A journey through a land of extreme poverty: welcome to America

The UNs Philip Alston is an expert on deprivation and he wants to know why 41m Americans are living in poverty. The Guardian joined him on a special two-week mission into the dark heart of the worlds richest nation

Los Angeles, California, 5 December

You got a choice to make, man. You could go straight on to heaven. Or you could turn right, into that.

We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of Americas wealthiest cities, and General Dogon, dressed in black, is our tour guide. Alongside him strolls another tall man, grey-haired and sprucely decked out in jeans and suit jacket. Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

General Dogon, himself a veteran of these Skid Row streets, strides along, stepping over a dead rat without comment and skirting round a body wrapped in a worn orange blanket lying on the sidewalk.

The two men carry on for block after block after block of tatty tents and improvised tarpaulin shelters. Men and women are gathered outside the structures, squatting or sleeping, some in groups, most alone like extras in a low-budget dystopian movie.

We come to an intersection, which is when General Dogon stops and presents his guest with the choice. He points straight ahead to the end of the street, where the glistening skyscrapers of downtown LA rise up in a promise of divine riches.

Heaven.

Then he turns to the right, revealing the black power tattoo on his neck, and leads our gaze back into Skid Row bang in the center of LAs downtown. That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation. A nightmare in plain view, in the city of dreams.

Alston turns right.

Philip
Philip Alston in downtown LA. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

So begins a two-week journey into the dark side of the American Dream. The spotlight of the UN monitor, an independent arbiter of human rights standards across the globe, has fallen on this occasion on the US, culminating on Friday with the release of his initial report in Washington.

His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty.

Of those, nine million have zero cash income they do not receive a cent in sustenance.

Alstons epic journey has taken him from coast to coast, deprivation to deprivation. Starting in LA and San Francisco, sweeping through the Deep South, traveling on to the colonial stain of Puerto Rico then back to the stricken coal country of West Virginia, he has explored the collateral damage of Americas reliance on private enterprise to the exclusion of public help.

The Guardian had unprecedented access to the UN envoy, following him as he crossed the country, attending all his main stops and witnessing the extreme poverty he is investigating firsthand.

Think of it as payback time. As the UN special rapporteur himself put it: Washington is very keen for me to point out the poverty and human rights failings in other countries. This time Im in the US.

David
David Busch, who is currently homeless on Venice beach, in Los Angeles. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian


The tour comes at a critical moment for America and the world. It began on the day that Republicans in the US Senate voted for sweeping tax cuts that will deliver a bonanza for the super wealthy while in time raising taxes on many lower-income families. The changes will exacerbate wealth inequality that is already the most extreme in any industrialized nation, with three men Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet owning as much as half of the entire American people.

A few days into the UN visit, Republican leaders took a giant leap further. They announced plans to slash key social programs in what amounts to an assault on the already threadbare welfare state.

Look up! Look at those banks, the cranes, the luxury condos going up, exclaimed General Dogon, who used to be homeless on Skid Row and now works as a local activist with Lacan. Down here, theres nothing. You see the tents back to back, theres no place for folks to go.

California made a suitable starting point for the UN visit. It epitomizes both the vast wealth generated in the tech boom for the 0.001%, and the resulting surge in housing costs that has sent homelessness soaring. Los Angeles, the city with by far the largest population of street dwellers in the country, is grappling with crisis numbers that increased 25% this past year to 55,000.

Ressy Finley, 41, was busy sterilizing the white bucket she uses to slop out in her tent in which she has lived on and off for more than a decade. She keeps her living area, a mass of worn mattresses and blankets and a few motley possessions, as clean as she can in a losing battle against rats and cockroaches. She also endures waves of bed bugs, and has large welts on her shoulder to prove it.

She receives no formal income, and what she makes on recycling bottles and cans is no way enough to afford the average rents of $1,400 a month for a tiny one-bedroom. A friend brings her food every couple of days, the rest of the time she relies on nearby missions.

She cried twice in the course of our short conversation, once when she recalled how her infant son was taken from her arms by social workers because of her drug habit (he is now 14; she has never seen him again). The second time was when she alluded to the sexual abuse that set her as a child on the path towards drugs and homelessness.

Given all that, its remarkable how positive Finley remains. What does she think of the American Dream, the idea that everyone can make it if they try hard enough? She replies instantly: I know Im going to make it.

A 41-year-old woman living on the sidewalk in Skid Row going to make it?

Sure I will, so long as I keep the faith.

What does making it mean to her?

I want to be a writer, a poet, an entrepreneur, a therapist.

Ressy
Ressy Finley, who lives in a tent on 6th Street in Downtown LA. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

Robert Chambers occupies the next patch of sidewalk along from Finleys. Hes created an area around his tent out of wooden pallets, what passes in Skid Row for a cottage garden.

He has a sign up saying Homeless Writers Coalition, the name of a group he runs to give homeless people dignity against what he calls the animalistic aspects of their lives. Hes referring not least to the lack of public bathrooms that forces people to relieve themselves on the streets.

LA authorities have promised to provide more access to toilets, a critical issue given the deadly outbreak of Hepatitis A that began in San Diego and is spreading on the west coast claiming 21 lives mainly through lack of sanitation in homeless encampments. At night local parks and amenities are closed specifically to keep homeless people out.

Skid Row has had the use of nine toilets at night for 1,800 street-faring people. Thats a ratio well below that mandated by the UN in its camps for Syrian refugees.

Its inhuman actually, and eventually in the end you will acquire animalistic psychology, Chambers said.

He has been living on the streets for almost a year, having violated his parole terms for drug possession and in turn being turfed out of his low-cost apartment. Theres no help for him now, he said, no question of making it.

The safety net? It has too many holes in it for me.

Of all the people who crossed paths with the UN monitor, Chambers was the most dismissive of the American Dream. People dont realize its never getting better, theres no recovery for people like us. Im 67, I have a heart condition, I shouldnt be out here. I might not be too much longer.

That was a lot of bad karma to absorb on day one, and it rattled even as seasoned a student of hardship as Alston. As UN special rapporteur, hes reported on dire poverty and its impact on human rights in Saudi Arabia and China among other places. But Skid Row?

I was feeling pretty depressed, he told the Guardian later. The endless drumbeat of horror stories. At a certain point you do wonder what can anyone do about this, let alone me.

And then he took a flight up to San Francisco, to the Tenderloin district where homeless people congregate, and walked into St Boniface church.

What he saw there was an analgesic for his soul.

San Francisco, California, 6 December

The
The Gubbio project at St Boniface in San Francisco. The church opens its doors every weekday at 6am to allow homeless people to rest until 3pm. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian


About 70 homeless people were quietly sleeping in pews at the back of the church, as they are allowed to do every weekday morning, with worshippers praying harmoniously in front of them. The church welcomes them in as part of the Catholic concept of extending the helping hand.

I found the church surprisingly uplifting, Alston said. It was such a simple scene and such an obvious idea. It struck me Christianity, what the hell is it about if its not this?

It was a rare drop of altruism on the west coast, competing against a sea of hostility. More than 500 anti-homeless laws have been passed in Californian cities in recent years. At a federal level, Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who Donald Trump appointed US housing secretary, is decimating government spending on affordable housing.

Perhaps the most telling detail: apart from St Boniface and its sister church, no other place of worship in San Francisco welcomes homeless people. In fact, many have begun, even at this season of goodwill, to lock their doors to all comers simply so as to exclude homeless people.

As Tiny Gray-Garcia, herself on the streets, described it to Alston, there is a prevailing attitude that she and her peers have to contend with every day. She called it the violence of looking away.

Coy
Coy Catley, 63, in her homeless box made of cardboard sheets on a sidewalk of Tenderloin, San Francisco. Photograph: Ed Pilkington for the Guardian


That cruel streak the violence of looking away has been a feature of American life since the nations founding. The casting off the yoke of overweening government (the British monarchy) came to be equated in the minds of many Americans with states rights and the individualistic idea of making it on your own a view that is fine for those fortunate enough to do so, less happy if youre born on the wrong side of the tracks.

Countering that has been the conviction that society must protect its own against the vagaries of hunger or unemployment that informed Franklin Roosevelts New Deal and the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson. But in recent times the prevailing winds have blown strongly in the youre on your own, buddy direction. Ronald Reagan set the trend with his 1980s tax cuts, followed by Bill Clinton, whose 1996 decision to scrap welfare payments for low-income families is still punishing millions of Americans.

The cumulative attack has left struggling families, including the 15 million children who are officially in poverty, with dramatically less support than in any other industrialized economy. Now they face perhaps the greatest threat of all.

As Alston himself has written in an essay on Trumps populism and the aggressive challenge it poses to human rights: These are extraordinarily dangerous times. Almost anything seems possible.

Lowndes County, Alabama, 9 December

Aaron
Aaron Thigpen discusses the poor sewage conditions in Butler County. Improper treatment has put the population at risk of diseases long believed to be extinct in the US. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian


Trumps undermining of human rights, combined with the Republican threat to pare back welfare programs next year in order to pay for some of the tax cuts for the rich they are rushing through Congress, will hurt African Americans disproportionately.

Black people are 13% of the US population, but 23% of those officially in poverty and 39% of the homeless.

The racial element of Americas poverty crisis is seen nowhere more clearly than in the Deep South, where the open wounds of slavery continue to bleed. The UN special rapporteur chose as his next stop the Black Belt, the term that originally referred to the rich dark soil that exists in a band across Alabama but over time came to describe its majority African American population.

The link between soil type and demographics was not coincidental. Cotton was found to thrive in this fertile land, and that in turn spawned a trade in slaves to pick the crop. Their descendants still live in the Black Belt, still mired in poverty among the worst in the union.

You can trace the history of Americas shame, from slave times to the present day, in a set of simple graphs. The first shows the cotton-friendly soil of the Black Belt, then the slave population, followed by modern black residence and todays extreme poverty they all occupy the exact same half-moon across Alabama.

There are numerous ways you could parse the present parlous state of Alabamas black community. Perhaps the starkest is the fact that in the Black Belt so many families still have no access to sanitation. Thousands of people continue to live among open sewers of the sort normally associated with the developing world.

The crisis was revealed by the Guardian earlier this year to have led to an ongoing endemic of hookworm, an intestinal parasite that is transmitted through human waste. It is found in Africa and South Asia, but had been assumed eradicated in the US years ago.

Yet here the worm still is, sucking the blood of poor people, in the home state of Trumps US attorney general Jeff Sessions.

A disease of the developing world thriving in the worlds richest country.

The open sewerage problem is especially acute in Lowndes County, a majority black community that was an epicenter of the civil rights movement having been the setting of Martin Luther Kings Selma to Montgomery voting rights march in 1965.

Philp
Philp Alston talks to a resident. Many families in Butler and Lowndes counties choose to live with open sewer systems made from PVC pipe. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian

Despite its proud history, Catherine Flowers estimates that 70% of households in the area either straight pipe their waste directly onto open ground, or have defective septic tanks incapable of dealing with heavy rains.

When her group, Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (Acre), pressed local authorities to do something about it, officials invested $6m in extending waste treatment systems to primarily white-owned businesses while bypassing overwhelmingly black households.

Thats a glaring example of injustice, Flowers said. People who cannot afford their own systems are left to their own devices while businesses who do have the money are given public services.

Walter, a Lowndes County resident who asked not to give his last name for fear that his water supply would be cut off as a reprisal for speaking out, lives with the daily consequences of such public neglect. You get a good hard rain and it backs up into the house.

Thats a polite way of saying that sewage gurgles up into his kitchen sink, hand basin and bath, filling the house with a sickly-sweet stench.

Given these circumstances, what does he think of the ideology that anyone can make it if they try?

I suppose they could if they had the chance, Walter said. He paused, then added: Folks arent given the chance.

Had he been born white, would his sewerage problems have been fixed by now?

After another pause, he said: Not being racist, but yeah, they would.

Round the back of Walters house the true iniquity of the situation reveals itself. The yard is laced with small channels running from neighboring houses along which dark liquid flows. It congregates in viscous pools directly underneath the mobile home in which Walters son, daughter-in-law and 16-year-old granddaughter live.

It is the ultimate image of the lot of Alabamas impoverished rural black community. As American citizens they are as fully entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Its just that they are surrounded by pools of excrement.

This week, the Black Belt bit back. On Tuesday a new line was added to that simple graphic, showing exactly the same half-moon across Alabama except this time it was not black but blue.

blue belt south

It depicted the army of African American voters who turned out against the odds to send Doug Jones to the US Senate, the first Democrat from Alabama to do so in a generation. It delivered a bloody nose to his opponent, the alleged child molester Roy Moore, and his puppetmasters Steve Bannon and Donald Trump.

It was arguably the most important expression of black political muscle in the region since Kings 1965 march. If the previous entries in the graphic could be labeled soil, slavery and poverty, this one should be captioned empowerment.

Guayama, Puerto Rico, 10 December

So how does Alston view the role of UN rapporteur and his visit? His full report on the US will be released next May before being presented to the UN human rights council in Geneva.

Nobody expects much to come of that: the world body has no teeth with which to enforce good behavior on recalcitrant governments. But Alston hopes that his visit will have an impact by shaming the US into reflecting on its values.

My role is to hold governments to account, he said. If the US administration doesnt want to talk about the right to housing, healthcare or food, then there are still basic human rights standards that have to be met. Its my job to point that out.

Alstons previous investigations into extreme poverty in places like Mauritania pulled no punches. We can expect the same tough love when it comes to his analysis of Puerto Rico, the next stop on his journey into Americas dark side.

Three months after Maria, the devastation wrought by the hurricane has been well documented. It tore 70,000 homes to shreds, brought industry to a standstill and caused a total blackout of the island that continues to cause havoc.

Whats Its Like To Be An INFJ, In Other Words, A Living Paradox

Mohammed Metri

If you’re at all into learning more about personality types, you’ve probably run across descriptions of the INFJ before. INFJs are touted as the rarest personality type of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, but what does it actually mean to be an INFJ? INFJs are often labeled as “The Protector,” “The Empath,” “The Advocate” and “The Counselor.” This type stands for “Introversion (I), Intuition (N), Feeling (F), Judgment (J).” Although INFJs make up only 1-2% of the population, remember that you’re likely to “run into” an INFJ more often in creative communities (whether virtually or in real life) because that’s where they tend to congregate to share ideas.

As someone who has consistently tested as INFJ since the age of eighteen and has interacted with more than a few INFJs in the mental health advocate community, I wanted to share some insights about this interesting personality type and how they work. Keep in mind that INFJs share a few of these traits with other like-minded personality types such as INTJ, ENFP, INFP and ENFJ, but the ways in which they manifest can vary by personality type. In an INFJ, these traits tend to be embodied in more extreme ways:

1. They are complex but they have integrity.

Like a living, breathing Walt Whitman cliché, INFJs contain multitudes. Developing a friendship or relationship with an INFJ is like slowly peeling away an onion. You think you know them, but you turn around and they’re revealing another facet of their personality that doesn’t seem to align with their more cookie-cutter image. You may see a scholarly and reserved INFJ get down on a dance floor with alarming ease, or a normally demure and quiet INFJ serve a savage clapback to someone who’s pissed them off. They can be both the class comedian and the highest achieving student. There isn’t a ‘box’ that contains their seemingly contradictory characteristics.

This is because INFJs are duplicitous; in fact, they tend to be extremely genuine and authentic, veering on the edge of perhaps being at times (unless they’re a narcissist, in which case, can be). Rather, it’s because INFJs have many layers to their personality that sometimes even haven’t worked out! It can take years to get to know an INFJ; not because they’re deliberately hiding parts of themselves, but because they tend to take their time trusting people and revealing different facets of themselves along the way.

2. Although they are natural loners, they tend to get mistaken for extroverts; they love people, adapt well to social situations and can be the life of the party.

INFJs can be incredibly vivacious, humorous, fun-loving and energetic, especially with those they feel comfortable with. They definitely have a wild side which can shock those who stereotype them as button-down academics. However, just like any other introvert, they also need enormous amounts of time to recharge from being around others. Being alone for long periods of time is necessary for them to detox from social interactions and to reflect on their lives.

INFJs love disappearing inward, exploring deep philosophical questions and inventing things. Even a simple walk in the neighborhood can turn into a full-on imaginative fantasy scenario for them; there’s nothing they love more than taking refuge in their own minds. They can spend days pondering hypothetical scenarios or coming up with ideas. INFJs have such rich inner lives that they can imagine new worlds and new methods in the blink of an eye; being creative comes easily to these types. They are also lovers of research and learning. Their intellectual complexity and imagination make them ideal candidates for careers that challenge them to create in some capacity or engage in innovation.

3. They’re incredibly compassionate, but it’s wise not to mess with them.

INFJs are often among the world’s changemakers. Famous INFJs are said to include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Oprah – you get the picture. Their compassion for others drives their need to help the world and save it. But sometimes, INFJs also bear a remarkable ability to save themselves from toxic situations.

To put this ability into context, remember that INFJs are natural targets for toxic predators like malignant narcissists, who assume these sensitive types will succumb to their bullying behaviors. INFJs make up a large portion of survivor communities that are healing from violations like narcissistic abuse.

Yet what predators forget is that INFJs appear to be lambs, but they’re really lions. They are extremely compassionate, but they will defend themselves and others fiercely when they feel that their rights are being violated. If you’ve read anything about an INFJ, you’ve probably heard of the infamous “INFJ Door Slam.” This is what happens when these normally warm, gentle individuals meet with someone who causes them to ‘flip their switch’ so to speak.

The INFJ door slam is not a malignant trait; it’s a protective measure taken against chronic bullying and injustice.  It often occurs after numerous transgressions have already taken place (for example, when an INFJ meets someone who consistently talks down to them and treats them with contempt). In this type of scenario, the INFJ finally recognizes his or her worth and boundaries. They face emotional overwhelm and they need to retreat – stat. In a flash, you see them depart and probably never hear from them again. Or, if they’re in the mood, they’ll serve you with an epic manifesto of your wrongdoings before leaving forever (after all, they do tend to be excellent communicators!).

Outwardly, INFJs may not be as overly bold and aggressive as other personality types, but when they bring the reckoning, they bring it with full force. You’ll never see an INFJ coming – and perhaps that’s a good thing, because they do tend to be on the front lines of massive social change.

4. They are extremely loyal and devoted, but they don’t like authority.

Don’t mess with the ones they love, either. INFJs hold a special place in their hearts for those they connect with and they will remember those who had their back during difficult times. That’s why, if they see someone being bullied or oppressed, especially someone they’ve bonded with, they will defend them with a righteous sense of devotion.

INFJs make loyal dating partners, friends, spouses, employees and parents, and their loyalty extends to social change too. They are the harbingers of revolution and the defenders of the outcasts, the bully victims, and the outliers. It’s because they themselves know what it’s like to not belong, so they seek to create refuge and safety for those like them.

However, the INFJ’s loyalty doesn’t extend to authority figures unless that authority figure is someone they admire and respect. Because they are naturally independent, strong-willed individuals with a high degree of intuition, they rely on their own sense of intuition to pave their path. They can sense when someone is working integrity, and it makes them viscerally sick. They can be stubborn and hard-nosed at times when it comes to bending to someone else’s will especially if it contradicts the strong moral values they hold dear.

In many cases, especially in circumstances where there is oppression or injustice, this can be a good thing. INFJs are idealists who work to bring justice into the world and sometimes going against authority is the perfect way to do so. However, INFJs must also learn how to balance their faith in their inner authority with the ability to respect other perspectives. They could also benefit from letting themselves off the hook once in a while; their high standards of moral perfection are likely to falter under mental duress and human folly. While their intuition does bring them to great places, sometimes their way is not always the best way. The INFJ is still flawed and their high expectations of themselves and others could stand some reevaluation at times.

5. They are both scientific and driven by emotion.

The INFJ is an enigma in that he or she is not entirely driven by hard facts nor hot-headed emotion. They are a paradoxical package of both research and poetry, science and spirituality, intuition and statistics, art and dissertations. They are what I would call the “intellectual artists” of society, merging imagination and knowledge. Able to see the big picture as well as the finer details, they are motivated by a need to serve others while also cultivating the potential of every individual. They can reach masses of people with their message but they can also change individual lives because they know how to connect one-to-one. This is perhaps what also make them great researchers, counselors, scientists, writers and teachers. They flourish in fields where they can be both creative and logical, individualistic and people-focused.

The magic is that while INFJs make for great orators and can inspire people with their words, they are also very practical and know how to bring about tangible results. Their mission always has a purpose of improving the state of society in some way. They practice what they preach and they help motivate people to live their best lives not just by words but by living example. When it comes to persuasive arguments, they’ll bring the receipts but they’ll also appeal to your pathos. Their ability to stir emotion in others and also appeal to their action-oriented side is what make them great leaders and catalysts for radical change.

6. They are highly intuitive, but have a tendency not to trust themselves.

A fully empowered INFJ is someone who can take one look at a situation, follow their instincts and say, “I just know.” For example, INFJs may know years ahead of time when the person their friend is dating is conniving, even when they present a false mask. They know how to read the energy of a room, even in a room full of people they’re meeting for the first time. They know when someone is putting on a front. They can sense the aggression beneath someone’s niceties. The INFJ’s uncanny intuition is something other more seemingly “rational” personality types might dismiss, but in many cases, they really and they turn out to be right.

This is because an INFJ’s intuition can catch on quickly to the nuances of every situation. They can see through the facades of others and they can sense when someone is not being authentic. However, because they’ve been gaslighted for so long by a society that does not always appreciate their gifts and label them oversensitive, they’ve also learned to distrust their intuition and second-guess themselves, often. A challenge for the INFJ is re-learning how to fully trust in their inner voice while also leaving room for the constructive feedback of others.

The Big Picture

Being an INFJ is not easy, but INFJs can find a sense of community with others like them and those who appreciate their traits. Distancing oneself from toxic people and cultivating genuine relationships is key. When INFJs are supported and are able to grow in environments where their gifts are nurtured and seen, they can thrive and become incredibly revolutionary changemakers in society.

Read more: https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2017/12/whats-its-like-to-be-an-infj-in-other-words-a-living-paradox/

Huntingtons breakthrough may stop disease

Image copyright James Gallagher
Image caption Peter has Huntington’s disease and his siblings Sandy and Frank also have the gene

The defect that causes the neurodegenerative disease Huntington’s has been corrected in patients for the first time, the BBC has learned.

An experimental drug, injected into spinal fluid, safely lowered levels of toxic proteins in the brain.

The research team, at University College London, say there is now hope the deadly disease can be stopped.

Experts say it could be the biggest breakthrough in neurodegenerative diseases for 50 years.

Huntington’s is one of the most devastating diseases.

Some patients described it as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and motor neurone disease rolled into one.

Peter Allen, 51, is in the early stages of Huntington’s and took part in the trial: “You end up in almost a vegetative state, it’s a horrible end.”

Huntington’s blights families. Peter has seen his mum Stephanie, uncle Keith and grandmother Olive die from it.

Tests show his sister Sandy and brother Frank will develop the disease.

The three siblings have eight children – all young adults, each of whom has a 50-50 chance of developing the disease.

Worse-and-worse

The unstoppable death of brain cells in Huntington’s leaves patients in permanent decline, affecting their movement, behaviour, memory and ability to think clearly.

Peter, from Essex, told me: “It’s so difficult to have that degenerative thing in you.

“You know the last day was better than the next one’s going to be.”

  • Huntington’s generally affects people in their prime – in their 30s and 40s
  • Patients die around 10 to 20 years after symptoms start
  • About 8,500 people in the UK have Huntington’s and a further 25,000 will develop it when they are older

Huntington’s is caused by an error in a section of DNA called the huntingtin gene.

Normally this contains the instructions for making a protein, called huntingtin, which is vital for brain development.

But a genetic error corrupts the protein and turns it into a killer of brain cells.

The treatment is designed to silence the gene.

On the trial, 46 patients had the drug injected into the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord.

The procedure was carried out at the Leonard Wolfson Experimental Neurology Centre at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.

Doctors did not know what would happen. One fear was the injections could have caused fatal meningitis.

But the first in-human trial showed the drug was safe, well tolerated by patients and crucially reduced the levels of huntingtin in the brain.

Image caption Prof Sarah Tabrizi , from the UCL Institute of Neurology, led the trials.

Prof Sarah Tabrizi, the lead researcher and director of the Huntington’s Disease Centre at UCL, told the BBC: “I’ve been seeing patients in clinic for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen many of my patients over that time die.

“For the first time we have the potential, we have the hope, of a therapy that one day may slow or prevent Huntington’s disease.

“This is of groundbreaking importance for patients and families.”

Doctors are not calling this a cure. They still need vital long-term data to show whether lowering levels of huntingtin will change the course of the disease.

The animal research suggests it would. Some motor function even recovered in those experiments.

Image copyright James Gallagher
Image caption Sandy Sterne, Peter Allen, Hayley Allen, Frank Allen, Annie Allen and Dermot Sterne

Peter, Sandy and Frank – as well as their partners Annie, Dermot and Hayley – have always promised their children they will not need to worry about Huntington’s as there will be a treatment in time for them.

Peter told the BBC: “I’m the luckiest person in the world to be sitting here on the verge of having that.

“Hopefully that will be made available to everybody, to my brothers and sisters and fundamentally my children.”

He, along with the other trial participants, can continue taking the drug as part of the next wave of trials.

They will set out to show whether the disease can be slowed, and ultimately prevented, by treating Huntington’s disease carriers before they develop any symptoms.

Prof John Hardy, who was awarded the Breakthrough Prize for his work on Alzheimer’s, told the BBC: “I really think this is, potentially, the biggest breakthrough in neurodegenerative disease in the past 50 years.

“That sounds like hyperbole – in a year I might be embarrassed by saying that – but that’s how I feel at the moment.”

The UCL scientist, who was not involved in the research, says the same approach might be possible in other neurodegenerative diseases that feature the build-up of toxic proteins in the brain.

The protein synuclein is implicated in Parkinson’s while amyloid and tau seem to have a role in dementias.

Off the back of this research, trials are planned using gene-silencing to lower the levels of tau.

Prof Giovanna Mallucci, who discovered the first chemical to prevent the death of brain tissue in any neurodegenerative disease, said the trial was a “tremendous step forward” for patients and there was now “real room for optimism”.

But Prof Mallucci, who is the associate director of UK Dementia Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, cautioned it was still a big leap to expect gene-silencing to work in other neurodegenerative diseases.

She told the BBC: “The case for these is not as clear-cut as for Huntington’s disease, they are more complex and less well understood.

“But the principle that a gene, any gene affecting disease progression and susceptibility, can be safely modified in this way in humans is very exciting and builds momentum and confidence in pursuing these avenues for potential treatments.”

The full details of the trial will be presented to scientists and published next year.

The therapy was developed by Ionis Pharmaceuticals, which said the drug had “substantially exceeded” expectations, and the licence has now been sold to Roche.

Follow James on Twitter.

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-42308341

This Is Why Copay-Free Birth Control Is So Important To Me

Why Copay-Free Birth Control Is So Important For My Health, Profession, & Wealth

Today, as I do every three months, I went to my local pharmacy to pick up my birth control. As I walked up to the counter, I let out a sigh relief that I didn’t have to open my wallet to receive my chosen form of contraception. This is all thanks to the birth control benefit included in the Affordable Care Act, which designated birth control as preventive health care and made all FDA-approved contraceptives copay-free with insurance.

I am one of the more than 62.4 million women across the country who have access to copay-free birth control because of this benefit. But in October, President Trump rolled back this copay-free birth control coverage, immediately allowing any company or university to deny birth control coverage if it conflicts with “religious” or “moral” beliefs. While I don’t believe my employer will take away my birth control coverage, thousands of other women will not be so lucky. And President Trump’s actions could cost these women hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each year — the cost of trying to have control over their own futures.

I started taking birth control nine years ago when I was a college student. College was a turning point in my life — I was investing in my future and excited for what it might hold. I wanted to put preventative measures in place that would allow me to concentrate on my education. Nine years later, my birth control has given me peace of mind to know that I have control over one part of my life. I’ve been in a committed relationship for almost 13 years and we’ve always known that we both have goals we want to achieve before taking the next step to have a family.

Keep Birth Control Copay Free on YouTube

Trust me when I say that finding the best birth control for me wasn’t easy. Staying away from the pill (I knew I could not for the life of me remember to take a pill every day), I ultimately landed on the NuvaRing, which I’ve been using ever since.

Right now at 26, I’m able to focus on developing my career and saving for retirement. I’m building an “emergency” savings account to ensure I have funds available in case I lose my job or get sick. I want the peace of mind in knowing I won’t have to struggle to support myself.

Not only has having copay-free birth control allowed me to control my life, it’s helped my bank account. Over the last five years since the birth control benefit was put in place, I’ve saved almost $125 each month and nearly $1,000 in 2017 alone. I use what I’ve saved from birth control to increase my “emergency” fund, invest in my future, and expand my horizons through my favorite hobby: travel.

Without copay-free protection, the cost for my annual birth control is nearly equal to one month’s rent. My Nuvaring is the same cost as a monthly MetroCard that gets me to and from work. And for low income families, paying for birth control could mean skipping a meal here and there.

Why are we putting women and their families in the position to choose between two things they need to succeed?

Copay-free birth control should be a standard benefit for women across the country. It’s mind boggling that the Trump administration would create loopholes for any company to deny birth control coverage to their employees when contraception has been such an important benefit to our economy, our society, and our families.

Women should be making our own healthcare decisions. Not our bosses and not our government. That’s why I’m joining women across the country to stand against President Trump’s efforts to roll back women’s health. We will fight back.

Read more: https://elitedaily.com/p/why-copay-free-birth-control-is-so-important-for-my-health-profession-wealth-5481157

The GOP Tax Plan Is Entering Its Make-or-Break Week

The $1.4 trillion item on President Donald Trump’s wish list — a package of tax cuts for businesses and individuals that he has said he wants to sign before year’s end — is headed into the legislative equivalent of a Black Friday scrum next week.

Senate Republican leaders plan a make-or-break floor vote on their bill as soon as Thursday — a dramatic moment that will come only after a marathon debate that could go all night. Democrats are expected to try to delay or derail the measure, and the GOP must hold together at least 50 votes from its thin, 52-vote majority in order to prevail.

Their chances improved this week when Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she’ll support repealing the “individual mandate” imposed by Obamacare — a provision that Senate tax writers are counting on to help finance the tax cuts. Murkowski had earlier signaled some reservations about the provision; and her support was widely viewed as a positive sign for the tax bill’s chances.

Trump is scheduled to address Senate Republicans at their weekly luncheon Tuesday afternoon on taxes and the legislative agenda for the rest of the year, according to a statement from Senator John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. 

The White House previously announced that the president would talk with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders at the White House the same day about an agreement on spending to keep the government open after funding expires on Dec. 8. David Popp, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, both said that meeting is still on the schedule.

If the tax bill clears the Senate — a step that’s by no means guaranteed — lawmakers in both chambers would have to hammer out a compromise between their differing bills, a process that presents potential pitfalls of its own. For now, though, much of the Senate’s attention will focus on its legislation’s price tag.

Three GOP senators — Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona and James Lankford of Oklahoma — have cited concerns about how the measure would affect federal deficits. Independent studies of the legislation have found that — contrary to its backers’ arguments — its tax cuts won’t stimulate enough growth to pay for themselves. Both the Senate bill, and one that cleared the House earlier this month, would reduce federal revenue over a decade by roughly $1.4 trillion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

On Wednesday, a report from the Penn Wharton Budget Model at the University of Pennsylvania said the bill would reduce federal revenue in each year from 2028 to 2033. That finding would mean it doesn’t comply with a key budget rule that Senate Republican leaders want to use to pass their bill with a simple majority over Democrats’ objections.

Budget Rule

In essence, that rule holds that any bill approved via that fast-track process can’t add to the deficit outside a 10-year budget window. The JCT has already found that the Senate bill would generate a surplus in its 10th year because it has set several tax breaks for businesses and individuals to expire.

But JCT hasn’t yet weighed in publicly on the revenue effects in subsequent years. Senate GOP leaders have expressed confidence that their proposal will satisfy the rule ultimately.

Another potential stumbling block stems from the fact that Congress is trying to act on complex tax legislation under a tight, self-imposed timeline in order to deliver on promises from Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and McConnell.

For example, Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has said he can’t support the current Senate bill because it would give corporations a tax advantage — a large rate cut to 20 percent from 35 percent — that other, closely held businesses wouldn’t get.

‘Change the Most’

His concern centers on the Senate’s plan for large partnerships, limited liability companies, sole proprietorships and other so-called “pass-through” businesses. Under current law, these businesses simply pass their earnings to their owners, who pay income taxes at their individual rates — currently, as high as 39.6 percent, depending on how much they earn.

Read more: A QuickTake guide to the tax-cut debate

The Senate bill would provide pass-through owners with a 17.4 percent deduction for income — but in combination with other provisions, that would result in an effective top tax rate for business income that’s more than 10 percentage points higher than the proposed corporate tax rate.

The House bill would use an entirely different approach, setting a top tax rate of 25 percent for pass-through business income, but then limiting how much of a business’s earnings could qualify for that rate.

Reconciling those differences — and addressing Johnson’s concern — may be a complicated process. “That’s part of the equation that could change the most over the next few weeks,” Isaac Boltansky, senior vice president and policy analyst at Compass Point Research and Trading LLC, told Bloomberg Tax. “No one is planning around it yet. There is uncertainty across the board.”

Meanwhile, the Obamacare issue looms in the background — threatening at least one GOP senator’s vote. Susan Collins of Maine said earlier this week that tax bill “needs work,” and “I think there will be changes.”

The 2010 Affordable Care Act — popularly known as Obamacare — contained a provision requiring individuals to buy health insurance or pay a federal penalty. Removing that penalty in 2019, as the Senate tax bill proposes to do, would generate an estimated $318 billion in savings by 2027, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The savings would stem from about 13 million Americans dropping their coverage, eliminating the need for federal subsidies to help them afford it.

Because many of the newly uninsured would be younger, healthier people, insurance premiums would rise 10 percent in most years, the nonpartisan fiscal scorekeeper found.

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-24/trump-s-1-4-trillion-tax-cut-is-entering-its-make-or-break-week

    10 Tips to Cat Proof Your Christmas Tree

    With sparkling lights, glittery dangling ornaments and shiny strips of tinsel, Christmas trees are irresistible to most cats. Here are our tips to cat proof your Christmas tree and keep your cat safe this festive season. Via: Pawsome Cats

    • 1

      Choose a Safe Location

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      Via Su walls

      The ideal position for your Christmas tree is a room where you can shut the door at night. If this isn’t possible in your home, try to place the tree in a location with plenty of clear space around it, and away from any furniture (tables, bookcases etc.) that your cat could use to jump on your tree.


    • 2

      Create a Strong and Stable Base

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      Via mnn

      Kittens will climb to the top of a Christmas tree in mere seconds, and even if your cat isn’t a tree climber there’s a good chance he will use the trunk as a scratching post, rub against it, or bump it when pawing at the ornaments. Make sure that your tree has a firm, solid base that isn’t going to topple. For extra stability, you may like to secure it to a wall or the ceiling with strong fishing line.


    • 3

      Cover the Base of the Tree

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      If you have a real tree, it’s important that you cover the base so that your cat can’t drink the water. Sap from the tree and residual fertilizers, can make the water potentially toxic. You can also keep cats away from the base of the tree by using citrus sprays, other cat deterrent sprays or wrapping crinkled aluminum foil around the base – cats hate the sound.


    • 4

      Opt for Simple Decorations

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      Sparkly store-bought ornaments with lots of glitter and movement are much more tempting for your cat than handmade felt and paper decorations. Tinsel, artificial snow and ribbons are potentially dangerous to your cat if they chew or swallow them and can cause intestinal blockages.


    • 5

      Say NO to Edible Decorations

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      Chocolate is highly toxic for cats, and other sugary sweets aren’t healthy either. Think twice before you add candy canes and chocolate treats to your tree.


    • 6

      Hang Decorations High

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      Place the majority of decorations on the top two-thirds of your Christmas tree. Delicate, breakable, dangerous or particularly enticing ornaments should be placed up high and the safer felt or paper decorations hung on the lower branches. Anything dangling from the lower branches and at your cat’s eye level is going to be their first target.


    • 7

      Attach Ornaments Safely

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      Avoid using string, ribbon or rubber bands to attach your ornaments to the tree, all of these are potentially hazardous to your cat if swallowed. Instead secure your ornaments with twist ties, the green ones will also blend in nicely with the green branches.


    • 8

      Beware With Christmas Lights & Electrical Wires

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      No Christmas tree is complete without sparkling lights, but make sure that cords and wires are kept out of reach to prevent your cat chewing them. To prevent the risk of fatal electric shock, tape cords and wires together, or place them in plastic conduits away from your cat’s teeth. You can also coat the wires with ‘bitter apple’ or ‘citrus’, scents which most cats detest. Always turn off the Christmas lights when the tree is unattended.


    • 9

      Vacuum Underneath the Tree Frequently

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      Via Petrliu47

      Whether you have a real or artificial tree both can be potentially dangerous to your cat. Depending on the tree species, evergreen pine needles can be toxic if chewed, and because they are so sharp they can pierce or puncture the skin of a curious cat. Artificial trees can also be harmful due to their synthetic materials. Regularly vacuuming or sweeping underneath your tree can minimise the chance of your cat digesting anything he shouldn’t.


    • 10

      Place Presents Under the Tree at the Last Minute

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      Via Taildom

      Cats view presents with beautifully tied bows and ribbons as an invitation to open them early. Avoid teeth and claw marks on your gifts by waiting till Christmas Eve to put your presents on display.