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Congress Gutted Researchers’ Ability to Study Gun Violence. Now They’re Fighting Back.

Mother Jones

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On November 14, six days after Donald Trump won the presidential election, more than 80 researchers from 42 schools of public health gathered for a closed-door meeting at the Boston University School of Public Health. Their agenda: how to get around the federal government’s de facto ban on researching the health impact of gun violence and get it done anyway.

“The idea was to pull together a meeting to say, ‘We have had no change in the number of firearm deaths and firearm injuries since 2000. It’s become endemic,'” says Sandro Galea, a physician, epidemiologist, and the dean of the BU School of Public Health, who organized the hush-hush meeting. “There has been no action on this to speak of at the federal level, and there has been no clear statement from academic public health on this issue. We brought people together to ask, ‘What should academic public health be doing toward moving us collectively toward mitigating the consequences of gun violence?'”

Despite the more than 30,000 gun-related deaths that occur in America every year, firearms receive relatively little attention as a subject of public-health research. A recent research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that gun violence is the least-researched leading cause of death in the United States. This is largely because of a 1996 bill that prevented the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies from using federal money to “advocate for or promote gun control.” The lack of funding combined with the toxic environment that surrounds the debate over gun rights has made most public-health researchers wary of touching the topic.

JAMA/Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

The group that met at BU in November hope to reverse that two-decade trend. They drafted a call to action, the final version of which was published yesterday in the American Journal of Public Health. It outlines a plan to beef up gun violence research and scholarship by seeking funding from the private sector, as well as seeking common ground between pro-gun advocates and gun safety advocates, and developing state-level initiatives.

“Federal funding is not going to happen with the National Rifle Association around,” says John Rosenthal, a Massachusetts-based businessman and gun owner who was a keynote speaker at the November meeting. In 1994, he started Stop Handgun Violence, which has advocated stricter gun laws in his home state. (Massachusetts has the third-lowest gun violence rate in the nation, and some of its toughest gun laws.) “In the absence of public funding, this call to action could lead to significant private funding,” he says. “If enough schools of public health really look at it—and this is a public health epidemic—then lives will be saved. I think there will be a critical mass with this group and more that will follow.”

Galea says gun researchers have a lot of catching up to do. “The fundamental, foundational work of documenting the full scale of the health consequences of firearms has not been done,” he says. “It’s the kind of project that we do all the time. It just hasn’t been done with firearms because there haven’t been resources.”

Even if the researchers overcome these financial obstacles, they must still contend with the political climate. “Trump was a clear supporter of gun rights throughout the campaign and has widely claimed support from the gun lobby as a core part of his appeal; the gun lobby spent more than $30 million on the campaign,” they write in their call to action. “This portends challenges to advancing gun policy at the federal level in the next four years, if not longer.”

The NRA has called out Galea for his “deeply flawed research,” likening his defense of a controversial recent study of gun laws to “the behavior of a mule.” “It is very charged when you have the NRA calling you out personally,” Galea says. “It has a chilling effect. It’s hard to encourage young people to make a career out of studying something which brings with it the threat of a public fight with a group as powerful as the NRA.” After 20 years of delay, Rosenthal says it’s time to stop ignoring one of the country’s leading causes of death. “We’ve reached a tipping point,” he says. “Enough is enough.”

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Congress Gutted Researchers’ Ability to Study Gun Violence. Now They’re Fighting Back.

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Trump Somehow Found Time Today to Meet With Monsanto Execs

Mother Jones

Amid the furor surrounding allegations of covert ties with Russian intelligence figures as well as his first press conference since winning the election, President-elect Donald Trump found time in his hectic Wednesday schedule to meet with two towering figures in the agriculture world, reports Fox Business Daily. But the main conversation topic wasn’t the job opening atop the US Department of Agriculture, the sole cabinet spot awaiting an appointment from Trump.

Rather, the meeting involved German chemical giant Bayer’s $66 billion buyout of US seed/agrichemical giant Monsanto—a deal that will have to pass antitrust muster with Trump’s Department of Justice (more on that here). Fox reports that Bayer CEO Werner Baumann and his Monsanto counterpart Hugh Grant met with the incoming president at Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan to promote the merger. In an email to the news organization, a Monsanto spokesperson confirmed that the two execs “had a productive meeting with President-Elect Trump and his team to share their views on the future of the agriculture industry and its need for innovation.”

Baumann and Grant have plenty to be concerned about regarding possible antitrust obstacles to their mega-deal. As I’ve reported before, a combined Bayer-Monsanto would own 29 percent of the global seed market, and 25 percent of the global pesticide market. And if the pending merger between agribiz goliaths Dow and DuPont also wins approval, three enormous companies—the above two combined firms, plus Syngenta (itself recently taken over by a Chinese chemical conglomerate)—would sell about 59 percent of the globe’s seeds and 64 percent of its pesticides. In this post, I tease out how such concentrated power can harm farmers and consumers alike.

And as The Wall Street Journal reports, opposition to these mergers has arisen even in rival agribusiness circles, including among the motley crew of execs and aligned GOP farm-state pols who served on Trump’s rural advisory committee during the campaign. Iowa corn, pork, and ethanol magnate Bruce Rastetter, a member of that committee and a leading candidate for the USDA post, told The Journal he “plans to raise his concerns about the mergers directly with Mr. Trump in the near future.” Rastetter is tightly aligned with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, whom Trump has picked to serve as ambassador to China.

As with everything else he does, Trump seems intent on plunging these momentous decisions—on both the future of the seed market and the leadership of the USDA—into a swirling sea of chaos and drama.

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Trump Somehow Found Time Today to Meet With Monsanto Execs

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Living At Home Has Become Steadily More Popular Since the 1960s

Mother Jones

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According to the Wall Street Journal, millennials are living in their parents’ basements at record rates:

Almost 40% of young Americans were living with their parents, siblings or other relatives in 2015, the largest percentage since 1940, according to an analysis of census data by real estate tracker Trulia.

Despite a rebounding economy and recent job growth, the share of those between the ages of 18 and 34 doubling up with parents or other family members has been rising since 2005. Back then, before the start of the last recession, roughly one out of three were living with family.

Hmmm. “Rising since 2005.” I’ll assume that’s technically true, but take a look at the chart that accompanies the Journal piece. The number of young adults living with their parents rose in the 70s. And the 80s. And the aughts. And the teens. Basically, it’s been on an upward trend for nearly half a century. That seems more noteworthy to me than the fact that it failed to blip slightly downward after the Great Recession ended.

Part of the reason, of course, is that people have been getting married and settling down later in life. According to the OECD, the average age at first marriage has increased nearly five years just since 1990, and ranges between 30 and 35 around the world:

The United States is still at the low end of the world average.

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Living At Home Has Become Steadily More Popular Since the 1960s

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As Always, Inflation Is Yet Again Right Around the Corner

Mother Jones

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The Wall Street Journal has annoyed me again today. See if you can spot how they got my dander up:

A rallying stock market, rising bond yields and the return of inflationary pressures are creating new challenges for the Federal Reserve….Many Fed watchers see the prospect of tax cuts and fiscal spending under Donald Trump, as well as rising oil prices and inflation expectations, pointing to a pickup in the pace of rate increases.

….Many money managers say an upsurge of inflation throughout 2017 ranks among the top risks to a continued advance in U.S. stocks….On the bond market, meanwhile, a gauge of 10-year inflation expectations rose to the highest level in more than two years and edged above the Fed’s 2% inflation target….The fiscal stimulus Mr. Trump has proposed could boost demand and send inflation higher. Expectations of higher inflation have firmed further after the agreement by oil-producing nations boosted crude prices.

Sigh. Here’s a chart of all the commonly used inflation measures:

The ordinary measures of inflation (in red) are rising, but only to the level of two years ago—and well below the Fed’s target of 2 percent. The core measures of inflation (in blue) are pretty steady at well under 2 percent. And the 10-year-breakeven (in brown), which is a measure of inflation expectations, has been on a steady downward march for three years.

The only measure that’s both rising and breaking past the 2 percent target is the 10-year-breakeven—but only if you look at the daily change over just the past five weeks. So which measure does the Journal show in its chart? The daily change of the 10-year-breakeven over the past five weeks.

Inflation is always right around the corner, isn’t it? No matter how you have to twist things to make it come out that way, it’s always right around the corner.

But maybe we should turn the corner first before we panic. After all, 2 percent is a target, not a ceiling. After years of sub-2-percent inflation, surely we can wait until we’ve had at least a few months of 3 percent inflation before we break out the hammer and shatter the punch bowl?

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As Always, Inflation Is Yet Again Right Around the Corner

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The Scriptwriter for “The Trump Show” Needs to Get a Grip

Mother Jones

From the Wall Street Journal:

Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex Tillerson has emerged as the leading candidate to become President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, according to two transition officials, marking the latest twist in a multiweek search for a top diplomat.

….Among those considered for the post, Mr. Tillerson has perhaps the closest ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, having negotiated a 2011 energy partnership deal with Russia that Mr. Putin said could eventually be worth as much as $500 billion. In 2012, the Kremlin bestowed the country’s Order of Friendship decoration on Mr. Tillerson.

Oh come on. Trump is planning to nominate a wealthy, inexperienced fossil-fuel mogul whose only qualification—literally—is that he’s sort of chummy with Vladimir Putin? And Republicans are expected to confirm him?

Who’s writing the script for this show? No one’s going to believe these plot twists. I gave up on Designated Survivor after a couple of episodes, and it was more realistic than this.

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The Scriptwriter for “The Trump Show” Needs to Get a Grip

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