Obama highlights links between climate change and public health

President Barack Obama, at at Howard University, participated in a roundtable discussion examining the impacts of climate change on human health.  The group explored the role of increased airborne particulates,shifts in insect-borne diseases and heat waves on respiratory distress, illness and heat stroke in Americans.

The administration also released an array of data that details links between climate change and public health. Google and Microsoft are now using that data to help inform communities about imminent climate-related threats.

In addition, the inter-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program is also drafting a Climate and Health Assessment report to describe human health impacts emerging from changes in extreme weather events, air quality and insect-borne diseases.



2.6 Million New Jobs in 2014


The US private sector has shown positive growth for 57 straight months, extending the longest streak on record. Since the financial crash in 2008, some 10.9 million jobs have been been added.

In the past several months, hiring has increased rapidly, with 321,000 new jobs created in November.

Gains were mainly observed in construction and hotels and restaurants,with growth in professional and business services, including engineering and accounting still lagging.



EPA announces new limits on greenhouse gas emissions

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new regulations designed to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants by 30% by the year 2030. The Clean Power Plan, expected to be enacted by 2015 is an effort to curtail power plant emissions, which account for 40% of total US emissions.

The new regulations follow on the heels of the EPA’s report, Climate Change Indicators in the United States that documents increased sea level rise, tropical storms and large wildfires.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, an analysis of approaches is summarized in their article, The Cap Matters Most in Cap-And-Trade Markets.

The federal plan is also hoped to motivate countries such as China and India to enact similar regulations. Whereas US power plant emissions have been in decline, China’s emission have risen 52% since 2005. Today’s announcement may be part of negotiations to occur at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, slated to meet in Paris in 2015.

ABC US News | ABC International News



Michelle Obama addresses Nigerian kidnapping

Michelle Obama used a Mother’s Day video address to call attention to the kidnapping of over 250 Nigerian schoolgirls. Mrs. Obama expressed outrage over the actions of the group headed by Boko Haram,

“This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education – grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls.”

Recent reports suggest that the kidnapped girls have been split into four groups and are being held in the Sambisa forest near the border with Cameroon.



President Obama responds to Donald Sterling controversy

At a press conference in Malaysia, President Obama was asked to address the racist comments attributed LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Obama responded directly about the embattled NBA owner,

“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. That’s what happened here,”



As Democrats push Paycheck Fairness Act, Republicans decline

President Obama issued an executive order to prevent federal contractors from taking action against employees who discuss their salaries.  The President also used his weekly address to underscore the need for equal pay between men and women in the same professions.

In the Senate, Democrats voted on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was defeated by the Republicans. Senate hopeful Terry Lynn Land (R) stated that she opposed the bill “that would require that businesses have to post the pay of each individual so it was public”. The problem is that the bill contains no language about posting salaries. Women, however, would be able to ask employers for salary information about male workers.

Late night comedians Jimmy Fallon (Tonight Show) and Cecily Strong (Saturday Night Live) took turns poking fun at the Republicans.

The pay equity bill is part of a broader strategy by Democrats that includes increasing the federal minimum wage and extending long-term unemployment benefits. Moreover, female voters were instrumental in helping Democrats win in the 2008 and 2012 presidential races.



Affordable Care Act is now real for 7.1 million Americans

With the closing of the first open enrollment period of the Affordable Care Act, the President defiantly stated, “The debate over repealing this law is over”. Flanked by Joe Biden in the Rose Garden, Obama announced that 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private health coverage.

The number is remarkable given the disastrous roll-out of the HealthCare.gov website last fall. With a concerted effort to enroll people in the final week, however, the Administration reached its goal in the most unlikely manner possible. Celebrities such as Lebron JamesZach Galifianakis, and  Ellen DeGeneres all helped the President raise awareness about open enrollment. With a flood of applicants in the final hours, however, the healthcare website once again crashed.


As the new system becomes reality, public attitudes have begun to shift.  A new Washington Post poll shows 49 percent of those polled support and 48 percent oppose the health-care law. This is the first time the law has been above water, ever. For months, if not years, the negative aspects of new regulations have sunk the popularity of the the ACA. Increasingly, the positive aspects of the act are becoming a tangible part of people’s lives.

Opinions are not surprisingly split along party lines, with few Republicans supporting the law (20%) and a majority of Democrats embracing it (76%). On Twitter, the split is apparent with some rejoicing,

And others are, well perhaps missing something,





Russia exiled from G8

Russia has been suspended from the G8, ending its membership among leading industrialized nations that began in 1998. The move is a direct response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and dealings with Ukraine. The G7 released  what it calls “The Hague Declaration”, which includes the following statement:

“International law prohibits the acquisition of part or all of another state’s territory through coercion or force. To do so violates the principles upon which the international system is built. We condemn the illegal referendum held in Crimea in violation of Ukraine’s constitution. We also strongly condemn Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea in contravention of international law and specific international obligations. We do not recognize either.”



Grade-level equivalency for comments on Foxnews, MSNBC, NPR and CBC

As the American news landscape polarizes, outlets have fragmented into those with left- versus right-leaning audiences. News programming has moved towards debate-style formats and increasingly to those having multiple talking heads all speaking from one side of an issue. Watching an entire panel agree on every issue makes it difficult to feel like the entire story is being told or even that the audience is learning anything of value.

This type of polarization in reporting is increasingly reflected in the audience and the politicians they elect. Both left and right leaning outlets demonize the other side and charge that those who follow a competitor lack the mental capacity to understand the true complexities of the world. “Low information voters” has become a popular phrase to belittle those who hold an opposing viewpoint. Anne Coulter’s book, “If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans” sums up the animosity that pervades much of the discussion.

So, this begs the question – who, if anyone is right? Does one side actually have a leg up on the other or are they just two sides of the same coin? A 2013 Pew Research Center survey testing knowledge about general news and political knowledge showed no difference between Republicans (8.7 correct/13 questions) and Democrats (8.6/13). So, there you have it. These political groups appear to be large tents with diverse memberships.

Reading, writing and ROFL

Suffice to say that the two groups are equally familiar with political trivia, but are there differences in how they communicate? We wanted to compare the level of discourse ongoing at each of the news sites (yes, you know where this deep, dark hole is leading). To do so, we applied the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Formula to the written comments by readers of various news websites. Obviously this cannot account for the intellectual content of the comments, but only the level of writing being used to communicate.

We chose four articles, posted on the same day, concerning the Russian parliament authorizing Vladimir Putin to leverage military resources in any effort to secure Russian interests in Ukraine:

“Ukraine forces on high alert after Putin gets permission to use military” – Foxnews.com

“Russia’s Parliament Approves Putin’s Request For Troops In Ukraine” NPR.org

“Putin gets OK for armed intervention in Ukraine” MSNBC.com

“Ukraine crisis: U.S. tells Russia to withdraw forces” CBC.ca

For each article, we sub-sampled the first 50 comments that loaded when we accessed the page to generate an average reading grade-level equivalency score.  Here are the results:


So, take the data and interpret away! Not surprisingly, the grades are low, but it is a comment section after all. Fox and MSNBC certainly play into the polarizing strategy and both scored on the low end. Is there more fighting and less genuine contribution from their audiences?





Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe supporting STEM training

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe was on hand to mark the beginning of major renovations to the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. The facility will serve to develop local talent  in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with an eye towards supporting the state’s economy.

Gov. Beebe emphasized the need for people pursuing scientific careers, “The Innovation Hub attracts those who think outside the box and who will forever change the economic climate in the area. They will be our business leaders of tomorrow.”

The hub will house many developmental resources for including: 3-D printers, laser-cutting machines,training in computer coding, programming, and computer-aided design (CAD),space for entrepreneurs and small business owners and summer training for students in the visual arts.

The renovations are supported by a $575,000 grant from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.