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Monday
Mar272017

Study: Video Games Could be Used to Treat Depression

Researchers at the University of California Davis are using video games and brain training applications to treat depression.

The study found that not only can video games potentially treat depression, but when participants are reminded to play games, they are more likely to play more often and increase time playing, which may help patients gain further benefit from the treatment, though the researchers did not measure that.

"Through the use of carefully designed persuasive message prompts... mental health video games can be perceived and used as a more viable and less attrition-ridden treatment option," researchers said in a press release.

The study used six, three-minute specifically designed video games played by 160 student participants with an average age of 21. The study showed in most cases playing a game helped participants feel they had some control over their depression. The games were an adaptation of neurophysiological training tasks shown to improve cognitive control in people with depression.

The messages used to remind participants to play the video games targeted depression as either internal from a chemical imbalance or hereditary, or external from environmental and lifestyle factors. The reminder messages had differences in approach but all concluded with inspirational notes to encourage participants to play the game.

When depression was portrayed as being caused internally, participants reported feeling they could do something to control their depression, which supports research showing brain-training games can induce cognitive changes.

When depression was portrayed as coming from an external cause led users to spend more time playing video games, however researchers said this was due to immediate engagement and did not have long-term results.

Some previous studies have suggested video game-based treatment methods can have an effect in depression treatment, including increasing happiness and decreasing depression among seniors, the researchers in the new study stressed they did not measure whether video game play reduced their participants' symptoms.

The study was published in Computers in Human Behavior.

Monday
Mar272017

"Religious Left" Rises as Political Opposition to Trump

By Scott Malone/UPI

Since President Donald Trump's election, monthly lectures on social justice at the 600-seat Gothic chapel of New York's Union Theological Seminary have been filled to capacity with crowds three times what they usually draw.

In January, the 181-year-old Upper Manhattan graduate school, whose architecture evokes London's Westminster Abbey, turned away about 1,000 people from a lecture on mass incarceration. In the nine years that Reverend Serene Jones has served as its president, she has never seen such crowds.

"The election of Trump has been a clarion call to progressives in the Protestant and Catholic churches in America to move out of a place of primarily professing progressive policies to really taking action," she said.

Although not as powerful as the religious right, which has been credited with helping elect Republican presidents and boasts well-known leaders such as Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson, the "religious left" is now slowly coming together as a force in U.S. politics.

This disparate group, traditionally seen as lacking clout, has been propelled into political activism by Trump's policies on immigration, healthcare and social welfare, according to clergy members, activists and academics. A key test will be how well it will be able to translate its mobilization into votes in the 2018 midterm congressional elections.

"It's one of the dirty little secrets of American politics that there has been a religious left all along and it just hasn't done a good job of organizing," said J. Patrick Hornbeck II, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York.

"It has taken a crisis, or perceived crisis, like Trump's election to cause folks on the religious left to really own their religion in the public square," Hornbeck said.

Religious progressive activism has been part of American history. Religious leaders and their followers played key roles in campaigns to abolish slavery, promote civil rights and end the Vietnam War, among others. The latest upwelling of left-leaning religious activism has accompanied the dawn of the Trump presidency.

Some in the religious left are inspired by Pope Francis, the Roman Catholic leader who has been an outspoken critic of anti-immigrant policies and a champion of helping the needy.

Although support for the religious left is difficult to measure, leaders point to several examples, such as a surge of congregations offering to provide sanctuary to immigrants seeking asylum, churches urging Republicans to reconsider repealing the Obamacare health law and calls to preserve federal spending on foreign aid.

The number of churches volunteering to offer sanctuary to asylum seekers doubled to 800 in 45 of the 50 U.S. states after the election, said the Elkhart, Indiana-based Church World Service, a coalition of Christian denominations which helps refugees settle in the United States - and the number of new churches offering help has grown so quickly that the group has lost count.

"The religious community, the religious left is getting out, hitting the streets, taking action, raising their voices," said Reverend Noel Anderson, its national grassroots coordinator.

In one well-publicized case, a Quaker church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on March 14 took in a Honduran woman who has been living illegally in the United States for 25 years and feared she would be targeted for deportation. 

'NEVER SEEN' THIS 

Leaders of Faith in Public Life, a progressive policy group, were astounded when 300 clergy members turned out at a January rally at the U.S. Senate attempting to block confirmation of Trump's attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, because of his history of controversial statements on race.

"I've never seen hundreds of clergy turning up like that to oppose a Cabinet nominee," said Reverend Jennifer Butler, the group's chief executive.

The group on Wednesday convened a Capitol Hill rally of hundreds of pastors from as far away as Ohio, North Carolina and Texas to urge Congress to ensure that no people lose their health insurance as a result of a vote to repeal Obamacare.

Financial support is also picking up. Donations to the Christian activist group Sojourners have picked up by 30 percent since Trump's election, the group said.

But some observers were skeptical that the religious left could equal the religious right politically any time soon.

"It really took decades of activism for the religious right to become the force that it is today," said Peter Ubertaccio, chairman of the political science department at Stonehill College, a Catholic school outside Boston.

But the power potential of the "religious left" is not negligible. The "Moral Mondays" movement, launched in 2013 by the North Carolina NAACP's Reverend William Barber, is credited with contributing to last year's election defeat of Republican Governor Pat McCrory by Democrat Roy Cooper.

The new political climate is also spurring new alliances, with churches, synagogues and mosques speaking out against the recent spike in bias incidents, including threats against mosques and Jewish community centers.

The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, which encourages alliances between Jewish and Muslim women, has tripled its number of U.S. chapters to nearly 170 since November, said founder Sheryl Olitzky.

"This is not about partisanship, but about vulnerable populations who need protection, whether it's the LGBT community, the refugee community, the undocumented community," said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, using the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

More than 1,000 people have already signed up for the center's annual Washington meeting on political activism, about three times as many as normal, Pesner said. 

Leaders of the religious right who supported Trump say they see him delivering on his promises and welcomed plans to defund Planned Parenthood, whose healthcare services for women include abortion, through the proposed repeal of Obamacare.

"We have not seen any policy proposals that run counter to our faith," said Lance Lemmonds, a spokesman for the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a nonprofit group based in Duluth, Georgia.

Monday
Mar272017

"Bathroom Bill" to Cost N.C. $3.76 Billion

Despite Republican assurances that North Carolina's "bathroom bill" isn't hurting the economy, the law limiting LGBT protections will cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Over the past year, North Carolina has suffered financial hits ranging from scuttled plans for a PayPal facility that would have added an estimated $2.66 billion to the state's economy to a cancelled Ringo Starr concert that deprived a town's amphitheatre of about $33,000 in revenue. The blows have landed in the state's biggest cities as well as towns surrounding its flagship university, and from the mountains to the coast.

North Carolina could lose hundreds of millions more because the NCAA is avoiding the state, usually a favoured host. The group is set to announce sites for various championships through 2022, and North Carolina won't be among them as long as the law is on the books. The NAACP also has initiated a national economic boycott.

The AP analysis (http://apne.ws/2n9GSjE ) — compiled through interviews and public records requests — represents the largest reckoning yet of how much the law, passed one year ago, could cost the state. The law excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections, and requires transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings.

Still, AP's tally ( http://bit.ly/2o9Dzdd ) is likely an underestimation of the law's true costs. The count includes only data obtained from businesses and state or local officials regarding projects that cancelled or relocated because of HB2. A business project was counted only if AP determined through public records or interviews that HB2 was why it pulled out.

Some projects that left, such as a Lionsgate television production that backed out of plans in Charlotte, weren't included because of a lack of data on their economic impact.

The AP also tallied the losses of dozens of conventions, sporting events and concerts through figures from local officials. The AP didn't attempt to quantify anecdotal reports that lacked hard numbers, or to forecast the loss of future conventions.

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan — who leads the largest company based in North Carolina — said he's spoken privately to business leaders who went elsewhere with projects or events because of the controversy, and he fears more decisions like that are being made quietly.

"Companies are moving to other places because they don't face an issue that they face here," he told a World Affairs Council of Charlotte luncheon last month. "What's going on that you don't know about? What convention decided to take you off the list? What location for a distribution facility took you off the list? What corporate headquarters consideration for a foreign company — there's a lot of them out there — just took you off the list because they just didn't want to be bothered with the controversy? That's what eats you up."

Other measures show the country's ninth most populous state has a healthy economy. By quarterly gross domestic product, the federal government said, North Carolina had the nation's 10th fastest-growing economy six months after the law passed. The vast majority of large companies with existing operations in the state — such as American Airlines, with its second-largest hub in Charlotte — made no public moves to financially penalize North Carolina.

Shortly after he signed the law, Republican then-Gov. Pat McCrory issued a statement assuring residents it wouldn't affect North Carolina's status as "one of the top states to do business in the country."

HB2 supporters say its costs have been tiny compared with an economy estimated at more than $500 billion a year, roughly the size of Sweden's. They say they're willing to absorb those costs if the law prevents sexual predators posing as transgender people from entering private spaces to molest women and girls — acts the law's detractors say are imagined.

Monday
Mar272017

Podcast March 26: AIM, PAWS, Old Farm, Kid Venture

Sunday
Mar262017

S.C. Horse Expo Set for Saturday, Sunday in Pendleton

For the second year,  T. Ed Garrison Livestock Arena will host this year's South Carolina Horse Expo Saturday and Sunday, with a variety of events for horse enthusiasts.

The Saturday events, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will feature a day of learing on horse health and disciplines, horse demonstrations in the main arena, and vendors. Sunday will offer a long ride on the Fants Grove Trail.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under.

For more information, please visit here

The 2017 event marks the second year that the equine expo will be held at the Pendleton arena, after 23 years  in Camden.

Sunday
Mar262017

Trump Threatens to Bypass GOP Hardliners on Tax Reform

Fresh off a defeat on U.S. healthcare legislation, the White House warned rebellious conservative lawmakers that they should get behind President Donald Trump's agenda or he may bypass them on future legislative fights, including tax reform.

The threat by White House chief of staff Reince Priebus to build a broad coalition on tax reform that could include moderate Democrats came as the Republican head of the tax-writing committee in the House of Representatives said he hoped to move a tax bill through his panel this spring.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said his committee had been working on tax reform in parallel with the failed healthcare reform push.

"We've never stopped working," Brady told Fox News's "Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo.

"We will continue to make improvements. We are planning to move this in the Ways and Means committee in spring ... and have this ready for the Senate to go as well," Brady said.

Both Trump and Priebus have scolded hardline conservatives who rejected legislation backed by the White House to overhaul Obamacare.

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Priebus held out the possibility of working with moderate Democrats as well as Republicans to pass other aspects of Trump's agenda, such as his proposed budget, the revamp of the tax code and a renewed effort at healthcare reform.

"If we can come up with a bill that accomplishes the goals of the president with Republicans alone, we'll take it and we'll move forward with it," Priebus said.

But he added: "I think it's more or less a warning shot that we're willing to talk to anyone. We always have been and I think more so now than ever."

In an embarrassment for Trump, who had campaigned for the White House on what he said were his skills as a dealmaker, the healthcare bill was pulled on Friday from the floor of the House of Representatives because it failed to draw enough support from within Trump's own Republican Party.

Objections from members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and from moderate Republicans left leaders short of the votes needed for passage, with Democrats unified in opposition.

Trump failed to win over the Freedom Caucus lawmakers despite courting them intensively. Outside conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America that are closely aligned with the Freedom Caucus had strongly opposed the Republican healthcare bill and urged lawmakers to vote against it.

In a tweet on Sunday morning, Trump lashed out at both the Freedom Caucus and the conservative groups, saying their actions had left "Democrats smiling in D.C."

Sunday
Mar262017

Some S.C. Conservatives Now Back Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Rep. Eric Bedingfield once shunned all marijuana use, but when his eldest son's six-year struggle with opioid addiction ended with his overdose a year ago, the conservative Republican co-sponsored medical cannabis legislation.

"My mindset has changed from somebody who looked down on it as a negative substance to saying, 'This has benefits,'" Bedingfield said recently.

The 50-year-old teetotaler believes marijuana may effectively wean addicts from an opioid dependence. Ultimately, the Marine veteran hopes medical marijuana can be an alternative to people being prescribed OxyContin or other opioid painkillers to begin with, helping curb an epidemic he's seen destroy families of all economic levels.

Two decades after California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, efforts to let patients legally access pot are slowly taking root in the South.

While 28 states allow comprehensive medical marijuana programs, only two of those are in the South. Arkansas and Florida voters approved theirs through the ballot last November. Neither is in place yet. A law signed in Louisiana last year, also not yet in effect, doesn't allow the smoking or vaping of marijuana.

This year's renewed push in South Carolina is bolstered by some of the state's most conservative legislators, such as Bedingfield, whose opinions have shifted due to personal losses or the pleadings of parents and pastors in their districts.

Three years ago, state lawmakers passed a very narrow law allowing patients with severe epilepsy, or their caregivers, to legally possess cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive oil derived from marijuana. Bedingfield voted against that idea.

Bill Davis, a Christian author who leads a Bible study for people fighting drug addiction, said he was bedridden before trying marijuana. Diagnosed two years ago with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease with no cure, he was put on an experimental drug with "horrible side effects."

"I had to decide whether I wanted to die of lung disease or kidney or liver failure," Davis said.

Then he started vaping marijuana, which he says allows him to control the amount of CBD and THC he receives.

"I'm praying this state will allow me to be treated legally for me to live" using "a plant that God made," he said.

Republican Rep. Jonathon Hill said he signed onto the bill after hearing Davis' story over dinner at his home.

"He is living, walking proof that there can be some very real benefits," he said.

A bill allowing people with a debilitating medical condition, or their adult caregivers, to legally possess 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana advanced last month to the House's full medical committee. Its Republican backers tout the bill's "seed-to-sale tracking" as guarding against recreational use. A Senate subcommittee is considering an identical bill.

"We shouldn't be forcing a choice between breaking the law or not taking care of members of your family," said Republican Rep. Bill Herbkersman.

Marijuana was the only thing that gave his brother an appetite and kept the pain at bay before he died of skin cancer in 2011, Herbkersman said.

"They call it a gateway drug, but sometimes it's just a gateway to a little bit better life, or what you have left of a life," he said.

The idea still has strong opposition — chiefly from South Carolina's law enforcement agencies, including State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel.

Jarrod Bruder, director of the state Sheriffs' Association, told the House panel that sheriffs can't support legalizing a drug the federal government still puts in the same class as heroin and cocaine.

His predecessor, however, stunned observers when he stood to support the bill.

Jeff Moore, who retired in 2014 after 32 years leading the association, credits marijuana with saving his son's life. But he says it also prevents his son, an Army veteran, from coming home to South Carolina for fear of being arrested.

In 2008, six weeks into his son's first of two tours in Iraq, their convoy was surrounded in Mosul. He watched as five of his friends were killed by an IED and he fought for his life for 2 ½ hours. He suffers from PTSD and traumatic brain injury as that battle scene and others replay in his mind. He was honorably discharged after two suicide attempts, Moore said.

Eventually, his son's father-in-law, a Vietnam veteran, convinced him to move near him in Michigan, where he can legally smoke a high-CBD, low-THC strain of marijuana Moore says does not get him high. He's stopped drinking, returned to college and organized an all-veteran support group. He is also an elder in his church, Moore said.

"His life has made a complete, 180-degree turnaround. Had he stayed in South Carolina, he'd have ended up killing himself," Moore said.

Saturday
Mar252017

More than 6,000 State Jobs Open in S.C.

For South Carolinians who need a job, there are lots of openings in state government.

The State newspaper reports Saturday (http://bit.ly/2mCr4ts ) that low pay and increased workloads contribute to agencies' roughly 6,000 vacancies.

According to the Department of Administration, 14 percent of the state's full-time jobs are vacant. That excludes positions at public universities and in the judicial and legislative branches.

The Corrections Department tops the vacancy list, with 21 percent of its jobs - or nearly 1,300 - unfilled.

Even after recent pay boosts, officers at maximum-security state prisons start at less than $35,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, officers can earn more working for local police and sheriff's departments.

The newspaper reports workloads increased as lawmakers cut 10,000 state government jobs over the past two decades.

 

Saturday
Mar252017

GOP Pivots to New Priority: Tax Reform

After failing to repeal Obamacare, Republicans in the U.S. Congress quickly pivoted on Friday to President Donald Trump's next priority: overhauling the federal tax code, but their plan has already split the business community.

Division among Republicans was the chief cause of the embarrassing setback on Obamacare, and similar fault lines have been evident for months in the Republicans' tax plan, mainly over an untested proposal to use the tax code to boost exports.

House of Representatives tax committee Chairman Kevin Brady conceded the demise of a Republican plan to roll back Obamacare could make the path to tax reform harder. "This made a big challenge more challenging. But it’s not insurmountable," he told Fox News after Ryan canceled a vote on an Obamacare rollback bill.

But Brady said he and House Speaker Paul Ryan are all-in on tax reform.

Brady said House Republicans plan to begin moving on tax reform this spring and to pass legislation before Congress's summer recess in late July.

"We’re going to work with the administration to get this done,” he said.

Trump has been unclear about his position on the most problematic feature of the House Republicans' tax "blueprint," a proposal known as the border adjustment tax that would cut taxes on exports and raise them on imports.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday that tax reform in many ways is "a lot simpler" than healthcare reform.

"We're able to take the tax code and redesign things and I think there is very, very strong support," Mnuchin said at an event hosted by news website Axios.

Comprehensive tax reform is a policy goal so complex that it has defied successive Congresses and presidents since 1986 when it was last accomplished under former President Ronald Reagan.

The U.S. tax code is riddled with narrow subsidies and loopholes, many of them deeply embedded in the economy and defended by the interests they benefit, such as the mortgage interest deduction and the business interest deductibility.

Brady's panel has been working on a plan since mid-2016 that would cut the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent, end taxing foreign profits for U.S.-based multinationals and cut other tax rates for businesses and investors.

Saturday
Mar252017

S.C. Bill Would Mandate Public Sign Language Interpreters

A bill in the S.C. House could make it mandatory for some agencies to hire certified American Sign Language interpreters to ensure one is always available.

The Sign Language Interpreters Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Rita Allison of Spartanburg, was first read in January 2015 and then referred to the Committee on Education and Public Works. A companion measure was introduced in the state Senate last week.

If passed, the bill would require government institutions — law enforcement agencies, court systems and school districts — and health care systems to use a certified interpreter.

“It’s very important, especially with us becoming such a diverse state for the hearing impaired,” Allison said. “We have to have people who have had the proper training and been able to interpret for all languages and for sign language.”

To work in a hospital, school system or law enforcement, interpreters would be required to have nationally recognized certification and to be registered with the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, according to the bill.

They would also have to obtain proper credentials from the South Carolina Association of the Deaf or South Carolina Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, and have credentials from the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

Read More at the SHJ

Friday
Mar242017

Trump Slams Democrats for Failure of GOP Healthcare Plan

President Donald Trump on Friday slammed Democrats and a contingent of holdout conservative lawmakers in the House for effectively killing the Republican proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act -- and handing him the biggest political failure of his presidency to date.

The House shelved a vote scheduled for Friday afternoon on the American Health Care Act because GOP leaders still couldn't find the votes needed to approve and send the proposal on to the Senate.

The House vote was first set for Thursday, scrapped, rescheduled for Friday and scrapped again -- comprising a tumultuous 24 hours that saw Trump and his party mount a final push to get the replacement package for the ACA through the lower chamber.

In the end, though, hesitant conservatives could not talk themselves into voting for the AHCA -- and Trump, recognizing it was doomed to fail, had the bill pulled from Congress.

During a news conference in the Oval Office, a visibly frustrated Trump roundly criticized Democrats and repeatedly dismissed former President Barack Obama's signature health law, also known as "Obamacare," stating that it was "rammed down everyone's throat."

"They weren't going to give us a single vote," he said of House Democrats. "A lot of people don't realize how good our bill was."

Several Republicans have said the president is finished negotiating on the matter and will now just leave the ACA on the books as the healthcare law of the land.

"The best thing we can do, politically speaking, is let Obamacare explode," the president continued. "Bad things are going to happen to Obamacare. There's not much you can do to help it.

"It's not a question of, 'gee, I hope it does well.' I would love it to do well. I want great healthcare for the people of this nation. But it can't do well. It's imploding and will soon explode. And it's not going to be pretty."

Trump also chastised the conservative Republicans who would not get on board with the replacement plan.

"We learned a lot about loyalty," he said.

The president, who repeatedly praised the efforts of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to get the deal done, added that he will now turn his political focus to the next item on his agenda -- tax reform.

Friday
Mar242017

House Plan Would Borrow $500 M for S.C. Projects

South Carolina lawmakers have come up with a plan to borrow millions of dollars to make repairs at various colleges, universities and state-owned buildings.

The State newspaper reported (http://bit.ly/2njUdZb) the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday trimmed $2 billion in requests to $500 million.

Colleges, universities and technical schools would get about half of the money.

Anderson Rep. Brian White chairs the committee and says it was hard to trim the requests.

The state's technical colleges would split $87 million. The University of South Carolina, Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina would each receive $25 million.

The measure also allocates $80 million to repair state-owned buildings, as well as $30 million to replace old school buses. The Commerce Department would get $25 million for economic development.

Friday
Mar242017

Anderson Unemployment Rate Falls in February

Anderson County saw the jobless rate fall to 4.2 percent in February, while South Carolina's unemployment rate has remained unchanged as the number of people working in the state has risen.

The Department of Employment and Workforce said Friday that South Carolina's unemployment rate in February was 4.4 percent, the same as January. Employment went up more than 10,000, to more than 2.2. million people.

In Anderson County, the rate fell to 4.2 percent, down from 4.5 percent in January. With a workforce of 89,675, 85,906 were employed in Feburary, leaving 3,769 unemployed. 

The state's labor force rose for the second consecutive month, to more than 2.3 million people.

Nationally, unemployment fell from 4.8 percent to 4.7 percent over the month.

Jobless rates went down in all of South Carolina's 46 counties except two, where it was unchanged. Marion County had the state's highest unemployment, at 8.5 percent.