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.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - October 5 Edition

Las Vegas, Remembrances

“…we continue our look now at the 59 people who died in the Las Vegas attack.
As more stories of heroism emerge, so do clearer pictures of the victims’ lives.

Here are 14 more.”


Guns, Gun Control

From June 2016:

“There has been plenty more gun violence in America, much of which doesn’t rise to national prominence. But the mass shootings tend to get our attention, at least for a moment.

Here, we look at three cases in which gun laws were tightened following tragic shootings—in
Australia, Scotland, and Finland.”

Foreign Policy, Iran, Nuclear Deal

“One of the most important restrictions, the 300 kg cap on Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile, is in place until 2030. Iran would need 1,400 to 2,800 kg of low-enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon. This barrier renders weaponization virtually impossible until 2030.

But as the deal’s detractors point out, what then? 

The reality is that these fears are overblown. Some prohibitions continue past 2030. For instance, continuous surveillance of centrifuge production sites lasts until 2035, while the monitoring of Iran’s uranium mines and mills goes on until 2040. During that time, if and when Iran jacks up its centrifuge production or starts moving suspect amounts of uranium, the international community will know. 

Other provisions will be in place in perpetuity. For instance, Tehran is and will forever be required to notify the agency when it decides to build a nuclear facility. In contrast, under its previous safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it was only obligated to alert the international community six months before the introduction of nuclear material into the country. This was the loophole that enabled Iran to construct several undeclared nuclear facilities, which were eventually discovered in 2002 and 2009. 

Assuming the other parties to the deal reciprocate by holding up their end of the bargain, Iran will ratify in 2023 the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which allows short-notice inspections of undeclared facilities in Iran and which it is now voluntarily implementing. To date, no country on earth has developed nuclear weapons under the watchful eyes of the IAEA’s inspectors who are empowered by the access that the Additional Protocol affords them. And of course, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran is forever prohibited from developing nuclear weapons. Of the four recent nuclear-weapon states, three (India, Israel, and Pakistan) never signed the NPT; North Korea withdrew before moving toward nuclear weapons. 

Although it is true that Iran could begin enriching uranium beyond the current 3.67 percent threshold in 2023 and will have more advanced centrifuges that will shorten the time needed to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon, without the JCPOA, Iran could start that process tomorrow. That is why scuttling the deal because of its sunset provisions is akin to committing suicide out of fear of death.

Even a better agreement will have to contain a sunset provision. All arms control deals do.”

Work, Personal Development

"Despite these findings, the night owl is not doomed to failure. In fact, being a night person may be used to your utmost benefit, especially when it comes to business.

Research published by the Department of Psychology at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan states that nocturnal types often experience, "being in a situation which diverges from conversional habit," which, "may encourage the development of a non-conventional spirit and of the ability to find alternative and original solutions." Find yourself doing your best work at night? You may also have the ability to shine when it comes to creativity and problem-solving. If there's a crisis at work, call in the night owls for help!

In addition, the amount of time that a night owl remains mentally alert is much longer than that of the early bird. Participants in a 2009 study by the University of Liege in Belgium found that early birds had, "lower activity in brain regions linked to attention and the circadian master clock," compared to night owls. Morning people may rise earlier, but night owls are more likely to stay mentally sharp for a longer amount of time after first waking up, which leads to increased productivity and efficiency."

Goals, Personal Development

What are the best habits that can change your life? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Anita Sanz, Psychologist, on Quora:

As a psychologist, I've given this a lot of thought, because no matter what someone coming into therapy says they want to work on, eventually the subject of habits comes up. Usually, we will work to get a particular healthy habit established or eliminate an unhealthy one.

But since I am rarely flat-out asked "What are the best habits to have?" I'm happy to take some time to answer the question here.”

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - October 4 Edition

 Remembrance, Las Vegas

“We remember now some of the victims of the tragedy in Las Vegas. They were mothers and fathers, siblings and teachers, veterans and colleagues.

Here are 12 of the 59 people who died in Sunday’s shooting, and what co-workers, friends, and loved ones have said about them.”

Puerto Rico, Relief

“Hopefully, the myriad fans about to descend on New York Comic Con this weekend remembered to install pockets in their costumes: ReedPOP, the company behind the annual geek expo, along with Keanu Reeves, want fans to dig deep for Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria relief efforts.

As its name suggests, The Puerto Rico Film Friends Relief Fund was spearheaded by filmmakers who have worked on the storm-battered island, including Reeves himself, who shot a movie called Replicas there. Other recent productions on the American protectorate include Imprisoned with Reeves' John Wick 2 co-star Laurence Fishburne, and Cigarette, with John Travolta.

The goal is to raise $200,000 for some of the hardest hit areas, including Vieques and Culebra, which were devastated by the killer storm.”

You can find out more -- and donate -- at

New York Comic Con runs October 5-8 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City.

Political Polarization, Conversations

We Need to Have Conversations That Matter – WNYC Brian Lehrer Show

Celeste Headlee, host of the daily news show "On Second Thought" on Georgia Public Broadcasting, says social media and devices are robbing us of the ability to communicate one-on-one. She shares her insights, talk show host to talk show host.”

“When your job hinges on how well you talk to people, you learn a lot about how to have conversations -- and that most of us don't converse very well. Celeste Headlee has worked as a radio host for decades, and she knows the ingredients of a great conversation: Honesty, brevity, clarity and a healthy amount of listening. In this insightful talk, she shares 10 useful rules for having better conversations. "Go out, talk to people, listen to people," she says. "And, most importantly, be prepared to be amazed."

My big takeaway from Headlee’s TED Talk: “Enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn.”


“Health officials from around the world are meeting in France to commit to preventing 90% of cholera deaths by 2030.

The disease, which is spread through contaminated water, kills about 100,000 people every year.
It is the first time governments, the World Health Organization, aid agencies, and donors have made such a pledge.

It comes as Yemen continues to fight one of the worst cholera outbreaks on record.
Cholera has been spreading in the war-torn country due to deteriorating hygiene and sanitation conditions and disruptions to the water supply.

More than 770,000 people have been infected with the disease, which is easily treatable with the right medical equipment, and 2,000 have died. Many of the victims are children.

These huge outbreaks tend to grab the headlines, but there are also frequent outbreaks in so-called cholera "hotspots".”

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - October 3 Edition

Policing, Mentors

"Geoffrey Alpert has, since 1975, been researching how police conduct themselves, and one finding borne out in his work is that many police officers see themselves as “warriors” against crime. He’s seen that dynamic on display as he’s studied studied racial profiling and the use of force in some of the nation’s most controversial departments, including in Miami and Los Angeles.

Alpert, who is a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, has advised police departments throughout the country on how to reduce the use of force and increase trust between the public and law enforcement. One change he commonly recommends is for police officers to provide more constructive criticism to each other.

For The Atlantic’s series on mentorship, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” I spoke with Alpert about how the balance of affirmation and criticism plays out in police departments, as well as in conversations with his own students. The interview that follows has been edited for length and clarity."

Technology, Prosthetics, Inspiration

Today’s feel-good story:

Higher Education, Testing

"The GRE’s shortcomings haven’t gone unnoticed by admissions committees, which in recent years have pushed to reduce reliance on the exam scores. Even the ETS is encouraging programs to de-emphasize GRE scores and not use them as cutoffs. Some programs at the University of California, Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgetown University recently dropped GRE requirements. In 2015, the president of the American Astronomical Society wrote an open letter urging the chairs of departments in the field to rethink the role of the GRE. In response, several astronomy programs, including Harvard’s, removed the test from their physics requirements.

The latest to bail is the University of Michigan’s Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS) program. “For a long time there was really no point in discussing [it],” says professor Scott Barolo, PIBS director, since students needed the score for pre-doctoral grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. But in 2010 the NIH dropped its GRE requirement, and NSF followed suit in 2015. “So it became clear that there were no institutional or funding barriers to reconsidering this decision,” says Barolo. After debating the issue at a town hall session, PIBS announced on August 18 that it would drop the GRE starting next year."

Housing Affordability

"Gov. Jerry Brown has finalized lawmakers’ most robust response to California’s housing affordability problems in recent memory.

The “15 good bills” Brown signed into law here Friday morning include a new fee on real estate transactions and a $4-billion bond on the 2018 ballot that together could raise close to $1 billion a year in the near term to help subsidize new homes for low-income residents.

"It is a big challenge. We have risen to it this year,” Brown said.

The governor signed the legislation surrounded by lawmakers and advocates at Hunters View, a $450-million project in San Francisco that is redeveloping what was once crumbling public housing into new homes for 700 low- and middle-income families. Speakers at the ceremony hailed the package of bills as a sea change in how the state handles housing issues.

“Today California begins a pivot from a housing-last policy to a housing-first policy,” said Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who wrote one of the key measures.

Still, the array of new laws Brown signed Friday will hardly put a dent in the state’s housing problems. Developers need to build about 100,000 new homes each year beyond what’s already planned, simply to keep pace with California’s population growth.

Here’s a rundown of how the bills aim to address different factors that add to the state’s housing problems:"

Identity Protection, Cell Phones

Click on the title to watch the video. 

Monday, October 02, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - October 2 Edition


"Yesterday, Lieutenant General Jay Silveria, addressed the Cadet Wing at the United States Air Force Academy Preparatory school. The purpose of the address was to discuss racial slurs written on the doors of African-American cadets. A potentially uncomfortable topic for some leaders to address head-on.

What the Lieutenant General did to handle the situation is inspiring, and a masters level discourse on leadership.


The Lieutenant General begins his speech by addressing the issue head-on. He's clear to point out that it happened on his watch, and that the cadets should expect to hear news like this from him. He said "some people down at the prep school, wrote some racial slurs on some message boards. If you hadn't heard that, I wanted you to hear it from me."

He's also very clear that it won't be tolerated "That kind of behavior has no place at the Prep School, has no place at USAFA and has no place in the United States Air Force."

Not only does he embrace his own accountability. He also addresses the moral accountability of all the cadets. Continuing, "some of you may think that that happened down in the prep school, and doesn't apply to us. I would be naive, and we would all be naive to think that everything is perfect here. We would be naive to think that we shouldn't discuss this topic."

He points to the current cultural climate in our country head-on. Stating "we would also be tone-deaf not to think about the backdrop of what's going on in our country. Things like Charlottesville, and Ferguson, the protests in the NFL.""

Criminal Justice Reform

Post dated September 27:

"Lawmakers introduced a bill today that would use the power of the purse to reduce incarceration and crime at the same time. The legislation is supported by civil rights groups and criminal justice reform advocates.

The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 was introduced today by Rep. Tony C├írdenas (D-Calif.) in the House of Representatives. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) introduced the measure in the Senate in June. All three lawmakers, along with advocates, spoke at a press conference about the bill earlier today. The bill is based on a 2015 proposal by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

The measure is essentially the reverse of the “1994 Crime Bill.” Instead of incentivizing states to increase prison populations, the legislation would pay states to decrease them, while keeping down crime. It would reverse the current flow of federal funds, which largely run on autopilot and can promote more arrests and incarceration at the local level. The bill would encourage states to embolden their reform efforts, even while Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempts to increase the federal prison population.

Under the legislation, grants would be awarded every three years. States are eligible to apply if the total number of people behind bars in the state decreased by 7 percent or more in three years, and there is no substantial increase in the overall crime rate within the state. The bill could lead to a 20 percent reduction in the national prison population over 10 years."

Fake News

"During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Macedonian teens looking to get paid for ad-clicks, Russian cyber sophisticates apparently looking to tilt the outcome, and some homegrown mood manipulators broadcast outrageous and false stories packaged to look like real news. Their counterfeit posts were nearly indistinguishable from authentic coin and remain so, even in the face of skeptical but impatient fact-checking.

Although much of the establishment has been left wringing its hands about what to do—how to ferret out fake news and those who produce it—there are already tools and systems to help digital investigations and gumshoe reporters connect the dots and discover scams. Metadata—the data about data—can provide a digital signature to identify actors on the Internet. And the Web itself allows us to examine timelines, serialize events, and identify primary sources. Some signatures are harder to find than others, but they are all there; you just need to know where to look and what to analyze."

Governing, Politics

"The self-imposed earmark ban instituted in Congress has removed the most important tool available to lawmakers in passing bills. The ban was implemented by then Speaker John Boehner who viewed it as making good on a campaign pledge to end “business as usual in Washington.” He was right about that, but not in the way he intended. It is no wonder that ever since, Congress has found it so difficult to move legislation of virtually any kind except what is absolutely necessary. Just passing a continuing resolution to keep the government open or extending the debt ceiling is such an onerous and difficult lift for Congress that it leaves little time, motivation or incentive for consideration of the substantive and complicated legislative actions required to pass authorizations and appropriations in regular order. Maybe Congress was too hasty to clamp down on this versatile tool. Reviving earmarks would put the House and the Senate back on track towards passing bills, budgets and following regular order.

Earmarks are the currency of the legislative process. If you remove currency from an economy, how well can you expect it to function? Earmarks serve as a vital incentive to encourage lawmakers to support broader legislation. For that reason, they’re even more critical during periods of intense partisan disagreement like the one we’re facing for the foreseeable future. As Lee Drutman recently wrote, “A politics where ideology is the only factor in considering legislative outcomes creates an impossible situation. Arguing about the allocation of resources leaves room for dealmaking, and earmarks are the coin by which those deals can be made. But intractable ideological positions leave no room for compromise.”

But aren’t earmarks bad? Not quite. Earmarks are poorly understood, heavily scrutinized and unfairly maligned. There isn’t widespread agreement on what constitutes an earmark, but generally it is a sum of money directed to a specific project by a legislator or a group of legislators to be included in a bill or committee report. That is the broadest definition of an earmark."

Refugees, Resettlement

"Akron owes its only population growth since the turn of the century to a kingdom on the other side of the Earth. As many as 5,000 Nepalis, who held onto their culture during centuries in Bhutan and decades in refugee camps in Nepal, have made their way here during the last decade.

They went to work in the Gojo plant, enrolled their kids in public schools and learned how to navigate roads, snow and U.S. society. But real success in resettling refugees “means moving people from surviving to thriving,” says Eileen Wilson, who runs refugee outreach for a Cleveland agency called Building Hope in the City.

Thriving means different things to different people. In Akron, it’s come to mean a dozen Nepalese shops and restaurants in what were once abandoned storefronts on North Hill. It means neighborhoods where long-slumping home sales are recovering. It means a cricket pitch in the park, a Nepalese bed-and-breakfast, and the migration of refugees from Houston, Atlanta, Chicago and New York ― the kinds of places Akron is used to losing people to.

It also means that a once alarmingly high suicide rate among refugees has dwindled.
Akron has declared itself a “Welcoming Community,” and Deputy Mayor Annie McFadden says the city and its newest residents are establishing a synergy.

“We understand that it’s not just the right thing to do as human beings,” she said, “but it has amazing social and economic consequences.”"