Tuesday, June 18, 2019

ANS -- America's Real Economy: It Isn't Booming

Here's a fairly short article from Forbes -- a pretty conservative magazine.  Apparently even the moneyed class is starting to realize that the current state of our economy is unsustainable.  Their suggestions for fixing it, however, are amusing, but probably not viable.  

EDITOR'S PICK493,234 viewsAug 22, 2018, 10:58am

America's Real Economy: It Isn't Booming

Walter Holm, age 67, a Vietnam veteran is living at Transitions, a homeless recovery center in Columbia, SC in 2016. There are other aging veterans who are homeless and looking for work, but not finding it.  (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Walter Holm, age 67, a Vietnam veteran is living at Transitions, a homeless recovery center in Columbia, SC in 2016. There are other aging veterans who are homeless and looking for work, but not finding it.  (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Ostensibly, for the past ten years, our economy has been recovering from the 2008 collapse. During the past few years, our comeback seems to have gained momentum. All the official indicators say we're back in boom times, with a bull market, low unemployment and steady job growth. But there is an alternative set of data that depicts a different America, where the overlooked majority struggles from month to month.

The Nation recently published a stunning overview of the working poor and underpaid. One of the most powerful data points in the piece described how empty the decline in unemployment actually is: having a job doesn't exempt anyone from poverty anymore. About 12% of Americans (43 million) are considered poor, and yet they are employed. They earn an individual income below $12,140 per year, and slightly more than that for a family of two. If you include housing and medical expenses in the calculation, it raises the percentage of Americans living in poverty to 14%. That's 45 million people.

At that level of income, there's almost no way to pay for food and shelter in any sizeable American city. That means people now can both be employed and homeless. Rajon Menon writes, for The Nation:

In America's big cities, chiefly because of a widening gap between rent and wages, thousands of working poor remain homeless, sleeping in shelters, on the streets, or in their vehicles, sometimes along with their families.

Fewer and fewer people have savings to weather time between jobs or an emergency expense. A third of the U.S. population has no savings and another third has saved less than $1,000. Two-thirds of American households, by this measure, are desperately scrambling to make ends meet from check to check. Nearly half the American population earns too little to live on comfortably:

One-third of all workers earn less than $12 an hour and 42% earn less than $15. That's $24,960 and $31,200 a year. Imagine raising a family on such incomes, figuring in the cost of food, rent, childcare, car payments (since a car is often a necessity simply to get to a job in a country with inadequate public transportation), and medical costs.

Even in households that combine income from two wage-earners, it's rarely enough to live on without anxieties about money. It takes an average of a little more than $100,000 per year now for a household to be able to live without anxieties about money.

Slow and steady inflation has eroded buying power over the past decade. According to The Nation, the minimum wage rose to $7.25 by 2009, but since then inflation has eroded 10% of its buying power. So this year, someone will have to work 41 additional days to make the equivalent of the 2009 minimum wage.

  • Healthcare costs are projected to go up 20% in the coming year.
  • Credit card debt has crested at a trillion dollars and is projected to increase at 4.7% by 2020.
  • Wages have been increasing by only 2.9% per year.
  • For the young, education debt has reached a record $1.52 trillion.

How long is this sustainable?

What's genuinely astonishing to me is that the private sector doesn't see the immense danger in all this—not simply the prospect of a collapse from enormous household debt loads, but the prospect of civil unrest after another huge correction like the one in 2008. Our current course is unsustainable. And for all the proposals for changes in public policy to ameliorate income inequality, only the private sector can get the nation on a better track by raising wages, increasing benefits and investing in new ventures and expanded markets.

There are numerous ways in which our wealthiest companies could help change the course of our economy. Here are some suggestions from Larry Thompson, former executive VP for PepsiCo, and his coauthors writing for Fortune magazine:

  • Get involved in early education for children of employees. Programs that start at birth can lift their earnings by up to 26%. At PNC Financial Services Group, their Grow Up Great program has served over 2 million children throughout the U.S., through grants to organizations that support early learning in math, science, and the arts.
  • Fund higher education for existing employees. In collaboration with Southern New Hampshire University, Anthem Insurance (ANTM, -0.06%) recently began making associate's or bachelor's degrees available at no cost for 50,000 eligible workers. Another company, FedEx, partners with nearly 20 higher education institutions including Western Governors University.
  • Businesses also should look to re-employ the long-term unemployed, Frontier Communications has hired more than 250 of the long-term unemployed in 2014 alone by eliminating most qualifications and simply observing how well applicants communicated.

These initiatives only scratch the surface, but they are exactly what all companies need to be thinking of doing. If every employer in America came up with even just one modest step—higher wages, regular profit sharing, tuition reimbursement—to help workers spend and save more, the nation would begin to right itself economically. It needs to happen now. We're running out of time.

Monday, June 17, 2019

ANS -- Humans will perish in 31 years, warns latest climate change study

short article on how dire our situation is.  I think there is some truth to the idea that most of what you hear is sticking with the most optimistic estimates of when we are doomed.  

Humans will perish in 31 years, warns latest climate change study

Cities like Mumbai, Florida, Shanghai will be reduced to swamps, 90% of mankind will be annihilated, says report released ahead of World Environment Day

Instances of extreme heatwaves could increase. Photo: VALERIE GACHE / Getty Images

We've got till 2050. That's it—just another 31 years before 90% of mankind is annihilated by climate change, says Australia's Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration. The BNCCR is an independent think-tank that aims to inform the conversation around climate emergency in Australia. Its recent report reinterprets existing data to arrive at this dire conclusion.


Should we take this report seriously?

The findings may seem alarmist, but the cause for alarm is genuine, the report says. It argues that though the data is there for all to see, bodies like the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are not projecting the doomsday scenario realistically enough—that they are "erring on the side of least drama".

"We must never forget that we are in a unique situation with no precise historic analogue. The level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is now greater, and the Earth warmer than what human beings have ever experienced. And there are almost eight billion of us now living on this planet." (This corroborates with the recent decision by a body of scientists to formally declare our era as the Anthropocene—a time when humans have a disproportionate impact on the environment)

According to the study, we are marching towards an existential crisis at a much quicker trot than previously thought. It even questions the efficacy of the Paris Agreement that aims to cap global temperature rise to 3-5°C. That's bad enough for disaster, the BNCCR says. "…3°C of warming already constitutes an existential risk," says the study.

Mumbai, Shanghai and other cities at risk

A 3°C rise in temperatures would correspond to a 0.5m rise in sea levels endangering coastal areas around the world. "If climate change was to reach 3°C, most of Bangladesh and Florida would drown, while major coastal cities — ShanghaiLagosMumbai — would be swamped, likely creating large flows of climate refugees," says the study.

Besides, when temperatures rise more than 3°C, the domino effect that will be hard to roll back. Think no more polar ice caps to reflect the sun's rays and heat, Arctic permafrost defrosting to release methane into the atmosphere and other such horrendous things that will only make the Earth hotter still. A 4°C rise could annihilate up to 80-90% of the global human population, say the study.

The think-tank estimates that if nothing is done, by 2050 up to 1 billion people currently residing in West Africa and the Middle East will have to relocate because the climate conditions there will make these places unliveable. Other parts of the world will experience more than 20 days of "record-breaking heatwaves and wildfires, more intense flooding and more damaging hurricanes" every year. (Puts the recent heatwave that India is experiencing in perspective.)

"Climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon, humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences." On the eve of World Environment Day, that's a chilling warning.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

ANS -- The Food That Helps Battle Depression

This article says there's a new field called psychiatric nutrition.  Eating well seems to stave off depression.  
Find it here:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-food-that-helps-battle-depression-1522678367?mod=e2fb&fbclid=IwAR1m1uj3dHkUYpaSMkVC772KZpkvfqgcOPB0NCe7dUvbUvH3dShDu9qJKOE&fbclid=IwAR2089PraS9QZ6-bVCCI57YZ1lxc9TUjq-V0hTzsakNlXspz2XsfnO9UmDA  

The Food That Helps Battle Depression

The right kind of diet may give the brain more of what it needs to avoid depression, or even to treat it once it's begun


You're feeling depressed. What have you been eating?

Psychiatrists and therapists don't often ask this question. But a growing body of research over the past decade shows that a healthy diet—high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and unprocessed lean red meat—can prevent depression. And an unhealthy diet—high in processed and refined foods—increases the risk for the disease in everyone, including children and teens.

Now recent studies show that a healthy diet may not only prevent depression, but could effectively treat it once it's started.

Researchers, led by epidemiologist Felice Jacka of Australia's Deakin University, looked at whether improving the diets of people with major depression would help improve their mood. They chose 67 people with depression for the study, some of whom were already being treated with antidepressants, some with psychotherapy, and some with both. Half of these people were given nutritional counseling from a dietitian, who helped them eat healthier. Half were given one-on-one social support—they were paired with someone to chat or play cards with—which is known to help people with depression.

After 12 weeks, the people who improved their diets showed significantly happier moods than those who received social support. And the people who improved their diets the most improved the most. The study was published in January 2017 in BMC Medicine. A second, larger study drew similar conclusions and showed that the boost in mood lasted six months. It was led by researchers at the University of South Australia and published in December 2017 in Nutritional Neuroscience.

Research suggests that a Mediterranean diet full of fruits, vegetables, seafood, olive oil and lean meats can prevent and even treat depression. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

And later this month in Los Angeles at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting, researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago will present results from their research that shows that elderly adults who eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains are less likely to develop depression over time.

The findings are spurring the rise of a new field: nutritional psychiatry. Dr. Jacka helped to found the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research in 2013. It held its first conference last summer. She's also launched Deakin University's Food & Mood Centre, which is dedicated to researching and developing nutrition-based strategies for brain disorders.

The annual American Psychiatric Association conference has started including presentations on nutrition and psychiatry, including one last year by chef David Bouley on foods that support the peripheral nervous system. And some medical schools, including Columbia University's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, are starting to teach psychiatry residents about the importance of diet on mental health.

Depression has many causes—it may be genetic, triggered by a specific event or situation, such as loneliness, or brought on by lifestyle choices. But it's really about an unhealthy brain, and too often people forget this. "When we think of cardiac health, we think of strengthening an organ, the heart," says Drew Ramsey, a psychiatrist in New York, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia and author of "Eat Complete." "We need to start thinking of strengthening another organ, the brain, when we think of mental health."

A bad diet makes depression worse, failing to provide the brain with the variety of nutrients it needs, Dr. Ramsey says. And processed or deep-fried foods often contain trans fats that promote inflammation, believed to be a cause of depression. To give people evidenced-based information, Dr. Ramsey created an e-course called "Eat to Beat Depression."

A bad diet also affects our microbiome—the trillions of micro-organisms that live in our gut. They make molecules that can alter the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter found in the brain, says Lisa Mosconi, a neuroscientist, nutritionist and associate director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. The good and bad bacteria in our gut have complex ways to communicate with our brain and change our mood, she says. We need to maximize the good bacteria and minimize the bad.

So what should we eat? The research points to a Mediterranean-style diet made up primarily of fruits and vegetables, extra-virgin olive oil, yogurt and cheese, legumes, nuts, seafood, whole grains and small portions of red meat. The complexity of this diet will provide the nutrition our brain needs, regulate our inflammatory response and support the good bacteria in our gut, says Dr. Mosconi, author of "Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power."

Can a good diet replace medicine or therapy? Not for everyone. But people at risk for depression should pay attention to the food they eat. "It really doesn't matter if you need Prozac or not. We know that your brain needs nutrients," Dr. Ramsey says. A healthy diet may work even when other treatments fail. And at the very least, it can serve as a supplemental treatment—one with no bad side effects, unlike antidepressants—that also has a giant upside. It can prevent other health problems, such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Loretta Go, a 60-year-old mortgage consultant in Ballwin, Mo., suffered from depression for decades. She tried multiple antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy, but found little relief from symptoms including insomnia, crying jags and feelings of hopelessness. About five years ago, after her doctor wanted to prescribe yet another antidepressant, she refused the medicine and decided to look for alternative treatments.


Ms. Go began researching depression and learned about the importance of diet. When she read that cashews were effective in reducing depression symptoms, she ordered 100 pounds, stored them in the freezer, and started putting them in all her meals.

She also ditched processed and fried foods, sugar and diet sodas. In their place, she started to eat primarily vegetables and fruits, eggs, turkey and a lot of tofu. She bought a Vitamix blender and started making a smoothie with greens for breakfast each morning.

Within a few months, Ms. Go says she noticed a difference in her mood. She stopped crying all the time. Her insomnia went away and she had more energy. She also began enjoying activities again that she had given up when she was depressed, such as browsing in bookstores and volunteering at the animal shelter.

Ms. Go's depression has never come back. "This works so well," she says. "How come nobody else talks about this?"


What should you eat to beat depression?

Experts say it's important to eat a balanced, Mediterranean-style diet. But some nutrients are particularly helpful. Here are some examples, and which foods supply them.

Vitamin B6: An ingredient needed to produce serotonin, the main neurotransmitter that regulates mood and sleep. Too little serotonin is associated with depression. We need Vitamin B6 every day from our diet.

Sources: Pistachios. Garlic. Salmon and tuna. Chicken. Spinach. Cabbage. Bananas. Sweet potatoes. Avocados. Whole grains.

DHA: The main omega-3 fat in the brain. It promotes production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a hormone that protects neurons and promotes the birth of new brain cells.

Sources: Wild salmon. Oysters. Anchovies. Mackerel. Mussels.

Prebiotics: Foods that the good microbes in our gut need to stay alive.

Sources: Onions. Asparagus. Artichokes. Garlic. Bananas. Oats.

Probiotics: Live bacteria and yeasts that replenish the good bacteria in our microbiome.

Sources: Yogurt. Sauerkraut. Kefir. Kimchi or other fermented vegetables, such as turnips, cucumbers or carrots.

Write to Elizabeth Bernstein at elizabeth.bernstein@wsj.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at EBernsteinWSJ

Appeared in the April 3, 2018, print edition as 'Foods That Help Battle Depression

Saturday, June 15, 2019

ANS -- Rules Are for Schmucks: Theocracy Watch: A Christian 51st State?

This is a bit scary, but, as we slip into fascism, this is the kind of thing that will happen as people become the type of scared creatures who need a strongman to tell them what to do.  Children who are raised with a lot of fear, remain more sensitive to fear all their lives.  People who are more fearful, tend to be more conservative, more inclined to be authoritarian followers, more inclined to be tribal and paranoid. They don't like actual freedom, it's too scary, too many decisions to make on your own.  
This article is about the new "Christian" state some people want to make.  I am reading stuff into it, but it's quite likely to really be there.  

Rules Are for Schmucks: Theocracy Watch: A Christian 51st State?


Christian conservatives in Washington State recently held a fundraiser on behalf of their proposal to create a new state, adding a fifty-first star to our national flag. The original idea was to split off the eastern half of Washington into its own state, to be called "Liberty." Now the plan is to suck in parts of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming as well. I suppose if you're going to fail, doing so on a grander scale adds a certain notoriety.

The idea for splitting up the state isn't new. Disgruntled politicians in eastern Washington first proposed separating themselves as far back as 1915, and bills to that effect have been introduced periodically ever since. The original stated rationale was economic, the thought being that the rural east was tired of being dominated by Seattle. It's now clear that secession would be economically painful for the east, which is heavily subsidized by the taxes paid by Seattle-based corporate giants like Boeing and Microsoft. The real motivation, I suspect, is to create more jobs for politicians, especially those who have trouble attracting votes in better-educated, more liberal areas.

Now, though, the secessionists have added a new ally: God. The reason to secede, according to Republican State Rep. Matt Shea, is that the current state legislature has been taken over by "atheists and communists." This is a Christian nation, he proclaims, and the new state of Liberty will presumably allow at least part of that nation to get back to its alleged roots.

Rep. Shea knows a lot about God. Last fall someone leaked a document he authored called a "Biblical Basis for War." This document teaches us that "Godless civil rulers are no more than bands of robbers," that "assassination to remove tyrants is just," and that "God doesn't use majorities. The majority is usually wrong."

Apparently a constitution has been drafted for the new state, however, it's being kept secret, at least for the time being. Could that constitution explicitly declare Liberty a Christian state, with taxes used to support a Christian hierarchy and laws validated based on their adherence to Christian teaching? At least one justice of the Supreme Court maintains that yes, any state is free to do so if it wants. Clarence Thomas, in his Town of Greece v. Galloway concurring opinion, insists that the First Amendment's Establishment Clause applies only to Congress, not to the states.

The text of the First Amendment as ratified in 1791 backs this up, since it begins with the words "Congress shall make no law," without mentioning what a state may do. Thomas points out that at the time the amendment was ratified, several states already had established churches, which rolled along for many years afterward. A few decades later, though, America fought a horrific Civil War, the purpose of which was to strengthen federal control over the states. One of the most important consequences of that war was the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, which explicitly states that "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."

The Supreme Court has long maintained that this Fourteenth Amendment language has the effect of imposing the First Amendment's "Establishment Clause" on the states. Thomas disagrees, baldly asserting that the privilege of citizens to be immune from the tyranny of an established church is not a "privilege or immunity" of the citizens. This reasoning is bizarre, to say the least. Among other things, it ignores the fact that James Madison, the principal drafter of the First Amendment, was also the moving force behind Virginia's earlier Statute for Religious Freedom, which states unequivocally "that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical."

Thomas has recently been joined on the high court by new justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. I've read quite a few of their lower court opinions, and both seem to take the result-oriented stance that the religious side always wins, logic and precedent be damned. If there are any more Trump appointees to the court, the Establishment Clause may become little more than a historical oddity.

A state under the thumb of a religious sect would be new, but the same phenomenon is already occurring at the local level. In Florida, Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan created the town of Ave Maria as a Catholic ghetto. One key element, according to Monaghan himself: "If you go to the drug store and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won't be able to get that in Ave Maria Town." In heavily Jewish East Ramapo, New York, Jews who took over the school board proceeded to decimate funding for public education by shifting thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to subsidize Jewish schools. The school board president's response to upset parents: "You don't like it? Find another place to live." Until recently, the town of Hildale, Utah was under control of Mormon fundamentalists, providing a safe haven for polygamy and sexual abuse.

Of course, the new Christian-dominated Liberty State will never happen. Not only would the Washington legislature have to agree, but Congress would have to act as well. It's so farfetched it's not worth worrying about. It's almost as farfetched as the prospect this time four years ago that Donald Trump, of all people, stood the slightest chance of being taken seriously as a candidate for president.

Luis Granados is the former director of Humanist Press and a columnist for TheHumanist.com. He is the author of Damned Good Company: Twenty Rebels Who Bucked the God Experts and The Church of Exemptions: A Farce with Footnotes.