Day: February 16, 2017

Vitamin D May Protect Against Respiratory Infections

Vitamin D supplements may help reduce people’s risk of developing acute respiratory infections, particularly among those with vitamin D deficiency, suggests a new meta-analysis published online February 15 in the BMJ.

However, some experts caution that these findings should not alter clinical practice, as the absolute benefit is relatively small.

“Vitamin D supplementation resulted in a statistically significant reduction in the proportion of participants experiencing at least one acute respiratory tract infection,” write Adrian R. Martineau, MD, PhD, from the Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom, and colleagues.

“Patients who were very vitamin D deficient and those not receiving bolus doses experienced the most benefit.”

According to the authors, acute respiratory infections are a substantial cause of illness and death, and in 2013, they accounted for one tenth of ambulatory and emergency department visits in the United States and approximately 2.65 million deaths worldwide.

Although some observational studies have linked patients’ low vitamin D levels with greater susceptibility to acute respiratory infections, including colds and influenza, clinical trials investigating the protective effect of vitamin D supplementation have produced conflicting results.

Dr Martineau and colleagues therefore conducted a systematic review and individual participant data meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials involving vitamin D supplementation. The individual participant data meta-analysis could potentially identify factors to help explain the discrepancy in results among previous studies, the authors say.

Their analysis included data on 10,933 participants (aged 0 – 95 years) from 25 randomized controlled trials.

Overall, they found that vitamin D supplementation was associated with a 12% reduction in the proportion of participants who experienced at least one acute respiratory infection (adjusted odds ratio, 0.88; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.81 – 0.96; P for heterogeneity < .001) compared with no supplementation.

They also conducted subgroup analyses to explore reasons for the variable results in previous studies.

These analyses showed a protective effect of vitamin D supplementation in participants who received daily or weekly vitamin D supplements without additional large bolus doses (adjusted odds ratio, 0.81; CI, 0.72 to 0.91), but not in those who received one or more large bolus doses (adjusted odds ratio, 0.97; CI, 0.86 to 1.10; P for interaction = .05).

In addition, the protective effect was greater in participants with severe vitamin D deficiency (baseline blood 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels <25 nmol/L; adjusted odds ratio, 0.30; 95% CI, 0.17 – 0.53) than among those with baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels at least 25 nmol/L (adjusted odds ratio, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.60 – 0.95; P for interaction = .006).

Vitamin D supplementation was also safe, the authors say, and did not affect the proportion of participants who experienced at least one serious adverse event of any cause (adjusted odds ratio, 0.98; CI, 0.80 – 1.20; P = .83).

“Our results add to the body of evidence supporting the introduction of public health measures such as food fortification to improve vitamin D status, particularly in settings where profound vitamin D deficiency is common,” Dr Martineau and colleagues conclude.

However, in an accompanying editorial, Mark J. Bolland, MD, PhD, from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and Alison Avenell, MD, from the University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom, question whether these findings represent a significant new development or a hypothesis that needs to be tested in adequately powered randomized controlled trials.

Although the study showed that vitamin D supplementation resulted in a 12% reduction in the odds of an acute respiratory infection, the editorialists stress that these findings should be regarded cautiously.

In particular, because the primary result involves only a 2% absolute risk reduction in the proportion of participants who experienced at least one acute respiratory tract infection, the editorialists do not think the general population would consider this sufficient justification to take vitamin D supplements.

Dr Bolland and Dr Avenell therefore conclude that the results should not change clinical practice.

“We think that they should be viewed as hypothesis generating only, requiring confirmation in well designed, adequately powered, randomised controlled trials,” they conclude.

This study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research. Dr Bolland has received funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand. Both editorialists have published randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews in the field of vitamin D. The authors and editorialists have disclosed no other relevant financial relationships.

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In recently unearthed essay, Winston Churchill anticipated space travel and extraterrestrial life

Quoting Winston Churchill has always been something of a pastime.

If you’re going through hell, keep going. 

History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

What hasn’t often been quoted is the essay he penned in 1939 titled “Are We Alone in the Universe?” concerning that very question. That isn’t surprising, as the 11 typed pages were never published before being lost to the world for more than three decades.

Churchill, who served as British prime minister from 1940 to 1945 and then again from 1951 to 1955, updated his manuscript in the late 1950s while staying at a French villa owned by Emery Reves, his publisher. Nothing came of it, and eventually Reves’s wife Wendy passed the manuscript along to the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Mo. There it gathered dust until last year, when the museum’s new director, Timothy Riley, discovered and handed it over to Israeli astrophysicist and author Mario Livio.

In an article published in this week’s edition of the science journal Nature, Livio examined the essay’s contents. Churchill’s work will be unveiled today at the National Churchill Museum, where visitors can view several of its pages.

The most striking takeaway from the essay is how modern Churchill’s conclusions were. One obvious example: “One day, possibly even in the not very distant future, it may be possible to travel to the moon, or even to Venus or Mars,” he wrote 30 years before Neil Armstrong’s historic journey.

His more nuanced views of the potential for extraterritorial life, though, “mirrors many modern arguments in astrobiology,” most notably that in the ever-expanding vastness of the universe, such life is likely. As Livio wrote:

In essence, he builds on the framework of the ‘Copernican Principle’ — the idea that, given the vastness of the Universe, it is hard to believe that humans on Earth represent something unique.

Perhaps Churchill’s most intuitive prediction, as Livio noted, was that of the habitable zone. While Churchill didn’t use this modern term, he closely described it.

After noting that “all living things of the type we know require water,” Churchill observed that the presence of water — thus the potential for life — likely requires a rocky planet at the right distance from a star to be “between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water.”

Then, as Livio wrote, “Churchill also considers the ability of a planet to retain its atmosphere, explaining that the hotter a gas is, the faster its molecules are moving and the more easily they can escape. Consequently, stronger gravity is necessary to trap gas on a planet in the long term.”

Given these requirements, the former prime minister concluded that Venus and Mars were the only places in our solar system that could support life.

In other words, he predicted the first definition of the habitable zone — more than 60 years ago. According to PBS, “The habitable zone first encompassed the orbits of Venus to Mars, planets close enough to the sun for solar energy to drive the chemistry of life — but not so close as to boil off water or break down the organic molecules on which life depends.”

One of the aspects of Churchill’s essay most praised by Livio, ironically, is a segment in which Churchill was off the mark.

In a segment focused on other solar systems (“I am not sufficiently conceited to think that my sun is the only one with a family of planets,” he wrote), Churchill wrote in affirmation of a model suggested in 1917 by astrophysicist James Jeans which argued that stars are “formed from the gas that is torn off a star when another star passes close to it.”

But Livio praised Churchill’s skepticism of the now dismissed model. Via Livio:

Now Churchill shines. With the healthy skepticism of a scientist, he writes: “But this speculation depends upon the hypothesis that planets were formed in this way. Perhaps they were not. We know there are millions of double stars, and if they could be formed, why not planetary systems?”

In his essay, Churchill blended his science with his experience with humankind: “I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilization here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures, or that we are the highest type of mental and physical development which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space and time.”

Churchill’s curiosity about the universe shouldn’t come as a surprise. In addition to being a regaled statesman and military strategist, Churchill had a scientific mind.

“He had a tremendous intellect,” Westminster College president Benjamin Ola Akande said in a statement. “Even though Great Britain was on the brink of war at the time, Churchill continually educated himself and wrote thought-provoking essays that demonstrated his leadership beyond government and military affairs, but also in science.”

“Renaissance man that he was, Churchill was keenly interested in science,” Livio said in a statement. “For example, he was the first British prime minister to hire a science adviser and made the UK a friendly environment for science and scientists.”

If nothing else, the unearthed essay serves as a reminder that politics and science can — and indeed have — gone hand in hand, each benefiting from the other. In a world in which the two are treated by some as adversaries, this message might be more powerful than ever.

As Livio wrote, “At a time when a number of today’s politicians shun science, I find it moving to recall a leader who engaged with it so profoundly. … Particularly given today’s political landscape, elected leaders should heed Churchill’s example: appoint permanent science advisers and make good use of them.”

Zealandia – pieces finally falling together for continent we didn’t know we had

Zealandia – a new continent submerged in the southwest Pacific – is a step closer to being recognised, the authors of a new scientific paper claim.

A paper published in GSA Today, the journal of the Geological Society of America, contends that the vast, continuous expanse of continental crust, which centres on New Zealand, is distinct enough to constitute a separate continent.

The paper’s authors argue that the incremental way in which it came to light goes to show that even “the large and the obvious in natural science can be overlooked”.

Zealandia covers nearly 5m square km, of which 94% is under water, and encompasses not only New Zealand but also New Caledonia, Norfolk Island, the Lord Howe Island group and Elizabeth and Middleton reefs.

Zealandia
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A map showing the outline of Zealandia Photograph: GNS Science

The area, about the same size as the Indian subcontinent, is believed to have broken away from Gondwana – the immense landmass that once encompassed Australia – and sank between 60m and 85m years ago.

“This is a big piece of ground we’re talking about, even if it is submerged,” said Nick Mortimer, a New Zealand geologist who co-authored the paper.

Geologists have argued in favour of Zealandia being recognised as its own continent intermittently over the past 20 years.

The American geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk was the first to apply the name Zealandia to a south-west Pacific continent in 1995. Since then, the paper’s co-authors say, it has had “moderate uptake” but was still not broadly known to international scientists.

Mortimer and his fellow co-authors from the GNS Science research institute and Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand; the Service Géologique of New Caledonia; and the University of Sydney’s School of Geosciences contend that Zealandia has the necessary geological elements to be considered a continent.

Mortimer told Guardian Australia that it was the first robust, peer-reviewed scientific paper to define and describe Zealandia, but its findings would offer “nothing new” for most New Zealand geoscientists. “They probably wonder what all the fuss is about.”

He said he and other researchers began to piece together the submerged continent with the release of a bathymetric map in 2002.

“That’s when the penny dropped, really … From that point, that map was literally our road map for some crosses, just trying to get rocks out of all the four corners of Zealandia that we could, so we could prove up the geology.”

There had been no formal Zealandia project, he said; it had been “a gradual process … [of] joining the dots”.

“It was a question of confidence, fundamentally, I think, with the accumulation of data and what to do with it.”

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Zealandia shown on a map of world continents. Photograph: GNS Science

Zealandia would be the world’s seventh and smallest continent, after Eurasia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, and Australia. (Europe and Asia are sometimes recognised separately, despite being the same landmass.)

“It turns out New Zealand isn’t just a couple of small islands at the bottom of the world,” Fairfax Media New Zealand triumphantly reported.

Barry Kohn, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne, who had done work with Mortimer on Zealandia in the past, said there was a “fair consensus in the scientific community” in favour of its existence.

“It’s pretty clear that that whole area is not part of the ocean. It’s got all the hallmarks of a continent.”

He said rock dredged up from the area was clearly continental crust, “fairly continuous” and defined. More data had been gathered over the past decades to confirm its existence.

“Like anything in science, the penny doesn’t always drop straightaway. You build up a body of evidence.

“It was all once part of a big continent that’s all broken up into little pieces of the puzzle.”

But despite the evidence in support of it, whether or not Zealandia would come to be widely recognised as the seventh continent was dependant on history, said Mortimer.

“If you want to name a mountain, there are certain procedures you have to go through to get it formally ratified. With this, it will just come with time.

“If Zealandia makes its way into popular culture and onto maps, that’s all the validation that we’ll seek.”

Scientists: We can clone a woolly mammoth. But should we?

FEBRUARY 16, 2017 This is not your parents’ “Jurassic Park.”

Harnessing the power of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool, a team of Harvard researchers is slowly coaxing woolly mammoth-like traits out of normal elephant cells. But recent claims that they’re close to creating a hybrid embryo have raised questions regarding the ethics of the procedure.

The issues range from questions of practicality – Should we risk impregnating an endangered elephant with an experimental embryo? – to an ethical Pandora’s box: Would the ability to bring species back from the dead derail conservation efforts?

But geneticist George Church says he believes letting the research continue would produce the benefits that go beyond the chance to see an extinct creature, suggesting the reintroduction of the woolly mammoth might mitigate climate change.

Except it wouldn’t be a mammoth, exactly.

“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” Dr. Church told the Guardian. “Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.”

The phrase “mammoth cloning” may conjure up images of scientists extracting amber-bound DNA and incubating it in frogs as in the 1993 film “Jurassic Park,” but it means something quite different to Church.

Instead of re-creating an extinct organism, his team is trying to create a hybrid “mammophant.” Starting with the woolly mammoth’s closest living relative, the Asian elephant, Church uses the CRISPR precision gene editing tool to snip and splice in mammoth genes, granting mammoth-like characteristics such as a shaggy coat, extra fat, and cold-resistant blood.

“The list of edits affects things that contribute to the success of elephants in cold environments. We already know about ones to do with small ears, subcutaneous fat, hair, and blood,” Church explained to New Scientist.

So far, with samples from a remarkably well-preserved 2013 find as a DNA guide, the team has accomplished 45 of these edits. If their goal were to perfectly re-create the mammoth genome, they’d still have thousands to go.

And they aren’t the only team taking this alternative cloning approach. Researchers in Chile are also trying to engineer a dinosaur out of a chicken by rolling back certain genes.

Church’s team says they’re only a couple years away from the next step, making the edits in an elephant embryo and studying its viability. The researchers believe they could turn skin cells of the highly endangered Asian elephant into embryos using cloning techniques.

And that’s the easy part.

Once they have a mammophant egg ready to go, they’d need a way to carry it to term. Ethics prevent using real Asian elephants as surrogate mothers because of their endangered status and high degree of intelligence, but Church has other plans.

“We hope to do the entire procedure ex-vivo,” or outside a living body, he told The Guardian. “It would be unreasonable to put female reproduction at risk in an endangered species.”

Some say the technology to grow a hybrid animal inside an artificial womb won’t be possible this decade, but The Guardian reports that Church’s lab is hard at work on the problem, already able to incubate a mouse embryo for ten days, about half of its gestation period.

Even if Church succeeds in overcoming all the technical hurdles, some wonder if the mammoth should be resurrected at all.

As Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester, told The Guardian: “The proposed ‘de-extinction’ of mammoths raises a massive ethical issue – the mammoth was not simply a set of genes, it was a social animal, as is the modern Asian elephant. What will happen when the elephant-mammoth hybrid is born? How will it be greeted by elephants?”

Church argues that the mammophant would join the fight against global warming, thus bringing concrete benefits to humans all over the planet.

“They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in,” said Church. “In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.”

While such behavior could help keep greenhouses gasses locked in the permafrost, we’d need to get pretty good at mammophant cloning to bring back enough of the beasts to populate Canada and Siberia. Plus, as is often the case with geoengineering schemes, the effects would be uncertain. Scientists aren’t even sure whether the original loss of mammoths caused some climate change, or if the climate change killed the mammoths. In addition, there’s no guarantee that the helpful stomping behaviors are genetic, instead of taught by long-vanished mammoth parents.

And climate may not be the only unintended consequence. Other researchers worry developing such Lazarus-technology would endanger current conservation efforts. “De-extinction just provides the ultimate ‘out’,” said wildlife biologist Stanley Temple in a BBC interview. “If you can always bring the species back later, it undermines the urgency about preventing extinctions.”

Rather, we should focus on keeping the Asian elephant alive, paleobiologist and mammoth expert Tori Herridge wrote in a 2014 opinion piece for The Guardian.

“Sometimes the ice age world is so real to me that my throat aches and my eyes sting a little when I think about what we’ve lost, the animals we will never see,” she wrote. “But here’s the irony – if we feel like that about the mammoth, just think how our kids might feel about the elephant if we let it become extinct. We really ought to be focusing on that, and doing everything we can to stop it from happening.”

Defamation case against Bill Cosby dismissed

http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/tv/2017/02/16/defamation-case-against-bill-cosby-dismissed/98012988/

 

Bill Cosby won a legal battle against one of his accusers Thursday, an event so rare lately that he tweeted about his legal woes for the first time since December 2015.

A federal judge in Massachusetts dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed against Cosby by accuser Katherine McKee, ruling that she had no legal basis to claim the comedian defamed her by defending himself against her accusations.

Cosby was so pleased he tweeted the dismissal order, his first in more than a year responding to developments in his ongoing legal battles, including the criminal charges he’s facing in suburban Philadelphia over a 13-year-old encounter.

Cosby has said virtually nothing in public since the rush of allegations against him began in the fall of 2014. His Twitter account shows his last post was a thank you to friends and fans, in December 2015. He started posting again in January of this year but only about civil rights history and heroes. Until Thursday.

McKee, one of some 60 women who have accused Cosby of drugging and/or sexually assaulting them in episodes dating back decades, came forward in late 2014 along with other women, claiming her friend of eight years had raped her in a hotel room in the 1970s.

When Cosby and his lawyers denied these and other accusations, some of the accusers sued him in civil court in several states for defamation, asserting that he and his team had suggested they were liars and extortionists by saying he didn’t do it.

“An accused person cannot be foreclosed … from considering the issuance of a simple and unequivocal denial — free from overall defamatory triggers or contextual themes. In the court’s view, such a situation would be inconsistent with basic First Amendment principles,” wrote U.S. District Judge Mark Mastroianni.

“It is paramount in a free society to be able to insist on one’s innocence in the face of serious public accusations, and today’s ruling reinforces that fundamental right,” said Cosby’s current lawyer, Angela  Agrusa, in an emailed statement to USA TODAY.

McKee’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment, according to the Associated Press.

This marks the third defamation lawsuit against Cosby that was either withdrawn or dismissed recently, prompting some Cosby crowing. However, another defamation case against him, filed by six accusers, is still pending in the same federal court in Massachusetts.

“Today’s ruling joins a growing list of dismissals of actions against Mr. Cosby,” the Agrusa statement said. “These decisions should also pave the way to the final dismissal of the remaining civil actions pending against Mr. Cosby,” including one brought by former model and reality TV personality Janice Dickinson in California.

But Cosby’s most serious legal problems are far from over. He has been fighting for more than a year state criminal charges of aggravated indecent sexual assault in connection with a 2004 encounter at his suburban Philadelphia home with a Temple University employee. She says he drugged her and molested her; he says it was consensual.

Since the charges were filed in December 2015, Cosby has been repeatedly thwarted in his efforts to get the case dismissed and to prevent some of the other women who have accused him from testifying against him at his trial, scheduled for this summer.

Currently, his lawyers are trying to get the case moved to a different venue due to pretrial publicity. Another pretrial motions hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27.

Republicans have long talk about replacing Obamacare, but no bill yet

http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/16/politics/republicans-obamacare-no-bill/index.html

Washington (CNN)Congressional Republicans insist they are moving forward on their campaign pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare, but internal divisions over key components mean they will head home for a week-long recess with few details on how they will overhaul the nation’s health care system.

Republicans huddled in the basement of the Capitol for a closed-door meeting Thursday to hear presentations from the two committee leaders leading the effort — Oregon Rep. Greg Walden and Texas Rep. Kevin Brady — who outlined plans to set up tax credits and restructuring how states will administer Medicaid programs that provide coverage for millions.
Members coming out of the meeting continued to stress they were unified on their goal and campaign promise to do away with the Affordable Care Act, but no draft language was was handed out. Most members described a more robust discussion of the House GOP’s “Better Way” health care proposal that they campaigned on in 2016.
“This is a complex issue, one of the members said ‘hey you’ve got to keep this simple.’ You can’t keep this simple. When you are talking about health care and rolling back 2,600 pages of the Affordable Care Act this is going to take some complexity,” Republican Rep. Mark Walker, the head of a group of fiscal conservatives, said after the meeting.
Many conservatives, despite the lack of details, said they are confident that there will be a vote in the first quarter of the year — a goal that House Speaker Paul Ryan has set.
But other members said their new target for moving legislation from committees to the House floor was sometime in mid-April.
In recent weeks, town halls in member’s districts have erupted with angry pushback from voters who are uneasy about the Republicans’ plans to transform the health care system.
At Thursday’s meeting, there was a PowerPoint presentation and members were supposed to get paper versions to bring home, but they weren’t ready in time for the meeting. Instead leaders promised to give each member packets with information so they will be armed with some more answers for voters.
A PowerPoint distributed after the meeting included quotes from Americans who had been negatively affected by the Affordable Care Act and included maps of just how much premiums had gone up in individual states and how few options there were in some places. The slide show included a briefing of the three-part plan to give regulatory relief through administrative action, repeal and replace using reconciliation and then move forward with additional legislation.
Michigan Rep. Bill Huizenga told reporters he wasn’t worried they still hasn’t seen a bill from leaders yet, noting that the Democrats’ efforts to design Obamacare took 14 months.
“We knew we haven’t gotten into this overnight,” Huizenga said. “We are not going to get out of it overnight.”
The official cost estimate of the GOP proposal is still a work in progress by the Congressional Budget Office. Members are awaiting the results.
“If it comes back and it’s out of the roof then it might take some more time to figure out how to pay for this,” Walker admitted.
Missouri GOP Rep. Ann Wagner downplayed the fact that leaders didn’t unveil actual legislation, telling reporters “I think we’ve got the outline of things that will be a part of a bill and part of a reconciliation package going along. We have had this in place for some time, and now we’re getting down to some of the very specifics.”

Trump’s man aims to reassure GOP

Newly installed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who recently resigned his House seat, attended the meeting and pledged “the president is all-in on this.”
But GOP leaders are concerned that the window for action is tight and they are scrambling to corral members around a proposal. The more time they take the more that counter-pressures from the right and left — to speed up or slow down the process — are making their job more difficult. They are using a budget procedure known as reconciliation to repeal major planks of the law and begin the process of replacing it. This process allows them to pass the measure with a simple majority in the Senate. But they want to use a similar strategy for tax reform so they are mindful of the need to get bill moving soon so they can tackle other issues this spring.
Price discussed the need to stick with the timeline the leaders set out. “Let’s not miss this opportunity. Let’s go shoulder to shoulder, arm to arm,” he said.
But multiple members from across the ideological spectrum stressed that a lot of decisions still hadn’t been made on key issues.
“So there’s obviously unanswered questions and — no shocker here — we have differences of opinion even within our conference,” Huizenga told reporters.

Future of Obamacare taxes, Medicaid programs

Committee leaders walked through several policy issues they are working through such as how to design tax credits for those who will be shopping for health care in the new system and how to address how money will flow to states that administer the Medicaid program.
They went over plans for creating high-risk pools and proposals for incentives for broader use of health savings accounts. In the PowerPoint sent out after the meeting, there was a promise to “deliver relief from the Obamacare taxes,” “eliminate the individual and employer mandate penalties,” and “repeal Obamacare spending for the Medicaid expansion and the new open-ended subsidies.”
But in some areas, there was no clear consensus. For example, the details on how states would handle the Medicaid program are still being worked out. Republicans from Medicaid expansion states have been fighting to keep their expansion money and ensure voters back home who were covered under the program could remain on it, but Medicaid has long been a top target for fiscal conservatives looking to make cuts in the budget. There is wide consensus that states need more flexibility in handling their federal Medicaid dollars, but there still are not clear details on whether that flexibility will come through block grants or per capita allotments is still up in the air.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brady told reporters that the discussion was also ongoing as to what to do with Obamacare taxes. Conservatives have said the taxes need to be repealed immediately, but others have been arguing that Republicans will need to keep the taxes in place in the short term to fund their own Obamacare replacement.
Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas told reporters that he had no actual budget numbers of how each program- from tax credits to health savings accounts- would be funded, a key factor in whether or not Republicans will be able to rally around the plan.
“They did not overlay the money and that is the big question,” Sessions said. “You cannot pass policy, you have to pass money. It’s about money.”
So far, a leading member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus didn’t sound impressed with what he heard from his leadership.
“So far it just sounds like Obamacare light,” said Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador.

Police arrest third suspect in Kim Jong Nam’s assassination

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Three people have now been arrested in connection with the apparent fatal poisoning of the half-brother of North Korea’s leader, with a Malaysian man held to “assist” in the investigation, police said Thursday.

The man, 26-year-old Muhammad Farid bin Jalaluddin, has been identified as the boyfriend of an Indonesian woman arrested earlier Thursday, suspected of being one of the two women who carried out the brazen attack at Kuala Lumpur airport this week on Kim Jong Nam, the older half-brother of Kim Jong Un.

“Suspect is currently remanded in custody to assist investigation,” Khalid Abu Bakar, the inspector-general of police, said in a statement.

Kim Jong Nam, 45, was attacked by two women at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Monday as he went to check in for a flight to Macau, his main base since he went into exile about 15 years ago. They grabbed him and sprayed some kind of poison on his face.

He sought medical help at the airport but died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Two women were captured on surveillance video leaving the scene by taxi, sparking a nationwide hunt for them.

One woman, who was traveling on a Vietnamese passport that identified her as 29-year-old Doan Thi Huong, was arrested Wednesday as she tried to fly out of Kuala Lumpur.

She told police she was tricked into attacking Kim Jong Nam, saying she thought she was just playing a prank on the man, the Star newspaper reported.

She also said she was abandoned by the other woman and four men who were involved in the attack. They had all been staying at a hotel not far from the airport, she told police, and when they left her, she decided to fly to Vietnam from the terminal where the attack took place.

A second woman, identified as Siti Aishah, a 25-year-old Indonesian, was arrested early Thursday.

“She was also positively identified from the CCTV footage at the airport and was alone at the time of arrest,” Abu Bakar said in an earlier statement.

It was not immediately clear whether the women were using fake passports, but the Indonesia Foreign Ministry confirmed, based on information provided by the Malaysian police, that the Aishah was an Indonesian citizen and has requested consular access to her.

Separately, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, confirmed that the man who was killed was indeed Kim Jong Nam, the son of former leader Kim Jong Il and older half-brother of Kim Jong Un.

The man was carrying North Korean passport bearing the name “Kim Chol,” a known alias for Kim Jong Nam.

“The North Korean embassy has confirmed the identity. This is what the police informed us,” Zahid told reporters. Kim Jong Nam appeared to have had two passports with two different names – one “authentic” and one an “undercover document,” he said.

However, although the autopsy has now been completed – despite protests from North Korean diplomats based in Kuala Lumpur, who wanted to body released to them immediately – there is still no word on the cause of death.

A North Korean man driving a black Mercedes with North Korean diplomatic plates refused to answer a journalist’s questions when he drove into the embassy in Kuala Lumpur Thursday afternoon.

Embassy staff have removed the buzzer from the gate to stop journalists from ringing it.

Malaysia would return Kim Jong Nam’s body to North Korea, Zahid said Thursday, but there were still “procedures to be followed.”

“Our policy is that we have to honor our bilateral relations with any foreign country,” he told reporters.

Some Houston businesses closed on ‘Day Without Immigrants’

HOUSTON —  Some Houston-area businesses were impacted by Thursday’s “Day Without Immigrants” movement, which encouraged immigrants to not conduct business or go to school on Feb. 16.

Several local restaurants had signs on the door saying they were closed for the day.

RELATED: Day Without Immigrants planned for Feb. 16

The grassroots “Day Without Immigrants” movement to boycott President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown was promoted nationwide on social media in the days leading up to it.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FTorchysHoustonHeights%2Fposts%2F574126372793637&width=500

Tacos A Go Go manager Raul Delira said the business made the decision to close all three of its locations to show support to its nearly 100 employees.

“My people are not going to lose their jobs. We support them, and we’re here for them” said manager Raul Delira. “There’s been people who have been with us many years. They deserve to be here. They’re hardworking people.”

It wasn’t just restaurant’s participating in “A Day Without Immigrants”. Supernova furniture closed its doors Thursday, posting on Facebook: “Mr. President, U.S. is the greatest country in the world, but this country would be nothing without immigrants, it was built by immigrants. Let our people live in peace.”

The grassroots movements proved to be a contentious topic for those with different viewpoints.

“Sure, we like to go to restaurants and have our things prepared. We like to have our lawns mowed, but at the end of the day, they’re having a negative impact too,” said Drew Beeson. “They say all these people are paying taxes. That’s not true. They’re getting fake social security numbers. They’re not really paying. That’s the big lie that’s out there that people don’t understand.”

KHOU 11 News spokes with a handful of people who said their employers would not give them the day off for the boycott. They said their employers “threatened to fire them” if they didn’t show up for work.

Samsung chief Lee arrested as South Korean corruption probe deepens

Samsung Group chief Jay Y. Lee was arrested early on Friday over his alleged role in a corruption scandal rocking the highest levels of power in South Korea, dealing a fresh blow to the world’s biggest maker of smartphones and memory chips.

The 48-year-old Lee, scion of the country’s richest family, was taken into custody at the Seoul Detention Centre after waiting there overnight for the decision. He was being held in a single cell with a TV and desk, a jail official said.

Lee is a suspect in the influence-peddling scandal that led parliament to impeach President Park Geun-hye in December, a decision that if upheld by the Constitutional Court would make her the country’s first democratically elected leader forced from office.

Shares in flagship Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) fell 1.4 percent, while shares in Samsung C&T Corp (028260.KS), the de facto holding company of Samsung Group, were down 2.8 percent compared with the wider market’s .KS11 drop of 0.2 percent.

Prosecutors have up to 10 days to indict Lee, Samsung’s third-generation leader, although they can seek an extension. After indictment, a court would be required to make a ruling within three months.

No decision had been made on whether Lee’s arrest would be contested or whether bail would be sought, a spokeswoman for Samsung Group [SARG.UL] said.

Samsung and Lee have denied wrongdoing in the case.

“We will do our best to ensure that the truth is revealed in future court proceedings,” the Samsung Group said in a brief statement after Lee’s arrest.

The same court had rejected a request last month to arrest Lee, but prosecutors on Tuesday brought additional accusations against Lee, seeking his arrest on bribery and other charges.

“We acknowledge the cause and necessity of the arrest,” a judge said in his ruling.

The judge rejected the prosecution’s request to arrest Samsung Electronics president Park Sang-jin.

SENSITIVE TIME

While Lee’s detention is not expected to hamper day-to-day operation of Samsung firms, which are run by professional managers, experts said it could hinder strategic decision-making at South Korea’s biggest conglomerate, or chaebol.

Samsung has been in the midst of an ongoing restructuring to clear a succession path for Lee to assume control after his father was incapacitated by a heart attack in 2014.

Decisions that could be complicated by Lee’s arrest include deliberations over whether to reorganize the group under a holding company structure, as well as its plan to abandon its future strategy office, a central decision-making body that came in for criticism during the scandal.

Staff moves have also been in limbo. Samsung, which employs more than 250,000 people, has yet to announce annual personnel promotions and changes, which it typically does in December.

One employee at Samsung Electronics’ chip division said colleagues were unsettled that prosecutors had singled-out Samsung.

“The mood is that people are worried,” said the employee.

However, another Samsung Electronics employee described the situation as business as usual.

“It wouldn’t make sense for a company of that size to not function properly just because the owner is away.”

Both declined to be identified, given the sensitivity of the matter.

Lee’s incarceration comes as Samsung Electronics tries to get past the disastrous rollout last year of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, which were prone to fires. It is under pressure for the upcoming launch of its next flagship phone, the Galaxy S8, to be a success.

Some worried about the impact on Samsung, a flag-bearer for South Korea’s technological and manufacturing prowess.

“We express concern and regret that South Korea’s leading company, which is at the forefront of global competition, faces a management vacuum,” the Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry said.

ZEROING-IN

Lee’s arrest gives a boost to prosecutors who have zeroed-in on Samsung Group to build their case against President Park and her close friend Choi Soon-sil, who is in detention and faces charges of abuse of power and attempted fraud.

Both Park and Choi have denied wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have focused on Samsung’s relationship with Park, 65, accusing the group of paying bribes totaling 43 billion won ($37.74 million) to organizations linked to Choi to secure government backing for the 2015 merger of two Samsung units.

If parliament’s impeachment is upheld, an election would be held in two months. In the meantime, Park remains in office but stripped of her powers.

Her would-be successors praised the decision to arrest Lee.

“We hope it marks a beginning to end our society’s evil practice of cozy ties between government and corporations and move toward a fair country,” said Kim Kyoung-soo, a spokesman for Moon Jae-in, a member of the liberal opposition Democratic Party who is leading opinion polls in the presidential race.

‘I Inherited a Mess,’ Trump Says, Defending His Performance (LOL….)

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Thursday dismissed reports about his associates’ contacts with Russia last year and vigorously defended his performance in his first four weeks in office, in a contentious news conference that showcased his unconventional and unconstrained presidency.

At a hastily organized White House event — ostensibly to announce a new nominee for labor secretary, R. Alexander Acosta — Mr. Trump engaged in an extended attack on the news media and insisted that his new administration was not a chaotic operation but a “fine-tuned machine.” Any challenges, he said, were not his fault. “To be honest, I inherited a mess,” he said.

In addition to his cabinet announcement, the president revealed that he had asked the Justice Department to investigate government leaks and said he would sign an executive order next week restricting travel to the United States. He promised to produce by March a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, followed by another plan to overhaul the tax system.

But his 77-minute news conference was dominated by an extraordinarily raw and angry defense of both his administration and his character. At times abrupt, often rambling, characteristically boastful yet seemingly pained at the portrayals of him, Mr. Trump kept summoning the spirit of his successful campaign after a month of grinding governance to remind his audience, again, that he won.

For a president who has already lost a court battle, fired an acting attorney general and a national security adviser, and lost a cabinet nomination fight, Mr. Trump was eager to demonstrate that he was still in command. He attacked judges for blocking his original travel order and Democrats for obstructing his nominations. He denied being anti-Semitic even when no one accused him of it. With the latest Pew Research Center poll showing that just 39 percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing, Mr. Trump at one point plaintively pleaded for understanding.

“The tone is such hatred,” he said, referring to the commentary about him on cable television. “I’m really not a bad person.”

Mr. Trump disputed any contention that the White House was out of control or not fully functional, and boasted of a flurry of actions intended to create jobs, curb regulations and crack down on illegal immigration.

“There has never been a presidency that has done so much in such a short period of time,” he said. “And we haven’t even started the big work yet. That starts early next week.”

The enactment of a temporary ban on refugees and all visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries, he maintained, was “perfect,” despite widespread confusion and subsequent court rulings blocking it. “We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban,” he said. “But we had a bad court.”

Mr. Trump offered his first account of his decision to fire Michael T. Flynn, his national security adviser, for misleading Vice President Mike Pence and others in the White House about the contents of a conversation with Russia’s ambassador in December.

He said he was not bothered that Mr. Flynn had talked with the ambassador about American sanctions on Russia before arriving at the White House. “I didn’t direct him,” he said, “but I would have directed him, because that’s his job.”

The problem, he said, was that Mr. Flynn had told Mr. Pence that sanctions did not come up during the conversation, an assertion belied by a transcript of the call, which had been monitored by American intelligence agencies.

“The thing is he didn’t tell our vice president properly, and then he said he didn’t remember,” Mr. Trump said. “So either way, it wasn’t very satisfactory to me.”

But he said reports that his campaign aides and other associates had contacts with Russia were “a joke” and “fake news put out by the media.” The New York Times reported this week that phone records and intercepted calls showed repeated contacts between some of his associates and Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.

“Russia is a ruse,” Mr. Trump said. “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.”

President Trump’s News Conference: Live Analysis

President Trump is expected to announce a new nominee for secretary of labor. Times reporters will be following live and offering analysis.

However, Mr. Trump said, all the pressure on Russia may ruin any future negotiations with President Vladimir V. Putin. “Putin probably assumes that he can’t make a deal with me anymore because politically, it would be unpopular for a politician to make a deal,” he said.

Like presidents before him, Mr. Trump was peeved at a series of leaks, including about Mr. Flynn’s call and his own conversations with foreign leaders. In addition to requesting the Justice Department investigation, he confirmed that he might assign a New York billionaire, Stephen A. Feinberg, to conduct a broad review of the intelligence agencies. “He’s offered his services, and you know, it’s something we may take advantage of,” Mr. Trump said. But he added that it might not be necessary because “we are going to be able to straighten it out very easily on its own.”

Mr. Trump returned again and again to his contest with Hillary Clinton, replaying key events from the 2016 campaign and reviving his favorite attacks. He repeated a claim that Mrs. Clinton gave Russia access to American nuclear fuel supplies. “I’ve done nothing for Russia,” he said. “Hillary Clinton gave them 20 percent of our uranium.”

The State Department did sign off on the purchase of a Canadian company by a Russian state firm that gave Russia control of one-fifth of America’s uranium production capacity, as did eight other agencies. But Mrs. Clinton was not in a position to approve or reject the deal when she was secretary of state, and it is not known if she was briefed on the matter.

Mr. Trump spent much of the conference berating reporters and their news organizations. Clearly exasperated by coverage of him, he said he did not watch CNN but then gave a detailed critique of one of its shows. He cited specific articles in The Times and The Wall Street Journal that he called “fake,” even harking back to one from last year’s campaign.

“The press is out of control,” he said. “The level of dishonesty is out of control.”

He added later, “The public doesn’t believe you people anymore.”

The acrimony grew so sharp at one point that CNN’s Jim Acosta felt the need to tell Mr. Trump, “Just for the record, we don’t hate you.”

But that did not assuage him. At one point, he called on Jake Turx, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish reporter from Ami Magazine. “Are you a friendly reporter?” he asked.

“I haven’t seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic,” Mr. Turx said. But, citing bomb threats against Jewish centers, he said, “What we haven’t really heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it.”

Mr. Trump bristled, taking it as a suggestion that he was anti-Semitic even though the reporter specifically said the opposite. “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Turx protested that he was not suggesting otherwise. “Quiet, quiet, quiet,” Mr. Trump said. “See? He lied. He was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question.” Instead, Mr. Trump said, the question was “repulsive” and “very insulting.” He later accused Democrats of posing as supporters and holding up signs at his rallies to smear him.

When April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks asked whether he would meet with the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss his urban agenda, Mr. Trump again seemed piqued.

“Do you want to set up the meeting?” he challenged her. “Are they friends of yours?”

“I’m just a reporter,” said Ms. Ryan, who is African-American.

“Well, then, set up the meeting,” Mr. Trump said.

That exchange and others included claims that were false or disputed. Mr. Trump told Ms. Ryan that he had planned a meeting with Representative Elijah E. Cummings, an African-American Democrat from Maryland, but that Mr. Cummings had said: “It might be bad for me politically. I can’t have that meeting.”

Mr. Cummings later denied that. “I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today,” he said. “I was actually looking forward to meeting with the president about the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs.”

1419COMMENTS

Similarly, Mr. Trump asserted that his Electoral College victory was the largest since Ronald Reagan’s. But he won fewer Electoral College votes than three of the four presidents since Reagan: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George Bush.

When a reporter pointed that out, Mr. Trump brushed it off. “I was given that information,” he said.