Nation roundup for August 30


Obama, Biden seek gun changes

WASHINGTON (AP) — Months after gun control efforts crumbled in Congress, Vice President Joe Biden stood shoulder to shoulder Thursday with the attorney general and the top U.S. firearms official and declared the Obama administration would take two new steps to curb American gun violence.

But the narrow, modest scope of those steps served as pointed reminders that without congressional backing, President Barack Obama’s capacity to make a difference is severely inhibited.

Still, Biden renewed a pledge from him and the president to seek legislative fixes to keep guns from those who shouldn’t have them — a pledge with grim prospects for fulfillment amid the current climate on Capitol Hill.

“If Congress won’t act, we’ll fight for a new Congress,” Biden said in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. “It’s that simple. But we’re going to get this done.”

One new policy will bar military-grade weapons that the U.S. sells or donates to allies from being imported back into the U.S. by private entities. In the last eight years, the U.S. has approved 250,000 of those guns to come back to the U.S., the White House said, arguing that some end up on the streets. From now on, only museums and a few other entities like the government will be eligible to reimport military-grade firearms.

The ban will largely affect antiquated, World War II-era weapons that, while still deadly, rarely turn up at crime scenes, leaving some to question whether the new policy is much ado about nothing.

Fast-food workers rally across U.S.

NEW YORK (AP) — Fast-food workers and their supporters beat drums, blew whistles and chanted slogans Thursday on picket lines in dozens of U.S. cities, marking the largest protests yet in their quest for higher wages.

The nationwide day of demonstrations came after similar actions organized by unions and community groups over the past several months. Workers are calling for the right to unionize without interference from employers and for pay of $15 an hour. That’s more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year for full-time employees.

Thursday’s walkouts and protests reached about 60 cities, including New York, Chicago and Detroit, organizers said. But the turnout varied significantly. Some targeted restaurants were temporarily unable to do business because they had too few employees, and others seemingly operated normally.

Ryan Carter, a 29-year-old who bought a $1 cup of coffee at a New York McDonald’s where protesters gathered, said he “absolutely” supported the demand for higher wages.

J&J to launch new Tylenol cap

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bottles of Tylenol sold in the U.S. will soon bear red warnings alerting users to the potentially fatal risks of taking too much of the popular pain reliever.

The unusual step, disclosed by the company that makes Tylenol, comes amid a growing number of lawsuits and pressure from the federal government that could have widespread ramifications for a medicine taken by millions of people every day.

Johnson & Johnson says the warning will appear on the cap of new bottles of Extra Strength Tylenol sold in the U.S. starting in October and on most other Tylenol bottles in coming months. The warning will make it explicitly clear that the over-the-counter drug contains acetaminophen, a pain-relieving ingredient that is the nation’s leading cause of sudden liver failure.

Financial stress may affect brain

WASHINGTON (AP) — Being short on cash may make you a bit slower in the brain, a new study suggests.

People worrying about having enough money to pay their bills tend to lose temporarily the equivalent of 13 IQ points, scientists found when they gave intelligence tests to shoppers at a New Jersey mall and farmers in India.

The idea is that financial stress monopolizes thinking, making other calculations slower and more difficult, sort of like the effects of going without sleep for a night.

And this money-and-brain crunch applies, albeit to a smaller degree, to about 100 million Americans who face financial squeezes, say the team of economists and psychologists who wrote the study published in today’s issue of the journal Science.

“Our paper isn’t about poverty. It’s about people struggling to make ends meet,” said Sendhil Mullainathan, a Harvard economist and study co-author. “When we think about people who are financially stressed, we think they are short on money, but the truth is they are also short on cognitive capacity.”

If you are always thinking about overdue bills, a mortgage or rent, or college loans, it takes away from your focus on other things. So being late on loans could end up costing you both interest points and IQ points, Mullainathan said.

The study used tests that studied various aspects of thinking including a traditional IQ test, getting the 13 IQ point drop, said study co-author Jiaying Zhao, a professor of psychology and sustainability at the University of British Columbia.

The scientists looked at the effects of finances on the brain both in the lab and in the field. In controlled lab-like conditions, they had about 400 shoppers at Quaker Bridge Mall in central New Jersey consider certain financial scenarios and tested their brain power. Then they looked at real life in the fields of India, where farmers only get paid once a year. Before the harvest, they take out loans and pawn goods. After they sell their harvest, they are flush with cash.

Mullainathan and colleagues tested the same 464 farmers before and after the harvest and their IQ scores improved by 25 percent when their wallets fattened.

“It’s a very powerful effect,” said study co-author Eldar Shafir, a Princeton University psychology professor. “When you are dealing with budgetary finances, it does intrude on your thinking. It’s at the top of your mind.”

In the New Jersey part of the study, the scientists tested about 400 shoppers, presenting them with scenarios that involved a large and a small car repair bill. Those with family incomes of about $20,000 scored about the same as those with $70,000 incomes on IQ tests when the car bill was small. But when the poorer people had to think about facing a whopping repair bill, their IQ scores were 40 percent lower.

Education differences can’t be a major factor because the poor only scored worse when they were faced with big bills, Safir said. The more educated rich may have learned to divide their attention, but that wouldn’t be a significant factor, he said.

The study’s authors and others say the results contradict long-standing conservative economic social and political theory that say it is individuals — not circumstances — that are the primary problem with poverty. In the case of India, it was the same people before and after, so it can’t be the person’s fault.

“For a long time we’ve been blaming the poor for their own failings,” Zhao said. “We’re arguing something very different.”

Poverty researcher Kathryn Edin of Harvard, who wasn’t part of the study, said the research “is a big deal that solves a critical puzzle in poverty research.”

She said poor people often have the same mainstream values about marriage and two-parent families as everyone else, but they don’t seem to act that way. This shows that it’s not their values but the situation that impairs their decision-making, she said.

 

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