Finland has found the answer to homelessness. It couldnt be simpler | Harry Quilter-Pinner

With the number of rough sleepers in Britain soaring, its time we got over our prejudices, writes Harry Quilter-Pinner, who works at the homelessness charity SCT

I was born in Liverpool and grew up on a council estate. I had a clean home, toys and nice meals as a kid. When I was nine years old, the sexual abuse started. My abusers made me feel special. They gave me gifts, moneys, cigarettes and sweets. When I was 13 I ran away from home and soon found myself in the murky world of prostitution on the streets. My life was out of control.

This is how it all started for Simon. I met him 23 years later at SCT, a local charity I help to run in east London that offers support to people who are homeless and face alcohol and drug addiction. He used to make me coffee every morning at the social enterprise cafe we run. In the intervening period he had spent years in and out of hostels and institutions, as well as long spells on the streets.

When I met him, Simon was sober and working for the first time in years. He said at the time that SCT offered me the opportunity to get my life back on track. Life is worth living now. Im looking forward to my future. Tragically, this future wasnt to be: soon afterwards he decided to return to the streets and died as a result.

I would like to be able to say that Simons story is an exception. But in reality it is all too familiar, as new statistics published by the Guardian showed on Wednesday. The number of homeless people dying on the streets or in temporary accommodation in the UK has more than doubled over the past five years to more than one per week. The average age of a rough sleeper when they die is 43, about half the UK life expectancy.

The tragedy is that its entirely within our power to do something about it: homelessness is not a choice made by the individual, it is a reality forced by government policy. As homelessness has rocketed in the UK up 134% since 2010 it has fallen by 35% in Finland over a similar period of time. The Finnish government is now aiming to abolish it altogether in the coming years.

I recently travelled to Finland to understand how it had done this. It turns out its solution is painfully simple and blindingly obvious: give homes to homeless people. As Juha Kaakinen, who has led much of the work on housing first in Finland, explained to me when I met him in Helsinki, this takes housing as a basic human right rather than being conditional on engaging in services for addictions or mental health.

This is fundamentally different to our model in the UK, where stable accommodation is only provided as a reward for engaging in treatment services. The problem with this is obvious if you stop and think about it: how do we expect people to address complex personal problems while exposed to the chaos of life on the streets?

Sceptics will argue that giving homes to homeless people is a recipe for disaster. Arent we just subsidising addiction? Wont we end up with huge bills when it all goes wrong? Dont people need an incentive to get their lives back on track and engage in services?

Actually, no. The evidence from Finland as well as numerous other pilot schemes across the world shows the opposite is true. When people are given homes, homelessness is radically reduced, engagement in support services goes up and recovery rates from addiction are comparable to a treatment first approach. Even more impressive is that there are overall savings for government, as peoples use of emergency health services and the criminal justice system is lessened.

At the last election, the government committed to pilot a housing first approach in the UK. This isnt good enough we dont need another pilot. During my time in Finland I didnt see one homeless person. Within a few hours of coming back to London I walked past more than 100 rough sleepers queuing for food in the rain, just a few minutes from parliament. What we need is action. Ending homelessness is eminently achievable if we have the moral capacity and will to take proper action. We must overcome our prejudices and our apathy. The status quo is simply not good enough.

Harry Quilter-Pinner is director of strategy at SCT, a homelessness and addictions charity in east London. He is also a research fellow at IPPR, the UKs progressive thinktank. He writes here in a personal capacity

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/12/finland-homelessness-rough-sleepers-britain

From AI to Russia, Heres How Estonias President Is Planning for the Future

At 48 years old, Kersti Kaljulaid is Estonia’s youngest president ever, and its first female president. A marathon runner with degrees in genetics and an MBA, she spent a career behind the scenes—mostly as a European government auditor—before being elected by Estonia’s legislature in 2016. Two years later, she’s continuing Estonia’s push for global digital security while deflecting military and cyber threats from Russia, which occupied Estonia for 50 years until its liberation in 1991.

Known for its digital government, tax, and medical systems, Estonia is planning for the future. The country’s “e-resident” program—which allows global citizens to obtain a government-issued ID card and set up remotely-operated businesses in Estonia—has attracted 35,000 people since 2014. Now the government is discussing a proposal to grant some rights to artificially intelligent systems. The law could make it easier to regulate decision-making by autonomous systems, robots, or driverless cars.

This week, Kaljulaid visited the White House along with the leaders of Latvia and Lithuania, to meet with President Donald Trump about issues including security along the Russian border. The visit coincided with the 100th anniversary of Baltic independence after World War I, and Trump took the opportunity to reaffirm the US's commitment to protecting the Baltic States in accordance with the NATO Treaty. After attending the US-Baltic Trade Summit and laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday, Kaljulaid sat down with WIRED’s Eric Niiler for an interview at the Estonian Embassy in Washington.

EN: With various efforts over the past decade, Estonia is moving from a traditional state to a digital society in many ways. Where does that effort stand now and what do you hope to see happen during your next few years in office?

KK: Digital society is born when your people refuse to use paper. And in our country we know that our people refuse to use paper. If you arrive at such a point in your development, you have to make your digital state always secure. You need several alternatives if something goes wrong. All the time you need to worry about security; it doesn’t differ much from your paper archives.

We have already a society which is digitally disrupted. We also see that it changes how people think about technology and work and what possibilities the internet can offer for new types of careers. For example, people don’t need enterprises to work; they can sell their skills online independently.

In our case, also the government is within in the digital sphere. We recognize that there is the need to think about tax systems if people work in five different companies in five different countries at the same time. This needs to be sorted out. We cannot sort it alone, we need to sort it globally.

Estonian citizens seem to trust their government when it comes to sharing digital information. Here in the US, we trust Facebook and Amazon to a point, but with the government, it’s quite the opposite. How have you done this?

The way we have created our trust is because our people are not anonymous on the internet. It has always been secure. If you try to transact with someone online, you would not do it with an email and pay with a credit card. What we do instead is create an encrypted channel and sign a contract that is time stamped. Estonians are much more used to internet banking rather than an online credit card. You can create trust, but you have to create tools and the legal space that supports the security for these tools. The state has to promise people to keep them safe on the internet. I find it astonishing that globally businesses are on the internet. Very few states have followed them.

What about external threats? What other sort of steps might be needed to prevent Russian aggression in places like Ukraine, or the kind of cyber-attacks and hacking that have occurred in the United States during the 2016 presidential election?

With conventional aggression, since we got the sanctions in place, Russia has not made any further advances in any other region. In cyber, we must not get narrowly concentrated on Russia only. Cyber attacks rain down on us from many places. You have to make your systems secure and safe and teach your people cyber hygiene. If you are able to attribute some attacks, it's good to be open about it as the United States has been. We need to have an understanding globally about how international rules apply in the internet sphere. Right now, that is massively missing.

What do you mean, global rules?

There’s lot of academic work on this, for example the Tallinn Manual 1 and 2. For example, we don’t attack each other’s sovereignty. Could attacking some vital electronic systems be considered an attack? What are the rights of the defender in that case? What are the rights where you fall under attack from a country you can identify, but not from the government? And if this government cannot go after the attacker because it is too weak—what are your rights then?

Speaking of rights, Estonia is looking to become perhaps the first nation to grant legal rights to artificial intelligence agents, such as fully autonomous robots or vehicles. How will it affect ordinary Estonians?

The discussion centers on whether we need to create a special legal entity for autonomous systems. If you regulate for AI, you also regulate for machine learning, self-acting and autonomous systems. We want our state to be proactive to offer services to people. You need to carefully think how to make this offer safe to our people and their private data. We want AI to be safely grown in Estonia.

Was this pushed by the advent of driverless cars?

No, it's pushed by the Estonian people's demand to get more proactive state services. For example, if a couple has a child, they are entitled to universal child support. In the Estonian people’s minds, it is unnecessary to apply for this. They say, “I had my baby, just pay me." For that, this is proactive. People demand efficiency from an automated system that is making decisions. We have to regulate. Once you go digital, you are constantly pushed by your people to provide better services.

You’ve just launched a new genetic testing program for 100,000 Estonian citizens adding to the 52,000 who have already been tested. How will this information be used to improve public health? And what kind of safeguards are there to prevent possible genetic discrimination by employers, for example?

This information belongs to those people whose genome has been analyzed. This information does not belong to the Estonian Genome Bank or the government, and it's not shared with other individuals. People’s genetic data is in an anonymous form. The aim of this program is so people will know their diabetes risk, or their heart attack risk. They can share this information with their family doctor, but they are not obliged to. They can keep it to themselves, but most people will probably share it with their doctor.

Are there any other big things on the horizon in Estonia that we should be looking for?

I wouldn’t tell you if I had. The genome bank and the digital society are the projects that have flied. I am sure there are others that have not. Our people are willing to work with the government on new technologies. Now it’s a habit; every Estonian looks at it as part of our national identity. We understand that this allows us to provide better services to our people than our money would allow.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/from-ai-to-russia-heres-how-estonias-president-is-planning-for-the-future/

EPA Chiefs $50-a-Night Rental Raises White House Angst

  • Pruitt apartment questions follow first-class flight reports
  • Washington lease is compared to an Airbnb-style arrangement

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt leased a Washington apartment owned by a lobbyist friend last year under terms that allowed him to pay $50 a night for a single bedroom — but only on the nights when he actually slept there.

White House officials are growing dismayed about the questions surrounding Pruitt’s living arrangement, including his initial inability to produce any documentation about the lease or his actual payments, according to three officials. The landlord provided EPA officials with a copy of the lease and proof of the payments Pruitt made.

In all, Pruitt paid $6,100 to use the room for roughly six months, according to copies of rental checks reviewed by Bloomberg News. Those checks show varying amounts paid on sporadic dates — not a traditional monthly "rent payment" of the same amount each month.

That was because of the unusual rent schedule — not a single monthly amount, but a daily amount charged only for days used for a single bedroom in the two-bedroom unit just blocks from the Capitol. The building is at least partially owned by a health care lobbyist, Vicki Hart, via a limited liability corporation. Her husband J. Steven Hart, is also a lobbyist, whose firm represents clients in industries regulated by the EPA.

One person familiar with the lease compared it to an Airbnb-style arrangement, but Pruitt wasn’t a transient and instead made the apartment his home on nights he was in Washington. The lease — also reviewed by Bloomberg — says that he was charged $50 a night "based on days of actual occupancy."

Six Canceled Checks

Bloomberg reviewed six canceled checks paid by Pruitt totaling $6,100 from March 18 through Sept 1, 2017. He paid $450 on March 18, $900 on April 26, $850 on May 15, $700 on June 4, $1,500 on July 22 and $1,700 on Sept 1.

A sampling of current listings of apartments for rent near Pruitt’s temporary pad showed studio and one-bedroom offerings available for $1,350 to $1,975 a month. Some of the current Airbnb listings for rentals of single bedrooms inside apartments and homes on Capitol Hill ranged from $45 to $68 per night.

Justina Fugh, who has been ethics counsel at the EPA for a dozen years, said the arrangement wasn’t an ethics issue because Pruitt paid rent. An aide said the agency had not reviewed the arrangement in advance.

Pruitt’s Payments

The payments covered Pruitt’s room in the two-bedroom unit, but did not afford him liberal use of common areas, where the owners had dinner parties and other functions, according to a person familiar with the situation. According to the lease agreement, Pruitt’s bedroom could not be locked.

ABC reported Friday that Pruitt’s college-age daughter used another room in the condo while serving as a White House intern. An email to agency representatives seeking comment on the report were not immediately returned.

After ABC News reported the living arrangement on Thursday, EPA aides had to seek documentation from the building’s owners to prove he had paid rent, raising concerns at the White House, said two of the people, who asked not to be named discussing a sensitive matter involving a Cabinet secretary. Pruitt was in Wyoming on Thursday.

Related: Bumped? EPA Chief Signals He Will Be Flying Coach After Backlash

The disclosure follows revelations about Pruitt’s reliance on first-class flights to travel around the globe and a series of pricey trips, including a visit by Pruitt and agency staff to Italy that cost $120,249. EPA officials have defended Pruitt’s use of first-class flights on security grounds, but after a series of reports, he shifted to coach.

J. Steven Hart is the chairman of Williams & Jensen, a firm with a stable of energy industry clients including Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., which paid the firm $400,000 in 2017, according to data compiled from the Environmental Integrity Project from disclosure forms.

Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, has been an enthusiastic crusader against Obama-era regulations meant to combat climate change and limit air pollution. When Pruitt was in Oklahoma, he sued the EPA more than a dozen times.  

Hart’s individual lobbying clients include liquefied natural gas exporter Cheniere Energy Inc.
Pruitt traveled to Morocco to tout U.S. liquefied natural gas last December, though the Department of Energy — not the EPA — plays the major federal role overseeing LNG exports. It is not clear Hart had direct contact with the EPA on behalf of any of his lobbying clients in 2017, according to a Bloomberg News review of disclosures.

Other individual clients of his are the American Automotive Policy Council and Smithfield Foods Inc.

Hart, in a statement to the Associated Press, described Pruitt as a friend from Oklahoma with whom he had scant contact.

“Pruitt signed a market based, short-term lease for a condo owned partially by my wife,” Hart said in a statement. “Pruitt paid all rent owed as agreed to in the lease. My wife does not, and has not ever lobbied the EPA on any matters."

Critics said the unorthodox rental arrangement allowing Pruitt exclusive, reserved use of the room raised questions and could violate a ban on federal government employees accepting gifts valued at more than $20.

“At the very least, it doesn’t look good for the administrator of EPA to have rented an apartment from the wife of an energy industry lobbyist who represents companies regulated by EPA," said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project.

The government watchdog group Public Citizen asked EPA’s inspector general to investigate.

"This appears to be a gift from a lobbyist to the EPA administrator," Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, said in a news release. "Scott Pruitt seems to be renting at well below market value – from a family member of a lobbyist who has business before the EPA."

Messages left with the Inspector General’s office weren’t immediately returned on Friday.

Fugh, the EPA’s ethics counsel, said no gift was involved. It was a routine business arrangement between Pruitt and an individual, not a lobbying firm, she added.

"He paid a fair price for what amounts to just a room,” Fugh said. “So I don’t even think that the fact that the house is owned by a person whose job is to be a lobbyist causes us concern.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-30/epa-chief-s-50-a-night-rental-said-to-raise-white-house-angst

Lesbian and bisexual women have no health problems, says government health agency

Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Image: chris kleponis-pool/Getty Images

Congratulations, everyone! Lesbian and bisexual health problems are officially over.

Or so it would seem, if you believe the Department of Health and Human Services’ website. According to the Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency project, HHS removed pages from it’s Office on Women’s Health site that focused on lesbian and bisexual women’s health.

HHS told Politico, who first reported the story, that the pages were taken down because of a “routine update.” However, they appear to have been gone since September — and none of the missing information has been restored to the site.

Bisexual and lesbian health is no longer listed as a topic on the page, which has existed since 2012. @WomensHealth, the official HHS Twitter account, hasn’t had an update about lesbian and bisexual women’s health since 2016.

“The removal of lesbian and bisexual health materials in particular, without advance notice and in a targeted way, raise concerns that they’ve targeted information for vulnerable populations,” Andrew Bergman of the Sunlight Foundation told Politico.

This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has eliminated critical information about at-risk groups from government websites. When Trump was elected, one of the first things to go was the government’s official page on LGBTQ rights. In October 2017, the EPA eliminated references to climate change on their website. In December, the National Park Service took down climate change plans for over 90 parks.

Nothing to see here, folks! Lesbian and bisexual women are in perfect health, and climate change doesn’t exist. 

Proceed normally — with a chronic sense of despair.

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/03/21/lgbtq-womens-health-removal-hhs/

‘Clueless’ star Stacey Dash withdraws from congressional race

Washington (CNN)“Clueless” star and former Fox News commentator Stacey Dash is withdrawing her congressional bid, a representative for the actress confirmed to CNN Friday.

The news comes one month after the actress and outspoken Republican filed paperwork to run in California’s 44th district, which is currently represented by Democrat Nanette Barragán.
Her campaign slogan was “Dash to D.C.”
    “I started this run with the intention to address the pressing issues in the district where I live,” Dash said in the statement. “I hoped, and remain hopeful, that I can assist people living here on the national level. My goal was, and remains, to improve the lives of people who have been forgotten for decades by the Democratic Party.”
    However, Dash added, “At this point, I believe that the overall bitterness surrounding our political process, participating in the rigors of campaigning, and holding elected office would be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of my family. I would never want to betray the personal and spiritual principles I believe in most: that my God and my family come first.”
    The district, which includes Compton, Watts, San Pedro and North Long Beach, has long been represented by a Democrat.
    It overwhelmingly voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016, 83%-12%.
    Dash, who wrote a memoir called “There Goes My Social Life: From Clueless to Conservative,” has been a polarizing figure since she made the transition from beloved 1990s actor to conservative pundit. She is known for taking controversial stances on issues affecting people of color.
    In an interview with CNN’s The Point last month, Dash said she jumped in the race because it was “perfect timing.”
    “I live in my district and I realized this is home to me, this is where people need the most change to occur,” she said. “I’m going to fight for that change. It’s a labor of love for me. Why I decided to do it now? God. That’s why. It’s perfect timing. We need to keep the House.”
    Dash said in her statement Friday that pulling out from the race was a “difficult choice.”
    However, she said she will “continue to speak out” about “problems facing this district, as well as the distractions that take the place of real change.”

    Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/30/politics/stacey-dash-withdraws-congressional-race/index.html

    Trump Vows to Take On NRA, Boasts of Willingness to Rush Shooter

    President Donald Trump said Monday that he’s willing to take on the National Rifle Association though he doubts they will resist his response to the high school massacre that killed 17 people in Florida earlier this month.

    Trump, in a freewheeling discussion with governors at the White House that lasted more than an hour, also said he would have run into the school unarmed to try to confront the attacker, contrasting his hypothetical response with sheriff’s deputies who didn’t enter the building during the rampage.

    The president’s evolving responses to the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, have been largely consistent with the outlook of the NRA, particularly an emphasis Trump has put on arming school teachers. The organization has been a strong political ally of the president, spending $31 million in the 2016 election either to support Trump or attack his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

    “Don’t worry about the NRA, they’re on our side,” Trump said during the meeting with state governors, adding that he had lunch over the weekend with NRA Chief Executive Officer Wayne LaPierre and top lobbyist Chris Cox. “But sometimes we’re going to have to be very tough and we’re going to have to fight them.”

    Businesses are rushing to cut ties to the NRA. Among the companies that severed deals with the NRA: Avis Budget Group Inc., Best Western International Inc., Chubb Ltd., Delta Air Lines Inc., MetLife Inc., Symantec Corp. and United Continental Holdings Inc. Others are under intense social media pressure to follow.

    Trump suggested the country also should make it easier to involuntarily commit people to psychiatric institutions and open more such facilities.

    “In the old days you’d put him in a mental institution, a lot of them, and you could nab somebody like this,” Trump said, referring to the accused Florida shooter, Nikolas Cruz. “Hopefully he gets help or whatever, but he’s off the streets.”

    QuickTake: The U.S. Gun Debate Explained

    “We’re going to have to start talking about mental institutions,” Trump said, complaining that states had closed too many “because of cost.”

    Trump reiterated disparaging comments about the armed sheriff’s deputy assigned to the school who didn’t enter the school while the shooting was taking place, saying he “choked” under the pressure of the situation. He also referenced a CNN report that several other armed sheriff’s deputies who were among the first officers to arrive at the school didn’t initially enter.

    "I really believe, you don’t know until you’re tested, but I think I’d, I really believe I’d run in even if I didn’t have a weapon,” Trump said.

    Monday’s meeting at the White House was a wide-ranging discussion of ideas to address gun violence at schools. Suggestions ranged from a possibly new rating system for violent videos to arming teachers to filling schools with smoke during an attack to make it harder for a shooter to find targets.

    Trump has called for changes in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at the Parkland high school. He has voiced support for expanding the background check system to include more mental health information, raising the age for the purchase of some guns to 21 from 18, and regulatory action ending the sale of “bump stocks.”

    White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders injected a bit of uncertainty on the president’s backing for raising age limits, saying the president is “supportive of the concept” but the idea is “still being discussed” and the president’s position will depend on the final form of legislation.

    Trump has signaled support for a bipartisan bill from Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, known as Fix-NICS. It would penalize federal agencies that fail to report relevant criminal records that would bar someone from purchasing a firearm under current law to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

    Trump told the governors the administration is “going to strengthen” the measure.

    Concealed Weapons

    The background checks legislation stalled in a Senate committee, but elements of it passed in the House, paired with a requirement opposed by gun-control advocates that every state recognize licenses to carry a concealed handgun issued by other states. NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said the concealed carry law is the group’s top priority but the NRA would support the background check bill even without the added provision.

    The House is waiting for the Senate to act, according to a senior Republican aide. Senate leaders haven’t indicated plans for considering the legislation.

    Trump has been most vocal about a controversial proposal to allow some “talented” teachers to carry concealed firearms in schools. He has indicated that state governments might take the lead. Trump says “hardening” the schools would make them less attractive targets for a potential assailant.

    “Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them,” Trump posted on Twitter last week. “Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again – a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States.”

    ‘Less Tweeting’

    Trump on Monday reiterated his call for states to move forward without federal action.

    “States can do most of this and we’ll back you up,” Trump said. “We’ll help you no matter what your solution is,” adding “my attitude is get it done and get it done properly.”

    The White House is also considering the idea of using restraining orders to take firearms away from people considered dangerous as part of its response to the Parkland shooting, two people familiar with the matter said.

    Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington, endorsed such an approach, saying his state has had success with so-called extreme risk protection orders. Inslee, though, pushed back on Trump’s idea of arming people at schools. “Educators should educate,” he said, adding that law enforcement and teachers do not support such a move.

    “Let’s just take that off the table and move forward,” Inslee said. “I would suggest we need a little less tweeting here and a little more listening.”

    Florida Governor Rick Scott unveiled a proposal last week to raise the age requirement for purchasing semiautomatic rifles to 21, and allow some guns to be temporarily confiscated from people deemed mentally unstable by a judge.

    Scott has said he’s opposed to arming teachers, but supports increasing the number of law enforcement officials in schools. State legislators in Florida are considering proposals to allow for some school officials to be trained to carry concealed weapons. At the White House meeting on Monday, Scott also noted that students will be able to get more mental health counseling and he aims to have threat assessments in schools.

    The Parkland massacre has “created momentum to make sure that something happens this time,” Scott said.

    Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP, which operates Bloomberg News, serves as a member of Everytown for Gun Safety’s advisory board and is a donor to the group. Everytown for Gun Safety advocates for universal background checks and other gun control measures.

      Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-26/trump-says-ready-to-take-on-nra-in-response-to-florida-shooting

      Remingtons Bankruptcy May Be the Tip of the Iceberg

      Firearms companies face declining sales, falling stock prices and tremendous debt. Gunmaker American Outdoor Brands Corp., formerly known as Smith & Wesson, has seen its stock plummet by almost half from 2017. On Monday, Remington Outdoor Co., an iconic, 200-year-old American firearms manufacturer, announced it’s planning to file for bankruptcy.  

      With Republicans in control of Washington, there’s little chance of firearm regulation—even in the face of Wednesday’s massacre in Florida. When Barack Obama was president or Democrats controlled Congress, gun sales would generally rise after a mass shooting for fear of more restrictive laws. The gun lobby pushed these worries despite a lack of significant legislative effort by the Obama administration. Now that Donald Trump is in the Oval Office, fear of new gun laws has receded, industry executives have said. And so have sales, hurting both retailers and manufacturers such as Remington.

      In December, James Debney, chief executive officer of American Outdoor, said “fear-based” buying of firearms had stopped. According to data collected by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a barometer for firearms sales, January 2018 was the slowest in gun purchases since 2012. Even on Thursday, after gunmaker stocks rose in premarket trading, shares headed back down by afternoon. (The assault rifle used in the Parkland high school attack was a Smith & Wesson AR-15, police said.)

      Following gun stores and manufacturers, the next victim of the industry’s political success could be distributors. Because most are privately owned, earnings data are hard to come by. Still, company debt can offer a glimpse into their financial health. The declining performance of a $140 million loan to distributor United Sporting Cos., for example, suggests there may be a problem. 

      United is a private equity-owned holding company whose subsidiaries include Ellett Brothers and Jerry’s Sport Center, two gun distributors that work with more than 30,000 independent retailers across all 50 states (Sturm, Ruger & Co. says 15 percent of its sales are to the two subsidiaries). They distribute hunting and shooting-sports products, including handguns, ammunition, silencers and holsters. In 2016, Jerry’s was named “distributor of the year” by Marlin Firearms, a company owned by Remington.

      A $140 million loan extended to United fell to less than half of its face value last year, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings by the loan’s holder, the business development company Prospect Capital Corp. 

      Since Prospect makes loans to private companies but has issued shares to the public, it’s required to disclose its financials, even when the companies on the hook for the loan are not. In Prospect’s annual report for 2017, the company said a fair value of its loan to United was almost $47 million—about 33 percent of its face value. That was down from 94 percent in its report for the quarter ended March 31, 2017.

      Michael Grier Eliasek, a director of Prospect, said in the securities filing that United had been hit by a cyclical slowdown in gun sales, as well as by the bankruptcy of a major customer, sporting goods retailer Gander Mountain. 

      United and Prospect didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

      “When there are elections that go a certain way, there tends to be a slowdown in sales to the firearms sector for the first six or nine months or so, and then there’s a more of a normalization thereafter,” Eliasek said in an August conference call when he was asked about the writedown, which at that time was 59 percent of face value. 

        Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-16/remington-s-bankruptcy-may-be-the-tip-of-the-iceberg

        Trump offers a big thumbs up to school shooting victims instead of gun control

        Trump flashes a thumbs up before boarding Marine One, destined for Florida where he will meet with victims and first responders after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
        Image: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

        On Friday, President Donald Trump visited Parkland, Florida in the wake of a school shooting in a high school that left 17 people dead. But Trump has faced criticism over the way he carried himself during that visit.

        After an awkward meeting with first responders, the president and first lady Melania Trump stood together for a friendly photo op, which in itself seems insensitive. Trump had a huge smile on his face in the photo, and flashed his now signature thumbs up.

        Trump updated his Twitter cover photo with the picture from the meeting Friday evening.

        Image: Twitter/Realdonaldtrump

        Trump also visited Broward Health North hospital in Pompano Beach, where many of the victims received care after the shooting. On his official Instagram, a series of images posted in an album featured Trump wearing a large smile on his face, flashing a thumbs up in a photo with hospital staff.

        The press asked Trump if he met with any victims at the hospital. Instead of speaking about the impact those meetings may have had on him as a president, as a human, Trump decided to fluff up the hospital.

        “Fantastic hospital, and they have done an incredible job,” Trump boasted. “The doctor was amazing, we saw numerous people and incredible recovery. And first responders — everybody — the job they’ve done was in incredible.”

        Trump then congratulated a doctor he was standing next to.

        While yes, first responders and hospital staff should be thanked and praised for their hard work in wake of the shooting, congratulations here are completely tone deaf considering 17 people lost their lives in the attack. 

        In any other presidency, this would be a time for mourning. But Trump is using it to boast and brag. 

        Many were quick to criticize Trump for his demeanor on social media, with some pointing to Barack Obama’s reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre in December of 2012. In 2016, Obama also delivered a powerful and emotional speech on gun violence, in which he broke down crying

        Obama’s official White House photographer, Pete Souza, who has made it his duty to criticize the Trump administration by way of his photography from the Obama era, uploaded a photo of Obama sitting alone in a classroom in Sandy Hook Elementary School. It captures the former president in a quiet moment after he met with families for hours, and before he attended a prayer vigil. 

        While it often seems like President Trump’s actions couldn’t be more shocking, this type of behavior is disgusting, and the heavy criticism is merited. There’s a time for photo ops, and then there is time for mourning. This was not the moment for Trump to show off how great he’s making America.

        America has a real problem, and Trump isn’t even trying to fake it.

        Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/17/donald-trump-parkland-smiling-thumbs-up-obama/

        Trump shows gun control hypocrisy in wake of latest school shooting

        PARKLAND, FL – FEBRUARY 15: Kristi Gilroy (R), hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman yesterday, on February 15, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Police arrested the suspect after a short manhunt, and have identified him as 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz.
        Image: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

        Displaying a cognitive dissonance that’s become common with him, President Donald Trump on Thursday made a reference to the alleged mental instability of the young man accused of the deadly Parkland, Florida school shooting. 

        Though just last year he signed a bill that made it easier for those with mental illnesses to obtain guns. 

        Speaking to the American public from the White House, Trump said of the fallout, “We are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.”

        The comments echoed those that Trump made Thursday morning (where else?) on Twitter, calling the alleged shooter “mentally disturbed.”

        But even as he lamented the mental health of the alleged shooter, Trump failed to mention that one year ago, he rolled back an Obama Administration regulation that would add the names of around 75,000 individuals declared incapable of managing their own financial affairs to the federal background check list.

        While it’s unlikely the regulation would have directly blocked the Parkland shooter from obtaining a gun — it depended largely on data from the Social Security Administration and it doesn’t appear, so far, that the Parkland shooter met the criteria of the regulation — it does show a president whose words are at odds with his actions.

        This isn’t the first time Trump has brought up the mental stability of a mass shooter. In October 2017, after a man opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds, Trump called the shooter “a sick man, a demented man, lot of problems.”

        And yet Trump’s only action on guns as president was to weaken a relatively minor gun regulation that would have kept a group of mentally ill citizens from buying guns. 

        In fact, Trump didn’t mention guns at all in the speech nor did he address the fact that the Florida shooter used an AR-15 assault rifle, the same rifle used in several other mass shootings, and that he bought the gun legally

        If there’s one thing Trump has been consistent on, it’s his insistence there’s no need for gun control, something that came up during the 2016 presidential campaign thanks to one of his more incendiary comments (which is saying something). 

        So, as the nation tries to move forward from yet another tragedy (and one that claimed the lives of innocent students, once again), we’re left to try and make sense of Trump’s views. Though he offered words of comfort on Thursday, the comfort feels thin as he continues to ignore the glaring issues that have led to a numbing cycle of gun violence. 

        When his only direct action runs counter to the safety and protection he promises us as a nation — and to our children, who he directly addressed in Thursday’s brief speech — all those words simply ring empty, hollow platitudes that do nothing to actually make us safer.

        Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/15/trump-mental-health-guns-parkland-school-shooting/

        The world is watching: How Florida shooting made U.S. gun control a global conversation

        AR-15 "Sport" rifles on sale at deep discounts in an Arizona store.
        Image: john moore/Getty Images

        When you move to America from a country with more effective gun control laws, one of the first things you learn is how hard it is to talk to Americans — even on the sympathetic side of the political divide — about the gun issue. 

        It was particularly difficult when I arrived on these shores in 1996, direct from living in Scotland during its (and Britain’s) worst-ever school shooting. In the tiny town of Dunblane, a 43-year old former shopkeeper and scoutmaster brought four handguns to a school gymnasium full of five-year-olds. He shot and killed 16 of them and their teacher, then turned his handgun on himself.

        After Dunblane, the British plunged into a state of collective mourning that was at least as widespread as the better-known grieving process for Princess Diana the following year. (Americans don’t always believe that part, to which I usually say: the kids were five, for crying out loud. Five.)

        In a country where nobody would dream of pulling public funding for studies into gun violence, the solution was amazingly rational and bipartisan. After a year, and an official inquiry into Dunblane, the Conservative government passed a sweeping piece of legislation restricting handguns. Then after Labour won the 1997 election, it passed another. Britain hasn’t seen a school shooting since. (Same with Australia, which also passed major gun control legislation in 1996). 

        But trying to talk about all that in America over the last two decades, I’ve learned from experience, has been like touching the proverbial third rail: only tourists would be dumb enough to try it. Even gun control advocates now think they’re dealing with an intractable, generational problem. Many tell me that we need to tackle mental health services or gun fetishization in Hollywood movies first. The legislation route couldn’t possibly be that easy, they say.

        But what if it is that easy? What if the rest of the world also loves Hollywood action movies and has mental health problems, but manages to have fewer shootings simply because it has fewer guns available? What if the rest of the world has been shouting at America for years that gun control is less intractable than you think — you just have to vote in large numbers for the politicians that favor it, and keep doing so at every election? 

        If that’s the case, then perhaps some powerful, leveling international marketplace of ideas could help the U.S. see what everyone else has already seen. Something like social media. 

        In one sense, Wednesday’s massacre in Parkland, Florida — a school shooting as shocking and senseless as Dunblane —  was evidence that America was further away from a gun control solution than ever. In 1996, buying an AR-15 assault rifle was illegal under federal law. Now, in Florida and many other states, a 19-year old can walk into any gun store and walk out with this military-grade weapon of mass destruction. 

        Yet anecdotally, I have noticed one glimmer of hope. Since the last American gun massacre that got everyone talking, there has been a small shift in the online conversation. It has become a little more global. The students of Parkland have been broadcasting to the world via social media, and the world is taking notice. 

        I’m not suggesting some kind of slam-dunk situation where every American on Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat has an epiphany about gun control because they’re more frequently interacting with people from other nations with different laws. 

        But I am saying it’s noticeably harder for pro-gun accounts to spread lies about the situation in other countries without people from those countries chiming in. 

        Meanwhile, there is a mountain of evidence that Russian bots and troll accounts are attempting to hijack the online conversation using the same playbook from the 2016 elections — manufacture conflict to destabilize American discourse. That means taking the most trollishly pro-NRA position they can think of, in a bid to counteract the large majority of Americans who want sensible gun control. 

        So the voices from other countries are chiming in just in time. If anything, we need more of them to balance out cynical foreign influence in a pro-gun direction. 

        How effective gun control can happen

        Twenty years of trying to have this debate in the U.S. have worn me down. As you might expect, I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of Second Amendment-splaining from the pro-gun lobby. (Yep, I’m very familiar with the two centuries of debate over the militia clause, thanks.) I’ve been told I didn’t understand the power of the NRA (which, again, I’m quite familiar with: the organization supported sensible gun restrictions until it was radicalized in 1977).

        I’ve heard every argument you could imagine: the notion that British police must now be lording it over the poor defenseless population; the blinkered insistence that there must have been a rise in crime with illegal guns and legal knives now all the good people with guns have been taken out of the equation. (Violent crime is still too high in the UK, but it is a fraction of America’s total — and has declined significantly since 1996.) 

        I no longer have the dream that a UK-Australia-style handgun ban would work here. There are as many as 300 million firearms in private hands, according to a 2012 Congressional estimate; even though most of them are concentrated in the hands of a small percentage of owners, it’s simply impractical to talk about removing a significant percentage of them from the equation. 

        But if anything, I’m more aware of creative legal solutions: laws that require gun insurance the way we require car insurance, or tax ammunition, or hold manufacturers responsible for gun deaths. I’ve seen my adopted state of California implement some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, laws that just went into effect. The fight to prevent future massacres is just getting started.

        And any time you want to talk about how it can happen, the rest of a shrinking world is listening — and ready to talk. 

        Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/17/gun-control-social-media/