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By Jack “Miles” Ventimiglia

Freedom of the press, of speech, of religion, of assembly and to petition the government are woven, like stars in the flag, into the fabric of the First Amendment.

The blood of patriots is the seed of the Republic. The founders and those who followed in their footsteps invest- ed their lives in this country. They assured there would be freedom of religion, and from religion, so the government could neither bless nor ban what anyone believes, as occurs under radical theocracies and communist regimes.

The founders secured freedom of speech, to assemble and to petition the government to redress grievances, which is denied by China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and others that fear opposition. They also created one freedom that binds and protects all others, and has done so from before the founding of the republic – freedom of the press.

More than four decades prior to the day when Congress ratified the Constitution, colonial printer John Peter Zenger in 1733 began to publish scathing-but-true stories about the misdeeds of New York’s haughty royal governor. Zenger languished in prison for nearly 10 months for the crime of truth telling about a politician. But Zenger and his attorney made jurors understand a new concept – truth is a defense – and Zenger went free.

Shielded by truth, journalists for nearly three centuries have been free to jab their pens at those who threaten the First Amendment. There are myriad examples involving religion alone. They include news reports about Congress trying to disenfranchise Mormons in the late 1880s and extend to modern times and the painful recognition that even vile speech, such as that practiced by Westboro Baptist Church, must be permitted as a religious liberty.

Journalists help keep us free to question, learn and disagree.

Now, as in the beginning, freedom of the press abides in the courage of men and women who report the news, whether those reports arise from between white columns in Washington, D.C., or beside the fountain at Lions Lake in Washington, Missouri. A reporter’s work is often more routine than grandiose. On most days, reporters gather police and fire statistics; they report on the scandal de jour and the zoning board meeting; and they describe a range of human experiences, from a walk through a conservatory alive with iridescent blue morpho butterflies to a father and daughter found drowned on the Rio Grande’s muddy banks.

But not all journalists complete routine days. A bullet killed Ernie Pyle in a safe zone on Ie Shima during World War II; he is one of many reporters who died to bring the public truth about war. Last year, in Annapolis, Maryland, a man who rejected having his criminal record reported walked into The Capital Gazette and killed five employees. Routine days are not guaranteed.

Seasoned reporters understand the importance of safeguarding the First Amendment. They know, also, that though telling the truth is made more difficult in these topsy-turvy times – when truth is flippantly called “lies” and lies are defended as truth – if they do not do their duty, then no one will.

From time to time, explosions of criticism and unfettered hate may around them rage, but because reporters are loyal to the duties of a free press, including to challenge government leaders and policies, each of the First Amendment freedoms continues to wave like stripes in a flag emerging in the dawn’s early light.

Jack “Miles” Ventimiglia is executive editor of The Richmond Daily News and The Excelsior Springs Daily Standard. For nearly 40 years, he has worked as a print reporter and editor at dailies and weeklies in Illinois, Kansas and Missouri.

Electoral gerrymandering, in which political districts are drawn to favor one party, has attracted renewed attention of late. The centuries-old practice operates to bias the outcome of elections.

Now researchers led by Penn biologist Joshua B. Plotkin and the University of Houston’s Alexander J. Stewart have identified another impediment to democratic decision making, one that may be particularly relevant in online communities.

In what the scientists have termed “information gerrymandering,” it’s not geographical boundaries that confer a bias but the structure of social networks, such as social media connections.

Reporting in the journal Nature, the researchers first predicted the phenomenon from a mathematical model of collective decision making, and then confirmed its effects by conducting social network experiments with thousands of human subjects. Finally, they analyzed a variety of real-world networks and found examples of information gerrymandering present on Twitter, in the blogosphere, and in U.S. and European legislatures.

“People come to form opinions, or decide how to vote, based on what they read and who they interact with,” says Plotkin. “And in today’s world we do a lot of sharing and reading online. What we found is that the information gerrymandering can induce a strong bias in the outcome of collective decisions, even in the absence of ‘fake news.’

By Erich Reimer

China has been in the news a lot lately as pro-democracy protests have erupted in Hong Kong and the Trump administration engages in continuing hardball trade negotiations with them, among other countries.

As a country, China and its almost 1.4 billion people, in contrast to its current state apparatus, is no greater belligerent inherently than any other nation.

However its Communist government has become increasingly so in recent years, setting up what is a difficult foreign policy dilemma for the United States not only now but in the long-run.

As we grapple with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and their wide variety of military, economic, and social policies and actions - often and increasingly in opposition to the United States - we should be exact and informed on what kind of opponent we are dealing with and to what degree.

In the PRC’s early years they were eminently hostile to the United States. The US- backed Republic of China (ROC), our ally in World War II, had been forced by them off the mainland onto the small island of Taiwan.

The new PRC, led by Mao Zedong, quickly found itself on not just the verbal but military battlefield against the United States directly in the Korean War and indirectly through countless proxy conflicts across the globe.

That would change when President Richard Nixon “opened” the PRC and brought it as an uneasy partner into not the free world but an anti-Soviet alliance. After all, Mao Zedong was responsible for the slaughter, labor camp, and starvation deaths of tens of millions of persons under his control as well as the torture, imprisonment, and subjugation of countless more.

This strange but increasingly close partnership would continue until the fall of the Soviet Union, as the PRC had already seen a number of ideological, economic, foreign policy, and even military conflict with the USSR.

By the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s there was great optimism for the PRC. Deng Xiaoping, China’s new primary leader, led numerous reforms that increased economic freedom in China and spurred hope for political freedom as well. Those hopes were quashed in the blood of the Tiananmen Square massacres in 1989, but the spark still remained.

The next two and a half decades actually saw enormous, optimistic, bold and serious moves towards political freedoms in the PRC - a “Glasnost” of sorts - even under the boot of the Communist Party is China still.

Powered by the internet, countless billions in foreign investment and international corporate activity, major freedom of travel, a move towards “leadership by committee and consensus,” and increasing internal pro-U.S. sentiment, many began to refer to China as a capitalist country but only in name still Communist.

That unfortunately reversed in dramatic and painful fashion in just mostly this past half decade, reflecting how sensitive liberty in a nation without engrained checks and balances is and how quick it can revert to restricting freedom and human rights.

The internet in the PRC has become a censored Swiss-cheese web and a tool for citizen monitoring. Foreign companies have faced an uncertain environment as perceived openings by the PRC have been shaky.

Anti-U.S. activities have increased dramatically, as the PRC seeks to build out its own international network - sometimes and often in cooperation with the Russian Federation - to the U.S. and free world.

This has all created a difficult situation for the United States. The last few decades have seen enormous exchange and interconnection that is difficult to unravel yet is increasingly posing serious security and economic challenges.

The increasingly faint hope, for now at least, of a Free China - and accordingly bal- ancing between containment and detente - is hard to approximate exactly.

Whatever the case, we are at a pivotal point for U.S.-China relations and what will undoubtedly be one of the most defining - and challenging - relationships of the 21st century.

Our nation must remain clear eyed on what the PRC is and the complexity of its, and ours, past, present, and future.

Reimer is a DC-area policy strategist, entrepreneur, financial commentator, and political columnist. He has worked in various roles in government, finance, tech, politics, and law over the years and is a captain in the U.S. Army.

Jane M. Orient, M.D.

By Jane M. Orient, M.D.

People are dying all over the country from opioid overdoses. There’s a movement to have the antidote naloxone available in all ambulances and even over the counter. This temporarily reverses the fatal effect of opioids, which stop the patient’s breathing. First responders themselves may need a dose because of contact with a tiny amount of fentanyl, an extremely potent narcotic, while attending a patient.

No, the fentanyl does not come from the patient’s bottle of legal prescription drugs.

Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) introduced a proposal that he claims would “go a long way to fight the practice of doctor shopping for more prescription pain pills amid a deadly opioid crisis.” Doctor shopping “involves visiting multiple doctors.” Hardly new, this proposal, now passed by the House of Representatives as an amendment to a $99.4 billion Health and Human Services appropriations bill, lifts the ban on funding a Unique Patient Identifier (UPI).

The UPI is part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. You don’t have one yet because former congressman Ron Paul, M.D., (R-Tex,) sponsored a prohibition on funding it as part of a 1999 appropriations bill. Rep. Foster’s amendment repeals Dr. Paul’s prohibition.

So how is this 1996 idea supposed to work? And why would it be better than the Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) now in effect in nearly every state? Every prescription for a controlled substance must be reported to the PDMP, and the doctor must check it before writing a prescription, to be sure the patient is not lying about having prescriptions from other doctors. This costly program that creates time-consuming hassles for doctors has not prevented opioid deaths.

PDMPs are ineffective because doctor shopping is not the cause of the problem. Only 2.5 percent of misused prescription pain medicine was obtained by doctor shopping. And this small percentage apparently increased after PDMPs. More than 97% of misused medications are obtained from a single physician—or from an illicit source. The spike in opioid deaths after 2013 was caused by illicit fentanyl, as Dr. John Lilly concludes from painstaking analysis of official data.

If Rep. Foster’s amendment is not removed, you might have to have a UPI to get legitimate medical care—“no card, no care”—but the drug cartel won’t mind. You can shop drug dealers as much as you like. There is a flood of fentanyl, mostly from Mexico or China, coming across our borders. Rep. Foster is apparently unaware of the armed lookouts protecting the smuggling routes in the Tucson sector. And once here, the drugs go to distributors—such as illegal aliens protected in sanctuary cities.

So, what about the other touted benefits of the UPI? “Specifically, assigning a unique number to a patient would give doctors a way to immediately identify a patient’s medical history,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.). He says it “would lower the cost of medical mix-ups due to misidentification.” His elderly father was nearly given the wrong medication.

To prevent medical errors, you need alert nurses and doctors—and the UPI is not going to fix the hazards of the electronic health record. The EHR, touted as the solution that will bring efficient, quality care, has created its own type of errors.

There is no guarantee that a UPI will improve access to the record, and critical information will still be buried in voluminous, repetitious data of dubious reliability, some of which may have been cut-and-pasted from another patient’s record. There may be critical gaps as patients withhold information they don’t want in a federal database. The new problem that brings the patient to the hospital won’t be in the old record—but may be the result of an old misdiagnosis that should be corrected instead of copied.

Patients need to be able to shop for doctors, especially if the one they have has not solved their problems. Some of them desperately need opioids, which are increasingly difficult to obtain. They do not need a UPI, and neither does their doctor.

The UPI is ideally suited for government tracking and control of all citizens. People like J. Edgar Hoover or Lois Lerner might find it very useful. But it would be the end of privacy, and the foundation for a national health data system.

Dr. Orient is the executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Sur- geons and is a policy expert with the Heartland Institute. For more reactions to the mid- term election, go to heartland. org under news and opinion. The Heartland Institute is one of the world’s leading free-market think tanks.

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