Bits ‘n’ Pieces

From east, west and beyond

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling: 

The Atlantic reports that in Amsterdam no sweets or sodas are allowed in schools, and fast food ads are highly controlled. Since imposing those rules in 2012, childhood obesity dropped 12%. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray recently informed Congress that domestic terrorist arrests  most of them from white supremacists — are increasing. They’re now close to the number of international terrorist arrests made. In the past nine months there were 100 domestic terrorist threats, Wray said.

The world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun in just six hours than all the people on the planet can use in one year, according to High Country News. Meanwhile, floating solar panels on a small number of U.S. lakes and ponds could supply 10% of the nation’s energy, says the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Trending: experimenting with abstaining from alcohol. NPR reports that abstainers, who can now socialize at “sober bars,” report that a month or more without alcohol can result in weight loss, calmer emotions, regaining a creative edge, better sleep and overall improved health.

There are two kinds of welfare complaints, says economist Robert Reich: complaints about safety nets and health care for low-income people, and complaints about corporations that use tax breaks and government subsidies. Reich says repealing fossil fuel industry tax breaks alone could save taxpayers $39 billion over 10 years. As well, he points out that allowing low wages results in workers needing government assistance; taxpayers spend $153 billion annually to provide for food, housing, medical and other needs not met by wages paid to McDonald’s and Walmart employees.

Two new faux meats: Impossible Foods, which imitates beef, is made from GMO soy, coconut and sunflower oils, potato protein, yeast extract and a genetically engineered strain of yeast called heme. The manufacturer says it uses 96% less land, 87% less water and produces 89% fewer greenhouse gases as compared to producing a beef burger. There’s a red flag, says food author and researcher Anna Lappe: GMO soy uses a greater amount of toxic spray, which impacts the health of people and the environment. For those who are soy-sensitive, there’s Beyond Meat, from pea protein isolates, mung bean protein, coconut oil, apple extract and beet juice coloring. The manufacturer says it uses 93% less land, 99% less water and has 90% fewer greenhouse emissions as compared to cattle, TIME magazine reports. Lappe indicates that, unless the foods are made from organic ingredients, concerns about environmental impacts remain.

Presidential poll ratings usually average 52% favorable in the 10th quarter of a term in office, Mother Jones reports. Gallup pegs Donald Trump’s favorability rating at 44%; it was 42% a year ago.

Recent research shows an immediate decline in violent crime after the release of highly popular violent video games, suggesting they help users release aggression. The American Psychological Association has stated that there is no evidence of violent media causing mass shootings.

Greenland’s recent heat wave created an estimated 12 billion tons of water from melted ice, and quickly raised sea levels along coasts, according to the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition. If all the country’s ice melted, it would raise sea levels 20 feet, reports The Hill.

Blast from the past: A decade after launching efforts to promote loss of public confidence in Social Security, in August 1995 the Cato Institute formed the Project on Social Security Privatization. The idea gained some traction since the stock market was doing well in the 1990s. Social Security has enjoyed popular support since it began under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But, nonprofit Social Security Works says Wall Street-type advocates of privatizing government functions are eyeing Social Security’s $2.9 trillion trust fund (which is invested in more stable U.S. Treasury bonds). During the administration of President George W. Bush, who had a history of antagonism toward Social Security, a commission to study Social Security privatization led to increased advocacy for the idea of investing program funds in the stock market. The privatization scheme subsided when the stock market faltered. Today efforts to undermine Social Security include congressional underfunding of the program’s administration, closure of its offices and language on Social Security notices that “Congress has made changes to the law in the past and can do so at any time.” The latest threat comes from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who recommended deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to compensate for lost revenue from tax cuts for the wealthy.

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