Daily Archives: March 11, 2009

Kansas legislators push resolution on state sovereignty

Kansas legislators push sovereignty bill

Wichita Eagle | Mar 11, 2009

BY DION LEFLER

Saying the federal government has taken too much control over Kansas affairs, some key state senators and a minor political party are supporting a resolution to affirm the state’s sovereignty.

A resolution by Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, calls on the federal government to “cease and desist” from withholding federal funds or otherwise penalizing states that don’t comply with federal mandates.

The resolution cites the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reserves to the states powers that aren’t specifically granted to the federal government.

Sovereignty, in this context, means the state retaining or regaining control of all powers not named as federal responsibilities in the Constitution.

Pilcher-Cook said she was not yet ready to discuss the resolution with the media.

But the Kansas Libertarian Party issued a statement of support for it early this week.

Party Treasurer Patrick Wilbur said the Libertarians decided to back Pilcher-Cook’s effort after she presented it to their northern Kansas committee, which meets in Topeka.

Wilbur said it’s directed at federal mandates such as the No Child Left Behind education law and the recently approved economic stimulus act.

The education law ordered states to adopt new standards for student achievement but never provided the money to meet the goals, Wilbur said.

As for the stimulus plan, “money coming in from the stimulus is going to have all kinds of strings attached,” Wilbur said.

He said that entices states to become dependent on the federal funds, pressuring states to accept federal rules they wouldn’t pass on their own.

“Basically, it’s like economic crack,” he said.

Pilcher’s resolution is expected to go through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There, it will encounter opposition from Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, the commission’s ranking Democrat.

Haley said he thinks the resolution would be dangerous because it could send a signal to Washington that the state isn’t interested in stimulus funding despite the recession and an estimated $800 million state budget gap.

“We don’t want that kind of thing being fired off to Washington right now,” Haley said. “I have no idea what benefit that resolution could possibly confer on Kansas.”

Although the federal government may put some conditions on how the state spends stimulus money, “most of that will be beneficial for Kansans,” Haley said. He said the federal conditions will ensure that the money goes where it’s meant to — spending for economic recovery.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, the vice-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he plans to support the resolution, although he said it will be a largely symbolic statement.

The practice of government tying strings to large-scale federal aid has been going on since at least the 1960s and is unlikely to change anytime soon, he said.

FDA approves brain-zapping device to relieve Obsessive Complusive Disorder

AP | Feb 19, 2009

By MATTHEW PERRONE

WASHINGTON (AP) — Patients suffering from obsessive, distressing thoughts have a new treatment option: a pacemaker-like device that relieves anxiety with electrical jolts to the brain.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved Medtronic’s Reclaim Deep Brain Stimulator device as the first implant to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, which causes uncontrollable worries, such as fear of germs or dirt.

Patients suffering from the disorder try to relieve their anxiety with obsessive behavior, such as washing their hands or checking locks repeatedly.

“These are obtrusive thoughts that take control of people’s lives to the point that they lose their jobs, can’t have relationships and in many cases, can’t even leave their homes,” said Dr. Hooman Azmi of Hackensack University Medical Center.

While about 2.2 million Americans have the disorder, the new device would only be available to a small group of patients who don’t respond to other treatments, such as antidepressant drugs and therapy.

The FDA approved the device under a program reserved for conditions that effect fewer than 4,000 people each year.

The FDA’s director for devices stressed that Reclaim provides some relief, but patients likely will have to continue taking medications as well.

“Reclaim is not a cure,” Dr. Daniel Schultz said in a statement. “Individual results will vary and patients implanted with the device are likely to continue to have some mild to moderate impairment.”

Shaped like a pacemaker, the Reclaim device is implanted under the skin of the chest and then connected to four electrodes in the brain. The electrodes deliver steady pulses of electricity that block abnormal brain signals.

Similar devices have been used since the 1990s to treat movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease and tremors. But where prior devices target areas of the brain that deal with movement, Medtronic said its product delivers electrical signals to areas that control mood and anxiety.

“What deep brain stimulation does is modulate those circuits that we believe are hyperactive in patients with obsessive compulsive disorder,” said Paul Stypulkowski, the company’s senior director of research.

Medtronic Inc., the world’s largest medical device maker, also is studying the use of the technology in patients with severe depression.

In 2005, rival Cyberonics became the first company to win FDA approval for a device to treat depression. However, the company’s Vagus Nerve Stimulator has been plagued by questions of effectiveness.

Members of Congress and consumer watchdog groups campaigned against the Cyberonics device, citing research that some patients who have received it had worsening depression. A number of insurers, including the government’s Medicare program, have refused to pay for the device in depression patients.

Medtronic representatives point out that their technology differs from that used by Houston-based Cyberonics, which delivers an electrical signal to nerves in the neck. Medtronic’s devices stimulate the brain directly.

Shares of Minneapolis-based Medtronic fell 20 cents to $34.13 Thursday.

Edmonton Alberta record low temperature records shattered

inews880.com | Mar 10, 2009

By Ed Mason

It was -42 at Edmonton International airport at 8:00AM this morning.

The previous Environment Canada official record low at the airport for this date was -29.4 in 1975 (records there go back to 1961).

The temperature at the Elk Island National park gate was -41 this morning. The previous record low there on the tenth of March was -24.6 in 2003 (records there go back to 1982).

Environment Canada’s temperature records at City Centre airport only go back three years for some reason but a reading of -30 downtown must be close to the all time low.

For comparison, the record high for the downtown airport on this date was 5.8 in 2007. (ED, ccg)

(8:30AM Wind Chill Warning)

A wind chill warning is issued for parts of northern Alberta, including:

Grande Prairie – Beaverlodge – Valleyview – Peace River – Fairview – High Prairie & Manning

According to Environment Canada, some localities in the above regions are experiencing wind chills colder than -40c.

“A bitterly cold artic airmass combined with southerly winds near 15 km/h are acting in combination to produce wind chills between -40 and -50 in a few localities. These wind chills will ease later today as temperatures gradually moderate.” (ccg)

Nanotechnology Coating Could Lead To Better Brain Implants

“The open question in our field is what is the trade-off: How much invasiveness can be tolerated in exchange for more precision?” said Daryl Kipke, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the director of the U-M Center for Neural Communication Technology.

This research is supported by the Army Research Office Multi-disciplinary University Research Initiative.

ScienceDaily | Mar 10, 2009

Biomedical and materials engineers at the University of Michigan have developed a nanotech coating for brain implants that helps the devices operate longer and could improve treatment for deafness, paralysis, blindness, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.

Currently, brain implants can treat Parkinson’s disease, depression and epilepsy. These and the next generation of the devices operate in one of two ways. Either they stimulate neurons with electrical impulses to override the brain’s own signals, or they record what working neurons are transmitting to non-working parts of the brain and reroute that signal.

On-scalp and brain-surface electrodes are giving way to brain-penetrating microelectrodes that can communicate with individual neurons, offering hope for more precise control of signals.

In recent years, researchers at other institutions have demonstrated that these implanted microelectrodes can let a paralyzed person use thought to control a computer mouse and move a wheelchair. Michigan researchers’ say their coating can most immediately improve this type of microelectrode.

Mohammad Reza Abidian, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Biomedical Engineering who is among the developers of the new coating, says the reliability of today’s brain-penetrating microelectrodes often begins to decline after they’re in place for only a few months.

“You want to be able to use these for at least a couple years,” Abidian said. “Current technology doesn’t allow this in most cases because of how the tissues of the brain respond to the implants. The goal is to increase their efficiency and their lifespans.”

The new coating Abidian and his colleagues developed is made of three components that together allow electrodes to interface more smoothly with the brain. The coating is made of a special electrically-conductive nanoscale polymer called PEDOT; a natural, gel-like buffer called alginate hydrogel; and biodegradable nanofibers loaded with a controlled-release anti-inflammatory drug.

The PEDOT in the coating enables the electrodes to operate with less electrical resistance than current models, which means they can communicate more clearly with individual neurons.

The alginate hydrogel, partially derived from algae, gives the electrodes mechanical properties more similar to actual brain tissue than the current technology. That means coated neural electrodes would cause less tissue damage.

The biodegradable, drug-loaded nanofibers fight the “encapsulation” that occurs when the immune system tells the body to envelop foreign materials. Encapsulation is another reason these electrodes can stop functioning properly. The nanofibers fight this response well because they work with the alginate hydrogel to release the anti-inflammatory drugs in a controlled, sustained fashion as the nanofibers themselves break down.

“Penetrating microelectrodes provide a means to record from individual neurons, and in doing so, there is the potential to record extremely precise information about a movement or an intended movement. The open question in our field is what is the trade-off: How much invasiveness can be tolerated in exchange for more precision?” said Daryl Kipke, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the director of the U-M Center for Neural Communication Technology.

In these experiments, the Michigan researchers applied their coating to microelectrodes provided by the U-M Center for Neural Communication Technology.

A paper on this research, called “Multifunctional Nanobiomaterials for Neural Interfaces,” is published in Advanced Functional Materials. It is the cover story on the February 24 issue.

Abidian’s co-author is David Martin, a professor in of Materials Science and Engineering; Biomedical Engineering; and Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Biotectix, a U-M spin-off company founded by Martin, is actively working to commercialize coatings related to those discussed in this paper. This research is supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Army Research Office Multi-disciplinary University Research Initiative and College of Engineering Translational Research funding.

Climate ‘denial’ is now a mental disorder

Christopher Booker is bemused by the wild rhetoric of the climate change lobby.

Telegraph | Mar 7, 2009

By Christopher Booker

How odd that, last Monday, none of our media global warming groupies should have bothered to report what was billed to be “the largest ever demonstration for civil disobedience over climate change”. There was talk of hundreds of thousands of protestors converging on Washington to hear Jim Hansen, the scientist who talks of coal-fired power stations as “factories of death”, call yet again for all coal plants to be closed. Perhaps the lack of coverage was due to the fact that, before Hansen arrived to address a forlorn group of several hundred hippies, Washington was blanketed in nearly a foot of snow.

It was generally another bad week for the warmists. The Met Office, which has been one of the chief pushers of the global warming scare for 20 years, had to admit that this has been “Britain’s coldest winter for 13 years”, despite its prediction last September that the winter would be “milder than average”. This didn’t of course stop it predicting that 2009 will be one of “the top-five warmest years on record”.

US climate sceptics such as those on the Watts Up With That website, for whom the predictions of the UK Met Office have become a regular source of amusement, recalled its forecast that 2007 would be “the warmest year on record globally”, just before global temperatures dived by nearly a full degree Celsius, cancelling out the entire net warming of the past 100 years.

Ever wilder wax the beleaguered warmists in their rhetoric. Our science minister Lord Drayson said last week he was “shocked” to find how many of the captains of industry he meets are “climate deniers”. This was the same Lord Drayson who, as our defence procurement minister, assured Parliament in 2006 that Snatch Land Rovers afforded “the level of protection we need”. The continuing death toll of soldiers in these unprotected vehicles approaches 40.

Even Drayson is outbid, however, by the groupies in The Guardian, who now suggest that people like Christopher Booker should no longer be compared to “Holocaust deniers” but consigned to even more outer darkness by branding them as climate “Creationists”, the dirtiest word they know. Meanwhile at the University of the West of England in Bristol this weekend, a conference of “eco-psychologists”, led by a professor, are solemnly exploring the notion that “climate change denial” should be classified as a form of “mental disorder”.

I myself am off this weekend to New York, to join all the top “deniers”, “creationists” and victims of psychic disorder at a conference organised by the Heartland Institute. It is an honour to be asked to speak alongside such luminaries as Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT, Dr Fred Singer, founder of the US satellite weather forecasting service, and the Czech President, Vaclav Klaus (not to mention those two revered climate bloggers, Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit and Anthony Watts). I shall report on this historic event next week.

Dalai Lama: China has made Tibet a ‘Hell on Earth’

The Dalai Lama has accused China of creating “hell on Earth” in Tibet on the 50th anniversary of the uprising that led to his exile.

Tibetans are ‘near extinction’.

Telegraph | Mar 10, 2009

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi

Speaking to around 2,000 of his supporters in Dharamsala, his home in India, he said China had brought “untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet”.

He accused it of carrying out a series of repressive and violent campaigns which “thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on earth.”

He said that Chinese rule in the region was bringing the Tibetan way of life to an end. “Today, the religion, culture, language and identity are nearing extinction; in short, the Tibetan people are regarded like criminals deserving to be put to death.”

The Tibetan leader recalled the events that led to his exile, beginning with the arrival of Communist troops into the north-eastern states of Kham and Amdo in 1949 and culminating in an escalating wave of “immense chaos and destruction”.

He blamed Chinese occupation for directly causing the deaths of “hundreds of thousands” of Tibetans since 1959. At least 200,000 Tibetans are also thought to be in exile around the world.

The Dalai Lama tempered his unusually strong comments with a commitment to further negotiations with the Chinese, and called for support for his “Middle Way”, which calls for Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule.

“I have no doubt that the justice of the Tibetan cause will prevail if we continue to tread a path of truth and non-violence,” he said.

Many Tibetans have recently expressed dismay at their leader for being too soft on China and have called for a harder line, and the speech may have been a response.

Thousands of young Tibetans marched through Dharamsala after he spoke, and a further thousand marched peacefully through New Delhi. More protests were held across the world, especially in Seoul and Canberra, the Australian capital, where four protesters were arrested in scuffles outside the Chinese embassy.

In Lhasa, the atmosphere was “calm”, according to eyewitnesses, who said there had not been any unrest. Last year, a peaceful demonstration escalated into widespread riots in which at least 200 Tibetans were killed, according to human rights activists.

This year, China has taken no chances, sealing the region’s borders, banning all foreigners and pouring troops onto the streets to maintain the peace. “Today is just like any other day,” said one Tibetan in Lhasa.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign ministry said he would “not respond to the Dalai Lama’s lies”. He added: “The Dalai Lama clique is spreading rumours. The democratic reforms are the widest and most profound in Tibetan history. In the past 50 years, Tibet has witnessed profound changes and the millions of serfs have become the new owners of Tibet.”