A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, Vol. 17, No. 12
Trump's economic selections
is drawing mixed predictions
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet is filled either with demigods of capitalism who will propel America to a new era of economic greatness or villainous predators who profited enormously from the financial ruin of others, depending on your view.
Both narratives will be heard in Washington this week as the Senate holds confirmation hearings for Treasury secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin and Commerce secretary nominee Wilbur Ross.
Mnuchin, a one-time partner at Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs, led a group of investors who bought out a failing California bank at the height of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. He also started a high-risk, high-reward investment group known as a hedge fund and, more recently, financed some of Hollywood's biggest movies, including “Avatar,” “X-Men,” “Batman v Superman” and “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and served as Trump's chief fundraiser during last year's presidential contest.
Ross is a billionaire who has specialized in buying out failing businesses, from American steel companies to coal mining operations to textile enterprises. In the 1980s, he helped rescue Trump's failing casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Both men say the U.S. economy is underperforming and can do far better.
"Our most important priority is sustained economic growth. I think we can absolutely get to sustained three-to-four percent GDP," Mnuchin said on CNBC late last year. "And to get there, our number one priority is tax reform."
"One of the problems with the recovery is that the newly created jobs are not nearly as remunerative as were the jobs that were lost," Ross said, appearing alongside Mnuchin on CNBC."That is a very big structural problem."
Both nominees will face hours of questioning from senators at confirmation hearings this week. Partisan divides emerged as soon as Trump tapped them after the November election.
Democrats portrayed Mnuchin as a Wall Street insider who first profited from financial products based on risky loans that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis, then profited again by foreclosing on the homes of Americans who defaulted on their mortgages.
"After years peddling the kind of dangerous, mortgage-backed securities that eventually blew up the economy, Mnuchin swooped in after the crash to take a second bite out of families by aggressively, and sometimes illegally, foreclosing on their homes," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts. "This man has engaged in the worst kinds of practices on Wall Street and directly hurt thousands of working families."
In contrast, Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican of Utah, said Mnuchin's wealth of private sector experience will serve him well in this new role. He understands that advancing meaningful policies to reform the tax code, promote investment and spur job creation are essential to growing our economy and ensuring middle-class families get to keep more of their paychecks.
Mnuchin is a believer in so-called supply-side economics that tax cuts generate additional economic activity, thereby boosting prosperity as well as tax revenues to the government.
By cutting corporate taxes, it would create huge economic growth and have huge gains personal income, the Treasury secretary nominee said. “The problem has been for the last eight years, there's been no economic growth. For the average American worker, they've gotten nowhere and our job is to make sure that the average American worker has wage increases and good jobs."
Mnuchin did not dispute that he oversaw the repossession of thousands of distressed properties, the sales of which ultimately netted a profit, but noted that the bank had made those loans before his investment group took over the institution.
He also criticized financial reform under the Obama administration that strengthened lending requirements.
"The number one priority is going to be, make sure that banks lend," Mnuchin said on CNBC.
Several Democrats on the Commerce committee said they are reserving judgment on Ross until his testimony this week. Republicans are not.
"Wilbur Ross's business experience makes him an excellent choice for Secretary of Commerce," said Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas. "I'm confident he'll be a champion for American economic interests at home and abroad. I look forward to supporting his nomination.
FBI arrests Noor Salman,
wife of gay nightclub killer
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
U.S. authorities say the wife of Orlando nightclub gunman Omar Mateen has been arrested on charges of obstructing justice.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday confirmed the arrest of Noor Salman near San Francisco, where she had been residing with her young son. Prosecutors say Salman will make an initial appearance in court Tuesday in nearby Oakland, California.
Salman had been under intense police scrutiny since her late husband opened fire on an Orlando nightclub popular with gays in June 2016, killing 49 people and wounding more than 50 others in an attack said to have been inspired by Islamic State extremists.
Mateen, 29, was shot dead by police after a three-hour standoff at the facility.
Orlando police and the FBI have investigated whether Salman had prior knowledge of her husband's plot.
Law enforcement authorities have said Salman accompanied her husband on at least one trip to Orlando's Pulse nightclub prior to the attack. She has also admitted accompanying him when he went to buy ammunition.
However, she told the New York Times last year that she did not know the purpose of the club visit. She also said she had no reason to suspect that ammunition bought by her husband days before the killings was to be used in the massacre. She said he frequently made such purchases, which she linked to his work as a security guard.
Salman further sought to boost her claim of innocence by noting she had bought her husband a Father's Day greeting card, which she planned to give him when he returned home on the evening of June 12. Her lawyers argue that the card purchase backs her story that she did not know about the attack that occurred that evening.
Salman previously told authorities her husband was physically abusive and said he shrouded his personal activities in secrecy.
Last man to walk on moon
dies at age 82, NASA says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Former U.S. astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the surface of the moon, died Monday at age 82.
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA for short, gave no cause of death in announcing the news. Cernan was a Navy captain when NASA chose him and 13 other astronauts for the pioneering Apollo program, created after President John F. Kennedy announced the goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.
Cernan flew on Apollo 10 in May 1969, the final test flight before the actual moon landing two months later.
He was part of Apollo 17, the last manned moon mission in December 1972.
“We had a lunar rover, we were able to cover more ground than most of the other missions. We stayed there a little bit longer. We went to a more challenging unique area in the mountains, to learn something about the history and the origin of the moon itself,” Cernan later recalled of the mission.
Just before leaving the moon as the last man to walk on it, Cernan said man would return there one day with peace and hope.
He was still waiting at the time of his death. Speaking on the 40th anniversary of the last mission, Cernan said he is not proud to be the last man to walk on the moon because of a fading interest in space travel.
“It is tremendously disappointing that here I am, 40 years later, and still hold that title,” he said.
Cernan retired from the Navy and NASA in 1976 and later did television commentary for early space shuttle flights.
Biden urges Trump team
to continue cancer fight
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is urging the incoming administration of president-elect Donald Trump to continue to support his national fight to eradicate cancer.
Speaking Monday before the official start of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Biden said: “This is the one bipartisan thing that exists, and I pray it will continue to exist in the new administration.”
He said he already has spoken to his successor, Vice president-elect Mike Pence, about maintaining the Obama administration program to speed up research into cancer and to work to ultimately eliminate the disease.
“It is my hope, as I have already spoken to the VP-elect, who is a good man, about to come in to be vice president in four days, or three days, about my willingness to continue to work with him and the incoming administration to be committed and enthusiastic as we are in the goal of ending cancer as we know it, and my prayer is they will do that as well,” he said.
Biden was named by President Barack Obama to lead the government initiative called “Cancer Moonshot,” after Biden lost his son to brain cancer in 2015.
“Like many of you, I decided to become acquainted with this after someone close to me and my family was diagnosed. You try to learn everything you possibly can once that occurs.”
Biden also urged other countries to invest in fighting cancer, saying: “This investment, in my view, should be matched by other nations who agree that now is the time to double down in our fight against cancer.”
Biden has said he will continue to advocate for cancer research after he leaves office Friday.
Instead of hiring a trainer,
there's now an app for that
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
The beginning of the new year for many people means a renewed commitment to get in shape and shed weight, and a growing number of devices and applications are providing alternatives to the gym.
Matt Knight lives in Silicon Valley and considers himself a tech-savvy athlete. He loves boxing, but has learned from experience that hiring a trainer is not cheap.
"Coming in for a one-on-one session would have cost a ton of money for the level of caliber of these guys," Knight said.
So he searched around and found a wearable device called Moov that coaches users in cardio-boxing workouts. Unlike passive wearable devices that only count a user's steps, Moov verbally coaches and encourages a user during workouts through an app.
"Moov doesn't necessarily give you the full guidance that you would get from a real live coach, but it does guide you through the cardio aspects of it," Knight said.
Knight used the product so often that Moov hired him to test other devices. Besides cardio boxing, the waterproof device coaches users in four other types of workouts: swimming, cycling, running and bodyweight training.
Moov's co-founder, Beijing native Meng Li, was inspired to develop this wearable coach while working long hours on another Silicon Valley startup.
"I found I was not as healthy and active as before,” Ms. Li said. “I started feeling like I need to work out. I need to charge myself, but I don't have time to go to the gym or money to pay the trainer so that's actually part of the reason we started Moov."
The wearable device is unique compared with others on the market because of how it tracks a user's movements. She said they created both the sensor technology and the artificial intelligence coaching in-house.
“One focuses more on the hardware, the other focuses on the software. The sensor senses your movement in 3D space, for example, it senses your range of motion, it senses your rotation, it senses your orientation,” Ms. Li said.
Fitness-oriented wearable devices are not only gaining popularity in the U.S., Ms. Li said, but also in many Asian countries.
"In China, the trend of fitness is growing so fast and we see very similar behaviors and needs from our consumers in China, and it's growing,” she said. “At the beginning, we didn't expect that. It was basically a surprise.”
While Moov is based in Silicon Valley, Ms. Li does have a team of employees in China, and she expects more trips home as her three-year-old startup grows.
University of California-Riverside photo
Kangaroo rat barely avoids becoming dinner.
Speed study first to quantify
snake strikes in the wild
By the University of California-Riverside news staff
Feeding is paramount to the survival of almost every animal. Not surprisingly, the animal kingdom shows many examples for capturing prey or escaping predators.
The antagonistic predator-prey relationship is of interest to evolutionary biologists because it often leads to extreme adaptations in both the predator and prey. One such relationship is seen in the rattlesnake-kangaroo rat system, a model system for studying the dynamics of high-power predator-prey interactions that can be observed under completely natural conditions. Curiously, however, very little is known about the strike performance of rattlesnakes under natural conditions.
That is now about to change because technological advances in portable high-speed cameras have made it possible for biologists like Timothy Higham at the University of California-Riverside to capture three-dimensional video in the field of a rattlesnake preying on a kangaroo rat.
Many studies have examined snake strikes, but the new work is the first study to quantify strikes using high-speed video (500 frames per second) in the wild. Study results appear in Scientific Reports.
“Predator-prey interactions are naturally variable, much more so than we would ever observe in a controlled laboratory setting,” said Higham, an associate professor of biology, who led the research project.
A question Higham and his team are exploring in predator-prey relationships is: What factors determine the success/failure of a strike or escape? In the case of the rattlesnake and kangaroo rat, the outcome, they note, appears to depend on both the snake’s accuracy and the ability of the kangaroo rat to detect and evade the viper before being struck.
“We obtained some incredible footage of Mohave rattlesnakes striking in the middle of the night, under infrared lighting, in New Mexico during the summer of 2015,” Higham said. “The results are quite interesting in that strikes are very rapid and highly variable. The snakes also appear to miss quite dramatically either because the snake simply misses or the kangaroo rat moves out of the way in time.”
In the paper, Higham and his coauthors conclude that rattlesnakes in nature can greatly exceed the defensive strike speeds and accelerations observed in the lab. Their results also suggest that kangaroo rats might amplify their power when under attack by rattlesnakes via elastic energy storage.
“Elastic energy storage is when the muscle stretches a tendon and then relaxes, allowing the tendon to recoil like an elastic band being released from the stretched position,” Higham explained. “It’s equivalent to a sling shot. You can pull the slingshot slowly and it can be released very quickly. The kangaroo rat is likely using the tendons in its lower leg, similar to our Achilles tendon, to store energy and release it quickly, allowing it to jump quickly and evade the strike.”
The team tracked the rattlesnakes by implanting radio transmitters in order to collect data. Once the rattlesnake was in striking position, the team carried the filming equipment to the location of the rattlesnake in the middle of the night and set up the cameras around the snake. They sometimes waited all night for a kangaroo rat to come by for the snake to strike.
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