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p style=”text-align: center;”>POTUS Approval Ratings
(Approval/disapproval of President Trump by U.S. adults, as established by key nationwide polling organizations)

August 2019

Aug. 5-9 Aug. 12-16 Aug. 19-23 Aug. 26-30

Polling Organization

Economist/YouGov 44/52 44/54
Politico/Morning Consult 41/55 42/54
Rasmussen Reports 47/51 46/52
Real Clear Politics (Average) 43/54 43/54

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There’s no safety in (phone) numbers

August 19, 2019

How many of us have “exchanged digits” with new acquaintances, written our phone numbers on customer profiles, and entered them into job applications? Roughly 100%? And what could possibly be wrong with this practice?

A column posted on August 15 by Brian X. Chen, the lead Consumer Technology writer at The New York Times may change your mind about that. Chen encourages readers, “Before you hand over your number, ask yourself: Is it worth the risk?”

Now that many of us have shifted from landlines to mobile devices, we rarely change phone numbers—bringing them with us when we move homes, schools, jobs, and accounts..

At the same time, the Times reports, our exclusive string of digits has increasingly become connected to apps and online services that are hooked into our personal lives. And it can lead to information from our offline worlds, including where we live and more.

In fact, your phone number may have now become an even stronger identifier than your full name, Chen believes.

He went out of his way to prove this theory recently, when he provided his phone number to Fyde, a mobile security firm based in Palo Alto, California.

Emre Tezisci, a security researcher at Fyde—and a self-described “ninja engineer” with a background in telecommunications, took on the task “with gusto,” Chen wrote, noting that, for purposes of the test, he and Tezisci previously “had never met or talked.”

Tezisci quickly plugged Chen’s cellphone number into White Pages Premium, an online database that charges $5 a month for access to public records. He then did a thorough web search and followed a data trail — linking Chen’s name and address to information in other online background-checking tools and public records — to track down more details.

“Soon,” Chen wrote in his Times column, “he had a full dossier on me — including my name and birth date, my address, the property taxes I pay and the names of members of my family.

From there, the situation quickly might have deteriorated. Tezisci could have used that information to try to answer security questions that would enable him to break into Chen’s online accounts. Or he could have targeted Chen or his loved ones with sophisticated phishing attacks. He and the other researchers at Fyde opted not to do so, since such attacks are illegal.

“If you want to give out your number, you are taking additional risk that you might not be aware of,” Fyde CEO Sinan Eren,  told Chen in an interview. “Because of collisions in names due to the massive number of people online today, a phone number is a stronger identifier.”

In just an hour, this is what the Fyde researcher found:

  • Chen’s current home address, its square footage, the cost of the property and the taxes he pays on it;
  • His past addresses from the last decade;
  • The full names of his mother, father, sister, and aunt;
  • Past phone numbers, including the landline for his parents’ home; and
  • Lack of a criminal record.

While Fyde declined to hack into Chen’s accounts , the company warned that there was plenty an attacker could do with the information:

  • Reset the password for an online account by answering such security questions as “What is your mother’s maiden name?”
  • Trick a customer service representative for that person’s phone carrier into porting my number onto a new SIM card, thus hijacking my digits — a practice called SIM swapping.
  • Mislead members of the person’s family into sharing their passwords or sending money.
  • Target the phone number with phishing texts and robocalls.
  • Break into the person’s voicemail and listen to messages.

So, when is it wise to share your number (and when is it not?

There are some situations when sharing your phone number is reasonable. When you enter your user name and password to get into your online banking account, the bank may call or text you with a temporary code that you must enter before you can log in. This is a security mechanism known as two-factor verification. In this situation, your phone number is a useful extra factor to prove you are who you say you are, The Times writer notes.

But which companies should you trust with your phone number? Unfortunately, Chen says, there is no neat solution.

As for two-factor authentication, most tech companies offer other verification options. They include apps that generate temporary security codes or a physical security key that can be plugged in. Generally, those are safer to use than a phone number.

Finally, a word to the wise: If you have business cards with your personal number printed on them, shred them and order new ones with just your office line.

Research contact: @nytimes

High five: Illinois to allow medical marijuana users to cultivate ‘a handful’ of plants at home

August 19, 2019

Talk about farm fresh! Starting next year, medical marijuana patients in Illinois will be allowed to farm their own cannabis plants at home.

Each person enrolled in the medical program—to date, that’s more than 82,000 Prairie State residents—will be able to legally grow five plants, according to a report by The Chicago Tribune.

And home and garden centers, as well as their suppliers, are gearing up to help their customers grow a bumper crop.

Indeed, several companies from as far away as Colorado and California—states where consumers have legally grown their own weed for years—brought cannabis-growing equipment to last week’s Independent Garden Center Show at McCormick Place, which had its first-ever “Cannabis Corner.”

Attendees stopped at the booths, feeling soil samples, taking pamphlets and discussing nutrients. Exhibitors were working to get their products into more garden centers.

A Pot for Pot of Oakland, California, displayed two thriving marijuana plants at its booth. One plant was 80 days old and ready for harvest, with plump buds hugging the stem, the Tribune noted. The other was half as old and hadn’t yet developed buds—but the distinctive, five-pronged leaves were full and green.

The California-based company’s marijuana kits include nutrient-rich soil, beneficial bacteria and instructions. “We like to think of ourselves as Blue Apron meets Chia Pet for growing cannabis,” one of the founders, Jason Levin, told the news outlet.

“When you look at beer and wine, that requires a lot of skill on the brewers part,” added co-founder Joshua Mezher. “With this, the plant does all the work.”

The average customer grows 1 to 3 ounces of cannabis with the kit, Mezher said. The seeds are not included in the kit. Customers order them from A Pot for Pot’s partner in the Netherlands, and the plants are usually ready to harvest in about 80 days.

The kits come in different sizes, with a five-gallon kit selling for about $100 on the company’s website and a desktop mini version that Levin said sold for $30. (“That one’s a great holiday gift because it’s cute and affordable,” Levin said.)

“The time is right. States are falling like dominoes legalizing,” Andrew Victor, national sales consultant for the Denver-based American Cannabis Company, told The Chicago Tribune. “In the middle of garden center people, here we are, American Cannabis Company, talking about growing cannabis.”

Research contact: amarotti@chicagotribune.com

Trump intervenes with Netanyahu, blocking Omar and Tlaib from entering Israel

August 19, 2019

“I don’t know why they would,” President Donald Trump said last week, when asked whether he thought that Israel should provide entrance to two U.S. Democratic representatives for a fact-finding visit.

The freshman lawmakers—Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota—are Muslims who have been disparaged, even by many of their fellow Democrats, for their posture on Israel; including their support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a global campaign designed to press Israel on human rights issues surrounding the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nonetheless, it has been Israel’s position, as a close ally of the United States, to allow members of Congress to freely visit the nation—including the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The visit of the two lawmakers would have followed a visit by the largest-ever U.S. delegation—a group of 41 Congressional Democrats and 31 Congressional Republicans—who traveled to Israel to express solidarity with the Jewish state, following what they characterized as anti-semitic remarks by Tlaib and Omar.

However, U.S. President Donald Trump intervened to urge Israel to block the upcoming admission of the two Muslim observers.

According to a report by The Hill, President Trump “broke new ground [last] Thursday when he urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deny two Muslim congresswomen entrance to the country for a fact-finding visit, accusing them of harboring hatred toward “Israel & all Jewish people.”

The move reverberated across Washington, as pro-Israel groups condemned the president for threatening U.S.-Israel relations; foreign policy experts chimed in with warnings of frayed diplomatic ties; and stunned Democrats issued waves of statements denouncing Trump for pressuring a foreign government to deny his American political opponents rights of free passage.

Indeed, in a surprise response on August 16, even BDS condemned the move. The  statement from the opposition organization left no doubt that even the Palestinians object to the U.S. president’s unprecedented intervention.

“The Palestinian-led BDS movement condemns the far-right Israeli government’s McCarthyite decision to prevent Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar from visiting the Occupied Palestinian Territory over their support for Palestinian freedom. We call for cutting US military aid to Israel,” BDS said in its official release, adding, “Israel’s far-right government, with Trump’s collusion, has again put itself on par with apartheid South Africa in the past, and other rogue regimes in the present.”

The statement ended with kudos for the two Muslim lawmakers. “We salute Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, and we call for escalating pressure on Congress to implement the Leahy Law, which conditions U,S, military aid to other governments on their respect for human rights, by cutting U,S, military aid to Israel.”

 “I can’t think of any other president, Democrat or Republican, doing something as outrageous as this,” Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told The Hill on August 15 during a phone interview. “If this is just providing cover for Netanyahu, that’s wrong. If this is Donald Trump playing politics, that’s wrong.

“Once again, Donald Trump is denigrating the office of the presidency,” he added.

Some Republicans also broke ranks to criticize the president’s intervention. “Israel is a U.S. ally and a thriving bastion of democracy and hope for freedom-loving people of the world. It would benefit all of us for Reps. Tlaib and Omar to see that firsthand,”  Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said to Reuters’s Patricia Zengerle.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), a staunch ally of Israel who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, called Israel’s decision a “mistake,” while Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) singled out the Trump administration for urging Israel to deny the women entry.

Research contact: @thehill

Keep your head down: Tilting your chin toward your neck can make you seem more dominant

August 16, 2019

Does somebody you know make you feel as if he or she is “head and shoulders above you” in confidence and ability?  Findings of a study recently conducted at the University of British Columbia in Canada indicate that when a conversational partner arches his eyebrows and tilts his chin downward, the effect can be intimidating.

In fact, even “… a neutral face—a face with no muscle movement or facial expression—appears to be more dominant when the head is tilted down,” researchers Zachary Witkower and Jessica Tracy explained in an article published in the June edition of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

This effect is caused by the fact that tilting one’s head downward leads to the artificial appearance of lowered and V-shaped eyebrows—which in turn elicit perceptions of aggression, intimidation, and dominance.”

Although researchers have investigated how facial muscle movements, in the form of facial expressions, correlate with social impressions, few studies have specifically examined how head movements might play a role. Witkower and Tracy designed a series of studies to investigate whether the angle of head position might influence social perception, even when facial features remain neutral.

In one online study with 101 participants, the researchers generated variations of avatars with neutral facial expressions—using three head positions: tilted upward ten degrees, neutral (0 degrees), or tilted downward ten degrees.

The participants judged the dominance of each avatar image, rating their agreement with statements including “This person would enjoy having control over others” and “This person would be willing to use aggressive tactics to get their way.”

The results showed that participants rated the avatars with downward head tilt as more dominant than those with neutral or upward-titled heads.

A second online study, in which 570 participants rated images of actual people, showed the same pattern of results.

Additional findings revealed that the portion of the face around the eyes and eyebrows is both necessary and sufficient to produce the dominance effect. That is, participants rated downward-tilted heads as more dominant even when they could only see the eyes and eyebrows; this was not true when the rest of the face was visible, and the eyes and eyebrows were obscured.

Two more experiments indicated that the angle of the eyebrows drove this effect—downward-tilted heads had eyebrows that appeared to take more of a V shape, even though the eyebrows had not moved from a neutral position, and this was associated with perceptions of dominance.

“In other words, tilting the head downward can have the same effect on social perceptions as does lowering one’s eyebrows—a movement made by the corrugator muscle, known as Action Unit 4 in the Facial Action Coding System—but without any actual facial movement,” say Witkower and Tracy. “Head tilt is thus an ‘action unit imposter’ in that it creates the illusory appearance of a facial muscle movement where none in fact exists.”

Ultimately, Witkower and Tracy note, these findings could have practical implications for our everyday social interactions: “People often display certain movements or expressions during their everyday interactions, such as a friendly smile or wave, as a way to communicate information,” they said, adding, “Our research suggests that we may also want to consider how [they] hold their head during these interactions, as subtle head movements can dramatically change the meaning of otherwise innocuous facial expressions.”

Research contact: zak.witkower@psych.ubc.ca

Equinox to go up against Peleton and Mirror for streaming fitness supremacy

August 16, 2019

Earlier this month, Stephen Ross, the billionaire owner of the popular fitness brands, Equinox, SoulCycle, Precision Run, and Blink Fitness, sparked outrage and calls for a boycott of his businesses when he hosted a fundraiser for President Donald Trump in the fashionable Hamptons area of Long Island, New York.

But that hasn’t slowed down his push into the fitness category. In fact, Ross now has announced his intentions to take on Peloton, the New York City-based exercise equipment and media company that has revolutionized the home biking experience—connecting users to live and on-demand streaming on-screen classes across a variety of devices for $39 per month.

According to a report by Fast Company, Ross’s new digital venture will include two separate pieces of hardware and personalized content representing Ross’s portfolio of brands.

Slated for launch this fall, the platform will pair with a new stationary bike identical to the one found in SoulCycle studios—with the addition of an attached screen. Equinox also will sell its proprietary Woodway treadmill, which can already be found at its Precision Run studios.

The new digital venture (which has not yet been named, Fast Company says) will include all the brands’ signature workouts—led by top instructors—in one network. It is not meant to replace the live studio experience, rather to serve as an addition for dedicated members who want an at-home offering.

The new digital venture puts Equinox in direct competition with Peloton, which also boasts both treadmill and stationary bikes along with a broad range of fitness content. Last year, Peloton opened a new production studio dedicated to yoga and meditation in New York City. The streaming giant is now valued at more than $4 billion.

Peloton stands out in the $14 billion home fitness equipment market, but it’s becoming an increasingly crowded space: Fast Company notes the long list of competitive startups—among them,  Mirror (personal training, yoga), Crew (rowing), and Tonal (weight lifting) ; all of which are attempting to do what Peloton did for the indoor bike.

While approximately 16% of the U.S. population holds a gym membership card, a recent survey found that 54% of Americans who work out at least once a month are interested in buying an at-home fitness system.

Over the last few years, Equinox members increasingly have demanded more ways to interact with the brand on their own schedule. Around 86% of them would like to spend more time with the brand than they get to, according to a recent survey of SoulCycle riders.

The new platform will integrate live and recorded original video and audio content–and will start with an invitation-only launch in the fall, with the at-home equipment available for purchase by the winter. A more public rollout is set for early 2020.

Research contact: @Equinox_Service

‘A big storm’ is coming, warns Mark Sanford, as he considers contesting Trump in 2020

August 16, 2019

Mark Sanford—the former South Carolina Republican governor (2003-2011) and representative (1996-2001) who vanished for a week in 2009 and subsequently confessed to an extramarital affair—has announced that he is considering mounting a challenge to President Donald Trump in 2020, CNN reports.

There’s a big storm coming,” Sanford says in a campaign-style video released on August 12, adding that America is “in the most precarious financial position” and “not dealing with it could crush our economy, it could wipe out whatever we’ve saved, it could even destroy our republic.”

The former congressman has been privately considering whether to run since leaving office in January. Sanford’s presidential bid would be a long-shot against Trump, who has an  88% approval rating among Republican voters, according to the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center..

Sanford told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he’s been encouraged to run for president by people who “have said we need to have a conversation about what it means to be a Republican.”

He suggested that South Carolina voters are weary of “the bully in the schoolyard routine” from Trump. “So I think something is afoot both on the financial front and frankly on the tone and tenor front,” he told CNN.

In fact, he told the cable news network, “I just got through watching two Democratic debates that offered little more than a long laundry list of new political promises that we can’t afford. [Then] … I listen to the president, who rules out action on the very things that drive our debt and spending.”

Sanford says some have suggested an advocacy group, while “others have suggested running in the Republican primary against the President as a way of elevating the issue and changing the debate.”

Sanford lost his primary race in 2018, running as a “Never Trumper” for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. Should he decide to run, Sanford also would take on former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, who announced in April that he was officially entering the race, as a Republican to take on Trump in 2020.

Sanford has said he expects to make his decision by September.

Research contact: @CNNPolitics

Doxxing: it’s the celebrity club you don’t want to join

August 15, 2019

Suppose you were a celebrity who wanted to post a message to friends on social media, but still hoped to protect your privacy and identity. Maybe you would use a different name and photo on your Facebook or Twitter account. But in today’s online world, such amateur “covers” simply aren’t enough.

In fact, through a technique called “doxxing,” literally scores of famous performers and politicians have experienced the theft of their personal and financial information—only to see it posted out on the Internet for everyone to see.

Doxxing isn’t new. It’s been used by identity thieves for several years with great success.

How do they do it? They impersonate the celebrity that they plan on “outing” or embarrassing by gathering as much information as they can from a variety of sources, and then use that information to get access to more sensitive personal information, according to a blog by Christopher Budd of Trend Micro—a Japanese multinational cybersecurity and defense agency.

In fact, during just one week in March 2013, the financial information of a handful of celebrities was exposed by a mysterious website called “The Secret Files.” The stripped-down website posted the  Social Security numbers, credit reports, birth dates, addresses, and phone numbers of celebrities and public figures—among them, Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher, Jay-Z, Tiger Woods, Mitt Romney, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Hillary Clinton.

And to drive the point that technical savvy can’t seem to protect you from this, they’ve even posted information about Bill Gates.

The question becomes: What does this mean for us—the regular dweebs who use social media? And what should you do about it?

The good news is that these doxxing campaigns are clearly targeting famous and powerful people, and isn’t likely to directly affect any of us in the near term, according to Trend Micro. But this does highlight that your credit report has a lot of powerful information that you wouldn’t want publicly posted. So it’s a good time to take some steps to protect your information.

What you want to do is to ensure that you keep any information that you use to answer these types of security questions secret. Typically, you have a choice of what questions to answer, so only use questions for which the answers aren’t already public. Make sure your social media profiles are set to only show information to friends and you only “friend” people that you really know.

And, consider taking time and searching for yourself like an attacker would: Do searches on yourself and variations of your name, see what comes up—and if you find information out there that you didn’t know was out there and don’t want in public view, follow up to have it removed.

Research contact:@TrendMicro

Jay-Z’s Roc Nation launches partnership with NFL

August 15, 2019

Roc Nation,— the entertainment company founded in 2008 by rapper and businessman Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter—announced on August 13 that it was launching a multiyear partnership with the National Football League (NFL) geared to enhance live game experiences and to amplify the league’s social justice efforts.

As part of the agreement, Roc Nation will advise on the selection of artists for major NFL live, on-field performances such as those featured during the Super Bowl halftime break.

According to the league, a major component of the partnership will be to nurture and strengthen community through football and music, including through the NFL’s Inspire Change social justice initiative (which already is supported by eight organizations, including Alliance for Safety and Justice, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Civil Rights Corps, Gideon’s Promise, NAF, Vera Institute of Justice, and VOTE).

The NFL formally launched the Inspire Change initiative in early 2019, after more than two years of work with NFL players, with the goal of creating positive change in communities across the country. Through this initiative, NFL teams and the league office work with the Players Coalition and other NFL players to support programs and initiatives that reduce barriers to opportunity, with a focus on three priority areas: education and economic advancement; police and community relations; and criminal justice reform.

“With its global reach, the National Football League has the platform and opportunity to inspire change across the country,” Jay-Z said. “Roc Nation has shown that entertainment and enacting change are not mutually exclusive ideas. Instead, we unify them. This partnership is an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of communities across America.”

Roc Nation also will work with the NFL to create and distribute content across multiple music streaming services for a variety of initiatives.

“Roc Nation is one of the most globally influential and impactful organizations in entertainment,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “The NFL and Roc Nation share a vision of inspiring meaningful social change across our country. We are thrilled to partner with Roc Nation and look forward to making a difference in our communities together.”

Research contact: @NFL

Stacey Abrams for VP? Popular Georgia public servant says she’d accept an offer

August 15, 2019

Stacey Abrams, who lost her 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia by a narrow margin to Republican Brian Kemp, said she would be “honored” to be considered as a running mate for any of the two dozen hopefuls who are making a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination next year, The Hill reported on August 14.

“I would be honored to be considered by any nominee,” she said in an interview with The New York Times that was published Wednesday. 

Abrams already had announced on August 13 that she would not throw her hat into the presidential race-but that she would work instead to combat voter suppression and increase participation in the 2020 census.

However, her personal charisma and political acuity are not to be ignored: As another option, she said she would privileged to be chosen as the vice presidential candidate, should the nominee approach her.

According to The Hill, the Georgia Democrat has cited voter suppression as a reason for her defeat, noting the removal of thousands of people who had failed to cast ballots in recent elections from voting rolls and hours-long lines at some precincts.

I’ve been thinking about this for the last few weeks, an I’ve just come to the decision that my best value add, the strongest contribution I can give to this primary, would be to make sure our nominee is coming into an environment where there’s strong voter protections in place,” she told the Times.

Abrams added that she did not want to wage a campaign “simply because the office is available” and that she’s “been pleased with the direction of the field,” urging all the candidates to also prioritize voter suppression and campaign in Georgia.

Several Democratic presidential candidates already have vowed to (or suggested they might) pick a female running mate if nominated. Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey)  vowed in April to pick a woman as his vice president, while former Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) said in March it would “very difficult not to select a woman” as his running mate.”

Research contact: @thehill