Senate Votes Against Additional Wall On U.S.-Mexico Border

Senate votes against additional wall on U.S.-Mexico border The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010 after it had been stripped of the provision to build an additional 700 miles of reinforced fencing along the southern border.

The idea had been championed by Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina who voted against the bill and criticized those who helped defeat his amendment.

"We’re learning there’s almost nothing politicians won’t do to get out of promises they make in the daylight," he said, quoted by

However, Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee chairman Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, had argued before the vote that the wall was "too proscriptive and too costly," and that the bill included funds to build a virtual fence along the border and to hire more Border Patrol officers, according to the news source.

Environmental and community organizations have also praised the vote. Sierra Club representative in Washington Michael Degnan commented that border walls have not been proven to stem illegal immigration, but they have a devastating impact on communities, families and the wildlife in the region.

Among other controversial elements in the $42.8 billion bill are the provisions that allow prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention center to be transferred to the U.S. mainland for trial.

Research Uncovers Anti-inflammatory Properties Of Ginseng

Research uncovers anti-inflammatory properties of ginseng According to the results of a new study, the herb ginseng—which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia—may be a natural anti-inflammatory agent.

The news comes from the University of Hong Kong where scientists isolated seven ginseng compounds, called ginsenosides, which they say show strong immune-suppressive effects.

Using human immune cells, which they treated with extracts of ginseng, they discovered the seven ginsenosides had the ability to selectively inhibit expression of the inflammatory gene CXCL-10.

Allan Lau, lead researcher on the team, says the beneficial effects of ginseng may result from the combined effects of ginsenosides which appear to target different levels of immunological activity.

However, he added that "further studies will be needed to examine the potential beneficial effects of [the herb] in the management of acute and chronic inflammatory diseases in humans."

Ginseng is a perennial fleshy plant native to cooler climates of eastern Asia, including northern China, Korea and eastern Siberia. Extracts and nutritional supplements containing ginseng are available in many health stores across the U.S.

Americans Increasingly Disagree With Obama’s Policies, Polls Show

Americans increasingly disagree with Obama's policies, polls show A pair of new opinion polls has found President Obama’s policy ratings among Americans are slipping, though he remains personally popular.

The first survey, released by the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation on Oct. 20 suggests 51 percent of respondents disagree with Obama on main issues. This marks the first time a majority has expressed such opinion since he took office last January.

However, the poll also found that two-thirds of Americans have a positive opinion about his personal qualities.

"This president might be shaping up to be a little like Ronald Reagan, where people actually didn’t often agree with [his] ideas, but they loved the guy," said Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, quoted by the news provider.

Meanwhile, the poll prepared by Gallup suggest Obama’s job approval ratings averaged 53 percent in the third quarter, down from the average of over 60 percent during his first two quarters in office.

Gallup says the president’s ratings were the highest on Jan. 21, 2009—the day of his inauguration—when 69 percent of Americans expressed their approval of him.

Emergency Preparedness Tips Before Onset Of Winter

Emergency preparedness tips before onset of winter As the country gets ready to set the clocks back one hour on November 1, it may be worth remembering that wintertime brings with it a danger of disasters in certain parts of the country for which Americans should be prepared.

Emergencies that have been associated with cold weather include blizzards, floods, blackouts and influenza, but individuals and families may reduce their risks by organizing a stockpile of essential supplies before inclement conditions arrive.

"We already use daylight saving time to focus on preparedness by checking batteries in smoke alarms, so it’s a great time to ensure that we have supplies to fall back on in the event of an emergency," said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA).

"Use the extra hour to create a new emergency kit or check your current stockpile for any perishable items that may have expired or canned goods that you may have used," he adds.

APHA also recommends reviewing community emergency preparedness plans, including evacuation routes, emergency shelters and the location of food banks, and updating the family communication plan.

It also suggests collecting medications in one place, and making sure there are enough supplies in case family members need to stay home with the flu for a few days.

Marriage Refusal Questions Extent Of Government’s Right To Intervene In Personal Life

Marriage refusal questions extent of government's right to intervene in personal lifeAs the fallout from the refusal by a New Orleans official to marry a interracial couple continues, the issue of the extent to which the state has the right to intervene in individuals’ freedom to marry a person of their choice is again gaining center stage.

Earlier this month, justice of the peace in Louisiana Keith Bardwell refused to issue a marriage license to a mixed-race couple on the grounds that such unions tend not to last and citing concern about children that may be born to the couple.

His decision has caused a firestorm of criticism, with accusations of racism and calls for the official to stand down.

"This is a clear violation of constitutional rights and federal and state law. … disciplinary action should be taken immediately, including the revoking of his license," said the state’s Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, quoted by CNN.

Meanwhile, the couple, which was married by another state official, is planning to sue Bardwell.

A refusal to perform an interracial marriage ceremony goes against the landmark 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia in which the justices stated unanimously that the Constitution protects the individual’s freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race and this freedom cannot be infringed by the state.

Administration Eases Marijuana Policy

Administration eases marijuana policyIn a significant departure from the policy of the George W. Bush administration, Attorney General Eric Holder has instructed federal prosecutors to stop prosecuting those who use marijuana for medical purposes in the 13 states where it is legal.

Thus far, prosecution was possible because of the 2005 Supreme Court ruling stating the federal government could continue to enforce U.S. law barring the cultivation, possession and use of marijuana, even in states that had legalized it.

Holder said that "it will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana."

However, he added that law enforcement will still go after traffickers "[hiding] behind claims of compliance."

Advocates of legalizing marijuana, who argue it may help treat chronic pain and nausea, have praised the government for the decision.

"This change in policy moves the federal government dramatically toward respecting scientific and practical reality," said Bruce Mirken of Marijuana Policy Project, quoted by the Associated Press.

However, critics have claimed it will weaken law enforcement in their fight against Mexican drug cartels.

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised he would not prosecute medical marijuana users in states where the practice was legal under state law.

Ginkgo May Become The New Natural Pain Remedy

Ginkgo may become the new natural pain remedyExtracts of ginkgo biloba are a popular natural supplement believed to enhance memory, but according to a new study it may also be beneficial against a common type of pain that is difficult to treat.

The research from the Catholic University of Seoul in South Korea focused on feeding the compound to rats to see how effective it may be against neuropathic pain often associated with herpes infections, limb injury or diabetes.

The results suggested that responses to cold and pressure pain stimuli were significantly reduced in ginkgo-treated animals, compared to those which received a placebo. The scientists also found a positive correlation between the dose of ginkgo extract and the pain-relieving effect.

In addition, the team was able to establish that pain was reduced for at least two hours after ginkgo supplementation.

Dr. Steven L. Shafer of Columbia University, editor-in-chief of Anesthesia & Analgesia where the study was published, said it was a good sign that scientists are researching the properties of the herb, which is part of the ancient oriental medical tradition, "in an effort to determine what chemical constituents account for the many beneficial effects traditionally ascribed to it."

Ginkgo biloba is a tree that currently occurs in the wild only in the northwest of Zhejiang province in eastern China, but its extracts are widely available in natural health stores in the West.

FTC Unveils Another Personal Data Infringement

FTC unveils another personal data infringement Demonstrating how vulnerable Americans’ personal data is to a breach, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced a settlement with ChoicePoint, one of the largest data brokers in the U.S., stemming from charges that the company failed to implement a comprehensive information security program protecting consumers’ information.

The FTC said that the company had been required to put the program in place by a previous court order. Ultimately, the failure led to data breach in 2008 that compromised the personal information of 13,750 people and put them at risk of identity theft.

ChoicePoint is now subject to a modified court order that expands its data security assessment and reporting duties, and the company will pay a $275,000 fine.

According to the commission, ChoicePoint turned off a key electronic security tool used to monitor access to one of its databases in April 2008, and it failed to detect that the security tool was off for four months. During that period, an unknown person conducted multiple unauthorized searches of the database containing sensitive consumer information, including Social Security numbers.

The company contacted the FTC after it discovered the breach.

The FTC claims that if the security software tool had been enabled, ChoicePoint likely would have detected the breach in a timely manner and minimized its impact.

Study Documents Fundraisers For Legislators Involved In Healthcare Reform Work

Study documents fundraisers for legislators involved in healthcare reform work With the debate about the shape of the healthcare reform provoking cross-partisan divisions, it may be interesting to note a recent study from Consumer Watchdog which found that industry lobbyists have hosted at least 130 fundraisers for lawmakers thus far in 2009.

The targeted members of Congress sit on five key committees responsible for fashioning comprehensive healthcare reform, and they include the Senate Finance Committee as well as Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; House Education and Labor; House Energy and Commerce; and House Ways and Means Committees.

Senate Finance Committee members raised the most money from the health industry, the report has found. Cumulatively, they benefitted from 11 fundraisers and $13,150,077. Meanwhile, House Labor and Pensions received $747,014.

Overall, all committees have raised nearly $31 million this year.

"The public can’t be confident in health reform if Congress insists on accepting industry money while legislating," comments Carmen Balber, Washington director for Consumer Watchdog.

She goes on to ask, "who can tell which hard decisions on health reform are being made over $1,000 high-balls shared by lobbyists and politicians while the public’s locked out of the room?"

The organization has therefore called on lawmakers to cancel upcoming health industry fundraisers and return any campaign contributions from the industry until the healthcare reform process is complete.

Research Explains Blood Pressure Benefits Of Vegetables

Research explains blood pressure benefits of vegetables It is widely known that consumption of vegetables has numerous health benefits, and a new study has found a link that may explain why they also appear to contribute to lower blood pressure.

Scientists from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago have discovered that a specific amino acid called glutamic acid may be responsible for this effect. They have suggested that increasing its intake may therefore contribute to better cardiovascular health.

The research team reviewed data from the International Study on Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure involving 4,680 participants aged between 40-59 and living in rural and urban areas of China, Japan, the U.S. and the UK.

Their results suggested that boosting the consumption of protein-rich vegetables by 4.72 percent resulted in a 1.5 to 3 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) decrease in systolic blood pressure and a 1 to 1.6 mm Hg reduction in diastolic pressure.

Dr. Jeremiah Stamler, professor emeritus of the Department of Preventive Medicine in the Feinberg School, explains that scientists believe reducing average systolic blood pressure by 2 mm Hg could lower stroke death rates by 6 percent and reduce mortality from coronary heart disease by 4 percent.

For people suffering from high blood pressure there is also a range of nutritional supplements they can add to their diet to boost their cardiovascular health.