Today’s News: June 24, 2020

World News

New Caledonia to vote on independence from France on October 4

Al Jazeera  – The French Pacific island territory of New Caledonia will hold a referendum on independence from France on October 4, a month later than originally planned due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the French government.

Initially scheduled for September 6, the vote has been “delayed to October 4, 2020, due to the consequences of the health crisis”, French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye told reporters on Wednesday.

The second vote on independence follows a referendum in November 2018 when 57 percent of voters chose to remain part of France.

The government in Paris had already proposed October 4 as the new date, but on June 12 a majority of the members of New Caledonia’s Parliament voted in favour of October 25.

Local elections in France due to be held on Sunday had been pushed back by three months due to the coronavirus crisis, and pro-independence group FLNKS had argued that the campaign “encroached upon” the referendum.

The centre-right Caledonia Together party, which is against independence, was also in favour of October 25 to guarantee a turnout as high as in 2018, when 81 percent voted.

Coronavirus: EU considers barring Americans from travel list

EU ambassadors meet on Wednesday to plan reopening external borders on 1 July, and travellers from the US could be among those not allowed in.

BBC – A number of European countries are keen to open up to tourists but others are wary of the continued spread of coronavirus.

The 27-member bloc must first agree the measures that non-EU countries should meet before deciding on a safe list.

The virus is spreading in the US, so it is likely Americans would be barred.

Brazil, Russia and other countries with high infection rates would also be left off a safe list, according to reports from Brussels.

The EU is not yet thought to have agreed how they will assess which countries meet health standards – one of the criteria for entry. Part of the problem is assessing reliable health data, reports say.

U.S. News, Politics & Government

Bubba Wallace: There ‘Was a Noose’ in Garage, But ‘It Wasn’t Directed at Me’

Breitbart – On Tuesday’s “CNN Tonight,” NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace stated that what was found in his garage was a noose, pointing to statements by the FBI and NASCAR leadership on the matter, said the noose wasn’t directed at him, and expressed frustration that “people are trying to test my character and the person that I am, and my integrity.”

Wallace began the interview by saying, “I’m mad because people are trying to test my character and the person that I am, and my integrity. And they’re not stealing that away from me, but they’re just trying to test that.”

Victory: Indiana Supreme Court Rules that Police Can’t Force Smartphone User to Unlock Her Phone

Activist Post – In courts across the country, EFF has been arguing that the police cannot constitutionally require you to unlock your phone or give them your password, and today the Indiana Supreme Court issued a strong opinion agreeing with us. In the case, Seo v. State, the court found that the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination protected a woman against unlocking her phone because complying with the order was a form of “testimony” under the Fifth Amendment. Indiana joins Pennsylvania, which ruled strongly in favor of the Fifth Amendment privilege in a compelled decryption case last year. Meanwhile, state supreme courts in New Jersey and Oregon are also considering this issue.

In Seo, the defendant reported to law enforcement outside of Indianapolis that she had been the victim of a rape and allowed a detective to examine her iPhone for evidence. But the state never filed charges against Seo’s alleged rapist, identified as “D.S.” Instead, the detective suspected that Seo was harassing D.S. with spoofed calls and texts, and she was ultimately arrested and charged with felony stalking. The state not only sought a search warrant to go through Seo’s phone, but a court order to force her to unlock it. Seo refused, invoking her Fifth Amendment rights. The trial court held her in contempt, but an intermediate appeals court reversed.

Governor promises to defend Mount Rushmore from vandals: ‘Not on my watch’

WND –Mount Rushmore was constructed between 1927 and 1941 and honors former Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

The American landmark boasts roughly 3 million visitors a year, according to the state’s tourism website.

But in the last few weeks, as protests and acts of violence have escalated since the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody, monuments honoring three of the presidents on Mount Rushmore have been attacked.

In Portland, Oregon, vandals toppled statues of Washington and Jefferson.

Washington’s statue in the city was wrapped in an American flag and set on fire before being taken down.

US court orders case against former NSA Michael Flynn dropped

Al Jazeera – A US appeals court on Wednesday directed a federal judge to drop the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn as demanded by the Justice Department, preventing a judicial review of the propriety of the request.

In a split decision, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favour of Flynn and the Trump administration in preventing US District Judge Emmet Sullivan from exercising his discretion on whether to grant the department’s motion to clear  Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to contempt charges in relation to lying to the FBI.


CBS – A county in Washington state has run out of hospital beds because of a recent spike in coronavirus cases — and now, Washington Governor Jay Inslee says the entire state is going to take a more aggressive approach to handling the pandemic. Everyone in the state, minus a few exceptions, will now have to wear a face mask, and will be charged with a misdemeanor crime if they fail to do so. 

In a Tuesday press conference, Inslee said the state is experiencing an “uptick” in COVID-19 activity, and that to stop it, the state needs to “remain vigilant and diligent and resourceful.” 

“The number of people that one person infects is now going up,” Inslee said, adding that every coronavirus-infected individual in the state is potentially infecting around three other people. 

CT, NJ, NY implement mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers from hotspots… Developing.

NBC – The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut said Wednesday they will implement a mandatory quarantine on visitors to their states from viral hotspots, part of a coordinated effort to sustain low local infection rates as coronavirus cases surge to two-month highs across nearly half of the country.

The order does not block people from traveling. But it does make clear that if you’ve been in a state that meets the guidelines — like taking a vacation to Florida and then coming home, or visiting New York from Texas on business — you will have to quarantine for 14 days on arriving.

New York City, the former epicenter of the national epidemic, now boasts one of the lowest COVID transmission rates in the nation. New study data from COVID Act Now shows New York and New Jersey are two of just three states on track to contain COVID. Meanwhile, new U.S. coronavirus cases have soared to levels last seen in April as the pandemic first worsened across America.

Wisconsin state senator attacked as demonstrations turn violent.

AP – Crowds outside the Wisconsin State Capitol tore down two statues, attacked a state senator and threw a Molotov cocktail into a government building amid protests following the arrest of a Black man who shouted at restaurant customers through a megaphone while carrying a baseball bat.

Officers inside the Capitol used pepper spray to repel protesters who were trying to gain entry into the historic center of state government, Madison police said.

Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday said he was prepared to activate the Wisconsin National Guard to protect state properties.

Economy & Business

S&P 500 closes nominally higher amid COVID-19 spikes, muted data

Reuters – The S&P 500 closed nominally higher on Thursday as investors weighed a resurgence in coronavirus infections and the possibility of a new round of shutdowns as well as data that suggested the U.S. economy might not bounce back with quick, V-shaped recovery.

Science & Technology

Ben & Jerry’s joins boycott of Facebook and Instagram ads

CNBC – Ben & Jerry’s said on Tuesday that it will pause all paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram in the U.S. beginning on July 1, joining the ”#StopHateForProfit” campaign.

Last week, a group of six organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Sleeping Giants and Color of Change, called on Facebook advertisers to halt their spending on the social media platform during the month of July. They’re asking large brands “to show they will not support a company that puts profit over safety.” 

Patagonia, The North Face, REI, Upwork and others have since said they’ll follow suit. 

“Ben & Jerry’s stands with our friends at the NAACP and Color of Change, the ADL, and all those calling for Facebook to take stronger action to stop its platforms from being used to divide our nation, suppress voters, foment and fan the flames of racism and violence, and undermine our democracy,” the ice cream maker, which is owned by Unilever, said in a blog post

A.I. Robot Cast In Lead Role of $70M Sci-Fi Film

The Hollywood Reporter – The feature, financed by the backers of ‘To the Bone’ and ‘Loving Vincent,’ is said to be the first to rely on an artificially intelligent actor.

As the industry grapples with how to reopen for production safely, one movie is proceeding with a lead actress who is immune to COVID-19 — because she’s a robot named Erica.

Bondit Capital Media, which financed titles such as To the Bone and the Oscar nominated Loving Vincent, Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Ten Ten Global Media have committed to back b, a $70 million science fiction film which producers say will be the first to rely on an artificially intelligent actor.

Based on a story by visual effects supervisor Eric Pham, Tarek Zohdy, and Sam Khoze, who also produces through Life Entertainment, b follows a scientist who discovers dangers associated with a program he created to perfect human DNA and helps the artificially intelligent woman he designed (Erica) escape.

Japanese scientists Hiroshi Ishiguro and Kohei Ogawa, who created Erica in real life as part of their study of robotics, also taught her to act, applying the principles of method acting to artificial intelligence, according to Khoze.

“In other methods of acting, actors involve their own life experiences in the role,” Khoze says. “But Erica has no life experiences. She was created from scratch to play the role. We had to simulate her motions and emotions through one-on-one sessions, such as controlling the speed of her movements, talking through her feelings and coaching character development and body language.”

Erica was originally set to debut in a different project that was to have been directed by Tony Kaye (American History X), but producers parted with Kaye over scheduling. The director of b and the human co-star for Erica are not yet attached, but producers filmed some of her scenes in Japan in 2019. They expect to shoot the rest of b in Europe in June of 2021.

Facebook takes down Trump ads over ‘organized hate’ policy

Reuters – Facebook Inc (FB.O) said on Thursday it took down posts and ads run by the re-election campaign of U.S. President Donald Trump for violating its policy against organized hate.

The ads showed a red inverted triangle, a symbol the Nazis used to identify political prisoners, with text asking Facebook users to sign a petition against antifa, a loosely organized anti-fascist movement.

Trump and Attorney General William Barr have repeatedly singled out antifa as a major instigator of recent unrest during nationwide anti-racism protests, with little evidence.

“Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group’s symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol,” said a Facebook company spokesperson.


Rosemary essential oil can enhance working memory in children

Dr. Leonard Coldwell – Fresh or dried, the fragrant rosemary is an essential part of traditional Mediterranean cuisine. But that’s not all. This bitter-tasting herb has also been hailed since ancient times for its medicinal properties and reported effects on brain performance.

In their groundbreaking research, a team of researchers from Northumbria University in England demonstrated that the aroma of rosemary essential oil can enhance mental performance in children.

Their findings had been presented as part of the British Psychological Society‘s (BPS) annual conference in the UK.

The health benefits of essential oils

The use of aromas can be traced back to ancient civilizations. In ancient Greece, for example, the extracts of aromatic plants had often been used for both cosmetic and medicinal purposes.

Not much has changed since then. Fragrant essential oils continue to be used in, and are part and parcel of, aromatherapeutic practices. In these scenarios, essential oils are used for their soothing effects on the brain. Oils are also used to enhance mood and ease sore muscles.

In addition, multiple studies attest to the antimicrobial effects of some oils. Dermatologists, for instance, use the essential oils of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) to treat acne and bacterial skin infections.

But it remains unclear if there are other substantial benefits to these aromatic oils outside of their therapeutic effects and dermatological uses. (Related: Essential oils that halt headaches.)

Rosemary aroma helps improve brain functions

In 2012, Mark Moss and Lorraine Oliver from Northumbria University were the first to demonstrate that a certain compound in rosemary oil is behind the herb’s reported brain-boosting effects. Moss is also part of the team behind the paper presented at the BPS conference.

Published in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, their findings affirmed that higher concentrations of the aromatic compound (terpene) called 1,8-cineole in the bloodstream are related to better mental performance.

To understand the effects of rosemary oil on brain function, Moss and Oliver conducted a single-blind experiment on a cohort of 20 adult subjects.

The participants had been exposed to rosemary oil at different concentrations for four, six, eight or 10 minutes prior to completing cognitive tests. Each participant had been assigned a specific concentration at random in their designated cubicle. Moss and Oliver then collected their blood samples upon completion of the tests.

Upon examining the samples, Moss and Oliver found traces of 1,8-cineole. Samples that had higher amounts of 1,8-cineole corresponded to participants that performed better in the tests, leading the researchers to conclude that rosemary aroma had a significant effect on cognition.

Rosemary aroma may boost memory in children

In their paper presented at the BPS conference, Moss and his co-authors found that children exposed to the aroma of rosemary oil scored higher in memory tests than those in the control group.

To determine if rosemary essential oil has similar effects on cognition in children, Moss and his team gathered 40 participants aged 10 to 11 for a class-based test on different mental tasks.

The team assigned each participant at random to either a scented room or a non-scented room. To prepare the scented room, the team diffused rosemary oil in the room for 10 minutes.

Inside either room, a researcher tested a participant’s cognitive skills based on different mental tasks.

The team found that participants tested in the scented room scored higher in the tests compared to those tested in the non-scented room. Participants tested in the scented room also scored highest in the test designed to gauge their working memory.

In children, working memory is crucial for learning and performing basic tasks. It is the part of short-term memory that is most engaged in processing and holding information for a limited period of time.

For this reason, Moss and his team sought to understand if the rosemary’s brain-boosting effects can also be of use to school-age children in classroom settings. Moss added that poor working memory is often related to poor academic performance.

Based on their findings, the researchers thus concluded that rosemary essential oil can be a simple and affordable intervention for the improvement of children’s academic performance.

Bayer Pays $10BN To Settle Thousands Of Monsanto Glyphosate Lawsuits

ZeroHedge- After decades of widespread use as company scientists played down research showing a definitive link between the product and growing rates of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Monsanto parent company Bayer has agreed to pay up to $10 billion to settle claims that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, causes cancer.

Citing people familiar with the matter, German newspaper Handelsblatt reported that the company has agreed to settle tens of thousands of glyphosate-related lawsuits in the US for between $8 billion to $10 billion.

Of that number, $2 billion is considered a “reserve” which can be used to settle future claims.

The rest will be used to settle all of the lawsuits pending in the United States from users of the controversial weed killer, the number of active lawsuits against the Roundup purveyor recently numbered more than 50k.

Talks for an out of court settlement have been ongoing since last summer.

Last year, scientists evaluated a batch of existing studies and determined that Monsanto’s ubiquitous weed-killer Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate increased cancer risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) by 41%, according to a research published in February 2019. Back in 2018, a San Francisco Jury awarded $289 million in damages to a former school groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, who said Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller gave him terminal cancer. That award consisted of $40 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.

Bayer inherited the glyphosate problems during its $60 billion acquisition of Monsanto. After losing three lawsuits and getting stuck with high damages judgments pertaining to risks with the weed killer, Bayer changed its strategy and abandoned its aggressive defense in favor of trying to negotiate a sweeping settlement of the tens of thousands of US lawsuits pending. Analysts had feared the settlement could cost as much as €20 billion, which is roughly double the final amount, which should be a positive for the company’s shares.

So far, science has not been able to conclusively clarify whether glyphosate is carcinogenic or not. Bayer holds numerous studies against the classification of the IARC and other researchers. The US environmental agency EPA supports the group and, despite the heated debate about glyphosate, has so far maintained that the controversial pesticide poses no health risk to people if used properly.