You need to know this. For the first time in 17 years, our government is officially shut down. Just hours before the midnight deadline, the House Republicans passed a third government funding proposal, which included another absurd attempt to undermine Obamacare. As expected, the Senate rejected that version, and called on the House to pass a clean continuing resolution. At 1 a.m., House Speaker John Boehner tried to appear reasonable, by calling for a bipartisan committee between the two chambers. Democrats have been asking for such a meeting for months, however they are unlikely to accept that proposal now, as they continue to call for a clean government funding bill. After Republicans refused to pass a clean bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid laid into Speak Boehner, saying, “You know with a bully, you cannot let them slap you around. Because they slap you around today, they slap you around five or six times tomorrow. We are not going to be bullied.” House Republicans proved that they would rather furlough workers, slash food assistance, and cripple our economy than back down from their efforts to kill Obamacare. As of today, 800,000 federal workers will be sent home without pay, the government will not process loans for new homes or businesses, new disability and unemployment claims will take longer to process, and the CDC will be limited in its ability to fight disease. And, these are only a few of the effects of a government shutdown. As President Obama said before the deadline, “One faction, of one party, in one House of Congress, in one branch of government, doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election.” Right now, millions of Americans are wondering how long it will take for House Republicans to realize that.
In screwed news... As the government shuts down, the next budget deadline is right around the corner. We are only two weeks from the debt ceiling fight, which could have an even broader effect on our economy. And, considering the Republican hostage-taking over funding the government, this next fight may be a knock-down brawl. According to the New York Times, a debt-ceiling breach would be disastrous, and it could quickly throw our nation back into a recession. An analysis by economists at RBC Capital Markets states, “The Treasury's systems do not clearly mark what scheduled payments are for what reasons, so it is impractical to try to prioritize payments. And, clearing systems like Fedwire do not allow defaulted securities to flow, so the system would seize.” In other words, simply not having the funds to make certain payments could cause the Treasury's payment system to crash, and we don't have the option of just paying the interest on our debt, as many Republicans claim. This is a serious threat to our national economy, and the world markets in general. Millions of Americans want their lawmakers to stop these political games before they cause an even larger economic catastrophe.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Despite the Republican's best efforts, the Affordable Care Act is open for business. As of today, millions of Americans can begin signing up for low-cost health insurance, and the open enrollment period will last for the next six months. People who are uninsured or underinsured can pick out their new plans, determine what subsidies they qualify for, and their benefits will start on January 1st. And, in states that have expanded Medicaid, millions of Americans who qualify will now be eligible for free health insurance. It's been three years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, and Republicans have tried to block, repeal, defund, and badmouth the plan at every turn. But, starting today, Americans will be able to judge the law's benefits for themselves. Of course, White House officials do expect some technical issues, but they say that should not discourage people from signing up. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, “We're likely to have some glitches. We will fix them and move on. Is this a sign that the law is flawed and failed? I don't think so.”
Last week, California legalized industrial hemp. On Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation allowing farmers to begin growing the multipurpose crop. Industrial hemp advocates have been calling for the plant's legalization for over a decade, and say that it will become a $500 million dollar a year industry for the Golden State. Industrial hemp can be used for fuel, clothing, paper, and even food, and it contains less than three tenths of one percent of THC, which is the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. The new California law reclassifies the plant as a fiber or oilseed crop, rather then lumping it in with illegal drugs. Nine other states and 30 counties throughout our nation have already legalized hemp for farming, and it's likely that California won't be the last state to pass this common-sense legislation.
And finally… Our digital devices have become so much a part of our lives that they've changed how our brains function. According to Dr. Larry Rosen, a research psychologist who studies how our minds are effected by technology, 90 percent of college undergrads have experienced phantom vibration syndrome. That's the technical term for thinking your smartphone is vibrating when it's not. Dr. Rosen explained that while we used to react to an itch by scratching it, “something in your brain is being triggered that's different than what was triggered just a few short years ago.” Now, our brains react to that itch by telling us to reach for our phones. And, college students were not the only ones who experienced the syndrome. A survey of hospital workers produced the same results, and even a cattle rancher reported feeling phantom vibrations. Technology is literally changing the way our brains work, but researchers didn't comment on whether that change is for the better.