By Annette Birch
The article was published in the Capital Post on Dec. 6, 2013.
Astrobiology expert predicted that man’s wish of discovering life on other planets may come true in five to 10 years when she testified before a House committee on Dec. 4. The committee was holding a hearing about the recent research and future of finding evidence of life in space.
“The most optimistic answer is that it will take a few years,” Dr. Sara Seager, professor at Planetary Science and Physics at MIT, testified before the committee. However, this would depend on certain conditions. Her best guess was that we would have to wait for the next generation telescope to better show us whether other planets had the necessary building blocks to create life.
Dr. Mary Voytek, senior scientist at NASAs astrobiology program, who also testified before the committee, agreed.
“Our previous missions have taught us that life tough, tenacious and diverse. Finally, they can provide data of whether we are alone in the universe,” Voytek said.
With the new James Webb telescope it will be easier to detect life on other planets. Credits: CoconutScienceLab, YouTube.com
Congress has since 1996 funded the astrobiology program at NASA concerned with studying the possibility of life in the universe. Astronomers have been able to find hundreds of planets with the potential of life. But it has not been able to block out the light from the nearby star in order to give a clear picture of whether the planets would have the necessary building blocks for life. Seager said that the next generation telescope, a “star shade”, would make it possible to block out the light from the star so that we could better study the atmosphere of the planets. She emphasized that it will be necessary to search thousands of stars if we want to up our chances of finding life in some form. That would require additional funding and continued support for NASAs missions to other planets. However, in the five years from 2008 to 2012, the NASA budget has fallen in in nominal dollars, real dollars and as a percentage of the federal budget. The White House budget for FY 2014 proposes $17.7 billion for NASA, a decrease of 0.3 percent (~50million) below the 2012 enacted level, according to the Guardian’s live blog on Dec. 4.
Committee members on both sides of the aisle agreed that finding life on other planets was an extremely important part of the American heritage.
“We must recaptivate that American spirit of dreaming big,” Rep. Ami Bera (D-Ca.) said. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tx.) added that adequate funding to the NASA astrobiology program was of vital importance to achieve the goal.
Another issue raised by both Democrats and Republicans at the hearing was how they better could educate and involve the public, especially younger people.
“It is important that we engage more students in STEM education,” Rep. Bonamici (D-Oregon) said. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Tx.) and Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) agreed.
Seager suggested using social media to reach younger people and restructuring science indication in the United States to better engage children.
“All children are born curious about the world, and somehow it is squashed out of them,” Seager said. Voytek agreed. Kids often like dinosaurs and space and the plants. Cultivating those interests would strengthen science itself.
Credits: timerickson2482, YouTube.com
Both Seager and Voytek agreed that there was life out there and that investing in astrobiology would be an investment in the future.
“This search for finding life will really change the way we view life in the future,” Seager said. However, she added that there would be no way of knowing whether the traces of life could be attributed to intelligent life or one celled organisms.
House Speaker Boehner says immigration reform is not dead anyway. Credits: ABC7 WJLA, YouTube.com
by Annette Birch
While the clock keeps counting down before lawmakers are expecting to leave Washington for the winter holidays, both Democrats and Republicans maintain that immigration is not dead. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who had previously declared comprehensive reform dead stated on Nov. 22 that the House is continuing working on immigration reform.
“Is immigration reform dead? Absolutely not,” Boehner told reporters during a news conference at the Capitol on Nov. 22. Boehner said that he was “encouraged that the president said that he wouldn’t stand in the way of a step-by-step immigration reform.”
Boehner was encouraged that President Obama accepted the piecemeal approach. Credits: John Boehner, YouTube.com
At least on the surface, this seems to signal an opening from both parties on immigration reform. Only last week, President Obama was still insisting on a comprehensive immigration reform and Speaker Bohner was declaring immigration reform dead, at least for this year.
However, several media outlets on Twitter were skeptical:
And with good reason because Obama and House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has stressed that it is imperative that all pieces are passed at the same time.
“What we don’t want to do is simply carve out one piece of it — let’s say agricultural jobs, which are important, but is easier, frankly, or the high-skilled jobs in your audience here would immediately want to do — but leave behind some of the tougher stuff that still needs to get done,” Obama said in an interview at a Wall Street Journal business leaders forum on Nov. 20.
This includes the real hurdle for Republicans; a path to citizenship for the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Only three Republicans have signed on to the House version of the Senate bill. House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has presented a bill which that allow Dreamers who came to the United States as children to stay, but the bill still needs to be materialized, according to the Washington Post on Nov. 7.
Eric Cantor argues for amnesty for children of undocumented immigrations. Credits: ForaTV, YouTube.com
In the meantime, Boehner declined to answer a question on when the House would vote on any of the piecemeal GOP immigration measures, according to CNN on Nov. 21.
With only few legislative days left until Congress leaves for the winter holiday it seems unlikely that they are going to present a bill creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants which could get the support of both Democrats and Republicans before the holidays.
And so the dance around immigration reform will most likely continue next year…
Obama speaks on immigration reform 10/24/13 while he still insisted on a comprehensive immigration reform.
Credits: Les Grossman Best of YouTube – News & Politics
President Obama would accept a piecemeal approach to immigration reform, provided Congress passed all the pieces.
“If they went to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don’t care what it looks like, as long as it’s actually delivering on those core values that we talk about,” Obama said in an interview at a Wall Street Journal business leaders forum on Nov. 20.
In the House, the initiative was welcomed by Democrats
Pelosi, Obama Express Optimism in Boehner Immigration Plan…
and Republicans alike.
However, John Manley, a pro-immigration reform attorney, wondered where Obama’s support for comprehensive immigration reform went:
While conservative organizations like FAIRImmigration thought there was no real difference between a comprehensive immigration reform and passing the same content in different pieces.
And others doubted that Obama would “give in” to the Republican approach:
Despite the general applause for the initiative most people doubted that an immigration reform was just around the corner.
Obama on immigration reform: "I am actually optimistic that we can get this done." Based on what signal from the House, exactly?—
Rick Klein (@rickklein) November 19, 2013
What are the chances for immigration reform in 2013? PBS News Hour, YouTube.com
House Republicans are not going to take up immigration reform this year, concedes top pro-reform Republicans. And now time is running out.
“Unless someone has some magic potion, I don’t see how there’s time to go through the committee process and through the floor with what could ultimately be six or nine bills,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a leading Republican immigration-reformer in the House, told the Miami Herald on Nov. 7.
Diaz-Balart is hopeful that they can get the bill through early next year. However, it will be dead if they cannot get it done before the GOP primaries for the 2014 elections heat up in February or March, he told Politico on Nov. 7.
Some immigration advocates see Diaz-Balart’s comments as a lot of sweet talking but not much action.
“There is an existing majority in the House that would vote for reform right now. The only thing blocking it is the House GOP leadership,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the America Voice Advocacy Group, according to the Miami Herald on Nov.7.
The chances for getting immigration reform passed on this deadline seem slim. Unlike Senate Republicans, only three Republicans have supported the comprehensive immigration reform introduced by House Democrats on Oct. 2 and Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) has continuously opposed even putting the Senate bill to a vote on the House floor, opting for introducing it in separate parts (piece-by-pice legislation), an approach which seems to have most support among House Republicans.
Map over how Republican Congressmen voted for Immigration Reform (blue pins=Republicans supporting comprehensive immigration reform; red pins=Republicans supporting leading Republican bills, piece-by-piece approach):
Meanwhile, some Republicans are like Rep. Diaz-Balart frustrated over inaction on immigration reform.
Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) recently said it would be “disappointing” if leaders were to “punt the issue until 2014 for political reasons,” according to the Washington Post on Nov. 7.
Others, who are positive towards aspects of immigration reform, does not see it coming right now.
“The numbers are not here in the House,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Ut.) said to USA Today on Oct. 18. Chaffetz was sponsoring a bill that was passed by the House in 2011 to expand visas for high-tech workers and has been expressing his support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
However, Rep. Steve King (R-Ia.), a staunch opponent of immigration reform, would not be positive towards any kind of vote on comprehensive immigration reform any time soon, according to TalkingPointsMemo on Nov. 7.
See also PolicyMic’s analysis of Oct. 26 on Republicans and Immigration Reform.
As the year is moving towards an end, most House Republicans seem, despite occasional outbursts of frustrations, to be focusing on other aspects of immigration than a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants – an approach which have little chance of getting the cooperation of Democrats either in the House or in the Senate. An exception is the Kids Act presented by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), which would give the DREAMers but that still need to be materialized according to the Washington Post on Nov. 7.
However, Muzaffar Chishti, who runs the New York office of the Migration Policy Institute, believes it is still too early to despair.
“The ’86 bill was dead so many times. I took my vacation after it was clear Congress was not going to pass a bill,” Chishti said to Bloomberg on Nov. 1. And then it passed just afterwards…
by Annette Birch
For Kevin Spacey Netflix may not have been the only choice for his production of the TV-series “House of Cards” – but in the end he considers it to be the best choice.
“Netflix was the only one which did not say ‘Do a pilot.’ They just said: How many seasons do you want to do?” Spacey on Nov. 4 told a full crowd at Georgetown University. Now, he wouldn’t do it any other way. “We could do things we couldn’t do on a regular network.”
Trailer from Netflix’ popular TV-series “House of Cards” on YouTube.
Spacey explained that one of the reasons why Netflix has been so popular is that it gives people the possibility of being in control. They can choose when to watch the movies or TV-series and how much to watch. And it is cheap.
And it seems he is right. Netflix has been able to capture the modern audience by offering producers and actors a more flexible, creative environment and their audience a forum where they are in control. Today, Netflix has 23 million subscribers and last year its stock increased over 200 percent.
The reactions to Netflix transforming its strategy from a DVD by mail distributor and streamer of already produced content to a streamlining producer of original content has been overwhelming. After “House of Cards” was aired, other producers have followed suit and this summer, Netflix received 14 Emmy nominations, nine for “House of Cards,” three for “Arrested Development” and two for “Hemlock Grove.” And its new series “Orange is a New Black,” is already a huge success.
Trailer from Netflix’ TV series “Orange is the New Black.”
Other networks like NBC Universal and Amazon have followed suit and also begun pouring money into streaming original TV-shows, according to CNBC .
This raises the question of whether the streaming networks have made cable TV redundant. A survey from Harris Interactive ” target=”_blank”>survey from Harris Interactive </a>found that 53 percent of all Americans viewed digitally streaming content on an internet-enabled device. In particular streaming television was particularly popular with people btween 18 and 35 and with families with children. However, a recent study from Price Waterhouse Coopers shows that 70 percent of the respondents said they subscribe to cable TV and that even younger consumers pay for cable TV.
The reality is probably that today’s consumers want it all – and now they can have it. Before, TV could dominate the daily entertainment as the web was more a place for tech savy people, according to <a title=”Michael Wolff from USA Today.But as the web becomes an integral piece of our lives (and a whole generation has grown up with it), the speed and the possibility of choice also becomes a part of what we want, for good and for worse. As the net moves away from solely being the domain of tech people, it can become a new place for creativity, for telling stories – and thereby for producing entertainment.
Some people have objected that one of the problems with Netflix is that it has not been able to stream all the traditional high-quality movies, while others object to the change in pace in releasing all episodes at once and not one per week.
This is not only a problem which has been raised with TV but with everything from work to hobbies to private life – that life just goes faster and faster. Before, the choices were made for us. Not anymore. But more choices require the ability to choose not only what TV shows we want to see and how, but what life we would like to have. History tells us that life is not going to slow down, but the present debate shows that that we are just in the wake of learning how to choose between enormous amounts of information on the internet.
Netflix has successfully entered this competition and so have other streaming entertainments, but people are still watching cable TV. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, does not think that Netflix will or should limit the competition and existence of either other streaming or cable networks, an opinion quite in accordance with the original idea of the free exchange of information on the web.
“So I think more shows is better. And they don’t steal from each other – they build on each other,” Hastings said to CNBC on July 23.
By Annette Birch
A new study shows that Asian immigrants are not applying for the two-year work permit under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as much as Mexican immigrants. The study was presented on the one year anniversary for the start of the Deferred Action by Tom K. Wong, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego.
“One of the things we have to look into is why DACA is not performing evenly among all ethnic groups,” Wong said at a conference held by the Center for American Progress.
Audrey Singer, senior fellow at the nonprofit Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, agreed. Her study of Deferred Action applications showed that most applicants came from Mexico and that immigrants with a Chinese background are not even among the top 25.
In the period from August 15, 2012, to March 22, 2013, the immigration service received 465,509 applications from undocumented immigrants for deferred status. By June 30, over 400,000 applications have been approved. However, the studies show that the applications are not evenly divided among ethnic groups: 93.5 percent of all applicants are immigrants from Latin American countries. Immigrants from Asian countries only make up 4.2 percent of the total number of applications, even though analysts had projected that they would make up 6.1 percent of the applicants.
However, Wong’s study shows that within the Asian group the ratio of applications varies substantially from nationality to nationality. Immigrants with Korean and Indian background are likelier to apply for deferred status than immigrants with a Chinese background, although there had been several attempts by ethnic media in Los Angeles to reach the Chinese population.
“We have to cut through the culture and shame that some Chinese have. Asian families are also pursuing legal status through other means, like work permit,” Wong said. He pointed to the effort by the Latin American community in reaching out to undocumented Latin American immigrants as well as the effort of the Mexican consulate to help find the necessary documents to apply for deferred status.
However, as long as Congress has not adopted a comprehensive federal immigration reform, the future for all undocumented immigrants remains uncertain. The Deferred Action only grants the immigrants a two-year period where they can stay legally in the United States. At the end of that period they have no guarantee that their permits will be renewed and that they will not be deported. Roberto G. Gonzales, Assistant Professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, therefore found that the adoption of a comprehensive immigration reform was the only way to ensure immigrants a safe future.
“DACA-recipients want further integration. They feel American,” Gonzales said.
By Annette Birch
Published at The Capital Post, http://thecapitalpost.com/living-life-with-lung-cancer-p-24735.html
Richard Heimler, 53, was diagnosed with lung cancer nine years ago and has been on permanent disability leave since 2007. Today, he spends his time advocating for more funding for lung cancer research, his family and using his fundraising skills from his last job to raise money volunteering for a non-profit in downtown New York with gay lesbian youths who have been psychologically or physically abused and need a new environment to flourish. This is his story as told to Annette Birch.
“It was in May 2004. I was coming back from a business trip in London and I just came off the plane and I just had heart palpitations and I didn’t understand why. I went back to my apartment, I woke up the next morning, I called a friend of mine who is a cardiologist. And he thought I might be having a heart attack. So I went to his hospital and we did a battery of tests and on one of the X-rays he saw a very small spot that was not related to the chest pains. The chest pains could have been capital pressure for being on the plane for so long.
I do not have a medical background, I did not know anything about lung cancer, I did not know the statistics. He just said it was a spot. A few days later I had a PET scan and I lit up at the PET scan and we knew it was more serious than scar tissue. So we started with doctors in the nearer community and had a biopsy and then it was confirmed that it was lung cancer.
I was numb and I really had no idea of the magnitude of my illness. And I did not know at that time that 60 percent die within the first year, 90 percent die within five years, that every year 200,000 are diagnosed. I didn’t know and that was probably a good thing. My mother has a medical background because she is a genetic counselor so I kind of let her run with everything. She became my primary advocate and she was the one who arranged my doctor’s visits and told me where to show up and when. It was a while before I really understood the severity of my health situation.
At the time I just needed to know what I had to do in the moment to get the best chances to survive. Because I was a healthy 44 year-old the doctors all felt strongly that we should remove my entire lung. Again, I did not know how that was going to change my life. The problem with that for me is I have scoliosis so my left lung is compromised by my spine so at the time it left me with only 32 percent breathing. This lung does 50 percent and the other does 48, but mine was only doing 32. So they were very concerned about that. But again, it gave me the best chance to survive, my children at that point were 16 and 14, and they were just too young to lose their dad. I was going to do anything I could to stay alive.
I worked for two years but it just became too difficult for me to travel, to carry things and I didn’t have the stamina to work a full day, a full week. And at that time I was taking a very debilitating treatment and it was very difficult to also work at the same time.
In 2006 my cancer had taken a turn for the worse. My pulmonary function was at a level that was low enough to qualify for full-time disability from social security and because of my treatments and my physical health I was not able to continue with the responsibilities I had at my last job so I went on permanent disability from that company and also with permanent disability from social security because I just cannot work physically and mentally a full time week 40 or 50 hours a week.
[Then] three years ago I was diagnosed with tumors on my left lung. So it was very debilitating for I had been on chemotherapy for two solid years. My doctor told me about these clinical trials and we thought we had nothing to lose because the chemotherapy wasn’t killing the tumors, it was just stabilizing them. Phizer created this drug, called Xalkori. It was approved by the FDA and it only works on three to five percent of lung cancer patients which has a gene which is the ALK. I have that gene. So instead of taking debilitating intravenous chemotherapy I am taking three pills in the morning and three pills a night, and that’s it.
Being on this trial has meant all these terrible effects of chemotherapy I don’t have them anymore. From a vanity point of view, I wasn’t going to lose my hair, my skin color wasn’t going to look different and I wasn’t going to lose weight, have a bad appetite or bad taste. With the medication I have now there are no side effects so I live the healthiest I have been in nine years which is great. I look like a healthy person. My breathing now is up to 37 percent. So I can really live a normal life at least what I call a new normal and I can do things; if I want to travel, to volunteer, go to the movies, visit my friends. Now, it may not be curable but it is treatable and it is livable.
I have had seven re-occurrences. I want to believe that I am the same person that I always was when it came to enjoying life, living a good life, fulfilling life. For my kids, my family and my friends I proved to them that I was still me, that I could still lead a very active life.
I call myself a reluctant advocate because this was not my platform when I was 43. But I now know that I have a responsibility to help raise lung cancer to a national and international health priority because of things like the smoking stigma and I never smoked. After heart disease lung cancer kills the most people but you never hear about lung cancer and celebrities who are diagnosed with lung cancer they don’t want to talk about it. I think it is important for me as an advocate to get the word out that lung cancer needs to be raised to a new level of attention when it comes to research, funding, treatment, things like that. The other part for me is to show people that you can live a productive life with lung cancer that you can beat the odds. Now with all the gen-personalized medicine it is a very different world than when I started eight or nine years ago and so the future is very promising.
With lung cancer you never get to a point where you can say that you have beaten it. Lung cancer, you know I have gone two years, three years without a re-occurrence and then you get a reoccurrence. I had two in the last year but right now the scans are clean but every three months I have new scans and you just don’t know what they are going to tell you. The reality with lung cancer is that very few people survive. I am lucky that I lived nine years with it. I hope to live 30 more years. But the thing you hope for is to live the longest life span between recurrences and also to stay alive long enough until a better treatment comes along that gives you a better change to survive.”
Photo by Roswell Park, http://www.flickr.com/photos/roswellpark/6344065167/sizes/s/in/faves-87276657@N03/