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November 2010 Archives

New warning label for cigarettes causes outrage

Wow - I cannot believe that it's 2010 and we are still having the argument about the effects of cigarette smoking on personal health.    Last week was the 35th annual Great American Smokeout. It also coincided with an FDA release which proposed 36 new labels for cigarette packages. In 2009 the federal government mandated that by July of 2011, the FDA and Department of Health and Human Services develop new labels which will be more graphic and larger than current warnings. The tobacco industry will then have 15 months to implement the plan. The new labels will occupy one-half of the front and back of the pack. Some of the images are - well - a little disturbing, as perhaps they should be. Check out this link from the Huffington Post  link . Gross huh? Some quick stats: 46 million adults still currently smoke which is about 20% of the adult population. About 20% of high school students smoke and smoking is responsible for about 443,000 deaths a year. During my research bouncing around the web I came to realize that there is a significant portion of the 20% smokers who have also experienced severe brain damage. Their grammar, syntax and spelling are very deceiving, since you would think that anyone with enough intelligence to string together several paragraphs of good print is also rational. Not so. Many of the diatribes go on to talk the right wing jargon of the day - "more government control", "denial of first amendment rights" (that's a real rich one) and, here's the best one, "no proof that there is any connection between lung cancer and cigarettes". And, here's one more, "pretty soon the government will require warnings on fast food like the 'big Mac'". The FDA is mandated by law, which has been around a lot longer than Barrack Obama, to regulate the food and drug industry, which includes placing warnings on products that contain drugs and harmful additives. The American Heart Association has said that nicotine is one of the hardest addictions to break. The only real question is, why did it take so long for them to do it?    . We all have friends and family who smoke and we are all concerned about the long term effect of this powerful drug on their health, but let's be completely honest - why should non-smokers have to carry the health care cost of those 443,000 people who died last year from smoking related sickness? Sometimes I can be a bit too jaundiced - the good news is that we have made great progress over the last 40 years. I guess adults should be allowed to control their own fate, but what about that 20% figure for high school students? Let's work on that one. Dennis F Feeley

veterans day acknowledgement

                                                                 It is not the purpose of this blog to become personal by any nature, and I apologize for my posting off-track - so to speak. Yesterday, we celebrated a day that for the better part of my life has gone unacknowledged by most people. On Veterans Day the post office is closed along with the courthouses and most federal offices. Each State has its own guidelines for schools and public offices. Most people, myself included, (until today) do not know the history of Veterans Day. It all started in 1918. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the Armistice ending World War I was signed. Often referred to as the Great War or "the war to end all wars" (oh, but if that were true) it became the basis for our modern-day holiday. Originally called Armistice Day and officially created by President Woodrow Wilson it went through a succession of congressional proclamations and statutory enactments until it became the Veterans Day as we know it. The purpose of this holiday was two fold. First, to acknowledge those who served defending their country during World War I, and also as a day dedicated to world peace. In 1954, then President Eisenhower made it a day to honor all veterans of all wars. Over the years it has become one of those federal holidays with little fanfare by the general public - until recently, actually until yesterday. It has been 40 years since I received my discharge papers at Hunter's Point just days after being part of a flotilla in the Gulf of Tonkin. During most of those 40 years I never received much if any acknowledgement for my service. I'm not crying about it. I too mostly forgot about it except when I asked why we didn't get any mail. But yesterday I was a little overwhelmed by the calls, texts and messages I received. I guess the last 8 years of being in some type of armed conflict has made us more aware of how lucky we are to have a volunteer army willing to put it on the line for us. After months of political fighting and what seemed to be a country divided amongst itself. Yesterday was true reaffirmation that we can all come together and agree on at least one thing. Whether it's more or less government in our lives, and whether you're a democrat or a republican, we all agree that without these young men and women this great republic would be in ruins. Thanks to all of you who remembered. Dennis F Feeley                 

Jonathan Acklen defends students rights to free speech

The Express-Times opinion staff has awarded a turkey to the ACLU for attempting to protect the First Amendment right of Easton High School students to wear bracelets that read "I heart boobies" in support of The Keep A Breast Foundation www.keep-a-breast.org. The paper says that the ACLU argument that students have rights is "weak" because courts have regularly limited the first amendment rights of students to preserve discipline. A newspaper awarding a turkey to an organization attempting to protect the First Amendment is almost beyond comprehension. The Express-Times fails to recognize that the Supreme Court has stated time and time again that students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 339 U.S. 503 (1969). (Tinker involved the wearing of another type of arm-band, one that had the potential to cause a lot more controversy than support of breast cancer research. If you're interested, take a look at that case.)   If a teacher or administrator disagrees with the message (which I don't suppose is the case here) or the method chosen by the students to deliver that message, the appropriate response is not to simply ban the speech, but to use it as a teachable moment. Of course, that would require some effort on the part of the people in power which is clearly too much to ask when they have the option to simply ban the speech. The problem with taking the easy way out is that the students are taught that they should not have an opinion if it is one with which others may not agree. The Express-Times approval of this behavior by the administration condones unjustifiable and unconstitutional censorship. Newspapers should be defending speech, especially speech of impressionable students who must be encouraged to think for themselves and form their own opinions.   According to the Express-Times article, the school district stated that the bracelets were inappropriate and distracting to the educational purpose. However, no incidents of disruption were cited other than those caused by administrators who disagreed with the students' expression. The Supreme Court has held that "undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression." Tinker.  In fact, I would submit that potential fear of an opinion means that the opinion might actually be worth hearing and will not simply be the regurgitation of a "comfortable" position.   Even in this hyper-sensitive world we seem to live in, the Express-Times must not think that the word "boobies" is really all that bad or offensive. Nowhere in the article were symbols used to describe the wording on the bracelets. It didn't refer to the bracelets as saying "I heart b**@%#". Boobies? Really? If that is enough to cause a disturbance I question the effort of the administration to reduce disruptions. I would venture to guess that much more effort has been made toward stifling student speech because the administration is scared of students forming their own opinions.   What is most disappointing, however, is not the school district's attempt to take away the rights of the students or teach them not to think for themselves, but the support given to this position by a newspaper. I am hopeful that the students will learn to speak for themselves. I am more hopeful that the Express-Times will take another look at whose side it should be on when the issue of free speech is discussed. Of course, to "discuss" something, we must be permitted to speak and also allow those who disagree the same opportunity. Discourse: what a concept. Please pass a large helping of turkey for the Express-Times for failing to defend free speech.   Jonathan B Acklen

university of north carolina sets standard for head injury protection in football

Over the last few weeks I have posted on the dilemma facing coaches and parents about the risks associated with the game of football. I am talking of course about the continuing dialogue across the country concerning whether or not the game of football needs significant change when it comes to how players tackle and block. Just yesterday we watched an Indianapolis Colt taken off the field on a stretcher with a head injury. My last post examined the football helmet industry who have not made any significant changes in helmet design in over 30 years. Every athletic director, coach and trainer who has been interviewed agree on one thing - football is not played the same way today as it was 30 years ago. Kids are bigger, stronger and use different techniques which make them more likely to get hurt. The University of North Carolina has been using a new type of technology installed into helmets for the last 6 years. The system is called HIT, which stands for Head Impact Telemetry. Yes, a computer inside the helmet which registers the amount of acceleration taking place during impact. The New York Times click here reported this weekend on the Tar Heels success with this program. The helmet measures the forces and location of every hit which can then be analyzed and used to train players how not to hit. Trainers sit down with players at UNC and go over the data. They can tell when kids drop their heads before impact and teach them how to avoid these kinds of hits. Part of the problem is that players have very little live contact practice before games in order to avoid injury. Kind of dumb - if players are hitting so hard during practice that there is fear of injury then someone needs to analyze why this is happening. It was reported that impacts to the heads of players can be equivalent to a car hitting a brick wall at 35 mph. Now here's the bad part. This system cost about $1000 per helmet which makes it prohibitive for many schools. But, it does show that the ball can be advanced and making this sport safer for our kids can happen.  I say "cudos" to the Tar Heels and "in your face" to the helmet industry, who last week reported they were afraid of making helmets safer for fear of law suits. Maybe a good shot to their corporate heads will wake them up. Dennis F Feeley      

outside spending gave GOP candidates unparalleled advantage

Today Public Citizen, a consumer watch dog organization, reported on what we already know about this year's campaign spending. What we didn't know until today is how lopsided the contributions were. I have posted on a number of occasions (most recently last week) on the likely impact of the United States Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United. Well, we now know how this ruling effected the outcome of this year's mid-terms.  One Congressional Chairman attributed the GOP spending as the result of the "record amount of secret money spent by right-wing outside groups (who) turned this political storm into a category 3 political hurricane". Here in Pennsylvania the Republican candidate Pat Toomey had a $5.3 million dollar advantage - a ratio of 4 to 1 - over his opponent  Joe Sestak. $2.5 million came from the Club for Growth of which Toomey is the founding father, another $1.7 million from the Chamber of Commerce and $1.1 million from the Republican Jewish Coalition. In all but a few of the 74 elections in which power changed hands the GOP candidate received $764,326 compared to $273,268 by their Democratic opponent. This is just the money received from PACs which is outside spending and which is secret money.      According to the report, "59.9% of the outside funds in this election came from undisclosed sources". Most of the secret money came from 10 groups spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce. The report cited that Republicans outspent the Dems $79.4 million to $28.5 million. I just have to ask myself this question - did the Supreme Court even consider that this might happen? We read about corruption in elections all over the world, and as a country we have stood proudly against election fraud. Not since the days of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall have elections been manipulated. One could argue that allowing those with resources far beyond those of most candidates to influence the outcome of an election is also a form of corruption. Corporations like the Chamber should not be  permitted to influence the outcome of campaigns. This is not going to go away. Wait until the 2012 Presidential race. You ain't seen nothing. Dennis F Feeley  

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