Monday, October 31, 2011

D is for Digital

D is for Digital

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About the author:
Brian Kernighan is a Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University. He is the co-author of eight other books, including the computer science classic The C Programming Language.

D is for Digital

What a well-informed person should know about computers and communications

Authored by Brian W Kernighan

This book explains how today's computing and communications world operates, from hardware through software to the Internet and the web. It includes enough detail that you can understand how these systems work, no matter what your technical background. The social, political and legal issues that new technology creates are discussed as well, so you can understand the difficult issues we face and appreciate the tradeoffs that have to be made to resolve them.

A compact but detailed and thorough explanation of how computers and communications systems work, for non-technical readers who want to better understand the world they live in. A great source for technical readers who want something that will help their friends and family learn about digital systems.


Publication Date:
Sep 23 2011
ISBN/EAN13:
1463733895 / 9781463733896
Page Count:
238
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
7.44" x 9.69"
Language:
English
Color:
Black and White
Related Categories:
Computers / General

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Colorado Restaurant Uses Native American Recipes - TIME

Don't feel like cooking tonight? In just about any medium-sized town in the United States, you can go out for dinner and experience the cuisines of the world: Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Thai, French. But where would you go for something quintessentially American? Say, a meal of sage-rubbed bison ribs, slow-cooked in the oven and then finished on the grill, with a blueberry barbecue sauce that you'll want to slurp up with a spoon; a place that serves fry bread — a puffy piece of flash-fried heaven — and hominy salsa.

In all of the United States, there are just a handful of places that do this, even though it is food that has been here long before hot dogs and apple pies, and long before immigrant cultures joined the melting pot. It is Native American cuisine.(See the top 10 food trends.)

For years, unless you lived on or near a reservation — or happened to be visiting the cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian — you were unlikely to be able to go out for Native American food. But now, residents of Denver, Colorado, are able to feast on Indian tacos, green chile stew, wojapi (a thick berry dessert) and more, thanks to Osage Indian Ben Jacobs and his restaurant Tocabe: an American Indian Eatery.

"I want native food to be much more in the public eye," says Jacobs, 28. "Feasting is a big part of our culture, and eating together is important to us, just like for many other cultures." Judging by Tocabe's success, Jacobs is getting his wish for many more Americans to experience indigenous eats.

Less than three years after opening the restaurant, Jacobs and his business partner Matthew Chandra have already bought back the 20% share in the business they gave to the owners of their building, and are negotiating to open a second location. They have more than doubled their workforce and are still hiring. They get calls every week from people all over the country, who have heard about Tocabe's success and want advice on opening their own Native American restaurants. Business has quadrupled in the past month, ever since the Food Network's Guy Fieri profiled Tocabe on his show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. (To celebrate the first airing of the episode, a friend of Jacobs' made him a T-shirt that read "Diners, Drive-Ins and Tribes.")(See pictures of what makes you eat more food.)

Jacobs was just 23 years old when he took Chandra, his best friend from college, to visit family in Oklahoma. Chandra fell in love with fry bread and other food served at a pow-wow, and together they decided to put their career plans on hold — Jacobs was planning on using his history degree to make documentaries about Native Americans, and Chandra had a degree in digital media — and open a restaurant back in Denver. They spent two years honing Jacobs' grandmother's and mother's recipes before opening Tocabe, at the age of 25 and 26 respectively. (Family is at the heart of the operation. "Tocabe" is an Osage word for "blue," the favorite color of Jacobs' mom.)

It's a fast-casual restaurant, where patrons order the base of their meal at the counter — there are tacos filled with bison or chicken and flavored with Native American sauces, served on frybread, stuffed frybread, a "medicine wheel' of colored corn chips and nacho-style toppings, salads, ribs, and a variety of soups — and then choose from the beans, meats and six different kinds of homemade salsa. (This assembly-line system is not unlike that of another restaurant that got its start in Denver, and now boasts more than 1,000 locations: Chipotle Mexican Grill.) Much of Tocabe's success lies in its closely guarded fry bread recipe, which puffs up and is fully cooked in just 20 seconds, instead of the usual four or five minutes. This means that it absorbs about a tablespoon of canola and corn oil compared to traditional fry bread, which is cooked in lard and absorbs, well, a lot more.

Tocabe's food is fresh and, despite its complex flavor combinations, decidedly unfussy. It is also, as one customer described it, "craveable." Fry bread is difficult to make at home — this reporter has tried twice since visiting Tocabe — and Jacobs is repeatedly asked to give up his recipe, as well as that for his chicken marinade, barbecue sauce and salsas. Now that his food is gaining in popularity, he's starting to require employees to sign non-disclosure agreements before they can work in the kitchen. The only recipe he'll relinquish to the public is that for his green chile stew.(See a special report on the science of appetite.)

But Jacobs and Chandra aren't just offering authentic, home-made food. They have already provided three college scholarships for Native American students, and bought uniforms for the Denver Indian Center youth basketball team. They regularly donate food and restaurant space for cultural events, and are committed to cultivating among their patrons an awareness of Native American food and culture in the 21st century. That last part — the 21st century — is important. Every day, those who work at Tocabe are asked if they are "real" Indians (and, if so, where are the pigtails?). All the staff are encouraged to talk about their culture and answer questions from interested — if somewhat ignorant — patrons. Why are there no dreamcatchers and headdresses on display? (The decor is much more subtle, and based on Jacobs' family photos of Oklahoma: the wallpaper is reminiscent of prairie grass; the red chairs are the same color as the benches used at dances; the waves of plexiglass suspended from the ceiling evoke the wind.) Why is there no flute music playing in the background? (The restaurant recently hosted a Native hip-hop night; Jacobs and Chandra say they would go crazy if they had to listen to traditional music all day.)

"We live in the modern era too," says Jacobs. "I think sometimes we are pigeonholed into the long-hair-and-war-paint stereotype. We are trying to show that we can stay traditional in many aspects of our lives, but be just as contemporary as the rest of people in others."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Michael Nielsen on Networked Science - WSJ.com

In January 2009, a mathematician at Cambridge University named Tim Gowers decided to use his blog to run an unusual social experiment. He picked out a difficult mathematical problem and tried to solve it completely in the open, using his blog to post ideas and partial progress. He issued an open invitation for others to contribute their own ideas, hoping that many minds would be more powerful than one. He dubbed the experiment the Polymath Project.

[science] Alex Nabaum

On an experimental blog, a far-flung group of mathematicians cracked a tough problem in weeks.

Several hours after Mr. Gowers opened up his blog for discussion, a Canadian-Hungarian mathematician posted a comment. Fifteen minutes later, an Arizona high-school math teacher chimed in. Three minutes after that, the UCLA mathematician Terence Tao commented. The discussion ignited, and in just six weeks, the mathematical problem had been solved.

Other challenges have followed, and though the polymaths haven't found solutions every time, they have pioneered a new approach to problem-solving. Their work is an example of the experiments in networked science that are now being done to study everything from galaxies to dinosaurs.

These projects use online tools as cognitive tools to amplify our collective intelligence. The tools are a way of connecting the right people to the right problems at the right time, activating what would otherwise be latent expertise.

Networked science has the potential to speed up dramatically the rate of discovery across all of science. We may well see the day-to-day process of scientific research change more fundamentally over the next few decades than over the past three centuries.

But there are major obstacles to realizing this goal. Though you might think that scientists would aggressively adopt new tools for discovery, they have been surprisingly inhibited. Ventures such as the Polymath Project remain the exception, not the rule.

Consider the idea of sharing scientific data online. The best-known example of this is the human genome project, whose data may be downloaded by anyone. When you read in the news that a certain gene is associated with a particular disease, you're almost certainly seeing a discovery made possible by the project's open-data policy.

Despite the value of open data, most labs make no systematic effort to share data with other scientists. As one biologist told me, he had been "sitting on [the] genome" for an entire species of life for more than a year. A whole species of life! Just imagine the vital discoveries that other scientists could have made if that genome had been uploaded to an online database.

Why don't scientists share?

If you're a scientist applying for a job or a grant, the biggest factor determining your success will be your record of scientific publications. If that record is stellar, you'll do well. If not, you'll have a problem. So you devote your working hours to tasks that will lead to papers in scientific journals.

Even if you personally think it would be far better for science as a whole if you carefully curated and shared your data online, that is time away from your "real" work of writing papers. Except in a few fields, sharing data is not something your peers will give you credit for doing.

There are other ways in which scientists are still backward in using online tools. Consider, for example, the open scientific wikis launched by a few brave pioneers in fields like quantum computing, string theory and genetics (a wiki allows the sharing and collaborative editing of an interlinked body of information, the best-known example being Wikipedia).

Specialized wikis could serve as up-to-date reference works on the latest research in a field, like rapidly evolving super-textbooks. They could include descriptions of major unsolved scientific problems and serve as a tool to find solutions.

But most such wikis have failed. They have the same problem as data sharing: Even if scientists believe in the value of contributing, they know that writing a single mediocre paper will do far more for their careers. The incentives are all wrong.

If networked science is to reach its potential, scientists will have to embrace and reward the open sharing of all forms of scientific knowledge, not just traditional journal publication. Networked science must be open science. But how to get there?

A good start would be for government grant agencies (like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation) to work with scientists to develop requirements for the open sharing of knowledge that is discovered with public support. Such policies have already helped to create open data sets like the one for the human genome. But they should be extended to require earlier and broader sharing. Grant agencies also should do more to encourage scientists to submit new kinds of evidence of their impact in their fields—not just papers!—as part of their applications for funding.

The scientific community itself needs to have an energetic, ongoing conversation about the value of these new tools. We have to overthrow the idea that it's a diversion from "real" work when scientists conduct high-quality research in the open. Publicly funded science should be open science.

Improving the way that science is done means speeding us along in curing cancer, solving the problem of climate change and launching humanity permanently into space. It means fundamental insights into the human condition, into how the universe works and what it's made of. It means discoveries not yet dreamt of.

In the years ahead, we have an astonishing opportunity to reinvent discovery itself. But to do so, we must first choose to create a scientific culture that embraces the open sharing of knowledge.

—Mr. Nielsen is a pioneer in the field of quantum computing and the author of "Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science," from which this is adapted.

Friday, October 28, 2011

STANFORD Magazine: July/August 2005 > Just Cool It

Just Cool It

Athletes, and patients, know that overheating hurts a body’s performance. Biologists H. Craig Heller and Dennis Grahn—using a vacuum and the palm—have learned how to chill out efficiently.

BY Eva Ciabattoni
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Glenn Matsumura

HEAVY DUTY: Weir’s workouts improved dramatically after he used the RTX device.

Robert Weir, head coach of men’s track and field, gets ready for his strength-training regime by loading hundreds of pounds of weights onto both ends of a bar that rests in brackets at shoulder height. Weir moves under the bar, hoists it across his shoulders and does squats. With each repetition, his knees and hips fold until his thighs are parallel to the ground, then straighten—rep after rep with the equivalent of a baby elephant draped around his shoulders.

Like any athlete, Weir is well acquainted with his normal performance range. Like any athlete, Weir looks for an edge. A few years ago, he was intrigued when he heard about a device—that has been called at various times the RTX, Core Control or simply The Glove—invented by a pair of Stanford biologists. Using the device to lower his core body temperature between sets, he was able to lift 495 pounds in four sets of squats instead of his normal two. He usually does squats only on Mondays, but he decided to try a second series a few days later. That Friday, he was able to increase the weight to 545 pounds. “I was surprised the sets felt so good,” he says, but adds that the real test came the following Monday. Weir, 44, expected to see significant performance degradation due to the extra Friday workout. Not only did he not see the decay, he increased weight with every set. The RTX—for rapid thermal exchange—cooling device “is a very serious piece of equipment,” he says. “At my age, you don’t expect to be setting personal bests during workouts.” He trained with the cooling equipment for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and placed third in the discus. His oldest competitor was 15 years younger.

RTX promises to enhance human performance in applications ranging from sports to medicine to the military. It is the brainchild of biological sciences professor H. Craig Heller and senior research scientist Dennis Grahn, who have spent nearly two decades studying temperature regulation in mammals. Their lab, once devoted to hibernating ground squirrels and marmots, now attracts San Francisco 49er football players, military representatives from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, multiple sclerosis patients and sweating Stanford athletes.

COLD SHOULDER: Grahn and Heller got a chilly reception from some scientists when they first published their findings in 1998.

The fourth floor of Gilbert Biological Sciences Building holds many iterations of Heller and Grahn’s inventions to heat and cool humans. One of the earliest contraptions circulated warm water around an arm encased in a clothes-dryer duct and sealed with neoprene. It was designed to warm patients recovering from anesthesia.

The drugs that render patients unconscious also make them hypothermic. That’s useful because chilled patients bleed less during surgery; but as they start to wake their violent shivering can tear fresh sutures, damage teeth and put extra stress on heart and lungs. It’s important to warm patients quickly after a procedure, and traditionally that’s been done with hot air or blankets. The trouble, Heller explains, is that because the body’s core is still cold, blood flow is pulled away from the skin to preserve internal body heat. Warm blankets heat the skin, but without a ready supply of blood circulating near the skin surface, this warmth is not transferred efficiently to the body’s interior.

Heller and Grahn found that heating only an arm with their device served to warm patients more rapidly than would have been expected via normal heat transfer through the percentage of skin surface being heated. After modifying their design, they realized that they could achieve the same rate of rewarming by encasing just the hand.

Mammals have specialized blood vessels in their palms and other hairless skin surfaces—ears, nose, cheeks and soles of the feet—that are designed to dissipate heat. (These radiator-like structures—venous plexuses and arteriovenous anastomoses—were described as early as 1858 in Gray’s Anatomy.) By redirecting blood away from the capillaries and into these blood vessels, the body can shed heat quickly. What Heller and Grahn were seeing was the return trip: when externally applied heat shocked open the radiators in the cold palms of anesthesia patients, warmed blood was returned straight to the heart, and the body was reheated from the inside out. Applying a mild vacuum to the hand intensified this effect.

Their finding that heat loss is not uniform across the body was slow to gain acceptance. In the Journal of Applied Physiology, where their research was first published in 1998, Heller and Grahn issued a frosty rejoinder to skeptics: “since we present not just a claim but hard data, it is nice to emphasize that when data do not fit a model it is time to reexamine the model.”

Nigel Holmes

After hearing of their rewarming research, a postdoctoral student in molecular biology and neuroscience approached them to see if the same radiator mechanism could be used to cool the body core. Louise Bitting, PhD ’94, had read that the cooling of cells containing the cystic fibrosis mutation had halted the disease process in those cells. She wanted to study if cooling might work outside a Petri dish. (Bitting died unexpectedly in 1999 at the age of 49.)

A lab technician who was also a body builder, Vinh Cao, volunteered to be the test subject. To generate metabolic body heat, Heller and Grahn had him do sets of pull-ups to exhaustion. He started with a set of 14 pull-ups and soon dropped to eight per set. After 20 minutes, they applied cooling and a vacuum to Cao’s hand. When they asked him to do more pull-ups, they were amazed to see his performance jump back up to 14 pull-ups. To make sure the improvement wasn’t caused by the rest period, they did a study without cooling. Cao did 10 pull-ups.

They continued to study Cao for the next six weeks. If they applied cooling between sets, Cao’s performance held steady in set after set. Without cooling, it decayed. “It was as if he had no fatigue,” Heller recalls. “We saw incredible gains over the next six weeks. He tripled his capacity to 620 pull-ups.” Preventing muscle exhaustion allowed Cao to train harder, leading to rapid gains in muscle strength. Heller and Grahn theorize that more blood, and thus, oxygen, is available to the muscles when the body doesn’t have to route extra blood to the radiators for cooling.

Excited by what they had learned, they arranged a presentation in 2000 to Stanford athletics coaches. Heller remembers the stony faces and crossed arms that greeted them. “It was not a warm welcome. The four or five coaches who showed up didn’t seem to think that a couple of biologists could tell them anything about performance enhancement.” Only Weir agreed to try it. Off campus, the 49ers and Raiders football teams were the earliest adopters—later followed by the University of Miami football team, the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and the Manchester United soccer team.

CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU: The
next challenge is finding a way to
mass-produce an affordable, portable cooling unit.

When a battery-operated model of the RTX became available, the Stanford football team started to use it. Head athletic trainer Charlie Miller made an inadvertent breakthrough when one his players came off the field with leg cramps during the third quarter of a game against Boston College early in the ’02-’03 season. “Since cramps tend to recur, a coach has to decide between benching a key player or keeping him on the field and risk another cramp recurring in the middle of play,” Miller explains. In addition to conventional treatments—massage, electrolytes, fluids—Miller had him put his hand into the RTX. To his surprise, the cramp disappeared and the player was able to finish the game. “When the IV fluids worked [to revitalize a player], it wasn’t the minerals or the rehydrating,” he says, “it was because we were invasively cooling the players down. We had noticed that if the IVs were kept on ice, they worked better. Now we know why.”

Miller says the RTX is a competitive advantage because it allows a coach to keep his best players on the field. Because the device is so new, there are no requirements yet for the host team to provide one to the visiting team, as there are for other amenities.

Ever seeking a competitive edge, athletes began paying regular visits to the fourth floor of Gilbert, causing one of the staff to remark that the hallways had gotten smaller. A former NFL player told Grahn, “This replaces the Juice,” referring to steroids. Weirdly, cooling does mimic steroids in the way it allows an athlete to recover from intense exertion quickly, allowing someone to do more work in a shorter period of time. But cooling doesn’t result in shriveled gonads or ’roid rage.

      Cooling mimics steroids in the way it allows an athlete to recover from intense exertion quickly. But cooling doesn’t result in shriveled gonads or ’roid rage.

Critics might worry that cooling masks the body’s signals to stop. In fact, lab data show that athletes who train with cooling perform better in all kinds of conditions—even competitions when cooling is un-available. Heller says removing heat from the body is no different from giving it a drink of water in response to thirst. Asked whether training with cooling might lead to overuse injuries, Weir shakes his head. “It doesn’t allow you to do work you couldn’t ordinarily do. It allows you to recover faster.”

Meanwhile, researchers continue to investigate therapeutic uses for cooling. One exciting area of research involves multiple sclerosis, a disease where even a 1/2-degree Celsius rise in core body temperature can lead to rapid and dramatic physical and cognitive decline. (MS sufferers say the sudden enervation feels as though a switch was flipped.) The disease destroys portions of the fatty myelin sheath that insulates nerves; heat disrupts the electric impulses traveling along the frayed nerves. Retaining strength—key to staying out of a wheelchair—is a significant challenge for MS patients, for whom fatigue can lead to a spiral of debility.

Jim Seaton, a management consultant who lives in Washington, D.C., has MS. Once a top runner and avid hiker, he has to be cautious about exertion. He pushed himself too far once and had to crawl back to his car in the parking lot; recovery to his baseline level of functioning took two days. Seaton, after hearing a radio report about cooling athletes, arranged to try the RTX to see if it reduced the fatigue that resulted when his body warmed up. Using the RTX, he can cool to his resting state in 10 to 15 minutes—and then continue to hike. The RTX isn’t exactly convenient: the $4,000 unit weighs 12 pounds and has to be reloaded with ice every 2 1/2 hours. But owning one changed his life. “I’m already planning trips to the museum [and] to Europe that I would have thought thrice about before.”

At their boneyard of core-cooling machines in the Gilbert building, Heller and Grahn describe the difficulty in perfecting the design for a functional, portable RTX. There’s the coffeepot-shaped version. The $400,000 version by a name-brand design firm that really never worked. The version constructed in a size-10 boot that, once loaded with tubes and a cooling surface, wouldn’t fit on even a size-5 foot. Grahn’s latest homemade version features soft vinyl against the hand instead of metal. One design challenge is obvious—how to create a vacuum-bearing glove flexible enough so that its wearers can use their hands, not just sit cooling their palms.

Variable temperature control is another desirable feature. When a hot body core issues a command to open the radiators and dump heat, the palm can override that command and order the radiators to shut down based on local conditions, i.e., if the palm touches a cold surface. This was borne out in February when Grahn flew to Alaska to observe dog teams competing in the Iditarod. Temperatures rose to 46 degrees in Anchorage—downright tropical for the huskies. Grahn watched sled dogs through an infrared camera—and saw snouts and ears lit up like headlamps, indicating that the dogs were shedding excess body heat. But the cameras showed no heat loss through the dogs’ feet. Snow under their paws prevented those radiators from opening. Heller and Grahn have found in the lab that the temperature under which the radiators shut down in humans is highly individual.

Heller and Grahn have received a series of patents through Stanford’s Office of Technology Licensing, which will share in any royalties. They are founders and major stakeholders in AVAcore Technologies, a Michigan firm charged with making the RTX commercially viable. (The company moved from the Bay Area to Ann Arbor in 2003 to take advantage of engineers laid off from the automotive industry.) “It’s hard to build a compressor small enough to be useful in portable situations,” says Ronald Piasecki, chief executive officer of AVAcore. “Eventually nanotech may play a role in accomplishing our engineering goals.”

Piasecki has overseen improvements to the RTX manufacturing process, reducing the cost and time to build each Core Control machine. “Clearly, the athletic market is the low-hanging fruit,” he says of the 100 units sold so far. “But this fall we’re starting a study of MS patients in conjunction with the University of Michigan neurology department.”

Heller remains confident that the technology can be brought to wide markets. “There are many applications of both heating and cooling,” he says. “Firefighters, soldiers in full gear in the Iraq desert, stroke victims [where cooling patients can prevent further damage], cancer patients [where heating can increase effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs], cystic fibrosis, heatstroke victims”—all are potential beneficiaries of RTX.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Moving the Economy: The Future of the Maker Movement | Forbes - TJ McCue

The Maker Movement. The people who create, build, design, tinker, modify, hack, invent, or simply make something. That’s who this new blog is for and about because they are moving the economy.

Many people talk about how small business, startups, entrepreneurs are the true economy, or at least, the forces that will move the US and World economies back from the brink. I believe that these new business will help fix our ailing economy.

I’m motivated and moved by the idea, the belief – that the people who invent and build and make things have the power to change the world. People who “remix” something or hack a better way. In this new blog, I’ll be profiling the people and inventions that can change the world or at least a small piece of it. I doubt that I would have been able to interview Steve Jobs for this new blog, but his speech from 2005 at the Stanford Commencement moved me, as it did many others. This quote captures the spirit of this Maker Movement.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”  – Steve Jobs

I’ve been exploring the movement and trend for a while, but here are a few of my recent favorites:

  • Tim Carmody at Wired wrote a piece entitled: Big DIY: The Year the Maker Movement Broke (as in crossed the chasm or moved beyond the tipping point).  He cites a Google+ post from Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief at Wired which lists the various acquisitions and strategic moves of companies in the “personal manufacturing” industry, which is essentially a maker trend.
  • PBS did an interview piece Can the DIY Movement Fix a Crisis in U.S. Science Education? that asked what it will take to bring the U.S. back to an inventor-powerhouse (my summary, not theirs). They interviewed President Obama about science education, Make magazine founder, Dale Dougherty, and a host of other luminaries. The trend is clear – there is a movement well underway.
  • Last (at least in this post), Anil Dash, entrepreneur and founder of several companies, does an interview discussing the Maker Movement trend with Dale Dougherty: Recognizing the Maker Movement.

While each of these is not, in and of themselves, proof of a movement, they do point to a growing awareness and appreciation of do-it-yourself (DIY) types. And with that spirit of DIY, many powerful and ground-breaking companies were formed 100+ years ago and continue to form today.

After I put word out about this blog, I received over 200 emails from makers of all types. This new conversation is expanding my definition of a maker and I hope this blog will help us uncover and discover the talent in individual and teams doing amazing things. So, I invite you to contact me and share the stories of the makers, DIYers, inventors, and craftspeople that are changing our economy and our lives.

Pumpkin Carving Ain't What it Used to Be | HT ShinyCrazy

If you could improve your personality with a hallucinogenic drug, would you? | The White Noise, Scientific American Blog Network

Perhaps magic mushrooms really are magic. In fact, recent research suggests that shrooms could augment the openness of our personality, also effectively sticking a leg out to trip our brains before we lose our sense of openness that could occur as we age. And these aren’t the first whispers we’ve heard of psychedelic mushrooms’ positive effects. Earlier research has shown has shown that shrooms may better overall mental health.

Similar to LSD, magic mushrooms affect the central nervous system to induce (sometimes wild) distortion of perceptions. They don’t cause users to hallucinate, rather, they tweak reality. While considered to be more mild than LSD, shrooms can enhance colors, emotions, sounds and textures. The type of “trip” depends heavily on a user’s mental well-being and environment when taking the drug. A “bad trip,” can occur when users feel anxiety, paranoia and fear, often induced in a highly structured setting or when harboring negative emotions when taking the drug.

A NYC MFA student blogged about her first-time experience using shrooms:

My head wasn’t cloudy (the way one’s thoughts can be muddled when drunk) and with the city being an explosion of stimuli, my mind zipped through so many connections. I was aware of all of them, if only briefly.

If this experience could be teased out, however subtly, and bled into our everyday consciousness, would we want that? To be open to so many connections? Openness, the welcoming of new ideas and experiences, is one of the five overarching personality traits in psychology, and it tends to decrease as we age, if it changes at all.

In a Johns Hopkins study, 52 participants were given one high dose of psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) on site, the effects of which were monitored for a period of 14 months. The participants who said they experienced a “mystical” experience at onset reported higher degrees of openness 14 months later.

Experiential reports from participants can be as slippery as magic mushroom trips themselves. However, overall, users and their families were pleased with a heightened level of openness in their loved ones. Previous research also shows potential for psilocybin use in anxiety and depression treatments. However, we don’t know if shrooms’ effects are permanent or if they actually fade over time. More importantly, shrooms can be dangerous, especially for those with existing mental conditions: study researchers warn readers against trying the drug on their own.

But let’s stretch our suspension of disbelief: say psilocybin is a miracle personality booster. Say that science effectively ridded the drug of dangers and put users in a nice, wondrous padded place whereby they could have a “mystical” experience…Would we want that?

As a treatment method, I could see the benefits — losing debilitating anxiety or easing irrational fears. But as a recreational boost, some magic dust that’s just supposed to make us better, more open? Would we still be ourselves then? Would this be a new, improved me or an artificial version? Would my mom still be herself if she lost her narrow Southern view of religion? I’m not so sure.

If risk wasn’t an issue, would you do it? Or, would you want your parents, siblings, spouse or friends to participate in drug-induced personality boot camp?

Cassie RodenbergAbout the Author: I’m an Interactive TV Producer in New York City; a writer and former chemist. I've seen people do anything to Feel Normal.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Iced Coffee: Better Than Hot Coffee - Woot

This is a tough time of year for me. It’s a time of transitions, a time of letting go one thing and embracing another. Every October, I am faced with the question, how cold does it have to get before it’s time to make the switch from iced coffee to hot coffee? Or how long can my hands hold out until the temperature outside makes holding a cup full of ice excruciating?

And the reason why this is such a difficult switch for me to make is simple: iced coffee is better than hot coffee. And I mean that to be a blanket statement. I don’t care if we’re talking regular brewed coffee, a latte, some peppermint peanut butter raspberry mega-mocha thing, or, my favorite, an Americano; it’s better when it’s cold. Or at least, I think it is. Here’s why:

  • I am impatient, and I don’t like paying someone to hurt me. If I buy a cup of coffee, I want to be able to drink it when it’s handed to me without get my tongue seared in the process. There’s no waiting game with iced coffee. It’s ready for injury-free consumption as soon as it hits the counter.
  • I don’t want sweet coffee. I want coffee with sugar in it. And yes, there’s a difference. Sweet coffee is when you add sugar to hot coffee and all of the sugar melts making it, well, sweet. Coffee with sugar in it is when you add sugar to iced coffee and the sugar is dispersed throughout without melting, giving your beverage a grainy, deliciously uneven texture. (Users of simple syrup, you are missing out.)
  • Coffee is mostly water. And water tastes better when it’s on ice. Hot water is just a vessel for holding other stuff, like tea (also better iced). Iced water can also serve as a vessel, but since it is robust enough to stand on its own, making iced beverages bolder than hot ones.
  • Iced coffee is the gift that just keeps giving. You know at the end of action movies, when they’ve “killed” the bad guy, but it turns out he’s not totally dead and the good guys need to kill him again, this in a definitive way (like by blowing him up) so that that you, the viewer, understands he’s not coming back? Iced coffee is like that bad guy, only instead of trying to kill the good guys, it’s giving them a little present. Here’s the scientific explanation of what I’m talking about: coffee gets trapped between ice cubes where the straw can’t get to them making it seem like the you’re finished. However, fifteen minutes later, when the ice has melted freeing these pockets of coffee, you get an EXTRA SIP! Meanwhile, with hot coffee, it’s one and done. There is no after party.

So now you understand why I get so sad when the weather forces me to trade in iced coffee for its far inferior heated cousin.

TARDIS Teapot | Laughing Squid & The Marysue

Seattle-based Rebekka Ferbrache of Etsy shop, Jade Flower, has handcrafted the ceramic TARDIS Teapot based on the iconic time traveling blue police box from the BBC science-fiction television show, Doctor Who.

via The Mary Sue

WANT!!!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Unvaccinated behind largest U.S. measles outbreak in years - USATODAY.com

he largest U.S. outbreak of measles to occur in 15 years -- affecting 214 children so far -- is likely driven by travelers returning from abroad and by too many unvaccinated U.S. children, according to new research.

RACHAEL KIDD, AP

The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles), is designed to be given to infants 12 to 15 months old with a second shot given when the child is four to six, according to the CDC.

RACHAEL KIDD, AP

The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles), is designed to be given to infants 12 to 15 months old with a second shot given when the child is four to six, according to the CDC.

Pavia credits containment to high levels of vaccination and thevacci rapid response by public health officials. However, if an outbreak occurred in a "really susceptible population the outcome could be very different," he said.

"What would happen in an area with a lot of vaccine refusers? Then you might see a much larger outbreak," he said.

Several measles-related studies were unveiled at the annual IDSA annual meeting, currently being held in Boston.

In the first report, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers chronicled the nation's ongoing outbreaks in 2011.

Most of those sickened were not vaccinated against the disease, CDC researchers said.

Before the vaccine became available in the 1960s, some three to four million people contracted measles every year. Of those, 48,000 were hospitalized, 1,000 were permanently disabled and about 500 died, the CDC said.

Unfortunately, "we have experienced an increased incidence of measles this year," said Huong McLean, lead researcher and CDC epidemiologist. "Typically we see 60 to 70 cases a year, this year we have 214 as of Oct. 14."

Among those people infected, 86 percent were unvaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown. Thirteen percent were under one year old -- too young for vaccination.

Throughout the United States, 68 of the patients have been hospitalized, 12 with pneumonia.

Most of these cases occurred among people who traveled overseas to Western Europe, Africa or Asia, where vaccination rates are lower, and the disease is an ongoing problem, the researchers note.

McLean said that the vaccination coverage in the United states remains relatively high, about 90 percent. "However, measles is very contagious and can spread quickly in communities where people aren't vaccinated," she said.

"The vaccine is very safe and effective in preventing the disease," McLean said. The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles), is designed to be given to infants 12 to 15 months old with a second shot given when the child is four to six, according to the CDC.

The Minnesota Department of Health released figures on a state outbreak, which started in March with an unvaccinated child, aged two and a half , who had traveled to Kenya. The child attended a drop-in Minnesota child care center. Overall, 21 people were infected and 14 hospitalized.

"Health care providers together with public health and community leaders must address growing vaccine hesitancy to ensure high immunization rates in all communities," Pam Gahr, a senior health department epidemiologist, said in an IDSA news release.

Not only is measles highly contagious, it's also expensive to contain its spread, according a third meeting presentation.

Dr. Karyn Leniek, deputy state epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health, said an outbreak occurred when one unvaccinated high school student, who had been to Europe, brought measles back with him.

Although only nine people became infected, the cost of containing the outbreak was about $300,000. Costs included infection control in two area hospitals and intervention by local and state health departments. Costs also included physician and staff time, vaccines, immunoglobulin and blood tests, according to the study.

Containing the outbreak meant contacting 12,000 people about possible exposure and quarantining 184 people, including 51 students. Of the teens not vaccinated, including the European traveler, six were unvaccinated due to personal exemptions.

"Personal exemptions include philosophical or any other unspecified non-medical exemption," the researchers noted.

"It is always a concern to have a large number of unvaccinated people in close proximity," Leniek said in an IDSA statement. "Our goal is to have as many people vaccinated as possible to protect those who cannot receive the vaccine and who are not fully immunized."

Another Thursday presentation centered on a large measles outbreak in Quebec, Canada: the largest since 1989, with 757 cases as of October 5.

That outbreak started with 18 people who traveled abroad, most to Europe. Among those infected, 505 had not been vaccinated or their vaccination status was not known, and 70 had received only one doses of the vaccine, according to the report.

"This outbreak is being fed largely on unvaccinated or undervaccinated people, but we were concerned that a significant number had received the recommended two doses of MMR vaccine," Philippe Belanger, an epidemiologist at Ministere de la Sant et des Services Sociaux du Quebec, Montreal, said in the releases.

To keep measles at bay, Pavia said public health officials should be on the outlook for measles and the high level of vaccination needs to be maintained.

"The ongoing fear of the measles vaccine and the myths about measles vaccine and autism just won't go away -- and put us at continuous risk," Pavia said. One such myth, according to most experts, is that the shot might cause autism in children. That notion spread after a British researcher, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, published a study in The Lancet in 1998 claiming a link. The research was later discovered to be fraudulent, however, and the journal has since retracted the article.

Pavia stressed that when parents decide against vaccinating their child, their action may affect other kids, as well.

"Your child might get measles and do well. But if you are the one who brings measles back into the community and your child infects someone else in the classroom who can't be vaccinated because of being immunocompromised, you might be responsible for the death of another child or an infant who can't be vaccinated," he said.

On the Web:

www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/measles.html, the U.S. National Library of Medicine has more information on measles.

Copyright 2011 HealthDay. All Rights Reserved.

Republicans in Congress are in a quandary on jobs - latimes.com

October 22, 2011, 5:25 p.m.

Surrounded by a group of eager businessmen in a South Florida boardroom, Republican Rep. Tom Rooney offered no promises or illusions about the jobs bill he unveiled last week.

He didn't promise a vote. It may or may not find support in the Senate. Rooney, a scion in a famous football family, joked that his legislative strategy included putting Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a fellow Republican, in a headlock.

The important thing, Rooney said, was that he had a plan to address voters' top concern: jobs. Blaming Washington's inaction on political stalemates would not impress his constituents.

INTERACTIVE: U.S. unemployment rate by state

"I thought it was incumbent on me to at least say to you, 'We're working on a plan,'" he said.

Rooney's candid assessment puts a fine point on the political predicament facing GOP lawmakers when it comes to jobs bills. With President Obama touring the country to sell his $447-billion plan, Republicans increasingly are under pressure to present an alternative vision for reviving the economy.

For months, the party has focused on shrinking the government, sparking ugly battles with Democrats over the budget and the debt ceiling. But with job growth back at the top of the congressional agenda, Republican lawmakers have found themselves without a clear strategy to reduce the 9.1% national unemployment rate.

To many Republicans, ignoring the issue likely to define the next election is a risky proposition. While political wisdom holds that voters typically unload economic frustration on the president, lawmakers like Rooney have reason to be restless: Congress' approval rating has been in the tank for months, and tied the all-time low of 13% last week, according to a Gallup poll.

"We get a lot of email saying, 'We want all incumbents out. That includes you. We put you in, we'll take you out,'" Rooney said.

And so Rooney, a sophomore congressman under no obligation to lead on economic policy, crafted his own jobs bill to tout to constituents. Senate Republicans did the same earlier this month, acknowledging it was needed to show Americans the proposals they support, rather than just what they oppose.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has revived talk of his chamber's jobs plan, which is not a bill but an outline of proposals. The House this week will take up a tax measure and a copper mining bill — both billed as jobs legislation.

The push comes as Congress begins a weeks-long political volley over jobs legislation. The Democratic-led Senate has said it will bring up slices of the Obama bill, rewritten to pair spending with a popular tax on people making more than $1 million a year. Republicans, who have sworn to oppose all tax increases, know they are in for series of tough votes.

"President Obama hasn't closed the sale with the public on his latest stimulus, but one theme does appear to resonate. It may be the result of larger environmental conditions, or he may be moving the needle himself, but Obama's 'tax the rich' mantra is getting traction," said Steven Law, president of the GOP advocacy group Crossroads GPS, wrote in a memo Friday.

Law recommended specific attacks on the Democrats' bills and "sharp, focused and sustained" messaging for what is likely to be a long fight. Very few Republicans, or Democrats, are talking about compromising.

Instead, as the parties talk of "common ground," they've remained squarely on their own ideological turf — staking out positions to draw contrasts they may find useful come campaign season.

Republicans have stuck to the position that government spending does not create jobs. Their plans rely largely on easing regulation on business, tax code changes and expanded energy development to create a pro-business environment that they say will spur growth over time.

Democrats have advocated targeted federal spending to nurture the struggling economy, with payroll tax cuts, incentives for companies to hire more workers and money to rebuild public infrastructure such as schools, roads and bridges. They would pay for the plan with a tax on people making more than $1 million a year.

Under the expectation that Congress will reject most of the bills, lawmakers in both parties are preparing to defend themselves.

"All I can do is if I get into a debate with a Democrat on what my plan is, I can at least say, 'This is my plan,' and I can't just say, 'Well it's because of gridlock.'"

"That's not offering a solution," he added.

Such a scenario is all but certain to play out in races across the country next year.

The unemployment problem is as widespread as any of the nation's ills, affecting cities, suburbs and rural areas in nearly every part of the country, and hitting lawmakers from both parties. Of the 25 metropolitan areas that have seen the biggest jumps in unemployment in recent years, 21 are at least partially represented by Republicans.

Rooney, the grandson of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, is among that group. His district in Florida has seen its economy sink with the bust of the construction and housing industries. The area around Port St. Lucie has seen unemployment jump from 5% before the recession to more than 12%. Although the district has trended Republican, newly drawn boundaries could make it more competitive.

Highways in the area are lined with strip malls dotted with empty storefronts.

"We need to spark the economy somehow. I'm worried about people, both friends and family, that are struggling," said Dewan Persaud, an information technology instructor and independent voter in Port St. Lucie. "To me, it seems like Congress is just playing politics, just trying to win popularity. I think they need to spend some real effort on the issue."

Persaud voted for Obama but is uncertain whether he'll do so again. He has a favorable impression of Rooney and is open to new approaches on job creation: "I know we've already spent a lot of money on jobs, on the stimulus; maybe it's time to try something new."

Such comments give Republicans reason to hope that voters will put them in charge of leading the economy back from the doldrums next year — if they can convince them the GOP has a plan.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New printed chip could spark cheaper sensor networks | Gigaom.com

A working Thinfilm prototype.Thin Film Electronics ASA, a maker of disposable memory used in toys, has developed a way to add computing to its circuits through a partnership with Xerox PARC. This means it can offer thin, disposable tracking tags for a few cents apiece, and it could soon provide a valuable component for the Internet of things.

Thin Film is an Oslo-based company that has been in business since the mid-90s. It has been manufacturing thin-film memory chips that provide about 20 kilobytes bits of storage, which were used in toys and games. But thanks to its partnership with PARC it has added transistors to its circuits, which gives the chips a soupcon of intelligence — enough to perhaps track inventory or send environmental data from a sensor back to the network. It has also added a bit more memory.

Davor Sutija, CEO of Thin Film, says by the end of next year, the plan is to attach a sensor component to the smart thin-firm circuit to create a low-power and cheap sensor. For now, the thin firm chip by itself could be used for tickets or smart tags. Each thin-film circuit should cost “pennies” to produce.

A low price is important, because it makes the technology far more accessible than RFID or other technology that today is used for tracking high-value inventory. RFID chips are built on silicon and can cost a few dollars, so aren’t practical for everyday items.

Today, the thin-film chips are read via a reader coming into physical contact with the chip, which means they don’t need their own power to broadcast their information. Eventually, if the firm adds a sensor or needs to somehow broadcast the information on the chip, it would need to have a battery attached to the chip. The hope is to have a chip that can broadcast its information by 2013.

The chips are manufactured like a newspaper is, by printing the materials on a thin layer of plastic. It’s the same plastic used to make water bottles extruded in a thin film. The process deposits silver and other metals in a layer tens of nanometers thick to create the actual circuit. A single-print run can make from half a million to 3 million chips, but the process is much cheaper than the traditional silicon process, although the resulting chip also carry far less information and intelligence.

Having a cheap way to store and process small amounts of data at the very edge of the network is an essential item in creating the Internet of things. The cheaper these chips are, the more places one can put them. It won’t replace RFID or even more complex sensors, but it adds another tool in the arsenal for tracking the physical world in the digital one.

Position Paper: Reforming a System That is Broken | Coffee Party

NOTE:  This is a draft of our position paper presented to the Coffee Party community for review with an invitation to submit comments. CLICK HERE to submit your comment. Public comment closes Wednesday, October 26, at 9pm ET. Final draft will be presented to the public by Saturday, October 29 at 12pm ET. 

Executive Summary

Three years after the 2008 financial crisis and months after the debt-ceiling crisis, the American people are finally awakening and speaking out loudly and clearly about the cycle of corruption afflicting our financial and political system. By exercising our First Amendment rights, we are taking a critical first step toward reclaiming our democracy from powerful special interests.

This position paper serves as the foundation for the Coffee Party’s year-long Enough Is Enough Citizens Intervention campaign, which kicks off on the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on October 29 with an open mic free speech rally. We will provide an opportunity for Americans, of all backgrounds and all perspectives, to share their personal stories and encourage dialogue about how we can all work together to solve the problems.

Our purpose is to confront the political crisis that we are facing head on, but in a spirit of collaboration and unity. We love our country, but government dysfunction has hurt our lives. That is why we are saying enough is enough and bringing our call for change directly to Washington.

The Citizens Intervention campaign will include the development of a grassroots Citizens Lobby based in Washington DC, promoting lobbying activities online and at the district-level.

The campaign has three primary legislative goals to break the cycle of corruption in our political system:

  • Reform our campaign finance laws to limit the impact of special interest money on policy-making;
  • Reform banking and Wall Street oversight laws to protect everyday Americans; and,
  • Transform our tax code to reduce our debt and enable lasting economic growth.

What is the Coffee Party?
Coffee Party USA is a grassroots, non-partisan movement that aims to restore the principles and spirit of democracy in America. It  started on Facebook as a popular fan page in January 2010 and has since blossomed into a national non-profit organization with a network of over half a million people and dozens of local chapters.

Our path to restoring democracy in America includes:

  • Identifying  and advocating for legislative fixes to reform campaign finance laws, Wall St regulations, and the tax code;
  • Promoting  cultural changes to address political disengagement, polarization and widespread misinformation.

Our activities often center around encouraging  inclusive, civil, fact-based, solution-oriented dialogue — online and in public places such as coffee houses — in which we meet, talk, become informed and engaged as fellow Americans, rather than as members of political parties.

We believe that we share common goals as a people. We all want to live in safe communities with access to well-paid work that will allow us to provide for our families, help us secure a decent education for our children, and allow us to access adequate health care. We call  upon the American people to transcend the hyper partisanship that is so common today and move toward organizing communities around the mutual desire for ongoing, responsible civic engagement.

We understand that we must act boldly to not only break the cycle of corruption, but also recommit, as a people, to the concept of a government of, by and for the people. We are the government. The government is us. We want to fix the problems in our government, not turn against the idea of government.

We need more – in quantity and quality – direct engagement with our government officials and with one another. Participating in our democracy should not be about just voting every 2 to 4 years – relying only on what appears in mainstream media and in campaign ads – and then hoping for the best. We need to engage the government in a way that promotes accountability to the public, transparency, and the spirit of E Pluribus Unum (out of many voices, one).

We need to create effective civic engagement opportunities by:

  • Demanding more offically sanctioned activities such as townhall meetings with officials and public reviews of policies with an invitation for public comments;
  • Organizing informal community meetings in which we invite fellow Americans to become informed and engaged.

We operate entirely independently of political parties and we do not endorse candidates.

What ails our democracy and how can we cure it?
Powerful special interests have overtaken our government, using money, influence and power to manipulate our legal, legislative and political systems. Influence  is for sale in Washington in large part because it is so expensive to run and win elections.  Members of Congress are forced to spend the majority of their time fundraising if they want to stay in office.  

The state of “permanent campaigning” has replaced the deliberative process because there is no longer time or incentive for it. One tragic outcome of this situation is the impoverishment of the national dialogue and policies that do not serve the people of this country. The national dialogue on policies is often shaped by popular media that feeds on conflict, seeks to entertain more than inform; and a marketing industry that profits from permanent campaigning. No wonder we end up with policies that do not serve the common good.

The voices of the wealthy and powerful are heard loudly in Congress and the  voices of the angry are heard on the evening news; but the rest of us are ignored. Ordinary people and their needs have become marginalized from the legislative process.

With influence bought by those who can afford it and the ordinary people marginalized, Washington has enacted policies in the last 30 years that have led to the largest income inequality since the Great Depression. The top 1% holds more than 42% of the financial wealth.

In the last few years since the financial crisis and the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, we have seen a dramatic weakening of our democracy and economic security. We are trapped in a cycle of corruption in which money = power = policies = more money = more power = more policies and so on.

Unless we stop this cycle, we are hurtling toward a profound political crisis – a crisis that questions the legitimacy of our government.

Coffee Party USA has identified some key policies, although by no means an exhaustive list,  that would put the brakes on the vicious cycle and lay the groundwork for restoring democracy and economic security for all Americans.  We believe that these policies are both politically viable and financially feasible.

Campaign Finance Reform – The root cause of our broken system

Almost two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC reversed a century of jurisprudence by permitting corporations to spend unlimited amounts to influence elections. In effect, the ruling dealt a body blow to an already sick system in which corporations, organizations and individuals with vast wealth have greater influence and access than ordinary people. The ruling also held that Congress could not legislate limits on corporate expenditures because it would have a chilling effect on free speech.  Much of this funding is undisclosed and goes to underwrite attack ads designed to malign or distort the position of political candidates often at a critical time just before an election without any transparency as to source of funding

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stevens warned that “The legal structure of corporations allows them to amass and deploy financial resources on a scale few natural persons can match” and are not “themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”  

The result of that decision has been the following[1]:

  • Spending by outside groups in the 2010 election cycle was four times higher than in the 2006 elections (the most recent midterm cycle), jumping from $68.9 million to $294.2 million. More than three‐fourths of the money spent in the 2010 elections was by groups that either accepted contributions that exceeded previous limits or concealed the sources of their money altogether.
  • Nearly half of the money spent was by just 10 groups. The top spending groups were the “Crossroads” entities (American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS) coordinated by GOP operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and the anonymously funded “American Action Network,” whose leadership included former Sen. Norm Coleman (R‐Minn.).
  • Of the $294.2 million spent by outside groups to influence last fall’s elections, 46 percent was spent by groups that did not reveal where their money came from; 7 of the 10 biggest spending groups concealed their donors’ identities.

This is not a partisan issue. Polls have consistently confirmed that Americans across the ideological spectrum disagree with Citizens United. For example:

  • A Washington Post‐ABC poll found the 80 percent of those queried, including 76 percent of Republicans, oppose the opinion.[2]
  • Survey USA found that 79 percent of Democrats and 67 percent Republicans think Congress should be able to limit the amount of money corporations spend to influence elections.[3]
  • 95 percent of respondents told Hart Research Associates that corporations spend money on politics in order to buy influence.[4]

Furthermore, before Citizens United, transparency and disclosure enjoyed bi-partisan support. In fact, the Supreme Court’s majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy explicitly stated that the ruling was premised on the idea that effective disclosure would allow voters to make informed decisions despite the unrestricted “speech” by corporate entities.

Legislative Actions
There are a number of legislative bills currently in process that can have a positive impact on reforming our campaign finance system.  Coffee Party USA supports the following bills and initiatives:

  • Fair Elections Now – The Fair Elections Now Act (S. 750 and H.R. 1404) was re-introduced in 2011 in the Senate by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and in the House of Representatives by Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.), Walter Jones, Jr. (R-NC), and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine). The bill would allow federal candidates to choose to run for office without relying on large contributions, big money bundlers, or donations from lobbyists, and would be freed from the constant fundraising in order to focus on what people in their communities want.  It offers qualified congressional candidates a viable alternative that encourages small donations and provides competitive grants.
  • Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act – The DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 5175) was introduced in the House by Rep. Christopher Van Hollen (D-MD).  The bill would amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to prohibit foreign influence in Federal elections, to prohibit government contractors from making expenditures with respect to such elections, and to establish additional disclosure requirements with respect to spending in such elections, and for other purposes. The senate version was introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).  On June 24, 2010, the House passed H.R. 5175 by a 219-206 vote. The Senate failed to pass the bill in September 23, by a vote of 59-39. The bill needs to be reintroduced in the House and the Senate as a clean bill with no exemptions.  
  • Amendment(s) to reverse Citizens United – There’s a growing consensus among legal scholars and the public that a constitutional amendment is needed to reverse the impact of the Citizens United ruling. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) has introduced in the current session, H.J.Res.78, a constitutional amendment that “states that nothing in the U.S. Constitution shall prohibit Congress and the states from imposing content-neutral regulations and restrictions on the expenditure of funds for political activity by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity, including but not limited to contributions in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate for public office.” We support this amendment. It would clearly establish the authority of Congress to regulate campaign spending. However, we believe that we need additional amendments [5] to fully address the legal implications of the Citizens United ruling. We call for a national dialogue to fully review the Citizens United ruling and to consider amendments:
  • Rejecting the notion that corporations are "persons" that deserve the protection of the First Amendment;
  • Rejecting the notion that campaign donations are to be regarded as speech;
  • Establishing clear limits on campaign spending by any individual or entity.

Constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress and must be ratified by three-quarters of the states. If an amendment reversing the Citizens United ruling fails to pass, we support calling for an Article 5 Constitutional Convention.

  • Shareholders Protection Act (H.R. 2517, S. 1360) In July, 2011, Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) and Senator Robert Menendez, introduced this bill in the House and the Senate, respectively, to amend the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to require shareholder authorization before a public company may make certain political expenditures.  This will require shareholders to provide majority approval for corporate political expenditures, including expenditures for campaign ads, electioneering communications, issue advocacy and ballot measure campaigns at the state and federal levels. This will “stop activist CEOs from using shareholder money to further their own political agendas.” [6]

Wall Street Reform – Reject too-big-to-fail; Protect consumers
The economic downturn that began in 2007 affected all sectors of the economy. However, since then corporate profits have returned to record levels and the stock market, although volatile, has regained most of its losses.  In 2010, $135 billion was paid in compensation to the executives at 25 Wall Street firms. Many of these are the same firms that caused the recession and received bailouts. After receiving help from tax payers in 2008, these companies compensated themselves, but feel no obligation to reciprocate. The people stay in recession losing jobs and homes, while companies see soaring profits.  What is wrong with this picture?

In addition to the $700 billion in bailout, $9 trillion was disbursed by the Federal Reserve in loans to major banks and Wall Street firms, including foreign banks, during the financial crisis.  Our government bailed out the banks and big corporations with stimulus dollars and a goal of helping Americans keep their homes and jobs, but that money has not filtered down to the American people.

Unemployment remains at 9.1%. This is THE national economic crisis. The ranks of the long-term unemployed are growing and the rate of those under-employed has also increased.  There are 14 million unemployed; 8.8 million other people not counted as unemployed – part-timers who want full-time work; 2.6 million people who aren't counted as unemployed because they've stopped looking for work. [7]

In order to protect their profits, global corporations are still slashing their work forces or sending jobs overseas. While the economic situations of corporate managers, hedge fund brokers, and major stockholders have stabilized, the incomes of millions of middle- and working-class Americans are still declining in real terms.

In 2010, approximately 1.2 million homes were foreclosed, as compared to 2004, before the housing bubble, when the annual foreclosure rate was 100,000 homes. The foreclosure crisis is growing and the sheer scale of the problem is staggering. Of the 55 million homes in the US with a mortgage, 10.4 million of them are expected to default. [8]

Many in Washington prioritize reducing the debt above all else and are willing to slash social programs, often maligned as “entitlements” that help the most needy, even while they continue to bail out large companies. [9]

Once again, polls show that reforming our financial system has broad support and should not be marginalized as a partisan issue. A majority of Americans strongly support Wall Street reform.  A poll conducted by Lake Research Partners for AARP, the Center for Responsible Lending and Americans for Financial Reform found that 63% of voters, including 61% of independents, want more government oversight of financial companies.[10]

Legislative Actions
It’s time to recognize that the system is broken – we need to invest in our work force to get our economy moving again.  Coffee Party USA supports the following bills and initiatives:

  • End too-big-to-fail  – As a society, we must commit to the principle that no company should be too big to fail. Former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, once a staunch defender of deregulated markets pointed out in 2009 that “if a company is too big to fail, it’s too big. Failure is an integral part, a necessary part of a market system.” Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize the big risks taken by financial institutions. Even today, our largest banks have over $60 billion in exposure to European debt as reported by Bloomberg News and that number doesn’t include the potentially toxic credit default swaps they have written.  This is a repeat of 2008. Perhaps investors can do what legislators failed to do in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill which passed in 2010 – overhaul the system by breaking up the big banks.
  • Restore the Glass Steagall Act – In response to the Great Depression, Congress passed the Banking Act of 1933 to separate investment banking from commercial banking. In 1999, the act was repealed, a step which many think contributed to the collapse of financial markets.  America paid the price.  Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) introduced a bill in 2009, the Glass Steagall Restoration Act, which would again separate investment banking from commercial banking and break over-sized banks deemed too big to fail. During the financial reform debate of 2010, the Cantwell-McCain amendment which would have restored much of Glass Steagall was dropped in favor of the weaker Volcker rule. Without full restoration of Glass Steagall, taxpayers will end up subsidizing the losses of high-risk investments. By any measure, this is not a sustainable model.
  • Support the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) – Elizabeth Warren helped establish the CFPB in July 2010 as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation. For this agency to be effective, it must be strong and independent. [11] The bureau's goals include watching for major violations of mortgage disclosure laws and other infractions at the firms that could cause consumers to unwittingly sign up for risky loans. It also scrutinizes whether credit card forms issued by big banks are misleading.  In the AARP survey, 74% of voters support a single agency with the mission of protecting consumers from financial companies.

Tax Code – Our government is broke because our tax code is broken
Much of the debate in Washington in the past two and half years has focused around the need to reduce  the deficit and manage the growing debt. We agree that we must steadfastly commit to balancing the budget and reducing spending. However, we believe that balance is needed in producing a viable financial plan for the nation. That is, we need to manage our finances by balancing spending and revenue; short-term budget needs and long-term investment needs. There is no way to avoid it. If we are serious about reducing the deficit, managing the debt and regaining a path to prosperity, we must reform our tax code and increase revenue.

Rep. Jim DeMint (R-SC) said that “The federal tax code, with its 44,000 pages, 5.5 million words and 721 different forms, is a patchwork maze of complexity and a testament to confusion over common sense.” There is wide agreement in Washington and around the country that our tax code must be revamped. [12]

Our tax code, riddled with loopholes, is a byproduct of special interest politics. It neither reflects our nation’s values nor meets the financial needs of its people. We are going broke as a country because our tax code is broken.

As billionaire Warren Buffett famously pointed out, his secretary pays a higher percentage of her income in taxes than he does.  And he is no exception to the rule.  Americans, including the top 1/%, want to pay their fair share. [13]

We need a simple and fair tax code that levels the playing field and enables us to get our economic house in order while also meeting our obligations to those still struggling, our ailing infrastructure, and our nation’s defense.

The human cost of our broken tax code and our government’s inability to meet the needs of the post-financial crisis economy is devastating. The Census Bureau’s release of 2010 data on income, poverty and health insurance in the U.S. paints a bleak picture of America’s economic realities. According to the data, the poverty rate rose to 15.1 percent, its highest level since 1993. [14] That translates to 42.6 million people living below the poverty line.  Today, 44 million Americans are on food stamps and 25% of our nation’s children live in poverty.

A recent report from ABC News found that the top 1% earn on average $1.1 million per year, while the bottom 90% (approximately 100 million people) earn $31,000 per year. [15] Since the end of the recession, the top 1% has seen their income rise by .44% while the bottom 99% has seen their income decline by .45%.

Without a commitment to tax code reform and accepting the need for increasing revenue, there can be no viable plan to restore economic prosperity in America.

Legislation Actions
It is time to address the income inequality and the debt problem that is fostered by our tax code.  Coffee Party USA supports the following initiatives:

  • Support a Financial Transaction Tax –  This was proposed in 1971 by Nobel Laureate economist James Tobin “to throw some sand in the gears of our excessively efficient money markets.” This proposal would apply a sales tax on Wall Street transactions and serve as a brake on high frequency computer trading that significantly increases market volatility.  According to a recent New York Times article, a tax of just .5 % could raise up to $175 billion in revenue a year, even if the total number of transactions were reduced by half. [16] European Commission will be implementing a financial transaction tax starting in 2014 and is angry at the US for refusing to do the same. [17]
  • Close the “Carried Interest” Loophole in the Capital Gains Tax – This loophole allows managers of financial partnerships, such as hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital funds and real estate funds to pay tax on bonuses at just 15 % rather than the personal income rate of 35%.  Closing the loophole would raise $20 billion over the next decade.
  • End tax breaks to oil companies – It’s time to end the tax breaks and subsidies for big oil companies. The big five oil companies have made more than $1 trillion the last decade as gas prices for the consumer have risen.  It’s estimated that eliminating subsidies could reduce the debt by up to $122 billion over a decade. There is bipartisan support for this from Republicans in the Senate — Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Olympia Snowe joined Democrats in voting for it in May, 2011 — and in the House, including Rep. Paul Ryan. Ryan rightly regards these tax breaks as corporate welfare. [18] Moreover, ending tax breaks to oil companies will set an important precedent for ending other cases of corporate welfare.
  • Revisit the Simpson-Bowles Plan to start a national dialogue on comprehensive tax reform. The Simpson-Bowles Plan states “America’s tax code is broken and must be reformed.” [19]  In the quarter century since the last comprehensive tax reform, Washington has riddled the system with countless tax expenditures, which are simply spending by another name.  These tax earmarks – amounting to $1.1 trillion a year of spending in the tax code – not only increase the deficit, but cause tax rates to be too high.  Instead of promoting economic growth and competitiveness, our current code drives up health care costs and provides special treatment to special interests.  The code presents individuals and businesses with perverse economic incentives instead of a level playing field.”  We support re-opening the Simpson-Bowles plan for tax reform as a starting point in a national dialogue to arrive at a fair tax system that incentivizes economic prosperity for all Americans.

Conclusion

America is at a crossroads. The American people are ready to stand up against a political system that allows powerful special interests and party ideologues to have more influence with our elected Representatives than average people.  That is why Americans across the nation are saying enough is enough.  We are not going away. The challenges we face as a country are many. We believe that we must focus the national dialogue on the root causes of the problems and address them head on together as Americans. We must reform our campaign finance system, transform our tax code, and revamp the way Wall Street does business. Our inability to achieve these reforms cripples our economy and democracy, and ultimately, hurts all of us. For months we've listened as the politicians have argued and done nothing. Now it's time for them to listen to us and get to work.

NOTE:  This is a draft of our position paper presented to the Coffee Party community for review with an invitation to submit comments. CLICK HERE to submit your comment. Public comment closes Wednesday, October 26, at 9pm ET.  


[1] Public Citizen:  Citizens United:  One Year Later and After Citizens United:  A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics.
[2] Dan Eggen, “Large Majorities Opposes Supreme Court Decision on Campaign Financing,” Washington Post (Feb. 17, 2010)
[3] Survey USA, “Americans Broadly in Favor of Limiting What Corporations Can Spend in Elections” (Feb. 2‐9, 2010)
[4] Hart Research Associates, “Protecting Democracy from Unlimited Corporate Spending” (June 6‐7, 2010)
[5] PR Watch review and analysis of proposed amendments to reverse Citizens United. http://www.prwatch.org/news/2011/04/10686/colvin-comparing-constitutional-ame...
[6] Public Citizen: http://www.citizen.org/Page.aspx?pid=4803
[7] Congressional Budget Office Report: Budget and Economic Outlook August 2011
[8] Testimony of Laurie S. Goodman, Amherst Securities Group to the Senate subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development (Sep. 20, 2011)
[9] Center for American Progress,  “Infographic: Tax Breaks vs. Budget Cuts” (Feb 22,2011)
[10] Lake Research Partners “Wall Street Reform: One Year Anniversary: Findings from a Survey of Likely November 2012 Voters” (July 2011)
[11] Elizabeth Warren, Real Change: Turning up the heat on non-bank lenders (September 2009)
[12] http://www.truthfactor.org/articles_details.php?Super-Congress-Scrap-the-Tax-Code-1413
[13] Patriotic Millionaires
[14] US Census 2010 See http://2010.census.gov/2010census/
[15] ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, Oct. 10, 2011.
[16] “A Sales Tax on Wall Street Transactions” by Nancy Folbre, New York Times, Aug. 22, 2011.
[17] “Merkel Says Won’t Accept U.S. Balking at Finance Transaction Tax” Bloomberg Businessweek, Oct. 15, 2011.
[18] Paul Ryan’s interview with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, May 1, 2011
[19] The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, December 2010


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