Saturday, December 31, 2016

Greed Springs Eternal

Paul Krugman:

Greed Springs Eternal: Jonathan Chait catches Larry Kudlow praising the Orange One for choosing a cabinet of billionaires, because rich men are incorruptible — after all, they don’t need even more money. As Chait says, this is ludicrous on its face; consider, for example, Russia’s oligarchs.

What Chait doesn’t note is the special irony of seeing this argument from Kudlow, or indeed any right-wing advocate of supply-side economics. Remember, their whole worldview is based around the claim that cutting taxes on rich people will work economic miracles, because of incentives: let a plutocrat keep more of an extra dollar in income, and he’ll innovate, create jobs, lead us to an earthly paradise in order to get that extra income.

To belabor what should be obvious: either the wealthy care about having more money or they don’t. If lower marginal tax rates are an incentive to produce more, the prospect of personal gain is an incentive to engage in corrupt practices. You can’t go all Ayn Rand/Gordon Gekko on the importance of greed as a motivator while claiming that wealth insulates ... from temptation. ...

And this is telling us something significant: namely, that supply-side economic theory is and always was a sham. It was never about the incentives; it was just another excuse to make the rich richer.







Baby teethers soothe, but many contain low levels of BPA

Public Release: 7-Dec-2016
Baby teethers soothe, but many contain low levels of BPA
American Chemical Society

Bisphenol-A (BPA), parabens and antimicrobials are widely used in personal care products and plastics. The U.S. and other governments have banned or restricted some of these compounds' use in certain products for babies and kids. But the compounds' presence in and leaching from teethers hasn't been thoroughly investigated. Now a study in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology reports that all tested plastic teethers contained BPA and other endocrine-disruptors that leached at low levels.

Studies have shown that in animals, endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) -- which include BPA, parabens and antimicrobials -- can potentially interfere with hormones and have harmful developmental, reproductive and neurological effects. As a result, the European Commission in 2011 restricted the use of BPA in baby bottles. The U.S. followed suit a year later, banning it from baby bottles, and also from children's drinking cups. Some manufacturers say they have started reducing BPA and other EDCs in additional products, even those not made for children. But very few if any studies have investigated whether the compounds are used to make teethers and if the compounds leach out of these products, which are designed to soothe babies' gums when their teeth come in.


The researchers analyzed 59 solid, gel-filled or water-filled teethers purchased online in the U.S. for 26 potential endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Although most of the products were labeled BPA-free or non-toxic, all of them contained BPA. In addition, the researchers detected a range of different parabens and the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban in most of the teethers. The study also showed that the compounds leached out of the products' surfaces into water. Based on estimates of average use time and the body weight of a 12-month-old baby, calculations suggest that exposure to BPA and other regulated EDCs in teethers would be lower than the European standards for temporary tolerable daily intake levels. However, these thresholds are set for individual compounds. Current regulations do not account for the accumulation of multiple EDCs, note the researchers. Additionally, not all chemicals measured in the study are regulated. The researchers say the findings could be used to develop appropriate policies to protect infants from exposure to potentially toxic chemicals found in teethers.

Modest increases in high blood pressure linked to death; heart failure

Public Release: 7-Dec-2016
Modest increases in high blood pressure linked to death; heart failure
American Heart Association Rapid Access Journal Report
American Heart Association

Even modest increases in high blood pressure were linked to a greater risk of death and heart failure among African American adults of all ages, according to new research in Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.


All participants were African American, nearly two-thirds were women, average age 56 years. The median follow-up was nine years for death, and seven years for hospitalization due to heart failure.

Researchers found:

Increases in systolic blood pressure were associated with a greater risk of death and heart failure across all age groups.
With every 10 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure, the risk of death increased by 12 percent.
The increased risk of death was greatest among patients under age 60, who faced a 26 percent increased risk with every 10 mm Hg increase in blood pressure, compared to less than 10 percent among those over age 60.

"This observational study should make us question whether the current JNC guidelines have identified the optimal target for blood pressure control in the African American population," Randolph said. "To fully answer this question, we will need additional large, randomized, controlled trials that enroll a diverse population. Until then, providers will have to continue assessing risk and working with patients to set blood pressure goals based on all the available data and individual patient concerns."

High blood pressure is a common disease that affects about 80 million -- one out of every three -- adults over age 20 in the United States. Often called the "silent killer" because of its lack of symptoms, high blood pressure is one of the main causes of serious diseases such as heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and heart failure. Anyone can develop high blood pressure, but African Americans and women age 65 or older are at greater risk.

High blood pressure is manageable with heart-healthy lifestyle changes, including maintaining a healthy weight, following a healthy diet, being physically active, avoiding smoking and in some cases taking blood pressure-lowering medication.

Dietary magnesium associated with reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes

Public Release: 7-Dec-2016
Dietary magnesium associated with reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes
BioMed Central

A diet rich in magnesium may reduce the risk of diseases including coronary heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes according to a new meta-analysis published in the open access journal BMC Medicine. This analysis of the evidence on dietary magnesium and health outcomes is the largest to date, involving data from more than one million people across nine countries.

The researchers, from Zhejiang University and Zhengzhou University in China, found that people in the highest category of dietary magnesium consumption had a 10% lower risk of coronary heart disease, 12% lower risk of stroke and a 26% lower risk of type-2 diabetes compared to those in the lowest category. Their results also indicate that an extra 100mg per day of dietary magnesium could also reduce risk of stroke by 7% and type-2 diabetes by 19%.


This meta-analysis involves observational studies meaning that it is not possible to rule out the effect of other biological or lifestyle factors influencing the results. It is also not possible to determine if magnesium is directly responsible for reducing disease risk. However, the large size of this analysis provides robust data that were stable when adjusting for gender and study location. The authors state that their findings reinforce the notion that increased consumption of magnesium rich foods could be beneficial for overall health.

Dad's exposure to phthalates in plastics may affect embryonic development

Public Release: 7-Dec-2016
Dad's exposure to phthalates in plastics may affect embryonic development
UMass Amherst study finds sperm exposure to plastic compounds may affect embryo
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

A new study led by environmental health scientist Richard Pilsner at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, one of the first to investigate whether preconception exposures to phthalates in fathers has an effect on reproductive success via embryo quality, found that exposures from select chemicals tested were associated with "a pronounced decrease in blastocyst quality" at an early stage in embryo development.

Phthalates are compounds found in plastics and personal care products that are estimated to be detectable in nearly 100 percent of the U.S. population.


Early life stressors adversely influence brain development

Public Release: 7-Dec-2016
Early life stressors adversely influence brain development
American College of Neuropsychopharmacology

New brain imaging evidence was advanced in a series of presentations at the recent meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology supporting the long-held belief that stressful early life experiences, such as preterm birth, poverty and lack of familial support, adversely affect brain development. Using functional brain imaging, the speakers focused on how these stressors affect the development of vulnerable brain areas that mediate emotional responses and mood.

Two studies provided evidence that early life stress associated with poverty and lack of familial support may put youth at high-risk for developing depression. The first was from Dr. Erika Forbes (U Pittsburgh), who found that poverty and mothers with depressed mood led the prefrontal cortex of boys and girls to be less responsive to rewards later in life, leading the author to conclude that lower response to reward may predict higher vulnerability to depression in children raised under socially challenging conditions. Also, less emotional support from mothers during childhood predicted adolescent girls' depression via brain response to reward. Deanna Barch (Wash U) also examined the impact of poverty and maternal support on brain function in a longitudinal study of children 2-6 years of age who were re-examined annually for 11 yr. with 3 neuroimaging episodes interspersed. Lower socioeconomic status was associated with behavioral depression and reduced volume of the cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala. Conversely, positive maternal support appeared protective, and mitigated this adverse effect of poverty on brain development in preschool children.


Helping children achieve more in school

Public Release: 7-Dec-2016
Helping children achieve more in school
Study shows learning strategies are key to academic achievement and describe behavioural interventions that could reverse underachievement

Not all children do well in school, despite being intellectually capable. Whilst parental relationships, motivation and self-concept all have a role to play, a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology shows that children's learning strategy is key for academic success.

The study showed that students with normal scores on intellectual tests but that have poor grades in secondary school are also not as good at acquiring and retaining information, or later applying it.

Lead researcher of the study and professor at the University of Alicante in Spain, Juan Castejón, concludes that underachieving students appear to employ all of the learning strategies considered, but to a lesser extent than normal and overachieving students, and this seems to be the key for academic success.

"The underachievers group of students also has poorer attitudes to learning goals, poorer relationships with their parents, and lower emotional stability than their peers," says Castejón, "but learning strategies showed the strongest relationship with achievement."

By comparing underachievers with normal- or over-achievers, the work brings new insight on how educational interventions may help those in academic difficulty.


Intimate and social relationships important for older adults in assisted living, study finds

Public Release: 7-Dec-2016
Intimate and social relationships important for older adults in assisted living, study finds
Georgia State University

Intimate and social relationships remain important for older adults residing in assisted-living facilities, according to a recent study.

In a study examining the intimate and social relationships of married and unmarried couples in assisted living, researchers found benefits of late-life couplehood included companionship, support and affection. However, there were some detrimental outcomes, such as feeling the burden of caregiving, feeling defined by one's spouse and having limited choices.

The study also showed the importance of social relationships. While many assume couples have each other and don't need or want external relationships, the frailty of participants in this study and the range of marital quality showed coupled residents could not always rely on their intimate partners for support. Fellow residents may prove to be important confidantes, companions and friends to coupled residents in assisted living, and they can help shield against negative health outcomes associated with marital transitions, such as when a spouse is ill or dies.

The findings, published in the journal The Gerontologist, demonstrate the complexity and range of later-life couples' intimate and social lives.

"These are important relationships and to the extent that they can be supported have really significant implications for well-being and quality of life for older adults," said Dr. Candace Kemp, associate professor in the Gerontology Institute and Department of Sociology at Georgia State University. "In some cases, particularly with the married couples, these are marriages that are 60 and 70 years in the making, and to separate people and not facilitate them aging in place together can be problematic."


Wis. agency scrubs webpage to remove climate change

Now we know how to solve a problem. Simply don't allow any mention of it.

Lee Bergquist, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 3:31 p.m. EST December 29, 2016

MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin's state agency that oversees environmental regulation recently removed language from its webpage on the Great Lakes that says humans and greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources now contends the subject is a matter of scientific debate.

The department made the changes Dec. 21, striking out whole sentences attributing global warming to human activities and rising levels of carbon dioxide.

It’s the most recent example of the agency removing information related to climate change. More broadly, the changes reflect how the administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker has de-emphasized the subject since he took office in 2011.


The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also recently removed a teaching guide on climate change from its website. According to the agency, it is turning it over to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.


Bill Davis, president of the John Muir chapter of the Sierra Club in Madison, described the scrubbing as “unfortunate, but not surprising — they’ve been doing it pretty much since Walker got into office.

“This is an asset, paid for with public funds, and the fact it was scrubbed off its website is not good public policy,” he said.


Climate change is affecting the Great Lakes, Brammeier said, citing as one example Green Bay’s dead zone, which has been linked to runoff and warm summer water temperatures.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Mysterious illness tied to marijuana use on the rise in states with legal weed

By Jonathan LaPook CBS News December 28, 2016, 6:59 PM

For more than two years, Lance Crowder was having severe abdominal pain and vomiting, and no local doctor could figure out why. Finally, an emergency room physician in Indianapolis had an idea.

“The first question he asked was if I was taking hot showers to find relief. When he asked me that question, I basically fell into tears because I knew he had an answer,” Crowder said.

The answer was cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS. It’s caused by heavy, long-term use of various forms of marijuana. For unclear reasons, the nausea and vomiting are relieved by hot showers or baths.

“They’ll often present to the emergency department three, four, five different times before we can sort this out,” said Dr. Kennon Heard, an emergency room physician at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Colorado.

He co-authored a study showing that since 2009, when medical marijuana became widely available, emergency room visits diagnoses for CHS in two Colorado hospitals nearly doubled. In 2012, the state legalized recreational marijuana.

“It is certainly something that, before legalization, we almost never saw,” Heard said. “Now we are seeing it quite frequently.”


CHS can lead to dehydration and kidney failure, but usually resolves within days of stopping drug use. That’s what happened with Crowder, who has been off all forms of marijuana for seven months.

“Now all kinds of ambition has come back. I desire so much more in life and, at 37 years old, it’s a little late to do it, but better now than never,”he said.


tags: drug use, drug abuse

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

US public largely unaware that cigarette smoke much more harmful than additives

Public Release: 6-Dec-2016
US public largely unaware that cigarette smoke much more harmful than additives
And they mistakenly believe that filters trap toxic chemicals

The US public is largely unaware that the chemicals produced by a burning cigarette are much more harmful than the manufacturer's additives it contains, finds a study of more than 10,000 teens and adults, published online in the journal Tobacco Control.

Other misconceptions abound, including that cigarette filters effectively trap the toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke, the findings show.

The Tobacco Control Act requires that information about the harmful chemicals contained in cigarette smoke is made publicly available, but how best to communicate this is not yet clear.


The responses showed that 61-72% of adults wrongly thought that most harmful chemicals come from the additives introduced by the manufacturers rather than from burning the cigarette. And smokers were more likely than non-smokers to believe this.

Teens were evenly split on the perceived source of harmful substances, with 43% opting for additives and 46% for the burning cigarette.

Between one in five (22%) and one in three adults (31%), and around one in four teens (27%) also wrongly believed that filters successfully trap harmful chemicals from cigarette smoke. Once again, this belief tended to be more common among the smokers.

Nearly all the respondents had heard of nicotine, and sizeable proportions had heard of carbon monoxide (59-70%),ammonia (39-53%), arsenic (42-66%) and formaldehyde (41-68%).

But awareness of nitrosamines, among the most deadly chemicals produced in cigarette smoke, varied considerably.

Respondents were more likely to say that chemicals they had heard of, and ones that started with letters rather than numbers would tempt them to quit. But this enthusiasm was more common among non-smokers than it was among smokers, and those with higher levels of literacy and numeracy.

Meanwhile, chemicals ending in 'ine' were less likely to discourage smoking among smokers and non-smokers, possibly because they sound similar to nicotine, suggest the researchers.

They point out that some of the misperceptions may have their origins in cigarette advertising.

"The tobacco industry has invested heavily in promoting 'additive-free' cigarettes. We speculate that exposure to this advertising may have contributed to the finding that people believe added chemicals, not chemicals inherent to the tobacco leaf and burning of cigarettes, are responsible for cigarettes' toxicity," they write.

Mount Sinai researchers find signs of secondhand marijuana smoke exposure in children

Not surprising.

Public Release: 7-Dec-2016
Mount Sinai researchers find signs of secondhand marijuana smoke exposure in children
The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Children exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke show measurable amounts of the drug in their bodies, a researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has found. The study was published in the journal Pediatric Research.

The study found that when young children are exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke, measurable amounts of primary metabolite of the active component in psychoactive chemical Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) appears in samples of their urine.


tags: drug use, drug abuse

Sleep apnea can contribute to recurring pulmonary embolism

Public Release: 7-Dec-2016
Sleep apnea can contribute to recurring pulmonary embolism
Suffering from sleep apnea can put patients at an increased risk for multiple emboli, according to a new study in the Dec. issue of CHEST
Elsevier Health Sciences

Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a major risk for patients suffering from venous thromboembolism (VTE) and can often be fatal. While advanced age, lack of exercise, and obesity all contribute to PE, it has been hypothesized that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may also promote the formation of blood clots. Because VTE is a chronic condition with reoccurring episodes of PE, researchers wanted to examine how OSA affected the rate of repeat PE occurrence. They found that after the first PE, OSA increases the risk for PE recurrence. Their results are published in the December issue of CHEST.

Patients who have had one PE have a 30% chance of having another episode and recurring PE carries a 9% mortality rate. While anticoagulants are very effective at decreasing the possibility of PE, their use comes with an increased risk of bleeding.


"There is growing evidence from cross-sectional and longitudinal studies that obstructive sleep apnea is a risk factor for pulmonary embolism," explained lead investigator Alberto Alonso-Fernández, MD, PhD, Hospital Universitario Son Espases, Palma de Mallorca, Spain. "This association represents a major public health burden, given the high prevalence of both disorders and the mortality rates of PE. However, to our knowledge, no longitudinal studies to date have explored the role of OSA as a risk factor for recurrent thromboembolic events."

The study followed 120 patients for five to eight years after their first occurrence of PE.


During the study, their sleep was monitored for signs of OSA. Investigators found that 19 of the patients had recurrent PE during the follow-up period and of those 19 patients, 16 of them suffered from OSA.


When paying the rent means going hungry

By Aimee Picchi MoneyWatch December 27, 2016, 1:36 PM

It is a sign of the uneven economic terrain impeding the recovery: Although U.S. consumer confidence is at its highest level in 15 years, a combination of stagnant wages and surging housing costs are leaving millions of people scrambling to afford food.

Forty-one percent of cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported an increase in demand for emergency food assistance. More than half of the Americans applying for emergency food are employed, while only 8 percent were homeless, the study found. The cities with the biggest increases include Des Moines, Iowa, where the number of requests for food help jumped 15 percent, and San Francisco, where it rose 3 percent.

The culprit is the impact of two intersecting trends that is spelling trouble for many working families: slow wage growth in the post-recession years as well as sharply higher rents. In 2013, one of four renters paid half their incomes toward rent, a trend that’s projected by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies to only worsen over the next several years.
The increase in hungry Americans means that many food pantries and emergency kitchens have had to cut back in the size of servings they can provide, the Conference of Mayors found.

“It is concerning that even people who are employed continue to need the help of food pantries to make ends meet,” said Tom Cochran, the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said in a statement.

About one-third of cities reported their emergency food kitchens and pantries had reduced the number of times families or individuals could visit each month, while 47 percent of cities said they had to turn people away or cut back their portions.

As 2016 draws to a close, food pantries around the country are reporting declining donations, although the cause isn’t due to less charitable individuals. Supermarkets, which have historically been among the biggest food donors, have become more efficient thanks to computer networks. That has reduced the amount of surplus food they have on hand to donate to food shelves, according to The Providence Journal.

Renters need to earn at least $20.30 per hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment in the U.S., according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Its 2016 report on housing affordability noted that hourly wages for workers in the bottom 10 percent of the income distribution rose just 0.2 percent from 2007 to 2015, while the top 5 percent saw income growth of 8.7 percent over that time.

Meanwhile, the amount of affordable housing hasn’t kept up with demand, the NLIHC found. The number of apartments around the U.S. that rent for less than $400 increased by 10 percent from 2003 to 2013, and the number of households who needed these low-cost apartments jumped by 40 percent.

“This burden makes it difficult to afford other basic necessities like healthy food and medication and to save for financial emergencies,” the NLIHC said.

An analysis of household expenditures by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that many middle- and low-income American households are now caught in a financial stranglehold. Costs for essentials such as housing, food and transportation have surged over the last two decades, while income hasn’t kept up. Its study found that low-income Americans end up in a financial hole of $2,300 on average because basic costs are outpacing typical income.


Monday, December 26, 2016

Direct link between REM sleep loss and the desire for sugary and fatty foods discovered

Public Release: 6-Dec-2016
Direct link between REM sleep loss and the desire for sugary and fatty foods discovered
University of Tsukuba

It is not well understood what role sleep loss plays in affecting areas of the brain that control the desire to consume unhealthy foods. A new paper published on December 6 in the journal eLife finds that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep loss leads to increased consumption of unhealthy foods, specifically sucrose and fat.


Tibetan Mastiff gained high altitude adaptation after domestication by wolf interbreeding

Public Release: 6-Dec-2016
Tibetan Mastiff gained high altitude adaptation after domestication by wolf interbreeding
Same gene, same mechanism -- interbreeding -- as in humans
Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press)

The Tibetan Mastiff is famed for its high-altitude prowess, showing a remarkable strength and endurance to 3-mile elevations and even higher. Evolutionary biologists have successfully identified the genes responsible for this adaptation, yet an elusive question remained: Exactly how did they acquire the adaptation?

The answer, found by a Chinese research group led by Zhen Wang and Yixue Li, sheds light on not only the genetic origins of high-altitude elevation, but a remarkable tale of interbreeding in the adaptation of both dog and modern man.

Their new study demonstrates strong genetic evidence that, when man first settled into the Tibetan plateau, the recently domesticated Tibetan Mastiff interbred with the Tibet grey wolf, and a DNA swap being introduced at two genomic hotspots is the key to acquiring their special high altitude powers.


Now, the Chinese group utilized the genomes for their comparative Tibetan study.

First, they showed that Tibetan Mastiffs are much more closely related with other Chinese dogs rather than grey wolves. Secondly, they found two unique genomic hotspots, the EPAS1 and HBB loci, that show the significant signals of interbreeding with the Tibet grey wolf and underwent strong positive selection.

And in a spectacular coincidence, it turns out to be the same location, same gene, same mechanism -- interbreeding -- as in humans.

And as for modern humans? Well, other recent studies suggest that Tibetans repeated this interbreeding adaptation---recent evidence shows that they may have also acquired their high-altitude adaptation by interbreeding with an ancient hominid known as the Denisovans. Even in evolutionary biology, history may have a way of repeating itself.

So perhaps it's not surprising after all that 'man's best friend' would adapt in a similar manner. The study adds to the significant evidence generated by scientists of the profound contributions and adaptations that can occur as a result of ancient interbreeding.

Arts programming may help lower stress in economically disadvantaged preschoolers

Public Release: 6-Dec-2016
Arts programming may help lower stress in economically disadvantaged preschoolers
Society for Research in Child Development

Previous research has determined that poverty can harm children's educational, social-emotional, and physical health, in part by damaging the bodily systems that respond to the chronically high levels of stress that children in poverty are more likely to experience. A new study has found that intensive arts programs--music, dance, and visual arts--may address this phenomenon by lowering the stress levels of economically disadvantaged preschoolers, as measured through cortisol.

The study, by scientists at West Chester University and the University of Delaware, appears in the journal Child Development.


The researchers found that cortisol levels were lower after arts classes than after homeroom, suggesting that taking part in arts programming helped reduce the stress levels of these children.

"The study has important implications," says Brown. "In an ideal world, no child would grow up in poverty. Working toward this ideal requires attention to not only economic inequities but also to the many related inequities that harm children who grow up poor and to the opportunities for disrupting the strong predictive relationship between poverty and negative outcomes. This study demonstrates that a nonmonetary intervention can reduce cortisol levels. In this case, the intervention is the arts."

Researchers saw these positive effects at the middle and end of the year, but not at the start of the school year. "The physiological benefits of arts programming may not be seen when children are first exposed," explains Mallory Garnett, research coordinator at ECCEL, who also worked on the study. "The benefits may depend on children adjusting to the classes and accumulating skills from the programming."


Children's early math knowledge related to later achievement

Public Release: 6-Dec-2016
Children's early math knowledge related to later achievement
Not all skills related equally
Society for Research in Child Development

Educators, policymakers, and parents have begun to focus more on children's math learning in the earliest years. Yet parents and teachers still find it challenging to know which kinds of early math skills merit attention in the classroom. Determining how to help children achieve in math is important, particularly for children from low-income families who often enter school with weaker math knowledge than their peers. A new longitudinal study conducted in Tennessee has found that low-income children's math knowledge in preschool was related to their later achievement--but not all types of math knowledge were related equally. The findings suggest that educators and school administrators may want to consider carefully which areas of math study they shift attention to as they develop curricula for the early years.

Conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University, the study appears in the journal Child Development.


Preschool math skills supported first-grade math skills, which in turn supported fifth-grade math knowledge, according to the study. In preschool, children's skills in patterning, comparing quantities, and counting objects were stronger predictors of their math achievement in fifth grade than other skills, the study found. By first grade, patterning remained important, and understanding written numbers and calculating emerged as important predictors of later achievement.


Missing 1-2 hours of sleep doubles crash risk

A wonderful thing about being retired is being able to get enough sleep. Being a night person, I was always sleep deprived.

Public Release: 6-Dec-2016
Missing 1-2 hours of sleep doubles crash risk
AAA Foundation study reveals the dangers of getting less than 7 hours of sleep

Drivers who miss between one to two hours of the recommended seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period nearly double their risk for a crash, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 35 percent of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended seven hours daily. And with drowsy driving involved in more than one in five fatal crashes on U.S. roadways each year, AAA warns drivers that getting less than seven hours of sleep may have deadly consequences.

"You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel," said Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Our new research shows that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk."

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's report, Acute Sleep Deprivation and Risk of Motor Vehicle Crash Involvement, reveals that drivers missing 2-3 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period more than quadrupled their risk of a crash compared to drivers getting the recommended seven hours of sleep. This is the same crash risk the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration associates with driving over the legal limit for alcohol.

The AAA Foundation report found that in a 24-hour period, crash risk for sleep-deprived drivers increased steadily when compared to drivers who slept the recommended seven hours or more:

Six to seven hours of sleep: 1.3 times the crash risk
Five to six hours of sleep: 1.9 times the crash risk
Four to five hours of sleep: 4.3 times the crash risk
Less than four hours of sleep: 11.5 times the crash risk

While 97 percent of drivers told the AAA Foundation they view drowsy driving as a completely unacceptable behavior that is a serious threat to their safety, nearly one in three admit that at least once in the past month they drove when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

"Managing a healthy work-life balance can be difficult and far too often we sacrifice our sleep as a result," said Jake Nelson, director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research for AAA. "Failing to maintain a healthy sleep schedule could mean putting yourself or others on the road at risk."

Study finds high rate of depression, suicidal ideation among medical students

An obvious contributor is inadequate sleep.

Public Release: 6-Dec-2016
Study finds high rate of depression, suicidal ideation among medical students
The JAMA Network Journals

A review and analysis of nearly 200 studies involving 129,000 medical students in 47 countries found that the prevalence of depression or depressive symptoms was 27 percent, that 11 percent reported suicidal ideation during medical school, and only about 16 percent of students who screened positive for depression reportedly sought treatment, according to a study appearing in the December 6 issue of JAMA, a medical education theme issue.


"Possible causes of depressive and suicidal symptomatology in medical students likely include stress and anxiety secondary to the competitiveness of medical school. Restructuring medical school curricula and student evaluations might ameliorate these stresses. Future research should also determine how strongly depression in medical school predicts depression during residency and whether interventions that reduce depression in medical students carry over in their effectiveness when those students transition to residency. Furthermore, efforts are continually needed to reduce barriers to mental health services, including addressing the stigma of depression."


Social eating leads to overeating, especially among men

Public Release: 6-Dec-2016
Social eating leads to overeating, especially among men
Cornell Food & Brand Lab

Gorging at a holiday meal or friend's BBQ might have more to do with your ego than the quality of the food -- especially if you're a man.

A new Cornell Food and Brand Lab study finds that men are at particular risk of overeating in social situations even when there is no incentive to do so. "Even if men aren't thinking about it, eating more than a friend tends to be understood as a demonstration of virility and strength," explains co-author Kevin Kniffin, PhD.


"Focus on your friends and not the food," suggests lead author, Brian Wansink, PhD, Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design. He notes that these findings have obvious implications-- from tailgates, to holidays, to all-you-can-eat night-- and concludes, "If you want to prove how macho you are, challenge your friend to a healthy arm wrestle instead of trying to out-eat him."

Body composition may affect older women's risk of urinary incontinence

ublic Release: 6-Dec-2016
Body composition may affect older women's risk of urinary incontinence

In a study of older women, the prevalence of stress- and urgency urinary incontinence (SUI and UUI) was at least two-fold higher among women in the highest category of body mass index (BMI) or fat mass compared with women in the lowest category.

Also, women who lost at least 5% of their BMI or fat mass were less likely to experience new or persistent SUI over 3 years than women with less weight loss.


Trump to inherit more than 100 court vacancies, plans to reshape judiciary

I have no doubt Trump will nominate people likely to rule in favor of big business against the interests of most of us.

By Philip Rucker and Robert Barnes December 25, 2016

Donald Trump is set to inherit an uncommon number of vacancies in the federal courts in addition to the open Supreme Court seat, giving the president-elect a monumental opportunity to reshape the judiciary after taking office.

The estimated 103 judicial vacancies that President Obama is expected to hand over to Trump in the Jan. 20 transition of power is nearly double the 54 openings Obama found eight years ago following George W. Bush’s presidency.

Confirmation of Obama’s judicial nominees slowed to a crawl after Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015. Obama White House officials blame Senate Republicans for what they characterize as an unprecedented level of obstruction in blocking the Democratic president’s court picks.

The result is a multitude of openings throughout the federal circuit and district courts that will allow the new Republican president to quickly make a wide array of lifetime appointments.


The Supreme Court vacancy created by Scalia’s death in February was a motivating issue for many conservative voters, especially evangelical Christians, to turn out for Trump. Senate Republicans refused to hold even a hearing on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, for the Scalia seat.


Twenty-five of Obama’s court nominees were pending on the Senate floor, after having been approved out of the committee with bipartisan support, but did not get a vote before the Senate ended its two-year term before the holidays, according to White House spokesman Eric Schultz.

“Republican tactics have been shameful and will forever leave a stain on the United States Senate,” Schultz said. “Republican congressional dysfunction has now metastasized to the third branch of government, and that is not a legacy to be proud of.”


The Trump administration and the Senate will be under pressure to quickly install judges in courts around the country where cases are severely backlogged because of long-vacant seats.

There are 38 so-called judicial emergencies, according to the nonpartisan Judicial Conference, including in Texas, where seven seats have sat empty for more than one year. The Obama administration and the state’s two conservative Republican senators could not come to an agreement on nominees for the many openings.

“There is a real impact on real people,” said W. Neil Eggleston, Obama’s White House counsel. “There are people and companies who are not having their cases heard because there are no judges around.”


While the Supreme Court hears roughly 75 cases a year, tens of thousands are decided at the circuit court level, affecting all who live in the states within those circuits.


Rex Tillerson's Record on Climate Change: Rhetoric vs. Reality

By Neela Banerjee
Dec. 22, 2016

After Donald Trump selected Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, ExxonMobil's chief executive was lauded by some in the media and climate policy experts as a possible moderating voice on climate change in a Trump administration where denial is shaping up to be orthodoxy. As chief of the nation's diplomacy, Tillerson will shepherd U.S. climate efforts abroad.

Many cited Exxon's acceptance that climate change poses significant risks, support of the Paris climate agreement and a carbon tax as reasons for their guarded optimism. But Exxon's actions and Tillerson's own off-the-cuff comments belie the official communications. The company has a long record of funding climate denial (which continued under Tillerson) and is under investigation for potentially defrauding investors by failing to tell them that it knew decades ago of the risks climate change posed to the bottom line. Tillerson has also overseen an expansion of Exxon's investment in developing Alberta's tar sands, some of the most carbon-heavy fuel in the world.

InsideClimate News has spent almost two years looking into Exxon's workings and has written dozens of stories on the company. Here's what we've learned about Tillerson and Exxon.


Does Exxon still fund climate denial?


In 2007, Exxon pledged in its corporate responsibility report that it would no longer contribute "to several public policy research groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner."

But over time, it became apparent that the company has not held to its pledge. During the last few years, reports based on Exxon's public filings have shown that the company continues to support politicians and organizations that sow doubt about climate change and work to halt action on it. That has prompted more than 100 U.S. earth scientists to call for their prestigious professional association, the American Geophysical Union, to stop accepting funding from Exxon.

The scientists pointed out that the company still supported, for instance, the American Enterprise Institute, whose fellow, Jonah Goldberg, falsely told Fox News in 2014 that it was "utterly fraudulent" that 97 percent of scientists actively doing research into climate change back the theory that it is driven by human activity, mostly fossil fuel use.

Exxon still funds groups such as the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that deny climate change and lobby against action to address it.

In recent years, many corporations, including energy companies such as BP and Shell, have dropped ALEC. Some, such as Google, have cited ALEC's obstructionist stance on climate change, while Exxon has given $1.7 million between 1998 and 2014 and was among the top funders of the annual ALEC conference in July 2016.

Exxon has also given $1.8 million in campaign contributions since 2007 to more than 100 members of Congress who deny climate change, such as Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Protecting babies from eczema with low-cost Vaseline

Public Release: 5-Dec-2016
Protecting babies from eczema with low-cost Vaseline
Low-priced moisturizers effective in preventing costly inflammatory skin disorder in babies
Northwestern University

What if it was possible to prevent your child from getting eczema -- a costly, inflammatory skin disorder -- just by applying something as inexpensive as petroleum jelly every day for the first six months of his or her life?

A Northwestern Medicine study published today (Dec. 5) in JAMA Pediatrics found that seven common moisturizers would be cost effective in preventing eczema in high-risk newborns. By using the cheapest moisturizer in the study (petroleum jelly), the cost benefit for prophylactic moisturization was only $353 per quality-adjusted life year - a generic measure of disease burden that assesses the monetary value of medical interventions in one's life.

Eczema impacts as many as 20 percent of children and costs the U.S. healthcare system as much as $3.8 billion dollars every year. Previous studies have shown that families caring for a child with the costly skin disorder can spend as much as 35 percent of their discretionary income - an average of $274 per month.

"It's not only terrible for the kids, but also for their families," said lead and corresponding study author Dr. Steve Xu, a resident physician in dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Eczema can be devastating. Beyond the intractable itch, a higher risk of infections and sleep problems, a child with eczema means missed time from school, missed time from work for parents and huge out-of-pocket expenses. So if we can prevent that with a cheap moisturizer, we should be doing it."

Early studies from Japan, the U.S. and the U.K. have suggested that full-body application of moisturizers for six to eight months, beginning within the first few weeks of life, can reduce the risk that eczema will develops.


"There's an important economic argument to be made here," Xu said. "Moisturizers are an important intervention dermatologists use to treat eczema. They play a big role in getting our patients better. But insurers do not usually cover the cost of moisturizers. We're arguing for their inclusion in health insurance coverage."

Xu acknowledges the evidence is preliminary on prophylactic moisturization but said, "We're not giving them an oral drug or injecting them with a medication; there is minimal risk. We're putting Vaseline on these babies to potentially prevent a very devastating disease."

In addition to preventing eczema, Xu cites emerging work that preserving the skin barrier may also reduce the risk of other health problems like food allergies. He notes that larger, long-term clinical studies are underway to see if prophylactic moisturizing leads to sustained benefits.

Parenting classes benefit all, especially lower-income families

Public Release: 5-Dec-2016
Parenting classes benefit all, especially lower-income families
Oregon State University

Parenting education can improve the skills of every mom and dad and the behavior of all children, and it particularly benefits families from low-income or otherwise underserved populations, a new study from Oregon State University suggests.

Researchers examined a sample of more than 2,300 mothers and fathers who participated in parenting education series in the Pacific Northwest between 2010 and 2012. The series, designed to support parents of children up to 6 years old, typically lasted nine to 12 weeks and consisted of one one-hour session per week led by a parent education facilitator. There was no fee for participants.

The study, part of a growing partnership between the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences and the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative to increase access to parenting education for all families, may remove some of the stigma attached to parenting education, which has historically been associated with court orders for parents who've run afoul of child-protective laws.

"Parenting education works across the board," said John Geldhof, an OSU assistant professor of behavioral and health sciences. "All parents can benefit. The way people typically learn parenting is from their parents and from books, and often times what they've learned is out of date and not the best practices for today. All parents - high income, low income, mandated, not mandated - can benefit from evidence-based parenting education."

Neglectful or otherwise ineffective parenting strategies, which can be heightened by economic strain, can put children in jeopardy. While many parenting practices can lead to favorable outcomes in children, research indicates that the optimal combination usually features high levels of support and monitoring and the avoidance of harsh punishment. Those positive outcomes include higher grades, fewer behavior problems, less substance use, better mental health and greater social competence.

Findings of the OSU research, recently published in Children and Youth Services Review, indicate that parent education series serving predominantly lower-income parents resulted in greater improvements in their skills and their children's behaviors compared to series serving higher-income parents.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Life sentence tossed for La. man who stole $15

Dec. 23, 2016

A Louisiana appeals court has tossed out the life sentence for a man convicted of grabbing $15 from a parked car.

The court noted that Walter Johnson’s sentence was - in a sense - legal: Johnson had three previous convictions and was sentenced under a statute mandating life sentences for fourth-offenders.

But the court said this was unconstitutionally excessive in Johnson’s case.

The appeals court ordered a New Orleans judge to hold a new hearing, consider the evidence and come up with a reduced sentence.

Wednesday’s decision from a three judge panel of the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal upheld Johnson’s conviction. The panel rejected Johnson’s argument that he was entrapped when he snatched the cash through the open window of a car police were using to snare burglars.

Friday, December 23, 2016

During last warming period, Antarctica heated up 2 to 3 times more than planet average

Public Release: 5-Dec-2016
During last warming period, Antarctica heated up 2 to 3 times more than planet average
Amplification of warming at poles consistent with today's climate change models
University of California - Berkeley

Following Earth's last ice age, which peaked 20,000 years ago, the Antarctic warmed between two and three times the average temperature increase worldwide, according to a new study by a team of American geophysicists.

The disparity - Antarctica warmed about 11 degrees Celsius, nearly 20 degrees Fahrenheit, between about 20,000 and 10,000 years ago, while the average temperature worldwide rose only about 4 degrees Celsius, or 7 degrees Fahrenheit -- highlights the fact that the poles, both the Arctic in the north and the Antarctic in the south, amplify the effects of a changing climate, whether it gets warmer or cooler.

The calculations are in line with estimates from most climate models, proving that these models do a good job of estimating past climatic conditions and, very likely, future conditions in an era of climate change and global warming.

"The result is not a surprise, but if you look at the global climate models that have been used to analyze what the planet looked like 20,000 years ago - the same models used to predict global warming in the future -- they are doing, on average, a very good job reproducing how cold it was in Antarctica," said first author Kurt Cuffey, a glaciologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and professor of geography and of earth and planetary sciences. "That is noteworthy and a confirmation that we know how the system works."


The situation today, with global warming driven primarily by human emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, is different from natural cycles, he said. The ability of the oceans to take up carbon dioxide cannot keep up with the rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which means carbon dioxide and global temperatures will continue to increase unless humans cut their carbon dioxide emissions.

When permafrost melts, what happens to all that stored carbon?

Public Release: 5-Dec-2016
When permafrost melts, what happens to all that stored carbon?
Study shows massive release during past warming spike
The Earth Institute at Columbia University

The Arctic's frozen ground contains large stores of organic carbon that have been locked in the permafrost for thousands of years. As global temperatures rise, that permafrost is starting to melt, raising concerns about the impact on the climate as organic carbon becomes exposed. A new study is shedding light on what that could mean for the future by providing the first direct physical evidence of a massive release of carbon from permafrost during a warming spike at the end of the last glacial period.

The study, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, documents how Siberian soil once locked in permafrost was carried into the Arctic Ocean during that period at a rate about seven times higher than today.

"We know the Arctic today is under threat because of growing climate warming, but we don't know to what extent permafrost will respond to this warming. The Arctic carbon reservoir locked in the Siberian permafrost has the potential to lead to massive emissions of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere," said study co-author Francesco Muschitiello, a post-doctoral research fellow at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.


The new study looks at a parallel process, estimating the change in the amount of carbon released from permafrost by examining the amount of organic carbon that was washed from destabilized permafrost into the Lena River and out toward the Arctic Ocean. When permafrost starts to melt, its top "active layer" deepens and the soil loosens, allowing water to flow through it more easily, releasing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and washing away stored carbon.

"The results indicate severe deepening of the active-layer permafrost in the watershed and release of previously frozen-lock soil carbon, which also implies enhanced microbial respiration of CO2 with important implications for carbon-climate feedback during climate warming," said lead author Tommaso Tesi, a researcher at the Italian National Research Council. Oceans also release CO2 from organic carbon.


North Carolina is no longer classified as a democracy

The republicans said the Democrats did this in the 1970's. In the 1970's, the kind of people who are now in the republican party were in the Democratic party in the south.

By Brooke Seipel - 12/23/16
Dec. 22, 2016

North Carolina can no longer be considered a democracy, according to a new report from the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP), which rated the state's overall electoral integrity at the same levels of those in authoritarian states and "pseudo-democracies" such as Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone.

The state scored 58 out of 100, with ratings so poor on the measures of legal framework and voter registration that it tracked closely with those in Iran and Venezuela. The state got a score of 7 out of 100 for the integrity of voting district boundaries.

According to the report, North Carolina was the worst state for unfair districting in the United States and the worst ever analyzed by the EIP in the world. These ratings mean that the state can no longer be considered a democracy.

North Carolina can no longer be considered a democracy, according to a new report from the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP), which rated the state's overall electoral integrity at the same levels of those in authoritarian states and "pseudo-democracies" such as Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone.

The state scored 58 out of 100, with ratings so poor on the measures of legal framework and voter registration that it tracked closely with those in Iran and Venezuela. The state got a score of 7 out of 100 for the integrity of voting district boundaries.

According to the report, North Carolina was the worst state for unfair districting in the United States and the worst ever analyzed by the EIP in the world. These ratings mean that the state can no longer be considered a democracy.

By Andrew Reynolds
Dec. 22, 2016

In 2005, in the midst of a career of traveling around the world to help set up elections in some of the most challenging places on earth – Afghanistan, Burma, Egypt, Lebanon, South Africa, Sudan and Yemen, among others – my Danish colleague, Jorgen Elklit, and I designed the first comprehensive method for evaluating the quality of elections around the world. Our system measured 50 moving parts of an election process and covered everything from the legal framework to the polling day and counting of ballots.

In 2012 Elklit and I worked with Pippa Norris of Harvard University, who used the system as the cornerstone of the Electoral Integrity Project. Since then the EIP has measured 213 elections in 153 countries and is widely agreed to be the most accurate method for evaluating how free and fair and democratic elections are across time and place.

When we evolved the project I could never imagine that as we enter 2017, my state, North Carolina, would perform so badly on this, and other, measures that we are no longer considered to be a fully functioning democracy.

In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.

Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.


Woman dies in Texas jail after police refuse her medical care for 2 weeks

By Mo Barnes | May 18, 2016

Needed attention is being drawn to the tragic and perhaps preventable death of Symone Nicole Marshall, 22, who died in police custody last week. Marshall was the mom of a 5 year-old daughter and moved to Texas to start a new life. According to her family, she had a good job and was planning to purchase a home. But that all changed on April 26, 2016 when she was forced off the road by an unknown driver in an act of road rage. The accident caused her car to flip several times and land in a ditch. When police responded to the accident, it was evident after the crash that Marshall needed medical attention. Instead of transporting her to a hospital, police cited her for not possessing a valid driver’s license and took her to the Walker County Jail in Huntsville, Texas.

While in the jail, she pleaded with police to take her to a hospital because she was not feeling well. Her sister Honey Marshall told media outlet The New York Daily News, “When I talked to her from jail, she complained that her head was hurting and she kept blacking out… I called the jail several times and requested for them to take her to a real hospital and they wouldn’t do so. If they would have done this, her death could have been prevented and my sister would still be here.”

Jail officials still ignored her situation and on May 10, 2016, Symone Marshall died in jail due to a blood clot in her lungs.


The U.S. Has Been Overwhelmingly Hot This Year

Brian Kahn By Brian Kahn
Dec. 21, 2016

In a politically divisive year, there’s been one tie that has bound most of the U.S. together. We all live in the United States of Warming (USW! USW! USW!).

In all likelihood, the U.S. is going to have its second-hottest year on record, trailing only 2012. Every state is slated to have a top 10 warmest year and even at the city level, unrelenting warmth has been the main story in 2016.

Climate Central conducted an analysis of more than 1,730 weather stations across the Lower 48 that include daily temperature data up until Dec. 15.

A paltry 2 percent are having a colder-than-normal year. That leaves 98 percent running above normal. Not only that, 10 percent of those weather stations are having their hottest year on record.

Those record-hot places can be found from coast to coast. They include medium-sized cities like Asheville, N.C., Modesto, Calif., and Flint, Mich., as well as lesser-known locales like Neosho, Mo., Callahan, Calif., and Climax, Colo.

While some of the heat was driven by the super El Niño earlier this year, that alone doesn’t explain all the records being set, particularly in the latter half of the year after El Niño faded. Climate change has caused the U.S. average temperature to increase about 1.5°F since the 1880s.

Another area where climate change caused a shift is the number of record daily highs being set, and this year has been no exception. In November, record daily highs outpaced daily lows at a blistering 44-to-1 pace. For the year, that ratio is 6-to-1, with more record highs than lows set in every season. In a climate with no manmade warming, the ratio of record highs to record lows would be roughly 1-to-1.

The ratio tipping toward more record highs than lows is one of the hallmarks of climate change as extreme heat becomes common. Rising background temperatures could mean that by mid-century, the annual ratio could approach 15-to-1, making winter cold a thing of the past and summers uncomfortably hot.

While the U.S. has been united by heat this year, it’s hardly a case of American exceptionalism. After all, the planet is just a few weeks away from wrapping its hottest year on record.

Drug company Forest agrees to pay $38 million to settle kickback allegations

Dec 19, 2016 | Tim Casey

Forest Laboratories and Forest Pharmaceuticals agreed to pay $38 million to the federal government and several states to settle allegations regarding sales and marketing practices involving three medications.


The government investigated Forest for violating the Anti-Kickback Statute from 2008 through 2011 for the following three drugs: Bystolic (nebivolol) to treat high blood pressure, Savella (milnacipran) to treat fibromyalgia and Namenda (memantine) to treat dementia associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Nebivolol is an oral medication that the FDA approved in 2007 to lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension.

During that time period, Forest allegedly provided payments and meals to physicians for speaking programs even when the programs were cancelled, when no licensed healthcare professionals attended the programs, when the same attendees attended multiple programs during a short time period and when meals exceeded the company’s cost limitations.

“Quality and patient safety must be the driving factors in the medical decision making process,” Lamont Pugh III, the special agent in charge, said in a news release. “Attempting to sway physicians to deviate from those core values with illegal inducements, as alleged in this lawsuit, debilitates their unbiased medical judgment at the expense of patients and taxpayers.”


Trump's Health Secretary Pick Favors the Rich, Not the Sick, Experts Argue

by Maggie Fox
Dec. 21, 2016

The Georgia Republican congressman being nominated to head the Health and Human Services Department next year under a new Trump administration would gut Obamacare and replace it with plans that favor the well-to-do, two experts argued Wednesday.

They say Rep. Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon, would free insurance companies to return to some of their worst abuses of patients and take away subsidies that help the poor afford medical care.


If he had his way, he'd funnel federal money to people who do not need it, the two former HHS officials who are now health policy experts argue in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Price has sponsored legislation that supports making armor-piercing bullets more accessible and opposing regulation on cigars, and he has voted against regulating tobacco as a drug," Sherry Glied, dean of the graduate school of public service at New York University, and Richard Frank, a health care policy professor at Harvard Medical School, wrote in their joint commentary.


"He has also voted against funding for combating AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis; against expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program; and in favor of allowing hospitals to turn away Medicaid and Medicare patients seeking nonemergency care if they could not afford copayments," they wrote.

"He opposes stem-cell research and voted against expanding the National Institutes of Health budget and against the recently enacted 21st Century Cures Act, showing particular animus toward the cancer Moonshot," they added.


But Glied and Frank argue that Price's replacement ideas would not help people who need it most.

"Price's plan would withdraw almost all the ACA's federal consumer protection regulations, including limits on insurer profits and requirements that plans cover essential health benefits," Glied and Frank said. His plan would eliminate the expansion of Medicaid that states have used to cover many low-income working adults, and replace it with flat tax credits based on age, not on income.

"In sum, Price's replacement proposal would make it much more difficult for low-income Americans to afford health insurance," they wrote. "It would divert federal tax dollars to people who can already buy individual coverage without subsidies and substantially reduce protections for those with preexisting conditions."

'Plastic rice' seized in Nigeria

Conservatives & libertarians will be unhappy that the businesses that did this were not allowed to make the profits that their hard work deserved. /sarcasm

Dec. 21, 2016

Nigeria has confiscated 2.5 tonnes of "plastic rice" smuggled into the country by unscrupulous businessmen, the customs service says.

Lagos customs chief Haruna Mamudu said the fake rice was intended to be sold in markets during the festive season.

He said the rice was very sticky after it was boiled and "only God knows what would have happened" if people ate it.

It is not clear where the seized sacks came from but rice made from plastic pellets was found in China last year.


Whoever made this fake rice did an exceptionally good job - on first impression it would have fooled me. When I ran the grains through my fingers nothing felt out of the ordinary.

But when I smelt a handful of the "rice" there was a faint chemical odour. Customs officials say when they cooked up the rice it was too sticky - and it was then abundantly clear this was no ordinary batch.

They've sent a sample to the laboratories to determine exactly what the "rice" is made of.

They are also warning the public not to consume the mystery foodstuff as it could be dangerous.

Fake food scandals are thankfully rare in Nigeria when you compare it to countries such as China.

The big scandal here is fake pharmaceutical drugs that kill a huge number of people every year.


Trump vineyard seeks Labor Department approval to hire foreign workers

By Patricia Sullivan December 22 at 4:59 PM

Federal ethics experts for former Democratic and Republican administrations warned Thursday that President-elect Donald Trump is creating a major conflict of interest by allowing his Virginia vineyard to seek special temporary visas for foreign workers.

Trump, who is president of the Charlottesville vineyard that applied this month for H2 visas for six foreign workers, will soon run the U.S. government, which determines whether to grant those visas.


Trump, whose transition team and press office did not respond to requests for comment on the matter, consistently argued during the presidential campaign that the federal government should limit immigration to protect American jobs. The visas his business seeks do not allow workers to permanently reside in the United States.


The Trump vineyard applied for 19 temporary visas for foreign workers in 2014, 2015 and this year, before the most recent request, according to federal records. In addition, he has sought to hire 513 foreign workers since 2013 for some of his other businesses, including for his Palm Beach home, Mar-a-Lago Club.


Donald Trump’s Pick for Health Secretary Traded Medical Stocks While in House

By James V. Grimaldi and Michelle Hackman
Dec. 22, 2016 6:57 p.m. ET

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to run the Health and Human Services Department traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies over the past four years while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks.

Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, bought and sold stock in about 40 health-care, pharmaceutical and biomedical companies since 2012, including a dozen in the current congressional session, according to a Wall Street Journal review of hundreds of pages of stock trades he filed with Congress.

In the same two-year period, he has sponsored nine and co-sponsored 35 health-related bills in the House.

His stock trades included Amgen Inc., Bristol Meyers Squibb Co., Eli Lilly & Co., Pfizer Inc. and Aetna Inc.

His largest single stock buy was an August 2016 purchase of between $50,000 and $100,000 of an Australian biomedical firm, Innate Immunotherapeutics Inc., whose largest shareholder is a GOP congressman on the Trump transition team, according to the filings, which list price ranges. . The stock has since doubled in price.


The health-care industry is Mr. Price’s biggest patron. In 2015 and 2016, he received about $730,000 in campaign donations from health professionals, insurers and drug companies, more than from any other industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Over his six terms, he has raised about $15 million, and about $4.8 million came from the health sector. Insurer Aetna donated a total of $10,000 to Mr. Price in 2015 and 2016 through its PAC. Pfizer, the drug giant, donated $3,500 through its PAC. Eli Lilly gave $5,000.


One law enacted this month that could benefit Innate Immuno is the 21st Century Cures Act, which authorizes spending $6.3 billion for medical research, including $500 million for the FDA to speed up drug approvals.

A key provision that would permit clinical trials of new medical treatments to proceed more quickly was written by Mr. Collins as a member of the health panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Same Russians Who Hacked DNC Helped Target, Kill Ukrainian Soldiers

by Ken Dilanian
Dec. 22, 2016

The Russian military intelligence agency that stole information from the Democratic National Committee this year also employed its hacking tools to pinpoint and kill Ukrainian soldiers in 2014, according to a report released Thursday by a cyber security firm.

The company, Crowdstrike, was hired by the DNC to investigate the hack and issued a report publicly attributing it to Russian intelligence. One of Crowdstrike's senior executives is Shawn Henry, a former senior FBI official who consults for NBC News. The firm employs other veterans of the FBI and the National Security Agency, the government's digital spying arm.

Co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch, who oversaw the research, told NBC News that the report is further evidence that "it wasn't a 400-pound guy in his bed," who hacked the Democrats, but Russian intelligence agencies. President-elect Donald Trump famously raised the possibility that the Democrats were hacked by an overweight man.


In Thursday's report, Crowdstrike says Fancy Bear used a variant of the malware to learn the locations of Ukrainian artillery positions in 2014, when that country was battling Russian-backed separatists.


Here’s how your finances will be impacted by climate change

I suggest reading the whole article at the following link:

By Kari Paul
Dec. 20, 2016

Our planet is warming, putting at risk not only our physical well-being, but our wallets.

2016 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record and scientists say global temperatures may rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit before the end of the 21st century. As climate change escalates, cities are building sea walls, seeking new water sources for drought-stricken land, and storm-proofing their infrastructure in preparation. But while impending environmental impact of rising temperatures may be the most tangible, the often-overlooked effects on our pocketbooks may be just as worrisome, according to David Stookey, author of new book “Climate-Proof Your Personal Finances” published the Savvy Families Institute, an organization he heads that is based in Rhode Island.

“The physical problems are going to affect relatively few people in America — a much broader number are going to experience these problems financially,” he said. “The physical risks are nothing compared with the financial risks.” For this generation, at least.


The speed and degree to with climate change will affect us — and what we will do to slow it — is not fully known, but we can begin taking measures now to financially prepare.

1. Re-evaluate your budget

Climate change will send food, energy, and water costs soaring, and savvy consumers should adjust their home budgets accordingly, according to the Brookings Institution, a research think tank in Washington, D.C. Incomes are expected to shrink by 36% by 2100 due to climate change, and millennials will bear the brunt of the economic effects.

Rising temperatures, the erosion of topsoil in farming states, and erratic weather events are expected to drive food costs up between 3% and 84% by 2050. Consider cutting back on resource-intensive food like beef and other animal products as well as buying produce from local farms to keep costs down.

Impending water shortages can affect the costs of natural gas and even sustainable energy in coming years. Consumers should weatherize their home to decrease how much heat leaves in the winter and how much heat comes in during the summer and switch to renewable energy sources like wind, says Stookey. Face these potential financial troubles head on by making a budget that accounts for a percentage rise in costs each year due to climate change — Stookey’s website, offers a sample template for the average family home.

A 21-year-old college student graduating in 2015 is expected to lose $126,000 in lifetime income due to climate change and the generation as a whole is expected to lose $8.8 trillion in lifetime income, a study from environmental advocacy organization NextGen Climate found. This decrease is due to a number of climate change-related economic burdens including stagnant wages and lack of well-paying jobs and potential recession.

2. Straighten out your insurance

As climate change transforms our environment, it will raise a number of new issues to take into account when choosing health insurance.


3. Pick a climate-safe job

Changing weather will have major effects on a number of industries: Agriculture will be damaged by drought and high temperatures and commercial fishing will be negatively impacted by rising sea levels. While warming may shrink some industries, others will remain stable or even experience a boost. College students and soon-to-be graduates may want to choose a career path that is climate-proof.


4. Warming-proof your investments


5. Climate-proof your home

Most standard home insurance policies don’t cover flood damage, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit funded by the industry.


6. Consider making a move

Many of these problems can be avoided for the most part by moving to a less vulnerable or more climate-prepared city.

The most important thing, Stoo
key said, is to adapt. “The effects of global warming we feel are going to be highly local — one town could be completely immune and its next door neighbor will be in serious trouble,” he said. “People need to start planning for the risks.”

Workers describe rampant abuse at Alabama chicken processing plant

Please read the whole article at the following link.

Sam Thielman
Thursday 22 December 2016

Diego and Rogelio said working as third-shift janitors at the Farm Fresh Foods chicken processing plant meant breathing bleach fumes for so long they couldn’t sleep afterwards for the headaches. Then there was the chicken itself.

The pair, who asked that their real names be withheld, told the Guardian their story by phone through a translator provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which filed a complaint earlier this year on behalf of the men with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) over the conditions at the Guntersville, Alabama, facility, owned by a local accountant named Eddie Hill.

Osha fined the company $30,000 last week for mistreating its employees and referred their complaints about having to handle raw chicken after cleaning the bathrooms to the US Department of Agriculture. Experts say worker abuse pervades the poultry industry, but the monitoring situation is likely to get worse under Donald Trump’s administration.
Andrew Puzder criticized as 'cruel and baffling' choice for labor secretary
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Trump has picked Charles Herbster, who runs a large “multi-level marketing” agricultural supply business called Conklin, to run his agriculture advisory committee. Andy Puzder, the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr executive who has campaigned against minimum wage rises, is Trump’s nominee for labor secretary. Workplace reforms in the agriculture business seem unlikely to come from regulators under Trump, to put it mildly.

The Farm Fresh Foods workers described retaliation from their supervisors when they complained, unsanitary conditions and being forced to race each other on a floor covered in standing water and chicken fat. And while the particulars may differ across processing plants, the chicken industry is rife with mistreatment.

Because employees at chicken processing plants are often undocumented, they’re less likely to complain about wage theft and illegal restrictions on bathrooms – a favorite tactic of processors trying to make their facilities more efficient, according to the SPLC.

An Oxfam America report issued in May called No Relief focused entirely on workers not being allowed to go to the toilet. It includes stories of laborers who said they were forced to wear diapers on the job because the penalties for taking too long in the bathroom were so severe. An SPLC report focused specifically on Alabama noted that nearly 80% of 300 workers surveyed said they had been denied bathroom breaks.

Because the facility did not have adequate drainage to disperse what the SPLC’s Isabel Otero described as “an enormous amount of Clorox” and no ventilation for its fumes, Diego and Rogelio’s eyes watered, their chests hurt, and they went for a full night and sometimes the rest of the following day without rest from the pain after the weekend cleanings, they said. They also said their supervisors would often wait outside while bleach fumes filled the room.


Their story might never have come to light if the company had not initially refused to pay them their final checks, prompting the initial complaint, the pair told the Guardian. They were paid after the SPLC intervened on their behalf, they said. “Wage theft is common in the poultry industry,” wrote the authors of another Oxfam America report on chicken processing.


Ohio’s Republican Gov. Kasich blocks local control over minimum wage

12/22/16 08:40 AM—Updated 12/22/16 09:04 AM
By Steve Benen

It’s usually one of the core principles of conservatism: local control is ideal. The concept is based on the idea that the closer the government is to the public – literally and physically – the more responsive and effective it will be in reflecting Americans’ interests.

Unless, that is, local citizens want to raise the minimum wage. At that point, it’s important for Republicans at the state level to put aside their principles and block progressive governance. Take the latest Cleveland Plain Dealer report, for example.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Monday signed legislation blocking next year’s special election vote on whether to raise Cleveland’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, according to his office.

Senate Bill 331 prohibits communities in the state from raising the minimum wage beyond the state’s minimum wage rate, currently set at $8.10 per hour. State lawmakers passed the bill earlier this month at the request of Cleveland city officials and others, who sought to forestall a special election on the wage hike next May.

Just to clarify, the goal from proponents of a wage hike was to put the question to Cleveland voters: if local citizens wanted to increase the minimum wage, it’d be up to them to vote for such a policy next fall. Ohio’s Republican governor and Republican-led legislature acted to take the authority out of voters’ hands.

Ohio’s current minimum wage is $8.10 per hour, a figure that will rise to $8.15 per hour next year. If a city decided it wanted a minimum of $8.20 per hour, the new state law would prevent such a change – regardless of the wishes of local voters or local officials.

What’s more, it’s not just Ohio: the Huffington Post reported that 20 states have now passed laws “that preempt local governments from raising the minimum wage or requiring benefits for workers that go beyond what’s required by the state.”

If proponents of a hike are feeling discouraged by developments at the state level, federal indifference towards the minimum wage will soon be even more exasperating. The Republican Congress is committed to ignoring requests on the issue, and though Donald Trump’s position was widely misreported during the campaign, the president-elect has long opposed any increases to the federal minimum.

The last national increase to the minimum wage was in 2007. As a result of this year’s elections, Americans shouldn’t expect any federal action on this issue until 2021 at the earliest.

Earth on Pace For Its Warmest Year on Record

Earth on Pace For Its Warmest Year on Record After a 5th Warmest November

By: Jeff Masters , 8:18 PM GMT on December 19, 2016

November 2016 was Earth's fifth warmest November since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Monday. November 2016 was 0.73°C (1.31°F) warmer than the 20th-century November average, but 0.23°C (0.41°F) cooler than the record warmth of 2015. NASA reported that November 2016 was the second warmest November in its database, behind November 2015. The difference between the two data sets is, in large part, due to how they handle the data-sparse areas in the Arctic, which was record warm in November. NOAA does not include most of the Arctic in their global analysis, while NASA does.
[This is why I didn't put the November ranking in the heading, because of uncertainty over which is more accurate. It seems to me that the NASA ranking would be more accurate since it doesn't ignore the Arctic.]


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Short-term sleep deprivation affects heart function

Public Release: 2-Dec-2016
Short-term sleep deprivation affects heart function
Radiological Society of North America

Too little sleep takes a toll on your heart, according to a new study to be presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

People who work in fire and emergency medical services, medical residencies and other high-stress jobs are often called upon to work 24-hour shifts with little opportunity for sleep. While it is known that extreme fatigue can affect many physical, cognitive and emotional processes, this is the first study to examine how working a 24-hour shift specifically affects cardiac function.

"For the first time, we have shown that short-term sleep deprivation in the context of 24-hour shifts can lead to a significant increase in cardiac contractility, blood pressure and heart rate," said study author Daniel Kuetting, M.D., from the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology at the University of Bonn in Bonn, Germany.


Las Vegas Is Now Powered Entirely by Renewable Energy

Las Vegas is now the largest city in the country to run entirely on renewable energy.

By Avery Thompson
Dec 19, 2016

Just last week, Las Vegas announced it has reached its goal of powering the city entirely with renewable energy, meeting a goal the city has been working toward for nearly a decade. The goal was reached with the launch of Boulder Solar 1, a 100-megawatt solar plant located just outside the city.

Las Vegas began its renewable energy project in 2008, reducing electricity usage through sustainability programs and installing solar panels on city buildings. Las Vegas will also receive power from Hoover Dam for the first time in its history, starting at the end of 2017.

The city has reduced its electricity usage by more than 30 percent due to these initiatives. Estimates place the city's yearly energy savings at approximately $5 million.

Las Vegas is now the largest U.S. city to be powered entirely by renewable energy. The second largest city, Burlington, Vermont, achieved this status in 2014.

Yes, lead poisoning could really be a cause of violent crime

Don't know why it would seem "crazy". We know how lead affects the brain and behaviour.

An example of how people can get rich by being evil.

This is an example of why we need a certain amount of government regulation.

George Monbiot
Jan. 7, 2013

At first it seemed preposterous. The hypothesis was so exotic that I laughed. The rise and fall of violent crime during the second half of the 20th century and first years of the 21st were caused, it proposed, not by changes in policing or imprisonment, single parenthood, recession, crack cocaine or the legalisation of abortion, but mainly by … lead.

I don't mean bullets. The crime waves that afflicted many parts of the world and then, against all predictions, collapsed, were ascribed, in an article published by Mother Jones last week, to the rise and fall in the use of lead-based paint and leaded petrol.

It's ridiculous – until you see the evidence. Studies between cities, states and nations show that the rise and fall in crime follows, with a roughly 20-year lag, the rise and fall in the exposure of infants to trace quantities of lead. But all that gives us is correlation: an association that could be coincidental. The Mother Jones article, which is based on several scientific papers, claimed causation.
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I began by reading the papers. Do they say what the article claims? They do. Then I looked up the citations: the discussion of those papers in the scientific literature. The three whose citations I checked have been mentioned, between them, 301 times. I went through all these papers (except the handful in foreign languages), as well as dozens of others. To my astonishment, I could find just one study attacking the thesis, and this was sponsored by the Ethyl Corporation, which happens to have been a major manufacturer of the petrol additive tetraethyl lead. I found many more supporting it. Crazy as this seems, it really does look as if lead poisoning could be the major cause of the rise and fall of violent crime.

The curve is much the same in all the countries these papers have studied. Lead was withdrawn first from paint and then from petrol at different times in different places (beginning in the 1970s in the US in the case of petrol, and the 1990s in many parts of Europe), yet despite these different times and different circumstances, the pattern is the same: violent crime peaks around 20 years after lead pollution peaks. The crime rates in big and small cities in the US, once wildly different, have now converged, also some 20 years after the phase-out.

Nothing else seems to explain these trends. The researchers have taken great pains to correct for the obvious complicating variables: social, economic and legal factors. One paper found, after 15 variables had been taken into account, a four-fold increase in homicides in US counties with the highest lead pollution. Another discovered that lead levels appeared to explain 90% of the difference in rates of aggravated assault between US cities.

A study in Cincinnati finds that young people prosecuted for delinquency are four times more likely than the general population to have high levels of lead in their bones. A meta-analysis (a study of studies) of 19 papers found no evidence that other factors could explain the correlation between exposure to lead and conduct problems in young people.

Is it really so surprising that a highly potent nerve toxin causes behavioural change? The devastating and permanent impacts of even very low levels of lead on IQ have been known for many decades. Behavioural effects were first documented in 1943: infants who had tragically chewed the leaded paint off the railings of their cots were found, years after they had recovered from acute poisoning, to be highly disposed to aggression and violence.

Lead poisoning in infancy, even at very low levels, impairs the development of those parts of the brain (the anterior cingulate cortex and prefrontal cortex) that regulate behaviour and mood. The effect is stronger in boys than in girls. Lead poisoning is associated with attention deficit disorder, impulsiveness, aggression and, according to one paper, psychopathy. Lead is so toxic that it is unsafe at any level.

Because they were more likely to live in inner cities, in unrenovated housing whose lead paint was peeling and beside busy roads, African Americans have been subjected to higher average levels of lead poisoning than white Americans. One study, published in 1986, found that 18% of white children but 52% of black children in the US had over 20 milligrammes per decilitre of lead in their blood; another found that, between 1976 and 1980, black infants were eight times more likely to be carrying the horrendous load of 40mg/dl. This, two papers propose, could explain much of the difference in crime rates between black and white Americans, and the supposed difference in IQ trumpeted by the book The Bell Curve.

There is only one remaining manufacturer of tetraethyl lead on earth. It's based in Ellesmere Port in Britain, and it's called Innospec. The product has long been banned from general sale in the UK, but the company admits on its website that it's still selling this poison to other countries. Innospec refuses to talk to me, but other reports claim that tetraethyl lead is being exported to Afghanistan, Algeria, Burma, Iraq, North Korea, Sierra Leone and Yemen, countries afflicted either by chaos or by governments who don't give a damn about their people.

In 2010 the company admitted that, under the name Associated Octel, it had paid millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Iraq and Indonesia to be allowed to continue, at immense profit, selling tetratethyl lead. Through an agreement with the British and American courts, Innospec was let off so lightly that Lord Justice Thomas complained that "no such arrangement should be made again". God knows how many lives this firm has ruined.

The UK government tells me that because tetraethyl lead is not on the European list of controlled exports, there is nothing to prevent Innospec from selling to whoever it wants. There's a term for this: environmental racism.

If it is true that lead pollution, whose wider impacts have been recognised for decades, has driven the rise and fall of violence, then there lies, behind the crimes that have destroyed so many lives and filled so many prisons, a much greater crime.