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World News

‘Yellow Vests already in power in Italy’: Former IMF head on rising challenge to EU establishment

RT – While Yellow Vest protests continue against Macron’s reforms, former IMF head Carto Cottarelli believes the new Italian government represents a populist anti-austerity sentiment, moving from the streets into the EU parliament.

In an interview with RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze, Cottarelli suggested that the Yellow Vests’ principles have now found expression on a parliamentary level in Italy. Italy’s new populist government promises sharp increases in public spending and offers harsh criticism of current EU leadership and French President Emmanuel Macron in particular.

“The yellow jackets are already in power in Italy, so I don’t think there are going to be any demonstrations,” he said noting that the Italian government sees Macron’s weakness as their strength.

Divided Italy blocks EU statement on recognizing Venezuela’s Guaido

Reuters – Italy on Monday blocked a joint EU position to recognize Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, diplomatic sources said, with the government in Rome deeply divided over the issue.

US calls for repatriation of foreign fighters held in Syria

AP – The United States on Monday called on other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens who traveled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State group and who are now being held by Washington’s local partners.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces say they have detained more than 900 foreign fighters during their U.S.-backed campaign against IS in northeastern Syria, where they are currently battling to drive the extremists from their last tiny pocket of territory.

US-South Korea reach agreement over cost of US troops in region

CNN – The US and South Korea have reached a preliminary agreement on the cost of keeping nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea, two State Department officials said, alleviating fears among President Donald Trump’s advisers that he could move to withdraw US troops during his upcoming summit with North Korea’s leader.

Under the revised Special Measures Agreement, South Korea would boost its financial contribution to nearly $1 billion, according to a State Department official and South Korean media. That’s an increase on the about $800 million South Korea had been paying per year during the previous five-year commitment.

U.S. News, Politics & Government

Judge dismisses Maryland suit to preserve Affordable Care Act, saying there’s no firm evidence of impending harm

The Baltimore Sun – A federal judge on Friday dismissed Maryland’s attempt to protect the Affordable Care Act, known as “Obamacare,” from any Trump administration efforts to dismantle it.

The Maryland attorney general’s office had sought a declaration that the national health care act is constitutional.

But U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander in Baltimore ruled that the state lacked standing to pursue the case because there was no firm evidence of impending harm to the law.

Hollander wrote that there was little dispute that President Donald Trump had “profound disdain” for the act.

“But the state’s allegations do not create a plausible inference of a substantial or certainly impending risk that the Trump administration will cease enforcement of part or all of the ACA,” she wrote.

“In effect, the state proclaims that the sky is falling. But, falling acorns, even several of them, do not amount to a falling sky.”

Democrats have accused the administration of trying to sabotage the health-care law that was partially undone when Congress repealed a mandate in 2017 that required most Americans to buy insurance or risk a tax penalty.

“You’d have to be living in a cave to not know Donald Trump hates the Affordable Care Act,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said in an interview after the judge’s ruling. “But his statements, she says, are not enough.”

Trump says there’s a ‘good chance’ he’ll declare national emergency (Feb 01)

ABC – President Donald Trump said Friday there’s a “good chance” he’ll ultimately declare a national emergency to get money to pay for his proposed border wall, continuing to strike a pessimistic tone that congressional negotiators will reach a legislative deal to fund a southern barrier.
“I’m certainly thinking about it. I think there’s a good chance we’ll have to do that,” the president told reporters during an extended pool spray of a meeting on human trafficking.

Trump Threatens to Bust Border Deal as Shutdown Deadline Nears

Bloomberg – Congress has only a few days left to come up with an agreement on border security spending to prevent a government shutdown and may yet see the process upended once President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Senate Dems introduce bill to block Trump from using military funds to build wall

The Hill – enate Democrats introduced legislation on Monday to prevent President Trump from using military and disaster relief funds to construct the U.S.-Mexico border wall should he declare a national emergency.

The legislation would prevent Trump from using funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works funds and military construction funding “for the construction of barriers, land acquisition, or any other associated activities on the southern border without specific statutory authorization from Congress” if he declared a national emergency.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said that while an emergency declaration to construct the U.S.-Mexico border wall would be challenged in court “Congress should not wait for the courts to act.”

Ocasio-Cortez Targets ‘Owners Who Refuse To Hire Kaepernick’ for 70% Tax Hike

Western Journal – Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York used the occasion of the Super Bowl on Sunday to make a further push for raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to 70 percent, arguing a benefit would be the “owners who refuse to hire (Colin) Kaepernick would” be subject to the new rate.

The congresswoman’s renewed call for higher taxes came in response to fellow freshman GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s of Texas wry tweet after Super Bowl LIII, “Should someone propose a 70% tax on the Patriots so that NFL competition is more fair and equal? Asking for a friend.”

Ocasio-Cortez answered, “The average NFL salary is $2.1 million, so most players would never experience a 70% rate. The owners who refuse to hire Kaepernick would, though.”

The average NFL salary is $2.1 million, so most players would never experience a 70% rate.

The owners who refuse to hire Kaepernick would, though. https://t.co/AnST2lCiU9

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 4, 2019

Vermont Abortion Bill Goes Further than Virginia and New York’s

National Review – I read the Virginia abortion bill in the same way as David does. The good news is that it is unlikely to be enacted.

But as I pointed out the other day, Vermont’s goes all the way to creating an absolute right to an abortion, at any time in the pregnancy and for any reason, with no limitations as to method. For those who might have missed it, here’s the pertinent portion of H-0057 (my emphasis):

The General Assembly intends this act to safeguard the right to abortion in Vermont by ensuring that right is not denied, restricted, or infringed by a governmental entity.

Sec. 2. 18 V.S.A. Chapter 223 is added to read:

CHAPTER 223: REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS Subchapter 1. Freedom of Choice Act 11

  • 9493. INDIVIDUAL REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS 12

(a) Every individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization.

(b) Every individual who becomes pregnant has the fundamental right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth to a child, or to have an abortion.

(c) A fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law.

Unlike New York’s new law and the Virginia legislation, there is nothing at all in the bill about distinguishing non-viability of the fetus from viability.

There is no pretense of limiting late-term abortion to circumstances in which the life or health of the mother might be impacted.

There is nothing mentioned about what to do with a born baby that survives abortion.

It establishes a “fundamental right to abortion,” meaning an absolute right that cannot be infringed or restrained in any way.

The bill has 91 co-sponsors. It could very well pass. If it does, I do believe it will become the most radical abortion legalization statute in the world.

Boy Scouts inaugurate first all-girls troops

News Channel 5 Nashville – Dozens of people crowded into a room at the Rutherford County courthouse Friday night, to watch 15 girls officially join the Boy Scouts of America.

The move comes more than a year after the Boy Scouts of America announced it would allow girls into its boy scouts program, which was renamed ‘Scouts BSA.’ Friday was the first day all-female groups could officially be chartered. Troop 2019, made up of more than a dozen girls, became the first female troop in Rutherford County, and one of the first in the nation.

Economy & Business

New Jersey becomes 4th state to approve $15 hourly wage

AP – New Jersey became the latest state on Monday to boost its hourly minimum wage to $15 after Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a measure phasing in the higher rate over five years.

Murphy signed the bill alongside Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and Democratic legislative leaders at a raucous event in Elizabeth where advocates cheered, “Ready for 15,” carried banners with their union affiliation and applauded loudly once the bill was signed.

Tech boost sends Wall Street higher

Reuters – Wall Street gained on Monday as technology shares rose ahead of quarterly results from Alphabet Inc, the last member of the FAANG group of internet companies to announce its earnings.

Shares of Google parent Alphabet Inc rose 1.9 percent, while shares of tech companies Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp each rose more than 2.5 percent. Apple and Microsoft’s gains helped S&P 500 technology stocks gain 1.5 percent, the greatest rise among the benchmark index’s major sectors.

FAANG earnings have been a mixed bag so far. Shares of Apple and Facebook Inc rose after those companies’ quarterly results, while downbeat forecasts from Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc dragged down those companies’ shares.

Continued optimism regarding a possible trade truce between the United States and China also boosted tech shares in particular, said Shawn Cruz, manager of trading strategy at TD Ameritrade in Jersey City, New Jersey.

After founder’s sudden death, cryptocurrency exchange can’t access $190 million in holdings

Washington Post – After the founder of Canada’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, QuadrigaCX, died unexpectedly, about 115,000 clients have been unable to retrieve $190 million in funds — because the owner was the only one who knew the password to access holdings, the company said.

Gerald Cotten, 30, died of complications with Crohn’s disease while doing philanthropic work in India in early December, according to a post on QuadrigaCX’s Facebook page. The company didn’t announce Cotten’s death until more than a month after he died, and as customers panicked and tried to withdraw their funds, QuadrigaCX’s website went down, and the company went off the grid.

When QuadrigaCX broke its silence a week later, the company revealed it had filed for creditor protection in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, according to reporting from Coindesk. Evidently Cotten was the sole person responsible for transferring QuadrigaCX funds between the company’s “cold wallet” — secure, offline storage — and its “hot wallet” or online server, according to court documents. Very little cryptocurrency was stored in the hot wallet for security purposes. Cotten’s laptop was encrypted, and his widow, Jennifer Robertson, and the expert she hired have been unable to access any of its contents. The company had no corporate bank accounts and used third party services to manage payments and withdrawals.

“For the past weeks, we have worked extensively to address our liquidity issues, which include attempting to locate and secure our very significant cryptocurrency reserves held in cold wallets, and that are required to satisfy customer cryptocurrency balances on deposit, as well as sourcing a financial institution to accept the bank drafts that are to be transferred to us,” QuadrigaCX’s board of directors said in a letter to customers on Jan. 31. “Unfortunately, these efforts have not been successful.”

GM cutting 4,000 workers in latest round of restructuring

Reuters –  General Motors Co on Monday said it was starting to hand pink slips to about 4,000 salaried workers in the latest round of a restructuring announced in late November that will ultimately shrink its white-collar workforce in North America by 15 percent out of 54,000.

Science & Technology

Rise of the Machines and Descent of Man? Scientists Create Quasi-“Self-aware” Robot    

The New American – From The Terminator to D.A.R.Y.L, science-fiction writers have presented memorable, though very different, visions of “self-aware” robots. But now it’s being reported that science itself has taken a giant step toward creating such — though, it seems, there was a similar report in 2016. Whatever the state of research into creating self-aware machines, however, are we aware of the implications such developments have for man?

As to the robot in the news currently, it’s less like the Terminator and more like what was left of him after his first-film encounter with a hydraulic press. As the Sunday Express reports, “Engineers at Columbia University, in New York, have reached a pinnacle in robotics inventions, inventing a mechanical arm able to programme itself — even after it is [sic] malfunctioned. Professor Hod Lipson, who leads the Creative Machines lab, where the research was carried out, likened the robotic arm to how a ‘newborn child’ adapts to their [sic] environment and learns things on its own.”

“The group of scientists claimed this is the first time a robot has shown the ability to ‘imagine itself’ and work out its purpose, figuring out how to operate without inbuilt mechanics. In the study, published in the journal Science Robotics, Prof Lipson said: ‘This is perhaps what a newborn child does in its crib, as it learns what it is,’” the paper continued.

Moreover, “The robotic arm was programmed with no knowledge of physics, geometry or motor dynamics,” according to the Telegraph. Providing details about Mr. Arm’s accomplishments, BelfastLive writes:

US scientists gave it the ability to “imagine itself” using a process of self-simulation. The advance is said to be a step towards self-aware machines.

… At the start of the study, the robot had no idea what shape it was, whether a spider, a snake or an arm.

To begin with, it behaved like a “babbling infant”, moving randomly while attempting various tasks.

Within about a day of intensive “deep learning”, the robot built up an internal picture of its structure and abilities.

After 35 hours of training, the “self model” helped the robot grasp objects from specific locations and drop them in a receptacle with 100% accuracy.

Even when relying entirely on its internal self model — the machine’s “imagination” — the robot was able to complete the pick-and-place task with a 44% success rate.

PhD student Robert Kwiatkowski, another member of the team, said: “That’s like trying to pick up a glass of water with your eyes closed, a process difficult even for humans.”

Other tasks included writing text on a board using a marker.

To test whether the robot could detect damage to itself, the scientists replaced part of its body with a deformed version.

The machine was able to recognise the change and work around it, with little loss of performance.

Interestingly, though, this isn’t the first time there has been news of Professor Lipson making such a breakthrough. As an overstated Daily Signal headline read in 2016, “Professor proves science rules, creates self-aware robot.”

Facebook Struggles in Privacy Class-Action Lawsuit

Facebook’s privacy disclosures “are quite vague” and should have been made more prominent, a federal judge argued.

Facebook, in the midst of a class-action privacy lawsuit, was dealt a blow last week when US District Judge Vince Chhabria argued its privacy policies and practices cause users harm.

In a motion-to-dismiss hearing held Feb. 1, Facebook asked Chhabria to throw away a 267-page complaint from a multidistrict case that had sought billions in damages for the social giant’s violations of state and federal laws. Facebook’s attorney insisted the company had not broken the law because its users willingly let external parties collect data via their privacy controls.

However, Chhabria said Facebook’s disclosures informing users of its data-sharing practices “are quite vague,” as detailed in a Courthouse News Service report. Derek Loeser, an attorney representing a proposed class of Facebook users, argued that in order for the policy to be binding, people have to be properly informed before they consent to share their information.

“The injury is the disclosure of private information,” said Chhabria in Friday’s hearing.

Chhabria gave plaintiffs a chance to file an amended complaint within 21 days instead of first issuing a ruling in an effort to accelerate the litigation. Plaintiffs have agreed, saying they will add new data regarding a Facebook privacy settings change. The new complaint is due Feb. 22.

Read more details here.

China Developing Battlefield AI

Infowars – China is developing artificial intelligence for its military as part of its shift to “algorithm superiority” in warfare.

A Chinese military newspaper said the People’s Liberation Army wants to take large data sets and plug them into algorithms for “war-fighting intelligence.”

“Through gunpowder smoke in war, we can perceive that today, war fighting has evolved from bloody struggle for storming castles and capturing territories in the uncivilized and barbaric age into information-driven precision decapitation operations and intense contests in the domain of high intelligence,” wrote Li Minghai of the PLA’s National Defense University. “…In future warfare, the force that enjoys algorithm superiority will be able to rapidly and accurately predict the development of the battlefield situation, thus coming up with the best combat-fighting methods and achieving the war objective of ‘prevailing before battle starts.’”

Health

Arizona Bill Proposes Full Disclosure of Vaccine Ingredients and Side Effects

Green Med Info – Arizona State Senator Paul Boyer has introduced Senate Bill 1115 in the Arizona State Senate requiring health care professionals to provide a full list of vaccine ingredients and side effects to adults and parents of minor children prior to administration of any vaccine.1 2

Sen. Boyer, who says he does not oppose vaccinations, believes that doctors and others who give vaccines should provide the same benefit and risk details about them as they would for other medical interventions such as surgery. He maintains this is the only way to ensure patients can give proper “informed consent” to the medical procedure.1 2

“Everybody who goes for an operation, procedure or anything, they’re informed,” says Boyer. “They’re told of all the risks that could happen with whatever procedure it is. They’re not given the surgery and then, after the fact, ‘Oh, by the way, here are the known adverse effects.

Study: Large Part of Population Not Breathing Properly

EurekAlert – A study by Simone Tassani, Miguel Ángel González Ballester and Jérôme Noailly, members of BCN MedTech, with the participation of Josep M. Font-Llagunes, a researcher at the UPC, published in the journal Gait & Posture.

Muscle co-contraction is a strategy used commonly in elderly people to increase their stability. Co-contraction involves the simultaneous contraction of pairs of muscles from opposing groups to lock a joint and provide stability.

However, co-contraction can also lead to stiffness, which in turn reduces stability, which is why some authors have suggested the opposite approach by pointing to relaxation as a way to improve stability. However, many studies do not clarify whether tension or relaxation is the more effective strategy.

In turn, in our society relaxation is a misleading concept because it tends to be confused with rest when it is actually a mechanism that reduces energy expenditure and increases stability during stress. The inability to relax may be related to suboptimal neuro-motor control that can lead to increased tension.

A study carried out by Simone Tassani, first author of the paper, Miguel Ángel González Ballester, ICREA research professor and Jérôme Noailly, members of BCN MedTech of the Department of Information and Communication Technologies (DTIC) at UPF, with the participation of Josep M. Font-Llagunes, a researcher at the UPC, has shown that muscle tension significantly reduces subjects’ stability. The article is published online in the journal Gait & Posture and will be included in volume 68 of February.

The goal of the study was to investigate the effect in humans of voluntary muscle contraction and relaxation on the stability of the standing posture to find out if muscle tension has an impact on stability and to estimate this impact using minimally invasive procedures. Therefore, the authors use force plates to measure the pressure centre in a standing position, in balance studies in 30 volunteers during states of tension and relaxation, and in two visual situations, eyes open and eyes closed.

The results showed that muscle tension significantly reduces the subjects’ stability. Simone Tassani, first author of the article says: “Our results show that daily stress situations can lead to a decrease in stability. A loss of stability may increase the risk of chronic overload or falling”.

In addition, the study shows that breathing has a direct effect on pain and stress management and Tassani adds: “the results presented here demonstrate the need to explicitly explore the worrying fact that a large part of the population might not be able to breathe properly”. Indeed, one of the conclusions of the study is that for many young subjects, abdominal breathing seems to be a difficult task. Finally, the study also showed that in a standing position, vision has an interaction effect with relaxation.

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