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Wednesday, September 02, 2020

The Bradykinin Hypothesis

image: coronavirus

A Supercomputer Analyzed Covid-19 and an Interesting New Theory Has Emerged
A closer look at the Bradykinin hypothesis

By Thomas Smith
Elemental
September 1, 2020

arlier this summer, the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee set about CRUNCHING DATA on more than 40,000 genes from 17,000 genetic samples in an effort to better understand COVID-19. Summit is the SECOND-FASTEST computer in the world, but the process which involved analyzing 2.5 billion genetic combinations - still took more than a week.

When Summit was done, researchers analyzed the results. It was, in the words of Dr. Daniel Jacobson, lead researcher and chief scientist for computational systems biology at Oak Ridge, a ”EUREKA MOMENT.” The computer had revealed a new theory about how Covid-19 impacts the body: THE BRADYKINKIN HYPOTHESIS. The hypothesis provides a model that explains many aspects of Covid-19, including some of its most BIZARRE SYSPTOMS. It also suggests 10-plus potential treatments, many of which are already FDA approved. Jacobsons group PUBLISHED THEIR RESULTS in a paper in the journal eLife in early July.

According to the team’s findings, a Covid-19 infection generally begins when the virus enters the body through ACE2 receptors in the nose, (The receptors, which the virus IS KNOWS TO TARGET, are abundant there.) The virus then proceeds through the body, entering cells in other places where ACE2 is also present: the intestines, kidneys, and heart. This likely accounts for at least some of the diseases cardiac and GI symptoms.

But once Covid-19 has established itself in the body, things start to get really interesting. According to Jacobson’s group, the data Summit analyzed shows that Covid-19 isn’t content to simply infect cells that already express lots of ACE2 receptors. Instead, it actively hijacks the bodyҒs own systems, tricking it into upregulating ACE2 receptors in places where they’re usually expressed at LOW OR MEDIUM LEVELS, including the lungs.

In this sense, Covid-19 is like a burglar who slips in your unlocked second-floor windowand starts to ransack your house. Once inside, though, they donҒt just take your stuff they also throw open all your doors and windows so their accomplices can rush in and help pillage more efficiently.

The renin-angiotensin system (RAS) controls many aspects of the circulatory system, including the body’s levels of a chemical called bradykinin, which normally helps to regulate blood pressure. According to the team’s analysis, when the virus tweaks the RAS, it causes the body’s mechanisms for regulating bradykinin to go haywire. Bradykinin receptors are resensitized, and the body also stops effectively breaking down bradykinin. (ACE normally degrades bradykinin, but when the virus downregulates it, it can’t do this as effectively.)

The end result, the researchers say, is to release a bradykinin storm a massive, runaway buildup of bradykinin in the body. According to the bradykinin hypothesis, it’s this storm that is ultimately responsible for many of Covid-19s deadly effects. Jacobson’s team says in their paper that the pathology of Covid-19 is likely the result of “Bradykinin Storms rather than cytokine storms,” which HAD BEEN PREVIOUSLY IDENTIFIED in Covid-19 patients, but that the two may be intricately linked. OTHER PAPERS had previously identified bradykinin storms as a possible cause of Covid-19s pathologies.

As bradykinin builds up in the body, it dramatically increases vascular permeability. In short, it makes your blood vessels leaky. This aligns with recent clinical data, WHICH INCREASINGLY VIEWS COVID-19 PRIMARILY AS A VASCULAR DISEASE, rather than a respiratory one. But Covid-19 still has a massive effect on the lungs. As blood vessels start to leak due to a bradykinin storm, the researchers say, the lungs can fill with fluid. Immune cells also leak out into the lungs, Jacobson’s team found, causing inflammation.

And Covid-19 has another especially insidious trick. Through another pathway, the teams data shows, it increases production of hyaluronic acid (HLA) in the lungs. HLA is OFTEN USED IN SOAPS AND LOTIONS for its ability to absorb more than 1,000 times its weight in fluid. When it combines with fluid leaking into the lungs, the results are disastrous: It forms a hydrogel, which can FILL THE LUNGS IN SOME PATIENTS. According to Jacobson, once this happens, “its like TRYING TO BREATHE THROUGH JELL-O.”

This may explain why ventilators PROVEN LESS EFFECTIVE in treating advanced Covid-19 than doctors originally expected, based on experiences with other viruses. It reaches a point where regardless of how much oxygen you pump in, it doesn’t matter, because the alveoli in the lungs are filled with this hydrogel, Jacobson says. “The lungs become like a water balloon. Patients can suffocate even while receiving full breathing support.”

The bradykinin hypothesis also extends to many of Covid-19’s effects on the heart. About ONE IN FIVE HOSPITALIZED COVID-19 PATIENTS have damage to their hearts, even if they never had cardiac issues before. Some of this is likely due to the virus infecting the heart directly through its ACE2 receptors. But the RAS also controls aspects of cardiac contractions and blood pressure. According to the researchers, bradykinin storms could create arrhythmias and low blood pressure, which are often seen in Covid-19 patients.

The bradykinin hypothesis also accounts for COVID-19’S NEUROLOGICAL EFFECTS, which are some of the most surprising and concerning elements of the disease. THESE SYMPTOMS (which include dizziness, seizures, delirium, and stroke) are present in AS MANY AS HALF OF HOSPITALIZED COVID-19 PATIENTS. According to Jacobson and his team, MRI studies in France revealed that many Covid-19 patients have evidence of leaky blood vessels in their brains.

Bradykinin - especially at high doses - can also lead to a ;." rel="nofollow"]BREAKDOWN OF THE BLOOD-BRAIN BARRIER. Under normal circumstances, this barrier acts as a filter between your brain and the rest of your circulatory system. It lets in the nutrients and small molecules that the brain needs to function, while keeping out toxins and pathogens and keeping the brain’s internal environment tightly regulated.

If bradykinin storms cause the blood-brain barrier to break down, this could allow harmful cells and compounds into the brain, leading to inflammation, potential brain damage, and many of the neurological symptoms Covid-19 patients experience. Jacobson told me, “It is a reasonable hypothesis that many of the neurological symptoms in Covid-19 could be due to an excess of bradykinin. It has been reported that bradykinin would indeed be likely to increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. In addition, similar neurological symptoms have been observed in other diseases that result from an excess of bradykinin.”

Increased bradykinin levels could also account for other common Covid-19 symptoms. ACE inhibitors - a class of drugs USED TO TREAT HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE - have a similar effect on the RAS system as Covid-19, INCREASING BRADYKINKIN LEVELS. In fact, Jacobson and his team note in their paper that “the virus - acts pharmacologically as an ACE inhibitor… almost directly mirroring the actions of these drugs.

By acting like a natural ACE inhibitor, Covid-19 MAY BE CAUSING the same effects that hypertensive patients sometimes get when they take blood pressure lowering drugs. ACE inhibitors are known to CAUSE a dry cough and fatigue, two textbook symptoms of Covid-19. And they can potentially increase blood potassium levels, which has also been OBSERVED IN COVID_19 PATIENTS. The similarities between ACE inhibitor side effects and Covid-19 symptoms strengthen the bradykinin hypothesis, the researchers say.

ACE inhibitors are also known to cause a LOSS OF TASTE AND SMELL. Jacobson stresses, though, that this symptom is more likely due to the virus “affecting the cells surrounding olfactory nerve cells than the direct effects of bradykinin.”

Though still an emerging theory, the bradykinin hypothesis explains several other of Covid-19;s seemingly bizarre symptoms. Jacobson and his team speculate that leaky vasculature caused by bradykinin storms could be responsible for COVID-TOES, a condition involving swollen, bruised toes that some Covid-19 patients experience. Bradykinin can also MESS WITH THE THYROID GLAND, which could produce the THYROID SYMPTOMS recently observed in some patients.

The bradykinin hypothesis could also explain some of the broader demographic patterns of the diseases spread. The researchers note that some aspects of the RAS system are sex-linked, with proteins for several receptors (such as one called TMSB4X) located on the X chromosome. This means that “women would have twice the levels of this protein than men,” a result borne out by the researchers data. In their paper, Jacobson’s team concludes that this could explain the lower incidence of Covid-19 induced mortality in women.Ғ A genetic quirk of the RAS could be GIVING WOMEN EXTRA PROTECTION against the disease.

The bradykinin hypothesis provides a model that contributes to “a better understanding of Covid-19” and “adds novelty to the existing literature,” according to scientists Frank van de Veerdonk, Jos WM van der Meer, and Roger Little, who PEER-REVIEWED THE TEAMS’ PAPER. It predicts nearly all the disease’s symptoms, even ones (like bruises on the toes) that at first appear random, and further suggests new treatments for the disease.

As Jacobson and team point out, several drugs target aspects of the RAS and are already FDA approved to treat other conditions. They could arguably be applied to treating Covid-19 as well. Several, like danazol, stanozolol, and ecallantide, reduce bradykinin production and could potentially stop a deadly bradykinin storm. Others, like icatibant, reduce bradykinin signaling and could blunt its effects once its already in the body.

Interestingly, Jacobson’s team also suggests VITAMIN D as a potentially useful Covid-19 drug. The vitamin is involved in the RAS system and could prove helpful by reducing levels of another compound, known as REN. Again, this could stop potentially deadly bradykinin storms from forming. The researchers note that vitamin D has already BEEM SHOWN TO HELP THOSE WITH COVID-19. The vitamin is readily available over the counter, and AROUND 20% OF THE POPULATION IS DEFICIENT. If indeed the vitamin proves effective at reducing the severity of bradykinin storms, it could be an easy, relatively safe way to reduce the severity of the virus.

Other compounds could treat symptoms associated with bradykinin storms. Hymecromone, for example, could reduce hyaluronic acid levels, potentially stopping deadly hydrogels from forming in the lungs. And timbetasin could mimic the mechanism that the researchers believe protects women from more severe Covid-19 infections. All of these potential treatments are speculative, of course, and would need to be studied in a rigorous, controlled environment before their effectiveness could be determined and they could be used more broadly.

Covid-19 stands out for both the scale of its global impact and the apparent randomness of ITS MANY SYMPTONS. Physicians have STRUGGLES TO UNDERSTAND the disease and come up with a unified theory for how it works. Though as of yet unproven, the bradykinin hypothesis provides such a theory. And like all good hypotheses, it also provides specific, testable predictions in this case, actual drugs that could provide relief to real patients.

The researchers are quick to point out that the testing of any of these pharmaceutical interventions should be done in well-designed clinical trials. As to the next step in the process, Jacobson is clear: “We have to get this message out.” His team’s finding wont cure Covid-19. But if the treatments it points to pan out in the clinic, interventions guided by the bradykinin hypothesis could greatly reduce patients’ suffering and potentially save lives.

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Posted by Elvis on 09/02/20 •
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Thursday, May 04, 2017

Book: Down and Out in the New Economy

image: Down And Out in the New Economy

Homeless and Unemployed in an Economy We’re Supposed to Think Is Liberating
In Ilana Gershon’s new book ”DOWN AND OUT IN THE NEW ECONOMY,” the employer power dynamic is called into question.

By Ilana Gershon
University of Chicago Press
April 27, 2017

The following is an adapted excerpt from the new book Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Dont Find) Work Today by Ilana Gershon (University of Chicago Press, April 2017):

Chris, an independent contractor in his midfifties, knows a lot about what it means to deal with an unstable job market, especially during those moments when you are between gigs and don’t know when you are going to get the next one. There was a period in 2012 where he hadn’t had a contracting job for a while, and he had no idea how he was going to pay his rent. He realized he might be able to make his rent for another month, but if he didn’t get a job soon, he might be homeless. He decided that he needed to get his body ready for this very likely possibility. I started to sleep on the floor a few hours each night, as long as I could take it, so I could get used to sleeping on a sidewalk or on the dirt. That’s how bad it looked. It just seemed hopeless, Chris said. Out of the blue, a staffing agency based in India contacted him and offered him a contract in the Midwest, giving him enough money to make it through this bad patch. But this stark moment, in which he saw homelessness around the corner, is part and parcel of the downside of careers made up of temporary jobs. Chris responded to this possibility in the way that you are supposed to if you are constantly enhancing yourself. He began to train his body for living on the streets, realizing that he needed to learn how to sleep without a bed. He was determined to be flexible and to adapt to potential new circumstances. Seeing the self as a bundle of skills, in practice, means that for some people enhancing your skills involves training yourself to survive being homeless. This too is a logical outcome of our contemporary employment model.

I have studied how people are responding to this new way of thinking about work and what it means to be a worker. In the United States, people are moving away from thinking that when they enter into an employment contract, they are metaphorically renting their capacities to an employer for a bounded period of time. Many people are no longer using a notion of the self-as-rented-property as an underlying metaphor and are starting to think of themselves as though they are a business, although not everyone likes this new metaphor or accepts all its implications. When you switch to thinking about the employment contract as a business-to-business relationship, much changes - how you present yourself as a desirable employee, what it means to be a good employer, what your relationships with your coworkers should be like, the relationship between a job and a career, and how you prepare yourself for the future.

The self-as-business metaphor makes a virtue of flexibility as well as the practical ways people might respond in their daily lives to conditions of instability and insecurity. As Gina Neff points out in Venture Labor, the model encourages people to embrace risk as a positive, even sought-out, element of how they individually should craft a career. Each time you switch jobs, you risk. You don’t know the amount of time you will have at a job before having to find a new one, and you risk how lucky you will be at getting that job and the next job. And with every job transition, you risk the salary that you might make. If there is a gap between jobs, then some people will find that they no longer experience a reliable, steady, upward trajectory in their salaries as they navigate the contemporary job market. Yet this is what you are now supposed to embrace as liberating.

Chris’s experiences cycling between employment and increasing periods of unemployment was a familiar story for me. I interviewed so many people in their late forties to early sixties who had a few permanent jobs early in their careers. But as companies increasingly focused on having a more transient workforce, these white-collar workers found their career trajectories veering from what they first thought their working life would look like. They thought that they might climb the organizational ladder in one or maybe even three companies over the course of their lifetime. Instead, they found that at some point in their mid to late forties, they started having shorter and shorter stints at different companies. The jobs, some would say, would last as long as a project. And as they grew older, the gaps between permanent jobs could start growing longer and longer. They struggled to make do, often using up their savings or selling their homes as they hoped to get the next job. Some started to find consulting jobs in order to make ends meet before landing the hoped-for permanent job, and then found themselves trapped on the consulting trackliving only in the gig economy. True, not everyone felt like contracting was plan B, the option they had to take because of bad luck. In their book about contractors, Steve Barley and Gideon Kunda talk about the people they interviewed who actively chose this life. I met these people too, but they weren’t the majority of the job seekers I interviewed. Because I was studying people looking for a wide range of types of jobs, instead of studying people who already had good relationships with staffing agencies that provided consultants, I tended to meet people who felt their bad luck had backed them into becoming permanent freelancers. These were people who encountered the self-as-business metaphor as a relatively new model, one they felt they actively had to learn in order to survive in today’s workplace, as opposed to the younger people I interviewed, many of whom had grown up with the self-as-business model as their primary way to understand employment.

When you think of the employment contract in a new way, you often have to revisit what counts as moral behavior, since older frameworks offer substantively different answers to questions of moral business practice. People have to decide what it means for a company to behave well under this new framework. Consider the self-as-business model. What does a good company do to help its workers enhance themselves as allied businesses? What are the limits in what a company should do? What counts as exploitation under this new model? Can businesses do things that count as exploitation or bad practices now that might not have been considered problems earlier, or not considered problems for the same reasons (and thus are regulated or resolved differently)? Businesses are certainly deeply concerned that workersҒ actions both at work and outside of work could threaten the companys brand, a new worry - but this is the tip of the iceberg. And the moral behavior of companies isnt the only issue. Can workers exploit the companies they align with now or behave badly toward them in new ways?

Yet while these two metaphors - the self-as-property and the self-as-business - encourage people to think about employment in different ways, there are still similarities in how the metaphors ask people to think about getting hired. In both cases, the metaphors are focusing on market choices and asking people to operate by a market logic. Deciding whether to rent your capacities is a slightly different question than deciding whether to enter into a business alliance with someone, but in both instances you are expected to make a decision based on the costs and benefits involved in the decision. In addition, both metaphorical contracts presume that people enter into these contracts as equals, and yet this equality doesn’t last in practice once you are hired. In most jobs, the moment you are hired, you are in a hierarchical relationship; you are taking orders from a boss. Some aspects of working have changed because of this shift in frameworks, but many aspects have stayed the same.

Avoiding Corporate Nostalgia

I talked to people who were thoughtfully ambivalent about this transition in the metaphors underlying employment. They didn’t like their current insecurity, but they pointed out that earlier workplaces weren’t ideal either. Before, people often felt trapped in jobs they disliked and confronted with office politics that were alienating and demoralizing. Like many people today, they dealt with companies in which they were constantly encountering sexism and racism. Not everyone had equal opportunities to move into the jobs they wanted or to be promoted or acknowledged for the work that they did well.

However, as anthropologist Karen Ho points out, when you have a corporate ladder that excludes certain groups of people, you also have a structure that you can potentially reform so that these groups will in the future have equal opportunities. When you have no corporate ladder, when all you have is the uncertainty of moving between companies or between freelance jobs - you no longer have a clear structure to target if you want to make a workplace a fairer environment. If there is more gender equality in the US workplace these days than there was thirty years ago, it is in part because corporate structures were stable enough and reformers stayed at companies long enough that specific business practices could be effectively targeted and reformed. Part of what has changed about workplaces today is that there has been a transformation in the kinds of solutions available to solve workplace problems.

I see what people said to me about their preference for the kinds of guarantees and rights people used to have at work as a form of critique, not a form of nostalgia. People didn’t necessarily want to return to the way things used to be. When people talked to me nostalgically about how workplaces used to function, it was often because they valued the protections they used to be able to rely on and a system they knew well enough to be able to imagine how to change it for the better.

Many people I spoke to were very unhappy with the contemporary workplace’s increasing instability. They worried a great deal about making it financially through the longer and longer dry spells of unemployment between jobs. I talked to a man who was doing reasonably well that year as a consultant, and he began reflecting on what the future would hold for his children. He didn’t want them to follow in his footsteps and become a computer programmer, because too many people like him were contingent workers. He wanted them to have their own families and reasoned: “If everybody thinks they can be laid-off in two weeks, how would they feel confident enough to be a parent and know that they’e got twenty-one years of consistent investment?”

It is not that the people I spoke to necessarily wanted older forms of work. What many wanted was stability. No matter how many times people are told to embrace being flexible, to embrace risk, in practice many of the people I spoke to did not actually want to live with the downsides of this riskier life. The United States does not have enough safety nets in place to protect you during the moments when life doesnt work out. Because you are supposed to be looking for a new job regularly over the course of a lifetime, the opportunities when you might become dramatically downwardly mobile increase. There are more possible moments in which you have to enhance your skills at surviving on much less money or even living rough.

Changing Notions of What Counts as a Good Employment Relationship

When people are thought of as businesses, significant aspects of the employment relationship change. The genre repertoire you use to get a job alters to reflect this understanding as you use resumes, interview answers, and other genres to represent yourself as a bundle of business solutions that can address the hiring company’s market-specific temporary needs. Networking has changed what it means to manage your social relationships so that you can stay employed has shifted. Some people I met are now arguing that you treat the companies you are considering joining in the same way you would treat any other business investment: in terms of the financial and career risk involved in being allied with this company.

It is not just that you evaluate jobs differently when you know that your job is temporary - deciding you can put up with some kinds of inconveniences but not others. Instead, you see the job as a short-term investment of time and labor, and the job had better pay off - perhaps by providing you with new skills, new networks, or a new way of framing your work experiences that makes you potentially more desirable for the next job. What if this new framework allows workers to have new expectations of their employers, or can safeguard workers’ interests in new ways? If you have this perspective, what are the new kinds of demands that employees could potentially make of employers?

For Tom, this new vision of self-as-business was definitely guiding how he was judging the ways companies treated him and what was appropriate behavior. I first contacted Tom because I heard through the grapevine that he refused to use LinkedIn. I was curious, as I had been doing research for seven months by that point and only came across one other person who was not using LinkedIn (and has since rejoined). We talked about his refusal, and he explained to me that LinkedIn didn’t seem to offer enough in return for his data. He clearly saw himself in an exchange relationship with LinkedIn, providing data for it to use and in return having access to the platform. Fair enough, I thought: as far as I can tell, the data scientists at LinkedIn and Facebook whom I have met see the exchange relationship in similar ways. Yet Tom decided that what LinkedIn offered wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t worth providing the company with his personal data. So I asked him about various other sites that he might use in which the exchange might be more equitable, and he lit up talking about these other sites. For Tom, because he saw himself as a business, and viewed his data as part of his assets, he was ready to see LinkedIn as offering a bad business arrangement, one he didn’t want to accept. The self-as-business framework allowed him to see the use of certain platforms as instances of participating in business alliances. Some alliances he was willing to enter into, but not all.

This wasn’t his only encounter with a potentially exploitative business arrangement. He typically worked as an independent contractor, and a company asked him to come in for a job interview. When he got there, his interviewer explained that the position was a sweat equity job - Tom wouldn’t get a salary, but rather he would get equity in the company in exchange for his labor. “Okay” he replied. “So what is your business model?” His interviewer was surprised and discomforted to be asked this. He refused to answer; employees don’t need to know the details of the company’s business model, he said. Tom felt that this was wrong; because he was being asked to be an investor in the company - admittedly with his labor instead of with money, he felt should be given the same financial details that any other investor in a company would expect before signing on. It sounded to me like Tomגs interviewer was caught between two models: wanting the possible labor arrangements now available but unwilling to adjust whom he told what. The interviewer was not willing to follow through on the implications of this new model of employment, and as a result, Tom wasnt willing to take the job. This is one way in which the self-as-business model offers a new way to talk about what counts as exploitation and as inappropriate behavior - behavior that might not have been an issue decades ago, or would have been a problem for different reasons (perhaps because a couple of decades ago, few people found sweat equity an acceptable arrangement).

But this new model also opens up the possibility that companies can have obligations to their employees that they did not have in the same way before. Since companies often dont offer stable employment, they now provide a temporary venue for people to express their passion and to enhance themselves. Can this look like an obligation that businesses have to their workers? Perhaps - businesses could take seriously what it means to provide workers with the opportunities to enhance themselves. Michael Feher argues that if people are now supposed to see themselves as human capital, there should be a renewed focus on what good investment in people looks like - regardless of whether workers stay at a single company.

SHOULD COMPANIES now help provide TRAINING for an employee’s next job? Throughout the twentieth century, companies understood that they had to provide their workers training in order for them to do their job at the company to their best of their ability. Internal training made sense both for the company’s immediate interests and for the company’s ability to retain a supply of properly trained workers over the life of the company. Now that jobs are so temporary, who is responsible for training workers is a bit more up in the air. Yet some companies are beginning to offer support for workers to train, not for the benefit of the company, but so that workers can pursue their passion, should they discover that working at that company is not their passion. Amazon, for example, in 2012 began to provide training for employees who potentially want radically different jobs. Jeff Bezo’s explained in his 2014 letter to shareholders: We pre-pay 95% of tuition for our employees to take courses for in-demand fields, such as airplane mechanic or nursing, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon. The goal is to enable “choice.” It makes sense for a company to support its workers learning skills for a completely different career only under the contemporary perspective that people are businesses following their passions in temporary alliances with companies.

This model of self-as-business might give workers some new language to protest business practices that keep them from enhancing themselves or entering into as many business alliances as they would like. For example, just-in-time scheduling in practice is currently preventing retail workers from getting enough hours so that they can earn as much as they would like to in a week. This type of scheduling means that workers only find out that week how many hours they are working and when. They cant expect to have certain hours reliably free, and they need to be available whenever their employer would like them to work. Marc Doussard has found that good workers are rewarded with more hours at work. While white-collar workers might get better pay in end-of-the-year bonuses for seeming passionate, retail workers get more hours in the week. If workers make special requests to have certain hours, Doussard discovered, their managers will often punish them in response, by either giving them fewer hours to work or only assigning them to shifts they find undesirable. In practice, this means that workers have trouble holding two jobs or taking classes to improve themselves, as unpredictable shifts will inevitably conflict with each other or class times. Predictable work hours, in short, are essential for being able to plan for the future - either to make sure you are working enough hours in the week to support yourself or to educate yourself for other types of jobs. Since companies are now insisting that people imagine themselves as businesses, what would happen if workers protested when companies dont allow them to “invest in themselves” or when they are thwarted from having as many business partnerships (that is, jobs) as possible? Perhaps employees should now be able to criticize and change employers’ practices when they are prevented from being the best businesses they can be because of their employers workplace strategies.

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Posted by Elvis on 05/04/17 •
Section Bad Moon Rising • Section Revelations • Section American Solidarity • Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy • Section Microsoft And Windows • Section Job Hunt • Section News • Section Telecom Underclass • Section Dying America
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Marvel At The Beast - Part 10

saint-obama.jpg

“Obama’s biggest blemish remains the ongoing tragedy of mass unemployment. Not only does this have a human element - the countless lives harmed or destroyed by poverty and desperation - but it is a huge drag on our economy. Mass unemployment reduces spending - the engine of our economy - which in turn, reduces growth. And without meaningful growth, there’s no way to reduce long-term debt without inflicting a large dose of harmful austerity. That, in my view, is unacceptable.”
- Obamas Biggest Blemish, Jamelle Bouie, American Prospect, January 3, 2013

The central problem is not an inadequate supply of educated workers; it is inadequate demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics now projects that of the ten occupational groups that will add the most jobs between 2010 and 2020, five do not even require a high-school education.
Who Will Save The Middle Class, Prospect, May 2012

I can tell you tell you one thing I like about The President - his speeches are GREAT.
I only wish this time THERE IS SOME REAL SUBSTANCE behind his EMPTY words.

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Obama speech reveals a different leader

By Dan Balz
January 21, 2013

President Obama has never lacked for confidence, but rarely has that attribute been on display as clearly as on Monday in an inaugural address that underscored the distance he has traveled after four contentious years in office.

This was not the politician who campaigned in 2008 on themes of transcending the divisive politics of the past, though there were ritual calls for the country and its political leaders to seize this moment together. Instead, it was a president who has accepted the reality of those divisions and is determined to prevail on his terms.

Obamas first campaign was aspirational, and he came to office believing, or at least hoping, that through force of personality he could gently guide the opposing sides to consensus on issues that had long resisted resolution. Monday’s speech conveyed the ambitions of a president looking at his next four years with a sense of frustration and impatience, and who now believes that a different style of leadership is required.

In his speech, Obama set out his priorities for a second term, goals that will cheer the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and probably alarm many on the right. He challenged Republicans to meet him partway, though not exactly in the middle. If there was an underlying message Monday, it was not “Come, let us reason together.” It was “Follow me.” The question is whether he will be any more successful in his second term than he was in his first.

Pressure on Republicans

There are reasons for the president setting a different tone in his second inaugural than in his first. Two years after he and his party took a beating in the midterm elections, he now holds the strongest hand in Washington. His approval ratings have climbed above 50 percent, while his Republican opponents in Congress remain mired in disapproval ratings almost three times as high as their approval ratings.

Obama once hoped that he could overcome the united opposition of congressional Republicans, whose militant House members set the partys tone during the battles of the past two years, through negotiation with GOP leaders. Now he is looking to the country to pressure his opponents to compromise in ways that they would not during his first term.

Republicans have already tested the reelected president and discovered the limits of their power. Their decision not to pick a fight - for now - over the debt ceiling signaled their recognition of that reality. It was an acknowledgment that the tactic of opposing Obama at almost every turn may be self-defeating.

Obama appears ready to try to split the Republican coalition by setting pragmatists against ideologues. On Monday, he rebuked those who have been most aggressive in their opposition when he said, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”

REPUBLICANS will have to choose their battles more carefully, and they may prevail in some cases. Obama knows that he won’t get all he wants, but the balance of power at the start of his second term is far different from what it was 24 months ago.

The year ahead promises more debates over the size and scope of government, issues that dominated the past two years in Washington. Obama acknowledged the need to deal with spending and the deficit, but he also set out terms for the coming fight over federal entitlements.

During the campaign, Obama talked about the philosophical divide between Republicans and Democrats on these issues, as he condemned the broken politics of Washington. He said the American people could break the tie with the election.

But the election returned a majority of Republicans to the House, and on Monday the president seemed to suggest that there were grounds for compromise. “Progress,” he said, “does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.”

Addressing his coalition

Obama’s second inaugural address also reflected a changing America and the coalition that reelected him to office. The nation’s first African American president leads an ever-more diverse population and a country in which attitudes and mores continue to change, particularly among the youngest segment of society.

The policy agenda he put forth, and the values he enunciated, spoke directly to that coalition. Never before has a president used an inaugural address to speak so openly about the cause of gay rights, linking the 1969 Stonewall uprising that led to the gay rights movement with Selma and civil rights and the 1839 Seneca Falls Convention and womens’ rights.

Not all Americans agree with these changes, and as president, Obama must attempt to speak for them and to them. But his remarks Monday suggest that he believes history is on his side on these issues.

The president’s second inaugural address was notable also for what he talked about only in brief. Four years ago, he stood on the Capitols West Front with the country facing an economic crisis. Output was falling, the stock market had plunged, many Americans were threatened with housing foreclosures, and unemployment was rising rapidly. He talked about “a sapping of confidence across our land.”

On Monday, he touched only lightly on that crisis and spoke of the economy in positive terms. “An economic recovery has begun,” he said. At a time when jobs remain a top priority for most Americans, he chose neither to highlight that problem nor to offer any new solutions - though, ultimately, he will be judged on his effectiveness in restoring the economy to its full strength.

Opponents will find much to dislike about what Obama said Monday, for this was not a speech aimed at mollifying those who lost the election. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who lost the presidential race four years ago, expressed disappointment that Obama was not more explicit about bringing the two sides together. “I would have liked to have seen more on outreach and working together,” McCain said. But the senator added, “It’s his privilege to say what he wants.”

Obama risks overreaching or over-interpreting his mandate, which can be an affliction of newly reelected presidents. His victory in November was decisive but not overwhelming. Self-confidence can slip over the line to arrogance or hubris. Second terms often disappoint. So there are dangers ahead for the president.

On Monday, he set out his ambitions for a second term in clear language. What follows will define how history judges both those priorities and his ability to turn them into action.

SOURCE

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Politico has a sad because it doesn’t think Obama has done enough to cut Medicare or Social Security

By Jed Lewison
Daily Kos
January 22, 2013

WOE IS POLITICO:

The President has never precisely defined what hard choices he would be willing to make on Medicare and Social Security. Its not even clear what he would do if he had the power to remake the programs on his own, without worrying about opposition from Republicans or Democrats.

How incredibly sad. President Barack Obama just isn’t willing to make hard choices on Medicare and Social Security. And, as everybody knows, with an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent, America’s top priority is making “hard choices” to cut not just those programs, but Medicaid as well.

If only the president had done something courageous, like passing landmark health care reform legislation that will achieve $716 billion in Medicare savings over the next decade. If only he had been willing to take such a step despite the virtual guarantee that the Republican presidential nominee would run ads ATTACKING HIM FOR IT. If only he’d been willing to do something bold, like taking the risk of having Republicans claim that he had created death panels when what he really did was create an Independent Payment Advisory Board aimed at reducing Medicare costs.

But no, our lousy president hasn’t been willing to make any TOUGH CHOICES at all. In fact, as Politico “reports” in the very same article that I quoted above:

Obama infuriated Democrats by proposing controversial changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security during his failed 2011 grand-bargain talks with Boehner. The president was ready to make some entitlement concessions in the fiscal cliff negotiations last month, but that effort fizzled, too.

Wait. Hold on. You mean Obama has proposed additional cuts to Medicare and Social Security?

Now at this point you might be a bit confused, because on the one hand Politico is ripping Obama for being unwilling to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, but on the other hand, they are pointing out that he angered his own party when he proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Fortunately, your confusion will be short-lived, because Politico explains why Obama STILL SUCKS. The short version: the tax cliff deal made it impossible for him to get entitlement cuts because Republicans aren’t willing to raise taxes again.

The FISCAL CLIFF DEAL, which raised $600 billion in new revenue, may have actually made it more difficult to strike a grand bargain. That’s because Republicans aren’t willing to consider further tax hikes a White House prerequisite to weighing any controversial cuts to entitlements.

Well, I guess that settles that. As we all know, if Republicans say no to something, then it’s off the table. It should never be considered. Why? Because Republicans said no, that’s why. And when they say no, they mean it. EXCEPT:

A senior Republican tax aide confirmed that Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, the Ways and Means chairman, planned to push forward this year with “revenue-neutral” tax reform, with the revenue target adjusted upward to the amount raised by the higher tax rates on the wealthy approved this month to resolve most of the so-called fiscal cliff.

The Republican aide said if the Senate can approve tax changes that raise revenues, it is possible that difficult negotiations between the two chambers could produce a final deal that would produce more tax revenue - but not as much as the Senate wants.

Huh. Maybe assuming Republicans say what they mean and mean what they say isn’t really the best assumption to make. Maybe it’s time to realize that Republicans like to bluff. And as long as Politico is going to perpetuate its misguided obsession with 20-year budget projections for Social Security, maybe they should give President Obama some credit for having done what they say he refuses to do.

Of course, what would really be nice would be to see the same level obsession on an issue like unemployment and economic growth, or maybe even climate change. After all, the fanciest projection in the world doesn’t mean a damn thing without economic growth. And if we don’t do anything to confront climate change, the only thing we can say for sure about the demographic forecasts for the future of Social Security and Medicare is that they are going to be wrong.

SOURCE

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Americas Vanishing Economic Freedom

By Michael D. Tanner
National Review
September 19, 2012

The 2012 Economic Freedom of the World report was RELEASED this week by the Cato Institute and CanadaҒs Fraser Institute, and it showed that the United States has plummeted to 18th place in the ranked list, trailing such countries as Estonia, Taiwan, and Qatar. Even such notorious welfare states as Finland and Denmark, not to mention Canada, have freer economies than we do.

Actually, the decline began under President George W. Bush. For 20 years the U.S. had consistently ranked as one of the worlds three freest economies, along with Hong Kong and Singapore. By the end of the Bush presidency, we were barely in the top ten.

And, as with so many disastrous legacies of the Bush era, Barack Obama took a bad thing and made it worse.

During the past four years, the U.S. saw significant declines in nearly all categories of the economic-liberty index. Most significant - and this should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention - is that the size of government grew substantially, particularly when measured by size of government subsidies and transfers and by government consumption as a share of national consumption.

As recently as 2005, the U.S. ranked 45th in size of government among the 144 nations surveyed. That was bad enough, but it still had us in the top third of the 144 countries surveyed. Today, government has grown dramatically, and our ranking has fallen to 61st place. By the metrics used, the U.S. now has a bigger government than Ukraine or Syria.

The United States has also seen a substantial increase in business regulations, labor-market restrictions, and barriers to trade. Our standing fell in all those categories, and we have undergone a long-term deterioration in ranking on property rights as well.

To anyone wondering why the U.S. is having such a hard time recovering from this recession, the 2012 report provides a pretty devastating diagnosis. We are clearly headed in the wrong direction.

Yet discussion of economic freedom seems curiously missing from the presidential campaign. President Obama, in fact, would further restrict economic liberty. He proposes a host of new subsidies and regulations. And donגt forget that the largest parts of Dodd-Frank kick in next year.

Meanwhile, when it comes to defending economic liberty, Mitt Romney has spent most of his time in a defensive crouch. He occasionally breaks form to promise he wont really reduce taxes on the wealthy, wonҒt cut Medicare, and wants to keep some parts of Obamacare. Hes actually running ads attacking the president for not confronting China over trade.

Americans instinctively know the importance of economic freedom. They know that it is their ability to invest, start businesses, and hire workers that builds a prosperous country. They know that millions have come to this country and prospered because they had freedom to pursue their economic aspirations as well as their personal ones. And they find this freedom now slipping away.

They need a candidate to speak for them҅ and for freedom.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 01/22/13 •
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Friday, January 11, 2013

American Express Lays Off 5,400

layoff.jpg

American Express to cut 5,400 jobs

By Mr Z.
Banoosh
January 11, 2013

American Express Co. will eliminate 5,400 jobs this year, mostly in travel services, amid a huge decrease in fourth-quarter profit.

The lender posted a 47 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit and recorded after-tax charges totaling $594 million, including costs tied to severance and changes in how the firm estimates future redemptions of credit-card rewards, New York- based AmEx said Thursday in a statement.

“Travel has gone through a great deal of change,” Chief Executive Officer Kenneth I. Chenault said in a conference call with analysts. T"he economics of corporate travel has changed more dramatically over the years than any part of the business.”

American Express, the biggest U.S. credit-card issuer by purchases, also provides clients worldwide with travel-booking and advisory services. Competitors include Internet firms Priceline.com, the most valuable online-travel agency, and Expedia Inc.

The lender reported preliminary results ahead of its formal earnings announcement scheduled for Jan. 17. In the third quarter, travel commissions and fees declined 3.1 percent to $465 million from a year earlier, according to an Oct. 31 regulatory filing.

Fourth-quarter net income declined to $637 million from $1.19 billion a year earlier, according to the company. Adjusted profit, which excludes one-time items, was $1.09 a share, 3 cents more than the average estimate of 27 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The after-tax charges include $287 million in severance costs and $212 million tied to changes in how the firm calculates redemptions. Bloomberg

FACTS & FIGURES

There are over 20 million people who are either unemployed or have stopped looking for work in the United States.

While the economy, in fact, is growing again the recession officially ended in June 2009 - just a third of Americans see it that way. They’re outnumbered by the 44% who say it’s in a recession or a depression. USA Today

The advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims for jobless benefits was 372,000 in the week ending Dec. 29, up 10,000 from the previous weeks revised figure. Meanwhile, the four-week moving average, which helps smooth out week-to-week volatility, also edged up to 360,000. Xinhua

Due to the “dysfunction and polarization in Washington, the U.S. economy faces a prolonged weak outlook,” according to Mohamed El-Erian, Chair of the president Obama’s Global Development Council. “The new normal is sluggish growth and persistently high unemployment and concerns about debt and deficits,” El-Erian said. CNBC.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 01/11/13 •
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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Minimum Wage 2013

Nearly 1 million U.S. workers will be getting a New Years Day gift: a small raise after 10 states boost their minimum wages.

By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
Pew - Stateline
December 20, 2012

Nine states will adjust the wages to accommodate the rising costs of living, as required by state laws, while Rhode Island will implement a law signed by the governor in June that raises its minimum wage to $7.75 per hour. The wage hikes range between 10 cents and 35 cents per hour, adding between $190 and $510 to the average affected workers annual pay.

min-wage-2013.png border=0

With those changes, 19 states and the District of Columbia will have minimum wages above the federal level of $7.25, which translates to about $15,000 per year for a full-time worker. That rate has been in place since 2009 and has not been adjusted for inflation.

The National Employment Law Project, an advocate for workers’ rights, is among several groups calling for lawmakers to boost the federal rate.

“We need policies that make sure workers earn wages that will at the very least support their basic needs,” Christine Owens, the labor groups executive director, said in a statement Wednesday (December 19). “But earning an income that meets basic needs shouldn’t depend on the state where a working family lives.”

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, of Iowa, introduced a bill last July that would raise the minimum wage to $9.80 by 2014 and adjust it each year. But the legislation has little chance to pass in a divided Congress still wrangling over budget issues.

Meanwhile, New Jerseys Democrat-controlled legislature passed a bill early this month that would raise wages, currently at the federal minimum, by a dollar. Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, will likely veto the measure, saying it would burden businesses still recovering from Superstorm Sandy. Anticipating a veto, leaders of both houses have said they will push a constitutional amendment. That would require both chambers to pass the legislation next year. Voters would then weigh in during the 2013 election.

A battle is also brewing in California, where the state’s $8-per-hour minimum wage has remained the same for five years. Assemblyman Luis Alejo, a Democrat, is pushing a bill that would gradually raise the wage to $9.25 by 2016. The last attempt to adjust the states minimum wage in 2011 met strong pushback from the business community and ultimately failed.

Questions about the minimum wage have long sparked debate among lawmakers. Supporters say wage hikes help workers keep pace with inflation, spurring more spending that boosts the economy at large. Opponents argue the higher wages increase employers’ costs, forcing them to cut workers.

In 2010, a study of restaurant worker salaries, published in the Review of Economics and Statistics, “found no detectable employment losses from the kind of minimum wage increases we have seen in the United States.”

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 01/02/13 •
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