Day: February 12, 2020


US budget deficit grows and grows and grows…

WASHINGTON—The federal budget deficit grew 25% in the first four months of the fiscal year, largely as a result of a quirk in the calendar that brought forward payments of federal benefits, such as veteran and retiree benefits.

The U.S. budget gap totaled $389 billion from October through January, compared with $310 billion in the same period a year earlier, the U.S. Treasury Department said Wednesday. Federal outlays rose 10%, to $1.6 trillion, and federal tax receipts grew 6%, to $1.2 trillion—both record highs for the four-month…

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PAPER: 'Hypocrites'…

Well, that was fast.

Just weeks after slamming the door on Buckingham Palace, declaring their suffering as wealthy, pampered, world-famous senior royals so unbearable that they must take their leave and flee to the Canadian woods in search of privacy, humility, a slower way of life, time to think about which noble eco-warrior causes to support (while flying private, of course) and to create normalcy for themselves and their baby, Harry and Meghan are out on the stroll, selling their goods and services — whatever those may be — to the highest bidder.

You’d think, for appearances’ sake, they would have held out a little longer. It’s not as if they’re suddenly destitute. Harry and Meghan are, after all, still on the royal payroll through at least May, after which Prince Charles has vowed to support them.

And since decamping Britain they’ve been freeloading, staying indefinitely at a $14 million Vancouver mansion (a deal brokered by music producer David Foster) and at Serena Williams’ Palm Beach estate during a recent trip to Florida.

That trip, by the way, was to attend a summit hosted by JP Morgan Chase. Harry, a 35-year-old man who knows little of the real world, let alone macro- and micro-economics or likely how to work an ATM, spoke to an audience including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and architect Sir Norman Foster.

Neither side will say whether he was paid, though experts say it’s likely he was compensated substantially. And to speak of what exactly?

The grief he still suffers from his mother’s death twenty years ago.

To get this right: Harry, as he said in his last public statement as a working royal, had “no other option” given the “many years of challenges” he has faced, the result of losing his mother, his forced march behind her casket as a 12-year-old boy, and the ongoing mental health challenges from which he suffers.

“Every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash,” he said last year, “it takes me straight back.”

So, as he said in his farewell speech, he was forced to “step my family back from all I have ever known, to take a step forward into what I hope can be a more peaceful life.”

But for the right price, he’ll dredge up all that deeply personal emotional chaos, held sacred for decades, to a room full of global powerbrokers — despite zero chance any of it will elucidate or ameliorate a single real-world problem.

To cap off this inaugural foray into life as working commoners, Harry and Meghan reportedly had dinner with two of the most philanthropic and publicity-shy people on the planet, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez.

Now they’re reportedly house-hunting in L.A. and New York City — exactly where celebrities seeking seclusion go — and have been in talks with Goldman Sachs since at least November, months before announcing their plans to “step back.”

It’s been estimated that such vague partnerships could net the couple a billion dollar empire. Clearly, the only difference between life inside and outside palace walls is a profit margin.

The argument that they can do so much more now for their dearest causes, freed from palace restraints, is nothing but a cynical fiction.

Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, did more to change public attitudes towards AIDS patients as a working royal than anyone, and it was precisely because she was doing things no royal had ever done — handhold and hug and kiss those dying from the disease — that her activism had such enormous impact.

And when Diana did something else a future queen of England had never done — get a divorce — she didn’t commodify her brand or sell her secrets. She recognized her platform as inherently rare and valuable, made moreso by her refusal to monetize it.

SussexRoyal?! Diana would never.

Contrast his mother’s approach with the recent video, since taken down, of Harry cornering Disney chief Bob Iger at a private event, begging him to hire Meghan for voiceover work while Beyoncé looks on, mortified.

When, as a royal, you literally put yourself in supplication to a titan of capitalism, you have shown no scruples, no self-awareness, no shame. Now you’re just another hustler out to make a buck, and there’s nothing special about that.

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TROUBLE IN PARADISE: Bernie, AOC private feud…

With Bernie Sanders largely sequestered in Washington, D.C., at the end of last month ahead of the critical Iowa caucuses, the Vermont senator’s campaign deployed what is arguably its greatest weapon: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And traversing the state, Ocasio-Cortez delivered, drawing massive crowds and pushing the message of progressive populism and younger voters that underlies Sanders’ campaign. Ocasio-Cortez’s celebrity is bigger than politics, delivering a wattage that few campaign surrogates can match. She’s the moment’s definitive leader of youth and the left, often mentioned as a possible candidate for the Senate, or even the presidency in 2024. Ocasio-Cortez has undeniably been a boon to the Sanders campaign—she endorsed him in October, as he recovered from his heart attack, which was crucial to him regaining his momentum. But Ocasio-Cortez’s star power and independence make her a wild card. In Iowa, while AOC didn’t exactly go rogue, her performance stoked some tensions between herself and the Sanders campaign.

Following Ocasio-Cortez’s three-day stint, Sanders’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, texted AOC’s campaign manager to express his dissatisfaction with aspects of her performance, according to a source familiar with the exchange. Specifically, the Sanders campaign was miffed that Ocasio-Cortez didn’t mention Sanders by name when she closed out a campaign event at the University of Iowa on a Friday night at the end of last month—a fact that Fox News picked up on. (The Sanders campaign noted that this was one of the first campaign events Ocasio-Cortez did without Sanders, who she typically would introduce at the end of her remarks but he was in Washington, D.C. for the impeachment trial. Any reminder to mention the Senator was “good natured ribbing,” according to the campaign.)

Ocasio-Cortez’s comments about the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol were also seen by some within the Sanders campaign as going too far, straying from Sanders’s stance on the issues in encouraging people not to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, according to this source. During an event in Ames, Iowa, Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd, “Organizing is about tipping people off if you start to see that ICE and CBP are in communities to try and keep people safe.” She continued, “I’m not here to reform some of these systems when we talk about immigration. I’m here because Senator Sanders has actually committed to breaking up ICE and CBP. That’s why I’m here.” (Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign declined to comment.)

Abolishing ICE is a major platform plank for AOC and a number of other progressive figures—including Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who have also endorsed Sanders. In the past, Sanders has been for stricter immigration laws than those supported by some of his progressive colleagues, though he’s tacked left more recently. He has previously drawn criticism for comments about “open borders.” His ambitious immigration plan now calls for the breakup of CBP and ICE and for the agencies’ current functions to be delegated to other federal agencies, including the State and Treasury departments, as well as the full demilitarization of the southern border. But immigration can be a hot button in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan where Democrats have to win, and some felt that AOC had gone off script. (The Sanders campaign said Ocasio-Cortez was not off message and how she talks about these issues is how Senator Sanders talks about these issues.)

Ocasio-Cortez and her team, after all they’d done for Sanders, were said to be annoyed at being called on the carpet. And AOC’s team is also said to have had concerns about radio host Joe Rogan’s controversial unofficial endorsement of Sanders. The Thursday before Ocasio-Cortez’s whirlwind tour of Iowa, Sanders tweeted a video clip of Rogan in which the libertarian-leaning host and comedian said he would “probably vote for Bernie.” “Him as a human being, when I was hanging out with him, I believe in him, I like him, I like him a lot,” Rogan said on an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience. “What Bernie stands for is a guy—look, you could dig up dirt on every single human being that’s ever existed if you catch them in their worst moment and you magnify those moments and you cut out everything else and you only display those worst moments. That said, you can’t find very many with Bernie,” Rogan continued. “He’s been insanely consistent his entire life. He’s basically been saying the same thing, been for the same thing his whole life. And that in and of itself is a very powerful structure to operate from.”

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'Ghost' DNA In West Africans Complicates Story Of Human Origins…

An artist’s rendering of DNA. Scientists have found traces of DNA that they say is evidence that prehistoric humans procreated with an unknown hominin group in West Africa.

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An artist’s rendering of DNA. Scientists have found traces of DNA that they say is evidence that prehistoric humans procreated with an unknown hominin group in West Africa.

Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61

About 50,000 years ago, ancient humans in what is now West Africa apparently procreated with another group of ancient humans that scientists didn’t know existed.

There aren’t any bones or ancient DNA to prove that theory, but researchers say the evidence is in the genes of modern West Africans. They analyzed genetic material from hundreds of people from Nigeria and Sierra Leone and found signals of what they call “ghost” DNA from an unknown ancestor.

Our own species — Homo sapiens — lived alongside other groups that split off from the same genetic family tree at different times. And there’s plenty of evidence from other parts of the world that early humans had sex with other hominins, like Neanderthals.

That’s why Neanderthal genes are present in humans today, in people of European and Asian descent. Homo sapiens also mated with another group, the Denisovans, and those genes are found in people from Oceania.

The findings on ghost DNA, published in the journal Science Advances, further complicate the picture of how Homo sapiens — or modern humans — evolved away from other human relatives. “It’s almost certainly the case that the story is incredibly complex and complicated and we have kind of these initial hints about the complexity,” says Sriram Sankararaman, a computational biologist at UCLA.

The scientists analyzed the genomes of 405 West Africans. Sankararaman says they used a statistical model to flag parts of the DNA. The technique “goes along a person’s genome and pulls out chunks of DNA which we think are likely to have come from a population that is not modern human.”

The unusual DNA found in West Africa isn’t associated with either Neanderthals or Denisovans. Sankararaman and his study co-author, Arun Durvasula, think it comes from a yet-to-be-discovered group.

“We don’t have a clear identity for this archaic group,” Sankararaman says. “That’s why we use the term ‘ghost.’ It doesn’t seem to be particularly closely related to the groups from which we have genome sequences from.”

The scientists think the interbreeding happened about 50,000 years ago, roughly the same time that Neanderthals were breeding with modern humans elsewhere in the world. It’s not clear whether there was a single interbreeding “event,” though, or whether it happened over an extended period of time.

The unknown group “appears to have split off from the ancestors of modern humans a little before when Neanderthals split off from our ancestors,” he says.

Sharon Browning, a biostatistics professor at the University of Washington who has studied the mixing of Denisovans and humans, says “the scenario that they are discovering here is one that seems realistic.”

Browning notes that the ghost DNA appears frequently in the genetic material. “That tells us that these archaic populations might have had some DNA that did some useful stuff that’s proved to be useful to the modern population,” she says.

But at the moment, Sankararaman says, it’s not possible to know what, if any, role these genetic materials have for modern humans who carry them. “Are they just randomly floating in our genomes? Do they have any kind of adaptive benefits? Do they have deleterious consequences?” he added. “Those are all questions which would be fantastic to start thinking about.”

He says there is likely evidence of other ghost populations in modern humans in other parts of the world. “I think as we get the genome sequences from different parts of the world at different points in time, there is always the possibility that we might discover these as-yet-unidentified ghost populations,” Sankararaman says.

It’s also possible that the ghost DNA found in this study comes from multiple groups, Browning added. “Within Africa, we don’t know how many archaic groups might have been involved, and the study doesn’t tell us that,” she says. “It tells us that there was integration, but it could have been from more than one archaic population, in theory.”

Compared with the Neanderthals, where there is abundant DNA fossil evidence, physical samples are much harder to come by in Africa. Browning says the climate on the continent has made it challenging.

“The conditions have to be right for the fossils to not totally disintegrate” in order to recover DNA, Browning says. Bones have been found in Africa from archaic populations, but no DNA has been recovered. Still, she adds, “the technology is continuing to improve, and people are still out there looking for more fossils.”

So what happened to this mysterious group of ancient humans? Scientists aren’t totally sure.

They might have died off, or they might have eventually been completely subsumed into modern humans.

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Horny Hacker: Latest Ransomware Scheme Demands Nude Photos To Unlock Files…

Ransomware typically encrypts files and demands payment in bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, but security firm Emsisoft reported Wednesday that it had discovered a variant making another sort of demand: explicit photos.

The malware pops up a message demanding that victims email images of their breasts to a particular address in order to recover their files.

“The variant was likely created as a prank, but it doesn’t make it any less problematic for those who may be hit by it,” Emsisoft threat analyst Brett Callow said in an email to Fast Company.

The malware doesn’t appear to be the first to demand explicit images: In 2017, security firm Kaspersky reported another type of ransomware that demanded nude photos in exchange for unlocking access to infected computers. In other cases, scammers on dating apps have requested nude photos from would-be suitors, then held them for ransom by threatening to leak the photos.

Emsisoft released a free decryption tool that can decipher files ensnared by the new ransomware, so victims shouldn’t need to pay any kind of ransom to access their files.

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BOOM: Bezos Buys Geffen's LA Mansion for Record $165 Million…

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has purchased the Warner Estate from media mogul David Geffen for $165 million, according to a person familiar with the transaction.

The deal marks a record for the Los Angeles area. The previous residential record was set late last year, when media executive Lachlan Murdoch paid roughly $150 million for Chartwell, a Bel-Air estate used as the Clampett residence in the television show “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

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Harry, Meghan eyeing big banks' billions…

(Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, are in talks with banking giant Goldman Sachs for a guest speaking role at its annual “Talks at GS” event, according to the British newspaper The Mirror. Guests are not usually paid for their speeches, but the role could lead to a highly lucrative future relationship with the bank and the event’s high-profile attendees. 

The news comes amid multiple reports about corporate machinations by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who recently “stepped back” from their roles as working members of the British Royal Family and decamped to Canada, where Meghan used to live while filming her USA Drama “Suits”. The couple have said they wish to become “financially independent”. Now the contours of their strategy may be more apparent.

The Sun reports that an arrangement with Goldman Sachs could be “a billion dollar handshake” for the Duke and Duchess.

And now a PR expert has suggested the couple could earn £1billion in corporate deals and brand ambassador roles, with Harry possibly becoming a guest speaker on the bank’s Talks at GS YouTube series. Stars, who have previously included David Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow, are not paid to take part in the talks, but doing so could help Harry pave the way for more lucrative work with the bank. PR consultant expert Mark Borkowski told the Mirror: “They’re going to earn fortunes, whether through speeches or ambassador work – these are £1billion handshakes.”

MEGXIT MILLIONS Prince Harry ‘in talks with US banking giant’ as he and Meghan tipped to earn £1BILLION in corporate deals

The Daily Mail on Wednesday quoted a “royal insider” saying that reports the Sussexes were seeking to profit off Goldman Sachs were “categorically false” and that the talks with the bank were about a project that would benefit Harry and Meghan’s charities.

But Meghan and Harry last week gave an invite-only speech in Miami, at a luxury event held by another giant bank, JP Morgan Chase. The London Times reports the couple is believed to have been paid about $1 million. During the speech, Harry is said to have revealed he’s been in therapy for the last seven years to deal with the untimely death of his mother, Princess Diana, in 1997. 

(Photo by Adrian Edwards/GC Images)

At the JP Morgan event, Meghan and Harry were introduced by Meghan’s friend Gayle King, the CBS host known as “Oprah’s best friend”. 

News of the globetrotting couple’s trip to Miami, by private jet, was the object of some harsh criticism, according to Page Six.

Experts and Twitter users alike criticized the pair — who have previously denounced “fossil fuel emissions … jeopardizing” the Earth and spoken of a “ticking clock to save the planet” — for supporting a firm like JP Morgan. The investment giant is said to have pumped about $67 billion into companies behind fracking, as well as Arctic oil and gas exploration, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) said in its Banking on Climate Change 2019 report.

Meghan Markle, Prince Harry face backlash after attending Miami summit

For the past several days, commentators on the Royal Family have been raising alarm that the Sussexs’ could tarnish their brand and that of the Palace by cinching big money deals with major banks.

The British morning TV host Piers Morgan, a former friend of the Duchess’, wrote in the Daily Mail of the JP Morgan appearance that “it’s hard to imagine a more ludicrously inappropriate first gig for them to take in their brave new progressive, planet-saving royal celebrity world. Sadly, this appears to be just the start of the Sussexes’ shameless nose-in-trough descent into banking ‘partnerships’.”

The revelations come after noted author Germaine Greer went on Australian television and offered her view that Meghan was “faking love” with Harry as she pursued a “glamorous life” according to The U.S. Sun’s account of the interview.

The provocative feminist told Australia’s version of “60 Minutes” that the outcome of Meghan and Harry’s marriage was “likely to be disastrous”. 

“If she’s been faking it all this time, oh boy, what misery. How many orgasms will it take? How many fake groans will get her through this?”

“She’ll bolt. She’s bolted before,” she continued, making a reference to Meghan’s first failed marriage to a Hollywood talent manager. 

(Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

It all comes during “a tumultuous few months for the Britain’s royal family” as the Associated Press put it, with the news that Peter Phillips, son of Anne, Princess Royal, and the Queen’s eldest grandson, has separated from his wife of 14 years, Autumn Phillips.

The Times reported Tuesday that Autumn, who is Canadian, will remain in London to co-parent her and Peter’s two young children — this despite fears that, like the Duchess of Sussex, she would decamp to Canada with more of Her Majesty’s great-grandchildren.

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Entire School District Closes For Week After Flu Outbreak…

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Dalai Lama cancels all events…

There’s currently no evidence the novel coronavirus can pass from a mother to a child in the womb, according to a study published Wednesday in the medical journal The Lancet.

The small, observational study included nine women in Wuhan, China, in their third trimesters of pregnancy. Each woman had a lab-confirmed case of novel coronavirus pneumonia, officially called COVID-19, and was treated from January 20 through January 31. 

Researchers tested amniotic fluid, cord blood and neonatal throat swabs at birth to study the possibility of fetal infection with the novel coronavirus, and all the samples tested negative. All the women had cesarean sections, so it’s not clear if the virus could be passed from mother to child during vaginal birth.

All the pregnancies resulted in live births and none of the infants required special pediatric treatment. Four of the mothers experienced preterm labor, but the researchers said the causes weren’t related to coronavirus. Pregnancy complications that appeared after the illness began included fetal distress in two cases and premature rupture of membranes in two cases.

The study also found that none of the pregnant women developed severe pneumonia or died as of February 4. Their symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches, were similar to symptoms in people who aren’t pregnant.

Why this is important: This is notable because pregnant women are particularly susceptible to respiratory pathogens and severe pneumonia, the researchers wrote. One study found about half the pregnant women who developed SARS during that outbreak were admitted to the intensive care unit, and during the H1N1 flu pandemic, pregnant women were more likely than the general population to be admitted to the hospital and were at increased risk of complications, the researchers wrote.

Still, researchers said, the case of an infant who tested positive for the coronavirus within 36 hours of birth in early February means special consideration is needed to keep newborns safe if their mothers are infected with the coronavirus.

It’s also not clear how the novel coronavirus could affect a fetus in the first or second trimester of pregnancy, the researchers wrote.

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