Make Nepotism Great Again: 20 Families Got Jobs in Trump Administration

Most people have heard of Ivanka and Jared, but the first family is far from the only group of relatives staffing the Trump administration.

A Daily Beast examination of public records reveals that there are at least 20 families, joined by either blood or marriage, in which multiple members hold some federal post or appointment. They include the families of some of Trumps most prominent campaign supporters and agency officials, including one cabinet officer. The posts range from senior White House staff to more ceremonial and advisory positions.

A few of the most prominent cases came to the fore in recent weeks with the hiring of Eric Trumps brother-in-law to be chief of staff at the Department of Energy and the nomination of Brett Talley to a federal judgeship in Alabama. In paperwork filed with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Talley failed to disclose that his wife is the chief of staff to the White House senior counsel Don McGahnpresenting a potential conflict of interest if the administration ever argues a case in Talleys court.

But McGahn too has a direct relation in the administration. His wife, Shannon McGahn, was hired in May as a policy adviser to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. In March, Trump tapped former Ford Motor Company lawyer Jim Carroll to join McGahns team. Carroll has since moved over to the Office of Management and Budget, where he serves as general counsel. But before he did, the White House hired his son, James Carroll IIIwhose previous professional experience consisted of a stint as the sports editor of his college newspaperas a staff assistant.

Such staffing choices arent necessarily novel for this administration. From John Adams to John Kennedy, U.S. presidents and their teams have drawn on families for high-level staffing. A lack of comprehensive records for previous administrations makes it difficult to gauge whether the Trump administration is staffed by more families than his predecessors.

But Trumps administration is, more than any since perhaps Kennedys, defined by blood relations, with daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner occupying senior posts and other members of the family, including sons Don Jr. and Eric and daughter-in-law Lara Trump, serving as prominent public faces of the presidents political and business arms. And the degree to which other families supply the administration with top talent only further illustrates the insularity of the current group controlling the levers of power in Washington, D.C.

Though not technically a federal employee, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani serves as an informal adviser to the president. In March, his son Andrew joined the White House Office of Public Liaison as associate director after his professional golfing career petered out. The younger Giulianis LinkedIn page listed him as a former sales intern at investment firm CapRok.

As secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is one of the administrations most senior officials. But her family has also provided tremendous financial support for the president and the Republican Party, shelling out more than $200 million in Republican campaign contributions. Donors are frequently rewarded with administration posts and the DeVos were no different. In September, Dick Devos Jr., Betsys husband, was appointed to the Federal Aviation Administrations Management Advisory Council. The next month, Pamella DeVos, Betsys sister-in-law, landed a spot on the advisory board for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. DeVos brother, Erik Prince, the founder of notorious military contractor Blackwater, was also said to be informally advising Trumps incoming administration after last years election.

Other intra-family administration posts have been more prominent and filled more direct policy-making roles. Often, these appointments have illustrated another ongoing trend in the Trump administration: the tasking of high-level officials to regulate or oversee industries in which they formerly worked.

Former House Financial Services Committee Oversight Counsel, Uttah Dhillon, was appointed as a senior assistant to the president in January. In June, his wife Janet Dhillon was tapped to be an Equal Employment Opportunity commissioner, which puts her on a body that previously took enforcement actions against at least two of her former employers, United Airlines (PDF) and JCPenny, for allegedly discriminatory action that took place while she served in legal roles for the companies.

Pamela Patenaude, Trumps deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development, didnt work in industry. But she led the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation, which promotes U.S. housing policy reforms. When she was nominated in April, her daughter Meghan was already a deputy assistant for scheduling to Vice President Mike Pence. By the time she was confirmed to the HUD post in September, another of her daughters, Caitlin Patenaude, had been hired as a policy adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Other Trump administration families appear to have followed their principals into the federal government. Sisters Millan and Sydney Hupp both worked on Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitts campaign for Oklahoma attorney general. Sydney Hupp is now Pruitts executive scheduler, and her sister is EPAs director of scheduling and advance.

Jennifer Pavlik likewise followed her former boss into the administration. She was Pences chief of staff in the Indiana governors mansion, and now serves as the vice presidents deputy chief of staff. She joined the administration in January, and a few months later her husband followed. Brian Pavlik, a former concessions program manager for the Indiana State Parks system, was hired as a special assistant to the National Parks Service.

At least one familial Trump official is no longer in the job. A few months after former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka joined the administration, his wife, Katharine Gorka, landed a job at the Department of Homeland Security. She remains in that post, but her husband was unceremoniously ousted in August.

As she continues advising high-level government officials, Sebastian Gorka has been relegated to an advisory position at a group run by Pizzagate conspiracy theorists. He was recently pictured parking his car on a sidewalk in Virginia.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/meet-the-trump-officials-making-government-a-family-business

Army lifts ban on cutters, mentally ill and drug abusers to meet recruiting goals

Facing low recruitment levels, the U.S. Army quietly lifted its ban on allowing people with a history of mental illness, self-mutilation and drug abuse to serve in the military – despite warnings from the industry about the risks involved.

The new rules green-light recruits who have bipolar disorder, depression and issues with cutting – a process in which a person takes a knife or razor to his or her own skin – along with those who bite, hit or bruise themselves intentionally.

“I am shocked,” Craig Bryan, executive director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at The University of Utah, told Fox News. “This contradicts everything we have been working toward for the past 10-to-15 years.”

“This contradicts everything we have been working toward for the past 10-to-15 years.”

– Craig Bryan, National Center for Veterans Studies

Bryan says there is strong evidence to indicate self-injury is a “stepping stone to suicide” and is “the single strongest predictor of suicidal behavior.”

The Army signed off on the new policy in August but never announced it, according to USA Today, which first reported the news.

The decision to lift restrictions comes as the military looks like it will miss its goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers through September 2018.

In order to hit last year’s goal of 69,000 recruits, the Army also accepted men and women who did poorly on aptitude tests, increased the number of waivers for pot use and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.

In fiscal year 2017, it paid out $424 million in bonuses, up from $284 million in 2016. In 2014, that figure was $8.2 million. According to USA Today, some of the recruits qualified for bonuses of $40,000.

When it comes to mental health, recruits who would have previously been barred can submit waivers allowing them to sign up.

The change reverses an eight-year ban on the wavers following a spike of suicides.

The move is especially troubling following the Texas church massacre a week ago, in which 26 people were killed and another 20 injured when Devin Patrick Kelley, a veteran with a history of psychiatric problems, opened fire inside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.

Following the deadly episode, it was revealed that Kelley made death threats against his superiors and escaped from a mental hospital during his stint in the Air Force.  

Kelley was kicked out of the military and later ran away from a mental institution.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Randy Taylor says the waiver expansion was possible because the government has more access to applicants’ medical records.

“These records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories,” he said – but adds that the “waivers are not considered lightly.”

Dr. Joel Dvoskin, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s Department of Psychiatry, told Fox News he believes lifting the ban is a step in the right direction.

“The label of mental illness is meaningless,” he said. “There are a ton of people who have a history of something – some kind of emotional trouble – and they are fine. There is no reason in the world they couldn’t serve in the military.”

He added, “Stereotypes are pretty evil all the way around. Because of the stigma (of mental illness), we stereotype them.”

Dvoskin said in some cases, mental illness might make would-be soldiers “tougher and better” as the result. 

But some say accepting recruits with mental health conditions – specifically cutting – puts others at risk, especially in high-pressure situations in the field.  

“Is it a red flag,” Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatrist who retired from the Army in 2010, said. “The question is, how much of a red flag is it?”

According to the Army, recruits with a history of self-mutilation must provide documentation that includes a detailed statement from the applicant, medical records, photos submitted by the recruiter and a psych evaluation.

The Army says the burden of proof will be on the applicant to provide a case why a waiver should be considered. 

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/11/13/army-lifts-ban-on-cutters-mentally-ill-and-drug-abusers-to-meet-recruiting-goals.html

What Every Parent Needs To Understand About Teens’ Mental Health

A new report is painting a bleak picture when it comes to teens’ mental health, as well as their access to professional support for those issues.

Data published by the nonprofit Mental Health America shows that rates of severe youth depression have increased from 5.9 percent to 8.2 percent over a five-year period. Half of those screened between the ages of 11 and 17 reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm throughout the course of a week. South Dakota was the state that ranked the “best” in terms of good youth mental health. (The data measured access to treatment as well as prevalence of mental health conditions.) Nevada was ranked as the “worst” state.

Researchers collected public mental health data from each state between 2010 and 2015 (the most recent years of available information) to examine the state of mental health across the country. While they found some dizzying statistics about how adults are faring ― for example, 57 percent of people with a mental disorder did not receive proper treatment over the study period ― researchers were most alarmed by the findings surrounding youth mental health.

“I feel like it’s only something people have started to talk about in the last couple of years, if that,” Theresa Nguyen, vice president of policy and programs at Mental Health America, told HuffPost. “We’re starting to see data come out that shows not only are youth struggling significantly, but the numbers indicate ― like in our current report ― that the trend is getting worse.”

Mental Health America
The overall findings from the 2018 State of Mental Health Report published by Mental Health America.

How access to treatment is failing young people

Although access to services and insurance increased overall from last year’s report, researchers say there’s still not enough people receiving the care they need. This is especially true for teens: More than 76 percent of young people studied who had a major depressive episode ― which equated to approximately 1.7 million kids ― did not receive proper treatment for the issue.

Mental health treatment, whether it be therapy, medication or both, is the most effective way to manage a mental illness. Experts say that in extreme cases, treatment can also mean the difference between life and death.

“I wish I could say the mental health of our children is improving. Our report shows the opposite,” Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America, said in a statement. “Far too many young people are suffering ― often in silence. They are not receiving the treatment they need to live healthy and productive lives ― and too many simply don’t see a way out.”

What needs to be done

Experts say parents play a pivotal role in changing the conversation when it comes to their kids’ psychological well-being. Here are a few ways to spot if your kid is dealing with a mental health issue and how to realistically help them through it:

Look out for striking changes in behavior.

Nguyen says that drastic changes in mood ― especially in a month or a shorter period of time ― could be a sign that something bigger is at play. This can include withdrawing from social activities kids once loved, or displaying anger or sadness more than usual. Teens who might be engaging in self-harm may wear longer sleeves, even in warm weather, Nguyen added.

“That’s a huge red flag,” she said. “It’s kind of hard because these things correlate with puberty and sometimes adults are like, ‘Oh, my kid is just going through those shifts.’ It gets hard for parents because this period of time is so muddy.”

Talk about anything you notice.

Make your home an environment where teens feel comfortable approaching you about mental health issues, Nguyen said.

“Talking to your kid is really important,” she explained. “They’re really good at hiding problems … it’s really good for young kids, especially around puberty, to start having that conversation as you would with sex education.”

Let them know about any family history of mental health issues.

If you or a member of your family has experienced a mental illness, Nguyen says it’s vital that you bring it up with your kids. The more informed they are about their family history, the more likely young adults are to open up if they’re having issues of their own.

“As scary as it is, talking to kids about your own experience is a huge thing a parent can do,” Nguyen said. “Lead by example. Teenagers know a lot more than people give them credit for.”

Remind your child that mental health issues are nothing to feel shame over.

Bottom line: Mental illness deserves just as much attention and care as physical illness. Negative stereotypes surrounding mental health disorders only do more harm.

“It might help to think about [a] health perspective,” Nguyen said. “We wouldn’t be afraid to talk and hear about cancer or diabetes. Why are we afraid to share about mental illness?”

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/youth-mental-health-report_us_5a0d02c4e4b0b17e5e13f4f4

5 Ways Dry Shampoo Is Sabotaging Your Hair

I would try to beat around the bush with this one, but given what the headline is, there’s really no dodging it. I’m about to ruin your day, your week, your month, and even your year. On the bright side, this isn’t another article about Trump’s latest fuckups controversial tweet. Instead, it’s about the godawful ways dry shampoo is a scum-sucking road whore. It basically ruins your hair’s life, aka your life as well, each time you use it. I love dry shampoo as much as you, and in fact, I love my dry shampoo’d hair more than what my hair looks like out of the shower. I think we can agree that the volume, bounce, and texture dry shampoo provides is incomparable, not to mention the fact that it allows our lazy asses to skip a long and tedious hair wash routine. However, since nothing ever, ever, *ever* works in our favor, it turns out this shit is bad for you. I know, like, wtf did we do to deserve this? You don’t have to toss out your Batiste or Not Your Mother’s just yet, but I would think twice before using three days in a row.

1. It Could Cause Hair Loss

I don’t think any of us ever questioned just exactly what causes our hair to look so fab after using dry shampoo. As long as we woke up breathing with hair on our heads, it’s fine. But, dry shampoo is actually made of chemicals that aren’t really all that great for our hair. Whether you use it excessively or encounter it for the first time, you could basically develop dermatitis after use. You fucking guessed it—anything that ends with “itis” is a bigger red flag than a “U up?” text. This is a severe allergic reaction that causes intense irritation, which may result in drastic hair loss in the long-term. You’re not, like, guaranteed to lose all your hair if you abuse dry shampoo, but if your hair is already on the thinner side, be wary.

2. It Can Contribute To Breakouts

If you really think about it, dry shampoo is just a spray we leave on all day and don’t think about. Naturally. Since it’s just a product sitting on our scalp for hours on end, it’s seriously clogging up our pores. Just fuck me up, honestly. It continues to build up oils, dirt, and bacteria, which then = scalpne (scalp + acne), and since this is your head we’re talking about, the build-up can trail down to your upper forehead where it may wreak havoc as well. *Screams internally*

3. It Might Irritate Your Scalp

Before the damage gets to your hair, it starts with your scalp. Since dry shampoo comes into contact with the scalp first, it can cause a v uncomfortable irritation. Overusing dry shampoo by leaving it on for more than a day or using multiple times in a row causes a buildup of grime—even after washing! This leads to a super inflamed, itchy, and flaky scalp. Talk about gross, and talk about hella dandruff. Pass.

4. It May Stunt Your Hair Growth Fo’ Life

As we’ve already covered, dry shampoo is essentially a temporary plug for oiliness. As a result, I’ve already told you like, a million times, that the constant use and buildup of oil and grime leads to clogged up pores. When this happens too often, your hair follicles are basically suffocating and blocked from growing any further. If it gets too severe, your hair will not only begin to thin or fall out, but it will eventually stunt your hair’s growth, and you’ll probs look like a British man. IDK maybe that’s just a theory, but either way, that’s the shit we don’t like.

5. It Actually Makes Your Hair Greasier

Contrary to popular belief, if used too often, dry shampoo can actually make your hair way more greasy than it was to begin with. Although it’s supposed to absorb the oil, it continues to absorb the natural kind that our hair actually *needs* and does so while sitting on top of existing grease. After some time, your hair ends up producing more oil than it naturally does to make up for the lack of moisture. End result? Looking like a greaseball more often than not.

 

Read more: http://www.betches.com/5-ways-dry-shampoo-is-sabotaging-your-hair

EU nurses ‘turning their backs on UK’

Image copyright SPL

The decline in EU nurses and midwives wanting to work in the UK since the referendum is continuing, figures show.

The trend was first noticed earlier this year, and now a new batch of figures released by the Nursing and Midwifery Council have reinforced the idea that Brexit is having an impact.

In September the register showed just over 36,200 EU nurses and midwives – over 2,700 less than a year before.

But ministers said a rise in training places would compensate for the drop.

That will take some time to start having an impact though, and union leaders believe the government in England may struggle to fill these places as they have removed bursaries for nursing degrees and introduced fees.

What do these figures show?

The data released by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) cover the number of nurses and midwives registered to work in the UK, not the numbers actually working.

Rises in the numbers of nurses and midwives leaving the register was seen among all types of staff – those trained in the UK, in the EU and in the rest of the world.

If you can’t see the NHS Tracker, click or tap here.

But what marked the EU trend out was the rate of change being seen.

There was a 67% rise in the number of EU nurses and midwives leaving the register in the 12 months up to September compared to the same period the year before.

By comparison the number of UK-trained staff leaving the register rose by less than 10%.

That rise in leavers was off-set by just over 1,000 new joiners from the EU, but that in itself was an 89% drop in the numbers who signed up the year before.

The NMC pointed out this change in new joiners was also likely to have been influenced by the introduction of English language testing around the same time as the Brexit vote in the summer of 2016.

Overall, the number of nurses and midwives on the register has started to drop for the first time in a decade.

There were just under 690,000 nurses and midwives registered to work in the UK in September – over 1,600 less than there were the year before.

This comes at a time when unions report there are significant shortages in the number of nurses employed by the NHS.

Research by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said there were over 40,000 unfilled vacancies – one in nine posts.

Trend causing concern

The NMC said the rising numbers leaving the profession across the board was “worrying” and needed to be responded to.

An ageing workforce, which is seeing growing numbers reach retirement age, and the pressures of working in the health service have been cited as factors for UK-trained nurses leaving the register.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said it was “no surprise” EU nurses were also turning their backs on the UK given what was happening with Brexit.

“These alarming new figures represent a double whammy for the NHS and patients.”

But the Department of Health played down the significance of the overall drop, pointing out it represented a “mere” 0.2% fall in the numbers registered to work.

A spokeswoman said the number of training places would increase by 25% in the coming years and that ministers had been “very clear” that EU nationals would remain a valued part of the workforce after Brexit.


Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41838426

Worried About Robots Taking Your Job? Learn Spreadsheets

Musing on the future of the economy earlier this year, Bill Gates warned of smart machines replacing human workers and suggested a tax on robots. A new study of how technology is changing American jobs suggests workers are most immediately challenged by more common technology that Gates himself bears much responsibility for, such as Microsoft Office.

The new study from the Brookings Institution used government data on work tasks to track how use of digital tools changed in a wide range of occupations between 2002 and 2016. Use of digital technology, such as computers and spreadsheets, became more important to occupations of all kinds. But the most dramatic changes were felt in jobs traditionally least reliant on technology skills—think of home health aides and truck mechanics using computers to diagnose problems or record their work.

The Brookings’ study created a “digitalization” score for 545 occupations covering 90 percent of the economy, using government survey data that asks workers about their knowledge of computers, and how much they use them. In 2002, 56 percent of jobs scored low on Brookings’ digitalization scale; by 2016, only 30 percent did. Nearly two-thirds of new jobs created since 2010 required high or medium digital skills, the report says. That shift is problematic given America’s long-established deficit in basic digital skills, such as familiarity with spreadsheets or other workplace software, where US workers score well below other those from other advanced economies.

Share of US jobs by degree of digital content. Source: Brookings Institution

HOTLITTLEPOTATO

Overall, the Brookings report suggests the window of opportunity for workers without basic digital skills or a college degree is closing. “With the availability of jobs that require no to very low digital skills dwindling, economic inclusion is now contingent on digital readiness among workers,” says Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings who led the study. “While tech empowers it also polarizes.” He recommends that companies, government officials, and educational groups invest in programs that train workers in basic digital workplace tools.

That diagnosis and proposed remedy stand in contrast to two common prescriptions for how to help the US economy adapt to technological change. Gates and many other tech executives suggest new government programs to support workers displaced by a coming generation of smart robots. In recent years there has been a swell of support, including from the Obama administration, for programs that teach people to code.

The new Brookings data suggests the US faces a more immediate, and perhaps less glamorous task. “Coding for all is not quite the right model,” says Muro. “It’s less sexy, but we need much broader exposure and mastery of humbler, everyday software.” Maybe not everyone needs to be a code slinger, but word processing and enterprise packages like Salesforce are hard to avoid.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai made a similar argument last month, when he launched a $1 billion educational program focused on helping workers skill up in workplace technology. Google employees will offer training in cities around the US. Naturally, they’ll highlight products such as GSuite, Google’s competitor to Microsoft office.

The digital-skills crunch has been a long time brewing. Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, says that IT’s impact on US businesses surged in the mid-to-late ’90s—not coincidentally around the same time US median wages began to stagnate. In 1996, President Clinton announced a “national mission” to make all US children technologically literate by 21st Century. The Brookings report shows there is still a way to go. “We could have done a lot better,” says Brynjolfsson.

Brynjolfsson echoes Muro’s call for better educational efforts to widen the pool of workers with basic digital skills. He also says society’s poor track record at adjusting to the digital age shows we should be starting now to prepare workers for the next big shift, in which machines become capable of many tasks now done by humans. He recommends that, in addition to productivity software and coding skills, workers should be encouraged to develop their creativity and emotional intelligence—faculties believed to be among the toughest for software to acquire.

Jason Kloth, CEO of Ascend Indiana, an industry-led group that tries to improve workforce skills, generally agrees with Brynjolfsson’s long-term predictions that advanced automation will challenge workers of all kinds. But his organization has more immediate concerns. “We need to close the gap between demand and supply in the labor market today,” he says.

Ascend has collaborated with Brookings on research on workplace skills. The Indianapolis group’s initiative includes programs that help companies identify or create educational programs for workers. Kloth says he feels there’s more at stake than just the fortunes of local companies and workers. “I think that growing income inequality manifests in social and political unrest,” Kloth says. Spreadsheet training could—maybe should—be a political issue.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/worried-about-robots-taking-your-job-learn-spreadsheets/

Signs of pancreatic cancer may be missed

Image copyright Nikki Davies
Image caption Nikki is having chemotherapy to help prevent the cancer from returning

One in three adults might ignore potential symptoms of pancreatic cancer, according to a charity.

Stomach ache, indigestion, unexplained weight loss and faeces that float rather than sink in the lavatory can be warning signs of the potentially deadly disease, says Pancreatic Cancer UK.

Early detection and treatment are vital to save lives.

Nikki Davies was diagnosed in March, aged 51. Her tumour was caught early, meaning a surgeon could remove it.

“I have been incredibly lucky that mine could be operated on and hadn’t spread, as far as we can tell.

“My message to others would be that no-one knows your body like you do.

“Know what the symptoms are and talk to your GP if you notice anything that’s unusual for you.

“Deep down, I think you know something is wrong.

“For me, it was the pain. It felt like an animal was eating me from the inside. It was in my back too, between my shoulder blades. And I’d lost a lot of weight very quickly.

“I didn’t know anything about pancreatic cancer before my diagnosis, and I certainly wouldn’t have known what the symptoms were.”

Know the signs

Currently, about one in 10 people diagnosed with the condition survives beyond five years.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hollywood actor Patrick Swayze died from advanced pancreatic cancer aged 57

This is in large part due to most patients being diagnosed at a late stage, when treatment options are very limited, says Pancreatic Cancer UK.

Its survey of 4,000 UK adults suggests awareness of the symptoms is still too low.

Alex Ford, chief executive at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “We do not want people to panic if they have some or all of these symptoms, because most people who have them will not have pancreatic cancer.

“But it is vital that people know more about this disease, and talk to their GP if they have any concerns.

“The earlier people are diagnosed, the more likely they are to be able to have surgery, which is the one treatment which can save lives.”

Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:

  • stomach and back ache
  • unexplained weight loss
  • indigestion
  • changes to bowel habits, including floating faeces

Other symptoms include:

  • loss of appetite
  • jaundice (yellow skin or eyes or itchy skin)
  • feeling and being sick
  • difficulty swallowing
  • recently diagnosed diabetes

Related Topics

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41817061

Scientists May Have Found The Root Cause Of Autism

Scientists think they’ve found out what could be at the root of autism and, no, it’s not vaccines. According to a new study, it could be caused by having too many brain connections called synapses.

“An increased number of synapses creates miscommunication among neurons in the developing brain that correlates with impairments in learning, although we don’t know how,” senior author Azad Bonni, head of the Department of Neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, explained in a statement.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common neurodevelopmental condition affecting one in 68 people in the United States. It’s generally understood that there is a genetic aspect to ASD (it often runs in families), though environmental triggers may also play a role.

Several genes have been linked to people with autism. Six of these are called ubiquitin ligases and they’re responsible for attaching molecular tags called ubiquitins to proteins. Think of these genes as managers, telling their employees (the rest of the cell) how to handle the tagged proteins. Should they be discarded? Should they be taken to another part of the cell?

Some experts believe that individuals with autism have a gene mutation preventing one of their ubiquitin ligases from working correctly. To find out how and why this might be, the scientists at Washington University removed RNF8 (a ubiquitin gene) in neurons in the cerebellum (an area of the brain affected by autism) of young mice. The mice missing the gene developed an excess of synapses, which in turn affected their ability to learn.

Those mice had 50 percent more synapses than their peers, who had their RNF8 gene intact. The scientists then measured the electrical signal in the neurons and found that it was twice as strong compared to those with a normal functioning cell.

ASD affects language, attention, and movement; skills the cerebellum plays an essential role in. To see if the test mice had lower motor skills (a common symptom in people with autism), the researchers trained the mice to associate a puff of air to the eye with a blinking light. One week later, the control group avoided the irritation caused by the puff of air by closing their eyes 75 percent of the time. The test group only did so one-third of the time.

The scientists point out that a mouse that doesn’t shut its eyes when trained doesn’t quite equate to a human with autism (after all, the wiring of autistic brains is highly individualized), and more work is needed to verify the hypothesis. But it does reveal an interesting association between synapses and behavior that could one day lead to treatments.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/scientists-may-have-found-the-root-cause-of-autism/

This visionary organization wants to improve the lives of 50 million people by 2030

Image: pixabay

Imagine delivering a child in a place where you’re required to bring your own water to the delivery room, in a healthcare facility in which there’s no viable way for the staff to wash their hands before bringing your baby into the world.

This scenario, says Dr. Greg Allgood, the vice president of water at World Vision, is more than simply a disturbing hypothetical. In fact, he explains, it’s the reality for more than a third of healthcare facilities in the developing world. A lack of latrines and education about proper sanitation leads to rampant disease (and often death) in these rural communities, particularly among young kids.

One of the largest relief and development organizations in the world, World Vision aims to combat water shortages and health-compromising sanitation practices such as open defecation. World Toilet Day, coming up on November 19, is a prime opportunity to examine these types of initiatives — and the partnerships that make them possible.

Collaborative, community-centric approach

Bringing World Vision’s ambitious goals to fruition requires a global, collaborative effort. To effectively enact change on a mass scale — the organization aims to improve the lives of 50 million people by 2030 — World Vision employs a number of partnerships. The organization works with major corporations like the Hilton Foundation, Procter & Gamble, and Kohler. Support from these partnerships helps meet objectives like bringing improved water and sanitation systems to 3,000 healthcare facilities in the next five years.

Not only does World Vision raise funds remotely from overseas, they also have boots on the ground in developing communities. As the world’s largest child sponsorship program, World Vision staff spend up to 15 years working and living in rural communities around the globe. When it comes to initiatives like introducing modern latrines, success largely depends upon the community relationships that have been established via on-the-ground efforts.

When implementing sanitation solutions, World Vision stresses sustainability and ownership. “We empower communities to take charge of their own sanitation needs,” explains Allgood. “Community-led total sanitation methodology is something we’ve really embraced. It works really well with our system because there’s so much trust between our staff and the volunteer network of people that they set up to inspire healthy behaviors.”

We empower communities to take charge of their own sanitation needs.

In Zambia, one of the 45 countries for which World Vision has a long-term business plan, nearly a third of the country’s 15 million people lack access to clean water and modern latrines. In the next five years, World Vision hopes to reach one in every six Zambians. The comprehensive plan for meeting this goal spans every corner of the community — from individual families to schools to religious leaders. The support of authority figures like village chiefs, says Allgood, has also been huge.

Private-sector partners are another critical piece of overarching strategy. “We work with a number of private-sector companies; the thing we offer them is access to new markets based on our strong community presence,” says Allgood.

In September 2015, when World Vision announced a game plan to align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (which include specific goals for clean water and sanitation), the response from the organization’s partners was overwhelmingly supportive. Kohler, for example, made a commitment to help World Vision scale up its water/sanitation/hygiene work.

“Kohler’s aspirational goal is ‘Gracious Living.’ They recently changed that to ‘Gracious Living for All’ in recognition of the desire to help underserved communities, and it was great to see that commitment. To have them in this space has everyone in the development sector really excited,” says Allgood.   

Next week, World Vision will host a team of Kohler researchers in Malawi and Lesotho in an effort to ideate how to bring new products to Africa. In addition, World Vision has helped introduce the Kohler Clarity filter into a number of communities.

“We’re seeing how people love having this well-designed filter in their homes,” says Allgood.

Empowering via education

Academic and educational partnerships also have a significant impact upon World Vision’s efforts — particularly on those that target kids and families. 

A partnership with Sesame Street, for example, in which the beloved children’s program introduced a new character named Raya to focus on sanitation, hygiene, and water, is proving promising.

“Raya and Elmo go into schools with World Vision to help teach kids about healthy sanitation, water storage and conservation habits, and hand-washing,” says Allgood, who adds that World Vision is now in 11 countries with Sesame Street. “We started in Zambia, and the program was so successful that the Ministry of Education embraced it. Our goal was to reach 10,000 kids, but we quickly reached more than 50,000 because of that support.” Now, similar efforts are expanding to countries in the Middle East like Afghanistan and Lebanon, as well as to Asia, Honduras, and numerous other African nations. 

“When you empower kids and teach them these habits in a fun, loving way, they take those habits home to their brothers and sisters — and even to their parents,” says Allgood. “It really affects the entire household.”

World Vision’s efforts are paying off. In the parts of the world in which the organization operates, an average of eight communities every day become certified as open-defecation free. On the water side of the equation, Allgood adds, World Vision provides clean water at an unprecedented rate of one new person every ten seconds.

Another one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals? Revitalizing global partnerships. Here, too, World Vision and partners like Kohler are exemplifying how collaborative efforts can help turn these lofty visions into concrete realities.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/11/06/world-vision/

Facebook acquires anonymous teen compliment app tbh, will let it run

Facebook wants tbh to be its next Instagram. Today, Facebook announced it’s acquiring positivity-focused polling startup tbh and will allow it to operate somewhat independently with its own brand.

tbh had scored 5 million downloads and 2.5 million daily active users in the past nine weeks with its app that lets people anonymously answer kind-hearted multiple-choice questions about friends who then receive the poll results as compliments. You see questions like “Best to bring to a party?,” “Their perseverance is admirable?” and “Could see becoming a poet?” with your uploaded contacts on the app as answer choices.

tbh has racked up more than 1 billion poll answers since officially launching in limited states in August, mostly from teens and high school students, and spent weeks topping the free app charts. When we profiled tbh last month in the company’s first big interview, co-creator Nikita Bier told us, “If we’re improving the mental health of millions of teens, that’s a success to us.”

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but TechCrunch has heard the price paid was less than $100 million and won’t require any regulatory approval. As part of the deal, tbh’s four co-creators — Bier, Erik Hazzard, Kyle Zaragoza and Nicolas Ducdodon — will join Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters while continuing to grow their app with Facebook’s cash, engineering, anti-spam, moderation and localization resources.

However, the tbh founders will become formal Facebook employees, with Facebook email addresses, opposed to running more independently like Instagram and WhatsApp, which have their own buildings and emails.

The tbh team wrote in an announcement post that “When we met with Facebook, we realized that we shared many of the same core values about connecting people through positive interactions. Most of all, we were compelled by the ways they could help us realize our vision and bring it to more people.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, Facebook wrote: “tbh and Facebook share a common goal — of building community and enabling people to share in ways that bring us closer together. We’re impressed by the way tbh is doing this by using polling and messaging, and with Facebook’s resources tbh can continue to expand and build positive experiences.”

It’s interesting that Facebook opted to acquire tbh rather than clone it, since it has been aggressively copying other hit teen apps like Houseparty recently. While Facebook’s Snapchat clone Instagram Stories has achieved massive popularity, other knock-offs it has made haven’t fared as well.

With tbh’s strong brand name, distinctive design and explosive early traction, Facebook seems to have decided it was better to team-up than face-off.

[Correction: tbh has 2.5 million daily active users, not 4 million as we originally published after Bier implied as much in a tweet he deleted after this article was published.]

From 14 failures to Facebook

Bier originally started tbh parent company Midnight Labs back in 2010. The app studio tried a slew of products, including a personal finance app, a college chat app and a personality test. Eventually the company took a small seed round in 2013 from investors, including Greylock via partner Josh Elman, Bee Partners and Indicator Ventures. But nothing took off, and Midnight Labs was running out of money.

With just 60 days of cash left, the company decided to build something at the intersection of the positivity it saw lacking in anonymous apps like Secret and Yik Yak, and the honesty teens craved as seen in the TBH trend where social network users request candid feedback from their friends: tbh was born. “We shipped it to one school in Georgia. Forty percent of the school downloaded it the first day,” said Bier.

The biggest problem quickly became how to keep users engaged with the app; tbh already limits you to answering a few questions at a time, so you beg for more. Its first big feature release came this week with the addition of direct messaging. This lets you message someone who chose you as an answer, and they have the option of revealing their identity to you.

But trying to simultaneously keep the servers online, write new questions and build the next sticky feature was a tall task for such a small team.

Now tbh will have Facebook to help it scale while keeping existing users entertained. The app will remain free to download on iOS and Android, and the brand will remain the same.

Having the backup from Facebook should let Bier and his team breathe a little easier. There’s a lot of advantages to joining forces with Facebook:

  • Cash – Instead of raising another round in hopes of keeping its momentum alive, tbh will have deep pockets to draw from in order chase its mission of making teens happier.
  • Engineering – Scaling to 2.5 million daily users with just four co-creators and some contractors is insanely hard work. If the app keeps crashing, users will disappear. Now tbh will have Facebook’s enormous, elite engineering team behind it.
  • Anti-spam – As tbh revs up its new direct messaging feature, it will have Facebook to assist it in weeding out spam with the technologies it’s been developing for over a decade.
  • Localization – tbh hasn’t even expanded to every state in the U.S. yet. With Facebook’s help, it can allow more locations on board, and, as it goes international, it will be able to adopt new languages and cultures more quickly.
  • Content moderation – tbh has promised to only allow poll questions where the friend you pick will feel good about being chosen. That will be easier with more brains coming up with questions, more eyes reviewing them for misuse and a diverse team to write the right questions for different places.

These resources have helped Instagram grow well over 10X its size, to 800 million users, since Facebook bought it in 2012, while WhatsApp has grown from 450 million to 1.3 billion users since Facebook acquired it in 2014.

But rather than waiting and watching until tbh climbed to be worth nearly $1 billion like Instagram or $19 billion like WhatsApp, Facebook swooped in early. The last thing it needed was tbh ending up being bought by Snapchat.

“Nikita and his team have figured out a lot about how teens are using products. This is one of the few that’s gotten this kind of adoption, and that should be celebrated,” tbh investor Josh Elman says. “Hopefully this shows that there’s still room to get lots of people adopting new mobile experiences.”

Before tbh, most social media was about competing for likes or glorifying your offline life. But those little dopamine-inducing notifications had little true connection on the other side, and it’s easy to think you’re uncool when everyone else seems to be having so much fun. Indeed, tbh filled the gap between being “liked” and actually feeling appreciated.

“We think the next milestone is thinking about social platforms in terms of love and positivity,” Bier told me. “We think that’s what’s been missing from social products since the inception of the internet.”

For more on tbh, read our interview with its co-founder about its creation and mission.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/10/16/facebook-acquires-anonymous-teen-compliment-app-tbh-will-let-it-run/