Posts made in August 2018

How tweet it is: Trump accuses China of sabotaging diplomacy with North Korea

August 31, 2018

President Donald Trump is playing the blame game again—and this time his target is Beijing. According to a report by The New York Times, on August 29, the POTUS tried to make China the scapegoat for his stalled diplomacy with North Korea—accusing the People’s Republic of undermining the U.S.-led pressure campaign against Pyongyang because of an escalating trade dispute with the United States.

In a series of late-afternoon tweets on @realDonald Trump—sent out under the headline, “Statement from the White House”— the president referred to himself in the third person, claiming, “President Donald J. Trump feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese Government…

“At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities. This is not helpful,” he said.

He continued to tweet, “Nonetheless, the President believes that his relationship with {North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amount of money on joint U.S.-SouthKorea war games. Besides, the president can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea and Japan, if  he so chooses.”

He added a threat: “If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before. As for the U.S.-China trade disputes, and other differences, they will be resolved in time by President Trump and China’s great President Xi Jinping. Their relationship and bond remain very strong.”

The news outlet noted that, even as he was criticizing China, Trump reaffirmed his decision in June to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea, saying they were costly and unnecessary, given his warm relationship with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

“While it was difficult to decipher the strategy behind the tweets,” the Times said, “the president appeared in part to be trying to dial back remarks made by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who opened the door [on August 29] to resuming the exercises.”

A Defense Department official told the Times that news reports that interpreted Mattis’s remarks as contradictory to the president’s had angered the White House.

Research contact: @MarkLandler 

Ersatz emails: Number of hackers sending ‘A message from the CEO’ ratchets up

August 31, 2018

No, you’re not being paranoid. Yes, that urgent email from the CEO actually is an unscrupulous directive from a hacker, Business Insider reported on August 31.

Indeed, the number of hackers who are breaching business firewalls to send employees messages “signed by management” is suddenly soaring—and this kind of “pranking” can create serous issues. At least, that’s what researchers from global telecommunications company Verizon found in a 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report published earlier this year.

The cybersecurity report, which analyzed over 55,000 data breaches and hacking attempts across 65 countries, discussed the rising trend of financial pretexting—cyber scams where hackers obtain the email accounts of high-level business executives, or use email addresses with usernames and domains very similar to the managers in question.

Fully 76% of these breaches are financially motivated, according to the report—and nearly 73% are perpetrated by outsiders. Members of organized criminal groups are behind half of all breaches, with nation-state or state-affiliated actors involved in 12%.

Not all the baddies are outsiders though. Over one-quarter (28%) of attacks involved insiders. The insider threat can be particularly difficult to guard against—it’s hard to spot the signs if someone is using their legitimate access to your data for nefarious purposes.

Who are their favorite people to scam? Managers in Finance and HR.

Finance employees get an email from a scammer posing as the CEO, requesting a wire transfer of cash or that fake invoices to be processed.

As for HR staff, scammers email them requesting confidential employee information, such as salary, the report noted With this information, scammers—now pretending to be the employee—then file fraudulent tax returns and send the refunds to their own bank accounts.

These scams are “lucrative,” the report said, resulting in “numerous six-figure losses.”

According to the report, pretexting scams have tripled since last year to hit 180 in 2018. This big jump is due to a surge in attacks directed at HR staff, whom other studies say, often are not trained to protect data.

Research contact: @VZEnterprise

Lonely? Relief is ‘right under your nose’

August 31, 2018

Are you all by your lonesome while your partner is out-of-town?  Just sniffing an item recently worn by your partner may bring comfort and stress relief when you have to be apart, according to a results of a study conducted at the University of British Columbia.

The study, published in the January edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that women feel calmer after being exposed to their male partner’s scent. Conversely, being exposed to a stranger’s scent had the opposite effect and raised levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

“Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when [he or she] is away, but may not realize why they engage in these behaviors,” explains Marlise Hofer, lead study author and a graduate student in the university’s Department of Psychology, in a release from the university. “Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent, alone, even without [his or her] physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress.”

Researchers studied 96 opposite-sex couples, with the women acting as the “smellers”—because, in case you weren’t aware, they typically have a stronger sense of smell.

Men were asked to wear a clean tee-shirt for 24 hours and to avoid deodorants, scented body products, smoking, and eating certain foods that might impact their natural scent. The T-shirts were then frozen to maintain the scent.

The women were randomly assigned to smell a tee-shirt that was either totally clean, or had been worn by their partner or a stranger. They were not told which one they had been given. The women underwent a stress test that involved a mock job interview and a mental math task, and also answered questions about their stress levels and provided saliva samples used to measure their cortisol levels.

The researchers asked women to act as the “smellers” because they tend to have a better sense of smell than men.

They found that women who had smelled their partner’s shirt felt less stressed—both before and after the stress test. Those who both smelled their partner’s shirt and also correctly identified the scent also had lower levels of cortisol, suggesting that the stress-reducing benefits of a partner’s scent are strongest when women know what they are smelling.

Meanwhile, women who had smelled a stranger’s scent had higher cortisol levels throughout the stress test. The authors speculate that evolutionary factors could influence why the stranger’s scent affected cortisol levels.

“From a young age, humans fear strangers, especially strange males, so it is possible that a strange male scent triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response that leads to elevated cortisol,” said Hofer. “This could happen without us being fully aware of it.”

Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and assistant professor in the UBC department of psychology, said the findings could have practical implications to help people cope with stressful situations when they’re away from loved ones.

“With globalization, people are increasingly traveling for work and moving to new cities,” said Chen. “Our research suggests that something as simple as taking an article of clothing that was worn by your loved one could help lower stress levels when you’re far from home.”

The research was supported by an American Psychological Foundation Visionary Grant, as well as by a UBC faculty of arts humanities and social sciences grant, and a UBC faculty of arts graduate student research grant.

The study was co-authored by Hanne Collins and Ashley Whillans while they were at UBC.

Research contact: thandi.fletcher@ubc.ca

In Florida, Republican candidate invokes racist jab against Democrat

August 30, 2018

President Donald Trump’s pick—and the winner of the Florida Republican gubernatorial primary—already is dividing voters with his racist comments. Ron DeSantis’s  general-election campaign got off to a controversial start on August 29, when he went on Fox News and warned voters not to “monkey this up” by electing his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, who would be the first African American to lead the state.

DeSantis, who has created a political persona out of the same mold as the POTUS, called Gillum “much too liberal for Florida” and an “articulate spokesman for those far-left views.”

“The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state,” he continued. “That’s not going to work, that’s not going to be good for Florida.”

The huge upset victory by Andrew Gillum—who has served as mayor of Tallahassee, Florida—in the Tuesday Democratic primary for governor has made him eligible to become the first black governor of the Sunshine State.

According to a report by The Hill, Gillum—armed with an endorsement from Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and campaigning on an unabashedly progressive agenda—unexpectedly defeated former one-term U.S. Representative Gwen Graham (D-Florida), the daughter of a popular former governor and senator.

The victory gives the progressive wing of the Democratic Party another jolt of momentum, coming two months after Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the cycle by knocking off the longtime incumbent, Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley in New York’s primary.

Gillum will now face off against DeSantis in a campaign that already has turned dirty and divisive. Gillum had not commented on De Santis’s statements at press time.

Research contact: @LA_Hagen

Shipping out: UPS launches Ware2Go

August 30, 2018

United Parcel Service (UPS) has launched Ware2Go, the shipping company announced on August 28— a new technology company and digital platform that matches available warehouse space and fulfillment services with merchants who need to get online orders to their customers fast.

The new turnkey, on-demand U.S. platform for small to medium-size B2B companies is designed to augment the company’s suite of custom e-commerce solutions—and guarantees two-day order-to-delivery by UPS.

“Ware2Go uses innovative online technology to match excess warehouse and fulfillment capacity with merchant demand to provide transparent inventory, order fulfillment and final delivery,” said Scott Price, chief officer, Transformation and Strategy. “We’re solving for two major problems: speed to market and efficient warehousing.”

Ware2Go recruits and certifies warehouses in strategic locations—establishing a network of vetted fulfillment partners. Merchants can then position products closer to their customers without the need for researching or vetting providers, or making long-term volume and time commitments.

The company says that Ware2Go’s cloud-based platform and solution “provides merchants with seamless end-to-end order fulfillment – storage, pick/pack fulfillment, and shipping. Because Ware2Go manages the relationships with warehouses, merchants get the service levels and pricing they might not receive on their own.“

Merchants that are the intended customers of Ware2Go sell online—primarily to other businesses—and want fast, consistent, time-in-transit for shipments. They have few distribution centers and could benefit from more warehouse space for rent in other areas of the United States.

According to industry reports, UPS says, the demand for warehouse space has outpaced new supply since the end of the recession. Rising rental rates, coupled with e-commerce growth, have shifted warehousing from large centralized sites to localized facilities across major markets.

When a warehouse registers with Ware2Go, the platform matches unused capacity and capabilities with merchants. Ware2Go identifies merchants looking for fulfillment services and then on-boards, manages and bills customers so warehouse operators can fill available capacity quickly and easily without sales teams or administrative oversight. Warehouses can expand their customer network with a simplified management platform that provides visibility and invoicing.

Warehouse operators who use Ware2Go already provide small-package pick and pack but may not have a dedicated sales team. They could benefit from working with customers outside their local area.

Here’s how it works:

  • Customers create an account (as a merchant, warehouse, or both) and answer a few questions about their needs or capabilities.
  • Merchants provide details about their products, orders, space requirements and specific regional delivery needs. A portal enables merchants to upload and manage their inventory and orders across the Ware2Go network. The merchant maintains ownership of the inventory and is responsible for getting the products to Ware2Go-certified warehouses.
  • Warehouses provide their address and fulfillment services available, and Ware2Go inspects and certifies the warehouse.
  • The platform matches warehouses with merchants.
  • The Ware2Go platform also provides inventory visibility and tracks order progress for both the merchant and warehouse, streamlining communications.

“The flexibility Ware2Go offers merchants and warehouse operators—especially companies in the industrial, automotive and tech sectors— means they can compete more effectively and profitably in the market,” said Price.

Ware2Go was launched in July after an incubation process with BCG Digital Ventures, a corporate investment and incubation firm that owns a minority financial stake. The new company is headquartered in Atlanta.

Research contact: @ups

You ‘just may be toast’ if you drink to someone’s health

August 30, 2018

If you drink the wine or spirits that you are using to propose a toast, you” just may be toast,” based on findings of study published in The Lancet  on August 23 and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

As the Daily Beast reported this week, researchers at the University of Washington-Seattle, along with global collaborators, have established that the only safe amount of alcohol is no alcohol—which might be confusing since you’ve probably heard about the antioxidants in wine, or how beer is supposedly good for your gut.

The researchers did a meta-analysis of 694 data sets collected between 1990 and 2016 on alcohol consumption; as well as 592 studies on the health risks of alcohol use.

The study posted on The Lancet found that consuming 10 grams of alcohol (about half a shot) per day was the leading risk for death and disease for both men and women between the ages of 15 and 49.

In fact, they concluded that alcohol is the source of one in 10 deaths around the world, killing an estimated 2.8 million people globally in the 25+-year time period.

“The most surprising finding was that even small amounts of alcohol use contribute to health loss globally,” senior study author Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluationtold CNN on August 24. “We’re used to hearing that a drink or two a day is fine. But the evidence is the evidence.”

This certainly isn’t the first time that alcohol has been associated with health problems. But it’s not necessarily the final word for those trying to figure out if a glass of rosé at dinner every night is a good or bad idea.

The analysis finds that alcohol is a contributor to various conditions and diseases that can lead to death. For one thing, alcohol use has been associated with a weaker immune system, which can affect the body’s ability to fight cancer. In other words, the study doesn’t claim that drinking alcohol in moderation will kill you; it’s simply associated with death and disease.

And that’s key because alcohol consumption—when controlled—has been shown in some other reputable studies to potentially be helpful, particularly when it comes to wine. Moderate drinking has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks,

As David Spiegelhalter, the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, told CNN for the same story: “Given the pleasure presumably associated with moderate drinking, claiming there is no ‘safe’ level does not seem an argument for abstention. There is no safe level of driving, but governments do not recommend that people avoid driving. Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention.”

Gakidou told CNN that she was aware of the studies that showed better health with moderate drinking, but believed strongly that alcohol was almost universally a problematic health issue.

“We, to,o found some protective effects for Type 2 diabetes and ischemic heart disease at low levels of alcohol consumption,” she told CNN. “But those benefits are outweighed by the overall adverse health impact of alcohol, even at moderate levels.”

Since current research hasn’t settled the matter, one course of action is to follow the guidelines set by the U.S. government. That’s one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men with no binge-drinking. And if you don’t drink? Keep up the good work.

Research contact: gakidou@uw.edu

Mueller rejects Manafort plea deal before second trial

August 29, 2018

President Donald Trump’s former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort tried to make a deal with the Special Counsel ahead of his second trial in Washington, D.C., but the talks fell apart, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.

Manafort’s defense team reportedly held plea discussions with prosecutors last week— hoping to help their client “flip” before he was held accountable for helping Russia interfere in the 2016 elections—but the talks stalled over objections raised by Robert Mueller.

The Journal was unable to determine the nature of those objections, and representatives for Manafort and Mueller declined to comment for the report.

Manafort is facing a second set of charges in D.C. related to his work for a Russia–backed political party in Ukraine, as well as his offer of reports on the campaign to a wealthy Russian to whom he owed money. He is being accused of failing to register as a foreign agent, among other charges.

The former Trump associate was convicted by in an Alexandria, Virginia-based federal jury trial on eight felony counts in the first legal victory for Mueller’s team. The jury found Manafort guilty on five charges of filing false income tax returns, one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts, and two counts of bank fraud. They deadlocked on the other 10 of 18 counts, with one juror holding out.

According to Politico, Mueller’s team in recent days has shortened its estimate of the length of Manafort’s upcoming trial, which is scheduled to start on September 17. The special counsel’s prosecutors wrote it could be completed in around two, rather than three, weeks.

Research contact: @aviswanatha

Missouri becomes first state to regulate use of the word ‘meat’

August 29, 2018

The last time most of us had “mystery meat” was either in school or in the military. On June 1, Missouri—the “Show-Me State”—made sure that its residents would never have to see mystery meat or eat it again when it became the first state in the nation to pass a law that prohibits food providers from using the word “meat” to refer to anything other than animal flesh.

This  new legislation takes direct aim at manufacturers of what has been dubbed “clean,” or “plant-based, or “nontraditional”meat, according to a report by USA Today. Clean meat—also known as lab-grown meat—comprises cultured animal tissue cells, while plant-based meat is generally made from ingredients such as soy, tempeh and seitan.

The state law forbids “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.” Violators may be fined $1,000 and imprisoned for a year.

What’s more, a similar argument is unfolding on the federal level.

The meat-substitute market is expected to reach $7.5 billion-plus globally by 2025, up from close to $4.2 billion last year, based on findings by Allied Market Research.

The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, which worked to get the law passed, has cited shopper confusion and protection of local ranchers as reasons for the legislation.

“The big issue was marketing with integrity and … consumers knowing what they’re getting,” Missouri Cattlemen’s Association spokesperson Mike Deering told USA Today. “There’s so much unknown about this.”

On Agusut 27, the company that makes Tofurky filed an injunction in a Missouri federal court to prevent enforcement of the statute, alleging the state has received no complaints about consumers befuddled by the term “plant-based meats” and that preventing manufacturers from using the word is a violation of their First Amendment rights. In addition, the company pointed out, “meat” also refers to the edible part of nuts and fruit.

The statute “prevents the sharing of truthful information and impedes competition,” according to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. “The marketing and packaging of plant-based products reveals that plant-based food producers do not mislead consumers but instead distinguish their products from conventional meat products.”

The co-plaintiff is the Good Food Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

MCA spokesperson Deering said he was surprised by the suit because the primary target of the law was lab-grown meat.

Tofurky’s main ingredient is the first two syllables of its name-—tofu.

In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would regulate lab-grown meat. Traditional animal proteins are the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ernest Baskin, an assistant professor of Food Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia told USA Today that consumers use the word “meat,” when applied to nonanimal protein as a “shortcut” to understand how they eat the food they see on supermarket shelves.

“There’s a segment of consumers that doesn’t have to eat alternative products but wants to,” he said. “In those cases, putting those options together in front of consumers gives them the thought that ‘Hey, maybe these two are similar. Maybe I can substitute.’ ”

Research contact:@ZlatiMeyer

Don’t roll out the shag carpet for new home buyers

August 29, 2018

Does your home have avocado-green appliances, macramé hangings, or shag carpeting? Avocado may rule the menu these days, but as a choice for home furnishings? Not so much.

While many U.S. homeowners have kept their digs up-to-date and on-trend, the reality is that most homes still have outdated design elements., according to results of a recent poll posted on Builder online.

In fact, 70% of new or prospective home buyers report having outdated design features in their current residences. The six most common culprits for remodel-worthy features are:  linoleum floors (40%), popcorn ceilings (29%), wood paneling (28%), ceramic tile countertops (28%), shag carpeting (19%) and even avocado green appliances (8%)—according to a consumer survey conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of Scottsdale, Arizona-based builder Taylor Morrison.

“This is why real and virtual house hunting is so popular,” says Sheryl Palmer, Taylor Morrison chairman and chief executive officer. “We all love to daydream and envision ourselves in a beautiful new environment. But keeping up with ever-evolving preferences for paint colors, home features, new technologies and how we expect to use our homes over the years, is difficult. We also know that home interior preferences vary by generation, by home style, by region, even by city.”

The firm relies on data from national consumer surveys like this one to stay focused on what home-buyers want, and address changing interests across all generations, Palmer adds.

Which features bring more buyers to new homes? Below are some highlights of the survey:

  • Overall, energy efficiency (62%), floor plans that can be personalized (58%) and easier maintenance (56% percent), are preferred over items like the latest technology (38%).
  • Inside a new home, wood flooring (65%) is considered the most essential feature, followed by USB and Ethernet ports (44%), a whirlpool tub (36%), and a sun room (34%). Millennials showed more of an affinity than older generations for a whirlpool tub (39% vs. 32%), home theater (30% vs. 24%), and wine refrigerator or cellar (21% vs. 12%).
  • When all generations were asked to describe how they use their existing dining rooms, 80% of   said, “I use it as a dining room,” versus 65% of Millennials—who are interested in nontraditional uses of this traditional space. In fact, more than one in four (30%) of those with a dining room say they use this space for something other than dining, and most often as an office, game room, or craft room.
  • Soft natural tones (77%) were the more popular interior paint colors for recent and prospective home buyers. However, deep, rich tones (54%) soon could take over. Nearly three in five (59%) Millennials want the interior walls of their home painted with darker, rich colors, compared to just 49% of their older counterparts.

Research contact: @Jenn4Builder

Out of the blue: Republicans look toward a litigious future

August 28, 2018

The end is near–or at least that’s what Congressional Republicans are expecting, as the midterm “Blue Wave” approaches. Axios’s National Political Reporter Jonathan Swan has obtained a spreadsheet that, he says, has “circulated through Republican circles on and off Capitol Hill” and that scrupulously previews the investigations Democrats will likely launch if they flip the House.

Publicly, Axios reports, House Republicans are “putting on a brave face” about the midterms. But behind closed doors, they are preparing for the worst. The document, which catalogs the requests that Democrats already have made, is part of that effort.

According to Swan, the following list enumerates some of the probes that the GOP predicts will be launched by mid-November:

  • President Trump’s tax returns;
  • Trump’s family businesses — and whether they comply with the Constitution’s emoluments clause, including the Chinese trademark grant to the Trump Organization;
  • Trump’s dealings with Russia, including the president’s preparation for his meeting with Vladimir Putin;
  • The hush money paid to Stephanie Clifford — a.k.a. Stormy Daniels;
  • Former FBI Director James Comey’s firing;
  • Trump’s firing of U.S. attorneys;
  • Trump’s proposed transgender ban for the military;
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s business dealings;
  • White House staff’s personal email use;
  • Cabinet secretary travel, office expenses, and other misused perks;
  • Discussion of classified information at Mar-a-Lago;
  • Jared Kushner’s ethics law compliance
  • Dismissal of members of the EPA board of scientific counselors;
  • The travel ban;
  • Family separation policy;
  • Hurricane response (or lack therof) in Puerto Rico;
  • Election security and hacking attempts; and
  • White House security clearances.

The spreadsheet in question, says Swan, originated in a senior House Republican office —and catalogs more than 100 formal requests from House Democrats this Congress, spanning nearly every committee.

The bottom line, the Axios political pundit reports: Thanks to their control of Congress, Republicans have blocked most of the Democrats’ investigative requests. But if the House flips, the GOP loses that advantage.

Swan says that lawyers close to the White House have told him that the Trump administration “is nowhere near prepared for the investigatory onslaught that awaits them, and they consider it among the greatest threats to his presidency.”

Research contact: @jonathanvswan