Economy & business

Closed Pakistan-Afghan Border Causes Pain, Trade Losses

Pakistan’s decision to close the border with Afghanistan was a largely symbolic act aimed at forcing its neighbor to take action against extremist groups blamed for fomenting cross-border terror attacks.

It’s a hard reality for the travelers and traders trapped for nearly two weeks on both sides of the dusty crossings at Torkham, Ghulam Khan and Chaman.

Truckloads of food are rotting. Families are divided. People seeking treatment for a variety of ailments have run out of medicine and money, or will do so soon. Only ambulances transferring the dead from the Pakistan side have been allowed to pass.

“We implore the two governments to pay attention to our problems,” said Ahmadullah, an Afghan stuck on the Pakistani side. “We have suffered in terms of our health. We have run out of medicines. Look at my friend who is sitting and vomiting.”

Sayedul Haq, another stranded Afghan, added: “They should let us cross and join our families. Let them build a wall. We will no longer go to Pakistan, because we have our own country. Let’s forget Pakistan. We are like prisoners.”

Waris Ali, from Pakistan’s Punjab province, waited on the other side of the fence.

“I have come from Kabul 12 days ago,” he said. “I am sick and cannot eat. I have no medicines, too.  I don’t have money to pay for my stay at the hotel.”

Terror attacks cited

Pakistan says it understands the pain but claims it had to act amid a rash of terror attacks around the country that killed over 150 people in just a few days.

Islamic State and allied groups have claimed responsibility for those attacks and similar ones in Afghanistan — which Kabul blames on terrorists in safe havens in Pakistan — that seem aimed at destabilizing both countries’ governments and driving them even further apart when they could be cooperating to fight a common enemy.

“When so much is happening [terrorist attacks] here [in Pakistan] and there are indications that it has links there [Afghanistan], then you have to do such measures, so this was a temporary measure,” said Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s foreign affairs adviser. “I hope border crossings will be opened soon.”

While Pakistan also has launched a nationwide crackdown on extremists, the closed border crossings have become the face of its anti-terror efforts. Normally bustling with colorfully decorated trucks mixing with cars, carts and pedestrians, the crossings now sit empty, except for armed Pakistani troops.

“The closures of these crossing points, which are heavily regulated with full checking arrangements on both sides, serve no purpose other than to inflict hardship on ordinary people and hurt trade and transit,” said Omar Zakhilwal, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan.

Fatima Atif, a human rights activist, agrees.

“Border closure will not serve the purpose, and it is not a long-term solution,” Atif said. “We should regulate the border in an effective way and should have better ties with neighbors.”

‘We have suffered’

Officials have estimated daily losses in trade at $3 million.

“Hundreds of stranded goods trucks are loaded with fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry and other edible items, which are near to waste,” said Zubair Motiwala, chairman and president of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “We urge both governments that business and trade ties should be separated from political tensions.”

Truck driver Sayed Anwar said he had run out of his expense money, adding: “We have suffered heavy losses.”

More worrying for many are concerns about permanent long-term damage to trade, with recent figures showing a rise in Afghanistan’s trade with Iran and a corresponding decline in business with Pakistan.

“Pakistan-Afghanistan trade has dropped significantly in the last 1½ years because of bilateral tension,” said Motiwala, who estimated that there had been a 40 percent decline in recent years.

Silicon Valley & Technology

Netflix CEO: Co-workers Were Affected by Trump Travel Ban

Netflix employees were personally affected by U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempt to ban people entering from seven Muslim countries, its CEO said Tuesday.

Reed Hastings has been an outspoken critic of the temporary travel ban, which Trump hopes to revive in a revised form this week, and told The Associated Press on Tuesday that some of his co-workers had gotten caught up in it.

“We had Iranian and Iraqi employees who were unable to come to work,” he said on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress, the wireless industry’s biggest annual gathering held in Barcelona, Spain.

Netflix was among dozens of tech companies that publicly opposed the travel ban out of fear that it would stifle innovation.

U.S. politics has become as gripping as a TV drama but Hastings says that Netflix, the original distributor of the show House of Cards, is not planning a show based on Trump.

“Maybe someday, but it’s better to make a show about things in the past so you can have some perspective,” he said. “We let the news channels do the things that are current, while hoping to provide a relief from politics to people on both sides.”

One of Netflix’s biggest hits has been House of Cards, a fictional show about the ruthlessness of politics in Washington that first distributed in 2013, well before Trump’s rise to power.

Hastings aims to make Netflix even more global, including by creating more original content in foreign languages.

“We are focused on international expansion, mainly in Europe and Asia,” Hastings said. “It’s just the beginning of the internet. We are producing all over the globe with great success, now also in Spain, France, Germany, the U.K., Turkey, India, and even Japan, with anime shows.”

Netflix, which has some 93 million subscribers across 190 countries, is riding the success of some of its own productions, having won its first Oscar this week for the documentary White Helmets, about Syria’s humanitarian aid force.

Hastings expects the market competition to toughen, however, with traditional broadcasters increasingly moving online — especially with the gradual improvement of handset screens and connections.

“I think broadcast television is really going to move to the internet, so that current TV networks will offer their videos online, just the same as Netflix and YouTube.”

The improvements in wireless 4G and 5G technology is likely to encourage the trend of people watching movies on mobile screens. People can break up their viewing during commutes or lunch hours, personalizing the time in which they consume entertainment.

“We would like to continue to improve the mobile plans in order for everybody to enjoy unlimited video viewing,” Hastings said. “I think it’s possible because we are getting more efficient at video data, so that the networks are not congested. That would be a big breakthrough.”

Science & Health

Fasting Diet Reverses Diabetes in Mice

A diet that mimics fasting temporarily put mice in a starvation state, reversing diabetes in the animals, according to a new study. The diet was also shown to reduce the risk factors in people with pre-diabetes

Research by investigators at the University of Southern California showed the special, fasting-mimicking diet triggers the development of insulin-producing cells in mice with diabetes. The study was published in the journal Cell.

In humans, an earlier study of the diet reduced the risk factors of diabetes, such as elevated blood sugar, in people who were headed toward development of the disease. An article on the diet in humans appeared in Science Translational Medicine.

In both Type 1 diabetes and in the later stages of Type 2 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas are destroyed. But the authors said the diet appears to “reboot” the body, switching on genes that trigger the release of stem cells, master cells responsible for organ development.  

More than fasting required

However, fasting alone is not the key to restoring insulin levels. Scientists said refeeding after the brief starvation diet, with specially calibrated nutrients, is critical to kickstarting the production of new beta cells.

The process of stem cell activation is the same as seen in embryos to stimulate organ growth, according to gerontology professor Valter Longo, the director of USC’s Longevity Institute and senior author of both studies. He said the fasting-mimicking diet can be used to reprogram cells without any genetic alterations.

“So basically the system is using some of the same program that we use during embryonic and fetal development to regenerate the pancreas once the food comes back around,” he said. “And that’s the trick. It’s not so much the starvation. It’s really the combination of the starvation and the refeeding.” And, he stressed, “the refeeding’s got to be a high-nourishment one.”

Study participants put on the high-fat, low-calorie, low-protein diet consumed between 800 and 1,100 calories daily for five days in a row each month for three months. After each fast, they were refed with nutrient-rich foods.

Researchers found fasting triggered the production of a protein called Ngn3, which generated new, healthy beta cells that secreted insulin. They saw production of insulin in a dish in pancreatic cells extracted from mice and from healthy human donors and patients with both types of diabetes.

Scientists found the diet replaced damaged insulin-producing cells with new functioning ones in mice placed on the diet for four days.

Heart disease, cancer risks

The investigators have also amassed evidence that the fasting-mimicking diet reduces the risk of age-related diseases, including heart disease and cancer. It may also hold benefits for people with multiple sclerosis, said researchers.

But Longo said people with diabetes should not try the diet at home yet because it can drop blood sugar to perilously low levels if they don’t know what they are doing. “We warn people that, particularly [for people with] Type 1 or patients that inject themselves with insulin, it can be very risky or even lethal,” Longo cautioned.

He said investigators were poised to begin larger human clinical trials of the fasting-mimicking diet in the next six months.

Science & Health

Colorectal Cancer Rising Among Younger Adults

Americans born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer than those born around 1950, a new study suggests.

The study found that colorectal cancer is on the rise among young and middle-aged adults in their early 50s. Rectal cancer is growing particularly fast among people younger than 55, with 30 percent of diagnoses in people under 55.

“Trends in young people are a bellwether for the future disease burden,” said Rebecca Siegel, of the American Cancer Society and lead author of the study that appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“Our finding that colorectal cancer risk for millennials has escalated back to the level of those born in the late 1800s is very sobering. Educational campaigns are needed to alert clinicians and the general public about this increase to help reduce delays in diagnosis, which are so prevalent in young people, but also to encourage healthier eating and more active lifestyles to try to reverse this trend.”

Researchers note that rates of colorectal cancer have been falling since the 1980s with an even steeper decline in the past decade, which has been caused by more screening.

But they wanted to find out why some studies have shown a rising rate among people under 50 for whom screening is generally not done. For their study, researchers looked at cases of colorectal cancer in people over 20 from 1974 to 2013. There were 490,305 cases.

The data showed the rates of colon cancer initially decreased after 1974, but then grew by one or two percent from the mid-1980s to 2013 among adults aged 20 to 39. For people aged 40 to 54, the rates increased between .5 percent and one percent from the mid 1990s to 2013.

For rectal cancer, the increases were greater, with rates rising about three percent per year from 1974 to 2013 in adults aged 20 to 29. For adults between 30 and 39, there was a similar rise from 1980 to 2013. For adults between 40 and 54, rates increased by two percent from the 1990s to 2013.

Rates for adults older than 55 has been declining for about 40 years, researchers said.

Researchers say the results could change the age at which screening for colorectal cancer starts and cite 10,400 cases diagnosed in people in their 40s plus 12,800 cases in people in their early 50s.

“These numbers are similar to the total number of cervical cancers diagnosed, for which we recommend screening for the 95 million women ages 21 to 65 years,” Siegel said.

Science & Health

Psychologist: Don’t Try to Control Your Kids, Influence Them

To discipline their misbehaving children, parents may use techniques like giving a time out, taking away favorite activities, or spanking. But child psychologist Ross Greene says this controlling style of parenting is not effective. In his recent book, “Raising Human Beings,” he explains why and makes a case for rethinking common approaches to disciplining children. He suggests a different approach, which he calls collaborative parenting.

Control vs. Influence

Throughout his career, Ross Greene has noticed that most parents try to control their kids. He doesn’t support that. He says parents don’t need to control, they need to influence their children.

And the way to do that, he says, is to create a collaborative partnership: parents should listen to their kids, take their concerns into account and help children benefit from their parents’ experiences and values.

“A lot of us were raised by parents who were more oriented toward power and control,” he notes. “If they start moving toward collaboration and influence, they feel like they’re losing control, but the reality is they didn’t have control in the first place.”

When parents try to control their kids, they use strategies that are oriented around power.

“[They are using] time out, adult imposed consequences, in schools [they use] detention, suspension, expulsion, hitting. That’s power,” he observes, and points out why that doesn’t work. “Number one, power doesn’t really solve the problems that are causing the behaviors that we’re using those strategies on in the first place. Number two, power causes kids to stop talking to us, to feel like we’re not listening. And those are not good outcomes, if we want to have a relationship with our kids, if we want to communicate with them and especially if we want to have influence and partner with them on solving the problems that are affecting their lives.”

Collaborative parenting

After 20 years as a child psychologist at Harvard, Greene left the academic life to set up Lives in Balance, a non-profit that focuses on kids with significant behavioral problems. That’s where he developed his Collaborative and Proactive Solutions parenting model.

The more research he’s done over the years, the more convinced he’s become that this model is also effective in raising kids who have less challenging behavioral problems.

Rather than viewing certain behavior as bad, he counsels parents to see it as an indication that the child has trouble meeting expectations for a certain situation. With Greene’s model, parents can start helping the child get to the real problem behind the misbehavior.

“I find it more productive to focus on the unsolved problems than it is to focus on the behaviors that are caused by those problems,” he explains. “If all you do is focus on the behavior, you might improve the behavior a little bit, but the problems are still not getting solved.”

Step by step

The collaborative parenting model consists of three steps. Greene lays them out in his book, Raising Human Beings, Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child.

1. Empathy. “This is where we’re gathering information from the kid so us to achieve the clearest possible understanding on the unsolved problem or unmet expectation we’re talking with him about. Kids have information we very badly need. So often we adults think of solutions without even figuring out what is getting in the kid’s way in the first place. So the empathy step is crucial.”

2. Define Adult Concerns. In this step, the adult restates the expectation the child is having a difficulty meeting. Let’s say the kid is having difficulty doing his math homework, or waking up in the morning or showing respect to his teachers and classmates at school. Then the parents can express their concern about these unsolved problems by focusing on how they are affecting the child and/or others.The second step is where the adult shares his or her concern about the issue.

3. Invitation. “This is where the kid and the adult are collaborating on a solution, but a solution that has to meet a very important criteria. It has to address the concerns of both parties.”

“A lot of the times the parents try to solve a problem with a kid, they try to do it in the heat of the moment, reactively,” Greene says, adding, “That is completely unnecessary. One of the beautiful things about this model is that it takes us not only away from power and control; it also gets us out of the heat of the moment when both the kids and adults are at their worst, and helps us start solving these problems collaboratively and proactively. That’s a better way to go.”

A lifetime relationship

Adopting a collaborative and proactive parenting style, Greene says, offers an opportunity for parents to enhance communication, improve the relationship with their kids and prepare them for a lot of what lies ahead in the real world. It’s also a chance for parents to model the qualities and skills they want their kids to acquire.

“Skills like empathy, appreciating how one’s behavior is affecting other people, resolving disagreements without conflicts, and taking another person’s perspective, and honesty. We don’t want to wait until people are adults to start worry about those skills. We want to start teaching them as early as possible to our kids in the ways that we parent.”

Child psychologist Ross Greene says the best outcomes happen when parents realize that their role is more than dealing with their kids’ problem behavior. It’s about partnering with their children so they become the best adults they can be.

Economy & business

Wilbur Ross Sworn In as US Secretary of Commerce

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross was sworn in as U.S. commerce secretary on Tuesday after helping shape Republican President Donald Trump’s opposition to multilateral trade deals.

Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath of office to Ross, 79, a day after the U.S. Senate voted to confirm the corporate turnaround expert’s nomination, with strong support from Democrats.

WATCH: Ross’ remarks at his swearing-in ceremony

Ross is set to become an influential voice in Trump’s economic team and was expected to start work on renegotiating trade relationships with China and Mexico.

While commerce secretaries rarely take the spotlight in Washington, Ross is expected to play an outsize role in pursuing Trump’s campaign pledge to slash U.S. trade deficits and bring manufacturing jobs back to America.

Some Democrats criticized Ross as another billionaire in a Trump Cabinet that says it is focused on the working class and for being a “vulture” investor who has eliminated some jobs. Reuters reported last month that Ross’s companies had shipped some 2,700 jobs overseas since 2004.

Economy & business

Uber Says Thousands of London Drivers Threatened by English Language Test

Tens of thousands of London private hire drivers could lose their licenses due to new English reading and writing requirements, taxi app Uber said on Tuesday at the start of a court battle to halt the plans.

San Francisco-based Uber, which allows users to book journeys at the touch of a button on their smartphone, has grown rapidly in recent years but faced bans and protests around the world as regulators play catch-up with technology disrupting traditional operators.

Uber launched legal action in August after public body Transport for London (TfL) said that drivers should have to prove their ability to communicate in English, including to a standard of reading and writing which Uber says is too high.

“It produces the profoundest of human effects. At one extreme it will lead to the loss of livelihood,” Uber’s lawyer Thomas de la Mare told the High Court in London.

There are over 110,000 private hire drivers in the British capital, according to TfL but around 33,000 would fail to pass their renewal test due to the new language hurdle, de la Mare told the court, citing a calculation of data provided by TfL.

The transport body has said it is important for public safety that drivers can communicate in English to an appropriate level and that it needs to better regulate the sector which has grown significantly in recent years, leading to congestion.

It also wants drivers to have private hire insurance even when vehicles are not being used to carry passengers and for those like Uber to set up call centers open 24 hours a day.

The proposals came partly as a response to demonstrations from drivers of London’s famous black cabs, concerned that private hire firms are able to undermine their business model by not meeting the same standards and charging less for journeys.

The High Court is due to hear the case until Thursday although it might be some weeks before a ruling.


Economy & business

US Economy Grew at Weak 1.9 Percent Rate in 4th Quarter

The U.S. Commerce Department reported Tuesday that the economy grew at a lackluster pace of 1.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016. While the figure was unchanged from the initial estimate last month, it represented a marked slowdown from the 3.5 percent growth reported in the third quarter.

Consumer spending was stronger than first thought, however, up .5 of a percentage point to 3 percent, even as state and local government spending declined slightly. Consumer spending is an important economic indicator because it’s the biggest driver of the U.S. economy.  

Overall GDP growth was just 1.6 percent for all of 2016, the weakest in five years. Since the recession ended in 2009, annual growth has averaged 2.1 percent.  

GDP, or gross domestic product, is the broadest measure of a country’s economic health and represents the total value of all goods and services produced over a period of time.

During the presidential election campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump promised to double economic growth to 4 percent through a program of tax cuts, infrastructure spending and reduction in regulations. Many economists say that may be overly optimistic, given the aging of the U.S. population and declining productivity.