Posts made in May 2018

Face value: Denmark bans burqas

June 1, 2018

On May 31, Denmark banned the burqa—joining Belgium, France, and the Netherlands in outlawing the head-to-toe veil worn in parts of the Muslim world. Turkey also bars burqas and niqabs, at least in some places. The perceived problem with the veil is that it hides a woman’s identity and poses a security threat.

The legislature, called the People’s Assembly or Folketing, passed the so-called “burqa ban” in a 75-30 vote, according to The Guardian. The government said it is not aimed at any specific religion and does not ban headscarves, turbans or the traditional Jewish skull cap.

Few Muslim women in Denmark wear full-face veils, based on a report by The Telegraph UK.  Indeed, in Europe, only a tiny fraction of Muslims choose to wear it—an estimated 30 women in Belgium, 400 in France, and 200 in the Netherlands; while it is mandated in many Middle Eastern nations, including Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Pakistan.

Denmark’s Justic Minister, Søren Pape Poulsen, said police officers would be able to use their own discretion when they see people violating the law, which comes effective on August 1.

Those deemed to be in violation would be subject to a fine of about $10. Repeat offenders could be fined up to $95 or jailed for up to six months.

In addition, The Telegraph reported, the new law would allow people to cover their face when there is a “recognizable purpose” such as cold weather.

Following news of the vote, Amnesty International’s Europe Director Gauri van Gulik issued the following statement: “All women should be free to dress as they please and to wear clothing that expresses their identity or beliefs. This ban will have a particularly negative impact on Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab or burqa.  Whilst some specific restrictions on the wearing of full-face veils for the purposes of public safety may be legitimate, this blanket ban is neither necessary nor proportionate and violates the rights to freedom of expression and religion.

She added, “If the intention of this law was to protect women’s rights it fails abjectly. Instead, the law criminalizes women for their choice of clothing and in so doing flies in the face of those freedoms Denmark purports to uphold.”

Research contact: @h_alexander

Keeping up with the Joneses: Neighbors of lottery winners are more likely to go broke

June 1, 2018

It’s hard to jump on the gravy train when you don’t have the face value of the ticket—especially if it’s a lottery ticket. But, nonetheless, close neighbors of lottery winners in Canada tend to spend more on conspicuous purchases; to put more money into speculative investments; and to borrow more—eventually declaring bankruptcy, Bloomberg reports.

“The larger the dollar magnitude of a lottery prize of one individual in a very small neighborhood, the more subsequent bankruptcies there will be from other individuals in that neighborhood,” says a May 2018 working paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia—co-authored by Sumit Agarwal of Georgetown University, Vyacheslav Mikhed of the Philadelphia Fed, and Barry Scholnick of the University of Alberta.”

An earlier version of their paper got a scads of publicity in 2016, Bloomberg says, by presenting evidence from bankruptcy filings that neighbors were trying to keep up with the lottery winner in their midst. The telltale sign: They raised spending on things their neighbors could see, such as cars, but not on indoor items like furniture.

In the latest version of their paper, the researchers focused on small lottery winnings, ranging from C$1,000 to C$150,000 (roughly US$800 to US$120,000). One reason: The winners of bigger jackpots tended to move out of their current neighborhoods.

The winners of these smaller prizes were more likely to keep their good luck a secret. The researchers theorized that people might not amp up their own spending so much if they knew that a lottery prize was the reason for their neighbor’s sudden prosperity—and they could not compare their own good fortunes to those of the winners.

The economists collected data on 7,337 lottery prizes, dating from 2004 to 2014. They then looked at spending by neighbors within areas that share six-digit postal codes, which have a median of just 13 households.

They found that a prize equal to the median annual income (C$29,000 or US$22,368)) tended to raise the bankruptcy rate of the neighbors by 6.6%.

Finally, the researchers offered one reassuring finding: There was no evidence that the people who filed for bankruptcy had been superstitiously buying more lottery tickets in hopes that their neighbor’s good luck would rub off on them.

Research contact: @petercoy

Trump imposes steel, aluminum tariffs on EU, Canada and Mexico

June 1, 2018

The Trump administration will levy onerous steel and aluminum tariffs on its close allies—the European Union, Canada and Mexico—starting today, in a move likely to lead to retaliation and risk the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), The Hill reported.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a conference call with the media on May 31 that—following months of entreaties from the three trading partners—the president had decided to end temporary exemptions.

This is not a step that the American public support, based on results of a recent Quinnipiac Poll. U.S. voters oppose (50% to 31%) tariffs on steel and aluminum, and disagree (64% to 28%) with President Donald Trump’s claim that a trade war would be good for the U.S. and easily won, the researchers found.

Every listed party, gender, education, age and racial group opposes steel and aluminum tariffs, except for the Republicans, who support tariffs by a lackluster 58% to 20%; and white voters with no college degree, who are divided (42% to 40%).

American voters oppose these tariffs (59 % to 29%), Quinnipiac found, if these tariffs raise the cost of the goods they buy. Indeed,American voters disapprove (54% to 34%) of the way in which the POTUS is handling trade.

Ross said on Thursday, “We look forward to continued negotiations with Canada and Mexico on one hand; and with the European Commission on the other hand, as there are other issues we need to get resolved.”

The Commerce Secretary noted that the Trump administration would need to see the reactions of Canada, Mexico and the 28-nation EU bloc before determining what to do next.

But, The Hill reported, he said that U.S. officials are “quite willing and eager” to have further discussions with all of the parties.

The trading partners all had warned America that they intended to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports, if President Trump made this move.

According to The Hill, the EU is expected to quickly retaliate with promised tariffs of about $3.3 billion on iconic American products such as bourbon, jeans and motorcycles.

Last year, nearly 50% of U.S. steel and aluminum imports came from the EU, Canada and Mexico. Trump first announced tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum for national security reasons in March.

Canada and Mexico also have said that tariffs are unacceptable, don’t affect U.S. national security and that their implementation could put the fate of NAFTA at stake.

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‘Right to Try’ bill heads to White House for signature

May 31, 2018

Nearly 90% of Americans want the chance to try experimental drugs when they are critically ill and “have everything to gain and nothing to lose,” based on findings of a poll conducted in March by

They (and their families and friends) are celebrating the passage of Right to Try legislation by the U.S. House of Representatives—successfully culminating a multi-year campaign by the Goldwater Institute to give such patients access to drugs not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Specifically, the bill gives terminally ill patients the right to seek drug treatments that remain in clinical trials and “have passed Phase 1 of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process,” but have not been fully approved by the agency.

The House passed the bill, sponsored by Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), on May 29 by a vote of 250 to 169, sending it on to President Donald Trump’s desk for signature. According to coverage by Biopharma Dive, the act covers a much broader population than an earlier House-passed version. The president has been a vocal advocate despite warnings from patient groups and top FDA staffers including Commissioner Scott Gottlieb that it may have unintended effects and potentially hinder FDA’s authority .

On the other hand, Biopharma Dive reported, conservative groups—including Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity—backed the effort; calling attention to the fact that 40 states have passed versions of the bill.

“The Administration believes that these patients and their families should be able to seek access to potentially life-saving therapies while those treatments are still under review by the FDA,” an administration policy statement said.

The legislation passed via unanimous consent in the Senate last August.

In a May 21 letter, more than 100 patient advocacy groups—among them, The American Cancer Society, the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers, the Cancer Action Network, Friends of Cancer Research and the National Organization for Rare Disorders—urged House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to reject the bill. The groups argued that. while they did not support the previous House-passed bill either, at least it had comprised several safeguards that are missing from the new legislation.

Senior House GOP leadership praised the bill as a leap forward for patients.

Research contact: @SGottliebFDA

The high price of a low performer

May 31, 2018

An employee who can’t keep up with work demands affects the bottom line more than some may think, based on findings of a poll sponsored by staffing firm Robert Half and released on May 15.

Asked by researchers to estimate just how much time is spent coaching underperforming employees, 2,200 CFOs nationwide estimated 26% of a 40-hour work week—or more than 10 hours.  What’s more, fully 91% of finance executives acknowledged that such hiring mistakes negatively affect team morale.

“A bad hire is tremendously expensive for a company,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half. “The time and money managers spend on recruitment and training is lost, and they also have to fix underperformers’ mistakes and deal with their [fallout] on staff morale and productivity.”

McDonald added, “A bad hire signals that your hiring process may be flawed. It could be that you are not putting sufficient weight on soft skills or are overemphasizing qualities that aren’t crucial to the role.”

The company advises HR to “hire for fit.” New hires should have the technical chops to do the job well, but they also should fit in well within your team and corporate culture.

Other tips include offering above-average compensation. Stellar candidates know what they are worth, so pay is not the place to skimp.

Finally, don’t forget to check those references—and carefully. Resume fraud is on the rise.

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Has Melania bolted to New York City?

May 31, 2018

The most popular member of the Trump family, Melania, seems to have hightailed it back to New York City—at least, for the summer, if not for the indefinite future— along with 12-year-old son Barron.

The 48-year-old First Lady reportedly entered Walter Reed Military Hospital on May 14 for treatment of a benign kidney condition. She is said to have been released from the medical facility on May 20, returning to the White House for a short recuperation. She did not appear at the Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery with her husband and no official explanation was provided for her absence.

But now comes word from the Inquisitr that the popular anti-Trump Twitter commentator, “Tea Pain,” has reported that Melania Trump has switched the location status on her personal Twitter account to New York City. This is fueling  speculation that she has moved out of the White House.

According to the Inquisitr report, despite a recent claim by Donald Trump that his wife Melania could be seen in a White House window, the first lady has not appeared in public since May 10, when she accompanied the President to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to welcome three  who had been held captive in North Korea back to the United States.

Rumor has is that she has settled back into Trump Tower in New York City, where she had lived since her marriage to Trump in 2005.Indeed, she waited until the end of Barron’s school year in New York to move to the U.S. capital formally five months following the POTUS’s inauguration.

Following the recent surge in publicity about Trump’s affair with porn star Stormy Daniels , his wife may feel less embarrassed when she is out of the Washington spotlight.

During Melania Trump’s stay at Trump Tower in the period between January 20 and June 10 of last year, she received Secret Service security protection that Business Insider said had cost taxpayers more than $100,000 per day—a cost that would presumably now need to go back into effect if the rumor proves accurate and she actually has moved out of the White House

According to the Inquistr, earlier this month, shortly before her disappearance from public view, a separate rumor circulated in Washington, D.C., circles, claiming that Melania was not living at the White House with her husband, but instead was residing with her parents and her son in a separate residence at another location in the city. However, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied that rumor as “1,000 percent false.”

Based on findings of a You.Gov poll released in January Melania Trump has an overall 48% popularity rating—higher than her husband’s, which came in at 36%; and seven percentage points up on Ivanka Trump.

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Trump to meet with Japanese leader before Singapore summit

May 30, 2018

President Trump agreed on May 28 to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of a potential summit with North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un, according to a report in The Washington Post—providing a chance for the two close allies to coordinate their strategy amid concerns in Tokyo over the prospective peace talks.

Trump and Abe spoke by phone on Memorial Day, even as a U.S. delegation already was on-site in North Korea, negotiating with counterparts in a bid to keep alive the June 12 summit in Singapore, which Trump announced on May 23 that he was cancelling—although he did give the North Korean leader the opportunity to call or write in order to reinstate the meeting.

After a more conciliatory statement from Pyongyang, the president has said that the summit could be back on.

That’s good news to most Americans, according to Fox, which said that a poll conducted by the news network late in March found that voters—both Democrats and Republicans— favor the meeting by a wide 63% to 30% margin. 

In addition, Fox News found, U.S. voters expect Trump to come out of the meeting with the better deal (42% Trump, 26% Kim, and 19% neither).

Even so, most voters don’t think North Korea will ever be convinced to give up its nuclear weapons (76%), and they continue to give Trump negative ratings for his handling of North Korea overall (41% percent approve, 49% disapprove).

A meeting between Trump and Abe could come on the sidelines of the Group of 7 (G7) economic summit in Quebec, scheduled to be held from June 8 to June 9; but it is also possible that Abe will swing by Washington en route to that conference, a Japanese official said.

Research contact: @foxnewspoll

Hearing is believing with voice recognition

May 30, 2018

A solid majority (81%) of Americans believe there are benefits to using voice recognition for secure identification, based on a survey sponsored by Pindrop.

However, 94% of the 3,000 U.S. adults contacted online by The Harris Poll, which conducted the survey on behalf of Pindrop, believe there may be drawbacks.

Among the survey respondents, the following percentages mentioned that they were wary of specific flaws that could hamper such a system:

  • 61%: May not work well because of background noise (channel independence;
  • 60%: May not work accurately every time (low energy efficiency rating;
  • 48%: Voice can be cloned to defraud end users (voice spoofing);
  • 43%: System may have difficulty recognizing accents;
  • 39%: May not be secure;
  • 36%: Requires you to speak loudly and clearly (channel independence); and
  • 31%: Lack of information on how voice as personal verification works.

Still, consumers say they are dissatisfied with current security methods and a new platform, such as voice identification, may be needed.

More than one in four Americans who have accessed an account at either a healthcare company (28%) or a TV/telecom company (27%) by phone expressed frustration with their experience.

They cite burdensome requirements to answer numerous identity verification questions is the cause of this difficulty for over one-quarter of them (28%). In fact, nearly one in five (18%) said they have,a t times, forgotten the answers to their security questions and, therefore, have been locked out of their accounts.

We are ushering in a new era of passive voice authentication that will create opportunities for brands to interact with their customers,” said Scott Rose, SVP of Product, at Atlanta-based Pindrop, adding, “As consumers go beyond heir phones and increase interactions with voice activated devices, it is crucial not to confuse personalization with security and identification.”

The study also assessed consumer engagement with financial institutions, retailers, healthcare providers and other major omnichannel organizations. Findings indicate that roughly half of Americans contacted financial service companies (49%), healthcare companies (59%), insurance companies (54%), and telco companies (60%), via phone with a customer service inquiry in the last 12 months.

About one in ten Americans contacted healthcare companies (15%), insurance companies (9%) and financial service companies (11%) via phone more than five times per year.

According to Pindrop, in the emerging conversational economy, brands are reimagining voice activated consumer experiences. Enterprise level security and multi-factor authentication is the necessary next step for all industries creating new opportunities for frictionless customer experiences. As more channels become voice-activated, fraudsters will leverage emerging technologies such as voice synthesis to impersonate consumers. Today, the company says, voice fraud costs organizations in the U.S. $14 billion each year within call centers alone.

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Second-hand stores are going mainstream

May 30, 2018

Whether they are interested in “shabby chic” or  designer hand-me-downs, a discerning coterie of women always has patronized thrift shops and second-hand stores.

But today, interest in “slightly” or “lightly” used clothing has expanded to a more diverse crowd—including men, middle-income earners, and Generation X, based on findings of a poll released on May 29 by Civic Science.

With the rise of online sites, such as ThredUP and PoshMark— which allow users to sell their gently used clothing in exchange for cash-—business is booming. So, who is buying clothes second-hand, and why?

As it turns out, Civic Science reports, thrift shopping has caught the attention of the majority of U.S. adults whom the researchers polled.

Although only 9% say they shop for clothing at thrift stores very frequently; 27% say they do so somewhat frequently; and 16% say they are interested in doing so in the future. That adds up to 52% of respondents with some degree of enthusiasm for the thrift shopping experience.

And, while women very clearly outweigh men in the ‘very frequently’ category, the percentages of men and women are almost equal in the ‘interested’ category, which comprises 48% men and 52% women.

While second-hand stores are known for offering a deal–fully 36% of respondents say they shop second-hand for that reason–the income breakdown may be a little different from what you would think.

It’s not necessarily surprising that those who make less than $50,000 a year report shopping at thrift shops very frequently. If budget is a top priority, then this makes sense.

However, among those who are now saying they are interested are shoppers who earn $50K a year (37%), as well as those who bring home between $50K and $100K a year (34%). In fact, even those who make more than $100K say they take a look at the second-hand racks, in case there is something that appeals to them.

That said, there are still plenty of divides along generational lines. Generation X has pulled slightly ahead of Millennials in terms of getting into the thrift store scene.

So what does all of this mean for the future of thrifting and second-hand shopping sprees? While current avid thrifters are largely female, under $50k per year income earners and Millennials, it’s unlikely that it will stay this way for very long. Although thrift shopping may have started out appealing to a very specific demographic, rising interest from men, mid-range income earners and Gen Xers indicates that the future of thrift shopping may become more mainstream.

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Americans stew over loss of influence in Middle East

May 29, 2018

More than two-thirds of Americans are alarmed that the United States is losing influence in the Middle East, according to findings of a study conducted by the Harvard Center for American Political Studies/Harris Poll and released exclusively to The Hill on May 24.

Fully 69% of the 1,347 U.S. registered voters who responded to the online poll said they believe that America is ceding influence in the region to such countries as Russia, Iran and China.

Tempers in the region have flared since President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran pact and moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, both this month.

Fifty-four percent of respondents told the researchers that America should have attempted to renegotiate the Iran deal instead of withdrawing, while 46% said that they agreed with the administration’s decision.

But there was consensus that Iran has violated its end of the bargain, the Hill reported: 65% believe that Iran isn’t sticking to the terms of the agreement, which rolled back sanctions in exchange for Iran ramping down its development of nuclear weapons.

While a majority of respondents polled didn’t back Trump’s decision in Iran, there’s far stronger support for his decision to move the U.S. Embassy. Forty percent of respondents approved, while 31 percent believed it should only have been moved in exchange for a major concession from Israel.

A near-majority of Americans also put the blame for the violence that occurred during protests in Gaza in the days surrounding the announcement on Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group.

Research contact: @bkamisar