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NEWSWIRE: 12/17/18

  • This holiday season, some radio stations are refusing to play “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” citing undertones of coercion and date rape. Critics of PC culture are scowling over the ban—and are rolling their eyes at the viral “2018-friendly” version of the song that features a less-pushy male character who concedes, “OK, you’re free to go.” (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: Welcome to the post-#MeToo perspective on conventional pop-culture artifacts. As we have explained, surveys show that most Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, believe that the prevalence of sexual harassment (and assault) allegations do indeed point to "widespread problems in society." A majority also agrees that society should adopt a "zero tolerance" policy toward clear instances of harassment and assault.
    • At the same time, a majority also agrees that "it can be hard to tell" what harassment is--and also that consensual behavior between men and women can often be difficult to distinguish from harassment. What's more, the vast majority of Americans of all ages and races detests political correctness (see: "Trendspotting: 10/16/18"). As Bill Maher puckishly observes, at the same time women are subscribing to #MeToo, they are also making the "Shades of Grey" movies into blockbuster hits. “I’m not saying men act the way they do primarily because of movies,” Maher explains, “but they have been getting this message for a long time that this is what women want. And it is what women want--but only from men they want it from. Problem is, we don’t know which ones we are.”
    • Bottom line? The Academy Award-winning popular song written by Frank Loesser and first performed with his wife Lynn Garland in 1944 is probably safe for the foreseeable future. The radio stations banning it are few in number, and those stations that have put the song to a listener vote (even San Francisco’s 96.5 KOIT) have ended up rescinding the ban.
  • Fentanyl has overtaken heroin as the deadliest drug in America, with more than 18,000 overdose deaths in 2016 according to just-released final numbers. The relentless spread of fentanyl, whose involvement in overdose deaths has increased by 113% a year since 2013, represents a new front in the opioid epidemic that is seeing users shifting to much more potent drugs. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
    • NH: This definitive CDC study goes beyond the usual mortality rate categories by scouring the text of death certificates for the exact drugs that are implicated in each death. If you want to check, for example, how often those who die from oxycodone have also ingested cocaine or diazapam, this your place. However, the study's rear-view mirror total count for 2016 has just been superseded by another CDC report presenting preliminary results for 2017. These are ghastly. Drug deaths are up again, from 63,632 to 70,237. More than all of the recent rise is accounted for by fentanyl and other "synthetic opioids" (other than methadone). See first chart below. (And for fancy graphics, see this New York Times story.) Last year's increase has been driven almost entirely by Midwestern and New England states.
    • But there is good news on the horizon. Due in part to federal and state policy changes, the mortality rise due to drug overdose deaths decelerated in 2017. And the YoY monthly mortality rate may have actually peaked, in absolute terms, in the fall of 2017. Through the first five months of 2018, the CDC is registering a very welcome YoY decline. See second chart below. If this trend continues, we may hope to see (in 2018 or 2019) a reversal in the recent rising trend of overall age-adjusted mortality. (See: "Trendspotting: 12/4/18.")

Trendspotting: "Baby, It's Cold Outside" Is in the Crosshairs of #MeToo - Opioid 1

Trendspotting: "Baby, It's Cold Outside" Is in the Crosshairs of #MeToo - Opioid 2

  • According to a new report, Homelanders are on track to be the best-educated generation yet. The report (which examines trends among 6- to 21-year-olds) can be read as a general snapshot of how young people today differ from older Millennials: They’re more likely to enroll in college and to have college-educated parents, and are more racially diverse but less likely to be foreign-born as a result of decreased immigration. (Pew Research Center)
    • NH: Another good Pew report, even allowing for Pew's unique generational terminology (what they call "Post-Millennial" we would call a combination of late-Millennial and Homelander). Compared to first-wave Millennials, these Post-Millennials (or Posties) are indeed more diverse in ethnicity (meaning: a smaller share are non-Hispanic whites) yet less diverse in immigration (meaning: a smaller share are foreign born). See chart below showing the big decline in first-generation Hispanic immigrants, which partly explains the Posties' higher family incomes and their higher high-school graduation rates and college enrollment rates. The rapidly rising Asian share also gives a boost to all these counts. The flip side of more education? Posties are less likely to have ever worked, part-time or full-time, by the time they graduate college. This is something today's Boomer and Gen-X employers need to consider before onboarding 21-year-olds who may have zero prior experience of ever working for anyone other than Mom or Dad or their teacher.

Trendspotting: "Baby, It's Cold Outside" Is in the Crosshairs of #MeToo - Pew Posties

  • A proposed apartment building for Washington, D.C.’s historic Dupont Circle neighborhood would house 20 of its residents underground. The proposal is an unconventional response to strict zoning regulations that prohibit the construction of buildings higher than four stories; to local NIMBYs, however, the underground aspect is just one of many things to dislike about this ambitious project. (The Washington Post)
    • NH: Yes, it's an unconventional attempt to get around zoning regs, but even so the anti-gentrification NIMBY crowd is trying to stop it--as they have stopped so many other new housing projects in D.C. Each victory for the anti-developers serves to boost the rent Millennials need to pay in these sought-after urban hubs and to boost the return to existing real-estate owners. As for the notion that gentrification disadvantages poor or minority residents, that myth has been repeatedly debunked. These "anti-capitalists" would never succeed were it not for all the incumbent capitalists who do little to stop them.
  • The growing crop of first-time mothers over age 40 is drawing attention to the need for resources specifically geared toward older moms. New Xer moms are finding that there isn’t much support—organizational, financial, or otherwise—out there for them to meet their needs, which often include balancing established careers with family and acting as “sandwich” caregivers. (BBC)
    • NH: We rarely give this much thought. Historically, parents of young kids typically had parents who were themselves in their prime of life. They were affluent, active, and usually still employed. Today it is much more common for a child whose mom was in her late 30s at birth to also have a child of her own in her late 30s. Result? By the time the granddaughter is age 10 and the daughter is in her late 40s, the mom is in her late 80s. She may still be affluent (after all, she belongs to the Silent Generation), but she is much less likely to be active or employed. And she is much more likely to be a dependent req
  • New research shows that excessive screen time could change the structure of a child’s brain, causing a premature thinning of the prefrontal cortex. While more research needs to be done before we can draw any definitive conclusions, the findings at least justify the tech-lash skepticism of today’s parents. (National Institute of Health)
    • NH: All you parents of young kids--and all you owners of social-media stock--it's time to be afraid. Be very afraid. The tech-lash continues to gather steam. (See: "The Next Big Thing: Tech-Lash Batters Silicon Valley.") A gasp of online horror greeted the recent survey finding that 43% of Millennials check their smartphone every 20 minutes. In the wake of all the mea culpas, along comes Vitaminwater to offer $100,000 to someone who can go smartphone-free for one year.
    • And now this: A large NIH research project on addiction, recently spotlighted on CBS's 60 Minutes, whose preliminary findings point to altered brain development in kids who clock in lots of screen time. The study comes to no conclusion about causation (it may be that kids with different brains are more attracted to screens). Nor can it yet say that these changes are detrimental. But the very fact that smartphone use is increasingly discussed in terms of addiction, altered brain development, emotional stress, and educational handicaps suggests that our social enthusiasm about the digiverse is rapidly eroding. An obsession that was once cool is well on its way to becoming uncool.
  • A new analysis breaks down the costs (emotional and financial) incurred by America’s growing ranks of lonely Boomers. This generation has seen its once-prized individuality turn into a curse, as many socially isolated seniors have found themselves struggling to build social support networks or maintain a sense of life purpose. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: We pretty much anticipated this discussion with our recent report, "The Next Big Thing: All the Lonely People."
  • Canned-tuna companies are experimenting with novel ways to reintroduce the product into younger Americans’ diets, including putting it in meal kits and marketing it as a healthy snack. Yet another staple of the G.I. and Silent Generations falls by the wayside as Millennials continue to seek out fresh, convenient fare. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • S&P 500 firms spent a record $200 billion on stock buybacks in Q3 2018. With the index experiencing its rockiest stretch in years, beaten-down companies like Facebook and Lowe’s have used buybacks to provide a much-needed jolt to their EPS—and thereby their share prices. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: As the recent market downdraft worsens, S&P giants are paddling against the current by upping their buybacks or (like Facebook) announcing bounteous future buyback intentions. Apparently, these firms have nothing better to do with their cash flow. Even those managers who want to invest long term feel compelled by the market to please quarterly earnings expectations. The absurd result: In roughly twenty years, Apple is on track to have only one share left outstanding worth trillions of dollars.
    • Of course, the buyback craze could suddenly cool. If the market correction deepens, these companies may decide to throw in the towel on buybacks. That is the perverse historical record: Buybacks disappear only when equities really are cheap. This time around, that may happen exactly when retail investors are shifting into cash. Then we'll all be in real trouble.
  • Nearly half (48%) of Republicans under 50 want other Republican candidates to challenge Trump for the party’s nomination in 2020, versus just 27% of those over 50. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that Gen-X and Millennial Republicans are less keen on Trump than their elders, it shows that they’re far less confident he can win. (Pew Research Center)
    • NH: Agreed. The other way to look it, however, is to note that even most young Republicans want to keep Trump on the ticket in 2020. That should cool the ardor of any challenger. History BTW affords no example of a party thwarting the desire of its incumbent president to run again. And it affords only two examples of a party winning the next presidential election after its incumbent voluntarily decides not to run again. One was John Adams succeeding George Washington, which is probably not relevant today. The other is Herbert Hoover succeeding Calvin Coolidge, which—should Trump decline a second term—is not a happy precedent for Marco Rubio or John Kasich or Ted Cruz.

                        DID YOU KNOW?

                        Stay Gender-Neutral for the Kids. Toy retailers nationwide are gearing up for the Christmas rush. This year more than ever before, their wares will include something for everyone, boy or girl. A growing number of toy brands are doing away with gender-specific product labels. USA Toyz, for instance, promotes the same play tent for boys and girls, as well as a gender-neutral sand toy set. Business consultant Tracy Huser, mother to a 5-month-old girl, says she notices more products marketed “for baby” or “for toddler” rather than for “baby boy” or “baby girl.” What’s going on? Brands have picked up on changing consumer attitudes: Today’s Millennial parents are making a concerted effort to avoid gender stereotypes at the toy store. Fully 45 percent of 18- to 45-year-old shoppers say they prefer gender-neutral toys, higher than the share of all consumers who say so (40 percent). Instead of buying what’s blue or what’s pink, young parents increasingly are choosing toys that reflect specific goals and aspirations—such as a STEM career (“Robotics Engineer Barbie” fits the bill).

                        NOTE: The NewsWire will be on a holiday break for the next two weeks. See you in 2019!