13 September 2019. By John Ellis
1. Today, researchers at the University of Michigan are reporting that they’ve learned to efficiently manufacture realistic models of human embryos from stem cells. They think the advance will let them test fertility drugs and study the earliest phases of pregnancy, but it is also raising novel legal and ethical issues. The artificial embryos were made by coaxing stem cells to spontaneously form tiny ball-shaped structures that include the beginnings of an amniotic sac and the inner cells of the embryo (the part that would become a person’s limbs, head, and the rest of their body) though they lack tissues needed to make a placenta. For now, scientists say, these aren’t true embryos and lack the capacity to turn into a person. However, as similar research races forward in Europe and China it is raising questions about how close scientists really are to synthetically creating viable human embryos in their labs.
2. After weeks of silence, Harvard University last night acknowledged that it had received about $9 million directly from disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein and his foundations over a decade ending in 2007. In a letter to the community, Harvard president Larry Bacow also announced that the university would expand an ongoing probe of its Epstein ties to determine whether aside from giving money directly to Harvard, Epstein also served as a conduit for other donors. “Epstein’s behavior, not just at Harvard, but elsewhere, raises significant questions about how institutions like ours review and vet donors,” Mr. Bacow said in the message. “Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes were repulsive and reprehensible. I profoundly regret Harvard’s past association with him.” For months, Harvard has maintained that it did not take money from Epstein after 2007, the year before he was convicted convicted as a sex offender for soliciting a minor for prostitution and sentenced to serve a 13-month jail term. Bacow said that Harvard rejected one gift from Epstein after his conviction in 2008.
3. Over at Axios, Felix Salmon has more on MIT, Epstein and "Epstein's billionaire enablers." One of the questions that looms over the scandal(s) is: how did Epstein get so rich? We don't really know. That doesn't stop us from speculating.
4. Trump administration officials have discussed offering a limited trade agreement to China that would delay and even roll back some U.S. tariffs for the first time in exchange for Chinese commitments on intellectual property and agricultural purchases, according to five people familiar with the matter. Some of President Donald Trump’s top trade advisers in recent days have discussed the plan in preparation for two rounds of face-to-face negotiations with Chinese officials in Washington, due to take place in coming weeks.
5. The U.S. budget gap widened to more than $1 trillion in the first 11 months of the fiscal year, the Treasury Department said yesterday, the first time year-to-date deficits have topped that amount in seven years. Higher spending on the military, rising interest expenses on government debt and weak revenues early in the fiscal year combined to push the deficit up 19% from October through August, compared with the same period a year earlier. Government spending climbed 7%, to $4.1 trillion, outpacing higher federal tax receipts, which grew 3%, to $3.1 trillion.
6. The Treasury Department is “very seriously considering” issuing a 50-year Treasury bond next year, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday, as the Trump administration looks to take greater advantage of low interest rates to slow soaring borrowing costs. The Treasury said last month it was once again exploring the possibility of issuing debt with maturities beyond 30 years, after considering and then dropping the idea in 2017. “We think there is some demand for it,” Mr. Mnuchin said in an interview on CNBC. “There’s some technology issues we need to make sure we have in place, there’s market issues. But we would do this in a way that if there is demand, it’s something that we would meet.”
7. President Donald Trump said Thursday that he’s planning a tax cut directed at the middle class that will be announced in the next year. “It will be a very substantial tax cut,” Trump told congressional Republicans at a retreat in Baltimore. He said the tax cut would be “very, very inspirational” without providing details.
8. The stock market may appear tranquil again after a rollercoaster summer, but many analysts and investors are unnerved by violent moves beneath the surface, reviving memories of the 2007 “quant quake” that shook the computer-driven investment industry. The FTSE All-World equity index has rallied almost 3 per cent already this month, clawing back some of August’s losses. However, many highly popular stocks suffered a sudden and brutal sell-off this week, a reversal that analysts have already dubbed the “momentum crash."
9. Mario Draghi has slashed interest rates further below zero and will restart money printing in November, seizing his last chance to kick-start the flagging eurozone economy. The European Central Bank is taking drastic action to fight the deepening slump, cutting its economic forecasts and blaming the crisis in global trade that has forced the world’s manufacturing industry into recession. However, the outgoing ECB boss warned that rates of minus 0.5pc combined with €20 billion of quantitative easing a month might not be enough to battle the downturn.
10. Boris Johnson has been urged by Cabinet allies to ask Brussels for a Brexit extension rather than disobey the law and risk a Jeremy Corbyn government. A Cabinet minister told the Telegraph Mr Johnson - who has said he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than ask for a delay - should back down and follow Parliament's instruction to ask for a three-month extension if he cannot agree a deal. "The Government does not break the law," the minister said.
11. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was handed a lifeline by the Democratic Unionist Party last night when it agreed to shift its red lines in a move that could help to unlock a Brexit deal. The Times of London understands that, for the first time, the party has said it would accept Northern Ireland abiding by some European Union rules after Brexit in a deal to replace the Irish backstop. The DUP has also said privately that it would drop its objection to regulatory checks in the Irish Sea, which it had called unacceptable as this would separate Northern Ireland “politically and economically” from the mainland.
12. Russian police and state investigators raided more than 200 homes and offices of supporters of Alexei Navalny yesterday in an unprecedented move described by an aide to the Kremlin critic as “intimidation and theft.” Leonid Volkov, 38, a close associate of Mr. Navalny, said that the mass searches were connected to a criminal investigation opened last month into alleged money laundering at Mr. Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, FBK.
13. The Taliban yesterday called on the U.S. to restart talks on ending the 18-year-old conflict in Afghanistan, urging the Trump administration to revisit a nearly completed deal after it abruptly withdrew from the process last week. President Trump, a longtime critic of the Afghan war, this week declared peace talks with the Taliban to be dead after canceling a secret meeting with Taliban and Afghan officials at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. However, he added in the same remarks, on Monday, that meetings are the only way to end wars.
14. The IMF is a long way from making a decision over the disbursement of the latest $5.4 billion tranche of its bailout package for Argentina due this month, which could even be delayed beyond presidential elections in October, people familiar with the country’s financial crisis said. The decision has been complicated by rapidly changing events since President Mauricio Macri’s resounding defeat in primary elections last month. Since then, the government has announced a reprofiling of Argentina’s debt and the implementation of capital controls.
15. A Wall Street Journal analysis of trading data suggests that new municipal bonds often are underpriced. That means the borrower (say: a school district) will pay more in interest over the life of the bonds than it would if the bonds had been priced closer to what subsequent investors paid. The story is headlined: "When Wall Street Flips Municipal Bonds, Towns and Schools Pay the Price."
16. The way lenders decide who can borrow money is undergoing its biggest shift in a generation. For decades, banks and other financiers have relied primarily on consumers’ borrowing history to make lending decisions. Now revenue-hungry companies are considering metrics both mundane and peculiar, like whether applicants shop at discount stores, subscribe to magazines or pay their phone bills on time.
17. Three years ago, the leaders of the international campaign to eradicate polio pulled off a landmark feat, phasing out a problematic component of the vaccine used in developing countries, and introducing a newer version that they hoped would put the world on a better footing to finally eliminate a global scourge. Now, some organizers are weighing whether “the switch,” as the process was known, needs to be reversed. If it’s not, some fear, the world could face a heightened risk of spread of the disease, currently confined to its last redoubt, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Quick Links: A space elevator is possible with today’s technology, researchers say. A Swiss house built by robots promises to revolutionize the construction industry. Tiny Guam is vying to be the world’s next big telecommunications hub. How China and California collaborate and compete for our future. California could become the first state to ban single-use plastics. As Boris Johnson pursues Brexit, all eyes are on Northern Ireland. Paris transport strike causes commuter misery and 300 kilometers of traffic jams. Zimbabwe is on the brink of collapse. Australia’s parched fields are tinder dry and ready to burn. Decline of migrating birds could be partly due to pesticides. This treatment can cure cancer. Can it mend the heart?How David Swensen made Yale University fabulously rich. MIT’s “disqualified” donors aren’t necessarily banned from donating, says Media Lab whistleblower. Teens are anxious and depressed after three hours a day on social media. WeWork to list shares on Nasdaq. Things haven't been going so well over at Softbank.
Political Links: New US Census data shows smallest ever pay gap between working men and women. Trump administration rolls back clean water protections. Inside Elizabeth Warren's "war" with Team Obama. Warren's plan for Social Security "looks smart," says NYT's David Leonhardt. Jeff Greenfield says Warren "won" last night's debate. Dan Balz says Biden, on balance, did best. The New York Times offers "six takeaways" without proclaiming a clear "winner." The Des Moines Register says the top three contenders "survived" and that Sen. Harris "lost." The Boston Globe, in back-handed fashion, says Warren "benefited."