California Firm Reports Progress on Blood Tests to Detect Cancer

A California company says its experimental blood test was able to detect many types of cancer at an early stage and gave very few false alarms in a study that included people with and without the disease.

Many companies are trying to develop early detection “liquid biopsy” tests that capture bits of DNA that cancer cells shed into blood.

Grail’s new results are from 2,300 people. The test detected 55% of known cancers and gave false alarms for 1%. It also accurately suggested where the cancer may be about 90% of the time.

The company gave results in news release Friday and will report them Saturday at a conference in Chicago. They have not been published or reviewed by other scientists.

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Study: Kids Who Play Violent Video Games May Be More Likely to Handle Guns

Children who either played or watched a video game that included gun violence were more likely afterward to handle a gun and pull the trigger, a new study finds.

More than 200 children were randomly assigned to play either a non-violent video game or a game with firearm violence. Soon after, more than 60% of kids who played the violent game touched a gun, compared to about 44% of those who played a non-violent game, researchers report in JAMA Network Open.

The lessons from the new findings are that: “gun owners should secure their guns,” and “parents should protect their children from violent media, including video games,” said study coauthor Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

“Each day in the United States, nearly 50 children and teenagers are shot with a firearm, often as a result of a child finding one loaded and unsecured,” Bushman and his coauthor Justin Chang, a former graduate student at Ohio State, wrote.

“Among firearm-owning households with children, approximately 20% keep at least one firearm loaded and unsecured.”

Bushman and Chang recruited 242 kids, ages 8 to 12, to look at the impact of violent video games. The children were partnered up and then randomly assigned to one of three groups: a version of Minecraft that included violence with guns, a version that included violence with swords and a non-violent version. No matter which game a pair of children was assigned to, one would play the game and the other would watch.

After playing the games for 20 minutes, the children were moved to another room that contained toys for them to play with as well as two disabled guns with trigger counters that had been tucked away in a cabinet.

Out of the 242 children recruited, 220 eventually found the guns and those kids were included in the study.

Among the 76 children who played video games that included guns, 61.8% handled the weapon, as compared 56.8% of the 74 who played a game including sword violence and 44.3% of the 70 who played a non-violent game.

Children who played violent video games were also more likely to pull the trigger, researchers found.

How many times children pulled the trigger depended on the video game they watched.

It was a median of “10.1 times if they played the version of Minecraft where the monsters could be killed with guns, 3.6 times if they played the version of Minecraft where the monsters could be killed with swords and 3.0 times if they played the version of Minecraft without weapons and monsters,” Bushman said in an email.

“The more important outcome, though, is pulling the trigger of a gun while pointing that gun at oneself or one’s partner [children were tested in pairs],” Bushman said. There, the median was 3.4 times for the game with gun violence, 1.5 times for the game with swords and 0.2 times for non-violent games.

The new study “is the most rigorous design that can be conducted,” said Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

While “it’s important to recognize certain types of entertainment can be violent, when it comes to firearms, the solution is to store guns safely so that children can’t gain access,” Crifasi said. “That doesn’t mean children won’t engage in other violent play. But we can cut off guns as a source of potential harm.”

Dr. Shari Platt agreed that the best way to protect kids is proper gun storage.

“The study is interesting and I think they are touching on some very real fears parents have around graphically violent video games,” said Platt, chief of pediatric medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and an associate professor of clinical emergency medicine. But in the end, “education and prevention are always the answers.”

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2EHXw4w and http://bit.ly/2EJslpC JAMA Network Open, online May 31, 2019.

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Chinese Scientists Find CO2 Better for Fracking than Water

Chinese scientists have discovered that carbon dioxide is more efficient to use in fracking than water.

Fracking is the controversial process in which water or other fluids are injected into underground rocks at high pressure to release oil and natural gas deposits. 

U.S. environmentalists have denounced the process because of the huge amounts of water needed, the contamination of underground water supplies, and small earthquakes it triggers.

In a new report in the journal Joule, scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and China University of Petroleum discovered that using CO2 instead of water resulted in as much as 20 times more oil.

​”These real-world results revealed that as compared to water fracturing, CO2 fracturing is an important and greener alternative,” especially in arid areas where the water has to be trucked in, the report says.

Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming. 

The scientists say the CO2 used in fracking would stay underground and not be released into the atmosphere.

The scientists say further research is needed as well as the winning over of cooperation from the industry.

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CDC: US Reports Most Measles Cases in 25 Years

Government health officials say there have been 971 cases of measles in the United States so far this year, the most cases since 1994, when there were 963 cases for the entire year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday if current outbreaks in and around New York City continue into the fall, the United States could lose its status as a country that has eliminated measles.

“That loss would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health,” a CDC statement said.

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, and the CDC says one of the primary reasons is the availability and widespread use of a safe and effective vaccine.

Fighting anti-vaccine propaganda

The CDC, World Health Organization, and other experts are fighting propaganda from parents and anti-vaccine activists who refuse to inoculate their children, insisting the vaccine is dangerous.

“Again, I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism. The greater danger is the disease that vaccination prevents,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said. “Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated do get vaccinated.”

Before vaccine, 4 million cases

Before 1963, when the measles vaccine was considered perfected, the CDC says as many as 4 million Americans got the disease every year and up to 500 victims died.

The measles virus is highly contagious and is spread primarily by coughing and sneezing.

Along with the refusal of some people to vaccinate their children, the CDC says the current nationwide outbreak is linked to travelers who are suspected of bringing back the virus from countries with their own large outbreaks, including Israel, the Philippines and Ukraine.

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Energy Secretary: US Aims to Make Fossil Fuels Cleaner 

The Trump administration is committed to making fossil fuels cleaner rather than imposing “draconian” regulations on coal and oil, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Thursday at an energy conference in Salt Lake City.

Perry previously said the administration wants to spend $500 million next year on fossil fuel research and development as demand plummets for coal and surges for natural gas. 

 

“Instead of punishing fuels that produce emissions through regulation, we’re seeking to reduce those emissions by innovation,” Perry said at the conference.

Fossil fuel emissions have been cited by scientists as a major source of global warming. 

 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently said the world must change how it fuels factories, vehicles and homes to limit future global warming.

Perry said the Trump administration has proven it can make energy cleaner, but he provided no details involving coal and other fossil fuels, other than the closing of old, inefficient coal-burning power plants and exporting increasing volumes of natural gas, an alternative to coal.  

Department of Energy spokesman Dirk Vande Beek didn’t immediately return an email and voicemail seeking more details about Perry’s claim.

Perry pointed to an overall drop in emissions as proof of progress.

Greenhouse gas emissions dropped 13 percent from 2005 to 2017, according to the most recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lindsay Beebe of the Sierra Club in Utah said trying to make fossil fuels cleaner is misspent energy.

“I don’t know that it’s possible right now, but what is ready right now are renewables. Wind, solar and geothermal are commercially viable and at scale,” Beebe said.

The summit Thursday was briefly interrupted when 15 protesters took the stage to criticize the administration’s fixation on fossil fuels. 

 

They said the misguided approach ignores climate change. Police then escorted them out.

After they left, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who sponsored the event, said he and other leaders appreciated the “youthful enthusiasm” but their call to immediately discard fossil fuels and shift entirely to renewable energy isn’t realistic.

They would like us to quit by Friday and not take anything out of the ground,'' Herbert said.That obviously doesn’t work from a practical standpoint.”

Americans burned a record amount of energy in 2018, with a 10% jump in consumption from booming natural gas helping lead the way, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

Fossil fuels in all accounted for 80% of Americans’ energy use. 

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IMF Denies Pressuring Venezuela to Release Economic Data

The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday it had not pressured Venezuela to release economic indicators after years of silence, while two sources said the country’s surprise data release this week was due to pressure from China.

The central bank on Tuesday unexpectedly released data confirming Venezuela is suffering hyperinflation and massive economic contraction. The release reversed President Nicolas Maduro’s unofficial policy of classifying economic indicators as state secrets.

The data reported a 22.5 percent contraction in Venezuela’s economy in the third quarter of 2018 from the same period of the previous year. The bank did not provide a full-year 2018 figure for economic activity.

Monthly inflation in April 2019 was 33.8 percent, while 2018 full-year inflation reached 130,060 percent, the bank said.

The IMF said it suspended work with Venezuela on its economic data in January, when opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency, arguing Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

Most Western countries, including the United States, have backed Guaido as the OPEC nation’s interim head of state.

However, Maduro and ruling socialist party continue to control state institutions including the military, state oil company PDVSA and the central bank.

The Fund said in March it was awaiting guidance from member countries on whether to recognize Guaido as the country’s leader. The United States and Venezuelan ally China are important IMF members, as they have the world’s two largest economies.

“Work in this area has been suspended since late January as political developments gave rise to questions regarding government recognition,” the spokesman said.

Last year, the IMF issued a “declaration of censure” against Venezuela for failing to report timely and accurate economic data, such as gross domestic product and inflation.

The move was a warning that Caracas could be barred from voting on IMF policies, and eventually expelled, unless it resumed timely and accurate reporting.

Maduro has repeatedly dismissed the IMF as an agent of U.S. colonialism and criticized the institution for leading harsh austerity programs in developing countries.

China, which has for years sought to increase its influence within the IMF, had pressured Maduro’s government to release the data, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.

One of the sources said China had hoped releasing the data would help bring Venezuela into compliance with the IMF, making it harder for the institution to recognize Guaido.

An IMF spokesman said the fund could not fully assess the quality of the data because there was no contact with the government.

“We cannot offer a view on data quality as we have not had the opportunity to make a full assessment in the absence of contacts with the authorities,” the spokesman said.

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Wall Street Slump Continues on U.S.-China Trade Uncertainty

U.S. stocks lost ground again on Thursday, as conflicting comments on trade talks from President Donald Trump and Beijing  reinforced investor nervousness that a lengthy battle could be in the offing and harm global growth.

Trump said talks with China were going well but those comments were countered by a senior Chinese diplomat who said provoking trade disputes is “naked economic terrorism.”

The lack of clarity around the trade battle has rattled investors of late, after the S&P 500 had risen more than 17% through the first four months of the year on optimism a trade deal between the two countries could be reached.

That optimism has faded, however, as the escalating dispute between the two countries has weighed heavily on Wall Street in May, with each of the three main indexes declining at least 5% for the month. The benchmark S&P 500 is nearly 6% lower from its closing high on April 30.

“The market is coming to that realization that we are not getting really clean or clear information and it is going to be a lot of noise and just prepare for that,” said Ben Phillips, chief investment officer at Eventshares in Newport Beach, California.

“It is a difficult market right now. There are a lot of macro signals that are starting to roll over and the question is the trade dispute causing that or is it other factors.”

A government report on Thursday showed U.S. inflation was much weaker than initially thought in the first quarter on a sharp slowdown in domestic demand, while growth was also slightly lower than estimated in April.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 27.59 points, or 0.11%, to 25,098.82, the S&P 500 lost 2.11 points, or 0.08%, to 2,780.91 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 9.19 points, or 0.12%, to 7,538.12.

The trade jitters helped sustain demand for safe haven debt, as U.S. Treasury yields held near 20-month lows. The yield curve between three-month bills and 10-year notes remained inverted, the inversion the widest in nearly 12 years.

That, in turn, weighed on interest-rate sensitive bank stocks, which dropped 1.5% and were on track for a third straight day of declines, while the broader financial sector declined 0.8%.

The energy sector fell 1.3%, as oil prices continued their slump in part due to a smaller-than-expected decline in U.S. crude inventories. The sector has fallen more than 10% this month.

Among stocks, Dollar General Corp jumped 7.2% after the discount retailer’s same-store sales and profit topped expectations.

Viacom Inc climbed 3.6% after report that CBS Corp is preparing for merger talks with the media company. CBS rose 2.5%.

PVH Corp plunged 14.2% as the worst performer on the S&P 500, after the Calvin Klein owner cut its annual profit forecast as it grapples with tariffs and slowing retail growth.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.11-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, a 1.38-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 had 1 new 52-week high and 25 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite 25 new highs and 119 new lows.

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WHO: More Than 40% of Smokers Worldwide Die from Lung Diseases

The World Health Organization warns that more than 40 percent of smokers globally die from lung diseases, such as cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and tuberculosis. The warning comes ahead of World No Tobacco Day this Friday, with the theme being, “Don’t let tobacco take your breath away.”

The World Health Organization says that every year, tobacco use kills at least eight million people. The U.N. agency reports 3.3 million users will die from lung-related diseases. This number includes people exposed to second-hand smoke, among them more than 60,000 children under age five who die of lower respiratory infections due to passive smoking.

Vinayak Prasad, the acting director of the WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases, says the global economic cost of using tobacco is $1.4 trillion. This is due to health expenditures, loss of productivity from illness and other expenses resulting from smoking-related diseases. He says both lives and money could be saved if people stopped smoking.

“What we see also is that if people who are smoking, almost 20 percent of the world is smoking, if they quit, some of the benefits actually come very quickly, especially the lung diseases. Within two weeks, the lung functions actually start to become normal,” he said.

The World Health Organization reports that globally, the prevalence of smoking has gone down from 27 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2016. But the WHO, notes that the number of tobacco users worldwide has remained stable at 1.1 billion because of population growth.

Kerstin Schotte, WHO technical officer in the same department as Prasad, notes a steeper decline in the prevalence of smoking in wealthier countries, compared to poorer ones.

“And, some low-and-middle income countries even have increasing smoking prevalence rates. This is where the tobacco industry is going at the moment,” she said. “They know a little bit that it is a lost cause in Europe and North America, so they are going into the low-and-middle-income countries, targeting especially women and children there.”

The World Health Organization recommends a number of effective, low-cost measures countries can adopt to reduce tobacco consumption.

These include the creation of smoke-free environments, imposing a ban on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. WHO also suggests putting a high tax on the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to make them unaffordable for many, especially young people.

 

 

 

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Trump: China Maybe Regrets Backtracking on Trade Provisions

President Donald Trump said Thursday he still believes China “would love to make” a new trade deal with the United States and might now regret backtracking on some agreements negotiators for the two countries had reached.

“We had a deal and they broke the deal,” Trump said at the White House. “I think if they had to do it again they wouldn’t have done what they did.”

Trump contended that tariffs he has imposed on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese imports has prompted some manufacturers in China to move their production to other countries.

“I think we’re doing very well with China,” he said, adding that tariffs have had little effect on inflation in the U.S.

Trade talks between officials of the world’s two biggest economies broke off recently, but U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he likely will travel to Beijing “in the near future” to continue negotiations.

Meanwhile, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Hanhui  accused the U.S. of engaging in “naked economic terrorism” in the trade war. He leveled the accusation in Beijing during a news briefing on President Xi Jinping’s official visit to Russia next week.

Beijing and Washington have been engaged in a trade war since last July, when Trump first imposed tariffs on hundreds of Chinese products worth billions of dollars, leading to a set of retaliatory tit-for-tit tariff increases. Trump and Xi had agreed to de-escalate the trade war last December while they started negotiations to reach a lasting deal.  

But Trump recently boosted taxes on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods after accusing Beijing of reneging on promises to make structural changes to its economic practices. He has threatened to add tariffs to all Chinese imports, which could amount to levies on another $300 billion worth of Chinese exports to the U.S.  

Zhang said while China does not want a trade war, it is not afraid of it, and described the Trump administration’s actions as “economic bullying.”

Beijing countered Trump’s levies by announcing new tariff increases on $60 billion worth of U.S. exports that will take effect Saturday.

An editorial Wednesday in The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, warned that China could end exports of rare earth minerals to the U.S. as leverage in the trade war. Rare earths are a group of 17 chemical elements used in everything from smartphones and other high-tech electronics to military equipment. 

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Telecoms Giant EE Launches Britain’s First 5G Services

British mobile phone operator EE on Thursday became the first in the country to launch a high-speed 5G service, but without smartphones from controversial Chinese technology giant Huawei.

EE, which is a division of British telecoms giant BT, has launched 5G in six major cities comprising Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester — and more hubs will follow.

“From today, the U.K. will be able to discover 5G for the first time thanks to EE,” it announced in a statement, after an official launch featuring a performance from chart-topping grime act Stormzy on a boat on London’s River Thames.

Next-generation 5G mobile networks offer almost instantaneous data transfer that will become the nervous system of Europe’s economy in strategic sectors like energy, transport, banking and health care.

EE had announced last week that it would make its 5G network available to the public — but would not sell Huawei’s first 5G phone, the Mate 20 X 5G.

However, the Chinese company still provides 5G network infrastructure equipment to EE.

“We are very pleased to be one of the partners supporting EE with a new era of faster and more reliable mobile connectivity over 5G in the U.K.,” a Huawei spokesperson told AFP on Thursday.

Rival British mobile phone giant Vodafone will launch its own 5G services on July 3 in seven UK cities — but it has also paused the sale of the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G smartphone.

Vodafone does not use Huawei in its core UK network but uses a mixture of Ericsson and Huawei technology in its radio access network or masts, according to a company spokesman. He added that there are “multiple” layers of security between the masts and the core network.

Huawei faces pushback in some Western markets over fears that Beijing could spy on communications and gain access to critical infrastructure if allowed to develop foreign 5G networks.

The Chinese company flatly denies what it describes as “unsubstantiated claims” about being a security threat.

US internet titan Google has meanwhile started to cut ties between its Android operating system and Huawei, a move that affects hundreds of millions of smartphone users, after the U.S. government announced what amounts to a ban on selling or transferring technology to the company.

Earlier this week, Huawei asked a U.S. court to throw out US legislation that bars federal agencies from buying its products.

The U.S. moves against Huawei come as the Washington and Beijing are embroiled in a wider trade war.

 

 

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Should Facebook Delete Fake Pelosi Video?

When a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — one altered to show the Democratic leader slurring her words — began making the rounds on Facebook last week, the social network didn’t take it down. Instead, it “downranked” the video, a behind-the-scenes move intended to limit its spread.

That outraged some people who believe Facebook should do more to clamp down on misinformation. Pelosi derided Facebook Wednesday for not taking down the video even though it knows it is false.

But the company and some civil libertarians warn that Facebook could evolve into an unaccountable censor if it’s forced to make judgment calls on the veracity of text, photos or videos.

Facebook has long resisted making declarations about the truthfulness of posts that could open it up to charges of censorship or political bias. It manages to get itself in enough trouble simply trying to enforce more basic rules in difficult cases, such as the time a straightforward application of its ban on nudity led it to remove an iconic Vietnam War photo of a naked girl fleeing a napalm attack. (It backed down after criticism from the prime minister of Norway, among others.)

But staying out of the line of fire is harder than it used to be, given Facebook’s size, reach and impact on global society. The social network can’t help but run into controversy given its 2.4 billion users and the sorts of decisions it must make daily — everything from which posts and links it highlights in your news feed to deciding what counts as hate speech to banning controversial figures or leaving them be.

Facebook has another incentive to keep its head down. The deeper it gets into editorial decisions, the more it looks like a publisher, which could tempt legislators to limit the liability shield it currently enjoys under federal law. In addition, making judgments about truth and falsity could quickly become one of the world’s biggest headaches.

For instance, Republican politicians and other conservatives, from President Donald Trump to Fox News personalities, have been trumpeting the charge that Facebook is biased against conservatives. That’s a “false narrative,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia. But as a result, he said, “any effort to clean up Facebook now would spark tremendous fury.”

Twitter hasn’t removed the doctored Pelosi video, either, and declined comment on its handling of it. But YouTube yanked it down, pointing to community guidelines that prohibit spam, deceptive practices and scams.

Facebook has a similar policy that prohibits the use of “misleading and inaccurate” information to gain likes, followers or shares, although it apparently decided not to apply it in this case.

None of these companies explicitly prohibit false news, although Facebook notes that it “significantly” reduces the distribution of such posts by pushing them lower in user news feeds.

The problem is that such downranking doesn’t quite work, Vaidhyanathan said. As of Wednesday, the video shared on Facebook by the group Politics Watchdog had been viewed nearly 3 million times and shared more than 48,000 times. By contrast, other videos posted by this group in the past haven’t had more than a few thousand views apiece.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Facebook is starting to de-emphasize the news feed itself. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has outlined a broad strategy that will emphasize private messaging over public sharing on Facebook. And Facebook groups, many of which are private, aren’t subject to downranking, Vaidhyanathan said.

Facebook didn’t respond to emailed questions about its policies and whether it is considering changes that would allow it to remove similar videos in the future. In an interview last week with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Facebook’s head of global policy, Monika Bickert, defended the company’s decision , noting that users are “being told” that the video is false when they view or share it.

That might be a stretch. When an Associated Press reporter attempted to share the video as a test, a Facebook pop-up noted the existence of “additional reporting” on the video with links to fact-check articles, but didn’t directly describe the video as false or misleading.

Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former security chief, tweeted Sunday that few critics of the social network’s handling of the Pelosi video could articulate realistic enforcement standards beyond “take down stuff I don’t like.” Mass censorship of misleading speech on Facebook, he wrote, would be “a huge and dangerous increase in FB’s editorial power.”

Last year, Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook that the company focuses on downranking so-called “borderline content,” stuff that doesn’t violate its rules but is provocative, sensationalist, “click-bait or misinformation.”

While it’s true that Facebook could just change its rules around what is allowed — moving the line on acceptable material — Zuckerberg said this doesn’t address the underlying problem of incentive. If the line of what is allowed moves, those creating material would just push closer to that new line.

Facebook continuously grapples with the right way to deal with new forms of misinformation, Nathaniel Gleicher, the company’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in a February interview with the AP. The problem is far more complex than carefully manipulated “deepfake” videos that show people doing things they never did, or even crudely doctored videos such as the Pelosi clip.

Any consistent policy, Gleicher said, would have to account for edited images, ones presented out of context (such as a decade-old photo presented as current), doctored audio and more. He said it’s a huge challenge to accurately identify such items and decide what type of disclosure to require when they’re edited.

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China Cheers State TV Anchor in Face-Off with FOX

The highly-anticipated showdown on Wednesday night between Trish Regan of Fox Business and Liu Xin of China Global Television Network (CGTN) — the overseas arm of state-controlled China Central Television (CCTV) — turned out to be a tame question-and-answer session with little exchange of barbs.

 

Some observers say that, as both are neither policymakers nor experts on trade, their “disappointing” talks contributed nothing of substance, but stoked up emotions of national pride in China.

Others, however, welcome such dialogues that allow free exchange of differing views to continue and set an example for U.S. and Chinese officials to resume their trade negotiations.

 

The media hype has not only shed light on the increasingly sharp divide between the two countries over trade but also press freedom in China as well, they add.

 

Face-off

 

The buildup for the debate started last week when Liu released a commentary, accusing Regan of “economic warmongering,” which led to Regan’s invitation via Twitter for an “honest” debate and Wednesday’s face-off between them.

Liu appeared as a guest, via satellite from Beijing, on Regan’s U.S. based show.

Citing rights issues, CGTN wasn’t allowed to live-stream the segment, but many Chinese appeared to watch it on the internet.

 

As expected, during the 16-minute-long segment, Liu stuck closely to China’s talking points on every question Regan raised, be it China’s intellectual property (IP) theft, state capitalism or tariffs.

 

When asked by Regan to respond to a hypothetical question if the United States “forces” China’s Huawei to share its technological developments, Liu replied: “if it is through cooperation, if it is through mutual learning… if you pay for the use of this IP or this high-tech knowledge, I think it’s absolutely fine. Why not? We all prosper because we learn from each other.”

 

Liu, however, admitted that cases of IP theft do exist, but that doesn’t mean all Chinese people are stealing. And IP protection has been a consensus in China, she added.

 

Analysts, in general, believe Liu is on a mission to defend China’s trade stance although Liu insisted she is neither a member of the Communist Party of China, nor speaks for the party, which controls her station.

 

State mouthpiece?

 

“They [state media broadcasters including Liu] all come on the debate or shows with a mission. Many won’t show their true color as the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, but in fact, deep in their mind and thoughts, they have long joined the party,” Lu Nan, an outspoken Chinese dissident, who now lives in the United States, said during a Mingjin TV discussion.

 

Lu added that he gave Liu credit for having skillfully argued her way out in a language that is not her mother tongue although truth beat many of her arguments.

 

David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Project, an independent research program in partnership with the Journalism & Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong, also noted “the seemingly ever-present hand of the Chinese party-state,” saying that Liu can’t afford to act as she pleases in a country, where media professionals are asked to pledge loyalty to the party-state.

 

Stoking nationalistic emotions

 

“Their debate, so-called… could play a substantial role in stoking emotions of national pride in China, regardless of the outcome. Liu is already being portrayed on social media as a national champion,” Bandurski told VOA in an email, adding the show has little substance.

 

The show has indeed attracted so much attention in China that, right after it ended, the top-trending sentence on Weibo — a Twitter-like microblogging platform in China — was “Liu was interrupted by Trish three times in the first 30 seconds of the show.”

 

Many Chinese netizens cheered for Liu’s success.

 

One Weibo user praised Liu to be “neither overbearing nor servile and have showed good demeanor from a big country” while another wrote that Liu “stands to reason and has done a good job.”

 

There were, however, others who said they were disappointed with the show because it came nowhere near a heated debate.

 

Set an example

 

Nevertheless, Harley Seyedin, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in South China, said the conversation between Regan and Liu could set an example for both the United States and China to follow and reach a final resolution for the trade dispute.

 

“As these two super anchors can come to together and held a very civilized conversation on very difficult issues, I think, as two nations, we should be able to sit down at the table and resolve the issues,” Seyedin told a CGTN show right after the Regan-Liu talk.

 

Xu Huiming, an associate professor of journalism at Guangzhou University, agreed, saying talks are better than no talks.

 

“Shall there be no exchange of views, you won’t know what’s on the mind of the others. Any exchange of views, even if they differ from one another, raises attention to those who are interested in the matter,” the professor said.

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DRC’s Ebola Battle Fraught With Security Risks

The World Health Organization says success in ending the Ebola epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo hinges upon improving security in North Kivu and Ituri provinces. The region has been engulfed in conflict for many years, and many locals do not trust outsiders, even the ones trying to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

The U.N. health agency reports security incidents in eastern DRC have increased dramatically in the past few months. So far this year, it reports 174 attacks by armed groups in North Kivu on health care facilities, workers and patients. These include five deaths and 51 injuries.

In mid-April, Cameroonian Dr. Richard Mouzoko was shot and killed while working in a hospital in Butembo, North Kivu. This incident was seen as a big setback to the Ebola operation.

This past Saturday, villagers killed a health worker in the health sector of Mabalako.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, says health workers are being intimidated and threatened by armed men and live in fear, not knowing when the next violent attack may occur.

She says this insecurity is leading to a lack of access and driving the increase in cases.

“When the response cannot reach people,” she said, “they do not get the chance to be vaccinated or to receive life-saving treatment if they do fall ill.

“The technical means to stop this Ebola outbreak are available,” she added. “But without access or a secure operating environment, they cannot be deployed optimally and effectively enough. …This is why the response is one of the most complex health emergencies the world has faced.”

The latest WHO figures show 1,920 Ebola cases in the region, including 1,281 deaths. A new structure for coordinating and strengthening the Ebola response was presented at the World Health Assembly this week.

WHO Executive Director of Health Emergencies Michael Ryan says key partners will have to scale up their operations and take charge of crucial aspects of the new strategy.

“We believe the work on security, the work on non-humanitarian interventions and the work on sustainable financing are the things that need to happen to provide the environment in which public health operations can continue to progress and be successful,” he said.

However, he warns if there are further large-scale security incidents than all bets are off. He says the likely impact of this ongoing instability will have on the Ebola emergency operation is unpredictable, but worrisome.

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Pro-China Policies Unlikely in Australia, India After Recent Elections

In recent weeks, Australia and India have re-elected incumbent prime ministers. These Asia-Pacific countries, who have a difficult relationship with China, are unlikely to make the kind of policy changes that Beijing has been seeking for a long time, analysts said.

Australia this month re-elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison stunning pollsters who had anticipated his defeat for several months. India gave a landslide victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, who campaigned largely on a nationalistic agenda.

China wants support from Australia and India on issues like the U.S.-China trade war, the Huawei controversy, South China Sea controversy and the Belt and Road Initiative.

The Communist Party in Beijing attaches great importance to obtaining support from democratic countries as a means to enhance China’s global influence. It has spent huge sums to obtain the support of the relatively poor European countries like Greece in order to expand the Chinese footprint. But Australia and India are unlikely to support China on many of the issues that are core to Beijing’s foreign policy.

But there may be some exceptions. India has invited Huawei to start trials of its 5G telecommunications network while Australia has blocked it.

“Australia was the first country to reject Huawei’s 5G technology and it is very hard to see how it is going to revisit the decision,” said Richard McGroger, senior fellow at Lowy Institute in Sydney.

China’s official media expressed dissatisfaction over a statement by Morrison describing China as a customer of Australia and the United States as a friend. He made a clear distinction between the two countries when he said, “China is an incredibly important country for Australia’s future. Our relationship with China is of course different to our relationship with the United States,” he said during the elections.

McGregor said there was no reason to be upset over the remarks. “I think it was not a good choice of words. I am sure the Prime Minister did not intend to send any kind of wrong signal and I doubt very much he will be describing China that way again,” he said.

Beijing may have preferred a change of government in Australia which would revisit some of the decisions taken by the coalition under Morrison earlier. But Morrison is back as Prime Minister and he is unlikely to review past decisions.

Besides, Australia has its own domestic reasons to support the United States on issues like opposing China’s military build up in the South China Sea.

“Of course, Australia is worried about the Chinese bases in the South China Sea, since most Australian trade passes through those waters,” he said.

China-India relations

In his congratulatory message to India’s re-elected prime minister, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on Modi to continue joint efforts with China in “promoting multi-polarization and economic globalization as well as upholding multilateralism.”

Analysts see this statement as a sign that Xi wants India to join in a broad coalition against the dominating influence of the United States.

Xi’s choice of words is significant because they come ahead of the meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Kyrgyz Republic capital, Bishkek, on June 13-14. He will meet Modi along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and heads of central Asian countries. China will once again push forward its agenda for opposing U.S. trade policies.

As the re-elected government settles down in New Delhi after a stormy election, envoys from India and China are making swift preparations for a series of exchanges between the leaders. A meeting of foreign ministers will happen soon.

Modi is inviting Xi to his election constituency and pilgrimage city of Varanasi in northern India for an informal summit in September.

The first Mar-a-Lago style informal summit took place with the two leaders meeting each other without aides took place in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year. The idea is for the two leaders to understand each other, see issues from a larger canvass and give “strategic guidance” to their ministers on enhancing India-China relations.

The Wuhan summit took place one year after India and China were engaged in a 72-day long border spat at a place called Doklam near the Bhutan border.

“There will be some serious effort to improve relationship. I think they will also look at the possibility of finding an early solution to the border dispute between the two countries,” said Phunchok Stobdan, former Indian diplomat and strategic expert.

“They might also discuss the Dalai Lama issue,” he said. The Tibetan leader fled China and came to India in 1959. He has since been demanding “greater autonomy” for Tibetan speaking people in China while Chinese leaders describe him as a “separatist and splittist” element who is instigating a section of Tibetans to break up from China.

Modi will also be careful about allowing implementation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative because it can be an emotional issue, more so because the Indian public regards Beijing as Pakistan’s biggest ally and protection. Modi and his party fought the election speaking against what he regards as Pakistan based terrorists causing mayhem in India.

An important issue on Xi’s mind is to garner support from different countries against Washington’s aggressive trade actions, which has also affected India and other countries. An important question is whether he will manage to persuade Modi to come out openly against the trade war.

“India usually tries to stay middle of the road instead of choosing between the U.S. and China. It is unlikely to come out strongly against U.S. trade actions,” Stobdan said.

India cancelled oil shipments from Iran under pressure from Washington, incurring huge losses. But it is likely to go back to the earlier practice of importing Iranian oil despite U.S. sanctions, Stobdan said.

“India is ready to make exceptions when it comes to its long-term a relationship with Iran and Russia. Everyone’s watching if India would regard its relationship with China at the same level,” he said.

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Drought Forces Water Bans in Sydney

Water restrictions are to be imposed in Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, for the first time in almost a decade because of falling reservoir levels and a long-standing drought. Residents who breach the regulations could be fined US$150.

The flow of rainwater into some of Sydney’s reservoirs is at its lowest since World War II. From Saturday, households will face restrictions that will target the use of water outdoors. Garden sprinklers will be banned, and tougher measures could follow. The New South Wales state government says that “early and decisive action” will help to conserve supplies as a record-breaking drought worsens.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology is predicting below-average rainfall and higher temperatures for the next three months across the much of the continent.

“With the lowest inflows into Sydney’s water storage since 1940, the government has come to a decision that it is best to go into water restrictions,” said Melinda Pavey, the New South Wales state Minister for Water. “We may get rain. The Bureau of Meteorology’s predictions are not fabulous, but as we know as we plan weekends, they are not always right and I hope that they are wrong. We are taking the appropriate course of action to take it to level one.”

New South Wales has been in drought since the middle of 2017.

Catherine Port, from Sydney Water, a government-owned company, says its officers will patrol to ensure the water ban is not broken.

“Sydney Water have a team of community water officers that will be out in the community to monitor and ensure that water restrictions are complied with. Penalties that will apply is AUD$220 for individuals and $550 for businesses,” she said.

Critics, though, insist that Sydney’s plight is in part the result of poor planning and a failure to take water recycling seriously.

Falling reservoir levels prompted authorities to switch on a multi-million dollar desalinization plant in January. At full capacity, it could supply Sydney, a city of 4.6 million people, with 15 per cent of its water needs.

Smaller towns in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, are also facing water crises. In Tamworth, residents are on level four restrictions that ban all use of water outdoors, and swimming pools cannot be filled or topped up. Level five restrictions are considered to be an emergency measure.

Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent.

 

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Amid Health Care Shortage, Immigrants Are Rural America’s Saving Grace

Roberta Boltz keeps her doors unlocked at night. The former coal mine worker says it is just one perk of living in the small Pennsylvania town of Hegins.

But last Christmas morning, she had her first epileptic seizure, and her only worry about rural life took center stage: access to health care. There is no hospital in her community of 812 residents, and she says she does not trust the one closest to her.

“I’ve heard people say they wouldn’t send their dog to that hospital,” Boltz said. “They’re so understaffed.”

Seated upright in a platinum nightgown, with gauze covering her thin forehead, Boltz recently made the one-hour commute to Danville, Pennsylvania’s, eight-story, 559-bed Geisinger Medical Center to receive care, as she has done during several critical life moments. Geisinger treated her son’s Crohn’s disease when he was a child, and more recently, after her husband suffered a heart attack. 

Located beside a 300-acre forest, Danville is not much more urban than Hegins. With a population of 4,631, it could not by itself support a hospital this size that serves all of central Pennsylvania and has grappled with its own issue of filling medical staff positions.

Geisinger has tried to solve its own staffing problem by hiring immigrants from Jamaica, India, the Philippines, South Korea, Kenya, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and others — many of whom have come to live in a borough (town) that is 94% white. 

In interviews with VOA, Geisinger staff referred to the nursing shortage crisis as one of its biggest supply-and-demand challenges. Despite being the region’s “employer of choice,” they say local talent recruitment alone has fallen short of their needs.

Big shortage

The entire United States faces a massive shortage of health care professionals over the next decade, including up to 120,000 physicians by 2030. One-third of currently active doctors in the country will reach retirement age during that span.

Unless the health care workforce gap is addressed, rural areas are likely to bear the brunt of its effects, says Andrew Lim, director of quantitative research at New American Economy, a bipartisan research organization.

“If you look at urban areas, there are over 200 doctors per 100,000 people. But if you look at rural counties, the number of doctors to go around is much less — something like 82 for every 100,000,” Lim told VOA.

The population of Danville more than doubles when Geisinger — with its 6,200 employees — is fully staffed. Among the workers: 415 internationally trained physicians and 57 foreign-born registered nurses.

“Not only is Geisinger trying to recruit (international nurses), many other health systems are,” Julene Campion, vice president of human resources at Geisinger, told VOA. “We could probably use another 100 easily (across the Geisinger network), but there aren’t enough available.”

“We’ve outgrown our ability to supply,” added Crystal Muthler, Geisinger’s vice president of nursing — a 30-year veteran. 

The community’s needs, combined with an aging workforce, she says, are ultimately what led Geisinger to reevaluate its staffing model and implement an international nurse initiative in 2018.

“We have to look at how we attract people to the area,” Muthler said. 

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, health care is projected to be the largest-growing sector of new job creation over the next decade, accounting for more than 1.3 million new jobs, roughly one-third of them for registered nurses.

But for those looking to find opportunity in the United States, while helping fill a critical shortage, obstacles remain.

Doctors have been impacted by the Trump administration’s travel ban, while some health aides and nursing assistants could be barred from getting a green card.

It is unclear whether Trump’s new immigration plan, announced on May 16, will help health care staffing. The merit-based system would favor immigrants who fall into broad “high-skill” categories, including “professional and specialized vocations,” at the cost of family-based and humanitarian immigrant visas.

‘Kindness is my language’

Even now, foreign-born health care professionals represent more than their share of the overall U.S. population; 14.7% of nurses and 22.7% of health aides are immigrants, according to NAE, compared to 13.7% of the population as a whole.

Thirty-five-year-old Hemoy Drummond, a recent Geisinger hire from Jamaica, has an EB-3 employment-based immigrant visa. She has 13 years of experience as a registered nurse.

“I was very nervous. It was a new setting, new expectations,” Drummond said. “But when I got here, I realized that people are kind. … I said, ‘That’s my language.'”

Danville, with its lush hillsides and nearby cornfields, reminds her of the sugar cane fields her father harvested in her native Clarkstown, Jamaica. Her community is safe. The mother of two can walk home alone after a late shift.

The nursing work is easier in Danville than in a short-staffed Montego Bay hospital.

“It’s easier to care for four to six (patients at Geisinger) than 18 (in Jamaica),” Drummond said. “I love to talk with (patients) that extra minute.”

Willing to stay

In town, locals generally welcome — or at least tolerate — their new international neighbors. 

“They’re magnificent!” remarked one woman on Danville’s Mill Street. “We’d be stupid not to let them into our country.”

Two hours southeast of Danville, along the Susquehanna River in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, views are more mixed. A foreign-born doctor described Chambersburg as “where blue meets red.” 

Yet Chambersburg Hospital, too, has been trying to solve its health care staffing problems with immigrants.

In Chambersburg, population 20,878, VOA spoke with 10 foreign-born doctors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Poland and Hungary. Nine of them expressed a willingness to remain in rural Pennsylvania long term, including Indian physicians affected by a per-country green card backlog that has placed their families’ future in limbo. 

​U.S.-born physicians do not want to go to Chambersburg, much less stay, explained Dr. Golam Mostofa, chairman of the department of hospital medicine at Chambersburg Hospital.

“Fifty percent of our hospital medicine physicians are foreign graduates,” Mostofa said. “If we interview 10 American graduates, maybe one shows up.”

Dr. Muhammad Khokhar, a gastroenterologist from Lahore, Pakistan, has been in Chambersburg for 16 years. He remains committed to the town, even after his sixth grade daughter’s classmates at a Montessori school accused her of making bombs.

“(When) you have invested so much in the community, and you have built up relationships with your partners and the practice, it’s difficult,” Khokhar said. 

“I’m here,” he added. “This is my retirement place.”

 

 

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