Park Service to tap into entrance fees to keep operating
Monday, January 7
WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Park Service says it is taking the extraordinary step of dipping into entrance fees to pay for staffing at its highly visited parks in the wake of the partial government shutdown.
P. Daniel Smith, deputy director of the service, said in a statement Sunday that the money would be used to bring in staff to maintain restrooms, clean up trash and patrol the parks. He acknowledged that the Trump administration’s decision to keep the parks open during the weeks long budget impasse was no longer workable and so more extreme measures were warranted.
Parks have been relying on outside help for security and upkeep.
“We are taking this extraordinary step to ensure that parks are protected, and that visitors can continue to access parks with limited basic services,” Smith said.
Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana warned Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Saturday of “significant risk to property and public health” without funding. Three Utah Republican congressmen also asked Bernhardt to restart regular operations.
Democrats want the parks fully opened. But Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the incoming chair of the subcommittee overseeing Interior appropriations, said Sunday that dipping into user fees was “not acceptable” in this situation, and likely violates the law.
Parks supporters called the administration’s move misguided.
“Instead of working to reopen the federal government, the administration is robbing money collected from entrance fees to operate our national parks during this shutdown,” said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO for the National Parks Conservation Association. “For those parks that don’t collect fees, they will now be in the position of competing for the same inadequate pot of money to protect their resources and visitors. Draining accounts dry is not the answer.”
The bizarre phenomenon of vacation surprise videos
January 7, 2019
Sometimes the reaction doesn’t go as planned.
Author: Jenna Drenten, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Loyola University Chicago
Disclosure statement: Jenna Drenten does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Parents have long surprised their kids with a family vacation.
However, the practice of parents recording their kids’ reactions – and then sharing them online – is a unique phenomenon of the social media age.
In the days after Christmas, you may have seen some of these videos on your social media feeds. In fact, a YouTube search for “surprise trip for kids” yields millions of videos.
But for every excited kid, there’s one who’s crying, screaming or simply perplexed.
Kids react with skepticism upon learning they’ll be going to Disneyland.
As a consumer sociologist, I study how technology provides new ways to meet people’s needs, and how families navigate relationships through social media.
In a recent study, I analyzed 139 surprise vacation reveal videos on YouTube.
I wanted to know how kids tend to react, why they might react differently than expected, and why parents might feel compelled to post these reactions online for the world to see.
A parental performance
There seems to be a growing realization that today’s “must-have” toy will be tomorrow’s yard sale markdown.
Research has shown that more people are buying gifts that give others the opportunity to experience something new. Instead of getting their kids dolls or video games, parents might instead give them tickets to a concert or season passes to a theme park.
Family vacation gifts can both create quality family time and give kids the opportunity to experience something new.
All of this is well and good.
But how to explain the compulsion to record and share these surprises?
Surprise family vacation videos are a form of “sharenting,” a term coined to describe the way some parents share the day-to-day details of their children’s lives on social media.
But they evoke clips of gender reveals, in which parents-to-be gather friends and family to announce the sex of their future child, often using gimmicks like cutting into a cake or setting off a smoke bomb colored pink or blue to indicate the gender.
They also bring to mind videos of soldier homecomings, during which active duty soldiers return from deployment to surprise their loved ones. And they mimic the phenomenon of unboxing videos, in which consumers record their own commentary as they open, unpack and test new products, from Apple iPhones to live reptiles.
Neuroscience might tell us why these clips are so attractive to social media users: Positive surprises trigger pleasure centers in the human brain. We both crave the unexpected and feel compelled to surprise others in positive ways.
For parents, social media is a stage: They can immortalize the vacation in family lore and allow online viewers to vicariously follow along. Parents become both directors and performers as the drama unfolds, sometimes going so far as to plan elaborate scavenger hunts and puzzles to heighten the drama of the eventual reveal.
Teenage sisters surprised by Christmas trip to Europe.
When – and why – the surprise fails
With everything in place, all eyes – and lenses – turn to the kids. The final step is for them to react as expected: overjoyed.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.
From analyzing the videos in my study, two main issues seem to lead to a “surprise vacation fail.”
First, kids’ preferences aren’t so predictable.
For example, when one family surprises their kids with a trip to Disney World, their son says he’d rather go to Chuck E. Cheese.
“We could have saved a lot more money had I known!” his exasperated mother responds.
Theme parks and cruises might seem like they’d be at the top of kids’ dream vacation destinations. But children may prefer more mundane, ordinary trips. Some parents will use a bait-and-switch tactic – telling their kids they’re going to Grandma’s house, only to reveal that they’re actually going to Universal Studios.
What if the kid would rather just see Grandma?
A girl bursts into tears upon hearing she’ll be going to Disneyland.
Second, a surprise trip that comes out of nowhere – without any sort of forewarning – can be anxiety-inducing for kids. They might have a fear of flying, or a fear of the unknown. Concerns that might seem like no big deal to adults – Who will watch the dog? Can they bring their favorite blanket? What happens if they miss school? – can be daunting, especially for younger kids caught up in the moment.
Research suggests family vacations can be stressful, especially for families with young children. The planning, the packing, the logistics – all of it falls on the shoulders of the parent, with little input from the children.
A little girl is concerned about missing her ‘special day.’
Adding an element of surprise can add to the pressure placed on parents. Then throw social media into the mix, and the “perfect” vacation becomes that much more difficult to attain.
In many videos, you can hear the tension in the parents’ voices as they cheerily try to play up the trip to a stunned kid.
For parents, it’s probably important to remember that even if the surprise reveal is a flop, it doesn’t mean the trip will be.
Wolfgang Sterrer: A number of thinkers have suggested that “A gift is not a gift if you expect ANYTHING in return! … If so, it wasn’t a gift. You see, the definition of “Gift” is: an item given to someone without the expectation of payment”, www.brucevanhorn.com/lifethoughts-14/). The expectation of gratitude for something that hadn’t been asked for, especially when to be expressed in public (as on a video), turns a gift into an unwanted deal – which may cause more stress than joy (and not only for kids).
Federal agencies directed to hold off on shutdown raises
By JILL COLVIN
Sunday, January 6
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal agencies have been directed to hold off enacting pay raises for top administration officials during a government shutdown that has left hundreds of thousands of federal workers without pay.
The guidance was issued Friday in a memo from Margaret Weichert, the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management.
The raises were the result of a pay freeze for top federal officials, including the vice president and cabinet secretaries, that was on the verge of expiring because of the shutdown.
In the memo, Weichert writes that, “In the current absence of Congressional guidance,” OPM “believes it would be prudent for agencies to continue to pay these senior political officials at the frozen rate until appropriations legislation is enacted that would clarify the status of the freeze.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had said earlier Friday that the administration was “aware of the issue” and “exploring options to prevent this from being implemented while some federal workers are furloughed.”
Trump had also told reporters at a press conference that he “might consider” asking cabinet secretaries and other top officials to forgo the raises. Vice President Mike Pence committed to doing so.
The raises, which were first reported by The Washington Post, appear to be an unintended consequence of a shutdown that is affecting hundreds of thousands of federal employees, forcing many to work without pay. Trump and congressional leaders met again Friday to try to hash out a resolution, but emerged no closer to a deal. Trump is demanding billions of dollars for his long-promised wall along the southern border. Democrats refuse to give him the money.
Sanders, in her statement, called the raises “another unnecessary byproduct of the shutdown” and put the onus on Congress, saying it “can easily take care of this by funding the government and securing our borders.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, also called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on the measures passed by the House Thursday night to re-open the government and provide back pay to those affected by the shutdown.
Follow Colvin on Twitter https://twitter.com/colvinj
How the medical profession can help heal divisions as well as diseases
January 7, 2019
Doctors can play a role not only in the treatment of their patients but also broader issues.
Author: Richard Gunderman, Chancellor’s Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy, Indiana University
Disclosure statement: Richard Gunderman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Indiana University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Medicine need not be confined to the role of cultural bellwether, a sheep with a bell on its neck that reveals where the whole flock is headed. Along with other professions such as law, clergy and education, medicine can and should play the leadership role of a shepherd, helping our society to develop more thoughtful, balanced and generous approaches to the challenges that face us. After all, the word doctor means teacher, and our culture needs the best instruction we can offer. The dawn of a new year makes the time ripe for such a shift in medicine’s role.
Doctors as teachers
In serving as educators, doctors have many resources to draw on. They are among the best educated groups in our society, having pursued one of our the longest and most intense courses of study. In practice, they regularly participate in moments that help to clarify what life is all about – birth and death, growth and aging, suffering and relief. And they serve as trusted confidantes and counselors to patients and families at some of life’s most meaningful moments.
Popular culture has reflected an erosion of the doctor as teacher and role model. In the 1960s and 70s, television doctors such as Dr. Kildare and Marcus Welby epitomized virtues such as dedication and compassion. Then along came “M.A.S.H.” and “St. Elsewhere,” which adopted a more irreverent attitude toward medicine and the people who practice it. By 2004’s “House,” which ran for eight seasons, the doctor had degenerated into a clever but deeply misanthropic opioid addict.
First, do no harm
As a physician and educator, I think that, for medicine to help heal our culture, doctors must embrace their role as advocates for principles that have long represented the core of the healing professions. Although “Primum non nocere, or ”First, do no harm,“ does not appear in the writings of the “father of medicine” Hippocrates, it is often cited as medicine’s first principle. And the idea that doctors should avoid harm is part of the modified Hippocratic Oath that most doctors take when they graduate from medical school.
This principle does not imply that doctors should never harm. After all, no surgeon could ever operate and no oncologist could ever administer chemotherapy if they rigorously adhered to it. It means instead that risks and harms must always be balanced against benefits, and that where the balance is too uncertain or unfavorable, it is better to do nothing. More broadly speaking, we should avoid saying things or acting in ways that cause needless injury.
What would “Do no harm” look like in our popular culture? First, it would mean eschewing personal attacks, which seek to label people as unworthy, disgusting, or evil. In public discourse, our goal should be to understand different points of view, to educate one another, and to take the interests of others into account in arriving at decisions. Physicians are expected to take good care of even patients they find disagreeable, and this an outlook sorely deficient in the U.S. today.
Get the whole story
A second habit deeply ingrained over the course of medical training is to recognize that there are usually more than two sides to any question. Suppose a patient complains of pain in the right lower quadrant of the abdomen, a classic symptom of appendicitis. Only poor physicians would confine their attention to the question, “Is it appendicitis or not?” The real issue at hand is to determine what is causing the pain and what needs to be done about it.
In popular culture, complex matters are often reduced to highly simplified dichotomies, in which the two sides are portrayed as sporting white and black hats. It seems as though all Americans need to know is whether a person is a Democrat or Republican, a conservative or a liberal, or a reader of The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal. In fact, however, making good choices requires an understanding far deeper than which side of a political divide a person is on.
Good doctors learn quickly that a cursory inspection can be deeply misleading, as a story once told by a colleague reveals. An elderly, disheveled, incoherent woman was brought to the emergency room with a broken arm. The staff took her for a homeless person. Later, however, she started to make sense, and provided her phone number. When her family came to pick her up, they arrived in a chauffeured limousine. In this as in so many cases, what first met the eye turned out to be quite deceptive.
Put service before self
To become really good doctors, medical students need to learn something: Patients do not exist to provide careers to physicians; instead, physicians exist to care for patients. Like other professionals, doctors need to put the interests of their patients first. The overarching goal is not to advance the physician’s career, to generate more income, or to secure the business interests of a medical practice or hospital. The goal is to care well for the patient.
The founders of the U.S. knew that human beings are not angels, but they also believed that people can look beyond narrow self-interest and do what is best for others and the larger whole. They knew that serving a purpose beyond self is one of the surest ways to find meaning and purpose in life, and that those who contribute the most often lead the fullest lives. They bet their own lives on the proposition that Americans could answer the call of their better selves.
By serving as exemplars of what a life of service looks like in communities across the country, doctors and other professionals can remind Americans of all ages what human beings at their best are really capable of. To look out only for number one is to lose hope in neighbors, communities and society. To get to know others, to take an interest in their stories, and to reach out and serve when they need help and support is one of the signs of a hopeful, thriving culture.
The idea of medicine as a cultural beacon of goodness may seem profoundly counter-cultural. Our appetite seems much greater for stories of doctors whose financial or sexual misconduct has disgraced themselves and the profession. Yet for the professions to play a role in reshaping our habits of mind and heart, their members must act courageously, not waiting until the cultural winds have shifted but letting their better voices speak even when no one else seems to be listening.
Stocks swing to huge gains after jobs report, trade talks
By MARLEY JAY
AP Markets Writer
Saturday, January 5
NEW YORK (AP) — Global stocks soared Friday and reversed the big losses they suffered just a day earlier. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 746 points in the latest twist in a wild three months for markets.
Hopes for progress in the U.S.-China trade dispute, a strong report on the U.S. jobs market and encouraging comments from the head of the U.S. central bank about its interest rate policy all combined to cheer investors.
China’s Commerce Ministry said trade talks will be held Monday and Tuesday in Beijing, and investors will again look for signs the world’s largest economic powers are resolving their dispute. The tensions have dragged on for nearly a year, slowing business and dragging down stock indexes worldwide.
Meanwhile the Labor Department said U.S. employers added 312,000 jobs last month, a far stronger result than experts had anticipated. U.S. stocks have tumbled since October as investors worried that the economy might slow down dramatically because of challenges including the trade dispute and rising interest rates.
The stock market’s plunge also threatened to shake up the confidence and the spending plans of businesses and consumers. Some analysts said investors were acting as if a recession was on the horizon, despite a lack of evidence that the U.S. economy is struggling.
“It’s hard to square recession worries with the strongest job growth we’ve seen in years,” said Alec Young, managing director of global markets research for FTSE Russell.
Stocks rose even further after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank will be flexible in deciding if and when it raises interest rates. He added that the Fed is open to making changes in the way it shrinks its giant portfolio of bonds, which affects rates on long-term loans such as mortgages.
Until recently, the Fed had suggested it planned to raise short-term interest rates three times this year and next, and Powell said the Fed’s balance sheet was shrinking “on auto-pilot.” Wall Street feared that the Fed might be moving too fast in raising borrowing costs, said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors.
The Fed’s interest-rate and bond portfolio policies “were at the top of the list of things we were concerned about, which is why the statement Powell made today is so supportive of the market,” Orlando said. “The Fed understands that what they attempted to communicate last month was inartful, that they didn’t get the right message across, and Powell tried to reset.”
The S&P 500 index climbed 84.05 points, or 3.4 percent, to 2,531.94, more than wiping out Thursday’s loss. The Dow rose 3.3 percent to 23,433.16 after gaining 832 during the afternoon. The Nasdaq composite jumped 275.35 points, or 4.3 percent, to 6,738.86.
About 90 percent of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange traded higher.
Stocks sank Thursday after Apple said iPhone sales in China are falling, partly because of the trade fight, and a survey suggested U.S. factories grew at a weaker pace. Technology companies took their biggest losses in seven years.
The U.S. and China have raised tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s goods in a fight over issues including Beijing’s technology policy. Last month, President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to 90-day ceasefire as a step toward defusing tensions, but that failed to calm the stock market.
Technology companies, banks, health care and industrial companies all made strong gains. Most of the companies in those industries stand to do better in times of faster economic growth.
Smaller and more U.S.-focused companies did even better than larger multinationals. The Russell 2000 index surged 49.92 points, or 3.8 percent, to 1,380.75. Smaller companies have fallen further than larger ones in the last few months as investors got nervous about how the U.S. economy will perform in 2019 and 2020.
Stocks have whipsawed between huge gains and losses for the last few weeks after their big December plunge. Katie Nixon, the chief investment officer for Northern Trust Wealth Management, said investors will continue to react to the health of the economy, and to concerns about high levels of corporate debt as interest rates rise.
“We don’t expect that this will be the end to the volatility,” she said. “There’s mounting evidence we’re going to see a slowdown,” albeit not a severe one.
Bond prices also changed course and moved sharply lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.66 percent after it plunged to 2.55 percent Thursday, its lowest in almost a year. That helps banks, as higher interest rates allow them to make bigger profits on mortgages and other loans.
European shares also overcome losses from a day earlier, with Germany’s DAX gaining 3.4 percent and France’s CAC 40 rising 2.7 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 advanced 2.2 percent.
In Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng jumped 2.2 percent. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.8 percent. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell 2.3 percent on its first day of trading in 2019 as technology and electronics makers slumped on Apple’s report that Chinese iPhone sales were slipping.
U.S. crude oil added 1.8 percent to $47.96 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, was up 2 percent to $57.06 per barrel in London.
The dollar strengthened. It rose to 108.51 yen from 107.77 yen. The euro rose to $1.14 from $1.1391. The British pound moved up to $1.2740 from $1.2630.
Wholesale gasoline dipped 0.1 percent to $1.35 a gallon and heating oil added 1.6 percent to $1.77 a gallon. Natural gas rose 3.4 percent to $3.04 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In other trading, gold fell 0.7 percent to $1,285.80 an ounce and silver slipped 0.1 percent to $15.79 an ounce. Copper rose 3.1 percent to $2.65 a pound.
Stan Choe contributed to this story from New York. Annabelle Liang contributed from Singapore.
AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP
Happy New Year from Kim Jong-un
By Mel Gurtov
Kim Jong-un looked quite cosmopolitan on January 1 as he made his annual New Year’s address to the nation from the comfort of a paneled office, wearing a spiffy Western-style suit and apparently speaking from a teleprompter. His speech, directed mostly at North Koreans but also at the United States, seemed self-confident and generally non-threatening, in some ways contrasting with the tone and content of the 2018 New Year’s speech. Here are some comparisons between the two speeches.
• Both speeches prioritize the need for rapid improvements in the North Korean economy, with emphasis on science and technology and coal production for the electric power industry. In 2018, Kim said: “The central task facing socialist economic construction this year is to enhance the independence and Juche character of the national economy and improve the people’s standard of living.” Now, in year four of the five-year plan, Kim adds something new: the role of military industry in producing goods for the civilian economy, suggesting a program of military conversion such as China pursued beginning in the late 1980s.
• Kim is extraordinarily upbeat in this year’s address about the prospects for DPRK-US relations. “I want to believe that our relations with the United States will bear good fruit this year … [At the Singapore summit with Trump] we exchanged constructive views and reached a consensus of understanding for a shortcut to removing each other’s apprehensions and resolving the entangled problems.” Kim says he is ready to meet with Trump again, “and will make efforts to obtain without fail results which can be welcomed by the international community.”
• In his 2018 address, Kim said that more nuclear weapons and missiles may have to be produced, but that North Korea already possesses “a powerful and reliable war deterrent… . In no way would the United States dare to ignite a war against me and our country.” Now, however, Kim stresses his commitment to the path of “complete denuclearization” in accordance with the June 2018 joint statement with Trump. “Accordingly, we declared at home and abroad that we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them, and we have taken various practical measures.” That statement seems to be a new pledge—not to produce more nuclear weapons.
• But that pledge is now coupled with a warning: If the US persists in sanctions and other pressure tactics, “we may be compelled to find a new way for defending the sovereignty of the country and the supreme interests of the state and for achieving peace and stability of the Korean peninsula.” What that “new way” might be is anyone’s guess. On the other hand, “If the US responds to our proactive, prior efforts with trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions, bilateral relations will develop wonderfully at a fast pace through the process of taking more definite and epochal measures.” Though Kim did not repeat the longstanding North Korean insistence on denuclearization in phases, other officials did underline that crucial point, as noted in Stimson Center’s North Korean expert Robert Carlin’s analysis.
• This year’s address hails progress in relations with South Korea. Last year Kim looked to a “breakthrough” in relations with South Korea and supported increasing contact with “anyone” in the South “if they sincerely wish for national concord and unity.” This year Kim says he is “very satisfied” with the pace of inter-Korean cooperation, and supports reopening the two signature cooperative projects—the industrial zone and tourist hotel just north of the Demilitarized Zone—that had been suspended. He expresses the hope to “make the Korean peninsula a durable and lasting peace zone” and urges permanently ending the US-South Korea joint military exercises. He proposes that all the parties to the armistice agreement replace it with “a peace mechanism”—perhaps importantly, not with a peace treaty.
I am also struck by the similarities between Kim’s domestic political direction and Mao’s in the 1950s and 1960s. Like Mao, Kim warned in 2018 about bureaucratism and other inner-party problems, demanded a “struggle to establish a revolutionary climate” in the party, and assigned internal security forces the job of carrying out “class struggle” against “hostile elements” in society. This year, Kim gives particular emphasis to closer relations between the Workers Party and the people, “the politics of affection and trust”—what the Chinese used to call the mass line. He even refers to a “great leap forward in socialist construction,” another throwback to Maoism. All these points further underline the importance of economic development in Kim Jong-un’s policy making.
In sum, Kim Jong-un approaches the new year with the wind at his back. He has successfully engaged an unpredictable US president in a summit meeting that avoided specific commitments on denuclearization, yet elevated North Korea’s international stature. He has China’s and Russia’s support for his diplomacy. He believes he has the weapons needed to neutralize the number-one threat to North Korea’s security. And most importantly, Kim’s leadership seems secure. Should Donald Trump sit down with Kim for a second summit, he will find that Kim is an even more difficult opponent than the first time around.
Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.