Thursday, April 30, 2015

Expansion of relief for inaccurate 1095 Marketplace documents


Today, the Department of the Treasury is expanding the relief it announced previously on February 24, which will mitigate any harm to tax filers. If you enrolled in Marketplace coverage, received an incorrect Form 1095-A, and filed your return based on that form, you do not need to file an amended tax return. The IRS will not pursue the collection of any additional taxes from you based on updated information in the corrected forms. This relief applies to tax filers who enrolled through the Federally-facilitated marketplace or a state-based marketplace.

As before, you still may choose to file an amended return. Treasury intends to provide additional information to help tax filers determine whether they would benefit from filing amended returns. You also may want to consult with you tax preparers to determine if you would benefit from amending. For more information on the Treasury announcement, see Treasury’s statement and consumer FAQs.

While Treasury expects that in the vast majority of cases the impact on a consumer’s tax refund or bill, if any, will be very small, we know that we have a responsibility to identify these issues quickly, understand the impact and reach out to you with the information you need. Issues that negatively impact your experience are not acceptable and we are focused on providing a smoother consumer experience. If you have not received your original or corrected form or have any questions about the information on your form, reach out to the Marketplace call center or your state Marketplace.


Obamacare Tax Extension - between March 15 and April 30

There's another Obamacare break — the administration is offering a special enrollment period for Americans who didn't realize they would have to pay a tax if they don't have health insurance.

"This special enrollment period will allow those individuals and families who were unaware or didn't understand the implications of this new requirement to enroll in 2015 health insurance coverage through the federally facilitated marketplace," the Health and Human Services Department said in a statement. People will be able to sign up for private health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges between March 15 and April 30.

"If consumers do not purchase coverage for 2015 during this special enrollment period, they may have to pay a fee when they file their 2015 income taxes," HHS said.

Also Friday, government officials acknowledged they goofed when they sent tax forms to about 800,000 Americans who got federal subsidies last year through Obamacare. Those people will receive corrected forms to use in filing their 2014 taxes.


Walking an extra two minutes each hour may offset hazards of sitting too long

Public Release: 30-Apr-2015
University of Utah Health Sciences

A new study suggests that engaging in low intensity activities such as standing may not be enough to offset the health hazards of sitting for long periods of time. On the bright side, adding two minutes of walking each hour to your routine just might do the trick. These findings were published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN).

Numerous studies have shown that sitting for extended periods of time each day leads to increased risk for early death, as well as heart disease, diabetes and other health conditions. Considering that 80 percent of Americans fall short of completing the recommended amount of exercise, 2.5 hours of moderate activity each week, it seems unrealistic to expect that people will replace sitting with even more exercise.

With this in mind, scientists at the University of Utah School of Medicine investigated the health benefits of a more achievable goal, trading sitting for lighter activities for short periods of time. They used observational data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to examine whether longer durations of low intensity activities (e.g. standing), and light intensity activities (e.g. casual walking, light gardening, cleaning) extends the life span of people who are sedentary for more than half of their waking hours.

They found that there is no benefit to decreasing sitting by two minutes each hour, and adding a corresponding two minutes more of low intensity activities. However, a "trade-off" of sitting for light intensity activities for two minutes each hour was associated with a 33 percent lower risk of dying.

"It was fascinating to see the results because the current national focus is on moderate or vigorous activity. To see that light activity had an association with lower mortality is intriguing," says lead author Srinivasan Beddhu, M.D., professor of medicine.


Pancreatic cancer risk linked to weak sunlight

Public Release: 30-Apr-2015
University of California - San Diego

Writing in the April 30 online issue of the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine report pancreatic cancer rates are highest in countries with the least amount of sunlight. Low sunlight levels were due to a combination of heavy cloud cover and high latitude.

"If you're living at a high latitude or in a place with a lot of heavy cloud cover, you can't make vitamin D most of the year, which results in a higher-than-normal risk of getting pancreatic cancer," said first author Cedric F. Garland, DrPH, adjunct professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health and member of UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center.

"People who live in sunny countries near the equator have only one-sixth of the age-adjusted incidence rate of pancreatic cancer as those who live far from it. The importance of sunlight deficiency strongly suggests - but does not prove - that vitamin D deficiency may contribute to risk of pancreatic cancer."

Limited foods naturally contain vitamin D. Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, are good sources; beef liver, cheese and egg yolks provide small amounts. Vitamin D is often added as a fortifying nutrient to milk, cereals and juices, but experts say most people also require additional vitamin D to be produce by the body when skin is directly exposed to sunlight. Specifically, ultraviolet B radiation. Skin exposed to sunshine indoors through a window will not produce vitamin D. Cloudy skies, shade and dark-colored skin also reduce vitamin D production.

The UC San Diego team, led by Garland and Edward D. Gorham, PhD, associate professor, had previously shown that sufficient levels of a metabolite of vitamin D in the serum, known as 25-hydroxyvitamin D was associated with substantially lower risk of breast and colorectal cancer. The current paper is the first to implicate vitamin D deficiency with pancreatic cancer.


Lifestyle advice for would-be centenarians

Public Release: 30-Apr-2015
University of Gothenburg

For the past 50 years, researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy have followed the health of 855 Gothenburg men born in 1913. Now that the study is being wrapped up, it turns out that ten of the subjects lived to 100 and conclusions can be drawn about the secrets of their longevity.


"The unique design has enabled us to identify the factors that influence survival after the age of 50," says Lars Wilhelmsen, who has been involved in the study for the past 50 years. "Our recommendation for people who aspire to centernarianism is to refrain from smoking, maintain healthy cholesterol levels and confine themselves to four cups of coffee a day."

It also helps if you paid a high rent for a flat or owing a house at age 50 (indicating good socio-econmic standard), enjoy robust working capacity at a bicycle test when you are 54 and have a mother who lived for a long time.

"Our findings that there is a correlation with maternal but not paternal longevity are fully consistent with a previous studies," Dr. Wilhelmsen says. "Given that the same associations have been demonstrated in Hawaii, the genetic factor appears to be a strong one." But still we found that this "genetic factor" was weaker than the other factors. So factors that can be influenced are important for a long life.


The CARS Method for Resolving High-Conflict Situations

I suggest reading the whole article at the following link.

Posted on April 29, 2015 by Trissan Dicomes, BIFF Response Coordinator

The CARS Method was developed specifically to address four big areas of difficulty in high-conflict situations, which often involve one or more people with high-conflict personalities (HCPs). But this method can be used with anyone – anywhere. The CARS Method is designed to help you organize your responses to calm down upset people, to redirect their energies and to focus them on positive future choices and consequences. This article is a brief excerpt from our award-winning book It’s All Your Fault at Work.


Pesticides alter bees' brains, making them unable to live and reproduce adequately

Not surprising that chemicals used to protect crops from insects are harmful to bees, which are insects.

Public Release: 30-Apr-2015
Pesticides alter bees' brains, making them unable to live and reproduce adequately

New research in The FASEB Journal suggests that the neonicotinoid class of pesticides do not kill bees but impair their brain function to disturb learning, blunt food gathering skills and harm reproduction

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

In research report published in the May 2015 issue of The FASEB Journal, scientists report that a particular class of pesticides called "neonicotinoids" wreaks havoc on the bee populations, ultimately putting some crops that rely on pollination in jeopardy. Specifically, these pesticides kill bee brain cells, rendering them unable to learn, gather food and reproduce. The report, however, also suggests that the effects of these pesticides on bee colonies may be reversible by decreasing or eliminating the use of these pesticides on plants pollenated by bees and increasing the availability of "bee-friendly" plants available to the insects.

"Our study shows that the neonicotinoid pesticides are a risk to our bees and we should stop using them on plants that bees visit," said Christopher N. Connolly, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Medical Research Institute at the Ninewells Medical School at the University of Dundee in Dundee, UK. "Neonicotinoids are just a few examples of hundreds of pesticides we use on our crops and in our gardens. Stop using all pesticides in your garden and see insect damage as a success. You are providing for your native wildlife. Nasty caterpillars grow into beautiful butterflies."


"It is ironic that neonicotinoids, pesticides developed to preserve the health of plants, ultimately inflict tremendous damage on plant life," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "These chemicals destroy the insect communities required by plants for their own reproduction."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Consumption rises with automated bill payment

Public Release: 29-Apr-2015
Duke University

A study of 16 years of billing records from one South Carolina utility found that residential customers using automatic bill payments consumed 4 to 6 percent more power than those who did not. Commercial electricity customers used 8 percent more. And low-income residents who enrolled in budget billing to spread the cost of seasonal peak demand across the year used 7 percent more electricity.

"It's a perverse consequence of a well-intentioned program that low-income people enrolled in budget billing programs actually spent more than they would have otherwise," said study author Steven Sexton, assistant professor of public policy and economics.

Sexton estimates that if these increases are true nationwide, increased power consumption tied to auto-paying would be 15.8 billion kilowatt hours, equivalent to the annual electricity use of 1.5 million typical American homes. That much additional electricity would have created an estimated 8.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 and could be wiping out savings from energy demand-reduction programs, he said.

"Autopay programs are likely to have a similar effect on water consumption," Sexton adds. "Perhaps an increase in price awareness could contribute to solving California's water shortage. Many economists have noted that the prices California charges for water are too low, but higher prices won't induce conservation if consumers are ignoring them."


residential customers using automatic bill payments consumed 4 to 6 percent more power than those who did not. Commercial electricity customers used 8 percent more. And low-income residents who enrolled in budget billing to spread the cost of seasonal peak demand across the year used 7 percent more electricity.


Toxic combination of air pollution and poverty lowers child IQ

Public Release: 29-Apr-2015
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Children born to mothers experiencing economic hardship, who were also exposed during pregnancy to high levels of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), scored significantly lower on IQ tests at age 5 compared with children born to mothers with greater economic security and less exposure to the pollutants. The findings by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health appear in the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology.

PAH are ubiquitous in the environment from emissions from motor vehicles, oil, and coal-burning for home heating and power generation, tobacco smoke, and other combustion sources. (More on PAH and ways to limit exposure can be found on the CCCEH website.)


At child age 7 years, researchers used the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children to assess IQ. PAH-DNA adducts in cord blood provided an individual measure of prenatal exposure to the pollutants. The researchers observed that, among children whose mothers reported greater material hardship, the group with high levels of PAH-DNA cord adducts significantly scored lower on tests of full scale IQ, perceptual reasoning, and working memory compared to those children with lower levels of adducts. Statistically significant interactions were observed between both prenatal and recurrent material hardship and high levels of cord adducts on children's working memory scores. The same significant relationships between adducts and IQ were not observed in the low material hardship group.

The findings add to other evidence that socioeconomic disadvantage can increase the adverse effects of toxic physical "stressors" like air pollutants. The present results suggest the need for a multifaceted approach to reduce PAH exposure and alleviate material hardship in order to protect the developing fetus and young child.


The victimization quandry: To help victims we have to stop blaming them

Public Release: 28-Apr-2015
Rutgers University-Newark

A woman is brutally assaulted, but rather than receiving the sympathy she deserves, she is blamed. If she had dressed differently or acted differently, or made wiser choices, others say, she would have been spared her ordeal. For victims, this "victim blaming" is profoundly hurtful, and can lead to secondary victimization.

Psychologists have long realized that blaming victims is a defense mechanism that helps blamers feel better about the world, and see it as fair and just. But ways to prevent victim blaming have been elusive -- until now.

A team of researchers, led by a Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) psychology professor, Dr. Kent Harber, has found a surprisingly direct way to spare victims the unwarranted social insult to their personal injuries: Emotional disclosure. They found that that witnesses blame victims much less if they express, in writing, the disturbing thoughts and feelings that victims' ordeals arouse in them. However, witnesses who suppress these feelings, and who keep their distress locked inside, do blame victims.


"Victim-blaming is pervasive," says Harber. "It is experienced by sufferers of deadly illnesses, crippling accidents, natural disasters, physical assault, economic hardship; indeed, nearly all bad events. For victims, this blaming is profoundly hurtful and it can wound as deeply as the injury itself."

Previous research has explained why observers blame victims, notes Harber. "It helps blamers retain faith in a just, fair, and controllable world where bad things mainly happen to bad (or inept, or unwise) people."

Seeking a way to reduce victim blaming, Harber, Podolski and Williams conducted laboratory experiments using college students who viewed one of two movie clips. Some watched scenes from the 1988 film The Accused, which showed the violent sexual assault of a woman in a bar. Others watched a clip of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in heated economic debates with adversarial male political leaders. Thatcher, though embattled, was not a victim.

After the viewings, audience members were asked to write about the film they had seen. "Suppressors" could only provide factual, objective observations; they were not allowed to disclose their feelings. "Disclosers" were permitted to freely express their emotional reactions. Disclosing and suppressing had no effect on attitudes toward Thatcher, the non-victim. Results were markedly different for those watching the rape scene from The Accused. Suppressors, who could not reveal their emotions about the rape victim, were more likely to blame her. Disclosers, in contrast, blamed the victim much less. And the more words the disclosers wrote, and the more distress they conveyed, the less they blamed the victim.


According to Harber, the combined studies "suggest that people can best help victims by first addressing their own emotional needs."

Harber says this research "has already raised interest among law scholars, because of its implications for juries. Jurors are often prohibited from discussing cases until final deliberation. Our research suggests that this forced suppression might affect jurors' attitudes toward victim/plaintiffs." The research might also inform rape counseling, says Harber. By encouraging survivors' families and friends to disclose rather than suppress their emotions--perhaps to trained therapists--survivors might be spared inadvertent blaming from those closest to them.

Teacher: What I wish everyone knew about working in some high-needs schools

Please read the whole article at the following link:

By Valerie Strauss April 25, 2015

The following post was written by a fifth-year English teacher in a Title 1 middle school who blogs anonymously at the loveteachblog. It captures both the joys and overwhelming burdens of working in an under-resourced school with a large population of high-risk students and in a system that makes it difficult for teachers and students to succeed. Though these are the experiences of one teacher, they reflect those of others (though certainly not all) across the country.


I’m in my fifth year of teaching English at a Title I middle school. Title I schools are public schools that receive special grants because of their high number of students who have been identified as at-risk. I adore my students and my teaching team. I love teaching. I’m really good at it. I respect my administration and feel valued by them.

But at the end of this year, I’m leaving. I’m not sure if I’ll continue teaching elsewhere or start a new career. If I do leave, I’ll be one of the 40-50 percent of teachers who leave during their first five years. A drop in the bucket.

To other teachers, I’m sure this isn’t surprising. Without knowing me or where I teach, they can probably easily guess why someone who loves her job and is good at it would be leaving.

But it’s not teachers who need to know what it’s like. It’s everyone else. People who have no idea what it’s like teaching in a Title I school. Some of these people are even making important decisions about education.


I would tell them about the 35 desks I have in my classroom, and how in two of my classes, all the desks are filled.

I would tell them about the hours I’ve spent outside of class time writing grants to get novels because my school doesn’t have the money for them.

I would tell them that I get to school about two hours before the first bell every day, but I still spend less time at school than most of my colleagues.


I would tell them about how I’m not allowed to fail a student without turning in a form to the front office that specifies all instances of parent contact, describing in detail the exact accommodations and extra instruction that the child was given. I would tell them about how impossible this form is to complete, when leaving a voicemail doesn’t count as contact and many parents’ numbers change or are disconnected during the school year. I would tell them how unrealistic it is to document every time you help a child when you have a hundred of them, and how this results in so many teachers passing students who should be failing.


Republican Sen. Corker Nixes the GOP’s Budget as ‘Monkey Business’

By Eric Pianin, The Fiscal Times
April 29, 2015

For weeks, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has rolled his eyes at the mention of the emerging Republican budget for fiscal 2016, dismissing it in front of reporters as little more than a gimmicky partisan broadside unworthy of serious discussion.

Corker, who sits on the Senate Budget Committee and chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, has been devoting most of his energies to a bill pending on the Senate floor to provide Congress with authority to review any final agreement between the U.S. and Iran that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Early Tuesday, however, Corker stunned the GOP leadership by refusing to sign a House-Senate conference committee report that is essential to sending the $3.8 trillion budget plan to the House and Senate floors for action this week. The reason? Corker complained that his party’s budget is riven with spending and accounting “gimmicks that produce billions of dollars in fantasy savings,” as Politico reported.

The typically affable Tennessee Republican insisted he would not sign off on the final version of the $3.8 trillion budget plan for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 because it would allow appropriators to continue a long-standing practice of claiming “savings” each year by temporarily imposing limits on certain entitlement programs that are outside their domain.

This byzantine accounting game is known as Changes in Mandatory Programs or CHIMPS, and as far as Corker is concerned, it’s all budgetary monkey business. While some of the changes in mandatory programs, including farm subsidies, crime victims’ funds or the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program achieve real savings, others don’t – or fall far short of their intended goals.

“CHIMPS is a budget gimmick that is $190 billion in extra spending over a 10 year period, and it’s something our caucus all has been for eliminating -- so I have concerns about that,” Corker told reporters at the Capitol yesterday. “What I’d like for our budgeting process to do is to rid itself of a lot of the gimmicks it has used in the past to actually spend a lot more money than people thing [think] we’re spending.”

Corker and Senate Budget Committee Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) both pressed to limit or phase out the CHIMPS accounting maneuver, but House Republicans resisted any immediate changes, according to Politico. Moreover, House Appropriations Committee Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY) vigorously opposed eliminating CHIMP for fear of leaving a gaping hole in some of his appropriations bills.


The most blatant trick has been to circumvent the 2016 defense-spending cap under the Budget Control Act to placate defense hawks who favor a lot more spending. That would be achieved by slipping the Defense Department an additional $38 billion through an overseas contingency operations account that was created primarily to fund the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq and that is not affected by the cap.

Instead of offsetting the tens of billions of additional spending for “Defense Readiness and Modernization” as fiscal conservatives called for, it would simply be added to the deficit.

The Republican budget architects also engaged in serious double counting on the Affordable Care Act. The new budget once again calls for the repeal of Obamacare and the elimination of the tax increases that help finance the president’s signature health insurance double counting on Obamacare.

Yet the budget assumes the same level of federal revenue over the next 10 years as the Congressional Budget Office forecast with those tax increases in place. Bottom line: the new budget is counting on $1 trillion of tax revenue from a program the Republicans are trying to kill off.


More Fatal Earthquakes to Come, Geologists Warn

By Alex Renton / April 28, 2015

The untold – and terrifying – story behind the earthquake that devastated Nepal last Saturday morning begins with something that sounds quite benign. It’s the ebb and flow of rainwater in the great river deltas of India and Bangladesh, and the pressure that puts on the grinding plates that make up the surface of the planet.

Recently discovered, that causal factor is seen by a growing body of scientists as further proof that climate change can affect the underlying structure of the Earth.

Because of this understanding, a series of life-threatening “extreme geological events” – earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis – is predicted by a group of eminent geologists and geophysicists including University College London’s Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards.

“Climate change may play a critical role in triggering certain faults in certain places where they could kill a hell of a lot of people,” says Professor McGuire. Some of his colleagues suspect the process may already have started.


Evidence from the end of the last Ice Age has already shown that the planet’s uneasy web of seismic faults – cracks in the crust like the one that runs along the Himalayas – are very sensitive to the small pressure changes brought by change in the climate. And a sensitive volcano or seismic faultline is a very dangerous one.

The disappearing ice, sea-level rise and floods already forecast for the 21st century are inevitable as the earth warms and weather patterns change – and they will shift the weight on the planet. Professor McGuire calls this process “waking the giant” – something that can be done with just a few gigatonnes of water in the right – or wrong – place.

“These stress or strain variations – just the pressure of a handshake in geological terms – are perfectly capable of triggering a quake if that fault is ready to go,” he tells Newsweek.

Any schoolchild geographer knows the underlying cause of earthquakes like that in Nepal: it is the uneasy grinding of the continent-sized plates that float over the Earth’s molten core. This process that went into overdrive when the ice sheets started withdrawing 20,000 years ago, destablising the “mantle”. The latest event in that endless process came just before midday local time on the 25 April, when the section that holds up India slipped under the Eurasian plate.


Dr Pierre Bettinelli was the scientist who in 2007 first showed how this vast flush of rainwater, second only to that of the Amazon basin, affects earthquakes in the Himalayas. He spoke to Newsweek from a base in the Algerian desert where he is researching the effects of oil-well drilling – another man-made cause of earthquake.

“Imagine a piece of wood on water – that’s the Indian plate – push down on it with your foot and you create compression, disturbance, in the water beside it. That you see in the increased number of seismic events at the edge of the plate.”


Meanwhile, of course, climate change has been shown to be causing enormous and disturbing changes in the size and shape of the South Asian monsoon, while human tampering has played a part in floods.

UCL’s Professor Bill McGuire has few doubts that recently discovered effects like this warn of catastrophe. In a recent book, Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes, he ponders the effects of the 100m rise of sea-levels that’s threatened should all the remaining ice on the planet melt.


“Across the world,” McGuire writes, “as sea levels climb remorselessly, the load-related bending of the crust around the margins of the ocean basins might – in time – act to sufficiently ‘unclamp’ coastal faults such as California’s San Andreas, allowing them to move more easily; at the same time acting to squeeze magma out of susceptible volcanoes that are primed and ready to blow.”


But already McGuire and colleagues have seen the effects of quite small sea-level rise on one of Alaska’s faults.

“There’s a volcano in Alaska, Pavlov, that only erupts during the autumn and winter. The 10cm or 15cm rise in sea level during the winter months, when low pressure comes over, is enough to bend the crust and squeeze magma out. That’s an example of how tiny a change you need,” he said.

Meanwhile, geologists modelling the effect of retreating ice sheets in the northern hemisphere predict more volcanic activity as pressure is released on fault lines. McGuire points to three eruptions in five years in Iceland – “You can’t say that’s statistical proof but … it makes you think.”


“Ice unloading at the end of the ice ages produced a flurry of volcanic eruptions. That makes sense to me – it’s very true that if you take pressure off a magmatic system that can activate eruptions. There’s solid evidence of that in Iceland.”


Musical Performance Activates Specific Genes

April 27, 2015 |By Karen Hopkin

Hey, do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, man!

You might also want to switch on your alpha-synuclein gene, and throw in a dual-specificity phosphatase or two. Because a new study finds that these and other genes are activated when professional musicians strut their stuff. The findings are in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. [Chakravarthi Kanduri et al, The effect of music performance on the transcriptome of professional musicians]

Mastering an instrument is no easy feat. It requires timing, coordination, emotional interpretation and an ability to integrate information that comes in through the ears, the eyes and the fingers. But what gives rise to musical ability, biologically speaking?


What they saw was a boost in the activity of genes involved in neural growth and flexibility, which could account for musicians’ brains being good at forging new connections. Genes involved in motor control were also revved up, as were those that light up the brain’s pleasure center.

Perhaps not surprisingly, versions of about a third of these musically important genes are known to also be active in songbirds—another creature whose livelihood depends on using musical talent to wow an audience.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What you really need to know about Baltimore, from a reporter who’s lived there for over 30 years

If we were the Christian nation we claim to be, we would be working to change thinks like this, we would be trying to give all children a good start.

By Michael A. Fletcher April 28, 2015

It was only a matter of time before Baltimore exploded.

In the more than three decades I have called this city home, Baltimore has been a combustible mix of poverty, crime, and hopelessness, uncomfortably juxtaposed against rich history, friendly people, venerable institutions and pockets of old-money affluence.

The two Baltimores have mostly gone unreconciled. The violence that followed Freddie Gray’s funeral Monday, with roaming gangs looting stores and igniting fires, demands that something be done.


Baltimore is not Ferguson and its primary problems are not racial. The mayor, city council president, police chief, top prosecutor, and many other city leaders are black, as is half of Baltimore’s 3,000-person police force. The city has many prominent black churches and a line of black civic leadership extending back to Frederick Douglass.

Yet, the gaping disparities separating the haves and the have nots in Baltimore are as large as they are anywhere. And, as the boys on the street will tell you, black cops can be hell on them, too.


Freddie Gray’s life and death say much about the difficult problems that roil Baltimore. As a child, he was found to have elevated levels of lead in his blood from peeling lead paint in his home, leading to a raft of medical and educational problems, his family charged in a lawsuit.


None of that is unusual in the West Baltimore community where he grew up — nor are they unusual in many of Baltimore’s impoverished neighborhoods. The federal government has said that Baltimore has the highest concentration of heroin addicts in the nation.


It does not stop there, despite ambitious city efforts to build new housing and focus social services in Sandtown. More than half of the neighborhood’s households earned less than $25,000 a year, according to a 2011 Baltimore Health Department report, and more than one in five adults were out of work — double the citywide average. One in five middle school students in the neighborhood missed more than 20 days of school, as did 45 percent of the neighborhood’s high schoolers.

Domestic violence was 50 percent higher in Sandtown than the city average. And the neighborhood experienced murder at twice the citywide rate — which is no mean feat in Baltimore.


Baltimore police have faced a series of corruption allegations through the years. They have been accused of planting evidence on suspects, being too quick to resort to deadly force and, long before Gray’s suspicious death, of beating suspects.


Trey Radel, Busted On Cocaine Charge, Voted For Drug Testing Food Stamp Recipients

More than a year old, but still relevant.

Arthur Delaney
Nov. 19, 2013

In September, Rep. Trey Radel voted for Republican legislation that would allow states to make food stamp recipients pee in cups to prove they're not on drugs. In October, police busted the Florida Republican on a charge of cocaine possession.

“It’s really interesting it came on the heels of Republicans voting on everyone who had access to food stamps get drug tested," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told BuzzFeed Tuesday. "It’s like, what?”


Most of the state legislation was authored by Republicans. Oftentimes, state Democrats responded by suggesting lawmakers should be subject to tests as well. If the government's going to make sure recipients of taxpayer-funded benefits are clean, the argument went, then why not also make sure the recipients of taxpayer salaries are clean, too?

In June, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) made that very suggestion when he questioned why recipients of crop insurance and other government benefits weren't also targeted for drug tests like people on food stamps.

"Why don't we drug test all the members of Congress here," McGovern said shortly before the drug-testing measure passed. "Force everybody to go urinate in a cup or see whether or not anybody is on drugs? Maybe that will explain why some of these amendments are coming up or why some of the votes are turning out the way they are."


Last year [2012], Congress passed a law to let states drug-test some unemployment insurance recipients.

Radel apologized Tuesday for his cocaine bust and said he'd seek treatment.

"I struggle with the disease of alcoholism, and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice," he said.

Childhood bullying causes worse long-term mental health problems than maltreatment

Surely it depends on the amount of abuse and the amount of bullying.

Public Release: 28-Apr-2015
University of Warwick

A new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry shows that children who have been bullied by peers suffer worse in the longer term than those who have been maltreated by adults.


For ALSPAC they looked at reports of maltreatment between the ages of 8 weeks and 8.6 years; bullying at ages 8, 10 and 13; and mental health outcomes at age 18. Data from the Great Smoky Mountain Study had reports of maltreatment and bullying between the ages of 9 and 16, and mental health outcomes from 19-25 years old.

Professor Wolke said: "The mental health outcomes we were looking for included anxiety, depression or suicidal tendencies. Our results showed those who were bullied were more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those who were maltreated. Being both bullied and maltreated also increased the risk of overall mental health problems, anxiety and depression in both groups."

In the ALSPAC study 8.5% of children reported maltreatment only, 29.7% reported bullying only and 7% reported both maltreatment and bullying. In the Great Smoky Mountain Study, 15% reported maltreatment, 16.3% reported bullying and 9.8% reported maltreatment and bullying.

Professor Wolke added: "Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up; it has serious long-term consequences. It is important for schools, health services and other agencies to work together to reduce bullying and the adverse effects related to it."

tags: child abuse,

Study links pollution to lower birth weight

Public Release: 28-Apr-2015
University of Rochester Medical Center

Exposure to high levels of pollution can have a significant impact on fetal growth and development, that is the conclusion of research appearing today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The study found women who were pregnant during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when pollution levels were reduced by the Chinese government, gave birth to children with higher birth weights compared to those who were pregnant before and after the games.


In the months leading up to and during the 2008 Beijing Olympics (August 8-24) and Paralympics (September 6-16), the Chinese government launched a series of aggressive measures to improve the city's chronic and notoriously poor air quality. These measures included an aggressive program to curtail pollutions by implementing strict restrictions on automobile and truck use, closing factories, halting construction projects, and seeding clouds to induce rainfall.

These controls - which were subsequently relaxed upon completion of the games - produced a significant decrease in the concentrations of particulate and gaseous air pollution for a 6-7 week period during the Olympic games, including a 60 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide, a 48 percent reduction in carbon monoxide, a 43 percent reduction in nitrogen dioxide, and a reduction in particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter.

These measures created a unique "natural experiment" for scientists to study the impact of pollution on human health. A prior study by this group, which was also conducted in concurrence with the Beijing Olympics, demonstrated that pollutions levels were linked to physiological changes that increase risk for cardiovascular disease, and that these same air pollution reductions resulted in improvements in several risk factors


Two-thirds of bowel cancer patients aren't advised to exercise despite health benefits

Public Release: 28-Apr-2015
Cancer Research UK

MORE than two-thirds (69 per cent) of bowel cancer patients say they weren't advised to exercise regularly after their diagnosis - despite evidence that brisk physical activity is linked to better survival in bowel cancer, according to a Cancer Research UK study published today (Wednesday) in BMJ Open.


More than a fifth (22 per cent) of bowel cancer patients surveyed did the recommended amount of physical activity a week (around two and a half hours), almost half of patients (45 per cent) did some exercise, but a third did none at all.


Although there are no official clinical guidelines in the UK on giving bowel cancer patients advice on physical activity, several studies show that it is safe and beneficial for most patients.

For those recovering from bowel cancer, physical activity is linked to better survival and reduces the risk of cancer returning. It also reduces cancer-related fatigue, depression, anxiety and is linked to better quality of life for cancer patients.


Gene mapping reveals soy's dynamic, differing roles in breast cancer

Sharita Forrest
April 28, 2015

Scientists have mapped the human genes triggered by the phytonutrients in soy, revealing the complex role the legume plays in both preventing and advancing breast cancer.

Researchers at the University of Illinois found that the compounds in minimally processed soy flour stimulate genes that suppress cancer, while purified soy isoflavones stimulate oncogenes that promote tumor growth. The paper, available online, was accepted for publication in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.


Asian women’s risks for breast cancer tend to be three to five times lower than those of women in the U.S., which some researchers have attributed to Asian women’s consumption of soy-based whole foods, such as tofu and soy flour, across their lifespans.


In the current study, the mice’s ovaries had been removed to simulate post-menopausal women, and Liu found that the soy flour and purified isoflavone diets had differing effects on their cells’ expression of genes associated with breast cancer.

The mice that consumed soy flour exhibited higher expression of the tumor-suppressing genes ATP2A3 and BLNK, each of which is associated with suppressed tumor growth. These mice also expressed lower levels of oncogenes MYB and MYC, which researchers have found to be critical to tumor growth during early stage breast cancer, and associated with the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells, respectively.

“Most important, we found that the soy flour strengthened the whole immune function, which probably explains why it does not stimulate tumor growth,” said Liu, who is completing both a doctorate in human nutrition and a master’s degree in statistics.

Conversely, the purified isoflavones stimulated tumor growth by activating oncogenes MYB and MYC, while suppressing both immune function and antigen processing, the body’s natural process of seeking out and destroying cancer cells.


“There was a difference in the biological responses of mice that consumed the soy flour and those that consumed isoflavone supplements, although both diets contained the same amount of the phytoestrogen genistein,” Liu said. “The findings suggest that it’s advisable for women with breast cancer to get isoflavones from soy whole foods, rather than isoflavone supplements.”

Helferich, a co-author on the paper, said purified isoflavones behave similarly to estrogens such as estradiol, which prior studies have linked with the growth and proliferation of breast cancer cells.


In another new study at Illinois, researchers found that soy isoflavones enhanced the growth of bone micro-tumors in mice with estrogen-responsive breast cancer, causing the tumors to metastasize more aggressively from bone to lung. Xujuan Yang, an associate researcher in Helferich’s laboratory, led that project.

The mice that consumed an isoflavones diet had triple the number of tumors – and had larger tumors – on their lungs, compared with their counterparts in the control groups, Yang found. A paper on the study was published in the April issue of Clinical and Experimental Metastasis.

“The main take-home message is, if you have breast cancer, isoflavone dietary supplements are not recommended,” Helferich said. “However, consuming soy from a whole food – along with other legumes – is likely safe.”

Paul Ryan Says Free School Lunches Give Kids ‘An Empty Soul’

Ryan, a Republican, is either incredibly stupid or incredibly evil, or both.
When I was unemployed, I wanted a job so I could pay for my own bills. That doesn't mean I didn't want to get unemployment while I was out of work, so I could eat and have a place to live while I was looking for a job. Sleeping in my car and eating out of trash cans would have hurt my dignity far more than getting unemployment.
Ryan's statement is even more repulsive because the Republicans blocked, as much as they could, measures to shorten the recovery from the recession, because they expected they could make President Obama look bad and hoped that would gain them the presidency in 2012.
And the Republicans have blocked efforts to increase the minimum wage, and other measures to reverse the declining wages of the working poor and middle class, for the sake of continually increasing the profits of the top 0.01%

Eliana Dockterma
Marc 6, 2015

Paul Ryan says that free lunches provided to children by government programs give kids “a full stomach — and an empty soul.”

In a speech he made at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the country’s largest gathering of conservative leaders and activists, Thursday, he shared this story he heard from Eloise Anderson, who serves in the cabinet for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:

She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch — one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.

He went on to say that “the Left” doesn’t understand this desire for dignity, not just comfort.

[I love this headline on the subject:]

Paul Ryan: Poor kids should go hungry so they know they're loved

Hey, maybe if we take that kid's free school lunch away, his parents will be able to scrounge up a brown paper bag to send him to school with every day. It'll be empty, like his stomach, but whatever, brown paper bag = love.

What the left doesn't understand, apparently, is that this child should go hungry because it's been made clear to him that being poor means his parents somehow love him less. Trust Ryan to miss the pathos of a child having been taught this. And what about kids whose parents send them to school with lunch money, not brown paper bags, because both of their parents work and do not have time to be packing a lunch every day? Ryan's version of parental love doesn't make room for them either. What else might he require for a family to qualify as loving—a mother who meets the kids at the door after school bearing freshly baked cookies?

If you're middle class and living a 1950s sitcom lifestyle, there's room for you in Paul Ryan's vision of non-empty souls. But, as poll after poll shows, American voters prefer a Democratic vision of a higher minimum wage, unemployment aid, Social Security, and a host of other programs that Ryan's "empty soul" rhetoric is designed to cheapen.

Fact Checker
A story too good to check: Paul Ryan and the tale of the brown paper bag

By Glenn Kessler March 6, 2014


Did Eloise Anderson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, ever meet such a child?


Okay, so Anderson had testified about this boy, and claimed that she had spoken to him


But the story doesn’t end there. Wonkette, a satiric blog, wondered if Anderson’s story was actually derived from a 2011 book titled “The Invisible Thread,” by Laura Schroff, which is about a busy executive and her relationship with an 11-year-old homeless panhandler named Maurice Mazyck. His mother was a drug addict, in jail, who had stolen things and cashed in food stamps to pay for drugs. At one point, Schroff offers to bring Mazyck lunch every day so he won’t go hungry.


This actually seemed a little strange. Could the tale told in congressional testimony really be drawn from a book? It did not make much sense in part because Schroff and Mazyck are partnering with a group called No Kid Hungry to help end childhood hunger in the United States. One key part of the program is connecting hungry kids with federal programs such as school lunches and food stamps. The group also opposed Ryan’s 2013 budget for its proposed reductions in the food stamp program.


So we asked Anderson when she met this boy and heard his story. Joe Scialfa, communications director for the department provided us with this answer:

In the course of giving live testimony, Secretary Anderson misspoke.


It’s important to note that there is no discussion in the book about the school lunch program, and we could find no interview with Mazyck in which he said that.


Anderson, in congressional testimony, represented that she spoke to this child — and then ripped the tale out of its original context.


Drug companies rigging the market

Conservatives & libertarians will applaud the fact that drug companies are not prevented from doing this by government regulations.

from Robert Reich's Facebook
April 28,2015

According to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, pharmaceutical companies are buying drugs they see as undervalued and then...

Posted by Robert Reich on Tuesday, April 28, 2015

According to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, pharmaceutical companies are buying drugs they see as undervalued and then raising their prices dramatically – thereby contributing to the dramatic increase in branded-drug prices. As one executive explains, “our duty is to our shareholders.”

But the real scandal isn’t that pharmaceutical companies raising drug prices to whatever the market will bear. All corporations are doing that. It’s that Big Pharma is rigging the market in at least 8 ways:

1. Big Pharma has got a law barring our government from using its considerable bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices.

2. It’s also got a law allowing pharmaceutical companies to patent the processes they use to manufacture vaccines and other products from nature.

3. It’s pushed the U.S. Patent Office to renew drug patents on the basis of small and insignificant changes in the original drugs that technically make them “new” and therefore patentable, and has prevented pharmacies from substituting generic versions of brand-name drugs that become different in even the most minor of ways.

4. Due to Big Pharma, America is one of few advanced nations that allow direct advertising of prescription drugs. Pharmaceutical companies aggressively market their brands long after the patents have expired so patients ask doctors to prescribe them.

6. Big Pharma has made it illegal for Americans to obtain from licensed pharmacies abroad cheaper versions of the same drugs sold in the United States, either branded or generic.

7. It's ensured that the law allows pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. to pay doctors for prescribing their drugs.

8. It’s likewise made sure drug companies are allowed to pay the makers of generic drugs to delay their cheaper versions. Such “pay-for-delay” agreements generate huge profits for both the original manufacturers as well as the generics.

Here again, the real choice isn’t between the “market” and “government.” Big Pharma is using its clout to rig the market against the rest of us.

How two bitter enemies became friends

It is especially good to see that this was instigated by the district attorney's office. So different from those DAs who conceal evidence that an accused is innocent.

April 26, 2015

They were the bitterest of enemies. For more than a decade, here on the streets of Milwaukee, two men shared a mutual disgust.

One was a hardnosed cop named Ray Robokowski.

"I wasn't a social worker; I was a police officer," he told Hartman. "My job was to take care of what needed to be taken care of."

Which was why Jacob Maclin didn't like him. "Oh, I definitely didn't."

Maclin, a drug dealer and gang-banger, got arrested so many times you can watch him grow old in his mug shots. And it was that career thug -- and this officer -- who sat down one day over a cup of coffee. The district attorney's office arranged it.

The meeting was to see if cop and criminal could work together, and come up with a way to get out of this vicious cycle. But neither guy was buying it.

Ray was only there because his boss made him come. And Jacob was tricked into coming -- told he had a job interview. So they basically just glared at each other the entire time.


It was Maclin who changed the cop's mind. Eventually, over the next couple months, Jacob proved to Ray that he wanted to get a job and turn his life around.

"He sent me on, maybe, 14 or 15 interviews in two weeks," recalled Maclin. "And one of them was Community Warehouse."

Community Warehouse is a non-profit, home improvement store that hires ex-cons and teaches them job skills. Jacob started working here eight years ago, and is now on the management team.

To this day, he can't thank Ray enough.


And as for that very helpful cop, he retired from the police force last year. But he still wanted to work, still wanted a job. So whom did he turn to for work?

"Jacob Maclin!" said Robokowski. "And he laughed. Now he held the cards. But I wanted to be here."

Through Community Warehouse, with his new friend Jacob, Ray has now helped more than a dozen other ex-cons leave their past behind.


Bumble Bee charged in death of worker cooked with tuna

April 28, 2015

Bumble Bee Foods and two managers were charged by Los Angeles prosecutors Monday with violating safety regulations in the death of a worker who was cooked in an industrial oven with tons of tuna.

Jose Melena was performing maintenance in a 35-foot-long oven at the company's Santa Fe Springs plant before dawn Oct. 11, 2012, when a co-worker, who mistakenly believed Melena was in the bathroom, filled the pressure cooker with 12,000 pounds of canned tuna and it was turned on.

When a supervisor noticed Melena, 62, was missing, an announcement was made on the intercom and employees searched for him in the facility and parking lot, according to a report by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. His body was found two hours later after the pressure cooker, which reached a temperature of 270 degrees, was turned off and opened.

The body was severely burned, reports CBS Los Angeles. The oven is used to sterilize cans of tuna, the station says.

The company, its plant Operations Director, Angel Rodriguez, and former safety manager Saul Florez were each charged with three counts of violating Occupational Safety & Health Administration rules that caused a death.

The charges specify that the company and the two men willfully violated rules that require implementing a safety plan, rules for workers entering confined spaces, and a procedure to keep machinery or equipment turned off if someone's working on it.

Rodriguez, 63, of Riverside, and Florez, 42, of Whittier, could face up to three years in prison and fines up to $250,000 if convicted of all charges, prosecutors said. Bumble Bee Foods faces a maximum fine of $1.5 million.

The state's occupational safety agency previously cited the San Diego-based company for failing to properly assess the danger to employees working in large ovens and fined it $74,000.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Cancer patient with a week to live flees Kansas for-profit Medicaid for life-saving surgery in Memphis

David Edwards
April 27, 2015

A high school senior who was rejected by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) reformed for-profit state Medicaid system said that he was just days away from dying when he fled the state and found treatment at a hospital in Tennessee.

Just last week, 18-year-old Levi Ross told KMBC that it had been a month since doctor’s discovered that he had a type of spinal cancer called epitheliod sarcoma and already the tumor had doubled in size.

Ross’ doctors advised him to get treatment out of state, but after not responding for weeks, his insurance provider rejected the advice.

After taking office, [Republican] Gov. Brownback "reformed" the state’s Medicaid system by enrolling low-income and disabled patients in a for-profit system called KanCare. Three health insurance companies now coordinate the care for about 400,000 Medicaid patients in Kansas.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokesperson Sara Belfry told KMBC that she wasn’t authorized to speak about Ross’ case, but she said that getting out-of-state care required a special two-step approval process. In the end, the insurance company might reject the claim if it determined that the patient could receive similar care in state.

“They are ultimately the payer, but they also certainly don’t want any bad outcome to come from a patient not receiving the necessary services,” Belfry insisted.

But KanCare did reject Ross’ claim, and his doctors said that there was little hope of saving his life until St. Jude Children’s Hospital offered to perform the surgery in Memphis. By the time Ross finally had surgery, his tumor had tripled in size. His doctors said that he had only one week to live.


Global warming to blame for 75 percent of hottest days

April 27, 2015

If you find yourself sweating out a day that is monstrously hot, chances are you can blame humanity. A new report links three out of four such days to man's effects on climate.

And as climate change worsens around mid-century, that percentage of extremely hot days being caused by man-made greenhouse gases will push past 95 percent, according to the new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Humans have not had as great an effect on heavy downpours, though. The Swiss scientists who did the study calculated that 18 percent of extreme rain events are caused by global warming. But if the world warms another two degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) - expected to happen around mid-century - about 39 percent of the downpours would be attributed to humanity's influence, according to the study. That influence comes from greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas.


Lead author Erich Fischer, a climate scientist at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, and colleague Reto Knutti examined just the hottest of hot days, the hottest one-tenth of one percent. Using 25 different computer models. Fischer and Knutti simulated a world without human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and found those hot days happened once every three years.

Then they calculated how many times they happen with the current level of heat-trapping gases and the number increases to four days. So three of the four are human caused, the team said.


The figures that Fischer and Knutti calculated are global estimates. The margins of error, plus or minus about 13 percent with current hot days, grow larger when smaller regions are considered. However, they found Africa and South America now have the highest percentages of unusual hot days that could be blamed on human influence, 89 percent and 88 percent respectively. Europe, at 63 percent, and North America, with 67 percent, come in at the lowest. By mid-century, if emissions continue at current pace, all continents will be able blame at least 93 percent of super hot days on humans.


When people ask if a single weird weather event is due to human activity or just natural variation, that's the wrong question because both factors are always involved, said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who wasn't part of the study but praised it heavily. This study, he said, asks the right question: "How much of the change is due to human activity and how much is natural variation?"


Guard kills handcuffed inmate, another handcuffed inmate charged with murder

This much is certain: Two handcuffed inmates at one of Nevada's toughest prisons brawled in a hallway, and one ended up dead from several shotgun blasts. The other was declared guilty of murder, even though he never touched a gun.

Prison officials acknowledged the death in November with only a short statement, and for months they never mentioned that a weapon was involved or that it had been fired by a trainee guard.


Now attorneys for both inmates are accusing prison guards of instigating the fight to set up a gladiator-style contest and then trying to cover it up by blaming the surviving prisoner.

Prison officials have been slow to release essential details, and they recently withdrew the murder allegation after disclosing the trainee's involvement.


It all started Nov. 12 deep inside the largest of Nevada's 22 prison facilities, which houses about a quarter of the state's 12,700 inmates.

Arevalo, 24, and Carlos Manuel Perez Jr., 28, were both released into the hall and soon were on the floor, kicking at each other with their hands cuffed behind their backs.

A Nov. 13 report by the trainee guard describes how he warned the men to stop fighting, fired one blank, issued more warnings and then fired three live rounds down the hall. At that point, he said, he stopped to reload.

"They continued kicking each other even though they were bleeding," the guard wrote.

Perez died of gunshot wounds to the head, neck, chest and arms. Arevalo suffered similar wounds but survived.

Guards have a history of using gunfire to control the 4,200 inmates at the prison about 45 miles outside Las Vegas.

Records show guards fired 215 shots in a five-year span, including 60 rounds in 2011, the latest year for which figures are available. That was nearly twice the total of 124 shots fired by guards during the same period at all the state's other prisons combined.


By the end of January, prison administrators held a hearing and declared Arevalo responsible for murder, assault and battery. He was sentenced to 18 months in the isolation cell known as "the hole," according to prison disciplinary forms provided to the AP. The prison administrative process is separate from criminal courts.

Last week, months after Arevalo was put in isolation, prison officials withdrew the murder and assault allegations after objections from his lawyer and repeated questions from the AP.


Your adolescent brain on alcohol: Changes last into adulthood

Public Release: 27-Apr-2015
Duke University Medical Center

Repeated alcohol exposure during adolescence results in long-lasting changes in the region of the brain that controls learning and memory, according to a research team at Duke Medicine that used a rodent model as a surrogate for humans.

The study, published April 27 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, provides new insights at the cellular level for how alcohol exposure during adolescence, before the brain is fully developed, can result in cellular and synaptic abnormalities that have enduring, detrimental effects on behavior.

"In the eyes of the law, once people reach the age of 18, they are considered adult, but the brain continues to mature and refine all the way into the mid-20s," said lead author Mary-Louise Risher, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher in the Duke Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. "It's important for young people to know that when they drink heavily during this period of development, there could be changes occurring that have a lasting impact on memory and other cognitive functions."


High-pitched sounds cause seizures in old cats

Public Release: 27-Apr-2015
SAGE Publications


It reveals that some cats do indeed suffer from audiogenic reflex seizures - those which are consistently caused by sounds (this is also recognised in people). Certain sounds induced 'absences' (non-convulsive seizures), myoclonic seizures (brief, shock-like jerks of a muscle or a group of muscles), or generalised tonic-clonic seizures. This last category is what most people think of as a 'seizure', with the cat losing consciousness and its body stiffening and jerking, often for several minutes. The new syndrome has been termed feline audiogenic reflex seizures (FARS).

The investigation found that FARS occurred in pedigree and non-pedigree cats, but that among the pedigrees, the Birman breed was over-represented. This is also a problem of older cats - the average age of seizure onset was 15 years, with cats ranging in age from 10 to 19 years.

The most commonly reported triggers for FARS were the sound of crinkling tin foil (82 cats), a metal spoon clanging in a ceramic feeding bowl (79 cats), chinking or tapping of glass (72 cats), crinkling of paper or plastic bags (71 cats), tapping on a computer keyboard or clicking of a mouse (61), clinking of coins or keys (59), hammering of a nail (38) and even the clicking of an owner's tongue (24). Other, less common triggers were the sound of breaking the tin foil from packaging, mobile phone texting and ringing, digital alarms, Velcro, stove igniting ticks, running water, a dog jangling its collar as it scratched, computer printer, firewood splitting, wooden blocks being knocked together, walking across a wooden floor with bare feet or squeaky shoes and, in one case, the short, sharp scream of a young child.

Avoiding the sounds could reduce the seizures, although owners reported that it was sometimes difficult to avoid certain sounds, and the loudness of the sound also seemed to increase the severity of seizures.


Lead author, Mark Lowrie, says: 'We have been overwhelmed by the response to our work. A second study is soon to be published suggesting that levetiracetam is an excellent choice of medication in managing this condition. Our experience is that it can completely rid a cat of these sound-induced seizures, including the myoclonic twitches - one owner reported that levetiracetam had 'truly been a miracle drug for my cat''.


Bumblebees use nicotine to fight off parasites

Public Release: 27-Apr-2015
Queen Mary, University of London

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL), gave bumblebees the option to choose between a sugar solution with nicotine in it and one without. Those bees infected with the Crithidia bombi parasite were more likely to go for the nicotine-laced nectar than those that weren't infected.

Infected bumblebees that consumed nicotine delayed the progress of the infection for a few days, showing lower levels of parasites than those that had not. However, it did not increase the life expectancy of those bees, meaning that the direct benefits of nicotine for the bee colony remain to be identified.

Consuming nicotine also had negative effects, appearing to suppress the appetite of infected bees much like smoking does in humans. Healthy bees that consumed nicotine also showed shorter lifespans than those that did not consume any.

Bees are not the only species known to use nicotine to fight parasites, with house sparrows using cigarette butts in their nests to ward off mites. [Because nicotine is an insecticide.]


Study finds cardiorespiratory fitness contributes to successful brain aging

Public Release: 27-Apr-2015
Boston University Medical Center

Cardiorespiratory fitness may positively impact the structure of white matter in the brains of older adults. These results suggest that exercise could be prescribed to lessen age-related declines in brain structure.

The findings, which appear online in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, are the first to show a relationship between fitness and brain structure in older adults, but not younger adults.

The researchers compared younger adults (age 18-31) to older adults (age 55-82). All participants had MRIs taken of their brains and their cardiorespiratory (heart and lung) fitness was measured while they exercised on a treadmill. The researchers found cardiorespiratory fitness was positively linked to the structural integrity of white matter fiber bundles in the brain in the older adults, while no such association was observed in younger adults.


Most women don't know female-specific stroke signs

Public Release: 27-Apr-2015
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

A national survey released today by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center shows that most women don't know the risks or symptoms females face when it comes to having a stroke.

The survey of 1,000 women released in time for Stroke Awareness Month in May found that only 11 percent of women could correctly identify pregnancy, lupus, migraine headaches and oral contraception or hormone replacement therapy as female-specific stroke risks.

The survey also found that only 10 percent were aware that hiccups combined with atypical chest pain are among the early warning signs of a stroke in women when accompanied by or followed by typical stroke symptoms. Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women, according to the National Stroke Association.


Some risk factors are the same for both women and men, including smoking, not exercising or having a blood pressure higher than 140/90. Other stroke risk factors for men and women include having a hemoglobin A1C of more than 7 if you are already diabetic, or 5.7 if not; as well as having a LDL cholesterol of less than 100 if you are without additional stroke risks, or less than 70 with additional stroke risks, particularly diabetes, she said.


But symptoms of stroke can be different for women, and may include hiccups, dizziness that is not classic vertigo, headaches, atypical chest pain and/or numbness of the entire body with one side being more numb thatn the other.

"Women may have more headaches with their strokes. They actually can have hiccups with a little bit of chest pain with their stroke symptoms, sometimes sending them down the pathway of looking for either heart disease or indigestion," said Greene-Chandos, who is also a member of Ohio State's Neurological Institute. "Pregnancy also increases their risk of stroke, particularly in the final months and the immediate period after delivering the child."

Recognizing a stroke quickly and seeking medical help immediately is crucial. Treatment with a clot-busting drug is only consistently an option within three hours of the onset of the stroke.


Misleading life expectancy statistics

Also, many employers won't hire older workers.
And many of the jobs available to older people require physical capabilities that they might not have.

Some bad ideas just won't die:

Zombies of 2016, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Last week,...Chris Christie ... gave a speech in which he tried to position himself as a tough-minded fiscal realist. In fact, however, his supposedly tough-minded policy idea was a classic zombie — an idea that should have died long ago in the face of evidence that undermines its basic premise, but somehow just keeps shambling along.

...Mr. Christie ... thought he was being smart and brave by proposing that we raise the age of eligibility for both Social Security and Medicare to 69. Doesn’t this make sense now that Americans are living longer?

No, it doesn’t..., almost all the rise in life expectancy has taken place among the affluent. The bottom half of workers,... who rely on Social Security most, have seen their life expectancy at age 65 rise only a bit more than a year since the 1970s. Furthermore,... many ... still have to perform manual labor.

And while raising the retirement age would impose a great deal of hardship, it would save remarkably little money. ...




Adult support reduces youths' risk of violence exposure

Public Release: 26-Apr-2015
American Academy of Pediatrics

Adults can have a bigger influence on youths growing up in poor, violent neighborhoods than they may realize, according to a study to be presented Sunday, April 26 at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in San Diego.

Researchers found that males living in Philadelphia who identified supportive relationships with parents and other adult family members were significantly less likely to report that they were involved in violence or had witnessed violence.

"This is good news. In neighborhoods with high levels of community violence and few safe spaces to spend time, having supportive adult connections is protective against violence exposure," said lead researcher Alison Culyba, MD MPH, clinical fellow in the Craig-Dalsimer Division of Adolescent Medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.


"These findings are consistent with other research that shows supportive adult connections are protective in so many ways, including increasing school performance, decreasing substance use, delaying first sexual encounter and contributing to mental health. This is an exciting study because it clearly places violence on this list," said Dr. Culyba, a PhD student in epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "Next steps include thinking about how society can best prepare adults for this critical role so we can work together to safeguard youth."

Just an hour of TV a day linked to unhealthy weight in kindergartners

Public Release: 26-Apr-2015
American Academy of Pediatrics

New research shows that it doesn't take much for kids to be considered couch potatoes.

Kindergartners and first-graders who watched as little as one hour of television a day were more likely to be overweight or obese compared to children who watched TV for less than 60 minutes each day, according to a study to be presented Sunday, April 26 at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in San Diego.


Two-thirds of the world's population have no access to safe and affordable surgery

Public Release: 26-Apr-2015
The Lancet

Millions of people are dying from common, easily treatable conditions like appendicitis, fractures, or obstructed labour because they do not have access to, or can't afford, proper surgical care, according to a major new Commission, published in The Lancet.

The Commission reveals that five billion people worldwide do not have access to safe and affordable surgery and anaesthesia when they need it, and access is worst in low-income and lower-middle income countries, where as many as nine out of ten people cannot access basic surgical care.

Just under a third of all deaths in 2010 (32·9%, 16·9 million deaths) were from conditions treatable with surgery - well surpassing the number of deaths from HIV / AIDS, TB, and malaria combined. Yet, despite this enormous burden of death and illness -which is largely borne by the world's poorest people - surgery has, until now, been overlooked as a critical need for the health of the world's population. As a result, untreated surgical conditions have exerted substantial but largely unrecognized negative effects on human health, welfare, and economic development.

According to Lars Hagander, one of the Commission's lead authors, from Lund University, Sweden, "Too many people are dying from common, treatable surgical conditions, such as appendicitis, obstructed labour, and fractures. The problem is especially acute in the low- and middle-income countries of eastern, western and central sub-Saharan Africa, and South and Southeast Asia."*


MRI shows association between reading to young children and brain activity

Public Release: 25-Apr-2015
American Academy of Pediatrics

Among the advice new parents receive is to read to their babies early and often. The hope is that sharing books together will help children's language development and eventually, turn them into successful readers.

Now there is evidence that reading to young children is in fact associated with differences in brain activity supporting early reading skills. The research will be presented Saturday, April 25 at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in San Diego.

"We are excited to show, for the first time, that reading exposure during the critical stage of development prior to kindergarten seems to have a meaningful, measurable impact on how a child's brain processes stories and may help predict reading success," said study author John Hutton, MD, National Research Service Award Fellow, Division of General and Community Pediatrics, Reading and Literacy Discovery Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "Of particular importance are brain areas supporting mental imagery, helping the child 'see the story' beyond the pictures, affirming the invaluable role of imagination."


'Summer slide' reduced by letting kids pick their own summer reading

Public Release: 25-Apr-2015
University of Rochester Medical Center

At the end of the school year, districts often send stacks of books home with their students in the hopes of combating the "summer slide," the literacy loss experienced during the long break that hits low-income students particularly hard.

But a study by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center showed that these programs can be made significantly more effective with only a small tweak: Let the kids choose the books.

The study, conducted in kindergarten, first-, and second-grade classrooms in the Rochester City School District, showed that students who were allowed to choose their own summer reading saw lower levels of literacy loss over the summer months. Erin T. Kelly, M.D., the study's lead researcher, will present her findings at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting on April 25.

"The most popular book was an adaptation of Disney's Frozen," said Kelly, a fourth-year resident in the medicine-pediatrics program at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. "Is that going to be the best literature in the world? No. But if it's something that the children will actually read, then it's going to lead to positive outcomes."


More than 75 percent of students who were allowed to select at least some of their books maintained or improved their reading levels, compared to a one-month literacy loss seen in previous studies. No significant difference was seen in students who picked all of their own books, compared with a group that selected only some.


Previous studies have shown that the summer slide accounts for roughly 80 percent of the reading achievement gap between more and less economically advantaged children.

"Educational achievement is inextricably tied to health outcomes," said Kelly. "Reading proficiency, in particular, is a critical skill and an important determinant of health."

Alcohol use disorders - stronger predictor of mortality than chronic hepatitis C virus infection

Public Release: 25-Apr-2015
European Association for the Study of the Liver

Results presented today at The International Liver Congress™ 2015, show that alcohol use disorders (AUD) have a serious, negative prognostic outcome with higher mortality risks in the general population and patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in particular.

The study found that chronic HCV infection has a limited impact on mortality, unless the patient also has other severe comorbidities, such as HIV infection, cancer or chronic kidney disease. In contrast, those with AUDs are at significant risk of death with a higher mortality risk observed across all the study subgroups.


Drinking just 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks a day linked to liver disease

Public Release: 25-Apr-2015
European Association for the Study of the Liver

According to the World Health Organization, excessive alcohol drinking is the most common cause of cirrhosis worldwide. A new worldwide study presented at The International Liver CongressTM 2015 has shown the significant influence of daily drinking on this disease burden. New data shows that the cirrhosis burden caused by alcohol increased by 11.13% when moving from the moderate to heavy daily drinking (up to one drink/day for women; two drinks/day for men) classification (p<.001). Most studies assessing the prevalence of alcohol abuse as a risk factor for alcoholic cirrhosis focus on total annual amount drunk per person. However, the researchers highlight that clinical studies suggest that it is a high daily consumption which is the strongest predictor of alcoholic cirrhosis. This new research concluded that heavy daily drinkers most significantly and independently influence a country's cirrhosis burden. According to the World Health Organization's Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, around 6% of global deaths are caused by drinking alcohol, the majority from alcoholic cirrhosis - scarring of the liver as a result of continuous, long-term liver damage. Half of all cases of cirrhosis are caused by alcohol.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Misleading averages

By Andrew L Yarrow, The Fiscal Times
April 26, 2015

We’re supposed to be enjoying an economic recovery since the Great Recession of 2008-2009 – yet many economists have questioned whether the last five years have been much of a “recovery.” Judging from the mood of the American people and their personal financial habits, it hardly feels like one.

Although the economy has been on the upswing, people haven’t been saving. While the overall savings rate ticked up between 2009 and 2012, it has fallen since then. Forty-four percent of Americans are either in debt, have no savings at all, or have only enough savings to tide them over for up to three months if they lose their jobs, according to an Assets and Opportunity report last year.


Why can’t Americans, whose savings rates have fallen over the last 35 years and save far less of their incomes than most Europeans, Japanese, or Chinese, save even during a supposed recovery?

Despite headlines about relatively healthy GDP growth of about 2.2 percent and falling unemployment, the sad reality behind these positive economic statistics is that wages haven’t risen for most Americans since 2000. While headlines decry Europe’s sclerotic economy, where average wage growth has lagged behind America’s since the 1970s, averages deceive. If one subtracts the spectacular income gains of the top 1 percent in the United States, wage growth among the bottom 99 percent has been less than in France, a country plagued by and derided as a stagnant economy, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

At the same time that wages and personal savings have stagnated or fallen, fewer and fewer American workers are offered employer-provided pension plans that provide some economic security in retirement. That leaves Social Security, which 22 percent of married retirees and 47 percent of those who are single rely on for at least 90 percent of their income.

Although the stock market has rebounded spectacularly during the Obama years, the typical American household has seen its net worth fall by more than a third between 2003 and 2013, to about $56,000. And about 60 percent of U.S. workers have less than $25,000 in savings, a far cry from what they will need to retire – while the 16,000 wealthiest American families together have $6 trillion squirreled away.


Researchers find alarming rise in cost of MS drugs over past 2 decades

Public Release: 24-Apr-2015
Oregon Health & Science University

A new study shows an "alarming rise" over the last 20 years in the costs of drugs used to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis or reduce the frequency of attacks, according to a study led by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and Oregon State University (OSU).

A substantial increase in the number of MS drugs in the marketplace over the past 20 years, paradoxically, did not lead to lower or stabilized costs for patients who use those drugs. Researchers found the costs of all drugs used to treat MS - including first-generation therapies - skyrocketed.


The costs of MS drugs accelerated at rates five to seven times higher than prescription drug inflation and substantially higher than rates for drugs in a similar class between 1993 and 2013, the researchers report. Drug costs for several MS agents rose on average 20 to 30 percent per year over this time period.


Researchers found that long-standing drugs, such as Betaseron™, Avonex™ and Copaxone™, originally costing $8,000 to $11,000, now cost approximately $60,000 per year - an average increase of 21 to 36 percent annually. Their cost acceleration corresponded with the approval of newer agents, including Gilenya™, Aubagio™, and Tecfidera™, which have increased 8 to 17 percent annually since their approval. During that same period, general and prescription drug inflation only increased 3 to 5 percent per year.


Researchers also examined the costs paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) because of its ability to negotiate discounts directly with manufacturers. Their analysis shows that on average costs for the VA were 36 percent less than those paid by Medicaid, including a nearly 80 percent discount for Betaseron™. This cost disparity suggests the sharp rise in U.S. prices is not the result of increases in manufacturing costs.


The lack of transparency within pharmaceutical pricing and purchasing, and the absence of a national health care system within the U.S. to negotiate prices directly with the pharmaceutical industry may have contributed to the soaring costs of these drugs, according to the researchers.
[Republicans blocked Medicare from negotiating with drug companies for cheaper prices, the way private insurance companies do.]


Mental disorders don't predict future violence

Public Release: 24-Apr-2015
Substance use disorders are the only disorders that predict future violence
Northwestern University

Most psychiatric disorders - including depression -- do not predict future violent behavior, according to new Northwestern Medicine longitudinal study of delinquent youth. The only exception is substance abuse and dependence.