Altruism Today

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: https://psmag.com/a-brief-history-of-vaccine-conspiracy-theories-a4b9baee2cca#.gwgcytox8

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: https://psmag.com/radical-efforts-to-end-homelessness-old-sick-and-on-the-street-80ea458ea7ee#.5f7rkdaei


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.) http://twitter.com/stavridisj 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.

Read on here: http://harvardmagazine.com/2017/01/the-watchers


America’s First Offshore Wind Farm Is Now Churning Out Electricity

December 13th, 2016  |  Source: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/ameri...

As the Block Island Wind Farm ramps up to commercial operations, it's not as simple as pressing a button or flipping a switch.

Instead, after Deepwater Wind managers determine the time is right, an engineer in the company's Providence offices will give the go-ahead to a counterpart with turbine manufacturer General Electric who, from a remote location, will execute software to fully activate the first offshore wind farm in the United States.

Or actually, not quite full activation. Because of an equipment mishap, one of the five 6-megawatt turbines is down for repairs and isn't set to go on-line again until the end of this month at the earliest.

Whether the four remaining turbines that were installed this fall in the waters off Block Island spin at full power is, of course, dependent on the wind and how strong it's blowing.

But, with Deepwater on Monday receiving the all-clear from the operator of the regional power grid, it now has permission to remove any constraints on the generating potential of the 30-megawatt wind farm and begin selling all the electricity pumped out by the towering wind turbines.


BitGive Launches GiveTrack, Real-Time Donation Tracking System

December 8th, 2016  |  Source: BitGive Foundation

The original Bitcoin nonprofit enables a transparent method of tracking charitable funds

 BitGive, the first Bitcoin 501(c)(3) nonprofit, today announced the launch of GiveTrack, a revolutionary blockchain-based donation platform. GiveTrack has been under development for the past year as the BitGive team worked tirelessly to raise funds, build partnerships, and design new technology. The transparent platform is the first of its kind, offering the ability to transfer, track, and provide a permanent record of the route of global financial transactions from inception to endpoint.

“We are thrilled to announce the launch of GiveTrack, a game-changing technology for philanthropy. GiveTrack epitomizes BitGive’s mission to make use of innovative technologies that will improve philanthropic work while driving new donations. We are proud to have developed an effective tool that will aid in humanitarian efforts for causes around the world. This will create operational efficiencies and deepen the trust between charities and their donors,” said Connie Gallippi, Founder of BitGive.

GiveTrack offers a unique solution to the challenge of transparency, a major problem for non-profits. GiveTrack leverages blockchain technology that provides an unprecedented level of clarity to donors and nonprofits alike, with the ability to see the flow of value from the initial donation to allocation and deployment phases of funds. The platform also provides project status updates so donors can see their contributions in action. With the platform, anyone will be able to instantly trace the pathway of a charitable transaction, including the confirmation of delivery and the tracking of project results.

The foundation for the platform is blockchain technology, which enables the publication of records to an openly available, permanent ledger that can also preserve confidentiality. GiveTrack is able to capture relevant data along each step of the process and record it to the blockchain, preventing the tampering of data or false accounting. Additionally, GiveTrack allows for increased public access to the provenance and movement of funds, providing potential donors with confidence that comes from clear evidence of a record of success.

Dawn Newton, a Director on BitGive’s Board of Directors and COO of Netki, said: “GiveTrack is an empowerment tool for nonprofits. Donors love to know the impact that their giving has created. It is an absolute motivation for people to give even more. However, donating has been known to be very time consuming and difficult for nonprofits to track. GiveTrack provides a solution by easily allowing nonprofits to onboard and use the system, while their donors can immediately see their giving at work.”

Since its founding in 2013, BitGive has conducted extensive outreach and provided educational resources for the nonprofit sector while integrating social impact with financial technology.

Peter Chasse, President and Founder of The Water Project, who worked closely with BitGive on the project, said “We recognized early on, alongside BitGive, that the blockchain provides a whole new way to allow confidence-inspiring real-time auditing of how organizations like ours spend the public’s donations. GiveTrack will allow charities to prove, in an approachable way, what they’ve been doing all along, namely providing sustainable, cost-effective solutions to people who need them most.”  In addition, BitGive supported Medic Mobile’s Nepal-based team in earthquake rebuild efforts by raising money and supplying 650 mobile phones to health workers in the Dhading District of Nepal. Other prominent nonprofits from around the globe that BitGive has partnered with include Save the Children, TECHO, Fundación Parlas, and Team Rubicon.

Alyse Killeen, a Director on BitGive’s Board of Directors and Partner at StillMark Investment Fund, said; “The GiveTrack Platform will create incredible efficiencies in the nonprofit industry, allowing for the optimization of charitable dollars in service of all stakeholders – nonprofits, populations served, and donors – so that each donor dollar can have maximum impact. By empowering donors to track their charitable dollars, and allowing donors to own and manage their own trust in nonprofit organizations through direct and instant access to dollar flows, BitGive can catalyze an increase in total charitable dollars given each year.”
 
Major funders of GiveTrack include the Walter and Karla Goldschmidt Foundation, Matthew Roszak (Bloq), Rodolfo Andragnes (Bitcoin Argentina), CoinFabrik, and Rocelo Lopes (CoinBR), among others.  Special thanks also goes to personal champions of the project, including Dawn Newton (Netki), Matthew Roszak (Bloq), Rich Morgan (Morgan IT Consulting), Peter Chasse (The Water Project), and Juan Llanos.

BitGive will unveil their platform on the evening of December 8 at the San Francisco Bitcoin Social, one of the largest blockchain events in the United States. At the event, BitGive will also showcase an inspiring Givetrack video developed by BitFilm. Supporting the event will be an art show from Cryptograffiti, the premiere of a new Blockchain rock song and music video from Aaron Koenig, as well as a charitable auction featuring donations from KeepKey and Andreas Antonopoulos. To cap off the launch of GiveTrack, BitGive will be matching donations during a live charity drive for The Water Project and Medic Mobile, courtesy of donations provided by Bloq, Netki, and Goodwin Law.


Encore.org launches: Generation to Generation

November 17th, 2016  |  Source: Encore.org

A new campaign powered by Encore.org is bringing older and younger people together to make life better for all generations.

When we launched Encore.org some 18 years ago, I remember talking about the day, sometime in the future, when 10,000 or more people would turn 60 every day. That moment is here—and it’s our moment to break through, to seize the opportunity of an aging America to make life better for all.

Today we launch Generation to Generation, a new campaign to mobilize 1 million adults over 50 to help young people thrive and unite all ages to create a better future.

Will you join us?

In this first stage of the campaign, we’re focused on mentoring and featuring three terrific nonprofit partners in search of people with experience to offer— MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, Strive for College, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. We’ll be spotlighting new opportunities at each of these and dozens more partner organizations on the campaign website, and providing you with countless ways to help young people thrive.

I’m proud to announce that Eunice Lin Nichols will be our new campaign director. Generation to Generation is personal for Eunice, who grew up in an intergenerational home and has been a leader of our movement since she joined Experience Corps in her 20s. She ran AARP Experience Corps in San Francisco for 11 years before joining Encore.org, where she led The Purpose Prize. I’m trying not to gush, but Eunice is among the best human beings I know. We’re in good hands.

I hope you’ll sign up to be part of the Generation to Generation campaign todayand help us spread our campaign's message of intergenerational unity—a message that is needed now more than ever.

 

Marc Freedman

Campaign Chairman

Founder and CEO, Encore.org

 

P.S. Help us spread the word by forwarding this email to friends and family today and/or clicking here to tweet


Jeff Bezos and Amazon Used Exactly 2 Sentences to Teach Us All a Major Lesson

November 17th, 2016  |  Source: Inc.com

Amazon's recent statement teaches you how to grow as a person.

Over a year ago, The New York Times published a scathing piece portraying Amazon, the world's largest retailer, as a brutal employer that puts innovation and company performance above the well-being of its people. The authors painted a picture of "unreasonably high" standards, colleagues sabotaging one another, and managers who deal callously with workers enduring family tragedies and serious health problems.

Now, the company has revealed significant changes in how it assesses employees. A spokesperson provided the following statement to multiple news outlets:

"We're launching a new annual review process next year that is radically simplified and focuses on our employees' strengths, not the absence of weaknesses. We will continue to iterate and build on the program based on what we learn from our employees."

According to reports, Amazon currently uses employee ratings as a way to identify high- and low-performers. This controversial management technique has been used extensively in Silicon Valley, although many companies have done away with the practice.

Some may see this as a carefully crafted PR device, but you can be sure it was reviewed, revised, and redrafted multiple times before getting approved--no doubt by Bezos himself.

And it contains a major lesson for all of us.

How Bezos Got It Right

So, what makes this statement so great?

One major reason:

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos demonstrated remarkable emotional intelligence in his ability to process feedback.

From the beginning, I appreciated Bezos's quick response to the allegations of the Timesstory.

He may have felt the criticism was unduly biased. ("I don't recognize this Amazon, and I very much hope you don't either," Bezos told employees.) But through an internal memo,Bezos nonetheless encouraged Amazon employees to read the Times story, and to "escalate to HR" any stories they knew of like those reported--even inviting individuals to email him directly.

Only those on the inside really know what it's like working for Amazon, and even then there are bound to be varying perspectives. (Amazon employs more than 300,000 people worldwide.)

But with Bezos's initial response, and now the announcement of changes in the company, Amazon's founding father shows the ability to set emotions aside and learn from criticism--even if it's not delivered in an ideal way.

We can all learn from that attitude.

Whether you're an employer or an employee, criticism is never easy to take. You've invested blood, sweat, and tears in your work; it's natural to be offended when someone says you're wrong.

But the truth is, criticism is often rooted in truth. When you receive negative feedback,there are two choices:

·       You can put your feelings aside and try to learn from the situation.

·       You can get angry and let emotion get the best of you.

Guess which one's going to benefit you?

Even if negative feedback turns out to be mostly unfounded, it can still give you a chance to see from an alternative perspective. (My forthcoming book, which serves as a practical guide to emotional intelligence, outlines more specific strategies for how you can make sure you benefit from criticism.)

To be clear, I'm not excusing criticism that's hurtful or poorly delivered. If your feedback is thoughtful and empathetic, the chance is greater that the recipient will benefit. (You should also be generous with sincere and specific commendation.)

But if you're on the receiving end of negative feedback, don't waste time thinking about how the other person made you feel. Instead, set your emotions aside and ask:

·       How can I use this feedback to help myself or my team improve?

·       Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternative perspective?

Bravo to Bezos and company for using that negative feedback as a catalyst to grow.

If you do the same, you'll only keep getting better.




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