Day: April 17, 2017

Kenyans Sweep Titles in 121st Boston Marathon

Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya won the 121st Boston Marathon on Monday, leading a sweep for his nation of the men’s and women’s divisions.

Kirui pulled away from three-time U.S. Olympian Galen Rupp with 2 miles (3 kilometers) to go in the 26.2-mile (42 km) run to take the title in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 37 seconds. Rupp was 21 seconds back, and Suguru Osako of Japan placed third, 51 seconds behind the winner.

“In my mind, I was sure that one day I would win this race,” said the 25-year-old Kirui, competing in his third marathon. “To come here to Boston, I knew I was going to face my colleagues who have run many times here. … I knew I would challenge some of the champions who have been competing here.”

Edna Kiplagat won the women’s race in 2 hours, 21 minutes, 52 seconds for the Kenyan sweep. Rose Chelimo of Bahrain was runner-up, 59 seconds back, and American Jordan Hasay was another 9 seconds behind to take third place.

Ethiopians swept the titles last year. Kenyans had won either the men’s or women’s race every year since 1991 before being shut out in 2014 and again last year.

Temperatures were much warmer than normal this year, with the thermometer hitting 79 degrees (26 C) at the 20-kilometer mark.

Americans dominated the men’s division with six runners placing in the top 10.

“It’s so exciting to see Americans being competitive here,” said Rupp, the Olympic bronze medalist who was making his Boston debut. “It’s a real exciting time. And it’s awesome to see American distance running on the upswing and being competitive in these races.”

“American distance running is looking good today,” said sixth-place finisher Abdi Abdirahman, a Somali immigrant and Arizona resident who is a four-time Olympian. “We have the podium for both men and women, so the future is great.”

It was the first time since 1991 that two U.S. women had finished in the top four, with Desi Linden placing fourth.

Earlier Monday, Boston city officials announced plans for memorials to mark the sites near the finish line where two bombs exploded during the 2013 Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others.

Two brothers who immigrated from Russia, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were identified as the perpetrators. Tamerlan was killed during a shootout with police four days after the twin explosions that came 12 seconds apart. Dzhokhar remains in a federal prison after being sentenced to death.


US Psychologist Goes beyond Headlines, Tells Refugees’ Stories

After nine attempts to sneak across the border between Syria and Turkey, with an indescribable amount of fear and painful near-death experiences, 31-year-old Mustafa Hamed finally found a home in Germany, where he is working hard to piece together his life.

“The most important thing is you are lost here. So you have to find a new job, new friends — you have to find a new life,” Hamed said. “So this is a new start for me.”

His priority right now is mastering the language. His dream is to work in journalism. As he works hard to achieve this dream, he constantly struggles with a nightmare — the memory of his days in Aleppo.

“The clashes started in Aleppo in, maybe, 2012,” he recalled. “You can imagine, it was daily and you can hear every night bombing someplace near you — maybe for just two kilometers [away]. The electricity was cut down for a long time. You have to wait for 7 or 8 hours just to charge your phone.”

Resetting their lives

Psychologist and researcher Kenneth Miller, in his book War Torn: Stories of Courage, Love and Resilience, recounts Hamed’s story, among many others from Guatemala, Mexico, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.

During his more than 25 years of working with war victims, Miller noticed that the majority of what has been written about war focuses on soldiers. He wanted to draw attention to what’s missing from the conversation: the experience of civilians. In his book, he shares dozens of stories of people he met and worked with in many places around the world.

One of the most compelling stories is from Samad Khan, an Afghan who became a refugee in the 1980s, during his country’s war against the Soviets. Khan participated in Miller’s research in Afghanistan. In one of the counseling sessions on dealing with painful experiences, Khan shared a traumatic memory.

“He was driving a pickup truck with his sister’s family in the back, up a steep, winding mountain road and the road was controlled by the Mujahedeen, the freedom fighters,” Miller said. “They stopped him at one point and asked him to show his papers. So he stopped the car, and got out to show them his papers, but he realized he had forgotten to set the hand brake. He watched in horror as the truck spiraled off the side of the mountain and tumbled hundreds of feet down to the valley below. He had to go down to retrieve the bodies and bring them back to Kabul for burial.”

Overcoming tragedies

However, when Miller met him, Khan was a life-loving community leader. “I said, ‘How did you get over this? You seem to be doing so well now!’ He said it was a combination of the power of his faith and he also had a tremendous support of his extended family and friends,” Miller explained. “They got him through. I tell his story because this is something that recurs in the book, in every country that I worked in, that we are more alike than we are different. His story also captures something that we’ve seen in a lot of refugee communities, which is war, of course, can be devastating, but we’re built to heal. If the conditions are supportive, safe and stable, people have a remarkable capacity to be resilient and to heal.”

When the environment is safe and supportive, Miller says, refugees not only survive painful experiences, but they can thrive.

He tells another story, based on his experience in Guatemala:

“I got adopted by this one family while I was living in the camp for a year. This family fled when they heard about a massacre in a neighboring village where about 370 people were killed. They spent two months hiding in the mountains in the rainy season. They finally came down on the Mexican side of the border and found their way in to the refugee camp. This young fellow, Emilio, had developed a combination of trauma and severe shock. After a couple of days of traditional prayers and use of herbs, he healed. I think more than anything what really helped him heal was this tremendous love and support of his family. He has become a vibrant young professional musician, he became a refugee in Canada, who is doing wonderfully well.”

The social media effect

Miller says he hopes sharing these stories can help raise awareness about refugees’ situations.

“One of the biggest predictors about whether the refugees become severely depressed or adapt successfully is the extent to which they’re either made to feel welcome, given language and the material resources to get a new start, or whether they encounter a lot of discrimination. The more people feel marginalized and discriminated, of course, the harder it is for them to integrate, and the harder it is for them to heal,” he said.

One point Miller raises is the effect of social media. He says these tools can be helpful in raising awareness about the plight of refugees, but they also can be harmful if they’re used to spread misconceptions.

He points to images shared on social media of Syrian refugees on Lesbos, Greece. “When you see this father holding his two children and weeping and just arriving safely after crossing the sea, it mobilizes people and brings them to want to help, do something to counter this. Now, on the other hand, you also see social media being used to spread rumors and lies about refugees. Social media can spread tremendous fear, and that has serious consequences. It gets people turned back. It causes great harm.”

Miller says he also hopes these stories can inspire refugees and help them discover the inner strength they need to survive and start anew.


Facebook Hosts Developers at F8 Conference

Facebook’s annual developer conference F8 kicks off this week in San Jose, California, at a time when the social network giant faces more competition in the United States and around the globe.

Developers from Brazil, France, India and Mexico are to gather Tuesday and Wednesday at F8, looking for new tools and features for Facebook’s biggest products — its flagship social network, Instagram, the mobile photo sharing service; and WhatsApp, the instant messaging service Facebook acquired in 2014.

Facebook is expected to show new features for all its main products and woo developers and businesses to make greater use of its services. It’s a technical gabfest, but one that Facebook executives use to unveil new features and talk about the firm’s future. The name of the conference — F8 — comes from Facebook’s tradition of hosting eight-hour hackathons.

While thousands are expected to gather at a convention center in downtown San Jose, elsewhere, in more than 45 cities worldwide, developers will meet to watch Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s opening speech Tuesday morning. The challenge Facebook faces is two-fold — to find more users, and give them more to do.

With 1.9 billion users, Facebook is coming up against the natural limits of its growth. It already reaches more than 20 percent of the 7 billion people on the planet. In the U.S., Canada and Europe, its user growth has been somewhat flat for several years. Competitors such as Snapchat, whose parent company Snap recently went public, are popular with teens and 20-somethings.

“There are no more users to tap into in mature countries,” said Brian Blau, research vice president at research firm Gartner. That leaves the rest of the world, where Facebook continues to grow quickly.

Facebook has worked through an initiative called to expand global connectivity through programs such as Aquila, a solar-powered drone that delivers wi-fi, and Free Basics, which offers access to websites and other services. While the company said last year that it has helped connect more than 40 million people worldwide, Facebook has stumbled in some of these efforts, such as in India.


Facebook’s other big challenge is to deliver more services and features to its existing users so they spend more time during the day in Facebook’s world and, therefore, see more advertisements.

To that end, the conference’s events include sessions on advertisements, games, virtual reality and augmented reality, mixing the digital and virtual realms.


One thing Facebook will likely focus on is offering developers more features for Messenger, its homegrown messaging service, Blau said. The company may decide to allow Messenger, which already has more than 1.2 billion users, to be more independent from Facebook itself, competing against big global messaging systems such as Kik, WeChat, Line and others.

“If you think about it, Facebook’s mission has always been around community and communication and online social activities,” Blau said. “And providing communication to people who don’t have that is a way to do it.”


‘The National’ Newspaper of Abu Dhabi Sees Layoffs after Sale

A state-backed newspaper in the United Arab Emirates that was bought by an Emirati who oversees the English soccer club Manchester City is undergoing layoffs, those with knowledge of the firings said Monday.

They told The Associated Press that staffers at The National were informed Sunday they had been let go. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.


It wasn’t clear how wide the layoffs were or what specific plans The National’s new owner had for the daily newspaper. Repeated calls to the newspaper rang unanswered Monday.


The layoffs come after months of turmoil at The National, which was founded in 2008 and staffed with top writers and editors from Western newspapers. Its owner, the state-backed firm Abu Dhabi Media, hoped it would become the Mideast’s standard for independent, hard-nosed newspapering.


But while the paper broke local stories on skyscraper fire safety and other issues, it largely stayed away from controversial topics in a country with strict laws governing speech.


International Media Investments, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corp. owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Manchester City, bought The National in November from Abu Dhabi Media. Sheikh Mansour’s media firm has a joint venture with Britain-based Sky to run the Arab satellite news channel Sky News Arabia.


In a statement, International Media Investments said: “The National is putting together its team, made of existing and new talent,” and will undergo “a digital transformation while retaining its print product.” It answered no questions from the AP about the layoffs.


Although the newspaper sale has yet to finalize, staffers had to reapply for jobs at the paper. All this comes as low global oil prices have pinched the economy of the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula.


Sheikh Mansour is a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s oil-rich capital. He also serves as a deputy prime minister and minister of presidential affairs.


Second Immune Cell Found to Harbor HIV During Treatment

The challenge of finding a cure for AIDS may have gotten harder. Scientists have discovered another cell in the body where HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — hides from therapy designed to suppress it to undetectable levels in the blood.

The cells — called macrophages — are part of the immune system and are found throughout the body, including in the liver, lungs, bone marrow and brain. After other immune cells have done their job of destroying foreign invaders, these large white blood cells act as the cleanup crew. They surround and clean up cellular debris, foreign substances, cancer cells and anything else that is not essential to the functioning of healthy cells. In addition, they apparently can harbor HIV.

A new target

While antiretroviral drugs can drive the AIDS virus down to virtually undetectable levels, scientists know if therapy is interrupted, an HIV infection can come roaring back. That’s because of a viral reservoir that until now has been thought only to inhabit immune system T-cells — the cells that are attacked and destroyed by the AIDS virus. Much research is dedicated to trying to find ways to eradicate the T-cell reservoir.

This may mean researchers must find ways to eliminate HIV from macrophages, as well.

The finding was published in Nature Medicine by researchers in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. 

Investigators demonstrated in a mouse model that in the absence of humanized T-cells, antiretroviral drugs could strongly suppress HIV in macrophages. However, when the therapy was interrupted, the virus rebounded in one-third of the mice. This, say researchers, is consistent with persistent infection in the face of drug therapy.

Researchers say their work demonstrates that any possible therapies must address macrophages in addition to T-cells to eradicate viral reservoirs. Investigators say they now have more information pointing to the complexity of the virus, and that targeting the viral reservoir in T-cells in the blood will not necessarily work with tackling HIV persistence in macrophages, which reside in tissues and are harder to observe. 

Senior author Victor Garcia said it’s possible there are other HIV reservoirs still to be discovered.

The lead author of the study, Jenna Honeycutt, called the discovery “paradigm changing” in the way scientists must now try to eliminate persistent infection in HIV-positive individuals. 

Investigators say their next step is to figure out what regulates HIV persistence in infected macrophages. They are also interested in finding HIV interventions that completely eradicate the AIDS virus from the body.


The Long, Rough Ride Ahead for ‘Made in America’

Mini motorcycle and go-kart maker Monster Moto made a big bet on U.S. manufacturing by moving assembly to this Louisiana town in 2016 from China.

But it will be a long ride before it can stamp its products “Made in USA.”

The loss of nearly one out four U.S. factories in the last two decades means parts for its bike frames and engines must be purchased in China, where the manufacturing supply chain moved years ago.

“There’s just no way to source parts in America right now,” said Monster Moto Chief Executive Alex Keechle during a tour of the company’s assembly plant. “But by planting the flag here, we believe suppliers will follow.”

Monster Moto’s experience is an example of the obstacles American companies face as they, along with President Donald Trump, try to rebuild American manufacturing. U.S. automakers and their suppliers, for example, have already invested billions in plants abroad and would face an expensive and time-consuming transition to buy thousands of American-made parts if President Trump’s proposed “border tax” on imported goods were to become law.

When companies reshore assembly to U.S. soil – in Monster Moto’s case that took two years to find a location and negotiate support from local and state officials – they are betting their demand will create a local supply chain that currently does not exist.

For now, finding U.S.-based suppliers “remains one of the top challenges across our supplier base,” said Cindi Marsiglio, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s vice president for U.S. manufacturing and sourcing. Wal-Mart partnered with Monster Moto and several other U.S. companies in a drive to increase spending on American-made goods by $250 billion by 2023 in response to consumer demand for American-made goods.

Their experience has shown Americans’ patriotic shopping habits have limits, namely when it comes to price.

Take Monster Moto’s bikes, which sell for between $249 to $749. Keechle, the CEO, says he can’t raise those prices for fear his price sensitive prospective customers will turn to less expensive rivals made in China.

“Consumers won’t give you a free pass just because you put ‘Made in USA’ on the box,” Keechle says. “You have to remain price competitive.”

Keeping a sharp eye on labor costs in their factory is one thing these U.S. Manufactures can control. They see replacing primarily lower-skilled workers on the assembly line with robots on American factory floors as the only way to produce here in a financially viable, cost-competitive way. It’s a trend that runs against the narrative candidate Donald Trump used to win the U.S. presidency.


Since taking office, Trump has continued promises to resurrect U.S. manufacturing’s bygone glory days and bring back millions of jobs. On March 31, Trump directed his administration to clamp down on countries that abuse trade rules in a bid to end to the “theft of American prosperity.”

But it’s more complicated on the ground for companies like Monster Moto.

“It’s almost as if people think you can just unplug manufacturing in one part of the world and plug it in to the U.S. and everything’s going to be fine,” said David Abney, Chief Executive Officer of package delivery company United Parcel Service Inc., which helped Monster Moto reconfigure its supply chain to bring its Chinese-made parts to Ruston.

“It’s not something that happens overnight,” he said.

A White House official said that the Trump administration’s efforts to encourage manufacturers to reshore production will be focused on cutting regulations and programs to provide new skills to manufacturing workers.

“We recognize that the manufacturing jobs that come back to America might not all look like the ones that left,” a White House official said, “and we are taking steps to ensure that the American workforce is ready for that.”

Making robots great again

In Monster Moto’s cavernous warehouse in Ruston, boxes of imported parts that are delivered at one end then become bikes on a short but industrious assembly line of a few dozen workers.

A solitary, long-bearded worker by the name of Billy Mahaffey fires up the bikes to test their engine and brakes before a small group of workers puts them in boxes declaring: “Assembled in the USA.”

Helped by that label, Monster Moto has experienced a recent boom in demand from major customers that include Wal-Mart. The company expects to double production to 80,000 units and increase its assembly workers — who make $13 to $15 an hour — to 100 from around 40 in 2017.

The most likely components Monster Moto could produce in America first are black, welded-metal frames for bikes and go-karts, but they would have to automate production because human welders would be too expensive.


“We can’t just blow up our cost structure,” said Monster Moto President Rick Sukkar. “The only way to make it work in America is with robotics.”

The same principle applies for much larger manufacturers, such as automotive supplier Delphi Automotive PLC’s.

Chief Financial Officer Joe Massaro told analysts in February that 90 percent of the company’s hourly workforce is in “best-cost countries.”

When asked about shifting production to the United States from Mexico, Massaro said depending on what happens to trade rules “it would have to be much more of the sort of the automated type manufacturing operations just given… the labor differential there.”

That trend is already showing up in data compiled by Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

According to senior economist Rob Scott, not only did America lose 85,000 factories, or 23.5 percent of the total, from 1997 to 2014, but the average number of workers in a U.S. factory declined 14 percent to 44 in 2014 from 1997. According to Scott, much of the decline in workers was due to automation.

“We’re going to see more automation in this country because it makes good sense economically for every company,” said Hal Sirkin, a managing director at the Boston Consulting Group. “You can spend a lot of time bemoaning it, but that’s not going to change.”

Manufacturers say automated production requires fewer, but more skilled workers such as robot programmers and operators.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) estimates because of the “skills gap” there are 350,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs today in a sector that employs over 12 million people.

In Ruston, Mayor Ronny Walker bet on Monster Moto by guaranteeing the company’s lease because he wants to diversify the city’s economy, and envisions suppliers setting up alongside Monster Moto’s assembly plant.

“Could it take a long time to bring manufacturing back here?

Sure,” he says. “But you have to start somewhere.”


China’s Economy Gains Steam; 1Q Growth Fastest Since 2015

China’s economic recovery is gaining traction, with growth rising to its fastest pace in over a year in January-March.

The 6.9 percent annual pace of expansion for the world’s second-largest economy, reported Monday, surpassed economists’ forecasts and was an improvement from 6.8 percent growth in the last quarter of 2016.

Growth last was that strong in July-September of 2015.

Analysts said government spending and a property boom spurred by easy credit were the main factors helping to driving stronger demand.

China saw its slowest growth in nearly three decades in 2016, at 6.7 percent. The official full-year economic growth target for 2017 is 6.5 percent.

“Currently, China’s economy is demonstrating good signs of pickup in growth, overall price stability, expansion in employment and improvement in the international balance of payments,” Mao Shengyong, a spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics, told reporters in Beijing.

Fears of being dragged into a trade and currency war with the U.S. have abated after U.S. President Donald Trump toned down his previously antagonistic comments against Beijing.

A summit earlier this month with Chinese President Xi Jinping ended calmly, and the U.S. Treasury Department did not label China a currency manipulator in its latest assessment.

During the first quarter, investment in fixed assets such as factories expanded 9.2 percent from a year earlier, while retail sales grew 10 percent. Industrial production rose 6.8 percent, including a stronger-than- expected 7.6 percent year-on-year gain in March.

Although exports have also shown sharp improvement, strong lending and investment figures suggest Beijing is relying on its traditional strategy of powering growth through government stimulus. China’s leaders have been trying to shift to an approach based more on consumer demand but tend to open the spending and credit taps at times when growth appears to be slowing too much.

“The question we need to ask is whether this investment-led model is sustainable as the authorities have trouble taming credit,” said Raymond Yeung and David Qu, economists at ANZ.

The latest figures indicate China’s economy is on track to meet its official growth target — a good sign for China’s communist leaders, who don’t like surprises and are preparing for a twice-a-decade party congress in the autumn to appoint new leaders.

“The 6.5 percent target this year, you could say it’s more important than ever, because of the political reshuffle later this year,” said Amy Zhuang, chief Asia analyst at Nordea Markets. “At least being able to maintain the stability in growth is very, very important for Beijing.”

On a quarter-to-quarter basis, which is how other major economies report data, the economy lost steam, expanding just 1.3 percent. That’s slower than 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016.

The economists at ANZ said such figures should be viewed cautiously because they might reflect changes in how the government made adjustments for seasonal factors.

Economists say they expect the boost from the government’s policies and the property boom to persist for a few more months before fading later in the year.

Real estate plays an outsize role in fueling growth in the wider Chinese economy by spurring knock-on demand in the manufacturing and service sectors.

House prices will likely start cooling this year as tighter restrictions finally kick in, but Beijing will probably take steps to offset that decline with more stimulus to meet its annual growth target, Zhuang said.


Prince Harry Shares Emotional Struggles after Diana’s Death

 It is an image those who saw it will never forget: Prince William and Prince Harry — just boys, really — walking silently behind their mother’s cortege as the world mourned Princess Diana’s death in 1997.

Now Harry has revealed for the first time that losing his mother when he was only 12 left him in emotional turmoil for 20 years, filling him with grief and rage he could only manage after he sought counseling.


Breaking sharply with the royal tradition of maintaining a stoic silence about mental health, the 32-year-old prince told The Daily Telegraph in an interview published Monday that he had nearly suffered multiple breakdowns since his mother’s death.


It was by far the most frank interview of Harry’s life and gives the public a much fuller view of Harry and the inner turmoil he suffered growing up in the public eye after losing his mother.


He told the newspaper he “shut down all his emotions” for nearly 20 years and had been “very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions.”


He describes a long, painful process of refusing to face his sense of loss that only came to an end when he was in his late 20s and sought professional counseling to cope with the pressures and unhappiness.


 “My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?” he said of his teens and 20s, a period in which he embarked on a successful military career but also occasionally attracted unwanted headlines, notably for being photographed playing “strip billiards” in Las Vegas.


In the interview, Harry said he had at times felt “on the verge of punching someone” and had taken up boxing as an outlet for the aggression he felt.


He said the long suppression of his grief eventually led to “two years of total chaos.”


He said he was pretending that life was great until he started counseling and faced his problems head on.


 “All of a sudden, all of this grief that I have never processed started to come to the forefront and I was like, there is actually a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with,” he said.

Along with his brother Prince William and sister-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge, Harry has worked with a charity that promotes mental health. They have argued that mental health problems must be given the same priority as other illnesses and should be spoken about openly and without stigma.


Harry has also worked extensively with wounded veterans and has organized the Invictus Games to foster international sporting competition for injured or ill service personnel and veterans.


Harry told interviewer Bryony Gordon, who has written extensively about her own struggles with depression and other issues, that he is in a “good place” now, and praised William for helping him seek help after many years of suffering in silence.


 He credited counseling with helping him recover.


 “I’ve now been able to take my work seriously, been able to take my private life seriously as well, and been able to put blood, sweat and tears into the things that really make a difference and things that I think will make a difference to everybody else,” he said.


Harry has also formed a romantic relationship with American actress Meghan Markle and in November took the unusual step of chastising the press for harassing her.


Harry and William have both been wary of press coverage, in part because of the way photographers shadowed their mother’s every move.




Footwear Made from Recycled Water Bottles

Each day, millions of Americans drink purified water and other beverages from disposable plastic bottles. More than 60 million of those bottles are dumped in landfills or burned in incinerators daily. But a couple of American entrepreneurs are putting some of them to good use by recycling them into shoes.