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Health care should be a basic human right in America, says Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon recently criticized the state of the U.S. healthcare system as part of his work with The Elders, an international organization founded by Nelson Mandela.

Ban Ki-moon, former United Nations Secretary General. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
  • Ki-moon served as secretary general for the United Nations from 2007 to the end of 2016.
  • He said special interests are blocking the American government from pursuing universal healthcare.
  • 30 million Americans are not covered by insurance. A 2018 poll shows that more than half of Americans would support a single-payer healthcare plan.

The U.S. healthcare system is politically and morally wrong, according to former United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Ban criticized the state of U.S. healthcare as part of his work with The Elders, an international organization founded by Nelson Mandela whose work focuses in part on advocating for universal healthcare across the world. He urged American leaders to deliver fully funded healthcare as a "human right".

"It's not easy to understand why such a country like the United States, the most resourceful and richest country in the world, does not introduce universal health coverage," said Ban. "Nobody would understand why almost 30 million people are not covered by insurance."

Ban, a South Korean politician who served 10 years as the eighth secretary general of the U.N. until 2017, has been a vocal proponent of other progressive causes like climate change and LGBTQ rights.

"While swearing in as secretary general, I pledged I would make this world better for all," he said. "Nobody would imagine that there should be so many people – 30 million people – who would be left behind" in the U.S.

A snapshot of the U.S. healthcare system

The U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other country in the world, even though, as Ban mentioned, some 12.2% percent of American adults lacked health insurance at the end of 2017, up from 10.9% at the close of 2016. According to 2016 data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services:

  • The U.S. spent $3.3 trillion, or $10,348 per person, on healthcare.
  • Healthcare spending accounts for about 18% of U.S. GDP.
  • Americans spent about $1.1 trillion on private health insurance and $328.6 billion on retail prescription drugs.

Corporate interests inhibit quality of life in America

Ban told The Guardian that the sectoral interests of pharmaceutical companies and hospitals "inhibit the American government" and prevent it from working toward universal health coverage.

"Here, the political interest groups are so, so powerful... Even president, Congress, senators and representatives of the House, they cannot do much so they are easily influenced by these special interest groups," adding that he hopes some progressive states pave the way for publicly financed healthcare.

"It will be either California or New York who will introduce this system," he said. "Then I think there will be many more states who will try to follow suit. I think that's an encouraging phenomenon we see."

Do Americans want single-payer healthcare?

In recent years, there have been growing calls from the left and from some progressive politicians to implement Medicare For All, a single-payer plan that would guarantee health insurance and necessary healthcare to all Americans. And while most Democratic lawmakers have shown mixed feelings about pursuing a single-payer plan, a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll from February showed that 51 percent of Americans would support a single-payer plan.

However, passing such legislation remains virtually impossible as long as both chambers of Congress are controlled by Republicans, many of whom not only oppose Medicare For All outright but also have tried to chip away at the less expansive Affordable Care Act.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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