Friday, March 31, 2017

The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency

The article at the following link is long, but worth reading the whole thing.

How Robert Mercer exploited America’s populist insurgency.
By Jane Mayer
Mar. 27, 2017


During the past decade, Mercer, who is seventy, has funded an array of political projects that helped pave the way for Trump’s rise. Among these efforts was public-opinion research, conducted by Caddell, showing that political conditions in America were increasingly ripe for an outsider candidate to take the White House. Caddell told me that Mercer “is a libertarian—he despises the Republican establishment,” and added, “He thinks that the leaders are corrupt crooks, and that they’ve ruined the country.”


Caddell shared the research he did for Mercer with Trump and others in the campaign, including Bannon, with whom he has partnered on numerous projects.

The White House declined to divulge what Trump and Caddell discussed in North Charleston, as did Caddell. But that afternoon Trump issued perhaps the most incendiary statement of his Presidency: a tweet calling the news media “the enemy of the American people.” The proclamation alarmed liberals and conservatives alike. William McRaven, the retired Navy admiral who commanded the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, called Trump’s statement a “threat to democracy.” The President is known for tweeting impulsively, but in this case his words weren’t spontaneous: they clearly echoed the thinking of Caddell, Bannon, and Mercer. In 2012, Caddell gave a speech at a conference sponsored by Accuracy in Media, a conservative watchdog group, in which he called the media “the enemy of the American people.” That declaration was promoted by Breitbart News, a platform for the pro-Trump alt-right, of which Bannon was the executive chairman, before joining the Trump Administration. One of the main stakeholders in Breitbart News is Mercer.

Mercer is the co-C.E.O. of Renaissance Technologies, which is among the most profitable hedge funds in the country. A brilliant computer scientist, he helped transform the financial industry through the innovative use of trading algorithms.


Potter, a Republican, sees Mercer as emblematic of a major shift in American politics that has occurred since 2010, when the Supreme Court made a controversial ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That ruling, and several subsequent ones, removed virtually all limits on how much money corporations and nonprofit groups can spend on federal elections, and how much individuals can give to political-action committees. Since then, power has tilted away from the two main political parties and toward a tiny group of rich mega-donors.

Private money has long played a big role in American elections. When there were limits on how much a single donor could give, however, it was much harder for an individual to have a decisive impact. Now, Potter said, “a single billionaire can write an eight-figure check and put not just their thumb but their whole hand on the scale—and we often have no idea who they are.” He continued, “Suddenly, a random billionaire can change politics and public policy—to sweep everything else off the table—even if they don’t speak publicly, and even if there’s almost no public awareness of his or her views.”


Several people who have worked with Mercer believe that, despite his oddities, he has had surprising success in aligning the Republican Party, and consequently America, with his personal beliefs, and is now uniquely positioned to exert influence over the Trump Administration.


Magerman told the Wall Street Journal that Mercer’s political opinions “show contempt for the social safety net that he doesn’t need, but many Americans do.” He also said that Mercer wants the U.S. government to be “shrunk down to the size of a pinhead.” Several former colleagues of Mercer’s said that his views are akin to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Magerman told me, “Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.” Magerman added, “He thinks society is upside down—that government helps the weak people get strong, and makes the strong people weak by taking their money away, through taxes.” He said that this mind-set was typical of “instant billionaires” in finance, who “have no stake in society,” unlike the industrialists of the past, who “built real things.”


The 2016 Presidential election posed a challenge for someone with Mercer’s ideology. Multiple sources described him as animated mainly by hatred of Hillary Clinton.


In the 2016 campaign, Mercer gave $22.5 million in disclosed donations to Republican candidates and to political-action committees.


Alexander Nix, the C.E.O. of the firm, says that it has created “profiles”—consisting of several thousand data points—for two hundred and twenty million Americans. In promotional materials, S.C.L. has claimed to know how to use such data to wage both psychological and political warfare. “Persuading somebody to vote a certain way,” Nix has said publicly, “is really very similar to persuading 14- to 25-year-old boys in Indonesia to not join Al Qaeda.”


Mercer’s colleagues say that he views the government as arrogant and inefficient, and believes that individuals need to be self-sufficient, and should not receive aid from the state. Yet, when I.B.M. failed to offer adequate support for Mercer and Brown’s translation project, they secured additional funding from DARPA, the secretive Pentagon program. Despite Mercer’s disdain for “big government,” this funding was essential to his early success.


Renaissance’s profits were further enhanced by a controversial tax maneuver, which became the subject of a 2014 Senate inquiry. According to Senate investigators, Renaissance had presented countless short-term trades as long-term ones, improperly avoiding some $6.8 billion in taxes. The Senate didn’t allege criminality, but it concluded that Renaissance had committed “abuses.” The I.R.S. demanded payment. (Renaissance defended its practices, and the matter remains contested, leaving a very sensitive material issue pending before the Trump Administration.)


Mercer retains a domestic staff that includes a butler and a physician; both accompany him whenever he travels. But this, too, has sparked bad publicity. In 2013, three members of the household staff sued to recover back wages, claiming that Mercer had failed to pay overtime, as promised, and that he had deducted pay as punishment for poor work. One infraction that Mercer cited as a “demerit” was a failure to replace shampoo bottles that were two-thirds empty. This suit, too, was settled.


In 2012, Citizens United’s foundation paid Bannon Strategic Advisors, a consultancy group founded by Bannon, three hundred thousand dollars for what it described to the I.R.S. as “fund-raising” services. Bossie told me that the tax filing must have been made in error: the payment was actually for Bannon’s “film development” work. Charitable groups are barred from spending tax-deductible contributions on partisan politics, yet, as Breitbart News noted at the time, “The Hope & the Change” was a “partisan” film “targeting Democrats” during an election year. Even so, the Mercers took a hefty tax deduction for their two-million-dollar donation to Citizens United.


In 2013, at a conservative conference in Palm Beach, an oil tycoon named William Lee Hanley, who had commissioned some polls from Patrick Caddell, asked him to show the data to Mercer and Bannon, who were at the event. The data showed mounting anger toward wealthy élites, who many Americans believed had corrupted the government so that it served only their interests. There was a hunger for a populist Presidential candidate who would run against the major political parties and the ruling class. The data “showed that someone could just walk into this election and sweep it,” Caddell told me. When Mercer saw the numbers, he asked for the polling to be repeated. Caddell got the same results. “It was stunning,” he said. “The country was on the verge of an uprising against its leaders. I just fell over!”

Until Election Day in 2016, Mercer and Hanley—two of the richest men in America—paid Caddell to keep collecting polling data that enabled them to exploit the public’s resentment of élites such as themselves.


After the election, Rebekah Mercer was rewarded with a seat on Trump’s transition team. “She basically bought herself a seat,” Fischer said. She had strong feelings about who should be nominated to Cabinet positions and other top government jobs. Not all her ideas were embraced. She unsuccessfully pushed for John Bolton, the hawkish former Ambassador to the United Nations, to be named Secretary of State. So far, her suggestion that Arthur Robinson, the Oregon biochemist, be named the national science adviser has gone nowhere. Like her father, she advocates a return to the gold standard, but as of yet she has failed to get Trump to appoint officials who share this view.

Still, Mercer made her influence felt. Her pick for national-security adviser was Michael Flynn, and Trump chose him for the job. (Flynn lasted only a month, after he lied about having spoken with the Russian Ambassador before taking office.) More important, several people to whom Mercer is very close—including Bannon and Conway—have become some of the most powerful figures in the world.

Rebekah’s father, meanwhile, can no longer be considered a political outsider. David Magerman, in his essay for the Inquirer, notes that Mercer “has surrounded our President with his people, and his people have an outsized influence over the running of our country, simply because Robert Mercer paid for their seats.” He writes, “Everyone has a right to express their views.” But, he adds, “when the government becomes more like a corporation, with the richest 0.001% buying shares and demanding board seats, then we cease to be a representative democracy.” Instead, he warns, “we become an oligarchy.”

Trump wants budget cuts for AIDS, AmeriCorps, Pell grants

Most important to cut taxes for the top 0.1%, who are already accumulating an ever increasingly greater proportion of income and wealth.

By Gregory Wallace, CNN
Mar. 30, 2017

The Trump administration has given Congress a lengthy list of ways to cut $18 billion from the federal budget this year in an effort to offset its request for additional defense spending.
The document, which follows the administration's call for a $30 billion boost to defense spending and some funds for border security, including the wall, is "a list of suggested spending cuts" for this fiscal year, according to a Republican aide on Capitol Hill.


The largest cuts are proposed to programs related to education, labor and health, according to the document, which was reviewed by CNN and bears the stamp of the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

Many of the proposed cuts are to grant programs, meaning that if enacted, states, universities and non-profit organizations could find themselves seeking additional funds on their own or cutting programs to make up the difference.

In some cases, the document notes the cuts align with similar cuts in President Donald Trump's recent budget proposal for the next fiscal year, 2018.

The proposal calls for cuts to service programs: $439 million from AmeriCorps, $66 million from a related program called Senior Corps and $434 million from the Senior Community Service Employment Program.


It calls for cutting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budget by $314 million either by reducing or eliminating spending on various disease research and prevention programs.

Another $292 million cut would hit the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, a key initiative of former President George W. Bush that continued under President Barack Obama.
Trump appeared to spare PEPFAR from his 2018 budget, calling for "sufficient resources to maintain current commitments and all current patient levels." The 2017 document, however, says the program would be required to "begin slowing the rate of new patients on treatment."

Nearly $3 billion would be cut from education programs, mostly from a teacher-oriented grant program ($1.2 billion) and Pell Grants that help low-income individuals pay for college. The Pell cut would reduce surpluses in the program's account, and the administration said the cut "would still leave the program on solid footing."

More than $1.6 billion would be cut from grants and other programs run by the Housing and Urban Development department.

Another $1 billion cut could hit the US Agency for International Development.

Mylan announces nationwide EpiPen recall over potential defect

Mar. 31, 2017

Meridian Medical Technologies, makers of Mylan’s EpiPen injector, issued a nationwide, voluntary recall of EpiPen and EpiPen Jr.

According to the company, some of the devices may have a defective part that does not allow for the activation of the injector in case of allergic reaction.

“While the number of reported failures is small, EpiPen products that potentially contain a defective part are being recalled because of the potential for life-threatening risk if a severe allergic reaction goes untreated,” the company said in a statement.

The recall affects 13 lots of EpiPen and EpiPen Jr. devices distributed between Dec. 17, 2015, and July 1, 2016. Mylan will replacing any of the affected devices free of charge.

Mylan advised consumers to keep and use their current EpiPens if needed until they get a replacement. Consumers should contact Mylan at 800-796-9526 or with any questions.

The list of lots under recall follows:
[See link above for list]


One of the most troubling ideas about climate change just found new evidence in its favor

By Chris Mooney March 27, 2017

Ever since 2012, scientists have been debating a complex and frankly explosive idea about how a warming planet will alter our weather — one that, if it’s correct, would have profound implications across the Northern Hemisphere and especially in its middle latitudes, where hundreds of millions of people live.

The idea is that climate change doesn’t merely increase the overall likelihood of heat waves, say, or the volume of rainfall — it also changes the flow of weather itself. By altering massive planet-scale air patterns like the jet stream (pictured above), which flows in waves from west to east in the Northern Hemisphere, a warming planet causes our weather to become more stuck in place. This means that a given weather pattern, whatever it may be, may persist for longer, thus driving extreme droughts, heat waves, downpours and more.


Publishing in Nature Scientific Reports, Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University and a group of colleagues at research institutes in the United States, Germany and the Netherlands find that at least in the spring and summer, the large scale flow of the atmosphere is indeed changing in such a way as to cause weather to get stuck more often.

The study, its authors write, “adds to the weight of evidence for a human influence on the occurrence of devastating events such as the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Pakistan flood and Russian heat wave, the 2011 Texas heat wave and recent floods in Europe.”


On the other hand, some of this isn’t all that complicated. The Northern Hemisphere jet stream flows in a wavy pattern from west to east, driven by the rotation of the Earth and the difference in temperature between the equator and the North Pole. The flow is stronger when that temperature difference is large.

But when the Arctic warms up faster than the equator does — which is part of the fundamental definition of global warming, and which is already happening — the jet stream’s flow can become weakened and elongated. That’s when you can get the resultant weather extremes.


Ryan breaks with Trump on healthcare: No Dems

By Kyle Balluck - 03/30/17

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in an interview to be broadcast early Thursday said he does not want to work with Democrats on healthcare legislation, breaking with President Trump's recent comments.

“I don’t want that to happen,” Ryan told Norah O’Donnell on "CBS This Morning."


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Senate votes to eliminate Obama-era retirement rule

Republicans are only for states rights when it hurts people.
By Jordain Carney - 03/30/17

A resolution eliminating an Obama-era regulation that allows states to create retirement accounts for low-income workers is headed to President Trump's desk after a Senate vote on Wednesday.

Senators by a 50-49 margin approved the House-passed resolution, which rolls back a rule that allows states to create retirement plans for private-sector workers whose employers do not offer their own retirement plans.


Democrats, arguing the country faces a "retirement crisis," pressed to keep the rule in place. They have stressed that states need more flexibility to help low-income workers save for retirement.


Seven states have taken a steps toward creating programs under the Obama-era rule, and Democrats noted that another 23 states are currently considering the program.


GOP lawmakers are using the Congressional Review Act to undo regulations implemented late in President Obama's tenure by a simple majority.



Small business owners are condemning the Republican vote, “Small business owners wear many hats, but being investment advisers should not be one of them,” said Lisa Hagerty, a small business owner in Stowe, Vermont. “Programs like this that put small business owners in the best position care for themselves throughout their lives, while helping employees do the same, are a no-brainer. So why are Republicans in Congress dismantling them?”


Informative links

Today’s Russia hearings actually revealed something new and important

By Sarah Posner
March 30, 2017


In a remarkable moment, one key witness, Clinton Watts, a senior fellow at the George Washington Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, bluntly informed Sen. Marco Rubio, who serves on the Intelligence Committee, that as one of Trump’s presidential primary opponents, Rubio “suffered from” Russian disinformation efforts.


According to Watts (who was backed up by other witnesses who testified), the Russians have been using “active measures,” which are built on propaganda tactics that date back to Soviet times, to spread disinformation, fear, confusion, and chaos in multiple democratic countries, including the United States.

These efforts include the use of visible Kremlin propaganda outlets, such as RT and Sputnik, to publish false news stories and conspiracy theories. Russian actors then deploy social media bots to spread these false stories far and wide. In the U.S., Watts said, the goal has been to provoke the Trump into repeating them or retweeting them to his millions of followers.

In a moment that stunned the hearing room, Watts flatly stated that the president himself has become a cog in such Russian measures. When asked by Oklahoma Republican James Lankford, who appeared visibly dismayed, why, if Russians have long used these methods, they finally worked in this election cycle, Watts’ answer was extraordinary.

“I think this answer is very simple and is one no one is really saying in this room,” he said. Part of the reason, he went on, “is the commander in chief has used Russian active measures at times against his opponents.”

To buttress the claim that Trump (unwittingly or not) aided Russian disinformation efforts, Watts cited several instances. Among them: Trump’s citation of an apparently false Sputnik story at an October 2016 campaign appearance; his ongoing denial before and after the campaign of U.S. intelligence of Russian interference in the election; his claims of voter fraud and election rigging, which Watts said was pushed by RT and Sputnik; and Trump’s questioning of the citizenship of former President Barack Obama and even his primary rival Ted Cruz.

Watts added that one of the reasons such tactics are working is that Trump and/or his surrogates have repeated some of the claims, further spreading them through social media accounts that are owned both by real people and bots. Thus, the disinformation is kept alive and gradually becomes more real and plausible. “Part of the reason active measures work is because they parrot the same lines,” Watts said.


Rubio seemed to suggest that he sees these tactics as intended to divide Americans from one another. “Aren’t we in the midst of a blitzkrieg, for lack of a better term, of informational warfare conducted by Russian trolls, under the command of Vladimir Putin,” Rubio asked, that is designed to divide Americans “politically, socioeconomically, demographically, and the like?” Watts confirmed that one of the aims of Russian active measures is to “play on ethnic divisions.”


EPA's Scott Pruitt Decides Not To Ban Pesticide Said To Harm Children's Brains

By Denisse Moreno On 03/30/17

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt decided to deny a petition to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is said to harm children’s brains, the agency announced Wednesday.


Under Trump’s administration, the EPA decided chlorpyrifos is “crucial to U.S. agriculture” and added that previous conclusions of epidemiological studies looked at by the agency during the Obama administration were “novel and uncertain.”


The chemical is sprayed on crops including, apples, oranges, strawberries and other foods.


“Pruitt and the Trump administration’s decision ignored overwhelming evidence that even small amounts of chlorpyrifos can damage parts of the brain that control language, memory, behavior and emotion,” said the nonprofit EWG in a statement. “Multiple independent studies have documented that exposure to chlorpyrifos impairs children's IQs, and EPA scientists' assessments of those studies concluded that levels of the pesticide found on food and in drinking water are unsafe.”

The agency’s analysis of effects of chlorpyrifos on children derived from studies by Columbia University, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the University of California, Berkeley.

The study by Columbia analyzed levels of the pesticide in blood taken from umbilical cords when children were born. Over the years, researchers gathered data on minors who had been exposed to different levels of chlorpyrifos. When the children were 7, the IQ of those who were exposed to high levels of the pesticide was 1.4 percent lower than kids who hadn’t been exposed to chlorpyrifos at all. Working memory also declined by 2.8 percent.


Study reveals amount of premature deaths linked to international trade

Public Release: 29-Mar-2017
Study reveals amount of premature deaths linked to international trade
University of East Anglia

A new study involving the University of East Anglia (UEA) has revealed for the first time the global scale of premature deaths related to air pollution from international trade.

Each year millions of people die prematurely from diseases caused by exposure to outdoor air pollution. While some studies have estimated premature mortality related to local air pollution sources, it can be affected by atmospheric transport of pollution from distant sources.

International trade is also contributing to the globalisation of emissions and pollution as a result of the production of goods, and their associated emissions, in one region, for consumption in another.

The effects of international trade on air pollutant emissions and air quality have been investigated regionally, but this study presents for the first time a combined global assessment on health impact.


The study focused on deaths from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Linking four state-of-the-art global data models, the international research team estimates that of the 3.45 million global premature deaths related to PM2.5 pollution in 2007, about 12 per cent, or 411,100, were related to air pollutants emitted in a different region of the world, and about 22 per cent, or 762,400, were associated with goods and services produced in one region for consumption in another.

Chinese emissions caused more than twice the number of deaths worldwide than the emissions of any other region, followed by emissions produced in India and the rest of Asia region. For example, PM2.5 pollution produced in China is linked to more than 64,800 premature deaths in other regions, including over 3,100 deaths in Western Europe and the US. Meanwhile consumption in Western Europe and the US is linked to over 108,600 premature deaths in China.
[Of course, much of the Chinese emissions comes from producing goods for other countries.]

The researchers argue that if the cost of imported products is lower because of less stringent air pollution controls in the regions where they are produced, then the consumer savings may come at the expense of lives lost elsewhere.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Trauma and stress in teen years increases risk of depression during menopause, Penn study shows

Public Release: 29-Mar-2017
Trauma and stress in teen years increases risk of depression during menopause, Penn study shows
First-of-its kind study finds number of traumatic experiences and when they first occur significantly affects the risk of depression during menopause
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Although depression is common during a woman's transition to menopause, understanding who is at-risk of experiencing major depressive disorder (MDD) during this period of hormonal fluctuation were previously unknown. Now, a new study shows that women who experience multiple traumatic events during childhood or adolescence have a significantly increased risk of depression in the years leading into menopause (known as perimenopause). In particular, women who experienced their first traumatic event in their teens are especially susceptible to depression during perimenopause, even if they had previously never had depression.


Hepatitis B and C may be linked to increased risk of Parkinson's disease

Public Release: 29-Mar-2017
Hepatitis B and C may be linked to increased risk of Parkinson's disease
American Academy of Neurology

The viruses hepatitis B and C may both be associated with an increased risk of Parkinson's disease, according to a study published in the March 29, 2017, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The hepatitis virus affects the liver.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that anywhere from 850,000 to 2.2 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis B virus infection and anywhere from 2.7 to 3.9 million people have chronic hepatitis C. While both can lead to serious illness, many people have few symptoms and do not realize they have the virus, especially at first.

Hepatitis B is spread through contact with blood and body fluids of an infected person, such as unprotected sex, sharing needles, getting a tattoo or piercing with unsterilized tools or sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person.

Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact such as sharing needles, razors and toothbrushes and is passed on at birth by infected mothers.

"The development of Parkinson's disease is complex, with both genetic and environmental factors," said study author Julia Pakpoor, BM, BCh, of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. "It's possible that the hepatitis virus itself or perhaps the treatment for the infection could play a role in triggering Parkinson's disease or it's possible that people who are susceptible to hepatitis infections are also more susceptible to Parkinson's disease. We hope that identifying this relationship may help us to better understand how Parkinson's disease develops."


Every £1 spent on public health in UK saves average of £14

Public Release: 29-Mar-2017
Every £1 spent on public health in UK saves average of £14
Cuts to public health budgets set to cost NHS and wider economy 'billions'

Every £1.00 spent on public health returns an extra £14 on the original investment, on average--and in some cases, significantly more than that--concludes a systematic review of the available evidence, published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

The recent cuts made to public health budgets in the UK are therefore a "false economy" and are set to cost an already overstretched NHS and the wider economy "billions," conclude the researchers, who warn other countries to think again before going down a similar route to claw back cash.


They therefore trawled research databases to identify studies that had calculated an ROI for local and national public health initiatives and/or had worked out the overall value for money of a project or proposal--otherwise known as the cost-benefit ratio, or CBR for short.

Out of nearly 3000 articles, they found 52 suitable studies, published over four decades, and covering 29 different different types of intervention relating to the UK, Western Europe, the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

These included initiatives designed to protect the public's health or promote good health, as well as legislation.

Critical analysis of the data from these studies showed that the average ROI for a public health initiative was 14.3 for every unit cost spent on it, while the average CBR was 8.3.

When the overall impact of all 29 interventions was assessed, the ROI on local initiatives was 4.1, meaning that every £1 spent returns £4 plus the original £1 investment, while the average CBR was 10.3.

Even larger benefits accrued for national policies, reported by 28 studies. Analysis of the data from these showed that the average ROI was 27.2 while the average CBR was 17.2.


Their results "clearly demonstrate that public health interventions are cost-saving, both to health services as well as the wider economy," write the researchers, who point out that some interventions can produce substantial returns within 6 to 12 months--falls prevention, for example.

Furthermore, they calculate that the recent £200 million cuts to public health funding in the UK will cost more like eight times as much--£1.6 billion.


Very low frequency electromagnetic field exposure linked to motor neurone disease

Public Release: 29-Mar-2017
Very low frequency electromagnetic field exposure linked to motor neurone disease
Association evident among men exposed through work

Workplace exposure to very low frequency electromagnetic fields may be linked to a doubling in risk of developing the most common form of motor neurone disease--amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS for short--suggests research published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

The association was evident among men who had been exposed through their work.

ALS is a neurological disease, characterised by progressive degeneration of the motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. There is currently no cure, and those affected usually die within a few years of diagnosis.


High levels of electromagnetic field exposure were largely confined to the men, and depended on job type. These ranged from 2-25% among the men; among the women, the equivalent figure was 0-2%. Participants' neurological health was then tracked for an average of 17 years to see if any of them succumbed to ALS. During this time, 76 men and 60 women died of ALS.

Occupational exposure to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields was associated with a heightened risk of developing ALS among the men.

Those whose jobs had exposed them to high levels of extremely low [frequency] electromagnetic fields were more than twice as likely to develop ALS as those who had never been exposed through their work.

Furthermore, those in the top 30% of cumulative exposure (duration x intensity) were nearly twice as likely to develop the disease.

The other occupational factors assessed were only weakly associated with ALS risk in both men and women, and there was no clear evidence of a linear increase in risk according to the amount of cumulative exposure.

This is an observational study so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. Furthermore, the researchers used cause of death (motor neurone disease) rather than ALS incidence, meaning that some deaths might have been misclassified, and although ALS is the most common type of motor neurone disease, it can take different forms.

Nevertheless, the researchers conclude that their findings strengthen the evidence suggesting that ALS may be linked to workplace exposure to extremely low [frequency] electromagnetic fields.

'Climate change is real': companies challenge Trump's reversal of policy

Jamiles Lartey
Mar. 29, 2017

In 2015, when Barack Obama signed the nation’s clean power plan, more than 300 companies came out in support, calling the guidelines “critical for moving our country toward a clean energy economy”. Now, as Donald Trump moves to strip those laws away, Mars Inc, Staples and The Gap are just a few of those US corporations who are challenging the new president’s reversal on climate policy.
Analysis Trump's order signals end of US dominance in climate change battle
Trump’s climate blitzkrieg is unlikely to herald the end of civilization, but it risks US geopolitical dominance and could help ‘make China great again’
Read more

“We’re disappointed the administration has decided to roll back climate regulations such as the clean power plan and others,” Edward Hoover, senior manager of Corporate Communications for Mars, told the Guardian. “Corporations can’t do it alone. Governments play a critical role in mitigating the effects of climate change on our economy.”

The responses come just a day after Trump, flanked by cheering coalminers, signed a sweeping executive order that begins to dismantle steps taken by the Obama administration to cut emissions under the Paris agreement negotiated in 2015. Under the agreement the US had agreed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26-28% by 2025 as compared with 2005 levels.

“We will continue to support the EPA’s clean power plan and the reduction of carbon emissions associated with electrical power generation,” added Mark Buckley, vice-president of environmental affairs for Staples, calling it “smart business”.


Gum disease, tooth loss may increase postmenopausal women's risk of death

Public Release: 29-Mar-2017
Study: Gum disease, tooth loss may increase postmenopausal women's risk of death
University at Buffalo

Gum disease and tooth loss may be associated with a higher risk of death in postmenopausal women but not increased cardiovascular disease risk, according to new research in Journal of the American Heart Association, the open access journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

Loss of all natural teeth also was linked with an increased risk of death in postmenopausal women, according to the study led by researchers at the University at Buffalo.

Periodontal disease, a chronic inflammatory disease of the gum and connective tissue surrounding the teeth, affects nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults 60 and older. The loss of all one's teeth, called edentulism, impacts about one-third of U.S. adults 60 and older and often results from periodontal disease.

"Beside their negative impact on oral function and dietary habits, these conditions are also thought to be related to chronic diseases of aging," said Michael J. LaMonte, PhD, study author and research associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health in UB's School of Public Health and Health Professions.


"Our findings suggest that older women may be at higher risk for death because of their periodontal condition and may benefit from more intensive oral screening measures," LaMonte said.

"However, studies of interventions aimed at improving periodontal health are needed to determine whether risk of death is lowered among those receiving the intervention compared to those who do not. Our study was not able to establish a direct cause and effect."

When people know each other, cooperation is more likely than conflict

Public Release: 29-Mar-2017
Building trust, not hate
When people know each other, cooperation is more likely than conflict
Hokkaido University

When anonymity between people is lifted, they more likely cooperate with each other. Playing nice can thereby become a winning strategy, an international team of scientists shows in a study to be published in Science Advances. The findings are based on experiments with a limited number of participants but might have far-reaching implications, if confirmed. Reducing anonymity could help social networks such as Facebook or Twitter that suffer from hate and fake news. It might also help in conflicts about environmental resources.

"Today, it often seems that conflict trumps cooperation, be it on the Internet or in national politics - likewise in evolution, Darwinian selection should result in individuals pursuing their own selfish interest" says lead-author Zhen Wang from Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an, China. Yet despite this perception, there's a lot of cooperation in nature as well as in societies. "Our findings suggest that it is crucial to ask one rather straightforward question: Do the prospective cooperators know each other reasonably well? If they do, they will more likely not try to win at the expense of each other, but together."


Best-looking politicians lean right

Public Release: 29-Mar-2017
Best-looking politicians lean right, best-looking scholars lean left
University of Helsinki

Previous research by Berggren, Jordahl and Poutvaara (2015) shows that in elections run in Australia, the European Union, Finland and the United States, Right-leaning politicians are generally more attractive than Left-leaning politicians. The current study by Professor Jan-Erik Lönnqvist shows that this applies specifically to politicians and does not mean that Right-leaning people on the whole are more attractive.

In order to investigate whether Right-leaning people are more attractive generally speaking, Lönnqvist examined Right-leaning scholars to see if they, too, were more attractive than their Left-leaning counterparts. Politicians and academics are comparable in many aspects such as age, level of education, social status and a place in the public eye.

"When it comes to a career in academia, however, looks do not appear to be of any great importance."


The primary reason that politicians on the Right look better than politicians on the Left could be that good looks have, within Right-leaning parties, more of an influence on the processes through which electoral candidates are selected and on the electoral success of the candidates.

"The results of my study are in concordance with other studies that show that the effect of attractive looks is twice as large for politicians on the Right compared to their counterparts on the Left," says Lönnqvist.

On the whole, physical attractiveness has a positive effect on a person's success and is associated with positive qualities. Attractive people earn more money, are treated better, achieve a higher social status and are happier. But the better informed the constituents, the lesser the effect of looks on election results.

"One possible reason for the greater influence of looks on Right-wing constituents could be that they are less informed. Previous research has also shown that conservative voters have a more concrete, perhaps less sophisticated way of thinking," Lönnqvist says.

Lönnqvist wishes voters would become more aware of the extent to which looks subconsciously influence voting behaviour. Voting advice applications are a good aid to help voters decide whom to vote for.


Teacher encouragement has greatest influence on less advantaged children

Public Release: 29-Mar-2017
Teacher encouragement has greatest influence on less advantaged children
University of Cambridge

Schoolchildren who receive words of encouragement from a teacher are significantly more likely to continue their education beyond the age of 16 than those who do not, a new study suggests.

The influence of teacher encouragement appears to be much greater on students whose own parents never progressed past compulsory education -- an important indicator of a less advantaged background.

For students from these backgrounds, encouragement increased entry into post-16 education from just over half to around two-thirds.

The research also found that encouragement from a teacher has the greatest influence on those students most likely to be on the margin for university attendance.


NPR wrong on the election

NPR is doing an interview, the statement was made that conservatives made great gains in the election last year. In reality, more people voted for Democrats than for Republicans for the Senate. Republicans lost 6 seats in the House. two in the Senate. And almost 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump.

Infant vitamin B1 deficiency leads to poor motor function and balance

Public Release: 29-Mar-2017
Infant vitamin B1 deficiency leads to poor motor function and balance
Lack of vitamin has long-term consequences for children's health, Tel Aviv University researchers say
American Friends of Tel Aviv University

A new Tel Aviv University study published in Maternal and Child Nutrition found that infantile Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency severely affected the motor function of preschoolers who were fed faulty formula in the first year of their lives. The conclusions were based on a retrospective study of children who received Remedia, an Israeli formula brand completely lacking in Vitamin B1, in 2004.


Infant deaths caused 13 years ago by the Remedia formula brand in Israel brought to light the potentially devastating impact of vitamin B1 deficiency. The infants were hospitalized with cardiac and neurological symptoms caused by the lack of vitamin B1, which is usually found in their formula.

"At first it was a mystery," said Prof. Fattal-Valevski. "It was like an epidemic. But after the grandmothers discussed the situation in the waiting room, it became clear that the infants, all under a year old, had consumed the same formula.

"After a food technician from the Health Department confirmed the total lack of vitamin B1 in the formula, we immediately provided the infants with supplements. Some recovered quickly, but three infants died and about 20 infants were left with severe disabilities and epilepsy."

"The body's capacity for storing Vitamin B1 is limited," said Prof. Fattal-Valevski. "Unlike vitamin B12, vitamin B1 is only stored in the body for three weeks. It needs to be frequently replenished. It is critical to be aware of how important this vitamin is for child development. Even healthy babies might be at risk for B1 deficiency. If your infant is suffering from virus after virus, you must intervene with extra vitamins. But it's a vicious cycle, because one of the first symptoms of lack of B1 in the system is an absence of appetite.

"We've proven that B1 deficiency in infancy has long-term implications on gross and fine motor function and balance skills in childhood," said Prof. Fattal-Valevski. "Our study emphasizes the importance of proper infant feeding and regulatory control of breast milk substitutes."

The researchers are now focused on the link between infant B1 deficiency and later learning disabilities.

Manufacturing, global trade impair health of people with no stake in either

Public Release: 29-Mar-2017
Manufacturing, global trade impair health of people with no stake in either
UCI expert helps map migration of air pollution risk to regions far from factories
University of California - Irvine

he latest products may bring joy to people around the globe, but academic researchers this week are highlighting the heightened health risks experienced by people in regions far downwind of the factories that produce these goods and on the other side of the world from where they're consumed. In a study to be published Thursday, March 30, in the journal Nature, scientists quantify and map the shift of environmental and health burdens brought on by globalization and international trade.

"The way manufacturing and commerce are structured in the world today means that air pollution mortality is being felt disproportionately by people living in or near producing regions, often far from where goods are consumed," said paper co-author Steven Davis, associate professor of Earth system science at the University of California, Irvine.

Focusing on the year 2007, the researchers found that of the 3.45 million premature deaths caused by fine-particulate-matter air pollution, about 12 percent were related to pollutants emitted in a different region of the world, and 22 percent were associated with goods produced in one region for consumption in another.

For example, nearly 31,000 deaths in Japan and South Korea were linked to emissions from China, and just over 47,000 deaths in Eastern Europe were related to pollution from factories in Western Europe. The study also found that 2,300 deaths in Western Europe were attributable to pollution transported through the atmosphere from the United States.


The study's authors note that China's exports cause the greatest number of premature deaths because of the high population density of that country and its neighbors, the quantity of its emissions, and its focus on manufacturing for export. And they estimate that in 2007 about 11 percent of Chinese deaths due to air pollution were tied to goods consumed in the United States and Western Europe, which import the most Chinese products.

"It costs less to manufacture goods in places like China and Southeast Asia, mostly because those places have cheaper labor than the West," Davis said. "But they also tend to have less stringent environmental protections and denser populations, so consumer savings, corporate profits and economic development based on trade are costing the lives of people who have to breathe polluted air."

Informative links

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Trump Repeals Regulation Protecting Workers From Wage Theft

Mar. 27, 2017
By Dave Jamieson

Companies that commit wage theft and put their workers in harm’s way just received a favor from the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump signed a bill Monday repealing a regulation that had encouraged federal contractors to follow labor laws. Under the Obama-era rule, companies with an egregious record of violating wage and safety laws would lose their government contracts if they didn’t come into compliance.

The idea behind the rule was to make sure unscrupulous employers didn’t receive taxpayer dollars. But Republicans in Congress thought the rule was too punitive and unfair to businesses. They used an arcane tool known as the Congressional Review Act in an effort to kill the regulation, which was called the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule.

By approving the legislation sent to him by the Senate, Trump has ensured not only that the regulation will die, but also that no similar regulation can be put forth by the Labor Department again. Trump signed the legislation at a White House ceremony in front of the press.


Numerous reports have shown that federal contractors continue to receive federal money even after cheating employees out of pay or endangering them on the job. Democrats have sought for years to tighten the rules on contracting when it comes to lawbreakers.

Under the Obama rule, firms that bid on federal contracts would have to disclose their labor violations from the previous three years, including any times they were found to have broken laws pertaining to collective bargaining, civil rights, health and safety, or minimum wage and overtime. But violations wouldn’t necessarily prevent a firm from winning a contract, so long as it took steps to take care of the problem.


Just last week, Republicans dismantled a different workplace safety regulation, one that required large employers to keep an accurate record of any injury for a period of five years. Workplace safety experts say repealing that rule would make it easier for companies to hide health and safety problems. Trump has not yet signed that legislation.

New MS Drug Ocrevus Wins FDA Approval

by Anthony Serritella and Rehema Ellis
Mar. 28, 2017

The Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug to treat multiple sclerosis Tuesday.

The drug, called Ocrevus, is approved for use against the most common form of MS - the relapsing-remitting type. It's also approved for primary progressive MS, a very aggressive form of the disease that affects 10 to 15 percent of MS patients.

There are no approved treatments now for primary progressive MS, which causes steadily worsening symptoms.

While it's not a cure, it's one more weapon to use to help some of the 400,000 people with MS. In trials of 1,600 volunteers, it cut relapses in patients with the most common form of MS by nearly half compared with an older drug called Rebif.


While there are many drugs in the highly competitive MS market, Cyndi Zagieboylo, president and CEO, of National MS Society, says there is room for improvement. Many of the drug suppress the immune system, have dangerous side-effects and often do not change the course of the disease.


Ocrevus can cause serious side-effects, such as an increased risk of infections and cancer, notably breast cancer. About one-half of one percent of the patients who took the drug developed cancer, which was twice the rate of those who did not take the drug.

In 2010, Roche and Biogen suspended trials of the drug in patients with against rheumatoid arthritis after some died from infections that became serious because of the drug's immune-suppressing effects.

Roche says those problems did not come up in the MS trials. Hauser says doctors may need to wait for studies that Roche must conduct in larger populations of patients who take the drug after it's approved.


US consumers lose privacy protections for their web browsing history

Olivia Solon
Mar. 28, 2017

US politicians voted Tuesday to kill privacy rules meant to prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from selling users’ web browsing histories and app usage histories to advertisers.

The planned protections, proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and scheduled to take effect by the end of 2017, would have forced ISPs to get people’s consent before hawking their data.
Your browsing history may be up for sale soon. Here's what you need to know
Read more

Republicans in the House of Representatives followed their colleagues in the Senate with a vote – of 215 to 205 – to approve a resolution that uses the Congressional Review Act to prevent the privacy rules from taking effect.

Without these protections, ISPs such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are free to track your browsing behavior and sell that data to advertisers without consent. This represents a huge treasure trove of personal data, including your health concerns, shopping habits and visits to porn sites. ISPs can find out where you bank, your political views and sexual orientation simply based on the websites you visit. The fact that you’re looking at a website at all can also reveal when you’re at home and when you’re not.


Democrat Ro Khanna pointed out that Americans already pay much more for broadband than Europeans thanks to “monopolistic, anti-competitive practices”.

“Instead of making the industry more competitive, what this bill wants to do is give these four or five ISPs even more power,” he said.


Those in favor of repealing the privacy rules argued that it levels the playing field for internet service providers who want to get into the advertising business like Google and Facebook. According to ISPs, scrapping the rules will allow them to show the user more relevant advertising and offers, which would give the companies better return on the investment they have made in infrastructure. They argue that web browsing history and app usage should not count as “sensitive” information.

In the run-up to the hearing, privacy campaigners argued that ISPs should be treated differently from Google and Facebook, as in many cases consumers only have one choice of broadband provider. You can choose not to use Facebook or Google’s search engine, and there are lots of tools you can use to block their tracking on other parts of the web, for example, Privacy Badger from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit civil liberties group.

It’s much harder to prevent ISPs from tracking you. To mask all of your browsing behavior you can use a VPN service (which incurs a subscription cost) or try using Tor, both of which make browsing more complicated.


the White House issued a statement before the vote stating that the Trump administration supported the repeal.

Donald Trump is deleting scientific citations

The Trump administration is trying to keep us from determining how the climate is being affected by global warming, to make it easier to claim we don't know enough about what is happening to take steps.

Some people are claiming since we don't know with complete precision the results of global warming, we shouldn't take steps to cut back on it. This makes as much sense as saying since we cannot predict exactly the damage done to a particular baby's IQ by exposure, we shouldn't try to avoid exposing babies to lead.

Victoria Herrmann is the managing director of the Arctic Institute and a National Geographic explorer

I am a Arctic researcher. Donald Trump is deleting my citations
Victoria Herrmann
Mar. 28, 2017


Over the past two months though, I’ve been navigating a different type of uncharted territory: the deleting of what little data we have by the Trump administration.

At first, the distress flare of lost data came as a surge of defunct links on 21 January. The US National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes. As I watched more and more links turned red, I frantically combed the internet for archived versions of our country’s most important polar policies.
Donald Trump's first 100 days as president – daily updates
Read more

I had no idea then that this disappearing act had just begun.

Since January, the surge has transformed into a slow, incessant march of deleting datasets, webpages and policies about the Arctic. I now come to expect a weekly email request to replace invalid citations, hoping that someone had the foresight to download statistics about Arctic permafrost thaw or renewable energy in advance of the purge.


We’ve seen this type of data strangling before.

Just three years ago, Arctic researchers witnessed another world leader remove thousands of scientific documents from the public domain. In 2014, then Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper closed 11 department of fisheries and oceans regional libraries, including the only Arctic center. Hundreds of reports and studies containing well over a century of research were destroyed in that process – a historic loss from which we still have not recovered.

These back-to-back data deletions come at a time when the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average. Just this week, it was reported that the Arctic’s winter sea ice dropped to its lowest level in recorded history. The impacts of a warming, ice-free Arctic are already clear: a decline in habitat for polar bears and other Arctic animals; increases in coastal erosion that force Alaskans to abandon their homes; and the opening up of shipping routes with unpredictable conditions and hazardous icebergs.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Ode to Spring

Ode to Spring
copyright 1996 Patricia M. Shannon

Spring has sprung
the flowers grow.
Their pollen flows,
so does my nose,
oh, hear it blow;
how it does glow!

Informative links

Friday, March 24, 2017

Phony mandate

NPR ia interviewing republicans about the decision not to vote on their health care bill. One mad a statement that American voters wanted them remove Obamacare. Of course, NPR didn't point out that Hillary got almost 3,000,000 more votes than Trump, that almost 6,000,000 more people voted for Democrats for the Senate than for republicans. Republicans got 49.1% of the popular vote, less than 50%.

Fluoroquinolones Are Too Risky for Common Infections

By Teresa Carr
Last updated: May 16, 2016

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising against prescribing fluoroquinolones, a group of antibiotics that includes drugs such as Cipro and Levaquin, to treat three common illnesses —bronchitis, sinus infections, and urinary tract infections. The agency issued the new recommendations after a safety review revealed that fluoroquinolones can cause disabling and potentially permanent side effects that affect the tendons, muscles, joints, nerves, and central nervous system.


Currently, those three illnesses account for nearly one-third of all fluoroquinolones prescribed outside of hospitals in the U.S. according to data presented by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, makers of Levaquin, at the FDA meeting. That overprescribing of the potent antibiotics is exposing patients to needless risk the panel concluded. While fluoroquinolones are essential for treating serious infections such as anthrax, for more common infections, other treatments typically work just as well with less risk.


The new FDA ruling calling for restricted use of fluoroquinolones affects five prescription antibiotics: ciprofloxacin (Cipro), levofloxacin (Levaquin), moxifloxacin (Avelox), ofloxacin (Floxin), and gemifloxacin (Factive). All are also available as generics.


“The vast majority of sinus infections are caused by a virus, not a bacteria and antibiotics don’t work against viruses,” says Baden. Even if bacteria are responsible, the infection will typically clear up on its own in a week or so. An antibiotic such as amoxicillin may be warranted if your symptoms last longer than a week, start to improve and then worsen, or are very severe—accompanied by a fever of 101.5 or higher, for example, or extreme pain and tenderness over your sinuses.


Note that people aged 65 and older often have bacteria in their urine, but do not need to be tested or treated for a UTI unless they have symptoms.


As with sinus infections, most cases of bronchitis, or chest colds, are caused by a virus and are not helped by taking an antibiotic. (Read our advice on what to do ease symptoms while your body fights the infection.) One exception: patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition that causes difficulty breathing, may benefit from antibiotics if they develop symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Idaho man who didn't match DNA from killing is freed

But he will still have a hard time finding a job.

Mar. 23, 2017

An Idaho man who experts say was coerced into a false murder confession was freed Wednesday after spending half of his life behind bars.

A judge released Christopher Tapp after vacating his rape conviction and resentencing him to time served for the 1996 killing of Angie Dodd.

The release came after years of work by Tapp’s attorney, public defender John Thomas, and advocates, including Judges for Justice, the Idaho Innocence Project and the victim’s mother, Carol Dodge.


Tapp was a 20-year-old high school dropout at the time. He was interrogated for hours and subjected to multiple lie detector tests by police before confessing, but DNA evidence taken from the scene didn’t match Tapp or any of other suspects in the case.

The release doesn’t exonerate Tapp — his murder conviction still stands under the plea agreement that transformed his 30-years-to-life sentence to time served. But the agreement allowed Tapp to leave the courtroom as a free man after spending 20 years in prison. He otherwise wouldn’t have been able to seek parole until 2027.

“Chris Tapp is innocent,” his attorney, Thomas, told the Post Register newspaper Tuesday. Still, Thomas said, the plea deal was the right decision because it came with the certainty of freedom.


Over the next few weeks, Tapp was interrogated nine times and subjected to seven polygraph tests. At various times, police officers suggested he could face the death penalty, told him that he was failing the lie detector tests, suggested he may have repressed memories of the killing and offered him immunity if he implicated Hobbs and another suspect. He eventually confessed to being involved in the death.

But none of the DNA found at the crime scene matched Tapp, Hobbs or the other suspect. It all belonged to the same unknown man, according to the analysis.

Prosecutors, seemingly unaware of the nature of some of the police contact with Tapp, accused him of lying and rescinded his plea deal. Tapp was convicted after his recorded confession was played for the jury.

Over the years, advocacy groups for the wrongfully convicted began fighting for Tapp’s exoneration. His attorney tried to get the conviction overturned, but was stymied by Idaho’s strict one-year statute of limitations for some post-conviction proceedings and a limited court record.


A polygraph expert recruited by the group, Boise State University professor Dr. Charles Honts, said the polygraphs were used “as a psychological rubber hose in an effort to coerce a confession.”

Under the plea deal, Tapp can’t continue legal efforts to get his conviction overturned and must pay into Idaho’s victim compensation fund.

Informative links

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

FBI has info suggesting coordination between Trump aides, Russia

FBI has info suggesting coordination between Trump aides, Russia: report
By Max Greenwood - 03/22/17

The FBI has information suggesting that associates of President Trump may have worked with Russian operatives to release information aimed at hurting former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign, CNN reported Wednesday, citing U.S. officials.

FBI Director James Comey on Monday revealed that his agency is investigating Trump and his aides' potential ties to Russia, as well as possible coordination with Moscow.

The revelation confirmed months-long speculation that Trump's aides were included in federal probes of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Among the information held by the FBI is human intelligence, travel and business records and phone records, according to CNN, though agency officials made clear that the information does not conclusively prove collusion between Trump associates and Russia and would have to be further investigated.


The U.S. intelligence community concluded in a report released publicly on Jan. 6 that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a massive influence campaign to interfere in the presidential election in favor of Trump.


Gulf of Mexico waters are freakishly warm, which could mean explosive springtime storms

By Jason Samenow March 22

Water temperatures at the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and near South Florida are on fire. They spurred a historically warm winter from Houston to Miami and could fuel intense thunderstorms in the spring from the South to the Plains.

In the Gulf, the average sea surface temperature never fell below 73 degrees over the winter for the first time on record, reported Eric Berger of Ars Technica.

Galveston, Tex., has tied or broken an astonishing 33 record highs since Nov. 1, while neighboring Houston had its warmest winter on record. Both cities have witnessed precious few days with below-normal temperatures since late fall.

More often than not, temperatures have averaged at least 10 degrees warmer than normal. “The consistency and persistence of the warmth was the defining element of this winter,” said Matt Lanza, a Houston-based meteorologist, who has closely tracked the region’s temperatures.


Meanwhile, a ribbon of toasty sea surface temperatures streamed north through the Straits of Florida supporting record-setting warmth over parts of the Florida peninsula.

Miami and Fort Lauderdale both posted their warmest winters on record. Climate Central, a nonprofit science communications firm in Princeton, N.J., found 80 percent of the winter days in Miami, Orlando and Tampa were above normal.


“Out of 90 days this winter, Miami saw a record setting 69 of them reach 80°F or warmer!” wrote Miami broadcast meteorologist John Morales for the website WxShift, a project of Climate Central. “In addition, 11 daily record high temperatures were set as were 8 daily record warm low temperatures and 2 monthly record warm low temperatures.”


The warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, in particular, could mean that thunderstorms that erupt over the southern and central United States are more severe this spring. Berger explained in his Ars Technica piece: “While the relationship is far from absolute, scientists have found that when the Gulf of Mexico tends to be warmer than normal, there is more energy for severe storms and tornadoes to form than when the Gulf is cooler.”


Such conducive environments for severe weather may increase due to climate change, Gensini said, although he expects high year-to-year to variability — something already being observed.


Bald eagles: scientists decry overturn of ban that would save American symbol

Alan Yuhas
Mar. 16, 2017

His head twisted almost upside down and his body all but paralyzed, the bald eagle sat on its haunches, talons clenching, while two humans neared to put him in a cage. They could not save the bird from lead.

The eagle was the third this year to die from lead poisoning at the Blue Mountain Wildlife center, in north-east Oregon, where Lynn Tompkins has helped rehabilitate sick and injured birds for 30 years. “They eat things that have been shot,” Tompkins said, “whether it’s big game like deer or elk or coyotes or ground squirrels.”

The poisoned birds suffer paralysis, don’t eat and struggle to stand. As with mammals, lead causes blindness, brain damage and organ failure.

One of the recent eagles, Tompkins said, had 622 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in its body, and a second had 385. The Centers for Disease Control recommends immediate medical intervention for children whose blood tests at 45. Many birds, Tompkins said, test at 5-10 micrograms, “too low to show symptoms, but the same level of lead seen in the kids in Flint, Michigan”.

“The short answer is that no level of lead is acceptable for living things – eagles, condors and people,” said raptor biologist Glenn Stewart.

Bald eagles have rebounded across the US since 1972, when the government banned the pesticide DDT. But 10-15% of bald eagles die in the first year because of lead poisoning, Stewart said, in part because the young birds almost exclusively eat carrion.


On the other side of the spectrum, Jonathan Evans, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group, said: “We shouldn’t be killing our national symbol because we’re too lazy or too concerned with past types of ammunition to switch.” The National Rifle Association (NRA) has previously sued over attempts to phase out lead ammunition for hunting.

Biologists hesitate to estimate how many animals die from lead each year, but studies suggest the numbers are significant. A 2014 study found that of nearly 3,000 eagles killed over 30 years, about 25% died from poison, most often lead. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people who eat game meat tend to have higher levels of lead in their blood.


Every year, one in five condors suffers lead poisoning so severe they need treatment, she said, and although the birds are the largest flyers in North America, a fingernail’s worth of lead can kill one. Lead poisoning appears to have stalled the species’ recovery in the wild.

“This has nothing to do with people’s right to hunt,” she said. “We took lead out of gas and out of house paint. That doesn’t mean you don’t drive a car or paint your house. It’s about using something that’s safe for you and your family as well as an animal that comes upon it.”

The solution, according to scientists and a growing coalition of hunters, is non-lead ammunition.


Arctic sea ice dwindles to record low for winter

CBS/AP March 22, 2017, 6:11 PM

The frigid top of the Earth just set yet another record for low levels of sea ice in what scientists say is just the latest signal of an overheating world.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado says the Arctic this month set a record low for winter peak sea ice area: 5.57 million square miles (14.42 million square kilometers).

That’s about 35,000 square miles (97,000 square kilometers) — an area about the size of Maine — below 2015’s record. Last year had a shade more than 2015, but nearly a tied record.

This puts the Arctic in a “deep hole” as the crucial spring and summer melt season starts and more regions will likely be ice-free, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, which released the findings Wednesday.

“It’s a key part of the Earth’s climate system and we’re losing it,” he said. “We’re losing the ice in all seasons now.”

The record ice melt comes at the end of a season marked by unusually warm temperatures in the Arctic. During Christmas week, the North Pole soared to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, a weather pattern Paul Mayewski, professor at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, described as “remarkable.”

At the other end of the world, Antarctica, where sea ice reaches its lowest point of the year in March, also hit a record low mark. Antarctic sea ice varies widely unlike Arctic sea ice, which has steadily decreased.

The ice data center measures how wide sea ice extends based on satellite imagery. It’s harder to measure the thickness and overall volume, but data from the University of Washington show that as of late last month ice volume levels were down 42 percent from 1979, said polar science center chief Axel Schweiger.


A relatively new idea — that still divides meteorologists — links the shriveling ice cap at the North Pole to a weaker polar vortex and weak and ambling jet stream, which can mean more extreme weather for a good part of the rest of the world.

“Recent cold spells and big snowstorms that we have experienced over the past few winters have occurred when the polar vortex is weak,” top winter weather forecaster Judah Cohen, of the private Atmospheric Environmental Research in Lexington, Massachusetts, said in an email.


The Supreme Court Struck Down One of Neil Gorsuch's Decisions During His Hearing

Tessa Berenson
Mar. 22, 2017

One of Neil Gorsuch's decisions about an autistic child's education was struck down unanimously by the Supreme Court Wednesday morning during his confirmation hearing.

The 8-0 ruling, which Gorsuch said he learned about on a brief five-minute bathroom break, overturned his 2008 decision in Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P., which found that a school district legally abides with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as long as it provides an education that “must merely be ‘more than de minimis.’”

The Supreme Court disagreed in their decision handed down Wednesday.

"When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing 'merely more than de minimis' progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the unanimous decision. "For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to “sitting idly ... awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out.’”


Ivanka Trump's Move To The White House Raises Questions About Ethics

March 21, 2017

When Donald Trump was elected president, his daughter Ivanka Trump said she would move to Washington, D.C., but not into a White House office.

Since then, she has often been photographed in key White House meetings with foreign leaders and Cabinet members. Now she will have her own office in the West Wing, along with a security clearance and government-issued communications devices.

In her unpaid role, Ivanka will "continue to be the eyes and ears of her father and provide candid advice as she has for her entire adult life," her attorney, Jamie Gorelick, said in an NPR interview. "She is intending to spend some time on initiatives that she cares about, particularly with regard to women in the workplace."


Zelizer says previous presidents have relied upon children for input. For example, President Teddy Roosevelt's daughter Alice frequently offered political advice, and George W. Bush often played an advisory role when his father, George H.W. Bush, was president.

But this situation is different because it appears Ivanka will be have an expansive portfolio, not just offer insights. She will not be sworn in, nor need Senate approval.


Ex-Colo. GOP leader said only Democrats committed voter fraud. Now he’s charged with voter fraud.

By Derek Hawkins March 22

The 2016 election was just a month away when Steve Curtis, a conservative radio host and former Colorado Republican Party chairman, devoted an entire episode of his morning talk show to the heated topic of voter fraud.

“It seems to me,” Curtis said in the 42-minute segment, “that virtually every case of voter fraud I can remember in my lifetime was committed by Democrats.”

On Tuesday, Colorado prosecutors threw a wrench into that already dubious theory, accusing Curtis of voter fraud for allegedly filling out and mailing in his ex-wife’s 2016 ballot for president, Denver’s Fox affiliate reported.

Curtis, 57, was charged in Weld County District Court with one count of misdemeanor voter fraud and one count of forgery, a Class 5 felony, according to local media.


Officials in Weld County, Colo., said they learned of Curtis’s allegedly fraudulent ballot when his ex-wife, Kelly Curtis, called the local elections office in October asking how she could cast a vote by mail in Colorado from her new home in South Carolina, Fox 31 reported.

An election worker reportedly told her the office had already received her ballot. Per Fox 31:

“I was just completely stunned. I thought there had to be some kind of mistake,” said Kelly Curtis.

That’s when verification judges for the Weld County Clerk and Recorder’s Office got involved. “We compared her (ballot) signature just to the signatures on her registration,” said Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes, who quickly determined the signatures didn’t match but noted the ballot was sent from Steve Curtis’s home in Firestone, Colo.


In court Tuesday, Curtis’s attorney reportedly asked the judge to impose a gag order to prevent prosecutors from discussing the case. The judge rejected the request, according to Fox 31.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Informative links

Monday, March 20, 2017

Informative links

Uber president quits firm saying its values are 'inconsistent' with his

Julia Kollewe
Monday 20 March 201

Uber president Jeff Jones left the taxi-hailing firm after just six months in the job because working at Uber was incompatible with his values, he said.

Jones’s departure is the latest blow to the San Francisco-based company, after revelations of a secret programme to evade law enforcement, allegations of workplace discrimination and sexual harassment, and a string of departures of high-level executives.

He told the tech blog Recode, which first reported his resignation: “The beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride-sharing business.”


The New York Times reported that for years Uber used a tool called Greyball to systematically deceive law enforcement officials in cities where its service violated regulations.


America’s Epidemic of Infallibility

Monday, March 20, 2017
Paul Krugman: America’s Epidemic of Infallibility


But what’s going on with Mr. Trump and his inner circle seems to have less to do with ideology than with fragile egos. To admit having been wrong about anything, they seem to imagine, would brand them as losers and make them look small.

In reality, of course, inability to engage in reflection and self-criticism is the mark of a tiny, shriveled soul — but they’re not big enough to see that. ...

Many Americans no longer seem to understand what a leader is supposed to sound like, mistaking bombast and belligerence for real toughness.






U.S. Has Worst Wealth Inequality of Any Rich Nation, and It's Not Even Close

The median is the point where half the incomes are less, half are more.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

I've discussed the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Reports before, an excellent source of data for both wealth and wealth inequality. The most recent edition, from November 2016, shows the United States getting wealthier, but steadily more unequal in wealth per adult and dropping from 25th to 27th in median wealth per adult since 2014. Moreover, on a global scale, it reports that the top 1% of wealth holders hold 50.8% of the world's wealth (Report, p. 18).

One important point to bear in mind is that while the United States remains the fourth-highest country for wealth per adult (after Switzerland, Iceland, and Australia) at $344,692, its median wealth per adult has fallen to 27th in the world, down to $44,977. As I have pointed out before, the reason for this is much higher inequality in the U.S. In fact, the U.S. ratio of mean to median wealth per adult is 7.66:1, the highest of all rich countries by a long shot.


Now that I've got your attention, let me remind you why this low level of median wealth is a BIG PROBLEM. Quite simply, we are careening towards a retirement crisis as Baby Boomers like myself find their income drop off a cliff in retirement. As I reported in 2013, 49% (!) of all private sector workers have no retirement plan at all, not even a crappy 401(k). 31% have only a 401(k), which shifts all the investment risk on to the individual, rather than pooling that risk as Social Security does. And many people had to borrow against their 401(k) during the Great Recession, including 1/3 of people in their forties. The overall savings shortfall is $6.6 trillion! If Republican leaders finally get their wish to gut Social Security, prepare to see levels of elder poverty unlike anything in generations. It will not be pretty.


As you can see, the U.S. inequality ratio is more than 50% higher than #2 Denmark and fully three times as high as the median country on the list, France. As the title says, this is not even close.


Gorsuch's warped ruling on the trucker case

Considering Trump's bad record as an employer, not surprising he would nominate someone warpted like this.

March 20, 2017 by Sean Sullivan


The Post’s Robert Barnes wrote about it last week:

Some liberals wary of Judge Neil Gorsuch’s fitness for the Supreme Court point to the Case of the Frozen Trucker. As an appeals court judge, Gorsuch ruled against a driver who claimed he’d been wrongly fired because he ignored his supervisor’s demands by unhitching his unheated truck from its malfunctioning trailer and driving away in subzero weather in search of safety.


“Seven different judges heard my case — one of those judges found against me,” Maddin said. “That judge was Neil Gorsuch.”


An administrative law judge and a review board of the Labor Department concluded Maddin was fired in violation of whistleblower provisions. They protect an employee who “refuses to operate a vehicle because . . . the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the employee or the public because of the vehicle’s hazardous safety or security condition.”

Gorsuch’s two colleagues on the appeals court panel agreed Maddin’s actions were consistent with “refusing to operate” his truck in a dangerous way.

But Gorsuch dissented. “The trucker in this case wasn’t fired for refusing to operate his vehicle,” Gorsuch wrote. Perhaps TransAm should not have fired him, Gorsuch said, but Maddin’s only legally protected option was to sit and wait.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Informative links