Monday, November 30, 2020

Airplane noise at night can trigger cardiovascular death

I'm sure other noise can have the same effect, like the jerk who goes around our neighborhood setting off fire crackers in the middle of the night, some of them sounding like bombs.  Got a small chest pain for hours one night from one close to my house.


News Release 27-Nov-2020
Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute

Most studies on transportation noise and cardiovascular mortality have focused on long-term exposure to noise. These studies demonstrated that chronic noise exposure is a risk factor for cardiovascular mortality. Across Europe, 48,000 cases of ischemic heart disease per year can be attributed to noise exposure, in particular to road traffic noise.

For the first time, a study led by researchers at Swiss TPH found that acute noise from airplanes during the night can trigger cardiovascular deaths within two hours of aircraft noise exposure. The study published today in the peer-reviewed European Heart Journal found that the risk of a cardiovascular death increases by 33% for night-time noise levels between 40 and 50 decibels and 44% for levels above 55 decibels.

"We found that aircraft noise contributed to about 800 out of 25,000 cardiovascular deaths that occurred between 2000 and 2015 in the vicinity of Zurich airport. This represents three percent of all observed cardiovascular deaths," said Martin Röösli, corresponding author of the study and Head of the Environmental Exposures and Health unit at Swiss TPH.

According to Röösli, the results are similar to the effects that emotions such as anger or excitement have on cardiovascular mortality. "This is not so surprising, as we know night-time noise causes stress and affects sleep," he added. The night-time noise effect was more pronounced in quiet areas with little railway and road traffic background noise and for people living in older houses, which often have less insulation and are thus more noise-prone.


Forest fires, cars, power plants join list of risk factors for Alzheimer's disease


News Release 30-Nov-2020
University of California - San Francisco


A new study led by researchers at UC San Francisco has found that among older Americans with cognitive impairment, the greater the air pollution in their neighborhood, the higher the likelihood of amyloid plaques - a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. The study adds to a body of evidence indicating that pollution from cars, factories, power plants and forest fires joins established dementia risk factors like smoking and diabetes.

In the study, which appears in JAMA Neurology on Nov.30, 2020, the researchers looked at the PET scans of more than 18,000 seniors whose average age was 75. The participants had dementia or mild cognitive impairment and lived in zip codes dotted throughout the nation. The researchers found that those in the most polluted areas had a 10 percent increased probability of a PET scan showing amyloid plaques, compared to those in the least polluted areas.

When applied to the U.S. population, with an estimated 5.8 million people over 65 with Alzheimer's disease, high exposure to microscopic airborne particles may be implicated in tens of thousands of cases.


Plastic contaminants harm sea urchins


News Release 30-Nov-2020
University of Exeter


Plastics in the ocean can release chemicals that cause deformities in sea urchin larvae, new research shows.

Scientists soaked various plastic samples in seawater then removed the plastic and raised sea urchin embryos in the water.

The study, led by the University of Exeter, found that urchins developed a variety of abnormalities, including deformed skeletons and nervous systems.

These abnormalities were caused by chemicals embedded in the plastics leaching out into the water, rather than the plastics themselves.

The plastic-to-water ratio in the study would only be seen in severely polluted places, but the findings raise questions about the wider impact of plastic contaminants on marine life.


Researchers show risk-averse teens sway peers to make safer choices


News Release 30-Nov-2020
Virginia Tech

Your high school friends may have had a bigger influence on your behavior than you once thought.

Prior studies about peer pressure have focused on why adolescents are likely to experiment along with friends who use drugs and alcohol. But do friends who avoid risks have similar influential power? Could observing a peer making a safe choice encourage someone to follow their lead?

In a new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Virginia Tech neuroscientists at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC show that observing peers making sound decisions may help young people play it safe. The discovery may one day inform measures to help teens make healthy decisions.

"This finding was surprising, because we were expecting to understand brain mechanisms of negative peer pressure. What we found in the brain and behavioral data is that positive social peers are even more important," said Pearl Chiu, an associate professor with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and the Department of Psychology in Virginia Tech's College of Science. "Watching social peers making safe choices - positive peer pressure - may lead some teens to make safer choices than they would otherwise."

Risky decision-making in adolescence can have long-term consequences. Research has shown that teens who start using substances are more likely to develop a substance use disorder later in life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Mothers' stress may lead to preterm births, faster aging in children


News Release 30-Nov-2020
Two UCLA studies reveal how stress before and during pregnancy may adversely affect offspring
University of California - Los Angeles


Why do some people age faster than others? One potential answer, a new UCLA-led study indicates, is that a mother's stress prior to giving birth may accelerate her child's biological aging.

The researchers found evidence that maternal stress adversely affects the length of a baby's telomeres -- the small pieces of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that act as protective caps, like the plastic tips on shoelaces. Shortened telomeres have been linked to a higher risk of cancers, cardiovascular and other diseases, and earlier death.


A second UCLA-led study from the same research group found that women suffering from high stress during the months and even years before conception -- defined as feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope -- had shorter pregnancies than other women. Women who experienced the highest levels of stress gave birth to infants whose time in utero was shorter by one week or more.

"Every day in the womb is important to fetal growth and development," said Christine Dunkel Schetter, a distinguished professor of psychology and psychiatry and senior author of both studies. "Premature infants have higher risk of adverse outcomes at birth and later in life than babies born later, including developmental disabilities and physical health problems."

Dunkel Schetter, who heads the Stress Processes in Pregnancy Lab, which conducted the studies, noted that premature birth rates are unusually high in the U.S., compared to other nations with similar resources, and that low-income and African American women have higher rates of preterm birth. "Preventing preterm birth, with its adverse consequences for mothers and children worldwide and in the U.S., is a top priority," she said.


 The researchers found that women who were exposed to the lowest or highest amounts of stress in their environment had the shortest pregnancies, while women who had a moderate level of environmental stress before conception had the longest pregnancies.

"Women exposed to moderate stressors in their environment may have developed coping strategies that serve them well both before and during pregnancy, while exposure to more severe stress challenges even women who normally cope very effectively," said lead author Nicole Mahrer, who conducted the research as a UCLA postdoctoral scholar in health psychology and is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of La Verne. She is also a co-author of the other study.

A moderate amount of stress in utero may help prepare the developing fetus for the environment to come, Mahrer said, especially if the mother has developed effective coping strategies.

"What we have not known until now," Dunkel Schetter said, "is whether a mother's psychosocial health before conception matters for her birth outcomes. This study is among the first to point out that, yes, it does matter.


 "An important takeaway from this work is that prenatal and preconception maternal health and well-being are critically important for the health of the infant," Carroll said. "If we as a society can make changes to help give pregnant women the resources they need and provide them with a safe and supportive environment before and during pregnancy, we may have a significant impact on the health of their children." 

Study reveals connection between gut bacteria and vitamin D levels


News Release 30-Nov-2020
University of California - San Diego


Our gut microbiomes -- the many bacteria, viruses and other microbes living in our digestive tracts -- play important roles in our health and risk for disease in ways that are only beginning to be recognized.

University of California San Diego researchers and collaborators recently demonstrated in older men that the makeup of a person's gut microbiome is linked to their levels of active vitamin D, a hormone important for bone health and immunity.

The study, published November 26, 2020 in Nature Communications, also revealed a new understanding of vitamin D and how it's typically measured.

Vitamin D can take several different forms, but standard blood tests detect only one, an inactive precursor that can be stored by the body. To use vitamin D, the body must metabolize the precursor into an active form.

"We were surprised to find that microbiome diversity -- the variety of bacteria types in a person's gut -- was closely associated with active vitamin D, but not the precursor form," said senior author Deborah Kado, MD, director of the Osteoporosis Clinic at UC San Diego Health. "Greater gut microbiome diversity is thought to be associated with better health in general."


Plant-based diet ramps up metabolism, according to new study

News Release 30-Nov-2020
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

A plant-based diet boosts after-meal burn, leads to weight loss, and improves cardiometabolic risk factors in overweight individuals, according to a new randomized control trial published in JAMA Network Open by researchers with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The study randomly assigned participants--who were overweight and had no history of diabetes--to an intervention or control group in a 1:1 ratio. For 16 weeks, participants in the intervention group followed a low-fat, plant-based diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes with no calorie limit. The control group made no diet changes. Neither group changed exercise or medication routines, unless directed by their personal doctors.

Researchers used indirect calorimetry to measure how many calories participants burned after a standardized meal at both the beginning and end of the study. The plant-based group increased after-meal calorie burn by 18.7%, on average, after 16 weeks. The control group's after-meal burn did not change significantly.


Within just 16 weeks, participants in the plant-based group lowered their body weight by 6.4 kg (about 14 pounds), on average, compared to an insignificant change in the control group. The plant-based group also saw significant drops in fat mass and visceral fat volume--the dangerous fat found around the internal organs.

The researchers also teamed up with Yale University researchers Kitt Petersen, MD, and Gerald Shulman, MD, to track intramyocellular lipid and hepatocellular lipid--the accumulating fat in muscle and liver cells--in a subset of participants using magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Those in the plant-based group reduced the fat inside the liver and muscle cells by 34% and 10%, respectively, while the control group did not experience significant changes. Fat stored in these cells has been linked to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

"When fat builds up in liver and muscle cells, it interferes with insulin's ability to move glucose out from the bloodstream and into the cells," adds Dr. Kahleova. "After just 16 weeks on a low-fat, plant-based diet, study participants reduced the fat in their cells and lowered their chances for developing type 2 diabetes."


As Hospitals Fill With COVID-19 Patients, Medical Reinforcements Are Hard To Find

November 30, 20205:02 AM ET

Blake Farmer
Carrie Feibel


 Hospitals in much of the country are trying to cope with unprecedented numbers of COVID-19 patients. As of Sunday, 93,238 were hospitalized, an alarming record that far exceeds the two previous peaks in April and July, of just under 60,000 inpatients.

But beds and space aren't the main concern. It's the work force. Hospitals are worried that staffing levels won't be able to keep up with demand as doctors, nurses and specialists such as respiratory therapists become exhausted or, worse, become infected or sick themselves.

The typical workaround for staffing shortages — hiring clinicians from out of town — isn't the solution anymore, even though it helped ease the strain early in the pandemic, when the first surge of cases was concentrated in a handful of "hot spot" cities such as New York, Detroit, Seattle and New Orleans.


Tennessee has now built its own field hospitals to handle patient overflows — one is inside the old Commercial Appeal newspaper offices in Memphis, and another occupies two unused floors in Nashville General Hospital. But if they were needed right now, the state would have trouble finding the doctors and nurses to run them because hospitals are already struggling to staff the beds they have.

"Hospital capacity is almost exclusively about staffing," says Dr. Lisa Piercey, who heads the Tennessee Department of Health. "Physical space, physical beds, not the issue."

When it comes to staffing, the coronavirus creates a compounding challenge.

As patient caseloads reach new highs, record numbers of hospital employees are themselves out sick with COVID-19 or temporarily forced to stop working because they have to quarantine after a possible exposure.

"But here's the kicker," says Dr. Alex Jahangir, who chairs Nashville's coronavirus task force. "They're not getting infected in the hospitals. In fact, hospitals for the most part are fairly safe. They're getting infected in the community."


Even the region's largest hospitals are filling up. This week, Vanderbilt University Medical Center made space in its children's hospital for non-COVID-19 patients. Its adult hospital has more than 700 beds. And like many other hospitals, it's had the challenge of staffing two intensive care units — one exclusively for COVID-19 patients and another for everyone else.

And they're coming from as far away as Arkansas and southwest Virginia.

"The vast majority of our patients now in the intensive care unit are not coming in through our emergency department," says Dr. Matthew Semler, a pulmonary specialist at VUMC who works with COVID-19 patients.

"They're being sent hours to be at our hospital because all of the hospitals between here and where they present to the emergency department are on diversion."

Semler says his hospital would typically bring in nurses from out of town to help. But there is nowhere to pull them from right now.


But Johnson says the sacrifices shouldn't just come from the country's health care workers. Everyone bears a responsibility, he says, to try to keep themselves and others from getting sick in the first place.

How this rapper quit his music career to start a cat rescue

NBC News
Jen Reeder
Sun, November 29, 2020, 7:00 AM EST

Atlanta resident Sterling Davis was on a break from a rap tour when he applied for a job at the county shelter scooping kitty litter. He just wanted to stay busy and make a little money. Plus, he’s always loved animals, like his cat at the time, Rick James.

“I did horrible in the interview because they had cats in the room and I was playing with all the cats, kissing all the cats,” he told TODAY.

Even though he didn’t really answer any of the questions because he was distracted by the friendly felines, he got the job because, as the person who hired him said, “We’re not seeing people like you with cats.”

Davis, 40, started helping shelter employees with trap-neuter-return cases. The team would trap community cats (formerly called “feral”), bring them to the shelter to be vaccinated and spayed or neutered, and then return them to their outdoor realm.


After five years of working at the shelter run by LifeLine Animal Project and training with Best Friends Animal Society, Davis founded the nonprofit TrapKing Humane Cat Solutions in 2017.

His bold goal: to change stereotypes of men in cat rescue and bridge the communication gap between Black communities and predominately white animal welfare organizations.


“I think being in the military, being around different people, different cultures and being in entertainment is what actually helped me better communicate with all types of people and better communicate this mission,” he said. “I’ve literally been pushing to make TNR community cat care as common as recycling and get more people engaged in so many fun ways.”

It hasn’t always been easy. Early on when Davis was returning cats to a predominately Black neighborhood, a group of men walked up and told him: “White people put tracking devices and diseases in these cats to hurt the Black community and you’re helping that. You’re bringing them into the neighborhood.”

“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s so wrong.’ It was really difficult to explain it because all the Black community could see was this is a white person’s thing,” he said.


“I think something as selfless as rescue could be an example to the world of unity and working together,” he said. “So I want to put that out there.”

Destructive Trump loyalists undermining Pentagon transition, retired admiral warns

The Independent
Louise Hall
Mon, November 30, 2020, 11:20 AM EST

Retired US admiral Michael Mullen has said he is “very concerned” about “Trump loyalists” working in the Pentagon amidst Joe Biden’s transition period.

During an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Mr Mullen discussed the importance of the peaceful transfer of power and the impact of Donald Trump’s delay of the official transition process.

“I think I'm actually very concerned about the Trump loyalists who have now gone to work in the Pentagon,” Mr Mullen said, suggesting that they could cause issues for Mr Biden during the transition period.

“I mean, recently, Secretary Esper was fired, and a host of other people left the building. And there are some real Trump loyalists there now in charge and it's pretty difficult to think that over the course of 50 or 60 days you can do something constructive, but you can do something that's really destructive," he added.


Sydney records hottest November night on record

A majority of Australians have voted for a leader who blocks action on climate disruption.


Sun, November 29, 2020, 2:20 PM EST

Sydney [Australia] has reported its hottest November night on record, with the official start of summer still days away.

The city recorded a minimum overnight temperature of 25.4C  [77.7F] and then hit 40C [104F] during the daytime on Sunday.

Dozens of bush fires are already burning in New South Wales with hotter weather predicted on Tuesday.

The states of Victoria and South Australia also reported soaring heat over the weekend.

"November has been quite unusual in many ways. We have only seen about half our normal rainfall and it is quite possible it will be one of our hottest Novembers on record," Andrew Watkins, of the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) noted on Friday.


tags: extreme weather, severe weather,

Sunday, November 29, 2020

‘We’re No. 28! And Dropping!’

By Nicholas Kristof
Sept. 9, 2020

This should be a wake-up call: New data suggest that the United States is one of just a few countries worldwide that is slipping backward.

The newest Social Progress Index, shared with me before its official release Thursday morning, finds that out of 163 countries assessed worldwide, the United States, Brazil and Hungary are the only ones in which people are worse off than when the index began in 2011. And the declines in Brazil and Hungary were smaller than America’s.


The index, inspired by research of Nobel-winning economists, collects 50 metrics of well-being — nutrition, safety, freedom, the environment, health, education and more — to measure quality of life. Norway comes out on top in the 2020 edition, followed by Denmark, Finland and New Zealand. South Sudan is at the bottom, with Chad, Central African Republic and Eritrea just behind.


The United States, despite its immense wealth, military power and cultural influence, ranks 28th — having slipped from 19th in 2011. The index now puts the United States behind significantly poorer countries, including Estonia, Czech Republic, Cyprus and Greece.

“We are no longer the country we like to think we are,” said Porter.

The United States ranks No. 1 in the world in quality of universities, but No. 91 in access to quality basic education. The U.S. leads the world in medical technology, yet we are No. 97 in access to quality health care.

The Social Progress Index finds that Americans have health statistics similar to those of people in Chile, Jordan and Albania, while kids in the United States get an education roughly on par with what children get in Uzbekistan and Mongolia. A majority of countries have lower homicide rates, and most other advanced countries have lower traffic fatality rates and better sanitation and internet access.


The decline of the United States over the last decade in this index — more than any country in the world — is a reminder that we Americans face structural problems that predate President Trump and that festered under leaders of both parties. Trump is a symptom of this larger malaise, and also a cause of its acceleration.

David G. Blanchflower, a Dartmouth economist, has new research showing that the share of Americans reporting in effect that every day is a bad mental health day has doubled over 25 years. “Rising distress and despair are largely American phenomenon not observed in other advanced countries,” Blanchflower told me.


The abyss has been winning

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

Friedrich W. Nietzsche

Community noise may increase dementia risk

News Release 21-Oct-2020

Results from a new study published in Alzheimer's & Dementia support emerging evidence suggesting that noise may influence individuals' risk of developing dementia later in life.

Researchers studied 5,227 participants of the Chicago Health and Aging Project who were aged 65 years or older, of whom 30% had mild cognitive impairment and 11% had Alzheimer's disease. They found that persons living with 10 decibels more noise near their residences during the daytime had a 36% higher odds of having mild cognitive impairment and a 30% higher odds of having Alzheimer's disease.

"These findings suggest that within typical urban communities in the United States, higher levels of noise may impact the brains of older adults and make it harder for them to function without assistance. This is an important finding since millions of Americans are currently impacted by high levels of noise in their communities," said senior author Sara D. Adar, ScD, of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor.


Nearly 26 million Americans are going hungry the week of Thanksgiving

Robert Reich
Nov. 25, 2020

A staggering one in EIGHT Americans reported they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat in the past week. That’s nearly 26 million Americans who are going hungry the week of Thanksgiving. And a full quarter of out-of-work Americans with children at home reported not having enough food to eat. The numbers are worse for Black households than for white ones: 22 percent of Black households reported going hungry in the past week, over 2.5 times the rate for white households. Food banks are overwhelmed trying to meet the new surge in demand: “We'll be hard pressed to keep up. We’re just bracing for the worst,” said the CEO of Feeding Texas.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate last week and let them skip town early for Thanksgiving. He and his do nothing Senate Republicans get to go home to their families and sit down to a table bursting with food, while 26 million of their fellow Americans starve. As long as their rich friends are happy now that the stock market is soaring, they couldn’t be bothered to serve their constituents. It’s one of the grossest abdications of duty I’ve ever seen. There are no words to truly describe Mitch McConnell’s moral bankruptcy.

Shopping on Black Friday? Remember the stranded seafarers who make it possible

Nusrat Ghani and Guy Platten
Fri 27 Nov 2020 08.23 EST
Last modified on Fri 27 Nov 2020 08.29 EST

This weekend is one of the planet’s busiest shopping sprees, with an estimated £66bn to be spent in the UK alone over Black Friday and Cyber Monday, much of it online. Yet as shoppers click and wait to collect, there is a crisis at sea among the people whose work brings us these goods.

It is no exaggeration to say that without shipping the global marketplace would collapse. It is responsible for the movement of 90% of all global trade. Even in normal circumstances, more than a million seafarers labour daily on the vessels that make up the world cargo fleet, their work barely noticed by consumers. As Covid-19 has ravaged the world, they have helped keep the global economy functioning, unseen.

As Guardian Seascape has repeatedly reported, however, nearly 400,000 of these seafarers are trapped by the crew change crisis. Most have not been designated key workers during the pandemic, and have remained effectively imprisoned on board their vessels – unable to change crews at ports, and therefore unable to return to their homes and loved ones.


As things stand, a few major retailers are poised to profit immensely from the work of seafearers in the rush for goods on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The International Chamber of Shipping has written an open letter to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, asking him to use his influence to exert pressure on governments to recognise seafarers as key workers, so that they can change crews, go home and be reunited with their families.



Afghan pilot who saved Americans hiding from Taliban after US denies plea for refuge


The Independent
Josh Marcus
Sat, November 28, 2020, 8:15 PM EST

A decorated Afghan Air Force pilot who had saved American lives is now in hiding in Afghanistan from the Taliban after the US military suddenly changed course and denied his emergency request to seek refuge in America late last month.

“I cannot go backward,” Maj. Mohammed Naiem Asadi, 32, told military news site Stars and Stripes, which broke the news. “And I cannot go forward, because I am not allowed to go forward.”

Stars and Stripes accessed documents which showed the Pentagon initially approved the request from Mr Asadi, who reportedly killed more Taliban fighters than anyone else in the Afghan Air Force and helped protect an American pilot who crashed their plane in northern Afghanistan this summer.


Biden has white men to thank for putting him in the White House

Andrew L. Yarrow, Opinion contributor
Sun, November 29, 2020, 4:00 AM EST

President-elect Joe Biden has white men to thank.

Two years ago, I wrote that Democrats and progressives needed to appeal to white men and address the problems particularly of non-college educated white men. Although the party may not have been so explicit about what the problems of this population are and the ways in which they would tackle them, at least at the presidential level, Democrats were successful in winning many of them over.

Donald Trump made gains among virtually every other demographic — Black men and women, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and even white women. The one significant demographic in which his support cratered compared to 2016 was among white men, who make up more than one-third of the electorate. Biden made an impressive 11 percentage point gain among white, college-educated men and a 6 percentage point gain among white, non-college educated men, supposedly Trump’s core constituency.


Autumn illnesses including flu up to halved by coronavirus restrictions, says German study


The Telegraph
Daniel Wighton
Sun, November 29, 2020, 7:10 AM EST 

Coronavirus measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing haven’t just helped stop the spread of Covid-19, they’ve also slashed cases of cold weather illnesses by up to 50 per cent, according to new data from Germany.

Instances of flu, bronchitis and pneumonia have all significantly decreased in north-eastern Germany, which includes Berlin, according to a study by health insurer AOK Nordost.   

From September until mid-November, the number of people taking sick days off work due to the flu was halved compared to previous years.

Absence due to acute bronchitis fell by more than half, the study found, while sick days as a result of pneumonia and gastrointestinal infections dropped by a third.

The authors said this was likely due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions.  

“The corona protective measures including masks, washing hands and keeping your distance did not prevent the second Covid-19 wave,” said the report.  

“The rules, however, have at least severely contained the spread of flu and other infectious diseases in the autumn.”

The authors also speculated that an increase in flu vaccinations may have also contributed to the decline in infections. 


Saturday, November 28, 2020

GOP congressman calls party's refusal to acknowledge Biden's win a 'massive grift' and says Trump 'forgot he was serving people and not himself'

Business Insider /

John L. Dorman
Sat, November 28, 2020, 6:28 PM EST


GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia slammed President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans in a recent interview with Forbes, calling the party's large-scale refusal to acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden's victory a "massive grift" and saying that Trump has "never served anything but himself."

Riggleman, an outgoing congressman and one of a handful of House Republicans who are openly acknowledging Biden's presidential win, said that the current posturing by the party is "just money-making for the 2024 election" and "completely unethical."

The conservative congressman said that the fear of Trump's wrath was motivating many House Republicans to prioritize their individual careers over accepting the election results.

"They're worried about committee assignments, they're worried about the team," Riggleman said of Republicans who are standing with the president. Trump, Riggleman said, can "cost them their careers" and for many members, "the career is more important than the facts, it's that simple."



Friday, November 27, 2020

She once stood before a judge as a juvenile delinquent. Now, she’s practicing law.

by Melanie Burney, Updated: March 14, 2020

When the moment finally came, it was surreal for Carmen Day: She had accomplished her childhood dream to become a lawyer.

It began with a promise she made 13 years ago to a judge in Camden who showed her leniency when she stood before him as a juvenile delinquent. She could have faced prison time. Instead, she got a second chance.

This week, Day began working as an associate at the Brown & Connery law firm in Westmont. She landed the position two months after obtaining a Juris Doctorate with honors from Rutgers-Camden Law School. She is handling employment law cases.


William Tambussi, a partner in the politically connected firm who will mentor Day, said he was impressed with her triumph over adversity. Unlike most hires, Day didn’t complete a summer internship at the firm or clerk with a judge.

”She had the smarts, was goal-driven and had the work ethic,” Tambussi said. “This is the kind of person we want.”

Her first exposure to the law had an ominous beginning when Day stood before Superior Court Judge Charles Dortch in December 2006. She had a plea agreement that called for 18 months’ probation. She begged for leniency, and the judge reduced her sentence to six months.

Juvenile records are sealed, and Day has declined to disclose specifics about her case, including the charges she faced. She has said that she succumbed to peer pressure from her boyfriend and friends, and went down the wrong path.


Dortch told Day he was proud of her. They posed for photographs and their story went viral, and she received messages from around the world. She has become a motivational speaker and a role model for young girls in Camden, where she grew up.

”This is my testimony. I hope by sharing that I can encourage someone to keep fighting and keep dreaming,” Day wrote in a social media post.


When he leaves office, can ex-President Trump be trusted with America's national security secrets?

NBC News

Ken Dilanian
Fri, November 27, 2020, 9:03 AM EST

When David Priess was a CIA officer, he traveled to Houston, he recalls, to brief former President George H.W. Bush on classified developments in the Middle East.

It was part of a long tradition of former presidents being consulted about, and granted access to, some of the nation's secrets.

Priess and other former intelligence officials say Joe Biden would be wise not to let that tradition continue in the case of Donald Trump.

They argue soon-to-be-former President Trump already poses a danger because of the secrets he currently possesses, and they say it would be foolish to trust him with more sensitive information. With Trump's real estate empire under financial pressure and his brand suffering, they worry he will see American secrets as a profit center.

"This is not something that one could have ever imagined with other presidents, but it's easy to imagine with this one," said Jack Goldsmith, who worked as a senior Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration.

"He's shown as president that he doesn't take secret-keeping terribly seriously," Goldsmith said in an interview. "He has a known tendency to disrespect rules related to national security. And he has a known tendency to like to sell things that are valuable to him."

Goldsmith and other experts noted that Trump has a history of carelessly revealing classified information. He told the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in 2017 about extremely sensitive terrorism threat information the U.S. had received from an ally. Last year he tweeted what experts said was a secret satellite photo of an Iranian nuclear installation.


Trump has said his finances are sound, and that the debts are a small percentage of his assets. Generally, though, large debts to foreign banks — Trump's biggest creditor is reported to be Deutsche Bank, a German institution with links to Russia — would exclude a person from a top secret clearance.

Presidents, however, are not investigated and polygraphed for security clearances as all other government officials are. By virtue of being elected, they assume control over all the nation's secret intelligence, and are allowed by law to disclose any of it, at any time, to anyone.

Former presidents aren't subject to security clearance investigations, either. They are provided access to secrets as a courtesy, with the permission of the current president.


That said, Trump probably is not conversant with many highly classified details, experts say, He was famous for paying only intermittent attention during his intelligence briefings and declining to read his written materials. Moreover, intelligence officials tend not to share specifics about sources and methods with any president, unless he asks.

So Trump probably doesn't know the names of the CIA's spies in Russia, experts say. But presumably he knows a bit about the capabilities of American surveillance drones, for example, or how adept the National Security Agency has been at intercepting the communications of various foreign governments.


Like so much with Trump, his track record of sharing secrets has been unprecedented in American presidential history.

In interviews with the journalist Bob Woodward for a book released this fall, Trump boasted about a secret nuclear weapons system that neither Russia nor China knew about.

According to the Washington Post, Woodward's sources "later confirmed that the U.S. military had a secret new weapons system, but they would not provide details, and that the people were surprised Trump had disclosed it."

When Trump briefed the public about the commando raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, he disclosed classified and sensitive details, according to reporting by NBC News.

In 2017, Trump gave the location of two American nuclear submarines near North Korea to the president of the Philippines.


Inching toward exit, Trump says he'll leave if Biden wins Electoral College vote


Jeff Mason and Simon Lewis
Thu, November 26, 2020, 6:07 AM EST 

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden, the closest he has come to conceding the Nov. 3 election, even as he repeated unfounded claims of massive voter fraud.

Speaking to reporters on the Thanksgiving holiday, Republican Trump said if Democrat Biden - who is due to be sworn in on Jan. 20 - is formally declared the winner by the Electoral College, he will depart the White House.

Asked if he would leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden, Trump said: "Certainly I will. Certainly I will. And you know that."




November 29–30, 2020 Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

See the web site for details

This is the last penumbral lunar eclipse of 2020. Residents of North and South America, Australia, and parts of Asia can see about 82% of the Full Moon turn a shade darker during the maximum phase of this eclipse.


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Ants are crucial in spreading wildflower seeds

Updated May 25, 2018
By Charles Seabrook

The trilliums, violets, hepatica, rue-anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, trout lilies and dozens of other “spring ephemeral” wildflowers that bloomed so beautifully and lushly in early spring are fast disappearing now.


Then, the ants take over. While spring ephemerals primarily are pollinated by bees, wasps, beetles and other insects, they rely on woodland ants to spread their seeds May through July. (Seed-dispersal by ants is called myrmecochory.)

To entice the ants, seeds of spring ephemerals bear external fat-rich attachments called elaiosomes, which woodland ants love. The ants carry the seeds back to their nests and feed the elaiosomes to their larvae. The unharmed seeds, now free of elaiosomes, are tossed by the ants onto well-aerated, nutrient-rich discard piles — ideal seedbeds. In effect, the ants plant the seeds.

On average, an ant carries a seed only about six feet from the parent plant. However, the seed benefits by having a favorable spot in which to germinate. In addition, by being in an ant nest, the seed is less likely to be eaten by predators such as mice.

Other plants, of course, have come to rely on other seed-dispersal strategies. Winged seeds are scattered by wind and water; seeds of berry and fruit plants are sown far and wide by birds and mammals; rough, sticky seeds are spread by clinging to fur and feathers.

Republicans are right: democracy is rigged. But they are the beneficiaries

Stephen Holmes

Thu 26 Nov 2020 06.35 EST

The Republican establishment, despite being unfairly advantaged by the skewed composition of the electoral college, by over-representation in the House due to partisan gerrymandering and in the Senate due to equal State suffrage, has been in no hurry to reject Donald Trump’s ludicrous allegation that the American electoral system is rigged to favor Democrats. Sweating the make-or-break Georgia runoffs, the party’s leaders are apparently frightened to cross the mad king, who owns their voters, lest he cause their ratings to plummet as he is doing with Fox News. But Republican complicity with this unprecedented attack on American democracy is not a matter of short-term expediency or fear of reprisals. It is much worse than that. Mitch McConnell and the others are not merely humoring the president until his mania subsides. Trump’s voters are the Republicans’ voters and the Republican party cannot easily cut them, and their deranged conspiracy theories, loose even after 20 January.


The Republican party is deeply committed to the outrageously tilted playing field that allows a minority of voters to choose a majority of senators and, indirectly, a majority of supreme court justices, not to mention the occasional president as in 2000 and 2016. They are an unabashedly anti-democratic party in that sense alone, even if we set aside their brazen efforts at voter suppression and voter intimidation. This is perhaps the main reason why its leaders have proved so reluctant to dissociate themselves from Trump’s specious allegation that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged”. They know that the system is rigged. It is rigged to favor Republicans. And they relish not only the irony of Trump’s audacious reversal of the truth, but also the way it distracts attention from the genuinely unconscionable rigging that gives an American minority the power to impose its will on the American majority.


'No end in sight': hunger surges in America amid a spiraling pandemic

Nina Lakhani in New York and Maanvi Singh in Oakland
Wed 25 Nov 2020 04.00 EST

Millions of Americans must rely on charity to put Thanksgiving dinner on the table this year, as hunger surges amid a devastating spiraling of the Covid-19 pandemic which the Trump administration has failed to get under control.

In what is traditionally a season of celebration, less than half of US households with children feel “very confident” about having enough money to afford the food needed over the next month, according to the US Census Bureau’s latest pandemic survey. A staggering 5.6m households struggled to put enough food on the table in the past week.

Families of color are suffering disproportionately with 27% of black and 23% of Latino respondents with children reported not having enough to eat sometimes or often over the past week – compared with 12% of white people.

Overall food insecurity has doubled since last year due to record unemployment and underemployment rates. For families with children, hunger is three times higher than in 2019, according to analysis by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, director of the non-partisan Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.


Hunger is not new in America. Even before the pandemic, 35 million people relied on food banks every year, according to Feeding America. But the pandemic has been catastrophic – despite initial lauded federal interventions such as the stimulus cheques and enhanced unemployment benefit. As many as 50 million people could experience hunger this year, including a quarter of all children.

Trump has more or less stopped talking about the pandemic, as the CDC predicts the US could hit 300,000 deaths before Christmas

Bill Bostock
Thu, November 26, 2020, 8:21 AM EST

President Donald Trump has all but stopped talking about the coronavirus pandemic, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning the US could pass 300,000 deaths by Christmas.

Throughout the pandemic, Trump often blamed China, praised the White House's work in finding a vaccine, and downplayed the threat that the virus posed to Americans.

But, in the past week, the topic seems to have disappeared from his public statements.

Since President-elect Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, Trump has used his public statements — either in press briefings or tweets — to double down on the baseless claims that he will have a second term, and that votes were stolen from him.


On Wednesday, the CDC said that the US may hit 300,000 coronavirus deaths before December 19. The US has currently reported 262,000 deaths — the highest in the world — according to Johns Hopkins University data.

On Tuesday, the US recorded 2,216 new daily COVID-19 deaths — the highest since June 26, The New York Times reported, adding that daily new deaths were trending upwards and would likely soon surpass the record of 2,752 set on April 15.

Trump has made few statements in recent weeks, and when he has, his remarks largely avoided discussing the virus.

On Tuesday, Trump gave a Thanksgiving press conference in the Rose Garden which he began by praising the Dow Jones Industrial Average gains and only briefly mentioned the pandemic, thanking Americans who "waged the battle against the China virus."

Earlier that day, Trump gave a bizarre, minute-long press briefing in which he again praised the stock market, but added he was "thrilled with what's happened on the vaccine front."


As Business Insider's Sarah Al-Arshani previously noted, Trump has been neglecting his official duties since his election loss. 

El Paso lawyered up to try and collect $570,000 owed to the city by the Trump campaign from a rally 2 years ago


Kelsey Vlamis
Thu, November 26, 2020, 2:16 AM EST

The City of El Paso hired legal counsel to help it collect the more than half a million dollars owed to the city by the Trump campaign from a rally almost two years ago, local station KTSM reported.

The city council voted unanimously on Monday to hire external lawyers to help collect the nearly $570,000 in debt that the city has been trying to collect since February 2019.

A Trump campaign rally took place that month at the El Paso County Coliseum. The city spent about $470,000 on security and other expenses, according to the Texas Tribune. The additional debt is for a one-time late payment fee of about $99,000, or 21%.

The city council vote came days after news that National Guard personnel were deployed to the western Texas city to help with overflowing morgues as it battles the latest surge in COVID-19 cases.

Earlier this month, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told Business Insider's Charles Davis that the city is in need of federal funding to help fight the spread of the virus and protect the local economy.


Biden becomes the first presidential candidate in US history to win 80 million votes — and counting


Oma Seddiq
Wed, November 25, 2020, 4:43 PM EST

President-elect Joe Biden continues to rack up the most votes won by any presidential candidate in US history.

At least 80 million people ticked the Democratic box in the 2020 presidential election as of Wednesday afternoon. The figure is only expected to increase while election officials continue counting votes across the country.

Biden breaks the record held by then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, who secured 69.5 million votes in 2008, with Biden on the ticket as his running mate. The president-elect surpassed that number only a day after the election.

In the weeks since, a tremendous amount of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic dramatically increased Biden's tally and propelled him to victory. Insider and Decision Desk HQ called the race for Biden on Nov. 6. 


The United States Election Project, which tracks votes, estimates that around 159 million people voted this election, crushing voter turnout rates in over a century at roughly 66.7%. The last high was 73.7% in 1900. 

Warm Arctic, Cold Continents? It Sounds Counterintuitive, but Research Suggests it’s a Thing


By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
Nov 22, 2020

By any measure, the Arctic has changed profoundly in the last 40 years, warming three times as fast as the global average, and losing half its summer sea ice, as well as billions of tons of land-based glacier ice.

And even though the Arctic only encompasses about 6 percent of the Earth's surface area, the warming there has kicked off climate chain reactions that are disrupting weather and climate patterns across the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, including most major North American and European cities and agricultural areas. The abrupt and accelerating Arctic warming directly harms the communities, livelihoods and traditions of the 4 million people who live in the polar region.

Some scientists say a more frequently recurring cycle they refer to as "warm Arctic, cold continents," is a sign of that disruption. The pattern seemed to emerge as a global warming signal about 10 years ago, as researchers documented an increase of summer and winter extremes in parts of North America and Eurasia, including heat waves, killer blizzards, floods and cold snaps, occurring even as Arctic warming and ice loss accelerated.


"In general we do see the tendency that, when the Arctic is very warm, you're displacing the cold air that is usually over the Arctic to somewhere else," said co-author Jennifer Francis, a climate researcher with the Woodwell Climate Research Center. "As the arctic warms faster we expect to see this more."


Cohen said he considers complex atmospheric movements involving the polar vortex to be a key link between the warming Arctic and extreme cold events in North America and Eurasia. The polar vortex is a belt of winds around the Arctic that keeps cold air bottled up if it's tight, but spills frigid air masses southward when disrupted.

That disruption happens, he said, when the warm Arctic air works its way high into the upper atmosphere, where it crests like a wave to break through the vortex.

"It's getting increasingly difficult to get severe winter weather into the mid-latitudes without a polar vortex disruption," he said. "And amplified Arctic warming is favorable for disrupting the polar vortex."

Francis, of the Woodwell center, added that it's important to remember that the overall hypothesized impact of amplified Arctic warming is "to favor an increase in the persistence of weather conditions, including cold spells, heat waves, dry periods and storminess, all of which can be disruptive if they last long enough."

Those patterns, she said, can last a week to several weeks and they can flip suddenly: "The whiplash from a record-breaking heatwave to cold and snow that occurred in the western states (particularly Rockies) this fall was a great example."

tags: extreme weather, severe weather,

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Cooking with wood may cause lung damage


News Release 25-Nov-2020
Radiological Society of North America


Advanced imaging with CT shows that people who cook with biomass fuels like wood are at risk of suffering considerable damage to their lungs from breathing in dangerous concentrations of pollutants and bacterial toxins, according to a study being presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Approximately 3 billion people around the world cook with biomass, such as wood or dried brush. Pollutants from cooking with biomass are a major contributor to the estimated 4 million deaths a year from household air pollution-related illness.


Analysis: talc-based cosmetics test positive for asbestos


News Release 25-Nov-2020
Environmental Working Group


Laboratory tests of talc-based cosmetics products, commissioned by the Environmental Working Group, found asbestos - a deadly human carcinogen for which there is no safe level of exposure - in almost 15 percent of samples.

The analysis, published today in the journal Environmental Health Insights, calls attention to the outdated methods used for screening this potential hazard in talc-based cosmetics. The methods used by the cosmetics industry to screen talc supplies are inadequate.

"Many well-known brands use talc in body and facial powders that can be inhaled," said Nneka Leiba, EWG vice president for Healthy Living Science. "In our Skin Deep® online database we have identified more than 2,000 personal care products that contain talc, including over 1,000 loose or pressed powders that could pose an inhalation risk. It's troubling to think how many Americans have been using talc-based cosmetics products potentially contaminated with asbestos."


Aim to exceed weekly recommended physical activity level to offset health harms of prolonged sitting


News Release 25-Nov-2020


New additional research shows that increasing physical activity can counter early death risk linked to long periods of sedentary time

The health harms associated with prolonged sitting can be offset by exceeding weekly recommended physical activity levels, says the World Health Organization (WHO) in new global guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour [1], published in a special dedicated issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

But all physical activity counts and is good for long term health, say the new guidelines.


For teens with migraine, sleeping in (a bit) may help


News Release 25-Nov-2020
University of California - San Francisco


Research indicates that starting school later in the morning yields health and academic benefits for high schoolers, whose natural body clock tends toward late-to-bed, late-to-rise habits. While parents raise concerns about drowsy driving, irritation and impaired school performance, a new study led by researchers at UC San Francisco suggests another reason to push back the start time.

The researchers found that teens with migraines whose high schools started before 8:30 a.m. experienced an average 7.7 headache days per month. This was close to three more headache days than those with later school start times, the researchers reported in their study, which publishes in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain on Nov. 25, 2020.

"Evidence suggests that there is a relationship between sleep and migraine," said first author Amy Gelfand, MD, a neurologist at the Pediatric Headache Program at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals, noting that 8-12 percent of adolescents suffer from the disease. "Getting adequate sleep and maintaining a regular sleep schedule may reduce the frequency of migraines."


High blood pressure in midlife is linked to increased brain damage in later life


News Release 25-Nov-2020
European Society of Cardiology


Higher than normal blood pressure is linked to more extensive brain damage in the elderly, according to a new study published today (Thursday) in the European Heart Journal [1].

In particular, the study found that there was a strong association between diastolic blood pressure (the blood pressure between heart beats) before the age of 50 and brain damage in later life, even if the diastolic blood pressure was within what is normally considered to be a healthy range.


Fiji's vaccine program reduces childhood death and illness: study

News Release 25-Nov-2020
University of Melbourne

Fiji's national vaccine program against pneumonia, a serious lung condition, and rotavirus, a common disease which causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting, has reduced illness and death, new research shows.


Published in The Lancet Regional Health - Western Pacific, the first study looked at Fiji's national rotavirus vaccine program five years after it became the first independent Pacific island country to introduce the vaccine in 2012, and one of few in the Asia-Pacific region.

Morbidity (disease or symptom) and mortality (death) due to rotavirus and all-cause diarrhoea in Fiji fell in those aged two months to 55 years. Rotavirus diarrhoea admissions at the largest hospital among children aged under five fell by 87 per cent.


Five years after the vaccine was introduced, hospital admissions for all-case pneumonia had fallen for children aged 24-59 months.

Mortality was down by 39 per cent among children aged two-24 months who were admitted to hospital with all-case pneumonia, bronchiolitis, and asthma.


Obesity is not only the individual's responsibility


News Release 25-Nov-2020
Childhood experiences and environment also have an impact
Kobe University


Research based on 5425 citizens' responses to a questionnaire survey has illuminated that obesity causes are linked to various factors in addition to the individual's current socioeconomic circumstances, including childhood experiences, particularly those of abuse.


Conventionally, there is a tendency to perceive individuals who are overweight as lacking the willpower to improve their lifestyle habits. However, this research study has revealed that in women, obesity in adulthood is linked not only to factors such as social environment (for example, economic circumstances and education), but also to childhood experiences, in particular abuse.

This suggests that improving child welfare, such as by increasing abuse prevention measures, will also help to prevent obesity in adults.


tags: child abuse,

What makes a happy couple, a happy family?


News Release 25-Nov-2020
University of Rochester


"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," Leo Tolstoy wrote famously in 1878 in the opening lines of Anna Karenina. Turns out the Russian author was onto something.

Cohesive families, indeed, seem to share a few critical traits--psychologists agree. Being emotionally flexible may be one of the most important factors when it comes to longevity and overall health of your romantic and familial relationships.

That's the finding of a new University of Rochester meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, which statistically combined the results of 174 separate studies that had looked at acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness, and emotion regulation.


"Put simply," says coauthor Ronald Rogge, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, "this meta-analysis underscores that being mindful and emotionally flexible in tough and challenging situations not only improves the lives of individuals, it might also strengthen and enrich their close relationships."

Psychological flexibility versus inflexibility

Psychological flexibility is defined as a set of skills that people use when they're presented with difficult or challenging thoughts, feelings, emotions, or experiences. Such skills encompass:

    Being open to experiences--both good and bad--and accepting them no matter how challenging or difficult they might be
    Having a mindful attentive awareness of the present moment throughout day-to-day life
    Experiencing thoughts and feelings without obsessively clinging to them
    Maintaining a broader perspective even in the midst of difficult thoughts and feelings
    Learning to actively maintain contact with our deeper values, no matter how stressful or chaotic each day is
    Continuing to take steps toward a goal, even in the face of difficult experiences and setbacks

The opposite--psychological inflexibility--describes six specific behaviors, including:

    Actively avoiding difficult thoughts, feelings, and experiences
    Going through daily life in a distracted and inattentive manner
    Getting stuck in difficult thoughts and feelings
    Seeing difficult thoughts and feelings as a personal reflection and feeling judged or shameful for having them
    Losing track of deeper priorities within the stress and chaos of day-to-day life
    Getting derailed easily by setbacks or difficult experiences, resulting in being unable to take steps toward deeper goals.

Psychologists consider the rigid and inflexible responses to difficult or challenging experiences dysfunctional, ultimately contributing to and exacerbating a person's psychopathology.


How flexibility shapes interactions

Through their analysis, coauthor Jennifer Daks, a PhD candidate in the Rochester Department of Psychology, and Rogge discovered that within families, higher levels of various forms of parental psychological flexibility were linked to:

    Greater use of adaptive parenting strategies
    Fewer incidents of lax, harsh, and negative parenting strategies
    Lower perceived parenting stress or burden
    Greater family cohesion <
    Lower child distress

Within romantic relationships, higher levels of various forms of psychological inflexibility were linked to:

    Lower relationship satisfaction for themselves and their partners
    Lower sexual satisfaction
    Lower emotional supportiveness
    Greater negative conflict, physical aggression, attachment anxiety, and attachment avoidance


Doctors use existing treatment earlier to save the lives of Covid-19 patients


News Release 25-Nov-2020
Lancaster University


The lives of patients hospitalised with COVID-19 are being saved by doctors who are using an existing medical treatment at an earlier stage.


He said: "We show that Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) in the first days of hospitalisation seems to save between 10% to 20% of patients. However it is important to underline that this was a pilot study with a small sample size, although comforting evidence is starting to emerge elsewhere."

According to NHS England, 96% of people who died with Covid had at least one serious health condition and the majority are over the age of 80.


Ga. Sen. Perdue boosts wealth with well-timed stock trades


Wed, November 25, 2020, 7:25 AM EST

As the ravages of the novel coronavirus forced millions of people out of work, shuttered businesses and shrank the value of retirement accounts, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged to a three-year low.

But for Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican, the crisis last March signaled something else: a stock buying opportunity.

And for the second time in less than two months, Perdue's timing was impeccable. He avoided a sharp loss and reaped a stunning gain by selling and then buying the same stock: Cardlytics, an Atlanta-based financial technology company on whose board of directors he once served.

On Jan. 23, as word spread through Congress that the coronavirus posed a major economic and public health threat, Perdue sold off $1 million to $5 million in Cardlytics stock at $86 a share before it plunged, according to congressional disclosures.

Weeks later, in March, after the company’s stock plunged further following an unexpected leadership shakeup and lower-than-forecast earnings, Perdue bought the stock back for $30 a share, investing between $200,000 and $500,000.

Those shares have now quadrupled in value, closing at $121 a share on Tuesday.

The Cardlytics transactions were just a slice of a large number of investment decisions made in the early days of the pandemic by Perdue and other senators. They stirred public outrage after it became clear that some members of Congress had been briefed on the economic and health threat the virus posed. The transactions were mentioned briefly in a story published by the Intercept in May.


Perdue has previously said that outside financial advisers make most of his trades.

But Donna Nagy, an Indiana University law professor, said that type of arrangement doesn’t preclude Perdue from directing an adviser to make specific transactions. She said one way for members of Congress to avoid questions about their financial holdings is to put them in a blind trust, which Perdue has not done.


While Perdue left the company's board, he has maintained ties to some of its executives, who have donated more than $30,000 to his political committees. Donations made to Perdue account for nearly 80% of all giving to federal candidates by Cardlytics employees over the past decade, records show.

Perdue, meanwhile, has used social media to publicize the company. In August 2016, he took a tour of its office and posed for a photo with Laube and then-CEO Scott Grimes, which he posted to Facebook. In fall 2019, he introduced Laube and Grimes at a gala in Atlanta, where they received a business achievement award.


Trump pushing through dozens of last minute policy changes – including use of firing squads

Alex Woodward
Wed, November 25, 2020, 2:30 PM EST

Donald Trump has sought fast-track authorisation for several administration-wide policy changes before he leaves the White House in January, including the use of firing squads and electrocutions in federal executions, according to a report from ProPublica.


Federal executions are typically carried about by lethal injection, unless a judge orders a person to death by other means.


It’s unlikely that the rule could be put into practise – president-elect Joe Biden does not support the death penalty and has signalled that he could seek to eliminate capital punishment for felony convictions and suspend federal executions, which Attorney General William Barr aggressively pursued after he was sworn in last year.

Federal executions resumed for the first time in 17 years in July, following a divided Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for their return. Daniel Lee was killed in Indiana following a conviction for the murder of a family of three in Arkansas in 1996. The Associated Press reporter present for his killing said his last words were "you’re killing an innocent man."


In 2017, Republican lawmakers eliminated several rule changes under Barack Obama using the Congressional Review Act, which Democrats may not be able to invoke if the GOP maintains control of the Senate.

This is pending the outcome of two crucial runoff elections in Georgia that could determine whether Democrats win a majority in both chambers, with a Democrat in the executive office.

Mr Trump’s rush to finalise those rule changes would otherwise enshrine conservative policy proposals to ensure almost-certain roadblocks for a Biden administration.

'It's working!' Deer, bears and other critters like Utah's first wildlife bridge — and the state has video to prove it.

Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY
Wed, November 25, 2020, 11:25 AM EST

The first wildlife bridge in Utah is working as intended. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has proof.

A video shared by the department on Nov. 19 shows various animals — including deer, bears and bobcats — using the Parleys Canyon Wildlife Overpass, which spans Interstate 80 southeast of Salt Lake City.


“From what we can tell, the number of accidents there is down dramatically,” he said. “At least initially, it appears the investment in safety is paying off. And we expected it to take several years before the animals got used to using it, so this is great.”

A 2008 federal study “estimated one to two million collisions between cars and large animals every year in the United States.”

Wildlife overpasses and underpasses have had similar success in other states, and thus have been growing in popularity.


Trump order could spark mass firings of civil servants, lawmakers warn

If Trump is successful, it would likely lead to government agencies being less able to respond to problems like Covid as needed, and the general public would not understand what happened, and will blame whoever is president then.  Another of the many cases of Trump taking action that harms our country.


Andrea Shalal

Wed, November 25, 2020, 4:56 PM EST


U.S. government civil servants could face mass firings under an October executive order before President Donald Trump leaves office and Democratic lawmakers, watchdog groups and unions are mobilizing to block the move.

Leaders of 23 House committees and subcommittees asked the heads of 61 federal departments and agencies to provide a "full accounting" of any plans to reclassify federal workers under the Oct. 21 order, leaving them vulnerable to firing.

They also asked for details about any Trump political appointees who have already been hired into career jobs or are being considered. Initial responses are due Dec. 9, followed by biweekly updates, according to the letter, spearheaded by Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney.


Critics call the move part of an ongoing assault on government bureaucracy that has drained expertise and skills during the Trump administration.

Creating the new category of federal workers would expose the civil service to "undue political influence and intimidation," the committee chairs warned in their letter.

In Tuesday's letter, Democrats said the order would "expedite the hiring of political appointees into jobs without regard to merit and place them in roles best served by career civil servants — including economists, scientists, and data analysts."

House and Senate Democrats separately asked the nonpartisan congressional Government Accountability Office this week to monitor implementation of the order, warning it could result in "a mass exodus" of federal employees in coming weeks.

The White House Office of Management and Budget has requested to reclassify 88% of its workforce of 425 workers to the new category, Real Clear Politics reported this week.


Biden has already pledged to rescind other executive orders targeting federal workers once he takes office.

But any move to root out Trump loyalists could run afoul of a ban on firing people for partisan affiliation - the one civil service protection the order left intact for Schedule F workers.

Angry by design: toxic communication and technical architectures

 Luke Munn

Published: 30 July 2020


Hate speech and toxic communication online is on the rise. Responses to this issue tend to offer technical (automated) or non-technical (human content moderation) solutions, or see hate speech as a natural product of hateful people. In contrast, this article begins by recognizing platforms as designed environments that support particular practices while discouraging others. In what ways might these design architectures be contributing to polarizing, impulsive, or antagonistic behaviors? Two platforms are examined: Facebook and YouTube. Based on engagement, Facebook’s Feed drives views but also privileges incendiary content, setting up a stimulus–response loop that promotes outrage expression. YouTube’s recommendation system is a key interface for content consumption, yet this same design has been criticized for leading users towards more extreme content. Across both platforms, design is central and influential, proving to be a productive lens for understanding toxic communication.


Toxic communication is not just a nuisance or a nasty byproduct of online environments, but has more fundamental implications for human rights. “Online hate is no less harmful because it is online”, stressed a recent U.N. report (Kaye, 2019): “To the contrary, online hate, with the speed and reach of its dissemination, can incite grave offline harm and nearly always aims to silence others”. Hate forms a broad spectrum with extremist ideologies at one end. Online environments allow users to migrate smoothly along this spectrum, forming a kind of pipeline for radicalization (O’Callaghan et al., 2015; Munn, 2019). In this respect, the hate-based violence of the last few years is not random or anomalous, but a logical result of individuals who have spent years inhabiting hate-filled spaces where racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic views were normalized.


 The [Facebook] Feed is designed according to a particular logic. Since 2009, stories are not sorted chronologically, where updates from friends would simply be listed in reverse order, with the most recent appearing first (Wallaroo Media, 2019). While this change induced a degree of backlash from users, the chronology itself proved to be overwhelming, especially with the hundreds of friends that each user has. “If you have 1500 or 3000 items a day, then the chronological feed is actually just the items you can be bothered to scroll through before giving up”, explains analyst Benedict Evans (2018), “which can only be 10% or 20% of what’s actually there”. Instead, the Feed is driven by Engagement. In this design, Facebook weighs dozens of factors, from who posted the content to their frequency of posts and the average time spent on this piece of content. Posts with higher engagement scores are included and prioritized; posts with lower scores are buried or excluded altogether (see Fig. 3).


The problem with such sorting, of course, is that incendiary, polarizing posts consistently achieve high engagement (Levy, 2020, p. 627). This content is meant to draw engagement, to provoke a reaction. Indeed, in 2018 an internal research team at Facebook reported precisely this finding: by design it was feeding people “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention and increase time on the platform” (Horwitz and Seetharaman, 2020). However, Facebook management ignored these findings and shelved the research.

This divisive material often has a strong moral charge. It takes a controversial topic and establishes two sharply opposed camps, championing one group while condemning the other. These are the headlines and imagery that leap out at a user as they scroll past, forcing them to come to a halt. This offensive material hits a nerve, inducing a feeling of disgust or outrage. “Emotional reactions like outrage are strong indicators of engagement”, observes designer and technologist Tobias Rose-Stockwell (2018), “this kind of divisive content will be shown first, because it captures more attention than other types of content”. While speculative, perhaps sharing this content is a way to offload these feelings, to remove their burden on us individually by spreading them across our social network and gaining some sympathy or solidarity.


At its worst, then, Facebook’s Feed stimulates the user with outrage-inducing content while also enabling its seamless sharing, allowing such content to rapidly proliferate across the network. In increasing the prevalence of such content and making it easier to share, it becomes normalized. Outrage retains its ability to provoke engagement, but in many ways becomes an established aspect of the environment. For neuroscientist Molly Crockett, this is one of the keys to understanding the rise of hate speech online. Crockett (2017, p. 770) stresses that “when outrage expression moves online it becomes more readily available, requires less effort, and is reinforced on a schedule that maximizes the likelihood of future outrage expression in ways that might divorce the feeling of outrage from its behavioral expression”. Design, in this sense, works to reduce the barrier to outrage expression. Sharing a divisive post to an audience of hundreds or thousands is just a click away.


Good idea

Seen on Facebook:

We isolate now

 so when we gather again, 

no one will be missing.


Reading Facebook comments on news articles can make you a toxic person


24 November 2020
By Chris Stokel-Walker

Engaging with the comments on Facebook posts about news articles makes you a more toxic person, an analysis of nearly 6.5 million comments suggests.


The Distorting Prism of Social Media: How Self-Selection and Exposure to Incivility Fuel OnlineComment Toxicity


Though prior studies have analyzed the textual characteristics of online comments about politics, less is known about how selection into commenting behavior and exposure to other people’s comments changes the tone and content of political discourse. This article makes three contributions. 

First, we show that frequent commenters on Facebook are more likely to be interested in politics, to have more polarized opinions, and to use toxic language in comments in an elicitation task. 

Second, we find that people who comment on articles in the real world use more toxic language on average than the public as a whole; levels of toxicity in comments scraped from media outlet Facebook pages greatly exceed what is observed in comments we elicit on the same articles from a nationally representative sample. 

Finally, we demonstrate experimentally that exposure to toxic language in comments increases the toxicity of subsequent comments.


COVID's collateral damage: Germicidal lamps may damage corneas


News Release 24-Nov-2020
While UV light may kill bacteria and viruses, improper use is dangerous
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine


In a paper published in the journal of Ocular Immunology and Inflammation, physicians from the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine reported that several patients using germicidal lamps in an attempt to sanitize against the coronavirus, developed painful inflammation of the cornea, a condition called photokeratitis. These consumer-available ultraviolet (UV) emitting devices were being used in an attempt to eliminate coronavirus from homes and offices.


Stress in pregnancy may influence baby brain development


News Release 24-Nov-2020
University of Edinburgh


Infants' brains may be shaped by levels of stress their mother experiences during pregnancy, a study has revealed.

Stress levels in mothers - measured by a hormone linked to anxiety and other health problems - is related to changes in areas of the infant brain associated with emotional development, the study suggests.

Doctors say the findings highlight the urgent need for women to be better supported with their mental and physical health before and during pregnancy, and could help them spot mums and babies who need help.

The experts add that pregnant women who feel stressed or unwell should seek help from their midwife or consultant and that with support, most health issues can be well managed in pregnancy.

Maternal stress is known to influence the development of the child's behaviour and ability to regulate its emotions as it grows. This is usually measured by questionnaires, which are not always reliable.

The new study is the first time that scientists have used an objective measure - levels of the hormone cortisol - in the mother to study links with baby brain development.


Medicaid expansion results in earlier diagnosis of colon cancer


News Release 23-Nov-2020
New study findings in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons show improved colon cancer care in states that implemented Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act in 2014
American College of Surgeons


The Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion for low-income people appears to lead to earlier diagnosis of colon cancer, enhanced access to care, and improved surgical care for patients with this common cancer, researchers report in a new study. The study is published as an "article in press" on the Journal of the American College of Surgeons website in advance of print.

In states that expanded Medicaid health insurance coverage in 2014, the study authors reported an increase of early-stage colon cancer diagnoses compared with states that did not implement Medicaid expansion. More surgical patients from states with Medicaid expansion had minimally invasive surgical procedures, and fewer patients underwent urgent operations than in states not implementing expansion, said lead author Richard S. Hoehn, MD, surgical oncology fellow with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) department of surgery at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, Pittsburgh, Pa.

"A paucity of studies looks at how Medicaid expansion affects cancer treatment and outcomes, as our study did," Dr. Hoehn said. "Our study also differed from others in that we analyzed data only from people who were most likely affected by Medicaid expansion: those aged 40 to 64 who had Medicaid or no health insurance."


Punishing hurricanes to spur more Central American migration

These poor people have contributed far less to the climate disruption that is causing stronger storms and heavier rainfall events than richer areas like the U.S.


Tue, November 24, 2020, 2:36 PM EST


According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, more than 4.3 million Central Americans, including 3 million Hondurans, were affected by Hurricane Eta alone. Those numbers only rose when Iota, another Category 4 storm, hit the region last week.

The hurricanes' destruction comes on top of the economic paralysis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the persistent violence and lack of jobs that have driven families north from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in great numbers during recent years.


“This is going to be much bigger than what we have been seeing,” said Jenny Arguello, a sociologist in San Pedro Sula who studies migration flows. “I believe entire communities are going to leave.”

“The outlook is heartbreaking.”

It’s still early. Tens of thousands remain in shelters, but those along the migration route have already started to see storm victims begin to trickle north.

Eta made landfall Nov. 3 in Nicaragua, leaving a path of death and destruction from Panama to Mexico. Iota hit the same stretch of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast Nov. 16, pouring more rain on still flooded countries. At least 150 people were killed and more than 100 remain missing.


Felipe Del Cid, Americas chief of operations for the Red Cross, described a “triple emergency” in countries like Honduras and Guatemala, referring to Eta, the pandemic and the years-long drought that has made even subsistence agriculture impossible across a long swath of the region. He said the Red Cross was preparing for internal displacement, as well as migration to other countries.

Honduras’ Red Cross was just finishing up its search and rescue phase after Eta when Iota hit, said Mauricio Paredes, vice president of the Honduras Red Cross in San Pedro Sula.

“There’s a lot of flooding again in some cities that had flooded before, but this time it has been more severe and faster because the levees that protect the cities had been damaged by Eta,” Paredes said.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Amazon is using union-busting Pinkerton spies to track warehouse workers and labor movements at the company, according to a new report

Katie Canales
Nov 23, 2020, 2:42 PM

Amazon is hiring detectives from the notorious Pinkerton agency to spy on warehouse workers and monitor them for labor unionization efforts, according to a Monday Motherboard report.

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed to the outlet that Amazon has indeed recruited operatives from Pinkerton, the spy agency that has a centuries-long history of upending worker union activities, among other services.

Per Motherboard, Pinkerton spies were "inserted" into a warehouse in Wroclaw, Poland, in 2019 to look into an allegation that job candidates were being coached for job interviews.

Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski told Business Insider that the firm partners with Pinkerton to "secure high-value shipments in transit," not to gather intelligence on warehouse workers, and that all activities are "fully in line with local laws."


The developments are the latest in a string of evidence that highlights Amazon's robust efforts to monitor and crackdown on its workers unionizing. The retail giant has been staunchly opposed to labor unions — the firm listed, but quickly removed, a job opening earlier this year for an analyst that would monitor employee's efforts to organize.

October 2020 The Fourth Warmest On Record Globally, New Government Reports Say

November 13, 2020

October 2020 was the Earth's 4th warmest October in 141 years of temperature records, according to a NOAA report, continuing a warming trend that keeps 2020 on pace for one of the warmest years dating to 1880.

NOAA's October Global State of the Climate Report released Friday found global land and ocean temperatures were 0.85 degrees Celsius (1.53 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th-century average.

[Note that  global warming started before the 20th century.]

This level of warmth was not felt everywhere across the globe.

In fact, the global warmth is especially notable this year because of the ongoing La Niña, a widespread cooling of the southern Pacific waters west of South America.

And if you're an American wondering where this October warm weather was, you are likely located in the central or northern part of the United States, which saw one of the coolest anomalies relative to the 20th-century average found anywhere on Earth. North America as a whole saw near-average temperatures.

Europe, though, had its warmest October on record with a temperature departure of +3.91°F (+2.17°C).

Africa, Asia and the Caribbean all saw a top-10 warmest October.

NASA's report showed even warmer conditions around the globe, with global land and ocean temperatures 0.90 degrees Celsius above the 1951-1980 average.

Arctic sea ice extent, an important metric that is a proxy for measuring the immediate impact of climate change since the poles are warming faster than anywhere else, was also record low, according to an analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

Only 1.19 million square miles of ice was found in October, well below the 1981-2010 average and just below the record set last year. Sea ice volume was also record low for the month.


Should current trends continue, "the year 2020 is very likely to rank among the three warmest years on record," according to NOAA.

Muslims have visualized Prophet Muhammad in words and calligraphic art for centuries

Suleyman Dost, Assistant Professor of Classical Islam, Brandeis University
Tue, November 24, 2020, 8:07 AM EST

The republication of caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in September 2020 led to protests in several Muslim-majority countries. It also resulted in disturbing acts of violence: In the weeks that followed, two people were stabbed near the former headquarters of the magazine and a teacher was beheaded after he showed the cartoons during a classroom lesson.

Visual depiction of Muhammad is a sensitive issue for a number of reasons: Islam’s early stance against idolatry led to a general disapproval for images of living beings throughout Islamic history. Muslims seldom produced or circulated images of Muhammad or other notable early Muslims. The recent caricatures have offended many Muslims around the world.

This focus on the reactions to the images of Muhammad drowns out an important question: How did Muslims imagine him for centuries in the near total absence of icons and images?


The prophet’s earliest surviving biography, written a century after his death, runs into hundreds of pages in English. His final 10 years are so well-documented that some episodes of his life during this period can be tracked day by day.

Even more detailed are books from the early Islamic period dedicated specifically to the description of Muhammad’s body, character and manners. From a very popular ninth-century book on the subject titled “Shama'il al-Muhammadiyya” or The Sublime Qualities of Muhammad, Muslims learned everything from Muhammad’s height and body hair to his sleep habits, clothing preferences and favorite food.


That said, figurative portrayals of Muhammad were not entirely unheard of in the Islamic world. In fact, manuscripts from the 13th century onward did contain scenes from the prophet’s life, showing him in full figure initially and with a veiled face later on.

The majority of Muslims, however, would not have access to the manuscripts that contained these images of the prophet. For those who wanted to visualize Muhammad, there were nonpictorial, textual alternatives.


The Islamic legal basis for banning images, including Muhammad’s, is less than straightforward and there are variations across denominations and legal schools.

It appears, for instance, that Shiite communities have been more accepting of visual representations for devotional purposes than Sunni ones. Pictures of Muhammad, Ali and other family members of the prophet have some circulation in the popular religious culture of Shiite-majority countries, such as Iran. Sunni Islam, on the other hand, has largely shunned religious iconography.


Most importantly, many Muslims find the caricatures offensive for its Islamophobic content. Some of the caricatures draw a coarse equation of Islam with violence or debauchery through Muhammad’s image, a pervasive theme in the colonial European scholarship on Muhammad.

Anthropologist Saba Mahmood has argued that such depictions can cause “moral injury” for Muslims, an emotional pain due to the special relation that they have with the prophet. Political scientist Andrew March sees the caricatures as “a political act” that could cause harm to the efforts of creating a “public space where Muslims feel safe, valued, and equal.”

[Acts of violence because they because of an image help to turn people against the violent people."]