May delay: UK PM asks lawmakers for more time on Brexit
By JILL LAWLESS
Tuesday, February 12
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May urged restive lawmakers Tuesday to hold their nerve and give her more time to rework a divorce agreement with the European Union, heightening concerns that Brexit uncertainty will continue right up to the edge of the U.K.’s departure on March 29.
With Britain’s EU exit just 45 days away, May tried to avert a rebellion when Parliament votes again Thursday on Brexit by promising another series of votes two weeks later.
Some lawmakers want to use Thursday’s votes to impose conditions on May’s Conservative government in an attempt to rule out a cliff-edge “no deal” Brexit that would see Britain crash out of the EU without a framework for smooth future relations.
May sought to buy time, telling lawmakers they would get another chance to alter her course on Feb. 27 if she had not secured changes to the Brexit deal by then.
May signaled she might delay Parliament’s vote on whether to approve the divorce deal even further, potentially holding it after a March 21-22 EU summit — just days before Britain is due to leave the bloc.
She would not rule that out when questioned by opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“We must agree a deal that this House can support and that is what I am working to achieve,” she told the House of Commons.
“The talks are at a crucial stage,” May added. “We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this House requires and deliver Brexit on time.”
The opposition was having none of this.
“Our country is facing the biggest crisis in a generation and yet the prime minister continues to recklessly run down the clock,” said Corbyn.
Parliament last month rejected May’s Brexit deal with the EU, in part over a contentious plan to keep a seamless border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
The measure, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU and removes the need for checks along the border until a permanent new trading relationship is in place. The free flow of people and goods across the frontier has been an important measure upholding Northern Ireland’s peace deal.
But pro-Brexit British lawmakers fear the backstop could trap the U.K. in regulatory lockstep with the EU, unable to strike new trade deals around the world.
May and other Cabinet ministers are holding talks with senior EU officials in an attempt to add a time limit or an exit clause to the backstop. But EU leaders insist the legally binding Brexit withdrawal agreement can’t be changed.
Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said Monday that “something has to give” on the British side to secure an orderly Brexit.
May has also held talks with Labour, the U.K.’s main opposition party, which says it could support a Brexit deal if the government promised to seek a close relationship with the EU after Britain leaves. But any such move would cost May the support of a big chunk of her Conservative Party.
The political impasse leaves Britain lurching toward a chaotic no-deal departure that could be costly for businesses and ordinary people in both the U.K. and the EU.
May’s political opponents accuse the government of deliberately wasting time until lawmakers face a last-minute choice between her deal and no deal.
May “is playing for time and playing with people’s jobs, our economic security and the future of our industry,” said Corbyn.
House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, who is in charge of the parliamentary timetable, denied that the government was wasting time. She said May would bring her deal back to Parliament for a vote “as soon as the issue around the backstop has been sorted out.”
“It is a negotiation. It’s not possible to predict the future,” she told the BBC.
Uncertainty about what trade relationship Britain will have with the bloc after Brexit is weighing on the U.K. economy. Figures released Monday showed that Britain’s economy slowed last year to its joint-slowest annual rate since 2009, with business investment declining for four straight quarters.
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said Tuesday that U.K. investment had not grown since the 2016 EU membership referendum, “and has dramatically underperformed both history and peers.”
“It is in the interests of everyone, arguably everywhere … that a Brexit solution that works for all is found in the weeks ahead,” he said.
Danica Kirka contributed to this story. Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
Smuggling in the Irish borderlands – and why it could get worse after Brexit
February 11, 2019
Author: Cathal McCall, Professor of Politics and International Studies, Queen’s University Belfast
Disclosure statement: Cathal McCall received funding from the European Commission (FP7).
Partners: Queen’s University Belfast provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.
Central to the fate of the Brexit negotiations is the future of the Irish border. Politicians from all sides insist they want to avoid a return to border checks once the UK leaves the EU – but they disagree on how this can be achieved.
The history of smuggling across the Irish border – and what already happens today – is a major issue in this disagreement, yet it has received relatively little attention.
In 1923, soon after the end of the Irish war of independence, British and Irish customs authorities agreed on 15 “approved frontier crossing points” on cross-border roads for the inspection of goods in daytime hours. At each point, a border customs checkpoint or “customs hut” was set up. Many unapproved routes crossing the border remained open to pedestrians but travelling on them by vehicle was prohibited. The exception was a small number of “concession roads” on which vehicles could travel from one part of a jurisdiction, passing through another jurisdiction, and re-enter the original one without stopping.
Travellers with contraband on unapproved routes risked detection with penalties enforced by customs patrols. Smuggling became a widespread feature of borderland life between the 1920s and 1960s as borderlanders and those from further afield sought to avoid paying duty on goods bought on the other side of the border.
This period is replete with tales of small-time, domestic smuggling – tea and butter concealed beneath a petticoat in wartime, whiskey and a turkey beneath a heavy overcoat at Christmas time. Even commercial smuggling stories, usually involving the transportation of animal livestock in some unusual way, were told to generate amusement, even admiration, rather than outrage.
Northern Ireland’s Troubles, beginning in 1969, suppressed smuggling activities because many unapproved routes were closed or blown-up by the British security forces. For many people, the presence of British Army checkpoints at approved crossing points also provided a sufficient disincentive for cross-border travel.
An end to border checks
The launch of the European single market on January 1, 1993 – to provide free movement of goods, services, people and capital within the European Union – made border customs checkpoints redundant because import duties on goods were no longer applied. But excise duties on fuel, alcohol and tobacco remained.
Smuggling across the border then became a highly profitable, niche activity that was the preserve of well-organised gangs who have largely concentrated on smuggling tobacco and fuel. The smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes – manufactured in Eastern Europe and Asia – into Ireland and across the border was identified in 2018 as a significant threat by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
In March 2018, an illicit tobacco factory manufacturing cigarettes from raw tobacco destined for the UK market was discovered in County Louth, south of the border. Fuel smuggling also remains a significant issue despite the success of HMRC’s anti-fraud strategy which contributed to the shrinking of the Northern Ireland illicit diesel market share from 19% in 2005-6 to 6% in 2016-17.
Post-Brexit opportunities for smugglers
It is entirely possible that the activities of such organised smuggling operations could be turbo-charged by a no-deal Brexit which would bring with it import and export duties between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and regulatory divergence for a wide range of commodities. The golden rule of smuggling is that where there is a difference in the price of a commodity, or it is in short supply on either side of a border, smugglers will seek to step in and make a profit. The organised and experienced smugglers are the most likely candidates to reap the illicit rewards.
An upsurge in smuggling would be facilitated by the most extensive cross-border road network in Europe. Officially, there are 208 cross-border roads on the island, nearly twice as many as those crossing the EU’s entire eastern external frontier. A security response to that upsurge would be inevitable. One possible retrograde step could be to close scores of the secondary cross-border roads that were reopened in the 1990s with the support of EU funding.
Technology could also be deployed. Motion sensors, scanners, and infra-red and surveillance cameras could be erected on border crossings. But they could also be knocked down in the dead of night. A 2018 survey conducted in the central border region found that a majority of the 600 respondents claimed they would not accept border control technology even if it was unmanned and not at the border.
Mobile security patrols along the unwieldy 500km of the Irish border would be almost irresistible, not least to help protect vulnerable customs officials and agrifood inspectors working in isolated border terrain. Such an introduction is made more likely by the fact that the peace and openness of the borderlands for 20 years, courtesy of European integration and the Irish peace process, has led to the closure of 40% of police stations on either side of the border. So it’s also likely that new security personnel would be drafted in from outside and would be unfamiliar with the area, unknown to borderlanders, and characterised by them as “nameless strangers”. Alienation and antagonism would seep into the borderlands as a result.
Chiefs of police on both sides of the border are acutely aware of potential post-Brexit challenges. These difficulties are posed not only by the possible return of alienation, antagonism, and by the likely strengthening of politically-motivated “dissident” Irish republicanism, but also by well-organised, cross-border smugglers motivated by profit.
Time for a Manhattan Project on Alzheimer’s
February 12, 2019
Author: Marc Diamond, Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, UT Southwestern Medical Center
Disclosure statement: Marc Diamond receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the Rainwater Charitable Foundation, the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, and the Aging Minds Foundation.
Imagine if Alzheimer’s was treated like other common diseases. Instead of worrying about the prospect of slowly losing your memory, you might get a series of shots during middle age to prevent the onset of this neurological nightmare, just as we do to reduce the risk of flu. Or you could take a daily pill as many do to control their cholesterol or blood pressure.
That may sound improbable, given the long string of Alzheimer’s drugs that have failed to work in clinical trials, but I remain optimistic. As a physician-scientist leading research into the causes of neurodegenerative diseases, I believe that we are making significant progress on uncovering the roots of Alzheimer’s.
In Alzheimer’s, toxic clumps of protein kill brain cells which shrinks the size of the brain as the disease progresses.
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that has stymied researchers for years. The disease develops when two proteins – A-beta and tau – accumulate in the brain. A-beta builds up outside of nerve cells, and tau inside them. Decades of study suggests that A-beta somehow leads to the accumulation of tau, which is what causes nerve cells to die. This may explain why early treatments focusing exclusively on A-beta failed. These ideas have led to new diagnostic criteria that take into account these two proteins to make the definitive diagnosis.
Clumps of tau protein cause neurofibillatory tangles inside neurons. The A-beta protein forms clumps in between them. Together they destroy brain tissue.
Mechanistic studies take time but pay off
As a scientist, I have always been fascinated by the molecular basis of disease, and as a physician I am committed to helping patients. In my lab at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, our group is focused on identifying structural changes in the tau protein that enable it to aggregate and cause disease. Our work suggests that neurodegeneration begins with a shape shift in the tau protein, which then forms toxic assemblies, or clumps, in the brain. These assemblies are mobile, and appear to transmit pathology between different groups of neurons causing disease progression. As tau appears to play the central role in destroying brain cells, and because lost neurons cannot be replaced, our researchers are working to develop tools to pick up the earliest signs of toxic tau. This may occur many years before cognitive symptoms become apparent.
If physicians can detect the disease-causing forms of tau, they will be able to diagnose the underlying disease before permanent loss of brain cells occurs, perhaps even before individuals know they have a problem. This requires that we develop better, more sensitive biomarkers that may facilitate this process, much like we now use hemoglobin A1C to diagnose incipient diabetes.
To do this we’ve pulled together an unconventional team with expertise in structural biology, biochemistry, cell biology, neurology and neuropathology to work side by side in our Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases (CAND). Studies from my lab have already contributed to the development of an anti-tau antibody that is in clinical trials. This antibody binds tau, and may facilitate its clearance from the brain. Full disclosure: I receive royalties through my former employer, Washington University in St. Louis, for my role in discovering this drug.
The approach at the CAND is much like the diverse group of engineers and physicists who were brought together during World War II for the Manhattan Project – the secret effort to create the first atomic bomb. Our multidisciplinary team marries discovery and engineering with the goal of developing diagnostic tools and personalized therapies that can stem the progression of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.
The role of philanthropy
Major philanthropists have realized the value of integrated research efforts to solve specific problems in science. They are pouring tens of millions of dollars into Alzheimer’s research. Our team at UT Southwestern was recently the recipient of a US$1 million award from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, set up by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. In all, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative awarded more than $50 million to 17 investigators and nine scientific teams to launch a Neurodegenerative Challenge Network. This brings together scientists from diverse fields – biochemistry, genetics, neuropathology and computational science – who are taking a broad view of the disease by exploring multiple underlying causes of neurodegenerative diseases, even while researchers at CAND focus primarily on tau.
The challenge is growing more urgent. Alzheimer’s is a defining medical problem of our generation. More than 5 million Americans are now afflicted, and that number is expected to reach nearly 14 million by 2050 – threatening to overwhelm an already stressed health care system.
With support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, we have integrated research across multiple different labs to try to develop a logical system to classify the various subtypes of neurodegenerative diseases linked to tau. This system is rooted in linking the three-dimensional structure of a single tau protein to its cellular effects, and correlating specific structures with particular patterns of pathology. One day we hope to extract tiny amounts of critical proteins from blood, or spinal fluid that bathes the brain, to predict the onset of specific diseases, and then intervene with a personalized treatment before damage is done.
We seek a “personalized” approach to diagnosis based on protein structure. This is analogous to how genetic information is now used to classify cancer. We hope to use this framework to identify patients at risk, so that we can monitor their responses to treatment, and ultimately, to decide who will benefit most from specific interventions. This ambitious plan will require sophisticated new tools to study protein structure, to analyze brain tissues, and to facilitate translation of these ideas to the clinic, all in close collaboration across very disparate scientific disciplines.
We must continue to fund basic research
While we think targeting tau aggregation and its spread through the brain is the best way to treat disease, it is unlikely to be the only effective one. New therapies are now making their way through clinical trials. These include drugs that turn off the tau gene and block the protein’s production. Multiple trials are using the body’s immune system to attack A-beta and tau proteins, and new biological information about how tau and A-beta cause pathology within cells may lead to complementary strategies.
Vigorous efforts such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are providing a critical boost at a time when some pharmaceutical companies have scaled back research into brain disorders. This means that support from the federal government remains indispensable. The National Institutes of Health has tripled its annual budget for research into Alzheimer’s and related dementias since 2014, reaching $1.9 billion in the last fiscal year.
I can’t predict when we will have a treatment for Alzheimer’s. But I am confident that when it happens it will be based on discoveries made in academic research laboratories, just as scientists in previous generations produced vaccines for polio and effective drugs for HIV and hepatitis C.
A vaccine for Alzheimer’s? Gene editing seemed like science fiction 25 years ago, but now it’s being used to save lives. By shifting the paradigm on Alzheimer’s research, treatments for neurodegenerative diseases can also become reality.
A rational checklist is no match for emotions in matters of the heart
February 10, 2019
Author: Karen Wu, Assistant Professor of Psychology, California State University, Los Angeles
Disclosure statement: Karen Wu received funding from Society of Research on Adolescence and Psi Chi National Honor Society for her research.
For many people, there are few things more rewarding than crossing an item off a checklist. But what if the checklist is about your dream partner? And what if the checklist is wrong?
“Relationshopping” is when you hunt for the perfect partner as if people were products. Online dating, now used by almost 40 percent of Americans who are “single and looking,” might be normalizing this tendency. Often aided by search filters, potential daters seek the perfect combination of attributes rather than focusing on the experience of being with a person.
Relationshopping might work if people knew themselves well, but research indicates the contrary. In recent years, psychologists, economists and neuroscientists alike have found that decisions are largely driven by emotion. Furthermore, in the steady, logical environment in which we anticipate our decisions, people struggle to account for visceral drives such as excitement, hunger and sexual arousal.
Psychology researchers like me call this the “hot-cold empathy gap.” This distance between our predicted behaviors in a cold, rational state and our actual behaviors in a hot, aroused state, explains why people often don’t do as they say. It might explain, for example, why you swore you’d stop eating cookies for the New Year – and you really meant it – but then went and ate a dozen (they just smelled so good!) when your colleague brought them to work.
In the cold state, it’s easy to forget about the power of emotions. Given the strong and complex feelings involved, you may be prone to the empathy gap in the search for the perfect partner.
Hot-cold decision-making in dating
Studies have documented the hot-cold empathy gap in an array of behaviors, including young men’s failure to use condoms in the grip of sexual arousal and people’s inability to empathize with social suffering unless they feel a similar pain themselves.
Psychology researchers are now turning to the hot-cold empathy gap to understand why the attributes that people say they want in a romantic partner often differ from the attributes they actually choose in real life. Speed-dating studies provide an ideal venue for examining this question: Researchers are able to compare people’s reports of what they want to their decisions about whom to date.
In one speed-dating study, college students’ reported preferences in a partner showed typical gender differences. Women preferred wealth more so than did men, and men preferred beauty more so than did women. When these same participants speed-dated, however, there were no gender differences in preferences for wealth and beauty. Furthermore, participants’ self-reported preferences did not predict whom they offered a date to in the speed-dating event.
In another study, men found more intelligent women to be more desirable in hypothetical situations, but less desirable if they actually interacted with them in a live scenario. These findings might be accounted for by people’s failure to account for their emotions – like excitement inspired by beauty or inadequacy aroused by a smarter woman – in the presence of a potential partner. In the heat of the moment, emotions may override preconceived notions about what you desire.
Although some of the current research may make it seem like “hot” states lead people astray in love, there may be a brighter side to them. Currently, ethnic preferences in dating are common, even among highly educated circles. Interested in understanding the match between stated and actual ethnic preferences, I conducted a speed-dating study of young Asian-Americans, who may approach love more practically due to a cultural emphasis on meeting their family’s expectations rather than following their own desires. Thus, Asian-Americans may not not show the empathy gap in dating if they strongly prioritize their cold list of parent-approved attributes over any hot emotions of their own.
Unsurprisingly, the Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Filipino American participants told me in advance that they most preferred dating within their own group. Their speed-dating decisions, however, did not reflect their stated preferences. Speed-daters weren’t more likely to want to see partners of the same ethnicity again. Perhaps in person, they were too overwhelmed with desire to consider the negative social consequences, such as parental disapproval, of dating outside their ethnicity. The visceral experience beat out the logical checklist again.
How to jump beyond the gap
With knowledge of the hot-cold empathy gap, finding a partner might seem even more intimidating. There are, however, some things you can do to bridge the gap between your hot and cold states and hopefully come closer to finding love.
First, understand your own biases, so you can then account for them. How? Ask others. Research suggests that people easily identify others’ bias, but not their own. Another method is to put yourself in the “hot” state, and reflect, at that moment, on what you’re really drawn to in a person. In one study, researchers induced social rejection in teachers – only in this condition did teachers start to truly understand the pain experienced by bullied students.
Once you identify them, you may want to avoid some of the decisions that you make in your “hot” states. So another tactic is to remove yourself from undesirable situations. For instance, maybe you’re attracted to “bad boys” or “bad girls.” Knowing the power of emotions, stay away from places you might meet one, perhaps having friends or family hold you accountable.
Then be reasonable in your expectations. Carefully go through your “cold” checklists of desired qualities in a potential partner and consider removing superficial ones. All those criteria might not matter as much as you think when it comes to falling in love. Consider whether you’re ruling people out unnecessarily based on ideas of what you should desire.
Too many options can mean never being happy. Rather than always searching for the next best thing and “relationshopping,” researchers suggest that people should try “relationshipping” – developing a healthy partnership through mutual time and effort. This doesn’t mean settling down with just anyone. Look for someone who is willing and able to invest the blood, sweat and tears necessary for a successful relationship.
As easy as it is to blame our emotions for “irrational” decisions, people should celebrate emotions as well. At times, “hot” emotions steer people in a more positive direction, perhaps making them care less about the ethnicity or earning potential of potential partners. Emotions serve an important evolutionary purpose, spurring us into action. They push us to help each other, to bond and to take the leap of faith needed to find and build love, sometimes in places we least expect.