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American diets got briefly healthier, more diverse during COVID-19 pandemic | Penn State University

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — American diets may have gotten healthier and more diverse in the months following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study led by Penn State researchers.

The study — published in PLOS ONE — found that as states responded to the pandemic with school closures and other lockdown measures, citizens’ diet quality improved by up to 8.5% and food diversity improved by up to 2.6%.

Co-author Edward Jaenicke, professor of agricultural economics in the College of Agricultural Sciences, said the findings provide a snapshot of what Americans’ diet and eating habits might look like in the nearly complete absence of restaurant and cafeteria eating.

“When dine-in restaurants closed, our diets got a little more diverse and a little healthier,” Jaenicke said. “One post-pandemic lesson is that we now have some evidence that any future shifts away from restaurant expenditures, even those not caused by the pandemic, could improve Americans’ food diversity and healthfulness.”

Prior to the pandemic, the researchers said, the average U.S. diet was considered generally unhealthy. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, eating patterns in the U.S. have remained far below the guidelines’ recommendations, with only slight improvements in the population’s average Healthy Eating Index score between 2005 and 2016.

Also, before the pandemic, the research team was in the midst of a grant-funded project that asked how people would feed themselves after a giant global catastrophe, such as an asteroid strike or nuclear war. In particular, Jaenicke’s team was tasked with investigating how consumers and food retailers might behave during such a disaster.

“At first, the most impactful events we could study using actual, real-world data were hurricanes and other natural disasters,” Jaenicke said. “But then, along came the COVID-19 pandemic, and we realized that this event was an opportunity to study the closest thing we had to a true global catastrophe.”

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the NielsenIQ Homescan Consumer Panel on grocery purchases, which includes 41,570 nationally representative U.S. households. Data consisted of the quantity and price paid for every universal product code each family purchased during the study period.

Data was gathered from both before the pandemic hit and after the pandemic led to schools, restaurants and other establishments temporarily closing. Because states did not respond to the pandemic simultaneously, the researchers designated each household’s post-pandemic period as the weeks following the date that their county of residence closed schools in 2020.

Jaenicke noted that this allowed the team to show a true causal effect of the pandemic school closures, which generally occurred around the same time that restaurants and other eateries also closed.

“To establish causality, an individual household’s pre- and post-pandemic food purchases were first compared to the same household’s food purchases from one year earlier,” Jaenicke said. “This way, we controlled for the food-purchasing habits, preferences and idiosyncrasies of individual households.”

The researchers found that in the two to three months following pandemic-based school closures — spanning March to June 2020, depending on the specific U.S. state — there were modest increases in Americans’ food diversity, defined as how many different categories of food a person eats over a period of time.

They also found larger, temporary increases in diet quality, meaning the foods purchased were healthier. This was measured by how closely a household’s purchases adhered to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Thrifty Food Plan, which was designed to meet the requirements of the recommended healthy diet according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

These patterns were found across households with many different demographics; however, those households with young children, lower incomes and without a car exhibited smaller increases in these measures.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, dine-in restaurants closed, schools and school cafeterias closed, and many supermarket shelves were empty,” Jaenicke said. “Since about 50% of Americans’ food dollars are spent on ‘away from home’ food from restaurants and cafeterias, the pandemic was a major shock to the food system.”

The researchers said there are several possible explanations for these findings. First, because other studies have found that food from restaurants is often less healthy than food made at home, the dramatic decrease of meals eaten at and purchased from restaurants during the pandemic could have contributed to an increase of food diversity and healthfulness at home.

Second, they said it was possible that a global pandemic triggered some consumers to become more health conscious and contributed to them buying healthier, more diverse groceries. Third, because the pandemic caused widespread disruptions to the supply chain, it’s possible that when familiar products were sold out, consumers shifted to newer ones that led to increased diversity and healthfulness.

Finally, school and business closures may have led to many households having more time to cook and prepare foods than they had before, while others — like those with small children — may have had less free time than pre-pandemic.

Jaenicke said that in the future, additional studies could continue to explore how different disasters affect purchasing and eating habits.

Douglas Wrenn, associate professor of environmental and resource economics at Penn State, and Daniel Simandjuntak, research associate at Newcastle University, were also co-authors on the study.

Open Philanthropy helped support this research.

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J.D. Vance, Trump's VP pick, explained - Vox

Vox
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I met Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), Donald Trump’s new choice for vice president, in the summer of 2022. I was covering a conservative conference in Israel, and Vance was the surprise VIP attraction. We chatted for a bit about the connections between right-wing movements across the world, and what American conservatives could learn from foreign peers. He was friendly, thoughtful, and smart — much smarter than the average politician I’ve interviewed.

Yet his worldview is fundamentally incompatible with the basic principles of American democracy.

Vance has said that, had he been vice president in 2020, he would have carried out Trump’s scheme for the vice president to overturn the election results. He has fundraised for January 6 rioters. He once called on the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into a Washington Post columnist who penned a critical piece about Trump. After last week’s assassination attempt on Trump, he attempted to whitewash his radicalism by blaming the shooting on Democrats’ rhetoric about democracy without an iota of evidence.

This worldview translates into a very aggressive agenda for a second Trump presidency. In a podcast interview, Vance said that Trump should “fire every single mid-level bureaucrat” in the US government and “replace them with our people.” If the courts attempt to stop this, Vance says, Trump should simply ignore the law.

“You stand before the country, like Andrew Jackson did, and say the chief justice has made his ruling, now let him enforce it,” he declares.

The President Jackson quote is likely apocryphal, but the history is real. Vance is referring to an 1832 case, Worcester v. Georgia, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the US government needed to respect Native legal rights to land ownership. Jackson ignored the ruling, and continued a policy of allowing whites to take what belonged to Natives. The end result was the ethnic cleansing of about 60,000 Natives — an event we now call the Trail of Tears.

For most Americans, this history is a deep source of shame: an authoritarian president trampling on the rule of law to commit atrocities. For Vance, it is a well of inspiration.

J.D. Vance is a man who believes that the current government is so corrupt that radical, even authoritarian steps, are justified in response. He sees himself as the avatar of America’s virtuous people, whose political enemies are interlopers scarcely worthy of respect. He is a man of the law who believes the president is above it.

J.D. Vance wasn’t always like this.

He grew up poor in Middletown, Ohio — escaping a difficult childhood to make it to Yale Law and, subsequently, to the lucrative world of venture capital. This narrative served as the backbone of his 2016 book, Hillbilly Elegy, that turned into a mega-bestseller: a book that seemed to explain Trump’s appeal to America’s downtrodden. It put Vance on the national map.

The Vance of Hillbilly Elegy was very different politically. Back then, he took a conventional conservative line on poverty, describing the working class as beset by a cultural pathology encouraged by federal handouts and the welfare state.

2016 Vance was also an ardent Trump foe. He wrote a New York Times op-ed titled “Mr. Trump Is Unfit For Our Nation’s Highest Office,” and wrote a text to his law school roommate warning that Trump might be “America’s Hitler.”

Eight years later, Vance has metamorphosed into something else entirely. Today, he pitches himself as an economic populist and cosponsors legislation with Sen. Elizabeth Warren curtailing pay for failed bankers. In an even more extreme shift, he has morphed into one of Trump’s leading champions in the Senate — backing the former president to the hilt and even, at times, outpacing him in anti-democratic fervor.

When I spoke to Georgia state Sen. Josh McLaurin (D) — the former law school roommate who had received Vance’s “America’s Hitler” text — I asked him how the Vance he knew evolved into the Vance we see today.

“The through line between former J.D. and current J.D. is anger,” McLaurin told me. “The Trump turn can be understood as a lock-in on contempt as the answer to anger” — specifically, contempt directed at Vance’s political enemies.

McLaurin’s comments suggest that Vance’s conversion to Trumpism is genuine. I’m inclined to agree, though the timing of his MAGA conversion surely is convenient: He converted to right-wing populism just in time to run for a vacant seat in Trumpy Ohio.

Ultimately, whether Vance truly believes what he’s saying is secondary to the public persona he’s chosen to adopt. Politicians are not defined by their inner lives, but the decisions that they make in public — the ones that actually affect law and policy. Those choices are deeply shaped by the constituencies they depend on and the allies they court.

And it is clear that Vance is deeply ensconced in the GOP’s growing “national conservative” faction, which pairs an inconsistent economic populism with an authoritarian commitment to crushing liberals in the culture war.

Vance has cited Curtis Yarvin, a Silicon Valley monarchist blogger, as the source of his ideas about firing bureaucrats and defying the Supreme Court. His Senate campaign was funded by Vance’s former employer, Peter Thiel, a billionaire who once wrote that “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

He’s a big fan of Patrick Deneen, a Notre Dame professor who recently wrote a book calling for “regime change” in America. Vance spoke at an event for Deneen’s book in Washington, describing himself as a member of the “postliberal right” who sees his job in Congress as taking an “explicitly anti-regime” stance.

Vance is also an open admirer of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a right-wing politician who has systematically torn his country’s democracy apart. Vance praised Orbán’s approach to higher education in particular, saying he “made some smart decisions there that we could learn from in the United States.” The policies in question involve using national dollars to impose state controls over universities, turning them into vehicles for disseminating the government line.

In a profile of Vance, Politico reporter Ian Ward quotes multiple leading Republican figures — specifically, the leaders of the faction trying to turn these postliberal ideas into practice — saying that they see Vance as a leading advocate for their cause.

Top Trump advisor (and current federal inmate) Steve Bannon told Ward that Vance is “at the nerve center of this movement.” Kevin Roberts, the president of the right-wing Heritage Foundation and the driving force behind Project 2025, told Ward that “he is absolutely going to be one of the leaders — if not the leader — of our movement.”

There is little doubt that Vance will continue in this role if elected vice president. He would enable all of Trump’s worst instincts, and put a brake on none — deploying his considerable intellectual and intrapersonal gifts toward bending the government to Trump’s will.

In Trump’s first term, he faced considerable opposition from inside his own administration. People like Defense Secretary James Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence served as brakes on Trump’s most radical impulses, challenging or even refusing to implement his (illegal) directives.

Vance’s ascendance represents the death of this “adults in the room” model. Backed by people drawn from the lists of loyal staffers being prepared by places like Heritage, Vance would not only support Trump’s radical impulses but seems likely to spearhead efforts to implement them.

He would be a direct conduit from the shadowy world of far-right influencers, where Curtis Yarvin is a respected voice and Viktor Orbán a role model, straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

In 2004, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean described himself as hailing from “the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.” If the GOP under Trump has indeed evolved into an authoritarian party, then Vance hails from its authoritarian wing.

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Housing: Biden to announce rent cap plan amid housing inflation - The Washington Post

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President Biden will unveil a new proposal in Nevada on Tuesday to cap rental costs nationwide, according to three people familiar with the matter, as he works to assuage Democratic concerns about the viability of his candidacy while the Republican convention gets underway.

The policy push reflects the White House’s efforts to respond to widespread voter anger over high housing prices, which have soared since the pandemic and undermined Biden’s standing among voters about the economy. Nevada has seen among the biggest explosions of housing costs in the country, and Democrats have grown increasingly concerned that Trump could win the state in November.

Biden’s plan — which would need to be approved by Congress — calls for stripping a tax benefit from landlords who increase their tenants’ rent more than 5 percent per year, the people said. The measure would only apply to landlords who own more than 50 units, which represents roughly half of all rental properties, the people said. It wouldn’t cover units that have not yet been built, in an attempt to ensure that the policy does not discourage construction of new rental housing. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a proposal that isn’t yet public.

The president hinted at the plan during his news conference at the conclusion of the NATO summit last Thursday, surprising aides who didn’t expect to reveal the announcement yet. Biden also referenced a plan to “cap rents” during his late June debate with Trump, although he has not explained the policy publicly or how it would work.

“It’s time to get things back in order a little bit. For example, if I’m reelected, we’re going to make sure that rents are capped at 5 percent increase — corporate rents, for apartments and the like, and homes, are limited to 5 percent,” Biden said at the news conference.

A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Tenant advocates — and scores of renters — would probably welcome the move. Housing costs continue to drive overall inflation, and rent often ranks as a top budget item for lower-income families with fewer and fewer options for affordable homes. Fresh inflation data released last week showed much-awaited progress on rent costs. But it is too soon to tell whether that will stick.

Tara Raghuveer, director of the National Tenant Union Federation, said the move was “monumental” and a strong signal of the federal government’s responsibility to regulate the rental market.

“For now, this directive is just messaging,” Raghuveer said. “Tenants need action. Congress must act, and the president can and must take the first step by immediately regulating rents in federally financed housing.”

The plan is also likely to prove controversial among economists, including many Democrats. Experts on both sides of the aisle tend to argue that government limits on rent discourage new development by making it less lucrative. Housing is so expensive in America in large part because there simply aren’t enough homes, with economists estimating a shortage of between 1.5 million to 5 million units. With construction and labor costs already high, some fear that developers could respond to new restrictions by reducing new construction.

“Rent control has been about as disgraced as any economic policy in the tool kit. The idea we’d be reviving and expanding it will ultimately make our housing supply problems worse, not better,” said Jason Furman, who served as a top economist in the Obama administration and is now a professor at Harvard.

That’s the case even if future units are exempted, Furman said, because it could change how developers consider their incentives.

White House officials, however, say the rent cap would give short-term relief to renters before millions of new housing units become available in two years, which should also drive down prices. (The Biden plan would only apply to rental units for two years, by which point, in theory, this fresh supply would alleviate costs.) The Biden administration is also pushing numerous policies to increase housing construction, through incentives to local governments to change their zoning codes and new federal financial incentives for builders. If implemented, they could bring 2 million new units to the market in addition to the 1.6 million already in the pipeline.

“It would make little sense to make this move by itself. But you have to look at it in the context of the moves they propose to make to expand supply,” said Jim Parrott, nonresident fellow at the Urban Institute and co-owner of Parrott Ryan Advisors. “The question is: Even if we get all these new units built, what do we do about rising rents in the meantime? Coming up with a relatively targeted bridge to help renters while new supply is coming on line makes a fair amount of sense.”

After Biden raised the idea of a rent cap, a coalition of major housing groups, including the National Multifamily Housing Council, National Apartment Association and Mortgage Bankers Association, said such a policy would backfire on those who need it most.

“Despite President Biden’s mention of rent caps during the debate, he and his policy experts know that the real reason so many Americans struggle with housing costs is because we need to build more housing. There is no debate,” the groups said in a statement.

Biden has been trailing Trump in most Nevada polls. On top of that, a national poll from Gallup in May found that 41 percent of Americans cite inflation and the high cost of living as the most important financial problem facing their families, followed by the 14 percent of voters who cite the cost of owning or renting a home.

The White House has for months tried different policy ideas to respond to voter frustration over housing, including rent caps on certain affordable housing units subsidized by the federal government and a proposal to provide a $5,000 tax credit to first-time home buyers.

The administration has been under pressure by allies to mount a more forceful response: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), for instance, has pushed the White House to back more aggressive action on housing, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversation. She also traveled to Nevada to call for action against corporate landlords last month.

“We’re going to make sure that we reduce the price of housing,” Biden said at the debate. “We’re going to make sure we build 2 million new units. We’re going to make sure we cap rents so corporate greed can’t take over.”

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Jailbreaking RabbitOS (The Hard Way) | Blog

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How Bad Amazon Review Destroyed Beau

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Researchers discover underwater submarine canyons in month-long survey of sea floor - ABC News

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Deep below the surface, in waters off Australia's east coast, lies a network of what scientists are now calling "sea floor super highways".

The scientific name is submarine canyons, which are large cliffs and deep ravines kilometres underwater.

A first-of-its-kind survey has now proved the canyons are a hotbed for marine species, stunning experts.

"When we poked our nose into these deep submarine canyons, it was quite incredible. We saw deep coral reefs and a stingray down at almost 3,000 metres," said co-chief scientist Dr Chris Chapman.

The canyons gradually descend to the sea floor, connecting the bottom of the sea to the continental shelf of Australia.

"So, they're carved into the side of this massive wall, much like a river valley or canyons you might see on land," Dr Chapman explained.

"For people who may think the sea floor is flat and featureless, I am here to disabuse them of that notion."

The new discoveries were made on-board the RV (research vessel) Investigator, the CSIRO's research ship, which ventured out from Sydney for almost a month to research the unique ecosystem.

Researchers worked in collaboration with Marine Parks Australia and the Gumgaynggir Sea Country Rangers.

The group now believes the canyons could act as a "super highway", to help transport nutrients up to the shore, where they're needed.

"The deep waters are a reservoir of nutrients and the key to the game is getting those deep nutrients up to the shallow waters, where wildlife and marine flora and fauna can make use of them," Dr Chapman said.

"We think canyons might be a way that this happens."

High-tech discovery

On board the Investigator a combination of sonar technology and high-definition cameras were the eyes for the scientists almost 4 kilometres below the surface.

It's something Marine Parks Australia's Rob McKinnon says he's never seen before.

"To see the life at depth is amazing looking at the towed camera — the fish life, the landforms down at the bottom of those canyons," he said.

The camera quality goes well beyond other traditional forms of observation like scuba diving, giving a rare insight into species that are hard to spot.

"[Species] I heard about but never seen before, like the dumbo octopus and a really unfortunately-named fish called the bony-eared assfish," Mr McKinnon laughed.

Data will be examined over years

The discoveries made on the Investigator will likely take years to sift through, with a large trove of data to analyse.

But scientists hope their discoveries will bring more light to the deepest and darkest parts of our oceans.

For Marine Parks Australia, those discoveries could help shape their management plans, which could be used to inform government policy, including fisheries and environmental regulations.

"That plan will come under review in the next couple of years and all this information that comes in will help that review," Mr McKinnon explained.

Indigenous rangers now also have the knowledge of what lies below the ocean and what marine life is in their care.

The month-long journey was the first time ranger Angel Williams has lived on sea, and says the experience has been invaluable. 

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"Knowing exactly what's down there, knowing what the sea floor looks like, is highly important to us," she said.

"We do have a responsibility to look after what we call as kin, so when we have whale season and they pass through our country, we have an obligation to look after them."

As for the Investigator herself, the vessel is off to dry-dock for a mid-life refit after sailing the seas for ten years. 

A fresh lick of paint and new scientific equipment will be welcomed by the crew.

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