Will this Wearable Video Camera Help Police-Community Relations After Ferguson?

 

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(credit: taser.com)

There is no video of the police shooting of 18 year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

This stark fact could  lead to changes soon at many police departments across the country.

Deprived of the facts about exactly what happened,  raw emotions play a heightened role in the debate.  People have very different of who was to blame.

Could technology help change minds and alter the tenor of the debate?

“Everybody wishes right now there was a video record of what happened” Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst at the ACLU told Businessweek.   Studies revealed that wearable video cameras would have a positive impact on police-community relations.

Wall Street is  betting that the uproar over over what happened in Ferguson will have a direct impact on sales of body cameras like the one pictured above.

Shares in the firm that makes it, stun gun manufacturer Taser International (TASR), jumped more than 9% today on the stock market, and have rallied in recent days.

“The era of on-officer video has arrived. The technology is poised to help keep officers safer and more accountable on the job, while protecting law enforcement agencies from nuisance lawsuits,” says policemag.com.

 

 

My 2014 Economic Forecast: More Improvement, but Flat Living Standards

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Carlo Allegri/Reuters Photo

This may be a happy new year for the US economy with growth accelerating in 2014.  A better jobs market, lower unemployment, gains for manufacturers and more improvement for housing are all in the cards. 

Stock market averages begin 2014 at record highs. The broad-based S&P 500 – the benchmark for many stock mutual funds – closed out 2013 with an annual gain of 29.6%, the largest annual rise in 18 years.

Many Wall Street forecasters expect a correction soon as stock prices are relatively high compared with corporate earnings. But a year ago “no one was talking about a 30 percent return” for 2013, says Susan Schmidt, head of US equities at Mesirow Financial. So ….perhaps it’s best to discount predictions about what’s ahead for the coming months.

Economists may be on firmer ground as they forecast improvements for the labor market. New job creation picked up in the final months of last year. Optimism about jobs is at a five-year high, says the Conference Board.

The Federal Reserve recently cut its unemployment forecast for the year, saying the US rate could be as low as 6.3% by the end of 2014, compared with 7% now.

Long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high, however. Unless Congress acts to restore recent cuts in jobless benefits, several million households with at least one job seeker who has been without work for at least six months will face a sharp drop in living standards.

The housing market continues to recover, but rents may rise faster than average pay rates.

The listings firm RealtyTrac said foreclosure activity plunged 37%  in November from a year earlier. As home values rise in most of the country millions more homeowners are no longer under water with their mortgages. This frees more people to seek jobs and other opportunities that would involve moving. Greater mobility helps the economy grow.

While few housing experts expect a slump, rising interest rates this year may put the brakes on rising prices and home sales. This week, the National Association of Realtors said contracts to buy previously owned U.S. homes rose less than forecast in November, a sign that more expensive mortgages are holding back the recovery in residential real estate.

Despite rising prospects for economic growth, inflation remains low, with average prices increases at less than 2%.

Another plus for the US economy is improving prospects overseas. Europe, the leading export market for many American companies, is emerging from the recent recession. Growth in China, the world’s second-largest economy, is expected to be about 7.5% this year, while Japan’s economy continues to wake up after a long slumber. The worst of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis may over, and EU leaders made recent progress on more forceful banking regulation.

The US oil and gas drilling boom is expected to create more jobs and bring further benefits to the economy. Tom Kloza of Gasbuddy.com expects a slight decline in average gas prices this year. American manufacturers pay significantly less for energy than most foreign competitors – bringing back more jobs and production back to the US in 2014.

One more thing worth watching this year: US innovation.  Despite a lot gloomy talk about America’s decline, advances in 3D manufacturing, robotics, and web design are all examples of positive change. Space X, Tesla, Google, Apple and Amazon are among many American companies on the cutting edge.

This blog post first published by abcnews.com

Why This May Be a Change My Mind Economy

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                                                            (Photo Credit: Richard Drew/AP Photo)

When will consumers change their minds about the economy?

While the stock market had a stellar year, home prices rose at the strongest rate since 2005 and auto sales hit post-recession highs, many Americans believe the United States is still in a recession.

Only 19 percent of those polled said the economy is “excellent” or “good,” while 38 percent said it is “poor,” according to a recent survey by Gallup. More than half said the economy is getting worse.

Despite such gloomy findings, however, Gallup and other pollsters say consumer confidence improved in the closing weeks of 2013. The Bloomberg consumer confidence index rose to its highest level since August. But it’s still not back to where it was before the recession.

That said, 2013 made believers out of many investors. It has been a stellar year for the stock market with solid gains for most savers’ 401(k) retirement funds. The big stock S&P 500 index rose 29 percent, its best year since 1997. The high-technology Nasdaq gained 37 percent and the Dow Jones Index added 26 percent for the year.

The housing market recovery broke new ground with average prices rising about 12 percent nationwide. New home construction rose and, in a small number of cities, home prices are now in record territory, gaining back all their losses from the housing bust.

New vehicle sales also picked up speed. The shopping website Edmunds.com expects auto sales to hit about 15.5 million this year, which is the strongest result since 2007.

The United States became the world’s leading producer of oil and natural gas this year. The rise in output and increasing energy efficiency helped lower costs for business and consumers.

While gasoline prices remained high, “we’re going to end up averaging about $3.49 nationally this year which will be about 11 cents less than last year,” senior analyst Tom Kloza of gasbuddy.com said.

The cost of energy, especially natural gas, for U.S. manufacturers is far lower than in Europe and Asia, giving the United States a competitive advantage.

Despite such gains, however, living standards for most Americans were flat. “For a lot of people, their incomes haven’t increased,” Greg McBride of bankrate.com said. “When we ask about their financial priorities, people say the top priority is just staying current or getting caught up on the bills.”

Many jobs that were lost during the recession never came back. Many discouraged workers who gave up looking for a job have not returned to the labor market.

At year-end, long-term unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans and their families were cut off.

While more than 2 million new jobs were created in 2013, a large share of them were low-income retail and restaurant positions. “I think consumers are very cautious and looking for those discounts,”  Jack Kleinhenz, president of the National Association for Business Economics, said.

Such caution underscores an economic divide. This year was especially good for the “haves,” but the “have-nots” have yet to see the real gains of the past two years trickle down to them.

This blog was first published on abcnews.com 

 

Smoking Ban if You’re Under 21: the Case Against New York City’s Ban

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Save lives.  Raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.  Discourage young people from smoking.  Who could be opposed to that?

But there are strong arguments against the  new law approved by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Banning 18 – 20 year olds from legally buying cigarettes really is arguably a double standard.

It’s easy to see this as another example of treating this age group as adults-on-training-wheels. They can drive a car,  vote, and go to war, but buying cigarettes or booze is verboten.

What New York is saying to its young citizens is that while it’s OK for under 21’s to protect us,  or be responsible enough to get behind the wheel, they must also be protected against themselves.

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This city is already plastered with warnings about the evils of tobacco.  Stores are prohibited from prominently displaying packs of cigarettes at the front of the counter.

Not long ago, it became illegal to smoke in city parks.  And yet many kids still smoke.

sign at the entrance to Washington Square Park - partial list

Sign at the entrance to Washington Square Park – partial list of no-no’s

The City Council voted for the new restriction by a decisive margin, 35-10. New York Mayor said  “this is an issue of whether we are going to kill people.”  Well, actually smokers tend to kill themselves, but never mind.

Bloomberg correctly pointed out that people who raise the economic argument “really ought to look in the mirror and be ashamed.”  But about the freedom argument, Mr. Mayor? And won’t this ban increase law-breaking with young people buying cigarettes illegally?

While the health argument may be a no-brainer for many well-intentioned politicians it’s almost certainly more controversial among the public at large. “It’s a dumb law,” says one post on debate.org.  “If you can fight for your country why can’t you enjoy tobacco?”

“I am in high school,” wrote another contributor.   “As a student you can see that people that want to smoke will find ways to buy or get the tobacco from.”

The arguments in favor of raising the legal smoking are well rehearsed.  New York City officials say 80% of smokers here started before they were 21.  Tobacco kills far more people than alcohal or drugs.

“Teens are likely to get cigarettes from other teens, so by raising the sales age we fully expect that we’re gonna see a decline in smoking in teenagers, which is what we want most,” says New York City’s somewhat ominously titled Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Tom Farley.

“Tobacco is a drug, and it’s a drug that kills more people that heroine, cocaine, crack, crystal meth combined,” argues Farley with considerable conviction.

As a parent I know his arguments carry weight.  And I admit that I once opposed New York’s ban on smoking in bars as a restriction that went too far.  Later I changed my mind.

But this new ban is open to complaints about a  nanny state.  Shouldn’t college-aged young adults be free to make their own mistakes?  What do you think?  If I am wrong again, Change My Mind!

all photos by Richard Davies

all photos by Richard Davies

Shutdown Dysfunction – It’s Far From Over!

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President Obama discusses healthcare with Congressional leaders in calmer times

So maybe you’re relieved that the US Government stepped back from the brink and did not default on its debt.  A return to more civilized debate perhaps?

Um…  no. Sadly, this mess is far from over.  The harsh partisan divide, with both sides talking past each other, drags on.

While some like to portray the Tea Party as representing the views of a mere two or three dozen members of the House of Representatives, the truth is quite different.

After 16 days of government shutdown, a battered economy, and massive disapproval in opinion poll ratings, 144 House Republicans – two-thirds of their members – voted against the Senate compromise.

They’re proud of what they’ve done, believing  that their stand against funding the government and risking an unprecedented US debt default was worth it.

“You know it isn’t about winning. It’s about were we on the right path,” says Congresswoman Michelle Bachman.

A defiant Representative Ted Poe of Texas argues: “We should be talking about cutting spending before we start raising America’s debt ceiling and that’s just the way it is.”

No compromise there.

Some members of Congress are clearly exhausted, and a ceasefire has been declared for now, but the this deal is only a short-term band-aid.  The resolution passed by Congress only funds the government until January 15th. And without a new bill the debt default threat will return in early February.

The damage to the economy is already becoming clear. Retailers worry that the recent drop in consumer confidence will drag down holiday spending. Car sales fell last week compared to earlier in the month.

America’s standing in the world has been damaged. China and other US critics will use this standoff to their advantage.

So how to fix this?  We have to change our national conversation.

After years of frosty relations, the face-to-face meetings by Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell in the past few days were a start.  But they are only two men.

It’s about all of us, not just “them”.

Just as Americans celebrate diversity of religion,race and ethnicity,  it’s time to welcome different points of view into our own political discourse.  Those who denigrate others and hold on to a rigid ideology should occupy a much smaller space in the public square.

 

London: I Changed My Mind

London and Cranes by against the tide
London and Cranes, a photo by against the tide on Flickr.

London is a city of cranes, and it has really changed my mind about how I think about this great old city.

You see cranes and new buildings all over the place, from a huge new development that’s going up near Victoria Station to many smaller new building sites around the formerly depressed neighborhoods of Shoreditch and Old Street.

After years of falling behind the US there is a sense of vitality that was sorely missing in the 1970’s and early 80’s when I lived here.

One new train system, the London Overground is up and running, and another huge project, connecting east and west London is well on the way.

After years of struggle following the 2008 financial crisis, the British economic growth was recently upgraded by the IMF.

Has the mood of the country changed to match the growing evidence of prosperity and pride in public works? Not exactly. And as anyone from other parts of the country will remind you, the boom is more of a London thing than nationwide.

But there is a sense of possibility.  And the co-alition government established by Conservatives and Liberals in  2010 has held together surprisingly well.  It’s a model for political co-operation, unlike the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington.

What’s ironic is that today’s US political scene reminds me of the rigid ideological orthodoxy of the Labor and Conservative Parties in the 70’s: the very time when Britain was being derided as the sick man of Europe.