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:

Thirty years ago Elizabeth McChesney began invading laundromats to read to and share books with children, thereby launching a laundry literary movement. Today the concept has spread, and it now influences what times parents will do their laundry, according to Mother Jones.

Oops: some are blaming the decline in funding for newsrooms for recent misleading headlines about Social Security. Some headlines went so far as to say there would be a SS shortfall in six months. The organization Social Security Works points out what journalists should know: SS has a secure $2.9 trillion trust fund that was built with the knowledge of expanded funding being needed for current retirees. But what the fund did not account for, SS Works says, is the influence of growth in income inequality: currently, after earnings of $132,900, an individual pays no more into the fund. And nothing is paid in on unearned income. Social Security Works says that lack of contribution would lead to a shortfall in 2035 that would mean 80% of SS payouts instead of today’s 100%. 

The Social Security solution: instead of cutting benefits, which some politicians prefer, Social Security Works says Congress could pass pending legislation that requires higher income earners to pay into SS proportionate to what those earning less than $132,900 pay.

Refined or virgin? Unrefined coconut oil comes from fresh coconuts and is minimally processed, retaining more anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities, says Refined coconut oil goes through a clay filtration process after baking the coconuts, and lacks the coconut taste. Make sure the label for the latter does not include “partially hydrogenated fat.”

Toyota in Japan states they are the economic force behind 475,000 jobs in the U.S., at 10 manufacturing plants, research and development centers, dealers and supply chains, Bloomberg reports.

The ACLU has tips for travelers at border crossings: if asked about your religious or political beliefs, you have the right to not answer, and you cannot be denied entry. You also can refuse to provide passwords and to unlock your cell phone or computer. But not revealing a password can lead to being questioned, denied entry or seizure of the devices for further inspection.

Greenhouse gases that warm the atmosphere and lead to more turbulence may be driving storms that set the stage for development of tornadoes, says a Pennsylvania State University climate scientist. The Fourth National Climate assessment says tornadoes are now more variable and the number of days suitable for severe thunderstorm activities is likely to increase.

Tornadoes in the U.S. are occurring more in new areas, with fewer occurring in the Great Plains and more in densely populated areas of the mid-West and south-East, according to a study in Nature. Typically there are around 1,200 tornadoes annually in the U.S., but, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this year there have already been more than 1,000 tornado reports.

Numerous corporations promised benefits for workers if Trump’s tax bill, which would lower the corporate taxes from 35% to 21%, were to pass. It passed, but according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the tax cuts have not boosted wages or had a significant economic impact. Rather, The Guardian reports, AT&T promised to create 7,000 new jobs if the tax bill passed; instead they have announced plans to eliminate 23,328 jobs. Wells-Fargo promised to raise their minimum wage if the corporate tax cut occurred, but has announced plans to eliminate 26,000 jobs.

Recently 150 gray whales were found emaciated and dead, in what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called an “unusual mortality event.” The whales make a 10,000 mile journey from calving grounds in Mexico to Alaska’s Arctic coast. According to the organization Oceana, help for the whales will consist of reducing overfishing, protecting critical habitat, stopping expansion of offshore oil drilling, and moving forward with science-based ocean management. says 80% of parents approve of teaching climate change in schools. But 55% of teachers say they don’t do so.

Blast from the past: Renowned Mexican artist Francisco Toledo, who turns 79 this month, rose quickly to fame not only for his art, but also for his creative humanitarian projects. Five years ago when 43 Mexican students disappeared and were presumed murdered by local police (in league with a drug cartel), Toledo painted each child’s face on individual kites. The kites were flown in protest. In another creative action, when a hamburger chain announced plans to open in a 500-year-old town square, Toledo said he would stand naked at the site in protest; other artists distributed free tamales to protesters (who chanted, “Tamales, yes! Hamburgers, no!”) Before Toledo could strip, the protesters had successfully stopped the project. Rather than live an opulent life, the artist has used his profits to found art centers, museums, libraries and an ethno-botanical garden, most of which charge no admission fee.

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