Monday, December 31, 2018

Weird weather

Looks like Russia is getting the mirror image of those polar vortexes we get, where it's colder than usual in part of the U.S. while some other parts of the northern hemisphere are colder than usual. Bitterly cold in Russia now while it's very warm here in the Atlanta area in Georgia. High of 71F here on Dec. 31.

Sorry for the victims in this accident, and for those working on the rescue in the bitter cold.

Russia: 4 die in building collapse; searchers race weather
Dec. 31, 2018

Hundreds of rescue workers raced bitterly cold weather in Russia’s Ural Mountains region Monday as they searched for survivors in the hulking concrete blocks from a partially collapsed apartment building where at least four people died.

The nation’s top investigative agency, the Investigative Committee, said an explosion triggered by a gas leak apparently caused the pre-dawn collapse in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk. The New Year’s Eve accident shocked Russians and marred the mood on the nation’s most beloved holiday.

Authorities said five people were hospitalized with injuries and 35 others remained unaccounted for. Russian officials acknowledged that the odds of finding anyone alive in the debris looked increasingly slim given the extreme weather.

Nearly 1,400 rescue workers searched in temperatures of -17 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit). The overnight forecast called for temperatures to plunge to -24 degrees Celsius (-17 F) overnight.


Emergency officials deployed powerful heaters to raise temperatures in the wreckage in case anyone trapped there was at risk of dying of hypothermia.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Jared Kushner 'admitted Donald Trump lies to his base because he thinks they're stupid'

I doubt this is news to anybody who reads my blog, putting it here so I can find it for reference.

Maya Oppenheim
,The Independent•May 31, 2017

Donald Trump lied to his Republican base and thought they were so stupid they would believe it, according to Jared Kushner.

Mr Kushner, a property developer who is both President Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law, reportedly made the remarks after he was challenged about Mr Trump’s prolonged interrogation over whether Barack Obama was born in the US.


The former New York Observer editor has now claimed that Mr Kushner, the former publisher of the paper, informed her that Mr Trump did not believe the “birther” lies he was peddling.

“When I was the editor of the New York Observer, Kushner and I were going back and forth about how the paper should cover him,” Elizabeth Spiers wrote in a post on Twitter.

“I told Jared that I was particularly appalled by his father-in-law’s birtherism stance, which I viewed as cynical and racist.

“He rolled his eyes and said ‘He doesn’t really believe it, Elizabeth. He just knows Republicans are stupid and they’ll buy it’”.


Cyber-attack disrupts printing of major US newspapers

Sun 30 Dec 2018

A cyber-attack has caused printing and delivery disruptions to major US newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun.

The attack on Saturday appeared to originate outside the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported. It led to distribution delays in the Saturday edition of the Times, the Tribune, the Sun and other newspapers that share a production platform in Los Angeles.

Tribune Publishing, which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Sun, as well as the New York Daily News and Orlando Sentinel, said it first detected the malware on Friday.

The west coast editions of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times were also hit, as they are printed on the shared production platform, the Los Angeles Times said.

A Tribune Publishing spokeswoman, Marisa Kollias, said the virus affected back-office systems used to publish and produce “newspapers across our properties”.

“There is no evidence that customer credit card information or personally identifiable information has been compromised,” Kollias said.


Michigan Republicans’ lame-duck drive to hobble Democrats fails – mostly

Tom Perkins in Detroit
Sun 30 Dec 2018

A frantic lame-duck month in which the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature floated hundreds of bills concluded with the GOP largely failing to pass controversial laws that would have stripped power from incoming Democrats.
Courts likely to strike down Republican lame-duck power grabs, experts say
Read more

Two bills died during the legislative process just before Christmas, and on Friday outgoing Republican governor Rick Snyder surprised his party by vetoing a bill designed to shift power from attorney general-elect Dana Nessel to the legislature. He did so after a law designed to take authority from incoming secretary of state Jocelyn Benson failed to make it out of the state House. A plan to create a “shadow” state board of education controlled by Republicans met the same fate in the Senate.

Snyder did sign several bills that reduce voters’ power. They included significant alterations to citizen-initiated laws that mandated paid sick time and raised the minimum wage, and legislation to make ballot drives nearly impossible.

“They may not have taken power from incoming electeds but they did take significant power from people and that’s important to highlight,” Democratic state representative Yousef Rabhi told the Guardian, adding that he was stopping short of praising anyone in the Republican party.

“They were planning to set the house on fire so it’s sort of weird to applaud them for not burning it down,” he said.


Snyder’s vetoes and Republican ambivalence to some more draconian bills came amid intense opposition from state residents, including some Republicans. Democratic representative Stephanie Chang said that had an impact.


Still, the GOP took some victories. They included the passage of two bills to gut citizen-initiated legislation to mandate paid sick time and raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour, for all workers, including those receiving tips, by 2022. Instead, minimum wage will be raised to $12.05 by 2030 and tipped workers’ pay will be capped at $3.58 per hour. Republicans exempted around 1 million workers from mandated sick time and cut the number of mandated days from nine to four.

Two citizen-led groups each collected around 400,000 signatures to put the minimum wage and sick time proposals on the November ballot. The GOP made the proposals law in September before gutting them in lame duck. A legal challenge is likely as Democrats contend the state constitution prohibits changes to citizen-initiated laws in the same session.


the legislature narrowly passed a new law that will make ballot initiatives far more difficult.

It mandates that no more than 15% of the signatures gathered during a ballot drive can come from any one of the state’s 14 congressional districts. That will make progressive ballot initiatives especially challenging since Republicans gerrymandered the congressional map, packing Democratic voters into a small number of districts. Democrats have promised a legal challenge and have said the bill is the most flagrantly unconstitutional of those passed in the lame-duck session.

Missing microbes increase risk of childhood cancer

Besides possibly useful information, an example of somewhat misleading headline for the sake of drawing readers. The original headline is below, I used a more accurate on for the heading in this blog post.

Missing microbes 'cause' childhood cancer
By James Gallagher Health and science correspondent, BBC News
May 21, 2018

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia affects one in 2,000 children.

Prof Mel Greaves, from the Institute of Cancer Research, has amassed 30 years of evidence to show the immune system can become cancerous if it does not "see" enough bugs early in life.


The type of blood cancer is more common in advanced, affluent societies, suggesting something about our modern lives might be causing the disease.

There have been wild claims linking power cables, electromagnetic waves and chemicals to the cancer.

That has been dismissed in this work published in Nature Reviews Cancer.

Instead, Prof Greaves - who has collaborated with researchers around the world - says there are three stages to the disease.

The first is a seemingly unstoppable genetic mutation that happens inside the womb
Then a lack of exposure to microbes in the first year of life fails to teach the immune system to deal with threats correctly
This sets the stage for an infection to come along in childhood, cause an immune malfunction and leukaemia

This "unified theory" of leukaemia was not the result of a single study, rather a jigsaw puzzle of evidence that established the cause of the disease.


This study is absolutely not about blaming parents for being too hygienic.

Rather it shows there is a price being paid for the progress we are making in society and medicine.


To date we have treated microbes as the bad guys. Yet recognising their important role for our health and wellbeing is revolutionising the understanding of diseases from allergies to Parkinson's and depression and now leukaemia.


Macular degeneration treatment

By James Gallagher
Mar. 19, 2018

Douglas Waters, 86, could not see out of his right eye, but "I can now read the newspaper" with it, he says.

He was one of two patients given pioneering stem cell therapy at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Cells from a human embryo were grown into a patch that was delicately inserted into the back of the eye.


They went from not being able to read with their affected eye at all, to reading 60 to 80 words per minute.

Eight more patients will take part in this clinical trial.

Doctors need to be sure it is safe. One concern is the transplanted cells could become cancerous, although there have been no such signs so far.


"We hope this will lead to an affordable 'off-the-shelf' therapy that could be made available to NHS patients within the next five years."

More than 600,000 people have age-related macular degeneration in the UK. It's the leading cause of blindness and the third globally.

Both patients in the trial had "wet" age-related macular degeneration.

This form of the disease is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing through the retinal pigment epithelium and damaging the macula.

Dry age-related macular degeneration is more common and caused by the retinal pigment epithelium breaking down.

It is hoped the patch will be able to treat both forms of the disease.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Intel chief: Russia sought to influence Americans but did not compromise midterm elections

The Russians didn't need to take actions that prevented voting, changed vote counts, or disrupted the ability to tally votes, because they could depend on republicans to do that.

By Jacqueline Thomsen - 12/21/18

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Friday that Russia launched influence campaigns but did not directly interfere with any voting systems in last month’s midterm elections.

Coats said in a statement that Russia and other actors like China and Iran "conducted influence activities and messaging campaigns targeted at the United States to promote their strategic interests."

However, the intelligence community did not find any signs indicating "any compromise of our nation’s election infrastructure that would have prevented voting, changed vote counts, or disrupted the ability to tally votes," according to Coats.


Teachers in America quitting jobs at record rate

By Aris Folley - 12/28/18

Teachers and public education employees in the United States are reportedly quitting their jobs at a record rate.

Public educators — including teachers, schools psychologists, janitors and community college faculty members — quit their jobs at a rate of 83 per 10,000 a month on average in the first 10 months of the year, data from the Labor Department seen by The Wall Street Journal revealed.

According to the newspaper, that rate is the highest on record since the government began collecting such data in 2011.

The rate of departures is also nearly double that of the 48 per 10,000 public education workers who quit their jobs in 2009.

However, the report also points out that teachers are still less likely to leave their positions than other American workers, who reportedly quit their jobs at a rate of 231 per 10,000 this year.

“During the recession, education was a safe place to be,” Julia Pollak, a labor economist at Zip Recruiter, told the publication.


Teachers are leaving their jobs for a variety reasons, the newspaper reported.

Some are reportedly leaving in search for potentially more lucrative positions elsewhere given the current low unemployment rate.

Others are quitting due to frustrations over a lack of resources and little support from communities, an issue brought to light by a wave of teacher protests in recent months.

“Part of it was compensation,” Alice Cain, executive vice president of Teach Plus, a policy organization that works with a network of thousands of teachers, told the Journal.

“But part of this was that their students weren’t valued, and that the public education system in our country isn’t a priority in so many places,” she continued.


New York man sues city, local law enforcement after being wrongfully imprisoned for 22 years

By Aris Folley - 12/29/18

A New York man freed from prison after spending 22 years behind bars for a double killing he didn’t commit is now suing the New York City and local law enforcement authorities over the ordeal, The Associated Press reported on Friday.

According to the news agency, a lawsuit was filed on Calvin Buari's behalf on Friday in a federal court in Manhattan.


A judge overturned Buari's conviction last year after two witnesses came forward with new information about a double murder Buari was convicted for committing back in 1992.

Buari was later freed in May 2017 after the witnesses testified that they had seen another man commit the deadly shooting of two brothers on a street corner in the Bronx at the time.

Buari had been handed a 50-year sentence for the murders.

Russia Picked Donald Trump and Ran Him for President, Former Israeli Intelligence Officer Says

By Cristina Maza On 12/27/18

Russia chose Donald Trump as the U.S. presidential candidate who would be most advantageous to Moscow, and used online tactics to win him the presidency, according to a former agent of the Israeli intelligence agency the Mossad.

"Officials in Moscow looked at the 2016 U.S. presidential race and asked, ‘Which candidate would we like to have sitting in the White House? Who will help us achieve our goals?’ And they chose him. From that moment, they deployed a system [of bots] for the length of the elections, and ran him for president,” former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo told the audience at the Marker’s digital conference in Israel on Monday, where experts gathered to discuss online disinformation campaigns and bots.

“What we’ve seen so far with respect to bots and the distortion of information is just the tip of the iceberg. It is the greatest threat of recent years, and it threatens the basic values that we share—democracy and the world order created since World War Two,” Pardo noted, according to Haaretz.

Earlier this month, two Senate-commissioned reports determined that Russia had used every social media tool available to influence the U.S. 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump. One of the reports, completed by the company New Knowledge, detailed the wide reach of the Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

“Run like a sophisticated marketing agency in a centralized office environment, the IRA employed and trained over a thousand people to engage in round-the-clock influence operations, first targeting Ukrainian and Russian citizens, and then, well before the 2016 US election, Americans. The scale of their operation was unprecedented—they reached 126 million people on Facebook, at least 20 million users on Instagram, 1.4 million users on Twitter, and uploaded over 1,000 videos to YouTube,” the New Knowledge report stated.


“On Facebook, the five most shared and the five most liked posts focused on divisive issues, with pro-gun ownership content, anti-immigration content pitting immigrants against veterans, content decrying police violence against African Americans, and content that was anti-Muslim, anti-refugee, anti-Obama, and pro-Trump,” the report read.


Retiring GOP lawmaker blasts Trump's threat to close border as 'angry eighth-grader’s tweet'

By Aris Folley - 12/29/18 07:58 PM EST

Retiring Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) slammed President Trump for his recent threat to close the southern border on Twitter if Democrats do not agree to provide money to build his desired wall on the Mexican border.

“This struck me as like an angry eighth-grader’s tweet,” Costello said during an appearance on CNN on Friday.

“I don’t really know how to make sense of it because I don’t think he can do this even if he wanted to. It probably violates NAFTA,” he continued. “I don’t think he’ll have much if any support in Congress. Nor do I think logistically he’d be able to implement it.”

“And when you start throwing out vacuous threats like this, people stop taking you seriously in terms of how you go about negotiating,” he added.


N.J. surgery center that possibly exposed thousands to HIV had rusty equipment, reports says

Dec. 29, 2018 / 3:57 PM EST
By Kalhan Rosenblatt

The New Jersey surgery center that may have exposed more than 3,700 patients to HIV and hepatitis used rusty equipment and had soiled bed sheets, according to a report from the state's department of health.

HealthPlus Surgery Center in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, was closed on Sept. 7 after the New Jersey Department of Health discovered multiple violations of sterilization and sanitation requirements, according to a citation summary sheet made public on Friday. The state allowed HealthPlus Surgery Center to reopen on Sept. 28.


Climate Change Is Already Helping To Drive Up Homelessness

Erik Sherman
Dec. 28, 2018


Earlier in December, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released its annual report on homelessness, this year called The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. Here's a summary paragraph:

Homelessness increased (though modestly) for the second year in a row. The number of homeless people on a single night increased by 0.3 percent between 2017 and 2018. The increase reflects declines in the number of people staying in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs being offset by increases in the number of people staying in unsheltered locations. Between 2017 and 2018, the unsheltered population increased by two percent (or 4,300 people).


The question is why, at a time when the economy is supposedly doing so well, an increasing number of people find themselves without a permanent home. One reason is that, as often discussed here, the economy concentrated benefits upward. Those who had got.

Another reason is the ongoing upward march of rental housing costs. More U.S. households are renting their home than in the last 50 years. That has helped create a growing rent burden that threatens financial security for millions.

Falling into homelessness is much easier to happen than often supposed, as millions have found. Buckling under the weight of the financial burden can be one reason. But there are others. As the HUD report noted, close to 1% of the homeless counted in January when the agency takes its sample were in shelters for people displaced by national disasters, whether Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate, western wildfires, or some other storm or event. And many of these events showed greater destructive power tied to climate change.

We are in the early stages of seeing effects from climate change and already there is evidence of weather driving people from homes. For a more recent example not included in the count, look at the Camp Fire disaster in northern California. In 11 days, wildfires destroyed almost 14,000 residences. A one-day count can miss many people who have lost their housing.


White House to Freeze Pay for Federal Workers in 2019

Dec. 28, 2018

As the partial government shutdown grinds on, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday evening that would freeze pay for federal workers in 2019.

Trump telegraphed the move in his February budget request for fiscal 2019 when he proposed a pay freeze for the roughly 2.1 million federal civilian workers. That plan was confirmed by a formal announcement in August required to head off steep pay raises that would automatically take effect under a 1990 law, which presidents of both parties routinely override.

“We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” Trump wrote in an Aug. 30 letter to congressional leaders. “These alternative pay plan decisions will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well‑qualified Federal workforce.”
The big tax decrease for millionaires he signed is raising the deficit a lot


Uniformed military service members generally aren’t affected by the executive order, and will receive 2.6 percent raises starting next month under the terms of the fiscal 2019 defense authorization law.


Friday, December 28, 2018

The Most Shocking Moments of the New Russia Complaint, from ‘Civil War’ to ‘Fake’ Rubio to ‘Colored LGBT’

Kevin Poulsen, Spencer Ackerman

Federal prosecutors on Friday alleged that a Russian woman is the chief accountant of Project Lakhta, a sprawling Kremlin campaign to influence politics in the U.S. and European Union. It’s an operation that the FBI, in a criminal complaint, says is ongoing.

The complaint accuses the woman, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, of keeping detailed records of payouts to a social-media campaign of which the St. Petersberg-based troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, is just one component.


Amongst the chief themes of the Russian influence campaign has been to exploit American white supremacy. The complaint adds a new level of detail. In addition to well-known Russian trolling on the NFL protests against racist policing, immigration and the Confederate flag, the complaint says that the Russians’ social-media themes included “the Charlottesville ‘Unite The Right’ rally” that killed anti-racist protester Heather Heyer in August 2017.

An unnamed conspirator in Project Lakhta described their goal as to “effectively aggravate the conflict between the minorities and the rest of the population.”


The Russian influence campaign, as has been widely reported, involved transactionally pretending to be either on the left or the right.


The messaging also instructed Project Lakhta operatives to emphasize voter fraud, a marginal phenomenon, embraced by Trump, that provides a pretext for voter suppression. “There is an urgent need to introduce voter IDs for all the states, above all in the blue (liberal and undecided) states,” reads an August 2017-era instruction. “State in the end that the Democrats in the coming election will surely attempt to falsify the results.” A Russian-created Twitter account, @amconvoice, tweeted in February 2018: “The only way the Democrats can win 101 GOP seats is to cheat like they always do with illegals & dead voters.”


Project Lakhta’s support for Trump came with a harder rhetorical edge. The complaint – presumably based on intercepted communications quoted in the document – specifically discusses whipping Americans up into a frenzy over a prospective domestic insurrection to protect Trump.


But they also played the other side. Project Lakhta account @KeniJJackson tweeted in December 2017: “If Trump fires Robert Mueller, we have to take to the streets in protest. Our democracy is at stake.”


The Russians also wanted to drive political donations. One of Project Lakhta’s Twitter accounts, @CovfeveNation, tweeted instructions for Americans to donate money to defeat Democratic politicians like Maxine Waters, Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi.


Disruptive, disappointing, chaotic: Shutdown upends scientific research

By Ben Guarino, Sarah Kaplan, Angela Fritz and Carolyn Y. Johnson
December 28 at 3:19 PM


In research labs and at field sites across the world, the week-long government shutdown has ground scientific progress to a halt. Thousands of scientists are among the hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors who must stay at home without pay. The furlough is expected to persist into the new year, which would mean a rocky start to 2019 for American science.

The partial shutdown, caused by President Trump’s rejection of a bipartisan spending deal that did not allocate billions of dollars for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, also curtailed scientific operations at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Agriculture Department, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey. Furloughed government scientists are prohibited from checking on experiments, performing observations, collecting data, conducting tests or sharing their results.

If the budget impasse extends into the new year, scientists say, it could harm critical research.


Alice Harding, an astrophysicist at Goddard Space Flight Center who is among roughly 15,000 furloughed NASA employees, worries about missing rare astronomical phenomena — starbursts proceed with or without a federal budget. Just days before the government closed, she and her colleagues at the Fermi space telescope observed a pulsar flashing in an unprecedented way. She scrambled to get a follow-up observation using NASA’s NICER instrument in her last days at work.

“But if the government ends up shutting down for more than a week, we won’t get a second one,” Harding said.

Crucial research windows will slam shut on Earth, too. A crop-eating pest called the brown marmorated stink bug emerges only in the spring. Scientists must prepare for the insects' annual debut, and missing it would set researchers back an entire year, the Entomological Society of America warned. “A lot of incredible science happens in our government every day,” Robert K.D. Peterson, the organization’s president, said in a statement. “But when the government shuts down, even partially, that work is derailed.”


Wells Fargo is paying $575 million to states to settle fake account claims

By Annalyn Kurtz, CNN Business
Updated 2:03 PM ET, Fri December 28, 2018

Over the past two years, Wells Fargo has faced numerous lawsuits and government investigations stemming from a cascade of business scandals.

On Friday, it took a step to put one batch of accusations behind it.
The bank agreed to pay $575 million to all 50 states and the District of Columbia to settle civil charges related to the bank's fake-accounts scandals.

The agreement, which applies to charges brought by states' attorneys general, follows other fines and settlements Wells Fargo (WFC) has paid out since September 2016. That's when the bank admitted its employees opened as many as 3.5 million fake bank and credit card accounts without customers' knowledge. Since the first revelation, a series of internal and external probes have uncovered a wider culture of problems at the bank.

In April, two federal regulators fined the bank $1 billion for forcing customers into car insurance and charging mortgage borrowers unfair fees.

In May, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $480 million to settle a class-action securities fraud lawsuit brought by investors who alleged the bank made misstatements and omissions in its disclosures about sales practices.
And in October, Wells Fargo agreed to pay a $65 million penalty to New York state related to the fake-accounts scandals.


State Court dissolves North Carolina elections board with election fraud scandal still under investigation

By Dylan Dec 28, 2018

For the past few weeks, the North Carolina elections board has been trying to sort out the results of the state’s Ninth Congressional District election, tainted by allegations of ballot tampering. But a court decision will lead to the board suddenly dissolving on Friday because of a prior legal challenge already underway.

The elections board was supposed to meet on January 11 to review evidence of possible electoral fraud connected to a local operative who worked for the Republican campaign of Mark Harris. But a state court ruled that the board — currently with an even number of Democrats and Republicans, plus one nonpartisan member — must cease operations after previously finding it unconstitutional, part of a legal fight that started in 2016.

So now there is chaos in North Carolina, with the Ninth District race still uncalled and the new Congress being sworn in next week. We’re really not sure what happens next. Michael Bitzer, a well-regarded political observer in the state, was himself at a bit of a loss for words.


The court case that killed the board has nothing to do with the Ninth District controversy. Read Bitzer’s blog post for a fuller history, but the short version is this: Republicans, having lost the governorship to Democrat Roy Cooper in 2016, passed legislation in a lame-duck session that, among other things, changed the make-up of the elections board (from one that gave the governor a partisan advantage to one that is evenly divided) in a bid to curb Cooper’s power.

A series of court challenges has found the board, and subsequent versions of it, unconstitutional, though the current board was still allowed in place to oversee the 2018 midterms. But the state court found it unconstitutional again, even as professional staff continue the inquiry into the Ninth District election, and ruled Friday that it must disband.


Trump EPA Says Mercury Limits On Coal Plants Too Costly, Not 'Necessary'

Jennifer Ludden, Jeff Brady
Dec. 18, 2018

In another proposed reversal of an Obama-era standard, the Environmental Protection Agency Friday said limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants is not cost-effective and should not be considered "appropriate and necessary."

The EPA says it is keeping the 2012 restrictions in place for now, in large part because utilities have already spent billions to comply with them. But environmental groups worry the move is a step toward repealing the limits and could make it harder to impose other regulations in the future.

In a statement, the EPA said it is "providing regulatory certainty by transparently and accurately taking account of both costs and benefits."


When coal is burned it releases mercury into the air, where it can cause health risks to people including neurological disorders, heart and lung problems and compromised immune systems. Babies developing in the womb and young children are especially at risk. The main source of exposure is through eating contaminated fish and seafood.


Even though the EPA's mercury standards have faced court challenges, utilities spent more than $18 billion to comply with the requirements. In a letter to the EPA last summer, utilities and regulatory and labor groups said mercury emissions had been reduced by nearly 90 percent over the past decade.

In that letter they also asked the Trump administration's EPA to leave the existing standards in place.

Since many regulators have included the equipment costs in utility rates, some worry that no longer requiring the limits could leave customers paying for the pollution controls without getting cleaner air. That's because it also costs money to continue operating that equipment.

"It's not unreasonable to expect that if the standards go away there will be some number of utilities that will choose to no longer operate pollution controls that they've installed," says Janet McCabe, former acting assistant administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA during the Obama administration.


The proposal to weaken the mercury limits is the latest in a series of efforts the Trump administration has taken to help the struggling coal business.


In December the administration proposed a revision that would allow coal-fired generators to emit more CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated. The EPA has also moved to relax Obama-era regulations on carbon emissions and roll back existing regulations that govern coal ash.

The EPA proposal is open to public comment for 60 days after it is posted in the Federal Register.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Daughters of foot doctor say he diagnosed Trump with bone spurs as 'favor' to Fred Trump

By Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN
Updated 12:53 PM ET, Wed December 26, 2018

The daughters of a Queens foot doctor say their late father diagnosed President Donald Trump with bone spurs to help him avoid the Vietnam War draft as a "favor" to his father Fred Trump, according to a new report Wednesday.
Dr. Larry Braunstein, a podiatrist who died in 2007, often told the story of providing Donald Trump with the diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels so he could be exempt from military service, his two daughters -- Dr. Elysa Braunstein and Sharon Kessel -- told the New York Times.

"It was family lore," Elysa Braunstein told the Times, adding that the story was "something we would always discuss" among family and friends.


Dr. Braunstein rented his office in Jamaica, Queens, from Fred Trump in the 1960s, the Times reported, citing records. His two daughters told the Times that their father provided the diagnosis of bone spurs as a courtesy to the elder Trump.

"I know it was a favor," Elysa Braunstein told the newspaper, who added that the "small favor" got her father "access" to Fred Trump.

"If there was anything wrong in the building, my dad would call and (Fred) Trump would take care of it immediately," she told The Times.

Elysa Braunstein also told the newspaper that her father implied that Trump did not have a foot ailment.

In 1968, after receiving four deferments due to education, Donald Trump was diagnosed with bone spurs in his heels at the age of 22, seven years before the Vietnam War ended.


Many older Americans are living a desperate, nomadic life

Please read the whole article at the following link.

Nov. 24, 2018

In her powerful new book, “Nomadland,” award-winning journalist Jessica Bruder reveals the dark, depressing and sometimes physically painful life of a tribe of men and women in their 50s and 60s who are — as the subtitle says — “surviving America in the twenty-first century.” Not quite homeless, they are “houseless,” living in secondhand RVs, trailers and vans and driving from one location to another to pick up seasonal low-wage jobs, if they can get them, with little or no benefits.

The “workamper” jobs range from helping harvest sugar beets to flipping burgers at baseball spring training games to Amazon’s “CamperForce,” seasonal employees who can walk the equivalent of 15 miles a day during Christmas season pulling items off warehouse shelves and then returning to frigid campgrounds at night. Living on less than $1,000 a month, in certain cases, some have no hot showers. As Bruder writes, these are “people who never imagined being nomads.” Many saw their savings wiped out during the Great Recession or were foreclosure victims and, writes Bruder, “felt they’d spent too long losing a rigged game.” Some were laid off from high-paying professional jobs. Few have chosen this life. Few think they can find a way out of it. They’re downwardly mobile older Americans in mobile homes.


More Americans are sleeping in their cars than ever before.

By Amy Pollard
Aug. 20, 2018


As housing costs soar in major cities, more Americans are living behind the wheel. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development doesn’t collect national data on vehicle residency, but unsheltered homelessness—a category that includes people sleeping in vehicles—is on the rise. In 2016, HUD counted 176,357 unsheltered people nationwide on a single night; last year, that number jumped to 192,875. In King County, Washington (which includes Seattle), about 3,372 people—more than half of the county’s unsheltered population—are living in vehicles. And in Greater Los Angeles, which has the largest unsheltered homeless population in the country, more than 15,000 people live in cars, vans, and RVs.


As vehicle residency grows, local governments have largely responded by trying to legislate it out of existence: Cities are moving to tighten parking restrictions or ban vehicle residency altogether. From 2006 to 2016, the number of bans on vehicle residency increased 143 percent among 187 cities surveyed by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Seattle has 20 ordinances criminalizing vehicle residency, according to a 2016 report from Seattle University’s Homeless Rights Advocacy Project. San Diego, too, has sought to crack down with laws that ban vehicle residency and prohibit RVs from parking on the streets between 2 and 6 a.m.


By Jonathan Berr
Updated on: July 31, 2018


A fair number of the "vehicular homeless" in Silicon Valley are employed but are unable to find affordable housing, as the Associated Press noted last year. Lines of RVs can be found near the headquarters of tech heavyweights such as Apple, Google and Hewlett-Packard. Nationwide, extremely low-income renters are facing a shortage of 7.2 million rental homes, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.



L., who asked to go by her middle initial for fear of losing her job, couldn’t afford her apartment earlier this year after failing to cobble together enough teaching assignments at two community colleges. By July she’d exhausted her savings and turned to a local nonprofit called Safe Parking L.A., which outfits a handful of lots around the city with security guards, port-a-potties, Wi-Fi, and solar-powered electrical chargers. Sleeping in her car would allow her to save for a deposit on an apartment. On that night in late September, under basketball hoops owned by an Episcopal church in Koreatown, she was one of 16 people in 12 vehicles. Ten of them were female, two were children, and half were employed.


The reason the situation has gotten worse is simple enough to understand, even if it defies easy solution: A toxic combo of slow wage growth and skyrocketing rents has put housing out of reach for a greater number of people. According to Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored housing giant, the portion of rental units affordable to low earners plummeted 62 percent from 2010 to 2016.


McKinsey calculated that to shelter people adequately, Seattle would have to increase its outlay to as much as $410 million a year, double what it spends now. Still, that’s less than the $1.1 billion the consultants estimate it costs “as a result of extra policing, lost tourism and business, and the frequent hospitalization of those living on the streets.” Study after study, from California to New York, has drawn similar conclusions. “Doing nothing isn’t doing nothing,” says Sara Rankin, a professor at Seattle University’s School of Law and the director of the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project. “Doing nothing costs more money.”


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Trump’s prison plan to release thousands of inmates

Good to see politicians working together for the common good.
Noe this law applies only to federal prisoners.

By Andrea Drusch
December 21, 2018 12:18 PM,
Updated December 21, 2018 12:53 PM

Sweeping changes to the federal prison system will allow tens of thousands of federal inmates to be released from prison over the next 10 years, but there’s little data about who or where they are now.

The legislation signed by President Donald Trump on Friday makes big changes to the treatment and rehabilitation of low-level federal prisoners.

Qualifying Inmates — mostly people who have committed low-level drug offenses — can earn credits to be released from prison early and serve the remainder of their sentence in home confinement or halfway houses if they participate in the plan’s anti-recidivism programs such as job training, education and faith-based classes.


changes made to the bill that excluded some types of violent offenders, such as people who used a firearm in their crime, from being able to participate in its programs.


Based on CBO’s data, Cohen estimated that reduction in the federal prison population would allow for the closure of three or four federal facilities by the end of ten years. Texas implemented similar reforms in 2007, and has since closed eight of its state prison facilities.


Advocates for the plan argue its reforms have already been successful in a handful of states, including Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Kentucky, which implemented them at the state level and saw a significant reduction in crime.

“If you take even the most tepid of reforms that those states have done, this federal bill maybe gets you like a third to a halfway there,” said Cohen.

Monday, December 24, 2018

How kindergartens serve as 'gendergartens'

I suspect we would have fewer people who feel they are the wrong gender than they were born into if we were more accepting of people who don't feel like the stereotypes we encourage.

Public Release: 21-Dec-2018
National Research University Higher School of Economics

Sociologists at the Higher school of economics showed that preschool education has its own hidden curriculum: kindergarten teachers transmit social norms to children, including conservative ideas of femininity and masculinity. Girls are expected to have "proper" character and behavior, to be obedient and pretty, take an interest in music and dance, and to like the color pink.

"Doing gender" - that is, forming an understanding of masculinity and femininity - begins as early as kindergarten. School of Sociology Associate Professor Olga Savinskaya and Anastasia Cheredeeva found that this hidden but clearly gender-oriented curriculum permeates every aspect of a preschool child's life: from games to showing an interest in certain professions. Femininity and masculinity form 'narrowly, according to conventional stereotypes,' researchers found. Girls 'in the process of socialization are supposed to strive to be generally acceptable and to conform to the ideal.' This implies attractiveness, courteousness, industriousness, and artistry. They should lean towards professions in which they care for people or animals and perform the princess, snowflake, or other glamorous roles in school plays. Parents generally favor such uniformity, even though it can interfere with girls' development as individuals.


Air pollution in Mexico City is associated with the development of Alzheimer disease

Public Release: 21-Dec-2018
IOS Press

Air pollution in Mexico City is associated with the development of Alzheimer disease in children and young adults and the evolving axonal damage can be identified using a novel Non-P-Tau assay for cerebrospinal fluid CSF: New study


Mexico City children have lifetime exposures to concentrations of air pollutants above the current USA standards, including fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). Metropolitan Mexico City is an example of extreme urban growth and serious environmental pollution and millions of children are involuntarily exposed to harmful concentrations of PM 2.5 every day since conception.


n the USA alone, 200 million people live in areas where pollutants such as ozone and fine particulate matter exceed the standards.


Statins are more effective for those who follow the Mediterranean diet

Public Release: 21-Dec-2018
Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed I.R.C.C.S.

For those who have already had a heart attack or a stroke, the combination of statins and Mediterranean Diet appears to be the most effective choice to reduce the risk of mortality, especially from cardiovascular causes. It is the result of an Italian study conducted at the I.R.C.C.S. Neuromed, Pozzilli, Italy on over 1,000 adults recruited in the Moli-sani Study, published in the International Journal of Cardiology.

The traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, legumes, cereals, olive oil, wine in moderation, fish and low in meat and dairy products

"We found - Marialaura Bonaccio, epidemiologist at the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention and first author of the study says - that statins and Mediterranean Diet together were more effective, as compared to one or the other considered separately, in reducing the risk of cardiovascular mortality. Likely, a Mediterranean diet facilitated the beneficial effect of statins, that in our real-life study were generally used at low doses".


"The favorable combination of statins and Mediterranean Diet - explains Licia Iacoviello, head of the Laboratory of Molecular and Nutritional Epidemiology of the same Department and Professor of Hygiene at the University of Insubria - appeared to act, rather than on cholesterol levels, by reducing subclinical inflammation, a condition that predisposes to a higher risk of illness and mortality. This finding is of particular interest especially in the light of our observation that a high level of subclinical inflammation doubled the risk of mortality in patients who already had a heart attack or stroke ".


Readmissions reduction program may be associated with increase in patient-level deaths

Public Release: 21-Dec-2018
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

A policy designed to reduce hospital readmissions through financial penalties was associated with a significant increase in post-discharge mortality for patients with heart failure and pneumonia, according to a large-scale study


"Some policy makers have declared the HRRP a success because they believe that reductions in readmissions solely reflect improvements in quality of care," said Wadhera, who is also a Clinical Fellow in Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "But the financial penalties imposed by HRRP may have also inadvertently pushed some physicians to avoid readmitting patients who needed hospital care, or potentially diverted hospital resources and efforts away from other quality improvement initiatives."


"Whether the HRRP is responsible for this increase in mortality requires further research, but if it is, our data suggest that the policy may have resulted in an additional 10,000 deaths among patients with heart failure and pneumonia during the five-year period after the HRRP announcement," said Shen.


"This is an example of how we can't always predict the consequences of applying external incentives to medical care," added Yeh. "It's important that we disseminate this data while continuing to evaluate and discuss the future of policies that financially incentivize the prevention of readmissions to a greater extent than other patient-centered outcomes."

How dietary fiber and gut bacteria protect the cardiovascular system

Public Release: 21-Dec-2018
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association

The fatty acid propionate helps defend against the effects of high blood pressure, including atherosclerosis and heart tissue remodeling, a study on mice has found. Gut bacteria produce the substance - which calms the immune cells that drive up blood pressure - from natural dietary fiber.

"You are what you eat," as the proverb goes. But to a large extent our well-being also depends on what bacterial guests in our digestive tract consume. That's because gut flora help the human body to utilize food and produce essential micronutrients, including vitamins.


Droughts boost emissions as hydropower dries up

Public Release: 21-Dec-2018
Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

When hydropower runs low in a drought, western states tend to ramp up power generation - and emissions - from fossil fuels. According to a new study from Stanford University, droughts caused about 10 percent of the average annual carbon dioxide emissions from power generation in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington between 2001 and 2015.

"Water is used in electricity generation, both directly for hydropower and indirectly for cooling in thermoelectric power plants," said climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh, the Kara J. Foundation professor in Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth) and senior author of the study. "We find that in a number of western states where hydropower plays a key role in the clean energy portfolio, droughts cause an increase in emissions as natural gas or coal-fired power plants are brought online to pick up the slack when water for hydropower comes up short."

The study, published Dec. 21 in Environmental Research Letters, shows emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides - air pollutants that can irritate lungs and contribute to acid rain and smog - also increased in some states as a result of droughts. Some of the largest increases in sulfur dioxide took place in Colorado, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The largest increases in nitrogen oxides occurred in California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.


Two Type 2 diabetes drugs linked to higher risk of heart disease

Public Release: 21-Dec-2018
Northwestern University

Two drugs commonly prescribed to treat Type 2 diabetes carry a high risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure or amputation, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

The two drugs -- sulfonylureas and basal insulin -- are commonly prescribed to patients after they have taken metformin, a widely accepted initial Type 2 diabetes treatment, but need a second-line medication because metformin alone didn't work or wasn't tolerated.


"According to our findings, we only have to prescribe basal insulin to 37 people over two years to observe one cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or amputation," O'Brien said. "For sulfonylureas, that number was a bit higher -- 103 people. But when you apply these numbers to 30 million Americans with diabetes, this has staggering implications for how we may be harming many patients."

Physicians should consider prescribing newer classes of antidiabetic medications, such as GLP-1 agonists (e.g. liraglutide), SGLT-2 inhibitors (e.g. empagliflozin)or DPP-4 inhibitors (e.g. sitagliptin), more routinely after metformin, rather than sulfonylureas or basal insulin, the study authors suggest.

These drugs, however, are more expensive than the sulfonylureas, which is the main reason they are not as commonly prescribed, O'Brien said.


Genome offers clues to esophageal cancer disparity

Public Release: 20-Dec-2018
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

A genomic duplication may help explain why esophageal adenocarcinoma is much more common in Caucasians and presents a potential target for prevention


Researchers found Caucasians have a duplication on a portion of the genome that appears to reduce the expression of GSTT2. This enzyme protects cells against oxidative damage, such as the type caused by reflux, a key risk factor for esophageal adenocarcinoma.


"The risk factors for esophageal cancer such as obesity and reflux happen at the same rate for African-Americans and Caucasians. But African-Americans are not getting cancer," Beer says. "We see the highest risk of cancer in people who have this genomic duplication plus obesity. It's not just the presence of the duplication but these other factors contributing to the damage."

Rates of esophageal adenocarcinoma have increased 600 percent over the last three decades, caused by a rise in obesity and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. The other type of esophageal cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, is more frequently seen in African-Americans.


Next, they used a cranberry proanthocyanidin extract and found it reduced levels of DNA damage in the esophagi of rats exposed to reflux. This suggests potential for preventing esophageal adenocarcinoma.

"They key with esophageal cancer is to prevent it. Many people don't know they have the disease until it's too late to treat it effectively," Beer says.


Yale-led team examines impact of diet intervention on autoimmunity in mice

Results in mice are not always applicable to humans, but a high-fiber diet is an easy, healthy thing to try.

Public Release: 20-Dec-2018
Yale University

Could a change in diet be beneficial to people with autoimmune diseases such as lupus? A Yale-led team of researchers have revealed how a dietary intervention can help prevent the development of this autoimmune disease in susceptible mice. The study was published in Cell Host & Microbe.


For the study, led by Yale immunobiologist Martin Kriegel, the research team used mouse models of lupus. They first identified a single bacterium, Lactobacillus reuteri, in the gut of the mice that triggered an immune response leading to the disease. Specifically, in lupus-prone mice, L. reuteri stimulated immune cells known as dendritic cells, as well as immune system pathways that exacerbated disease development.

To investigate the potential impact of diet on this process, first author Daniel Zegarra-Ruiz fed the mice "resistant starch" -- a diet that mimics a high-fiber diet in humans. The resistant starch is not absorbed in the small intestine but ferments in the large intestine, enriching good bacteria and causing the secretion of short-chain fatty acids. This, in turn, suppresses both the growth and movement of L. reuteri bacteria outside the gut that would otherwise lead to autoimmune disease.


The study also found an imbalance of gut microbes in a subset of lupus patients that was similar to what they observed in lupus-prone mice not given the starch diet. In this subset of lupus patients, the high-fiber diet could potentially be beneficial to prevent or ameliorate the condition, in addition to other diseases that activate the same immune pathway, Kriegel noted. "It may have implications beyond lupus."

Police interactions linked to increased risk of client violence for female sex workers

Public Release: 20-Dec-2018
Study suggests that improving relationships with police could protect this vulnerable population
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

The more abusive interactions street-based female sex workers (FSWs) have with police, the higher their risk of violence at the hands of clients, a new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests. The findings suggest the need for interventions that address relationships between FSW and police to help alleviate negative impacts on FSW work environments, the authors say.


Fears of health crisis as Delhi suffers worst air pollution this year

Mon 24 Dec 2018 05.45 EST
Last modified on Mon 24 Dec 2018 07.12 EST

Pollution in Delhi has reached its worst level this year in the past two days, prompting authorities to rate conditions as “severe to emergency”, which indicates the potential for a public health crisis.

Senior government officials said the main reasons for the increase in smog were unusually cold air, fog and a lack of wind.

Such conditions trap vehicle fumes and pollution from coal-fired power plants, industry and domestic fires over the city.

Data from the government’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) showed the air quality index, which measures the concentration of poisonous particulate matter, was an average of 449 on Monday, only slightly better than 450 on Sunday.

The index measures the concentration of PM 2.5, particles that can be carried deep into the lungs. The previous highest recording this year was 447 on 15 June, when there was a dust storm. Anything above 100 is considered unhealthy.

India’s weather department said the index reached 654 in some parts of the city, and visibility was down to as little as 200 metres.

Environmentalists said the authorities’ inaction was inexcusable and a concerted effort was needed to reduce pollution from vehicles and industry.

“If this is not an emergency, then what is?” asked the Delhi-based environmentalist Vimlendu Jha.

The “severe to emergency” rating means the air is not only hazardous for citizens with existing respiratory problems but can also seriously affect healthy people.


50 Years Later, the Iconic Apollo 8 Earthrise Photo Still Gives Us Chills

George Dvorsky
Dec. 24, 2018

On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts William Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman reached lunar orbit, allowing them to become the first humans in history to witness an Earthrise. The images captured that day, showing our planet in context with the lunar landscape, remain among the most enduring photos taken during the Apollo program—and human history for that matter.

It was during their fourth orbit around the Moon that the iconic photograph was captured.

“Oh my God, look at that picture over there!” exclaimed Anders. “There’s the Earth comin’ up. Wow, is that pretty!”


Sunday, December 23, 2018

A mountain of evidence on air pollution's harms to children

Public Release: 20-Dec-2018
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health


"There is extensive evidence on the many harms of air pollution on children's health," says Perera. "Our paper presents these findings in a convenient fashion to support clean air and climate change policies that protect children's health."

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that more than 40 percent of the burden of environmentally related disease and about 90 percent of the burden of climate change is borne by children under five, although that age group constitutes only 10 percent of the global population. The direct health impacts in children of air pollution from fossil fuel combustion include adverse birth outcomes, impairment of cognitive and behavioral development, respiratory illness, and potentially childhood cancer. As a major driver of climate change, combustion of fossil fuel is also directly and indirectly contributing to illness, injury, death, and impaired mental health in children through more frequent and severe heat events, coastal and inland flooding, drought, forest fires, intense storms, the spread of infectious disease vectors, increased food insecurity, and greater social and political instability. These impacts are expected to worsen in the future.


Higher radiation dose needed to X-ray obese patients increases cancer risk

Public Release: 20-Dec-2018
University of Exeter

Extremely obese people are needing a far higher dose of radiation during x-ray examinations than people of normal weight, increasing their risk of cancer, new research has shown.


The team found that obese patients received much higher doses of radiation during x-ray than normal weight people, which is necessary due to the increased amount of tissue to be imaged. The study, published in the Journal of Radiological Protection, concluded that the overall risk of cancer caused by the extra radiation was more than double (153%) that of normal-weight people undergoing X-ray. However, the risk of cancer from X-ray is low. In 2015-16, 22.6 million X-ray procedures were carried out in England. Up to 280 cancers may have been related to X-ray related radiation dose. X-rays are recognised as saving countless lives by detecting abnormalities in the body.


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Risks of 'domino effect' of tipping points greater than thought, study says

Jonathan Watts
Thu 20 Dec 2018 14.00 EST
Last modified on Thu 20 Dec 2018 14.01 EST

Policymakers have severely underestimated the risks of ecological tipping points, according to a study that shows 45% of all potential environmental collapses are interrelated and could amplify one another.

The authors said their paper, published in the journal Science, highlights how overstressed and overlapping natural systems are combining to throw up a growing number of unwelcome surprises.
Global warming melting UK dreams of a white Christmas
Read more

“The risks are greater than assumed because the interactions are more dynamic,” said Juan Rocha of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “The important message is to recognise the wickedness of the problem that humanity faces.”


Among the latter pairings were Arctic ice sheets and boreal forests. When the former melt, there is less ice to reflect the sun’s heat so the temperature of the planet rises. This increases the risks of forest fires, which discharge carbon into the air that adds to the greenhouse effect, which melts more ice. Although geographically distant, each amplifies the other.

By contrast, a one-way domino-type impact is that between coral reefs and mangrove forests. When the former are destroyed, it weakens coastal defences and exposes mangroves to storms and ocean surges.

The deforestation of the Amazon is responsible for multiple “cascading effects” – weakening rain systems, forests becoming savannah, and reduced water supplies for cities like São Paulo and crops in the foothills of the Andes. This, in turn, increases the pressure for more land clearance.


Co-author Garry Peterson said the tipping of the west Antarctic ice shelf was not on the radar of many scientists 10 years ago, but now there was overwhelming evidence of the risks – including losses of chunks of ice the size of New York – and some studies now suggest the tipping point may have already been passed by the southern ice sheet, which may now be releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

“We’re surprised at the rate of change in the Earth system. So much is happening at the same time and at a faster speed than we would have thought 20 years ago. That’s a real concern,” said Peterson. “We’re heading ever faster towards the edge of a cliff.”


Co-author Garry Peterson said the tipping of the west Antarctic ice shelf was not on the radar of many scientists 10 years ago, but now there was overwhelming evidence of the risks – including losses of chunks of ice the size of New York – and some studies now suggest the tipping point may have already been passed by the southern ice sheet, which may now be releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

“We’re surprised at the rate of change in the Earth system. So much is happening at the same time and at a faster speed than we would have thought 20 years ago. That’s a real concern,” said Peterson. “We’re heading ever faster towards the edge of a cliff.”


“It’s a little depressing knowing we are not on a trajectory to keep our ecosystem in a functional state, but these connections are also a reason for hope; good management in one place can prevent severe environmental degradation elsewhere. Every action counts.”

World's first no-kill eggs go on sale in Berlin

Josie Le Blond
Sat 22 Dec 2018 00.00 EST

The world’s first ever no-kill eggs are now on sale in Berlin after German scientists found an easy way to determine a chick’s gender before it hatches, in a breakthrough that could put an end to the annual live shredding of billions of male chicks worldwide.

The patented “Seleggt” process can determine the sex of a chick just nine days after an egg has been fertilised. Male eggs are processed into animal feed, leaving only female chicks to hatch at the end of a 21-day incubation period.

“If you can determine the sex of a hatching egg you can entirely dispense with the culling of live male chicks,” said Seleggt managing director Dr Ludger Breloh, who spearheaded the four-year programme by German supermarket Rewe Group to make its own-brand eggs more sustainable.


An estimated 4-6 billion male chicks are slaughtered globally every year because they serve no economic purpose. Some are suffocated, others are fed alive into grinding or shredding machines to be processed into reptile food.

The culling is a messy solution to a thorny problem of modern poultry farming. Humans have bred chickens for one of two purposes: to produce eggs, or meat. Yet half of all the animals bred for this purpose are considered useless. Male chicks lay no eggs and don’t grow fast enough to justify the cost of feeding them up for meat. So, they are simply destroyed.


More blood pressure medication recalled after cancer-causing chemical found

See the link below for how to identify which bottles are affected.

A pharmaceutical company is voluntarily recalling blood pressure medication after detecting trace amounts of a cancer-causing chemical.

Torrent Pharmaceuticals Limited announced the recall for two lots of Losartan potassium tablets on the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) website.

The products contain trace amounts of N- nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA), which is a substance that occurs naturally in certain foods, drinking water, air pollution, and industrial processes, and has been classified as a probable human carcinogen as per International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classification.

Losartan is used to treat hypertension, hypertensive patients with Left Ventricular Hypertrophy and for the treatment of nephropathy in Type 2 diabetic patients.

Patients who are on Losartan should continue taking their medication, officials said, as the risk of harm to the patient’s health may be higher if the treatment is stopped immediately without any alternative treatment.

Patients should contact their pharmacist or physician who can advise them about an alternative treatment prior to returning their medication, officials said.


More than 164,000 pounds of ground turkey recalled; 52 more people sick in deadly salmonella outbreak

By Debra Goldschmidt, CNN
Updated 11:25 AM ET, Sat December 22, 2018

Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales Inc. is recalling about 164,210 pounds of raw ground turkey products due to the possibility of salmonella contamination, the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service said Friday.

The recall was announced as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 52 new cases of illness associated with the outbreak. This brings the number of illnesses to 216 people across 38 states since the outbreak began in November 2017. Eighty-four people have been hospitalized, and one death has been reported.

In addition, the Public Health Agency of Canada said Friday there have been 22 cases of illness in four provinces. The illnesses occurred between April 2017 and this November, but nearly half of the illnesses began in October and last month. Five patients have been hospitalized, and one person died.


NPR, deception by omission

Dec. 22, 2018

Since the elections this year, NPR keeps referring to Democrats winning the House, republicans winning the Senate with no mention of the fact that a majority of voters voted for Democrats for the Senate, but a majority of republicans won because of the way that each state has the same number of Senators, regardless of size. The only time I have heard it mentioned was when they were interviewing a republican, and it was the republican that pointed it out!

And NPR keeps saying Democrats in Congress are blocking budget bills, but of course both houses are still in the hands of republicans until Jan., so the Democrats wouldn't be able to block the bills if all the republicans were voting with the president.

W.Va. mom says her daughter was bullied after they balked at Bible classes in public school

Dec. 22, 2018 / 8:11 AM EST
By Corky Siemaszko

The chill set in not long after word got out that Elizabeth Deal’s little girl was not taking the Bible class at her West Virginia public grammar school.

Her daughter, Jessica Roe, then a first-grader, felt it first.

When her teacher and the pastor who ran that class realized they didn’t have a permission slip for Jessica Roe to attend, they placed her and another girl who wasn’t enrolled in the county's Bible in the Schools program in a coat closet and gave them iPads “to amuse themselves" during the 30-minute class, Deal said.

In the days and weeks that followed, Jessica Roe brought books from home when she was dispatched to the library or computer lab to sit, mostly by herself, while her classmates were in the Bible program, her mother said.


When Jessica Roe was in third grade, the bullying began, Deal charged in a lawsuit she and another family filed in January 2017 against the Mercer County Public Schools, with the help of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates for the separation of church and state.

“The kids started telling her that she and her family were all going to hell,” Deal said. “One girl saw the Harry Potter book that Jessica Roe was reading and slammed it down on her desk. ‘You don’t need to be reading this witch magic stuff, you should be reading The Bible,’ she yelled.”


“This isn’t about me saying you’re wrong because you’re Christian,” Deal said. “I am for anything that makes someone a better person. … But part of freedom of religion is separating church and state.”


Deal said that while her daughter was punished by her peers almost right away, “there was no real blowback for me until I joined the lawsuit.”

“It’s not like anybody got in my face or threatened me,” she said. “But there were plenty of comments on the local newspaper Facebook page, things like: I hope Elizabeth Deal can feel the flames of hell licking at her feet.”

Deal said claims by defenders of the program that they were just teaching about the Bible and not proselytizing “are just not true.”

“Lesson 1 instructs students to listen to the directions and warnings that are given in the Bible and to follow them in their own lives,” Deal and the other parent stated in their complaint.


Deal said she is not against religion, and her family celebrates Christmas as a time of giving. "There's just no need to have this in the schools," she said.

US envoy in ISIS fight, Brett McGurk, resigns over US withdrawal from Syria

By Elise Labott and Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN
Updated 3:04 PM ET, Sat December 22, 2018

Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, submitted his resignation Friday because of President Donald Trump's decision to pull US forces out of Syria, according to two senior officials and several sources familiar with his thinking.

McGurk had previously said privately that he was going to leave the administration in February of next year.
A State Department official told CNN that McGurk had informed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday that he was resigning, effective December 31.

CBS News was the first to report the news of McGurk's resignation, which came one day after Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned, also in part due to the Syria decision.


According to the sources, McGurk viewed the Syria decision as reckless and couldn't defend it, let alone execute it. He felt his integrity and his credibility were on the line, the sources told CNN.
"Brett was able to get US coalition partners to commit troops based on a code of trust with allies that the US was in the fight with them," said one source familiar with McGurk's thinking. "So after this sudden snap decision by the President to get out, he knew he could not be the one carrying this out."


"It would be reckless if we were just to say, 'Well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now.' I think anyone who's looked at a conflict like this would agree with that."


Bloodstain Analysis Wrongly Convinced a Jury She Stabbed Her 10-Year-Old Son.

by Pamela Colloff Dec. 20, 2018


Prosecutors used a forensic discipline called bloodstain-pattern analysis to argue that an intruder never entered her home on the night of the crime and that Rea was, in fact, her son’s killer. She was convicted of first-degree murder in 2002 largely on the strength of the testimony of two bloodstain-pattern analysts.

Four years later, Rea was acquitted at a retrial, after a legal team assembled by the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law in Chicago mounted a vigorous defense that challenged the state’s forensic testimony. They also presented new evidence that a serial killer of children — a lifelong drifter who was on Texas death row for a nearly identical crime — had confessed to killing Joel. Rea was formally exonerated in 2010.

Today, she belongs to a growing community of victims: Americans who were wrongly convicted with the help of forensic disciplines allowed into courtrooms despite little to no proof of their reliability. Of the 362 people who have been exonerated based on DNA tests in the United States, faulty forensics contributed to almost half of the underlying convictions.

Like Rea, these exonerees have had years of their lives stolen, and many have struggled to find their place in the world after surviving the crucible of incarceration.


The report criticized a wide range of forensic disciplines, including the analysis of hairs, fibers, bite marks and shoe and tire impressions. Its authors found that many of these disciplines were not grounded in hard data and extensive, peer-reviewed research, but instead relied on practitioners’ personal interpretations. “The law’s greatest dilemma in its heavy reliance on forensic evidence,” it stated, “concerns the question of whether — and to what extent — there is science in any given forensic science discipline.”

The report called for sweeping reform. Yet nearly a decade later, little has changed. In the field of bloodstain-pattern analysis, rigorous research that might determine the accuracy of analysts’ findings is scant. Bite-mark analysis — which, in 2016, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology declared had no scientific validity — is still admitted in criminal prosecutions. So, too, is microscopic hair comparison, an outmoded and dangerously flawed technique that has, to date, led to the convictions of 75 people who were later exonerated by DNA testing.

“Forensic science should be treated like any other consumer product,” said M. Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation at the Innocence Project in New York City. “Before it’s allowed to be used on human beings, it should be scientifically tested and clinically demonstrated to be reliable, just like toothpaste.”


Last year, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions dashed hopes for reform when he disbanded the National Commission on Forensic Science, an Obama-era advisory panel that sought the input of research scientists in improving the standards and soundness of forensic analysis and testimony.


Investigators had little to go on, having failed to do basic police work that might have pinpointed the identity of an intruder. They never dusted Joel’s bedroom, or the butcher block that the knife was pulled from, for fingerprints and did not preserve critical trace evidence on Joel’s bedspread.


From Oregon to Texas, from North Carolina to New York, convictions that hinged on the testimony of a bloodstain-pattern analyst have been overturned and the defendants acquitted, or the charges dropped. As recently as this February, a judge vacated the conviction of a Missouri man named Brad Jennings for the 2006 murder of his wife, Lisa, after evidence emerged that supported his claim that his wife committed suicide. Jennings was released from prison after eight years behind bars.


A new theory for why Republicans and Democrats see the world differently

My experience is that liberals can be fooled by misinformation, but when they are given correct information, they are much more likely than conservatives to accept the correct information.

By Ezra Klein Dec 18, 2018, 8:50am EST

“Of the many factors that make up your worldview, one is more fundamental than any other in determining which side of the divide you gravitate toward: your perception of how dangerous the world is. Fear is perhaps our most primal instinct, after all, so it’s only logical that people’s level of fearfulness informs their outlook on life.”

That’s political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler, writing in their book Prius or Pickup, which marshals a massive trove of survey data and experimental evidence to argue that the roots of our political divides run so deep that they make us almost incomprehensible to one another. Our political divisions, they say, aren’t about policy disagreements, or even demographics. They’re about something more ancient in how we view the world.


There’s a paragraph in your book I’ve been thinking about since I read it. You write, “America has had [political parties] basically forever and the country hasn’t always been polarized. For political parties to be polarizing, people need to feel that particular identity intensely.”


Importantly, most Americans didn’t have intense commitments on this question. In addition, party elites could compromise across it. Hence, the political conflict spawned by it wasn’t rancorous most of the time.

That changed in the late 20th century, accelerating into the present day. The dividing line between the parties was no longer a philosophy about governing (a political ideology — more or less government). It evolved into differences in philosophy about life (a worldview — is the world a basically safe place to explore, or is it a dangerous snake pit to hunker down against).

If you think the world is dangerous, safety is always the No. 1 concern. When it comes to physical safety, letting your guard down against adversaries could be disastrous. If you think the world is safe, however, discriminating against groups that have generally been down the racial, gender, or sexual orientation hierarchy is the real sin.


Today’s political acrimony results from Americans’ worldviews becoming married to their partisanship. Because people’s worldviews organize their whole life — not just the political part of it — a party identity defined by them produces intense conflict. Opposing worldviews have always existed in America (and probably since humans have been around). What is new is that they are now mapped neatly onto Americans’ party identities.

Evidence is everywhere. The clear theme of the 2016 GOP convention was that life in 21st-century American is perilous. “American carnage” was central to Trump’s inaugural. His recent statement on standing with Saudi Arabia literally began with, “The world is a very dangerous place!”

When Democrats see, hear, and read these things, they just don’t get it. Although they see danger, it is in the form of Republicans who perceive people who look or sound different as threats to national security. Modern-day Democrats see old traditions that discriminate against minorities, women, and LGBT people as the real threats to American life.

The reality that the world is actually safer hardly matters. What matters to today’s politics is that the bases of the two parties see it much differently.


You argue that there’s an asymmetry in truth-seeking between the two sides — that “misperceptions about climate change, crime rates, and the side effects of vaccinations all find their staunchest defenders on the political right, rather than the left.” You go on to say that “evidence is piling up that those on the political right seem to have a stronger tendency to take steps to buttress their worldview than those on the political left.”


You express a concern about being seen as “insulting and biased” to conservatives, a concern we share. But it seems an asymmetric one. When did you last observe conservatives worrying that about exaggerating liberal pathologies? Regardless, we don’t argue there is some “problem” with conservative Americans. The problem starts with conservative leaders.


For things to change, something must supplant these primal worldviews as the dividing line between the parties. That impetus must come from the top. Leaders set the grounds of debate. Ordinary people follow their lead. Democrats, for their part, seem to be trying. In focusing on health care and wages in 2018, they are making the dividing line about the size of government. It is a winning strategy.

I worry, though, that politics divided by worldview may be the natural state of things. We just didn’t realize that because we grew up in an anomalous time when the divide was about the size of government. Looking back over centuries, politics has almost always been fought between forces who favor the traditional and those who favor modernity. Governments didn’t have the resources to do much, so it couldn’t be the central source of division. We’ve gone back to the future.

As chapter seven of our book shows, the same process is playing out in Europe. Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil suggests the same thing there. It is not a happy story.

Noise pollution damages physical and psychological health

Linda Poon
Nov 25, 2015

Increasingly, health researchers are realizing that noise pollution is more than just a nuisance. A 2012 study found that exposure to the sounds of car traffic can raise the risk of heart attack in people over 50. A more recent study reported that it increases the risk of obesity. Still other work has linked city noise to impaired sleep.

But while these and other studies identify the effects of traffic noise on our bodies, few have looked at how it impacts our minds. New research, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, does just that—providing strong evidence that noise pollution is indeed a mental health problem. The study found that people living in areas with high traffic noise were 25 percent more likely than those in quieter neighborhoods to have symptoms of depression, even when adjusting for socioeconomic factors.


Orban adds that the link between noise and depression remains strong even after controlling for income and occupational status, which suggests the effect of noise on depression may be independent of monetary factors.

The researchers also saw a stronger correlation with depressive symptoms among those who reported sleep disruptions like insomnia in the first survey, suggesting that impaired sleep is a possible gateway to depression.


Researchers have evidence that noise leads to anxiety, and that it causes the release of the stress hormone cortisol


Friday, December 21, 2018

The Shrinking Middle Class: The Current State of Affairs

Dec. 20, 2018

Most Americans consider themselves part of the “middle class,” but no one can agree on what term that means. The problem? If sizing up the middle class is difficult enough, it’s even harder to say that circumstances within this group have changed. But they certainly have. As you’ll discover in this Fortune special report, life has gotten more difficult for the millions of people within the middle class. We dispatched more than 50 people to discover why the American dream has been fading for far too many.

In this section, we examine the current state of affairs by speaking with the people affected most by it. What we learned: Chasing the American dream was once exhilarating; now it’s exhausting.


Walter Ware works his route in Alpharetta, Ga., one of the wealthiest towns in the state.

I started in Residential Trash in 1998, riding on the back of garbage trucks in eastern Michigan when I was 22. Eventually, I went to get my commercial certification and started driving. Last fall I moved with my girlfriend to Georgia. With five kids in the house, we thought our money would go further. I transferred to a driver position serving affluent communities like Alpharetta. But the pay was less than two-thirds what I had been making. I bring home $188 a day. We’re struggling. It takes three of my checks for us to meet the rent. This was like setting me back 20 years.


For Emmanuel Macron, How Did Things Get So Bad, So Fast?

The fault lies with both the French president himself and the political and cultural elite that formed him.
By David A. Bell
December 13, 2018


In the end, the tragic fault lies both with Macron himself and with a political and cultural elite of which he is, in many ways, the pure product. To be sure, the protests did arise in large part in response to economic precariousness and pain. For French people who live outside of major cities, dependent on their cars and surviving on low incomes (average gross household income is about $30,000 per year), an increased tax on gasoline that already costs more than twice what it does in the United States is no small matter. But what clearly counted just as heavily for the Yellow Vests was the contempt they perceived as coming from Macron and his government. The president who imposed the new tax in the name of combating climate change was the same one who last year abolished the “solidarity tax” on the wealthy. It was the same one who overhauled the French labor code, making it easier for employers to fire workers. And it was the same one who summoned the two chambers of parliament to hear him speak in the splendor of the royal palace of Versailles.

It was, in short, a president who not only seemed systematically to be taking from the poor to give to the rich, but to be doing so in an intolerably disdainful manner. And Macron’s initial silence in response to the protesters did nothing to disabuse them of this perception, leading both their numbers and their demands to increase sharply.


The protesters’ perceptions are not entirely correct. Emmanuel Macron is not a contemptuous plutocrat. He is rather something that France’s elite educational and political systems specialize in producing: a person with very little life experience beyond elite institutions, who has a largely intellectualized approach to government. He is a smart man, with some genuine insights into the history of his country and the role of the presidency. But he has little sense of how to accomplish the long, hard slog of governing, or of what to do when people resist falling in line with his elegant theories. He has an abstract compassion for the poor and working classes but little real sense of their lives, and seems puzzled by their anger. His speech on Monday marked the first time in his presidency when he spoke with any real empathy about the plight of the poor and working class.