These Little Town Blues

While there have been some signs of improvement, America's incarceration rate has grown pretty steadily over the past half century. "The number of people held in local jails on any day in the United States has increased four-fold since 1970." And in recent years, there's been a surge of incarcerations in small towns. "The jail incarceration rate of Lackawanna County, a small county with a population of 213,000, increased by more than 15 times between 1970 and 2014, with racial disparities in incarceration that are both egregious and indicative of uneven incarceration rates in small counties across the country." From Vera: Why Are There So Many People in Jail in Scranton, PA?

+ The need for data-driven criminal justice reform is (at least as of now), one of America's few areas of bipartisan agreement. President Obama makes the case that it should remain a focus in the Harvard Law Review: The President's Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform. Obama also seemed to leave a message for his replacement. "Presidents are not private citizens. We need to be careful about speaking about legal matters before all the facts are in -- even if it appears that everyone else in the United States is commenting on them."


First You Take the Peanuts…

Health officials may have found a solution for all those peanut allergies: Peanuts. From LA Times, give peanut-based foods to babies early to prevent allergies. And like seemingly every other piece of health advice we get, this contradicts everything you've heard before. (I'm currently stockpiling Twinkies and Smarties for the day they realize sugar is the best thing for your health. In the meantime, I'll have to be satisfied indulging in the 'good fats' we were once warned to avoid.)


Russia to Judgment

"There is an important distinction here between healthy skepticism, which policymakers, to include policymaker Number 1, should always have for intelligence, but I think there is a difference between skepticism and disparagement." Top US intel officers tell the Senate Arms Services Committee that they have no doubt about Russia's involvement in the DNC hacking and in efforts to otherwise meddle in the US election.


Who’ll Stop the Reign?

"There's no need to dwell on the particular character of Trump, who will be sworn in on January 20th. But it is worth examining what remedies exist if any President is too careless, inattentive, or impulsive to deal sensibly with questions affecting the nation's survival. What could be done if a President behaves in a way that directly threatens to turn the planet into radioactive dust?" The New Yorker's Jeffrey Frank asks a question we should probably all have an answer for, regardless of who's in the Oval Office: What if a President Loses Control?

+ During a recent appearance on Charlie Rose, Ian Bremmer provided an interesting overview of Obama's foreign policy legacy (he's not a big fan), and of the challenges facing the Trump administration. This is not necessarily uplifting, but definitely recommended.


Our Town

"The smart system in South Bend cost $6 million, compared to the $120 million the infrastructure overhaul would have cost." From Quartz: Our cities are getting smarter and you probably didn't even notice. Maybe it's better that we don't notice. It's definitely better if hackers don't.

+ Aside from active war zones and island nations being swallowed by oceans, I'd say this town is last on my vacation list: The City of Dentists.


Streaming Hate

"Video of the torture has stunned the country, not just but because of the graphic abuse, but because of the comments made by some of the assailants. '*F*ck Donald Trump!' one attacker shouted in the video. 'F*ck white people!'" Four people who posted a bizarre and sick torture video on Facebook Live have been charged with hate crimes. Remember when we thought social media was going to bring us closer together?


Taking Cover

"Most blue-collar whites, in other words, have seen Obamacare less as a universal program, like Social Security or Medicare, that provides a benefit they consider earned, and more like food stamps or welfare that transfers their tax dollars to recipients they tend to consider undeserving." Millions of Americans who have received health insurance under the Affordable Care Act oppose the law. Ron Brownstein looks at how the complicated issue could play out. Will Blue-Collar Whites Change Their Minds About Obamacare?


Toddlers and Triggers

Here's a stat you might have to read two or three times to believe. "With 2016 over, a toddler has now shot a person every week in the US for two years straight."


Going Up?

"China is experiencing an elevator boom. Over the past decade, the vast majority of elevators installed around the world have been placed in China, where rapid urbanization has met with a desire for ambitious 'super-tall' skyscrapers. It has been estimated that by 2020, 40 percent of all elevators will be in China." And as the skycrapers get taller, the demand for speed increases. Some of the newest elevators are traveling close to 50mph.


Bottom of the News

There's now a McDonald's really close to the Vatican. In fact, the Vatican is McDonald's landlord. The opening of the fast food joint in the neighborhood is causing distress among some locals. But it will probably wear off by the time the new Hard Rock Cafe opens down the street.

+ Vocativ: Rep. Who Tried To Gut Ethics Office Bought Rabbits Plane Tickets.

+ In South Korea, "the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has tasked an officer with the job of monitoring Trump's Twitter feed, with an eye to any signs of policy that might affect the country." (Half of America does that job for free...)