• Comments off

    Facebook’s Hidden Likes

    Both social scientists and media bigwigs are beginning to explore the influence of social media on human behavior. Starting with the whispers of Instagram’s hidden follower and like-count experimentation, Facebook has now thrown its digital hat into the ring – they, too, are prototyping hidden likes privately. Instagram is already testing the function publicly in seven countries (TechCrunch).

    Facebook confirmed this testing September 2nd when Jane Manchun Wong, an enthusiast in uncovering app features pre-launch, discovered code for the feature in its Android version.

    Beta testing of hidden like counts makes sense in the context of this generation’s outcry to address mental health and well-being. Research studying how social media affects the mental health and self- esteem of target groups (teens and young adults) is mixed, however.

    Pew Research Center’s 2018 study found that teens yield benefits like inclusion, deeper friendships, and help understanding different points of view from interacting with social media. The same study also says teens often feel overwhelmed by the drama of social media and tend to unfriend those causing it, or those espousing political views they disagree with.

    An article by the National Center for Health Research compared the increase of mental health issues in those target groups with the high usage of smartphones and social media in the same group. Among other discouraging facts cited, one study mentioned in the article found that greater Instagram usage is associated with greater self-objectification and concern about body image.

    Facebook (also owners of WhatsApp and Instagram) refuses to disclose the results of their Instagram testing or explain why they’ve expanded to other social media. One would hope their intention is to meet the demands of their negatively impacted users. Though, such a change would certainly impact ad revenue and the general marketing platform these outlets have come to depend on. It appears there would have to be very compelling reason(s), positive or negative, to risk a sizeable income hit.

    We’ve seen Facebook and its collective apps in and out of the hotseat recently for the alleged misuse of personal information leading to an influence on user buying habits, and even their perceptions of current events. Could this new development be a preventative measure? Or is it an answer to the requests of the app’s user base?

  • Comments off

    The North Philly Standoff

    Last week, six Philadelphia police officers were injured while serving a narcotics warrant.

    The incident later evolved into a seven-hour-long shootout that occurred in a neighborhood near Temple University. According to USA Today, Police Commissioner Richard Ross described the outcome as “nothing short of a miracle” as there were thankfully no fatalities. A tear gas barrage ultimately caused the shooter to surrender.

    Thirty-six-year-old Maurice Hill was identified as the gunman who the Philadelphia Inquirer said had “an extensive record of gun convictions and resisting arrests.”

    Officers had to navigate the narrow, tightly packed streets while Temple University’s campuses were put on lock-down. Commissioner Ross held phone negotiations to deescalate Hill. Two officers were trapped in the building protecting three prisoners—one of whom was stranded in a bathroom—and ultimately saved by SWAT (USA Today).

    President Trump took to Twitter the following day:

    “The Philadelphia shooter should haven never been allowed to be on the streets. He had a long and very dangerous criminal record. Looked like he was having a good time after his capture, and after wounding so many police. Long sentence—must get much tougher on street crime!”

    Such an event raises the question of how a convicted felon had the opportunity to commit the crime. Is there a bigger conversation that needs to be had? Research indicates that overall, violent crime in the U.S. has significantly decreased in recent years, falling 49% percent between 1993 and 2017. According to the Pew Research Center, there are large variances in crime rates depending on geographic location. Moreover, public perceptions of the crime rate tend to differ vastly from actual statistics.

    Where, then, do we place the blame when these mass acts of violence happen? President Trump’s focus on street crime might be misplaced.

    Nonetheless, a huge thank you goes out to the first responders who played vital roles in keeping everyone involved safe. We appreciate you.

     

  • Comments off

    The 2020 Citizenship Question

    The Trump administration has been pushing a citizenship question on the decennial United States census questionnaire since January of 2018. As immigration tensions rise and the 2020 U.S. census nears, the addition of this question to the document has been hotly debated.

    The Supreme Court and the administration are at a stalemate, with the Court temporarily blocking the movement in June saying the reasons cited were insufficient. It ordered the case back to the lower courts.  The block, however, eliminated the time needed to debate this issue and make a final decision in time for to print the questionnaires. So for practical, not legal, reasons, the opponents won that round.  But what would be the advantage of having such a question added? The public must continue to wonder what would be the negative impact of adding it?

    So last week, Trump ceded the issue. Instead, he pivoted and stated that the missing information will be compiled by other documents via an executive order issued to government agencies (BBC). In other words, yes, the census would be printed without the question, but the battle to obtain the citizenship status of the U.S. population is far from over.

    Adding a query regarding citizenship to the questionnaire is not a new idea. Dating back to the mass from Ireland in the 1820’s to the 1950 census, some variant of a citizenship question was included. Until 1920, the question was only asked of men as their citizenship status was considered an umbrella for their respective wives and children (PEW Research Center).

    So, why are we reconsidering the question now?

    Opponents assert that the question is being used as a scare tactic to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise of cracking down on illegal immigration. However, the American Community Survey already includes a question about the status of a participant’s citizenship. This survey is taken every year with a sample group of over 3.5 million, and neither the information from that survey nor the U.S. census can be used to enforce legal action or disclose the information of participants. Critics also worry that those here illegally would opt out of taking the census all together, eliminating any information on a sizeable portion of those residing in the country (Daytona Beach News-Journal).

    Those in favor of the question argue that the information of those residing in the country illegally can help better inform civil rights action, apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives, and allocation of aid to states.  The illegal immigrant population in certain areas could determine the distribution of over $675 billion in federal spending (Associated Press).

    There are strong opinions on either side of the issue, along with the questions of seizing highly classified government records to discern an individual’s citizenship.

    As this debate continues, there appears to be agreement on one issue.  Citizenship matters in critical decisions that need to be made.  This solution is not in partisan politics that has become today’s norm.  Once again, our leaders on both sides of the aisle are failing in their Constitutional duties.

    When will this end?

  • Comments off

    The Artificially Intelligent Gatekeepers of News Broadcasting

    It is no secret that the tradition of news and broadcast is changing.

    In the Kovach and Rosenstiel book, The Elements of Journalism, the authors write that the two most essential obligations of a journalist are to tell the truth and to have an unyielding loyalty to the citizens. Regrettably, their advice has fallen by the wayside. Today, truth and loyalty have taken a back seat to speed and controversy. With the advent of technology, allegedly accurate news reporting is limited only by one “click” of a mouse, “tap” of a screen, or question to Siri, Alexa or Google. All that matters now is breaking the story before your competitors. For the sake of speed, journalists on all sides of the issues have sacrificed the core principles that make their role in society so important. Now they only care about the 24-hour-news cycle and driving headlines, tweets, and falsely described “breaking alerts.”

    Can it get worse?  Yes. In fact, the very face of broadcast journalism has recently changed, and in a major way.

    China’s government run news agency, Xinhua News, introduced the first male, artificial intelligence (AI) newscaster at 2018’s World Internet Conference in eastern Zhejiang. Powered by the agency’s stream of news and Beijing-based search engine Sogou, he delivered a short broadcast discussing the technology along with China’s plans to launch their first Mars probe in 2020. His segment ended by sending good wishes to journalists across the country (CNBC).

    Female AI broadcast journalist “Xin Xiaomeng” joined Xinhua’s team of presenters shortly after. Each has an English-speaking counterpart modelled after human anchors currently on their news team (Daily Mail).

    The goal of AI presenters is to stoke the fire of a 24-hour newsroom. Completely cutting out middleman who might research and verify the veracity of a story and its sources, artificially intelligent anchors deliver a constant stream of news text generated by China’s government. Skeptics fear that the human connection between viewers and flesh-and-blood anchor will be lost, while others feel that the robotic delivery is “very dull.” (BBC)

    The issue at hand is much more than the sentiment of a traditional news model or entertainment. We have already seen what can happen when artificially generated news stories spread and influence the minds of a target audience. The horrendous outbreak of misinformation and opportunistic propaganda about the Sri Lanka bombings in April that lead to a countrywide temporary ban on suspect social media is just one example.

    While AI newscasters may be able to provide a constant stream of information to an ever more demanding audience, they do so at the sacrifice of true journalism. Live journalists have their own moral compass to consult. As imperfect as that compass can sometimes be, it is far better than a machine with no soul or conscience. With all the fake news we have to deal with today, now is not the time to allow technology to make matters worse. Maybe it is time to embrace the older principles when stories were researched, sources were checked and verified, journalists were respected and media reporting was accurate and balanced.

  • Comments off

    2020 Candidate Circus

    The election may seem far away but it looks like it will be another long, nasty, convoluted fight that is certain to confuse voters to the point of giving up by the time it comes to pressing “VOTE” in the booth.

    The Democrats are visibly scrambling to become a front-runner.  This creates a confusing state of issues as they each try to distinguish themselves from one another by taking aggressive positions knowing they will never be accepted by rank and file lawmakers.  Nonetheless, they need to raise their poll numbers to qualify for the stage at a debate.  That requires headlines.   Headlines do not happen to candidates with moderate views.

    The most notable exception may be Joe Biden.  He received a lot of buzz after his announcement.  Then for several weeks, women came forward and claimed they experienced “uncomfortable interactions” with Biden in the past.  This led to a rehash of the controversial treatment Anita Hill received from Biden and others at her appearances in 1991 before the Senate Judiciary Committee discussing claims of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas in his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.  After profuse apologies from Biden, the tempest seems to have calmed.  However, it is assuredly something that other candidates and the media will raise again.  They will exploit the vulnerability.   With Biden currently viewed as the front-runner, all the other candidates must knock him off that perch if they hope to win the nomination.  Do not expect civility in that endeavor.

    Then there is the returning progressive, Bernie Sanders.  Sandbagged by the Clinton campaign, he may be again from the Biden front.  We shall see.

    Other Dems in the running are puzzling.  Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Bill de Blasio — none of them have a national following and de Blasio has a hard time generating an audience at his campaign stops.  The rest of the list hails from various states and cities with disparate backgrounds and notoriety.  So far, it looks like all have earned nicknames from President Trump as he goads them into losing focus.

    My question is, do people in this country really know who these candidates are?  I bet most know only one or two.  Even more do not care.  So with twenty-three democrats running (so far), how will they all fit on stage in a debate?  They cannot all fit.  That is why the solution appears to be two nights of debates.  The first night for the candidates who poll the highest.  The second night for the rest.  An A Team and a B Team.  Look for the B Team to be the more entertaining of the two debates.  The B Team has nothing to lose if they hope to get elevated to the A Team as the debates move forward.

    In truth, is this not simply more of what we saw in 2016 when the Democrats mocked the size of the Republican list of candidates?

    That is politics as usual.  Behavior that Democrats decry one day because the Republicans commit it suddenly becomes acceptable when they later engage in the same conduct.   When that happens, the Republicans, of course, condemn the Democrats.  It is a never-ending circle of lies and hypocrisy.

    Yet we wonder why Americans have no respect for Congress or Washington.  Our politicians have no one to blame except for themselves.

  • Comments off

    What Has Changed with the GOP’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

    After coming out of tax season, we are entering the time where refunds are in the mail.

    Despite all the excitement surrounding the tax cuts, many of the refund checks we see might only be marginally different from last year. For some, this means a smaller refund. For others, this means that they owe more to the IRS than they have in years past.

    This has left many with questions. One of President Donald Trump’s big campaign promises was to create fairer taxation for the middle class. But there is more to taxes than we see on our refunds now in the mail. The GOP’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has been at work longer – and harder — than the many in the public realize.

    The perceived refund shrink is explainable. One reason is quite simple: lower taxes on your gross income each pay period. You might have noticed in February of last year that you had a larger paycheck each pay period than you expected in the past. This is because of tax cuts resulting in less money withheld from your pay.

    Another bright side of new tax legislation is a larger Child Tax Credit for children under 17 years old. Parents can now claim a CTC of $2,000 per qualifying child; a far cry from the $1,000 under old tax laws. This part of the GOP bill is set to be phased out by the year 2025 (Tax Act).

    Unfortunately, as with any tax-related legislation, things are complicated. How beneficial the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is to you depends on your income bracket. If you land between $9,525-$200,000 each year, you were taxed an average of 2% less. The same applies for an income of over $500,000 per year. Those that lie in the $200,000-$500,000 range saw no change to their paycheck (Tax Foundation).

    Also, if you didn’t adjust your W-4s for the amount you wanted withheld in accordance to new tax codes, you may have been impacted negatively (Time Magazine). This explains why some people might end up with an unchanged income compounded by a smaller refund.

    The GOP’s tax bill eliminated personal exemptions as well, which amounted to nearly $4,050 per filer in 2017. Personal exemptions were replaced instead by a standard deduction double what it has been in previous years. For example, a person of single filing status went from $5,650 worth of standard deduction to $12,000.

    All that said, there were also losers in the new structure. With the cap on state property taxes and elimination of the state and local tax (SALT) deductions, many who live in the New York, New Jersey, California and other highly taxed states will pay more.

    Year to year, tax codes are a daunting puzzle. Did you feel cheated or triumphant after winding through the maze of 2019’s tax season?

  • Comments off

    A Summary of a Summary: The Mueller Report

    A few weeks ago, Attorney General William Barr outlined what he called “principal conclusions” of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller (Washington Post). For some, the summary was a cover-up coupled with attacks on Barr’s integrity. Others greeted Barr’s summary with claims of victory citing what they concluded to be findings of no collusion or obstruction of justice. As is so often the case in today’s Washington, the reaction of both sides was wrong.

    Nonetheless, here are three basic takeaways from what Barr did say:

    1. The Russians did interfere with the 2016 election.
    2. No one can confirm or deny the fact that the Trump Campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (Washington Post)
    3. According to Barr, there is still no conclusive evidence to support the claim that President Trump obstructed justice.

    The immediate reaction was condemnation by the left and victory marches by the right. All this before release of the full report, redacted or otherwise. Such uniformed and virulent responses, in light of the serious charges that have been filling the airwaves for more than two years, is negligent and irresponsible. Unfortunately, that is what we have come to expect from today’s politicians and biased media – on both sides of the aisle.

    After two years of speculation, leaks, false allegations, and the unjustified character assassination of some, we all need to wait for the full report before we make any conclusions. It is time for the political partisans and media pundits to shut up until we all see the full report.

    Barr also has reason to redact parts of the report.  The law requires it. Regardless, it serves no purpose to object to redactions until we see them and determine if they are appropriate legally appropriate.

    So far, no one has any evidence that Barr is anything but truthful. He is highly respected by anyone who is speculating on his integrity at this point in time is either naïve or ignorant. That does not mean he might not make mistakes – just as so many others have done, particularly those on both sides of the issues who love to attack one another. With so much at stake and in light of our growing distrust in all of Washington, now is not to time to jump to idle conclusions.

    Sadly, all of these left/right wing theatrics make me wonder if we can ever believe what our government is telling us and whether we will ever know the whole truth.

    Perhaps time will tell.

     

  • Comments off

    Leading Questions Amid the Nation’s Largest College Admission Scandal

    Famous actors like Felicity Hoffman and Lori Loughlin found themselves making headlines earlier this month after news broke that they, along with dozens of other elite parents, were allegedly part of a leverage scheme involving college admission cheating and bribery.

    Wealthy parents allegedly paid college admission consultant Rick Singer to help their children cheat on college entrance exams in addition to falsifying athletic records as a way of securing admission to schools like Stanford, Yale, Georgetown, UCLA, and USC, just to name a few. (Patch.com).  Some allegedly made contributions or bribes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to assure admission.  The whole story came to light after a Los Angeles parent exposed nearly everyone involved.

    Here’s my first question: How will the reputations of these famous actors, CEOs, and high-level executives change going forward?

    In Lori Loughlin’s case, her partnership with the Hallmark Channel has been severed as the network decided to cut ties with the actor after discovering the news.

    We are saddened by the news surrounding the college admissions allegations. We are no longer working with Lori Loughlin and have stopped development of all productions that air on the Crown Media Family Network channels involving Lori Loughlin,” Crown Media announced in a recent statement. (Broadway World)

    Some pundits has asked if this just.  Others opine that it is enough.  Actors in general have remained silent.  Politicians have chimed in and some have alleged this is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to corruption in the college admissions process.  Amid all of this, we cannot help but wonder what lies ahead for the children who are at the center of this scandal.  Some have been told they cannot stay in school.  Some in the media have suggested previously granted degrees should be rescinded for anyone who has graduated and who used Singer’s tactics to be admitted.  Regardless, these children are all forever scared, many on account of misguided parents.

    Let us be careful before we judge everyone allegedly involved in the scandal.  Time will tell how deep this goes.  While I agree it presents a clarion call for a full investigation in the college admissions process and the influence of tests, admissions committees, legacy, contributions, and sports, we must be cautious.  We need to be very careful that in our often emotional rush to judgement, we do not convict the innocent by association with the corrupt.

  • Comments off

    Do We Have a National Emergency?

    President Donald Trump anticipated and has certainly received flack after his declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Denver Post)

    Border security is not a new issue. It is something every administrations since Reagan has wrestled with.

    In Trump’s case, one of his most publicized campaign promises — the border wall — has not come to pass.  With the 2020 elections looming on the horizon, delivering on his border wall promise is much more substantial than simply the dollars, materials and labor required to build it.  It’s undeniable that partisan politics — on both of the aisle — infect the debate. But it is also clear that those same partisan politicians have failed to find a solution to an undeniable problem — emergency or not.

    Regardless, there are some basic facts about these types of situations we do know.

    The National Emergency Act, enacted in 1976, addresses any situation that threatens the country and calls for immediate action (US News) emergency orders is the national emergency declared in 2001 as a response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.  On that order alone, tens of thousands of soldiers were sent to battle and billions was spent. Past national emergencies range anywhere from disarming weapons of mass destruction to trade embargos on other countries, including the reallocation of previously approved Congressional budget allocations.

    In fact, the Constitution gives a standing president very broad discretion to override current policy in response to an emergency. These provisions include seizing property, assigning military forces abroad, instituting martial law, restricting travel, and generally controlling much of the lives of United States citizens.(Boston 25 News) Such powers, however, have rarely been exercised.

    While the President has the authority, the specific reason(s) for declaring a state of emergency must be publicly stated, and when this happens Congress can nullify it by way of a joint resolution. Like any other law, this would require a simple majority vote in the House and Senate to pass.  (Cornell Law School)

    While there are a wide variety of reasons past presidents have enacted this type of executive order, this will probably be the first time one is formally challenged by the Legislature.  Since it’s unlikly to withstand a veto even if the House and Senate pass a resolution against it, the ultimate resolution will be left to the courts. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/98-505.pdf

    Therein lies a big risk for both parties. If this case gets to the Supreme Court, its word will be final should it rule on Constitutional grounds. Nine unelected jurists will define the future of the President to issue emergency executive orders. All because our elected representatives could not come to a full compromise. Nor is the continuing blame game productive. The reality is simple. Two of the three branches of our government were unable to do their job in a bipartisan manner. Now the third unelected branch will make a decision that could have a profound impact on a President’s powers regardless of his or her political party.

    Is that what’s in our best interests?

  • Comments off

    As Politicians Claim Victory, America Becomes the Victim

    After the longest government shutdown in history, Congress and the White House have three weeks to make a deal on immigration reform or the country faces the choice of another shutdown or a presidential proclamation that we have a national emergency that requires his unilateral action to build physical barriers on our southern border.  Three weeks to settle arguments that have failed resolution for over fifteen years.  Only a Las Vegas handicapper is capable of putting odds on any bet that the two sides will come to an agreement.  Even with odds, that is not a bet I am likely to make.

    We do have an emergency but it is not just about our southern border or immigration.  While that is certainly a crisis, the true emergency facing our nation is a failure of leadership on both sides of the aisle.  In response to President Trump’s offer this past weekend that could be a start to compromise, Nancy Pelosi immediately criticized it as “not enough” and continued her rhetoric that a wall is immortal.  Senator Chuck Schumer echoed similar sentiments.  On the right, pundits like Ann Coulter accused President Trump of caving and others said he “lost” the fight.  Everyone took sides, ignoring the issues for the sake of partisan politics.

    So once again, we watch the spectacle to which our politicians seem addicted.  A spectacle that is not about what might or might not be best for Americans, Dreamers, DACA and TPS recipients, and the border agents risking their lives as illegal immigrants continue to flood the country.   Instead, it remains a partisan fight over who wields power in Washington and who will win the White House in 2020.  Neither side appears ready to compromise as each continues to kowtow to the extreme wings of their respective bases.  As the leaders of the two parties continue their mindless bickering, no one can argue against the reality that people are suffering and dying – both Americans and illegal immigrants – throughout our country because of a failed immigration policy.

    Three weeks.  That is how long our Washington politicos have to prove to America that they can lead through reasonable debate and compromise, putting aside partisan politics at this critical time.  Whether that will happen depends on all of them and I will not blame the Democrats or the Republicans if they fail.  I will blame them both and urge anyone I know to vote every one of them out of office, from top to bottom, in 2020.

     

     

Page 2 of 512345