Top Chinese scientist concedes that coronavirus may have leaked from Wuhan lab
George Gao told the BBC that the possibility of a lab accident should not be discounted.
Alexander Nazaryan, Senior W. H. Correspondent – June 1, 2023
The debate over the origins of the coronavirus has largely been conducted in the West, despite the fact that the pathogen originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Chinese authorities have officially maintained a vague stance, meant largely to deflect criticism. Meanwhile, scientists who may hold clues to how the pandemic began — likely sometime in late 2019 — appear to have been silenced.
China has strenuously denied that such a “leak” took place, and Gao did not present any evidence to counter those denials. But he also did not make such a denial himself when presented with the chance to do so.
Lab leak proponent and former National Security Council official Jamie Metzl told Yahoo News that he could not recall another Chinese scientist making a similar concession.
“At least on the surface, he has been pretty honest and straightforward from the beginning,” Metzl said of Gao. “My personal sense is that he is trying to maintain scientific credibility while not overly upsetting the Chinese government.”
In fact, Gao may have even been encouraged by Beijing, speculates Richard Ebright, a Rutgers molecular biologist and an outspoken lab leak proponent. “Gao’s statement may have been authorized by China’s government and thus may augur a change in China’s government’s stance on the subject,” Ebright told Yahoo News.
In early 2021, China allowed investigators with the World Health Organization to conduct a carefully managed visit to Wuhan. In a subsequent report, the WHO endorsed the view that the virus originated at the Huanan Seafood Market, where it jumped from an “intermediate” animal species to humans.
In March, a group of researchers made a controversial, highly contested claim. Analyzing genetic data from swabs taken at the Huanan Seafood Market, which had been inadvertently uploaded to an international server, they claimed that the virus had originated in a cage containing raccoon dogs.
Critics quickly noted that the mixture of raccoon dog DNA and viral matter did not necessarily mean that the animals had transmitted the coronavirus to humans. The virus could have been deposited in the raccoon dog cage by a sneezing human already sickened with COVID-19 — or by some other inadvertent means.
And, it turned out, the amount of viral DNA in the raccoon dog sample was minuscule to begin with.
Among the critics of the raccoon dog argument was Gao, who like Chinese political leaders maintained that the virus had been brought to the Huanan market by humans, not animals, in what appeared to be an effort to discount both origin hypotheses without offering a credible alternative.
The attention devoted to Gao’s comments seems to reflect an enduring fascination with the pandemic’s origins, even as coronavirus concerns recede for most people in the United States and elsewhere.
Some have argued that both the wildlife trade and laboratory safety need reform, in China and elsewhere, regardless of how the virus originated.
“As Professor Gao said, science deals in probabilities and not in certainties. In reality, it may never be possible to know with confidence how the covid-19 virus entered the human population,” said James Wood, head of veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge. “What is important is that lessons are learned and that live wildlife trade, a well recognised route for zoonotic virus transmission, is reduced or banned and that laboratory safety is properly regulated.”
Walking this number of steps a day only a few days a week has major health benefits
Sarah Jacoby – June 1, 2023
As the June Start TODAY challenge kicks off, you may be wondering how much you need to walk in order to see health benefits. For beginners, it’s more than reasonable to start small and try to build up your walking habit, as is the goal of the June challenge. But for walkers ready to make the most of their exercise, what should your daily step count goal be, and how often do you need to hit it?
Before you spend your evening walking laps around your home, know that new research shows that you don’t necessarily have to hit your step goal every single day to improve your health. A new study found that walking 8,000 steps just once or twice per week can be enough to significantly reduce the risk of death over 10 years.
The inspiration for the study was people who only have time to walk as exercise on the weekend, study co-author Dr. Kosuke Inoue, a chronic disease epidemiologist at Kyoto University in Japan, tells TODAY.com.
“Although recent studies have shown that more daily steps were associated with a steady decline in all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk up to approximately 8,000 daily steps, we realized that evidence is lacking about the health benefits of walking intensively only a few days a week,” he explained.
For the study, published this week in JAMA Network Open, researchers used data previously collected for the 2005 and 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. These long-running nationally representative surveys are conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers included 3,101 participants for whom the surveys had accelerometer data that tracked their daily steps for one week, as well as mortality data for at least 10 years. The participants’ average age was 50, about half were women, and about half were white.
Their results showed that participants who walked at least 8,000 steps (about 4 miles) one or two days per week were 15% less likely to die within 10 years. There were 75 deaths out of 532 participants who walked at least 8,000 steps only one or two days per week. And there were 107 deaths among 1,937 participants walking 8,000 steps three or more days per week.
But the benefits plateaued after walking at least 8,000 steps three days per week, meaning those who walked that much for four or more days didn’t see any further reductions in mortality risk.
And it didn’t have to be 8,000 steps exactly: Researchers saw the same benefits, in general, when participants walked anywhere between 6,000 to 10,000 steps.
The participants who took 8,000 or more steps during the week were also more likely to have never smoked, to not have obesity, to not have mobility limitations and to not have other conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension. And, the authors note, participants’ steps were only measured for one week at baseline, so their walking habits may have changed during the following decade.
So it’s possible that the people who were able to walk that many steps that frequently were less likely to die within 10 years for reasons unrelated to walking, such as medication adherence, smoking status of family members, genetics, et cetera, Inoue said.
Although the study has its limitations, Inoue explained that the findings are important “given that a lack of time is one of the major barriers to exercise in modern society.” They suggest “that for individuals who face difficulties in exercising regularly … achieving recommended daily steps only a couple of days per week may have meaningful health benefits,” he said. “Of course, our findings should not discourage walking more days for those who can, though.”
In fact, Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery, tells TODAY.com that the 10,000 steps goal actually comes from an ad campaign for an early pedometer ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, so it’s “completely fabricated” goal, he says.
For people who don’t enjoy other forms of fitness, walking can be a great way to keep moving. For those who do partake in more intense forms of exercise, walking can also be a low-impact way to get some movement in on a rest day. And regardless of how you work out, there are benefits to simply making activity a natural part of your daily routine.
In fact, experts are encouraging “activity snacks” taken throughout the day rather than — or in addition to — getting all of your fitness in one high-intensity class or long walk, for instance. “Moving around throughout the day … is like the fire that keeps the metabolic furnace burning,” Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery, tells TODAY.com.
When finding the right type of exercise, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer — as long as it’s something you enjoy enough to do it consistently, he says.
“The holy grail of fitness, in my world, is compliance,” Metzl explains. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a yogi or a biker or a walker or a swimmer. We know that people will be the most compliant with something they’re smiling about doing.”
If the number of steps in your tracker is what motivates you, then use that as a tool; if you prefer to focus on time, then throw on a podcast that lasts for the number of minutes you’re shooting for, he suggests.
But it’s still important to remember that the “right” amount of steps to aim for in a day may be different from person to person. And you don’t need to push your body to hit an arbitrary goal.
“You shouldn’t ignore your body to hit a target,” Dr. Lawrence Phillips, an associate professor of medicine and medical director of outpatient cardiology at NYU Langone Health in New York, told TODAY.com previously. “You can spread your activity throughout the day rather than having one set period,” he added.
Of course, there are all kinds of reasons (including supporting your mental well-being and, if you walk with others, socializing) to get some steps in more frequently than that. But, based on these results, it’s OK if you don’t hit your step goal every single day. As long as you can get some steps in once or twice a week, you’re likely to see some benefits.
CORRECTION (March 30, 2023, 9:05 a.m. ET:) A previous version of this story stated that Dr. Kosuke Inoue is a chronic disease epidemiologist at UCLA. He is now affiliated with Kyoto University.
Five college towns worth staying put in after graduation
Lesley Kennedy – June 1, 2023
Imagine living in these lively towns without all the classes and homework
Your diploma has been framed, the cap and gown are in storage, and you’ve been to more going-away parties than you can count. Now, where to focus that job hunt and narrow down where to live after graduation? If your destination wish list includes lots of culture, a smaller-town feel and football Saturdays (you’re never too old to tailgate), it may be time to head back to school — only without all the classes and homework.
Here are five college towns that are great places to live after graduation.
1. Madison, Wis.
If the Midwest is calling your name, this authentic college town, home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is an easy answer. Frequently recognized on award lists — one of the best cities in the Midwest, best city for biking, happiest city in the world, greenest city, fittest city, etc. — the state capital has the feel of a smaller town (population: 272,159) but offers big-city amenities and culture. With an array of museums, the largest producer-only farmers market in the nation and plenty of food fests — from the world’s biggest Brat Fest to the Isthmus Beer Cheese Festival — it’s also just 77 miles from Milwaukee and 122 miles from Chicago.
Madison is also an excellent place for 20-somethings (more than half the population is younger than 30) and those who seek an active lifestyle (you’ll find five lakes, more than 260 parks and bike paths everywhere you look).
Ready to move? The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,567, roughly $400 below the national average, and the median home value in Madison is $339,874. The largest job sectors include healthcare, life sciences, agriculture, advanced manufacturing and IT, and, of course, public employment in education. Is that “On, Wisconsin” we hear you humming?
2. Corvallis, Ore.
So your ultimate town wish list includes charming homes, proximity to outdoor adventures, a vibrant college campus and breweries, wineries and independent restaurants? It’s a tall order, but Corvallis, home to Oregon State University, will check all your boxes.
The pretty, stately campus, situated near downtown, is one of just a few in the country with National Register of Historic Places status and hosts many cultural events (and Pac-12 athletics) open to the public throughout the year.
With a population of 58,612 and an average Benton County home price of $527,363, it’s also a place where creative jobs are common — nearly half of the workforce is engaged in careers in science and technology, design and architecture, arts, entertainment and media, healthcare, law, management, and education.
Weekend warriors will love its location in the Willamette Valley (just 90 minutes from Portland), where both skiing and the Oregon coast are within easy drives, but crowd-drawing events, including a festival called da Vinci Days and the Corvallis Fall Festival, make staying put fun, too.
3. Ames, Iowa
“Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.”
Longtime residents of Ames may tire of the famous “Field of Dreams” line, but the movie quote isn’t far off. Boasting Iowa State University, 36 parks, a fun downtown scene, miles and miles of bike trails, four golf courses and more, this college town is a solid place to put down roots.
And it’s not just us saying it: Ames, with a population of 66,361 (including students), has racked up a long list of accolades, including best place for STEM grads, best town for millennials and healthiest city.
If you plan to have kids, Ames has one of the nation’s top school systems. If you crave culture, the university brings Broadway shows, Pulitzer Prize–winning speakers and famous artists from across the world. If you love collegiate athletics, the Big 12 member ISU Cyclones will have you cheering.
And it’s affordable, too: The median home value is $246,387, and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $725. Top jobs are in education, government and professional, and scientific and technical services.
Thinking of moving to Wolverine territory? Start by learning the lyrics to the University of Michigan fight song (“Hail! to the victors valiant; Hail! to the conqu’ring heroes; Hail! Hail! to Michigan, the champions of the West!”), then get ready to take notes on what makes this city (one of the best in the country) so beloved.
First is the college’s award-winning museums, cultural performances, nationally ranked sports teams (the football stadium seats a whopping 107,601, with epic tailgating on its exterior) and Instagram-worthy campus. Then there’s the food and drink scene: more than 300 restaurants, food trucks, a charming farmers market and a host of breweries.
Or the festivals held most weekends, such as July’s Ann Arbor Art Fair, April’s FoolMoon and FestiFools and holiday lights fest. Or the outdoor options — you could golf, hike, mountain bike, snowshoe or cross-country ski or canoe, paddleboard or kayak the Huron River.
Named a winner on lists celebrating the most educated cities in America, best coffee, best college towns, happiest cities, best cities for entrepreneurs, best city for millennials and so on, Ann Arbor boasts about 122,915 residents (U. of M. students included). The median home value is $377,706, and almost 10% of the workforce is employed by the university (the city’s largest employer); unemployment is low, with the healthcare, automotive, IT and biomedical research fields as local leaders.
Ann Arbor? Hail, yes!
5. Fort Collins, Colo.
When it comes to Rocky Mountain college towns, Boulder tends to get most of the love. But Fort Collins, home to CU’s intrastate rival, Colorado State, is bursting with potential as a worthy city in which to put down roots.
And if you’re a beer drinker, it’s time to hoist a pint. Fort Collins makes roughly 70% of the craft beer produced in the state of Colorado and has one of the highest numbers of microbreweries per capita. When friends visit, hop on a brew tour (there are plenty to choose from) to sample a Fat Tire from New Belgium, a 90 Shilling from Odell or a Dunkel from Zwei.
Just an hour’s drive north of Denver, this town (population: 172,676), may center on CSU (which boasts a world-class performing-arts center, historic buildings and a state-of-the-art stadium), but it also supports a ballet troupe, opera company, symphony, art galleries, museums and lots of live music venues. The major employers in the area include Advanced Energy Industries, Anheuser Busch, Banner Health and CSU.
And the setting ain’t bad. Located along the Cache la Poudre River and along the Front Range, camping, hiking, skiing, fishing, biking and other outdoor adventures are just moments away. It’s a perpetual award winner on top-cities lists, from the best city for cycling to the best place to raise a family to the best place to live.
The average home price in Fort Collins is climbing — currently, it’s at $487,730, with one-bedroom apartments renting for $1,500 on average. But it’s easy to see why folks come here for college and stay forever.
Climate Shocks Are Making Parts of America Uninsurable. It Just Got Worse.
Christopher Flavelle – May 31, 2023
The climate crisis is becoming a financial crisis.
This month, the largest homeowner insurance company in California, State Farm, announced that it would stop selling coverage to homeowners. That’s not just in wildfire zones, but everywhere in the state.
Insurance companies, tired of losing money, are raising rates, restricting coverage or pulling out of some areas altogether — making it more expensive for people to live in their homes.
“Risk has a price,” said Roy Wright, the former official in charge of insurance at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and now head of the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, a research group. “We’re just now seeing it.”
In parts of eastern Kentucky ravaged by storms last summer, the price of flood insurance is set to quadruple. In Louisiana, the top insurance official says the market is in crisis, and is offering millions of dollars in subsidies to try to draw insurers to the state.
And in much of Florida, homeowners are increasingly struggling to buy storm coverage. Most big insurers have pulled out of the state already, sending homeowners to smaller private companies that are straining to stay in business — a possible glimpse into California’s future if more big insurers leave.
Growing ‘catastrophe exposure’
State Farm, which insures more homeowners in California than any other company, said it would stop accepting applications for most types of new insurance policies in the state because of “rapidly growing catastrophe exposure.”
The company said that while it recognized the work of California officials to reduce losses from wildfires, it had to stop writing new policies “to improve the company’s financial strength.” A State Farm spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Insurance rates in California jumped after wildfires became more devastating than anyone had anticipated. A series of fires that broke out in 2017, many ignited by sparks from failing utility equipment, exploded in size with the effects of climate change. Some homeowners lost their insurance entirely because insurers refused to cover homes in vulnerable areas.
Michael Soller, a spokesperson for the California Department of Insurance, said the agency was working to address the underlying factors that have caused disruption in the insurance industry across the country and around the world, including the biggest one: climate change.
He highlighted the department’s Safer From Wildfires initiative, a fire resilience program, and noted that state lawmakers are also working to control development in the areas at highest risk of burning.
But Tom Corringham, a research economist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego who has studied the costs of natural disasters, said that allowing people to live in homes that are becoming uninsurable, or prohibitively expensive to insure, was unsustainable.
He said that policymakers must seriously consider buying properties that are at greatest risk, or otherwise moving residents out of the most dangerous communities.
“If we let the market sort it out, we have insurers refusing to write new policies in certain areas,” Corringham said. “We’re not sure how that’s in anyone’s best interest other than insurers.”
A broken model
California’s woes resemble a slow-motion version of what Florida experienced after Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami in 1992. The losses bankrupted some insurers and caused most national carriers to pull out of the state.
In response, Florida established a complicated system: a market based on small insurance companies, backed up by Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a state-mandated company that would provide windstorm coverage for homeowners who couldn’t find private insurance.
For a while, it mostly worked. Then came Hurricane Irma.
The 2017 hurricane, which made landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm before moving up the coast, didn’t cause a particularly great amount of damage. But it was the first in a series of storms, culminating in Hurricane Ian last October, that broke the model insurers had relied on: One bad year of claims, followed by a few quiet years to build back their reserves.
Since Irma, almost every year has been bad.
Private insurers began to struggle to pay their claims; some went out of business. Those that survived increased their rates significantly.
More people have left the private market for Citizens, which recently became the state’s largest insurance provider, according to Michael Peltier, a spokesperson. But Citizens won’t cover homes with a replacement cost of more than $700,000, or $1 million in Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys.
That leaves those homeowners with no choice but private coverage — and in parts of the state, that coverage is getting harder to find, Peltier said.
‘Just not enough wealth’
Florida, despite its challenges, has an important advantage: A steady of influx of residents who remain, for now, willing and able to pay the rising cost of living there. In Louisiana, the rising cost of insurance has become, for some communities, a threat to their existence.
Like Florida after Andrew, Louisiana’s insurance market started to buckle after insurers began leaving following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Then, starting with Hurricane Laura in 2020, a series of storms pummeled the state. Nine insurance companies failed; people began rushing into the state’s own version of Florida’s Citizens plan.
The state’s insurance market “is in crisis,” Louisiana’s insurance commissioner, James J. Donelon, said in an interview.
In December, Louisiana had to increase premiums for coverage provided by its Citizens plan by 63%, to an average of $4,700 a year. In March, it borrowed $500 million from the bond market to pay the claims of homeowners who had been abandoned when their private insurers failed, Donelon said. The state recently agreed to new subsidies for private insurers, essentially paying them to do business in the state.
Donelon said he hoped that the subsidies would stabilize the market. But Jesse Keenan, a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans and an expert in climate adaptation and finance, said the state’s insurance market would be hard to turn around. The high cost of insurance has begun to affect home prices, he said.
In the past, it would have been possible for some communities — those where homes are passed down from generation to generation, with no mortgages required and no banks demanding insurance — to go without insurance altogether. But as climate change makes storms more intense, that’s no longer an option.
“There’s just not enough wealth in those low-income communities to continue to rebuild, storm after storm,” Keenan said.
A shift to risk-based pricing
Even as homeowners in coastal states face rising costs for wind coverage, they’re being squeezed from yet another direction: Flood insurance.
In 1968, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program, which offered taxpayer-backed coverage to homeowners. As with wildfires in California and hurricanes in Florida, the flood program arose from what economists call a market failure: Private insurers wouldn’t provide coverage for flooding, leaving homeowners with no options.
The program achieved its main goal, of making flood insurance widely available at a price that homeowners could afford. But as storms became more severe, the program faced growing losses.
In 2021, FEMA, which runs the program, began setting rates equal to the actual flood risk facing homeowners — an effort to better communicate the true danger facing different properties, and also to stanch the losses for the government.
Those increases, which are being phased in over years, in some cases amount to enormous jumps in price. The current cost of flood insurance for single-family homes nationwide is $888 a year, according to FEMA. Under the new, risk-based pricing, that average cost would be $1,808.
And by the time current policyholders actually have to pay premiums that reflect that full risk, the impacts of climate change could make them much higher.
“Properties located in high-risk areas should plan and expect to pay for that risk,” David Maurstad, head of the flood insurance program, said in a statement.
The best way for policymakers to help keep insurance affordable is to reduce the risk people face, said Carolyn Kousky, associate vice president for economics and policy at the Environmental Defense Fund. For example, officials could impose tougher building standards in vulnerable areas.
Government-mandated programs, like the flood insurance plan, or Citizens in Florida and Louisiana, were meant to be a backstop to the private market. But as climate shocks get worse, she said, “we’re now at the point where that’s starting to crack.”
This Is the Early Heart Attack Symptom That’s Missed the Most Often, According to Cardiologists
Leigh Weingus – May 31, 2023
When you think of a person having a heart attack, you most likely picture them falling to the floor clutching their chest. Because of this, many people don’t realize that there are a handful of other symptoms associated with heart attacks.
With that in mind, Parade spoke with cardiologists to find out what the most commonly missed early heart attack symptom is—and other top symptoms to watch out for.
The Most Commonly-Missed Early Heart Attack Symptom
According to Dr. Estelle Jean, MD, a cardiologist with MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Montgomery County, Maryland, the most commonly missed heart attack symptom is shortness of breath. Because shortness of breath can be attributed to many things, if it’s occurring without chest pain, people don’t tend to think it means they’re having a heart attack. “Shortness of breath is a commonly missed early symptom of a heart attack, and it can occur with or without chest discomfort,” she explains.
Dr. Max Brock, MD, a cardiologist at Cook, echoes this. “Trouble breathing, or ‘dyspnea’ in medical lingo, can be caused by many things, but sometimes it is the only sign of a heart attack for some patients,” he says.
Dr. Brock says you should also watch out for chest pressure, even if it isn’t accompanied by pain. “As many people are aware, chest discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart attack, but people tend to think that has to mean pain specifically where your heart is, on the left side of your chest,” he says. “Chest pressure, a crushing sensation or tightness in the chest, and upper abdominal pain are also some of the many ways patients describe their heart attack. Do not wait around for left-sided chest pain!”
Dr. Jean adds that other heart attack symptoms include pain in the shoulder, arm, neck, jaw, back and stomach. “People may also experience nausea or vomiting, heartburn, dizziness, sweating, palpitations and fatigue when having a heart attack.”
While it’s important to take as many preventative measures as possible, Dr. Jean says understanding the signs of a heart attack is crucial. “Know the signs of a heart attack and don’t ignore your symptoms. The chances for surviving a heart attack depend on receiving immediate and timely care,” she explains, adding that 80 percent of heart attacks can be prevented by taking healthy lifestyle measures. “This includes maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, limiting alcohol intake, sleeping seven to nine hours at night and managing your stress,” she says. “And don’t forget to schedule a visit with your healthcare provider to assess your risk for heart disease, and to learn about your personal health numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar).”
Dr. Brock emphasizes the importance of movement. “Staying active is so important for your heart, as it is for many of your other organs,” he explains. “You don’t need to go out and sprint or bike long distances. Moderate exercise is sufficient—and when I say moderate, I tell my patients this is the type of exertion where it is harder to hold a long conversation with your exercise partner, but you are still able to talk in shorter sentences. It’s the type of exercise where you break into a sweat by the end!”
While heart disease is scary, there’s a lot you can do to prevent it—and catch it early enough to not put your life at risk.
Coconut Water: The Super Drink That May Ease Inflammation, Lower Blood Pressure, and Speed Weight Loss
Ann Green – May 31, 2023
Tired of drinking plain water? It’s important to stay hydrated, but that doesn’t mean your beverages have to be flavorless and boring. Enter coconut water: an excellent alternative with important nutrients. Not only is it sweet and hydrating, but it also contains minerals that are vital to your wellbeing. In addition, research shows that coconut water may have impressive health benefits for inflammation, high blood pressure, and high blood pressure. It may even aid in your weight-loss journey. Learn more about this super drink below.
Coconut water may ease inflammation.
Research has shown that coconut water contains antioxidants, which may reduce inflammation in the body. In an animal study, investigators learned that coconut water reduced inflammation in rats on a high-fructose (a complex sugar) diet. Another study found that a concentrated form of coconut water eased inflammation in animal liver cells. Why might this drink work on inflammation? Antioxidants protect our tissues from oxidative stress — a natural phenomenon that occurs when unstable molecules, known as free radicals, damage our cells.
It may lower blood pressure.
Unsweetened coconut water contains potassium, which relaxes blood vessel walls. And that’s not the only proof it may help reduce blood pressure. A 2016 animal study found that coconut water extracts contain antioxidants that have a hypolipidemic effect, meaning they help reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. Keep in mind that you may need to watch your coconut water intake if you are on blood pressure medication — ask your doctor for more information.
It may speed slimming.
Though not enough studies show that coconut water directly speeds weight loss, it’s an excellent beverage to add to your diet if you are trying to lose weight. Staying hydrated can help you burn more calories and reduce hunger cravings. One cup contains just 60 calories, 4 percent of your daily calcium, 4 percent of your daily magnesium, 2 percent of phosphorus and 15 percent of potassium — vitamins that are important for maintaining proper body functions as you cut calories.
It may steady blood sugar.
Some research shows that unflavored coconut water can help people maintain healthy blood sugar levels — especially if they are diabetic. For instance, one study published in 2015 found that coconut water had anti-diabetic properties in animals, thanks to its L-arginine (an amino acid that helps the body build protein). Another study published in 2021 noted that coconut water reduced blood sugar levels in animals.
More Than 1 in 4 American Homeowners Is ‘House Poor’
Debra Kamin – May 30, 2023
More than one-quarter of homeowners in the United States are “house poor,” spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs, according to a new study.
Chamber of Commerce, a product research company for real estate agents and entrepreneurs, used numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau to analyze monthly housing costs and median household income in the 170 most populated U.S. cities. The company found that 27.4% of all homeowners are “cost-burdened” in its study.
Miami, Los Angeles and New York City have the highest number of “house poor” residents, with more than 4 in 10 homeowners in each city feeling stretched beyond their means by their housing bills. And with the exception of New York City, the top 10 cities in the United States for cost-burdened homeowners are all located in either California or Florida.
Why it matters: Housing costs are on the rise nationwide.
Mortgage interest rates, which dipped to historic lows at the beginning of the pandemic, climbed past 7% in 2022 — the highest numbers seen since 2002. And although rates slightly cooled in the early months of 2023, new homeowners today are still saddled with significantly higher monthly mortgage payments than neighbors who locked in a lower rate.
Add skyrocketing inflation and stagnating wages into the pot, and Americans owe trillions more than they did at the start of the pandemic. Higher housing costs means less set aside for savings, spending and emergencies.
It’s not just homeowners being squeezed, either: Rising housing costs push up rents as well, meaning both renters and homeowners are feeling strapped.
Background: The number of cost-burdened homeowners had been on the decline.
The “30% rule” is a longtime piece of personal finance gospel that advises keeping all housing expenses, including rent or mortgage payments, property taxes and utilities, from cutting into more than 30% of your monthly income.
From 2015 to 2019, the percentage of U.S. homeowners who were considered financially strapped dropped each year, from 29.4% in 2015 to 26.5% in 2019. But the pandemic has now started to erase those gains.
Los Angeles and New York mirror that national trend: In Los Angeles, where nearly half of homeowners are currently house poor, the number of cash-strapped owners dropped 4 percentage points between 2015 and 2019 but is now climbing again. The same goes for New York City, where in 2021, more than 45% of homeowners were house poor, up from 41.3% in 2019.
Miami, however, bucked the trend: The percentage of house-poor homeowners there was 44.6% in 2021, down 2 1/2 points from 2019.
What’s next: Federal interest rates might offer relief.
The Federal Reserve, fighting an uphill battle against inflation, has increased interest rates every month since March 2022. And while the Fed does not set mortgage rates, many home loans are tethered to their actions.
America’s central bank is now signaling that after nearly a year of consecutive rate increases, a break is on the horizon.
“That could signal some relief, at least for new homeowners,” said Collin Czarnecki, a researcher at Chamber of Commerce.
A Small Town’s Tragedy, Distorted by Trump’s Megaphone
Charles Homans and Ken Bensinger – May 29, 2023
McHENRY, N.D. — There were no known witnesses when Shannon Brandt and Cayler Ellingson got into an argument in the blurry hours after last call at Buck’s n Doe’s Bar & Grill in September. And no one but Brandt could say with certainty what led him to run over Ellingson with his Ford Explorer, crushing him to death in a gravel alley.
But the people of McHenry, a town of 64 in sparsely populated Foster County, North Dakota, have gotten used to hearing from people who think they know.
They include former President Donald Trump, who denounced the killing of Ellingson, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate, at the hands of a “deranged Democrat maniac who was angry that Cayler was a Republican” in a Truth Social post. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia described Brandt on Twitter as a “Democrat political terrorist” and cited the case as evidence that “Democrats want Republicans dead, and they’ve already started the killings.”
Trump and Greene were among a chorus of Republican politicians — including several members of Congress and the attorney general of North Dakota — who rushed to condemn Brandt. They relied on a handful of early news stories that cited a state highway patrol officer’s report, which suggested Brandt killed Ellingson because he believed he was a “Republican extremist.”
That claim, made weeks before the midterm elections, ignited a brief national political firestorm. Republican politicians and right-wing media figures claimed that Brandt had been inspired by President Joe Biden’s recent warnings about “extremism” in the Republican Party. They complained that news media coverage of political violence willfully ignored instances when the assailants were Democrats.
But the episode quickly became an example of another media phenomenon: the distortion of complex, painful events to fit an opportune political narrative.
Although evidence in the case suggests the two men argued about politics that night, law enforcement officials concluded quickly that the killing was not politically motivated. The prosecutor for Foster County who brought the charges never accused Brandt of running over Ellingson because of political beliefs.
Acquaintances and a family member could not recall Brandt, a 42-year-old welder with no history of party registration, expressing political views.
Late last month, the murder charge against Brandt was downgraded to manslaughter, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. He agreed on May 18 to plead guilty.
By averting a courtroom trial, the plea leaves many questions hanging over a still largely unexplained incident — and over a town that found itself swept abruptly into a national political cyclone and just as abruptly cast out.
In conversations this month, residents of McHenry — a conservative, close-knit agricultural community where most families, including the Ellingsons and the Brandts, have known each other for decades, if not generations — said the narrative of the tragedy that Trump and others promoted never made much sense to them. But except for a handful of county officials, they have shied away from speaking on the record about it.
Robyn Sorum, the mayor of McHenry, said she had advised the community against doing so to avoid worsening local tensions around the case. “Anywhere something like this happens, it’s a tragedy, you know?” she said. “But then you get to a small town where everyone knows each other, it makes it even rougher.”
Ellingson’s family did not comment. Brandt, through his attorney, Mark Friese, declined an interview.
Friese, who did not discuss details of the incident, described the aftermath as a cautionary tale. “I think we’re going to see more of this,” he said. “Things end up being tried on social media instead of in the courtroom.”
A Confusing Encounter
The town of McHenry sits on a crosshatch of gravel roads etched into an undulating plain of wheat and soybean farms and Angus cattle ranches. The nearest landmarks of any significance, a 30- and 60-minute drive away, respectively, are a decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missile silo and the world’s largest concrete buffalo.
“It’s a nice little town,” said Sorum, who is also the proprietor of the Hunting Shack cafe, the only business besides Buck’s n Doe’s on the town’s main thoroughfare. “Everybody tries to help everybody else.”
On the night of Sept. 17, 100 or so people from McHenry and surrounding towns gathered outside of Buck’s n Doe’s for McHenry Days, a local festival. After midnight, when a three-piece country band from Fargo packed up and went home, some of the festival goers drifted into the bar.
The crowd included Ellingson, who had come to the festival with his family and stayed behind with his brother after their parents drove back to nearby Grace City. And it included Brandt, who came from a locally prominent family that had lived in McHenry since the early 20th century. His father and uncle had shot the immense trophy elks that looked down upon patrons from the walls of the bar.
Buck’s n Doe’s closed at 2 a.m. Fifty-five minutes later, the county 911 dispatcher received a call from Brandt. “I hit a man with my vehicle,” he said in the recording of the call.
At the time, Ellingson was alive and conscious but badly injured. He died later that morning at a hospital.
The next day, two Fargo television stations reported that a sworn declaration from a highway patrol officer said that Brandt had claimed Ellingson “was part of a Republican extremist group” and admitted to hitting the teen with his car “because he had a political argument” with him. The highway patrolman’s statement was based on a recording of the 911 call and an interview of Brandt by two other law enforcement officers.
But the declaration appears to have mischaracterized the 911 call. And the prosecutor never presented evidence that showed Brandt told officers that he ran into the teen because of the argument or that he believed he was part of an extremist group. Five days after the incident, a captain in the North Dakota State Highway Patrol told reporters that his agency had concluded the killing was “not political in nature at all.”
Subsequent court filings and testimony instead revealed a murkier, more confused encounter.
In phone calls, Brandt and Ellingson both made a reference to some sort of political dispute. Both called family members during the encounter, and each described feeling threatened, according to court records.
Ellingson told his mother “some politics had got brought up” and Brandt “didn’t like what he had to say,” according to a state Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent who interviewed Ellingson’s mother. She recalled her son saying “something to the effect of, ‘They’re on to me. I should round up my cousins or my posse,’” the agent testified.
In his 911 call after he hit Ellingson, Brandt said the teenager had said “something about some Republican extremist group,” but he did not claim Ellingson was a member. Brandt told the dispatcher he believed the teen was “calling other guys to come get me.” There’s no evidence Ellingson did so.
In the 911 call, Brandt described trying to leave in a panic only to be blocked by Ellingson. At one point he said he knew his running over Ellingson had been “more than” an accident. But he otherwise insisted the act had been unintentional. “I never meant to hurt him,” he told the dispatcher.
Both men were intoxicated. Brandt’s family and Friese say Brandt has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, which Friese argued was a relevant factor in the case. An autopsy by the state forensic medical examiner ruled the cause of death as “accidental.”
In the days after the episode, several local news outlets published articles. As is typical with early reports, those first stories relied heavily on the sparse details provided by law enforcement records.
“Man admits to killing teen after political dispute in Foster Co., court docs allege,” was the headline published online by Valley News Live, a news outlet based in Fargo, the day after Ellingson’s death.
The next morning, Gateway Pundit, a right-wing site that regularly seeds stories in the conservative media, wrote its own version under the headline “Crazed North Dakota man runs over and kills teen for ‘extremist’ Republican views.”
That evening, the case hit Fox News’s prime-time lineup, where it stayed for days. “This is a guy who intended to kill an 18-year-old Republican because he was a Republican,” Jeanine Pirro said during an on-air debate about the incident, claiming that Brandt chased Ellingson in his vehicle.
Pirro blamed Biden, who she said “is the one who started this extremist hate” when he made a speech about the perils of far-right extremism earlier that month. On Twitter, Greene posted a clip of Biden referencing “extreme MAGA Republicans,” adding that Ellingson was “executed in cold blood by a Democrat political terrorist because of rhetoric like this.”
The case spread across the right-wing ecosystem, from Jack Posobiec, the far-right conspiracy theorist and podcaster, to Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who appeared on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show, calling Brandt a “terrible guy.” State Attorney General Drew H. Wrigley condemned the episode as “hateful violence.”
In McHenry and the neighboring town of Glenfield, where Brandt lives, acquaintances said they were surprised by the claims of a political motive. There is no evidence in public records or court filings suggesting Brandt is a Democrat.
“I can honestly tell you, I don’t know who Shannon voted for in the last presidential election,” Ashley Brandt-Duda, Brandt’s sister, said in an interview. Although their parents are both registered Republicans, “I would say my family is quite apolitical,” she said.
Brandt’s reference to extremists was similarly met with surprise in McHenry, where both residents and law enforcement officials profess to know little about such groups. The county sheriff’s records do mention one previously unreported incident: In October, a long-shuttered local school was found to have been vandalized, its interior walls spray-painted with the stenciled logo of Patriot Front, a white nationalist group.
The building’s owner, David Ludwig, initially told a sheriff’s deputy that the break-in happened the weekend of Ellingson’s killing. But when reached by The New York Times, he said that timing was just a guess. Justin Johnson, the Foster County sheriff, said he considered the incident to be “totally unrelated.”
Nothing on public record suggests that Ellingson or Brandt had links to extremist groups.
‘Everything Just Exploded’
In the week and a half after Ellingson’s death, the case was discussed on at least seven Fox News shows. The coverage continued well after law enforcement officials had said the killing was not politically motivated, a point that was only occasionally mentioned on-air.
Brandt-Duda said her parents left their home in McHenry out of concern for their safety. When they returned about a week later, they found more than 50 threatening messages on their answering machine.
They received numerous threatening letters, too, Brandt-Duda said. One was written on the margins of an article about the incident from The New York Post, she said. The newspaper covered the case extensively and also published an opinion column arguing that the “president of the United States, supported by a fan-girl media, spouts irresponsible rhetoric that led to Ellingson’s death.”
“Everything just exploded,” Brandt-Duda said.
The county court and sheriff’s offices also received numerous threats, according to multiple local officials. On Sept. 29, 11 days after Ellingson’s death, the county prosecutor, Kara Brinster, dropped the initial charge of vehicular homicide, which is used for fatal drunken driving accidents, for a new one: intentional homicide, which carries a sentence of up to life in prison.
Brinster did not respond to requests for comment on the decision.
Then, as quickly as it swelled, the media frenzy receded. Fox Digital, the TV network’s online arm, continued to publish articles that acknowledged the more complicated story that was emerging from officials. But Fox News’ hosts did not mention the case on-air again after Sept. 30.
Asked for comment, a Fox spokesperson, Jessica Ketner, noted the company’s online articles but did not comment on the network’s television coverage.
Gateway Pundit, too, stopped publishing stories on the case. Politicians who had been quick to speak out appeared to lose interest. Trump, Greene, Jordan and Wrigley did not respond to requests for comment.
This month, after Brinster dismissed the intentional homicide charge, the decision merited little more attention than a front-page story in The Foster County Independent and an article by The Associated Press.
But just as Brandt agreed to plead guilty, Posobiec, the right-wing podcaster, took up the story again. In a segment on his daily show, he singled out the prosecutor, claiming she had gone soft on Brandt. He posted her photograph and phone number online, and told listeners to call her to complain.
“Maybe Kara Brinster should be prosecuted,” he said. “Maybe we should look into her.”
Struggles continue for thousands in Florida 8 months after Hurricane Ian as new storm season looms
Curt Anderson – May 28, 2023
FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Eight months ago, chef Michael Cellura had a restaurant job and had just moved into a fancy new camper home on Fort Myers Beach. Now, after Hurricane Ian swept all that away, he lives in his older Infiniti sedan with a 15-year-old long-haired chihuahua named Ginger.
Like hundreds of others, Cellura was left homeless after the Category 5 hurricane blasted the barrier island last September with ferocious winds and storm surge as high as 15 feet (4 meters). Like many, he’s struggled to navigate insurance payouts, understand federal and state assistance bureaucracy and simply find a place to shower.
“There’s a lot of us like me that are displaced. Nowhere to go,” Cellura, 58, said during a recent interview next to his car, sitting in a commercial parking lot along with other storm survivors housed in recreational vehicles, a converted school bus, even a shipping container. “There’s a lot of homeless out here, a lot of people living in tents, a lot of people struggling.”
Recovery is far from complete in hard-hit Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Pine Island, with this year’s Atlantic hurricane season officially beginning June 1. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting a roughly average tropical storm season forecast of 12 to 17 named storms, five to nine becoming hurricanes and one to four powering into major hurricanes with winds greater than 110 mph (177 kph).
Another weather pattern that can suppress Atlantic storms is the El Nino warming expected this year in the Pacific Ocean, experts say. Yet the increasingly warmer water in the Atlantic basin fueled by climate change could offset the El Nino effect, scientists say.
In southwest Florida, piles of debris are everywhere. Demolition and construction work is ongoing across the region. Trucks filled with sand rumble to renourish the eroded beaches. Blank concrete slabs reveal where buildings, many of them once charming, decades-old structures that gave the towns their relaxed beach vibe, were washed away or torn down.
Some people, like Fort Myers Beach resident Jacquelyn Velazquez, are living in campers or tents on their property while they await sluggish insurance checks or building permits to restore their lives.
“It’s, you know, it’s in the snap of the finger. Your life is never going to be the same,” she said next to her camper, provided under a state program. “It’s not the things that you lose. It’s just trying to get back to some normalcy.”
Ian claimed more than 156 lives in the U.S., the vast majority in Florida, according to a comprehensive NOAA report on the hurricane. In hard-hit Lee County — location of Fort Myers Beach and the other seaside towns — 36 people died from drowning in storm surge and more than 52,000 structures suffered damage, including more than 19,000 destroyed or severely damaged, a NOAA report found.
Even with state and federal help, the scale of the disaster has overwhelmed these small towns that were not prepared to deal with so many problems at once, said Chris Holley, former interim Fort Myers Beach town manager.
“Probably the biggest challenge is the craziness of the debris removal process. We’ll be at it for another six months,” Holley said. “Permitting is a huge, huge problem for a small town. The staff just couldn’t handle it.”
Then there’s battles with insurance companies and navigating how to obtain state and federal aid, which is running into the billions of dollars. Robert Burton and his partner Cindy Lewis, both 71 and from Ohio, whose mobile home was totaled by storm surge, spent months living with friends and family until finally a small apartment was provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They can stay there until March 2024 while they look for a new home.
Their mobile home park next to the causeway to Sanibel is a ghost town, filled with flooded-out homes soon to be demolished, many of them with ruined furniture inside, clothes still in closets, art still on the walls. Most homes had at least three feet of water inside.
“No one has a home. That park will not be reopened as a residential community,” Lewis said. “So everybody lost.”
The state Office of Insurance Regulation estimated the total insured loss from Ian in Florida was almost $14 billion, with more than 143,000 claims still open without payment or claims paid but not fully settled as of March 9.
With so many people in limbo, places like the heavily damaged Beach Baptist Church in Fort Myers Beach provide a lifeline, with a food pantry, a hot lunch stand, showers and even laundry facilities for anyone to use. Pastor Shawn Critser said about 1,200 families per month are being served at the church through donated goods.
“We’re not emergency feeding now. We’re in disaster recovery mode,” Critser said. “We want to see this continue. We want to have a constant presence.”
In nearby Sanibel, the lingering damage is not quite as widespread although many businesses remain shuttered as they are repaired and storm debris is everywhere. Seven local retail stores have moved into a shopping center in mainland Fort Myers, hoping to continue to operate while awaiting insurance payouts, construction permits, or both before returning to the island.
They call themselves the “Sanibel Seven,” said Rebecca Binkowski, owner of MacIntosh Books and Paper that has been a Sanibel fixture since 1960. She said her store had no flood insurance and lost about $100,000 worth of books and furnishings in the storm.
“The fact of the matter is, we can get our businesses back up and running but without hotels to put people in, without our community moving back, it’s going to be hard to do business,” she said. “You hope this is still a strong community.”
Yet, the sense among many survivors is one of hope for the future, even if it looks very different.
Cellura, the chef living in his car, has a new job at another location of the Nauti Parrot restaurant on the mainland. Insurance only paid off the outstanding loan amount on his destroyed camper and he didn’t qualify for FEMA aid, leaving him with virtually nothing to start over and apartment rents rising fast.
But, after 22 years on the island, he’s not giving up.
“I believe that things will work out. I’m strong. I’m a survivor,” he said. “Every day I wake up, it’s another day to just continue on and try to make things better.”
AP visual journalist Laura Bargfeld and photographer Rebecca Blackwell contributed to this story.
State Farm said while it takes its responsibility to manage risk “seriously” and will continue to work with state policymakers and the California Department of Insurance to help build market capacity in California, the decision was necessary to ensure the company remains in good financial standing.
“It’s necessary to take these actions now to improve the company’s financial strength,” the statement read. “We will continue to evaluate our approach based on changing market conditions. State Farm® independent contractor agents licensed and authorized in California will continue to serve existing customers for these products and new customers for products not impacted by this decision.”
A decadeslong megadrought and climate change have been exacerbating wildfire risk in California in recent years. Severe drought during the winter is leading to matchbox conditions in the dry season, allowing intense wildfires to ignite with the slightest spark.
The warm, dry climate that serves as fuel for wildfires is typical for much of the West, but hotter overall temperatures on Earth are increasing wildfire risk in the region.
Last year, the Mosquito Fire destroyed dozens of homes in El Dorado and Placer counties. In 2021, the Dixie Fire destroyed more than 100 homes in the town of Greenville.
The Creek Fire in 2020 became the largest single fire in California history, damaging or destroying nearly 1,000 structures and burning through about 380,000 acres.
Rebuilding from wildfire destruction is expensive, expensive, experts have found.
The reconstruction costs from the 2022 Coastal Fire in Southern California were estimated to be $530 million, and only 20 homes were destroyed, according to a report by property solutions firm CoreLogic.
In addition, the nationwide impact of California’s 2018 wildfire season — which included the Camp Fire, the most destructive in California history — totaled $148.5 billion in economic damage, according to a study by the University College London.
The state’s FAIR Plan provides basic fire insurance coverage for high-risk properties when traditional insurance companies will not, but that plan is the last resort, Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communication for the Insurance Information Institute, told ABC San Francisco station KGO.
“It’s a basic policy, only covers fire – you have to get a wraparound policy too to cover theft and liability,” she said.