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dkf's Journal
dkf's Journal
May 9, 2013

Study: U.S. taxpayers employ more low-wage workers than Wal-Mart, McDonald’s combined

Federal taxpayers employ more low-wage workers than Wal-Mart and McDonald’s combined, a new study calculates.

The report from a public policy organization Demos, set to be released Wednesday, estimates that taxpayer dollars fund nearly 2 million private-sector jobs that pay $24,000 a year — about $12 an hour — or less. Those workers owe their incomes to government contracts, Medicare and Medicaid spending, and federal infrastructure funds, among other public sources. In contrast, Demos estimates that about 1.4 million workers earn that amount or less at Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, which are two of the largest employers of low-wage workers.

The findings highlight inequality within the government contracting industry; as chief executives of major contractors rake in millions, many contract employees are struggling to get by, according to the report from Demos, which advocates for worker-friendly policies. It is a situation that could be worsened by the budget pressures of sequestration, which is pushing the federal government to spend fewer dollars and pursue lower-priced contracts.

The broader economy is mired in a similar trend; job creation in the recovery from the Great Recession has been bottom-heavy. Most of the 165,000 net new jobs that the Labor Department reports were added in April came in low-wage sectors, such as retail, food service and temp work. A study last year by the National Employment Law Project found that low-wage occupations accounted for one in five jobs lost during the recession — but they accounted for three out of five jobs added in the recovery.


May 9, 2013

Exclusive: Dagestani Relative of Tamerlan Tsarnaev Is a Prominent Islamist

Last year, when Tamerlan Tsarnaev spent six months in the Russian region of Dagestan, he had a guide with an unusually deep knowledge of the local Islamist community: a distant cousin named Magomed Kartashov. Six years older than Tsarnaev, Kartashov is a former police officer and freestyle wrestler — and one of the region’s most prominent Islamists.

In 2011, Kartashov founded and became the leader of an organization called the Union of the Just, whose members campaign for Shari‘a and pan-Islamic unity in Dagestan, often speaking out against U.S. policies across the Muslim world. The group publicly renounces violence. But some of its members have close links to militants; others have served time in prison for weapons possession and abetting terrorism — charges they say were based on fabricated evidence. For Tsarnaev, these men formed a community of pious young Muslims with whom he could discuss his ideas of jihad. Tsarnaev’s mother Zubeidat confirmed that her son is Kartashov’s third cousin. The two met for the first time in Dagestan, she said, and “became very close.”

Since April 19, when Tsarnaev and his younger brother Dzhokhar were publicly identified as being the key suspects in the bombing of the Boston Marathon, investigators have been trying to work out how they were radicalized to the point of wanting to kill and maim people in the U.S., the country the brothers had called home for much of their lives. (Tsarnaev was killed during a manhunt for the two men in Boston; his younger brother was shot but survived and has been charged with acts of terrorism including using a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.) Much of the investigators’ attention has focused on Tsarnaev’s visit to Dagestan in 2012. It appears that investigators have only recently begun exploring Tsarnaev’s links to his cousin.

On May 5, three agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service, the agency known as the FSB, interrogated Kartashov for the first time about the Boston bombings, according to his lawyer, Patimat Abdullaeva. The FSB agents were interested in whether Kartashov and Tsarnaev had ever discussed Islamic radicalism, Abdullaeva says.

Kartashov told them that they had, but claimed that Tsarnaev was the one trying to “pull him in to extremism,” says the lawyer, who spoke to Kartashov soon after the interrogation. (It was impossible to ask Kartashov about this directly; he has been in jail since April 27 after a brawl with police in northern Dagestan, and prison officials denied TIME’s requests to visit him or have him answer questions in writing. His lawyer agreed to pass a reporter’s questions to him in jail.) In recounting her client’s replies, the lawyer said: “Kartashov tried to talk [Tsarnaev] out of his interest in extremism.”


May 8, 2013

Antibiotics could cure 40% of chronic back pain patients

Up to 40% of patients with chronic back pain could be cured with a course of antibiotics rather than surgery, in a medical breakthrough that one spinal surgeon says is worthy of a Nobel prize.

Surgeons in the UK and elsewhere are reviewing how they treat patients with chronic back pain after scientists discovered that many of the worst cases were due to bacterial infections.

The shock finding means that scores of patients with unrelenting lower back pain will no longer face major operations but can instead be cured with courses of antibiotics costing around £114.

One of the UK's most eminent spinal surgeons said the discovery was the greatest he had witnessed in his professional life, and that its impact on medicine was worthy of a Nobel prize.


May 8, 2013

Hospital Billing Varies Wildly, Government Data Shows

A hospital in Livingston, N.J., charged $70,712 on average to implant a pacemaker, while a hospital in nearby Rahway, N.J., charged $101,945.

In Saint Augustine, Fla., one hospital typically billed nearly $40,000 to remove a gallbladder using minimally invasive surgery, while one in Orange Park, Fla., charged $91,000.

In one hospital in Dallas, the average bill for treating simple pneumonia was $14,610, while another there charged over $38,000.

Data being released for the first time by the government on Wednesday shows that hospitals charge Medicare wildly differing amounts — sometimes 10 to 20 times what Medicare typically reimburses — for the same procedure, raising questions about how hospitals determine prices and why they differ so widely.


May 7, 2013

New Worries for Democrats on Health Law

He will especially urge healthy young adults, those up to 35 years old, and minorities — groups in which he has “a lot of cachet,” Mr. Pfeiffer said — to sign up starting Oct. 1 for the new exchanges. Beginning Jan. 1, most Americans must have insurance or pay fines.

Without the participation of that generally healthy young population, insurance premiums for everyone else would increase — threatening support for a law already short of it.

The Department of Health and Human Services is doing the nuts-and-bolts work of setting up the system. But essential regulations remain unresolved, leaving insurers, small businesses and health care providers unsure of how to proceed.

Mr. Obama also will meet privately with groups with a stake in the outcome, aides say, to foster cooperation. For the first time, he has hired someone — Tara McGuinness, a seasoned Democratic operative — solely to lead a White House team on communications strategy. Organizing for Action, the grass-roots network formed from his 2012 campaign, will also join with other community and professional groups as well as celebrities and athletes to inform people about the law.


May 4, 2013

BBC: US tightens student visa rules after Boston bombing

The US is tightening its screening of international students, its first security change in response to the Boston Marathon bombings last month.

Under the new procedures, border agents will verify a student's visa status before the person arrives in the US, using information provided in flight manifests.

If that information is unavailable, they will manually check the visa status through a US database.

Beforehand, border agents would only verify a student's status in a database, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, when the person was referred to a second officer for additional inspection or questioning.


May 3, 2013

CDC: 80 Percent Of Americans Don’t Exercise Enough

ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state in a new report that 80 percent of all Americans do not exercise enough.

The statement was made after comparing average physical activity habits of people in the United States with the recommendations for exercise offered by the federal government.

According to the Science Recorder, present Physical Activity Guidelines call for a weekly minimum of either two hours and 30 minutes of walking or one hour and 15 minutes of jogging. Sit-ups, push-ups and other muscle-toning exercises were additionally recommended for people to engage in at least two days per week.

However, Americans are falling short of these goals, especially in regards to muscle-strengthening activities, the website learned. Results varied from state to state, but overall, large portions of the public aren’t exercising enough.


May 3, 2013

Poll: Most Americans believe sequester doesn’t affect them

Two months after the sequester forced across-the-board cuts in government spending, a supermajority of Americans say they have not felt the consequences, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll.

Out of the 965 adults surveyed nationwide, 69% told pollsters that they had not been “personally affected” by the sequester. Only 8% said they had been affected a “great deal,” while 19% said they had been “somewhat” affected.

It will be a while longer before we understand the full effects of the sequester, but one thing is certain: If most Americans don’t think it affects them, then it will be more difficult for progressives to undo the cuts.

Washington progressives have failed to create a sense of urgency around their attempts to undo sequestration.
The Obama administration and liberal opponents of spending cuts exaggerated the immediacy of sequester-induced pain, writes independent journalist David Dayen, because “making clear the impact of forced austerity may offer the best hope for discrediting and reversing it.” However, the slowly unfolding nature of the government’s diminished capacity is working against them, allowing Americans to believe sequestration isn’t so bad after all.


May 3, 2013

559 pounds of explosives stolen near Red Lodge

BILLINGS — Federal authorities are offering a reward for information that leads to the arrest of whoever stole 559 pounds of explosives near Red Lodge last month.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesman Brad Beyersdorf says the thieves broke into a U.S. Forest Service storage bunker about two miles south of Red Lodge sometime in April.

The Billings Gazette reports they stole emulsion-type explosives, explosive cast boosters and detonating cord.


This can't be good...

May 3, 2013

Study: Giving People Government Health Insurance May Not Make them Any Healthier

Bombshell news out of Oregon today: a large-scale randomized controlled trial (RCT) of what happens to people when they gain Medicaid eligibility shows no impact on objective measures of health. Utilization went up, out-of-pocket expenditure went down, and the freqency of depression diagnoses was lower. But on the three important health measures they checked that we can measure objectively--glycated hemoglobin, a measure of blood sugar levels; blood pressure; and cholesterol levels--there was no significant improvement.

I know: sounds boring. Glycated hemoglobin! I might as well be one of the adults on Charlie Brown going wawawawawawa . . . and you fell asleep, didn't you?

But this is huge news if you care about health care policy--and given the huge national experiment we're about to embark on, you'd better. Bear with me.

Some of the news reports I've seen so far are somewhat underselling just how major these results are.

"Study: Medicaid reduces financial hardship, doesn’t quickly improve physical health" says the Washington Post.


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