Sunday, November 23, 2008

Arlen Specter's "Never Give In" Chronicles the Good Fight

Cancer survivor and cancer battler Arlen Specter has written a book of optimism from the viewpoint of one who can see cancer as both a political issue and a personal struggle. He sees the growing number of people affected directly and indirectly by cancer and other serious diseases as forming a movement demanding that cures be found. The National Institute of Health, which has been strongly supported by Senator Specter, is working with research universities and pharmaceutical companies to find these cures.

Senator Specter recalls how President Nixon declared war on cancer. He frets how, if only we had devoted the resources towards health care research as we did towards war, we probably would have won the war on cancer by now.

The National Institute of Health, followed closely behind by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are among the best of all Federal agencies, according to Senator Specter. He is proud to have been a leader, along with allies such as Sen. Tom Harkin, in the fight to increase NIH funding on medical research from $3.6 billion in 1981 to $11.2 billion in 1994 and to $29.1 billion in 2006. Progress have emerged directly from these projects on combating heart disease, cancer, AIDS, stroke, and many other leading health problems. Millions of lives have been improved.

Arlen Specter writes of the shock of being told he has cancer. The mind has many questions, of one’s mortality, of chances, and how it will change one’s life. It is also traumatic having already been told once before he had cancer, underwent operations, and told in a misdiagnose he was soon to die. Having gone through these fears twice helped make him realize that we need to do what we can to reduce the number of people who have been subjected to these worries and pains of illnesses.

Cancer cells have developed their own survival means. They produce proteins that fool immune systems into not attacking the cancer cells. Research, Senator Specter believes, will someday find a solution so that cancer cells can be eradicated without otherwise damaging the body.

As a politician, Arlen Specter notes how the concerns regarding cancer and his political life have become intertwined. He notes that stress can be a cause of cancer, and that the stress of campaigning, especially when the race is so close, is very emotionally draining. He further notes that his support of stem cell research has caused some Pennsylvania political activists to openly demonstrate against him. Another connection the Senator noted between his cancer and politics was that, shortly after he announced he had cancer, Governor Rendell received six calls within one day from the announcement from people seeking to be appointed to Specter’s vacancy should the cancer prove fatal.

Several politicians have disagreed with Senator Specter on stem cell research. Specter believes an embryo does not become life until it is inside a woman’s womb. Others such as Senator Sam Brownback disagree with Specter’s position. The author notes that Senator Brownback asked him “when did your life begin”? Specter notes he replied, “well, Sam, I’m a lot more concerned about this point about when my life is going to end.” Specter notes that hundreds of thousands embryos are discarded that could have been used for research, and there are plenty of embryos available for use for fertilization. The Specter-Harkin Bill on stem cell technology became President George W. Bush’s first veto.

Arlen Specter wondered how to get through the worries about his health. He took, and passes along, advice from Senator John McClellan to how to handle personal crises, and this is “work, work, work, work. That will pull you through.” The author further recommends to people in similar situations to acknowledge the threat, to concentrate upon and improve one’s mental and psychological strengths, to keep as regular a work and exercise schedule as before as possible, to listen and question your physicians and conduct your own research on your problem, and to challenge experts when you have questions, and to keep yourself busy.

Arlen Specter jokes that he may be remembered for believing something most people did not believe, namely the single bullet theory in President Kennedy’s assassination, and for not believing someone who most people believed, namely Anita Hill. Arlen Specter, as of November 2005, became the Pennsylvanian serving the longest time in the U.S. Senate. Whether you have mostly agreed or disagreed with Arlen Specter, he has been one of the most skillful of Pennsylvania politicians and one of its greatest survivors, in multiple senses. This book shows he has handled his trials and it is strongly recommended to those who wish to learn more about fighting cancer and serious illnesses.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

And Now For Some Words From Above

Governor Sarah Palin responded to speculation that she might run for Ted Steven’s Senate seat should he resign from it by stating that “My life is in God’s hands. If He's got doors open for me, that I believe are in our state's best interests, the nation's best interests, i'm gonna go through those doors."

God responded hours later by pulling Mark Begich ahead of Ted Stevens in the recount.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Plan Now for Republican Control of the Pennsylvania Legislature

As you consider redistricting, I would suggest you first ask yourselves: what are your goals in redistricting reform? Do you wish to have districts with as equal population as possible without any consideration for the result? This will have the likely result that the party that does the best in statewide legislative votes will be the majority party in the legislature. Yet doing so is in violation of the Civil Rights Act.

Do you wish to preserve the civil rights guarantee there be districts with strong majorities of racial minorities? If so, this has an immediate political result that these districts will likely tend to elect Democratic representatives. What do you then do with the other districts. If one creates criteria for some districts that they lean Democratic and remains blind to the rest of the districts, the likely result is Republican majority control of the legislature, even though they could (and usually have in the past) receive fewer votes statewide. The Democratic votes become bunched up in the racial minority districts. If one wishes to include criterion that keeps the Democratic Party competitive in obtaining a majority control of the legislature, one needs to recognize that redistricting is a political decision. The question then becomes, what is the best process for conducting redistricting. Many states place the legislature in control. Some states like Pennsylvania create independent commissions that allow for political input. Do you wish to keep the commission process, and if so, who do you believe should compose the commission and how should they operate?

There are some proposals that the process be given to the Legislative Reference Bureau. These are the non-partisan attorneys who draft the official language for all legislation for every legislator. They have officially stated they do not wish to be in charge of redistricting. They are attorneys and are not trained in redistricting. Plus, they are employees of the legislature and could fear repercussions from the people who need to trust their independence.

As a policy wonk, I don’t have any recommendations. I am only suggesting it may be useful that people frame the issue according to what they seek. Some groups demand an end to gerrymandering and insist districts be exact squares or even circles, which can’t be done under the legal requirement of one person, one vote. Some groups insist that communities should not be divided. This can be minimized, but is impossible to achieve. Whichever communities are split will scream the process is unfair, so the question becomes who decides and how they decide which communities will receive split districts. One should consider both the integrity of the process as well as the integrity of the result.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

How Washington Really Works (When They Actually Do Work)

Only in the U.S. Senate can a 90 year old step down as a Committee Chairman for a younger Senator, and that younger Senator is only 84 years old.

If Sarah Palin believes that negative comments about her were part of a liberal media plot, wait until she sees the negative comments from her fellow Republican McCain aides. Now, that’s a plot.