"In the U.S., the richest 0.1% control a bigger share of the pie than at any time since 1929."
by Jake Johnson
The 500 richest people in the world, all of whom are billionaires, gained a combined $1.2 trillion in wealth in 2019, further exacerbating inequities that have not been seen since the late 1920s.
That's according to a new Bloomberganalysis published Friday, which found that the planet's 500 richest people saw their collective net worth soar by 25 percent to $5.9 trillion over the last year.
"In the U.S., the richest 0.1 percent control a bigger share of the pie than at any time since 1929," Bloomberg noted. "The 172 American billionaires on the Bloomberg ranking added $500 billion, with Facebook Inc.'s Mark Zuckerberg up $27.3 billion and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates [rising] $22.7 billion."
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos lost nearly $9 billion in wealth in 2019, according to Bloomberg, but he will still likely end the year as the richest man in the world with a total net worth of $116 billion.
The analysis comes as 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, particularly Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have made tackling inequality a key component of their policy platforms.
Warren has proposed an annual two percent tax on assets over $50 million and a three percent tax on assets above $1 billion.
Sanders, who has said he does not believe billionaires should exist, is calling for a wealth tax that would slash the fortunes of U.S. billionaires in half over 15 years, according to his campaign.
"A small handful of billionaires should not be able to accumulate more money than they could spend in 10 lifetimes," Sanders said in September, "while millions of Americans are living in poverty and dying because they can't afford healthcare."
Republished with permission under license from CommonDreams.
I've always been suspect how Facebook so quickly overtook MySpace and dominated social media. Early on I assumed the government had some major role. Much of the information people voluntarily share on Facebook, the government would need a search warrant to discover.
Sound far fetched? The CIA runs a venture capital firm called In-Q-Tel. Its purpose is to find and finance companies that could benefit the CIA. It invests in high-tech companies for the sole purpose of keeping the Central Intelligence Agency, and other intelligence agencies, equipped with the latest in information technology in support of United States intelligence capability.
In-Q-Tel sold 5,636 shares of Google, on November 15, 2005. The shares were a result of Google's acquisition of Keyhole, Inc, the CIA-funded satellite mapping software now known as Google Earth.
The first In-Q-Tel CEO was a venture capitalist named Gilman Louie. Louie once served on the board of the National Venture Capital Association. While Louie was on the board of NVCA, another board member was James Breyer, who runs Accel Partners which was Facebook's first venture capital investor. Coincidence? You decide.
More significantly, Facebook is required to have an “outside assessor” – a sort of privacy cop – to monitor the company’s handling of user data, along with following a few other corporate procedural requirements. That assessor could address the fundamental problems with the way Facebook operates – but as a scholar of technology companies’ business practices, I’m worried that this potentially all-important role is set up for failure.
In my opinion, in order to be effective, there are three main privacy-related concerns the FTC’s newly designated cop would need to look out for: the potential for genuine violations of users’ privacy; the targeted spread of harmful content, especially resulting in election manipulation and ethnic violence; and instances of collecting and harvesting far more data than is warranted to provide services to users.
An independent assessor will lack the standards, regulatory and legal guidelines, and the insight needed to actually monitor how Facebook handles those three issues. This makes the privacy cop’s job much harder than that of a regular cop or, say, a financial auditor.
Facebook’s business model uses its treasure trove of user data to target advertising, the source of almost all the company’s revenue. An outsider will be unable to tell the difference between legitimate business practices that harvest user data to increase profits and problematic abuses that violate users’ privacy. In fact, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who dissented from the decision, declared that the new settlement still “allows Facebook to decide for itself how much information it can harvest from its users and what it can do with that information.”
The outside assessor will be focused on privacy, which means that identifying, verifying and policing content will be beyond the assessor’s mandate. Ironically, steps to enhance privacy, such as ensuring end-to-end encryption across all of Facebook’s messaging platforms – as Mark Zuckerberg intends to do – would help in protecting the identity of the spreaders of harmful messages, rather than exposing them and their actions.
Protecting users from giving up too much
Access to Facebook seems free, because it costs no money, but users pay with their data. The assessor should ask if the users are being charged fairly, in privacy terms, for the service they’re receiving. That raises the question of what a “fair” price is for what Facebook provides.
Normally, price is set by a competitive market, where customers can choose from a range of service providers. Not so on Facebook, where there are high costs – again, not financial, but in terms of time and effort – to leaving, and no other option offering equivalent services.
It’s hard to leave Facebook, not only because there are so many users. Many customers use their Facebook logins on thousands of other apps and services. If they delete their Facebook accounts, they lose all access to those other apps too, like customized Spotify playlists and Netflix viewing preferences. Worse still, Facebook has bought up many of its competitors. Lots of people who quit Facebook shift over to Instagram – which is owned by Facebook.
Looking to the future, the company is making the price of leaving Facebook even higher, by planning to consolidate its data-collection power by integrating its various apps, including Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp – as well as through a proposed digital currency for transactions conducted on Facebook platforms. All of these create a playing field that is tilted in favor of an all-encompassing single parent company, limiting users’ choices and making switching difficult. No assessor can remedy the inherent unfairness of that imbalance.
Far more than the fine, the centerpiece of the FTC deal is the outside assessor. If properly designed, this role could be truly game-changing – one of a forceful privacy cop setting the standards for how the power of big technology firms is managed from here on. But the fine is a slap on the wrist, and the cop’s arms are tied and don’t reach far enough. This sets a very bad precedent: Both the FTC and Facebook can declare a victory of sorts, while the consumer loses.
Republished with permission from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.
I recently finished, Ava DuVernay's "When They See Us" a four-part mini-series on Netflix that tells the story of the Central Park 5; five black and brown teenage boys who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman and spent between 6 to 14 years in prison. If you have not yet seen this movie, I highly recommend that you do. The trailer for "When They See Us" is below.
The film drives homes what can happen when a person doesn't know their rights or how to exercise them. Ironically, the mother of Yusef Salaam understood her son's rights and took the right steps to protect him, however, lack of knowledge of the other parents resulted in Yusef going to jail with the others.
"When They See Us" provides lessons about our criminal justice system that all African-Americans need to be aware of. If you're a black parent, watch it with your kids or at least make sure they see the series as part of their education about the U.S. justice system. Ava DuVernay discussed the film and the criminal justice system with Trevor Noah in the video below:
Children in juvenile court proceedings do not enjoy the same constitutional rights as adults. Prior to the civil rights era in the 1960s, juveniles had few due process rights at all.
The U.S. Supreme Court held that there’s no jury-trial right in juvenile delinquency proceedings. (McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528 (1971).) However, minors tried in adult systems are entitled to juries.
A child’s statements to police can be used against them in court proceedings, however, only when the statements are voluntary and given freely. The government may not coerce confessions, as provided by the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and the due-process prohibition against admitting involuntary confessions into court. However, forced confessions are not easy to prove. Parents need to teach their children not to say anything to police without a parent or attorney present.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police can use deception and are allowed to falsely claim that a friend or acquaintance has confessed or implicated someone when in fact he/she had not (Frazier v. Cupp, 1969). The police can claim to have found a suspect's fingerprints at a crime scene when there were none (Oregon v. Mathiason, 1977), determining such acts insufficient for rendering the defendant's confession inadmissible. State courts have permitted police to deceive suspects about a range of factual matters, including, for example, falsely stating that incriminating DNA evidence and satellite photography of the crime scene exist (State v. Nightingale, 2012).
Children need to be trained on how to respond when stopped or detained by police. Police officers must have probable cause to search and arrest a minor who is suspected of violating a criminal statute. Minors like adults have the right to remain silent and are not required to answer questions. There are exceptions
In some states, you must provide your name to law enforcement officers if you are stopped and told to identify yourself. But even if you give your name, you are not required to answer other questions.
If you are driving and you are pulled over for a traffic violation, the officer can require you to show your license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance (but you do not have to answer questions).
Even if you have already answered some questions, you can refuse to answer other questions until you have a lawyer.
Keep in mind that lying to a government official is a crime but remaining silent until you consult with a lawyer is not.
When my sons were minors, I required them to keep a reverse Miranda card in their wallets that stated the following:
To: Any agent, law enforcement officer, or representative of the government
My Name is: X Hill – I am a minor child, following my parent’s instructions.
If you have been presented with this, then you have detained me against my will. I wish to be released at once. If you believe you have a legal reason for still holding me, then it must be for one of two reasons:
1. You believe I have information relevant to a case or investigation and need my assistance. I am happy to comply and will in no way obstruct justice. Simply type up your questions and contact my parent/s (R or C Hill 314-xxx-xxxx). Upon review by them and any attorney they so choose, I will answer any and all that they and their attorney advise me to. Please do not argue about this, or it will delay the investigation, and neither of us wants that.
2. You believe that I have committed a crime. I want to speak with my parent/s and/or the attorney they provide me and do not wish to answer any questions or make any statement until I do. You may contact my parents at 314-xxx-xxxx, alternate contact, grandmother 314-xxx-xxxx.
While doing those things, please see to it that I am given food, drink, and bathroom breaks frequently, as I will not ask. Please do not ask that I fill out, sign, initial, check off, or in any way mark anything for any reason. I have been forbidden to do this by my parent/s until they and/or their attorney, can review any such documents.
Finally, please do not interpret my silence as rudeness, guilt, retardation or anything else but what it is – obedience to my parent/s and their attorney.
Prison Industrial Complex
Locking up prisoners is big business. The three largest private prison corporations CoreCivic, formerly the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Geo Group, and MTC take in $5 billion in revenue a year. If you bank with Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, BNP, and U.S. Bancorp, you may have helped finance private prisons.
In addition to private prisons, there are corporations that contract cheap prison labor, construction companies, surveillance technology vendors, companies that operate prison food services and medical facilities, prison guard unions, phone companies, private probation companies,lawyers, and lobby groups that represent them. "The Prison Industrial Complex: Mapping Private Sector Players” exposes over 3,900 companies profiting off mass incarceration.
Private prison inmates earn as little as 17 cents per hour. Companies including: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more have profited from prison labor.
It Begins Early
School districts thru zero tolerance policies often trap disadvantaged kids in the school to prison pipeline that can unfairly introduce them into the criminal justice system. Black students, in particular, are more likely to be arrested in school for minor behavior issues.
When my youngest son was in grade school, the principal shared some startling information, the number of prisons built are based on third-grade reading scores. This is supposed to be an urban myth, however, test scores are used to make some predictions. During my son's freshman year in high school, I had to appeal an excessive penalty for horseplay.
You owe it to yourself and your children to use Court.rchp.com and other resources to educate yourself about the law and our legal system. As "When They See Us" demonstrated, we're only as strong as our weakest link.
A major of feature of Google Maps is its ability to predict how long different navigation routes will take. That’s possible because the mobile phone of each person using Google Maps sends data about its location and speed back to Google’s servers, where it is analyzed to generate new data about traffic conditions.
Information like this is useful for navigation. But the exact same data that is used to predict traffic patterns can also be used to predict other kinds of information – information people might not be comfortable with revealing.
For example, data about a mobile phone’s past location and movement patterns can be used to predict where a person lives, who their employer is, where they attend religious services and the age range of their children based on where they drop them off for school.
These predictions label who you are as a person and guess what you’re likely to do in the future. Research shows that people are largely unaware that these predictions are possible, and, if they do become aware of it, don’t like it. In my view, as someone who studies how predictive algorithms affect people’s privacy, that is a major problem for digital privacy in the U.S.
How is this all possible?
Every device that you use, every company you do business with, every online account you create or loyalty program you join, and even the government itself collects data about you.
The kinds of data they collect include things like your name, address, age, Social Security or driver’s license number, purchase transaction history, web browsing activity, voter registration information, whether you have children living with you or speak a foreign language, the photos you have posted to social media, the listing price of your home, whether you’ve recently had a life event like getting married, your credit score, what kind of car you drive, how much you spend on groceries, how much credit card debt you have and the location history from your mobile phone.
It doesn’t matter if these datasets were collected separately by different sources and don’t contain your name. It’s still easy to match them up according to other information about you that they contain.
For example, there are identifiers in public records databases, like your name and home address, that can be matched up with GPS location data from an app on your mobile phone. This allows a third party to link your home address with the location where you spend most of your evening and nighttime hours – presumably where you live. This means the app developer and its partners have access to your name, even if you didn’t directly give it to them.
Data brokers are companies that are in the business of buying and selling datasets from a wide range of sources, including location data from many mobile phone carriers. Data brokers combine data to create detailed profiles of individual people, which they sell to other companies.
Combined datasets like this can be used to predict what you’ll want to buy in order to target ads. For example, a company that has purchased data about you can do things like connect your social media accounts and web browsing history with the route you take when you’re running errands and your purchase history at your local grocery store.
Even though people may be aware that their mobile phones have GPS and that their name and address are in a public records database somewhere, it’s far less likely that they realize how their data can be combined to make new predictions. That’s because privacy policies typically only include vague language about how data that’s collected will be used.
In a January survey, the Pew Internet and American Life project asked adult Facebook users in the U.S. about the predictions that Facebook makes about their personal traits, based on data collected by the platform and its partners. For example, Facebook assigns a “multicultural affinity” category to some users, guessing how similar they are to people from different race or ethnic backgrounds. This information is used to target ads.
The survey found that 74 percent of people did not know about these predictions. About half said they are not comfortable with Facebook predicting information like this.
In my research, I’ve found that people are only aware of predictions that are shown to them in an app’s user interface, and that makes sense given the reason they decided to use the app. For example, a 2017 study of fitness tracker users showed that people are aware that their tracker device collects their GPS location when they are exercising. But this doesn’t translate into awareness that the activity tracker company can predict where they live.
Today’s internet largely relies on people managing their own digital privacy.
Companies ask people up front to consent to systems that collect data and make predictions about them. This approach would work well for managing privacy, if people refused to use services that have privacy policies they don’t like, and if companies wouldn’t violate their own privacy policies.
Requiring users to consent without understanding how their data will be used also allows companies to shift the blame onto the user. If a user starts to feel like their data is being used in a way that they’re not actually comfortable with, they don’t have room to complain, because they consented, right?
In my view, there is no realistic way for users to be aware of the kinds of predictions that are possible. People naturally expect companies to use their data only in ways that are related to the reasons they had for interacting with the company or app in the first place. But companies usually aren’t legally required to restrict the ways they use people’s data to only things that users would expect.
One exception is Germany, where the Federal Cartel Office ruled on Feb. 7 that Facebook must specifically ask its users for permission to combine data collected about them on Facebook with data collected from third parties. The ruling also states that if people do not give their permission for this, they should still be able to use Facebook.
I believe that the U.S. needs stronger privacy-related regulation, so that companies will be more transparent and accountable to users about not just the data they collect, but also the kinds of predictions they’re generating by combining data from multiple sources.
Thursday night, September 6th, while some people were contemplating burning their Nike gear because of an ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, a 26 year-old unarmed immigrant, Botham Shem Jean, was shot and killed while being black in his own home by a 30 year-old white female off duty Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, after supposedly entering an apartment she mistakenly thought was her own.
Colin Kaepernick began his slient and peaceful protest, first by sitting and then by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick has clearly stated a number of times that his protest has nothing to do with disrespecting the flag or military, but is simply a stand against the killing of unarmed black men at the hands of mostly white police officers. Jean's killing is the most recent example of what Kaepernick's protest is about.
Guyger told police she thought she was entering her own apartment not realizing she was on the wrong floor; she thought her home was being burglarized and opened fire, shot him twice in the chest, and killed him. Guyger, off-duty but still in uniform, was returning home from either a 12 or 15-hour shift Thursday night; she said she mistook Jean's apartment for her own, which was a floor below in the same complex. Weird, given he had a red welcome mat at the door (she didn't) and presumably different stuff in his place, but okay.
Jean was a devout Christian and talented singer and worked as a risk assurance associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He earned a bachelor's degree at Harding University in Arkansas, where he had been a beloved worship leader. Jean described himself on LinkedIn as a "young professional, engaged in developing a career built upon integrity, dedication and relationships, leveraging useful technologies to gain an understanding of and add value in a range (of) industries, striving towards leadership in my career, my community and society." A college friend described him as "wildly popular, hugely successful, and an incredible leader…he was a gentleman and a scholar."
In an affidavit released Monday, Guyger made several shady new claims. She said Jean's door was open; she didn't know it was the wrong apartment until after she shot him; she saw "a large silhouette" – cue myth of the big black dude – as she entered; and Jean "ignored" her "verbal commands" – in, lest we forget, his own apartment. At least two witnesses refute her; they say they heard a woman knocking on the closed door and saying "Let me in,” and Jean was too “meticulous” to ever leave his door ajar. Also Guyger, it turns out, has been here before: In May 2017, Guyger was called to assist another officer searching for a suspect. An affidavit indicates a man identified as Uvaldo Perez got out of a car and became combative with Guyger and another officer. A struggle began and Guyger fired her Taser at Perez, who wrested the weapon away from her. Guyger then drew her gun and shot Perez in the abdomen, the affidavit says. Guyger was not charged in the case.
Dallas police requested an arrest warrant Friday for Guyger after Jean’s death was ruled a homicide; it wasn't issued until Sunday, reportedly because the Texas Rangers took over the case and were still investigating. Guyger, a four-year veteran of the department, was charged with manslaughter, booked into Kaufman County jail that evening and was freed an hour later after posting $300,000 bond, according to jail records. Given the contradictions in Guyger's story, officials say she could face stiffer charges once her case goes to a grand jury.
Allison Jean flew to Dallas from the family’s native St. Lucia after the shooting. Her son will be buried on the Caribbean island Thursday. “She took my life away, like my very own life,” said Jean's mother, Allison. “She has to face whatever the law says. The very Bible says to render to Caesar that which is Caesar so if Caesar says to pay a penalty for a life, then she has to pay.”
For now, his family is left to grieve and seek answers. They gathered this weekend for a vigil at Jean's Dallas church, where the congregation honored him with one of his favorite hymns, "My God is Real," and a friend compared him to holy men of the Bible who gave friends spiritual guidance and "evangelized every day." His loss, he said, is "a disservice to humanity." It's also why Kaepernick and so many others continue to speak out in righteous rage, said family attorney Benjamin Crump, who said Jean's death should "astonish most sensible Americans…Black people have been killed by police in some of the most arbitrary ways in America. Blacks have been killed for ‘driving while black’ in their automobiles, ‘walking while black’ in their neighborhoods and now ‘living while black’ in their own apartment."
Critics online echoed him. The harsh clear lesson, said one: "Suit. Tie. Christian. Respectable. At home. Black. Dead." Jean's mother Allison Jean, a former government official of St. Lucia, likewise cited the clear racism behind her son's murder in an interview, calmly arguing a white man would not have met the same grim fate. “Botham loved God. Botham loved you. Botham loved mankind," she said. "God loves us all the same, and this has to stop."
As I heard about this young man's life, I couldn't help but be reminded about my oldest son. My son, who will be 25 tomorrow has been actively involve in church since his youth. Like Jean, he sings in the choir, and is currently a minister and founder of an organization dedicated to help others. This could have just as easily been either of my two sons. My thoughts and prays go out to the Jean family. Hopefully Jean's tragic death will open the eyes of those burning their Nike gear and help them realize that police killing unarmed people is a real problem that needs to first be acknowledged and then solved.
Fathers have a significant impact on their children’s well-being – an impact that begins even before the child is born. In fact, studies have shown that fathers who are involved during pregnancy have healthier children.
During the early years of life, emotionally nourishing father-child relationships lay the foundation for lifelong health and well-being for children. Fathers who are involved during pregnancy also tend to stay involved over the long term. Indeed, the positive influence of father involvement can be felt throughout adolescence and young adulthood.
Our research lab studies father-child relationships, and we recently looked at the question: What early parent education programs are out there to support fathers during the prenatal and postnatal periods? Our study, published on June 14 in the journal Pediatrics, suggested that there are not that many.
Not many father-friendly early parent education programs
Specifically, our systematic review examined U.S.-based parent programs for men during the perinatal period, i.e., pregnancy through the first year of life. We could identify only 19 programs (out of a total of 1,353 studies reviewed) that were considered “father-friendly.” Father-friendly was defined as involving or targeting fathers and including outcomes related to fathering, such as father involvement, father-infant interaction and father’s parenting knowledge.
Most programs were offered in clinic or hospital settings. Programs ranged from general education programs (on childbirth, infant care and infant development) to relationship and co-parenting programs to clinical and case management programs.
In addition to the small number of existing programs for fathers, most programs reviewed in the systematic review lacked evidence of improving key fathering outcomes. Relatedly, only three studies were considered high quality. These findings demonstrate the dearth of father-inclusive programs that yield promising outcomes.
Overall, when it comes to education and support during the perinatal period, research shows that there are few parenting programs to prepare men for the magic moment when they welcome their new baby, even though this time has been identified as a critical window of opportunity to intervene to support fathers during their transition to fatherhood.
Most existing programs are designed primarily for mothers. This is a missed opportunity, because fathers in the U.S. are increasingly involved in their children’s lives. And fathers today want to be involved not just as breadwinners, but also as caregivers who provide nurturing and responsive parenting.
Father-friendly practices by health care professionals
In obstetrics and pediatrics settings, fathers participating in research have reported feeling neglected. They are often viewed as playing a secondary role to mothers. This may entail the father seeing himself as a “helper” of the mother instead of a “co-parent” alongside the mother.
This neglect persists for several reasons. For instance, health care professionals may be unwilling or inadequately trained to work with fathers. Clinical services may not be sensitive to men’s parenting needs. Further, mothers might limit men from being engaged in prenatal and postnatal services.
Yet, men have a vital role to play during infancy. To help address the above barriers, Michael Yogman and Craig Garfield, pediatric faculty at the Harvard Medical School and Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine respectively, recommended that health care professionals engage in father-friendly practices. These include acknowledging fathers’ presence at health care visits, welcoming fathers directly, educating fathers about parenting, and encouraging fathers to assume childcare roles early on.
Innovative early parent education programs for fathers
Although there aren’t many yet, innovative parent education programs targeting men during the perinatal period are emerging. One example is Dads Matter, a father-friendly home visitation program that may improve fathers’ engagement with their babies among socioeconomically disadvantaged families.
Another emerging program is Baby Elmo. This is an interactive program that helps fathers understand their babies’ emotional needs to support positive father–child interactions. Baby Elmo is currently being tested for its effectiveness within low-income communities.
Our research lab is implementing a father engagement program for low-income fathers, in collaboration with Healthy Start home visitation programs in Michigan.
Yet another promising program is Supporting Father Involvement by Philip Cowan, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Supporting Father Involvement is a group-based relationship program that has been successful in promoting father involvement with young children.
On the whole, these programs help ensure that American children – especially those at the highest risk of living apart from their fathers – grow up in households where their fathers or father figures are positively involved from the very beginning.
Fathers play a key role in children’s lives, starting from the very beginning of life. Their involvement in pregnancy is just as important as the involvement of mothers. We celebrate mothers on Mother’s Day and offer multiple programs and resources for helping women navigate motherhood.
We also celebrate our fathers on Father’s Day. However, we leave them with almost no resources for navigating the transition to fatherhood. This disparity in services is inevitably hurting not only fathers, but also their children. It’s time to change this narrative.
“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” – Andrew Carnegie
By Arlene Weismantel, Michigan State University
The same ethos that turned Andrew Carnegie into one of the biggest philanthropists of all time made him a fervent proponent of taxing big inheritances. As the steel magnate wrote in his seminal 1899 essay, The Gospel of Wealth:
“Of all forms of taxation this seems the wisest. By taxing estates heavily at death the State marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.”
Carnegie argued that handing large fortunes to the next generation wasted money, as it was unlikely that descendants would match the exceptional abilities that had created the wealth into which they were born. He also surmised that dynasties harm heirs by robbing their lives of purpose and meaning.
He practiced what he preached and was still actively giving in 1911 after he had already given away 90 percent of his wealth to causes he cared passionately about, especially libraries. As a pioneer of the kind of large-scale American philanthropy now practiced by the likes of Bill Gates and George Soros, he espoused a philosophy that many of today’s billionaires who want to leave their mark through good works are still following.
A modest upbringing
The U.S. government had taxed estates for brief periods ever since the days of the Founders, but the modern estate tax took root only a few years before Carnegie died in 1919.
That was one reason why the great philanthropist counseled his fellow ultra-wealthy Americans to give as much of their money away as they could to good causes – including the one he revolutionized: public libraries. As a librarian who has held many leadership roles in Michigan, where Carnegie funded the construction of 61 libraries, I am always mindful of his legacy.
Carnegie’s modest upbringing helped inspire his philanthropy, which left its mark on America’s cities large and small. After mechanization had put his father out of work, Carnegie’s family immigrated from Dunfermline, Scotland, to the U.S. in 1848, where they settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.
The move ended his formal education, which had begun when he was eight years old. Carnegie, then 13, went to work as a bobbin boy in a textile factory to help pay the family’s bills. He couldn’t afford to buy books and he had no way to borrow them in a country that would have 637 public libraries only half a century later.
In 1850, Carnegie, by then working as a messenger, learned that iron manufacturer Colonel James Anderson let working boys visit his 400-volume library on Saturdays. Among those books, “the windows were opened in the walls of my dungeon through which the light of knowledge streamed in,” Carnegie wrote, explaining how the experience both thrilled him and changed his life.
Books kept him and other boys “clear of low fellowship and bad habits,” Carnegie said later. He called that library the source of his largely informal education.
Carnegie eventually built a monument to honor Anderson. The inscription credits Anderson with founding free libraries in western Pennsylvania and opening “the precious treasures of knowledge and imagination through which youth may ascend.”
Carnegie believed in exercising discretion and care with charitable largess. People who became too dependent on handouts were unwilling to improve their lot in life and didn’t deserve them, in his opinion. Instead, he sought to “use wealth so as to be really beneficial to the community.”
For the industrial titan, that meant supporting the institutions that empower people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps like universities, hospitals and, above all, libraries.
In Carnegie’s view, “the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves.” Free libraries were, in Carnegie’s opinion, among the best ways to lend a hand to anyone who deserved it.
Carnegie built 2,509 libraries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 1,679 of them across the U.S. in nearly every state. All told, he spent US$55 million of his wealth on libraries. Adjusted for inflation, that would top $1.3 billion today.
Some were grand but about 70 percent of these libraries served towns of less than 10,000 and cost less than $25,000 (at that time) to build.
A lasting legacy
Through Carnegie’s philanthropy, libraries became pillars of civic life and the nation’s educational system.
More than 770 of the original Carnegie libraries still function as public libraries today and others are landmarks housing museums or serving other public functions. More importantly, the notion that libraries should provide everyone with the opportunity to freely educate and improve themselves is widespread.
I believe that Carnegie would be impressed with how libraries have adapted to carry out his cherished mission of helping people rise by making computers available to those without them, hosting job fairs and offering resume assistance among other services.
Public libraries in Michigan, for example, host small business resource centers, hold seminars and provide resources for anyone interested in starting their own businesses. The statewide Michigan eLibrary reinforces this assistance through its online offerings.
Outside of government, Carnegie’s ideas about philanthropy are still making a difference. In the Giving Pledge, contemporary billionaires, including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, have promised to give away at least half of their wealth during their lifetimes to benefit the greater good instead of leaving it to their heirs.
Following in Carnegie’s footsteps, the Gates family has supported internet access for libraries in low-income communities and libraries located abroad. Several billionaires, including Buffett, have publicly professed their support for the estate tax. A philosophy of giving and public responsibility may be one of Carnegie’s most enduring legacies.
Editor’s Note: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a strategic partner of The Conversation US and provides funding for The Conversation internationally as does the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Editor’s note: Hurricane Harvey dumped up to 50 inches of rain on parts of Texas and Louisiana last month. Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma is bearing down on Florida, which will also likely cause substantial flooding.
Homeowners generally rely on insurance provided by the federal government to cover the costs of rebuilding their lives after a flood. We asked an insurance expert to explain the government program and its challenges.
What is flood insurance?
Homeowners’ insurance does not cover damage to a home caused by flooding. A homeowner must have a separate policy to cover flood-related losses, defined as water traveling along or under the ground.
Most such policies are underwritten by the National Flood Insurance Program, which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The National Flood Insurance Program was established in 1968 to address the lack of availability of flood insurance in the private market and reduce the demand for federal disaster assistance for uninsured flood losses. Another purpose was to integrate flood insurance with floodplain management, which includes such things as adopting and enforcing stricter building codes, retaining or restoring wetlands to absorb floodwaters and requiring or encouraging homeowners to make their homes more flood-resistant.
The National Flood Insurance Program’s activities are funded largely by the premiums and fees paid by its policyholders, supplemented by a small amount of general funds to help pay for flood risk mapping. Because the National Flood Insurance Program serves the public interest, some believe that more of its funding should be borne by taxpayers.
Homeowners can purchase a federal flood policy directly from the National Flood Insurance Program or through a private insurer. Separately, some private insurers sell their own flood policies on a limited basis for properties that are overcharged by the National Flood Insurance Program.
How many American homeowners have flood insurance?
It is difficult to determine exactly how many homeowners have flood insurance.
The National Flood Insurance Program had just under five million policies in force as of June 30. Of these policies, approximately 68 percent were on single-family homes and 21 percent on condo units. There is no source on how many private flood policies are in force, but my sense is that it is very small relative to the number of National Flood Insurance Program policies.
In recent years, the number of such policies has been dropping across the country. Some of the counties hardest hit by Harvey, for example, such as Harris (which includes Houston), have experienced significant declines.
A more revealing – and more difficult to ascertain – stat is the share of homeowners in a disaster area who actually have flood insurance. In Harris County, for example, experts estimate that only about 15 percent of homeowners are insured for floods – though the percentage should be higher in areas near coastlines.
Real estate data company CoreLogic estimates that approximately 70 percent of flood losses from Harvey will be uninsured.
Why do people at great risk of flooding forgo insurance?
People who perceive that their exposure to floods is high are more likely to buy it, all other things equal. And the mandatory purchase requirement forces owners of mortgaged homes located in Special Flood Hazard Areas – areas at high risk for flooding – to buy insurance.
However, 43 percent of homeowners incorrectly believe that their homeowners’ insurance covers them for flood losses.
Other factors also come into play, such as a lack of information, the difficulty of calculating flood risk and the expectation that the government will provide disaster assistance – which is rarely the case.
What does flood insurance cover?
With a National Flood Insurance Program policy, a homeowner can purchase coverage on a dwelling up to US$250,000 and the contents of a home up to $100,000. It does not cover costs associated with “loss of use” of a home.
The National Flood Insurance Program policy limits have been in effect since 1994 and need to be updated to account for the increase in the replacement cost of homes and the actual cash value of their contents. Although not the best measure of the replacement cost, the median price of new homes sold in the U.S. has soared 132 percent since 1994.
Some homeowners buy additional flood protection from private insurers to make up any shortfall.
Why is the National Flood Insurance Program underwater?
The National Flood Insurance Program has faced considerable criticism over its underwriting and pricing policies, which have resulted in a substantial debt. Essentially, its premiums are not high enough to cover how much it pays out on claims and its other costs.
Part of the problem is that about 20 percent of the properties the program insures pay a subsidized rate. But many other National Flood Insurance Program policyholders are also paying premiums substantially less than what it costs to insure them because the rates do not adequately account for the catastrophic losses incurred during years when more major storms than normal strike, such as Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Sandy in 2012. As a result, the National Flood Insurance Program owes an accumulated debt of $25 billion to the U.S. Treasury.
Hurricane Harvey (and potentially other storms such as Irma that may follow) will substantially increase this debt. CoreLogic estimates that National Flood Insurance Program-insured flood losses from Harvey alone will be $6 billion to $9 billion.
In the short term, Congress will have to increase the National Flood Insurance Program’s borrowing authority for it to pay the claims that will result from Harvey and other storms this year. Lawmakers could make a general fund appropriation to forgive all or a portion of the National Flood Insurance Program’s debt, but it has shown no interest in doing so.
These inadequate rates also exacerbate the moral hazard created by flood insurance. People are more likely to buy, build or rebuild homes in flood-prone areas and have diminished incentives to invest in flood risk mitigation, such as by elevating their home, if they can buy insurance at below-cost rates.
What can be done to fix the program?
Legislative efforts to reform the National Flood Insurance Program to put it on firmer fiscal footing have produced mixed results.
Fundamentally, the program millions of Americans rely on to help them rebuild their lives after a devastating flood needs to be fixed. Its dire financial straits could be resolved by either making taxpayers foot more of the bill or increasing premiums closer to full-cost rates for most homeowners, while also raising total coverage levels.
At the same time, the government needs to do more to convince or compel more at-risk homeowners to buy flood insurance – which would be harder to do if it were to raise rates. To me, this suggests that increasing taxpayer support for the NFIP will have to be part of the solution so that pricey premiums don’t become a deterrent to someone buying insurance.
With the likelihood of much more flooding in the coming weeks and years, more needs to be done to mitigate the risk, including producing more accurate and timely maps of the flood risk in various areas, especially high-risk areas, educating people about what those risks really mean and helping relocate homeowners as necessary.
Robert W. Klein, Director, Center for RMI Research, Associate Professor, Risk Management and Insurance, Georgia State University
"Hurricanes don't care if you're rich, poor, white, or black—but that doesn't mean that every person is equally vulnerable to a storm."
Texas's minority and low-income communities have been disproportionately harmed by Hurricane Harvey, but you wouldn't know it from following the coverage of America's mainstream media outlets.
"Low-income families are more likely to live in flood-prone areas with deficient infrastructure."
—Jeremy Deaton, ThinkProgress
As Neil deMause notes in an analysis for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), "nearly 600,000 Harris County residents live below the poverty line," yet "one had to read carefully between the lines" to find their stories told in any detail.
"Coverage of the poor during Harvey [has been] a bit better than in Katrina, but that's not saying much," deMause wrote on Twitter.
From the Associated Press to the New York Times, the national media has consistently shown its "blindspot for low-income victims," deMause concludes.
But, as many have pointed out, it is low-income and minority communities that always bear the brunt of natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey.
"Hurricanes don't care if you're rich, poor, white, or black—but that doesn't mean that every person is equally vulnerable to a storm," observes Jeremy Deaton of ThinkProgress. "Low-income families are more likely to live in flood-prone areas with deficient infrastructure."
Robert Bullard, professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University in Houston and "the father of environmental justice," told Deaton that "low-income communities and communities of color don't get the necessary protection when it comes to flood control. Generally, the way that the city has grown and the way that the housing and residential patterns have emerged have often been along race and class lines."
Often these housing "patterns" didn't merely emerge, but were the result of policies designed to "perpetuate segregation."
Bullard goes on to note that Houston—which was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Harvey—"spends more on infrastructure in wealthier neighborhoods. That means bicycle lanes and jogging trails but also embankments that keep floodwaters at bay. Low-income communities tend to lack these features."
"Rebuilding will be a long and painful process for people with so few resources."
—Neena Satija and Kiah Collier, The Texas Tribune
Not only do these communities lack the some of the protective components of their rich counterparts. As Neena Satija and Kiah Collier of The Texas Tribunehave noted, they also lack a social safety net to help them cope with the aftermath of the storm.
"Hundreds of families have been displaced from city-owned public housing complexes that flooded in the wake of Harvey," Satija and Collier write, citing an adviser for the Houston Housing Authority. "Rebuilding will be a long and painful process for people with so few resources."
Adding to these concerns is the fact that low-income communities in Houston are often also the site of major oil refineries and chemical facilities.
"For decades, Houston has been home to an immense concentration of chemical and plastics plants, oil and gas refineries, Superfund sites, fossil fuel plants, and wastewater discharge treatment plants," Sierra Club has observed. "The overwhelming majority of these facilities were constructed in communities of color, only adding to the burden felt from this disaster. Now, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the threat posed by these facilities has been magnified."
In an interview on Democracy Now! earlier this week, Dr. Bullard concluded that "when we talk about the impact of sea level rise and we talk about the impacts of climate change, you're talking about a disproportionate impact on communities of color, on poor people, on people who don’t have health insurance, communities that don't have access to food and grocery stores."
The United Stated Postal Service now offers a service called 'Informed Delivery.' With Informed Delivery, the USPS is able to scan your mail each day and send images directly to you.
Informed Delivery is Expanding Nationwide!
Informed Delivery was previously only available to eligible residential consumers in select ZIP Codes™ of several major metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Northern Virginia, and Washington DC. Starting today, April 14th, Informed Delivery will be available in remaining ZIP Codes covering the majority of the United States, as shown on this map.
Informed delivery is free, but you must sign up for it and it is available only to residential consumers who have mail delivered to their homes and is not currently being provided to businesses.
New Form of Evidence
I'm looking forward to informed delivery which should prove to be a valuable new form of evidence in court cases.
Whenever pleadings, motions or other documents are filed in court, the opposing side is supposed to be given a copy of whatever is filed. A certificate of delivery is usually required to be attached to the court filed documents certifying that the opposing side was mailed, email, hand delivered or otherwise given an exact copy of the documents.
Some court documents, such as a motion for summary judgment must be responded to in writing and filed within a certain number of days; otherwise, the allegations contain within the motion for summary judgment are deemed admitted and the side that request the motion automatically wins.
I've had several situations as a pro se (self-represented) litigant, where an attorney has claimed to have mailed me documents that never arrived. I have suspected in certain instances that the documents were never actually mailed, most likely so that I wouldn't respond in a timely manner, resulting in the motion being granted, often resulting in the case being lost.
Before informed delivery, there was absolutely no evidence that the other side did not mail the documents, it was simply their word against mine. Additionally, the opposing side could argue that even if I hadn't received the mailed documents, they could have been misdelivered or otherwise lost. Now with informed delivery, if there is no record of the letter containing the documents, a stronger point can be made in court that the documents were never mailed and the certificate of service was a false statement.
It's been my experience that judges seem to be biased in favor of attorneys rather than pro se litigants and tend to side with the attorney who claims they did actually mail the documents. Informed delivery is a game changer.
At this time, images will be provided for letter-sized mailings that are processed through automated equipment. The plan is to include images of larger flat-sized mailings, such as magazines and catalogs, in the future. All USPS® customers have access to USPS Tracking® that enables them to track their household’s packages. Visit My USPS® for additional details on personalized package tracking.
An email will be generated each day your household receives mail that is processed through USPS®automation equipment. If no mail is processed through automation that day, you will not receive an Informed Delivery notification. Notifications are not sent on days when there is no mail to be delivered, or on Sundays or federal holidays.
Keep in mind it will also be harder for you to claim you mailed something if you didn't and it may be harder to deny you didn't receive certain mail if the post office has a record that it was scheduled to be delivered.
Only time will tell if judges or the rules of evidence will allow this new technology to be used as evidence.
Get up to 10 mail piece images in your morning email, which can be viewed on any computer or a smartphone. Get more mail than that? Additional images are available for viewing on your online dashboard – in the same place you track your packages! Don't worry if you are on travel; if you have email or online access, you can see much of the mail that will be delivered to your mailbox.