The Daily Visionary: Thursday, November 15, 2018

Photo Credit: Evening Standard

Photo Credit: Evening Standard

UK Cabinet supports Brexit plan and the pound drops

 

After a five-hour Cabinet meeting yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa announced she had full backing to move ahead with her Brexit plan, causing a 1 percent drop in the value of the pound on currency markets. "The collective decision of cabinet was that the government should agree the draft withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration,” PM May said outside her Downing Street office. Angry Brexit supporters and critics protested on Downing Street. “It sells out the country completely. We will be a vassal state of the EU,” said Lucy Harris, who founded the Leavers of London group.

 

The draft agreement still faces a vote in parliament next month, which appears likely to fail as it does not have support from government or opposition MPs. Conservative MP and euroskeptic Peter Bone, a leading accused PM May of “not delivering the Brexit people voted for” and warning her, “Today you will lose the support of many Conservative MPs and millions of voters.”

 

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party who is seeking early elections, called the entire negotiations process “shambolic”, saying, “This government spent two years negotiating a bad deal that will leave the country in an indefinite half-way house.

 

A European Union official told news media that the final deal includes a so-called “backstop” in which the whole United Kingdom will remain in a customs arrangement with the EU. Northern Ireland would have special status under the proposals, meaning that some checks may be required between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country. The Northern Irish Party propping up PM May’s government threatened to break their alliance over leaks about a special arrangement for Northern Ireland. Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster said she expected to be briefed about the deal by PM May late Wednesday, warning that “there will be consequences” if the leaks were true.

 

The reported arrangement did not go down well in Scotland, where the pro-independence and europhile government also questioned the deal. Its nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon asked why Northern Ireland should have a special status that would effectively keep it in the European single market while Scotland should not.

 

South Africa's Home Affairs Minister resigns after personal scandals and lying under oath

 

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba resigned from government this week, a month after his sex tape was leaked online and six days after a court decision that he lied under oath. This was his second term as Home Affairs Minister, having previously served as Minister of Public Enterprises and Minister of Finance. Gigaba has long been seen as one of the rising stars within the governing African National Congress (ANC) and representative of the future of the party. President Ramaphosa has since instructed Transport Minister Blade Nzimande to act as Home Affairs Minister until a permanent appointment is made.

 

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane made a recommendation last week that Cyril Ramaphosa must “take disciplinary action” against Gigaba for lying under oath. Gigaba had backed out of a deal to give Fireblade Aviation a private terminal at OR Tambo, resulting in a court case being levelled against him. Gigaba claimed no deal was ever in place, but the courts and Public Protector Mkhwebane, disagreed. Afterward, Gigaba faced a Parliamentary inquiry into the Fireblade deal and last Wednesday, Mkhwebane and ConCourt both upheld the decision that Gigaba lied in court.

 

Five-minute neck scan could predict the onset of dementia 10 years before symptoms

 

A study conducted by scientists at University College London (UCL) sought to determine whether they could predict the potential onset of dementia. Dr. Scott Chiesa, post-doctoral researcher at UCL, said of their findings that they "demonstrate the first direct link between the intensity of the pulse transmitted towards the brain with every heartbeat and future impairments in cognitive function.

 

The scientists hope the neck scan could become part of routine screening for those in middle-age at risk of developing the disease. Those with the highest intensity pulse at the beginning of the study were around 50 percent more likely to exhibit accelerated cognitive decline over the following decade compared to the others. This difference was present even after adjustments for possible confounding factors, such as age, body mass index, blood pressure, diabetes, and any other heart conditions.

 

The study monitored the strength of the pulse travelling towards the brain of almost 3,200 middle-aged volunteers over fifteen years. Participants were given an ultrasound in 2002, which measured the intensity of the pulse travelling towards the brain, and their memory and problem-solving abilities were then regularly monitored. This difference was present even after adjustments for possible confounding factors, such as age, body mass index, blood pressure, diabetes and any other heart conditions.

 

As the heart beats, the physical pulse it generates reaches different parts of the body at different levels of intensity. The researchers said that healthy, elastic vessels near the heart usually cushion each heartbeat, diminishing its energy and therefore preventing it from reaching delicate blood vessels elsewhere in the body. However, factors such as ageing and high blood pressure can cause the stiffening of these vessels and may diminish their protective effect. As a result, a progressively stronger pulse can travel deep into the fragile vessels which supply the brain. Over time, this can cause damage to the small vessels of the brain, structural changes in the brain's blood vessel network and minor bleeds known as mini strokes, which could all contribute to the development of dementia.

 

Start-up Cora Ball aims to reduce plastic pollution from laundry synthetic microfibres

 

Rachael Miller, who studied marine archaeology and has devoted herself to keeping plastics from reaching the ocean, believes her invention, called the Cora Ball, could reduce a significant amount of microfibre pollution. Miller claims if just 10 percent of American households used Cora Ball it would keep the equivalent of 30 million water bottles from washing into public waterways a year.

 

Four inches (ten centimeters) in diameter and made from recycled and recyclable plastic, the Cora Ball imitates the structure of coral in the ocean. While it doesn't catch everything, the company says it captures between a quarter and a third of microfibres in every wash. Customers on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter have pre-ordered 15,500 of Miller’s Cora Balls, which capture tiny bits of synthetic microfibres that come off our clothes in the wash. Up to 700,000 microfibres can shed from a typical thirteen pounds (six kilograms) household load, says Imogen Napper, a postdoctoral marine science researcher at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom. Many of these fibres, which can be as small as three microns, a thirteenth the width of a human hair, are too small for water treatment plants to remove. Despite being so small, organic pollutants in the oceans, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT), can stick to them, creating an amalgam.

 

There can be as many as 100,000 microplastics in a cubic metre of ocean, researchers say, which are then eaten by marine creatures. Ghent University's Lisbeth Van Cauwenberghe says we could be ingesting eleven thousand pieces of plastic a year just through eating shellfish. More than two thirds of fish species in California markets have microfibres in them, says Chelsea Rochman, an aquatic ecology professor at the University of Toronto.

 

In Denmark, 60 percent of all sewage sludge is "getting used in agriculture," says Lars Monster from the KD Group, a wastewater tech company in the southern Danish town of Vejle. These solid remnants from waste water treatment are distributed on farmland as fertiliser, but microplastics in the sludge then enter the food chain.

 

Most wastewater treatment plants don't aim to remove microfibres, largely because regulations don't require them to. Mr. Monster's company has developed a new filtration technology that can remove 90 percent of microplastics, he claims, and hopes to get the figure up to 96 percent. The ultimate aim is to recycle all the removed plastics, says Mr. Monster, to "get to the point where microplastics are a resource".

 

S&P 500 falls for fifth day as financials drag

 

Wall Street stocks fell on Wednesday, with the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (S&P 500) notching a fifth straight day of losses as financial stocks were hit by fears that regulations on the banking industry would tighten once the Democratic Party takes control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2019.

 

Financial stocks fell after Democrat Maxine Waters, who is expected to become chair of the House Financial Services Committee, made clear that she intends to push for stricter rules on the sector. Waters said she was concerned by the Federal Reserve’s efforts to reduce capital and liquidity requirements for banks and wants the central bank to vigorously supervise large banks.

 

The financial sector .SPSY dropped 1.4 percent and was the biggest percentage decliner on the S&P 500. The S&P 500 Banks index .SPXBK fell 1.7 percent. U.S. stock also dropped after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May won the backing of her senior Cabinet Ministers on a draft Brexit agreement from the European Union.

 

Market speculators also cite uncertainty regarding the slowdown in global economic growth prospects and trade-related issues for their caution.