RT – Queen Elizabeth has approved British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request to suspend parliament according to a statement from the Queen’s advisers, known as the Privy Council.
RT – Crypto evangelist, cyber security expert and on-the-run US presidential candidate John McAfee has been forced to flee his current hideout after an online sleuth blew his cover and exposed his location.
The 73-year-old cybersecurity expert claims he is being hunted by US authorities for tax evasion amounting to millions of dollars, and documents his fugitive lifestyle for his followers on Twitter.
He was briefly detained in the Dominican Republic for failing to declare weapons on board his yacht. Upon his release by Dominican authorities, he informed his followers that he was leaving his yacht, ‘The Freedom Boat’, and was flying to Lithuania.
ABC – The People’s Armed Police, the paramilitary wing of the Chinese military, has been running daily simulation drills inside the sports stadium just across the Shenzhen Bay from Hong Kong.
Beijing has massed troops here for the last two weeks as a response and veiled threat to the increasingly violent protests just over the border in neighboring Hong Kong now entering their 12th week with no end in sight. A nearby bridge could bring the troops into one of the world’s financial centers within 10 minutes.
ABC News caught a glimpse inside the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center, seeing members of People’s Armed Police in civilian clothing, role-playing the Hong Kong protesters, complete with yellow headgear, laser pens and long rods on the soccer pitch, facing off with their uniformed compatriots, who were advancing with riot shields and flags.
Access into stadium has been sealed, but even from the outside, signs of the soldiers’ presence is unmistakable, as rows of camouflaged fatigues with the People’s Armed Police insignia were being hung out to dry.
Meanwhile, the parking lot was filled to capacity with armored vehicles and troops transports. ABC News counted at least 130 visible vehicles with many more inside the stadium, including earth movers and water cannon trucks that were being tested, sending powerful jets of water shooting through the air.
Ever since Beijing upped the ante of possible direct intervention, the world has been holding its collective breath to see if they will or won’t send boots on the ground into Hong Kong.
WSJ – After five years, China is putting the finishing touches on a sweeping new system to punish and reward companies for their corporate behavior. But foreigners worry that, amid the continuing U.S.-China trade dispute, Beijing will use its new corporate “social credit” system as a weapon against international businesses.
While Beijing’s better-known plans for a social-credit system for individuals have stirred privacy concerns, a parallel effort to monitor corporate behavior would similarly consolidate data on credit ratings and other characteristics, collected by various central and local government agencies, into one central database, according to China’s State Council. The system is set to fully start next year.
An algorithm would then determine to what degree companies are complying with the country’s various laws and regulations. In some cases, companies could be punished by losing access to preferential policies or facing stricter levels of administrative punishment, a document from the State Administration for Market Regulation showed. Analysts said that other punishments could include denial of access to land purchases, certain loans and procurement bidding.
The imminent nationwide implementation of Beijing’s corporate social-credit system is unnerving foreign businesses, which have been bracing for further countermeasures from Beijing as the trade war continues to take unexpected twists and turns.
Beijing said in late May that it is drawing up a blacklist of entities it deems unreliable in apparent retaliation against Washington’s campaign targeting Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co.
U.S. News, Politics & Government
KSL.com – Purdue Pharma and the thousands of state and local governments suing the maker of OxyContin over the nation’s deadly opioid crisis are negotiating a $10 billion to $12 billion settlement under which the Sackler family would give up ownership of the company, according to published reports.
Under the proposal now on the table, the Sacklers would contribute $3 billion of their own money toward the total, and the company would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and transform itself into a “public beneficiary trust,” with all profits from drug sales going to the plaintiffs, The New York Times reported Wednesday. It said a document outlining the tentative agreement was described to the newspaper.
Also, Purdue Pharma would supply its addiction treatment drugs free to the public, and the Sacklers would sell another pharmaceutical company, Mundipharma, which would add $1.5 billion to the settlement, the Times said.
In a statement, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company did not confirm any of the details — some of them also reported by NBC — but said it sees little good in years of “wasteful litigation and appeals.”
Activist Post – CEO Susan Wojcicki said Tuesday that it’s “more important than ever” for YouTube to remain an “open platform” just one day after going on a massive banning spree targeting right-wingers for so-called “hate speech.”
Amazingly, this is not satire.
Can the world’s largest video company continue to let its 2 billion users upload anything they want, whenever they want?
Yes, says the woman who runs that company: In a letter addressed to creators on YouTube, CEO Susan Wojcicki says the platform is committed to remaining open because she thinks the upside of that approach very much outweighs the downside.
This isn’t a new idea, and it’s one that Wojcicki, along with people who run other giant tech platforms, say in private all the time. But Wojcicki is saying it again, today, as critics are increasingly questioning if it’s a philosophy that works for tech companies at a global scale. […]
“I believe preserving an open platform is more important than ever,” Wojcicki writes in a quarterly note aimed at YouTube’s most ardent users, who upload videos onto the site for fun and profit. While that note is usually dedicated to celebrating YouTube’s wide swath of creators, this one spends most of its time defending the idea that YouTube will continue to keep its doors open to anyone who wants to post just about anything on the site.
We’re reaching levels of propaganda never before thought possible.
Activist Post – Epstein’s own defense team doesn’t buy the suicide narrative, apparently, as one of his lawyers on Tuesday voiced deep skepticism that he hanged himself while addressing a final hearing in a Manhattan US District Court on Tuesday, which was held to formally dismiss the charges as is typical when the accused is deceased, but also to still allow testimony of some of the victims.
Defense lawyer Reid Weingarten told Judge Richard Berman during the hearing that Epstein’s injuries are “far more consistent with assault” than suicide, especially given the broken bones in his neck discovered during the autopsy after he was found dead in his jail cell on Aug. 10. This after it was previously revealed that Epstein’s defense attorneys had successfully lobbied for him to be taken off suicide watch on July 29, about a week before he was found dead in his cell, according to ABC News.
“Weingarten cited the defense’s own medical sources. Broken bones were found in Epstein’s neck during an autopsy after he died Aug. 10,” reports CNBC. “Such fractures are somewhat more common in cases of strangulation than in hanging.”
Weingarten explained to the judge that Epstein didn’t at all appear suicidal during discussions and interactions the evening before his apparent early morning hours death. “We did not see a despairing, despondent, suicidal person,” the lawyer said.
Tuesday’s proceedings were held to allow about 20 women, many choosing to remain anonymous during testimony, to tell the court and the world what happened to them at the hands of the wealthy sex predator and human trafficker.
Judge Berman wrote of the hearing, “The Court believes that where, as here, a defendant has died before any judgment has been entered against him, the public may still have an informational interest in the process by which the prosecutor seeks dismissal of an indictment.”
CNN – Days after Christmas, Leon Haughton flew back to the US from his birthplace in Jamaica with three jars of honey. He had no idea they would cost him his freedom for nearly three months.
The Maryland resident spent 82 days in jail after he was arrested December 29 and accused of bringing a controlled substance into the country. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers who searched Haughton’s bag upon his arrival to Baltimore/Washington International Airport said the honey he was carrying tested positive for drugs.
“They said I was charged with methamphetamine, so I said, ‘what is methamphetamine?'” Haughton told CNN affiliate WJLA.
Charging documents say the 46-year-old man told officers he had purchased the honey on the side of a road in Jamaica, but officers suspected it was liquid meth.
Each of the three bottles tested positive for methamphetamine in a field test, according to a probable cause statement. Haughton was taken to a county jail to face multiple charges including importing a controlled substance into the state and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
He stayed there until March when the charges against him were dropped after a second test in a Georgia lab found no signs of drugs.
“Once I came out, all my insurances collapsed, my credit was destroyed,” he told the affiliate. “I lost my job, everything. They just left me a mess.”
The father of six told WJLA he lost two jobs while sitting behind bars.
But there was no error made in this case, the prosecutor’s office said.
“A specially trained drug sniffing dog was alerted to the presence of a controlled dangerous substance and a preliminary test done by the police officers further tested positive for a controlled dangerous substance,” the office said. “The confirmatory laboratory test showed (there) was no controlled dangerous substance inside the honey.”
The Daily Signal – As a kid, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie recalls, he visited a VA hospital at Christmastime.
“One of my fondest memories growing up, we used to sing Christmas carols at the VA hospital in Fayetteville, North Carolina,” Wilkie told The Daily Signal, sitting in a 10th-floor office at VA headquarters on Vermont Avenue Northwest, overlooking the White House.
Since becoming VA secretary a little more than a year ago, he has returned to North Carolina.
“I was in my hometown. We have a beautiful chapel in the old VA hospital. And I walked in and there were no Bibles,” the secretary said. “It had been stripped of the symbols of religion.”
The VA revised directives to permit religious literature, symbols, and displays at agency facilities following a string of incidents in recent years in which individual medical centers banned Christmas carols and a Christmas tree, chapels removed Bibles, and chaplains faced restraints on religious expression.
Generally, the VA had inconsistent policies across the country.
Officials designed the changes to protect the religious freedom of veterans and their families.
The new guidelines, which went into effect last month, referred to the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing a cross-shaped memorial to World War I dead to continue standing on public land in Bladensburg, Maryland.
The high court’s decision highlighted the important role that religious symbols plays in the lives of Americans and their consistency with constitutional principles.
“The military culture has been part of my being, an important part of what I believe,” Wilkie told The Daily Signal. “I’ve seen the effects of combat, both in uniform and out of uniform.”
The new guidelines call for “inclusion in appropriate circumstances of religious content in publicly accessible displays at VA facilities,” and allow “patients and their guests to request and be provided religious literature, symbols and sacred texts during visits to VA chapels and during their treatment at VA.”
The guidelines also allow the VA to accept donations of religious literature, cards, and symbols at its facilities, and to distribute them to VA patrons “under appropriate circumstances.”
“Under the old regime, you couldn’t have those outward symbols,” Wilkie said. “You could not have religious texts in the chapels unless you brought them. The chaplains could not walk the halls seeking people to talk with. There had to be a specific request.”
The allowed literature may include the Bible, the Quran, the Talmud, or any other religious text, VA officials noted.
Economy & Business
Bloomberg – The dollar has been ascendant in 2019 and forecasts for a U.S. recession are growing louder. If the greenback’s strength keeps up and the economy does shrink, some experts are worried this combination will make it harder for the economy to claw back out.
A Federal Reserve Bank of New York indicator shows more than 30% odds of a downturn in the next 12 months. Exports and investments are critical parts of U.S. gross domestic product, so a dollar that climbs as rates fall — and traders expect the Fed to keep reducing them — would leave just consumers and fiscal policy to power growth.
Not only does the U.S. currency’s climb tend to erode the profits of American multinationals, but it also raises the costs of foreign corporations with trillions of dollar-denominated debt. The pressure from greenback strength on other economies could even encourage those countries to join a U.S. attempt to weaken it.
“If you start to see the U.S. economy really begin to decelerate and the dollar continue to strengthen, that would suggest a dislocation with fundamentals that is unsustainable and will get the attention of policy makers,” Bank of America senior foreign-exchange strategist Ben Randol said in a phone interview. “If the U.S. can make its concerns heard with its international counterparts, it can potentially get some support for a coordinated intervention that suppresses the strength of the dollar.”
It will take two more months to see which one of two historical patterns will play out, Randol says. The first is that the dollar weakens, as it did ahead of the 1990-91 and 2007-09 recessions. Or the upward move could continue, as it mostly did before, during and after the 2001 downturn.
Bloomberg – The rich have cut their spending on everything from homes to jewelry, sparking fears of a trickle-down recession that starts at the top.
From real estate and retail stores to classic cars and art, the weakest segment of the American economy right now is the very top. While the middle class and broader consumer sections continue to spend, economists say the sudden pullback among the wealthy could cascade down to the rest of the economy and create a further drag on growth.
Luxury real estate is having its worst year since the financial crisis, with pricey markets like Manhattan seeing six straight quarters of sales declines. According to Redfin, sales of homes priced at $1.5 million or more fell 5% in the U.S. in the second quarter. Unsold mansions and penthouses are piling up across the country, especially in ritzy resort towns, with a nearly three-year supply of luxury listings in Aspen, Colorado, and the Hamptons in New York.
Retailers to the 1% are faring the worst, with famed Barney’s filing for bankruptcy and Nordstrom posting three consecutive quarterly declines in revenue. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart and Target, which cater to the everyday consumer, are reporting stronger-than-expected traffic and growth.
CNBC – The rate on the benchmark 30-year Treasury bond sank to a new all-time low on Wednesday while the U.S. yield curve inverted even further as fixed-income traders continue to bet on tepid inflation and slower growth around the world.
The 30-year bond yield dropped to as low as 1.907% early Wednesday morning, breaking its prior all-time low of 1.916% clinched earlier in August. The 30-year rate later moved off those lows to trade at 1.916%, still below yields on U.S. debt of far shorter duration such as 3-month and 1-month bills.
The yield curve inversion, meanwhile, continued to worsen on Wednesday. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note slumped further below that of the 2-year note — at 1.454% and 1.5%, respectively — after closing inverted for the second day in a row on Tuesday. Yields fall as prices rise.
The Week – Uh oh. Warren Buffett, known for being one of the world’s most prescient investors, has kept quiet on whether U.S. equities are too expensive at a time when the global economy is slowing, Bloomberg reports. But he’s reportedly hoarding a record $122 billion in cash at Berkshire Hathaway Inc., leading to some speculation that he sees a recession on the horizon, or at least is sending some sort of warning. The cash pile is more than half the value of Berkshire’s $208 billion portfolio of public companies, and the only time that percentage has reportedly been higher since 1987 was in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis.
Bloomberg also points out that Buffett’s favorite gauge of the stock market, the market capitalization-to-GDP ratio, doesn’t paint a pretty picture at the moment. The barometer, which measures the total value of the stock market as a percentage of GDP, was reportedly telling before the last two economic downturns. It shot up 146 percent at the peak of the dot-com bubble in 2000, and 137 percent just before the financial crisis in 2008. It reportedly hit 154 percent in 2017 and Bloomberg reports that it’s almost certainly higher today since the U.S. stock market is up. If it wasn’t clear already, the lower the ratio, the better.
Defaults are up for the first time since the great financial crisis. But as rates fall, a refi surge will help millions.
The Black Knight Mortgage Monitor shows the first annual rise in defaults since the crisis.
- An estimated 243K borrowers defaulted on first lien mortgages in Q2 2019
- While the quarter ending on a Sunday certainly played a factor in the rise in defaults, a noticeable overall slowdown in the decline in default activity has been observed.
- The national default rate rose by 3% compared to Q2 2018, the first such annual rise since the financial crisis (adjusting for the 2017 hurricane season)
CNS News – Entities in Japan have surpassed entities in Mainland China as the top foreign holders of U.S. Treasury securities, according to the latest estimate published this month by the Treasury.
In May of this year, the Chinese owned $1,110,200,000,000 in U.S Treasury securities and the Japanese owned $1,101,000,000,000. In June, however, Chinese ownership of U.S. Treasury securities rose only to $1,112,500,000,000 and Japanese ownership climbed to $1,122,900,000,000.
That marked the first time since May 2017 that entities in Japan have owned more U.S. Treasury securities, as estimated by the U.S. Treasury, than entities in China.
In May 2017, the Japanese owned $1,111,500,000,000 in U.S. Treasury securities and the Chinese owned $1,102,200,000,000. In June 2017, Chinese ownership of U.S. Treasury securities increased to $1,146,500,000,000 and Japanese ownership declined to $1,090,300,000.000.
Chinese ownership of U.S. Treasury securities, according to the estimates, peaked in November 2013 at $1,316,700,000,000.
Americans are googling the Dow — here’s why that could spell trouble – Stock-market volatility can undermine consumer confidence: analyst
Market Watch – Main Street is paying attention to Wall Street — and that might not be a good sign for the economy.
Nicholas Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research, observed on Aug. 8 that Google searches for “dow jones” were higher than they were in May, when the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.67% retreated 6.7% and the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.48% suffered a 6.6% decline due to a flare-up in U.S.-China tensions over trade policy. Through Monday, the Dow was down 3.6% this month, while the S&P 500 was down 3.4%.
In a Tuesday note, he wrote that Google searches for “dow jones” for the week of Aug. 11-17, the last full week of data, are up 28% from the peak May week (see chart below).
Energy & Environment
Weather Channel – Tropical Storm Dorian is now striking the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the first storm there since 2017’s Hurricane Maria, and is an increasing danger to the Southeast U.S., including Florida, over the Labor Day holiday weekend.
Dorian’s center is now moving over St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Heavy rain is now lashing St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and the British Virgin Islands. Outer rainbands are already pushing into Puerto Rico, according to the NWS Doppler radar from San Juan.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, as well as the islands of Vieques and Culebra. This means hurricane conditions (74 mph or greater winds) are expected with the passage of Dorian.
A hurricane watch remains in effect for Puerto Rico, meaning those conditions are possible with the passage of Dorian.
RT – A volcano off the south of Italy erupted with a loud roar in front of gobsmacked tourists, spilling a river of lava into the sea and sending huge plumes of hot ash into the sky.
The volcano on Stromboli island erupted at 12:17pm local time on Wednesday, according to Italian officials monitoring the site. Holidaymakers captured the aftermath and reported a metallic taste in their mouths as they watched the almighty blast.
CNN – Three tiny balls of fur huddle together for warmth inside a cardboard box. The baby cheetahs are just a few weeks old, but they’ve had a traumatic start to life.
A smuggler was attempting to spirit the cubs out of Somaliland, a breakaway state from Somalia, when he was caught red-handed by the authorities.
The cubs, who will soon be taken to a safehouse, are the lucky ones. Some 300 young cheetahs are trafficked out of Somaliland every year — around the same number as the entire population of adult and adolescent cheetahs in unprotected areas in the Horn of Africa, according to the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).
The trend is of “epidemic proportions,” according to CCF, an organization devoted to saving cheetahs in the wild. At the current rates of trafficking, the cheetah population in the region could soon be wiped out.
Science & Technology
CBS – American Airlines has begun using facial recognition technology to board some passengers at DFW Airport.
The facial scans replace the use of boarding passes at the gates.
However, travelers will still need a boarding pass to get through the security check.
American Airlines calls the facial recognition a more secure verification system.
“Once you come to board, it matches your face with your passport photo, and if it matches, it allows you to board that aircraft,” said Brandon Duggins of DFW Airport.
For now, the facial recognition is only being used on international flights out of Terminal D, but it’s expected to expand.
American Airlines says it does not store any of the photos.
SF Gate – The doorbell-camera company Ring has quietly forged video-sharing partnerships with more than 400 police forces across the United States, granting them access to homeowners’ camera footage and a powerful role in what the company calls America’s “new neighborhood watch.”
The partnerships let police automatically request the video recorded by homeowners’ cameras within a specific time and area, helping officers see footage from the company’s millions of Internet-connected cameras installed nationwide, the company said. Officers don’t receive ongoing or live-video access, and homeowners can decline the requests, which are sent via emails that thank them for “making your neighborhood a safer place.”
The number of police deals, which has not previously been reported, will likely fuel broader questions about privacy, surveillance and the expanding reach of tech giants and local police. The rapid growth of the program, which launched last spring, surprised some civil-liberties advocates, who believed fewer than 300 agencies had signed on.
Ring is owned by Amazon, which bought the firm last year for more than $800 million, financial filings show. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post.
Ring officials and law-enforcement partners portray the vast camera network as an irrepressible shield for American neighborhoods, saying it can assist police investigators and protect homes from criminals, intruders and thieves.
But legal experts and privacy advocates have voiced alarm over the company’s eyes-everywhere ambitions and increasingly close relationship with police, saying the program could threaten civil liberties, turn residents into informants and subject innocent people, including those who Ring users have flagged as “suspicious,” to greater surveillance and potential risk.
CBS Sacramento – In 2017 Sacramento became one of the first cities in the nation to launch 5G high-speed internet service. Now some people say those radio signals are creating health hazards in their homes.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is trying to position the city as a demonstration hub for new technology, but with anything new comes questions about public safety.
As Verizon puts up hundreds of antennas around the city, some parents worry about potential risks.
“I’m losing sleep, we’re just concerned about our daughters,” Aaron McMahon said.
Aaron and Hannah McMahon have a 5G cell site on a pole right outside their Pocket neighborhood home. They’re worried about cancer or other long-term health effects on their six and three-year-old daughters living so close to a transmitter beaming a radio signal 24 hours a day.
“We had a few experts come out and told us we were living in a microwave,” Aaron McMahon said.
“It’s scary, it’s a hard situation to be in,” Hannah McMahon said. “They can’t tell me that something that’s fairly new, and relatively untested, is not gonna be harmful in 10-15 years.”
Sacramento was one of the first cities in the nation to get Verizon’s 5G high-speed technology. But some say it was done with little debate over putting transmitters in neighborhoods.
Down To Earth – Scientists from Pune-based National Chemicals Laboratory (NCL) have found that in pre-diabetes condition, blood has abundance of glucose bound to units of protein serum albumin. This biological state can be used as biomarker for diagnosing pre-diabetic condition.
Diabetes is a major health problem in India. An estimated 72 million Indians suffer from diabetes and this number is projected to go up in future. In such a situation, diagnosis of pre-diabetes can help in controlling the burden of disease through suitable lifestyle modifications.
Although diagnostic methods such as oral glucose tolerance test, fasting plasma glucose test, etc can tell us about the pre-diabetic condition, many a times it remains undiagnosed.
Researchers have found that abundance of glucose bound peptides (smaller units of a protein) of protein serum albumin can help in accurately diagnosing pre-diabetes. Serum albumin is a protein found in blood plasma which binds to steroids, fatty acids and thyroid hormones and carry them.
If prediabetes is not controlled in time it can lead to development of diabetes and complications in functioning of blood vessels. “The annual conversion rate of prediabetes to diabetes is about 5-10 per cent. But timely diagnosis of prediabetes and lifestyle changes can reverse the pre-diabetic population to normal state,” Mahesh Kulkarni, leader of research team, told India Science Wire.
Natural Health News – Edible flowers are a surprising as source of healthy fatty-acids, carotenoids and more according to new research.
In this age of Instagram and social media food photography, pretty edible dible flowers can often be seen brightening up photos of salads, soups, meat dishes and more.
But, say, Portuguese researchers flowers aren’t just a pretty garnish. The scientists from the Polytechnic Institute of Bragança, Porto University, and the University of Aveiro in Portugal analysed the phytochemical composition of borage and centaurea, two popular edible flowers.
Overall their findings suggest that “daily consumption of edible flowers may contribute to supplying some macronutrients, vitamins, and organic acids to the human diet.”
The study, published in the journal Food Research International, also concluded that consumption of the petals from these flowers can, in particular, contribute to the daily recommended dose of vitamin E (mostly alpha-tocopherols), based on a 100g dry weight of each flower petal at all flowering stages.