Young MKs gain insights in the US for their work in the Knesset

Itzik ShmulyFour young MKs flew to the US last week to learn about the American system and Jewish community, and plan to return in a week with insights to enrich their work in the Knesset.

MKs Amir Ohana (Likud), Sharren Haskel (Likud),Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu) and Itzik Shmuly (Zionist Union) were in the US – first in Washington, then New York, and on Monday will travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, before returning to Washington. The trip is sponsored by the International Visitor Leadership Program, a project of the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The lawmakers, freshmen except for Shmuly who is serving his second term, and all below age 40, learned about the US government system from academics and consultants, and are expected to meet members of Congress. They also met with leaders of AIPAC, J Street, the American Jewish Committee and the Arab-American Institute.

Shmuly spoke to The Jerusalem Post from New York about the trip that he said he found fascinating and eye-opening.

The Zionist Union MK said two topics were frequently raised: The two-state solution and Jewish religious pluralism.

“In every meeting, with almost everyone we met, [the two-state solution] came up,” he recounted.

“The good thing is that in America, it doesn’t matter who the president will be, the country is totally committed to the idea of two states… even though on the Israeli side there are opinions for and against it.”

Shmuly said that it is clear that the US is focused on other things with a presidential election coming up later this year, but that the two-state solution is the only longterm strategy as far as Americans are concerned.

As for tensions between the ultra-Orthodox and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in Israel, Shmuly said: “We met with representatives from all different backgrounds in the Jewish community, and grew to understand how this [issue] is a central element of Israel’s relations with the Jewish community in America. Not everyone had the same response to the issue, but it came up constantly.”

Many of the Jewish Americans he met were “hurt and insulted” as a result of this conflict, a feeling that was “justified,” Shmuly said.

“It can’t be that you’re Jewish enough to make aliya and serve in the army, or Jewish enough to support Israel from afar, because the advocacy and lobbying work is a great contribution to our security, but not Jewish enough to be recognized by the State of Israel as such,” he argued. “We talked to people here who have a record of decades of activism for Israel and Jewish communities [in the US], and understood how important the topic is to them.”

Shmuly said that while being an MK is “never boring” because of security issues and his commitment to lowering the cost of living, he plans to add religious pluralism to his priorities.

“We need to push more on these topics and understand the strategic and moral importance of our connection with the Jewish community in America and around the world,” he said.

Last week, the Social Guard, a Knesset watchdog NGO, ranked Shmuly as the MK who deals the most with social issues.

Against that background and focus, he finds the current US election campaign fascinating – especially Sen. Bernie Sanders’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination – though he did clarify that as an Israeli lawmaker he is not endorsing anyone.

America is lacking in “things that look obvious” to Israelis, Shmuly said.

“It’s true that there are things that need to be fixed in the Israeli economy… but there are things that we take for granted, like public healthcare, basic welfare services – even if people are trying to reduce them,” he stated. “I respect that individualism is very important to Americans, but I have a lot of questions. What makes [Americans] live as a community? Doesn’t there need to be a level of solidarity in every society? These things are fascinating to learn about.”

According to Shmuly, Sanders’s appeal comes from such questions, from “middle-to-lower class people, young people and people from the weaker sectors who cannot fulfill the American dream as well as they should. They are creating the momentum toward Sanders.”

The Zionist Union MK did criticize Sanders’s exaggeration last week of the death toll (initially, he said 10,000) in Gaza during 2014’s Operation Cast Lead, and noted that it come up in major American news sources.

“The minute a candidate throws a number like that in the air without checking it is definitely disturbing,” he said. “I hope this was just a mistake of numbers and that there isn’t something else behind it. If someone is coming from a point of view of wanting to solve a complex problem, he can’t just throw abstract ideas in the air. It needs to be taken seriously with in-depth understanding.”


First LSD brain imaging study offers insights into consciousness

Multicoloured brain scansModern imaging methods are revealing LSD’s influence on the brain

Carhart-Harris et al.

Almost three-quarters of a century after chemist Albert Hofmann accidentally ingested LSD and experienced its mind-expanding effects, brain imaging has given researchers their first glimpse of how it causes its profound effects on consciousness.

One of the most notable aspects of the psychedelic experience is a phenomenon known as the dissolution of the ego, in which users feel somehow detached from themselves. Studying how the normally stable sense of self gets disrupted can tell us how neural mechanisms create this integral part of the human experience.

“This is why psychedelics in general but also LSD are special. They really alter consciousness in this fundamental way and therefore they are very powerful tools to understand the nature of consciousness,” says Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London, who carried out the new study.

The team gave 20 volunteers infusions on two days, once containing 75 micrograms of LSD, the other a placebo. Then volunteers lay in a scanner and had their brains imaged with three different techniques, which together built up a comprehensive picture of neural activity, both with the drug and without.

Scans showing marked difference in active areas between placebo and LSD

Carhart-Harris et al.

MRI scans showed that LSD caused brain activity to become less coordinated in regions that make up what is called the default mode network. The size of the effect was correlated with participants’ ratings of their own ego dissolution, suggesting that this network underlies a stable sense of self.

Another imaging type, magnetoencephalography (MEG), showed that the rhythm of alpha brainwaves weakened under LSD, an effect that was also correlated with ego dissolution. Alpha rhythms are stronger in humans than other animals, and Carhart-Harris thinks it could be a signature of high-level human consciousness.

But LSD also made the brain more unified in its activity, and there was more communication between regions that normally work separately. “The brain is functioning in a simpler way,” says Carhart-Harris.

The results also go some way to explaining how LSD causes dreamlike visual hallucinations. Although the primary visual cortex usually communicates mainly with other parts of the vision system, many other brain areas contributed to the processing of images in volunteers who received LSD.

There was intense research into LSD in the 1950s and 60s, and the drug showed great promise in treating mood disorders, addictions and other conditions. When it was banned by an international treaty, most scientific work ground to a halt even though it was still technically allowed.

David Nutt, the senior author of the study, says he hopes the study will be transformative and inspire others to follow them. “This, for human neuroscience, is the same as the Higgs boson,” he says.

“This is a milestone study,” says Matthias Liechti, a drug researcher at the University of Basel, Switzerland. “It seems that research on LSD is making progress again despite regulatory and funding hurdles.”


INNOVATION INSIGHTS: How this Australian facial recognition business helped save thousands of lives

How the machine sees you. Source: supplied.

Artificial intelligence and autonomous cars are no longer exclusive to science fiction. Google’s self-driving cars have driven more than five million kilometres, while some Teslas can drive themselves under certain conditions, and Singapore could see a fully autonomous taxi hit the streets by the end of the year.

While all these initiatives are focused on what’s outside the car, on equipping and teaching machines to understand and react to the outside world, it’s also important to understand the people inside.

That’s the mission of Canberra-based Seeing Machines. The solution they created – a camera that can understand when drivers are fatigued or distracted, has helped save thousands of lives.

The company traces its origins to a group of roboticists at the Australian National University in 1997. According to Adrian Dean, director of marketing at Seeing Machines, the researchers were imagining the “car of the future” and realised that an autonomous car would need to interact with passengers.

“The future car would need to understand and relate to the occupants and the driver, in a similar way that a humanoid robot would need to,” says Dean.

“Understanding the driver was the next step in marrying the two together. Because it is about how the driver is interacting with the robot vehicle, but also so that the autonomous car can understand what the occupants are doing when it’s driving.”

That an autonomous car should know what its occupants are up to is especially important in the handover period between human and autonomous drivers. Many of the recent laws allowing autonomous cars require a person to sit behind the wheel – Tesla’s Autopilot requires the driver to touch the wheel regularly. But for this to be useful, the car needs to know that the human is capable of taking over, that they aren’t asleep, texting or otherwise distracted.

The Seeing Machines Guardian Camera. Source: supplied.

To understand the passengers inside a car, Seeing Machines married hardware and software. They created a camera to sit on the dashboard, and developed algorithms to process the information. The cameras can collect a whole series of data points – from the positioning of the eyes and the face, to detecting heart rate through the skin. They can use this to infer a great deal about the state of the driver.

“We can obviously measure eyelid closure very accurately, which lets us measure micro sleeps. There’s also the head pose — whether it’s tilted a certain way, you can understand if someone is looking down at their phone,” says Dean.

“What we can also detect is where you are actually looking – using infra red and the glint off your eye enables us to read through sunglasses and normal glasses and interpret whereabouts you are looking.”

In the future, these capabilities will be vital for autonomous cars to understand the state and intention of their passengers. But they also have very real uses right now, and the technology has already been adopted by many in the mining, aviation and transport industries.

Truck drivers and pilots often work long shifts, operating complex and potentially deadly equipment. Pilots will spend hours on end looking at instrument clusters, trying to figure out what is going on. These are situations ripe for distractions and micro sleeps. Both are huge causes of accidents.

Seeing Machines sold more than 4,000 units worldwide to mining companies. The devices monitor driver fatigue and distraction, send out alerts in case of micro-sleep, and record all the data so companies could react to new information.

The company is doing similar things for truck drivers, partnering with fleet owners like Toll and Linfox to monitor and alert drivers when they are in dangerous situations. There’s also extra information they can add into the mix, like GPS, to infer even more about what drivers are experiencing. Altogether, these technologies allow companies to know more about what’s going on in the front line, to react and reduce risk where they can.

“We’ve saved the lives of thousands of drivers, whether they are on the mine sites or the public roads,” says Dean.

“It’s quite a difficult technology to sell to a truck driver, but then they get home to their kids because we woke them up before they had an accident. At its core, that’s probably the biggest impact that we’ve had.”


These 5 states tax their residents the most aggressively

surfing rockaway beach

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These 5 states tax their residents the most aggressively(WalletHub)

In their latest study, WalletHub analysts investigated which states taxed their residents the most aggressively. They compared tax burdens by measuring property taxes, individual income taxes, and sales and gross receipt taxes (the three parts of a state tax burden) as percentages of total personal income in each state.

New York has the highest tax burden at 13.12%. It was followed by Hawaii (11.86%), Maine and Vermont (11.13%), and Connecticut (10.91%).

Red states have a lower tax burden than blue states. New Jersey has thehighest property tax as a fraction of personal income (5.41%), while New York and Oregon have the highest individual income taxes as a fraction of personal income (4.76% and 4.04%, respectively.)

Texas’ Attorney General was charged with securities fraud(Associated Press)

“Federal securities regulators have filed civil fraud charges against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton over recruiting investors to a high-tech startup before becoming the state’s top prosecutor,” report Paul J. Weber and Jim Vertuno of the Associated Press.

Paxton’s attorney said he hasn’t yet reviewed the civil federal lawsuit, and added that his client “vehemently denies” any wrongdoing, according to Weber and Vertuno.

Advisors are missing this major thing about Baby Boomers (The Street)

“The typical person at retirement age today – the baby boomer – they don’t want the retirement of their parents,” Scott Hanson, a senior partner at financial advisory firm Hanson McClain, told The Street. Baby boomers don’t want to downsize in retirement, he said. Rather, they want to keep growing and flourishing.

“Everyone wants to be at a point where work is an option and not an obligation,” he continued. “But the goal of ‘quit working and live on a fixed income for the rest of their life’ has changed for most people.”

The hottest investment product is going to make mutual funds extinct (Business Insider)

Mutual funds have been a standby of retirement plans for decades, helping to provide a less risky vehicle for people to grow their wealth. But low-cost ETFs could soon be the new standard, argues Meb Faber ofCambria Investment Management.

“It’s a one-way street,” Faber told Business Insider’s Bob Bryan. “Mutual funds have so much baggage… and are still dominated by active managers, which usually means they charge more. Once you go from a high-fee, tax inefficient structure to a very low fee, tax efficient structure you don’t go back.”

Waddell joins Focus Financial Partners (InvestmentNews)

Waddell & Associates, a Tennessee-based RIA with $750 million of assets, joined Focus Financial Partners, reports Christine Idzelis.

Waddell is the fourth RIA to join Focus Financial in 2016.