Posts made in June 2018

Alone at last! Putin and Trump to meet in Helsinki

June 29, 2018

The Finnish are said to be the happiest people in the world, based on results of the annual World Happiness Report—but they may be rivaled in glee by the two world leaders scheduled to meet in Helsinki on July 16. Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold one-on-one talks with President Donald Trump on that date, the White House announced on June 28.

The summit is characterized by The New York Times as “politically delicate”—and the optics are sure to be controversial, as the two “alter egos” reconvene, even as Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues to investigate the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia.

It will be the first formal summit meeting for Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin, who have spoken together twice on the sidelines of annual gatherings of world leaders,—and often by phone, the Kremlin has claimed— and it will come at a particularly critical moment, with midterm elections looming in the United States.

“The two leaders will discuss relations between the United States and Russia, and a range of national security issues,” the White House said in a statement.

In preparation, this week, President Trump sent National Security Advisor John Bolton to Moscow, where he met on June 27 with Putin, himself. Afterward, The Times reported, an aide to Putin, Yuri Ushakov, reiterated Moscow’s denial that it had tried to influence the U.S. presidential election in 2016— comments that Trump cited in a Twitter post before the meeting was announced.:  “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!” the POTUS tweeted.

The meeting will come just after NATO members meeting in Brussels on July 11 and 12. They are sure to be unhappy that Trump appears closer to Putin than he does to his allies.

In fact, findings of a Monmouth University poll released on June 15 indicate that 27% of Americans think that Trump’s best relationship worldwide is with the Russian president—far more than any other leader listed in the poll.

There was a notable split among party lines with 43% of Democrats and 28% of independent voters saying Putin was likely Trump’s closest personal relationship among world leaders, while only 8% of Republicans said the same.

GOP voters were more likely to say Trump had a closer bond with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (12%) or the British Prime Minister Theresa May (11%).

When asked more broadly whether Trump has a positive relationship with Putin, 60% of voters agreed, as opposed to the 25% who said the president does not have a good relationship with Russia’s president.

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Amazon enters pharmacy market with acquisition of PillPack

June 29, 2018

According to a 2015 study by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, nearly three out of five Americans (60%) take a prescription drug daily—and many take multiple drugs. Now. Amazon—which supplies nearly everything we need online—is entering the pharmacy market by acquiring a company called PillPack that makes taking medicine easier.

Many youngsters who are going to sleepover camp this season will take PillPacks with them—small plasticine envelopes that contain multiple, daily prescriptions that are sorted by dose and are labelled for the date and time at which the child is to take them. And they are not the only ones who rely on this service: Seniors increasingly are signing up for the service at home, so that they don’t have to sort their pills and remember when to take them.

Founded in 2013, the private, Boston-based company says that it helps customers ”take the right meds at the right time, every time—and is now available in 49 states, both as a direct-to-customer mail service and as an in-network pharmacy that works with such companies as CVS Caremark, Express Scripts, Humana Pharmacy Solutions, Aetna, and more.

“PillPack’s visionary team has a combination of deep pharmacy experience and a focus on technology,” says Jeff Wilke, Amazon CEO–Worldwide Consumer. “PillPack is meaningfully improving its customers’ lives, and we want to help them continue making it easy for people to save time, simplify their lives, and feel healthier. We’re excited to see what we can do together on behalf of customers over time.”

The deal — for which terms were not immediately disclosed — marks Amazon’s latest push into the healthcare industry. In January, the company announced a collaboration with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway meant to reduce healthcare costs for their own U.S. workers.

According to a report by Business Insider, pharmacy stocks in the U.S. market dropped on the deal announcement, most notably those of CVS (-8.1%), Rite Aid (-3.1%), and Walgreens Boots Alliance (-9.2%).

The business news outlet commented, “Pharmacy shareholders will perhaps find solace in the fact that they’re not the only industry to have billions in market value erased by a single Amazon announcement. The trend has been playing out repeatedly over the past year, with grocery stores, athletic-apparel retailers, and package-delivery services among the afflicted groups.”

The reasoning is simple, Business Insider said: Amazon has a ton of cash and an unparalleled logistical network, and when it looks poised to enter or expand its position in a market, traders get scared and bail out of holdings in competing companies.

The deal is slated to close by year-end 2018.

Research contact: @AmazonNews

Most Americans support gay adoption

June 29, 2018

A safe and loving home is what children need—regardless of whether the nurturing is provided by a traditional mother and father, or a same-sex couple. That’s the opinion of more than one-half (55%) of Americans, according to findings of a poll released on June 26 by YouGov Omnibus..

And the sentiment remains the same whether the child is conceived by the couple or adopted: Specifically, respondents said they were in support of adoption by gay (53%) and lesbian (55%) couples.

However, if given a choice, a majority (57%) of the more than 1,000 U.S. adults contacted by the researchers still believe that it is better for a child to be raised by both a mother and a father. Another 15% “strongly” or “somewhat” disagreed with that idea.

Men (47%) were far more likely than women (30%) to think that a traditional upbringing by both sexes is preferable. And, in line with that trend, women (47%) were more apt to say that gay couples would be good parents than were men (30%).

The findings of the study, fielded during LGBTQ Pride Month 2018, challenge the current law in seven U.S. states—Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia, and Texas—where child-welfare agencies can refuse to place a child with a same-sex couple based on religious objection. Almost half of Americans (47%) said that was unfair, while one-third (33%) said it was fair.

Many respondents (46%) said they support a Connecticut initiative to recruit members of the LGBTQ community to become foster and adoptive parents, though another 29% said they thought it was a bad idea.

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Ocasio-Cortez stuns political pundits with upset in NYC’s 14th District

June 28, 2018

In a widely hailed political upset, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—a 28-year-old Democratic candidate seeking election to the U.S. House to represent the 14th Congressional District of New York—defeated ten-term Representative Joseph Crowley in the Democratic primaries on Tuesday, June 26. She won the race with 57.48% of the votes, against the incumbent’s 42.52%.

The district includes parts of two New York City boroughs—the Bronx and Queens—and is home to a population of 712,053 with a median household income of $47,000.

Ocasio-Cortez had not sought elected office prior to challenging Crowley, Ballotopedia reported.. She had previous political experience, however—having worked in Senator Ted Kennedy’s (D-Massachusetts) foreign affairs and immigration office from 2008 through 2009; and volunteered as an enthusiastic Millennial for Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont) 2016 presidential Democratic primary campaign.

Brand New Congress, a PAC founded by former Sanders presidential campaign staffers, encouraged her to challenge Crowley in this year’s primaries.Like Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez supported Medicare for all, housing as a human right, immigration justice, higher education for all, mobilization against climate change, and campaign finance reform.

Crowley reportedly was stunned by the defeat. A Crowley insider told Politico that the campaign had underestimated the “volatility” of the electorate.

“About two weeks ago, three weeks ago, we had our last poll which had Joe up by about 35 points. So the electorate’s really volatile,” the insider said, adding, “Crowley[‘s] campaign had a huge field program, but it’s still a district where Bernie [Sanders] got almost 45% of the vote. We took it seriously, I mean we spent $1.5 million dollars on it. … It was a bloodletting of Washington Democrats.”

“I feel confident he’s going to pull it out tonight,” Democratic City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who owes his position in part to Crowley, said shortly before 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Shortly after 10 p.m. Crowley was conceding and vowing to support the insurgent’s campaign.

“We have had our country on autopilot and we’ve been accepting what’s been happening,” Ocasio-Cortez told Refinery29 earlier this month. “And what’s happening in this country is indicative that we need new leadership. We need new leadership in the Democratic Party and we need new leadership in the country.”

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SCOTUS decision hits labor unions where it hurts

June 28, 2018

In a 5-4 decision, written for the Conservative majority by Justice Samuel Alito on June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court found that public-sector workers who are not union members—but who are, nevertheless, represented by a union for bargaining purposes—cannot be required to pay “fair share” union dues.

According to a report by The Washington Post, the resolution of the case,  Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, effectively makes the entire U.S. public sector a “right-to-work” zone. As a result, millions of public employees will have the choice to no longer support unions that must continue to bargain on their behalf.

The latest finding by the court effectively overruled the high court’s decision in the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Education Association case on the grounds that it “was not well-reasoned.”

As the Huffington Post detailed, Janus, as the case was known, was widely seen as the” biggest judicial threat to organized labor in years, if not decades.” The news outlet further noted that, “The ruling in favor of Mark Janus [a state-employed child-support specialist in Illinois] … has the potential to squeeze some of the largest and most powerful unions in the country, reducing their clout in the workplace as well as in national and local politics.”

Alito was joined by Justices Roberts, Thomas, Kennedy, and Gorsuch in the majority decision; Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan dissented.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the minority, said that the decision will have “large scale consequences,” and that “judicial disruption does not get any greater than what the court does today,” as reported by The Hill.

Reading her scathing comments from the bench, Kagan said the majority vote had turned “the First Amendment into a sword and [used] it against workaday economic and regulatory policy.”

In a poll conducted before the court voted by Public Opinion Strategies  and covered by Yahoo!, more than 400 government workers were asked whether they should be required to pay union dues to be represented for bargaining purposes. Fully 62% said they should be allowed to stop paying dues, if they so chose; 33% said they should be mandated to continue paying dues.

The unions rely on the dues of non-members to survive.

Research contact: @POStqia

Do you drink on first dates?

June 28, 2018

Going on a first date can be a daunting experience. It’s the rule (not the exception) to worry that your outfit is all wrong, that your armpits will get sweaty, or that you won’t know what to say. As a result, more than a few singles say they have sipped some “liquid courage” before that special someone arrives.

In fact, according to the findings of a 2014 survey conducted by the dating site, Plenty of Fish, over one-third (36.4%) of singles say they have calmed their nerves with a drink in advance of a date—and nearly half (48.9%) say they often drink moderately during an initial night out. Just 9.2% of respondents draw the line at drinking on a first encounter and, instead, brave any awkwardness without chemical alterations.

But, if you drink, what should you ask for? The researchers found that 26.6% of men think that “the most attractive drink” for their date to order is red wine, while 23.3% of women appreciate it when their date orders a pint of craft beer.

Of course, it’s easier to drink, if you are in the right surroundings. According to a poll by BuzzFeed, 28% of respondents preferred dinner at a romantic restaurant on a first date; 20%, a night at a theme park; and 18%, either the movies or dinner in and a DVD.

What if the night’s going really well, and you decide to make it last a few more hours? The Plenty of Fish survey found that 19.1% of single men have actually gotten drunk on a first date — and so have 16.8% of women. It’s not always a good look, but, hey, it happens.

Either way, it’s a crapshoot—at least that’s what Princeton University psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov discovered in 2006.  It only takes a tenth of a second to form a first impression. And it doesn’t matter how funny your jokes are or whether or not you offer to pay for dinner. Longer exposure can’t alter how your date saw you when they first cast their (no doubt impeccably bespectacled) eyes in your direction.

Research contact: @PlentyOfFish

Supreme Court limits travel from Muslim nations

June 27, 2018

In a win that is sure to please President Trump’s base of anti-immigration voters, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 on June 26 that the POTUS acted lawfully in imposing limits on travel from several predominantly Muslim nations, The New York Times reported.

The ban—which succeeded in the high court after two previous travel interdictions had failed—actually had been effective since December, as legal challenges from lower courts moved forward. It initially restricted travel for the purposes of work, study, or recreation from eight nations—six of them predominantly Muslim: Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, Venezuela, and North Korea. Chad was later removed from the list.

The state of Hawaii, as well as several individual plaintiffs and a Muslim group, had challenged the ban—saying it was tainted by religious animus and was not justified by national security concerns. Conversely, none of the plaintiffs had objected to an injunction on travel from North Korea or Venezuela.

Writing for the court in Trump v. Hawaii, Chief Justice Roberts “skillfully demolished the two arguments against the ban—that it was an excess of presidential authority, and that it unconstitutionally targeted Muslims.” The Daily Beast reported, adding, “…The reasoning was the same: in a different context, perhaps the Court would look under the hood at what Trump is really doing here. But because this is supposedly about national security, it won’t.”

Quoting an earlier decision, he wrote “the upshot of our cases in this context is clear: ‘Any rule of constitutional law that would inhibit the flexibility” of the President “to respond to changing world conditions should be adopted only with the greatest caution,’ and our inquiry into matters of entry and national security is highly constrained.”

Among those in dissent was Justice Sonia Sotomayer, who wrote, ““Our Constitution demands, and our country deserves, a Judiciary willing to hold the coordinate branches to account when they defy our most sacred legal commitments. Because the Court’s decision today has failed in that respect, with profound regret, I dissent.”

Earlier efforts

It was just days after his 2017 inauguration that Trump signed off on his first travel ban—creating chaos at the nation’s airports and triggering a tidal wave of lawsuits and appeals. Trump’s executive order banned refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, and  placed an indefinite hold on Syrian refugees. It also blocked citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. However, that first ban, drafted in haste, was blocked by courts nationwide.

At that time, a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll found that 49% of American adults were either “strongly” or “somewhat” in agreement with Trump’s order, while 41% were “strongly” or “somewhat” in disagreement, and another 10% didn’t know. The responses were split almost entirely along party lines. Some 53% of Democrats said they “strongly disagreed” with Trump’s action, while 51% of Republicans said they “strongly agreed.”

Trump tried again in March 2017. His new executive order continued to impose a 90-day ban on travel, but it removed Iraq—a redaction requested by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who feared it would hamper the military coordination necessary to defeat the Islamic State, according to administration officials.

The SCOTUS allowed part of a second version of the ban to go into effect last June when the judges agreed to hear the Trump administration’s appeals arguments. At that time, the court said the ban could not be imposed on anyone who had “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” However, the case was dismissed when the ban expired in October.

Research contact: @adamliptak

Trump huffs as Harley-Davidson heads overseas

June 27, 2018

Facing mounting operational costs estimated at $100 million annually, iconic American motorcycle brand Harley-Davidson announced on June 25 that it will further curtail its U.S. operations—manufacturing and selling more of its bikes abroad in coming years.

Not only is the company worried about the aluminum and steel tariffs that the Trump administration is imposing on its G7 allies—which the motorcycle maker believes “will drive up costs for all products with these raw materials, regardless of their origin, “ Barron’s reported—but it already had been forced to close a factory in Missouri and build one in Thailand, after Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.,

Now, Bloomberg divulged on June 26, Harley joins other quintessential American companies, including Levi Strauss, in getting caught in the middle of the Trump administration’s trade skirmishes with major trading partners.

Indeed, the European Union’s retaliation against the White House’s steel and aluminum levies will cost about $2,200 per motorcycle shipped to Harley’s second-biggest market in the world, the company estimated in a filing on June 25. So it’s shifting production of bikes for European riders overseas.

Harley plans to eat much of the cost increase tied to the EU’s tariffs, Bloomberg said, because trying to pass it on to dealers or customers would make an “immediate and lasting detrimental impact” on its business, it said in the filing.

“A company that is as connected to America, and Americana, as Harley is probably going to be laying off U.S. workers in favor of foreign workers and going to be losing money as a result of this,” James Hardiman, an equity analyst with Wedbush Securities, told Bloomberg this week, of the trade battle between the U.S.A. and the EU. “There’s a lot of irony here, to put it mildly.”

The reaction from the POTUS was immediate and incensed.

“Surprised that Harley-Davidson, of all companies, would be the first to wave the White Flag,” President Donald Trump tweeted Monday. Trump said he had “fought hard” for the company and said it ultimately won’t have to pay the tariffs, urging it to “be patient!”

He further threatened, “A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never! Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end—they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!”.

In 2017, Harley sold nearly 40,000 new motorcycles in Europe, accounting for more than 16% of the company’s sales. Revenues from EU countries were second only to those in the United States.

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Lost cause: Why do some people lack a sense of direction?

June 27, 2018

Could you get lost in a paper bag? Some of us have no “inner MapQuest.” We have such a poor sense of direction that one wrong turn can take us off the beaten path for hours.

Why can’t we navigate? In 2014, neuroscientist John O’Keefe won a Nobel Prize for Medicine, along with two of his students (May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser) for a study on this very subject, conducted at University College London.

The research team discovered what they called “place cells” in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory. These place cells are activated when we go to a new area, forming a map of the environment. They combine with “grid cells” in the entorhinal cortex— which is next to the hippocampus—to tell us where we are, in relation to where we started out. In addition, the University College London researchers found a third type of “head-direction” cell in the entorhinal region, which fires off when we face in a certain direction.

In fact, the entorhinal cortex has been called the brain’s GPS system, based on a report on O’Keefe’s work in Scientific American. Together, these three types of specialized neurons—place cells, grid cells, and head-direction cells—enable each of us to navigate, but precisely how they do this is unclear.

What’s more, they may work differently in each of us. While our built-in compass is supposed to tell us which way we are facing—and then to provide directions on which way to turn in order to arrive at our chosen destination—if a person has a poor sense of direction, the signals are fuzzier. While the compass is supposed to readjust as a person moves through the environment, if he or she makes too many turns, the brain may not be able to keep up and may provide incorrect directions.

The researchers believe that men may have a slight directional advantage over women. Indeed, Dr. Martin Chadwick who did a follow-up study at University College London, told The Daily Mail UK, “Some studies have shown that women have a better visual memory: You can show them a scene and they will remember it better than men. Men, in contrast, can work with the geometry and rotate things in their mind better.”

Interestingly enough, the Daily Mail reported, when MRI brain scans were used to study the posterior hippocampus of candidates who were ready to take a test to qualify as London cabbies, those who had fully memorized London’s 25,000 streets and landmarks had a larger amount of gray matter in that region of the brain. The scientists think that their brains had changed in order to accommodate an internal “map” of the city, which would be used to direct them to the destinations requested by their riders.

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Parents at border still to be faced with heartless choice

June 26, 2018

The Trump administration is developing a plan that would confront parents who cross the border illegally with a sort of “Sophie’s Choice,” according to a June 25 report by the Miami Herald: Either allow themselves to be detained with their child in a large tent city—or give up custody of their child, at least temporarily—according to two sources who have discussed the plans with White House officials.

The choice is being considered as part of a hastily crafted solution to the problem of complying with President Donald Trump’s executive order last week, which terminated the widely condemned policy of separating parents and children arrested at the border. However, it still uses children as pawns in the zero-tolerance immigration push.

Current law, the news outlet points out, prohibits the federal government from keeping children detained, even with their parents, in immigration detention for more than 20 days.

But, if a parent does not wish the child to be released from custody and taken away from him or her, the so-called Flores court settlement notes the parent can keep the child with them in custody.

More than 2,000 Latin American children have been placed in shelters or foster homes since the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” plan went into effect. Since the executive order was signed last week, about 500 children have been returned to their parents.Top of Form

“They want to take the power of the mother away to be able to say, ‘I want my kid released’,” Peter Schey, the lawyer who represented the mothers in the Flores case, told the Herald. “They want to take that away. Say ‘no, forget that, the kid has to be detained with you until the very end.’ ”

Schey described Trump’s proposal as “Hobson’s choice“—which means no choice at all—but said the Department of Homeland Security can already detain parents and children together if the parent does not want their child to be released. He said parents need to understand and be informed that they do have choices.

“Neither the language nor the intention of anything in the Flores agreement precludes a parent from retaining decision-making power over their children,” Schey said. “We never thought to usurp that decision-making authority which we highly respect.”

According to the findings of a Quinnipiac University poll released on June 18, American voters oppose 66% vs. 27% percent the policy of separating children and parents when families illegally cross the border.

Research contact: @francoordonez