an anti-Semitic book called “Kill the Best Gentile.”
The U.S. Park Police, in charge of activities near the Holocaust museum and other popular tourist sites, agree with the estimation of witnesses, saying that the gunman in Wednesday’s attack walked into the museum with a “long gun.” A law enforcement source said the gunman was shot in the face, a serious wound, and authorities say he is in critical condition.
In 1983, james Von Brunn was convicted of attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board. He was arrested outside the room where the board was meeting, carrying a revolver, knife and sawed-off shotgun. At the time, police said Von Brunn wanted to take the members of the Fed hostage due to their institution of high interest rates and the nation’s economic difficulties. No word yet on any connection between the economic difficulties then and the economic trouble we’re experiencing now.
Why did Sarah Palin resign as Governor of Alaska?
When a politician makes a surprise resignation announcement there’s usually something more going on behind the scenes.
When that resignation is made on a major national holiday such as the fourth of July, you can bet there’s more going on than what we’ve been told.
If Sarah Palin, who is still technically the goveror of Alaska until the end of July, made her bombshell announcement on the fourth of July in an attempt to bury the story, her tactic failed. The day of her announcement wasn’t exactly a slow news day. The major news outlets were still busy reporting a slew of celebrity deaths, and when you combine these events with the large number of political upheavals around the world, you’ve got yourself a full plate of news.
But the question of why Palin resigned is still a lingering question. Palin’s first term as governor is still incomplete — she wouldn’t have been a “lame duck” candidate (considered political poison) for quite some time. The question of what Sarah Palin will do next is on everyone’s mind, from bloggers to network political pundits.
Enter the zeitgeist — speculation. Opinions and rumors about scandals, pregnancy, and other potential Palin intrigue is downright viral. Still, there is no evidence that Palin resigned for any reason other than the reasons she gave, conviluted and weak as they may be.
The most common theories about Palin’s step down go something like this — Palin quit in order to focus on a 2012 White House run, or Palin or members of her family will soon face an indictment for any number of alleged crimes. Many people believe that Palin is the target of a federal investigation related to embezzlement charges from her days as Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Putting some of these fears to rest, the FBI actually released a statement saying that they are not investigating Palin — a rare and interesting announcement. Why would they come out and say “No, we are not investigating ____”?
Here’s some of the history regarding Palin and potential trouble. When she was Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, the company that won the state contract to build an ice hockey and sports complex in Wasilla (a company known as SBS or Spenard Building Supplies) just happened to be awared a private contract to build the Palin’s family home, using the same materials as they used for the sports complex. To make things even more interesting, the owners of SBS have close ties to Todd Palin, the governor’s husband.
This is bid rigging, plain and simple. However, the investigation into the alleged rigging of bids in Wasilla has been going on for quite a while now, and both Democratic and Republican officials have assumed that Governor Palin would throw her hat in the GOP presidential ring for 2012. Why would this become an issue now, after all the time Palin’s had to run aground in the past? Since neither of these facts are new, we can assume that Palin’s resignation has nothing to do with charges of bid rigging.
Some, including a talking head at CNN, have suggested that Governor Palin is pregnant. Still others point to Palin’s own resignation speech, in which she suggested that the media frenzy surrounding her and her family led in part to her decision to step down, to suggest that recent reports about her in magazines like Vanity Fair and on websites like Something Awful “hurt her feelings so much” that she simply can’t take it anymore, and has decided to get out of politics completely.
After reports began to surface, mostly from the blog world, that Palin may indeed have resigned because of a “pending federal embezzlement investigation”, the Palin family lawyers called this speculation false and warned in a letter to the media, “This is to provide notice … that the Palins will not allow them to propagate defamatory material without answering to this in a court of law.” Be careful what you write, bloggers, because Palin is armed with a legal team. Not that a lawsuit would stick in such a case, but that your name may get dragged through the mud in the process.
When Palin steps down at the end of July, it will be up to Alaska’s Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell to smooth things over in Alaska. Palin has become quite unpopular in her home state, in fact some say Palin is resigning because of the mountain of legal costs that the state of Alaska (and her family) are paying — you may recall the long list of ethics complaints filed against her during her term as governor and during her run as Vice Presidential candidate. Yes those charges have all been dropped, but Palin and the state of Alaska is still responsible for the legal fees incurred.
Besides speculating about her future, or about reasons behind the resignation, many are stepping up to criticize Palin and her decision to resign. Palin’s main opponent in Alaska, state senator and fellow Republican Lisa Murkowski, has been particularly vocal in her criticism. “I am deeply disappointed that the governor has decided to abandon the state and her constituents before her term has concluded,” Murkowski said in a statement last Thursday.
Further fueling rumors of Palin’s purported presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain, the man who propelled her to the national spotlight by selecting her as his running mate, was more gracious than Murkowski, saying on Saturday that Sarah Palin “will continue to play an important leadership role in the Republican party.” Does this mean that McCain knows something we don’t know?
It is strange to see Republicans lining up to take potshots at Palin. So many of Palin’s fellow party members are ready to criticize that the Democrats really don’t need to make statements at all. Former Bush administration advisor (and dubious political figure himself) Karl Rove said, “If she wanted to escape the ethics investigations and save the taxpayers money, she’s now done that, but it is — it sort of sent a — sent a signal that if you do this kind of thing to a sitting governor like her, you can drive her out of office,”
And former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (who ran for the presidential nomination in 2008 and has been named as a potential 2012 candidate) had this to say — “The challenge that she’s going to have is that there will be people who say, ‘Well, look, you know, if they chase you out of this, it won’t get any easier for you at other levels of the stage.’”
A source named as being “close to Palin” told reporters that Sarah Palin’s plans are to raise money for political candidates and causes she believes in, while making money by giving speeches and touring in support of her memoirs.
Regardless of the reasons behind Palin’s resignation, the news came as a shock. In fact, there are reports that people close to her and her family had absolutely no ideas of what she was planning. Palin still says she has been planning to quit “for a couple months.”
What will happen to Mark Sanford?
There was nothing on television yesterday as riveting as Mark Sanford’s lengthy and awkward confession that yes, he’d been having an affair for some time.
What did we learn? Governor Sanford, a Republican from South Carolina, explained his recent disappearance, taking back his first confession (that he was “hiking on the Appalachian trail”) and admitting that he’d been engaged in an affair with a woman in Argentina. His sometimes tearful confession ran the gamut from spiritual talk to attempts at political concessions. Sanford ended the press conference saying he would be stepping down as chair of the Republican Governors Association, but not saying if he would resign as governor of South Carolina.
Mark Sanford, rumored to be a strong candidate for the Republican nomination in 2012, stood before a massive amount of reporters and cameras, and cried as he confessed to having an affair — you could almost hear the entire Republican party crying, as this is just the latest blow against what could be charitably described as a struggling Republican Party.
Gov. Mark Sanford caused quite a scene last week after he could not be located by his staff, his family, or even his close friends for a week. Sanford apologized to his wife and four sons. “I’ve been unfaithful to my wife,” he said in a news conference covered by just about every news agency with a camera. The 49 year old talked with remarkable sincerity about “God’s law”, the existence of moral absolutes, and the need to follow his heart. At one point, Sanford said he said he spent the last five days “crying in Argentina.”
Notably, his wife wasn’t by his side, as we’ve seen in other similar situations. In fact, none of his family was in attendence.
Sanford’s admission of cheating adds to a long list of troubles for the recently ousted Republican Party, and it couldn’t come at a worse time. The Republican part is looking to rebound after President Barack Obama won the White House with a large majority, and this victory gave Democrats the confidence they needed to practically take over the federal government. Sanford’s troubles are yet another distraction that the Republican party simply doesn’t need — this is a party that is seeking a turnaround at the federal level after huge losses in consecutive national elections. Does this mean the Republicans will have to face reality? The fact is that the Republican party lacks diversity, and their numbers are shrinking by the hour. In fact, the power of the Republican party lies entirely in the South, and even there the party lacks a solid leader worth his salt. Who will guide this party back to power?
Not Mark Sanford — at least one South Carolina lawmaker has called for his resignation, more are waiting in the wings.
Interestingly enough, Sanford voted in favor of three articles of impeachment against Democrat Bill Clinton as a congressman. You may remember that Clinton committed basically the same crime as Sanford, from the infidelity to the cover up. Why did Sanford want Clinton impeached? He said that America had a need for “moral legitimacy.”
While it is unclear what will happen to Sanford’s political career, it is easy to guess. A few very specific and slightly blue excerpts of e-mail exchanges between the governor and his mistress have been published online and in various print news magazines, ensuring this story won’t simply go away.
One e-mail from the governor read: “I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night’s light — but hey, that would be going into sexual details.”
What about the woman in question? Though we don’t know her last name, we know her name is Maria, and she is a prominent journalist in her native Argentina. She has two sons of her own and is married. According to Sanford, she has been a “dear, dear friend” for eight years. Sanford told reporters in his press conference that the relationship didn’t become “romantic” until a little over a year ago. Sanford admits to seeing her on three occasions since the romance began, and admits that his wife found out about the affair five months ago. He did not identify the woman other than to say she is from Argentina.
“What I did was wrong. Period,” said Sanford, all the while refusing to talk about his political future.
This is more than a moral issue. Because Sanford had to leave his post as governor to meet this woman, his critics say he not only committed an immoral act, but also neglected his duties as governor (and put the state at risk) by leaving the country without a formal transfer of power. Why is this a big deal? Had there been an emergency in his state, it is unclear how he could have been reached. Sanford revealed Wednesday morning that he went to Argentina for a seven-day trip last week. For three days after reporters learned of his absence and starting asking questions, his aides and staff at his office said he had gone “hiking on the Appalachian Trial”, a spot that Sanford loved “since he was a boy”, and a well-known hiking route that runs for about 2,100 miles along the eastern U.S.
Meanwhile, first lady Jenny Sanford told different stories to reporters. First, she told The Associated Press that she just plain did not know where her husband went for the Father’s Day weekend. She then said in a statement on Wednesday that she “begged” the governor to leave and stop speaking to her two weeks ago. The governor says he “wants to reconcile”, and his wife has made it clear that there is a chance they can resurrect their lengthy marriage — though it is difficult to understand how making “one last trip” to his mistress earned him a chance at reconciliation.
For his part, Governor Sanford says he never instructed his staff to cover up his affair. Instead, Sanford said he did plan on going to the Appalachian Trail but changed his mind at the last minute. He said it was his fault for never correcting his itinerary, and that he left for Argentina on a whim. “I let them down by creating a fiction with regard to where I was going,” Sanford said. “I said that was the original possibility. Again, this is my fault in … shrouding this larger trip.”
Jenny Sanford, a millionaire in her own right whose family fortune comes from the Skil Corporation (a power tool company) has always been a figure in her husband’s political career. In fact, Jenny Sanford ran his congressional campaigns and also was in charge of his first race for governor. South Carolina press call her “an almost daily fixture at senior staff meetings”. There are plenty of photographs showing Jenny elbows deep in South Carolina politics, making this blow smart just that much more.
Mark Sanford, who was first elected governor in 2002, is a former real estate developer. Sanford has more than a year remaining in his second term, but is restricted by term limits — in other words, he cannot run for governor again. Maybe this is why he admitted everything outright? Sanford served three terms as a congressman, and is most famous for making headlines when he attempted to turn down federal stimulus money for his state’s failing schools. His very visible battle against Obama and his fiscal policiy, combined with his “libertarian small-government politics” have won him praise from conservatives all over the country, making him a front runner for the 2012 Presidential election.
Sanford was not successful in turning down the much needed education money — a state court order required him to take the cash.
Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour would assume the duties as chairman vacated by Sanford. Sanford’s announcement couldn’t have come at a weirder time — just one day before Sanford’s press conference, another prominent Republican (Senator John Ensign of Nevada) was forced to apologize to his Senate colleagues after his revelation last week that he had an affair with a campaign staffer and thus was resigning from the Republican leadership. You would think that a party this concerned with taking back the country would keep their zippers up.
What is the College Cost Reduction and Access Act?
The College Cost Reduction and Access Act was passed in 2007 — the bill, signed into law by then President George W. Bush, was a sweeping reform of laws related to finances for college students. Though most of the bill’s legislation has already been phased in, a crucial portion of the bill for those of us who are dealing with college loans goes into effect on July 1, 2009.
A quick summary of what parts of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act have already taken effect:
1. Doing away with “tuition sensitivity”
Students at some “lower cost” institutions, such as state schools or junior colleges, were once limited in the amount of Pell Grant money they could receive. These “tuition sensitivity” clauses were wiped out, allowing students at colleges across the nation to receive the maximum Pell Grant available. The bill also allowed for extra money to pay out these larger grants, and gave many students the ability to afford college.
2. Pell Grant increases
The size of Pell Grants went up as well — by 2012, students receiving Pell Grant awards would earn as much as $1,100 more per award year.
3. Increased funding for “Upward Bound” programs
4. TEACH Grants
Students in teacher certification programs could receive an additional grant from the Federal government to earn their teaching certificate. In order to receive this award, students earning a TEACH grant are required to serve a minimum of four years as a certified teacher in specific schools teaching specific subjects, mostly math and the hard sciences.
5. Interest Rate Reductions
Over the next four years, interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans for students will continue to drop — as low as 3.4% by award year 2012.
6. Student Loan Deferment for members of the armed forces
These changes in college finances have already helped countless students on their way to a college education, but a major part of the bill’s platform will take effect next week — income based repayment of student loans.
Loan re payments will be limited to just fifteen percent of a borrower’s discretionary income. If a borrower is married, that number means 15 percent of the amount of the borrower’s family’s adjusted gross income. Unpaid interest and principal is forgiven after 25 years of repayment — meaning if your loan amount is so huge compared to your relative income, and you are in good standing for twenty-five years, the balance of your loan will be forgiven.
Many online calculators exist that could help potential borrowers to determine if they will qualify for the income based repayment option.
Most students who do qualify will have their student loan payments set at less than 10% of their annual income. However, it is important to remember that this option wouldn’t make sense for a graduate who plans to take a job paying upwards of $100,000 — like landing on the Income Tax space in Monopoly, you have to calculate your income and determine if that 10% option makes sense for you.
Realistically, most college graduates won’t immediately land a high paying job and earn the kind of salary that would keep them from enjoying the income based repayment option. Debt loads are climbing for recent graduates, and according to most sources, a high percentage of college graduates are exiting school with debt near $100,000 or more, especially if they earned any kidn of post graduate degree. If you were planning on stretchong out your debt payment, this new income based repayment plan is a good option.
Although the new law will make student loan repayment more affordable for most graduates, the legislation comes with complicated qualifications and rules that may baffle many potential aid recipients. In other words, borrowers may not get the information they need to make the right decision about the income based repayment plan.
Besides the income based repayment plan, there is a new “public service loan forgiveness” prgram that aims to entice students into certain public service fields. Borrowers can take advantage of the federal government’s public service loan forgiveness if they land right type of job (among many catgeories), take out the right type of loans (usually subsidized Stafford or TEACH loans) and continue to make prompt and full payments.
If you are confused about how the new legislation may affect you, or believe you might qualify for some of the new repayment options, check with your loan provider, financial aid counselor, or visit the government’s web site about the changes at http://www.ibrinfo.org/.
Why Is Everybody Talking About Glenn Beck?
Glenn Beck is a conservative talk radio show host, author and tv commentator on FoxNews.
While Glenn Beck had been for years a solid second-tier radio personality in the tradition of Rush Limbaugh, with a show on CNN and Headline News and his nationally syndicated Glenn Beck Program on the radio waves, it was the move to Fox News and the airing of the Glenn Beck Show that made Beck a household name.
On a cable channel known for outrageous characters and wild-eyed opinions, Glenn Beck soon stood out from the crowd with his blend of sarcasm, social commentary and over-the-top antics.
In a short time, Glenn Beck has become the most talked-about Fox News analyst and commentator. Beck has pushed aside Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity and made the two of them seem reasonable by comparison. In fact, Glenn Beck has been so outside the box of conservative comment that many Republican leaders have felt the need to denounce Beck or distance from his comments.
That being said, Glenn Beck has edged his way into the political discussion and his comments can’t be ignored. Like my aunt said, “CNN is a dirty word in our house. I listen to Glenn Beck, because he always speaks the truth.” (Let me give an explanation: I live in Texas.)
Glenn Beck Profile
Glenn Beck was born in the state of Washington in 1964, where he was raised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic school. When he was 13, Glenn Beck won a contest that allowed him to appear on the radio as a disc-jockey. Beck would work his entire life in the radio business, though this job would take him around the country.
During that time, Glenn Beck knew his share of tragedy.
When he was 15, Glenn Beck’s mother died in a drowning incident. There was speculation by the Coast Guard that the drowning might have been a suicide, but authorities on the scene stated that it was a classic drowning case.
After Glenn Beck married his first wife, their oldest daughter was born with cerebral palsy. That marriage ended after 9 years due to Glenn Beck’s troubles with substance abuse (alcohol, weed).
Meanwhile, Beck had been slowly working his way through the radio industry. Glenn Beck left Washington at the age of 18 to work at a radio station in Provo, Utah, but left after a year, because he felt out of place. From there, he moved to Washington D.C., where he met his first wife, who was also in radio.
By 1996, Glenn Beck was working at a station in New Haven, Connecticut, and taking classes at nearby Yale University, partly on the recommendation of Senator Joe Lieberman. Glenn Beck too one theology course, but dropped out almost immediately.
When Glenn Beck remarried in 1999, he took his wife’s faith and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Beck family continues to reside in Connecticut (New Canaan) to this day. By 2002, Glenn Beck had founded his own media production company, Mercury Radio Arts, which produces his radio show, publishes his online content and his books, and manages the schedule for his speaking appearances.
It was around that time when Glenn Beck became known to a much wider audience, first through his syndicated radio show, then through his appearances on television. These days, Glenn Beck makes an estimated $23 million a year on his various endeavours.
Glenn Beck on CNN
Glenn Beck worked on CNN from the spring of 2006 until the fall of 2008 and his show was a success, despite being a lonely conservative voice on a left-of-center network. Beck had the 2nd highest rated show on CNN Headline News and posted his best-ever audience the month he signed to join FoxNews. His CNN producer had left for Fox a year earlier, so it was probably only a matter of time before the move happened.
While at CNN, Glenn Beck significantly toned down his performance. Though he was known to occasionally voice outrageous opinions that were likely to alienate the progressives, moderates and independents prone to watch CNN, one could watch the Glenn Beck show and come away thinking he was a fairly mainstream conservative commentator. That all changed when the television personality left CNN for FoxNews.
Glenn Beck on FoxNews
Since Glenn Beck moved to Fox to take over the 5pm slot from John Gibson, he has positioned himself as FoxNews’s most outspoken contributor. These days, Beck is the favorite target of The Daily Show, liberal bloggers and administration officials trying to tie the conservative talk show hosts to the mainstream Republican Party.
With the G.O.P. suffering an identity crisis after controlling all three branches of government for the first time since the 1920′s, with similar results, the conservative movement seems void of too many serious leaders in office. Men like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck have become the voices of Conservative America, and the Democrats seem happy to point out how crazy the G.O.P. sounds these days. This makes Glenn Beck a lightning rod for liberal commentators.
At the same time, Glenn Beck’s new higher profile on the “Fair and Balanced” station has made him fabulously wealthy, as he raked in $23 million last year from his tv and radio contracts, his books and speaking tours. So you might ask yourself, “Who is Glenn Beck, that he’s become such a notable figure in American politics?”
That’s hard to answer.
Glenn Beck might be a voice of American liberty as the Obama Administration tries to bring a new era of regulation and taxation (generally called “socialism”) to the United States. Or Glenn Beck might be a flamboyant entertainer who uses rhetoric and publicity stunts to sell books and gain listeners or viewers.
Or Glenn Beck might be a right-wing radical with a desire to incite those who will listen to him to undermine the U.S. government, justifying this behavior by the assumption that only conservatives love their country. Or maybe Glenn Beck is a religious fanatic who somehow conflates Christianity with American nationalism and justifies hate by assuming anyone against him is against God and country.
Or maybe Glenn Beck is some combination of the interpretations above. We report, you decide. We include facts below to let you decide for yourself.
Glenn Beck Beliefs
- Is a Mormon
- Believes in the Right To Bear Arms
- Pushes for Increased Border Security
- Pro Death Penalty
- Against Euthanasia
- Believes in Free Speech
- Believes in a Libertarian View of Free Market Capitalism
Glenn Beck Books
Since 2007, Glenn Beck has became a prolific author, producing 8 books in that time. The Christmas Sweater is meant to be a modern Christmas story with a message and, these days, Glenn Beck is touring the country telling the story himself, like a modern day Mark Twain or Charles Dickens (which is kind of cool).
The story itself is a great deal darker and less uplifting that I would have hoped, so fair warning, for those wanting to read an uplifting Christmas tale. Glenn Beck claims the book is 90% autobiographical. Though little that happens in The Christmas Sweater appears to have happened to Glenn Beck in real life, he may be telling the truth, assuming Glenn Beck had a dream where the Christmas sweater story happened.
Read The Christmas Sweater yourself to form your own opinion.
- The Real America: Messages from the Heart and Heartland (2007)
- An Inconvenient Book: Real Solutions to the World’s Biggest Problems (2007)
- The Christmas Sweater (2008)
- An Unlikely Mormon: The Conversion Story of Glenn Beck (2008)
- The Christmas Sweater: A Picture Book (2009)
- America’s March to Socialism: Why We’re One Step Closer to Giant Missile Parades (2009)
- Glenn Beck’s Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government (2009)
- Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government (2009)
Glenn Beck Quotes
Following are some of the more infamous Glenn Beck quotes and comments, though it’s hard to compile anything close to a complete list, given that Beck is daily commenting on America and his act gets more outrageous all the time. While reading these, keep in mind this is a man who professes to have a deep Christian faith (of the Mormon persuasion).
“When I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, ‘Oh shut up’ I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining.”
“The only [Katrina victims] we’re seeing on television are the scumbags.”
“I think there is a handful of people who hate America. Unfortunately for them, a lot of them are losing their homes in a forest fire today.”
“The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be President would be “‘What the hell you mean we’re out of missiles?’”
“I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. … No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out. Is this wrong? I stopped wearing my What Would Jesus — band — Do, and I’ve lost all sense of right and wrong now. I used to be able to say, ‘Yeah, I’d kill Michael Moore,’ and then I’d see the little band: What Would Jesus Do? And then I’d realize, ‘Oh, you wouldn’t kill Michael Moore. Or at least you wouldn’t choke him to death.’ And you know, well, I’m not sure.” –responding to the question “What would people do for $50 million?”
Glenn Beck Quotes Accusing Americans of Fascism
Glenn Beck also has a series of quotations about his political opponents, denouncing them as Fascists or Nazis.
Keep in mind that the definition of a traditional Fascist is an extreme nationalist who wants an aggressive foreign policy to bring civilization to the less cultured nations, who wants to outlaw the trade unions and other workers’ causes at home and who wants an alliance between the business elite and the government (“syndicates”, as they were called) to control the various industries of the nation, to better control the economy by limiting competition between firms and limiting the bargaining power of individual citizens or workers groups to the detriment of the working classes of that nation, in order to unite towards one goal: the national will (usually war potential).
Many Fascist governments, from Hitler to Mussolini to the Spanish Falange, sought legitimacy through alliances with religious figures (generally the Pope). Fascists also tended to confuse the differences between socialism and communism, assuming one was the same as the other.
When you’re reading these accusations, ask yourself whether Glenn Beck’s politics or the liberals’ politics are more in line with Fascist beliefs.
“So here you have Barack Obama going in and spending the money on embryonic stem cell research. … Eugenics. In case you don’t know what Eugenics led us to: the Final Solution. A master race! A perfect person. … The stuff that we are facing is absolutely frightening.”
“Al Gore’s not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization…And you must silence all dissenting voices. That’s what Hitler did. That’s what Al Gore, the U.N., and everybody on the global warming bandwagon [are doing].”
“Everyone is Hitler, except for me!”
Glenn Beck Quotes – Maybe It’s an Act
But you know, maybe Glenn Beck is just an entertainer who uses politics to entertain, like John Stewart or Steven Colbert. If you want evidence that’s the truth, read a few of the Glenn Beck quotes below.
“You can get rich making fun of me. I know. I’ve made lots of money making fun of me.”
“Life is what you make of it. There’s always fun and laughs right under your nose if you’re willing to open your eyes to see it.”
Or maybe Glenn Beck is a man of his word and he’s practicing the right to free speech in the greatest sense of the tradition. Free speech isn’t about protecting the thing we all agree with; free speech is about protecting all speech, including the speech we find offensive or crazy. To show Glenn Beck isn’t a hypocrite when it comes to this issue, here’s a quote you might find interesting.
“The thing I can say about Ted Kennedy is, at least he never flinched on what he believed in, and that’s the way America…the thing you need to take away from Ted Kennedy is, he stood up, and never flinched. Americans need to stand up and, without flinching, without fear, be a lion, and stand up for what they believe in. I didn’t agree with anything he believed him, but I admired [him]. Absolutely. That’s what this country is all about. Stand up for what you believe in.”
“All men are created equal. It is what you do from there that makes the difference. We are all free agents in life. We make our own decisions. We control our own destiny.”
Glenn Beck Opinion
Here’s my opinion about Glenn Beck.
Glenn Beck is a conservative with heavy libertarian ideas, like many conservatives from the Western half of America, and he believes he’s exercising his right to free speech. A large part of Glenn Beck’s act is to get enough attention to sell books and make a lot of money, and if he can affect the political discourse, that’s a big bonus, too. Believing in America as the Land of Opportunity and believing in his right to free speech, Glenn Beck likely assumes there’s no harm in what he does, and he probably assumes he’s doing some good.
I disagree, of course.
Glenn Beck’s theories about race, socialism and the motives of the progressives in this country are half-baked, and he has the platform to influence millions of Americans who, like my aunt, think Glenn Beck speaks “only the truth”.
Given that many people refuse to listen to two sides of a debate, that kind of cloistered thinking, where one only listens to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and only reads their books, leads to a form of self-inflicted brainwashing.
After a while, listening to Glenn Beck try to convince you that Barack Obama wants to turn America into a fascist state doesn’t sound so crazy after all.
So when you ask “Who is Glenn Beck,” I would say that Glenn Beck is a lot of things: some bad and some not-so-bad. One thing the two of us agree on is that he has every right to speak his mind on the state of American society and politics. At the same time, I have every right to say Glenn Beck is full of it and that his presence does more harm than good to America.
What Is Solar Power?
Solar power is energy that comes from the Earth’s Sun. When scientists and ecologists speak about harnessing solar energy, they talk about finding technologies that collect solar rays and store that energy, converting it for use in heating homes and energizing the batteries which power everything from cars to flashlights. You might be wondering what “solar rays” are.
What Are Solar Rays?
The Sun produces solar rays through the process of nuclear fusion. The same process which explodes hydrogen bombs also power the vast energies of the stars. Only a tiny fraction of the heat and light put off by the Sun ever hits Earth, but if we could build technologies to harness the solar rays that do reach Earth’s surface, the human race could solve all of our energy needs.
In fact, the Sun already is the source of virtually all of the energy stored on the planet (besides the tiny amount of energy from other stars). This energy is stored in the form of the coal, oil, and natural gas we burn, as well as the calories found in the plants and animals we eat.
The problem is that collecting the energy stored in fossil fuels like coal and petroleum requires whole industries, while the burning of these fossil fuels to release the energy stored creates massive amounts of air and environmental pollution. To be able to catch solar rays and convert it into clean, efficient energy is a much better proposition.
Why Isn’t Solar Power Used More?
So you might be asking why our civilization doesn’t ditch fossil fuels and switch entirely to solar powered technologies. We don’t have the technological advancement yet to harness solar energies as cheaply as we can mine for coal and drill for oil and natural gas. That’s only going to happen when methods of capturing ultraviolet rays and powering our cities and transportation systems get cheaper, or the scarcity of our fossil fuels drive up prices so high that solar power because a feasible alternative.
You might ask why governments and private interests invest so much in perfecting solar power technology, if it’s more expensive than oil. Good investments in technology pay off over time, even if they don’t at first. The materials used to build and implement solar technology is too expensive right now, but working every day scientists and engineers work with those materials is another day closer to finder cheaper ways to produce them. Consider the rapid advances in aviation from the 1920s to the 1940s, as new and better materials–and better designs–came into usage.
Rapid Advances in Technology
As another example, look at the advances the “space race” and the lunar landings yielded. You might say that the space program is or was a waste of time, money, and resources, but exploring that little bit of space we’ve explored created much more rapid advances in satellite technology, telecommunications, and computer science. Every time you log onto your computer, every time you dial up on your cell phone, and every time you watch a sporting event live from the other side of the world, you are benefitting from the advances in technology made from public and private investments in technology.
So eventually, some genius is going to figure out a way to make solar power the cheapest energy science on the planet, and that will revolutionize the world economy, along with how we look (and cope) with a host of other social and geopolitical issues. Harnessing solar power and finding a cheaper, cleaner alternative to fossil fuels might happen tomorrow or next year, or it might be 20 years down the line, but it is going to happen–possibly before our supply of cheap oil runs out.
Solar Power in the Future
Who can say where the future of solar power lies? Science fiction writers have proposed technologies that seem outlandish by our scientific standards, such as the “Dyson sphere”, a technological sphere built around an entire star, so that a sci-fi civilization traps every single bit of light and stellar energy escaping from the star. I imagine our technologists will find less dramatic, more practical solutions to our energy crisis, but you can bet that harnessing “solar power” is going to be at the forefront of our energy solutions in the 21st century.
- Solar Garden Lights
- Solar Yard Lights
- What Is Green Energy?
- Are Light Bulbs Bad for the Environment?
- What Are Windmills and How Do They Work?
- Earth Day Coloring Pages
Where Will LeBron James Play Next Season?
He’s been called The Chosen One, highlighting the fact that he’s the “second coming” of Michael Jordan. You may know him as L-Train or King James. Whatever the moniker may be, LeBron James is the most exciting player in the NBA right now. Much like Jordan at the height of his career when James steps up to the microphone the entire world listens. Kobe Bryant may sell more jerseys (and win more championships) but LeBron James is the media darling.
That’s why news of James’ departure from Cleveland, the city that he’s called home since his NBA debut in 2003, is on heavy rotation on sports talk radio and cable television. Instead of spending the off season reporting the ins and outs of why King James and company failed to pull off yet another championship season, sports journalists are speculating wildly about James’ free agency status.
Where will LeBron James play roundball next season? There are two main answers to that question. Will James follow his heart or his wallet?
1. LeBron James Will Stay in Cleveland
If you miss the good old days of sports when players stuck with one or two teams over their entire career you may take comfort in the fact that many sports junkies are suggesting that LeBron James will play at least one more season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Wild reports from Cleveland indicate that city officials and big wigs have offered James everything from free beer for life from a local microbrewery to a personal visit from Betty White (emphasis on the personal). Cleveland has fallen in love with James. It is not common to find a superstar athlete with a genetically freakish body that engages willingly and happily with the media and fans; more rare is that caliber of athlete who has some local connection to his team and seems content to play with them. Sure, there are those who say that James’ body language over the last two or three seasons indicates a “devil may care” attitude about his team, but Cleveland fans had little to smile about before James put on his red and gold #23 jersey.
Enough romance, what are the facts behind the thought that James may stay a Cavalier? For starters, the Cavs front office worked hard to secure the best available coach. The hiring of Byron Scott this offseason indicates the Cavaliers willingness to bend to James’ will. James has said many times that he’d like to play for a former player — Byron Scott fits that bill. Tensions between LeBron and his former coach (Mike Brown, a student of one of the most successful coaches in NBA history Gregg Poppovich) have been rising since the Cavs blew their first legitimate shot at a championship in the 2006 / 2007 season. Since Mike Brown was fired after his team turned in the best record in the league two year’s running, some people say that the firing of Brown was a direct result of James dissatisfaction with his team’s performance. The fact that the Cavs organization would hire and fire coaches at will based on James’ wishes indicates to many that LeBron has it made in Ohio.
2. LeBron James Will Play in New York
A report on James’ meeting last week with the New York Knicks is making the rounds on social media sites. In various articles and commentaries from around the world, people are freaking out about the Knick’s courting of King James. According to inside sources, the Knicks showed LeBron James a marketing plan that would put $1,000,000,000 in his pocket over the course of the next few years . . . should he sign with the Knicks of course. Put together by a room full of marketing wizards (and perhaps a couple of long nights with the bottle), the report on James’ possible earnings as the star of the New York sports scene suggests he could make a billion dollars. We’ve heard of big contracts in sports, but nothing with that many zeroes. Call me crazy, but the devil himself could dangle a billion dollars in front of me and I’d play small forward in hell.
Speculation about James wanting to play in New York comes from common sense. While Cleveland has entered the NBA spotlight since James’ signing seven years ago, it is still a relatively small Midwestern town. The big money in the NBA is in big-market towns. There are exceptions to every rule (including LeBron James who makes about $20 million a year) but for players chasing top dollar, markets like LA and New York are payday Mecca. Pay attention to the tone of those journalists who swear that James will end up in NYC — most of them are indicating that this is a player who doesn’t care about winning championships, only about signing checks. Whether or not you believe this, you’ve got to admit the instant appeal of those nine zeroes.
Are there other potential landing spots for LeBron James? Undoubtedly. Any team with enough money to pay him has been in contact with the King himself, and James has made visits with several teams though he has only technically been a free agent for a couple of weeks. There’s a lot of noise being made over the Nets — if there was ever a team that could use an injection of Vitamin L it is the lowly New Jersey Nets, and the high profile purchase of the Nets by a Russian billionaire (in cahoots with James’ friend, rapper Jay-Z) has really added fuel to the fire.
Speculation drives sports journalism. We don’t know what we know until we find out what we should have seen coming. The hiring of Byron Scott in Cleveland could be a sign that LeBron is still calling the shots for the Cavs, a situation that such a young player would be foolish to give up. Still, big paychecks and even bigger media markets are capable of starrying the eyes of even the most committed young superstar.
See also: Fantasy Basketball Leagues
Acid Rain Basics
Acid rain is a rainfall that is unnaturally acidic in nature, usually caused by the inclusion of nitric and sulfuric acids from the emissions of chemicals from industrial plants in the region.
When nitrous oxides and sulfur oxide are pumped into the atmosphere, those chemical compounds react with oxygen and water in the air, creating clouds that contain nitric acid and sulfuric acid. The next time it rains, the rain water will come down as “acid rain”.
Most acid rain is produced from gases released by the burning of fossil fuels. Roughly 2/3rds of the acid rain in the United States is produced by the burning of coal in industrial plants. This is why acid rain appears in regions that are heavily industrialized with coal-burning plants.
History of Acid Rain
Acid rain was first discovered in 1852, roughly a 60 to 70 after the Industrial Revolution began in England and during the period that is now known as the Second Industrial Revolution (1850), when industrialization picked up pace in advanced countries. This discovery noted a mere mention and the phenomenon was not studied for over a century, when the much heavier industrialization of the 20th century began to create more common and more widespread instances of acid rain.
Scientists in the 1960′s and 1970′s began to notice the acidic rainfall in industrial regions, as well as lakes that contained no life. With studies of the effects of acid rain, environmentalists and ecologists began to note the aquatic life of lakes saturated with acid rain died from unsafe living conditions: they were killed by the increasing levels of acid in the water.
The U.S. Congress authorized a 10-year study of acid rain in 1980. By the 1990′s, it was determined that some 5%-6% of American lakes do not sustain life due to the appearance of acidic rain.
This was followed by emissions laws to reduce CO2 and other compounds which cause acid rain. Since that time, emissions laws have been passed in 28 US states. As a result, acid rain has been reduced by roughly 65% in the most affected regions.
Does Acid Rain Harm Humans?
Studies have shown that acid rain is likely to cause harm human beings. When fine particles of something harmful to the human body enter the air and eventual enter the human body, they can cause diseases like cancer. People breathing air in areas where acid rain occurs are more likely to get cancer and other diseases.
Besides, damage to the ecosystem has harmful effects on human society. Fish are a major link in many food chains. If fish are needlessly killed, it can have a damaging effect on the entire food chain. When enough of the wrong kind of fish die, that can make the price of fish and fish products increase. When even more die, it can damage the food supply for all kinds of animals, including humans.
Where Is Acid Rain Worst?
The New England states were the ones that first noticed acid rain, but their ecosystems have improved in recent decades. New York State is heavily affected by acid rain. Other U.S. states also are affected, as is southeastern Canada.
Southeastern China and Taiwan are also affected by acid rain. Scandinavian countries have suffered from acid rain. Other places that might become trouble areas are Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the western portions of South Africa, West Africa, Sri Lanka and Southern India.
Countries where the need to develop quickly overrides environmental concerns are where acid rain is most likely to appear in the future.
Minimum Wage Laws
“Minimum wage” is the lowest minimum wage that an employer may pay to a worker in montly, daily and especially hourly wages. Theoretically, workers are not allowed to legally sell their services for less than the minimum wage, either.
The idea behind a legal minimum wage is to establish a standard of living so that less skilled workers do not live in poverty in the United States.
Opponents of minimum wage dispute whether this is what happens with the minimum wage, claiming a legal minimum wage leads to unemployment of younger, inexperienced, handicapped or less skilled workers, since a company or employer doesn’t want to pay these workers less than they’re worth.
Therefore, they claim that the minimum wage helps more skilled workers, while actually harming less skilled workers.
Those against this line of argument would claim that people cannot live if they earn below a certain wage. These people would argue that the people who benefit the most is management or “business interests”, as they benefit from cheap labor at an exploitative rate.
Since there is evidence to support either side of the argument, it might be that the minimum wage laws are not an either/or proposition, but help many, while hurting others.
All “western” civilized nation and 90% of worldwide nations have minimum wage laws, in an attempt to prevent a class of “working poor” or poverty-stricken workers. Australia and New Zealand were the first nations to enact minimum wage legislation, in the late 19th century.
What Is the Current Minimum Wage?
Currently, the national minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 per hour. In the United Kingdom, the current minimum wage is £5.80, which is actually higher than the U.S. minimum wage, due to the strength of the U.K. pound. The state of Washington in the U.S. has its own minimum wage law of $8.55.
Even in regions that have no fixed minimum wage, other pressures establish an unofficial minimum wage. Public opinion about extortionate wages may force a corporation to set their wages at what are considered acceptable levels. The appearance of labor union or workers union might exert an upward pressure on wages in that area, while even the threat of unionizing workers might pressure an employer to keep wages high enough to maintain a contented workforce.
Multinational corporations located in so-called Third World countries might be pressured to pay wages more in line with what they would pay workers in more developed countries by governments or media coverage.
Do Minimum Wage Laws Work?
There have been endless arguments and debates about whether the minimum wage laws do what they are supposed to do. The fact that 90% of the governments in the world mandate some kind of minimum wage indicates that a vast majority of the world’s leaders at least think the minimum wage laws help and not hurt a society.
Opponents of minimum wage laws would argue that the acceptance of minimum wage in the most economically powerful countries in those countries to pressure governments in the less developed nations to accept minimum wage laws.
Studies have shown that a minimum wage law generally does not increase unemployement, as it is claimed to do. Minimum wage laws also put more money into the hands of those with the least money, so they spend their entire paycheck.
This, in turn, helps drive the economy, since all this wage money is put back into the consumer economy. Also, it’s mentioned that a minimum wage law tends to help a government’s budget, since the government doesn’t have to use as many funds to pay for services for the less fortunate.
Most of us know that a person would have a hard time living in America making two dollars an hour or four dollars an hour, so it’s probably a good idea to have a certain minimum wage in effect. Raising the minimum wage might be inflationary in an of itself, but raising the minimum wage helps some of the poorest among us to keep up with the price of inflation.
Barney Frank Wants You to Smoke Marijuana
There are currently two pretty major pieces of legislation before the Federal government related to marijuana. From the political right comes a motion by an Illinois congressman named Mark Kirk. Kirk wants to make the sale of a particularly potent new strain of marijuana (known as “kush”) punishable by fines up to $1 million and a prison term up to 25 years long. I went to college, and I’ve been to my share of parties after those heady years at University, and I’m a bit familiar with this “kush” strain — yes, it is much stronger than your dad’s stash, and the stuff is so popular people willingly pay as much as $600 for a single ounce of it. Put into perspective, an ounce of low grade marijuana can go for as little as $45 or $50 in my home state.
At the same time as Kirk’s fearmongering boost to the “War on Drugs”, Congressman Barney Frank (D – Massachusetts) produced the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2009. This bill is the big time version of many college NORML group’s biggest complaints about marijuana related legislation — Frank is attempting to add a little sanity to the debate about marijuana.
Currently, all forms of pot are classified as Schedule I Controlled Dangerous Substances under federal law. What does Schedule 1 mean? For starters, it makes the possession of weed worse than that of morphine, cocaine, amphetamine, or PCP. That’s right — having a bag of ganja on you when you get pulled over is “worse” in the eyes of the law than illicit possession of morphine.
In fact, if you were to get caught with a single joint, you could face a fine of $1,000 and up to a year in prison. Last year, about 800,000 American citizens faced this penalty, clogging up our prisons and our justice system. Meanwhile, pot dealers are stacking cash and laughing at a Federal government that can’t figure out how to make money off those of us who want to smoke a little reefer.
This is the Federal government whose opinions on the economy can have a serious impact on our lives. Ask the millions of people without work how good our Federal government is at economics. Ask millions of Americans who have lost their homes.
Frank’s point appears to be that the Federal government should mind its own business when it comes to responsible adults who wish to use marijuana. Frank has been quoted as saying that the government should stop treating marijuana users as criminals — think of the number of people who go out every night to use another intoxicating drug (alcohol), on which they pay taxes and have to follow certain restrictions from the government. Why shouldn’t marijuana smokers be able to do the same thing?
Wouldn’t a debt ridden state like California profit pretty heftily from the sale of marijuana? What about our national deficit — couldn’t potheads smoke a nice dent into that number?
Thirteen US states have made major moves toward decriminalizing pot. There’s a proposal in Colorado to reduce the fine for simple possession of marijuana to $1, payable with the ease of a traffic ticket. In certain states, like California and New Mexico, people with certain medical conditions (from cancer to work related stress) can receive “reccomendations” from their physician to legally procure medical marijuana. I’ve heard of some counties in California where police look the other way when it comes to pot. The point is that the country’s policy towards marijuana is changing on a state by state basis. So what’s holding up the Congress from making some kind of change?
According to Frank and other colleagues interested in reducing the government’s involvement with marijuana, the problem at the Federal level is a “cultural lag”. Senators and members of the House are afraid of being seen as “soft on drugs”, though many (in private) will apparently admit that they don’t see the use of marijuana as a terrible thing. Often, the argument I hear from people about why marijuana politics don’t need changing is — “Nobody gets arrested for it anyway!” but the opposite is true. Hundreds of thousands of citizens are arrested every year for simple possession of weed.
Frank’s bill is bi-partisan in an era when almost nothing else is. Frank and a fellow Democrat have joined forces with two Republicans to propose some big changes to this country’s policy on marijuana. Not surprisingly, Ron Paul is one of the Republicans — Dana Rohrabacher (from California) is the other.
Frank has plenty of opposition to contend with — much of it in the form of Mark Souder, comngressman from Indiana, who is the poster child for the drug war. Souder (and others who feel the way he does) makes what is known as the “public-square” argument against drugs and other vice — that argument says that the Federal government should keep things like prostitution and drugs off the streets in order to “promote a higher level of morality and civic order”.
The title of this article is obviously a joke. Barney Frank is not actually encouraging people to get high any more than he is suggesting that the government should tax and regulate drugs. Frank’s bill stops far short of the kind of talk going on in California right now, where members of that state’s government see marijuana as a way out of their financial troubles. In fact, Frank’s bill doesn’t suggest any changes to individual state’s legislation.
While Barney Frank is not usually one to take baby steps towards a larger goal, he seems to believe that changes to this country’s attitude toward soft drugs like marijuana will come a tiny bit at a time.
When will changes to our country’s war on potheads arrive? Probably not any time soon. For the time being when you get high you’ll still have to look both ways, feel the twinges of paranoia, and hide your pipes and bongs from your landlord. But stay tuned, because when issues start popping up at the national level, progress usually follows.
Is the economic stimulus package helping the economy?
Just six months after Congress enacted the largest economic stimulus plan in history of the United States, analysts and government officials agree that the desperate measure seems to have contributed in a major way to what most economic brains are calling a “budding recovery”. Don’t pencil in Obama in 2012 just yet — apparently there are significant concerns about a steadily rising unemployment rate and what the impact of the economic stimulus may be to the ever increasing federal budget deficit.
While President Obama and his staff are still under fire for what critics are calling “unrestrained spending” (and in the face of poll data suggesting that Americans are at best ambivalent about the real impact of Obama’s stimulus plan) the cabinet and other officials are attempting to point out the highlights of the stimulus — for instance, claiming that Obama’s stimulus package may have been the single instrument of recovery.
For his part, Vice President Biden made a speech on Thursday highlighting the impact on our economy of the now $787 billion economic stimulus spending package. “The Recovery Act has played a significant role in changing the trajectory of our economy and changing the conversation about the economy in this country,” Biden said at the bipartisan Brookings Institution. He went on to say that “Instead of talking about the beginning of a depression, we are talking about the end of a recession.” Snappy language that should stick in people’s heads for some time to come.
With congressional Republicans on the attack (even in the face of evidence proving that Obama’s plan is working) many citizens are still doubtful that any success has occured, even though economists are in agreement that the package has in fact performed a significant role in staving off a depression, and probably even getting us out of a nasty recession. On the other hand, those same economists seem uncertain about how big that impact has been and whether or not it will last.
One major economic consulting firm, IHS, estimates that the economic stimulus package has increased the 2009 gross domestic product by about 1 percent over what it otherwise would have been. That one percent benefit has mainly come during the second half of the year. That same firm has forecast that Obama’s economic stimulus package will result in the creation of about 2 million more jobs than we would have seen at the end of 2010.
Don’t get too excited — even as the economy shows some signs of improving, labor markets and unemployment numbers are still depressed. Unemployment sits at 9.4 percent, though it missed the double digit mark many feared. Just hours before Vice President Biden spoke, the Labor Department released information that another 570,000 people filed their new unemployment claims just last week. This number has been consistent from week to week.
Who will host the 2016 Summer Olympics?
The 2016 Summer Olympics, known officially as the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, are in the planning stages. Many cities initially lined up to make a bid at hosting the games but only four remain.
Initially, 26 cities expressed some kind of interest in playing host to the games. Below is a breakdown of some of those cities and how their bids fell apart:
Bangkok, Thailand expressed much enthusiasm for hosting an Olympiad after Thailand’s excellent performance in the 2004 Olympic Games — but Thailand officials decided that an application for the 2010 Youth Games would better suit their abilities. They then lost the bid for the Youth Games to Singapore.
San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico discussed making a joint bid for the 2016 games, but discussions fizzled. No future plans for Olympics bids have been discussed.
Cape Town and Durban, South Africa both expressed interest. It is unclear if those countries Olympic officials ended the bid or if the Olympic committee rejected their plans.
Delhi, India was all set to enter a full fledged bid, but in April of 2007 that country announced it would bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics instead, probably wanting more preparation time.
Dubai, of the United Arab Emirates, was also set to make a serious bid for the games, but decided against placing such a bid, preferring to focus on future Olympic games.
Fukuoka and Sapporo, Japan were eliminated by the Japanese Olympic Committe, with the intention of focusing their time and money on Tokyo’s bid.
Houston, Texas and Philadelphia were eliminated by the United States Olympic Committee in favor of three larger cities. San Francisco then withdrew its bid when that city lost its Olympic Stadium funding. Eventually, Los Angeles lost out to Chicago for the country’s bid.
Montreal and Toronto, Canada abandoned their plans for a bid for the Olympic Games in 2016 after Vancouver won the bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Toronto is still considering an application for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games or the 2024 Summer Olympics if the 2020 bid falls through.
The following four cities are the finalists for landing the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Chicago’s plan is to use 15 existing sports venues plus one new building (already drawn up and funded). In the meantime they would build six new permanent Olympic venues, such as the Olympic Stadium and swimming arena, which would later be scaled down for future use. The city is also planning to incorporate the use of nine temporary venues in their Olympic plans — venues that would be scrapped after the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee said that Chicago’s financing proposal represents a serious risk for that city’s bid. The city of Chicago has set a $750 million financial cap on the necessary guarantees to secure an Olympic games — that cap would cover any potential shortfalls in the Olympic organizing budget. It is still unclear what about that financial plan is risky for the potential Olympic bid, but their budget has been called “ambitious but achievable.” Chicago still has to generate nearly $2 billion in revenue from sponsors before the time of the games.
Chicago’s bid puts a heavy financial burden on that city’s Olympic organizing committee to deliver the necessary infrastructure and “temporary venues”, although if any city can pull it off, its the city of the big shoulders.
On a positive note, the IOC praised Chicago’s “thorough planning and . . . full understanding of the complexity” of any Olympic plan. The IOC found their plan to place temporary arenas in public parks “unique” and praised the city for thinking outside the box. Unfortunately, on a negative note, the IOC says that relying on “temporary and scaled down venues” will increase risks for that city’s ability to deliver a successful set of Olympic games.
The IOC also has doubts about Chicago’s public transportation — and the city’s ability to control the kind of traffic that the Olympics brings. The most dangerous area for congestion during a potential Olympics? The area around McCormick Place.
As for security during the games, the United States has stepped up to ensure the IOC that they would take “full financial and operational responsibility” for securing the city during the Olympics. The IOC warmed to this plan over time, but still want to see a clear description of exactly what this means for the city and the games.
Chicago’s bid isn’t as strong as it could be — for one thing, nearly 4 percent of the city’s population is “strongly opposed” to the games being hosted in the Second City. The IOC ranks Chicago’s bid as “third overall” out of the four remaining cities.
Madrid can boast the strongest public backing in the IOC Olympic host polls, with a solid 84.9 percent of residents fully supporting that city’s bid and only around 2 percent strongly opposed. The citizens of Madrid seem excited by the notion of their city hosting the Olympic games. The IOC ranks Madrid’s bid for the Games as second overall.
However, the Madrid bid team has suffered somewhat after the IOC determined that city’s organizing committee did not fully understand the responsibilities a city has when planning an event as complex as the Summer Olympics.
Madrid’s Olympic concept is seriously compact and appears to be quite efficient for large crowds. A full 23 of the 33 planned venues are in place and two more venues are already being built. This is a city serious about its Olympic bid. The areas where Madrid’s Olympic construction are lacking — the Olympic Stadium itself as well as the venues for rowing, flat water canoeing and open water swimming.
All but two of their planned competition venues will be accessible by public transit, and are within 6.2 miles of the city’s center. The shooting venue is planned for an area just outside the 6 mile radius zone, while sailing is 224 miles away in Valencia. That city plans to build its own athletes village to cut down on travel needs.
According to the IOC, Madrid’s organizing committee is “confused” at best, and that Madrid’s management structure is weak. Weakness in management usually results in financial challenges for a host city, and the IOC doesn’t look too kindly on a city that can’t financially handle an Olympic bid.
The finances for Madrid’s bid are well structured, with several national, regional and city governments stepping up to provide what the IOC calls “strong” financial support. This funding would be in place to cover any potential shortfalls in the city’s organizing budget.
The city of Madrid has been praised for its plan for use of the buildings after the Games. The city of Madrid would fully own the athletes’ village after the Games, and the media center would be used for social programs and housing after the Games.
Two major problems that stand in the way of Madrid’s bid? The IOC thinks that Spanish anti-doping laws lack the stiffness necessary to comply with the World Anti-Doping Agency code. Calling this issue of “utmost importance” to Madrid’s bid, the IOC made it clear that without some change to the anti doping laws, the bid would fall through.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio is in last place out of the four bids still on the table for the 2016 Games. Part of the problem for Rio de Janeiro is their lacking public support in the IOC polling date. A full 83 percent of residents do favor of the bid, but a rather hefty 4 percent of those polled are strongly opposed.
Like Madrid, the governments of Rio and Brazil have guaranteed the ability to finance the Olympic infrastructure costs and cover any obstacles in the organizing budget.
Rio’s venue plan would fit in well with their ongoing and expensive urban regeneration plans. Rio is working hard to revamp their infrastructure and public image, especially along the city’s waterways. This reconstruction is fully funded by the government of Brazil, to the tune of $240 billion. The IOC has said that reconstruction in Rio de Janeiro will certainly accelerate the delivery of the Olympic Games, but that the city needs “careful management and monitoring” of their reconstruction projects.
Brazil will play host to the World Cup in soccer in 2014, and this will certainl speed up the delivery on much needed infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro, however, the idea of hosting the world’s two largest sports events inside of two years presents a serious challenge in terms of marketing and communications.
Rio faces a shortage of hotel accomodations for visitors both for the World Cup and for a potential Olympic Games. The city plans to build four villages and use six cruise ships to house people for the Games.
Public safety and crime levels in Brazil are a major concern, so Rio has spent time attempting to engage local communities in various social revamping and sports programs.
Overall, Rio doesn’t appear to have what it takes to secure an Olympic bid. High crime rates, difficult geography, and questions about Brazil’s ability to host two major sports events inside of 24 months will probably keep Brazil out of the running for the 2016 Games.
The frontrunner for the 2016 Games appears to be Tokyo, Japan — even though only 55 percent of that city’s residents support their bid for the Games, and as many as 8 percent of the population lists itself as “strongly opposed”.
There is plenty of praise and criticism for Tokyo’s bid, and the lines of thought on their bid follow the same themes as other cities — for instance, finances are secure but public support is pretty low.
The government of Tokyo has guaranteed the finances for the games and set aside a huge $3.7 billion reserve fund. National and city governments have guaranteed to finance infrastructure changes the IOC deems necessary, and also to cover any potential shortfall in the organizing budget.
The bid aims to highlight the sucess of Tokyo’s hosting of the 1964 Summer Games. Tokyo’s plan is to create a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable’ Olympic project.
The IOC has high praise for Tokyo’s plan to minimize athlete’s travel times, calling Tokyo’s venue plan “very efficient”. All but the shooting events would take place within 5 miles of the city’s center. Unfortunately, the IOC sees a “lack of clarity” on Tokyo’s claims that most venues are ready right now. Some venues that Tokyo lists as “existing” are actually closer to the “need to be built” phase.
Tokyo also faces questions about their ability to control traffic, and in a country composed of tiny islands like Japan there is the usual concern about the size of land area available to develop the Olympic Village.
How has the health care debate changed?
I was in line for a flu shot this morning, after reading over the weekend about the possibility of the worst flu season in forty years, thinking about health care.
I know I’m not the only one. You can’t turn on the news without getting slapped in the face by a pundit or a Senator with an opinion. It struck me, as the nurse slid the needle into my shoulder, that any flu crisis this fall could act as a magnifying glass for one of the two sides in this fight. Should there be mistakes made by doctors, long lines for vaccinations, millions of people hospitalized, or (God forbid) a large number of swine flu related deaths, the Democrats stance that health care in America needs to be revamped will be bolstered. On the other hand, should the flu crisis simply not happen, or should America be as well prepared as possible when the crisis starts, Republicans won’t have to worry about the new face of the health debate. It was just a thought.
Back in the real world, I started to gather quotes and new reports on the health care debate. After all, President Obama’s been on vacation for a week. It’s time to look at the new face of the health care debate — and to reflect on what the debate means in a world without Senator Kennedy.
It seems that Republicans are kicking off up their new offensive just in tirm for our lawmakers to gather back in Washington, D.C. after their summer break. As the date of legislative commencement gets closer, the Democrats have thrown their hat into the ring as well, attempting to come up with new means by which they can gain the support of Americans.
We’ve all heard by now that Senator Ted Kennedy made health care overhaul the “cause of his life” right up to the very end, and we expected Democrats to evoke his memory in order to advance their agenda and pass new health care reform legislation. There has been conjecture that Democrats will put Kennedy’s name on the bill, in memory of the Senator who fought hard for this reform.
Speaking in Toronto, President Bill Clinton had this to say about Kennedy’s passing — “I hope that his lifetime dream — that America finally will follow Canada and every other advanced nation in the world in providing affordable health care to all of our people — will pass.” Clinton had high praise for the Canadian health care system, HealthCanada, though many critics feel that their system of universal coverage wouldn’t quite work in our country.
Let it be said, for once and for all, that Senator Kennedy was in favor of a universal health coverage system, much like HealthCanada, and was one of the first to suggest that health insurance be made a requirement for all Americans. Democrats say Kennedy’s death should help push the health care debate in a direction that favors the outcomes they’re looking for — the debate in Washington is quite divided both between parties and among them. Within the Democratic party there is much disagreement — some more conservative Democrats are seriously opposed to some of the more leftist measures proposed by the President and his cabinet, and they want “clarity” in terms of how the government would pay for this major overhaul.
Others against the President’s health care proposals say that they disagree with the way Obama’s message has been presented, and that the Democrat’s talking points need to change even as Americans are growing increasingly suspicious of health care reform. For example, Former Sen. Tom Daschle said the White House and Democrats need to do work on making the issue of health care reform a kind of “moral imperative” for the country, to make the case that without this reform, our quality of life will decrease.
Daschle said the Republican party has demonstrated an “organizational strength” that he does not see from the side of the Democrats. Personally, I think he’s referring to the dispensation that occurs among right wingers, who tune into Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and other condensed sources to find out how they should feel about an issue. But I suppose Daschle’s point still holds some truth — the political left needs to do a better job of boiling the issue down to its major themes, points that “really motivate and have emotional value” in the words of Tom Daschle.
It isn’t just the Democrats who are being unrealistic. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on Monday that ” . . . there is no need for an overhaul of the entire health care system” going so far as to call the U.S. health care system the “best in the world”. Who’s being unrealistic now, Republicans?
How is college life contributing to the spread of swine flu?
The H1N1 or “swine flu” has spread to hundreds of college students in the first few weeks of their new college life. Why is this happening?
Apparently, doctors blame fraternity and sorority parties as well as sports practices and dorm living. In layman’s terms, college is making kids sick.
This new evidence lends credence to the notion that the swine flu virus is in a period of resurgence.
The United States is experiencing the rate of influenza infection since the spread of the 1968 “Hong Kong flu” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. College officials from around the nation said they are operating buses to transport sick students — other schools are putting students in “isolation dorms” or even installing vaccination drive-through programs.
Another part of the problem — college age students are typically the least likely group of people to decide to get vaccination shots, maybe due to an “It won’t happen to me” attitude. This is a huge problem, as people 25 years old or younger are far more susceptible to the virulent H1N1 strain.
Those of you who went to college understand — stuff a few hundred 18 to 21 year olds in a tiny, mildewed, smoky basement in an ancient fraternity house, and you have the perfect breeding ground for the spread of disease.
One of the worst infections rates so far is at Mississippi State University, located in Starkville, Mississippi. That college is reporting more than 250 infections and cases of flu like symptoms since this past July 15. Another bad spot for swine flu infection, The University of Kansas (in Lawrence) reports more than 100 sick students currently infected with H1N1. Similar numbers can be found at The University of Tennessee in Knoxville, which estimates 100 students showing flu symptoms (at a minimum) since their classes started this past August 19.
During a typical flu season, which lasts from November through March, colleges provide vaccines at campus health clinics and may recommend that students wash their hands more, cover their coughs, and use anti bacterial soap multiple times per day — unfortunately, these messages are often ignored by college students. This year, with the number of infections from H1N1 and other flu strains already starting to skyrocket, schools are apparently increasing their efforts. Most schools are giving seasonal flu shots already (more than a month ahead of time) and posting hand sanitizer dispensers and flu safety posters across campus.
The outbreaks of flu are unusual for this time of year and the Centers for Disease Control and Protection are saying it could take a few weeks for doctors and scientists to predict if these frat house swin flu clusters could turn into more widespread outbreaks across the country.
The University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, started a “flu bus” to transport sick students from residence halls to health services. With a large campus, the university wants to avoid infections spreading on public transportation, said Robert Winfield, Michigan’s chief health officer and director of the university health service.
Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, reports that 25 of their football players have been or are sick this month. For its part, Duke has reserved an off-campus apartment building with about 30 beds to house and isolate students who may have a high risk for being harmed by flu.
Amherst College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, has two residence halls kept empty this fall to isolate potential swine flu patients, and has even agreed to house infected students from four other local colleges and schools.
Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, lists 75 students as “swine flue” patients in the past three weeks alone. Oklahoma State spokespersons readily admit that many of these cases ave been attributed to students attending sorority rush before the school year officially started.
The University of Arizona in Tucson is planning what may become a regular sight at college campuses — a swine flu drive-through clinic for flu shots, set to open later in September. The campus has akleady seen 25 cases in the few weeks since students returned to school.
For most campuses, seasonal flu shots have arrived or will soon be arriving. A separate vaccine for swine flu, which doctors say may require two or three shots given over a three-week period, won’t be ready until the middle of October, according to the CDC. That late date may be too late for students, whose semesters end around December. Will the sinw flu vaccine arrive in time to cut down on outbreaks among a student population? Not to mention this is a population with little to no natural immunity.
For those not in the know, a Sorority’s “rush” period may be especially conducive to spreading flu because women pledging for a sorority spend a long time together in close contact.
Good news for students — most colleges are asking professors and school function groups to be lenient about student absences. Colleges don’t want sick students going to class to keep up their grade, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Sick students are being told to stay home, and doctor’s notes are usually not being required to justify student absences. This info came down from the CDC, so your professors and parents won’t think you’re making this up.
Most college campuses have stopped attempting to test students for H1N1 and are tracking the number of students showing flu and swin flu like symptoms instead. The CDC continues to sample patients randomly at certain hospitals and clinics in order to make an attept to track the size and location of outbreaks.
Will the swine flu vaccine be ready in time?
Amid reports that suggest that millions of Americans could be “hospitalized” in the coming flu season due to the convergence of swine flu and more traditional influenzas — some bad news.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swine flu vaccine won’t be available to anyone in America until the middle (or end) of October, probably too late for the earliest onset of swine flu and more traditional flu cases.
In fact, news today suggests that President Barack Obama’s science advisers are begging the President and his cabinet to act now to ensure that H1N1 vaccines are available weeks before projections suggest. The new head of the CDC in America has responded to the President’s advisers saying that regardless what actions the President takes, swine flu vaccines will be unavailable until the already announced time — mid October. All this is playing out against reports that the swine flu will coincide with other influenza strains, setting off forecasts for the worst flu season in decades.
Though the scientists responsible for creating the H1N1 vaccine are not going to be able to deliver in a manner that doctors and other researchers want, they are still rushing through their work, raising fears among many doctors that the kind of imperfect testing necessary to rush a vaccine through will have a negative impact on the eventual drug. These imperfect tests mean that the creators of the vaccine won’t know enough about the drug to properly dose and vaccinate us. Already, the rush to create a vaccine has slowed attempts to take stock of H1n1 — precise numbers on how many people will probably be infected are impossible to come up with thanks to concentration on the vaccine rather than the virus itself.
So swine flu is the “number one” priority for the CDC — just not the right kind of priority.
Doctors willing to speak out against the CDC’s practices suggest that the vaccine should be available by the middle of September. These same medical experts say that the government should be taking advantage of the pandemic H1N1 to improve the overall surveillance of influenza, using the swine flu outbreak to improve our practices and to prevent future pandemics.
The five companies who are currently making swine flu vaccine for the U.S. market (AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit, CSL Ltd, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Novartis AG and Sanofi-Aventis SA) are running tests to determine if people will need one or multiple doses of that vaccine in order to be fully protected.
Did the government go too far in pursuing steroid users in Major League Baseball?
Three of baseball’s biggest stars (Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz) have been outed in the past couple of seasons after investigators from the Federal government seized a list containing the names of players testing positive for steroids and other performance enhancers. These “leaks” have had something of a negative impact on the careers of these players, most notably Manny Ramirez who recently completely a 50 game suspension for his actions related to performance enhancing drugs. Those players who didn’t face these kinds of strict suspensions have felt the pain in other ways — loss of endorsements, a tarnish on their records, and negative reactions from former fans.
Unfortunately for those investigators, a Federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that the seizure of that list of 104 players who tested positive for doping was illegal. While this ruling can’t do anything for players who’ve already faced harsh penalties, it may protect the remaining 101 players on the list whose names haven’t been released.
The seizure of the list took place way back in 2004, meaning there’s been plenty of time for further leaks. We may still see the complete list of cheaters, or we may not. Either way, players whose identities are improperly leaked from the “dope list” may now have grounds for action, or at least a safety net against the announcement of their names.
Federal agents who raided a Long Beach company in 2004 did have the right to search for information about a specific list of 10 players — a search warrant that named 10 players whose drug test results they had the legal right to obtain. This search warrant was part of the Federal investigation into the actions of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, in Burlingame, California. Where these agents crossed the line, according to the San Francisco appeals court, was in their seizure of the complete list of 104 players who tested positive for steroids. These tests results are related to a drug test given in 2003.
The test was conducted by Major League Baseball, but the names were supposed to remain private and out of the public realm. In the past year or so, reports of the identities of various players have been leaked to the media. In a 9-2 ruling, a virtual judicial landslide, the San Francisco appeals court agrees that the Federal government should only have been allowed to go after the specific 10 players on their list.
A spreadsheet at Comprehensive Drug Testing, the company handling the test for baseball, contained the entire list of players and was seized, illegally, by the government. When the Federal agents saw the spreadsheet at CDT, the agents responded quickly, ordering and obtaining the necessary search warrants to take it with them. The agents went a step further, downloading the entire computer memory and taking it with them. This, says the appeals court, was where they broke the law.
What will Ted Kennedy’s legacy be?
Edward M. Kennedy was something of a fluke.
He was the only Kennedy to outright lose a run at the Presidency of the United States. At age 48 (older then than any of his brothers lived to be), he came in second in a two man race for the Democratic nomination. That was 1980, and unbeknownst to anyone the Reagan years loomed ahead. Many have wondered how the course of American history would be different if Kennedy had won the nomination — not Kennedy. He was always looking toward the future, unwilling to linger in the past.
Edward M. Kennedy, known best as Ted, lived nearly thirty more years, active in politics all the while, before succumbing to a brain tumor late Tuesday evening at the age of 77.
Kennedy was well known for championing a wide range of causes during his lengthy Senate career. Able and willing to speak on topics as diverse as immigration reform, education, and the rights of the mentally and physically handicapped, he is probably best known for his efforts to reform the health care industry. The irony of his death while health care reform has finally become the largest issue in American politics is not lost on anyone.
As far back as the Nixon administration, Kennedy worked with both Democratic and Republican presidents and politicans, both while in the congressional majority and the minority, in an attempt to get universal health care coverage for all Americans. Though Ted never reached that goal, he continued to labor toward improving health care coverage, and was well known for reaching across the aisle to pass a series of tiny measures that moved us toward better health care.
Kennedy seemed to have his greatest success while in the political minority — think of the 1990s. Back then, President Bill Clinton’s attempts to push a plan for universal health care faltered, and Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress. Seemed like a dark time for a Democratic senator, but not for Ted. Senator Kennedy took the defeat in stride, continuing to work for health care reform, creating and passing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in 1996. This act was instrumental in helping people maintain their health insurance after changing jobs, while also improving the confidentiality of all health records. In that same year, Kennedy’s Mental Health Parity Act made mental health payments by insurance companies equal to payments for all other illnesses. Then, In 1997, Senator Kennedy was the lead player in the oush for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which represented the largest expansion of government controlled health insurance coverage in the United States in over thirty years.
Unfortunately for Senator Kennedy, his battle with cancer kept him from actively participating in the current raging debate over health care reform under the new Obama administration. Kennedy had been completely unable to go to Washington and use his hefty political skill to affect any compromise that might have been able to keep the Democrat’s initial legislative plans on track. As Senator Kennedy’s condition grew worse, it was obvious to all involved that the fight with cancer would keep Kennedy from taking part in any floor votes. This means that Kennedy’s last official political act was a request (made just last week) to allow a successor to be appointed to his seat in the Senate as an interim Senator.
Senator Kennedy’s seat will most likely remain empty for up to six months while preparations for a special election to fill his vacant spot can be made. The Democrats will be missing that crucial 60th Senate vote if their efforts to form a bipartisan coalition or compromise fall through.
Senator Edward Kennedy, who had been only an occasional presence in government over the past year and a half due to his illness, has left behind a lengthy political legacy and a Senate seat so difficult to fill you can hear the echo. What remains to be seen is any impact that the death of Kennedy might have on what became his signature political fight — health care reform.
Let’s hope that his empty Senate seat will serve as a silent witness to the power of compromise, the value of health care reform, and the need for political discourse in a country wracked by disagreement.
What are the Obamas doing on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard?
The President of the United States (and family) deserves a little time off. Has there been a President whose every move was followed as closely as the 44th? And what about his family — from the covers of fashion magazines to the back page of gossip rags, Michelle Obama and family have been in the news at times more than the President himself. Every President gets a chance to take a breather (some, like George W. Bush, take that chance as often as possible) and this is no different for the Obamas who are currently vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard.
Today there will be rounds of golf shared by the President and First Lady (along with a few friends). More golf is scheduled throughout the week, as is some serious reading time — the President allegedly brought “a pile of books” with him on his vacation. The Martha’s Vineyard trip isn’t all fun and games — President Obama took a little time to get some work done, renominating the chief of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke. However, the name of the game this week is relaxation.
Besides a ton of tennis, golf, and relaxing by the shore, Obama will entertain a briefing from the National Security Council. Even though President Obama will be hearing plenty from his advisors while staying at the island resort this week, there is no doubt that the vacation is about relaxing.
On Monday, as an example, the president worked ou in the morning, played golf with the first lady and friends, and enjoyed a quiet dinner at his vacation home. Today, President Obama is hitting the links yet again, this time at the Minks Meadow Golf Club. That hammock visible from the air, nestled between two trees on the 28 acre Blue Heron Farm where the Obamas are staying? The President will likely unwind while reading several books including David McCullough’s lengthy book on John Adams, and the popular book by Tom Friedman — “Hot, Flat and Crowded”. President Obama is doing all this while busy redesigning the American healthcare system. I don’t know about you, but I barely have time to read the comics on Sunday.
White House staffers joined the Obamas on this vacation, most of them no doubt hoping for a light work week. Unfortunately, they work for one of the hardest working men in politics, and have spent a ton of time communicating with the press about Obama’s vacation, more so than vacationing themselves.
Plenty of questions have been tossed their way as speculation about the Obama’s activities grew over the weekend. Will the President play golf with Tiger Woods? According to staffers, Tiger is indeed “fun to play with,” but the staffer rejected the rumor. Other rumors included word about a fundraising dinner and the possibility that Obama would be attending a fancy society wedding. Staffers say these rumors are just that — rumors.
According to some reports, a Presidential security team showed up at Senator Edward Kennedy’s home in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod, near enough to Obama’s vacation destination to create rumors. Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton wns the zinger award this week, suggesting that — ” . . . if Secret Service agents were there they probably heard . . . they have great lobster rolls out there and they were probably just checking them out.”
Martha’s Vineyard was a popular vacation spot of President Bill Clinton, well known in that area for showing up unannounced around town to gladhand, kiss babies, and appear before the press. Famously, Clinton liked to stop for ice cream on Circuit Avenue in Martha’s Vineyard. To add fuel to the fire, Bill Clinton popped up for a round of golf in Martha’s Vineyard just before Obama showed up, rekindling residents of the Vineyard’s memories of a President more accessible than we’ve become accustomed to in recent years.
Staffers say that though there’s not a shortage of invitations for the Obamas, they won’t be attending many highly publicized events. The President seems to need this break. The White House even decided against holding a welcoming ceremony for the President’s arrival on Sunday, though his aides claimed that the cancellation was due to fear’s of incoming bad weather from Hurricane Bill. Staffers suggest that President Obama may make a few appearances later in the week, but thanks to his “loose” vacation schedule he hasn’t really planned to attend any major events.
Let’s just consider this trip a time for the President to relax and be with his family. After 7 months under the microscope, it may be time for the President to take a deep breath.
Is the economy recovering from recession?
The state of the economy has become a kind of cliche lately, with most people bored of discussions of recession and stock market ups and downs. In fact, the economic downturn has been a buzz word for so long that comedians and talk show hosts are starting to turn their focus elsewhere — there’s simply not much material left to cover.
More news is popping up this week about the state of our nation’s finances. On Tuesday the White House and the Congressional Budget Office are set to release a series of new numbers related to the federal budget deficit and the relative health of the American economy. This is a big deal mostly because the Congressional Budget Office is considered the most non partisan of bodies related to budget reporting. The CBO is expected to release a slightly different estimate from the White House, but reportedly the numbers aren’t far enough apart to make a difference. The US national debt is reportedly around $12 trillion and climbing steadily.
President Obama and his cabinet have already released some preliminary numbers related to this year’s budget gap — $1.5 trillion or so. This number is down slightly from an earlier White house projection of nearly $2 trillion. As they say in Washington, a billion dollars here, a billion dollars there . . .
Back to the task at hand, how will these new economic forecasts play out? What impact will they have?
President Obama has made one thing clear — he does not intend to follow in the footsteps of previous Presidents who offered big tax cuts for Americans. The new economic data offered by Washington indicates that tax cuts for the wealthy may be even more unlikely. Those tax cuts, set to expire at year’s end, are stealing about $600 billion a year from the government and giving it to the American people. Think Obama is going to let that easy source of money slip away? No chance, not when he is forced to release news of some serious budget shortfalls in his first year in office.
Expect the usual rhetoric from Obama’s opponents on the political right — removing tax cuts will get Limbaugh and company complaining that our economic growth is in jeopardy down the road.
A good sign for the majority of us — Congress and the Executive branch will likely shield the poor from tax increases during these tough times. In fact, no matter how bad the coming economic forecast is, we aren’t likely to see a tax increase for anyone who doesn’t have a full-time job. Congress is set to provide another one-year quick fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax, a controversial option originally aimed at the upper classes. Because of inflation, the middle class is now within the range of the Alternative Minimum Tax, and Congress will make whatever repairs are necessary to protect the middle class, even though this protection costs the government about $50 to $70 billion a year.
Another move we might see from Congress — actions to squeeze whatever savings are possible from Social Security. Because this is a fairly unpopular idea, expect our elected officials to create a somewhat anonymous “commission” to do the dirty work for them. For several years now, members of Congress (both Democrat and Republican) have been trying to form just such a commission to look into the Social Security retirement program (as well as Medicare and Medicaid) for any chance at savings. What’s happening is that the population of the United States is aging and putting a huge drain on the Federal treasury — costing America as much as $55 trillion over the next three generations. This week’s White House and CBO economic reports, which will most likely forecast massive deficits for years and years to come, will pretty much give Congress the go ahead to form the commission necessary to find some savings. Oh, by the way, this commission will most likely suggest a few tax increases while they’re at it.
Another nasty side effect of new economic indications will be a big hit to President Barack Obama’s health care reform plans. Opponents of Obama’s plan say that while the American economy is in a state of recession (and now that we know that budget deficits are at record levels) the time couldn’t be worse for Washington to go after yet another expensive, unneccessary, and unconstitutional program.
President Obama for his part (and many of his fellow Democrats in Congress) have said time and again that any reform bill related to healthcare will be forced to “pay for itself”. How would this work? By claiming that the program will reduce the cost of the Medicare program or by raising taxes on the working Americans, Obama could fund the beginning of his sweeping health care reform. His critics, of course, indicate that raising revenue by these means should help America reduce the deficit and not be spent to expand available health insurance coverage.
If the economy should rebound, and many economists are suggesting that this is the case, President Obama and the Democratic led Congress will most likely attempt to hold back on defense spending to show America that they have some semblance of financial responsibility. However, if the economy keeps up its stagnant pace, we should see liberals start to push hard and heavy for another round of economic stimulus, regardless of the numbers from CBO and the President’s Office of Management and Budget.
How did hacker Albert Gonzales steal over 130 million credit cards?
Recently, the US government announced the capture of one of the web’s most wanted hackers. Albert Gonzales, a Cuban American, is accused of running what is believed to be the largest credit card scam in history. Unfortunately for corporate America and law enforcement nationwide, the questions and trouble didn’t end when handcuffs went around Gonzales’ wrists.
Major US businesses and cops from Miami to Seattle are trying to come up with answers today — how did a single man perpetrate this widespread scam right under their noses? it isn’t like what Gonzales did took particular skill. In fact, law enforcement officials are focusing on just how easy it can be to hack people’s credit card details. Apparently, it is not difficult for even the most wet behind the ears hacker to break into a coporations files and have their way with customer’s data. This arrest in Miami puts corporations on the spot — what will they do to ensure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again?
Albert Gonzalez, a 28 year old native of Miami, had been acting as an informant for the US Secret Service. After an arrest six years ago, Gonzales got out of trouble by agreeing to act as a kind of whistleblower, ratting out and keeping tabs on his fellow hackers. Gonzales was charged with conspiracy in his effort to steal the details of over a hundred million credit cards. Gonzale’s complete charge sheet went over, in detail, the lengthy and complicated online crime history of Gonzales.
According to Federal prosecuters, the alleged credit card fraud was acted out through the use of systems that can penetrate computer networks, look for and retrieve credit card data, and send this information for storage in servers spread across the US and Europe.
Computer security experts point out that this process (allegedly thought up and perpetrated by Gonzalez and two other accused hackers from eastern Europe) is very simple in hacker terms, making the real question one about the failure of corporate America to properly defend their computer systems and client information.
Gonzales’ charge sheet indicates that the hacker, along with two other men who lived in or near Russia, inserted a bit of “structured query language” into the computer systems of companies like Heartland. You may not have heard of Heartland but your wallet has — they are one of the largest credit and debit card payment processing companies in the world. The three hackers allegedly activated this code sometime in the middle of December 2007. “Structured query language” is a computer programming system that is designed to organize data so it can be accessed and managed easily.
Over the course of his criminal career, Albert Gonzalez used at least three internet aliases: ‘segvec’, ‘soupnazi’ and ‘j4guar17′.
Other companies that Gonzales allegedly attacked with his malware include Hannaford Brothers (a supermarket chain identified by Gonzales as ‘particularly vulnerable’) and 7-Eleven.
The charge sheet indicates further that Gonzalez would “identify potential corporate victims, by, among other methods, reviewing a list of Fortune 500 companies”. Gonzales may have been using very basic hacker techniques, but his research was top notch. Gonzales is alleged to have “traveled to retail stores of potential corporate victims” in order to identify what sorts of payment processing systems were used in their checkout process and also, less important, to try and wrap his head around the ways in which a company may be vulnerable.
If he is convicted, Albert Gonzalez faces a maximum charge of 25 years in jail. This will be nothing new for the Cuban-American hacker — Gonzales has been held in jail after his arrest last year in New York for allegedly hacking into a national restaurant chain’s computer system.
We do not know what Gonzales did with the information he stole. Gonzales has not yet been charged with any crime related to unlawful use of the credit card data he stole. The assumption is that Gonzales sold the 130 million pieces of credit card info to another source in an attempt to distance himself from the crime. If that is the case, then we may not have yet seen.the full effects of his cyber attack, and that the real impact of the stolen information may only show up in time. Yes, Gonzales earned money as part of his scam, but since no charges related to illicit credit card use exist, we must assume the money came from another source.
Albert Gonzalez, was raised in Coral Gables, Florida near Miami. He attended school in both Coral Gables and Miami. Gonzales was convicted of credit card theft in 2003 but agreed to hand over information on fellow hackers and track them for the Secret Service. Unfortunately for law enforcement, Gonzales continued his criminal career while playing patsy for the Feds.
Before he was busted last year, Gonzales put together a fortune of over $1.5 million. Gonzales was allegedly a big spender, throwing himself a $75,000 birthday party. An anecdote appears in Wired magazine about Gonzales — “He had so much cash he bought a money counter and complained that when it broke down he had to manually count $340,000 in $20 bills.” Not a problem most of us would complain about.
Gonzales’ trial is due to begin in September 2009.
When will digital music sales overcome CDs?
In this era, where digital seems to dominate every other format, I am still a sucker for purchasing a physical CD. Something about holding the album art in my hand, turning the shiny music disc over and over, sliding the device into the drive — I just don’t get the same satisfaction from a digital download. Call me a Luddite, call me what you will. I just can’t accept that I may never own a physical piece of music again. This is the same attitude that keeps me from joining the eReader revolution . . . at least until that particular technology improves.
Come to find out, I’m not alone. CDs are still the most common method for consumers in the United States to enjoy their music. In short — CDs rule the music market.
But not for long. Sure, CDs still account for well over sixty percent of all music sold in the first six months of 2009. There is new information today that suggests that digital downloads of music files are quickly gaining speed. This according to a report released this week by a research group that charts music and other sales — the NPD Group.
The trend goes something like this. Digital music sales increase between 15 percent and 20 percent every year. Meanwhile, CD sales drop at just about an equal pace, between 13 percent and 18 percent a year. It is only a matter of time before purchasing that must have album on a plastic disc will be a thing of the past, an old fashioned attempt to get in touch with a part of my past. Much like the vinyl collectors of the past ten years or so, I may have to trudge to a low lit store full of hipsters and snobs to get my fix of 90s-era alternative music. At least, on CD.
The “tipping point”, as NPD likes to put it, will come in 2010.
Russ Crupnick, the vice president of the NPD Group who concentrates his work on analysis of the entertainment industry, says that 2009 and 2010 will represent “a dead heat” between sales of music in digital formats and the sales numbers for CDs. NPD is amazed by the spped that digital music sales have become a real competitor with CD format. NPD reports that digital sales represented only one out of every five songs sold just two years ago. I think most people believe that CDs died out as a reliable format long ago. The truth is that CDs are still the most common audio format, though “the assumption is that [CD sales died out] . . . five years ago,” said Russ Crupnick.
In fact, the numbers are much closer, at least here in America. According to NPD’s research, there are still 250% more people who buy CDs regularly as those who buy digital music. NPD predicts that by 2011, digital sales will far outreach CD sales.
In 2008, digital music sales totalled nearly $2 billion, a healthy number for sure. By the same measure, CDs and other physical units of music represents nearly $9 billion in sales, these numbers according to the Recording Industry Association of America. That’s a huge disparity between two numbers that most people thought were much closer. While over $9 billion in sales sounds remarkable for a format that most people were ready to bury, remember that CD sales are dropping $1 billion a year or more.
The face of the leading music retailers are changing too. Gone are the days when my friends and I would load up the car, head to Circuit City or Best Buy or any of the big box stores and load up on new released. Now, the number on music retailer is Apple’s iTunes service. Music downloads from iTunes make up more than a quarter of all music sales in the United States. This number is up from 20 percent in 2008 and just 14 percent in 2007. With digital sales galloping ahead and CD sales falling by the wayside, it doesn’t take a consumer group to tell you that digital will soon far outclass CDs in terms of sales.
The bottom line is this — American consumers are buying more and more of their music online. Some industry analysts suggest that customers are illegally purchasing as much as 10 times more music through peer to peer Web presences and other illegal sources. If the recording industry was somehow to turn those illegal purchases into legal ones, digital purchases would far outweight physical CD sales.
The move to digital music has had a wide range of other impacts on the music industry — the biggest in my opinion is the fact that most online shoppers aren’t likely to buy entire albums, preferring to cherry pick the singles they want. This limits the artistic impact of a musician or band’s release, and limits the income that retailers make off music.
Who is in danger fom Hurricane Bill?
Just two weeks ago, we brought you a story about the strangely calm Atlantic hurricane season. As part of that story, we reported that tropical weather analysts had lowered their Atlantic hurricane expectations yet again. Also part of that story, a memory of 1992 — when a ridiculously quiet hurricane season was punctuated by the very destructive forces of Hurricane Andrew in Florida. We also predicted that a major storm was brewing off the coast of Africa, and that people living in areas affected by hurricanes shouldn’t let the weak early season fool them into complacence.
We were right.
We now have three active storms in the Atlantic — Hurricane Bill building up steam just east of the Lesser Antilles, weakening but still dangerous Tropical Depression Ana near Puerto Rico, and the remnants of Tropical Depression Claudette lingering over the Florida Panhandle region.
The first hurricane of the season, Bill, is gathering force far from the American coast over the Atlantic Ocean. Bill’s movements place it on a track potentially leading to Bermuda and the surrounding islands before this weekend. It is important to remember, though, that 3 and 5 day tracks are mere predictions from meteorologists. When was the last time you trusted a meteorologist’s opinion with your home, your valuables, your family, or even your own life? People living along the Gulf Coast and the Eastern seaboard of the United States should pay particular attention to Bill’s behavior over the next couple of days.
Hurricane Bill is now expected to become “a major storm” over the next 48 hours. That notation (“a major storm”) generally means a hurricane with sustained winds topping 110 miles per hour. Hurricane Bill has already become a Category 2 hurricane as of Monday — that indicates that Bill’s sustained winds are thrashing about at 100 mph. Hurricane Bill is now expected to strengthen further, becoming a Category Three hurricane by early Wednesday.
As of this writing Bill was centered 810 miles east of the Leeward Islands. Bill is now moving west-northwest at around 17 mph. Hurricane Bill is a large system, about 300 miles across. This widens the scope of potential victims to the point that an island like Bermuda could be hit hard by Bill even if the surrounding Atlantic island avoid a direct hit.
Unfortunately, as with any tropical event, it is difficult to tell people the one thing they want to know. Where will Bill go? That can’t be said for certain, but meteorologists on the whole do not believe the storm will reach the U.S. mainland.
Making things even more difficult, weather forecasters only provide five-day cones for the potential path of hurricanes. In fact, forecasters admit having difficulty making sensible projections of storms’ paths further than 72 hours or three days. Why? Mostly because storms change direction at short notice, often altering their course overnight while most people tracking them from home are asleep.
There is bad news about Hurricane Bill — because of warm ocean water and very little “wind shear” (a force that can weaken or even destroy storms), Bill is in perfect position to continue to strengthen. The last time a storm that earned a Category Three ranking hit U.S. soil was in 2005, when Hurricane Wilma hit and caused an estimated $20 billion in damage.
So this year’s Atlantic hurricane season is beginning to get interesting. With Hurricane Bill strengthening and threatening, the arrival of (admittedly weakening) Tropical Storm Claudette on the Florida coast, and the formation of Tropical Storm Ana late last week, the slow start to this year’s storm season is over.
By this time last year, six named storms (including two big hurricanes — Bertha and Dolly) had already formed and threatened to cause damage.
Why is the swine flu vaccine creating controversy?
Flu season is approaching, and fear is riding along. Many people are aware that the H1N1 virus could re-emerge with a vengeance once the time for seasonal flu is upon us. Thankfully, a vaccine is currently being tested for potential release before “traditional” flu and the H1N1 virus or “swine flu” have a chance to hit us with a double whammy.
However, there are still other people who are afraid of the vaccine itself. In fact, fears surrounding the swine flu vaccine are growing by the day. First we heard from groups concerned that there may not be enough of the vaccine to go around (some estimates put the total number of ready vaccines at the start of flue season somewhere around 60 million doses, a far cry from what is needed) — now, people are pointing to the 1976 swine flu epidemic, also treated with a vaccine. The problem then? After receving vaccinations, hundreds of people came down with Guillain-Barre syndrome allegedly related to that vaccine.
I say allegedly because nothing has ever been proven. Sure, the illnesses lent bad publicity to the creators of that vaccine, and the program was halted only after an estimated 40 million Americans received the vaccine, but no scientific proof exists to link the 70s era swine flu vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Regardless of any medical “proof”, many people are remembering what happened over 30 years ago and voicing their concerns about what might happen with the current round of planned vaccinations. Also, there’s a new buzz word in the game of vaccine fear — “adjuvant”. What is “adjuvant”, and why are people angry about its addition to the proposed swine flu vaccine?
An adjuvant is “something that allows the immune system to respond with higher levels of effectiveness,” according to the pharmaceutical company Aventis Pasteur. Basically, an adjuvant is an additive that could eventually lower the amount of vaccine needed per person, opening up the door for more individual doses to be available.
Consumers are most likely concerned about adjuvants because they haven’t heard of them before. However, adjuvants (which are mostly made of different forms of aluminum) are already in use in the United States, and if you’ve had a vaccine in the past twenty years, you’ve already been in contact with them. Adjuvants are currently used in vaccinations for everything from hepatitis A and B, to diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccines.
According to researchers working on the new swine flu vaccine, the adjuvant in the current incarnation of H1N1 vaccine would be a water-oil mixture.
The first run of drug trials on the new swine flu vaccine will use a form without adjuvants — the reason why is unclear — but later trials of the vaccine will use an adjuvanted form, but only if deemed necessary. This is also a point of contention for many people, who worry that testing a vaccine that isn’t identical to the vaccine that will be released is dangerous and pointless. The reason why unadjuvanted forms are being tested is simple. To the medical community, it is unneccessary to test a vaccine ingredient that has already been in use in this country for decades.
Consumers, having never really heard of adjuvants, are assuming this is a new addition to vaccines.
The hope for adjuvant use is simple — in the future, vaccines with adjuvants will require much smaller doses while giving patients an even better immune response. Less of a drug to get a better result means higher profits for vaccine manufacturers and better results for patients, not to mention more individual vaccine doses available for clinical use. The ability of the medical community to stretch this year’s supply of swine flu vaccine is a major issue. Fears about a shortage of swine flu vaccine could be put to rest if the doses could be split in two — that would bring the reported number of available doses at flu season’s outset to 120 million. The short answer on adjuvants — they will give a patient a better immune response while increasing the likelihood that all patients who need the vaccine will get it.
An example of how an adjuvant works — a bird flu vaccine is being tested in Asia. This vaccine is made up of 90 micrograms of an antigen (the ingredient that gives a patient an immune response) that could be reduced to as little as 3 micrograms in the presence of an adjuvant. This is allowing the manufacturer to split what was once a single dose into 24 usable doses of vaccine.
The flu vaccine that most of us get every year requires about 15 micrograms of antigen. Imagine a vaccine containing an adjuvant that could bring that number down to about 1 or 3 micrograms. With a smaller dose, there is less chance for complications and more vaccine to go around.
Still, it is difficult to look past the fact that vaccines have a history of safety concerns in this country, some legit concerns mixed up with the standard American paranoid response. For instance, when news broke that no flu vaccine ever used in the United States has contained an adjuvant up to this point, people immediately questioned the need for adjuvants this time around.
The simple answer is this — adjuvants weren’t used in flu vaccines because adjuvants weren’t necessary. Flu vaccines in America work well — doctors see a great immune response from the products already on the market. The addition of an adjuvant to a vaccine that didn’t need it would have been a wasteful and costly decision, and that cost would have passed down to you and me, the consumers.
If adjuvants are going to be used in this year’s swine flu vaccine, they will probably be used mostly for adults and the elderly — groups where the additives have been tested. In other words, children’s vaccines would not come with adjuvant, mostly because adjuvants haven’t been tested in children.
Why is the stock market struggling again?
For the second straight trading session in a row, stocks on Wall Street slumped considerably. From the Dow Jones Industrial Average to the Nasdaq composite, numbers were lower across the board. Is this a new downward trend for a market that appeared to be recovering?
According to market analysts, recent losses are due to a loss of confidence among consumers. Companies are nervous that these consumers and their lack of confidence will put even more pressure on an economy that is barely crawling out of a recession. We’ve had five or six months of steady advancement in the stock market, and nervous consumers at this late date doesn’t make anyone feel good about their economic future.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost a total of 186 points, or 2% of its volume. This was actually a gentle landing for a market that dropped as much as 204 points during the day’s trading. The S&P 500 index fell an even greater amount than the DJIA, ending 24 points lower than its beginning, or a total loss of 2.4% of volume.
These new low numbers mean that both market indicators closed after today’s trading at 4 week lows. The Nasdaq composite index was an even greater loser than either other indexes. The Nasdaq fell 55 points or 2.8% of total volume to end at a one month low.
In the last four to five weeks, the S&P 500 index had gained over 15% of its index. Some will say that a pullback in value is evident after such a lengthy run of positives, but a dip to a one month low wasn’t expected. Thankfully, most market analysts are suggesting that this brief dip is not a signal of things to come, but a bump in the road. The current financial markets in America have seen growth in stock value and in industrial sectors, so the pullback from a few months of high values won’t be so much a crash as, well, a pullback.
As of last Thursday, the Dow was at a nine-month high and the Nasdaq and S&P 500 were at 10-month highs, bolstering some economists prediction that the worst of the recession was behind us.
The bad news started rolling in last week after a consumer sentiment report last Friday that was far worse than had been predicted. After months of news that the economy was stabilizing, any blip on the radar is newsworthy, just don’t expect this current hiccough to be permanent.
There’s a bit of voodoo at play in the system. Wall Street keeps something called a VIX index — technically this is known as the “CBOE Volatility index”. It is basically a single digit representation of consumer fear. This index has soared as much as 18% in the last week — so traders should have expected this downturn.
Already, some sectors are stabilizing — namely housing and manufacturing. There is still a very weak labor market to contend with, and consistently higher oil and gas prices are helping raise that consumer fear index.
The stock market declines that went down on Monday were what are known as “broad-based” losses — to put this in layman’s terms, 28 of the 30 stocks that Wall Street uses to compile the Dow Jones Industrial Average faced losses. This means losses are being posted across all sectors of financial markets.
Who was recently honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom?
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is considered one of the highest awards given to civilians in the United States — the other being the Congressional Gold Medal. The Presidential Medal of Freedom itself is a decoration handed out by the President of the United States. The medal is meant as a major recognition on the part of the President to recognize citizens who have “made an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” The award is not limited to United States citizens.
This past Wednesday August 12, 2009, the East Room of the White House was the site for the presentation of 14 Presidential medals — a number greater than the number of living award recipients. President Obama was making a big point by handing out awards to people he called “Agents of Change” — a long list including sports figures, scientists, and grassroots organizers. The people given awards this year are all top of the line members of their field, be it the arts, sports, science, or humanities.
Said President Obama in his kickoff to the ceremony — “The true test of a person’s life is what we do for one another.” This was President Obama’s first official awards ceremony.
All but one of the 14 living honorees were in attendance, meaning this event was packed with big names from around the world. Some of the past award winners are actor Sidney Poitier, , former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and performer Chita Rivera. Senator Edward Kennedy was the only one absent — he has a good excuse. The Senator is battling brain cancer and just lost his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver the day before the ceremony. His daughter, Kara Kennedy, was at the ceremony to accept the award from President Obama on his behalf.
Obama pointed out time and again that this year’s recipients were chosen because they are “agents of change” — a term that Obama uses to mean that their various deeds and accomplishments helped the world become a better place. A lofty description, but a worthy one.
The other recipients were famous British physicist Stephen Hawking, Nancy Goodman Brinker (who founded the breast cancer grass roots organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure), Muhammad Yunus, an activist who founded the Grameen Bank to provide microloans to the poor in his native country of Bangladesh, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, who was an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, Pedro José Greer Jr., a Miami doctor who spends his time with the poor and homeless citizens in Miami, former tennis pro Billie Jean King (the first openly gay athlete after her very public coming out in 1981), the first female President of Ireland Mary Robinson, the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who was a major figure in the civil rights movement in the 1950s, and human gene specialist Janet Davison Rowley, the first scientist to discover the cause of Leukemia and many other cancers.
President Obama went on to say that “These extraordinary men and women remind us that excellence is not beyond our abilities … we each have it in our power to fulfill dreams.”
Here are some further quotes by Obama about some specific honorees –
Of Sydney Poitier, who became the first black man to win an Academy Award for best actor in 1963, Obama said he “not only entertained but enlightened … using the power of the silver screen to bring us closer together.”
One of the honorees, a Plains Indian known as Joe Medicine Crow, became the only award recipient of the night to make a public statement. Joe Medicine Crow, in full native feathered headdress and regalia, waited until the Medal was presented to him to shout “I am highly honored!” Joe Medicine Crow is the last living war chief of the Plains Indians. Rather than engaging in battle, his way is to maintain the history and culture of Native America.
Speaking of Dolores Rivera, Obama made a point of introducing the Puerto Rican woman by her given name — Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero — so he could drive home a point. Obama mentioned that the Tony award winning performer “knows adversity comes with a difficult name.” Cue the laugh track — if anyone has had “name trouble” this past year it has been Barack Hussein Obama.
Two posthumous honors were handed out — one for Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in America who was famously shot and killed in 1978, and the late U.S. congressman Jack Kemp.
What is Google’s new search engine technology?
Google’s ubiquitous search engine, a feature of the Internet that many businesses depend on for revenue, is getting a bit of a makeover. Or, to put it more plainly, a shot of caffeine. In a major announcement late last week, Google decided to show the world a bit of the “next gen” search functions it has been hard at work on for the past few months.
Soon we’ll have a web preview of the new search system and design, known in the industry as “Caffeine”. Google said the new code will help the company “push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions.”
Why would Google make a move like this? If you’ve been reading the AskDeb blog this summer, you know we’ve been closely following the “search engine wars” — Google’s strong lead is now challenged by the beginnings of an intertwined relationship between Microsoft and Yahoo, a courtship that is growing stronger by the day. Google, the giant in the world of Internet queries, has decided to revamp its most basic component, the web search.
What will be different about Google searches? According to Google, most people won’t notice any changes. Apparently, the new “caffeine” shot will be a mostly “under the hood” upgrade. Even so, Google realized they just have to do something to whet the appetites of curious web developers and Google search fanatics — Google’s decided to release a kind of preview of the system, partially to respond to their fan’s demands, partially to get some feedback before they go live with Caffeine.
The user interface will stay the same. In fact, Google could implement Caffeine this instant and you wouldn’t notice a difference, unless of course your web business depends on Google for traffic. Those types of businesses may be the hardest hit by the new system.
Google has been quick to squash the idea that it is administering this high dose of Caffeine in order to “keep up with the Joneses”. Emphasizing that Caffeine is “the next generation” in search engine tech, Google reps have been careful to avoid saying the words “Microsoft” or “Yahoo”.
The biggest difference that users will see with Caffeine is that the implementation of the new technology could change how your Internet-based company ranks in Google search results. There are many businesses that quite literally live and die based on Google generated traffic, making the switch from decaf a pretty big deal.
Google’s billiant suggestion for companies wondering how to deal with the Caffeine rush is for them to “change their search engine optimization to protect their Google ranking.” Because you hadn’t thought of that yet.
The question on many web developer’s minds — will Caffeine will be more or less responsive to the actions of search engine optimization experts? How will Caffeine affect a business’ chances of landing on the coveted first page of Google results for keyword searches? Also, when should web developers react? This very instant is certainly too early to alter your SEO tactics, but you don’t want to wait too long and lose crucial time at the top of your client’s searches.
A few more choice quotes from Google that are making the rounds this morning:
“For the last several months, a large team of Googlers has been working on a secret project: a next-generation architecture for Google’s web search,” two engineers wrote in the company’s official blog.
“It’s the first step in a process that will let us push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions. The new infrastructure sits ‘under the hood’ of Google’s search engine, which means that most users won’t notice a difference in search results. But web developers and power searchers might notice a few differences, so we’re opening up a web developer preview to collect feedback.”
“Right now, we only want feedback on the differences between Google’s current search results and our new system. We’re also interested in higher-level feedback (‘These types of sites seem to rank better or worse in the new system’) in addition to ‘This specific site should or shouldn’t rank for this query.’ Engineers will be reading the feedback, but we won’t have the cycles to send replies.”
If you want to participate in the revisions made to Caffeine and the new Google search engine, check out the test of Caffeine at http://www2.sandbox.google.com
To give Google the feedback they’re look for, perform a search using the Caffeine test site. Directly on the search results page there is a link (at the bottom of the page) that reads “Dissatisfied? Help us improve.” When you click on that link, you’ll have the option of typing your feedback directly into a text box. Make sure you use the word “Caffeine” somewhere in the post to highlight that your feedback is directly related to the revamp.