The Republican War on the Unemployed

Is life too easy for the unemployed? You may not think so, and I certainly don’t think so. But that, remarkably, is what many and perhaps most Republicans believe. And they’re acting on that belief: there’s a nationwide movement under way to punish the unemployed, based on the proposition that we can cure unemployment by making the jobless even more miserable.

Consider, for example, the case of North Carolina. The state was hit hard by the Great Recession, and its unemployment rate, at 8.8 percent, is among the highest in the nation, higher than in long-suffering California or Michigan. As is the case everywhere, many of the jobless have been out of work for six months or more, thanks to a national environment in which there are three times as many people seeking work as there are job openings.

Nonetheless, the state’s government has just sharply cut aid to the unemployed. In fact, the Republicans controlling that government were so eager to cut off aid that they didn’t just reduce the duration of benefits; they also reduced the average weekly benefit, making the state ineligible for about $700 million in federal aid to the long-term unemployed.

It’s quite a spectacle, but North Carolina isn’t alone: a number of other states have cut unemployment benefits, although none at the price of losing federal aid. And at the national level, Congress has been allowing extended benefits introduced during the economic crisis to expire, even though long-term unemployment remains at historic highs.

So what’s going on here? Is it just cruelty? Well, the G.O.P., which believes that 47 percent of Americans are “takers” mooching off the job creators, which in many states is denying health care to the poor simply to spite President Obama, isn’t exactly overflowing with compassion. But the war on the unemployed isn’t motivated solely by cruelty; rather, it’s a case of meanspiritedness converging with bad economic analysis…

Oh, and let’s not forget that cutting benefits to the unemployed, many of whom are living hand-to-mouth, will lead to lower overall spending — again, worsening the economic situation, and destroying more jobs.

The move to slash unemployment benefits, then, is counterproductive as well as cruel; it will swell the ranks of the unemployed even as it makes their lives ever more miserable.

We get to witness what passes for forward-thinking in the Republican Party. Just in case they run out of women to hate and fear – they now find it necessary to hate and fear all the folks who have lost their jobs courtesy of incompetents who can’t run a modern economy.

You know, that checks and balances stuff, oversight of criminal behavior.

Born in the USA? Costliest birth in the world!

Seven months pregnant, at a time when most expectant couples are stockpiling diapers and choosing car seats, Renée Martin was struggling with bigger purchases.

At a prenatal class in March, she was told about epidural anesthesia and was given the option of using a birthing tub during labor. To each offer, she had one gnawing question: “How much is that going to cost?”

Though Ms. Martin, 31, and her husband, Mark Willett, are both professionals with health insurance, her current policy does not cover maternity care. So the couple had to approach the nine months that led to the birth of their daughter in May like an extended shopping trip though the American health care bazaar, sorting through an array of maternity services that most often have no clear price and — with no insurer to haggle on their behalf — trying to negotiate discounts from hospitals and doctors…

When she became pregnant, Ms. Martin called her local hospital inquiring about the price of maternity care; the finance office at first said it did not know, and then gave her a range of $4,000 to $45,000. “It was unreal,” Ms. Martin said. “I was like, How could you not know this? You’re a hospital.”

Midway through her pregnancy, she fought for a deep discount on a $935 bill for an ultrasound, arguing that she had already paid a radiologist $256 to read the scan, which took only 20 minutes of a technician’s time using a machine that had been bought years ago. She ended up paying $655. “I feel like I’m in a used-car lot,” said Ms. Martin, a former art gallery manager who is starting graduate school in the fall.

Like Ms. Martin, plenty of other pregnant women are getting sticker shock in the United States, where charges for delivery have about tripled since 1996, according to an analysis done for The New York Times by Truven Health Analytics. Childbirth in the United States is uniquely expensive, and maternity and newborn care constitute the single biggest category of hospital payouts for most commercial insurers and state Medicaid programs. The cumulative costs of approximately four million annual births is well over $50 billion.

And though maternity care costs far less in other developed countries than it does in the United States, studies show that their citizens do not have less access to care or to high-tech care during pregnancy than Americans.

RTFA. It’s long, detailed, and scary.

When Dwight Eisenhower left office as president he warned of the political power of the military-industrial complex. Well, they ended up owning enough of Congress that they suck down the lion’s share of our non-insurance federal budget. That leaves what is now being called the medical-industrial complex. And between insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, healthcare providers and hospitals they seem bound and determined to take the rrest of that budget – and our life savings.

Our brain’s “garbage truck” may hold the key to treating Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders


Credit: ©James Steidl/Fotolia

In a perspective piece appearing…in the journal Science, researchers at University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) point to a newly discovered system by which the brain removes waste as a potentially powerful new tool to treat neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, scientists believe that some of these conditions may arise when the system is not doing its job properly.

“Essentially all neurodegenerative diseases are associated with the accumulation of cellular waste products,” said Maiken Nedergaard…author of the article. “Understanding and ultimately discovering how to modulate the brain’s system for removing toxic waste could point to new ways to treat these diseases.”

The body defends the brain like a fortress and rings it with a complex system of gateways that control which molecules can enter and exit. While this “blood-brain barrier” was first described in the late 1800s, scientists are only now just beginning to understand the dynamics of how these mechanisms function. In fact, the complex network of waste removal, which researchers have dubbed the glymphatic system, was only first disclosed by URMC scientists last August in the journal Science Translational Medicine…

One of the reasons why the glymphatic system had long eluded comprehension is that it cannot be detected in samples of brain tissue. The key to discovering and understanding the system was the advent of a new imaging technology called two-photon microscopy which enables scientists to peer deep within the living brain. Using this technology on mice, whose brains are remarkably similar to humans, Nedergaard and her colleagues were able to observe and document what amounts to an extensive, and heretofore unknown, plumbing system responsible for flushing waste from throughout the brain…

While the discovery of the glymphatic system solved a mystery that had long baffled the scientific community, understanding how the brain removes waste – both effectively and what happens when this system breaks down – has significant implications for the treatment of neurological disorders…

“The idea that ‘dirty brain’ diseases like Alzheimer may result from a slowing down of the glymphatic system as we age is a completely new way to think about neurological disorders,” said Nedergaard. “It also presents us with a new set of targets to potentially increase the efficiency of glymphatic clearance and, ultimately, change the course of these conditions.”

Not very often do I read a scientific article – and reflecting upon it – say to myself, “this is worthy of a Nobel Prize. This is one of those rare instances.

Discovery of the glymphatic system in the human brain opens up possibilities for detecting, repairing and preventing neurodegenerative diseases that plague a population that continues to expand our age range. Delightful work. Important, praiseworthy.

Not just the NSA – FBI’s data mining needs scrutiny, as well

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We recently learned that the National Security Agency has a database with the records of almost every phone call made in the U.S. To address public concerns over its surveillance activities, the agency has begun to explain how it uses the metadata — information including when calls are made, how long they last and to whom they are placed — it has accumulated over the last seven years.

Although Americans deserve this explanation, they shouldn’t delude themselves. Even if the NSA’s controversial program were shut down tomorrow, another government agency that is busy collecting and retaining personal data would keep humming along. True accountability for the government’s surveillance activities should also include an airing of — and tighter restrictions on — the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s power to collect and store substantial amounts of innocuous information about Americans.

Since 2008, for instance, the FBI has had the authority to conduct “assessments” — investigations that require no suspicion of criminal activity. In service of these low-level investigations, an FBI agent may use various invasive methods, including infiltrating public meetings of groups as diverse as the American Civil Liberties Union or Alcoholics Anonymous, using informants, and even putting the target of the investigation under full-time physical surveillance…

From 2009 through 2011, according to data provided by the FBI, the bureau spent a significant amount of its limited time and resources conducting almost 43,000 assessments related to either counterterrorism or counterintelligence. Fewer than 5 percent of them turned up any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing…

And what does the FBI do with all of the information it has gathered on innocent Americans?…All information it collects is kept and sometimes shared, “regardless of whether it furthers investigative objectives,” because it may “eventually serve a variety of valid analytic purposes” — even if that means keeping the information in an FBI database for as long as 30 years

The federal government’s use of “suspicious activity reports” tells a similar story…One would think a suspicious-activity report that provided no evidence of possible terrorist threats would be discarded immediately. To the contrary, even a report without any link to terrorism is kept in a widely available FBI database for six months, in a separate classified database for five years, and in yet another FBI database for at least 25 more years.

If you’re taking the time to stick your finger in the eye of Congressional politicians over Big Brother NSA – take the opportunity to nudge Beltway hacks about Big Brother’s doddering Grandpa, the FBI. Oversight policies established a number of time are shoved into the storage closet as soon as citizens and our supposedly watchful Free Press return to ignoring the day-to-day activities of our federal coppers.

The same technology that put the NSA on the map is being used to keep the original model for government snooping in full employment.