What The Truth Is.
1. If you think breathing in gene editing enzymes to treat infectious diseases, such as the flu or COVID-19, is a technology that is far-fetched or a long way off, think again. A team of investigators from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University has developed a CRISPR-based treatment to stop the replication of both the flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 in mice. Moreover, the new treatment is delivered to the lungs via a nebulizer, which could make it simple for patients to administer themselves at home. We’ll see. (via genengnews.com, nature.com)
2. Haunted by the two deadly crashes of Boeing 737 MAX jets and his agency’s role in approving the plane, veteran Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety engineer Joe Jacobsen is stepping forward publicly to give the victims’ families “a firsthand account of what the truth is.” In a detailed letter sent last month to a family that lost their daughter in the second MAX crash in Ethiopia two years ago this week, and in interviews with The Seattle Times, Jacobsen gave the first personal account by an insider of the federal safety agency’s response to the MAX crashes. Jacobsen should have been among the FAA specialists who reviewed the MAX’s critical new flight control software during its original certification, which was largely controlled by Boeing. He’s confident that he and other FAA engineers would have flagged its serious design flaws. He got the chance to do so only after the first crash in Indonesia, in late 2018. He believes additional system upgrades are needed beyond Boeing’s fix for the MAX that was blessed by the FAA and other regulators. And Jacobsen argues that the plane would be safer if Boeing simply removed altogether the new software — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) — that went wrong in the two crashes that killed 346 people. Jacobsen also calls for the replacement of some of the people at “the highest levels of FAA management,” whom he blames for creating a culture too concerned with fulfilling the demands of industry. (via The Seattle Times)
3. Saudi Arabia said some of the world’s most protected oil infrastructure came under missile and drone attack in an escalation of regional hostilities that sent crude prices surging. The attacks on Sunday were intercepted, Saudi Arabia said, and oil output appeared to be unaffected. But the latest in a spate of assaults claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels pushed oil prices to above $70 a barrel for the first time since January 2020. The attacks are the most serious against Saudi oil installations since a key processing facility and two fields came under fire in September 2019, cutting production for about a month and exposing the vulnerability of the kingdom’s petroleum industry. Yemen’s Houthi fighters claimed responsibility for that attack, although Riyadh pointed the finger at arch-rival Iran. (via Bloomberg News)
4. Worried that Afghan peace talks are going nowhere, and facing a May 1 deadline for the possible withdrawal of all U.S. troops, the Biden administration has proposed sweeping plans for an interim power-sharing government between the Taliban and Afghan leaders, and stepped-up involvement by Afghanistan’s neighbors — including Iran — in the peace process. Along with the proposal, shared with both sides over the past week by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that a U.S. departure remains under active consideration and could lead to “rapid territorial gains” by the Taliban. “I am making this clear to you so that you understand the urgency of my tone,” Blinken wrote in a three-page letter to Ghani sent to coincide with the proposal. (via The Washington Post)
5. Phil Zelikow and Robert Blackwill: “Taiwan is becoming the most dangerous flashpoint in the world. Events in and involving the small democracy could spark a war that draws in the United States, China, Japan, and possibly others. The administration of President Joe Biden should develop a more credible U.S. strategy to deter such a war. What even many watchers of world politics could neglect, distracted by so many other global problems and noisemakers, is how much the situation surrounding Taiwan has changed in the last few years. China’s decision to crush local governance and effective rule of law in Hong Kong has had large effects. It changed politics in Taiwan in favor of a president whom China regards as a separatist. Chinese leaders doubled down on xenophobic nationalism and repression, escalating pressure on Taiwan both rhetorically and militarily. Taiwan has begun a significant program of rearmament with a seriousness not seen in a generation, supported by the United States, yet there is a significant window of time before this program can bear sufficient fruit.” (via War on the Rocks)
6. China upped the stakes in its tech race with the U.S. as leaders laid out plans to speed up development of advanced technologies from chips to artificial intelligence and quantum computing over five years. In a draft economic blueprint unveiled at the country’s annual legislative gathering, officials said they would boost research and development spending by more than 7% annually over the five years to the end of 2025. That will account for a higher percentage of gross domestic product than in the previous five-year period. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in a speech Friday that China will revise regulation and policies to support the flow of venture capital into startups, free up bank lending and extend tax incentives to encourage research and development. (via The Wall Street Journal)
7. The Wire surveyed the 48 largest U.S. businesses with operations in China and asked if they had a position on the well-documented evidence of the Chinese government’s systematic repression in Xinjiang and if they have done anything in response. The vast majority — 88 percent — did not reply or would not respond to questions that referenced Xinjiang. Indeed, a Costco spokeswoman seems to have perfectly summarized the attitude of the U.S. businesses community in response to The Wire’s questions about the largest persecution of an ethnic group in the 21st century: “Management has no comment at this time.” She asked not to be named. (via The Wire China)
8. Eurointelligence: “Germany’s CDU/CSU coalition have a new problem - in addition to being blamed for an incompetent pandemic crisis management. Two MPs, one from each of the sister parties, are involved in graft scandals relating to face masks. There are rumours that there will be more. What none of the German papers we perused this mornings writes in this context: there is also a question mark hanging over Armin Laschet’s son, who reportedly secured a business connection relating to face masks, but who denies the allegations. Laschet is therefore compromised in his ability to deal with the situation effectively. With only six days to go until state elections in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg, these scandals could not have come at a worse time for him and his party.” More on this from the FT. (via Eurointelligence.com, ft.com)
9. Swiss voters narrowly supported a ban on burqas and other full-face coverings in one of the most contentious referendums yet in the country’s unique system of direct democracy, and a further sign that a pushback against Islam is gaining ground in Europe. A wafer-thin majority of 51% of those taking part voted to outlaw full-face coverings in public compared with 49% against, according to provisional officials results of Sunday’s vote, though face-masks to slow the spread of Covid-19 will be permitted, and burqas and niqab veils will still be allowed to be worn in places of worship. (via The Wall Street Journal)
10. President Biden aims to chart a different course than his Democratic and Republican predecessors on immigration, but the recent rise in migrant children and families crossing the border illegally is sparking a political backlash that could complicate his efforts. Mr. Biden’s team has said it is trying to reduce the immigration system’s reliance on long-term detention of asylum seekers and more quickly process unaccompanied children and families out of custody. That is a departure from both the Trump and Obama administrations, which relied on detention and deterrence as key tools to ensure the border wasn’t overrun. (via The Wall Street Journal)
11. Obscured by other parts of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which won Senate approval on Saturday, a mold-breaking child benefit plan has the makings of a policy revolution. Though framed in technocratic terms as an expansion of an existing tax credit, it is essentially a guaranteed income for families with children, akin to children’s allowances that are common in other rich countries. The plan establishes the benefit for a single year. But if it becomes permanent, as Democrats intend, it will greatly enlarge the safety net for the poor and the middle class at a time when the volatile modern economy often leaves families moving between those groups. More than 93 percent of children — 69 million — would receive benefits under the plan, at a one-year cost of more than $100 billion. (via The New York Times)
12. Tucked inside the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that cleared the Senate on Saturday is an $86 billion aid package that has nothing to do with the pandemic. Rather, the $86 billion is a taxpayer bailout for about 185 union pension plans that are so close to collapse that without the rescue, more than a million retired truck drivers, retail clerks, builders and others could be forced to forgo retirement income. The bailout targets multi-employer pension plans, which bring groups of companies together with a union to provide guaranteed benefits. All told, about 1,400 of the plans cover about 10.7 million active and retired workers, often in fields like construction or entertainment where the workers move from job to job. As the work force ages, an alarming number of the plans are running out of money. Both the House and Senate stimulus measures would give the weakest plans enough money to pay hundreds of thousands of retirees — a number that will grow in the future — their full pensions for the next 30 years. The provision does not require the plans to pay back the bailout, freeze accruals or to end the practices that led to their current distress, which means their troubles could recur. Nor does it explain what will happen when the taxpayer money runs out 30 years from now. (via The New York Times)
13. Niall Ferguson: “Lest anyone doubt the scale of the fiscal shock attributable to Covid-19, the latest projections from the Congressional Budget Office are now available. Even if the short-run outlook is less dire than last year’s exercise, the reality is inescapable: Not only is the federal debt in public hands now at its highest level relative to GDP since the year after World War II, but it is also forecast to soar to double that level by 2050. These are drastically worse projections than we were contemplating in 2009 and 2012. The conclusion is not that inflation is inevitable. The conclusion is that the current path of policy is unsustainable. The Fed may control short-term rates but it cannot really allow long-term interest rates to rise rapidly because of the problems this would create for highly leveraged entities, including the federal government itself. This is the “unpleasant fiscal arithmetic” that inevitably arises when the stock of debt rises to approximately the level of total economic output.” (via amazon.com, cbo.gov, Bloomberg Opinion)
14. Georgia Republicans are proposing new restrictions on weekend voting that could severely curtail one of the Black church’s central roles in civic engagement and elections. Stung by losses in the presidential race and two Senate contests, the state party is moving quickly to push through these limits and a raft of other measures aimed directly at suppressing the Black turnout that helped Democrats prevail in the critical battleground state. “The only reason you have these bills is because they lost,” said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who oversees all 534 A.M.E. churches in Georgia. “What makes it even more troubling than that is there is no other way you can describe this other than racism, and we just need to call it what it is.’’ (via The New York Times)
15. The head of the Dallas FBI office said Friday that the nature of domestic terrorism is evolving — from fringe to mainstream — and that it remains for him a top concern, particularly since his division has made more than a dozen arrests related to the January attack on the U.S. Capitol. Matthew J. DeSarno, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI office, called the Jan. 6 uprising and siege of the U.S. Capitol a terrorist attack. But he also said during a news briefing Friday that lone actors radicalized at home and driven to commit violence by certain ideologies concern him the most. That’s because they have been responsible for most of the deadliest attacks in recent history, he said. (via The Dallas Morning News)
16. For decades, hydrogen has been hailed as a potentially revolutionary alternative to fossil fuels — General Motors built its first hydrogen-powered vehicle in the 1960s. Yet its high costs and complexities have stunted previous attempts at creating whole new economies centered around hydrogen, which were often driven by oil price surges and shortages, or governments’ desire for energy independence. But since the 2015 Paris climate agreement, “low carbon hydrogen”, produced either without fossil fuels or by storing and capturing the emissions generated, is firmly back on the agenda. Governments adopting net zero targets are desperately seeking ways to slash emissions from highly polluting sectors including heating, heavy industries like steel and long distance transport, where other options either don’t yet exist or are also in their infancy. Last year, the EU and at least 15 other countries published hydrogen plans often backed by subsidies to help lower production costs, according to industry lobby group the Hydrogen Council. At least $300 billion is expected, says the council, to be invested globally over the next decade by the public and private sectors, with some in the industry projecting that — if successful — hydrogen could one day help meet almost a fifth of global energy demand. But, so far only $80 billion has been committed. (via Financial Times)
17. The transition to electric vehicles may be the auto industry's main priority, but Porsche sees things a little differently despite investing billions of euros in electro-mobility. With the German automaker's existing range of luxury, high-performance models built to last, the firm is searching for greener ways to ensure they can stay on the roads amid pressure to reduce pollution from fossil fuels. Enter electro-fuels or eFuels as Porsche calls it — synthetic methanol gasoline that will be produced using green hydrogen, made with renewable energy. The fuel will burn the same as gasoline made from crude oil but without the huge greenhouse gas emissions. It can be sold at the existing network of filling stations globally and Porsche owners won't need to get their engines modified. Porsche spokesman Peter Gräve told DW its eFuels will "permit the almost climate-neutral operation of combustion-engine vehicles." The carmaker recently said its electro-fuels could cut CO2 emissions by more than 85% and is cleaner than an electric vehicle when factoring in the environmental impact of battery production. (via dw.com)
18. Norwegian oil billionaire Kjell Inge Rokke has come out strongly in favor of Bitcoin, as he bets the cryptocurrency will prove the best defense against the disruption facing the finance industry and central banking. Rokke’s Aker ASA, which controls oil and oil service companies and has more recently branched out into green tech and renewable energy companies, is setting up a new business, Seetee AS, to tap into the potential of Bitcoin, according to a statement on Monday. “Bitcoin may still go to zero. But it can also become the core of a new monetary architecture,” Rokke wrote in a shareholder letter on Seetee’s website. He says it’s not inconceivable that one Bitcoin could one day “be worth millions of dollars.” (via Bloomberg News)
19. More on Bitcoin: Goldman Sachs is seeing substantial demand for digital assets from institutions as it works to restart its cryptocurrency trading desk. In a survey of nearly 300 clients by the firm, 40% currently have exposure to crypto, according to Matt McDermott, global head of digital assets for Goldman Sachs Global Markets Division, speaking on a podcast. The situation is different now compared with the 2017 Bitcoin bubble due to “huge” institutional demand across different industry types and from private banking clients, he said. (via News Items, Bloomberg News)
Quick Links: Did time flow in two directions from the big bang, making two futures?
Bacteria are effectively immortal. How IBM’s audacious plan to ‘change the face of health care’ with AI fell apart. Microsoft attack blamed on China morphs into global crisis. America’s top brass responds to the threat of China in the Pacific. Arctic Ocean was much warmer than average during February. What became of the 10 breakthrough technologies of 2001. Read this: The best password managers. Photo: A Facebook data center near Atlanta, Georgia. Meghan Markle: It’s a girl! News Items Editor’s wedding plans upended.
Political Links: Beijing launches campaign against obsequious behavior. Foreign Minister Wang: China will make ‘efforts’ to outlaw forced labor. U.S., South Korea reach a cost-sharing accord on troops. In just a few months Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya went from unknown stay-at-home mom to the leader of democratic Belarus. "Support for Spain’s far-right Vox party has reached an all-time high. Draghi hires McKinsey. Polls in Scotland show Sturgeon hit by handling of Salmond claims. Rupert Murdoch prepares to hand over his media empire. News items offers counter-factual. Calls for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign grow a bit louder. Mr. Cuomo leans on crisis management playbook as walls close in. Cuomo says “no way” he is resigning. One of President Biden’s most influential advisors is Mike Donilon, brother of former Obama National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon. House will easily pass Biden stimulus bill.
Pandemic Links: Walter Isaacson: “We’ve entered a new era of biotechnology which has shifted the balance of power between humans and viruses in our favor.” Russian intelligence agencies have mounted a campaign to undermine confidence in Pfizer’s and other Western vaccines. E.U. medical official urges caution over some states’ preliminary approval of Russia’s Sputnik V. Germany plans aggressive vaccine rollout after slow start. Immunology expert Michael Meyer-Hermann: Germany should prioritize people for coronavirus vaccines by the number of their social contacts rather than their age. World's worst Covid crisis is unfolding in Brazil. Japan faces new battle to contain variants.