Better Late Than Never? We Don’t Think So, Senator Orrin G. Hatch!

rip

We  received an email from Senator Mike Lee concerning our editorial on Thailand.  As you can see from the date, that was back in February.  Today we got an email from Senator Orrin Hatch, about that same editorial that we sent to him back in January.  We have no idea why he was so slow in responding to our message, but we think he’s burned out and it’s time for the old buzzard to retire to his cactus farm.  Anyway, we are posting his tardy response, reposting Mike Lee’s response, and also the original editorial about the turmoil in Thailand.

Dear Mr. Torkildson:

 

Thank you for taking the time to write with your concerns regarding the ongoing situation in Thailand. I apologize for the delay in my reply.

 

As you may know, Thailand has been an American trade and economic ally since the signing of the 1954 Manila Pact of the former Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). For many years, Thailand was also seen as a model of stable democracy in Southeast Asia, although this image, along with U.S. relations, have been complicated by political and economic instability in the wake of a September 2006 coup that displaced Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

 

In recent years, Thai politics have been dominated by rivalries between populist forces led by Thaksin (now in exile) and his opponents. Mass movements both supporting and opposing Thaksin have staged vigorous demonstrations, including protests in 2010 that spilled over to riots in Bangkok and other cities, causing the worst street violence in Thailand in decades.

 

Despite this political uncertainty and human rights issues, shared economic and security interests have long provided the basis for U.S.-Thai cooperation. Thailand contributed troops and support for U.S. military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq and was designated as a major non-NATO ally in December 2003.

 

As Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee which holds jurisdiction over U.S. trade, among many other issues, I am paying close attention to the ongoing situation in Thailand. In 2012, Thailand was the 25th largest goods trading partner of the U.S., with over $37 billion in two-way trade, and the U.S. is Thailand’s largest export market. I will continue to monitor the events in Thailand, and should any language be brought before the Senate regarding the countries ongoing issues, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind.

Your Senator,

Orrin G. Hatch

United States Senator

 

February 3, 2014

Dear Tim:

Thank you for reaching out to Senator Lee regarding Thailand. He appreciates your engagement and knows that input from and dialogue with concerned citizens is critical to creating solutions that will address the problems facing Americans today.

As a new year commences, Senator Lee, through his legislative work, will continue to develop upward mobility for the poor and ease the pressure on the middle class by making education more accessible and affordable. He will introduce legislation that will give the poor a hand up, and advocate for legislation to help the unemployed re-enter the work force. Senator Lee recently gave a major policy speech in which he said: “Today, working families’ take-home pay is flat. But the staples of middle-class security and opportunity – health care, education, home ownership, work-life balance, and children – are becoming harder to afford all the time.”

Senator Lee is moving forward with a positive policy agenda to address the challenges of our time. Partnering with citizens and colleagues on both sides of the isle, he will continue to work to create a better economic climate for our country which will enable his constituents to be more secure, get ahead and realize their American dream.

Best,

Pete Blair

Office of Senator Michael S. Lee
(202) 224-5444

There’s a world of trouble with Thailand.  One of America’s staunchest allies in Southeast Asia, we have a vital interest in that country’s welfare, and so it’s not “sticking our nose in other people’s business” if we comment feelingly on that ancient and honorable constitutional monarchy that most people know only through the movie “The King and I.”  Both India and China have strong historical ties with Thailand that reaches back centuries before America was even a country.  If we’re not proactive, we may see those ancient nations once again in the ascendant with Thailand, to our cost.

If you’ve had the privilege of living in Thailand, as we have, you know that the people are warm-hearted, gentle, tolerant, and wise beyond their years with the stored power of Zen that comes from centuries of studying and implementing the teachings of Buddha.  Their diet is wholesome and so delicious that it’s almost like having sex.  Their beaches stretch for hundreds of miles along the Gulf of Siam and the Andaman Coast, and are cherished by millions of tourists each year, as well as by the Thais themselves.  It is a truly blessed country, which escaped, in large measure, the ravages of the Vietnam Conflict 45 years ago.

The ruling monarch of Thailand is a remarkable scholar, musician, philanthropist, legislator, and peacemaker.  He and his lovely queen have kept their country from the savage bloodbaths that have cursed that region during the past fifty years.  But he is old and ill now, and ready to go the way of all the earth.

And so the political grubs and weevils, the jackals and buzzards, are closing in for their piece of the remains.  No one is quite sure just what happens when the current monarch passes on.  The situation has not arisen for more than fifty years, and the current Crown Prince may not be up to taking the reins and controlling the lusty steeds of Thai culture, tradition, and politics.

We won’t go into the confusing, often contradictory, details of the current political mess in Thailand, except to say that a rather large party of citizens, who feel they have been out of power for far too long, want to get back in power – but not by the election process.  No, they’re afraid that they’ll be outvoted and outflanked by the vast majority of Thais, who, if they do not actively support the current administration, at least do not want to see it torn down in riot and chaos.  This party, which we will call, for convenience’s sake, the Ninnyhammers, feel that the governing of Thailand needs to go back a century or two, when the monarch was an absolute dictator and the rich and cultivated formed an oligarchy that kept the common people down where they belonged – doing corvee labor and forbidden to have a voice in government.

The Ninnyhammers are shutting down central Bangkok even as we write this editorial.  That is how they intend to bring back “the good old days”, to turn back the hands of the clock.

What the Ninnyhammers of Thailand, and of the world, never realize is that while you can turn back the hands on a cheap Timex watch with no damage, if you attempt to turn the hands back on a fine Swiss timepiece you ruin it forever – it becomes irreparable.   And that is what the Kingdom of Thailand has become – a finely wrought piece of culture and government that is balanced delicately between reverence for the monarchy and pride in representative government.  Fool with it in a brutal manner, as the Ninnyhammers are doing, and it will stop working – not just for some, but for ALL people in Thailand!

The United States must make it clear to the Thai Ambassador that we will never recognize a Thai government that seizes power through insurrection and terror, and that wishes to reverse the course of destiny and democracy.  The Ninnyhammers of Thailand are NOT advocating anything revolutionary or experimental – they simply wish to take Thailand back to its barbarian medieval state.  For their own ignorant benefit.  We cannot let them highjack this beautiful land of Ten Thousand Smiles!

Uncle Sam should speak up, President Obama, and support the current Thai Administration, despite its faults and failures.  The alternative would be worse for everyone.

Nude Descending Canoe Paddle

Heitkamp Calls on America to Give Native American Families a Helping Hand.

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Senator’s Legislation would Create a Commission on Native Children; Senator Dorgan to Speak about Importance of Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, will participate in a Senate hearing on her bill to address the challenges facing Native children and offer real solutions to address them.

Former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, Founder and Chairman of the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, will testify at the hearing at the request of Heitkamp, on the importance of her bill to improve the lives of Native American children by addressing the economic, education, crime, and health care disparities that Native children too often face. The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 2:30 pm ET.

“Focusing on improving the lives of Native children will allow us to better understand and solve problems Native American families face every single day throughout North Dakota,” said Heitkamp. “Far too often, we worry about specific programs and not enough about the outcomes. This Commission needs to be looked at from a holistic standpoint because children are a critical component of every part of Indian Country. I’m working to make sure Native children aren’t left behind because when they’re given an opportunity to really thrive, they are able to make tremendous achievements for themselves, their families, and communities. That’s why I’m pushing for this bill and that’s why I pushed for this hearing on it.”

“Senator Heitkamp is a longtime champion for Indian Country and I am proud of her for taking a leadership role in making American Indian children a top priority,” said Dorgan. “When I chaired the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate, I knew that Indian children were the most at-risk population in America. I created the Center for Native American Youth to shine a light on the difficulties they face to find solutions to the challenges of teen suicide, inadequate health care, and education opportunities, and more. Senator Heitkamp’s legislation is a very positive and welcome step towards ensuring that Indian children will not be overlooked by policy-makers anymore.”

Her bill would create the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children, which would conduct an intensive study into issues facing Native children – such as high rates of poverty, staggering unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and few economic opportunities – and make recommendations on how to make sure Native children are better taken care of and given the opportunities to thrive.

In November 2013, Dorgan penned an op-ed in the Fargo Forum strongly supporting Heitkamp’s bill. On the day she introduced her bill, Heitkamp spoke on the Senate Floor about the importance of this legislation to address some of the most pressing challenges for Native children.

The Commission on Native Children would conduct a comprehensive study on the programs, grants, and supports available for Native children, both at government agencies and on the ground in Native communities, with the goal of developing a sustainable system that delivers wrap-around services to Native children.  Then, the 11 member Commission would issue a report to address a series of challenges currently facing Native children.  A Native Children Subcommittee would also provide advice to the Commission.  The Commission’s report would address how to achieve better use of existing resources, increased coordination, measurable outcomes, stronger data, stronger private sector partnerships, and implementation of best practices.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) helped introduce the bipartisan legislation which currently has 15 additional bipartisan cosponsors, including Senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Jon Tester (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

 

Top Ten Signs You’re Trapped in Cyberspace, or Have You Tried Social Media Anonymous?

You're not alone anymore, Freakazoid!
You’re not alone anymore, Freakazoid!

You spend more time on the Internet than Hitler spends on regrets.

If it’s not on Facebook, Youtube or MySpace, you’ll never know about it.

The last time you ate a meal with your family was after a relative’s funeral.

The Internet makes you feel instantly ALIVE; the real world takes too long to upload.

Killing virtual zombies is more important to you than even restyling Captain Janeways hairdo!

You don’t sleepwalk, you sleep surf; you get up in the middle of the night to blog in your sleep.

You check the same site so often that you’re offered its domain name by the owner.

You fall down a flight of stairs and immediately call the Geek Squad to check your mobile apps for damage.

You’ve worn out half a dozen mouse pads in the last six weeks.

You can remember a hundred hashtags, but not your own cell phone number.

social

Sunday Essay. Part Two: Reconnecting with Faith and Community.

pew

“Together is harder, but together is better.” — Rabbi David Wolpe.

Why do people belong to religions? Some inherit a religion at birth while others may convert to one. But at one point or another people make a conscious decision whether to participate in their religious communities. In fact, the root word for religion is the Latin “religare,” which means to reconnect or bind. In an age that magnifies personal freedom, what could sound less attractive than “binding” oneself to the quirks and idiosyncrasies of a large group of people?

And yet a principle found in many religions is that there is little separation between you and the people around you. Jesus Christ put the charge quite simply: “love thy neighbor as thyself.” In other words, your well-being is much more than aloof personal freedom; it is tied to your neighbor’s well-being also. And so, religious institutions can be helpful junctures where two cooperating impulses meet — the desire for individual purpose and the desire for communal belonging. Like all human goods, these impulses fit within a balance.

Institutional religions are certainly not the only source of all that is good in the world. Individuals can have fulfilling lives while quietly living out their own beliefs in private. But throughout history nothing has rivaled organized religion in its ability to foster commitment to concrete people who live in concrete places. It is in this sustained engagement with neighbors that religion makes its lasting contribution.

Being part of a church is much more than just going to church. It fills people with identity, opportunity, aspiration, learning and many more personal blessings. But these come to individuals insofar as they look beyond themselves to others. Religion instills social responsibility and covenant-making in our lives, based not on self-interest but as a promise to God. This act of “binding” is one of the rare things in history that forges social obligations beyond family or tribe. Fellow believers are often in the best position to care for an ailing person, repair a neighbor’s house or fill in countless other gaps that we ourselves cannot fill. There are few, if any, organizations that can substitute for the community of a church.

Nevertheless, one of the defining features of our time is a waning distrust of institutions, including religious institutions. As a result, many people are more isolated from families, communities and society at large. It is so easy to become atomized — breaking into islands of individuals untethered to larger associations. The writer David Brooks lamented the condition wherein “individuals don’t live embedded in tight social orders; they live in buffered worlds of private choices.”

Societies that encourage materialism, individualism and moral relativism may promote what has been called the “sovereignty of self,” but they weaken other values. The social thinker Michael Walzer urges caution: “This freedom, energizing and exciting as it is, is also profoundly disintegrative, making it very difficult for individuals to find any stable communal support, very difficult for any community to count on the responsible participation of its individual members.”

Detached individualism contributes to the trend in society of being “spiritual but not religious.” What this often means is that faith is treated as a personal matter, not the business of other people. But there need not be a contradiction between the two. A person can be both spiritual and religious. In fact, the two are interdependent in vibrant religious lives.

As author Lillian Daniel says, “Anyone can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who has different political views, or when a baby who is crying while you’re trying to listen to the sermon.” Yet these very inconveniences with other people give substance to our faith, enrich our human empathies and bolster our civic foundation.

In this age of falling trust and social disintegration, a return to the sacred commitments of congregations will make our communities more cohesive. When the fabric of society begins to fray, religion with its layered threads of social capital can help bind it together.

 

Organized religion may be the glue to bind a fraying society.
Organized religion may be the glue to bind a fraying society.

 

What the Trash Will Tell. My N.S.A. Roots.

Babel

My parents functioned as a sort of NSA during my childhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Without any conscious effort they gathered data and got the ‘goods’ on everyone in the neighborhood. I think this was a game all the parents played on our block, as a way to feel important and to stay sane on those gluey summer days when the humidity hit the 90’s, the beaches were closed due to Dog Days, the kids were owly, and air conditioning was only a dream for the middle class.

Under a slanting and angry red sun, my dad would flow onto the curb from the car after work. Giving me a pat on the head, he would settle into a lawn chair under the weeping willow in the backyard, waiting for my mother’s debriefing. If tidings were juicy, she would bring him a beer. If pickings were slim, he only got lemonade.

 

Like any enclave the world over, we had our share of noisy, blustering couples, who broadcast their affairs with bullhorn voices during their arguments. These people held but little interest for my parents – it was obvious they were red herrings, meant to throw serious investigators off the trail of any real scandal in the neighborhood. My mother would mention that the so-and-so’s had had a real doozy of an argument over lunchtime, about his philandering or her extravagance, and he had threatened to move out to go live in a cave down on the Mississippi.

I thought this was fantastic information, because I was familiar with some of those sandstone caves down by the river. They were cool! I’d like to live in one, myself. But my father merely waved his hand, as at a mosquito, dismissing the whole episode as the merest trifle. They were “uviktig dumming”, unwitting pawns, in a larger, more sinister game.

Chewing a blade of grass, I listened intently as my mother went on to say, with an arch in her eyebrows that would have done McDonald’s credit, that old Mrs. Anderson, the elderly widow across the alley, had the plumber come to unplug her kitchen drain – he was a very young plumber, probably still an apprentice sent out by the master plumber, and he had stayed inside her house for two hours. My mother said no more. My father nodded his head sagely, as if this confirmed a long-held theory about the old lady. No doubt they would have talked more freely had I not been there. Little pitchers have big ears.

Next on the agenda was the Dayton’s Department Store truck that had stopped in front of the Kraposki’s house, and then driven around back, out of my mother’s keen sight. They had delivered nothing, as far as my mother could tell, and the question remained — why drive around to the back of the house? Unless it were to pick up something. My parents had no scruples with speculating about the household finances of other families around me, so they let their imaginations soar. They had missed too many payments on that baby grand piano they had had delivered last winter – as if the Kraposki’s daughter could play anything but Chopsticks on her best day! It was agreed they were a stuck up family, and my dad helpfully added that he thought he remembered an incident at a picnic or barbeque a few years back when Mr. Kraposki had boasted his family were of the old aristocracy back in Poland. My mother mentally filed this observation away for future reference.

Then there was the mysterious half-mowed front lawn of the Holmbergs. It had remained that way for two whole days. My own theory, influenced by copious drafts of Tales from the Crypt, was that the whole family had been turned into mutant zombies by an outer space plague, and were metamorphosing into bug-like creatures at this very minute, preparing to ooze out of their house and devour our brains while we slept. I didn’t actually say this, but I thought it rather fiercely while my folks decided that the Holmbergs had been suddenly called away, probably to bail her worthless brother out of jail again for passing bad checks in South Dakota.

Several other families were enumerated, categorized as either “salt of the earth” or “not worth an apple peel”, and dismissed with relevant facts and figures, before my parent’s attention was focused on me, their little Timmy. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was their master spy who brought in a treasure trove of information each week. That’s because I liked to root through the trash cans in the alley. My debriefing took the form of being denounced for messing with other people’s garbage. My mother would glare at me as she reported to dad my felonious diggings. Dad would then set the stage by sarcastically saying to me: “And I suppose you found a pot of gold while pawing through all dat stuff?”

I would innocently recount my findings; a whisky bottle in this trash can (“And they’re Baptist” my mother would say triumphantly), and a ripped hot water bottle in that trash can (“I guess he ain’t constipated no more!” my dad would chortle coarsely). I could tell them which families liked pork and beans, which still used lard, and was not shy to reveal I had found a blood-soaked towel in the trash at the so-and-so’s, that argumentative couple.

Galvanized into curiosity by this last statement, my parents demanded further details about the bloody towel. I proudly told them I had used it to smear a long red streak up and down the wooden telephone pole behind our garage, which made it smell like turpentine.

“Uff-da, the boy don’t know blood from spilled red paint!” said father. Mother announced that dinner was ready, anyways. Macaroni salad and tomatoes in aspic. I could already taste that glucky salad dressing with the bitter celery chunks, and made a face. So I was sent to my room without any supper, where I could have watched Khrushchev move in next door and never said a word to my parents . . . the crumb bums!

Senate Acts Quickly on Nicotine Poisoning Threat Posed by E-Cigarettes.

The technology may be safe; but the poison it delivers is still deadly.
The technology may be safe; but the poison it delivers is still deadly.
Call Follows New York Times Report on Dramatic Rise in Accidental Nicotine Poisonings

Washington, D.C. – In light of mounting evidence that the emerging market of new nicotine delivery products poses serious public health and consumer protection issues, six U.S. Senators have called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to move quickly to regulate the rapidly evolving market of e-cigarettes and other nicotine products saying: “It’s time for the FDA to stop the sale of these candy-flavored poisons to our children.”

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) signed on to today’s letter.

New York Times report found a dramatic increase in accidental nicotine poisonings, notably among children. The article cited the National Poison Data Systems which recorded 1,351 accidental nicotine poisonings from electronic devices in 2013 – a 300% increase from 2012. Of the cases in 2013, 365 were referred to hospitals, triple the previous year’s number. In addition to health risk posed by the nicotine in these products, the New York Times article cites quality control and manufacturing dangers.

“Yesterday’s New York Times describes the dangerous emergence of liquid nicotine products, raising serious public health and consumer protection concerns about the rapidly evolving market for new and unregulated nicotine delivery products,” the Senators wrote. “These nicotine products are readily available in stores and online, where they can be sold to youth and adults who do not understand the associated health risks…As the [FDA] asserts regulatory authority over tobacco products, it is critical that the agency’s regulatory oversight keeps pace with these new nicotine delivery products.”

Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes and e-cigs, are battery-operated products that simulate traditional cigarettes by converting cartridges of liquid typically filled with addictive nicotine, other additives, and flavorings into vapor inhaled by the user. Currently, e-cigarettes, nicotine liquids, and nicotine dissolvable products are not subject to federal laws and regulations that apply to traditional cigarettes, including a ban on marketing to youth. Unlike traditional tobacco products, these nicotine products can be legally sold to children and are not subject to age verification laws.

The Senators wrote, “In spite of the growing popularity of nicotine delivery products, decades of research shows that exposure to nicotine increases risk of addiction and has adverse health consequences. Unlike traditional cigarettes and tobacco products, these novel nicotine products are not subject to federal regulations that prohibit sale to minors, restrict marketing to youth, ban products in candy and fruit flavors, and regulate manufacturing practices and ingredients. In the absence of federal oversight, these products are taking advantage of the regulatory vacuum to market nicotine products to youth and risk addicting a new generation to nicotine.”

Last month, Durbin, Harkin, Boxer, Blumenthal and Markey introduced the Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act which would prohibit the marketing of e-cigarettes to children and teens. Despite claims from some e-cigarette makers that they do not market their products to children, e-cigarette manufacturers have adopted marketing practices similar to those long used by the tobacco industry to market regular cigarettes to youth – including flavoring their products in candy or fruit flavors that appeal to children, and sponsoring youth-oriented concerts and sporting events in order to market their products to teens.

The Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act would permit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to determine what constitutes marketing e-cigarettes to children, and would allow the FTC to work with states attorneys general to enforce the ban.

According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, 1.8 million middle and high school students said they tried e-cigarettes in 2012, and a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the percentage of high school students who had tried them had more than doubled in just one year – indicating that e-cigarette companies could be targeting youth through advertisements. More than 76 percent of those users said they also smoked conventional cigarettes, suggesting that for many young people, e-cigarettes could be a gateway to nicotine addiction and smoking of conventional cigarettes.

In December, Senators Boxer, Durbin, Blumenthal, Harkin, Markey, and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)sent a letter urging the FTC to investigate the marketing practices of e-cigarette manufacturers.

Text of today’s letter is below:

March 29, 2014

The Honorable Margaret Hamburg
Commissioner
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993

Dear Commissioner Hamburg:

Yesterday’s New York Times describes the dangerous emergence of liquid nicotine products, raising serious public health and consumer protection concerns about the rapidly evolving market for new and unregulated nicotine delivery products. As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asserts regulatory authority over tobacco products, it is critical that the agency’s regulatory oversight keeps pace with these new nicotine delivery products.

As a result of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, the FDA has made commendable efforts to enhance the regulation of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. However, over the years we have seen the emergence of new nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, hookah pens, dissolvable nicotine orbs and strips, and liquid nicotine products, also called e-liquids, which are marketed to appeal to children with bright colors and flavors like cherry and bubble gum. Unlike traditional cigarettes and tobacco products, these novel nicotine products are not subject to federal regulations that prohibit sale to minors, restrict marketing to youth, ban products in candy and fruit flavors, and regulate manufacturing practices and ingredients. In the absence of federal oversight, these products are taking advantage of the regulatory vacuum to market nicotine products to youth and risk addicting a new generation to nicotine.

In spite of the growing popularity of nicotine delivery products, decades of research shows that exposure to nicotine increases risk of addiction and has adverse health consequences. The 1988 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction, states that “nicotine is a psychoactive drug with actions that reinforce the use of tobacco…and that causes addiction.” The report goes on to say that, “the pharmacologic and behavioral processes that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine addiction to drugs such as heroin and cocaine.” Furthermore, nicotine exposure during adolescence can have important health consequences. The 2014 Surgeon General Report found that nicotine exposure during adolescence, a critical window for brain development, may have lasting adverse consequences.

These nicotine products are readily available in stores and online, where they can be sold to youth and adults who do not understand the associated health risks. The New York Times article reports that, “accidental poisonings, notably among children, are soaring.” According to National Poison Data Systems, accidental e-liquid poisonings in the U.S. have skyrocketed “to 1,351 in 2013, a 300 percent increase from 2012…. Of the cases in 2013, 365 were referred to hospitals, triple the previous year’s number.” According to Dr. Lee Cantrell, Director of the San Diego Division of the California Poison Control, the dose of nicotine in some e-liquids is lethal enough to kill, “Not just a kid. One tablespoon could kill an adult.”

In addition to health risk posed by the nicotine in these products, the New York Times article cites quality control and manufacturing dangers. The article reports that, “[e-liquids] are mixed on factory floors and in back room shops.” These concerns are supported by a 2009 analysis FDA conducted on a sample of e-cigarettes. The analysis found significant quality control issues, such as the presence of carcinogens and toxic chemicals, including diethylene glycol, an ingredient commonly found in antifreeze. FDA also found that different samples of the same product emitted markedly different nicotine levels, indicating that some manufacturers are using substandard or non-existent quality control measures. This analysis substantiates concerns regarding the safety of e-cigarettes, both for current users and for bystanders exposed to their vapor.

The emerging market of new nicotine delivery products raises serious public health and consumer protection concerns. It’s time for the FDA to stop the sale of these candy-flavored poisons to our children. We urge FDA to move quickly in developing a regulatory structure to minimize the harm to public health not only of traditional tobacco products, but also the rapidly evolving market of nicotine products.

Sincerely,

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Tom Harkin
United States Senator

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Richard Blumenthal
United States Senator

Edward J Markey
United States Senator

Jeff Merkley
United States Senator

skull

The Family Reunion.

An uninvited guest at our family reunion.
An uninvited guest at our family reunion.

George Bernard Shaw, a vegetarian that grew a long beard and even longer plays, once said “If you can’t get rid of the family skeletons in your closet, you may as well make them dance.”

Sound advice, Georgie boy; especially when writing about family reunions.  I’ve only ever attended one family reunion, as a boy of thirteen.  Held on a cousin’s farm that bordered the Minnesota River, just outside of Mankato, the tables were two-by-fours laid on top of saw horses, covered with brown butcher paper that flapped and crackled ceaselessly in the July breeze.  The sky-blue waters of the Minnesota River teemed with bass, walleyes and channel cats, ready for the taking with cane pole and night crawler.  Our farmer cousin hitched up the tractor to a hay wagon to give the kiddies heaving, weaving rides amidst the glistening green pastureland.  The whole shebang was bucolic in the extreme, a postcard photo come to life that beamed “Hi! Welcome to Minnesota!”  I despised all of it.

At thirteen I had acne and attitude.  I wanted nothing to do with my cousins, nothing to do with outdoor activities that involved three-legged races and egg salad, and I displayed my weltschmerz with absolute candor.   In my own mind I was a lone wolf, going my own way and doing my own thing, man – and don’t bug me with this family schtick.  To everyone else I was “Bowtie”, a nickname bestowed on me by Uncle Louie long ago when my mother stuck a red bowtie on me for church – the kind that Jerry Mahoney, Paul Winchell’s dummy, wore on TV.  My beetling brow was practically nietzschean, such was the lofty scorn I felt for everything around me.  On the ride down to the farm from our home in Minneapolis I had sat in the back of the car, murmuring repeatedly and sarcastically “Why dontcha just KILL me and get it over with.”  After thirty miles of this my father was inclined to grant my request, but mom persuaded him to let me experience the living death of a Torkildson family reunion instead.  When goaded, she could be a cruel woman.

Luckily, I had brought along my dog-eared copy of Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse; when we arrived at the farm I retired to a tree stump in a bower of boxelder to read and sourly observe the follies of my kin.  The women began setting up the food.

This was the heyday of cold salads and starchy casseroles.  Cold macaroni, mixed with canned peas, black olives, limp lettuce, and gobs of mayonnaise, constituted the majority of so-called salads.  Some of them had tuna and some of them had ham included, but none of them was fit to eat, in my epicurean estimation.  The casseroles had been baked the night before and were now cold and dead, placed in a sunny spot in the forlorn hope they might regain some tepidity.  These admixtures of sliced potatoes, Campbell’s mushroom soup and French’s French Fried Onions were gobbled up by my cousins in amounts that foreshadowed arteries hardened to macadam in the coming years.

The desserts looked more promising.  Numerous German chocolate cakes, apple pies, and greasy crullers showered in powdered sugar gave off a tantalizing aroma that finally lifted me off my stump. A wash tub full of ice harbored bottles of RC Cola, Dad’s Root Beer, and chaste 7 Up.  This was more like it; I gobbled up the sweets and guzzled the soda pop until satiated, and then retired once again to my stump, like Ether going into his cave to observe the destruction of the Jaredites.

In the meantime my dad had joined his brothers and cousins around the washtub full of beer, ensconced in folding aluminum frame lawn chairs, where they practiced the traditional Norwegian activity of grunting.  This consisted of one of ‘em opening a can of beer, taking a long pull, belching, and then giving a non-committal grunt.  The others, by some form of Scandinavian telepathy unknown to Western science, understood the grunt to be a long and detailed commentary on the state of the world, and nodded their heads slowly and sincerely.  Then another one would pull out a beer and the whole process would be repeated.  They kept this up for the next six hours.  None of them had to get up to go to the bathroom, despite the rivers of beer they consumed, and none of them ever uttered more than a monosyllable.  All movement was kept to a bare minimum.  A stranger happening by might be pardoned for thinking them a group of trolls turned to stone by the sun.

The women retailed gossip, scandal and recipes with each other, with the more daring among them occasionally darting over to the washtub of beer to filch a can from under the silent, disapproving gaze of the men.

The children gamboled about, collecting cow pies and poison ivy to bring back home as mementos of their rustic revelry.

My stump was giving me splinters, so I finally condescended to grace the festivities with my presence by accepting a cane pole and worm and fishing in the river.  The water was sluggish and brown, and my bobber sat still for centuries before it was pulled under with one convulsive jerk.  Holy Hannah, I had hooked a whopper!  My pole bowed until it nearly dragged me off the bank into the river, and then, slowly and majestically, the head of a huge snapping turtle rose above the waters, my hook securely lodged in its beak.  I screamed with joy and frustration.  Several of my older teenage cousins scrambled down the river bank and grabbed driftwood to prod the monster into surrender, but that only enraged the prehistoric creature more.  It thrashed its warty head back and forth, darting its pink tongue in and out while hissing like a ruptured calliope.  I do not know how long the struggle lasted; to me it seemed like hours, but more likely it was only a few minutes before the snapping turtle snapped the line and sank back into the ooze at the bottom of the river.

In my disappointment I upbraided my helpful cousins bitterly, accusing them of ineptitude in bringing a harmless little turtle to bay so I could bring it home to immortal glory.  They did not take my rebukes kindly (and I suspect they had been embezzling cans of beer as well), so I was unceremoniously taken up and tossed into the river, which was not particularly deep or swift at that juncture.  As I dragged myself back to shore the laughter of my kindred stung my ears.

“Hey, lookit Bowtie!  He wants ta swim in dat muddy water!” they quipped back and forth, in the belief that repetition would render their inane statement amusing.  I stomped off to the car and refused to come out again, even though the July sun had heated the interior to the temperature of a brick kiln.

My parents finally took pity on me, and we left long before the other cousins did – long before, my dad remarked wistfully, the beer even ran out.  I was so mortified I spoke not a word the whole way back, and remained in a silent rage for the next week.  Which pleased my folks no end; they did not have to put up with any of my pubescent lip.

“Maybe we should trow him into da river more often” I overheard dad suggest to mom.

Huh, my parents, the comedians; they should have taken that routine onto the Arthur Godfrey Show!

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