Altruism Today

Starbucks Plans to Hire 10,000 Refugees After Trump Action

January 30th, 2017  |  Source: Bloomberg

Starbucks Corp. Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz, who wrote he had a “heavy heart” over U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration order, said the company plans to hire 10,000 refugees over five years around the world.

Trump issued an order on Jan. 27 suspending the admission of refugees into the U.S. for 120 days and banning citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. The directive has been criticized by U.S. allies Canada and Germany.

Starbucks is in direct contact with employees affected by the immigration ban and will do “everything possible to support and help them to navigate through this confusing period,” Schultz said in a letter to employees posted on the coffee chain’s website. Schultz also said that he and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Johnson, who is due to take over the CEO role this year, will begin communicating with workers more frequently.

“I am hearing the alarm you all are sounding that the civility and human rights we have all taken for granted for so long are under attack, and want to use a faster, more immediate form of communication to engage with you on matters that concern us all as partners,” Schultz wrote.

Schultz said he strongly supported the “Dreamers” program, designed to help immigrants who arrive in the U.S. as children.

Boycott Threat

In posting the letter, Schultz delivered one of corporate America’s fiercest rebukes against Trump’s immigration order. The message also brought a backlash from some Americans. The hashtag #BoycottStarbucks was trending in the U.S. on Monday morning. But Schultz wasn’t alone in criticizing Trump’s move. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, an immigrant from India, called the policy “painful,” and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein said it’s “not a policy we support.”

Sanctuary Cities and Trump

January 27th, 2017  |  Source: Reuters

Cracks are appearing in President Trump’s executive order to take funding away from U.S. cities that don’t follow immigration law, as questions arise about exactly how funds are spent.

Trying to Make Sense of the Trump Administration

January 27th, 2017  |  Source: NPQ

Source: BBC News

Over the past few days, we’ve all watched a number of situations where accounts of what’s occurring inside the Beltway conflict. The resignation of four highly placed state department officials reported yesterday has been characterized by major media sources as 1) a firing, 2) a resignation in advance of Tillerson’s assuming the lead and in protest of the tone being set, or 3) just normal turnover. So the fact that for a while it was somewhat unclear who cancelled the meeting next week between Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is no surprise.

It seems that the media is, as with some other issues, trying valiantly to get a straight story out of the administration as one set of assertions quickly supplants another. In the case of Mexico, it’s something of a who-broke-up-with-whom scenario, but with about $600 billion a year’s worth of stakes. (That is the annual value of trade between the two countries.) Whoever cancelled did so after Trump continued to declare that not only would a $12–15 billion border wall be built, but that the Mexican government would pay for it. Trump told Republican lawmakers who were on retreat in Philadelphia yesterday that the meeting cancelation was by mutual agreement, but he had already declared the meeting would be “fruitless” unless Mexico treated the U.S. “with respect” by paying for the border wall. Peña Nieto had a slightly different story, saying that he only cancelled the visit after Trump pretty much forced his hand with a full-on campaign of public posturing. “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting,” the U.S. president wrote on Twitter Thursday morning.

Peña Nieto, for his part, says, “I’ve said time and again: Mexico won’t pay for any wall.” Indeed, he cannot agree to such a proposal; many Mexicans were outraged when Candidate Trump described Mexican migrants as murderers and rapists (though he said that some, he assumed, were good people) and disapproved of a previous meeting between Peña Nieto and Trump. They see the wall proposal as divisive, unnecessary, inhumane, expensive, and ineffective. By most accounts, they disapprove of any political kowtowing to Trump on their behalf, so, in the context of Trump’s public goading, it would have been next to politically impossible for Peña Nieto to travel to D.C. to meet with Trump.

Meanwhile, Sean Spicer made it known that one of the president’s proposed plans to pay for the “big, beautiful” wall was a 20 percent tariff on Mexican goods. Vanity Fair pointed out the apparent consequence of this: Americans, not Mexicans, would end up paying. After that, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told reporters that a border tax is just one of a “buffet of options” to pay for the wall. (Mexico, by the way, Is the U.S.’s third-largest trade partner.)

Street Scribes

January 23rd, 2017  |  Source: PS Magazine

The story of the literary magazine whose authors are all homeless.

In January 2011 I presented myself as a volunteer at the Monday Lunch, the weekly free meal for the homeless hosted by the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Boston. I was on a spiritual quest — which sounds ridiculous, but there it is. I’d been lurking nervously in churches (“Hang in there!” one priest said to me as I sloped past him toward the exit), reading Catholic mystics, waiting for something to click. And I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was fractious at home, miserable with my work. But as I stepped into that grumbling, ruminant, school-food-smelling basement and registered the various enormous and off-kilter personalities ranged around me, I had a profound sensation of arrival. All right, I thought: You’re here.

I’d been a volunteer among homeless people before — in London shelters, and at the Community for Creative Non-Violence in Washington, D.C. — but always in an essentially passive, youthful, hanging-out-and-occasionally-mopping-something-up capacity. Now I was in my 40s, with a bit of experiential weight on me. It was time to instigate. But how? With what?

That October, the Reverend Cristina Rathbone — pastor and focal presence of the Monday Lunch community — led a dozen of us on a pilgrimage, walking 60 miles out of Boston, sleeping on church floors, to a retreat center in West Newbury. On the road we looked motley, medieval, straggling along with fluttering flags and unconventional headgear: We were met with wild shouts of encouragement from passing cars, and very occasionally by some abuse hanging in the slipstream. “We’re on a spiritual pilgrimage!” one of our company, Steve, would cheerfully volunteer to starers or curious passersby. We made it anyway. And it was in one of the cottages at the retreat center, at 3 a.m., that the idea came to me. I woke up suddenly with a gift, a brainstorm in the dark: I would start a magazine for homeless writers, and it would be called The Pilgrim.

Read on here:

Obama Picks Up the Pace on Commutations in His Final Days in Office

January 17th, 2017  |  Source: PS Magazine

President Obama has accelerated clemency to low-level drug offenders.

Near the start of his second term, President Barack Obama had granted clemency at a lower rate than any president in recent history. He had pardoned 39 people and denied 1,333 requests. He had used his power to commute a prisoner’s sentence just once.

But as Obama enters the final days of his administration, he has dramatically picked up the pace. He’s now issued commutations to 1,176 people since entering office — more than George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan put together. In December, Obama commuted the sentences of 231 people in a single day.

Much of Obama’s increased activity can be attributed to an initiative begun in 2014 to shorten sentences of non-violent offenders who would likely have received less time for their crimes under current law and who had already served at least 10 years of their prison sentences. Low-level drug offenders have received most of the commutations, part of a broader push by the administration to reform sentencing guidelines.

“Historically, clemency has been used to heal national wounds after a war,” said Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota who started the first federal commutations law clinic. “There was a big batch of grants during and after the Civil War, after World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War — and, in a way, Obama is doing it after the War on Drugs.”

While Obama’s commutation numbers have accelerated, they do not, as the White House has put in press releases, exceed those of the last 11 presidents combined, Osler pointed out. Gerald Ford put together a clemency board in 1974 specifically looking to pardon Vietnam War draft dodgers. In just a year, the board reviewed 31,500 petitions and recommended clemency for 13,603.

A Brief History of Vaccine Conspiracy Theories

January 13th, 2017  |  Source: PS Magazine

Vaccine skepticism is as old as the idea of inoculation itself, but the recent politicization of vaccination is putting us all at risk.

On Tuesday, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. announced that Donald Trump had tapped him to lead a special commission on “vaccine safety and scientific integrity.” Kennedy, an environmental attorney by day, is a proponent of a long-discredited conspiracy linking vaccines to autism. For public health officials, pro-vaccine advocates, and anyone trying not to get whooping cough, the news was major cause for concern.

Kennedy, an environmental attorney by day, is a proponent of a long-discredited conspiracy linking vaccines to autism. The Trump transition team temporarily quelled those fears by announcing that, though Trump is considering forming such a commission, no decisions regarding it’s leadership had been made. But an anti-vaxxer still has the ear of the president-elect, a man who has himself been sympathetic to conspiracy theories regarding autism and vaccines in the past.

While anti-vaxxing has been largely absent from presidential politics, opposition to vaccines been around for at least as long as vaccinations themselves. When Boston physician Zabdiel Boylston began rubbing slices from smallpox sores into open wounds to try to protect the healthy from outbreaks in the early 1700s, his (then unproven) inoculation method was met with immediate resistance.

Over time, evidence accumulated that vaccination was an effective method to prevent disease. In the United States, local and state authorities began implementing mandatory vaccination policies in the early 1800s; Boston was the first to do so in 1809. Today, vaccinations are considered to be one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reducing deaths from preventable diseases like polio, smallpox, and measles by nearly 100 percent. Yet opposition has never been fully eradicated.

Full article here:

It concludes with:  Just as the media helped to create anti-vaccination groups like the NVIC, news organizations can contribute to the politicization of health issues, and influence how people behave. A 2015 paper in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science found that the politicization of the HPV vaccine, spurred by media coverage that gave a voice to politicians on both sides of the debate, reduced public support for the vaccine requirements, state immunization programs at large, and confidence in both doctors and government.


If vaccines continue to become more tightly linked to political identity than public health, it could further reduce vaccination rates. And that would endanger us all.

Why Grandpa Is Homeless

January 9th, 2017  |  Source: PS Magazine

A sagging economy, a complex job market, and a lack of social programs have led to an increase in the number of elderly people living—and dying—on the streets.

Herbert Manown is a self-described “jack-of-all-trades but master of none.” A Harley Davidson-riding Vietnam War Navy veteran, he has worked in construction, at the post office, and with the United States Census Bureau. At 62, he’s still fit and healthy, with a strong handshake and grandfatherly eyes framed by black glasses and thick, bushy brows.

Life was stable for Herb until 2013, when he “got lazy” and neglected to renew his truck-driver license. He didn’t realize the severity of his error until he applied for a new license but could not pass the written test. Although Herb quickly landed a job as a security guard at a fast-food restaurant, even working overtime didn’t provide enough for him to make ends meet. He fell behind on rent and was evicted.

Herb has four children in the Bay Area, but he was reluctant to ask if he could move in with any of them. As he put it, “We have very different lifestyles.” And while he also has siblings in the area, they had a major falling out, so he refuses to turn to them for help. He wound up settling in at the East Oakland Community Project, a shelter located near his old apartment. He volunteered in the kitchen and was even voted president of the shelter, a position that entails acting as a go-between for residents and management. But after a few months, he felt pressure to move on. “Herb, you have to go,” he recalls them saying. So he bought a used car and moved into it.

Read on here:

Fighting Domestic Violence, One Haircut at a Time

January 4th, 2017  |  Source: NPQ

According to a CDC study from 2003, domestic violence is the cause of two million injuries in the U.S. every year. Beginning this year, the state of Illinois has a new law educating hair stylists, nail technicians, and aestheticians on ways to help customers who are victims of domestic violence.

Joan Rowan is a hair stylist and owner of two hair salons in the Chicagoland area. In her forty-one-year career, she has had multiple conversations with clients who were experiencing domestic abuse: “Sometimes they tell you so much they never come back again, because they’re afraid, or they’re embarrassed, they don’t know what to do.” Rowan has provided training to her stylists to help them support their clients, but she has wished there were more she could do.

For a long time, public health campaigns among others have recognized the value of hair salons and barber shops as centers for community education and organizing, so the concept of making use of these venues is not new. But the state of Illinois is now building on these relationships with a new law that went into effect January 1st. Advocated for by the nonprofit Chicago Says No More, the law is the first of its kind to reach out and provide a one-hour training to hair stylists and nail technicians every two years as part of their license renewal. Over the next two years, it’s estimated about 88,000 stylists will participate in the program.

Chicago Says No More created the “Listen. Support. Connect.” program with the help of Cosmetologists Chicago. The program educates stylists on how to identify signs of abuse and assault and provide resources. Stylists are required to participate in the program but do not have to report the violence and are protected from any liability.

Although the number of independent neighborhood hair salons has been decreasing over the last forty years, hair stylists and their salons continue to have a special relationship with their clients and community. Often, they serve clients for many years and sometimes multiple generations of the same family. The relationship is something Illinois State Senator Bill Cunningham, one of the legislators responsible for introducing the law, knows personally: His wife was a hairstylist in her early twenties.

The program was built upon the Professional Beauty Association’s Cut It Out Campaign. The national campaign provides resources “mobilizing salon professionals and others to fight the epidemic of domestic abuse in communities across the U.S.” It was created in 2003 after a similar statewide program was developed by the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham and the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

There’s an unspoken downside, however: Although the new Illinois law provides resources to women experiencing abuse, since the state is again without a budget, many of the organizations these women will look to for help are not receiving state funding and may not have the staff or programs to help.

Obama’s Disclosure About Russian Hacking Is A Cybersecurity Gold Mine

January 3rd, 2017  |  Source: HuffPo

"Public disclosures like this enable collective cyber defense through information sharing." 

Says Admiral Jim Stavridis (Ret.) Supreme Commander of NATO (2009-2013); Dean, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

As we begin the new year, most media pundits will continue to focus their attention on the U.S. sanctioning of Russian entities and the expulsion of nearly three dozen of their intelligence agents from the U.S. An even bigger story, however, is the unprecedented steps taken by the Obama administration to shine a light on the tactics and procedures behind Russia’s “malicious cyber-enabled activities.” These were revealed in a 13-page report published jointly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

Publicly laying this level of detail out sets a dramatic precedent that could serve a significant blow to Russia’s current and future cyberoperations in the U.S. and elsewhere. The technical details of the report constitute an intelligence windfall for ordinary network defenders who have been starving for rich real-time threat information from the federal government to protect their systems against sophisticated actors. While there are downsides to such a dramatic reveal, it is clearly the right thing to do.

The report from the D.H.S. and F.B.I. marks the first time the federal government has gone to such lengths to attribute “malicious cyberactivity” to specific threat actors associated with a designated country. To most Americans, its contents are confusing and highly technical. The report’s files contain a lot of random IP addresses, signatures and character combinations known as file hashes.  

Publicly laying this level of detail out sets a dramatic precedent that could serve a significant blow to Russia’s cyberoperations.

But for any information security practitioner charged with defending against network intrusions, this data is a gold mine. Now that these cyber signatures have been disclosed, governments and companies of all sizes can automatically ingest and neutralize them. And perhaps more importantly, they can go hunting on their own networks to root out any previous compromises. Once the data is in hand, a quick scan or review of log history can lead defenders to the Russian activity.

In many respects, releasing information on an adversaries’ tools and operational infrastructure is the cyber equivalent of naming undercover spies. Once disclosed, malicious code becomes harmless, and the command-and-control nodes ― usually vulnerable web servers or other unwitting endpoints ― are either abandoned by the hackers or hardened to prevent further exploitation. In other words, the adversary’s avenues of access to a target are burned, forcing them to seek additional vectors of attack.

Burning a hacker’s access revises the economics of the operation in favor of the defense. Gaining and maintaining persistent access to infrastructure “hop points” using custom-developed programs is a human and time-intensive endeavor ― especially the operation involves physical intervention. In fact, one of the reasons most cyber intruders sit dormant for months on a victim’s network before executing an attack is to protect themselves against the consequential fallout of detection.

Of course, there are two sides to every story. While exposing the hacker’s tradecraft can be highly damaging to the offense, it also poses risks to the defense. The Obama’s administration’s decision to release Russian threat signatures was a calculated one that undoubtedly weighed the cost of compromising intelligence sources and methods. Indeed, it is safe to assume that the U.S. burned some of its assets as a result of this report.

It signals a promising development in the government’s efforts to streamline the disclosure process.

Nevertheless, the costs of publishing the report are dwarfed by the benefits of proliferating more intelligence for citizens, businesses and governments to consume and use in the interest of network defense. Unlike traditional intelligence, where policymakers or war fighters are the primary customers, cyberthreat intelligence ― especially the technical details ― is most valuable when shared with software manufacturers, network administrators and even ordinary users. In this respect, the Obama administration’s action is not about “naming and shaming” but rather about enabling collective cyber defense through information sharing.

It is worth noting that the process of identifying and disclosing new cyber tradecraft, threats and vulnerabilities is well-established. The antivirus industry, for example, is constantly consuming signatures from security researchers and updating their software to protect end users. But the normal cycle of identifying a new vulnerability, disclosing it to the appropriate manufacturer and hardening the affected system is often protracted, leaving network defenders multiple steps behind the attackers.

Recent advances in automation, however, have contributed to significantly closing the gap between detection and remediation of new threats. Specifically, the practice of “automated indicator sharing” allows for real-time machine-to-machine sharing of threat intelligence ― precisely the type of data contained in the joint D.H.S. and F.B.I. report. The sharing of trusted and structured data enables organizations to, for example, automatically block traffic associated with a newly identified attack vector.

It’s time for government cybersecurity investigators to reveal more of their findings for the greater good.

While the technology behind trusted and automated information sharing is in place, most of the data shared is not particularly high-value intelligence ― either because the federal government is unwilling to declassify it or, by the time it is declassified, the information is stale. In this case, this intelligence contained in the joint D.H.S. and F.B.I. report is far less valuable than it would have been had it been released months ago.

Nevertheless, it signals a promising development in the federal government’s efforts to streamline the disclosure process and its appetite to serve a broader public base. After all, the vast majority of the nation’s cyber infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector. It’s time for government cybersecurity investigators to reveal more of their findings for the greater good.

The Watchers: Assaults on privacy in America

December 21st, 2016  |  Source: Harvard Magaine

Do people behave differently when they think they are being watched?

When former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed the mass surveillance of American citizens in June 2013, the question suddenly grew in importance. Can the behavior of an entire population, even in a modern democracy, be changed by awareness of surveillance? And what are the effects of other kinds of privacy invasions?

Jon Penney was nearing the end of a fellowship at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society in 2013, and he realized that Snowden’s disclosures presented an opportunity to study their effect on Americans’ online behavior. During research at Oxford the following year, Penney documented a sudden decline in Wikipedia searches for certain terrorism-related keywords: Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, dirty bomb, chemical weapon, and jihad, for example. More than a year later, when the study ended, such searches were still declining. “Given the lack of evidence of people being prosecuted or punished” for accessing such information, Penney wrote in the Berkeley Technology Law Review (which published his research last June), he judged it unlikely that “actual fear of prosecution can fully explain the chilling effects suggested by the findings of this study.” The better explanation, he wrote, is self-censorship.

Penney’s work is the sort of evidence for negative social effects that scholars (and courts of law) demand. If democratic self-governance relies on an informed citizenry, Penney wrote, then “surveillance-related chilling effects,” by “deterring people from exercising their rights,” including “…the freedom to read, think, and communicate privately,” are “corrosive to political discourse.” 

“The fact that you won’t do things, that you will self-censor, are the worst effects of pervasive surveillance,” reiterates security expert Bruce Schneier, a fellow at the Berkman and in the cybersecurity program of the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Government and International Affairs. “Governments, of course, know this. China bases its surveillance on this fact. It wants people to self-censor, because it knows it can’t stop everybody. The idea is that if you don’t know where the line is, and the penalty for crossing it is severe, you will stay far away from it. Basic human conditioning.” The effectiveness of surveillance at preventing crime or terrorism can be debated, but “if your goal is to control a population,” Schneier says, “mass surveillance is awesome.” 

That’s a problem, he continues, because “privacy is necessary for human progress. A few years ago we approved gay marriage in all 50 states. That went from ‘It’ll never happen’ to inevitable, with almost no intervening middle ground.” But to get from immoral and illegal to both moral and legal, he explains, intervening steps are needed: “It’s done by a few; it’s a counterculture; it’s mainstream in cities; young people don’t care anymore; it’s legal. And this is a long process that needs privacy to happen.”

As a growing share of human interactions—social, political, and economic—are committed to the digital realm, privacy and security as values and as rights have risen in importance. When someone says, “My life is on my phone,” it’s meant almost literally: photos, passwords, texts, emails, music, address books, documents. It is not hard to imagine that the Declaration of Independence, redrafted for an information society, might well include “security and privacy,” in addition to the familiar “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” among its examples of “unalienable rights.”

Although Snowden highlighted government surveillance, it may not be the worst problem. Corporations hold vast and growing troves of personal information that is often inadequately protected, its use largely unregulated. Since 2005, hackers have stolen hundreds of millions of credit-card numbers from major retailers such as Target, Home Depot, TJX, and eBay. In 2014, someone stole the keys to half a billion Yahoo accounts without being detected. And everyday threats to privacy are so commonplace that most people are numb to them. In exchange for free email, consumers allow companies such as Google to scan the content of their digital messages in order to deliver targeted ads. Users of social media, eager to keep in touch with a circle of friends, rarely read the standard agreement that governs the rights and use of what they post online. Smartphones know their owners’ habits better than they themselves do: where and with whom they sleep, what time they wake up, whom they meet, and where they have been. People accept such tradeoffs in exchange for convenience. They don’t really have a choice.

Bemis professor of international law and of computer science Jonathan Zittrain, faculty chair of the Berkman Klein Center, worries that the ubiquity of privacy threats has led to apathy. When a hacker released former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s private assessments of the two leading presidential candidates prior to the recent election, “I was surprised at how little sympathy there was for his situation, how it was treated as any other document dump,” Zittrain explains. “People have a hard time distinguishing, for instance, between government documents and private documents authored by people who were once government officials, [between] documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, and documents leaked by a whistleblower. It’s all just seen as…‘stuff is porous, and we can get it.’” As “the ability to hack is democratized,” Zittrain worries that people have lost sight of the original value behind whistleblowing, which is to make powerful institutions publicly accountable. Now everyone is vulnerable. “Over time,” he wrote recently, “continued leaks will lead people to keep their thoughts to themselves, or to furtively communicate unpopular views only in person.” “That does not seem sustainable to me,” he said in an interview, “and it doesn’t seem healthy for a free society.” 

The perception that the Information Age has put privacy and security at risk is widespread. Necessarily, the search for solutions is equally broad-based. In Washington, D.C., Marc Rotenberg ’82, president and director of the Electronic Privacy and Information Center (EPIC), seeks legal solutions to privacy problems. At Harvard, research into privacy and security is focused at the Berkman Klein Center; at the Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ Center for Research on Computation and Society; at the Kennedy School’s cybersecurity program; at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science’s (IQSS) Data Privacy Lab; and also within the schools of medicine and public health (and at the affiliated hospitals), where researchers seek to protect patient data so that it can be shared appropriately, particularly in the case of rare conditions. Solutions to privacy and security problems thus involve computer scientists and legal scholars, as well as experts in healthcare, government, and business.

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