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Are Your Food Ads Racist?

A new study finds that junk food ads disproportionately target black and Hispanic children.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Junk food companies are spending a disproportionately high percentage of their marketing budgets on ads for black-targeted television channels, according to a new study from the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Spanish-language television is also a draw for junk food companies, although to a lesser degree overall.

The study defines black-targeted TV channels as those with a "high proportion of black individuals in the audience and/or whose ads were viewed disproportionately more by black teens relative to white teens." The contrast is stunning: Black children see at least twice as many ads for sweets and sodas compared with white children.

Check out the results in the infographics below, and to see the full results of the study, click here.

infographic
University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
infographic
University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

 

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Jeb Bush Just Helped This Dude Make the Worst Mistake of His Life

#Jeb4Prez is not a good look.

| Tue Aug. 11, 2015 5:44 PM EDT

A Pennsylvania man with a strong devotion to Jeb Bush and bizarre viral videos just got the Republican presidential candidate's name tattooed on his neck.

Vic Berger's new ink job is the result of an internet promise he made in July, pledging to go through with the tattoo no one asked for once a Vine he created attracted one million loops.

 

Upon learning of Berger's tattoo goals, Bush actually took to Twitter to encourage followers to help turn this unfortunate stunt into an indelible reality.

Let's just hope Berger's tattoo is a lame temporary one.

The Brownback Crash Continues in Kansas

| Tue Aug. 11, 2015 5:18 PM EDT

Menzie Chinn updates us today on how things are going in Sam Brownback's Kansas. Answer: not so good. The chart on the right compares Kansas to the rest of the country using coincident indexes, an aggregate measure of economic performance tracked monthly by the Philadelphia Fed. It consists of the following four measures:

  • Nonfarm payroll employment
  • Average hours worked in manufacturing
  • Unemployment rate
  • Wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index

The index is set to 100 at the beginning of 2011, when Gov. Brownback took office. Brownback instituted an aggressive program of tax cuts and budget reductions, promising that this supply-side intervention would supercharge the state's economy. But the reality has been rather different. Kansas has underperformed the US economy ever since Brownback was elected.

Why is that? Is the Fed using the wrong employment data? Chinn says no: "The decline shows up regardless of whether employment is measured using the establishment or household surveys." Is it the weather? "Drought does not seem to be an explanation to me." How about the poor performance of the aircraft industry? "Evidence from employment data is not supportive of this thesis."

So what is it? "I would argue much of the downturn especially post January 2013 is self-inflicted, due to the fiscal policies implemented." Surprise! I wonder if Kansans will ever figure this out?

Scott Walker's Abortion Flimflam Explained! (Maybe.)

| Tue Aug. 11, 2015 2:00 PM EDT

I had almost given up on anyone helping me understand what Scott Walker meant when he explained why he opposed abortion exceptions not just for rape and incest, but also to save the life of the mother. "There are many other alternatives that can also protect the life of that mother," Walker said during Thursday's debate. "That's been consistently proven."

But then a reader came to my rescue, and it turns out that Jonathan Allen had it right in the first place. It really does derive from the Catholic doctrine of intent in medical care. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association provides the nickel explanation:

The reality [] is that an abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother. This is, quite simply, a choice that a mother and her doctor never have to make, and Ms. Kelly has contributed to the already widespread ignorance on this subject.

The nearest circumstance would be what are called ectopic pregnancies, the anomaly in which the fertilized egg attaches to the Fallopian tube and never implants in the womb of the mother. Removal of the Fallopian tube is necessary to preserve the mother’s life and thus is a procedure that indirectly — not directly — causes the death of an unborn child. This technically is not even an abortion, because the procedure is done for the purpose of removing the Fallopian tube, not killing the baby.

As Lauren Enriquez writes, “The abortion procedure is not — ever — necessary to save the life of a mother...[A] true abortion — in which the direct intention is to end the life of a human being — is not a treatment for any type of maternal health risk.

Now this explanation I understand. The key step in this tap dance is to declare that some procedures that terminate a pregnancy aren't "true" abortions. Even if you know ahead of time that a procedure will abort the fetus, it's not really an abortion as long as abortion isn't your intent.

In other words, I just didn't have my cynicism meter turned up high enough. When Walker said there are always "alternatives" that can protect the life of the mother, he was only talking about true abortions. He wasn't talking about medical procedures that kill the fetus only as a side effect. Those aren't true abortions, so they're not part of the class of procedures for which there are alternatives.

Yeesh. If this is really the explanation, it takes political misdirection to a new level. All that's left now is to explain what Walker meant by "This has been consistently proven." That makes it sound very science-y, but this has nothing to do with science. It has to do with the meaning of the word "abortion." Walker has chosen a specific term-of-art definition that's quite different from how most people understand the word. This allows him to say something that seems to mean one thing but actually means another.

Donald Trump, the Tea Party, and Political Correctness Have All Collided in 2015

| Tue Aug. 11, 2015 1:02 PM EDT

Aside from conservatism (duh), Alan Abramowitz says the strongest predictor of support for the Tea Party is racial hostility. Paul Krugman says he thinks Donald Trump supporters are basically just tea partiers. Put these together and you get this:

So maybe Trump’s base is angry, fairly affluent white racists — sort of like The Donald himself, only not as rich? And maybe they’re not being hoodwinked?

Now, you might ask why angry racists are busting out of the channels the GOP constructed to direct their rage. But there, surely, we have to take account of two things: the real changes in America, which is becoming more socially and culturally diverse, plus the Fox News effect, which has created an angry white guy feedback loop.

Maybe. Here's a data point in favor of Krugman's thesis: the rapturous response Trump gets whenever he says he has no time for political correctness. It was one of the biggest applause lines he got in Thursday's debate. And while there are legitimate complaints to be had about some of the more extreme versions of language policing, for most people their real issue with it is that it forbids them from delivering casual slurs—that everyone knows are true—about blacks or women or Muslims or gays or whatever. They've been doing it all their lives, and they think it's ridiculous that they have to watch themselves in public lest someone think they're racists. Trump appeals to that sentiment.

I should add that this is entirely consistent with the notion that Trump's strength comes fundamentally from his appeal to the conservative culture of grievance and resentment. After all, what are tea partiers so resentful of? Wall Street banks? Maybe, but they sure don't seem to favor any serious action to rein them in. Corrupt politicians? Could be, but they keep electing them to Congress even if they grumble about it. Middle-class wage stagnation? Probably, but it can't be too big a deal since they consistently vote for politicians who are dedicated to doing nothing about it.

At a gut level, the answer is that they think "normal" American culture is under attack. Straight, white, Christian men used to run this country and did a pretty good job of it. But now every minority group in the country wants a piece of the pie, and they all blame "white supremacy culture" or "rape culture" or "heteronormative culture" for their problems. And what's worse, no one is even allowed to tell the truth about what this really means. Mexicans come pouring across the border but you get in trouble for just plainly saying what everyone knows: most of them are criminals and should be sent back. Muslims blow up the World Trade Center, but woe betide anyone who makes the common sense observation that we should keep a close eye on mosques because most of them are terrorist breeding grounds. Blacks commit violent crimes at higher levels than whites, but we all have to pretend this is only because whites have been keeping them down for so long. And if you make a harmless joke about some woman having a great body? It's a compliment! But the feminazis will be all over you like bees in a hive.

This is what a lot of them resent. It's even understandable: everyone is uncomfortable being told that something they're used to doing is now considered insulting. Certainly Donald Trump understands it. When he says America no longer has the luxury of worrying about political correctness, his supporters couldn't agree more.

Meet the (Potential) Democratic Candidate Who Thinks Bernie Sanders Isn't Liberal Enough

Harvard's Larry Lessig is exploring a presidential bid. His platform is pretty unique.

| Tue Aug. 11, 2015 11:23 AM EDT

An outspoken Cantabrigian is launching an exploratory committee for president on a platform of breaking a "rigged system" that's fueling runaway inequality. Unfortunately for progressive activists, it's Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, not Elizabeth Warren.

Lessig, who says he'll jump into the race if he can raise $1 million by Labor Day, has spent much of the last four years fighting what he considers the pernicious influence of money in politics ushered in by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. The two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, have both promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who oppose Citizens United. But Lessig thinks Sanders et al. aren't going far enough. His platform consists of one item—the "Citizens Equality Act of 2017," which is sort of an omnibus bill of progressive wish-list items. It would make election day a national holiday, protect the right to vote, abolish political gerrymandering, and limit campaign contributions to small-dollar "vouchers" and public financing. After Congress passes his bill, Lessig says he'll resign.

Lessig has to hope his newest political venture will be more successful then his 2014 gambit, in which the Harvard professor started a super-PAC for the purpose of electing politicians who supported campaign finance reform. The aptly named Mayday PAC raised and spent $10 million, but only backed a single winner—Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) who was virtually assured of re-election in a deep-red district.

Here's Lessig's announcement video:

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China Finally Adopts Market-Based Value for its Currency, But We May Not Like the Results

| Tue Aug. 11, 2015 11:03 AM EDT

For years the United States has been complaining that China artificially undervalues its currency, which makes their exports cheaper and gives them a trade advantage over American firms. In response, China has gradually let the renminbi rise. By 2015, it had roughly reached fair market value—though not all American politicians agreed about that.

But then the Chinese economy started going sour. Exports were down. The stock market crashed. Growth slowed. What to do? Answer: devalue the renminbi. But instead of doing it by fiat, pretend that you're merely responding to market forces:

Every morning, Beijing sets a target for the trading of its currency against the U.S. dollar, then allows investors to buy and sell the currency for 2 percent more or less. Tuesday's change relaxes the government's control over setting that rate. The midpoint will now be set at the market's closing rate for the previous day.

....Now, market forces could pressure the currency to depreciate rather than appreciate, making Chinese products comparatively cheaper....In China, the depreciation will be a boon for exporters and heavy industry, but bad news for companies that depend on imported goods. Shares of Chinese airlines plummeted on Tuesday, as analysts predicted that the higher cost of oil in U.S. dollars would weigh on their earnings.

It's convenient to have a market-based policy as long as that produces a devaluation of the currency. But will Chinese authorities stick to this policy even when it means the renminbi will appreciate? Good question.

So what does it all mean? Here are a few obvious thoughts:

  • This is yet another vote of no confidence in the Chinese economy. When you put together everything that Chinese authorities have done over the past six months, I'd say they're close to full-scale panic.
  • Investors are likely to push the renminbi even lower, and this is going to make life harder on anyone in China with dollar-denominated debt. This includes lots of local governments who have been financing the housing boom, which means this devaluation could hasten the housing bust everyone has been waiting for.
  • This will be a political issue in the US, but a tricky one. China is manipulating its currency to its own advantage—boo! hiss!—but has also adopted a policy that allows the renminbi's value to be dictated by market forces—which is what we've been demanding all along. It will be interesting to see how all the Republican presidential candidates decide to respond to this.

Generally speaking, I think this should be taken as bad news. The world economy remains fragile, and if the Chinese economy is falling into recession—as the Chinese themselves seem to believe—it will affect all of us. And not in a good way. Stay tuned.

Heavily Armed Oath Keepers Showed Up to Ferguson Last Night

The "patriots" were seen carrying assault rifles in the streets.

| Tue Aug. 11, 2015 9:30 AM EDT

As demonstrators gathered in Ferguson to continue commemorating the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown on Monday, five heavily armed men belonging to a vigilante group called the Oath Keepers were spotted patrolling the streets. According to reports, the Oath Keepers said they were on the scene to provide voluntary protection to a journalist working for the site InfoWarsthe conspiracy mill run by noted lunatic Alex Jones.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar called the group's presence on Monday both "unnecessary and inflammatory."

Their arrival came amid 23 arrests last night. The police said those arrested in the largely peaceful protests were throwing bottles at law enforcement officials and "unlawfully assembled."

During the same time last year, Oath Keeper members took it upon themselves to guard the city's rooftops with assault rifles. Police officials eventually ordered the group to leave, saying their presence was inciting fear and suspicion in an already tense situation. However, no members were arrested.

The mysterious group, who called themselves voluntary "patriots," primarily consists of heavily armed white men dressed in military uniforms. Many of them are former soldiers and police officials. For more on who they are, read our in-depth investigation, "Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason."

Here's Another Vital Conversation That Donald Trump Is Ruining

Call it "ignorantism."

| Tue Aug. 11, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Donald Trump
Albert H. Teich/Shutterstock

This story was originally published by Grist and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Over at Vox, David Roberts investigates Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's views on climate change and finds that they are thoughtful, nuanced, and carefully grounded in science.

Kidding, kidding. Trump's proclamations on climate change are as sweeping, bombastic, and asinine as his shocking claim that Mexican immigrants are a bunch of rapists. Here are a couple of typical tweets:

Trump thinks cold weather in the US in winter disproves the demonstrable fact that global average temperatures have been steadily rising since the Industrial Revolution. Roberts' pithy conclusion is that Trump's opinions are wrong, but, "They are, for the most part, mainstream Republican positions." That depends on how you look at it. Rejecting climate science is the norm among Republican politicians. (Republican voters are more evenly split between climate science acceptance and denial.) But Trump's specific approach to climate change represents a more rare and particularly disturbing species of climate science denialism.

Most other Republican presidential candidates do not actually deny that the Earth is getting warmer. Rather, they hem and haw about whether humans and greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of it, and to what extent. Here are some examples:

Jeb Bush: "I think global warming may be real…It is not unanimous among scientists that it is disproportionately manmade."

And Rick Perry: "I don't believe man-made global warming is settled in science enough."

And just yesterday, John Kasich: "I think that man absolutely affects the environment, but as to whether, what the impact is…the overall impact—I think that's a legitimate debate."

They argue that the science of human-induced climate change is incomplete, but they accept that warming is measured by data and that NASA's temperature readings are accurate.

Some more extreme conservatives, like Ted Cruz, question whether the data actually even shows the Earth is warming. The more mainstream way of doing this, which Cruz did in his appearance at the Koch brothers' recent confab in California, is to selectively and misleadingly present very specific facts in order to create a false impression. The more fringey, conspiracist approach, which Cruz also engaged in at that event, is to claim that the temperature measurements are being manufactured by scientists with an agenda. Cruz said, "If you look at satellite data for the last 18 years, there's been zero recorded warming…They're cooking the books. They're actually adjusting the numbers."

That's pretty out there, but less so still than Trump because Cruz does accept that one would establish warming by measuring the temperature, and by doing so not just on one day in one place, but all over the Earth for years. Trump doesn't selectively present the data or assert that it's been rigged, he just ignores it. If it's cold outside in New York in the winter, Trump says, then there is no global warming. His problem is twofold: He does not understand the difference between weather (still often cold in New York in the winter) and climate (gradually warming on average over the entire Earth), and he does not respect the difference between data and anecdote. Trump is hardly unique in this regard—remember Senate Environment Committee Chair James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and his snowball—but Trump is the only top-tier Republican presidential candidate who subscribes to it.

So the fact that Trump is in first place in the GOP presidential polls, with more than twice as high a percentage as his nearest competitor, Jeb Bush, reveals some alarming things about a large segment of the Republican voter base (not smart) and the prospects for reaching consensus on the need for climate action (not good).

Trump isn't merely another extremist who rejects climate science. Trump isn't really a conservative at all. He's a reactionary populist who has elevated ignorance to a political philosophy. Call it ignorantism.

Even if Trump hadn't said anything about climate change in particular, his dismissiveness toward objective fact-finding processes would bode ill for the environment. Government policies—economic, public health, environmental—require an accurate measurement of data to inform policymakers who write laws and regulators who enforce them. And a plurality of the Republican electorate currently supports a presidential candidate who does not accept that data, rather than personal anecdote, is how one measures empirical fact.

Despite the widespread opinion that Trump performed poorly in the first Republican debate last week, the only poll to come out since shows him still in the lead with 23 percent of Republican voters. The same poll shows 29 percent of respondents saying Trump did worst in the debate. But a lot of Republicans find his buffoonery and belligerent ignorance compelling.

Even though Trump will not be the GOP nominee, whoever it is will need to keep Trump's supporters on board. And all those climate hawks hoping the GOP will stop being "the party of stupid" will be disappointed.

Death Rates From Alzheimer's and Other Cognitive Diseases Are Spiking

And the US rates rank among the developed world's highest.

| Tue Aug. 11, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

The good news from this new mortality study is that US cancer and cardiovascular death rates have dropped over the past quarter-century. The bad news is that death rates from neurological diseases like Alzheimer's have soared—and Americans are much likelier to die from these diseases than their peers in most other developed countries.

To get their results, researchers from Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom looked at World Health Organization mortality statistics for 21 developed nations, comparing the 1989–91 period with the 2008–10 time frame.

For adults between the ages of 55 and 74, overall neurological death rates barely budged, rising 2 percent for men and 1 percent for women. But here in the United States, things got dramatically worse—death rates from dementia and other brain-related illnesses like Parkinson's disease and motor neuron disease spiked, jumping 82 percent for men and 48 percent for women. American men and women in this age group now have the second-highest neurological death rates in the developed world, behind Finland. In the earlier period, they ranked 17th and 11th, respectively.

For the elderly (aged 75 and up), the situation is even more dire. Overall, the neuro-related death rate jumped 114 percent for men and 185 percent for women. Here in the United States, elderly death rates from neurological causes leapt more than twofold (368 percent) for men and more than fivefold (663 percent) for women. Neurological causes now kill more elderly American women than cancer does.

Over the same time frame, death rates from cancer and cardiovascular disease dropped, both in the developed world overall and in the United States in particular. For 55- to 74-year-olds, male cancer death rates fell 20 percent overall, and US rates dropped 36 percent. Women in that age group showed a 16 percent reduction in cancer deaths throughout the developed world and an 18 percent reduction in the United States. Similar trends held true for heart-related diseases.

When you look only at Alzheimer's isolated from other neurological diseases, you'll also see a relative spike in deaths, as this chart from a 2015 report by the US-based Alzheimer's Association shows.

Alzheimer's Association

What gives? Why are so many Americans so much more at risking of dying of neurological diseases like Alzheimer's, even as other threats recede? And in the developed world as a whole, why are neurological-related death rates rising for people over the age of 75?

One obvious factor is that medical science has come up with all sorts of treatments to prolong the lives of people with cancer and cardiovascular conditions, while treatments for Alzheimer's have proven elusive. It could be simply that Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases are "diseases of the elderly"—that our brains are doomed to decline past a certain age, and more and more people are surviving cancer and heart disease only to "develop diseases that they would not have lived long enough to have acquired in previous times," as the authors of the UK study put it. But that probably doesn’t fully explain the findings, particularly since some countries, like the United States, have fared so much worse than others.

The study's authors don't speculate much on what's driving the trends they identified; they suggest that lifestyle factors might play a role. Heather Snyder, director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer's Association, told me that there are significant but still-inconclusive links between cognitive decline and diet-related maladies like obesity and diabetes. A 2015 paper she co-authored delivers a broad state-of-the-science view on the relationship. Here's a summary.

"Summary of the evidence on modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia: A population-based perspective," Baumgartan, et al.

Indeed, there's mounting evidence that high-sugar diets contribute to cognitive decline, a trend I wrote about here. There's also compelling evidence that air pollution might be a trigger of neurodegenerative diseases, as Aaron Reuben's recent Mother Jones blockbuster shows.