Thursday, November 5, 2009

VA House of Delegate Ken Plum Debated Challenger Hugh "Mac" Cannon in Reston Last Month

Will their Views on the Important Issues Help Determine Who Will Win?
Incumbent Ken Plum (D, 36), of the VA House of Delegates, Challenges Hugh "Mac" Cannon (R) in Reston

Written by: Karen Benardello

11/09 National Article, National Scene Magazine

Democrat Ken Plum, the incumbent member in the 36th district of the Virginia House of Delegates (the lower house of the Virginia General Assembly), challenged Hugh “Mac” Cannon, the Republican vying for the seat, on October 1 at the Reston Community Television studios. With the upcoming election for the two-year seat, the two faced off while discussing the issues most important to the area, including commerce, education, transportation, and state revenue.

One of the biggest issues discussed during the debate was how to fund transportation. Plum most likely secured votes by saying the state shouldn’t raise the gasoline tax rate because the tax is outdated. The incumbent added that the House of Delegates needs to come to a consensus. In rebuttal, Cannon said that if he is elected, he would help move that process along by meeting with, and uniting, representatives from across Virginia. But Plum was skeptical this would happen, as he pointed to the fact that the last time the House of Delegates tried to unite on the issue of transportation was more than two decades ago.

The two also argued over higher education. Cannon stated that he is fighting for a higher rate of Virginian students being accepted into state universities and colleges. “…if (Virginian) students are earning the grades, live in the state and their families pay Virginia taxes they should be able to attend a state university. We need to keep our students here, we don’t need to export them to other states,” he said.

But Plum defended the choice of Virginian schools accepting so many out-of-state students, because the colleges and universities receive more money from these students, which helps them balance their budgets. He added that Virginia colleges would only be able to accept more in-state students if the state was able to fully fund the schools, but he doesn’t see that being economically possible in the near-future.

In an effort to help the state raise more money, Cannon stated that businesses need to stay in the region, taxes need to stay low, and regulations need to be in check. But he said he is afraid that if unions are planning on stepping into the area, businesses would be driven out of the area, as the unions would take away people’s right to work. The incumbent Plum responded by saying that if Reston has any hope to keep its businesses, and see an economic boost, leaders should invest in the area.

Both Plum and Cannon have valid points. Transportation costs need to stay low, but there’s little chance the House of Delegates will be able to reach an acceptable agreement on how to keep them down. Virginian students do have a right to attend a college in their home state, but the schools do depend on out-of-state students to maintain their cost. Businesses do need to stay in the area to help the economy survive. Whoever wins the election needs to find a way to work with the other party to determine the best course of action to help Reston survive.

Purported Afghanistan Presidential Winner Hamid Karzai Believes He is Indeed the Real Winner Admist Questions of Doubt

Who Is the Rightful Winner in Afghanistan’s Presidential Election?
Purported Winner Hamid Karzai Believes He Was Indeed Elected, Doubts U.N. Will Officially Challenge Results

Written by: Karen Benardello

Hope to bring the election crisis in Afghanistan to an end faded on October 17 when President Hamid Karzai defied international encouraging to accept fraud rulings. Combined with the fact that three more American service members have reportedly been killed by bombings, and the U.S.’s international allies have been looking for a way out of Afghanistan’s political impasse, the Afghan government’s legitimacy and the future of the U.S.-led military mission in the country are being questioned.

Amid these circumstances, and the belief that the U.N. has conducted an investigation into allegations of widespread fraud in the August 20 election, as preliminary figures showed Karzai won with more than 54 percent of the vote, Karzai could face a funoff with his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah. However, the U.N. panel must invalidate enough ballots to push Karzai’s total below 50 percent before a runoff can take place.

Karzai’s campaign staff believes that he will be able to remain in office, as they doubt the total will go below 50 percent. The president himself has refused to publicly comment on the matter, but it’s believed that he may challenge the U.N. panel if he doesn’t like its results, which would delay the runoff, and the declaration of the winner.

When fraud charges arise in Afghanistan, the U.N.-dominated Electoral Complaints Commission makes the final decisions on the manner. However, the president’s followers on the separate Independent Election Commission have argued that the partial recount is beyond the normal complaint process and that the U.N.-backed panel does not have the final say.

In order for the country to avoid political turmoil until spring, the second round of ballots needs to be held before winter begins in Afghanistan, which is typically in mid-November. After that, heavy snows fall in the mountain passes, and the Taliban can gain strength. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have all rightfully showed their concern on this manner, and have spoken to both Karzai and Abdullah in recent days to express their worries over the impasse.

If both Karzai and Abdullah are willing to work together, and it’s constitutional, the two should come to a power-sharing deal to avoid a potentially divisive and costly second vote, in an effort to avoid turmoil. But Mohin Murstal, a member of parliament and a Karzai supporter, said that “Karzai has agreed that after the announcement of the results, he will give the opportunity for all political personalities to be involved in government — but not before.” The president’s campaign spokesman, Waheed Omar, added that Karzai is “not going to compromise the results of the elections into any sort of political deal.”

Will New NASA Technology Help the Military Detect Disease-Causing Bacteria?

Will New NASA Technology Be Able to Help Military Detect Disease-Causing Bacteria?
New Microscope-Based Technology Quickly Detects Microbial Life on Spacecraft, Has Potential to Check for Decontamination of Pathogens After A Biological Attack

November 2009 Space Article-National Scene Magazine

Written by: Karen Benardello

A technology intended to quickly determine if there’s any presence of microbial life on spacecraft has been developed by Adrian Ponce, a chemist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. This method is also garnering attention, as it may also help the military test for disease-causing bacteria.

The new microscope-based method was devised by Ponce, who is also the deputy manager for JPL’s planetary science section, in an effort to quickly establish in a matter of minutes how clean a spacecraft is. Ponce was following to NASA’s practice of ensuring that spacecraft don’t hold bacteria or other micro biotic life forms from Earth that can could contaminate other planets or moons and distort scientific research.

One important indicator for cleanliness is microbes, which are bacterial endospores that can withstand extreme temperatures, ultraviolet rays and chemical treatments, Ponce said. “Bacterial endospores are the toughest form of life on Earth. Therefore, if one can show that all spores are killed, then less-resistant, disease-causing organisms will also be dead.”

NASA searches for microbial life by looking for dipicolinic acid-a major component of endospores and evidence of endospore growth. Scientists apply terbium, a chemical element used to generate the color green on television screens, to a dime-sized area on the spacecraft, and that area is then illuminated under an ultraviolet lamp. The scientists then look through a microscope to see if live endospores are present, and if there are, they will be seen as bright green spots.

The technology is so groundbreaking that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has rightfully expressed its interest in it. The federal agency is currently working on a portable instrument based on Ponce’s research that could quickly check for decontamination of pathogens after a biological attack, which can potentially save lives.

Ponce is working with the Department of Homeland Security and Advance Space Monitor to develop the instrument, which they plan to have ready for use by 2011. Hopefully the government will continue to fund the project so that NASA can continue to test for disease-causing bacteria.

While some people may not understand why the government is spending money to help keep spacecraft so clean, if the cleaning method can be applied to both living and public places, the time and cost will be worth it. With nuclear and biological threats a common concern, the government should be working to determine how to detect them before they materialize.