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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Kentucky Is For Smokers

Kentucky Is For Smokers


Kentucky Is For Smokers

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 11:42 AM PDT

Kentucky still has the largest share of smokers in the U.S, according to a new Gallup poll.

A total of 30.2% of residents of the Bluegrass State smoke cigarettes, narrowly beating out nearby West Virginia's smoking rate of 29.9%. The states have held the top two positions since 2008.

The state with the nation’s lowest smoking rate, 12.2%, is Utah, where six in ten residents identify as Mormon, a religion with a strict prohibition against smoking.

In all, 19.7% of Americans smoke cigarettes according to Gallup, down from 21.1% in 2008. For purposes of the poll, a cigarette smoker is defined simply as someone who responds “Yes,” to the question: “Do you smoke?”

The state where the smoking rate has fallen most since 2008 (the first year Gallup gathered sufficient data on the question) is Alaska, where 18.7% of the population smokes. That's 6.5% fewer smokers today than in 2008.

And while smoking rates decreased in nearly every state of the Union between 2008 and today, they ticked up ever so slightly in one: Hawaii, where 19.4% of the population smokes.

But maybe Gallup just happened to call while President Obama was vacationing back home….

[Gallup]

Are Library Users Happier People?

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 11:42 AM PDT

A Pew study released Thursday has some good news for America's libraries—namely that Americans seem to love them—but perhaps even better news for library users.

According to Pew, the more people are "engaged" with their public library, the more they tend to feel connected to their community as a whole. Conversely, unengaged people tend to have "fewer ties to their neighbors, lower feelings of personal efficacy [feeling empowered to change their community], and less engagement with other cultural activities."

While the study does not purport to measure personal happiness, there’s a significant crossover between the traits of library users and traits of people who demonstrate higher levels of personal happiness: a sense of connectedness and empowerment in one's community. Library users "are also more likely to say that they like their communities and that they would call their communities good or excellent places to live," Pew Research Associate Kathryn Zickuhr told TIME.

“Though library users share traits with positive, happy people, the poll results say nothing of causation. "It's not necessarily that people use libraries and then find they're happy," Zickuhr said. It’s just that library users tend to be more open to the world. "People who have more access to economy, social, technological resources are also more likely to use libraries as part of their networks," she said. Library usage tends to be a part of a bigger picture, in other words, in which a person who goes to the library also tends to be one who spends time at the park, takes part in civic organizations, and embraces new technologies.

Yes, that's right: people who love going to what may be, historically at least, the preeminent symbol of a by-gone ink-and-paper world are also more likely to do their shopping online or run their lives with smartphone apps. And those people, contrary to the popular image of the stressed-out, phone-addicted technopath, tend to be feel less daunted by the quantity of information zipping around in the information age. Only 18% of Americans say they feel overloaded by information today—down from 27% in 2006—and those same people are the least likely to visit a library.

Maybe the rusty old convention of having a community institution that makes information accessible counts for something after all.

Herders Kill 100+ in Nigerian Conflict Over Land

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 11:37 AM PDT

(KANO, Nigeria) — Survivors say dozens of gunmen on motorbikes in northern Nigeria have killed more than 100 villagers in an ongoing conflict over land.

They say scores of people are fleeing on foot from four attacked villages about 110 miles (180 kilometers) west of Katsina city.

Residents reached by telephone said the attacks began late Tuesday and the latest victims were killed Thursday afternoon.

Kabiru Ismail of Maigora village said he counted more than 100 bodies buried in three villages. The village imam said two policemen were among the dead.

For months, the area has been terrorized by raids blamed on semi-nomadic Fulani herders attacking Hausa farmers. Both are Muslim.

Most Fulani-related violence in Nigeria is concentrated around central Plateau state where Muslim herders are pitted against Christian farmers.

Kerry: U.S., E.U. Will React if Crimea Annexed

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 11:29 AM PDT

(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State John Kerry is warning Russia that it will face an immediate, “very serious series” of steps from the United States and Europe if it annexes Ukraine’s strategic Crimea region.

Kerry told a Senate committee that Moscow should expect the U.S. and European Union to take measures against it on Monday should it accept and act on the expected results of this weekend’s referendum in Crimea. Crimeans are to vote on joining Russia on Sunday in a referendum that the U.S. and EU say violates Ukraine’s constitution and international law. Russia has said it will respect the results of the referendum.

“There will be a response of some kind to the referendum itself,” Kerry told the lawmakers on Thursday. “In addition, if there is no sign (of Russian compromise) there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday in Europe and here.”

“My hope is they will become aware of the fact that the international community is really strongly united,” he said.

Kerry was to leave Washington later in the day to meet Friday in London with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a last-ditch bid to avert a crisis over the referendum.

He said he had spoken to Lavrov before the hearing and that hoped “reason would prevail.” But stressed there was no guarantee of that.

Kerry and Lavrov have spoken almost daily as the Ukraine crisis has unfolded but have yet to find any common ground.

He suggested that he would be pressing Lavrov for Russia to accept “something short of a full annexation” of Crimea but did not elaborate on what such a scenario might entail.

America’s Most Miserable City Emerges from Bankruptcy

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 11:18 AM PDT

Until Detroit, Stockton, Calif. was the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. The city, which hopes to emerge from Chapter 9 this spring, has struggled with all sorts of problems in the wake of the subprime crisis—a housing collapse, nosebleed unemployment (it's still 15.9 % in the city and 13.2 % in the surrounding county), and a mass exodus of firemen, cops and other city service people as the local government struggled with how they could make the budgetary numbers work while still paying gold-plated health care and pension plans to retirees. Stockton did do major cutting in its public sector healthcare benefits, which represented the bulk of its under-funded entitlements. But it’s still left spending 17-18 % of its budget on entitlements like pensions – a number many experts believe is unsustainable. City officials say further cuts just aren't on the table. "The idea that we'd even look at pension reform meant we started loosing police," says Elbert H. Holman, Jr., a Stockton council member. "If we'd have eliminated or serious cut pensions, we'd have been devastated as a city."

As it is, the loss of 400 police officers over four years to nearby cities in better economic shape resulted in a radical increase in crime, and a record number of homicides, 71 in a city of 300,000, in 2012. Reporting in Stockton yesterday, I got an up close and personal look at how desperate things still are thanks to the loss of basic city services. While visiting a tent city of homeless people under Highway 4, one of many in Stockton, my handbag was stolen. Fortunately, two of the tent city residents chased down the perpetrator and got my purse back. "We're not bad people here," said Abdul Solo, aged 67, one of those who helped. "We're just trying to live, stay clean, stay out of trouble."

That's a tough job in Stockton, where stories of long-term unemployment and continuing fallout from the housing crisis are still rife (two tent city residents told me they'd lost their homes in the subprime crisis). Nearly every restaurant in the city, mainly fast food joints and small family owned eateries, has a sign like the one at the local McDonalds, which reads, "Service may be refused: this is not a hangout or a shelter." Indeed, there are few shelters in the city – non profits, rather than the city, support them; paying for care for the homeless is yet another thing that Stockton can't afford as it tries to craft a budget that will allow it to emerge from bankruptcy without further cuts in retiree benefits. Highway 4's tent city residents shower and clean their clothes at St. Mary's, a local Catholic Church. A few blocks away, at the First Presbyterian Church, passers-by are admonished to "give up complaining– and embrace gratitude."

That's a message that some city fathers are pushing, too. There are many reasons why Stockton was one of the hardest hit American cities in the Great Recession – a housing bubble, debt spending on white elephant projects (like a downtown arena which is rarely full), fiscal mismanagement, and unrealistic pension return expectations and under-funding during boom times all played a part. The local council understandably wants to move past all that and showcase good news in the city – the Google barge pulled up in Stockton's port the other day (although nobody seems to know why, exactly); housing prices in nicer areas are starting to go up; crime is down this year from last; the city is convinced that its budgetary math will hold and allow it to emerge from bankruptcy, even as it begins hiring 120 new cops, which was a condition of the recent tax hike that the city was able to pass. But a number of citizens are skeptical. "Stockton's emergence from bankruptcy will be short-lived under the current exit plan if the pension liability (the city's largest debt) is not reduced, " says Dave Renison, president of the San Joaquin Taxpayers Association. "In five short years (2005 to 2010) public pension benefits in California grew at nearly three times that of the private sector." The fact that statewide pension reform initiatives have so far been torpedoed, "leaves us doing the job for ourselves."

Mayor Anthony Silva, an energetic and reform minded 39-year-old Republican and former social worker who took office 14 months ago with a mandate to turn the city around, agrees that pensions have been a huge economic drag on the city, but says that "no city can take on pension reform on its own." Indeed, the fact that 90 % of Californian cities are under the CALPERS system makes it easy for service workers to just leave cities that attempt pension reform and go elsewhere. Mayor Silva is instead focusing his efforts on trying to push economic development in the city, which has the potential to be a bigger logistical hub, as well as trying to find solutions to the increasing bifurcation in a town where preserving the status quo for city workers makes it hard to spend on the most vulnerable. "I'd like to find a way to put some of the homeless to work refurbishing abandoned buildings," says the mayor, who plans to petition Washington for federal redevelopment money to help Stockton get back on its feet. And despite city council pressure to put the pension issue on the back burner, he says he'd been willing to work with other mayors at a state level to come up with reform ideas. "It's kind of basic," says Silva. "You don't spend what you don't have." Tomorrow, I'll blog about San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed's ideas about statewide pension reform.

United’s In-Flight Video Streaming: More Evidence That Apple Won the App Wars

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 11:17 AM PDT

Last month, I wrote that iOS was still the dominant mobile platform when it came to important apps. Actually, I did more than that: In my headline, I said that the smartphone app wars were over, and iOS had won. Some folks agreed with me, but plenty of others said I was being extreme.

Since I posted that piece, I’ve talked to lots of companies with apps, at home in San Francisco and at SXSW Interactive. Even more than usual, my brain has been attuned to obsess about their prioritization of iOS and Android. One of the companies I’ve chatted with lately — Cyberlink — has released Android versions of some of its multimedia apps, with the iOS editions following along a bit later. Another, PPLConnect, is Android-only for now, but it’s doing things with phone numbers and text messages that I don’t believe iOS permits.

In a few cases, iOS and Android apps shipped at the same time. But in every other instance, iOS came first.

This morning, United Airlines announced a cool-sounding system for streaming movies and TV shows for free on what it calls “your personal device.” But if that personal device happens to run Android, it’s a second-class citizen:

1. Download the latest United app from the iTunes® App Store if you'll be using a mobile device. Laptops do not require the app. (Android™ and other mobile devices are not fully supported at this time.)

2. Charge your device fully.

Once you're onboard, you'll see two types of media. Some programs require a browser plug-in on your laptop or the latest United App on your Apple® iOS. This can be downloaded at any time during your flight without purchase of United Wi-Fi. Other programs can be watched through the United Portal on your browser with no plug-in or app required.

Again, I’m not claiming that the app situation on Android is terrible. It’s very solid overall, and (I really don’t need to mention this) radically better than that of any mobile operating system that isn’t iOS. Stuff such as United’s new offering generally arrives on Android sooner or later, and there are whole categories of apps — such as alternative keyboards — that are Android-only.

Much of the time, I’m an Android user myself, so I’m happy when something is available for Google’s operating system and sorry when it isn’t. But despite the fact that iOS’s market share is much smaller than that of Android, and has been for years, Apple devices are still nearly always first in line when a major company or hot startup has to decide where to allocate its development resources. That’s a dynamic that pundits keep telling us makes no sense — but it’s happening, and it’s an enormous competitive advantage for Apple. Sounds like a victory to me.

Congress Debates Tying International Monetary Fund Changes to Ukraine Aid Package

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 11:12 AM PDT

A Senate panel overwhelmingly advanced a bill Wednesday that would provide $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine while tying that package to International Monetary Fund changes not included in the Republican-controlled House’s aid bill.

The Senate bill would move billions of dollars from an IMF crisis fund to its general account. That comes after a request by the White House, which says such a move would raise America's influence over the lender and secure the resources needed to support Ukrainian economic reforms. It would also issue sanctions against Russians involved in President Vladimir Putin's intervention in Crimea.

However, House Republican leaders, including Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, support a separate bill the House passed last week which includes a similar aid package without IMF reforms. Some conservatives believe the IMF provision would put the money at risk, while Boehner and Cantor publicly maintain that the IMF provision is superfluous and drags out debate while a bill is on the table.

The Senate will likely leave for recess this week before its version of an aid bill can be brought to the floor.

The IMF reforms would allow Ukraine to borrow approximately 60 percent more (from $1 billion to $1.6 billion) from the IMF's emergency fund, according to the New Republic, but still below the $15 billion Ukrainian leaders seek from the lender. Simon Johnson, a former IMF chief economist, writes in the New York Times that Ukraine's total financing needs this year approach $20 billion, well below what the U.S. will offer—a good thing, he writes with co-author and economist Peter Boone, due to the country's "pervasive corruption."

The European Union, meanwhile, has said it would provide $15 billion to Ukraine in loans and grants over several years if it signs a reform deal with the IMF.

A Tale of Two Winters

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 11:10 AM PDT

As I write this in New York, it’s 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-3.9 Celsius)—about 21 F degrees below normal for Mar. 13—and frankly, we’re all sick of this. For much of the eastern half of the country, 2013-14 has been the winter that will never end. And now the numbers are in from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and we’re mostly right: It’s been very cold. But probably not as cold as you think.

The average temperature for the continental U.S. from December to February was 31.3 F (-0.4 C), 1.0 F (0.55 C) below the 20th century norm. That’s hardly record-breaking—it’s only the 34th coldest winter in recorded U.S. history—but it’s a lot colder than last winter, where the average temperature was 34.3 F (1.3 C), which helps explain why it felt so frigid. Even so, the continental U.S. experienced a colder winter as recently as 2009-2010, well before anyone had heard of the term “polar vortex,” and back when only hurricanes—not snowstorms—were given names.

How cold you were this winter depended largely on where you were in the U.S. If you lived east of the Rockies—home to significantly more than half the U.S. population and sometimes, it seems, virtually all the U.S. media—you experienced below-average temperatures. Midwesterners had it particularly bad—most of the area north of the Ohio River was 7 to 15 F (4 to 8 C) below normal, which helps explain why at their peak in early March 91% of the Great Lakes were frozen over. It was nasty for the Northeast as well, where temperatures were largely cooler than normal, especially in the western regions near the lakes (pity the citizens of Erie, Pennsylvania, where temperatures were nearly 5 F, or 2.75 C, below normal for the winter.) From Washington D.C. to Caribou, Maine, it seems that not a single town in the Northeast had above-normal temperatures this winter.

That wasn’t the case in the West, though. California—already in an incredibly severe drought—had the warmest winter on record, with average temperatures of 48.0 F (8.9 C), some 4.4 F (2.2 C) above the 20th century average and nearly 1 F (0.55 C) hotter than the previous warmest winter, in 1980-81. That’s a reminder of just how big the U.S. is, and how variable weather can be—which brings us to climate change. Scientists are going to have fun figuring out just what was behind phenomena like the polar vortex (one theory is that higher temperatures in the Arctic could impact the jet stream, allowing colder Canadian air to sweep down to the East). But a nasty winter in New York City no more disproves climate change than an all-time hot winter in California clinches the case for global warming. Climate change is a global phenomenon and a long-term one, which is why icy temperatures along the East Coast in January are a lot less important than the fact that the global land and ocean surface average temperature for January was 1.17 F (0.65 C) above the 20th century norm, which made it the fourth-warmest January on record globally.

Barring even weirder weather, winter should finally be giving way to spring even in the coldest states in the U.S.—finally. But with scientists warning of a possible El Nino later this year—which usually brings hotter temperatures—we may end up looking back on the polar vortex with fondness as the dog days of August drag on. Maybe.

HIV Prevention Gel Shows Promise

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 11:09 AM PDT

Researchers are a step closer to developing a vaginal gel that could protect women against HIV, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine, though scientists admit more testing is necessary.

The difference between this study and others on prevention gels? This gel was applied and tested after sex. A team of U.S. researchers found that the gel protected five out of six monkeys from an animal-human laboratory strain of HIV when applied shortly before or up to three hours after infection, the BBC reported.

Since the drug has the potential to work after HIV exposure, the findings could lead to new ways to fight HIV particularly in cases of rape as the virus continues to spread globally.

Pulitzer Winner Joel Brinkley Dead at 61

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 11:08 AM PDT

(WASHINGTON) — Joel Brinkley, a former New York Times reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 1980, has died.

His wife, Sabra Chartrand, confirmed Thursday that the 61-year-old Brinkley died Tuesday at a Washington hospital. The cause was not immediately known.

Brinkley began his career at The Associated Press in Charlotte, N.C., in 1975. He won the Pulitzer Prize while a reporter at The Louisville Courier-Journal. He and photographer Jay Mather shared the prize for stories from Cambodia.

Brinkley joined the Times’ Washington bureau in 1983 and stayed at the paper for 23 years. He was the author or co-author of four books, the latest on Cambodia. He later taught journalism at Stanford University.

Brinkley’s father, news anchor David Brinkley, died in 2003.

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