Friday, July 14, 2017

Summer break...

The ideas, actions, and inspiration articles round-up is being suspended briefly while I head out for an adventure-packed vacation. I will resume this project on July 31st.

In the meantime, if you have not read these posts, I suggest you take some time to do so. It is a refreshing departure from the negativity and chaos reported in the news on a daily basis.

Here are some links to get you started:

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - July 13 Edition

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - July 12 Edition

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - July 11 Edition

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - July 10 Edition

There are many more to read, so scroll down the page. Enjoy the rest of this month and look for all the good works happening around the world, in your communities, and in your close circle of family and friends. You'll feel better, I guarantee. À bientôt!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - July 13 Edition

Health, Cancer

A Food and Drug Administration panel opened a new era in medicine on Wednesday, unanimously recommending that the agency approve the first-ever treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer, transforming them into what scientists call “a living drug” that powerfully bolsters the immune system to shut down the disease.

If the F.D.A. accepts the recommendation, which is likely, the treatment will be the first gene therapy ever to reach the market. Others are expected: Researchers and drug companies have been engaged in intense competition for decades to reach this milestone. Novartis is now poised to be the first. Its treatment is for a type of leukemia, and it is working on similar types of treatments in hundreds of patients for another form of the disease, as well as multiple myeloma and an aggressive brain tumor.

To use the technique, a separate treatment must be created for each patient — their cells removed at an approved medical center, frozen, shipped to a Novartis plant for thawing and processing, frozen again and shipped back to the treatment center.

A single dose of the resulting product has brought long remissions, and possibly cures, to scores of patients in studies who were facing death because every other treatment had failed. The panel recommended approving the treatment for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia that has resisted treatment, or relapsed, in children and young adults aged 3 to 25.

Economy, Women

Women represent 49 percent of the labor force, 44 percent of hours worked, and 37 percent of earnings. Yet, many economic models of government policy ignore gender differences and use data on men only. This would not matter if women’s behavior and outcomes were the same as men’s. But they are not.

Our research highlights significant differences based on gender and marital status in labor participation rates, hours worked, earnings and saving. Economic models that account for these differences will likely yield more reliable predictions of how people react to changes in the economic environment, such as changes in wages and taxes.

Economic models are an important tool in government policymaking. They are used extensively to examine the effects of government policies and programs that have far-reaching impacts — including Social Security, taxation and welfare programs. As such, these models have real, albeit indirect, effects on our lives. We all stand to benefit from models that use meaningful and comprehensive data to represent the labor force accurately and support sound government decisionmaking.


In thinking and talking about change, I (and many others) have always focused on the positives — what change could bring about and enable. I and others spoke about the importance of educational risk-taking, even when those efforts were not a success. I and others made the case repeatedly that deciding to not change was an action in itself — namely choosing to stay put or in fact, fall behind.

What the quoted statement suggests that this focus on the positives of change is flawed; instead of encouraging change for its own sake and the sake of the institutions served by change, we need to focus on the trade-offs. If change is actually about loss, we need to address loss and how to make loss more acceptable.


Referring to this “myth of the market economy,” William Lazonick, an economist now at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, told me that most Americans, including many economists and politicians, misunderstand or neglect the true history of how the United States built its economy. The lone, visionary entrepreneur and the audacious industrialist are not the originators of the economic system, but rather the products of a system fostered by the collective efforts of the people through their government.

The railroads may have been the product of private enterprise, he pointed out, but they relied on government land grants to help finance construction. And the government gave states federal land to sell so that they could finance the creation of top-flight universities, such as Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Purdue, that promoted innovation and business across the interior of the country. “Aviation doesn’t happen without the government being involved,” via air-mail subsidies and airplane-design subsidies, Lazonick notes. Hoover Dam, the TVA, the California and Colorado River Aqueducts, the internet—the list of infrastructure projects that grew the economy and nurtured individual business success is very long. “So the government is everywhere, but the ideology is that government is not there,” he says.

Today, cities, states, and some in the federal government insist that there’s no money to pay for projects. The billions being lined up by investors says otherwise. One way or another, Americans will pay, either through taxes and tolls paid to their government, or through tolls, fees and rates paid to equity investors. “There’s no free lunch,” Gordon, of the Tax Policy Center, said. The Great Depression, when money was much scarcer than it is today, was an era of intense infrastructure investment. As Gordon spoke, she happened to be driving over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Homelessness, Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts troop established in February at a homeless shelter in Queens will expand to 14 additional shelters throughout New York City and is expected to serve about 500 girls.

In the stately Blue Room at City Hall, five members of Troop 6000 announced the expansion during a news conference on Wednesday. (The girls spoke at the lectern, although a couple did so in a near whisper.)

With a portrait of Alexander Hamilton as a backdrop, Karina, Sanaa, Christina, Nayalynn and Tanae — ages 5 to 11 — talked about the troop’s origins, its expansion and what the Girl Scouts meant to them.

What did Tanae, 5, like most about Girl Scouts? After a long pause and a little help reaching the microphone, she said, “Everything.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - July 12 Edition

Energy, Renewables


When it comes to how we consume energy, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news? Around 86% of global energy still comes from fossil fuels, which pollutes the planet and stokes climate change.

The good news? In the 21st Century, we’re poised to use more renewable energy sources than ever before, including those from wind or water. Solar energy alone saw a 664% increase between 2010 and 2015.

But where in the world will all this renewable power come from?


So-called “conversion therapy,” the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation (almost always from gay or bisexual to straight), has a history of damaging, scientifically unfounded approaches. In The Inheritance of Shame, Peter Gajdics describes being pinned down by two other men as his psychiatrist screams at him, mocking him for having sex with other men. Other first-person accounts—of men in the U.S., and more recently, of men in China as well as women in Ecuador—recount similarly violent, coercive experiences.

In the U.S., state governments are beginning to outlaw conversion therapy in growing numbers. California became the first to do so in 2012. Eight other states have banned it in some form since. In 2017 alone, Nevada, New Mexico, and Connecticut have signed their own bans into law. And two weeks ago, a long-anticipated bill passed the Rhode Island Senate.

“We’ve gone from kind of a trickle to what seems to be more of a stream,” said Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel at the Southern Poverty Law Center. SPLC filed the suit against JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, the conversion-therapy group involved with Unger’s treatment. The widely covered case was the first consumer-fraud case heard against the use of conversion therapy in the U.S.

Work, Productivity

When I was working as a newspaper reporter in Atlanta, my commute used to be the distance from the bedroom to the home office. When I lived in Hong Kong as a television reporter, that distance expanded to 15 minutes.

Nowadays, I'm lucky if I make it into work in an hour. The price of fresh air, a spacious home and a good public school system is spending every morning crammed in a boxcar with thousands of others making the same sacrifice.

This same commute is about to get even more hellish--and interminably long--with the track repairs being made at Penn Station, one of the main transit hubs in New York City. Have I considered throwing in the towel and moving into the city? Yes. However, two angry teenaged boys who will likely never forgive me for uprooting them are standing in the way.

So in the meantime, I've figured out a few ways to stay productive when faced with hours of time on the road:

Poetry, Art, War

Newman’s 2016 collection “Led From a Distance,” where “Soon” was first published, is all about the distance of modern-day warfare. “We just know of war what is presented on our screens,” Newman said. “Even drone operators — we’re all operating from a distance now. But we’re all affected by it, even if we don’t see it.”

It would be useful, Newman said, if we better understood how the countries we go to war with are often a lot like us. “Bombs falling missiles / skimming over suburbs / so much like our own,” he writes. “It could be our streets [at war], and it might well be,” he said. “I think those are connections we don’t make, or we’re not encouraged to make. And those are really humanizing connections.”

Travel, Relocation Abroad

Many of us fantasize about moving abroad, but cost can be a major barrier to actually relocating.

Enter these 11 incredible destinations that make living your international dreams easier on the wallet. They’re among the last-place finishers in the annual “Cost of Living” rankings from global consulting firm Mercer. And in this case, finishing last is a good thing, as it means a city is considered an affordable place to live and work.

Mercer surveyed more than 375 cities, 209 of which are included in the final rankings, on their relative costs for more than 200 goods and services, including housing, transportation, food and entertainment, spokeswoman Miriam Siscovick told HuffPost. New York City is used as a base, and the ranking compares all currencies against the U.S. dollar. The ranking is intended mostly for business managers assessing the cost of sending their employees on projects abroad, but turns out it also makes a great personal guidebook if you’re looking for an affordable new city to call home.   

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - July 11 Edition

Women, World Population Day

There are about 214 million women around the world who want to avoid pregnancy but don’t have access to contraception, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Addressing this unmet need is part of the inspiration for the theme of this year's World Population Day on Tuesday: "family planning." 

The world has 7.4 billion people in it, and by 2023 the United Nations predicts there will be more than 8 billion people who call the planet home. In Africa alone, the continent with the highest fertility rate and lowest use of modern contraceptives, 26 countries will double their population by 2050, according to the U.N.

“Fundamentally if you’re looking at World Population Day, it is at heart a women’s rights issue,” said Roger-Mark DeSouza director of population, environmental security and resilience at the non-partisan policy Wilson Center, based in Washington, D.C.

Inspiration, Life after 50

Robin Nesdale’s story is not that unusual. At 56, divorced and with her daughter, her only child, off at college, her life felt a little empty and rudderless.

Friends suggested that she take up a hobby or volunteer at a local charity, but “that didn’t suit me,” Ms. Nesdale said. “I’ve always been a tomboy.” And then one day, she passed the local fire department in Mamaroneck, where she lives, and saw a firefighter sitting outside. They chatted a bit, and “I asked him, ‘do you think I could do this?’ and he said, ‘Sure.’ And it was like a light bulb went off. I wanted something to help me and the community.”

So she put in an application to become a volunteer firefighter.

That was just about a year ago, and in a ceremony on Thursday, Ms. Nesdale will graduate as a volunteer firefighter. Walter Ferguson, a state fire instructor in Westchester County, said Ms. Nesdale was the oldest woman to become a volunteer in his 20 years as a teacher.

Health Care

To understand why the cost of health insurance continues to increase, we need to understand why the cost of overall health care spending is rising. Most health care over the past 20 years has been reimbursed under a fee-for-service model, a flat sum for each test or procedure provided to patients regardless of outcome. As a result, the U.S. both orders and spends more on medical tests and treatments per person than any other country. Yet, we show no better health outcomes for patients.

This lack of accountability for outcomes compounded with a model that rewards volume over value has created a bloated system. While an MRI in the U.S. costs four times more than an MRI in France, increases in U.S. life expectancy have flatlined relative to Western Europe.

Physicians and business school professors often speak of “bending the cost curve”—decreasing the rate at which health care costs rise. If we can redesign health care delivery to reduce overall spending and improve patient outcomes, then the cost of providing health insurance becomes a much smaller problem. The flip side of that equation is that if we don’t tackle issues of quality and efficiency in the health care system, then whatever way Congress ends up choosing to provide health care coverage won’t matter; health care costs will become increasingly unaffordable and erode access to coverage as everyday Americans are priced out of the insurance market.

Early Education

Children enter kindergarten with a wide variety of previous education experiences: some have participated in pre-K programs, whether private, state-funded, or part of Head Start, while others have spent time in a family child care setting or in informal arrangements with family, friends, and neighbors. Regardless of the setting, the transition to kindergarten can be fraught with stress and uncertainty for many children and their parents.  While the planning of a stable, well-connected transition between early education and kindergarten falls largely within the purview of individual schools and districts, states can actively encourage intentional, local efforts to smooth transitions to kindergarten.

Today, the Early & Elementary Education policy team released Connecting the Steps: State Strategies to Ease the Transition from Pre-K to Kindergarten, which profiles efforts in four states to smooth the transition process. The states highlighted in the report are Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and West Virginia. These states came to our attention as we reviewed research on the transition to kindergarten and spoke to experts in the field. Each state has taken actions to address the difficulties that often arise in the transition to kindergarten. In this brief, we describe the steps each state has taken and discuss the opportunities and challenges with their various approaches.

Romance, Travel

Austin Mann and Esther Havens are travel photographers whose work takes them around the world.

They were good friends before striking up a romance; six years ago, Mann was passing through the Amsterdam airport and realized Havens would be there a few days later. He hid a note for her in the airport Starbucks and texted her a riddle to help her find it. The pair later started dating, and continued hiding notes for each other at airport Starbucks around the world, weaving their own little secret trail of love notes in otherwise very public places.

The notes often consisted of encouraging messages taped under a table or slipped between cushions in a booth. Sometimes, Mann would arrange to have a drink waiting for Havens after she found the note. Then, in May, he left the biggest note of all:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - July 10 Edition

Campaign Finance Reform, Tax Reform

Since the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, a series of Supreme Court rulings has eviscerated wide swaths of federal campaign finance law. That has led to Super PACs, “dark money” groups and widespread voter disenchantment. Yet in the last decade, Congress has failed to adopt any major reforms that could increase the participation and voice of average citizens.

So, how do we break the logjam? We think the key is to find a starting point where there is common ground. Counterintuitively, that starting place could be the current discussions on tax reform happening at the federal and state levels.

Why tax reform? Progressives and conservatives are oceans apart politically, but many on both sides agree that restoring federal tax credits for small-dollar donations could help address Americans’ greatest concerns about the current campaign finance system.


(Read & watch)

JEFFREY BROWN: Ismael Guerrero, director of the Denver Housing Authority, says that, 10 years ago, this was a high-crime neighborhood, with 250 units of rundown public housing. Something had to be done.

ISMAEL GUERRERO: What we learned in early conversations with residents in particular was, they didn’t just want a new unit to move into. They wanted a better quality of life. So we really started expanding our perspective on what we were trying to accomplish here.

JEFFREY BROWN: The result completed earlier this summer is the Mariposa development, a mixture of 800 apartments and town homes, one-third public housing, a third subsidized, and a third rented at market value. The overall cost was $150 million; $60 million came from federal, state and local government programs, with the rest coming through private investment.
Already, Mariposa is becoming a model for rethinking public housing.

ISMAEL GUERRERO: Part of it is physical health, and part of it is what we call neighborhood health. Right? How healthy is the place? Is it safe? Are there healthy activities for you to do? Is there healthy food in the neighborhood for you to go and eat? Is there a healthy economy where people can get jobs and start a business?

Trade-adjustment policy, workers

Since 1962 America has earmarked funding to help people adjust to trade-related shocks. Trade-Adjustment Assistance (TAA) offers people money for retraining and income while they do so. Workers over 50 can get their wages topped up by 50% of the difference between their new and old wages. The money should help cushion the financial blow, and tempt them towards on-the-job training.

On paper, TAA should make wonks glow. It protects workers, not jobs, and links qualifications to local demand. Mr Aunspach is a beneficiary, and a big fan. He credits Pam Haskins, his caseworker and “life coach”, with making him see that he was getting “the opportunity of a lifetime”. His income from TAA quashed his initial panic about feeding his children and paying his mortgage, and allowed him to take a lengthy welding qualification. Without TAA, state benefits to pay for his course would have lapsed after six months.

Ms Haskins also thinks TAA works, but qualifies that “they have to want it”. Some of Alcoa’s ex-employees were snapped up by other firms. Others drifted into early retirement. Still others waited, hoping the smelter would reopen, swayed by Mr Trump’s promises to help the industry.

In the 12 months to September 2016 just 127,000 workers received TAA. Applying is tricky and can be slow.

Addiction, Recovery

(Read & watch)

Aware Recovery Care is a yearlong, Connecticut-based in-home rehabilitation program that provides patients with around-the-clock treatment, including a nurse coach, addiction psychiatrist, primary care doctor, family therapist, case manager, peer support, and 12-step meetings — the Aware Recovery Care Collaborative Care Model. Opioid addicts receive medication-assisted treatment, urine screening, and GPS tracking.

“Addiction doesn’t just disappear because the symptoms are under control," says Dr. Ellen Lockard Edens, assistant professor of psychiatry and associate director of the Addiction Psychiatry Residency at Yale University School of Medicine. "It is a chronic illness. So when people are prematurely discharged from their residential rehab program and return home, they go back into their old environment and start using again.”

Home rehab allows addicts to recover where they live.

Personal Development

Remember that time when a friend or co-worker said something really nasty to you? Sure you do. Your face got red, your fists clenched, and you spent the rest of the day in a hidden (or unhidden) rage. Boy, oh boy. On that car ride home, you knew just what to say. You were ripe with witty insults that would’ve sent that scoundrel spinning. However, it was too little too late.

There’s something very, very dangerous about not confronting a bully head-on. They’ll do it again, and again. And you’ll take it—again, and again. This is bad. Very bad. Because when the day finally arrives that you spit something back, it might come across as crazed or irrational. Although that bully was just poking at you today, the series of prior pokes and jabs left you with a big ol’ bruise, and that’s why your lid is popping over. All of a sudden, innocent you are in the wrong and Mr. or Ms. Bully has come out on top.

This is the precise moment we’re going to try to avoid here. In the moment when it’s time to stand up for yourself, I hope just one of these loving reminders will flash into your mind.