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Digitally enhanced: Estonia plots the end of bureaucracy

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Digitally enhanced Estonia plots the end of bureaucracy

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — In the Estonian capital of Tallinn, three-day-old Oskar Lunde sleeps soundly in his hospital cot, snuggled into a lime green blanket decorated with red butterflies. Across the room, his father turns on a laptop.

“Now we will register our child,” Andrejs Lunde says with gravity as he inserts his ID card into the card reader. His wife, Olga, looks on proudly.

And just like that, Oskar is Estonia’s newest citizen. No paper. No fuss.

This Baltic nation of 1.3 million people is engaged in an ambitious project to make government administration completely digital to reduce bureaucracy, increase transparency and boost economic growth. As more countries shift their services online, Estonia’s experiment offers a glimpse of how interacting with the state might be for future generations.

Need a prescription? It’s online. Need someone at City Hall? No lines there — or even at the Department of Motor Vehicles! On the school front, parents can see whether their children’s homework was done on time.

Estonia has created one platform that supports electronic authentication and digital signatures to enable paperless communications across both the private and public sectors.

There are still a few things that you can’t do electronically in Estonia: marry, divorce or transfer property — and that’s only because the government has decided it was important to turn up in person for some big life events.

This spring, government aims to go even further. If Oskar had been born a few months later, he would have been registered automatically, with his parents receiving an email welcoming him into the nation.

Marten Kaevats, Estonia’s national digital adviser, says the goal is a government that supports its citizens while staying out of the way.

“In an ideal world, in the case of an invisible government, when a new child is born neither of the parents would ever have to apply for anything: to get maternity leave, to get child support from the municipality, to get a kindergarten place, to put the name to the child,” he said. “All of those different services would be delivered automatically.”

Siva Vaidhyanathan, director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia, says other countries have a lot to learn. Estonia took time to build security and privacy into its model, in contrast with failed efforts by private companies to provide secure online voting systems in the United States, for example.

“It made sure that state accountability is part of the process,” he said.

Estonians largely seem to have embraced the system despite global concerns about data hacks.

At a demonstration showcasing the digital system, project manager Indrek Onnik stood beside a huge screen illustrating his profile. He showed off his high school grades from a decade ago and his diving license records. If he had a dog, its vaccination record would appear there, too.

Citizens can monitor their data and see if any government or private institution accesses it.

“To generate trust, you really have to have transparency,” he said. “And that’s why people have access to their own data. And that’s why they can actually see if the government has used their own data.”

The platform is underpinned by software called X-Road, a decentralized data exchange system that links databases. Outgoing data is digitally signed and encrypted, and all incoming data is authenticated and logged.

The government, fearing attempts to compromise its borders by neighboring Russia, also has a backup plan to restore digital services in the event of invasion or severe cyberattacks: data “embassies” in countries like Luxembourg. Like a regular embassy, the servers are considered Estonian territory and would give the government a chance to boot up elsewhere if needed.

Making life simpler for citizens has economic benefits in a country otherwise known for unforgiving winters and old growth forests.

The project, which began in 1997, laid the groundwork for Estonia’s booming tech sector. Skype, the video-calling service Microsoft bought for $8.5 billion in 2011, is Estonia’s most famous high-tech export, but the impact is broader. Information and communications accounted for 5.9 percent of the economy last year.

The government hopes to increase that figure with an “e-residency” program that lets entrepreneurs around the world register their businesses in Estonia and gain a foothold in the European Union. More than 51,000 people from 167 countries have applied at a cost of 100 euros ($114) each.

The advances in digitization are the result of long-term thinking.

When Estonia declared independence in 1991, the economy was so backward in this former Soviet republic it had to be rebuilt from scratch. The leadership looked for an industry where the country could compete. They decided on information technology and the internet, a field that was as new as Estonia, said former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

When the cash-strapped country needed to replace a 1930s phone system, Finland offered a late 1970s analog system free of charge. But Ilves argued that the government should decline the offer and invest in digital technology.

“The only way we could do really well was to go digital,” Ilves said, speaking from Stanford University, where he is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. “We stood a chance of competing there.”

Ilves, who grew up in the United States and was introduced to computers in junior high, proposed getting kids started early. The government started building computer labs in schools. Banks supported the move, as it reduced the need for branches in rural villages. More than 99 percent of Estonia’s banking transactions now take place online.

Whether Estonia’s system can be used in larger countries is an open question, said Zvika Krieger, head of technology policy and partnerships at the World Economic Forum.

What works in a small, progressive country won’t necessarily work in sprawling democracies like the U.S. or India.

“When you add in more people, more diverse stakeholders, more layers of government at the city, state, and local level, you are adding in exponentially more complexity,” Krieger said. “Estonia is a good first test case. And now the question is whether other countries will find Estonia’s success compelling enough to take the risk to try it at a larger scale.”

Estonia sees its approach as a prototype for modern democracy — a counterpoint to authoritarian countries intent on using digitization to control their citizens. Ilves, who travels around the world talking about the project, tells other countries that increased efficiency builds trust — and improves governance.

“Estonians hate their politicians just as much as everyone else,” he said. “But at least since the administration of the state works extremely well and efficiently, people trust the system.”

Andrejs Lunde is among the believers.

He says digital government makes life so much easier that it’s worth any potential security risk, pointing out that personal information can be stolen from paper-based systems as well.

“If someone really wants my information, they will get it anyway,” said Lunde. “If they can get Hillary’s emails, they can get mine.”

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Entertainment and Sports

Harden scores 48 points, Rockets beat Lakers 138-134 in OT

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Harden scores 48 points Rockets beat Lakers 138-134 in OT

HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden was the star for the Houston Rockets as usual on Saturday night, but he and the team got a big boost from Eric Gordon in his second game back after recovering from a bruised knee.

Harden scored 48 points, Gordon added 30 and the Rockets overcame a 21-point deficit to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 138-134 in overtime.

The Rockets trailed for most of the night and were down by 18 in the second-half. Gordon sent it to overtime with a 3-pointer, and made four free throws in the last seconds of the extra period.

“He’s playing unbelievable,” coach Mike D’Antoni said of Gordon.

Coming off 57- and 58-point games, Harden had his 19th straight game with at least 30 and he’s had 40 in 10 of the last 13. He was 14 of 30 from the field, going 8 of 19 on 3-pointers, and hit 12 of 15 free throws.

Harden was asked if Gordon being back after missing eight games before his return on Wednesday night eased the burden on him a little bit.

“A little bit? It takes a lot of burden off me,” Harden said. “He’s so offensively gifted and talented being able to shoot the basketball, being able to get to the rim, being able to make plays for others. You get a guy like that on the floor with you it makes it easier for not only myself but for everybody.”

Brandon Ingram missed a 3 for Los Angeles before Harden hit 1 of 2 free throws to make it 132-130 with less than a minute left. Ingram tied it with a basket, and Harden again made 1 of 2 free throws to make it 133-132.

Los Angeles missed a 3 before Gordon also made just 1 of 2 free throws to leave Houston up by two with 12.6 seconds left. Kyle Kuzma lost the ball and it went out of bounds to give Houston the ball back. Gordon added four free throws after that to secure the victory.

It was the second straight overtime game for both teams after Houston lost to Brooklyn on Wednesday night and Los Angeles beat Oklahoma City on Thursday night.

Kuzma had 32 points for Los Angeles and Ingram added 21 in a game where coach Luke Walton was ejected in the third quarter.

Already without LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, the Lakers have another injury concern after Lonzo Ball sprained his left ankle in the third quarter. Walton said his X-rays were negative but that he’d have an MRI and “we’ll see where we are after that.”

Four straight points by the Lakers stretched the lead to nine in the fourth quarter, but Harden and Gordon made consecutive 3-pointers cut it to 112-109 with about two minutes remaining.

Los Angeles made four free throws to make it 116-109 about a minute later, but Harden made two 3-pointers around a basket by Ivica Zubac to get Houston within three with about 30 seconds left.

Lance Stephenson missed a 3-pointer and Harden made two free throws to cut the lead to 118-117 with 5.7 seconds left.

Zubac made two more free throws before Gordon’s off-balance 3-pointer with 2 seconds left sent it to OT.

“I saw Kentavious Caldwell-Pope running out to me and I thought he was going to fly right by me, but he stood right there,” Gordon said. “So I had to try to shoot it with confidence and I’m glad it went in.”

The Lakers built a huge lead early and were up 64-46 at halftime, with Kuzma scoring 24 points.

They were ahead by 17 with about eight minutes left in the third quarter after scoring five straight points capped by a basket from Kuzma before Houston scored the next 15 points to cut it to 74-72 three minutes later. James Ennis had five points in that stretch and P.J. Tucker capped it with a 3-pointer.

Ball was injured just before Houston’s run began. He remained on the court for a couple of minutes talking with trainer’s before he was helped to his feet where he hopped on his right foot for a few steps before being carried off the court and to the locker room by Stephenson and Michael Beasley.

Walton was ejected a couple of minutes after that when he got two technical fouls after yelling at officials during a timeout.

Ingram pointed to losing Ball as when things started to get away from the Lakers.

“Right when Lonzo went out,” he said. “That’s exactly when it went away. We lost momentum a little bit.”

TIP-INS

Lakers: James was out for the 13th straight game with a strained left groin and did not make the trip. … Stephenson finished with 16 points.

Rockets: Harden also had eight rebounds, six assists and four steals. … Ennis returned after missing Wednesday’s game after cutting his left leg in a fall at his house. … Chris Paul missed his 14th game in a row with a strained left hamstring … Clint Capela had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb and is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.

THEY SAID IT

D’Antoni on Houston’s comeback: “Words don’t do it. That was just our guys showing a lot of heart.”

UP NEXT

Lakers: Host Golden State on Monday night.

Rockets: Visit Philadelphia on Monday night.

___

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


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Democrats

Pirro: Democrats putting politics over people

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Pirro Democrats putting politics over people

Following President Trump’s speech to America with his compromise offer to Democrats to secure the border and end the government shutdown, Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro was in rare form as she went after Democrats for instantly rejecting the proposal. Her biggest target was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

The President has requested funds in order to build a small portion of the border wall, render humanitarian assistance, improve drug detection technology, and hire 2,750 additional border patrol agents and 75 immigration judge teams. In exchange, he’s offering three years of extended protection for DACA recipients and those with Temporary Protected Status.

Here was her response:

My Take

There are many conservatives who are against the proposal. Under normal circumstances, I would be as well. But we’re approaching a full month of the government shutdown. Enough is enough.


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Entertainment and Sports

‘Unsolved Mysteries’ is coming back, only ‘Stranger’

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Unsolved Mysteries is coming back only Stranger

Robert Stack brought us over 500 Unsolved Mysteries episodes from 1987 to 2010 across three networks. Apparently, that’s not enough, and now the executive producer of Stranger Things wants a shot at rebooting the iconic television show for Netflix.

Netflix Reboots ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ With ‘Stranger Things’ Shawn Levy

https://deadline.com/2019/01/netflix-unsolved-mysteries-shawn-levy-1202537462/The series, which was hosted by Robert Stack and ran for over 500 episodes between 1987 and 2010, is being refreshed by Stranger Things EP Shawn Levy and his company 21 Laps Entertainment and Netflix.

The 12-part show will use re-enactments in a documentary format to profile real-life mysteries and unsolved crimes, lost love, cases involving missing persons and unexplained paranormal events. Each episode will focus on one mystery. In the original series, actors played the victims, criminals and witnesses but family members and police were regularly interviewed.

My Take

This is one of those shows that really doesn’t have a conclusion. It could conceivably go on indefinitely because there are always new and interesting mysteries to be solved. Since each one has its own spin and attachment to reality, there’s no need to worry about fatigue.

Some shows need to be buried forever. Others have a valid reason to keep going and get a reboot. Unsolved Mysteries falls in the latter category.


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