Saturday, January 31, 2015

Prescription painkillers, widely used by childbearing age women, double birth defects risk

Public Release: 22-Jan-2015

More than one-fourth of privately-insured and one-third of Medicaid-enrolled women of childbearing age filled prescriptions for opioid-based (narcotic) painkillers between 2008 and 2012, according to a new analysis published today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). March of Dimes Foundation


Many women are unaware that prescription opioid-based medications such as codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, or morphine, used to treat severe pain, may increase the risk for serious birth defects of the baby's brain, spine, and heart, as well as preterm birth when taken during pregnancy. Use of these medications also can cause babies to suffer withdrawal symptoms when born, a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS, a growing problem in U.S. birthing hospitals.

Since half of all pregnancies are unplanned, women may be prescribed opioid-based pain medications before they or their health care providers know they are pregnan


Better sleep in younger years may aid memory in old age

Many people express concern over the likelihood that we will have increasing numbers of senile people, because of the aging of the baby boomers. At the same time, workers have to work excessive number of hours because wages haven't kept up with the cost of living, or, if on salary, because of pressure from their employers.

Public Release: 22-Jan-2015
Baylor University

Sound sleep in young and middle-aged people helps memory and learning, but as they hit their seventh, eighth and ninth decades, they don't sleep as much or as well -- and sleep is no longer linked so much to memory, a Baylor researcher says.

That raises an "alluring question" -- whether improving sleep early in life might delay, or even reverse, age-related changes in memory and thinking, said Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor University's Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory, who examined 50 years of sleep research for an article in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

"It's the difference between investing up front rather than trying to compensate later," said Scullin, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences. "We came across studies that showed that sleeping well in middle age predicted better mental functioning 28 years later."


"People sometimes disparage sleep as 'lost' time," he said. But even if the link between sleep and memory lessens with age, "sleeping well still is linked to better mental health, improved cardiovascular health and fewer, less severe disorders and diseases of many kinds."

Regular exercise may boost brain health in adults

Public Release: 20-Jan-2015

In the brain, blood flow and cognitive function peak during young adulthood, but a new study of 52 young women found that oxygen availability, which is known to positively relate to brain health and function, is higher in adults who exercise regularly. Women who exercised on a regular basis had higher oxygen availability in the anterior frontal region of the brain and performed best on difficult cognitive tasks.

"Our findings suggest that regular engagement in physical activity may improve brain functioning even in young adults in their prime," said Dr. Liana Machado, senior author of the Psychophysiology study. "Both blood supply to the brain and cognitive functioning appear to benefit from regular exercise.

Early parental program improves long-term childhood outcomes

Public Release: 19-Jan-2015
Penn State

Children whose parents participated in a prenatal program aimed at enhancing couples' co-parenting relationship were better adjusted at age seven than children whose parents were assigned to a control group, according to Penn State researchers.

Teachers reported significantly better adjustment and positive school engagement among children whose parents received the intervention than in the control children, the researchers reported in the current issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.

"The Family Foundations program focuses on fostering positive co-parenting -- that is, more cooperative and supportive teamwork between parents -- because research shows such co-parenting can benefit children in many ways," said Mark E. Feinberg, research professor of health and human development and senior scientist at the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development. "Parents who have better co-parenting relations feel more supported and confident, less stressed and depressed and they show more warmth and patience with their children."

Parents who argue and are often in conflict with each other over parenting issues can become more impatient and harsh with their children, according to Feinberg. Even if parents don't take out frustration on their children, the emotional security and well-being of the child can be threatened by the presence of conflict in the home.


"It is important to note that this was a 'universal' study that enrolled all couples expecting a first child, rather than a targeted intervention that focused on couples at high-risk due to poverty, low education, young age or other factors," said Feinberg. "Some programs have been shown to be effective in supporting very high-risk pregnant mothers. But few, if any, programs focused on all expecting couples have shown long-term benefits for children.

"The transition to parenthood is stressful for most parents, and most couples experience greater conflict and less romance after the birth of a first child. Levels of depression and anxiety are high for new parents, and levels of family violence seem to be highest for families with young children. Showing that we can support all couples making the transition to parenthood with long-term benefits for their children is a new finding for the field and offers a new means of supporting families with young children."

The researchers noted that while the preventive program showed stronger results for families at higher risk for distress prior to the intervention, it had a positive effect for all families. However, further research and study replication is needed.






Friday, January 30, 2015

Can Tax-Aide do your taxes - updated Jan. 30, 2015

Note that some things that were not in scope in the past are now in scope.

Because Congress extended Cancellation of Debt for personal homes at the last minute, and it had appeared earlier that it would not be extended, Tax-Aide was not able to do training for this, or review reference material, so it is not in scope this year.
Hopefully it will be back in scope next year.

Some cases of Cancellation of debt for credit cards is in scope, but only for volunteers who have extra certification. So it can be handled at some Tax-Aide sites, but not at others.

I think moving expenses are in scope for military families if there is a volunteer with the extra training for that, but many Tax-Aide sites do not have a volunteer who is certified in this area.

AARP Tax-Aide helps low- and moderate- income taxpayers, with special attention to those 60 and older, file their personal income tax returns. Volunteers are trained to assist in filing tax forms and basic schedules, including the 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ. Taxpayers with complex tax returns are advised to seek paid tax assistance. Please see the list below for items that our volunteers have been trained to and can complete or cannot complete under the guidelines of the program. (We help taxpayers of all ages who are in scope.)

See the link below:

What Do the Latest Climate Assessments Tell Us about Nor’easters?

By: Bob Henson , 4:00 PM GMT on January 29, 2015

An ever-lengthening procession of winter storms has marched across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast over the last few years. Even their names have grown more prolific and colorful, from Snowmaggedon of January 2010 to this week’s Blizzard of 2015, also known as Winter Storm Juno. Do these monikers imply the storms themselves are getting more fierce? The naming trend can be explained largely by the demands of social media. However, recent overviews of national and global climate indicate that, as a whole, the most intense rainstorms and snowstorms in the Northeast U.S. are growing even more intense. Our understanding of a warmer climate with wetter extremes arises from both observations of past trends and model-based projections of future climate. It’s also supported by basic physics: in a warmer global environment, more water vapor evaporates from oceans and lakes, where it can be steered into rain- and snow-producing storms.


Within the United States, the region where nor’easters prowl is also where we find the most pronounced turn toward extreme rainfall and snowfall. The most comprehensive report to date on our nation’s climate is the latest U.S. National Climate Assessment, released early in 2014. It found that the trend toward intensified precipitation is stronger in the Northeast than in any other part of the country (Fig. 2.18 in the report, and Figure 1 above). For the period 1958 – 2012, this region saw a 71% increase in the amount of precipitation that fell on the wettest 1% of all days. “In the mid-latitudes, where most of the continental U.S. is located, there is an upward trend in extreme precipitation in the vicinity of fronts associated with mid-latitude storms,” noted the report. “Projections of future climate over the U.S. suggest that the recent trend towards increased heavy precipitation events will continue. This is projected to occur even in regions where total precipitation is projected to decrease, such as the Southwest.” (full report, Chapter 2, p. 37).


Given the potential for disaster inherent in the worst winter storms, even a 13% increase in their frequency could pack a notable punch. As evident in Figure 2, however, there is sharp variability from decade to decade in the frequency of such extreme snowstorms, something that should come as no surprise to any longtime weather observer. Which brings us back to the last decade and its bumper crop of Northeastern storms. At New York City’s Central Park, five of the 10 biggest storm-total snowfalls on record have occurred since 2000; in Boston, it’s four of the top 10, and in Washington, three of the top 10. This 21st-century onslaught could be related to the longer-term boost provided to extreme rains and snows by a warming planet, as well as a shorter-term jump in the frequency of Northeast storms related to cycles in global and regional climate. In addition, a growing amount of research suggests that Arctic amplification and sea-ice loss could be influencing jet-stream behavior and fostering outbreaks of cold and snow in North America and Eurasia (see the subsection "Is the jet stream getting weird?" in this Jeff Masters post from last November).


All storms are now unfolding in a warmer, moister global climate.


Economy not recovering much for ordinary folks

From economist Robert Reich's Facebook
Jan. 30, 2015

The Census Bureau reports this week that 16 million American children under the age of 18—about one in five—received food stamps last year. Before the Great Recession of 2007-2009, about one in eight were on food stamps. This isn’t because of the growth of single mothers. In fact, the rate of children living with married parents getting food stamps has doubled since 2007.

Meanwhile, the median earnings for full-time U.S. workers aged 18 to 34 have fallen nearly 10% since 2000, after adjusting for inflation.

Bottom line: This is not a “recovery” for most Americans. The economy has been expanding since 2009, but nothing has trickled down. We must stop measuring the success of the economy by the growth of GDP.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

New evidence links common chemicals to early onset menopause

Women with daily exposure to certain household chemicals can begin menopause up to nearly four years earlier than the average age of 51, a new study found.

"Biology normally says when it should happen, and there's a role for that," CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus said on "CBS This Morning" Thursday. "At the same time, early menopause can accelerate some diseases. So we need to be aware of this."

According to a new study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, women whose bodies have high levels of chemicals found in plastics, personal-care products, common household items and the environment experience menopause two to four years earlier than women with lower levels of these chemicals.

The researchers tested over 100 chemicals and identified 15 of them -- nine PCBs, three pesticides, two phthalates and a furan (a toxic chemical) -- that were significantly associated with earlier ages of menopause and potentially have detrimental effects on ovarian function.


To reduce your risk of chemical exposure, Agus suggests microwaving food in glass instead of plastic and reading labels on cosmetics to avoid the list of dangerous chemicals.


A decline in ovarian function not only can adversely affect fertility but also can lead to earlier development of heart disease, osteoporosis and other health problems. Other problems previously linked to the chemicals include certain cancers, metabolic syndrome and, in younger females, early puberty.


Republican Gov. Scott Walker seeks $300 million in university cuts, but $220 million to build a new sports arena

Meanwhile, the rich doors who fund people like Walker, ask for and receive large numbers of H1-B visas to import cheap workers from other countries because they claim they can't get enough qualified workers who are citizens. At the same time as they will not hire qualified older workers.

Jan. 28, 2014
01/28/15 06:43 PM—Updated 01/29/15
By David Taintor

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker [a Republican], a potential 2016 GOP contender who never earned a college degree, has proposed a huge cut in funding for the University of Wisconsin system over the next two years.

Walker’s office pitched the plan, which is part of the governor’s budget proposal, boasting it would give the university system more discretion over its finances. But it also carries a $300 million cut and a tuition freeze for the UW system over two years. That amounts to a 13% decrease of state funding for the university system, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


Walker’s budget, including the cuts to the UW system, must be approved by the Wisconsin Legislature, where Republicans hold a majority in both the state Senate and Assembly.



Gov. Scott Walker today released details of his plans to cut $300 million from the UW System while providing it more autonomy and to borrow $220 million to help fund a new Bucks arena in Milwaukee.

Walker, who is set to release his state budget one week from today, said his plans will provide the UW System more flexibility going forward. He also stressed his plan for the Bucks would not use current tax revenues to pay back the $220 million in bonds that would help pay for the new arena. Instead, growth in taxes on the salaries of Bucks players and personnel in future years would go toward the bonds.

[This is the kind of accounting the Republicans in Congress are trying to push, assume their bills will cause increased growth that will pay for them, even if it has not worked in the past.]

[If this is such a financially good investment, why does it need the state to guarantee it. Why aren't private investors bidding for the right to do this? They will buy the bonds, and if arena doesn't pay for itself, they will be paid by the tax payers of Wisconsin.]


New research reveals extreme oxygen loss in oceans during past global warming

Since this was caused by global warming, it could (will?) happen from global warming from any cause, including the increase in greenhouse gases as is happening today.

Jan. 29, 2015
Sarah Moffitt, ocean and climate scientist with expertise in the marine ecological consequences of abrupt climate warming

New research published this week reveals that vast stretches of the ocean interior abruptly lost oxygen during the transition out of the last ice age that occurred 17,000–10,000 years ago. This event was the most recent example of large-scale global warming, and was caused primarily by changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun.

Past climate events provide informative case studies for understanding what is currently happening to the modern climate system. For this research, marine sediment core records across the Pacific Ocean were used to reconstruct the subsurface “footprint” of dissolved oxygen loss during abrupt global climate warming.


Like most of the life on the planet, the large majority of marine organisms need oxygen to live. Most marine life, from salmon, crabs, to shellfish, respires oxygen and many forms are intolerant of low oxygen seawater. Low oxygen zones have been incorrectly referred to as “dead zones.” In reality, they are host to bizarre ecosystems of extremophiles: worms, bacteria, and specialized urchins and bivalves colonize these harsh environments.

But, importantly, few commercially significant species of fish or shellfish can live within the low oxygen zones. So, if you are a microbial biologist you might be very excited to find a low oxygen zone, but if you are a commercial fisherperson, that low oxygen zone represents a no-go environment for fishing.


The new research, which I led, found that entire ocean basins can abruptly lose dissolved oxygen in sync with other global-scale climate change indicators: temperature rise, atmospheric carbon concentration increases, and sea level rise.


Major changes in the distribution of oxygen are already underway in the modern ocean. Modern losses of dissolved oxygen have been detected in every ocean basin by oceanographers and modern instrumentation.


[From the same author]

“From a human perspective,” she added, “what I want is for my son to be able to grow up in a world that has as much abundance and beauty as I have known. I really think that our jobs as people is to care for the beautiful planet that we have in front of us and pass that richness and beauty off to the generations in front of us, and I am really deeply concerned that my son will not have the same kind of planet and environment to enjoy the rich experiences that I’ve had.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mobile provider TracFone to pay $40M in federal settlement

Jan 28, 2:57 PM (ET)

The nation's largest prepaid mobile provider, TracFone Wireless, will pay $40 million to settle government claims that it misled millions of smartphone customers with promises of unlimited data service.

The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday that TracFone's advertising promised unlimited data, but the company then drastically slowed down consumers' data speeds — a practice known as throttling — when they had used a certain amount of data within a 30-day period. In some cases, the FTC said, the company cut off customers' data service when they ran over the limit.

TracFone's prepaid wireless service is sold under various brands, including Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile and Telcel America.


Consumers who had a Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile, or Telcel America unlimited plan before January 2015 can file a claim for a refund. Refunds will vary depending on several factors, including how long a consumer had the TracFone plan and how many consumers request refunds.

The FTC charges that TracFone has been throttling consumers or cutting unlimited service since 2009. The commission's complaint says there was no technical reason for TracFone to limit the data plans, such as slowing speeds because of network congestion. Internal documents, the FTC says, suggest the throttling was done to "reduce the high costs associated" with proving unlimited data.


Adobe Flash Malware Crushes Almost All Browsers

Marshall Honorof January 22, 2015

Security researchers find, report and patch so many vulnerabilities that it's easy to forget that some flaws slip by them into the wild before anyone notices — with disastrous results. At least one new zero-day exploit of Adobe Flash has already been built into a prominent browser exploit kit, and can successfully attack a variety of Internet browsers on all widely used versions of Windows.


Adobe today (Jan. 22) released an update for Flash Player patching a new flaw, but it wasn't immediately clear if it was the same one being exploited by Angler.


Avoiding the Angler exploit kit, or any of its fellow browser exploit kits, is not as simple as denying strange downloads or not going to dodgy websites. Because it targets Flash, simply visiting an infected site — and popular, trusted websites get infected often — with Flash enabled is enough to compromise your computer.

Researchers at Malwarebytes discovered that Angler is drafting those infected computers into a botnet and wasting their resources to generate phony ad impressions for shady third parties.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Wavy jet stream

A wavy jet stream seems to be getting to be a habit.

By Nick Wiltgen
Published Jan 26 2015

Record-breaking warmth has arrived in parts of the West and Midwest, and more records may be broken Tuesday and Wednesday. By late in the week, the warmth will continue in the West while the Midwest sees a cooldown.

The most remarkable record thus far happened in a place famous for recording the world's official record high temperature back in July 1913. Death Valley, California, reached 87 degrees on Sunday, tying its all-time record high for the month of January.


On Monday, Rapid City, South Dakota topped its daily record high soon after midday, surging into the upper 60s by mid-afternoon. Oklahoma City surged to at least 78 degrees, shattering its daily record of 71 and marking its warmest day since 1997.

Several dozen daily record highs were set across the West and Plains Sunday. Monterey, California, reached 84 to tie its second-highest temperature on record in the month of January.

Bismarck, North Dakota, did not set a record high – but its Sunday low of 33 degrees was the first time Bismarck has stayed above freezing for an entire January day since 2001, and only the 16th such day in 140 years of records there.

On Saturday, Redding, California, reached 80 degrees to tie the city's all-time record high set Jan. 15-16, 2014. Daily record highs were set in several other California cities as well as parts of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada.


But there are also downsides. In the Midwest, the persistent warmth will likely cause ice to grow thinner on lakes and ponds, making it more dangerous to venture out onto the ice for fishing or other recreational activities. In fact, a man and his son died Sunday near Oshkosh, Wisconsin, when the man's vehicle plunged through ice on Lake Winnebago according to WISN-TV.

In the West, the warm weather will likely aggravate the ongoing drought in California, especially as it continues to eat away at what little snowpack there is in the Sierra Nevada.


Why is all of this warm weather happening?

As usual, a sharp northward bulge in the upper-atmospheric jet stream – known technically as a "ridge" – will play a role in the upcoming pattern. The first northward bulge has sent the jet stream as far north as the Yukon in northwest Canada, bringing a rush of mild Pacific air into western Canada, then east across the Rockies. As that already mild air blows down the slopes of the Rockies it will warm even more as it spreads across the Canadian Prairies and southeastward into the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest.

A second bulge in the jet stream will arrive on the West Coast this weekend, bringing an even warmer air mass into the western U.S. and potentially setting the stage for the widespread record warmth next week.

On top of the atmospheric pattern, the ongoing California drought and relatively sparse snow cover in the Sierra Nevada will further allow temperatures to warm up. The daytime temperatures we feel at ground level on a daily basis are strongly influenced by the sun's ability to heat the ground; wet ground warms up more slowly than dry ground, and snow-covered ground reflects most of the sun's energy back to outer space, preventing it from reaching the ground underneath.


5 Things You Should Know About Winter Storm Juno

By Chris Dolce
Published Jan 26 2015


5.) Juno's Making the West Warm

The deep dip in the jet stream providing the dynamic energy for Juno to intensify has sent the jet stream into an equally amplified, but opposite, configuration in the western United States.

Typically when the jet stream jogs southward in the East, this results in it building northward across the West. The outcome is widespread warmth, and that's what we are seeing from the Great Plains to the West Coast.


So you don't believe in science?

It's great that science can let us know when a bad weather system is coming.

If you don't believe in science, and you live in the NE U.S., you should ignore the weather reports and go out on the roads now.

If you don't believe 97% of climate scientists who tell us human-induced global warming is happening and is having bad effects, why believe them about a coming storm?

Somebody else

Saw this on Facebook:

The greatest threat to our planet
is the belief that someone else will save it.
- Robert Swann

Many hedge fund managers were already planning their escapes

From economist Robert Reich's Facebook

Jan. 26, 2015

Robert Johnson, president of the Institute of New Economic Thinking, told attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos that many hedge fund managers were already planning their escapes, should widening inequality fuel civil unrest. “I know hedge fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway."

This raises a number of questions: (1) Wouldn’t it be cheaper for hedge fund managers to simply stop paying politicians to rig the economic game on their behalf? (2) Do they really need their “carried interest” tax loopholes and their easy access to insider information? (3) Wouldn’t they rather live on $5 million a year in peace, rather than $500 million and worry about civil unrest? (4) Why do they suppose widening inequality won’t create civil unrest in New Zealand?

Tax-Aide locations

To find a Tax-Aide location near you, go to the following link:

Click on the link for : AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Locator

There are also links for other information, such as what documents you need to bring.

Climate change skeptic accused of violating disclosure rules

The fossil fuel industry stands to gain from global warming because it will take energy to cope with the problems it causes, including increased severe weather. Eg., additional fuel will be needed for snowplows in the NE from the storm that has started there. Cars that have to sit on roads with slow traffic will use more fuel. This is profit to the fossil fuel industry.

The Boston Globe
By Sylvan Lane Globe Correspondent January 26, 2015

A climate-change skeptic at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has relied on grants from fossil-fuel energy interests apparently failed to disclose financial conflicts of interest in a newly released paper, according to a complaint by a climate watchdog group.


The Chinese journal that published the paper, Science Bulletin, imposes a strict conflict of interest policy on authors, obligating contributors to disclose any received funding, financial interests, honors or speaking engagements that might bias their work.

In a note at the end of the paper, all four authors claimed no conflicts of interest on the published study. But Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, an organization based in Virginia, said Soon’s long track record of accepting energy-industry related grants indicates otherwise and might constitute a violation of Science Bulletin’s disclosure policy.

In a letter to Science Bulletin, Davies points to the more than $1 million Soon has received from companies and interests supporting studies critical of climate change.

“At the end of the article under the heading ‘Conflict of interest’, there is this statement: ‘The authors declare that they have no conflict.’ This simply cannot be true,” Davies wrote. “I am concerned that Dr. Soon has not disclosed his funding sources or his outside consulting fees when submitting this article for publishing in your journal, and I am worried that such failure to disclosure may impact the reputation and credibility of both the journal and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.”


Soon has received more than $1.3 million in grants from companies, think tanks and organizations that have either publicly criticized human-caused climate change or have a financial interest in fossil fuels, according to documents obtained by environmental activist group Greenpeace through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Fossil fuel interests that have funded Soon’s work include, the American Petroleum Institute, the Texaco Foundation, the ExxonMobil Foundation. He’s also received funding from the Koch brothers, the libertarian-conservative moguls who have lobbied against anti-climate change legislation.

Soon maintains a strong relationship with the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank known for hosting skeptical conferences on climate change. He’s listed on its website as an expert and he spoken at seven of the institute’s nine conferences.


Soon has received more than $1.3 million in grants from companies, think tanks and organizations that have either publicly criticized human-caused climate change or have a financial interest in fossil fuels, according to documents obtained by environmental activist group Greenpeace through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Fossil fuel interests that have funded Soon’s work include, the American Petroleum Institute, the Texaco Foundation, the ExxonMobil Foundation. He’s also received funding from the Koch brothers, the libertarian-conservative moguls who have lobbied against anti-climate change legislation.

Soon maintains a strong relationship with the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank known for hosting skeptical conferences on climate change. He’s listed on its website as an expert and he spoken at seven of the institute’s nine conferences.

The Great Blizzard of 2015: Fair to say it is AGW amplified.

by Greg Laden on January 26, 2015

About 20 million people are currently under a blizzard warning, and double that under a winter weather advisory, for a storm moving into the Northeast today and tomorrow, with snow falling though Wednesday. Thousands of flights have been cancelled. Wind will be at tropical storm force, and occasionally, hurricane force, and coastal flooding is expected to be epic. The total amounts of snowfall will be over a foot for a very large area, and well over that here and there, though this is very difficult to predict.

This is a strong low pressure system that will gather significant energy from a warm sea surface as it moves into the Atlantic.

This is a system that would normally not produce a lot of snow, but the odd configuration of the jet stream (once again) is moving the low pressure system through a pattern that will create an epic blizzard.

Storms of roughly this magnitude, in this the New York City area, have occurred in 1888, 1947, 1978, 1993, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2010. A similar pattern would emerge if the focal area was Boston. Weather Wunderground lists these snow events for New York City, indicating that half of the heavy events since the mid nineteenth century have occurred in the last 12 years:


Both the odd jet stream and the warm sea surface temperatures can be pegged as likely effects of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). This added to the clear pattern of more of these storms happening very recently strongly suggest that it is reasonable to characterize this storm as a “global warming amplified storm.” This is not unexpected.

I’m not sure if the sea surface temperatures in the region are at a record high, but they are very high. Over time, North Atlantic sea surface temperatures have certainly risen:


There has been an increase in extreme precipitation in the Northeast, with a 71% change in the region:

This is inline with predictions the IPCC has been making for some time now. According to climate scientist Michael Mann, “The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that Nor’easters like this one may grow stronger w/ human-caused climate change, as they are driven by the contrast between cold Arctic air masses and ever-warming ocean surface temperatures. We also know that ocean surface temperatures off the U.S. east coast right now are unusually warm, and there is no doubt that a component of that anomalous warmth is due to human-caused climate change. Those warm ocean temperatures also mean that there is more moisture in the air for this storm to feed on and to produce huge snowfalls inland. Climate change is making these sorts of storms more common, much as it is making Sandy-like Superstorms and unusually intense hurricanes more common. Asking whether these storms were caused by climate change, however, is asking the wrong question. What we *can* say is that they were likely made worse by climate change.”

Kevin Trenbeth, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research notes that the main reason there is a big blizzard coming to the northeast is that it is winter, but “it is warm over the oceans and the contrast between the cold continent and the warm Gulf Stream and surrounding waters is increasing. At present sea surface temperatures are more than 2F above normal over huge expanses (1000 miles) off the east coast and water vapor in the atmosphere is about 10% higher as a result. About half of this can be attributed to climate change.” I would add that the actual anomolies over large areas of the sea where this low pressure system will track are closer to 4 degrees.

Cold Nights Are Decreasing Across the U.S.

Jan. 23, 2015

It’s easy to think of global warming as something that happens at a steady pace everywhere. But that’s not the full story. It’s true that the global average temperature has been rising overall since modern record-keeping began, and it’s true that 2014 was the hottest year on record, but the rise hasn’t been perfectly steady. Each year isn’t always warmer than the one before, and some places — the Arctic, for example — have warmed faster than others.

When you zoom in, even regions in the U.S. have warmed at different rates. Some seasons have warmed faster than others. And the pace of warming can even vary depending on the time of day. For example, a Climate Central analysis in 2013 showed that winter nights in the U.S. have warmed about 30 percent faster than nights over the entire year.

Now we've done a new city-level analysis showing the trend in daily low temperatures below freezing. That is, for most of the country. In places where the temperature dips below freezing so rarely that it's hard to establish a trend at that cutoff, we used 40°F or 45°F. You can find your city in the dropdown menu above to see how cold nights have changed since 1970.

Of course, daily lows don’t always happen at night but they usually do. And the rise we see in daily lows is consistent with the overall pattern you’d expect in a warming world. Due to regional variability, the lows haven’t been on an upward trend in every city — but that’s just one more example of how global warming can have a distinctly local flavor.

What A Warming World Means for Major Snowstorms

By Andrea Thompson
Jan. 26, 2015


An intense nor’easter is slated to drop snowfalls ranging from a few inches to around 3 feet in the worst-hit spots from Monday through Wednesday according to forecasters, along with strong winds and storm surge in coastal areas. It might seem strange to talk about a major winter storm in the context of a warming world, but as the climate changes, extreme snowfalls may become a bigger proportion of all snowstorms.

Simply put, the warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, which can mean more snow as long as temperatures remain cold enough; average snow amounts are actually expected to decrease with warming by 2100, but the most extreme snows won't drop off quite as quickly.

Like other historic nor’easters that have buried cities like New York and Boston in the past, this storm’s potentially record-breaking snows are a product of, well, a perfect storm of atmospheric conditions.

The low pressure area at the heart of the storm is tracking along the East Coast in a way that lets it exploit the contrast between the cold air over land and the warmth of the oceans, which are running more than 2°F warmer than normal along much of the coast, said Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The warmer ocean waters mean more moisture in the atmosphere for the storm to suck up; the cold air over the continent ensures that moisture falls as snow.

“The developing storm is in just the right position to tap into the high moisture over the ocean and develop as it experiences the sharp contrast between the continent and the relatively warm ocean,” Trenberth said in an email.

About half of the current anomalous ocean warmth, and therefore the enhanced moisture, can be attributed to climate change, Trenberth said. As the oceans and atmosphere warm due to the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, that moisture source could continue to grow, to the tune of 4 percent more water vapor in the atmosphere for every 1°F rise in global temperatures. Earth’s average temperature has already risen by 1.6°F since the beginning of the 20th century, and is expected to rise another 0.5°F to 9°F by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, depending on greenhouse gas emissions.

But whether that increased moisture means more snow in the future depends on how warm the air gets over land. Snowstorms occurring in the middle of winter like this nor’easter could drop more snow because temperatures are more likely to stay cold enough for the water to freeze.

“So as long as it does not warm above freezing, the result is a greater dump of snow,” Trenberth said of future storms.

But at the margins of the snowy season, it could warm enough that any storm will dump rain instead of snow, he said.


But observations of snowfalls over the past seven decades haven’t shown a clear trend for the Northeast. While there has been a 70 percent increase in heavy precipitation events in the region since 1958, most of that has been in warm weather rainstorms, Ken Kunkel, a researcher at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., said.


It’s also difficult to say how a warmer atmosphere might impact nor’easters, and extratropical cyclones more broadly. These cyclones are different from the tropical variety (a.k.a. hurricanes), which are fueled by moisture. Extratropical cyclones get their power from the temperature difference across a frontal system, so more moisture doesn’t necessarily mean more power, even though it means more precipitation, Trenberth said.


One clear effect of climate change on the impacts of nor’easters comes not from the snows they’re associated with, but from the coastal flooding they can cause — an often underappreciated threat. Like hurricanes, the ferocious winds of nor’easters can whip up a significant storm surge that can then flood coastal areas. Such floods are even more likely due to the 1 foot of sea level rise off the Northeast since 1900, due in part to the expansion of warming ocean waters, as well as ice melt.

So while the future of snow in the Northeast is still uncertain, the future of storm surge flooding is much clearer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Black women working night shifts have an increased risk of developing diabetes

Public Release: 11-Jan-2015

Data from a large ongoing study into the health of African-American women show that those who work night shifts are significantly more likely to develop diabetes than those who have never worked night shifts, with more years working the night shift resulting in a higher risk. Furthermore, the increased risk of diabetes seen in shift workers was more pronounced in younger women than older women.


Relative to never having worked the night shift, the increased risk of developing diabetes was 17% for 1-2 years night shift work; 23% for 3-9 years, and 42% for 10 or more years. After adjustment for BMI and lifestyle factors such as diet and smoking status, the association between increasing years of night shift work and increasing diabetes risk remained statistically significant, with a 23% increase in those who had worked night shifts for 10 years or more versus those who never had worked the night shift.

When black women having ever worked the night shift (any duration) were compared to those who had never worked it, they were found to be at a 22% increased risk of developing diabetes. After adjustment for BMI and lifestyle factors, this increased risk became 12%.

The authors also found that the association was stronger in younger women than in older women. Working night shifts for 10 or more years relative to never working the night shift was associated with a 39% higher risk of diabetes among women aged less than 50 years compared with 17% higher risk in women aged 50 years or over.


Shift work is associated with disrupted circadian rhythms and reduced total duration of sleep. Similar to the effects of jet lag, which are short term, shift workers experience fatigue, sleepiness during scheduled awake periods and poor sleep during scheduled sleep periods. These alterations in the normal sleep-wake cycle have profound effects on metabolism... Even after many years of night-shift work, circadian rhythms do not fully adjust to the shifted sleep-wake cycle. The metabolic effects of long-term shift work likely underlie a part of the association with diabetes that we and others describe and that strengthens with years of exposure to sleep disruption."


In view of the high prevalence of shift work among workers in the USA - 35% among non-Hispanic blacks and 28% in non-Hispanic whites - an increased diabetes risk among this group has important public health implications. There is a need for continued research into facilitating circadian adaptation to shift work and consideration of avoiding shift work in favour of other work arrangements when possible."

Small volcanic eruptions partly explain 'warming hiatus'

Deep ocean water has continued to get warmer during this time. The "hiatus" refers to surface air temperatures.

Public Release: 9-Jan-2015
DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

The "warming hiatus" that has occurred over the last 15 years has been partly caused by small volcanic eruptions.

Scientists have long known that volcanoes cool the atmosphere because of the sulfur dioxide that is expelled during eruptions. Droplets of sulfuric acid that form when the gas combines with oxygen in the upper atmosphere can persist for many months, reflecting sunlight away from Earth and lowering temperatures at the surface and in the lower atmosphere.

Previous research suggested that early 21st century eruptions might explain up to a third of the recent "warming hiatus."

New research available online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) further identifies observational climate signals caused by recent volcanic activity. This new research complements an earlier GRL paper published in November, which relied on a combination of ground, air and satellite measurements, indicated that a series of small 21st century volcanic eruptions deflected substantially more solar radiation than previously estimated.


The warmest year on record is 1998. After that, the steep climb in global surface temperatures observed over the 20th century appeared to level off. This "hiatus" received considerable attention, despite the fact that the full observational surface temperature record shows many instances of slowing and acceleration in warming rates. Scientists had previously suggested that factors such as weak solar activity and increased heat uptake by the oceans could be responsible for the recent lull in temperature increases. After publication of a 2011 paper in the journal Science by Susan Solomon of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it was recognized that an uptick in volcanic activity might also be implicated in the "warming hiatus."


They used these improved estimates of total volcanic aerosols in a simple climate model, and estimated that volcanoes may have caused cooling of 0.05 degrees to 0.12 degrees Celsius since 2000.


"The fact that these volcanic signatures are apparent in multiple independently measured climate variables really supports the idea that they are influencing climate in spite of their moderate size," said Mark Zelinka, another Livermore author. "If we wish to accurately simulate recent climate change in models, we cannot neglect the ability of these smaller eruptions to reflect sunlight away from Earth."

Infamous study of humanity's 'dark side' may actually show how to keep it at bay

This reminds me of when I was in high school in Alabama in the early 1960's, when the schools were segregated by race. I had to write an essay for an English class, and wrote about ways in which Caucasians are more similar to monkeys than African-Americans are. Eg., having light-colored skin. I got an A. I felt this teacher did not like the racism of her society, but was afraid to actively go against it.

Public Release: 9-Jan-2015
University of Wisconsin-Madison

In 1961, with memories of Holocaust atrocities and the prosecution of Nazi officials at Nuremburg still fresh, psychologist Stanley Milgram undertook a series of now infamous experiments on obedience and reprehensible behavior.

About two-thirds of Milgram's nearly 800 study subjects, pressed by an authoritative experimenter, were willing to administer increasingly powerful electric shocks to an unseen stranger despite cries of agony and pleas to stop.

"Milgram claimed to have found sort of a dark side to human nature that people were not quite as attuned to," says Matthew Hollander, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "His study participants were much more likely to obey than he expected, and that was an understandably uncomfortable result."

But Milgram divided his subjects into just two categories: obedient or disobedient. After examining the experiences of more than 100 of Milgram's participants, Hollander sees a great deal more nuance in their performances -- and maybe a way to prevent real-world occurrences of authority overriding ethical judgment.


Hollander's unprecedentedly deep conversational analysis of audio recordings of the experiments yielded six practices employed against the repeated insistence of Milgram's authority figure.

Some are less insistent. Hollander found study subjects resorting to silence and hesitation, groaning and sighing to display the effort it took to comply, and (typically uncomfortable) laughter.

They also found more explicit ways to express their discomfort and disagreement. Subjects stalled by talking to the recipient of the shocks and by addressing their concerns to the experimenter. Most assertively, they resorted to what Hollander calls the "stop try."


Most often, stop tries involved some variation on, "I can't do this anymore," or "I won't do this anymore," and were employed by 98 percent of the disobedient Milgram subjects studied by Hollander. That's compared to fewer than 20 percent of the obedient subjects.

Interestingly, all six of the resistive actions were put to use by obedient and disobedient participants.

"There are differences between those two groups in how and how often they use those six practices," says Hollander, whose work is supported by the National Science Foundation. "It appears that the disobedient participants resist earlier, and resist in a more diverse way. They make use of more of the six practices than the obedient participants."

Therein lies a possible application of Hollander's new take on Milgram's results.

"What this shows is that even those who were ultimately compliant or obedient had practices for resisting the invocation of the experimenter's authority," says Douglas Maynard, a UW-Madison sociology professor who leads the Garfinkel Laboratory for Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis. "It wasn't like they automatically caved in. They really worked to counter what was coming at them. It wasn't a blind kind of obedience."

If people could be trained to tap practices for resistance like those outlined in Hollander's analysis, they may be better equipped to stand up to an illegal, unethical or inappropriate order from a superior. And not just in extreme situations, according to Maynard.

"It doesn't have to be the Nazis or torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or in the CIA interrogations described in the recent U.S. Senate report," he says. "Think of the pilot and copilot in a plane experiencing an emergency or a school principal telling a teacher to discipline a student, and the difference it could make if the subordinate could be respectfully, effectively resistive and even disobedient when ethically necessary or for purposes of social justice."

Screening HPV infection alone more accurate than Pap test in detection of cervical cancer

Public Release: 8-Jan-2015

Screening for human papillomavirus (HPV) infection alone gives more accurate results than Pap (smear) testing for cervical cancer, say the authors of two papers to published today in the journal Gynecologic Oncology. HPV infection causes almost all cervical cancer, and it is estimated that more than half of sexually active people are infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Now new research has shown that in many cases, an HPV test alone can be used for cervical cancer screening instead of a Pap or cotesting with both an HPV and a Pap test, the researchers say.


Infection with just two HPV genotypes, 16 and 18, is responsible for about 70% of all invasive cervical cancers worldwide. The panel recommends that patients testing positive for either of these two high risk genotypes should have immediate colposcopy - a procedure using a lighted magnifying device that allows doctors to see abnormal areas in the cervix that would be missed by the naked eye. Women with one of the 12 other HPV genotypes can be followed-up in 12 months with repeat testing with both the HPV test and a Pap.


How quality of sleep impacts academic performance in children

Public Release: 8-Jan-2015
Douglas Mental Health University Institute

Making sure school-aged kids get to sleep at a regular hour is often a struggle for parents. But a study by researchers at McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal suggests it's well worth the effort: the researchers found that a good night's sleep is linked to better performance in math and languages - subjects that are powerful predictors of later learning and academic success.

In findings published recently in the journal Sleep Medicine, the researchers reported that "sleep efficiency" is associated with higher academic performance in those key subjects. Sleep efficiency is a gauge of sleep quality that compares the amount of actual sleep time with the total time spent in bed.


Alcohol warnings from parents matter

Public Release: 8-Jan-2015
University at Buffalo

Parenting practices and restrictions when it comes to alcohol use can make a difference with adolescent drinking, and there is considerable value to consistent and sustained parental attitudes about drinking, according to new research by a University at Buffalo psychologist.

This study, however, shows that those same parents who communicate the risks of alcohol use with their young children are often less likely to continue those discussions as their kids get older, a result suggesting that parents shouldn't underestimate the impact of maintaining that messaging as their children move through adolescence, according to Craig Colder.


Eliminating ACA subsidies would cause nearly 10 million to lose insurance, study finds

Public Release: 8-Jan-2015
RAND Corporation

Eliminating government subsidies for low- and moderate-income people who purchase coverage through federally run health insurance marketplaces would sharply boost costs and reduce enrollment in the individual market by more than 9.6 million, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Modeling the likely effects of ending subsidies in 34 states where the federal government operates insurance marketplaces for individuals, researchers found that such a move would cause individual market enrollment to drop by 70 percent among people buying policies that comply with the federal Affordable Care Act.

In addition, unsubsidized individual market premiums would rise by 47 percent in those states. The hike would correspond to a $1,610 annual increase for a 40-year-old nonsmoker who purchased a silver-level plan.


If the subsidies are struck down, enrollment in the ACA-compliant individual market in the 34 states would drop from 13.7 million people to 4.1 million, according to the analysis. In addition, premium costs for a 40-year-old nonsmoker purchasing a silver plan would be expected to rise from $3,450 annually to $5,060.

Researchers found the effects of ending federal subsidies would be larger in states with federally run marketplaces than in states that run their own marketplaces.

Among the reasons for that difference is that states with federally run marketplaces generally have higher proportions of low-income individuals, who tend to be more sensitive to insurance prices and thus are more likely to drop insurance without subsidies. Those states also had higher uninsurance rates prior to adoption of the Affordable Care Act.

In addition, most of these same states did not expand Medicaid to cover more people as allowed under the Affordable Care Act. This means that there generally are more low-income people buying policies in those states' insurance marketplaces.

Ritual circumcision linked to increased risk of autism in young boys

Public Release: 8-Jan-2015young boys
SAGE Publications

Research published today by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests that circumcised boys are more likely than intact boys to develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) before the age of 10. Risk is particularly high for infantile autism before the age of five.


The study showed that regardless of cultural background circumcised boys may run a greater risk of developing ASD. The researchers also made an unexpected observation of an increased risk of hyperactivity disorder among circumcised boys in non-Muslim families.

Professor Morten Frisch of the Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, who led the research, said: "Our investigation was prompted by the combination of recent animal findings linking a single painful injury to lifelong deficits in stress response and a study showing a strong, positive correlation between a country's neonatal male circumcision rate and its prevalence of ASD in boys."

Today it is considered unacceptable practice to circumcise boys without proper pain relief but none of the most common interventions used to reduce circumcision pain completely eliminates it and some boys will endure strongly painful circumcisions. The researchers say that the pain associated with circumcision in very young babies is likely to be more severe during the operation and post-operatively.

Painful experiences in neonates have been shown in animal and human studies to be associated with long-term alterations in pain perception, a characteristic often encountered among children with ASD.


ACA changing

Because the ACA is new, requirements were looser last year than they will be this year. Be aware that what you could get by with last year might not apply this year.

5 Studies That Show How Wealth Warps Your Soul

If you look at the whole history of some people, you see that some do become rich because of being unethical. I don't believe this is an either/or situation.

by Zaid Jilani
January 2, 2015


That's the thesis of a Michael Lewis essay on how being rich can make you both more “selfish and dishonest.” Opening with an instructive lesson drawn from youthful days at a summer tennis camp, Lewis cites a broad array of studies showing the deleterious impact of excess wealth. But he does not think the problem is inborn, or that genetically nasty people are more apt to make big bucks. No, he writes: "The problem is caused by the inequality itself: It triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few. It tilts their brains. It causes them to be less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen."

It's not just his impression. Here are five studies he cites that illustrate and quantify the moral and psychological deficits of the wealthy.

1. Too Much Money Can Make You Greedy: Researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute interviewed 30,000 people and found that richer Americans are more likely to shoplift than the poor. Another study at UC Berkeley found that the “richer the person was,” the more likely they'd pilfer candy from a jar labeled only for children.

2. Too Much Money Can Make You A Cheater: UC Berkeley's Paul Piff had participants of different income levels play a game that offered a $50 cash prize. He found that people with incomes of $150,000 a year cheated four times more than those who made $15,000 a year. This is striking because $50 makes a much bigger difference in your life if you make $15,000 a year than $150,000 year. It could mean the difference between paying a bill or not, having lunch or going without, or buying a friend a beer.

3. Too Much Money Can Make You More Stingy: Nonprofit researchers looked at charitable giving and found that people with incomes below $25,000 give away around 4.2% of their income while those of at least $150,000 in income give away around 2.7 %.

4. Too Much Money Can Make You Less Empathetic: UCLA's Keely Muscatell found that people with great income “exhibit less activity in the regions of the brain associated empathy when shown pictures of kids with cancer.” Researcher Dacher Keltner found in twelve different studies that “lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it.”

5. Too Much Money Can Make You More Difficult To Satisfy: Harvard's Michael Norton asked people how happy they were, and found that rich people consistently “said they needed two to three times more than they had to feel happier.”

There is no doubt that for those who are indigent, money is a life-line – literally – to a healthier an more productive life. But evidence abounds that being super-rich will not make you happier, and could very well make you a worse person. So, maybe we should put the 1% out of their (and our) misery.

Common Pesticide May Pose Risk to Workers Who Apply It

January 8, 2015 |By Brian Bienkowski and Environmental Health News

An insecticide used on corn and other U.S. crops poses health risks to workers who mix and apply it and also can contaminate drinking water, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report released this week.

The report is an update, based on new research, to a 2011 assessment of the health impacts of the pesticide chlorpyrifos (pronounced KLOR – pie -ra – phos), which remains one of the most commonly applied organophosphate pesticides. It has been banned for more than a decade for household use but is still used commercially on corn, soybeans, fruit and nut trees and some golf courses.


The agency did not find any additional risks from airborne or food exposure. It cited the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture data that found “no concerns for chlorpyrifos in food, with the pesticide detected in less than 1 [percent] of samples.”

However, researchers believe inhalation is likely a major exposure route for people living near heavily treated fields, said Janie Shelton, an epidemiologist who led a study linking chlorpyrifos to autism in babies born to moms near treated fields in farm-heavy Northern California last year.

This bystander exposure is likely a “sub-clinical exposure” - where the mom would not experience any effects herself, but the constant chronic exposure in drift or house dust could impact an unborn child, Shelton said.

Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxin that prevents the synapses of the nerves from stopping activity, causing over-stimulation, Shelton said. It has been linked to birth defects, low birth weights and impaired brain development problems, and endocrine disruption.

Fetuses are at much higher risk from the pesticide, she said.

“Adults have an enzyme that can metabolize organophosphates like chlorpyrifos,” Shelton said. “That is something that only comes online after birth. So babies in the womb don’t have the metabolizing enzyme.

“If they’re exposed to a neurotoxin it would take much lower levels to see observable effects.” The EPA did not return requests to comment on the new report.

Despite household bans, some evidence suggests people are still exposed to the chemicals. A study of Northern California families and floor wipe samples last year found that 99 percent of floor wipes and 65 percent of study participants had some chlorpyrifos in them.


House GOP says edited YouTube post of Obama SOTU speech ‘inadvertent’

By William Douglas
McClatchy Washington Bureau
January 21, 2015

House Republicans say they’re trying to determine how a doctored version of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address made it onto YouTube after a liberal website pointed out the edited video.

‘Think Progress’ noted that the House Republicans’ official website put a version of Obama’s speech onto YouTube that didn’t include some of his Republican-critical remarks about climate change.


Missing in the YouTube video was a section of the speech where Obama blasted Republicans for claiming they are ‘not scientists’ when comes to climate change matters.

‘I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act,’ Obama is supposed to say at 43:25 minutes into the video. ‘Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.’

But the video instead skips to Obama saying ‘The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.’


Monday, January 19, 2015

Richest 1% will soon own 50% of all wealth, Oxfam warns

Jan. 19, 2015

The richest one per cent of people globally are poised to own more than half of all wealth by next year, international inequality watchdog Oxfam warns in a report released today.


The group's research shows the share of wealth owned by the richest one per cent has increased from 44 per cent six years ago in 2009 to 48 per cent last year. And the uneven distribution doesn't just spike at the very end — the top 20 per cent are still doing well for themselves.


The poorest 80 per cent own just 5.5 per cent of the world's wealth. That means four-fifths of everyone in the world have an average of $3,851 US to their name.


Oxfam made headlines this time last year with a similar report, which found that the world's 85 richest people had as much wealth as the poorest 50 per cent — more than 3.5 billion people. This year, that group was even more rarified — as few as 80 people now own more than the poorest half of all humans on earth do combined.


The group's paper outlines a few policies that the global community could work towards to make a real dent in inequality. They include

Clamping down on tax dodgers by closing tax-evading loopholes that are only available to multinational corporations and extremely rich individuals
Share the global tax burden more fairly by shifting the onus of taxation away from consumption and income and on to capital and wealth.
Introduce minimum wage standards and work towards a living wage for all workers.

The report cites a few sectors in particular for being major roadblocks to inequality, by using their pre-existing power and influence to sway legislation in their favour.

The health-care and financial services industries spent almost $900 million to lobby the U.S. government for favourable legislation in 2013, and more than $200 million was spent on lobbying in the EU, Oxfam said.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Over 80 percent of Americans support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA”

Several years ago, when the media was paying attention to the poor showing of Americans in science knowledge compared to other developed countries, some people were asking why it mattered. It does matter for several reasons. It is easy to be make mistakes in regards to what is in your best interest, and to be snookered by others for their benefit against your own interests.

By Ilya Somin January 17, 2015

A recent survey by economist Jayson Lusk at the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics finds that over 80 percent of Americans support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA,” about the same number as support mandatory labeling of GMO foods “produced with genetic engineering.”


Polls repeatedly show that much of the public is often ignorant of both basic scientific facts, and basic facts about government and public policy. Just before the 2014 elections, which determined control of Congress, only 38 percent realized that the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives before the election, and the same number knew that the Democrats control the Senate. The public’s scientific knowledge isn’t much better. A 2012 National Science Foundation survey even found that about 25% of Americans don’t know that the Earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa.


It would be a mistake to assume that widespread political and scientific ignorance are the result of “the stupidity of the American voter,” •••


For many people, there is little benefit to understanding much about genetics or DNA. Most Americans can even go about their daily business perfectly well without knowing that the Earth revolves around the sun. Even the smartest people are inevitably ignorant of the vast majority of information out there. We all have to focus our time and energy on learning that information which is most likely to be instrumentally useful, or at least provide entertainment value. For large numbers of people, much basic political and scientific information doesn’t make the cut.

Unfortunately, this is a case where individually rational behavior leads to potentially dangerous collective outcomes. While it doesn’t much matter whether any individual voter is ignorant about science or public policy, when a majority (or even a large minority) of the electorate is ignorant in these ways, it can lead to the adoption of dangerous and counterproductive government policies.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Heed ACA Marketplace mailings

If you receive any info from the ACA Marketplace (, such as a record of payments or subsidies, or decisions on exemptions, etc., keep it with your other tax materials. You will need it to file your taxes.


I am not posting much because I am working on getting my certification renewed to do Tax-Aide for this year. The biggest change is the Affordable Care Act, no surprise.

AARP works with the IRS to provide free tax filing for senior and low to moderate income people. Not all situations are in scope for them.

Be advised that some deductions are no longer available because Congress allowed them to expire. And at least one that was extended at the last moment is not in scope for Tax-Aide this year because they didn't get the info in time to incorporate it into the training.

On the other hand, some things that used to be out of scope are now in scope for Tax-Aide. I will be providing updates.

I noticed that we are no longer giving people info on how to contact the IRS. Obviously because Congressional Republicans have cut back funding to the IRS, which sounds great to many voters. This means fewer people to help taxpayers, at the same time as they have many question because of the ACA. And I would suspect it means fewer people to process returns, so maybe people won't get their refunds as quickly? The people who work at the IRS are fellow humans, and can only do so much, just like all of us. You don't have to be receiving benefits labeled welfare to have a welfare mentality. To expect government services w/o adequate funding is a welfare mentality.

Friday, January 16, 2015

2014 Global Temperature Recap

January 15, 2015


In 2014, the combined land and ocean surface temperature was 1.24°F (0.69°C) above the 20th century average, making the year the warmest since records began in 1880. The ocean alone was record warm, while the land alone was fourth warmest. Five months set new records for warmth: May, June, August, September, and December. October tied for record warmest.

The 20 warmest years in the historical record have all occurred in the past 20 years. Except for 1998, the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2002.


FAQ: Why do you use the 20th-century average for baseline for the statistics and rankings, but use 1981-2010 for the maps?

The short answer is because of global warming.

The Earth’s average surface temperature has risen significantly enough over the 20th century that if we made a map that compared any recent monthly average to the 20th-century average for that month, virtually the entire globe would have positive anomalies; most of the map would appear in shades of red.

Such a map would be less meaningful for helping people understand how a the current month or year compared to their recent (or even lifetime) experience of climate, which is often more interesting and relevant to people than how the current period compares to the 20th-century average.



• During 2014, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.24°F (0.69°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all 135 years in the 1880–2014 record, surpassing the previous records of 2005 and 2010 by 0.07°F (0.04°C).

• Record warmth was spread around the world, including Far East Russia into western Alaska, the western United States, parts of interior South America, most of Europe stretching into northern Africa, parts of eastern and western coastal Australia, much of the northeastern Pacific around the Gulf of Alaska, the central to western equatorial Pacific, large swaths of northwestern and southeastern Atlantic, most of the Norwegian Sea, and parts of the central to southern Indian Ocean.


Global Warming Linked To More Extreme Weather And Weaker Jet Stream

by Joe Romm Posted on January 15, 2015

We have seen a quantum jump in extreme weather events in the Northern Hemisphere in the last several years. Droughts, deluges, and heat waves are increasingly getting “stuck” or “blocked,” which in turn worsens and prolongs their impact beyond what might be expected just from the recent human-caused increase in global temperatures.

A growing body of research ties that unexpected jump to a weakening of the jet stream — in particular to “more frequent high-amplitude (wavy) jet-stream configurations that favor persistent weather patterns,” as a new study puts it.

Much of this new research ties the weakening jet stream to “Arctic amplification (AA) — defined here as the enhanced sensitivity of Arctic temperature change relative to mid-latitude regions,” in the words of the new study, “Evidence for a wavier jet stream in response to rapid Arctic warming” by Jennifer Francis and Stephen Vavrus. But that is no by no means a universally accepted explanation. I’ll review some of the evidence in this post.

Reinsurer Munich Re has the most comprehensive database of global natural catastrophes Their 2010 analysis, “Large number of weather extremes as strong indication of climate change,” concluded “it would seem that the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change. The view that weather extremes are more frequent and intense due to global warming coincides with the current state of scientific knowledge.” For instance, a 2010 Journal of Climate study that found “global warming is the main cause of a significant intensification in the North Atlantic Subtropical High (NASH) that in recent decades has more than doubled the frequency of abnormally wet or dry summer weather in the southeastern United States.”

In 2011, Dr. Peter Höppe, Head of the Geo Risks Research Department at Munich Re explained what had persuaded him of the causal link:

For me the most convincing piece of evidence that global warming has been contributing already to more and more intense weather related natural catastrophes is the fact that while we find a steep increase in the number of loss relevant weather events (about tripling in the last 30 years) we only find a slight increase in geophysical (earthquake, volcano, tsunami) events, which should not be affected by global warming. If the whole trend we find in weather related disaster should be caused by reporting bias, or socio-demographic or economic developments we would expect to find it similarly for the geophysical events.

And that was before two years of off-the-charts extreme weather catastrophes, particularly in North America (in 2011, the head of NOAA said the record dozen billion-dollar weather disasters was “a harbinger of things to come.”


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Discovery Of 'Electric Bacteria' Hints At The Potential For Alien Life

George Dvorsky
July/17/14 8:40am

Microbiologists have learned that certain strains of bacteria are capable of using energy in its purest form by eating and breathing electrons. It's a discovery that demonstrates an entirely new mode of life on Earth — and possibly beyond.

Called "electric bacteria," these microbes harvest electrons from rocks and metals. These microbes produce hair-like filaments that act as wires, ferrying electrons back and forth between the cells and their environment.

Scientists have already shown that two types of bacteria, Shewanella and Geobacter, are capable of doing this, but they're learning that many more strains exist, including those that can be enticed out of rocks and marine mud using electricity. New Scientist explains:

That should not come as a complete surprise, says Kenneth Nealson at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. We know that life, when you boil it right down, is a flow of electrons: "You eat sugars that have excess electrons, and you breathe in oxygen that willingly takes them." Our cells break down the sugars, and the electrons flow through them in a complex set of chemical reactions until they are passed on to electron-hungry oxygen.


Nealson's team is now growing its very own electric bacteria, keeping them alive with electricity and literally nothing else. His colleague, Annette Rowe, has identified up to eight different kinds of bacteria that eat electricity


[They might be able to keep them alive with just electricity, but their bodies, including filaments, are made of matter, which has to come from somewhere. They must need more than electricity to multiply.]

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Seven Lessons about Child Poverty

The article is good, but seems unaware of the effects of inadequate nutrition before birth and in early childhood on a person's health, including the brain.

The official child poverty rate in the United States stands at 20 percent, the second-highest among its developed counterparts, for a total of almost 15 million children. Since the 2008 recession, 1.7 million more kids have fallen into poverty, according to UNICEF’s relative measure of poverty.

Compared to other age groups, a much higher share of Americans aged 0 to 18 are impoverished.


Why are we allowing so many Americans to start their lives in poverty, knowing that it likely will do them significant long-term damage, as well as limit our growth as a nation? It is a blow to our nation’s dedication to equal opportunity.

That question is especially perplexing because relatively simple, proven approaches would address some of the worst impacts of child poverty. What follows are seven lessons drawn from The Century Foundation’s Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative conference last June, Inequality Begins at Birth, that would help us tackle gaps in our public policy, as part of the Initiative’s equal opportunity agenda. The lessons are as follows:

1. The Stress of Childhood Poverty Is Costly for the Brain and Bank Accounts

2. Child Poverty Is Not Distributed Equally

3. The Power of Parental Education

4. Higher Minimum Wage Is a Minimum Requirement

5. Workplaces Need to Recognize Parenthood

6. Government Works

7. Cash Allowances Are Effective


your environment can actually alter the expression of your genes, creating interactions between the two, rather than separating them.

This finding has important implications for child poverty policy.

If environmental shortcomings can actually affect the expression of a child’s genes, then childhood poverty may well affect a child’s neurological development, creating deficiencies that persist throughout the child’s lifetime. Although we have known about correlations between child poverty and negative outcomes, such as poor health, we now understand the biological reasons behind this phenomenon.

The main conclusion? Growing up in poverty can directly damage development of a child’s brain.

These kinds of findings are the cornerstone of epigenetics, the field of study that examines how genes are turned on or off during our lifetime due to environmental factors.


For example, a study done by Marcus Pembrey examined forty men, half of whom were born into rich households, and the other half into poor ones, looking for differences. At 45 years of age, the men’s epigenetic patterns varied according to the wealth and income levels of their childhood homes, not their adult ones.

This study, while small, nevertheless suggests that income-correlated epigenetic changes that occur during childhood development stick around for life.

[Maybe even for generations.]


Growing up in poverty exacerbates negative environmental factors for children. Scientists label the immediate, physiological result “toxic stress.”

Humans have specific hormones that are released when our bodies sense danger. These “stress” hormones are released in emergency situations, such as if we were to be attacked by a predator. Scientists have recently discovered that, with repeated exposure to stressful situations, our bodies release high levels of these toxic stress hormones—overtaxing our bodies in ways that actually rewire our brains.

For children living in poverty, toxic stress is a common occurrence.


But childhood need not be so obviously traumatic to create adverse effects. Studies have found that even repeated but relatively low-levels of stress inducers—such as hearing gunshots at a distance, or the lack of quality time with parents—can induce toxic stress. On the most basic level, time spent with children is a luxury low-income parents often cannot afford.

The end result of childhood toxic stress is lasting. Over-production of stress hormones can switch off genes necessary for healthy neuronal connections and strong development later in life.

About 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of five. In the first few years, as many as 700 neurons form a connection per second. When toxic stress interferes with these connections, it affects a child's neurological development, leading to lifelong problems.

Children who experience seven to eight ACEs, such as abuse, physical neglect, or household dysfunction, are three times more likely to have cardiovascular disease as an adult.

Neurons that have been exposed to toxic stress are underdeveloped, with weaker and fewer connections.


Twenty percent of children under age 18 are poor, compared to 23 percent of children under age 5.


The numbers are even worse for African American and Hispanic children. Forty-two percent of African American children under age 5 are poor, meaning that the odds of an African American child being born poor are just about the same as the same child’s odds of graduating college. Thirty-six percent of Hispanic children under age 5 are poor.

If we dig deeper, we see that not only are a large number of children under age 5 poor, half of them are extremely poor—that is, living in households whose annual income is under half of the poverty line, currently $11,641 for a family of four (an already outdated measure).


In the late 1960s, the Perry Preschool Study enrolled children born into poverty and at high risk of failure into a high-quality preschool.

The researchers found that the children in the study had higher earnings, were better educated, and less likely to be incarcerated than the control group—and that those improvements were still visible over forty years later.


“I’ve never met a parent who didn’t want to give their child a head start, they just don’t know how,” stated Yolanda Minor, a home visiting specialist from Early Steps to School Success (ESSS), at the Inequality Begins at Birth conference.

One family that Minor worked with consisted of a single mother and her child living with her grandparents. When Minor came into the household, the 1-year-old, Michael, was not speaking at all. She brought books into their household and encouraged the mother to read to her son, but the grandparents ridiculed their efforts, stating, “he doesn’t understand what you’re saying . . . you are all wasting your time.”

After a few more visits, as they saw Michael speaking and improving, the grandparents also started reading to him. When he reached age 5, Michael’s vocabulary tested the age-equivalent of an 8-year-old.

If brain development (and inequality, for that matter) begins at birth, then so, too, should education—for both children and their parents.


By the time a child is just 18 months old, disparities arise between the vocabularies of poor and wealthy children. Unfortunately, low-income households are often correlated with poor parental education and a lack of resources to change this.


By some estimates, the rate of return for early childhood programs is approximately $4–$10 for every $1 invested.


America has a virtual army of full-time working parents, many of whom remain below the poverty line. Many of those parents hold minimum-wage jobs. (The idea that most minimum-wage workers are teenagers is a myth. The truth is that the average minimum-wage worker is 35 years old, female, and works full-time. Furthermore, 28 percent of minimum-wage workers are parents.)

A minimum-wage employee working full-time earns an annual income of $15,080. But the federal poverty threshold for a three-person family (one adult and two children) is $18,776.

[Be real, how is $19,000/year with two kids not poverty level?]

But even looking at the poverty line understates the real depth of the problem. America’s official poverty line is low. To take one estimate, a more realistic number for an actual average basic budget for a family of three is somewhere around $40,273, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) Family Budget Calculator.

That revised income is almost three times the amount a full-time worker makes from minimum wage. So, even a two-parent family with just one child would struggle if both parents worked full time at the minimum wage.


Another common misconception is that raising the minimum wage would cause workers to lose their jobs.

The economic consensus shows that this is not the case. Even during rough economic times, raising the minimum wage has no adverse effect on employment. An examination of sixty-four different minimum-wage studies challenges this idea.


The day before her miscarriage, her physician instructed her to work light duty—no lifting of heavy boxes.

But lifting heavy boxes was her regular job requirement as an associate at Walmart, the world’s largest private employer.

Holmes’s manager refused to comply with her physician’s orders—even though the directive was one that was regularly granted to employees with disabilities. A single mother with a child on the way, Holmes couldn’t afford to lose her job. So she lifted boxes as required.

The next day, she miscarried. And her employer refused to provide her with leave to recover.


Out of 178 countries, the United States is one of just three that does not offer paid maternity leave. (The other two are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.)

U.S. employers fail to pick up the slack, with only 11 percent of private and 17 percent of public sector workers receiving paid family leave. While employers are required to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, this is often an unfeasible option for parents living paycheck to paycheck.


In the United States, 11 million children under the age of 5 are in some type of child care, each one clocking an average of about thirty-six hours per week. We now know that this is the most crucial time of a child’s life, yet high-quality child care is far out of the reach of many parents, forcing them to economize on their children’s future.

When you realize that the average annual income for a full-time child care professional is just under $21,500, it’s not hard to see why high-quality child care is hard to come by. While that salary is about $100 more than we pay parking lot attendants, it is still less than we pay housekeepers. When child care is not valued, we get what we pay for—and it’s our kids who suffer. As we’ve seen, most of brain development happens while our children are still of typical child care age.


But despite the undervalued nature of child care, for parents, it is still a costly undertaking. Annual out-of-pocket child care costs for parents are, on average, more than yearly costs to enroll their children in public universities. This is partly because spending on the Child Care Development and Block Grant (CCDBG), the primary source for public assistance of child care, has remained stagnant since 2002, serving only one out of every six eligible children, leaving most parents to fend for themselves.


At the moment, government’s most effective tool for addressing child poverty has been refundable tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), which lift almost 5 million children out of poverty.

Unfortunately, as Robert Greenstein noted at the Inequality Begins at Birth conference, recent expansions of these credits are scheduled to expire in 2017.


The average credit a family with children receives from EITC is around $3,000. To some, it might not seem like much, but it’s easy to overlook the importance of an extra $3,000 per year for a family living in poverty. Debts can be paid off, parents can make car payments so that they can drive to work, or afford child care and healthier food.


Evidence debunks the myth that cash for the poor would go to drugs and alcohol. In fact, according to a British study, high-income parents were actually more likely than low-income parents to spend extra income from an increase in child benefit amounts on alcohol and tobacco. To put the point another way, low-income families prioritized spending on their children to a greater extent than did high-income families.


among thirty-five economically advanced countries evaluated by a 2012 report by UNICEF, the United States was the only country that did not have some sort of child benefit plan. Given that the United States also has the second highest child poverty rate in the same cohort (topped only by Romania), we’d do well to listen and learn.