Closed Pakistan-Afghan Border Causes Pain, Trade Losses

Pakistan’s decision to close the border with Afghanistan was a largely symbolic act aimed at forcing its neighbor to take action against extremist groups blamed for fomenting cross-border terror attacks.

It’s a hard reality for the travelers and traders trapped for nearly two weeks on both sides of the dusty crossings at Torkham, Ghulam Khan and Chaman.

Truckloads of food are rotting. Families are divided. People seeking treatment for a variety of ailments have run out of medicine and money, or will do so soon. Only ambulances transferring the dead from the Pakistan side have been allowed to pass.

“We implore the two governments to pay attention to our problems,” said Ahmadullah, an Afghan stuck on the Pakistani side. “We have suffered in terms of our health. We have run out of medicines. Look at my friend who is sitting and vomiting.”

Sayedul Haq, another stranded Afghan, added: “They should let us cross and join our families. Let them build a wall. We will no longer go to Pakistan, because we have our own country. Let’s forget Pakistan. We are like prisoners.”

Waris Ali, from Pakistan’s Punjab province, waited on the other side of the fence.

“I have come from Kabul 12 days ago,” he said. “I am sick and cannot eat. I have no medicines, too.  I don’t have money to pay for my stay at the hotel.”

Terror attacks cited

Pakistan says it understands the pain but claims it had to act amid a rash of terror attacks around the country that killed over 150 people in just a few days.

Islamic State and allied groups have claimed responsibility for those attacks and similar ones in Afghanistan — which Kabul blames on terrorists in safe havens in Pakistan — that seem aimed at destabilizing both countries’ governments and driving them even further apart when they could be cooperating to fight a common enemy.

“When so much is happening [terrorist attacks] here [in Pakistan] and there are indications that it has links there [Afghanistan], then you have to do such measures, so this was a temporary measure,” said Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s foreign affairs adviser. “I hope border crossings will be opened soon.”

While Pakistan also has launched a nationwide crackdown on extremists, the closed border crossings have become the face of its anti-terror efforts. Normally bustling with colorfully decorated trucks mixing with cars, carts and pedestrians, the crossings now sit empty, except for armed Pakistani troops.

“The closures of these crossing points, which are heavily regulated with full checking arrangements on both sides, serve no purpose other than to inflict hardship on ordinary people and hurt trade and transit,” said Omar Zakhilwal, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan.

Fatima Atif, a human rights activist, agrees.

“Border closure will not serve the purpose, and it is not a long-term solution,” Atif said. “We should regulate the border in an effective way and should have better ties with neighbors.”

‘We have suffered’

Officials have estimated daily losses in trade at $3 million.

“Hundreds of stranded goods trucks are loaded with fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry and other edible items, which are near to waste,” said Zubair Motiwala, chairman and president of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “We urge both governments that business and trade ties should be separated from political tensions.”

Truck driver Sayed Anwar said he had run out of his expense money, adding: “We have suffered heavy losses.”

More worrying for many are concerns about permanent long-term damage to trade, with recent figures showing a rise in Afghanistan’s trade with Iran and a corresponding decline in business with Pakistan.

“Pakistan-Afghanistan trade has dropped significantly in the last 1½ years because of bilateral tension,” said Motiwala, who estimated that there had been a 40 percent decline in recent years.

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Netflix CEO: Co-workers Were Affected by Trump Travel Ban

Netflix employees were personally affected by U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempt to ban people entering from seven Muslim countries, its CEO said Tuesday.

Reed Hastings has been an outspoken critic of the temporary travel ban, which Trump hopes to revive in a revised form this week, and told The Associated Press on Tuesday that some of his co-workers had gotten caught up in it.

“We had Iranian and Iraqi employees who were unable to come to work,” he said on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress, the wireless industry’s biggest annual gathering held in Barcelona, Spain.

Netflix was among dozens of tech companies that publicly opposed the travel ban out of fear that it would stifle innovation.

U.S. politics has become as gripping as a TV drama but Hastings says that Netflix, the original distributor of the show House of Cards, is not planning a show based on Trump.

“Maybe someday, but it’s better to make a show about things in the past so you can have some perspective,” he said. “We let the news channels do the things that are current, while hoping to provide a relief from politics to people on both sides.”

One of Netflix’s biggest hits has been House of Cards, a fictional show about the ruthlessness of politics in Washington that first distributed in 2013, well before Trump’s rise to power.

Hastings aims to make Netflix even more global, including by creating more original content in foreign languages.

“We are focused on international expansion, mainly in Europe and Asia,” Hastings said. “It’s just the beginning of the internet. We are producing all over the globe with great success, now also in Spain, France, Germany, the U.K., Turkey, India, and even Japan, with anime shows.”

Netflix, which has some 93 million subscribers across 190 countries, is riding the success of some of its own productions, having won its first Oscar this week for the documentary White Helmets, about Syria’s humanitarian aid force.

Hastings expects the market competition to toughen, however, with traditional broadcasters increasingly moving online — especially with the gradual improvement of handset screens and connections.

“I think broadcast television is really going to move to the internet, so that current TV networks will offer their videos online, just the same as Netflix and YouTube.”

The improvements in wireless 4G and 5G technology is likely to encourage the trend of people watching movies on mobile screens. People can break up their viewing during commutes or lunch hours, personalizing the time in which they consume entertainment.

“We would like to continue to improve the mobile plans in order for everybody to enjoy unlimited video viewing,” Hastings said. “I think it’s possible because we are getting more efficient at video data, so that the networks are not congested. That would be a big breakthrough.”

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Fasting Diet Reverses Diabetes in Mice

A diet that mimics fasting temporarily put mice in a starvation state, reversing diabetes in the animals, according to a new study. The diet was also shown to reduce the risk factors in people with pre-diabetes

Research by investigators at the University of Southern California showed the special, fasting-mimicking diet triggers the development of insulin-producing cells in mice with diabetes. The study was published in the journal Cell.

In humans, an earlier study of the diet reduced the risk factors of diabetes, such as elevated blood sugar, in people who were headed toward development of the disease. An article on the diet in humans appeared in Science Translational Medicine.

In both Type 1 diabetes and in the later stages of Type 2 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas are destroyed. But the authors said the diet appears to “reboot” the body, switching on genes that trigger the release of stem cells, master cells responsible for organ development.  

More than fasting required

However, fasting alone is not the key to restoring insulin levels. Scientists said refeeding after the brief starvation diet, with specially calibrated nutrients, is critical to kickstarting the production of new beta cells.

The process of stem cell activation is the same as seen in embryos to stimulate organ growth, according to gerontology professor Valter Longo, the director of USC’s Longevity Institute and senior author of both studies. He said the fasting-mimicking diet can be used to reprogram cells without any genetic alterations.

“So basically the system is using some of the same program that we use during embryonic and fetal development to regenerate the pancreas once the food comes back around,” he said. “And that’s the trick. It’s not so much the starvation. It’s really the combination of the starvation and the refeeding.” And, he stressed, “the refeeding’s got to be a high-nourishment one.”

Study participants put on the high-fat, low-calorie, low-protein diet consumed between 800 and 1,100 calories daily for five days in a row each month for three months. After each fast, they were refed with nutrient-rich foods.

Researchers found fasting triggered the production of a protein called Ngn3, which generated new, healthy beta cells that secreted insulin. They saw production of insulin in a dish in pancreatic cells extracted from mice and from healthy human donors and patients with both types of diabetes.

Scientists found the diet replaced damaged insulin-producing cells with new functioning ones in mice placed on the diet for four days.

Heart disease, cancer risks

The investigators have also amassed evidence that the fasting-mimicking diet reduces the risk of age-related diseases, including heart disease and cancer. It may also hold benefits for people with multiple sclerosis, said researchers.

But Longo said people with diabetes should not try the diet at home yet because it can drop blood sugar to perilously low levels if they don’t know what they are doing. “We warn people that, particularly [for people with] Type 1 or patients that inject themselves with insulin, it can be very risky or even lethal,” Longo cautioned.

He said investigators were poised to begin larger human clinical trials of the fasting-mimicking diet in the next six months.

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Colorectal Cancer Rising Among Younger Adults

Americans born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer than those born around 1950, a new study suggests.

The study found that colorectal cancer is on the rise among young and middle-aged adults in their early 50s. Rectal cancer is growing particularly fast among people younger than 55, with 30 percent of diagnoses in people under 55.

“Trends in young people are a bellwether for the future disease burden,” said Rebecca Siegel, of the American Cancer Society and lead author of the study that appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“Our finding that colorectal cancer risk for millennials has escalated back to the level of those born in the late 1800s is very sobering. Educational campaigns are needed to alert clinicians and the general public about this increase to help reduce delays in diagnosis, which are so prevalent in young people, but also to encourage healthier eating and more active lifestyles to try to reverse this trend.”

Researchers note that rates of colorectal cancer have been falling since the 1980s with an even steeper decline in the past decade, which has been caused by more screening.

But they wanted to find out why some studies have shown a rising rate among people under 50 for whom screening is generally not done. For their study, researchers looked at cases of colorectal cancer in people over 20 from 1974 to 2013. There were 490,305 cases.

The data showed the rates of colon cancer initially decreased after 1974, but then grew by one or two percent from the mid-1980s to 2013 among adults aged 20 to 39. For people aged 40 to 54, the rates increased between .5 percent and one percent from the mid 1990s to 2013.

For rectal cancer, the increases were greater, with rates rising about three percent per year from 1974 to 2013 in adults aged 20 to 29. For adults between 30 and 39, there was a similar rise from 1980 to 2013. For adults between 40 and 54, rates increased by two percent from the 1990s to 2013.

Rates for adults older than 55 has been declining for about 40 years, researchers said.

Researchers say the results could change the age at which screening for colorectal cancer starts and cite 10,400 cases diagnosed in people in their 40s plus 12,800 cases in people in their early 50s.

“These numbers are similar to the total number of cervical cancers diagnosed, for which we recommend screening for the 95 million women ages 21 to 65 years,” Siegel said.

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Wilbur Ross Sworn In as US Secretary of Commerce

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross was sworn in as U.S. commerce secretary on Tuesday after helping shape Republican President Donald Trump’s opposition to multilateral trade deals.

Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath of office to Ross, 79, a day after the U.S. Senate voted to confirm the corporate turnaround expert’s nomination, with strong support from Democrats.

WATCH: Ross’ remarks at his swearing-in ceremony

Ross is set to become an influential voice in Trump’s economic team and was expected to start work on renegotiating trade relationships with China and Mexico.

While commerce secretaries rarely take the spotlight in Washington, Ross is expected to play an outsize role in pursuing Trump’s campaign pledge to slash U.S. trade deficits and bring manufacturing jobs back to America.

Some Democrats criticized Ross as another billionaire in a Trump Cabinet that says it is focused on the working class and for being a “vulture” investor who has eliminated some jobs. Reuters reported last month that Ross’s companies had shipped some 2,700 jobs overseas since 2004.

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Sistine Chapel Gets Full Digital Treatment for Future Restorations

The last time the entire Sistine Chapel was photographed for posterity, digital photography was in its infancy and words like pixels were bandied about mostly by computer nerds and NASA scientists.

Now, after decades of technological advances in art photography, digital darkrooms and printing techniques, a five-year project that will aid future restorations has left the Vatican Museums with 270,000 digital frames that show frescoes by Michelangelo and other masters in fresh, stunning detail.

“In the future, this will allow us to know the state of every centimeter of the chapel as it is today, in 2017,” said Antonio Paolucci, former head of the museums and a world-renowned expert on the Sistine.

Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes include one of the most famous scenes in art – the arm of a gentle, bearded God reaching out to give life to Adam.

The Renaissance master finished the ceiling in 1512 and painted the massive “Last Judgement” panel behind the altar between 1535 and 1541.

The last time all Sistine frescoes were photographed was between 1980 and 1994, during a landmark restoration project that cleaned them for the first time in centuries.

The new photos were taken for inclusion in a new three-volume, 870-page set that is limited to 1,999 copies and marketed to libraries and collectors.

The set, which costs about 12,000 euros ($12,700), was a joint production of the Vatican Museums and Italy’s Scripta Maneant high-end art publishers.

Post-production computer techniques included “stitching” of frames that photographers took while working out of sight for 65 nights from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., when the chapel where popes are elected is closed.

The project was known to only to a few people until it was unveiled in the chapel on Friday night.

The set includes the entire chapel, including the mosaic floor and 15th century frescoes by artists who have long languished in Michelangelo’s giant shadow.

More than 220 pages are printed in 1:1 scale, including ‘The Creation of Adam’ and Jesus’ face from the Last Judgement. Each volume weighs about 9 kg (20 pounds) and fold-out pages measure 60 by 130 cm ( 24 by 51 inches).

The old photos taken during the last restoration were done with film.

“We used special post-production software to get the depth, intensity, warmth and nuance of colours to an accuracy of 99.9 percent,” said Giorgio Armaroli, head of Scripta Maneant.

“Future restorers will use these as their standards,” he said, adding that each page was printed six times.

Brush strokes are clearly visible as are the “borders” delineating sections, known as “giornate,” or days. Since frescoes are painted on wet plaster, artists prepare just enough for what they can complete in each session.

The photographers used a 10-meter-high (33 feet) portable scaffold and special telescopic lens. The results are now stored in a Vatican server holding 30 terabytes of information.

($1 = 0.9450 euros)

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Cuban Cigar Sales Rise, Defying Flat Luxury Goods Market

Sales of Cuba’s legendary cigars rose 5 percent last year to $445 million, defying stagnation in the global luxury goods market, manufacturer Habanos S.A. said on Monday at the opening of the Caribbean island’s annual cigar festival.

Habanos, which makes brands including Cohiba, Monte Cristo and Romeo y Julieta, said it expects moderate sales growth this year as it continues to tap the Middle East, Asia and other new markets.

“We are quite happy we were able to grow during a year that was in truth quite challenging,” Vice President of Development Javier Terrés told Reuters after holding a news conference hazy with smoke as journalists puffed on complimentary cigars.

Cuba’s monopoly cigar company was kicking off the festival that attracts wealthy tobacco aficionados and retailers from around the world for five days of extravagant parties and tours of plantations and factories.

Habanos dominates the global market for hand-rolled, premium cigars except in the United States due to Washington’s half-century trade embargo against Cuba. The United States is the world’s biggest cigar market.

American enthusiasts have had slightly better access to Cuban cigars since former President Barack Obama two years ago unveiled a Cuba policy aiming to normalize relations.

Last October, the Obama administration removed limits on the amount of cigars American travelers could bring home.

Terrés said this made little difference to overall sales but it would help brand recognition in the United States.

Wholesale shipments there would require the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo, a move that looks uncertain under President Donald Trump, who has threatened to reverse the detente.

Still, better U.S.-Cuban relations have helped stoke a boom in tourism, which in turn has lifted cigar sales in Cuba, according to Habanos. The number of visitors to the island rose 13 percent last year.

“Our sales in Cuba are directly related to tourism, and in effect, sales in Cuba have grown,” Terrés said.

Habanos said its traditional European markets had remained stable last year, while there was growth in emerging markets like the Middle East and Pacific Asia.

Meanwhile, female smokers remain a largely untapped market for Habanos, Terrés said. The company is working on it but has learned that producing smaller, milder versions of its classic cigars is not the answer.

“Actually, women want to smoke big cigars and enjoy them like a man,” he said, adding it was important to draw in women with specific promotional events.

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SpaceX to Send First Paying Tourists Around Moon Next Year

SpaceX plans to launch two paying passengers on a tourist trip around the moon next year using a spaceship under development for NASA astronauts and a heavy-lift rocket yet to be flown, the launch company announced on Monday.

The launch of the first privately funded tourist flight beyond the orbit of the International Space Station is tentatively targeted for late 2018, Space Exploration Technologies Chief Executive Elon Musk told reporters on a conference call.

Musk declined to identify the customers or say how much they would pay to fly on the weeklong mission, except to say that it is  “nobody from Hollywood.”

He also said the two prospective space tourists, who know each other, have put down a “substantial” deposit and would undergo “extensive training before going on the mission.”

“I think there’s a market for one or two of these per year,” he said, estimating that space tourist fares charged by SpaceX could eventually contribute 10 to 20 percent of the company’s revenue.

Plans call for SpaceX’s two-person lunar venture to fly some 300,000 to 400,000 miles (480,000 to 640,000 km) from Earth past the moon before Earth’s gravity pulls the spacecraft back into the atmosphere for a parachute landing.

That trajectory would be similar to NASA’s 1968 Apollo 8 mission beyond the moon and back.

Musk also said that if NASA decides it wants to be first in line for a lunar flyby mission, the U.S. space agency would take priority.

At the behest of the Trump administration, NASA is conducting a study to assess safety risks, costs and potential benefits of letting astronauts fly on the debut test flight of its heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule.

That mission is currently planned to be uncrewed and scheduled to launch in late 2018.

Musk said the privately funded moon expedition would take place after his California-based company begins flying crew to the International Space Station for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

NASA is hoping those crew-ferrying flights begin by late 2018.

SpaceX’s own Falcon Heavy rocket, which Musk wants to use for the lunar tourist mission, is scheduled to make a debut test flight later this year.

Musk, also CEO of electric carmaker Tesla, said missions around the moon could provide practice for eventual human flights to Mars, the long-term goal of SpaceX.

Except for needed communications upgrades, the Dragon spaceship in development for NASA astronauts is well suited for lunar flyby missions, Musk added.

The launch would require licensing by the Federal Aviation Administration.

SpaceX joins a growing list of companies developing commercial passenger spaceflight services.

Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of Richard Branson’s London-based Virgin Group, is testing a six-passenger, two-pilot spaceship to carry paying customers about 62 miles (100 km) above Earth, high enough to experience brief microgravity and see Earth’s curvature against the blackness of space.

Tickets to ride cost $250,000 each.

SpaceX has a $70 billion backlog of about 70 missions for NASA and commercial customers. The firm’s backers include Alphabet’s Google and Fidelity Investments, which together have contributed $1 billion to Musk’s firm.

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Trump’s Trade Czar Ross Easily Wins US Senate Confirmation

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross easily won confirmation as U.S. commerce secretary on Monday, clearing President Donald Trump’s top trade official to start work on renegotiating trade relationships with China and Mexico.

The U.S. Senate voted 72-27 to confirm the 79-year-old corporate turnaround expert’s nomination, with strong support from Democrats.

Ross is set to become an influential voice in Trump’s economic team after helping shape the president’s opposition to multilateral free trade deals such as the now-scrapped Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Ross drew votes from 19 Democrats and one independent, partly because of an endorsement from the United Steelworkers union for his efforts in restructuring bankrupt steel companies in the early 2000s, which saved numerous plants and thousands of jobs.

Ross was criticized by some Democrats as another billionaire in a Trump Cabinet that says it is focused on the working class, and for being a “vulture” investor who has eliminated some jobs.

Reuters reported last month that Ross’s companies had shipped some 2,700 jobs overseas since 2004.

The investor will oversee a sprawling agency with nearly 44,000 employees responsible for combating the dumping of imports below cost into U.S. markets, collecting census and critical economic data, weather forecasting, fisheries management, promoting the United States to foreign investors and regulating the export of sensitive technologies.

While commerce secretaries rarely take the spotlight in Washington, Ross is expected to play an outsize role in pursuing Trump’s campaign pledge to slash U.S. trade deficits and bring manufacturing jobs back to America.

Trump has designated Ross to lead the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, a job that in past administrations would have been left to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.

Ross will join other major players on the economic team, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council.

Some experts said Ross could serve as a counterweight to advisers such as Peter Navarro, the University of California-Irvine economics professor who heads Trump’s newly created White House National Trade Council. Navarro has advocated a controversial 45 percent across-the-board tariff on imports from China that Trump threatened during his campaign.

“I expect that Ross will quickly become the administration’s chief trade spokesman, and that Navarro’s influence will be felt indirectly, rather than through public statements or testimony,” said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow and trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

At his confirmation hearing, Ross downplayed chances of a trade war with China, while calling it the “most protectionist” large economy. He vowed to level the playing field for U.S. companies competing with Chinese imports and those trying to do business in China’s highly restricted economy.

Ross, estimated by Forbes to be worth $2.9 billion, built his fortune in the late 1990s and early 2000s by investing in distressed companies in steel, coal, textiles and auto parts, restructuring them and often benefiting from tariff protections put in place by the Commerce Department.

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Takata Pleads Guilty to US Fraud Charge Linked to Faulty Air Bags

Japan’s Takata Corp. on Monday pleaded guilty to a felony charge as part of an expected $1 billion deal with the U.S. Justice Department that includes compensation funds for automakers and victims of its faulty airbag inflators.

After Takata’s guilty plea, a federal judge in Detroit was hearing objections on Monday to the settlement raised by lawyers for some victims of Takata inflator ruptures, who argue the settlement will be used by automakers to avoid liability, a court clerk said.

Takata hopes to wins court approval of the settlement, a key hurdle to securing the backing of an investor or acquirer that can fund a turnaround effort and help it grapple with billions of dollars in costs related to the auto industry’s biggest-ever recall.

16 deaths linked to defective air bags

Lawyers for U.S. vehicle owners have sued Honda, Nissan, BMW AG, Ford, Mazda, and other automakers, alleging they knew about the defective Takata air bags for years but kept using them.

At least 16 deaths have been linked to exploding Takata airbag inflators. The defects have led 10 automakers to recall more than 31 million cars worldwide since 2008. All but one of the deaths have occurred in Honda vehicles.

Kevin Dean, a South Carolina lawyer for some Takata victims suing automakers, said in a court filing on Monday that the plea agreement is “wrought with inaccurate, incomplete and misleading assertions of fact” that could help automakers avoid liability.

Three Takata executives charged

Takata last month had agreed to plead guilty to a single count of wire fraud related to receiving payment for the faulty deflators across state lines as part of a settlement with federal prosecutors.

U.S. prosecutors have charged three former senior Takata executives in Japan with falsifying test results to conceal the defect linked to the recall of about 100 million air bag inflators worldwide.

Recall to continue through 2020

In January, Takata agreed to establish two independently administered restitution funds: one for $850 million to compensate automakers for recalls, and a second $125 million fund for individuals physically injured by Takata’s airbags who have not already reached a settlement with the company.

Both funds are expected to be administered by compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg, who managed a similar fund for General Motors.

Automakers in the United States are set to continue recalling defective inflators through 2020. U.S. safety regulators have said automakers are responsible for replacing defective airbags no matter what happens to Takata.

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