Friday, October 06, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - October 6 Edition

Las Vegas, Remembrances

“And let’s continue now our remembrances of the 58 people who were murdered when the shooter began firing into the crowd at a country music concert.

As stories of heroism emerge, so do clearer pictures of the victims’ lives. Here now, 12 more.”

Child Poverty, Public Policy

"The economy is nearing full employment. The stock market is at record highs. The expansion keeps continuing. Add to that one more very good piece of economic news: The child-poverty rate fell to a record low in 2016.

That finding comes from a new analysis of government and academic data by Isaac Shapiro and Danilo Trisi, both researchers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan, Washington-based think tank. The child-poverty rate declined to 15.6 percent in 2016, the researchers found, down from a post-recession high of 18.1 percent in 2012 and from 28.4 percent in 1967. That means that roughly 11.5 million kids were living in households below the poverty threshold last year. “The figures were actually a little surprising to us, and might be surprising to those who are following the poverty debate,” said Shapiro. “The argument, at least on the conservative side, is that we have poured a lot of money into safety-net programs and poverty hasn’t gone down. But it has.”

The most recent drop in the child-poverty rate is due to a tighter labor market, the researchers found. More parents are back at work, with competition among employers starting to drive wages up even for very low-income workers. That has helped to push the overall poverty rate down to 12.7 percent. That said, the near-halving of the child-poverty rate over the past half-century is not primarily due to improvements in the economy. In fact, stagnating wages, reduced bargaining power, automation, and offshoring have held down the earnings of families in the bottom of the income spectrum, and spiraling income inequality has meant that most of the gains of economic growth have gone to families at the top. Instead, it is the expansion of the safety net—in particular through the food-stamp program and provisions like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit—that has been most responsible for moving millions of kids above the poverty line over time, the researchers found."

Technology, Data, Privacy

Isaac Chotiner: We tend to think of existential threats as being things like global warming or nuclear weapons. Why should we be thinking of technology in these dire terms?

Franklin Foer: I’m not arguing that we should think about technology per se in these dire terms. I’m arguing that we need to think about our present course with technology in those terms, because our lives are increasingly dominated by a series of big companies that have achieved something close to the state of monopoly. They have a vision for humans, and they’re trying to lead us to that vision, which they’re able to do because of their enormous economic power. What concerns me about this trajectory is that we’re giving up a lot. We’re getting a lot. There’s no doubt that we’re getting a lot. The iPhone is an incredible invention. Google is arguably one of the greatest inventions. The search engine is one of the greatest inventions in human history. But we’re also sacrificing enormous things. The magical qualities of these pieces of technology are things that we enjoy, but they also tend to blind us, so we don’t apply all the skepticism to these companies and to these trends that we would apply to other significant institutions in our lives.

The stakes are extremely high, whether it’s in regard to privacy or certain institutions that we hold and that we consider essential for democracy. We’ve maybe arguably always been in the process of merging with machines. We’ve always had tools, and those tools have been an extension of us, but what we’re automating right now are mental processes. These sites shape and filter our world, and they’re going to create virtual realities that we’re going to inhabit eventually. The problem is that we’re not just merging with our machines: We’re merging with the companies that operate those machines.

Nobel Peace Prize, Nuclear Weapons

“The dreamers won. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons is still so green that, when the call came from the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the group initially thought it was a prank. But, in the middle of two brewing crises over nuclear weapons, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on Friday to a global coalition of young activists who defied the United States and the eight other nuclear powers this summer to win support at the United Nations for the first treaty to ban the world’s deadliest weapon.

With dogged determination, ican, which was formed just a decade ago, generated support from more than a hundred and twenty countries for the landmark accord. Fifty-three nations have signed it since the formal process began, on September 20th.

The Trump Administration led a boycott of talks on the ican initiative at the United Nations last spring. “There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., told reporters. “But we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?”

The Nobel committee cited ican, which is based in Geneva, for “its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.””

Entertainment, Movie Review

“The rules are right there in the title of the series: Friendship is magic, which is to say that friendship is the Ponyverse’s equivalent of the Force, the source of power and the engine of narrative resolution. According to the series’ rules, magic depends on the bonds among the Mane Six—which means that the obstacles on a quest are less likely to be physical than emotional. The endpoint of a My Little Pony adventure is not “Collect all the different-colored gemstones,” as in the Marvel Universe; it’s “Listen to one another, resolve the hurt feelings, apologize, help, and celebrate.””

“Tempest’s story ends with a twist, one that might be especially meaningful to kids with disabilities or visible markers of difference.

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