NASA’s space telescope at Caltech has surpassed all predictions for discovery and longevity.

How are stars born? Where does that happen? What does it look like? What would a map of the Milky Way galaxy look like? Are there many more galaxies in space?

These are a few of the questions that NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which celebrated its 15th year in space this year, has been able to answer with visible imagery that is astonishing. Spitzer’s predicted lifespan was just 2½ years (in a best-case scenario, 5 years) because of the stressful environment of space, where temperatures range from well below freezing to planet surfaces as hot as stars, but it has lasted six times that forecast.

Spitzer is a can-do telescope, surpassing all predictions and then some. “It has been a bonanza and every day is a holiday,” said Michael Werner, project scientist for Spitzer Space Telescope, who has worked on the project for some 40 years. “Spitzer has exceeded all expectations for longevity and also discoveries.”

The raft of Spitzer’s otherworldly discoveries include: a stellar nursery, seven Earth-size planets, Saturn’s largest ring and the farthest and oldest galaxy ever known — all previously inconceivable, even to the astronomers and engineers who created and have maintained the telescope, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Caltech’s Spitzer Science Center. “Our ability to find and observe exoplanets [planets orbiting around a star other than the sun] has been really phenomenal,” added Werner. “We did a deep map to study galaxies almost as far back as the Big Bang. We mapped the Milky Way. We didn’t plan on it doing any of this.”

Spitzer was the fourth and final one of NASA’s so-called Great Observatories to reach space, joining Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory. Spitzer has been described as the cornerstone of NASA’s Astronomical Search for Origins Program. Synthesizing data from various telescopes, which collect light in different wavelengths, helps scientists gain a clearer picture of the universe and wonders of the cosmos.

Spitzer was designed to observe the universe in infrared wavelengths of light, allowing a better view and retrieval of information about objects in space that are extremely far away or blocked by stellar dust. Infrared wavelengths of light are too long to be visible to the human eye and mostly emanate from heat radiation. The telescope’s infrared capabilities equip it to see through dust to detect and read stars and objects that are too faint or distant for optical telescopes, or that are obscured by turbulent clouds of space dust, said Sean Carey, manager of Spitzer Science Center. It is similar to what firefighters use to see through smoke, he added. “Spitzer told us how stars form,” said Carey. “We know they form in very dense infrared-dark clouds, [we] can see how many are forming, the spacing between stars and their sizes telling us how they form. Winds blow away the material they form out of so that you can see inside the stellar nurseries.” What creates the wind, said Carey, is light from massive hot stars, which pushes the material away from the stars after they form.

But Spitzer’s single most important discovery, scientists say, is the study of what is called the Trappist-1 system. Trappist-1 is an ultra-cool dwarf star 40 light years away. Trappist-1 has more Earth-size planets (called “exoplanets”) than any other known planetary system. These seven exoplanets are rocky but potentially habitable and are the most studied planetary system outside of our own solar system because of Spitzer. “Studying planets around other stars was in its infancy when Spitzer launched, but we now often spend more than half the time each year on these studies,” Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, project manager for Spitzer Telescope, said in an email. “The observatory wasn’t designed to do this, but it is really good at it.”

Spitzer accurately detects planets orbiting other stars by measuring the tiny dip in light from the star as the planet passes in front of it, known as “planetary transit.” This is now a commonly used technique to detect the depth and shape of the transit which provides information about the planets around other stars, added Storrie-Lombardi, who has worked on Spitzer for 19 years. Discoveries like these are beyond the scope of what Spitzer was originally designed to do in 2003 when it officially began its mission in space.

Spitzer’s infrared vision has also allowed scientists to study the most distant galaxies in the universe. Light from some of these distant galaxies traveled for 13.4 billion years to reach Earth, according to NASA’s website. Using data from the Spitzer and Hubble telescopes allowed “scientists to see these galaxies as they were less than 400 million years after the birth of the universe,” according to JPL’s website. Spitzer identified many distant galaxy clusters previously unknown. What surprised scientists was the discovery of so-called “big baby” galaxies that were much larger and more mature than early galaxies were believed to be. These big baby galaxies indicated that massive clusters of stars came together very early in the universe’s history, the website notes.

Spitzer has also mapped the entire disk of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. “We initially thought that the Milky Way galaxy disk would just be too bright for Spitzer,” said Storrie-Lombardi. “We figured out how to do it and this program provides one of the most spectacular science legacies of the mission.”

With data gleaned from Spitzer, scientists were able to create one of the most extensive maps of the Milky Way galaxy ever compiled, including the most accurate map of the large bar of stars in the galaxy’s center. There is now a map of the entire 360-degree expanse of the Milky Way available to astronomers and the public. A continually looping view of the entire galaxy moving past can be seen at spitzer.caltech.edu by searching for a video titled “Panning Through the Milky Way.”

Other Spitzer discoveries include the largest known ring around Saturn, a wispy, fine structure 300 times the planet’s diameter, and the first giant gas exoplanet (a hot Jupiter) weather map of temperature variations across its surface, showing the presence of fierce winds.

What the future holds for Spitzer is yet to be determined, but the revolutionary telescope’s space mission continues through November 2019. Thus far, Spitzer has logged 106,000 hours observing space, and thousands of scientists around the world have used Spitzer data in their studies. Spitzer data has been cited in more than 8,000 published papers. For the social media– and virtual reality–obsessed public, NASA has created a selfie app for IOS and Android phones that “dresses” you in a space suit (or you might follow Storrie-Lombardi’s example and use it to snap your pet — Maria the dog is on Facebook floating in the Milky Way; she posted that in August and just made it public). The backgrounds for the selfie app include the Galactic Center, the Cigar Galaxy or Cassiopeia A. There is also an Exoplanet Excursions Virtual Reality Experience for Vive or Oculus devices, found at spitzer.caltech.edu/vr. And to highlight Spitzer’s greatest discovery, Trappist-1, there is a 360-degree video on Youtube titled “NASA’s Exoplanet Excursions 360.”

From the dawn of human history people have been trying to understand what we see when we look up at the night sky, and how we fit into it. “Seeing the incredible response and excitement, worldwide, to the discovery of the Trappist-1 planetary system was one of the most rewarding moments of my professional life,” said Storrie-Lombardi. “There were over 5 billion web hits on stories about it. I think the biggest contribution space astronomy makes is connecting so many people with the wonders of our universe.”

The diminutive but powerful Supreme Court justice is the subject of an unusual exhibition at the Skirball.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the second woman on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, when she was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, but the octogenarian justice is the first justice to become a cross-generational cultural phenomenon.

To wit: Ginsburg is the first to be the subject of runaway viral social media memes, a bestselling book, a tribute rap song, an action figure, tattoo art, manicurist-nail art, cartoons, Halloween costumes, coloring books, a children’s book, a fitness workout book and a wildly popular recurring Saturday Night Live parody by Kate McKinnon. Like other justices, she is also the subject of a recently released documentary and a forthcoming feature film. Ginsburg’s fierce dissents to Supreme Court rulings have even been set to music as part of musician Jonathon Mann’s 2014 “Song a Day” project.

So itonly seems right that in Ginsburg’s 25th year on the nation’s highest court and the so-called Year of the Woman (a nod to the wave of women running in the midterm elections), that an exhibition about her trail-blazing life opens Oct. 19 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The exhibition, which runs through March 10, 2019, is based on the 2015 New York Times bestselling book and popular Tumblr blog of the same name, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (HarperCollins; 2015), co-authored by journalist Irin Carmon and lawyer Shana Knizhnik. Using archival photographs and documents, audio and video recordings, contemporary art and interactive elements, the show looks at the American legal system and civil rights movement through Ginsburg’s personal experiences and public service. It was organized by Cate Thurston, Skirball museum associate curator, and the book’s co-authors.

“I thought [Notorious RBG] would be perfect” for a museum exhibition, said Thurston. “It has a strong narrative and a point of view and it speaks to a moment in time. But you want it to be something people can relate to. That felt very true of Notorious RBG.”

The RBG cultural phenom grew, in part, out of Knizhnik’s hit Tumblr tribute dubbed “Notorious RBG” The blog was sparked by Knizhnik’s fury at the 2012 Supreme Court ruling that gutted the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County v. Holder). Inspired by Ginsburg’s searing dissent, Knizhnik, then a law student in New York, launched the Tumblr and coupled it with T-shirts. She took the name Notorious RBG from a friend’s Facebook post about the dissent, and her friends and colleagues later joined in, writing lyrics about Ginsburg that played off the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.’s rap song “Juicy”; they made a rap video tribute and posted it on YouTube, according to a 2014 New Republic story. Meanwhile, digital strategists Frank Chi and Aminatou Sow, who were in Washington, D.C., at the time of the ruling, were also inspired by Ginsburg’s raging dissent. Chi took a photo of Ginsburg and added a red background and a crown, jauntily clocked to one side, in artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s style; they added the words “Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth,” printed stickers and posted them all over Washington and on Instagram. The now ubiquitous image grew into a meme, and the flurry of digital mashups was like a match to gasoline — it became an explosive Internet hit. The book would come later

“The name [Notorious RBG] is obviously a reference to Notorious B.I.G., who is this large imposing rapper, a really powerful figure; and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is this 90-pound Jewish grandmother,” Knizhnik told The New Republic. “The juxtaposition of the two made it humorous, but also a celebration of how powerful she really is.”

Connecting the reserved, diminutive justice to the late 300-pound rapper is a playful thread that runs throughout the book in chapter titles inspired by the late rapper’s lyrics. The exhibit mirrors the flow and content of the book — lyrics also inform the show’s section titles.  The opera-loving, lace-glove-wearing Ginsburg is probably not exactly a rap fan, but she said, gamely, in a 2017 Charlie Rose Show interview, that linking her to the late rapper was “natural,” since both were born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.

When the Skirball approached the co-authors about building an exhibit around RBG and the book, they were thrilled. “We hope that Notorious RBG, whether it is the book or the exhibit, provides an entry point for everyone to engage with the court, the history of women and civil rights in this country, and RBG’s inspiring story,” co-author Carmon said in an email. “There’s so much about Justice Ginsburg’s life and work that all of us can learn from, whether it’s her passion for women’s rights or her commitment to the rule of law.”

While American feminists were loudly protesting in the ’70s, Ginsburg was quietly and methodically turning words into action by arguing gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. She made life-changing gains for women, winning five out of six cases by expanding the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to include women. The rulings struck down laws allowing job discrimination for pregnant women, permitting the forced sterilization of black women and making women’s jury service optional, which led to unbalanced juries. Ginsburg also argued so-called “widower cases” to secure Social Security survivor’s benefits for men, ultimately winning two cases in 1975 and 1977. And as a justice, her fierce dissent in a 2007 case about gender pay discrimination led Congress to pass the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Obama signed in 2009.

Thurston, who spent 18 months working on the exhibit, examined Ginsburg’s papers at the Library of Congress and was able to obtain archival objects and several reproductions as well as loans of originals from 13 other collections. The exhibit’s sections include “an imagined, immersive environment” that recreates Ginsburg’s childhood Brooklyn apartment replete with vintage Nancy Drew books (Ginsburg’s childhood favorites), along with a scrapbook of childhood memories that visitors can leaf through, said Thurston. A recreated “hyper-real” living room of Ginsburg’s first home is decked with objects that visitors can touch and feel. “We were conscious of telling an accurate story, but there are moments where we can’t tell everything” because details have dimmed over the years, said Thurston. “In those moments, we have built in an experience around it. So when details are vague, we can be playful and fill it in.”

There is a partial recreation of a gray Chevrolet that the young Ruth Bader and the late Martin Ginsburg, Ruth’s husband of 63 years, drove on their first date. When visitors pull down the car sun visors in the reimagined 1930s/40s–style Chevrolet, a photograph of the couple at their engagement party is revealed. Visitors can also watch a video of RBG’s college graduation and honeymoon as they imagine riding along with Marty and Ruth.

The childhood section is juxtaposed against an area dedicated to Ginsburg’s serious law school studies, first at Harvard University, and then at Columbia University where she transferred when Marty Ginsburg, by then her husband, landed his first job as a tax attorney in New York City. The exhibit also explores her undergrad days at Cornell University where she met Marty, fell in love and received her bachelor’s degree.

“We have 10 audio-listening stations where you are able to actually hear her when she was presenting oral arguments for one of the five sex discrimination cases to the Supreme Court, taken from the actual moment,” said Thurston, adding that Ginsburg argued these cases for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, which she cofounded in 1972. The audio is taken from the landmark Fronteiro v. Richardson case of 1973, the first time Ginsburg spoke before the Supreme Court. She was so nervous that she skipped lunch for fear she would vomit. She won. The court ruled that families of military women were entitled to the same benefits as those of their male counterparts.

The exhibit also includes video of Ginsburg reflecting on her important cases. “As much as possible we are dropping you into that moment in time,” Thurston said. “You hear her examining these important cases in her life. These sections of the exhibit are very concise. You see what the case was, the outcome and what was at stake and how it impacts people. ”

It is these engaging elements that make the exhibit “so magical” and important, achieving the organizers’ goal to “crystallize” Ginsburg’s important cases, said Thurston. Visitors can also sit at a facsimile of Ginsburg’s desk in the Supreme Court chambers. When the drawer opens, a video of her working is revealed. Several of her majority and dissent jabots (she coordinates fancy collars with decisions) are on loan and will be available for visitors to try on.

Though the exhibit is faithful to the book, it also delves more deeply into certain aspects of her career, such as the profound influence of the underrated and overlooked Pauli Murray, a lawyer, civil rights activist and founding member of the National Organization of Women (NOW). Murray originated the strategy of harnessing the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to include women as grounds for litigating sex discrimination cases. Murray’s work informed Ginsburg’s legal efforts with ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “We had the space so were able to do a deep dive into Murray’s story,” said Thurston. “She was an incredible woman.”

The show’s organizers say Ginsburg’s life and work is particularly relevant as the country continues battling over women’s reproductive autonomy, as well as voting and civil rights. Indeed, the 85-year-old justice has vowed publicly to stay on the bench as long as possible. “As long as I can do the job full steam, I will do it,” Ginsburg told supporters at a 2017 Equal Justice Works event. She told a CNN interviewer that Justice John Paul Stevens served until he was 90, and she thinks she can serve five more years. A two-time cancer survivor, she works out with a personal trainer twice a week, a regimen reportedly too rigorous for some of her younger associate justices. RBG fans joke about sending her bushels of kale and longevity tonics to keep her on the court as long as possible.

That’s good news to admirers like former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, whom The Hill quoted, saying: “She is an extraordinarily able, talented person. She remains so to this day…I have to say she is someone I have the hugest respect for. She is a hero in this country.”

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg runs Oct. 19 through March 10, 2019, at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.  Coauthors Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik will discuss the book and blog at 11 a.m. Oct. 21; attendees can sip coffee and sample pastry prepared from a recipe in Chef Supreme, a collection published by Supreme Court spouses in 2011 in memory of Marty Ginsburg, who did all the cooking in the Ginsburg household. Museum hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission costs $12, $9 for seniors, students and children over 12 and $7 for children 2 to 12; members and children under 2 are admitted free. Visit skirball.org.

Pasadena may emerge relatively unscathed by tax reform’s negative impact on California’s housing market.

tax law

President Donald Trump may have dented the growth of California property values when he signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law last December, experts say. The new law sharply reduces deductions of mortgage loan interest and property taxes, and also caps other local and state tax deductions — gutting many financial incentives for home ownership. The state’s more than 6.9 million homeowners are grappling with the new law’s impact on their tax bills — both immediately and over the long term. The big question is, what will the tax hikes do to the housing market and property values?
“The 2018 tax reform bill is going to have an adverse affect on housing sale prices and housing supply in California,” said Oscar Wei, a senior economist for California Association of Realtors (CAR). “It may not be a significant impact, but it will have an impact. Prices will continue to grow, but the tax reform bill lowers the price growth.”
Both home prices and appreciation are expected to take a hit from the new tax bill. Before it passed, California home prices were predicted to grow 4.2 percent by the end of 2018, Wei said. Factoring in the slashed deductions, CAR has lowered its growth rate prediction to 3.2 percent, he added. By contrast, he noted, single-family home prices in 2017 grew at 7.2 percent. The median projected price of a California house in 2018 is $555,600 — $5,400 less than the median predicted before the new law. The 2017 median house price was $538,500, said Wei. (These projections don’t include condos, townhouses and new construction.)
Nationally, home prices are predicted to be 4 percent lower than they would have been without the new tax legislation, with the impact peaking in summer of 2019, according to a report by Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody Analytics, a New York– based economic research company. “Any longer-run benefit from the lower marginal tax rates will be washed away by the fallout from the bigger budget deficits and government debt load,” Zandi, a critic of the tax reform plan, wrote. “Good tax reform is very difficult to do.” And the tax reform bill lawmakers passed did not get it done, he added.
Still, some real estate experts and economists expect house sales in Pasadena and other hot markets, where demand outstrips supply, to sell as briskly as before tax reform. “I have not seen any impact on the market yet,” said Shel Downing, a Keller Williams Realtor, who sells property all over Southern California. “I am seeing a slowing in outlying areas such as Upland in the last two or three months. But in the hubs like beach cities and Pasadena, I have not seen it.”
But tax reform may still impact demand for moderate-priced homes because some potential buyers may find that renting is preferable with the new increased standard deduction, said Wei. “The impact is small to this price segment, because the supply in this sector is extremely short,” he continued. “Since there is more demand than the supply can fulfill, the impact on sales is very minimal.” The most competitive housing sector is lower-to-middle-range homes for any given neighborhood, said Wei. The new law is not expected to impact that price sector because there are far more buyers than available houses.

The pricier, higher-tax communities, where homeowners have jumbo mortgages and big property tax bills, are going to take the biggest hit in slowed price growth under the law, said Zandi and Wei. “The impact on house prices is much greater for the higher-priced homes, especially in parts of the country where incomes are higher, there are a disproportionate number of itemizers and where homeowners have big mortgages and property tax bills,” Zandi noted in his report. “The Northeast Corridor, South Florida, big Midwestern cities and the West Coast will suffer the biggest price declines.”
Affluent housing markets throughout California — including San Marino, San Francisco, West Los Angeles, coastal communities and Pasadena, where the median home price is $930,000 — will likely absorb the brunt of the bill’s impact, but lack of housing in those markets may soften the blow. For New York City, Moody predicts a 9.5 percent drop in Manhattan home values, whereas in Brooklyn and Queens prices could fall by less than 2 percent. Fifteen of the 30 counties hit hardest in the U.S. are in New Jersey, where housing is projected to lose one-tenth of its value, according to the Moody report.
There is a possibility that the pace of home sales where demand sharply outstrips supply may slow down, according to experts. Home owners could hold onto their houses even longer than planned because of tax reform, diminishing supply even further. For those who still want to sell, there should be plenty of buyers. “I just met with clients from the Northwest who are buying a house and they are pretty savvy about buying and selling houses,” said agent Steve Clark of Clarkliving in Compass real estate’s Pasadena office. “They are not happy about [the tax reform bill] but it is not a deciding factor in buying a house. People who want to sell their house and move to southern Oregon will be okay. But if you are trying to make a lateral move, where are you going to go? The real issue is lack of inventory.”
Here’s a summary of the new law’s measures and how they could affect home values, sellers, buyers and the overall housing market in your community.

Slashing the Mortgage Interest Deduction Threshold
People who want to buy or improve a home between now and 2026 (when the tax measure expires and the law reverts to pre-2018 provisions — barring new legislation) can deduct the interest paid on mortgages of up to $750,000 — down from $1 million. The lower threshold impacts all homes bought after Dec. 14, 2017. But buyers who secured a mortgage on or before Dec. 14 can still deduct interest on up to $1 million in loan debt, the previous cap. The new tax law also killed the deduction for home equity loan interest, including that on existing home equity loans, as of Jan. 1. But the interest for 2017 home equity debt can still be claimed on 2017 taxes. In 2026, the law returns to previous provisions: Mortgage interest on up to $1.1 million in and home equity debt, alone or combined, will be eligible for deduction, once again, as long as no new legislation is passed.
The law is expected to put homes worth $750,000 or more out of reach for some home buyers. The mortgage interest deduction is a prime selling point played up by real estate agents and described as a government subsidy to home ownership at a cost to the government of about $100 billion a year, according to housing experts at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C.–based think tank. Reducing the tax incentive to buy a home is expected to rattle the market. When added to the sharp cuts in IRS deductions for property taxes and for other state and local taxes, the tax spike may cause some homeowners to gasp come tax time next year. The new law will also make selling homes worth more than a $750,000 potentially unattractive to many homeowners, who might hold onto their properties longer; the prospect of upgrading to another presumably even more expensive home without the traditional deductions may be too costly. All of this will tighten an already constricted housing supply.

State and Local Tax Deductions
All property taxes paid to state and local government agencies used to qualify as an itemized deduction, unless the homeowners paid the alternative minimum tax, which would preclude itemization. The old law also allowed deductions for state and local income taxes or sales tax. The 2018 law combines these state and local taxes (also called SALT) and caps the deductions at $10,000 for both individual and married couples.
Many homeowners in high-cost, high-tax states, such as California, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland, pay far more than $10,000 in property taxes (in addition to income taxes). Nationwide, more than 4 million Americans nationwide pay more than $10,000 in property taxes alone, according to ATTOM Data Solutions, an Irvine-based property data research firm. Los Angeles County is among the U.S. counties with the greatest number of home loans topping $750,000 (i.e., 9,197) for 2017, according to ATTOM. Overall, 9.2 percent of L.A. County homeowners pay more than $10,000 in property taxes each year, ATTOM says.
Though some homeowners rushed to pay their property taxes for 2018 early, assuming their property taxes could qualify for deduction from their 2017 taxes, the IRS stated that only 2018 taxes that had been assessed would be eligible. Homeowners who made the early payment and were not assessed before this year will not benefit from the deduction.

Standard Deduction
The new law doubles the standard deduction to $12,000 for people filing taxes as an individual, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. For some couples, the increase in the standard deduction will outweigh the benefit from itemizing deductions; that would apply to homeowners whose combined mortgage interest and SALT deductions do not add up to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly or $12,000 for individuals (although adding other deductions, such as medical expenses, may put them over the top).
But the standard deductions may offer more of a tax advantage to renters than to many buyers, said Wei. “When the law increased the single deduction to $12,000 to an individual and $24,000 for a married couple, for many renters, it created a disincentive to buy,” said Wei. “People may decide to rent for a little longer so they can take advantage of the tax savings, and they may not think they need to be a homeowner now. That affects sales a little. Even though there will be a disincentive, there will still be a good amount of home-buying activity because of the limited supply and high demand for houses, say, that are priced $500,000 and under.” Wei said renters in the market for lower-priced property — a house for $350,000, for example — would likely be better off continuing to rent and taking the standard deduction.
A report released by Zillow, a home search and data website, found that 14 percent of U.S. homes have high enough market value and tax bills that a new buyer borrowing 80 percent of the home price would benefit from itemizing. But under the previous tax law, 44 percent of homes were pricey enough (the prior cap was $1 million) to warrant buyers itemizing deductions.

Federal Reserve Interest Rate Adjustments and Higher Mortgage Interest Rates
The Federal Reserve raised interest rates in December, the third time in 2017, due to a growing economy and improved labor market. The Federal Reserve sets interest rates — the amount banks will be charged to borrow money from Federal Reserve banks — in an attempt to control inflation and stabilize the economy.
The new tax legislation will result in higher mortgage interest rates for two reasons, Zandi noted in an email. “The Federal Reserve will need to raise interest rates more aggressively given that the deficit-financed tax legislation will lead to a temporary pick-up in growth, and since the economy is already at full employment, increasing price pressures,” he noted. “Second, because the federal government must borrow more to finance the tax cuts, the [U.S.] Treasury will sell more bonds, pushing interest rates higher.”
The higher mortgage-interest rates, combined with the greatly reduced mortgage-interest and property-tax deductions, will increase the true cost of buying a new home, Zandi added. The increased costs will weaken housing demand and drag down price growth, especially in communities where those deductions are important incentives for home buyers.

Capital Gains Taxes
Greatly reducing the tax incentive to buy a home is sure to rattle the residential real estate market, but the industry breathed a collective sigh of relief when the final bill didn’t tamper with the exclusion for capital gains tax from the sale of a primary residence. Homeowners selling their primary residence may exclude up to $250,000 of the profit from taxation — $500,000 for married couples filing jointly — as long as they have lived in their primary residence for at least two of the past five years.
Earlier versions of the bill would have increased the requirement of living in the primary residence to five out of eight years. That draft of the bill would have had an even more negative impact on an already tight supply of houses for sale, said Clark. Homeowners who need to sell a house after a couple of years due to circumstance (including relocation for a job or relationship changes, such as divorce or marriage) would likely sit on their property longer, said Clark.
About 6,943,000 California homes are occupied by homeowners, according to 2016 National Association of Realtors (NAR) research, and most of those homeowners are just now coming to grips with the new law’s effect on their after-tax housing costs. Certainly, these are volatile political and economic times and the housing market is intertwined with the overall health of the economy. Whether predictions and projections for 2018 are realized is yet to be seen. For now, the consensus is desirable housing markets are likely to stay desirable and there will be people with enough money to buy in those markets, but the rate of price growth is expected to slow. In other words, California’s out-of-control housing prices might just reset to slightly more affordable numbers — by California standards, that is.

Last year’s massive Equifax data breach underlined how vulnerable personal information is to cyberthieves.

When The New York Times published “The Biggest Tech Failures and Successes of 2017,” July’s massive Equifax hack topped the list of “epic failures” that “exposed your personal data to hackers.”

That so-called epic failure was unprecedented — cyberthieves breached the credit reporting agency’s repository of sensitive personal information for more than 145 million Americans, about 44 percent of the population. Exacerbating the personal risk to those Americans, Equifax executives waited nearly six weeks to publicly disclose the giant hack. Days after the breach was “detected” by the Atlanta-based company, but well before it was publicly disclosed, three senior Equifax executives sold almost $1.8 million of the company’s stock. Equifax has insisted that the executives were unaware of the breach at the time of those stock sales, but the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating. The July incident was the third hacking disclosed by Equifax for the year.

Equifax acknowledged that hackers gained access to the data by exploiting vulnerabilities in a web application, stealing names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, medical bill data and about 209,000 credit card numbers. The breach also compromised 182,000 “dispute documents,” complaints that include sensitive personal identifying information. More than 240 lawsuits seeking class action status have been filed against Equifax, and all 50 state attorneys general have ordered the company to hand over information. The Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, SEC and regulators in Britain and Canada have also ordered Equifax to provide information.

If you are still unsure if your personal information was compromised in the Equifax data theft, go to the website equifaxsecurity2017.com where you can determine whether you were among the more than 145 million people whose information was lost.

Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that no person opts in to Equifax (or the only two other credit bureaus, Experian and TransUnion) and you cannot opt out. But anyone who has credit, meaning any adult American, was likely part of the breach, or vulnerable to identity theft. Credit reporting agencies calculate credit scores based on a consumer’s entire financial history to determine which consumers get loans and credit cards and at what interest rate. Credit bureaus scoop up consumers’ personal and financial information and sell it to banks and other financial institutions, even though no one gives them permission to do this. Oversight for credit monitoring agencies is lax at best, and they are scrutinized only when there is an epic transgression. Though the European Union is rolling out strict new privacy rules, called General Data Protection Regulation, in May, Republican lawmakers blocked all legislation proposed to better protect Americans’ privacy or to force credit bureau accountability for loss of people’s personal information.

In other words, you are on your own.

“Once the information is out there, it is out there,” said Clifford Neuman, director of USC’s Center for Computer System Security. “There is nothing you can do to keep it from further circulating. You can just make it harder for someone to use it and appropriate your identity.”

Following is a list of the best ways to protect yourself after your information has been breached, and Neuman said that everyone should act defensively, assuming that their personal and financial information has been breached.

Freeze Your Credit

Freeze your credit with all three credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion; that keeps any new creditors from seeing your personal and financial information in a credit report and issuing a card or loan. You need to freeze it at all three agencies because an identity thief could use your personal information to apply for credit at a lender that checks files with just one of the agencies, said Neuman. “Freezing your credit blocks people from using your information to open a credit card account,” said Neuman. A credit freeze may require a small fee, usually about $10 per bureau.

After absorbing consumer rage and a lashing from lawmakers, Equifax dropped the charge to freeze consumers’ credit following the breach. The company offered a free year of its TrustedID Premier credit protection and monitoring service to all U.S. consumers who signed up by the end of January; that includes a credit freeze, credit file monitoring for the three bureaus, the ability to lock and unlock your Equifax credit report, identity theft protection and insurance and Internet scanning for Social Security numbers. At the end of the free year, charges apply, as they already do for customers who sign up in February or later. That has angered many consumers, who’ve pointed out that Equifax’s negligence created the need for the TrustedID Premier services that it is now selling or marketing to the very consumers victimized by the breach. Naturally, some consumers refuse pay a nickel to Equifax. The company has since announced the Jan. 31 launch of its Lock & Alert service; it’s billed as free for life, but the website doesn’t provide details.

Note About Unfreezing Credit

A small fee may apply when you want to unfreeze your credit in order to apply for new loan or a credit card. (Appalling note: credit reporting bureaus have fought all state laws designed to make freezes available, along with all other regulatory strictures. Freezes make it more difficult for credit bureaus to profit from selling Americans’ personal data.)

One problem with a credit freeze is that when you want to apply for a new line of credit or a loan, you will need to unfreeze your credit and then refreeze it, which may involve fees. You will be given a PIN number to unfreeze your credit, so be mindful of the PIN number issued with your credit freeze by each bureau (for a total of three separate PINs) ; you will need to access the PIN later if you want to open a line of credit. Consumer advocates at Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a San Diego–based consumer advocacy nonprofit, are circulating a petition on Change.org (#FreeFromAll3) to make credit freezes free for all Americans with one free thaw and one free refreeze per year.

Monitoring Your Credit and Accounts

Free credit reports are available once a year from all three credit reporting agencies by making an online request at annualcreditreport.com, checkfreescore.com and freescoreonline,com (the latter two websites offer a free seven-day trial, followed by a monthly fee of nearly $40 — of course, they bank on you forgetting to cancel). You can also request a free credit report at all three credit bureaus separately. You can space out your requests to get one report every four months.

Credit Karma is a website and mobile app that pulls your credit scores from Equifax and TransUnion (but not Experian) anytime, as often as you want, for free; it also offers  free credit monitoring, alerting consumers when there is any change in their credit report or when a new account is added to their credit report. (Credit Karma does not sell subscriber information, instead relying on digital advertising income.) Neuman uses Credit Karma.

“Once you set up an account, you get an alert when there is any activity on your credit file,” which helps detect signs of identity theft more quickly, he said, adding that you won’t have to search your credit file because of the alerts.

Review credit card and bank statements weekly for red flags. Many credit card companies and banks automatically provide some identity fraud protection and alert customers when a suspicious charge occurs out of step with a customer’s spending habits. You can learn about these services by asking your financial institution or credit card companies. Setting alerts at your bank to notify you anytime a transaction is made over a set amount, such as $50, will immediately alert you to any charge of consequence.

Identity Protection Services

For people who want to streamline their monitoring of all three credit bureaus into one subscription service, and do not mind forking over a monthly fee for expanded services like identity restoration services, instant fraud alerts and more, there are options such as IDShield and LifeLock, to name a couple. (Do read consumer reviews before subscribing.) But even these services have limitations.

“Consumer protection services can be helpful, but they can’t stop identity theft,” warns Neal O’Farrell, executive director of The Identity Theft Council, a consumer advocacy nonprofit based in Walnut Creek, California. “They… just let you know that it might be happening and help you resolve it.” 

Identity protection services will monitor all three credit bureaus, send fraud alerts when your identity is being used, scan the Internet for potential threats to your information, restore a secure identity if stolen and resolve disputes and losses resulting from identity theft. Prices generally vary from $10 to $30 a month, depending on the level of protection. The Equifax breach has been a driver of panicked consumers signing up for identity protection services, and for the record, Equifax is one of LifeLock’s credit monitoring providers. Since the Equifax breach, LifeLock’s web traffic increased sixfold, with enrollments jumping 10 times the pre-hack rates, according to Bloomberg News. Equifax has not stated what it will do to prevent another breach.

Strengthen Your Passwords

“Good password habits are essential and especially not using the same passwords forever or for multiple accounts,” noted O’Farrell, also author of a new, free ebook,  Double Trouble — Protecting Your Identity in an Age of Cybercrime, a broad examination of consumer security, privacy and identity issues (GetDoubleTrouble.com). “Protecting your personal email password is critical. If hackers get that password, they can delve through years of your personal and professional life, stuff you can’t change.” And once personal information is lost, there is no getting it back. That’s why passwords and PINs require hypervigilance to outwit hackers’ attempts at cracking them.

“The information that has gone out with the Equifax breach has gone out and it is out there,” said Peter Reiher, a UCLA adjunct professor of computer science. “It is more likely that any info that you think is private is somewhere that it shouldn’t be. And somebody can get it if they want it. It is worse when you think about passwords and credit cards and anyone with a cellphone, or Alexa, where anything you say and do is being sent up to Google and, hopefully, they are not doing something bad with it.”

Chilling. This is why making your passwords more difficult to cyber-crack, and changing them regularly is a good strategy. Avoid a short password, or an easily hackable word or name (no family members), according to Money magazine (time.com/money/collection-post/2791981/how-do-i-create-a-secure-password/?xd=emailshare). For guidance on creating a hack-proof password and a more secure login, go to “How do I create a really strong password that I can actually remember?”

Lock Your Devices

Make sure all your devices (phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers) have password protection or fingerprint protection. Sign up for remote locking or wiping your phone clean, so that if it is stolen you can still remove any personal information lost to thieves.

Avoid Clicking Links

Do not click on potentially virus-contaminated links in emails, a common and easy way for hackers to access your computer and steal personal information. Instead of clicking on a link, Google the webpage in the email and click on that entry instead.

Hypervigilance: The New Normal

The Equifax breach is only one of many breaches. According to a Javelin Strategy and Research study, more than 15 million people were victims of identity theft in 2016, the highest number of victims in one year ever recorded, and 2 million more than the previous year. More than 800 data breaches were reported in the first six months of 2017, according to Identity Theft Resource Center. And almost 1.4 million data records were compromised worldwide in 2016, according to the cybersecurity firm Gemalto. This suggests that identity thieves are highly adaptable to the latest iteration of cybersecurity tactics. And that means consumers, whose data is presumably out in cyberspace, have to live defensively, take every measure to secure personal data against hackers and stay hypervigilant.  

Can gene tests determine the best, customized treatments for your skin-care regimen?

Mapping the human genome was completed in 2003, and researchers, drug makers and biotechnologists have been racing to develop ways to treat disease more precisely, based on individual patients’ genetic information. In the past few years, at-home DNA tests like 23andMe and Ancestry.com have become readily available, aimed at helping consumers discover all or part of their genome and its variations.

Enter the skin-care-industrial complex, a $121 billion global industry in 2016, projected to reach $11 billion in the U.S. alone by 2018, according to MarketResearch.com.

Walking into Tracey Cleantis’ home office in Pasadena’s San Rafael district, one encounters all the elements of a relaxing spa — soft lighting; the aroma of a scented candle in the air; plush, inviting couches and chairs. It’s an appropriately welcoming, stress-free place. As a licensed marriage and family ther, C If eer If there ever        More than a dozen skin-care-specific at-home DNA-test kits, ranging in price from $12.95 to $299, are available for purchase on the Internet, and some, in brick-and-mortar stores, like London’s Gene U skin-care clinic. The DNA tests for skin care 

More than a dozen skin-care-specific at-home DNA-test kits, ranging in price from $12.95 to $299, are available for purchase on the Internet, and some, in brick-and-mortar stores, like London’s Gene U skin-care clinic. The DNA tests for skin care are marketed with tantalizing claims that genetic sequencing technology can be applied to customized skincare concoctions that will moisturize, plump, dewrinkle and rejuvenate, making up for genetic failings writ large on our skin.

The manufacturers — with names like Orig3n (orig3n.com), SkinShift (skinshift.com) and Skinome (skinome.com) — send a kit that instructs you to swab your cheek for saliva, slip the swab into a tube, seal it and mail it back. Later, you receive advice pinpointing your skin’s shortcomings, based on your DNA results. The company also directs you to a regimen of specially formulated skin-care products that, the theory goes, will meet your skin’s greatest needs, determined by your genetic information. Think: rapidly degrading collagen, skin cancer susceptibility, lost elasticity, wrinkles, brown spots.

But dermatologists and geneticists say consumers should be cautious. The American Academy of Dermatologists does not have a position on the at-home DNA tests, and none of the dermatologists contacted for this story use them or know of any colleagues who do. The industry holds promise, but is still in the first stages of development. “This is a very infantile area and you have to treat this with a great deal of skepticism, especially since the company providing the testing [also] provides the necessary materials needed to fix it,” said Dr. Whitney A. High, associate professor of dermatology and pathology at University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver and director of the school’s dermatology clinic. “I have been a clinical director here for 20 years and I don’t know anyone doing it.”

Though DNA tests are typically not employed by dermatologists, High said that perhaps in 30 years today’s skin-DNA test kits, or some version of them, will seem like a step in the right direction, and using DNA information to create personalized skin care will be common. After all, no one’s skin is exactly the same as anyone else’s. Different people have different skin structures, including various matrix matelloproteinases (MMPs), the group of enzymes responsible for most extracellular matrix proteins during growth and normal tissue turnover, High said. Among the many types of genetic variants within human DNA are the so-called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). There are roughly 10 million SNPs in the human genome; some SNPs predict disease risk and others bear a regulatory effect on how a gene functions. A company called SkinShift, based in Austin, Texas, examines 16 SNPs that SkinShift claims are linked to collagen formation, sun protection, glycation protection (against harmful sugar-protein bonding), antioxidant protection and inflammation control. Based on the results, the company claims, SkinShift can tell you what specific ingredients and products to use. But High indicated that such claims may be premature. “We really don’t know enough to fully employ what we know,” he said.

GeneU (geneu.com), a London-based company founded by Christofer Toumazou, an electrical engineer, does “skin genetic tests” in its store, looking for genetic variations in how fast collagen degrades in an individual’s skin and for genes involved in the skin’s antioxidant protection. DNA-test results and answers to a brief lifestyle questionnaire are run through an algorithm, after which two concoctions are recommended. SkinShift, founded by an internist and based in Austin, also uses a fixed number of serums; based on individual DNA tests, the company suggests a combination of purchasable serums and nutritional supplements.  In other words, DNA results are not taken into the lab, where a concoction is made to order.

“It is not like you spit into a tube and they make a skin-care product based on your DNA or genetic results…truly personalized skin care,” said Dr. Ava Shamban, a dermatologist in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. “Here is the hundred-billion-dollar question: What is the actual expression of genes in your skin? Certain genes turn on and off based on the environment. There are people who are prone to rosacea, but they don’t develop it in certain exposures, and do in other exposures. So a lot depends on environment and ultraviolet light.”

Exposure to ultraviolet light ages skin and degrades collagen, the primary protein responsible for maintaining elasticity and skin’s structural support, according to a 2015 article on molecular health in the journal Nature. Collagen-producing skin cells called “dermal fibroblasts” become less productive over time, resulting in wrinkles, sagging and irregular pigmentation. Tretinoin, the prescription vitamin-A-derived cream marketed as Retin-A, is the first substance recognized by dermatologists as an effective wrinkle treatment. It was co-invented by Dr. Albert Kligman, who was also the first dermatologist to show that ultraviolet light caused skin to wrinkle. It was approved to treat acne in 1971, but off-label use proved to diminish wrinkles, so dermatologists began prescribing it for that purpose. Thus began the research field on the reversal of skin aging. Tretinoin counters some destructive effects of ultraviolet light by stimulating procollagen (collagen’s precursor) and supporting the skin’s structure, according to the Nature article. But how this happens is not understood and whether it actually reverses the degradation that happens with skin aging is not known.

“What is happening appears to some to be a premature translation of new technologies into the marketplace, and it is confusing to people,” said Dr. Robert C. Green, professor of medicine (genetics) at Harvard University Medical School and director of Genome2People Research Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “There is a lot of good science behind linking genetics to collagen, skin color, eye color and predisposition to sun damage, but companies’ claims that by measuring this genetic marker, you can do something about it with this product” are unsubstantiated.

“To my knowledge, there is no pharmocogenetic [regarding gene variations that affect one’s response to drugs] or dermatologic application that can be used to personalize skin care,” said Green. “There are clearly skin-related medical conditions and there are a lot of genetic diseases that affect the skin in horrible ways, and there is an opportunity to look at those diseases using genetic information. But there are no genetic biomarkers that would influence skin and beauty care. And the kinds of claims being made of individual improvement based on a product that is somehow supported by DNA information is completely unsupported by science.”

Green added that genetic markers aren’t necessarily expressed; that is, having the genetic marker for a physical trait, or a disease, does not necessarily mean a person will develop it. Genetic biomarkers only increase the probability that a person will develop a trait, such as freckles. A gene variation can mean you have a lower risk for a disease such as melanoma, for example, but estimating risk based on genetic variants is likely to confuse consumers, cautions Green. But most consumers understand that wearing sunscreen is an important tool for protecting skin from ultraviolet light -— no DNA test required. Though the idea of individualized skin care routines gleaned from at-home DNA testing is exciting, the validity of using genetic testing this way is questionable. “It should make people nervous that these ‘skin DNA tests’ are not offered by skin-care companies on every corner,” High said “It has not permeated the industry to the degree that medical associations have taken a position on it, which is another reason for caution.” 

The International Rescue Committee’s Martin Zogg talks about resettling refugees, under siege by the Trump administration, here and around the world.

The world is witness to unparalleled levels of human suffering, with the numbers of displaced people exceeding even the devastation of World War II, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.  More than 65 million people, or 24 per minute, are displaced by conflict and persecution. For refugees who can flee, resettlement in countries offering safe haven and a new start saves lives. Many die trying to escape war, poverty, famine, drought and oppression. The German newspaper Der Tagesspiegal recently published the names of 33,293 refugees who drowned en route to Europe from 1993 to 2017. Last year proved the deadliest on record — 5,000 migrants died or disappeared while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

But here in the U.S, the Trump administration has stopped welcoming refugees, drastically cutting the overall number allowed in and banning arrivals from certain Muslim-majority countries who lack ties to the U.S., while battling a series of court rulings blocking the country’s most restrictive travel ban, primarily impacting Muslims.

President Trump slashed the total number of refugees allowed into the U.S. for the year that started Oct. 1, imposing a limit of 45,000 — down from 110,000 — the lowest number in more than three decades, according to the Pew Research Center. Though the move resumed the refugee admission process (Trump had suspended it by executive order soon after assuming office in January), a partial ban on refugees from six majority-Muslim countries is now in effect and a complete ban could still be enacted, reducing refugee numbers even more, depending on future court rulings. The partial ban bars arrivals from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen who lack a “bona fide” relationship to family, a company or a university in the U.S. Family ties are defined as “grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins.” The latest ban also bars entry by certain Venezuelan government officials and most North Koreans. Administration officials also announced that 11 unidentified countries will be subject to a 90-day review for possible threats. The 11 impacted countries remained unnamed at press time.

Advocates for refugees strongly object to the administration’s new order reducing the number admitted to the U.S. and the implementation of the partial ban. They point to the exhaustive vetting process already in place for refugee applicants, the strictest security scrutiny applied to any traveler to this country. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, says that over the past 40 years, only 20 refugees out of 3.25 million resettled in the U.S. have been convicted of committing terrorist acts or attempting to do so. Just three Americans have been killed by refugees — all three by Cuban refugees in the 1970s. Americans have a 1 in 3.64 billion chance of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack per year, according to the Cato Institute’s risk analysis. But since the U.S. established the resettlement program with the Refugee Act of 1980, there has not been a single lethal terrorist attack by a refugee among the hundreds of thousands resettled in the U.S., says Martin Zogg, executive director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC)’s Los Angeles office based in Glendale.

Zogg has been working with persecuted asylum seekers since the early 1990s.  IRC is a highly regarded global aid, relief and development nongovernmental organization rated 4 out of 4 by Charity Navigator and A+ by Charity Watch. Currently led by David Miliband, a former British Foreign Secretary, IRC has been responding to the world’s worst humanitarian crises since World War II, helping people flee devastation, oppression, war and religious persecution. The organization was founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein, himself a German refugee, who recruited 50 additional American intellectuals including philosopher John Dewey, writer John Dos Passos and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to join him in helping refugees. IRC’s humanitarian relief operations are now in more than 40 war-torn countries and its refugee resettlement and assistance programs are in 28 American cities.

Here in Los Angeles, about 1,459 refugees were initially resettled in 2016-17 compared to 2,250 for 2014-15, according to the California Department of Social Services (CDSS). From 2000 through 2016, the agency says, 34,278 refugees had been initially resettled in L.A. County through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. (There is no way to determine how many refugees who come to L.A. still reside in the county.) Arroyo Monthly talks with Zogg about IRC’s Los Angeles refugee assistance effort:

How long have you been working with the International Rescue

Committee and specifically, IRC’s L.A. office?

I started with IRC in 1992 as a country director in its international humanitarian relief program in Bosnia as the war there began, then worked in international programs for several years. I’ve been the executive director of IRC’s office in Los Angeles for nearly six years.

Tell us about the work the International Rescue Committee does with refugees in Los Angeles.

IRC is one of just nine agencies authorized by the State Department to resettle refugees in the U.S. In Los Angeles, it’s the largest of those agencies, resettling hundreds of refugees each year. For the past 10 or so years, about 2,500 refugees have resettled here every year.

How long has IRC been working with refugees in Los Angeles?

IRC opened its office Los Angeles in 1975, even before the U.S. established its formal resettlement program [with the Refugee Act of 1980].  The first refugees IRC resettled here were from Southeast Asia following the end of the war in Vietnam.

Where do the refugees come from?

The refugee community in Los Angeles is as diverse as any in the country, with Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian and Hmong; Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian; and Iranian, Salvadoran, Honduran, Iraqi and Afghani, among many nationalities. All have fled persecution, oppression, deprivation and violence, and the overwhelming majority are women, children and the elderly. As a rule, it is about 80 percent or more women, children and elderly.

What countries are refugees currently fleeing and what circumstances are driving them to leave their countries of origin?

Since 2004 the primary population of refugees resettled in the Los Angeles region is from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Syria, Honduras and Burma, with some very small number of additional refugees from Eritrea, Russia, Somalia, Cambodia and North Korea.

Why are they arriving in Los Angeles?

Iranian refugees enduring religious persecution have the opportunity to resettle here through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Most Iranian refugees are Armenian, and the large Armenian community in Southern California is supportive and welcoming.

All refugees meet the definition in the 1951 U.N. Convention: someone who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” In some unique cases, the State Department will allow persons who’ve otherwise met the definition but remain in their country of nationality. All of the refugees resettled in Los Angeles through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, whether from Iran or another country, meet the convention’s definition.

In addition to resettling refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan, we resettle Special Immigrant Visa holders from those countries, which are granted through a long process similar to the refugee-vetting process to Iraq and Afghanistan nationals who have been employed by the U.S. government and have experienced or are experiencing ongoing serious threat as a consequence of that employment. 

How does the IRC help refugees and immigrants in Los Angeles?

IRC supports newly arrived refugees by providing immediate aid, including food, housing and medical attention. It also serves as a free one-stop center for refugees’ needs during their pivotal first months in the U.S. IRC staff members and volunteers help refugees learn about American customs, secure jobs, learn English and eventually become citizens. In short, IRC provides most of the basic things refugees need to restart their lives here and helps them overcome cultural barriers so that their adjustment is as easy as possible. 

Does Los Angeles have something specific to offer refugees that other cities do not?

A long history of immigration, deep respect for diversity and enormous community support.

Are there challenges to refugee resettlement particular to Los Angeles?

Many. The primary challenges are the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing, but there is also a shortage of affordable ESL classes and limited public transportation. What is striking is that refugees are undeterred in the face of these challenges and establish strong foundations in their new homes despite them.

With lack of affordable housing ranking as one of L.A.’s most pressing problems, how hard is it to house refugees?

Housing is one of the greatest challenges for resettlement agencies. Fortunately, Los Angeles is a remarkably welcoming community to refugees and IRC has developed wonderful relationships with landlords and property owners across Southern California who know the reliability of refugees as tenants and support refugee resettlement.

What do refugees contribute to Los Angeles?

Aside from obviously enriching the cultural diversity of our region, refugees actually start businesses, are employed and pay taxes at rates higher than those for native-born Americans. Over just the past decade, refugees in the U.S. have contributed $63 billion more than they cost, according to a report commissioned by President Trump’s own administration. 

What is the impact of President Trump’s indefinite travel ban on refugees?

The ban prevented refugees — the most vulnerable people in the world — from finding safety and showed a stunning cruelty toward those fleeing our common enemies, enemies who intend to paint the U.S. as indifferent to refugees’ suffering.

Can you describe the vetting process?

The hardest way to come to the U.S. is as a refugee. They are vetted more intensively than any other group seeking to enter the country. All refugees must first be registered by the United Nations Refugee Agency, which identifies those most vulnerable. The U.S. then hand-selects every person who is admitted. Security screenings are intense and led by U.S. government authorities, including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and multiple security agencies.  The process typically takes up to 36 months and is followed by further security checks after refugees arrive in the U.S.

Why do you think the general public appears to misunderstand the depth and complexity of the vetting process refugees go through before gaining admission to the U.S.?

Perhaps it’s simply the fear of the unknown, because once one knows the exacting details of the process, no amount of misinformation about it would be credible.

Why does a perception that refugees are more likely to commit acts of terrorism persist in some sectors of the U.S.?  What percentage of refugees commit such crimes?

Zero percentage of refugees commit such crimes. Since the U.S. established the resettlement program with the Refugee Act of 1980, there has not been a single case of an act of terrorism among the hundreds of thousands of refugees resettled in the U.S. According to the Cato Institute, the chance of being killed by a refugee is 1 in 3.6 billion. And according to the New American Economy research, there is no link between resettled refugees in the U.S. and crime rates. Even more telling is that over the past 10 years, in cities that received the most refugees relative to their size, crime rates have declined after refugees moved in, and nine of 10 cities on the list had property and violent crime levels decline precipitously.

Does the U.S. Diversity Visa program impact refugees?

The State Department program known as the Diversity Visa Lottery is utterly separate from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and has no effect on refugees.

How can people help refugees and immigrants in Los Angeles?

Everyone can help refugees by welcoming them as new and valuable members of American society. They can also help by volunteering at a local resettlement agency, or by donating money, furniture and household items, or by urging elected officials to support refugee resettlement, or by employing or encouraging local businesses to employ refugees. 

Is there anything IRC urges concerned citizens to do to urge the administration and elected officials to support a rational refugee admission policy in the U.S.?

President Trump and his administration have actively sought to prohibit refugees from reuniting with their families. They have restricted resettlement agencies from fulfilling promises to refugees who have already been approved to come to the U.S. and left thousands of vulnerable families to question their futures. This cruel cessation of resettlement has to stop. Every day, refugees who have completed security screening continue to wait for their travel to be approved and their lives to be saved. Any further delay would be negligent and contrary to our American values as an immigrant nation.

Congress needs to know that Americans believe in refugee resettlement and that we won’t stand for further unnecessary delays in their arrival. The House Judiciary Committee has oversight of refugee admissions and needs to know Americans value refugee resettlement. Every Representative needs to know it. Call Congress today at (855) 472-8930 and say: “I am a constituent living in Southern California. I am extremely disappointed in the president’s decision to drastically reduce and delay refugee arrivals to the U.S. I am calling to urge you to tell President Trump to start letting refugees in and to stop delaying the process.”

Everyone should also share messages of solidarity on social media. Tweet “I #StandWithRefugees & @theIRC. Join me. Call (855) 472-8930 & tell @HouseJudiciary to demand refugee admissions now!”  

To make a donation, visit help.rescue.org. Visit gifts.rescue.org for holiday gifts in your recipient’s name, such as a year of school for $58, four temporary shelters for $54 or a baby goat for $90. Ninety-two cents of each dollar donated go directly to help refugees and others in need.

Caltech is part of a team developing a “bionic suit” that will enable paraplegics to walk and feel movement by harnessing their brain waves

Loss of the ability to walk is one of the most devastating consequences of spinal cord injuries, destroying paraplegics’ independence and sense of agency. But all of that is about to change as fantasy becomes fact.
Scientists and physicians from three Southern California universities recently received an $8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to collaboratively develop a mind-controlled “bionic suit,” similar in concept to Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, enabling paralyzed people to walk and feel the movement.
Pasadena-based Caltech, USC’s Keck School of Medicine and UC Irvine share the five-year award, an NSF Cyber-Physical Systems Frontier grant, to fund development of an implantable brain-machine interface device designed to restore ability to walk and sensation in the lower extremities. The brain-machine device will transmit commands to a prosthetic exoskeleton for walking, enabling a paralyzed patient to walk by intention and loop sensory information back to the brain, thereby restoring lower extremity sensation information — or the feeling of walking — to the brain.
Caltech neuroscientist Richard Andersen, director of the new Caltech Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Brain-Machine Interface Center (named for its Singapore-based benefactors), will lead the Caltech team in developing the brain-machine interface for controlling prosthetic legs. Andersen and colleagues first reported successfully implanting a device in the brain of a paralyzed man in 2015, which enabled the
patient to move a robotic arm with his mind. Andersen has devoted years of research to encoding the region of the brain that governs movement, including the posterior parietal cortex, a cognitive area that encodes the intention to move. He was unavailable for an interview, but he explained his team’s role in the revolutionary and innovative collaboration in a prepared statement about the NSF award:
“People with spinal cord injuries do not have sensation in their legs and must look at their feet when using manually controlled prosthetic legs since they do not receive normal sensory feedback,” said Andersen. “The brain-machine interface we are working on will be bidirectional: it allows neurons to control an exoskeleton and also gives neurons the feedback of sensation in the region of the brain’s cortex where the leg is represented. The stimulation-based sensory feedback is the main component of our lab’s involvement in the project.”
The first phase will involve decoding the brain signals that command the legs to walk, an effort that will be overseen by the principal investigator for the USC team, Dr. Charles Lui, professor of clinical neurological surgery and director of the USC Neurorestoration Center. To gather brain recordings of walking, Lui said, the study will recruit epilepsy patients who have undergone a presurgery workup that involves having electrodes implanted in their brain so doctors can locate where in the brain the seizures originate. Patients will be asked to walk for five minutes, Lui said, during which time their brain signals for walking will be recorded and collected for the project.
“This is a great opportunity to use some of these recordings of the brains to help more people,” Lui said in an interview. “It has to be decoded and the electronics have to be refined in a way so that paralyzed people are not walking around with a heavy cumbersome exoskeleton suit. This particular project, this robot exoskeleton, this whole concept is something teams of people have been working on for years.”
The decoded brain signals gathered from epileptic patients will be used to control a wearable robotic exoskeleton designed by the UCI team, led by principal investigator Payam Heydari, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, Zoran Nenadic, professor of biomedical engineering and Dr. An Do, assistant professor of neurology at the UCI School of Medicine. Heydari, an expert in analog circuit design, will be creating an implantable system that will enable people with spinal cord injuries to walk and regain the sensation of feeling in their legs by bypassing the damaged spinal cord.
“I am designing a revolutionary integrative circuit in nanoscale for brain-signal acquisition that can be implanted into the brain and that can send that signal from the brain to the prosthesis,” said Heydari, who added that healthcare for people with spinal cord injuries costs the U.S. $50 billion a year. “The size is important, obviously, but most important is being able to operate in the harsh environment of the brain where you have all these biochemical signals.”
Do, an expert in neurorehabilitation, will work on understanding how the brain governs walking and not walking. “My role is to understand — in those people who are paralyzed whose brain turns off during a period of time — if we can turn that brain back on with biofeedback,” said Do, who added that he will be conducting clinical testing after the brain device is implanted in paralyzed patients.
A proof-of-concept study conducted by the UCI team in 2015 helped the three universities win the $8 million award. The UCI team tested an electroencephalogram-based system on a man who had been paralyzed for seven years and whose brain was able to send messages directly to his legs, commanding them to walk. But the system was cumbersome, with the EEG-based system attached to his head via a cap; the man was suspended five centimeters from the ground to demonstrate walking motion without needing to bear weight.
“The idea is to think walk, and then the robotic exoskeleton does it,” said Lui, adding that the team expects to have a prototype in five years. “It is a really daunting engineering challenge to do this. The collaboration that exists between all of us had been ongoing for years, the walking project between USC and UCI and the artificial sensation with Caltech with the bidirectional brain-computer interface” that not only allows neurons to control the exoskeleton but also generates a signal of sensation in the brain’s cortex, which governs voluntary movement.
Until now, people living with paralysis have been able to relive walking and feeling their limbs only in vivid dreams. The creation of a neurally integrated bionic exoskeleton would be a life-changing assist for the 250,000 Americans currently living with spinal cord injuries. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes reports that 12,000 people suffer these injuries yearly, and 80 percent of those stricken are men.
“This is an exciting emerging concept of neurorestorative medicine and this robot exoskeleton is an entirely new approach,” said Lui. “This exoskeleton is analogous to giving a human wings to fly.”

Boomeritis

Many baby boomers, among the first generation to be bitten by the exercise bug, are now paying the piper in pain.

Susan J. Long lives life in forward motion.

The Pasadena resident played competitive tennis in high school and college, and early in her marriage to Tom Long, both ran. When tennis beat up their joints too much, the couple started cycling in 2006, eventually riding up to 60 miles a day, and touring the U.S. and Europe. But by then, Long’s athleticism had taken its toll.

Enter pain. Long, now 68, first noticed it in her left knee in 2011.  Arthritis. She tried injections, topical ointments, physical therapy and over-the-counter NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for two years. Eventually, the pain exceeded her tolerance threshold. It would take a full two minutes for the wincing and hurt to subside when she stood up from sitting. Unable to cycle, Susan handed her bike to Tom, exasperated. “I am done,” she said.

In October 2013, she had complete knee replacement surgery. That was on top of another procedure she’d had 10 months earlier — a complete reverse reconstruction of her shoulder, replacing both the ball and socket with metal parts. The cause was a fall she’d sustained when she reacted too slowly to cyclists stopping suddenly in front of her. Her surgeon said existing osteoporosis had caused her shoulder to shatter so severely.

“So here I am, years later, cycling,” said Long, speaking by phone from New Zealand, where her cycling group was touring the island, pedaling up 2,000-foot-high hills and up to 50 miles a day. “Today we went deep into a cave where the glowworms are and then rafted down the river. I was thinking all along that I would never have been able to do any part of that tour if I hadn’t gotten a new knee.”

Aging baby boomers — the 76.4 million Americans born from 1946 to 1964 — are finding that habitually active lives have a flipside: painful arthritis and worn-out, achy joints. With many boomers ignoring their age as they engage in physical activities, some are outliving their joints.  Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, coined the term “boomeritis” to describe arthritis, tendonitis and bursitis afflicting aggressively physical boomers.

Indeed, arthritis is the leading cause of pain and disability globally, according to the Mayo Clinic. Recent studies suggest that by 2030, when the last of the baby boomers turns 65, the number of people 65 and older with arthritis and chronic joint symptoms will double. From 2010 to 2012, an estimated 52.5 million U.S. adults (22.7 percent) were diagnosed with arthritis (joint inflammation) and osteoarthritis (degenerative cartilage disease of the joints), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Boomers are faring worse than their parents for a couple of reasons: One, they are in the first generation to make vigorous exercise an important part of their lives, and any high-impact movements make their joints especially susceptible to arthritis. And previous injuries, such as torn ligaments, fractures or sprains, in their younger years can also lead to arthritis.

But fitness obsession isn’t the only cause of boomers’ joint ailments. Paradoxically, another problem is their weight: boomers have higher rates of obesity and arthritis than their parents, “the silent generation” (born 1925–42), and they were heavier at a younger age than their predecessors, a 2005 American Journal of Public Health study found. The study suggests that obesity contributes to more cases of arthritis in boomers, and the overweight 65-and-older set are at greater risk for arthritis. Some 23 percent of overweight older adults and 31 percent of the obese ones were diagnosed with arthritis, according to the study.

“Baby boomers are one of the biggest generations in total numbers, and they are staying physically active while they age, and they expect to stay active while they age,” said Dr. Thomas Muzzonigro, a Pennsylvania orthopedic surgeon who chairs the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons’ communications committee. “Older generations gave up physical activity as they aged. I never saw my grandparents do any active sports. They were old at 50.”

At 50, Dr. Muzzonigro is nothing of the sort, but the former rugby player is also an example of the boomeritis epidemic. He still works out and plays football and basketball, but his arthritic back prompted him to add yoga with his daughter. Though many boomers are still active and fit, he says that he has conversations with people all day “where I say, ‘You know you have two bad knees, but I cannot do surgery safely unless you lose weight.’ Then they say, ‘How can I lose weight when I have two bad knees?’”

For Brandon Flowers, 53, fitness is not just a lifestyle but also a calling. As owner of Dynamix Strength Advantage in Eagle Rock for the past 24 years, he lives what he preaches. Flowers uses weights, rubber-tubing resistance training, balance boards, stability balls and discs in his training sessions. He offers them twice weekly for employees at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and for cancer survivors at The Wellness Community in Pasadena. But after a life of playing football, running and working out, Flowers’ knee was shot despite employing all his own strengthening tactics. “I had severe tri-compartmental degenerative arthritis,” he said, adding that he was three weeks post-surgery and rehabbing with ice and elevation. “The technical term for what the MRI showed was the tibia and thigh bone were kissing each other.”

A self-described “big guy,” Flowers had knee surgery in high school to repair torn ligaments. His knee became arthritic and by the time he was 50, an orthopedic doctor said he would need a new joint. Three weeks into recovery, he is stir crazy but energized by the prospect of returning to an active life, pain-free. “The knee got to a point where I just could not keep going,” he said. “I was living with ice packs and anti-inflammatory [drugs] and physical therapy.”

Around 7 million Americans are living with a hip or knee replacement and, in most cases, are mobile, according to the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery 2015 study. About 1 million replacement surgeries are done annually. By 2030, when the youngest boomers turn 65 and the oldest boomers are 84, annual demand for total hip replacement is estimated to almost triple, from 209,000 to 572,000. Total knee replacement is estimated to increase more than seven times over the same period, from 450,000 to 3.48 million a year.

Recovery from knee or hip replacement surgery is arduous, but Flowers is sure he will get back to his “normal” active self. The doctor said he could expect to be 80 percent back to normal in 10 to 12 weeks. As for Long, she said that with each surgery (she also broke her neck in a car accident), she feared she would never reclaim her former life as an active and vibrant woman. “Much to my surprise, in each case, I did recover,” she said. “With my broken shoulder I thought I would never be able to lift even a coffee cup and with my knee, I thought I would never be able to push one pedal stroke on a bike. The body is an amazing thing. It does heal, along with the heart and soul.”

Julena Lind, 69, a retired university administrator, is six months into her recovery from a hip replacement surgery. A life of running, jumping, skiing, skating, high-impact aerobics and squatting, plus genetics (her mother had arthritis and hip replacements) had resulted in arthritic hip pain which first appeared in occasional twinges at age 60. But the pain did not impinge on her ability to exercise as intensely as she liked for some time. It would be eight years later, when the pain grew so severe that Lind stopped high-impact workouts but continued doing low-impact training sessions.

“There was no way I could run, do jumping jacks or squats anymore,” said Lind, who sat gingerly, nursing a cup of Earl Grey tea, at Starbucks. “My ortho said you need a hip placement, you have no more cartilage. It is bone on bone.” Whippet-thin and a longtime exercise addict, Lind says she decided at that appointment not to have the surgery yet. She wanted to wait until it ‘‘hurt a lot.’’

That didn’t take long. “Ten months later, it hurt a lot,” said the Santa Monica resident, and her doctor again recommended surgery. “I was able to accept it,” she said. “The ortho said you are going to do fine. You are fit.” On the third day post-surgery, Lind walked for 2½ hours along the Venice Boardwalk.  On the fifth day, she returned to the gym doing three to four low-impact aerobic classes a week. But, no more jumping or low squats. Ever.

Some boomers try musculoskeletal strengthening and fitness training rather than surgery. One of them is Patti Sheaff, 61, who has been surfing for 48 years. She started skydiving at 28 and snowboarding in her early 40s, which took her all over the U.S. and Canada. With all that snowboarding, her sacrum (lower spine) took a thorough beating, fracturing several times. After a bad fall in 2010, the Santa Monica adventurer had to hang up her snowboarding boots. A bone density test revealed she had arthritis, scoliosis and osteoarthritis. Yearly bone density tests, she says, show continuing bone loss.

To abate it, Line drinks bone broth and takes supplements with bisphosphonates, calcium and magnesium. For two years, she stopped taking any pain medication and has been doing isometric poses combined with disciplined breathing exercises to strengthen her body’s musculoskeletal structure. She has been able to surf, paddleboard and body surf pain-free. “The idea [of isometric exercises] is for the muscular structure to absorb the impact of pounding rather than your skeleton,” she said, adding that she is studying a strengthening method to reduce pain, touted by buff actor Chris Hemsworth, called Foundation Training; it was created by a North Carolina–based chiropractor named Eric Goodman (foundationtraining.com).

Joint replacement surgery is major surgery and the remedy of last resort. Rehabilitation and physical therapy is typically prescribed for three months or more. It can be challenging and painful. But many boomers who opt for surgery to stay active say it is worth it. Today’s state-of-the-art materials and methods are far better than even what was available in 2000, Muzzinigro said. Replacements simply last longer, so that if a person in his/her 50s or 60s undergoes joint replacement today, it will likely last a lifetime.

Even though boomers typically pursue a physically active life, most understand that at some point, they may have to alter their attack-it attitude. As for the Longs, who have found their post-tennis passion in travel cycling with a tight group of friends, they know at some point they may need an assist. “Electric bikes are coming into fashion,” said Susan Long, referring to what is known as “pedal-assist electric bikes.”  “And we often say now that when we get into our 80s, perhaps we’ll want to get that extra boost!