Off the Wires

China's 'mosquito factory' aims to wipe out Zika, other disease

August 2nd, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Every week, scientists in southern China release 3 million bacteria-infected mosquitoes on a 3 km (two-mile) long island in a bid to wipe out diseases such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika.

The scientists inject mosquito eggs with wolbachia bacteria in a laboratory, then release infected male mosquitoes on the island on the outskirts of the city of Guangzhou.

The bacteria, which occurs naturally in about 28 percent of wild mosquitoes, causes infected males to sterilize the females they mate with.

"The aim is trying to suppress the mosquito density below the threshold which can cause disease transmission," said Zhiyong Xi, who is director of the Sun Yat-sen University Centre of Vector Control for Tropical Diseases and pioneered the idea.

"There are hot spots," Xi said. "This technology can be used at the beginning to target the hot spots ... it will dramatically reduce disease transmission."

Mosquito-borne diseases are responsible for more than one million deaths worldwide every year and Zika has become a concern for athletes at this year's Olympic Games, which open in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.

Some athletes, including the top four ranked male golfers, have declined to take part.

An outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil last year has spread through the Americas and beyond, with China confirming its first case in February.

U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.

The World Health Organization has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.

Islamic State calls on members to carry out jihad in Russia

August 1st, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Islamic State called on its group members to carry out jihad in Russia in a nine-minute YouTube video on Sunday.

"Listen Putin, we will come to Russia and will kill you at your homes ... Oh Brothers, carry out jihad and kill and fight them," a masked man driving a car in the desert yelled while wagging his finger in the last couple of minutes of the video.

The video with subtitles showed footage of armed men attacking armored vehicles and tents and collecting arms in the desert. "Breaking into a barrack of the Rejectionist military on the international road south Akashat," read one subtitle.

It was not immediately possible to independently verify the video but the link to the footage was published on a Telegram messaging account used by the militant group.

It was not immediately clear why Russia would be a target, but Russia and the U.S. are talking about boosting military and intelligence cooperation against Islamic State and al Qaeda in Syria.

Islamic State has called on its supporters to take action with any available weapons targeting countries it has been fighting.

There has been a string of deadly attacks claimed by Islamic state in Europe over the past weeks. Last week, assailants loyal to Islamic State forced an elderly Catholic priest in France to his knees before slitting his throat. Since the mass killing in Nice, southern France on July 14, there have been four incidents in Germany, including the most recent suicide bombing at a concert in Ansbach.

Russia, Syria Pledge 'Humanitarian Corridors' Out Of Rebel-Held Parts Of Aleppo

July 29th, 2016  |  Source: NPR

Russian and Syria have said they are opening humanitarian corridors out of besieged, rebel-held areas in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. But NPR has reached civilians in the embattled city who turned back for fear of the ongoing shelling.

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in televised remarks Thursday that "Russia and the Syrian government will open humanitarian corridors and offer a way out for opposition fighters wanting to lay down their arms," The Associated Press reported. Shoigu said there would be three corridors for civilian use and another for fighters seeking amnesty.

Forces loyal to the Syrian government seized the last road into rebel-held areas of Aleppo 11 days ago, effectively rendering them completely isolated, as The Two-Way has reported.

And as NPR's Alison Meuse tells our Newscast unit, it's still unclear whether the new "humanitarian corridors" will actually offer any respite to the besieged residents. She spoke with one resident, and has this report:

"Aleppo resident Baraa al-Halabi says he woke up to an offer on state TV. The regime listed four escape routes for people trapped on the rebel side. Halabi says via Internet call he joined a group of families headed to one of the designated corridors. But when they arrived, regime forces fired a fresh round of artillery. No one was hurt and it wasn't clear if the shelling was targeting those fleeing, but they were too afraid to continue. They're among 300,000 people the U.N. says are now cut off from aid in Aleppo."

Aleppo is divided between rebel forces and troops loyal to the government. The rebel-held areas are in the east of the city.

Alison adds that the supposed offer of amnesty has been met with some skepticism. As she reports, "opposition activists say that can mean a ticket to jail, or conscription into pro-regime paramilitary groups."

As The Two-Way reported, activists have been sounding the alarm about a possible humanitarian crisis in the besieged area. It's just one area of Syria where aid is blocked — multiple parties have used siege tactics as a weapon of war over the course of the conflict, which is now in its sixth year.

On the diplomatic front, the U.S. is attempting to work with Russia to push forward with peace negotiations. But there are big questions about how to get there. NPR's David Welna has explained:

"The negotiation would be to end Syria's brutal civil war and set up a transitional government. To get there, Kerry would have the U.S. share intelligence with Russia to target airstrikes against an al-Qaida affiliate called The Nusra Front. In exchange, Russia would prevail on its ally, the regime of Bashar al-Assad, to stop bombing moderate rebel groups and civilians."

Today, Shoigu said that "Moscow is sending a top general and experts to Geneva at the request of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the Aleppo crisis," the AP reported.

U.S. concerned over Israel's settlement activity

July 28th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

The United States is deeply concerned about Israel's reported plans to build an additional 323 units in settlements in East Jerusalem on top of previously announced 770 units in the settlement of Gilo, the U.S. State Department said.

Such action by Israel "continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement on Wednesday.

Turkey detains more journalists in clampdown on cleric's followers

July 27th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Turkey ordered another 47 journalists detained on Wednesday, part of a large-scale crackdown on suspected supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Ankara of masterminding a failed military coup.

Turkey has suspended, detained or placed under investigation more than 60,000 soldiers, judges, teachers, journalists and others suspected of ties to Gulen's movement since the July 15-16 coup, which was staged by a faction within the military.

Turkey's army General Staff on Wednesday put the number of soldiers belonging to the Gulen network who took part in the coup attempt at 8,651, roughly about 1.5 percent of the armed forces, broadcaster NTV reported.

Gulen has denied any involvement in the failed coup.

Turkey's capital markets board said on Tuesday it had revoked the license of the head of research at brokerage AK Investment and called for him to face charges over a report he wrote to investors analyzing the July 15 coup.

Western governments and human rights groups, while condemning the abortive coup in which at least 246 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured, have expressed alarm over the extent of the crackdown, suggesting President Tayyip Erdogan may be using it to stifle dissent and tighten his grip on power.

The detention of journalists ordered on Wednesday involved columnists and other staff of the now defunct Zaman newspaper, a government official said. Authorities in March shut down Zaman, widely seen as the Gulen movement's flagship media organization.

"The prosecutors aren't interested in what individual columnists wrote or said," said the official, who requested anonymity. "At this point, the reasoning is that prominent employees of Zaman are likely to have intimate knowledge of the Gulen network and as such could benefit the investigation."

However, the list includes journalists, such as Sahin Alpay, known for their leftist activism who do not share the religious world view of the Gulenist movement. This has fueled concerns that the investigation may be turning into a witch-hunt of the president's political opponents.

On Monday, media reported that arrest warrants had been issued for 42 other journalists, 16 of whom have so far been taken into custody.

Trump: 'I alone' can fix dark, violent, weak America

July 22nd, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

Donald Trump stoked the fears of an angry Republican convention on Thursday as he declared himself the law and order candidate in an acceptance speech that took a sharply authoritarian turn.

Promising supporters that “safety will be restored” once he becomes president, Trump sought to harness concern over terrorism and domestic crime to challenge Hillary Clinton on territory that has long proven a reliable rallying cry for parties of the right.

“In this race for the White House, I am the law and order candidate,” he claimed, encouraging and directing loud chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” like the conductor of an orchestra.

“Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country,” he added.

The four-day convention in Cleveland has seen repeated cries of “lock her up” when Clinton’s name is mentioned, but Trump waved these chants aside as if granting mercy with his hands and urged instead: “Let’s defeat her in November.”

The 75-minute speech pushed familiar buttons. “Illegal immigrants are roaming free to threaten innocent citizens,” Trump told the booing crowd, which responded by chanting “build the wall”.

Another theme of the week in Cleveland has been loud cheers whenever speakers replace the “black lives matter” slogan with “blue lives matter” to signify sympathy for police over African American shooting victims and Trump received a standing ovation when he declared: “An attack on law enforcement is an attack on all Americans”.

The interruption of a protester 23 minutes in prompted Trump to ad-lib: “How great are our police?” as the cries of a woman being removed could still be heard dimly in the distance.

Brazil arrests group plotting 'acts of terrorism' before Olympics

July 21st, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Brazil arrested 10 people on Thursday on suspicion of belonging to a group supporting Islamic State (IS) and preparing acts of terrorism during next month's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Justice Minister Alexandre Moraes said.

The loosely organized group were all Brazilian citizens and in contact via internet messaging groups such as WhatsApp and Telegram, but did not know each other personally, the minister said.

The group did not have direct contact with IS though some of its members had made "pro forma" declarations of allegiance to the militant Islamist group, the minister said. He did not elaborate.

"Those involved participated in an online group denominated 'the defenders of Sharia' and were planning to acquire weapons to commit crimes in Brazil and even overseas," Moraes told a news conference.

"It was an absolutely amateur cell, with no preparation at all, a disorganized cell," the minister said, adding that authorities decided to intervene when the group started to plan actions.

He said members of the group had visited a weapons site in neighboring Paraguay that sells AK-47 assault rifles, but there was no evidence they acquired any weapons. Two people will be brought in for questioning, in addition to the 10 already detained, he added.

Interim President Michel Temer had called an emergency cabinet meeting following the arrests, the first under Brazil's tough new anti-terrorism law approved this year.

The minister said the leader of the group was based in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba, with others spread in nine Brazilian states.

A court in the state of Parana, where Curitiba is based, said there were indications that the group was planning to use weapons and guerilla tactics to achieve its aim.

Brazil's intelligence agency said on Tuesday it was investigating all threats to the Rio Olympics, which start on Aug. 5, after a presumed Brazilian Islamist group pledged allegiance to IS.

The SITE Intelligence Group that monitors the internet reported the previously unknown group calling itself "Ansar al-Khilafah Brazil" said on the Telegram messaging app on Sunday that it followed IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and had promoted IS propaganda in Arabic, English and Portuguese.

Brazilian authorities stepped up security measures following the truck massacre in Nice, France last week, planning security cordons, additional roadblocks and the frisking of visitors in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics.

Trump now worth $3 billion, according to Bloomberg

July 19th, 2016  |  Source: Bloomberg

Bloomberg released Donald Trump's new net worth on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index:

His worth has increased to $3 billion, up from $2.9 billion a year ago. The story by Caleb Melby shows that while Trump is richer in property - the value of his golf courses and Trump Tower in NYC have risen - his debt has nearly doubled over the past year, up to $630 million in total debt from $350 million in 2015. Trump has sold at least $50 million of stocks and bonds. He also drew down on a $170 million line of credit from Deutsche Bank AG for a hotel project in Washington. Trump has said he will spend $200 million renovating the Old Post Office building, blocks from the White House. Trump's liquid assets shrunk to about $170 million from $225 million. He has also loaned about $50 million to his campaign but doesn't plan on recouping the amount, he said.

The Donald Trump circus rolls on, to Cleveland

July 18th, 2016  |  Source: The Economist

THE INAUGURAL day of the Republican National Convention, which begins on July 18th in Cleveland, Ohio, is dedicated to national security and immigration. It might seem appropriate, therefore, that a highlight will be an appearance by Melania Trump, the presumptive nominee’s Slovenian-born wife. On Day Two of the four-day confab, dedicated to the economy, Tiffany Trump, Donald Trump’s 22-year-old daughter, seems a less obvious choice of speaker. Her half-brother, Donald Trump junior, is not necessarily the man you would choose to hear on that topic either, though he will also speak. Neither is their brother Eric Trump a recognised expert on opportunity and prosperity, to which Day Three, when he is scheduled to speak, is dedicated. Their sister Ivanka Trump will introduce Mr Trump, on Day Four, ahead of the speech in which he will formally accept the Republican presidential nomination.

The Trump-heavy line-up is, to a degree, tactical. A big chunk of Republican voters sympathise with Mr Trump’s anti-trade, anti-immigrant, anti-Barack-Obama invective: polls suggest up to 70% support his promise to close America's borders to foreign Muslims. His difficulty is that most voters—about 60% of the total—dislike Mr Trump himself; parading his relatives, who should know him best, is accordingly an effort to create sympathy for him. The convention will reveal a “very personal” side to the Republican torch-bearer and star of Celebrity Apprentice, promised his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, on July 17th. “I mean, you’re going to have his family speaking,” he said. “You’re going to have friends who have known him speaking. You’re going to have people who have worked with him.”

Having crushed his 16 rivals for the Republican ticket in the primaries, Mr Trump has won the right to tailor the convention to his needs. Such a heavy reliance on his wife and offspring is also borne of necessity, however, most potential speakers from the Republican elite having refused to show up. They include the party’s previous two presidential nominees, Mitt Romney, the main leader of the failed #NeverTrump campaign to block Mr Trump, and John McCain, who says he will take a trip to the Grand Canyon instead of attending his party's customary main pageant.

The past two Republican presidents, George Bush senior and junior, will also stay away, as will their son and brother, Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, whose nasty, comedic belittling by Mr Trump in the primaries gave an early taste of his political method. That John Kasich, Mr Trump’s final victim in the primaries, will also give the convention a miss is perhaps more remarkable. Because he is also the governor of Ohio, and responsible for the convention's heavy security precautions, necessitated by an expectation of rowdy protests, or worse, against Mr Trump.

With many senators and congressmen also giving Cleveland a miss—especially those, such as Senator Mark Kirk in Illinois, and indeed Mr McCain in Arizona, who face tough re-election battles in November—the convention’s organisers had thin pickings for speakers. According to a schedule released on July 17th, Chris Christie and Scott Walker, two other failed presidential candidates, will be among four governors scheduled to speak. Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, will be the best-known among five congressmen to appear on stage. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader in the Senate, will be among eight senators—making Senate Republicans the only arm of the GOP better represented among the speakers than Mr Trump's family.

Mr Trump promised that this would not be a regular party convention. Yet the “show-biz” element he promised to lighten the boring old policy discussion (to which, to be fair, his campaign has hardly subjected voters thus far) is not evident either. Mr Trump will be heralded by a golfer, Natalie Gulbis and a couple of actors, of whom Scott Baio, a television star of the 1980s, is perhaps the best-known. He has described how bumping into Mr Trump at a recent Republican fund-raiser led to this arrangement. “He was walking out and I looked at him and said, “Mr Trump, Scott Baio.” And he goes, “Oh my God!” recounted Mr Baio. "And he said to me, “Did you want to speak?” And I went “Here (at the fundraiser)?” And he goes, “No, no, no, I mean at the convention."

Thus the Trump circus, a show entirely dependent on the brute charisma of its ringmaster, rolls on. It is absurd—so absurd as to risk deflecting attention from the dreadful significance of what is about to happen in Cleveland. At a time of mounting global uncertainty, the Republicans are about to adopt as their presidential pick a man dedicated, if you believe half his pronouncements against trade, NATO and the United Nations, to dismantling the world order over which America has presided since the second world war. At a time of racial anxiety and some violence in America, they are about to nominate a man who has risen by dog-whistling to the worst racial prejudices, against Hispanics, blacks and immigrants of all sorts, of white America.

It is still likely that Mr Trump will not make it to the White House. But certainly he might. The latest polls show him trailing Hillary Clinton, who will formally accept the Democratic candidacy next week, by between four and seven percentage points. And if his show in Cleveland, which will receive blanket coverage on all the networks, goes off well, that gap may well be about to close.

FDIC Accused Of Covering Up China Hacking To Protect Chairman’s Job

July 14th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters/HuufPo

“The FDIC’s intent to evade congressional oversight is a serious offense.”

The Chinese government likely hacked computers at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 2010, 2011 and 2013 and employees at the U.S. banking regulator covered up the intrusions, according to a congressional report on Wednesday.

The report cited an internal FDIC investigation as identifying Beijing as the likely perpetrator of the attacks, which the probe said were covered up to protect the job of FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg, who was nominated for his post in 2011.

“The committee’s interim report sheds light on the FDIC’s lax cyber security efforts,” said Lamar Smith, a Republican representative from Texas who chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

“The FDIC’s intent to evade congressional oversight is a serious offense.”

The report was released amid growing concern about the vulnerability of the international banking system to hackers and the latest example of how deeply Washington believes Beijing has penetrated U.S. government computers.

The report did not provide specific evidence that China was behind the hack.

Shane Shook, a cyber security expert who has helped investigate some of the breaches uncovered to date, said he did not see convincing evidence in the report that the Chinese government was behind the FDIC hack.

“As with all government agencies, there are management issues stemming from leadership ignorance of technology oversight,” Shook said.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang repeated that China opposed hacking and acted against it.

People should provide evidence for their accusations and not wave around speculative words like “maybe” and “perhaps”, he told reporters.

“This is extremely irresponsible.”

The FDIC, a major U.S. banking regulator which keeps confidential data on America’s biggest banks, declined to comment. Gruenberg is scheduled to testify on Thursday before the committee on the regulator’s cyber security practices.

Washington has accused China of hacking computers at a range of federal agencies in recent years, including the theft of more than 21 million background check records from the federal Office of Personnel Management beginning in 2014.

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