Items filtered by date: Friday, 07 April 2017

While Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution grants only Congress the right to declare war, the United States has won and lost (or fought to a draw if it makes you feel better) many wars since Congress last declared war on Dec. 8, 1941. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, the war in Afghanistan, Libya, and now Syrian attacks have all taken place without Congress declaring war.

 

The War Powers Resolution of 1973 was a response to Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon’s advancement of the Vietnam War and was supposed to reinforce Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution over Article II, Section 2, which makes the president commander-in-chief of the armed forces. It clearly hasn’t, as President Donald Trump proved the night of April 6 when he launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian air base after it was determined the Syrian government attacked a rebel ammunition cache holding chemical weapons that killed over 100 people -- none of which were American civilians or soldiers.

 

When Pearl Harbor was bombed on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, war was declared by Congress the very next day. When the Twin Towers came down on 9/11, the war effectively began the very next day, but without a declaration of war from Congress. Those were attacks on US soil, though. This, however, was not in response to an attack on America, which has members of both major political parties throwing a fit, which is uncharacteristic. Most often the party not inhabiting the White House makes a fuss about the president’s overreach. Both Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul think Trump’s military action in Syria violates the Constitution.

 

The War Powers Resolution only requires the commander-in-chief to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing a military attack, and Trump did indeed notify more than two dozen members of Congress of his plan to attack Syria the night of April 6. He did not seek their authorization to do so because it wasn’t required of him thanks to the leeway offered by previous presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all of whom launched attacks without Congress. Hell, George Bush, Sr. won the Gulf War in less than 100 hours. How can Congress expect to take back its Constitutional right to declare war if they allow presidents to bomb for 90 days when it took less than five days to win a war in 1991?

 

The most interesting thing about the War Powers Resolution is that it’s likely unconstitutional, which would make it pretty difficult to replace it. John McCain and Tim Kaine attempted to do so in 2014. They proposed the president should consult Congress before launching a military operation that is expected to last more than a week. It never happened, and it wouldn’t have any teeth today anyways. Bush, Bush, Jr. and Obama have knocked them all out. Drones helped a bit, too.

 

The War Powers Resolution is useless when one person can blow up the entire world in a matter of minutes without deploying a single soldier. War has become a lot like a catch in the NFL. We don’t really know how to define it, but we know it when we see it. And Americans have gotten used to waging war without declaring war. The United States is in a perpetual war against terrorism, and Americans keep waking up everyday, going to work and mostly ignoring what’s happening on the other side of the world. It’s no different than if war isn’t being waged. Americans everyday can safely assume their country is bombing somebody, and ignorantly assume those people had it coming.

 

I’m a big believer in the order of things. That is, the order in which information is presented matters, and that’s how I perceive the US Constitution. Article I holds more weight than Article II, and Amendment I of the Bill of Rights is listed before the Second Amendment for a reason. I mean, the whole reason white folks even stumbled upon this country was in search of religious freedom. And I’m not even religious, but I value the right to a free press and free speech over the right to own a gun. In this case, I think Congress’s right to declare war holds more weight than a president’s right to command the armed forces, and I think the Constitution was written in that order for that reason. While a president can’t declare war, he can control military operations once war is declared. I'm sure the drafters of the Constitution didn't think war would be waged prior to a declaration of war, or that bombs would be built that can blow up countries.

 

I also understand the importance of the president being able to command the armed forces in order to avoid an attack on Americans, and in a nuclear age when one bomb can wipe out an entire country, stopping those attacks is more important than retaliating. That is not the case here. Bush, Jr. didn’t have a very good reason to bomb Iraq, but he really didn’t need one. Neither does Trump with regard to Syria. Allowing Congress to decide whether to declare war might have saved the United States from entering either conflict.

 

I like the idea of checks and balances, but what Congress really wants is to reign in the powers of the president they’ve already given away. And if Congress really wanted that, they should have passed unconstitutional legislation that had some teeth the first time around, because it won’t happen again. That’s why I think the War Powers Resolution should be repealed and Constitutional order given precedence.

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Sarin gas: Your questions answered

A recent chemical attack in northern Syria killed dozens and wounded more.  According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), victims were having difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth, seizures, bleeding from the nose and mouth, fainting, and some progressed to losing consciousness and dying.  Based on these observances, sarin gas is suspected.

 

What is Sarin gas?

 

Sarin is a liquid that is clear, colorless, odorless and tasteless. It can also be vaporized and used as a gas in chemical warfare.  It is an extremely potent nerve agent.

 

What does Sarin do?

 

Sarin acts to inhibit cholinesterase.  To understand its effects, let me briefly break it down.

Cholinesterase is an enzyme in the body used to break down acetylcholine.

Acetylcholine is a neurotrasmitter, that is present in every synapse that bridges the nerve signals to the muscles and other nerves.

Cholinesterase is a “checks and balance” type enzyme that  prevents acetylcholine from building up and causing continual stimulation of muscles and nerves.

If  acetylcholine remains unchecked, continual stimulation of muscles and nerve fibers can occur, interfering with body processes and causing among many effects, inability to properly breath and ultimately death.

Sarin inhibits cholinesterase so it can’t inhibit acetylcholine, allowing the latter to build up, causing disastrous effects.

 

What are the symptoms of Sarin gas poisoning?

 

Within seconds of exposure, Sarin gas can cause a variety of symptoms.  These include:

  • Chest tightness

  • Cough

  • Runny nose

  • Watery eyes

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Blurred vision

  • Headache

  • Abdominal Pain

  • Drooling

  • Diarrhea

  • INcreased urination

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Confusion

  • Low Blood Pressure

  • Muscle twitching

  • Seizure

  • Loss of Consciousness

  • Death


Those who survive could have symptoms for weeks and sometimes long term neurological effects.

 

How does one get exposed to Sarin?

Sarin is man made.  Its an agent in liquid form that can be aerosolized.  It can be introduced to populations in food, water supply, by direct contact with the skin or  even inhaled.

How do we treat Sarin poisoning?

Firstly, we need to reduce exposure by immediately removing the clothing and washing off the body to reduce the amount of the chemical being absorbed.

Atropine is considered the antidote for nerve agent poisoning.  It acts by blocking acetylcholine receptor sites so the signals stop firing.

Pralidoxime is also used to help reactivate cholinesterase. It works by cleaving the bond made by the nerve agent/organophosphate and the cholinesterase so it is free to work again to control acetylcholine levels.

Both are given by injections and are available as autoinjectors.

History of Sarin Gas

Sarin was first developed as a pesticide during Nazi Germany in 1938 by Gerhard Schrader and his team.  The compound made was  found to be 500 times more deadly than cyanide.  So the chemical’s future of becoming a pesticide was thwarted because it couldn’t be used around humans.  Its been told that the team of scientists working on Sarin were incapacitated for a month.

The Nazis instead chose to develop it as a chemical warfare agent and named it Sarin after the scientists,  Schrader, Otto Ambros, Rüdiger and Hermann Van der Linde.  Fortunately it was never used during WWII.

 

However, in 1988 the Iraqi’s used it against the Kurds, killing 5000 and injuring tens of thousands more.  In 1995, the religious movement Aum Shinrykio released the gas on multiple subway trains in Tokyo, killing 12 and injuring thousands.

 

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a Board Certified Family Physician. The Dr. Daliah Show , is nationally syndicated M-F from 11:00am-2:00pm and Saturday from Noon-1:00pm (Central) at GCN.

 

Published in News & Information

If you have cable internet service or television, you’ve probably had a bad customer service experience. Comcast customer service, though, is the worst I’ve ever experienced. This is the story of the worst transaction I have ever attempted to make and how it made me want to cut the cord and go off the grid.

I ordered Xfinity’s X2 Double Play through my iPhone on the night of March 27. It was so easy it was as if Comcast stole the money right out of my bank account, but I received a confirmation email that my order had been placed on March 28, and another the next day stating my DVR and installation materials were on their way. I set up an Xfinity account, which comes complete with a Comcast email address. Since I was installing the equipment myself, there was no need to stay home and await a technician – or so I thought. He or she was scheduled to arrive March 28 to turn on my cable.

On March 30 I received an email with the subject line stating, “Action required to complete your order.” I clicked the “Confirm Offer” button and confirmed my order. But when I saw that my monthly bill would be more than $120 instead of the $100 per month price that was advertised, I made my first call to Comcast. I actually had a pleasant chat with a young man who was a native English speaker and very helpful. I told him I couldn’t afford $120 per month and that $100 was basically my budget. He said there was a return label in the box of installation materials for reasons such as this. He said to just slap the return label on the box and drop it at any UPS location. The return shipping was free. I told him that I’d still need Xfinity’s 100 mbps internet service for $50 per month, and he said that’d be no problem. He put the order in.

Since I work for a living, I missed the UPS delivery of the DVR and installation materials, for which I had to sign. After calling UPS to find out which of their stations I needed to visit, I got my package, reviewed the materials to see if there would be anything I needed to setup internet. I was purchasing my own modem, so I didn’t require anything. I slapped the return sticker over the original and gave it right back to the UPS lady. So far so good, right?

On April 3 I received another email confirming my Xfinity term agreement for the new order. At the very least, Comcast was covering their bases. They want you to know what you’re getting into so you can’t get out too easily. It stated that my install date would be April 5 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., but since I had previously had an installation date to have the cable turned on March 28 (which it still states on my Xfinity account homepage to this day) it shouldn’t have been necessary.

Despite speaking with the friendly, native English speaker and telling him I still wanted internet, it must not have been relayed to the technician.

When I called again on April 4 after discovering my plugged-in, Xfinity-compatible modem was receiving no information, I spoke to a non-native English speaker who said she couldn’t issue me a refund for the week my connection had not been active. I demanded to speak to a manager. He told me my account had been closed and there was no charge on my account. In fact, there was a $50 credit, because apparently when I returned the DVR, my credit card was refunded for Xfinity’s X2 cable and internet bundle, but the $50 I put down for the 100 mbps internet was simply credited to my account. I told him I wanted my cable internet-ready the next day. He transferred me to the nicest customer service representative in the world.

Kiara is a fixer. She’s one of those customer service representatives brought in to fix problems. At first she had trouble accessing my account. This was the third time I had to present my account information during this 26-minute phone call, because of course none of these customer service representatives selling or servicing internet have a connection to each other.

Finally, she scheduled a technician to come out the very next day as I requested. She said the technician would be there sometime between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. I asked if I had to be present, and she said I did not. She said she would call me personally to make sure everything went alright.

It was 7 p.m. when I got home from work the next day. I hooked up my new, Xfinity-compatible modem – because of course the one I already owned wasn’t compatible – and proceeded to fail in activating my internet service three times. I called customer service simply to find out if an Xfinity technician did indeed make my cable internet-ready that day, but the non-native English speaker said they don’t have access to that information. Well, after he ran me through the activation process another three times, which took 39 minutes on the phone, he said he would schedule a technician to come out as soon as possible. I said, “Don’t bother. I’ll go with someone else.”

But I wasn’t exactly ready to sacrifice my live streaming yet. I do a live, uncensored podcast during select Minnesota Twins games that probably requires a bit more than 5 mbps. So I put in yet another call to customer service after 8 p.m. Why I don’t know. I didn’t see an Xfinity truck or van pull up to my building in the hour leading up to 8 p.m. like I did prior to the folks downstairs moving in, so I figured either the technician never came or the cable running through my walls was garbage. Despite reaching a native English speaker, I only made it 33 minutes on the phone.

I again asked if he could confirm if a technician had in fact turned on my cable, and he said a technician was there today. I thought, “Great. So this should eventually work.” It did not. We ran through the activation process another three times before I decided I needed to eat something. It was 9 p.m. and I hadn’t had any food in eight hours. After about 25 minutes I asked the guy if he could give me the name of the technician that was supposed to make my cable hot, just so I could use it in lieu of a curse word. He could not. I told him that would be a good recommendation to make to the big bosses at Comcast. Even if it’s a random name and no face, at least there’s someone for the customer to blame. I again asked if he was sure the technician came out to turn on my cable, but this time he said he didn’t have that information.

“But you told me the technician was out here today,” I said.

“It says here there was a scheduled visit for today,” he said.

“Are you telling me you have no way of knowing whether the cable sending your signal is turned on?”

“I guess so.”

“So the only way you know if the cable is turned on is if the device works?”

“Yes.”

I was speechless. The only thing I could utter was a bellowing groan. How much time and money is Comcast wasting simply because of this bizarre business practice? Just think of all the extra customer service representatives they have to pay, regardless of location, because people are trying to activate devices with cable that isn’t internet-ready. How much lower could your monthly bill be if they just had a technician press one damn button in a smartphone app to confirm the cable is hot at each location they visit? I had had enough.

“You know what, transfer me to whoever can refund every penny I’ve given you because I want nothing to do with your company,” I said.

Another fixer tried to convince me to let them send out another technician, but I wasn’t going to let the third time be the charm. She assured me that they’d get it figured out, but I told her I wanted every penny back immediately, with a few curse words tossed in. She said there was no reason to curse, and I said she hadn’t had the customer service experience I had the last week. I told her this was the worst transaction I’d ever attempted to make. She told me my refund would be in the form of a check that would arrive in up to 10 business days. I didn’t care how long it took. I just never wanted to talk to any Comcast customer service representative ever again. And I might be forced to because my account balance shows a credit of $10 and some change. Comcast customer service representatives can’t even get a refund right.

All cable companies are the same because they’re all monopolies based in different areas of the world. It’s not unlike my Italian ancestors who “managed” territories in New York and Chicago and Vegas and California. There’s basically four companies that own everything – Time Warner/Charter, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T/DIRECTV. So far I’ve used all but Time Warner, and Comcast is easily the worst thus far. Time Warner doesn’t get much love online either, though.

The point of this story is to let you know what will continue to happen if we allow it. If we continue to make these corporations think we need their services, they will continue to provide terrible customer service and continue to fleece us. Take a stand and make a sacrifice.

In metropolitan areas there are tons of alternatives to cable internet. CenturyLink offers DSL internet service in my area, albeit at just 5 mbps, but it’s only $30 per month. There are faster speeds available in other areas, and all you need to stream Netflix, Hulu or live television is 5 mbps. Of course, the speed quoted is always a top speed and never an average speed, so keep that in mind. They also have a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, so if you don’t like the service you can cancel for no cancellation fee. While the customer service representative was unsure if I’d also be refunded the $20 activation fee, he was incredibly helpful and a native English speaker who was familiar with my area. He even called me back personally at my request.

If you want to go off the grid entirely (I assume you have a VPN), you can start by extending your Wifi range with a USB adapter and antenna. TP-Link offers a slew of options. If you’re less than 500 feet from the nearest public Wifi signal and don’t have a lot of buildings or walls interfering with your signal, I’d suggest a single-antenna option.

If that doesn’t work, go into your kitchen and grab a colander or Wok out of the cupboard and build a parabolic dish antenna out of the previously purchased wireless USB adapter. The Woktenna has been proven to increase gain as long as the bowl is not too deep. And if that doesn’t work, try a dual-antenna version of TP-Link’s wireless adapters. If that doesn’t work, move closer to public Wifi signals. Don’t give monopolies your money. The more of us that unite against cable companies, the less everyone will pay in their attempt to bring us back.

Editor’s Note: An update follows.

After waiting more than a week for Comcast to turn on my Xfinity internet, I finally caved after finding almost no internet alternatives in my area. While I really wanted to go with CenturyLink because of their superb customer service, 5 mbps download speeds just wasn’t going to cut it. So I called Comcast one more time and stayed on the line for over an hour.

I tried to stay calm and told the first customer service representative exactly what I wanted. I wanted a coupon for a free first month of internet services at download speeds of at least 25 mbps, and I never wanted to call Comcast customer service again. I told her I’d happily visit the Xfinity store a few miles from my house and speak to a living, breathing human being who is familiar with my community so I knew who I could blame when my internet didn’t work.

She said a coupon was impossible but if I wanted to go to the store and speak to someone that would be fine. I told her I wouldn’t continue as a Comcast customer if I wasn’t given a coupon for the week-long internet absence, specifically stating the amount of time I wasted on the phone over the course of that week, which worked out to be about the cost of a month of internet at 25 mbps download speeds given my wage.

She finally transferred me to someone who actually knew what he was talking about, and while he initially said a coupon would be impossible unless it’s given by a technician in the field, I kindly said that I knew he could issue a coupon. “You can do it,” I kept saying.

He kept saying he couldn’t give me a free month of internet, but he did find out why self-activating my modem didn’t work. He informed me that there hadn’t been an account at my address for nearly a decade and that self-activation likely wouldn’t work and a technician would be required to do some maintenance. I knew that meant I’d have to be present so the technician can access the cable, so I asked if he could send one the very next day. He could not.

The seventh customer service representative to whom I spoke that week, Jerome, I believe, put me on hold to negotiate the absolute fastest response he could get from a technician. He said Monday between 2 and 4 p.m. was the best he could do. I told him that might actually work for me, as I have no meetings on Monday and can take off work early.

Then Jerome said the magic words: “I’m going to waive your first monthly fee and your activation fee because of what you’ve been through.” I was elated.

“You should have led off with that,” I responded.

I asked Jerome why he was the only person I spoke to who knew what he was talking about. He said that he had spent time as a technical support representative and understood why things don’t work sometimes. Comcast had recently moved him to customer service for obvious reasons.

Three days later my technician arrived and got my internet up and running. My download speeds are up around 66 mbps, so not only did I get what I wanted, but apparently the $40-per-month package has download speeds of up to 75 mbps. The technician said Comcast is increasing them all the time. Upload speed is what means most to me, though, which was right around 7 mbps. That’s plenty for the live podcast I do occasionally, so I thanked Nick, the technician, and went and bought a new router. Mine was apparently too old for this new technology and only provided 5 mbps download speeds via Wifi.

In conclusion, I would recommend to anyone who has access to an internet alternative that provides download speeds higher than 5 mbps to take that alternative and avoid Comcast at all costs. I’d probably just lose my mind if my Xfinity internet suddenly stopped working and I was forced to call customer service again. Exhaust every alternative before committing to Comcast.

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