Saturday, February 27, 2016

Demark vs the U.S.

I saw a picture some are posting on Facebook which is full of lies, comparing Denmark to the U.S.

Here are some of the facts.
country / rank / life expectancy / female rank / female life expectancy / male rank / male life expectancy
Denmark 29 80 32 82 27 78
United States 34 79 36 81 39 76
rank / country / both sexes / male rank / male rate / female rank / female rate
Suicides per 100,000 people per year (age standardized)
50 United States 12.1 46 19.4 61 5.2
82 Denmark 8.8 78 13.6 89 4.1
Happiest countries:
3. Denmark
15. United States.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sugary drinks tax in Mexico linked with 12 percent cut in sales after one year

Public Release: 6-Jan-2016
Sugary drinks tax in Mexico linked with 12 percent cut in sales after one year

In Mexico, a 10% tax on sugar sweetened drinks has been associated with an overall 12% reduction in sales and a 4% increase in purchases of untaxed beverages one year after implementation, finds a study published by The BMJ this week.

The findings have important implications for policy discussions and decisions, say the researchers.

Mexico has some of the highest levels of diabetes, overweight, and obesity in the world, and reducing the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages has been an important target for obesity and diabetes prevention efforts.

From Jan 1. 2014, Mexico implemented an excise tax of 1 peso per litre on sugar sweetened beverages.


In other words, during 2014 the average urban Mexican purchased 4.2 fewer litres of taxed beverages than expected without the tax.

In contrast, purchases of untaxed beverages were 4% higher than expected without the tax, mainly driven by an increase in purchases of bottled plain water.


All three socioeconomic groups reduced purchases of taxed beverages, but the reduction was greatest among households of low socioeconomic status, averaging a 9% decline during 2014 and reaching a 17% decrease by December 2014 compared with pretax trends.

The researchers emphasise that this is an observational study so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.They also point to some study weaknesses, such as incomplete data on dairy beverages and their focus on Mexican cities.

Nevertheless, they conclude that this short term change "is moderate but important" and they say continued monitoring is needed "to understand purchases longer term, potential substitutions, and health implications."


7-Eleven workers beaten and forced to pay back wages, Senate inquiry hears

Paul Karp
Feb. 4, 2016

Franchisees are still taking 7-Eleven workers to ATMs to withdraw and pay back wages, and some have resorted to violence and intimidation to deter underpayment claims, a Senate committee has heard.

The Fels wage fairness panel investigating the 7-Eleven underpayments scandal reported to the Senate employment committee on temporary work visa holders on Friday that it had made 188 determinations that 7-Eleven was liable to pay workers a total of $4.36m. On average, workers were underpaid $23,000 each.

The panel has received 2,169 complaints of underpayment, which it expects will result in 1,500 successful claims.

But the panel’s chief, Allan Fels, warned the committee that “there’s no question there’s a problem that people aren’t coming forward in the numbers they should”. Just 60% of stores had been the subject of complaints.

That was because many workers faced “a campaign of deception, fear-mongering, intimidation and even actual physical violence”, Fels said.

Siobhan Hennessy, from Deloitte, who works for the panel, told the committee an international student was beaten by a franchisee while making an underpayment claim.

When he went to the police, he was told it was a matter between him and his employer.

Fels said franchisees exploited employees’ lack of knowledge by telling them they would need to prove underpayments in court, warned them they risked deportation and made threats against their families overseas.


7-Eleven Pty Ltd representatives told the committee a payroll system that would pay wages directly to workers was being introduced.

The chairman of 7-Eleven Australia, Michael Smith, said the old system which allowed franchisees to receive workers’ wages from head office was “invidious” and a device that had helped the underpayment of wages in many cases.


The interim chief executive, Robert Baily, told the committee the new system would include biometric sign-in, which he described as a “Big Brother-type practice”, to prevent employees being paid for fewer hours than they had worked.

But he said the system would not be foolproof, and it “cannot cover” the practice of paybacks. He said 7-Eleven had hired forensic payroll investigators to crack down on the practice, and had terminated two NSW franchisees’ contracts three weeks ago as a result of the investigations.

“Unfortunately there will be more,” he said. “There is quite blatant behaviour out there.”

The former chairman and current majority shareholder, Russell Withers, denied knowing in the past that wages were paid to franchisees instead of workers, and said be believed this practice was “the exception”.

Withers denied that the 7-Eleven franchisee agreement, which required franchisees to pay 55% of revenue to head office, was unviable and that franchisees were profitable only because of underpayment.


Natural & Human-caused Coastal Flood Days in the U.S.

Feb. 23, 2015

Since 1950, human-caused global sea level rise has tipped the balance to account for two-thirds of coastal flood days in the U.S., according to our latest sea level rise analysis. These results show that human-caused sea level rise is not just a future problem, it is driving most coastal flooding in the U.S. today.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Contraception Fell, Medicaid Births Rose When Texas Defunded Planned Parenthood

Feb. 3, 2016

Women stopped using the most effective types of contraception and more babies were born on the government's tab after Texas cut off funding from Planned Parenthood clinics, a team of Texas researchers said Wednesday.

The number of claims for long-acting contraception plummeted by more than a third and births paid for by Medicaid rose 27 percent, the team at the University of Texas at Austin reported.

"This change is worrisome, since increased access to long-acting, reversible contraception methods is a priority of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and one study has indicated substantial unmet demand for long-acting, reversible contraception methods in Texas," they wrote in their report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.


"It is likely that many of these pregnancies were unintended, since the rates of childbirth among these women increased in the counties that were affected by the exclusion and decreased in the rest of the state," they added.

"Our data are observational and cannot prove causality. However, our analyses suggest that the exclusion of Planned Parenthood affiliates from the Texas Women's Health Program had an adverse effect on low-income women in Texas by reducing the provision of highly effective methods of contraception, interrupting contraceptive continuation, and increasing the rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid."

Another study showed that similar Texas legislation aimed at restricting abortions actually led to more home abortions.

Study finds no increased risk of autism, ADHD with prenatal antidepressant exposure

Public Release: 5-Jan-2016
Study finds no increased risk of autism, ADHD with prenatal antidepressant exposure
Massachusetts General Hospital

An analysis of medical records data from three Massachusetts health care systems finds no evidence that prenatal exposure to antidepressants increases the risk for autism and related disorders or for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In their report being published online in Translational Psychiatry, the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)-based research team finds evidence that any increased incidence of autism or ADHD found in previous studies was probably associated with the severity of the mother's depression - a known risk factor for several neuropsychiatric disorders - and not from antidepressant exposure during pregnancy.

"The fact that we now have found, in two large case-control studies, no increase in the risk for autism with antidepressant use itself should be very reassuring," says Roy Perlis, MD, MSc, MGH Department of Psychiatry, senior author of the current report and of an earlier study published in 2014. "Some of the studies that have suggested an association did not account for key differences between mothers who take antidepressants and those who don't, in particular that those taking antidepressants are more likely to have more severe illness."


While the incidence of both autism and ADHD was increased in the children of women who had taken antidepressants prior to becoming pregnant, antidepressant exposure during pregnancy did not increase the incidence of either condition. Maternal psychotherapy, which like prepregnancy antidepressant use indicates more serious depression, did significantly increase the risk of either autism or ADHD, supporting the hypothesis that studies finding an increased incidence actually reflected the risk conferred by maternal depression itself.


Put the cellphone away! Fragmented baby care can affect brain development

Public Release: 5-Jan-2016
Put the cellphone away! Fragmented baby care can affect brain development
UCI study shows maternal infant-rearing link to adolescent depression
University of California - Irvine

Mothers, put down your smartphones when caring for your babies! That's the message from University of California, Irvine researchers, who have found that fragmented and chaotic maternal care can disrupt proper brain development, which can lead to emotional disorders later in life.

While the study was conducted with rodents, its findings imply that when mothers are nurturing their infants, numerous everyday interruptions - even those as seemingly harmless as phone calls and text messages - can have a long-lasting impact.

Dr. Tallie Z. Baram and her colleagues at UCI's Conte Center on Brain Programming in Adolescent Vulnerabilities show that consistent rhythms and patterns of maternal care seem to be crucially important for the developing brain, which needs predictable and continuous stimuli to ensure the growth of robust neuron networks. Study results appear today in Translational Psychiatry.

The UCI researchers discovered that erratic maternal care of infants can increase the likelihood of risky behaviors, drug seeking and depression in adolescence and adult life. Because cellphones have become so ubiquitous and users have become so accustomed to frequently checking and utilizing them, the findings of this study are highly relevant to today's mothers and babies ... and tomorrow's adolescents and adults.

"It is known that vulnerability to emotional disorders, such as depression, derives from interactions between our genes and the environment, especially during sensitive developmental periods," said Baram, the Danette "Dee Dee" Shepard Chair in Neurological Studies.

"Our work builds on many studies showing that maternal care is important for future emotional health. Importantly, it shows that it is not how much maternal care that influences adolescent behavior but the avoidance of fragmented and unpredictable care that is crucial. We might wish to turn off the mobile phone when caring for baby and be predictable and consistent."


Antidepressant drug linked with increased risk of birth defects when taken in early pregnancy

Public Release: 5-Jan-2016
Antidepressant drug linked with increased risk of birth defects when taken in early pregnancy

Using paroxetine--a medication prescribed to treat conditions including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder--during the first trimester of pregnancy may increase newborns' risk of congenital malformations and cardiac malformations. That's the conclusion of a recent analysis published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Up to one-fifth of women of childbearing age experience depressive symptoms that often lead to mild to moderate depression, and prescriptions for antidepressants during pregnancy have increased in recent years. The most common drugs for treating depression in pregnant women are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and up until 2005, one drug in that class--paroxetine--was considered to be safe for use during pregnancy. A small unpublished study conducted by the manufacturer, however, suggested an increased risk of cardiac malformations in infants exposed to paroxetine before birth. Subsequent studies using various study designs in different populations across Europe and North America generated conflicting results in terms of statistical significance, although a trend remained towards an increased risk.


Compared with no use of paroxetine, first trimester use of paroxetine was associated with a 23 percent increased risk of any major congenital malformations and a 28 percent increased risk of major cardiac malformations in newborns. The investigators noted that the baseline risk of major malformations is 3 percent and of cardiac malformations is 1 percent; however, any increase in risk is significant, especially when considering that the benefit of using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors during pregnancy--when changes in metabolism cause the drugs to be cleared from the body at a faster rate--is debatable.

"Given that the benefits of antidepressants overall, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors including paroxetine specifically, during pregnancy is questionable at best, any increase in risk--small or large--is too high," said Dr. Bérard. "Indeed, the risk/benefit ratio suggests non-use in women with mild to moderately depressive symptoms, which is 85 percent of pregnant women with depressive symptoms. Therefore, planning of pregnancy is essential, and valid treatment options such as psychotherapy or exercise regimens are warranted in this special population."

Wage gap could explain why women are more likely to be anxious and depressed than men

Public Release: 5-Jan-2016
Wage gap could explain why women are more likely to be anxious and depressed than men
Women may internalize wage gap as reflective of perceived inferior merit
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

The odds of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder were markedly greater among women who earned less than their male counterparts, with whom they were matched on education and years of experience, according to new research conducted at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. Results of the study are online in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

The odds that an American woman was diagnosed with depression in the past year are nearly twice that of men. However, this disparity looks very different when accounting for the wage gap: Among women whose income was lower than their male counterparts, the odds of major depression were nearly 2.5 times higher than men; but among women whose income equaled or exceeded their male counterparts, their odds of depression were no different than men.

Results were similar for generalized anxiety disorder. Overall, women's odds of past-year axiety were more than 2.5 times higher than men's. Where women's incomes were lower than their male counterparts, their odds of anxiety disorder were more than four times higher. For women whose income equaled or exceeded their male counterparts, their odds of anxiety disorder were greatly decreased.


A broken bone may lead to widespread body pain -- not just at the site of the fracture

Public Release: 5-Jan-2016
A broken bone may lead to widespread body pain -- not just at the site of the fracture
University of Southampton

Breaking a major bone may increase risk of widespread chronic body pain in later life, a new study has found.

Researchers at the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU), University of Southampton, found that men and women who had a spine fracture and women who had a hip fracture were more than twice as likely to experience long term widespread pain as those who had not had a fracture.


A Word from Our Sponsor

I suggest reading the whold article at the following link.

by Jane Mayer,
May 27th 2013

Last fall, Alex Gibney, a documentary filmmaker who won an Academy Award in 2008 for an exposé of torture at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, completed a film called “Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream.” It was scheduled to air on PBS on November 12th. The movie had been produced independently, in part with support from the Gates Foundation. “Park Avenue” is a pointed exploration of the growing economic inequality in America and a meditation on the often self-justifying mind-set of “the one per cent.” As a narrative device, Gibney focusses on one of the most expensive apartment buildings in Manhattan—740 Park Avenue—portraying it as an emblem of concentrated wealth and contrasting the lives of its inhabitants with those of poor people living at the other end of Park Avenue, in the Bronx.

Among the wealthiest residents of 740 Park is David Koch, the billionaire industrialist, who, with his brother Charles, owns Koch Industries, a huge energy-and-chemical conglomerate. The Koch brothers are known for their strongly conservative politics and for their efforts to finance a network of advocacy groups whose goal is to move the country to the right.


In 1997, he [David Koch] began serving as a trustee of Boston’s public-broadcasting operation, WGBH, and in 2006 he joined the board of New York’s public-television outlet, WNET. Recent news reports have suggested that the Koch brothers are considering buying eight daily newspapers owned by the Tribune Company, one of the country’s largest media empires, raising concerns that its publications—which include the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times—might slant news coverage to serve the interests of their new owners, either through executive mandates or through self-censorship.


For decades, federal funding for public broadcasting has been dwindling, and the government’s contribution now makes up only twelve per cent of PBS’s funds. Affiliates such as WNET are almost entirely dependent on gifts, some of which are sizable: in 2010, WNET received fifteen million dollars from James Tisch, the C.E.O. of Loews Corporation, and his wife, Merryl. (James Tisch is now the chairman of WNET’s board.) In New York City, such benefactors inevitably live in lavish buildings. Indeed, several relatives of WNET board members live at 740 Park.


Ruby Lerner, the president and the executive director of Creative Capital, which helped fund Lessin and Deal’s Katrina film, said that she regards the “self-censorship” practiced by public-television officials to be “a scarier thing” than the overt kind: “They seem to be putting themselves in the Koch brothers’ shoes and trying not to offend them.” Even on public television, she argued, patronage buys influence. “It raises issues about what public television means,” she said. “They are in the middle of so much funding pressure.”


Lessin and Deal said that this is untrue. Although they had changed the title, they said, in a joint statement, “The film we made is identical in premise and execution to the written and video proposals that ITVS green-lit last spring. ITVS backed out of the partnership because they came to fear the reaction our film would provoke. David Koch, whose political activities are featured in the film, happens to be a public-television funder and a trustee of both WNET and WGBH. This wasn’t a failed negotiation or a divergence of visions; it was censorship, pure and simple.” The filmmakers consider this an ironic turn: “It’s the very thing our film is about—public servants bowing to pressures, direct or indirect, from high-dollar donors.”

In the end, the various attempts to assuage David Koch were apparently insufficient. On Thursday, May 16th, WNET’s board of directors quietly accepted his resignation. It was the result, an insider said, of his unwillingness to back a media organization that had so unsparingly covered its sponsor.


More on the Kochs influencing PBS's treatment of documentaries they don't like:

Income gains and losses not shared

The results of the Koch brothers efforts:







'Dark Money': Koch Brothers' Donations Push Their Political Agenda

Somebody on Facebook made reference to public radio being liberal. Note that they didn't report on this for forty years. Note that there was never a mention in any of the media, including public radio, of ALEC, until people could get information out on the internet, and we still almost never hear a reference to ALEC.

You can hear the podcast of the interview at the following link:

Updated January 20, 20162:11 PM ET Published January 19, 20165:18 AM ET

Steve Inskeep talks to author Jane Mayer about her new book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

JANE MAYER: Out in California at a resort, there were some of the wealthiest conservatives in America who had gotten together to deal with what they regarded as a catastrophe, which was the election of Obama. And they were organized by Charles Koch, who is one of the two brothers known these days as the Koch brothers, who owns Koch Industry, which is the second-largest private company in America.

INSKEEP: Mayer says that in that meeting, multiple billionaires discussed how to use their money to offset the election results. Jane Mayer's book is called "Dark Money: The Hidden History Of The Billionaires Behind The Rise Of The Radical Right." Charles and David Koch are at the center of her story, big Republican donors who are not always fans of Republicans.

MAYER: People think that the Kochs are going to just line up straight behind the Republican Party. It's not so. They have a very distinct and interesting worldview. Charles Koch in particular, much more so than David Koch, is an ideological true believer in some of the most hard-line libertarian philosophy that you can come across in American politics. It's kind of - marks the far right poll, in some ways, of American politics. And he wants the Republican Party to go where he is.


INSKEEP: How long has he been politically engaged?

MAYER: Charles Koch has been politically engaged since the 1960s. I've got documents in here, including a paper that Charles Koch wrote in 1976, in which he describes how he wants to create a movement to destroy the statist paradigm. And if you take a look at the group that Charles Koch and his brother gather around him, it includes a number of very important people - Supreme Court justices, well-known members of the media on the right, people like Glenn Beck and a number of intellectuals on the right too. And so he's achieved a surprising amount of what he set out to do long ago, when he was just dreaming about it in Wichita, Kan.

INSKEEP: So in describing this 2009 meeting and other meetings, you've given us an idea of where the money comes from. Where does it go?

MAYER: It goes through a network of groups, organizations, mostly nonprofit groups. And it's funny. The libertarians had their own word for it long ago. Some libertarian wag (ph) called it the Kochtopus 'cause it's got so many arms and tentacles. It's very hard to keep up with all the things it does. But it encompasses both charitable groups and more political groups. The charitable groups create position papers. The political groups mobilize voters and advocate for positions. And the even more political groups back candidates. And so the largest of these groups is something called Americans for Prosperity, which is the Kochs' main political advocacy group now. And by now, it's become a rival power center to the Republican Party in size.


MAYER: What people need to understand is the Kochs have been playing a very long game. And it's not just about elections. It started four decades ago with a plan to change how America thinks and votes. So while some elections they win and some elections they lose, what they're aiming at is changing the conversation in the country.


How the Kochtopus Went After a Reporter
In Jane Mayer's new book, she reports how the conservative machine sicced private detectives on her.

—By David Corn
| Thu Jan. 21, 2016


January 19, 2016 Dave Davies Off Mic
What you didn't know about the Koch brothers - on Fresh Air


She said big contributions and dark money are a problem throughout American politics in the post Citizens United era, but that wealthy conservative spending far exceeds wealthy liberal spending these days.

She cited a couple of numbers: The Democracy Alliance, a group of heavy-hitting liberal donors, plans to raise $40 million for the 2016 election cycle. The Koch brothers' network has an $889 million goal.

I want to say that I've covered government for years, and conservatives' suspicion of wasteful, unaccountable government bureaucracies is not crazy.

But a system that allows a relative handful of the wealthiest families to pump unlimited money into politics without leaving fingerprints is so far from our founding principles that it ought to scare all of us.


tags: influence

The Big Chill: How Big Money Is Buying Off Criticism of Big Money

I suggest reading the whole article at the following link:

April 6, 2015

Not long ago I was asked to speak to a religious congregation about widening inequality. Shortly before I began, the head of thecongregation asked that I not advocate raising taxes on the wealthy.

He said he didn’t want to antagonize certain wealthycongregants on whose generosity the congregation depended.

I had a similar exchange last year with the president of a small college who had invited me to give a lecture that his board of trustees would be attending. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t criticize Wall Street,” he said, explaining that several of the trustees were investment bankers.

It seems to be happening all over.

A non-profit group devoted to voting rights decides it won’t launch a campaign against big money in politics for fear of alienating wealthy donors.

A Washington think-tank releases a study on inequality that fails to mention the role big corporations and Wall Street have played in weakening the nation’s labor and antitrust laws, presumably because the think tank doesn’t want to antagonize its corporate and Wall Street donors.

A major university shapes research and courses around economic topics of interest to its biggest donors, notably avoiding any mention of the increasing power of large corporations and Wall Street on the economy.

It’s bad enough big money is buying off politicians. It’s also buying off nonprofits that used to be sources of investigation, information, and social change, from criticizing big money.

Other sources of funding are drying up. Research grants are waning. Funds for social services of churches and community groups are growing scarce. Legislatures are cutting back university funding. Appropriations for public television, the arts, museums, and libraries are being slashed.

So what are non-profits to do?

“There’s really no choice,” a university dean told me. “We’ve got to go where the money is.”

And more than at any time since the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century, the money is now in the pockets of big corporations and the super wealthy.


David Koch’s $23 million of donations to public television earned him positions on the boards of two prominent public-broadcasting stations. It also guaranteed that a documentary critical of the Kochs didn’t air.

As Ruby Lerner, president and founding director of Creative Capital, a grant making institution for the arts, told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, “self-censorship” practiced by public television … raises issues about what public television means. They are in the middle of so much funding pressure.” [Also at NPR - National Public Radio.]

David Koch has also donated tens of millions of dollars to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and sits on their boards.

A few weeks ago dozens of climate scientists and environmental groups asked that museums of science and natural history “cut all ties” with fossil fuel companies and philanthropists like the Koch brothers.

“When some of the biggest contributors to climate change and funders of misinformation on climate science sponsor exhibitions … they undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions responsible for transmitting scientific knowledge,” their statement said.


Our democracy is directly threatened when the rich buy off politicians.

But no less dangerous is the quieter and more insidious buy-off of institutions democracy depends on to research, investigate, expose, and mobilize action against what is occurring.

Are you gruntled?

Definition of gruntle

grun·tledgrun·tling play \ˈgrənt-liŋ, ˈgrən-təl-iŋ\

transitive verb

: to put in a good humor

Beware downloading some apps or risk "being spied on"

Feb. 24, 2016

Popular apps on your smartphone can be convenient and fun, but some also carry malicious software known as malware, which gives hackers easy access to your personal information.

A security firm found that between 75 and 80 percent of the top free apps on Android phones or iPhones were breached. The number jumps as high as 97 percent among the top paid apps on those devices.

Whether these apps help advertisers target you or help hackers rip you off, you'll want to do your homework before downloading apps, reports CBS News correspondent Anna Werner.


Milifesky said when you download an app, you also give permission for it to access other parts of your phone, like an alarm clock app that can also track phone calls.

"You think an alarm clock needs all those permissions? Access to the Internet over wifi, your call information, calls you've made, call history, your device ID? This to me is not a safe alarm clock," Miliefsky said.

And there's the weather and flashlight apps that he says exploit legitimate banking apps to capture information, as he showed us in a demonstration of what could happen when someone takes a photo of a check to send to their bank.

"The flashlight app spies on the camera and noticed the check and grabbed a copy of it. Shipped it off to a server somewhere far away," Miliefsky said.


Some apps are simply collecting information for advertising purposes.


But Miliefsky said he's found another flashlight app that can do much more troubling things.

"This one turns on your microphone in the background, listens in on you, and sends an encrypted tunnel to a server we discovered in Beijing," Miliefsky described.


Swedish Teen Rescued From ISIS in Iraq: 'It Was a Really Hard Life'

Feb. 24, 2016

A Swedish teenager rescued from ISIS said life under the militants was "really hard" and that she was duped into going there by her boyfriend.


From there, ISIS militants ferried them by bus with other men and women to the city of Mosul in neighboring Iraq and provided them with a house. There was no electricity or running water.

"I didn't have any money either — it was a really hard life," she said, looking relaxed and healthy. "When I had a phone I started to contact my mom and I said, 'I want to go home.'"


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Surge in obesity and diabetes could be linked to food additives

9 February 2016

Studies on a simulated human gut have added further evidence that emulsifiers, found in most processed foods, might be linked to obesity, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disorders.

Emulsifiers are used to improve a food’s texture and to prevent mixtures from separating, particularly in ice cream. Last year, Benoit Chassaing of Georgia State University showed that mice that drank water containing one of two emulsifiers underwent changes in gut bacteria and inflammation of the gut – changes that led to obesity and diabetes in these animals.

However, mice that didn’t have any gut bacteria because they had been raised in a sterile environment didn’t become ill when given the same additives, suggesting that it is the emulsifiers’ effect on the microbiome that is to blame. When the ill mice stopped consuming emulsifiers, their gut bacteria gradually returned to normal.

Now Chassaing has supported his findings in mice using a simulation of the human gut. Working with a team in Belgium, he looked at two emulsifiers: carboxymethylcellulose (E566 on EU labels) and polysorbate-80 (E433). When added to a series of flasks that mimic the conditions of the human digestive tract, each caused an increase in the levels of a bacterial protein called flagellin, known to cause inflammation at high concentrations.


The simulator results are more convincing than the mouse studies, since lab animals and humans have vastly different gut microbiomes, says Glenn Gibson of the University of Reading in the UK, who studies gut disorders. “The definitive test, however, is obviously a human trial.”


Lungs with memory

New Scientist magazine
Feb. 13, 2016, page 7

People who inhaled toxic fumes decades ago are still more likely to die than those who did not (Thorax, A study of 368,000 people in England and Wales showed that someone who lived in a more polluted area in 1971 had a 14 per cent higher risk of dying in 2002-9 than someone who had lived in a less polluted area.

Study Reveals Stunning Acceleration of Sea Level Rise

By John Upton
Feb. 22, 2016

The oceans have heaved up and down as world temperatures have waxed and waned, but as new research tracking the past 2,800 years shows, never during that time did the seas rise as sharply or as suddenly as has been the case during the last century.

The new study, the culmination of a decade of work by three teams of farflung scientists, has charted what they called an “acceleration” in sea level rise that’s triggering and worsening flooding in coastlines around the world.

The findings also warn of much worse to come.

The scientists reported in a paper published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have greater than 95 percent certainty that at least half of more than 5 inches of sea level rise they detected during the 20th century was directly caused by global warming.

“During the past millennia, sea level has never risen nearly as fast as during the last century,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, a physics professor at Potsdam University in Germany, one of 10 authors of the paper. “That was to be expected, since global warming inevitably leads to rising seas.”

By trapping heat, rising concentrations of atmospheric pollution are causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt into seas, lifting high tides ever higher.

Globally, average temperatures have risen about 1°C (nearly 2°F) since the 1800s. Last year was the hottest recorded, easily surpassing the mark set one year earlier. The expansion of warming ocean water was blamed in a recent studyfor about half of sea level rise during the past decade.


“The new sea level data confirm once again just how unusual the age of modern global warming, due to our greenhouse gas emissions, is,” Rahmstorf said. “They also demonstrate that one of the most dangerous impacts of global warming, namely rising seas, is well underway.”

Were it not for the effects of global warming, the researchers concluded that sea levels might actually have fallen during the 20th century. At the very least, they would have risen far less than was actually the case.

A report published by Climate Central on Monday, the result of an analysis based in part on the findings in Monday’s paper, concluded that climate change was to blame for three quarters of the coastal floods recorded in the U.S. from 2005 to 2014, mostly high tide floods. That was up from less than half of floods in the 1950s.


Even If humans quickly stop polluting the atmosphere, potentially keeping a global temperature rise to well below 2°C (3.8°F) compared with preindustrial times — a major goal of the Paris climate agreement — seas may still rise by an additional 9 inches to 2 feet this century, the study concluded. That would trigger serious flooding in some areas, and worsen it in others.

Under the worst-case scenario investigated, if pollution continues unabated, and if seas respond to ongoing warming by rising at the fastest rates considered likely, sea levels could rise more than 4 feet this century alone, wiping out coastal infrastructure and driving communities inland.

Students with influence over peers reduce school bullying by 30 percent

Public Release: 4-Jan-2016
Students with influence over peers reduce school bullying by 30 percent
Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Curbing school bullying has been a focal point for educators, administrators, policymakers and parents, but the answer may not lie within rules set by adults, according to new research led by Princeton University. Instead, the solution might actually be to have the students themselves, particularly those most connected to their peers, promote conflict resolution in school.

A team of researchers from Princeton, Rutgers University and Yale University engaged groups of influential students in 56 New Jersey middle schools to spread messages about the dangers of bullying and school conflict. Using messaging platforms such as Instagram, print posters and colorful wristbands, the selected students were encouraged to discuss in their own voices positive ways to handle conflict, using terms with which their peers could identify.

The research team wanted to test whether certain students, who they label "social referents" or social influencers, have an outsized influence over school climate or the social norms and behavioral patterns in their schools. Social referents are not necessarily the most popular kids school-wide, but rather students who demonstrate influence within their smaller peer group. All activities were designed to test whether, by making their anti-conflict stance well known, these social influencers could shape their peers' behaviors and social norms.

In the course of a year, the middle schools that employed social referents saw a 30 percent reduction in student conflict reports, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Critically, the greatest drop in conflict was observed among the teams with the highest proportion of social influencers, supporting the researchers' hypothesis that these students do exert an outsized influence over school climate.


"The real innovation here is using student social networks to choose the peers ... which can lead to a less unorthodox group of student leaders," Paluck said. "When adults choose student leaders, they typically pick the 'good' kids. But the leaders we find through social network mapping are influential among students and are not all the ones who would be selected by adults. Some of the students we find are right smack in the center of student conflicts. But the point is, these are the students whose behavior gets noticed more."


"We wanted to distinguish ourselves from other school campaigns by letting students lead the messaging efforts.


After this yearlong effort, the authors found stark statistical differences between the schools that had participated versus those that hadn't. On average, schools participating in the program saw a 30 percent reduction in disciplinary reports. Because each conflict can take up to an hour to resolve, this reduction is equivalent to hundreds of saved hours.

"Our program shows that you don't need to use a blanket treatment to reduce bullying," Paluck said. "You can target specific people in a savvy way in order to spread the message. These people -- the social referents you should target -- get noticed more by their peers. Their behavior serves as a signal to what is normal and desirable in the community. And there are many ways to figure out who those people are and work with them to inspire positive change."

The ugly consumer: Ridiculing those who shop ethically

Public Release: 4-Jan-2016
The ugly consumer: Ridiculing those who shop ethically
When you don't seek out ethical products, you denigrate those who do
Ohio State University

No one wants to knowingly buy products made with child labor or that harm the environment.

But a new study shows that we also don't want to work too hard to find out whether our favorite products were made ethically. And we really don't like those good people who make the effort to seek out ethically made goods when we choose not to.

In fact, we denigrate consumers who act more ethically than we do, seeing them as less fashionable and more boring. Worst of all, seeing others act ethically when we don't undermines our commitment to pro-social values.

"It is this vicious cycle," said Rebecca Walker Reczek, co-author of the study and associate professor of marketing at The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business.

"You choose not to find out if a product is made ethically. Then you harshly judge people who do consider ethical values when buying products. Then that makes you less ethical in the future."


In earlier research, Irwin had found that consumers often choose to be 'willfully ignorant' when it comes to how their favorite consumer goods were made. They will consider ethical information, such as whether a product was made using fair labor practices and in an environmentally friendly way, if it is readily available, such as on product packaging. But they won't go through the trouble of looking on a website or asking a salesperson.


In the first study, 147 undergraduates were told they would be evaluating four brands of blue jeans that differed on only four attributes: style, wash, price and a fourth attribute. The fourth attribute pertained either to an ethical issue (whether the company used child labor) or a control issue (delivery time for the jeans).

Participants were told that due to time constraints, they could choose only two of the four attributes to make their evaluations.

As expected, most of the participants who were given the opportunity to know whether the jeans were made with child labor chose to remain 'willfully ignorant.'

That was key to the next part of the study, in which the same participants provided their opinions about different types of consumers, purportedly for market segmentation purposes.

Those who were willfully ignorant about child labor use on the jeans they evaluated were asked to rate consumers who would choose to research clothing manufacturers' labor practices before making a purchase. The finding? These participants were more likely to denigrate these ethical consumers as odd, boring and less fashionable, among other negative traits.

"They judged ethical consumers less positively on positive traits and more negatively on negative traits," Reczek said.

However, participants who didn't choose to find out about delivery times on the jeans they evaluated didn't judge those who did investigate delivery times more harshly. It all had to do with the ethics.

"Willfully ignorant consumers put ethical shoppers down because of the threat they feel for not having done the right thing themselves," she said. "They feel bad and striking back at the ethical consumers makes themselves feel better."

Another experiment demonstrated why the threat of feeling unethical was a key driver for the actions of the willfully ignorant. This experiment was much like the first. But in this case, the willfully ignorant consumers were later given the chance to click a button on a website that would make a donation to a charity.

In this case, willfully ignorant participants who donated to charity did not harshly judge consumers who acted ethically when buying products.

"If we give people a chance to prove that they are indeed ethical, they don't judge more ethical consumers as harshly," Reczek said.


"After you denigrate consumers who act ethically concerning a specific issue, you actually care a little less about that specific issue yourself," Reczek said. "This may have some disturbing implications for how ethical you will act in the future."

Reczek said the results of this study suggest consumers want to do the right thing -- they just need help to do it.

"Most consumers want to act ethically, but there can be a discrepancy between their desires and what they actually do," Reczek said.

"Companies that use ethical practices in producing their products can help by making that information very prominent, right on the packages if possible. People are not going to go to your website to find out your company's good deeds. If consumers don't see ethical information right when they are shopping, there can be this cascade of negative consequences."

Social networks as important as exercise and diet across the span of our lives

Public Release: 4-Jan-2016
Social networks as important as exercise and diet across the span of our lives
UNC-Chapel Hill researchers show how social relationships reduce health risk in each stage of life
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The more social ties people have at an early age, the better their health is at the beginnings and ends of their lives, according to a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study is the first to definitively link social relationships with concrete measures of physical well-being such as abdominal obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure, all of which can lead to long-term health problems, including heart disease, stroke and cancer.

"Based on these findings, it should be as important to encourage adolescents and young adults to build broad social relationships and social skills for interacting with others as it is to eat healthy and be physically active," said Kathleen Mullan Harris, James Haar Distinguished Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and faculty fellow at the Carolina Population Center (CPC).

The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, builds on previous research that shows that aging adults live longer if they have more social connections. It not only provides new insights into the biological mechanisms that prolong life but also shows how social relationships reduce health risk in each stage of life.

Specifically, the team found that the sheer size of a person's social network was important for health in early and late adulthood. In adolescence, that is, social isolation increased risk of inflammation by the same amount as physical inactivity while social integration protected against abdominal obesity. In old age, social isolation was actually more harmful to health than diabetes on developing and controlling hypertension.

In middle adulthood, it wasn't the number of social connections that mattered, but what those connections provided in terms of social support or strain. "The relationship between health and the degree to which people are integrated in large social networks is strongest at the beginning and at the end of life, and not so important in middle adulthood, when the quality, not the quantity, of social relationships matters," Harris said


Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act linked to more nutritious meals

Public Release: 4-Jan-2016
Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act linked to more nutritious meals
The JAMA Network Journals

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) was associated with more nutritious school lunches chosen by students with no negative effect on school meal participation, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics.

The 2010 HHFKA updated nutritional standards for the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. The revised standards, which took effect at the start of the 2012-2013 school year, increased the availability of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, as well as created other food requirements. The National School Lunch Program reaches more than 31 million students every day and the new standards have the potential to affect the nutritional health of many children.


The authors note their study measured foods selected by students not food consumption. The study also included only students from one urban district in middle and high schools and therefore may not be generalizable to rural and elementary schools.

"We found that the implementation of the new meal standards was associated with the improved nutritional quality of meals selected by students. These changes appeared to be driven primarily by the increase in variety, portion size, and the number of servings of fruits and vegetables," the study concludes.


BU study: Effects of obesity on death rates understated in prior research

Public Release: 4-Jan-2016
BU study: Effects of obesity on death rates understated in prior research
Boston University Medical Center

Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health and the University of Pennsylvania have found that prior studies of the link between obesity and mortality are flawed because they rely on one-time measures of body mass index (BMI) that obscure the health impacts of weight change over time.

The study, published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, maintains that most obesity research, which gauges weight at only a single point in time, has underestimated the effects of excess weight on mortality. Studies that fail to distinguish between people who never exceeded normal weight and people of normal weight who were formerly overweight or obese are misleading because they neglect the enduring effects of past obesity and fail to account for the fact that weight loss is often associated with illness, the researchers said.

When such a distinction is made, the study found, adverse health effects grow larger in weight categories above the normal range, and no protective effect of being overweight is observed.

"The risks of obesity are obscured in prior research because most of the studies only incorporate information on weight at a single point in time," said lead author Andrew Stokes, assistant professor of global health at BUSPH. "The simple step of incorporating weight history clarifies the risks of obesity and shows that they are much higher than appreciated."

Stokes and co-author Samuel Preston, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, tested a model that gauged obesity status through individuals' reporting of their lifetime maximum weight, rather than just a 'snapshot' survey weight. They found that the death rate for people who were normal weight at the time of survey was 27 percent higher than the rate for people whose weight never exceeded that category.

They also found a higher prevalence of both diabetes and cardiovascular disease among people who had reached a higher-than-normal BMI and then lost weight, compared to people who remained in a high BMI category.


Of those in the normal-weight category at the time of the survey, 39 percent had transitioned into that category from higher-weight categories.


A number of past studies have shown that people who lose weight have higher rates of death than those who maintain their weight over time. Part of the reason for that disparity is that illness may be a cause of weight loss, through decreased appetite or increased metabolic demands. Few studies have adequately accounted for that source of bias, Stokes and Preston noted.


Virgin births may be common among snakes

Public Release: 4-Jan-2016
Virgin births may be common among snakes

A new review provides intriguing insights on parthenogenesis, or virgin birth, in snakes.

Interestingly, facultative parthenogenesis, or asexual reproduction in an otherwise sexually reproducing species, appears to be quite common among snakes and may represent a potentially important feature of vertebrate evolution. On the other hand, obligate parthogenesis--when organisms exclusively reproduce through asexual means--is extremely rare in snakes.


"Once considered a evolutionary novelty, facultative parthenogenesis has now been documented in an increasing number of vertebrate species, ranging from the hammerhead shark to domestic turkeys, komodo dragons to snakes;


Sugar in western diets increases risk for breast cancer tumors and metastasis

Public Release: 1-Jan-2016
Sugar in western diets increases risk for breast cancer tumors and metastasis
MD Anderson study in mice points to sugar's impact on inflammatory pathways as culprit
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

The high amounts of dietary sugar in the typical Western diet may increase the risk of breast cancer and metastasis to the lungs, according to a study at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The findings, published in the Jan. 1, 2016 online issue of Cancer Research, demonstrated dietary sugar's effect on an enzymatic signaling pathway known as 12-LOX (12-lipoxygenase).

"We found that sucrose intake in mice comparable to levels of Western diets led to increased tumor growth and metastasis, when compared to a non-sugar starch diet," said Peiying Yang, Ph.D., assistant professor of Palliative, Rehabilitation, and Integrative Medicine. "This was due, in part, to increased expression of 12-LOX and a related fatty acid called 12-HETE."

Previous epidemiological studies have shown that dietary sugar intake has an impact on breast cancer development, with inflammation thought to play a role.


Monday, February 22, 2016

How far inland will sea level rise come

And inch of sea level rise can have a greater impact than many might think. It depends on the slope of the land by the water. The more slowly the land rises, the greater the impact will be.
(This analysis is for a situation where there there is not a cliff.)

If you remember your geometry, the tangent of an angle is computed from a right angle. It is the length of the side opposite the angle divided by the non-hypotenuse side beside the angle.

For a brush up, and a neat interactive tool for computing the sin, cos, & tan of an angle, see

If X is the amount of sea level rise, and A is the angle of rise of the land, the amount inland that the water would come would = X / (tan A).
The less the slope, the farther inland the sea will intrude.
(For us math nerds, we might multiply by (cot A) instead of dividing by (tan A).

So with a one inch rise in sea level, and a slope of 10°,
the sea would intrude by 1 in. / (tan 10°) = 1 in / .176 = 5.68 inches.

If the slope is 5°, the sea will intrude 1/0.087 = 11.49 times as far as the sea level rise.
If the slope is 15°, the sea will intrude 1/0.268 = 3.73 times as far as the sea level rise.

Sea levels are rising at their fastest rate in 2000 years

By Warren CornwallFeb. 22, 2016
Science Magazine

Global sea levels appear exquisitely sensitive to changes in temperature and greenhouse gas levels, according to a set of new studies that examines up to 6 million years of climate change data. The four papers, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), illustrate the growing power of computers to simulate complex interactions between climate, polar ice, and the planet’s oceans. They also underscore the effects that rising greenhouse gases and global temperatures could have on future sea level.

“The big takeaway is that the modern rate of sea level rise in the 20th century is faster than anything we’ve seen in the previous two millennia (2,000 years),” says Benjamin Horton, a Rutgers University, New Brunswick, in New Jersey geologist who helped direct one of the studies. “This isn’t a model. This is data.”


They [the studies] also add to a growing body of research that suggests sea level can change more dramatically over a short time than previously suspected, says Andrea Dutton, a University of Florida in Gainesville geologist and a leading expert on reconstructing ancient sea levels.

The first study found that small temperature fluctuations have led to measurable changes in ocean levels over the past 3000 years. As the global thermostat turned down just 0.2°C between 1000 and 1400 B.C.E., for example, the world’s seas dropped an estimated 8 centimeters. By contrast, they have risen about 14 centimeters [5.5 inches] in the 20th century. At least half of that increase is due to human-induced climate change, say the researchers, who add that sea levels are very likely to rise another 0.24 [9.4 inches] to 1.3 meters [51.2 inches = 4.3 feet] during this century.

The study’s results come in part from measurements of past sea levels gathered at 24 sites around the world.


Looking to the future, the results of the new model suggest that changes in Antarctic ice might cause sea level to rise even more rapidly than current studies indicate, DeConto says. “It may be that the Kopp approach and the IPCC are both wrong,” he says. “Once we start seeing a lot of meltwater on the ice shelves around Antarctica, what’s that going to do?”

Opossums: The Unsung Heroes Against Lyme Disease And Other Tick-Borne Diseases

Several states in the U.S. are reporting record populations of ticks and increasing tick-borne disease transmission, like Lyme disease, but clearing your yard of these blood suckers might be only one opossum away. Yes, that giant rat-looking animal that plays dead when threatened and hisses like the devil’s spawn when scared is actually extremely beneficial to humans and other mammals. Opossums’ diets include snakes, snails, slugs, mice, rats, and carrion. Perhaps the most intriguing item on an opossum’s daily menu is an even more dreaded human foe: the tick. Opossums’ voracious appetite for ticks can nearly obliterate a tick population.

Scientist Rick Ostfeld points out that few ticks survive a run in with an opossum. These animals, often called filthy, are actually remarkable groomers and spend almost all of their free time grooming themselves. Ticks are attracted to these mammals, but most of them never survive on an opossum’s body long enough to taste a single drop of blood.

“So these opossums are walking around the forest floor, hoovering up ticks right and left,” Ostfeld explained, “killing over 90% of these things, and so they are really protecting our health.”

Michigan State University entomologist Howard Russell told the Detroit Free Press that the tick population is increasing. Russell says that both male and female ticks feed on blood and these thirsty bloodsuckers can transmit diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.


Many people use the rabies excuse for ridding their properties of opossums, but that justification is a false one. According to Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, opossums are “rarely found to be rabid and appear to be resistant to many viral diseases such as distemper, parvovirus, and feline hepatitis” and this resistance to diseases is also seen with Lyme. The Poughkeepsie Journal reports that opossums don’t seem to be very good transmitters of Lyme disease even if they didn’t eat almost all of the ticks they encounter.

Ticks do transmit Lyme disease, and Lyme affects around 300,000 Americans a year. An opossum, normally viewed as nothing more than a filthy nuisance – stealing garbage, garden surplus and chicken eggs – kills over 5000 ticks on any given week. This super exterminator also kills venomous snakes and small rodents and cleans up carrion from our yards and fields. Perhaps allowing opossums to also steal some chicken eggs and garden veggies is a fair trade for decreasing tick-borne diseases like Lyme and all of the other benefits they offer.

The National Weather Service - a government service we depend on

I've thought about this when extreme anti-government types claim "the government" doesn't do anything for them, like a person I worked with at the polls last year. When I asked her if she uses public roads, she shut off the conversation. We need a mixed economy. We need both private enterprise and government services to have a decent society.

The National Weather Service: Workforce, Status, & Future : A Two Part Series
By: Dr. Marshall Shepherd , 11:56 AM GMT on February 19, 2016

Over the next 2 episodes of Weather Geeks, we take a look at the National Weather Service from a couple of perspectives. As I have written numerous times, the National Weather Service should be valued at the same level as our national and homeland security resources. Weather affects every aspect of life: the economy, national defense, food production, disease, and so on.

At times I believe that people take the National Weather Service (NWS) for granted. Others really do not know that it exists because they perceive much of their weather information to be coming from their TV meteorologist or phone app. Trust me, the National Weather Service or NOAA, its parent agency (models, radars, observations, satellites) are behind many of these sources. The NWS also works closely with our vibrant private weather enterprise.

This Sunday (February 21), we talk to Meteorologist Dan Sobien of the National Weather Service Employee Organization about the NWS workforce. Recent stories about understaff offices during severe weather events and vacancies caught our attention.


Seniors Haven't Paid Full Medicare, Social Security Share

Medicare and Social Security: What you paid compared with what you get

By Louis Jacobson on Friday, February 1st, 2013

The Urban Institute, a non-partisan research institute in Washington, produces statistics on this topic annually. Institute researchers figured out what people turning 65 in various years have already "paid in" to the system and what can expect to "take out" after they reach age 65. (See our charts below)

Because marital status and family income can significantly affect both the amount paid in and the amount paid out, the institute offers its calculation for various types of family units. To make the final amounts comparable to what might have been done with the tax money had it been invested privately, the institute adjusted all dollar figures at 2 percentage points above the rate of inflation. (The authors note that different assumptions for long-term returns on investment would change the results.)

According to the institute’s data, a two-earner couple receiving an average wage — $44,600 per spouse in 2012 dollars — and turning 65 in 2010 would have paid $722,000 into Social Security and Medicare and can be expected to take out $966,000 in benefits. So, this couple will be paid about one-third more in benefits than they paid in taxes.

If a similar couple had retired in 1980, they would have gotten back almost three times what they put in. And if they had retired in 1960, they would have gotten back more than eight times what they paid in. The bigger discrepancies common decades ago can be traced in part to the fact that some of these individuals’ working lives came before Social Security taxes were collected beginning in 1937.

Some types of families did much better than average. A couple with only one spouse working (and receiving the same average wage) would have paid in $361,000 if they turned 65 in 2010, but can expect to get back $854,000 — more than double what they paid in. In 1980, this same 65-year-old couple would have received five times more than what they paid in, while in 1960, such a couple would have ended up with 14 times what they put in.

Such findings suggest that, even allowing for inflation and investment gains, many seniors will receive much more in benefits than what they paid in.


The couple will have paid $122,000 in Medicare taxes but will receive $387,000 in benefits — more than three times what they paid in.

In addition, Timothy Smeeding, a public policy professor at the University of Wisconsin, notes that when judging Social Security, it’s not just a question of dollars paid out, but also the intangible benefits bestowed. The program’s future benefit checks provide a sense of financial security for one’s retirement years, and beneficiaries get coverage for disability and survivors’ insurance throughout their entire working careers. Such insurance would otherwise have to be purchased commercially.


"We’re not really entitled to get our money back since we didn’t save it but rather spent it on our parents," said C. Eugene Steuerle, who helped assemble the Urban Institute’s calculations.


tags: medicare funding, social security funding

Sunday, February 21, 2016

How One Middle School Cut Discipline Referrals By 98 Percent in Just One Year

By Sabrina Holcomb
Feb. 17,2016

Every student deserves to learn—and every educator deserves to teach in a safe school. But zero tolerance school discipline policies, which were supposed to make schools safer, have done more harm than good, pushing kids out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system at unprecedented rates.

Add to the mix overburdened educators, cuts to school counseling programs, and police (often referred to as school resource officers), and you’ve got the makings of . . . well . . . a school-to-prison pipeline.


Across the country, school suspensions and expulsions, referrals to alternative schools and law enforcement, and school-based arrests have increased, blurring the line between the education and criminal justice systems.

Despite the systemic obstacles that have hampered progress nationwide, many educators and their schools are leading the way in adopting more positive, less exclusionary disciplinary practices.

Meet Lynn Harrison of Redland Middle School in Montgomery County. MD. You know you’re onto something good when your school goes from referring over 1200 students to the principal’s office to under 30 in just one year. “As a staff we were thrilled at the respect that was growing in our building,” says Harrison, coordinator of Redland’s Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies (PBIS) program.

The PBIS process emphasizes constructive interventions as an alternative to punitive discipline. Redland, a bright, airy middle school with students who look like they’re happy to be there, has won an award for its efforts every year since starting the program in 2009. Equally impressive, Redland’s referral rates broken down by student ethnicity are pretty evenly distributed among White, Black, and Hispanic students—unlike some schools that improve their overall numbers but still show disproportionate referral and suspension rates for students of color.


How did they do it? How did Redland reverse the numbers and revitalize the overall school climate? By responding to the unique needs of middle schoolers, says assistant principal Shenice Brevard. “Not only are middle school students different from elementary and high school students because of the physiological changes that occur during their middle school years,” explains Brevard, “they’re highly influenced by peers and media and these distractions can lend themselves to more disruptions in the school environment.”

To get a handle on the situation, Redland focused on setting expectations, building relationships, and engaging students. Harrison and Brevard share the award-winning strategies that have made the school a PBIS star. (To learn more about strategies for keeping kids in the classroom and out of the courtroom, view and download NEA EdJustice: Freeing Schools from the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

Tools To Use

Implement school wide expectations and teach positive behaviors. •••••

Employ peer mediators. •••••

Have fun with creative rewards. •••••

Match students with mentors. •••••

Get student input on behavior contracts. •••••

Teach social and emotional skills. •••••

Work through minor incidents. •••••

Winston's 185 mph Winds in Fiji: Southern Hemisphere's Strongest Storm on Record

As the earth warms, we can expect more very strong hurricanes, as well as more severe weather events of other kinds.

By: Jeff Masters , 6:47 PM GMT on February 20, 2016

The strongest storm in recorded history for the Southern Hemisphere--mighty Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston--smashed through the islands of Fiji Friday night and Saturday morning with top sustained winds estimated at 185 mph. These winds vaulted Winston into a three-way tie as the second strongest landfalling tropical cyclone in world recorded history


Winston continued to intensify, then crashed ashore on the Fiji island of Koro (population 4,500) at peak strength--sustained winds of 185 mph--near 02 UTC Saturday (9 pm EST Friday.) This is the second strongest landfall by any tropical cyclone, globally, in recorded history. Only Super Typhoon Haiyan's 190 mph winds at landfall in 2013 in Samar, Philippines have been rated higher.


Silicon Valley Tech Worker Fired After Blogging About Starving While Working at Billion-Dollar Food Delivery Firm

By Bethania Palma Markus
Feb. 21, 2016

A fired employee from the Silicon Valley tech firm Yelp! has raised anger over the $1.38 billion company’s labor practices after writing a blog that pointed out that the profitable company’s employees are struggling to survive.

The employee, known as Talia Jane online, posted on her Medium blog that many employees can’t make basic living expenses, in an open letter to the company’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, according to Business Insider. After publishing the letter, Talia Jane was fired from her post as customer service agent.

Her letter is a summary of the economic misery many millennials have found themselves in after leaving college.

“So here I am, 25-years old, balancing all sorts of debt and trying to pave a life for myself that doesn’t involve crying in the bathtub every week,” she wrote. “Every single one of my coworkers is struggling. They’re taking side jobs, they’re living at home. One of them started a GoFundMe because she couldn’t pay her rent.”

But it seems San Francisco-based Yelp! didn’t appreciate her essay. No more than 2 hours after posting it, Talia went on Twitter to say she had been fired.

She had been paid just over $733 biweekly and was paying $1,245 monthly for rent.

“I make $8.15 an hour after taxes,” she said.

Among her other grievances, she writes, “I haven’t bought groceries since I started this job. Not because I’m lazy, but because I got this ten pound bag of rice before I moved here and my meals at home (including the one I’m having as I write this) consist, by and large, of that. Because I can’t afford to buy groceries.”


Stoppelman also responded, saying:

Late last night I read Talia’s medium contribution and want to acknowledge her point that the cost of living in SF is far too high. I have been focused on this issue, backing anti-NIMBY group SFBARF and speaking out frequently about the need to lower cost of housing. I’ve not been personally involved in Talia being let go and it was not because she posted a Medium letter directed at me. Two sides to every HR story so Twitter army please put down the pitchforks. The reality of such a high Bay Area cost of living is entry level jobs migrate to where costs of living are lower. Have already announced we are growing EAT24 support in AZ for this reason.

He further denied being involved in her firing.

Talia’s predicament is only the latest in the bad public relations Silicon Valley is getting for the precipitous inflation of the cost of living in the Bay Area coupled with severe economic inequality.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

El Nino-Linked Drought Is Ethiopia's Worst in 50 Years

This El Niño is especially severe because it is augmented by global warming. This is an example of where global warming is taking us.

by Gabe Joselow
Feb. 20, 2016

More than 10 million (10,000,000) people are in need of food aid in Ethiopia amid a drought worse than the one that triggered the haunting 1984 famine, the U.N. has warned.

Crops have withered, animals have died and water sources have dried up in parts of northeastern Ethiopia following the failure of the last two rainy seasons.

More than 400,000 children are now at risk of acute malnutrition, according to the U.N.

"It is the worst drought as compared to the last 50 years," says Mikitu Kassa, the head of Ethiopia's National Disaster Prevention Committee.

In 1984, images of emaciated children were beamed around the world inspiring international donors to reach into their pockets as celebrity musicians trumpeted the call through Live Aid concerts and charity singles including "We Are the World" and "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

This year's crisis has been blamed on the massive El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean. The same pattern that has brought extreme wet weather and snowstorms to the United States has delivered blistering heat to much of Africa.

However, while the drought might be worse, the country itself is in better shape — this is not the Ethiopia of 1984.

Strong economic growth, spurned by development-minded leaders and an influx of foreign aid has better equipped the country to confront the crisis.


But the money only goes so far.

The U.N. says $1.4 billion is needed in total humanitarian assistance to support stressed populations in Ethiopia, and has received about half that amount.

Aid agencies warn that without emergency funding, existing food stocks could run out by the end of April.

"We're on a cliff's edge," says John Aylieff, Ethiopia country director for the U.N. World Food Program. "If we can't sustain the food supply during this critical lean season then we will be seeing a dramatic rise in acute malnutrition."

Some donors have responded; the U.S. is providing $97 million in emergency aid.

However, the migrant crisis in Europe and wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen are among other problems taking attention — and money — from Ethiopia.

"It's a real struggle for donors to reach deeper in view of the fact that we have many large-scale humanitarian emergencies across the world,"Aylieff said.

Meantime, Ethiopia may just be the beginning of a larger food crisis across much of Africa.

In neighboring Somalia, which suffered its last famine in 2011, another 4.7 million people are in need of food aid.

Countries in southern Africa — including Zimbabwe, Malawi and parts of South Africa — have had their driest rainy season in the last 35 years, according to the U.N.

As crops fail and food prices soar, millions more could face hunger this year.

Nine months in a row of record warm temperatures

January 2016: Earth still on a hot streak
Author: Rebecca Lindsey
Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The planet has been on a hot streak recently. NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information reported earlier today that January 2016 became the ninth month in a row to set a new record-warmest monthly temperature. According to the report:

A strong El Niño that evolved in 2015 continued to impact global weather and temperatures at the beginning of 2016. The January 2016 globally averaged temperature across land and ocean surfaces was 1.04°C (1.87°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F), the highest for January in the 137-year period of record, breaking the previous record of 2007 by 0.16°C (0.29°F).

January 2016 also marks the ninth consecutive month that the monthly temperature record has been broken and the 14th consecutive month (since December 2014) that the monthly global temperature ranked among the three warmest for its respective month.


Volcanic Gases and Climate Change Overview - updated 10/22/2015

Volcanoes can impact climate change. During major explosive eruptions huge amounts of volcanic gas, aerosol droplets, and ash are injected into the stratosphere. Injected ash falls rapidly from the stratosphere -- most of it is removed within several days to weeks -- and has little impact on climate change. But volcanic gases like sulfur dioxide can cause global cooling, while volcanic carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, has the potential to promote global warming.

The most significant climate impacts from volcanic injections into the stratosphere come from the conversion of sulfur dioxide to sulfuric acid, which condenses rapidly in the stratosphere to form fine sulfate aerosols. The aerosols increase the reflection of radiation from the Sun back into space, cooling the Earth's lower atmosphere or troposphere. Several eruptions during the past century have caused a decline in the average temperature at the Earth's surface of up to half a degree (Fahrenheit scale) for periods of one to three years. The climactic eruption of Mount Pinatubo on June 15, 1991, was one of the largest eruptions of the twentieth century and injected a 20-million ton (metric scale) sulfur dioxide cloud into the stratosphere at an altitude of more than 20 miles. The Pinatubo cloud was the largest sulfur dioxide cloud ever observed in the stratosphere since the beginning of such observations by satellites in 1978. It caused what is believed to be the largest aerosol disturbance of the stratosphere in the twentieth century, though probably smaller than the disturbances from eruptions of Krakatau in 1883 and Tambora in 1815. Consequently, it was a standout in its climate impact and cooled the Earth's surface for three years following the eruption, by as much as 1.3 degrees at the height of the impact. Sulfur dioxide from the large 1783-1784 Laki fissure eruption in Iceland caused regional cooling of Europe and North America by similar amounts for similar periods of time.

For more information about sulfur in the atmosphere, please see Volcanic Sulfur Aerosols Affect Climate and the Earth's Ozone Layer.

While sulfur dioxide released in contemporary volcanic eruptions has occasionally caused detectable global cooling of the lower atmosphere, the carbon dioxide released in contemporary volcanic eruptions has never caused detectable global warming of the atmosphere. This is probably because the amounts of carbon dioxide released in contemporary volcanism have not been of sufficient magnitude to produce detectable global warming. For example, all studies to date of global volcanic carbon dioxide emissions indicate that present-day subaerial and submarine volcanoes release less than a percent of the carbon dioxide released currently by human activities. While it has been proposed that intense volcanic release of carbon dioxide in the deep geologic past did cause global warming, and possibly some mass extinctions, this is a topic of scientific debate at present.


Added Oct. 22, 2015


Volcanic eruptions can enhance global warming by adding CO2 to the atmosphere. However, a far greater amount of CO2 is contributed to the atmosphere by human activities each year than by volcanic eruptions. T.M.Gerlach (1991, American Geophysical Union) notes that human-made CO2 exceeds the estimated global release of CO2 from volcanoes by at least 150 times. The small amount of global warming caused by eruption-generated greenhouse gases is offset by the far greater amount of global cooling caused by eruption-generated particles in the stratosphere (the haze effect). Greenhouse warming of the earth has been particularly evident since 1980. Without the cooling influence of such eruptions as El Chichon (1982) and Mt. Pinatubo (1991), described below, greenhouse warming would have been more pronounced.


Observational evidence shows a clear correlation between historic eruptions and subsequent years of cold climate conditions. Four well-known historic examples are described below.

LAKI (1783) -- The eastern U.S. recorded the lowest-ever winter average temperature in 1783-84, about 4.8OC below the 225-year average. Europe also experienced an abnormally severe winter. Benjamin Franklin suggested that these cold conditions resulted from the blocking out of sunlight by dust and gases created by the Iceland Laki eruption in 1783. The Laki eruption was the largest outpouring of basalt lava in historic times. Franklin's hypothesis is consistent with modern scientific theory, which suggests that large volumes of SO2 are the main culprit in haze-effect global cooling.

TAMBORA (1815) -- Thirty years later, in 1815, the eruption of Mt. Tambora, Indonesia, resulted in an extremely cold spring and summer in 1816, which became known as the year without a summer. The Tambora eruption is believed to be the largest of the last ten thousand years. New England and Europe were hit exceptionally hard. Snowfalls and frost occurred in June, July and August and all but the hardiest grains were destroyed. Destruction of the corn crop forced farmers to slaughter their animals. Soup kitchens were opened to feed the hungry. Sea ice migrated across Atlantic shipping lanes, and alpine glaciers advanced down mountain slopes to exceptionally low elevations.

KRAKATAU (1883) -- Eruption of the Indonesian volcano Krakatau in August 1883 generated twenty times the volume of tephra released by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Krakatau was the second largest eruption in history, dwarfed only by the eruption of neighboring Tambora in 1815 (see above). For months after the Krakatau eruption, the world experienced unseasonably cool weather, brilliant sunsets, and prolonged twilights due to the spread of aerosols throughout the stratosphere. The brilliant sunsets are typical of atmospheric haze. The unusual and prolonged sunsets generated considerable contemporary debate on their origin.They also provided inspiration for artists who dipicted the vibrant nature of the sunsets in several late 19th-century paintings, two of which are noted here.
For a more thorough description of the 1883 eruption, see Krakatau.

PINATUBO (1991) -- Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines on June 15, 1991, and one month later Mt. Hudson in southern Chile also erupted. The Pinatubo eruption produced the largest sulfur oxide cloud this century. The combined aerosol plume of Mt. Pinatubo and Mt. Hudson diffused around the globe in a matter of months. The data collected after these eruptions show that mean world temperatures decreased by about 1 degree Centigrade over the subsequent two years. This cooling effect was welcomed by many scientists who saw it as a counter-balance to global warming.


Friday, February 19, 2016

In Exchange For Cutting Benefits, This Bankrupt Coal Company Agreed To Pay Executives Millions

by Nicole Gentile - Guest Contributor Feb 16, 2016

A bankrupt coal company last month unveiled a plan to pay top executives up to $11.9 million in bonuses over six months as an apparent reward for slashing benefits for workers and dodging environmental clean-up obligations during bankruptcy proceedings. The company, Alpha Natural Resources, is one of the four largest coal companies in the U.S. and filed for bankruptcy last year.

Seven executives and eight other employees who remain unnamed in court documents are eligible for the bonus if they hit certain metrics for cutting costs while protecting the company’s cash reserves. Top executives were already promised $2 million retention bonuses for staying with the company through August 2016. These bonuses are described by Alpha as incentives to ensure high-level performance, something that is apparently not covered by annual salaries. In 2014, as the company was evidently on the verge of financial collapse, Alpha paid CEO Kevin Crutchfield nearly $8 million, and former President Paul Vinning more than $4.5 billion.

The plan to dole out millions of dollars to the same executives that bankrupted the company is the latest in a series of controversial steps taken by the industry giant. Late last year, Alpha also proposed to eliminate health insurance, disability, and other benefits for mine workers. According to court documents, this move would affect more than 4,500 disabled former employees, non-union retirees, and their families.

The cuts, aimed at curtailing expenses and restructuring debt as the company looks to emerge from bankruptcy, would save Alpha about $3 million annually. They also put the company’s balance sheets ahead of its workers.


Alpha is not alone in its attempts to shirk its responsibility to retired and disabled mine workers. Last year, Patriot Coal Corporation — a spinoff of Peabody Energy Company’s coal assets in the Appalachian region — filed for chapter 11 protections, just 18 months after emerging from bankruptcy.

Patriot has been criticized as “designed to fail” and as a way for Peabody, the largest U.S. coal producer, to dodge its obligation to retirees and disabled workers. Patriot acquired responsibility for thousands of retired mine workers’ benefits just two years before its first chapter 11 filing. The current bankruptcy proceedings are poised to leave mine workers with none of the benefits they were promised.


Last month Arch Coal, the second largest coal producer in the U.S., also filed for bankruptcy. Similar to Alpha and Peabody, Arch also offloaded its retiree obligations to Magnum Coal, which was later acquired by Patriot.

Mine workers, while affected most egregiously, are not the only ones harmed by Alpha’s bankruptcy. In a deal struck with the state of Wyoming, the company committed to only $61 million of the $411 million in reclamation liabilities from its mining operations. This leaves $350 million in unsecured reclamation costs, and that could fall to taxpayers.


As previously reported by ThinkProgress, if all four of the U.S.’s largest coal companies went under, taxpayers would be left with a $2.7 billion price tag for cleanup and reclamation of abandoned mine sites. So far two of the four have entered bankruptcy.

The Mercury Rule Will Save Even More Money Than The EPA Thought

by Samantha Page Feb 17, 2016

The Environmental Protection Agency’s so-called Mercury Rule, which curbs mercury released from power plants, offers tens of billions of dollars in health benefits, according to a new review of research from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Findings such as these could be critical to the EPA’s successful defense of the rule and the ultimate goal of reducing Americans’ exposure to mercury. (If you have ever been told not to eat fish out of certain streams, mercury poisoning is likely the reason.)

Last year, the Supreme Court determined that the agency illegally failed to consider how costly it would be to regulate mercury from coal and oil-fired plants, which contribute half of the United States’ mercury emissions. The pro-industry ruling, a 5-4 decision penned by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, sent the regulation back down to the D.C Circuit Court for consideration.

The EPA has said it will submit a cost analysis by April 16, at which point the court could invalidate the rule or find that repealing it would cause more harm than good. The rule has been in effect while the consideration goes forward.

The review of recent scientific literature, published in Environmental Science and Technology, found that the benefits of the rule are “easily in the tens of billions” of dollars. The EPA didn’t even consider cardiovascular health benefits, the scientists said, which have more recently been tied to mercury exposure. Furthermore, the EPA underestimated how effectively reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants would reduce mercury exposure in the general public.

Methylmercury, the compound that comes from power plants, is a powerful neurotoxin that can affect coordination, impair speech and hearing, cause muscle weakness, and degrade vision. Exposure to methylmercury in utero and for infants and small children can have significant long term health impacts, including cognitive and fine motor impairments.