America was flooded with viewpoints in 2019. In fact, viewpoints may have overwhelmed facts causing some to say America is in a post-factual period. Bolstering that claim were more "fabricated facts" or claims of "fake news" and sophisticated technological manipulations that supplanted truth with truth-like fictions at increasing rates. AI photo creations, for instance, are now hardly distinguishable from reality and are used to spread viewpoints that seem to come from real people. That phenomenon, called "deepfakes" results in "disinformation" when misused and may be the biggest challenge to our fact based reality. That said, this review of 2019 has been diligently researched and facts included were corroborated by other trustworthy sources. As with anything you may detect a viewpoint but unlike "fabricated facts" or disinformation--- my goal is not to deceive.
In the 2 minute video above Suzanne Spaulding, Senior Advisor, Homeland Security, International Security Program speaks about the way disinformation attacks democracy.
I started this review with the discussion about disinformation because of it's relevance to events in 2019. It was at the crux of Impeachment- the issue that closed out the second decade of the 21st century and spilled into the new year. Outside of the main issue, high crimes and misdemeanors, disinformation swirled. Was it Russian interference that we should be concerned about or, as some members of one party charged, secrets buried in Ukraine? Arguing that question was a dangerous disinformation game, according to the president's top adviser on Russia, Dr Fiona Hill, because it distracted America from addressing the Russian disinformation threat that the CIA, FBI, NSA, Independent Counsel Investigation and Senate Intelligence Committees clearly outlined. Furthermore, did the Ukraine talking point actually originate from a Russian disinformation campaign? That's what Dr. Hill contended. Targeted disinformation attacks were also leveled at representatives in response to their statements about the president's behavior during the hearings. Hateful social media campaigns impacted representatives of both parties throughout 2019 with women in governance getting the most harassment. Disinformation also figured in the framing of The Mueller Report which was released in full last year. These two political issues loomed over 2019. Would you agree?
As heavy as political issues were in 2019 it was also a year of inspirational stories. How about the comeback of 44 year old golfer Tiger Woods who won his 5th Masters Tournament after living through public disgrace, multiple injuries, and years of doubt? It was also a year of women inspiring each other by standing up to abuse and harassment, going back to school late in life. and speaking out about equal pay. Women's self-empowerment was front and center and on display in the seats of the U.S. congress and state legislatures where women won historically large percentages. In fact, Democratic presidential candidates reflected more diversity than in any previous election cycle and included five women. Dr. Karen Uhlenbek, 76, was the first woman to win The Abel prize in mathematics for trailblazing achievements at the University of Texas. There were so many firsts for women in 2019 that Time magazine profiled 28 women shattering barriers on stage, in space, and on the battlefield. On the local level, I loved the Minnesota chapter of AARP's great program called 50 over 50 which annually portrays inspirational people making a difference in the Midwest. Their slogan: "It's time to change the stories we tell about ourselves."
According to the video above heroes were a popular search topic in 2019 which Google theorizes is a response to uncertain times. Almost all of us can pinpoint the elements of uncertainty: changing technology with wide ranging implications on daily life, political volatility, worsening climactic effects, rising health care costs, shifting trends in commerce, communication and media, polarization and political gridlock to name a few. Some of us began to wonder if our democracy will survive. For those of us over 50 uncertainty may include our health or the health of our partner or parent, whether or not we can retire, whether we could afford long term care costs, whether our forgetfulness is dementia and, perhaps, who would care for us in the event of need. That's a big list of unknowns that can spell i-n-s-o-m-n-i-a. A 2019 executive briefing for McKinsey Global sums up the angst in their forecast that powerful disruptive forces will change our world, environment, companies and workplaces. "They are morphing in some unexpected ways and combining to create even greater impact than we expected," they write. Hold onto your hats, readers. or the winds of change might blow them away.
McKinsey's report strikes a note of caution about disruptive events yet enormous advances in science and technology will hopefully bring positive change and solutions to the impacts ahead. Quantum computing and Artificial Intelligence(AI) are two likely candidates for helping to mitigate dangers and improve all manner of services. Quantum computing enjoyed new government support and private investment in 2019. President Trump established the Quantum Research Advisory Committee in September. Google, IBM, and Amazon, as well as smaller companies, are all working on Quantum projects and Quantum computational speeds exceeded even the performance of supercomputers last year. The emergence of Quantum primacy prompted The National Institute of Science and Technology to ask scientists to make risk assessments and look ahead at the consequences of mainstream access. AI, on the other hand, is already integrating with business, manufacturing, governments, and medicine. In medical research AI is speeding up our race to find cures and identifying new cures available in existing medicines. As the McKinsey paper warns there are unexpected events ahead and a kind of morphing that creates uncertainty. So it may come as no surprise that we really don't fully know how AI works though Google got closer to that so called "black box" problem in 2019. In the realm of Quantum, mysteries abound and science is wondering what amazing problems it will solve when we perfect it's role in computing.
Another mystery we confronted in 2019 was the first ever image of a black hole in space. While it confirmed Einstein's theory of the universe it also opened what Science News calls, a new era of exploration. Yet another new era dawned in medicine when clinical trials began using the revolutionary gene editing tool CRISPR Cas 9 that I first wrote about in 2014. Perhaps you read about the Chinese doctor who was jailed at the close of 2019 because he raced ahead of the world using CRISPR to genetically edit the DNA of embryos. Without assurances yet that CRISPR is safe to use on humans his actions created a world outcry. Meanwhile scientists isolated CRSIPR casx, a smaller protein, last year and hope it's more accommodated by the human body. "We aren’t just looking to uncover the next pair of molecular scissors. We want to build the next Swiss Army knife," CRISPR co-founder, Jennifer Doudna said. Finally, scientists in Florida successfully expanded the elements that work to construct stable DNA. Floyd Romesberg, scientist at Scripps LaJolla, called it, "... a conceptual breakthrough." This accomplishment in synthetic biology seems to suggest that DNA and life could be supported by helix combinations of elements we never imagined! It was a good year for scientific research and many of the developments in 2019 will herald new medical therapies and insights.
Meanwhile as medicine is working hard to save lives guns and violence in America are destroying them. There were 417 mass shootings in 2019 and at least 103 took place in schools. 750 people were shot by police of which 150 were black and some were unarmed. 38 police officers died in the line of duty. 7, 120 hate crimes were committed in 2018 and violence against individuals hit a 16 year high. Hate crimes were 61% of all crimes in 2018. 2019 data is not available until late 2020. After years of gridlocks and disagreement about what to do to stop the violence a few states passed gun laws in 2019, the Federal Government outlawed bump stocks, and, in December, the Supreme Court began to hear their first case on guns in nine years. Some of the strongest statements about gun violence though came from businesses. In September Walmart discontinued some of their ammo inventory and stopped selling handguns entirely. Dick's Sporting Goods took it one step further by shredding $5 million dollars in guns saying, "If we really think these things need to be off the streets we need to destroy them."
While you hopefully won't be impacted by hate or violence you could feel the effect of several laws that go into effect in 2020. If you live in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee or Texas your voting laws have changed. That change is part of a trend toward more restrictive access or less voter fraud depending on your viewpoint but the impact falls hard on older people and anyone with disabilities. As winning margins get tighter every year our individual votes become more meaningful. Check your state laws and your voter status before elections. If you receive Medicare you may already know that there are changes this year. If you have stand alone Part D for drugs the donut hole is disappearing but the out of pocket monthly cost may increase and catastrophic thresholds may be higher. Part B premiums and deductibles will also change. If you are retired you may also be aware of changes to tax law that could apply. Other changes, included in the budget bill passed in Dec 2019, are an extension of a tax provision allowing deductions for high medical costs and funding for the SECURE Act which has to do with retirement planning. Unfortunately the Older American's Act that originated in 1965 and provided funding for, among other things, Meals on Wheels, ombudsmen, and elder abuse programs, expired without senate approval. The House passed an updated version called Dignity in Aging Act in October. That bill was one of over 400 bills passed in the House in 2019 yet the Senate heard or passed only 70--down from an average 300+ passed in a usual year. The Senate focused on appointing over 50 judges. Grandparents Raising Grandchildren made legislative progress in 2018 with the passage of the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act that established an Advisory Council. That Council convened in August 2019.
At the close of one decade and start of another our politics, policy, medicine, technology and science are changing rapidly. As I suggested in my 2018: Year in Review we need only look back in time to notice that uncertainty and conflict often accompany the opening years of a new century. Shifting viewpoints can result in chaos and change yet change also opens new space making room for potential growth, improved methods and greater understanding. Please join me in holding hope for peace and understanding this decade. Before you leave this blog consider enjoying the wisdom of the Byrds' below.
update Feb: A practical quickread guide to protecting yourself and others from misinformation