Technology

Obama missed chance to connect at Twitter town hall

Last week, I had the great privilege of attending President Obama's “Twitter Town Hall" on jobs and the economy. While comics and critics like Bill Maher poked fun at the White House for hosting this new media extravaganza, the truth is that the event made headlines because, for the first time in digital history, the audience had the chance to "#TalktoBarack." 

Unlike FDR's Fireside Chats, Twitter gave average citizens an opportunity to speak directly to the president. While Obama only responded to a handful of the more than 100,000 tweets, the 90-minute virtual "feedback loop" gave everyone from John Boehner to pot-smokers an opportunity to join the conversation. In fact, according to Mashable, the most frequently tweeted question dealt with marijuana as a source of revenue. Now, one can debate whether that question is relevant during a discussion about jobs, but there is no denying that this "Tweet-ocracy" gave everyone a chance to voice his or her opinion.

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Phone cramming is unacceptably widespread

Telephone companies have opened their billing and collection systems to third-party companies, and some of those companies have quietly been swindling consumers out of tens of millions of dollars each year. They trick phone providers into adding unauthorized charges on bills for services either not ordered, agreed to, or used. The amounts are often small enough, like $2, that people don’t notice.

But the money adds up big-time. By some estimates, consumers are paying tens of millions a year for unauthorized charges in a practice called “cramming.” Various estimates say between six-and- 20 million Americans may get hit each year. This is why the Senate Commerce Committee on which I serve has conducted a year-long investigation.

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We need to protect consumers from phone cramming

For two decades, American consumers, businesses, and even government agencies have been paying for a scam that has cost them billions of dollars.
 
It’s called “cramming.” It refers to the mysterious charges that appear on Americans’ phone bills for services they do not want or use.
 
The companies responsible for these cramming charges don’t sell legitimate products. Most of them don’t seem to sell anything at all. Their sole purpose is to place bogus charges on your telephone bill, and hope that you will pay your bill every month without looking at it too closely.  

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Bill protects children from predators

Just a few years ago, parents could rely on the four walls of their homes to keep their children safe. But in an age where social networking sites have replaced the playground, parents are now faced with the new challenge of keeping their children safe from criminals who operate online.

While the Internet has proved to be of great value in many aspects of our live, it has also become a virtual playground for sex predators and pedophiles to distribute child pornography images and encourage others to engage in child pornography. 

Child pornography may be the fastest growing crime in America, increasing an average of 150% per year. The Justice Department estimates that there are now more than one million pornographic images of children on the Internet.  The Department also estimates that one-third of the world’s pedophiles involved in organized child pornography rings live in the U.S.

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New launch systems hold potential for space exploration

As a boy in Northern Alabama, I grew up experiencing the wonder and excitement of the space program. The ground often shook beneath our family home from Saturn V rockets tested nearby. These were the same rockets that took Neil Armstrong to the moon when, on July 20, 1969, I and countless other young Americans watched with pride and wonder as Armstrong took his first steps on the lunar surface.  

A little over a decade later, two brave astronauts left Earth’s orbit in the first shuttle, Columbia. It was humanity’s first reusable spacecraft. Since that day, the shuttle program has led to breakthrough technologies and innovation, inspired Americans to explore space and created a skilled, committed workforce that leads the world in scientific innovation. 

NASA has been enormously successful in pursuing human space exploration. NASA technology and spin-offs have made America and the world a better place to live. Artificial hearts, life-saving defibrillators, cell phones, lasers, GPS systems, air purifiers and countless other NASA technologies shape our daily lives. NASA has not only led America to explore the depths of outer space, it has altered our individual space and brought us to a greater understanding of our world, our communities and ourselves. 

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Auf Wiedersehen! Germany’s goodbye to nuclear power will accelerate the transition towards a low-carbon economy

Germany’s plans to phase-out nuclear power seemed to catch many around the world by surprise and create a fair amount of skepticism. Some painted it as a “panicked overreaction” and even “environmental vandalism” to the nuclear meltdown in Japan.

One can argue that Germans are more risk-averse than other cultures. The accident of Chernobyl in 1986 resulted in a radioactive cloud over large parts of Europe for several weeks. It was a smart precaution to stay out of the rain and skip eating vegetables to avoid contamination. After experiencing this physical threat to personal health, Germans are more concerned about the risks of nuclear power than others might be.

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Leave no stone unturned for a shuttle replacement

When Congress established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958, it was in response to the Soviet Union successfully launching Sputnik and as a means of enhancing our national security. The mission for the agency, as described in the Space Act of 1958, has actually changed little since that time other than to respond to an expanded notion of national security that comes from sustained leadership in technological excellence and global competitiveness.

Many of us remember watching the Apollo 11 moon landing in our living rooms, the first steps on the moon by Neil Armstrong, the launch of the first space shuttle, and now we witness the launch of the last space shuttle mission. These iconic images of space exploration and the men and women who have pioneered space for the past 50 years will not be forgotten.

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Pursuing the next giant leap in space exploration

America’s founders were pioneers who risked everything to travel across unknown territories and oceans in pursuit of new frontiers. The generations of Americans who inherited this pioneering spirit embraced the idea that hard work and innovation make the impossible a reality: from establishing a lasting democracy out of a diverse people to landing a human being on the moon.   

Every day, thousands of visitors from across the globe walk the halls of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC to celebrate that very spirit. The museum not only provides young minds with a window into space exploration; it also inspires them to create broader vistas for themselves and for our nation.

But our space heritage should not be condemned to surviving only in a museum. We must not only continue to educate and inspire future generations with the great space achievements of the past. We must set new national goals for future achievements in human space exploration.

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Looming shuttle layoffs could have been prevented

For 30 years, Florida’s space coast has been at the center of NASA’s shuttle program. The men and women of Florida’s 24th District have put their blood, sweat and tears into making our country the leader in space exploration. Now that the program is coming to an end, tens of thousands of people in central Florida are facing devastating layoffs; layoffs that could have been avoided if the current administration had adequately prepared the space coast for this painstaking transition. 

Through proper planning and responsible action, these layoffs could have been avoided. If only NASA and President Obama had planned for this transition instead of simply canceling the Constellation Program without a viable alternative, jobs along the space coast could have been preserved. Consequentially, families in Florida’s 24th District have been left to fend for themselves and NASA will be left paying as much as $62.7 million per seat to the Russians for trips to the International Space Station and back. That money could be used to employ Americans to build American rockets to safely fly American and international crews. 

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End of shuttle program doesn’t mean end of American leadership in spaceflight

American leadership in human spaceflight is dead. Long live American leadership in human spaceflight.

Just as America ended the successful and celebrated Apollo program to blaze a different trail, now we are ending the space shuttle program to follow a different, more flexible path. Ending Apollo didn’t end American leadership in human spaceflight and ending the space shuttle program won’t end it either.

This week, Atlantis is scheduled to make the last ever liftoff of the space shuttle program. It is both joyful to see such an expensive, unsafe program end and tragic to see such an accomplished, ground-breaking program end.

There can be no doubt that the space shuttle program made the reusability of space vehicles a reality, brought dozens of crew and tons of cargo into space, and facilitated our space science goals for decades. These tremendous vehicles have served as an inspiration to countless Americans, and people around the globe.

But there is also no doubt that these vehicles fell far short of what we were initially promised: inexpensive, reliable transportation into space with 50 launches every year. What we actually received was fewer than 50 launches every decade from a technological dead end oftentimes grounded for years at a time due to technical problems. It killed 14 brave men and women and it cost about $1 billion per flight.

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