News Items

By John Ellis (7/16/2019)

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1.  “Absolutely stunning,”: Alphabet’s DeepMind has cracked a problem that long vexed biologists: predicting the structure of proteins, which can take more shapes than there are atoms in the universe. The breakthrough has set off a technological arms race that could upend the pharmaceutical industry.

2. Chinese internet conglomerate Alibaba Group Holding has submitted a paper that claims it has successfully developed cardiovascular recognition technology, which if proven true, will have wide-ranging impact on the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. The group's science and innovative technology research institute, Machine Intelligence laboratory of Alibaba DAMO Academy, submitted the paper to the International Conference on Medical Image Computing and Computer Assisted Intervention ahead of the 22nd convention in autumn.

3. A "turbocharged" flu vaccine created by a computer with artificial intelligence in South Australia is set to be trialled in the United States. Flinders University Professor Nikolai Petrovsky has told the ABC the computer running a program called Sam invented the new drug on its own, in what he claimed was a world first.

4. When a person becomes blind — as opposed to being born that way — their brain’s visual cortex is typically undamaged. However, it’s also fairly useless since it’s not receiving any information from the eyes. In an extraordinary medical trial, six blind people have now had their vision partially restored thanks to Orion, a new device that feeds images from a camera directly into the brain — and they may just be the first of many to benefit from the cutting-edge tech. Meanwhile, thanks to a new gene therapy targeting specific cells in the eye, blind mice have regained the ability to see.

5. Global debt levels jumped in the first quarter of 2019, outpacing the world economy and closing in on last year’s record, the Institute of International Finance said. Debt rose by $3 trillion in the period to $246.5 trillion, almost 320% of global economic output, the Washington-based IIF said in a report published yesterday. That’s the second-highest dollar number on record after the first three months of 2018, though debt was higher in 2016 and 2017 as a share of world GDP. New borrowing by the U.S. federal government and by global non-financial business led the increase.

6. Federal Reserve Bank of New York President John Williams said Monday financial firms need to stop dragging their collective feet and transition to a new reference interest-rate system to replace the scandal-plagued London interbank offered rate ('Libor') regime. “I don’t always sense urgency among market participants on this issue” of replacing what’s called Libor, Mr. Williams said.

7. Europe is not well enough prepared for an economic shock and faces a “crying need” to loosen the public purse strings to stimulate growth, the OECD’s chief economist has warned. Laurence Boone, who joined the Paris-based organisation a year ago, told the FT there was “a big question mark” over Europe’s ability to give fiscal support to the economy, which has been weakened by trade tensions.

8. A strategy by Chinese policy makers to stimulate the economy with tax and fee cuts hasn’t stopped growth from slowing, stoking expectations that Beijing will roll out more incentives such as easier credit conditions to get businesses and consumers spending

9. Two of the United States’ core allies — Japan and South Korea — have become deeply estranged. Earlier this month, the bickering broke out into a nasty trade war. The conflict threatens not only the U.S. alliance network but also regional prosperity and global supply chains. On Wednesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called relations with Japan an “unprecedented emergency.”

10. The U.S.-China technology war is raging around the world, but the Philippines is no longer torn. It is binding its telecommunications future to China’s. The country got its first taste of next-generation 5G services in late June with gear supplied by Huawei Technologies Co. This month, a new carrier backed by state-owned China Telecommunications Corp. will begin rolling out a network largely designed in China, to be executed by Chinese engineers in the Philippines. The moves are a blow to the U.S., which has in recent months pushed allies to shun Huawei. U.S. officials contend Chinese companies could be compelled to conduct espionage for Beijing.

11. European diplomats who gathered Monday to try to save the Iran nuclear deal warned that the agreement was close to unraveling, but several held out hope they would be able to lure Tehran back into compliance. “We think there is a closing but small window to keep the deal alive,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on his way into a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels. “What we’re looking for is to give Iran a way out of this.”

12. Caretaker prime minister Pedro Sánchez said on Monday that coalition talks between his socialists and the anti-establishment leftwing Podemos party had collapsed, pushing the country closer to elections in the autumn.

13. The 2020 presidential election is poised to have the highest turnout in a century, with the potential to reshape the composition of the electorate in a decisive way. But perhaps surprisingly, it is not obvious which party would benefit. There are opportunities and risks for both parties, based on an Upshot analysis of voter registration files, the validated turnout of 50,000 respondents to The New York Times/Siena College pre-election surveys in 2018, census data, and public polls of unregistered voters.

14. President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee raised $108 million and have $123.7 million cash on hand, according to revised figures announced Monday. That’s more than the top five Democratic campaigns combined.

15. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late Monday said the House of Representatives would not raise the debt ceiling unless it is part of a broader budget deal, putting extreme pressure on the White House and congressional leaders to cut a deal within days. Pelosi’s comments appeared to directly shoot down a demand from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin just hours earlier, when he said that Congress would have to raise the debt ceiling before the August recess if members can’t reach a budget deal because he could run out of money to pay the government’s bills if no action was taken.

16. Facebook faced its latest Washington crisis Monday, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin joining a parade of policy makers and politicians who’ve bashed its proposed cryptocurrency, demonstrating the hurdles the company must overcome to ever make the token a reality. Speaking from the White House, Mnuchin said he has serious concerns about the national security implications of Facebook’s coin and other virtual currencies

17. Ahead of highly anticipated hearings this week, Facebook vice president David Marcus, head of the company’s blockchain division, said in his prepared remarks that Facebook won’t move forward with its Libra cryptocurrency without full approval and regulation. Libra has sparked global concern from politicians since Facebook announced its plans for the new technology in June, provoking questions about how the company will navigate government regulation and oversight, existing government-backed currencies, criminal use and privacy.

18. Rising stock valuations are forcing private-equity firms to contribute more cash to their leveraged buyouts. That is likely to drag down performance in the long term even as pensions and other investors increasingly turn to private equity to boost returns.

19. US fund managers have cut the amount they pay to brokers in bundled commissions covering both research provision and trading activity, reflecting the global spread of the EU’s Mifid II transparency rules. American fund houses have traditionally paid for equity research with “soft dollars”, meaning that instead of being charged an explicit fee, they receive research in exchange for placing trades with a broker. According to Greenwich Associates, average bundled equity commissions in the US are down by nearly half in the past decade.

20. Goldman Sachs is investing in a startup that’s designed to help people get better rates on their savings. It couldn’t come at a better or worse time, depending on how you look at it. The Wall Street bank invested €25 million ($28 million) in Raisin, a Berlin-based fintech firm that helps European savers switch their money into higher-yielding savings accounts. The six-year-old company declined to disclose its valuation.

21. Bloomberg terminal subscribers will have broad access to Dow Jones & Co. news content beginning Monday, according to both Bloomberg and Dow Jones. Terminal subscribers will be able to access thousands of Dow Jones news articles from sources including Dow Jones Newswires, The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch and WSJ Pro specialty news services for such sectors as central banking and bankruptcy—as well as the New York Post. 


Quick Links: What the U.S.-China trade war is about: national security and geopolitical power. China’s commerce minister, joining trade talks, says there’s need to ‘uphold our warrior spirit.' E.U. punishes Turkey for gas drilling off Cyprus coast. Turkey scoffs at E.U.. Walter Mead: Don't let Turkey defect to Russia. Hackers hit Bulgaria. Earth just had its hottest June on record, on track for warmest July. ‘Sunny day’ high tide floods are on the rise along U.S. coasts. Polio cases surge in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Ebola outbreak reaches major city in Congo. Scientists close in on blood test for Alzheimer’s. To break Google’s monopoly on search, make its index public. How WeChat censors private conversations, automatically in real time. Homeownership rate for Hispanics has increased more in recent years than any ethnic group. Black homeownership drops to an all-time low. Tesla introduces 'Dog Mode' to keep pets cool inside the car.

Political LinksKevin Phillips is smiling: Trump administration to move over 80 percent of key Interior Dept. agency employees out of Washington. Trump moves to eliminate nearly all asylum claims at U.S. southern border. The decline of "my generals." Today is confirmation day for Ursula von der Leyen. Italy seizes 'combat-ready' missile in raids on far right. Canada’s Trudeau is down in the polls. Can conservatives take advantage? 'Netroots Nation' loves Liz Warren. Peter Thiel says Ms. Warren is most "dangerous" candidate.  Warren’s work helping big corporations navigate bankruptcies. Biden, Harris and Warren in a statistical tie atop New Hampshire poll.  Beto's fund-raising woes. President Trump says "they hate our country." Nancy Pelosi says let's have a censure vote. Defining politics down. An op-ed from the future: Evergarchs should grow old like the rest of us.