Help Your Student Win…

Help Your Students to Win a Chance to Get a Patent on an Invention The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation has partnered with ePals Global Community to sponsor the second annual invention challenge!

Get your students’ creativity flowing. Help them become inventors by choosing a problem and inventing something to solve it. You can use the power point template to submit their ideas. Four lucky winners will have the chance to get a patent filed for their invention! This year, there are chances for students to win across multiple categories and age groups. Entries are due January 4th, 2013. Finalists will be announced on Kid Inventor Day (Jan. 17th 2012) and the winners will be announced on February 4th! Visit ePals Invent-It Challenge Contest Page for more details!

Five Sensible Steps

By ThinkProgress War Room

A Sensible Path Forward on Gun Safety

Last night, President Obama once again committed himself and the nation to meaningful action to reduce gun violence in our society:

This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.

Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America — victims whose — much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.

But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

As policymakers look for a way forward, ThinkProgress’ Igor Volsky rounds up five sensible steps President Obama, Congress, federal agencies, and the states can take in response to the nation’s high rate of gun violence:

1) States should submit their mental health records. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 established the in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a database to collect data from state governments and federal agencies of individuals who are banned from purchasing firearms. These include: felons, fugitives, persons convinced of misdemeanor crime for domestic violence, unlawful users of or those addicted to drugs, the mentally incompetent, undocumented immigrants, dishonorably discharged veterans, people who have renounced citizenship, domestic violence abusers, among others. Despite this improvement, the database is still far from complete. A report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns finds “major failure by 23 states in submitting mental health records to the system, with 17 states reporting fewer than 10 records and four submitting none at all.” States can do a better job of complying with the mandate and the federal government should establish clear reporting guidelines and fund the requirement.

2) Federal agencies should submit mental records into the NICS. Following the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011, the Justice Department developed a list of “steps the government could take to expand the background-check system in order to reduce the risk of guns falling into the hands of mentally ill people and criminals,” including using “information on file at other federal agencies” to bolster the database. Currently, “52 of 61 federal agencies that are required to submit records have not done so.” President Obama should issue an executive order directing agencies to submit their records to the NICS.

3) Full background check on all gun transactions. Since the passage of the Brady Act, gun purchasers buying firearms from federally licensed dealers are subject to background checks. As a result, more than 2 million applicants have been prohibited from purchasing guns. Unfortunately, 40 percent of firearm acquisitions are from individuals who are not licensed gun dealers and do not undergo any background checks. Congress should consider legislation likeThe Fix Gun Check Act, which expands background checks to include guns purchased at: “gun shows, flea markets, private sales, through newspaper advertisements, and online purchasers.” Individuals on the federal government’s watch list of terror suspects should also be prohibited from purchasing firearms.

4) Ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold 10 or more rounds. In 1994, Congress passed a ban against high-capacity magazines and banned the manufacture, transfer, and possession of certain assault weapons. The law wasn’t perfect — for instance, it grandfathered existing assault weapons and ammunition magazines and manufacturers could bypass the ban with minor modifications — but studies did find a drop in use of assault weapons and high capacity magazines following passage. The law was allowed to expire in 2004, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has pledged to introduce a new ban that would cover the sale and importation of assault weapons, certain kinds of bullets, big drums and extended magazines.

5) Improve treatment of mental illness. It’s currently easier for a poor person to obtain a gun than it is for them to receive treatment for mental health issues, as state governments continue to cut services to balance budgets. States have slashed “at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012″ — representing the “largest reduction in funding since de-institutionalization in the 1960s and ’70s. In 2012, 31 states cut more than $840 million. Obamacare will require health plans on statewide exchanges to cover mental health services as one of its “essential health benefit” categories, though states ultimately carry most of the discretion when it comes to defining what these services are and how much funding they will receive.

BOTTOM LINE: The time is now and we can no longer let politics get in the way of protecting everyone in our society from senseless gun violence.

Evening Brief: Important Stories That You Might’ve Missed

Polls find strong support for stricter gun regulations.

The heroes of Sandy Hook.

The real truth about the NRA.

Gun safety advocates protest outside the NRA’s DC lobbying office.

Top conservative magazine: Newtown massacre is just the price we pay for the Second Amendment.

Newly-appointed South Carolina U.S. senator says we should “never” have “any” gun regulation.

Five states where it’s harder to get an abortion than a gun.

Gun-related violence costs every taxpayer hundreds of dollars per year.

Top social conservative says marriage equality and abortion is to blame for Newtown massacre.

In the Library … The Hobbit by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Cover has a drawing of a winged dragon with a long tail at the bottom. 1937 cover – drawing done by Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973), whose surname is pronounced /?t?lki?n/ (in General American also /?to?lki?n/), was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University from 1925 to 1945 and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature there from 1945 to 1959. He was a close friend of C. S. Lewis—they were both members of the informal literary discussion group known as the Inklings. Tolkien was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 March 1972. After his death, Tolkien’s son, Christopher, published a series of works based on his father’s extensive notes and unpublished manuscripts, including The Silmarillion. These, together with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, form a connected body of tales, poems, fictional histories, invented languages, and literary essays about an imagined world called Arda, and Middle-earth within it. Between 1951 and 1955 Tolkien applied the word legendarium to the larger part of these writings. While many other authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien, the great success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when they were published in paperback in the United States led directly to a popular resurgence of the genre. This has caused Tolkien to be popularly identified as the “father” of modern fantasy literature—or, more precisely, of high fantasy. Tolkien’s writings have inspired many other works of fantasy and have had a lasting effect on the entire field. In 2008, The Times ranked him sixth on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.

Got maternity care?


National Women's Law Center
  All Women Need Maternity Care  
                  Tell the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that insurance companies provide maternity care for all women.  

Millions of young women get health insurance coverage through their parents’ plans — but even though their parents’ policies include maternity benefits, not all of these daughters have access to maternity coverage. This means many pregnant women are without the care they need, when they need it the most.
Your voice is needed. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is creating rules for insurance companies in the individual and small group markets under the new health care law. As part of this effort, they will take comments from the public about what services insurance companies must cover. Tell HHS to ensure insurance companies provide maternity coverage to women who get their health care coverage through their policy.
Maternity care leads to healthier moms and healthier babies. And health insurance coverage for these services provides financial security and peace of mind to women and their families. On average, a woman without maternity coverage will spend at least $10,000 on maternity care, a huge financial burden at the time when she’s bringing a child into the world.
We’ve made a lot of progress — but there’s still more to be done. Send in your comments and ensure that insurance companies are required to provide maternity coverage for all individuals.
The National Women’s Law Center shined a spotlight on the fact that when women buy health coverage directly from insurance companies, only twelve percent of those health plans cover maternity care. With your help, we’ll continue the important fight to ensure all women have maternity coverage when they need it.
Thank you for all you do to ensure women have access to quality, affordable health care.

Judy Waxman   Judy Waxman Vice President for Health and Reproductive Rights National Women’s Law Center

Check your Gift Card …

Policy and Action from Consumer Reports

 Ever get a gift card that lost its value? One day, it promised you $50 or $100, then when you went to use it, the card had been drained.

Maybe there were unexpected fees. Some cards charge you if you don’t use them in a certain period. Others expire.

Maybe the store went belly up. Your cash money went to pay their creditors and you got nothing.

If the card was a “rewards” card purchased with credit card, airline, or other “points” — well then, all bets are off. The card could have been loaded with fees and expire at any time.

Tell us your own gift card story — and we’ll use it to make sure your card is worth what you paid for it.

This holiday season, lawmakers are working on a bill to eliminate fees and expiration dates. Money doesn’t expire. Neither should money stored on a gift card.

The bill would also require companies to treat cards purchased with rewards points the same as cards purchased with cash.

But this bill isn’t a slam dunk. Retailers and banks benefit when you give them cash but then they don’t have to honor that cash amount in goods or services. To pass this bill, in the face of opposition from industry, lawmakers need the stories of real people.

Tell us your story, and we will put it in front of lawmakers and news outlets!

Share your story, or forward this email to a friend, co-worker or family member who may have gotten less than their money’s worth from a gift card.

Pam Banks,
A project of Consumers Union