Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Bruce Springsteen Plans Broadway Return of His One-Man Show

The Boss just can’t quit Broadway.
Bruce Springsteen will return to Broadway this summer for a limited run of his one-man show “Springsteen on Broadway.” Performances at the St. James Theatre begin June 26 with an end date set — at least for now — for Sept. 4.
“I loved doing ‘Springsteen on Broadway’ and I’m thrilled to have been asked to reprise the show as part of the reopening of Broadway,” the rocker said in a statement.
“Springsteen on Broadway” debuted in 2017 and was extended three times, finally closing in late 2018. Columbia Records put out a two-disc soundtrack of “Springsteen on Broadway” and a filmed version of the show is on Netflix.
In the show, Springsteen performs 15 songs — including “My Hometown,” “Thunder Road,” and “Born in the USA” — and tells stories about growing up in New Jersey. Some of the stories will be familiar to readers of his autobiography, and he even reads from it. His wife, Patti Scialfa, accompanies him for “Brilliant Disguise.”
Audience members will be required to provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination in order to enter the theater.

Science & Health

US Highlights Commitment to Women’s Reproductive Rights

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations met Monday with the head of the U.N. Population Fund in the first such high-level engagement in more than four years.The U.S. Mission to the United Nations said Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield highlighted the resumption of extensive support to the organization, which provides life-saving health care to millions of women and girls around the world.“I’m delighted to announce the resumption of U.S. humanitarian funding for UNFPA, including support for the Rohingya refugee crisis, Afghanistan, Sudan and those fleeing the Tigray region,” Thomas-Greenfield tweeted after the meeting. To mark our renewed commitment to @UNFPA, I met today with Executive Director Natalia Kanem. I’m delighted to announce the resumption of U.S. humanitarian funding for UNFPA, including support for the Rohingya refugee crisis, Afghanistan, Sudan and those fleeing the Tigray region.— Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (@USAmbUN) June 7, 2021In April 2017, the Trump administration withdrew funding to UNFPA, saying it “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization” in China. For decades, China had a “one-child policy” for couples, which it revised in 2016 to a “two-child policy.” The country had been accused of using forced sterilization and abortions to enforce the restrictions. Last week, it relaxed the policy further, saying it would allow families to have up to three children, due to decreasing birth rates.The United Nations rejected the Trump administration’s accusation, but that did not persuade Washington to restore the nearly $76 million the U.S. contributed to the agency’s core operating budget. It was also the beginning of what many Western diplomats and activists said was the former Republican administration’s war on women’s health and reproductive rights at the United Nations.Since taking office in January, the Biden administration has offered the agency nearly $31 million toward its core operating budget. Washington has also resumed funding UNFPA’s humanitarian activities, including $2.6 million for the Rohingya refugee crisis and nearly $1.2 million for Ethiopian refugees in Sudan fleeing the conflict in the Tigray Region. The U.S. is also contributing nearly $1.5 million for international protection issues in Afghanistan and $1.3 million to assist Sudan in improving the response to gender-based violence for internally displaced persons and vulnerable communities.In 2015, UNFPA received $979 million in total contributions for its work in more than 150 countries. The United States provided nearly $76 million to the fund’s core budget and specific programs and initiatives, making it one of the top international donors. 

Science & Health

Heart Disease Seen in Some Younger COVID-19 Patients

Health professionals continue to see heart disease in some young people who have had COVID-19, those who have been vaccinated against the virus, and among student athletes, in general.Cardiomyopathy is an inflammation and weakening in the walls of the heart.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta has reviewed vaccine safety data weekly since the start of the U.S. vaccination program and cautions that cases among those who have received the COVID-19 vaccine are “mild and few.” The agency says the condition appears in males more than females, more often following the second shot in a two-dose regimen, and usually around four days after the vaccination.Coronavirus-related cardiomyopathy was first observed last year in younger people when college athletes resumed play as the pandemic spread in the United States. College sport events generate significant revenues for colleges and universities, and some big schools that draw thousands into stadiums returned players to campus with the hope of public events resuming sooner than later.In a study of college athletes conducted since last September, a higher incidence of cardiomyopathy, also called myocarditis, has been seen in athletes who contracted the coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2. Symptoms include shortness of breath, weakness, tiredness, dizziness and abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.   “Myocarditis is a leading cause of sudden death in competitive athletes,” researchers wrote in JAMA Cardiology in May, adding, “Myocardial inflammation is known to occur with SARS-CoV-2,” the medical name for the coronavirus. Another study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in March found that more than one in three “previously healthy college athletes recovering from COVID-19 infection showed … resolving pericardial inflammation.”Resolving is the key word here: Researchers concluded that “no athlete showed … features to suggest an ongoing myocarditis,” or inflammation of the heart walls. Knowing when athletes should play or rest is important, and research has not nailed down the long-term effects yet, the researchers said.“Further studies are needed to understand the clinical implications and long-term evolution of these abnormalities in uncomplicated COVID-19,” they wrote.  Pediatric cardiologist Geoffrey Rosenthal has observed myocarditis in young people, specifically during the pandemic. He has been the team cardiologist for the University of Maryland, College Park since 2020.  “Myocarditis is one of the more common causes of sudden death in athletes,” said Rosenthal.  “If someone had myocarditis, it’s one of the standard recommendations that they not exercise strenuously for three to six months after their diagnosis to allow time for their heart to heal, and lessen their risk of a sudden event,” he said.  The residual health of athletes who have had COVID is being assessed to try to understand the risks.  Ohio State University (OSU) was one of the big universities that brought players back to campus amid the pandemic and detected heart changes in athletes who tested positive for the infection.It has led the effort to monitor athletes by overseeing a registry of nearly 1,600 COVID-19 positive athletes in the Big Ten sports conference, or a division of 14 colleges and universities among other divisions nationally.  Looking at a smaller sample of 37 athletes diagnosed with myocarditis, 28 didn’t exhibit symptoms, reported OSU.Rosenthal noted that research and cooperation among universities has advanced detection of myocarditis among young people and student athletes, who are largely asymptomatic, by using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The University of Maryland adopted cardiac MRI screening for athletes before almost all other universities in the country as the pandemic was starting, he said.“The EKG is normal, and their blood tests are normal, and their echo [cardiogram] is OK,” Rosenthal explained. “And then we get the MRI and find out that there’s an abnormality that we weren’t expecting, and that we never would have found out about had we not done the MRI.“There’s still a lot of cardiac work that’s going on in the younger student population,” Rosenthal said.  And this advancement in detection will help other athletes, younger and older.  “There’s also hope that it will inform our understanding of COVID in older athletes, in older and non-elite athletes. … the weekend warriors,” he said.But this research will also help non-athletes whose jobs demand physical labor.  “Other populations that these results might help inform is the military and other professions and occupations in which physical activity is part of what people are doing,” Rosenthal said.  “First responders, firefighters, policemen, you know, other people whose jobs have physical demands. In addition to gaining insight into the health of our student athletes what other populations can we help through this work?” 

Science & Health

FDA Approves Controversial New Alzheimer’s Drug

The first new drug against Alzheimer’s disease in nearly two decades received a conditional and controversial green light from U.S. drug regulators on Monday. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved biotech company Biogen’s antibody drug aducanumab. The drug reduces the amyloid plaques that riddle the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.  But the approval drew sharp criticism from experts who note that the company has not proved that it slows the debilitating cognitive decline in patients with the disease.  The FDA will require Biogen to continue testing the drug after it is released and ultimately demonstrate that patients actually do fare better on the drug.  In the meantime, the company said the drug will cost each patient $56,000 per year, but is likely to be covered by most insurers, including Medicare.  FILE – A sign marks a Biogen facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan., 26, 2017.Alzheimer’s, a degenerative neurological disease, is responsible for roughly two-thirds of the 50 million cases of dementia worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.  Aducanumab, marketed as Aduhelm, is the first approved treatment to target the underlying disease process of Alzheimer’s rather than just treat the symptoms.  In two clinical trials, aducanumab reduced amyloid plaques by 59% to 71% after 18 months.  However, those studies were stopped early because they did not show that patients taking aducanumab were declining in brain function any slower than patients who were not taking it.  Biogen reevaluated the data from a subset of patients in one trial and found a slight improvement in patients receiving the highest dose.  The FDA decided to approve the drug under what is called accelerated approval, which has a lower standard of evidence than full approval. The FDA said Biogen’s data show that reducing amyloid plaques is “reasonably likely to result in clinical benefit.”  “This pathway allows FDA to provide patients suffering with a serious disease earlier access to a potentially valuable drug when there is some residual uncertainty about the clinical benefit of the drug,” Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said on a call with reporters. Patients’ groups cheered. “This approval is a victory for people living with Alzheimer’s and their families,” Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, an advocacy group, said in a statement.  “It is a new day,” he said. “This approval allows people living with Alzheimer’s more time to live better. For families it means being able to hold on to their loved ones longer. It is about reinvigorating scientists and companies in the fight against this scourge of a disease. It is about hope.” Not everyone agreed. “The FDA is saying, ‘Never mind the lack of determined effectiveness,'” said Lon Schneider, director of the California Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the University of Southern California. Reducing plaques is not the same as slowing the patient’s decline, he noted. It will be like doctors telling patients, “‘You need to be confident (that) because we’re knocking down the plaques, you’re benefiting.'” Others were skeptical that Biogen will do a satisfactory follow-up study to show its drug really works. “Past experience with accelerated approval ‘conditions’ has been disappointing in a lot of respects,” said Harvard Medical School professor Aaron Kesselheim, “with too many cases of ‘confirmatory trials’ taking too long, still testing surrogate measures rather than real clinical endpoints, and even keeping the drug indication on the labeling when the confirmatory trials are negative.” Other therapies are in the pipeline, and some hope that the FDA’s move opens the door to better treatments down the road. “History has shown us that approvals of the first drug in a new category invigorates the field, increases investments in new treatments and encourages greater innovation,” the Alzheimer’s Association’s chief science officer, Maria Carrillo, said in a statement. “While today’s approval is an important first step in our ongoing fight against Alzheimer’s,” the FDA’s Cavazzoni said, “it’s just that: the first step.” 

Science & Health

Amazon Founder Bezos Announces Plans to Go to Space

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced Monday that he and his brother will be on board the first manned spaceflight from his aerospace company Blue Origin when it launches a rocket ship into space on July 20.
Bezos made the announcement from his Instagram account which included a video featuring pictures from his childhood. He wrote, “Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space. On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”
July 20th is also the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the first time a human walked on the moon.  
Blue Origin is also auctioning off a passenger seat on the New Shepard space vehicle. In a news release Monday, the company said bidding has reached $2.8 million with nearly 6,000 people from 143 countries. The capsule is designed to carry as many as six passengers.
The company said the winning bid amount will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, whose mission is to inspire future generations to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and to help invent the future of life in space.
Bezos said in February that he will step down as Amazon’s chief executive on July 5.  
Andy Jassy, the head of Amazon Web Services, will become chief executive, while Bezos will become executive chairman.

Science & Health

Greece Deploys Drones to Stop Partygoers from Breaching COVID Safety Protocols 

Authorities on Greece’s most popular tourist island, Mykonos, will deploy more than a dozen drones to spot those who defy safety protocols aimed at preventing the spread and resurgence of COVID-19. 
The decision, known as “Operation Mykonos,” comes after a string of local so-called  “Corona-parties” organized by entrepreneurs at private villas and estates in recent weeks to bypass safety rules banning the operation of nightclubs. 
It also comes as the beleaguered government of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis scrambles to revive its battered tourism sector, luring foreign travelers — mainly from the United States, Europe, Israel, and Russia —  with the promise of a safe summer holiday stay under the Greek sun. 
Foreign travelers are required to abide by local lockdowns, curfews, and safety protocols during their stays. 
 FILE – People gather as the sun sets at the windmills on the Aegean Sea island of Mykonos, Greece, Aug. 16, 2020.Under “Operation Mykonos,” authorities will deploy 15 drones to fly over private villas or establishments in Mykonos that in recent weeks were host to parties packed with hundreds of locals and foreigners. Ten-member strong teams of officers will also be formed to raid the establishments upon notice, arresting and fining the offenders, authorities told VOA. 
Fines range between $365 to over $6,000. 
Officials tell VOA the measures, coupled with heightened police controls, inspections and added surveillance cameras across Mykonos, will serve as a blueprint for other popular hotspots among foreign travelers. These include Rhodes, Santorini and Paros, according to authorities. 
“Illegal parties spell a greater risk of seeing the virus spread, infecting more and more people,” warned Nikos Hardalias, the head of Greece’s Civil Protection Agency, on Sunday. “It spells a spike in COVID cases that can lead to fresh restrictions, leading businesses to shut down, causing major damage to tourist areas.” 
“It is high time,” he warned, “for everyone to size up to the challenge and take on full responsibility of their actions.” 
On Monday, government spokesman Aristotelia Peloni also criticized the mushrooming “corona-parties” gripping the country, saying she wished “Greece’s youth showed similar zeal and enthusiasm in the state’s nationwide vaccination drive.” 
“The country’s freedom,” she said, “can only come through comprehensive immunization.” 
Effectively in lockdown since last November, Greece started easing some of its sweeping restrictions, including curfews and travel bans, in mid-May when it re-launched international travel. 
The latest crackdown, however, underscores the paradox of what critics call a hasty and ill-thought-out strategy.  FILE – A waiter serves a group of people in a restaurant of Plaka district, as restaurants and cafes in Greece open after six months of lockdown, amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Athens, Greece, May 3, 2021.“You can’t say ‘restaurants and bars can open but no music playing in the background to block crowds from gathering,’” said Heracles Zissimopoulos, a leading entrepreneur on the island of Mykonos. “It’s absurd.” 
“The government should seriously rethink its policy, and provide locals and tourists with an outlet, instead. Otherwise, these types of parties will be difficult to stop,” he added. 
Greece recorded less than 3,000 cases during the country’s first bout with the pandemic. But as tourists streamed in last summer, infections and deaths sky-rocketed, making Greeks apprehensive to foreign travelers. 
But with 20 percent of the nation’s domestic output reliant on tourism, Greeks now know they can ill afford to lose a second summer tourism season in a row. 
 FILE – People wait at the reception hall of a COVID-19 vaccination mega center in Athens, Feb. 15, 2021.Under a campaign called “Blue Freedom,” the government wants to vaccinate all 700,000 or so adult residents of Greece’s islands in the Aegean and Ionian Seas by the end of June, hoping Greece can be included in Britain’s revised green-list of travel nations. All islanders are being offered the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to boost immunization. 
As of early June, Mykonos had vaccinated about four in ten of its residents, and Santorini over 50% — among the highest in the country. 

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Possible First Use of AI-Armed Drones Triggers Alarm Bells

Western military experts are assessing whether an autonomous drone operated by artificial intelligence, or AI, killed people — in Libya last year — for the first time without a human controller directing it remotely to do so.
A report by a United Nations panel of experts issued last week that concluded an advanced drone deployed in Libya “hunted down and remotely engaged” soldiers fighting for Libyan general Khalifa Haftar has prompted a frenetic debate among Western security officials and analysts.  
Governments at the United Nations have been debating for months whether a global pact should be agreed on the use of armed drones, autonomous and otherwise, and what restrictions should be placed on them. The U.N.’s Libya report is adding urgency to the debate. Drone advances have “a lot of implications regionally and globally,” says Ziya Meral of the Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank.
“It is time to assess where things are with Turkish drones and advanced warfare technology and what this means for the region and what it means for NATO,” he said at a RUSI-hosted event in London.  
According to the U.N. report, Turkish-made Kargu-2 lethal autonomous aircraft launched so-called swarm attacks, likely on behalf of Libya’s Government of National Accord, against the warlord Haftar’s militias in March last year, marking the first time AI-equipped drones accomplished a successful attack. Remnants of a Kargu-2 were recovered later.  
The use of autonomous drones that do not require human operators to guide them remotely once they have been programmed is opposed by many human rights organizations. There were rumors that Turkish-supplied AI drones, alongside remote-guided ones, were used last year by Azerbaijani forces in their clashes with Armenia in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding territories.
 Myriad of dilemmas
If AI drones did launch lethal swarm attacks it would mark a “new chapter in autonomous weapons,” worries the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Critics of AI drones, which can use facial-recognition technology, say they raise a number of moral, ethical and legal dilemmas.  
“These types of weapons operate on software-based algorithms ‘taught’ through large training datasets to, for example, classify various objects. Computer vision programs can be trained to identify school buses, tractors, and tanks. But the datasets they train on may not be sufficiently complex or robust, and an artificial intelligence (AI) may ‘learn’ the wrong lesson,” the non-profit Bulletin warns.  
The manufacturer of the Kargu-2, Defense Technologies and Trade (STM), told Turkish media last year that their drones are equipped with facial-recognition technology, allowing individual targets to be identified and neutralized without having to deploy ground forces. And company executives say Kargu-2 drones can swarm together overwhelming defenses.
Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lauded the success of Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), saying the results they had produced “require war strategies to be rewritten.” Turkey has deployed them in military operations in northern Syria, Turkish officials have acknowledged.  
Speaking at a parliamentary meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara, Erdogan said Turkey plans to go further and is aiming to be among the first countries to develop an AI-managed warplane. Recently the chief technology officer of Baykar, a major Turkish drone manufacturer, announced the company had slated 2023 for the maiden flight of its prototype unmanned fighter jet.
 ‘A significant player’
Sanctions and embargoes on Turkey in recent years have been a major driving force behind Ankara pressing ahead to develop a new generation of unconventional weapons, says Ulrike Franke of the European Council for Foreign Relations. “Turkey has become a significant player in the global drone market,” she said at the RUSI event. When it comes to armed drones, she noted, there are four states dominating drone development — the U.S., Israel, China and Turkey. The latter pair, the “new kids on the block,” are driving drone proliferation because unlike the U.S. they are not reticent about export sales, she said.  
“Turkey has shown that a mid-sized power, when it puts its mind and money behind it, can develop very sophisticated armed drones,” says Franke.
Last October when the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh saw the worst fighting there since 1994, Turkish drones were assessed as having given Azerbaijan a key edge over the Armenians. Turkish drones sliced through Armenia’s air defenses and pummeled its Russian-made tanks.  
Analysts calculate around 90 countries have military drones for reconnaissance and intelligence missions and at least a dozen states have armed drones. Britain is believed to have ten; Turkey around 140. The U.S. air force has around 300 Reaper drones alone. The deployment of armed drones to conduct targeted killings outside formal war zones has been highly contentious. But AI drone development is adding to global alarm.
“With more and more countries acquiring armed drones, there is a risk that the controversies surrounding how drones are used and the challenges these pose to international legal frameworks, as well as to democratic values such as transparency, accountability and the rule of law, could also increase,” Britain’s Chatham House noted in a research paper published in April.  
“This is accentuated further, given that the use of drones continues to expand and to evolve in new ways, and in the absence of a distinct legal framework to regulate such use,” say the paper’s authors Jessica Dorsey and Nilza Amaral.   

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

China Blocks Several Cryptocurrency-related Social Media Accounts Amid Crackdown

A slew of crypto-related accounts in China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform were blocked over the weekend, as Beijing stepped up a crackdown on bitcoin trading and mining. More actions are expected, including linking illegal crypto activities in China more directly with the country’s criminal law, according to analysts and a financial regulator. Last month, China’s State Council, or cabinet, vowed to crack down on bitcoin mining and trading, escalating a campaign against cryptocurrencies days after three industry bodies banned crypto-related financial and payment services. Over the weekend, access to several of widely followed crypto-related Weibo accounts was denied, with a message saying each account “violates laws and rules.” “It’s a Judgment Day for crypto KOL,” wrote a Weibo bitcoin commentator, or key opinion leader (KOL), who calls herself “Woman Dr. bitcoin mini.” Her main account was also blocked on Saturday. “The government makes it clear that no Chinese version of Elon Musk can exist in the Chinese crypto market,” said NYU Law School adjunct professor Winston Ma, referring to the Tesla founder and cryptocurrency enthusiast. Ma, author of the book “The Digital War,” also expects China’s supreme court to publish a judicial interpretation soon that may link crypto mining and trading businesses with China’s body of criminal law. The view was echoed by a financial regulator, who said that such an interpretation would address the legal ambiguity that has failed to clearly identify bitcoin trading businesses as “illegal operations.” All the rules against cryptocurrencies so far in China have been published by administrative bodies. The Weibo freeze comes as Chinese media have stepped up reporting against crypto trading. The official Xinhua News Agency has published articles that exposed a series of crypto-related scams. State broadcaster CCTV has said cryptocurrency is a lightly regulated asset often used in black market trade, money laundering, arms smuggling, gambling and drug dealings. The stepped-up crackdown also comes as China’s central bank is accelerating testing of its own digital currency.