Day: June 8, 2019

Sir Winston Comes From Behind to Win Belmont Stakes

Sir Winston held off the favorites with a bold move from the inside rail Saturday to capture the 151st Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. 

 

Sir Winston, ridden by Joel Rosario, at one point was pinched on the rail but then made a wide move to the outside followed by a storming charge to the finish line. The winning time at Belmont Park was 2 minutes, 28.30 seconds. 

 

Sir Winston, a 10-1 long shot, won for the third time in the last 10 starts, beating out runner-up and pre-race favorite Tactitus and third-place Joevia. 

 

The Belmont Stakes came five weeks after this year’s controversial Kentucky Derby which was won by Country House after Maximum Security became the first horse in history to be disqualified from the iconic American race. 

 

Country House did not race on Saturday. 

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Australian Barty Wins 1st Major at French Open

Ash Barty knew she needed a break from tennis, from the pressure and expectations, from the week-in, week-out grind. So she stepped away in 2014 and wound up trying her hand at cricket, joining a professional team at home in Australia.

After almost two years away, Barty was pulled back to the tour. Good choice. Now she’s a Grand Slam champion.

Taking control right from the start of the French Open final and never really letting go, the No. 8-seeded Barty capped a quick-as-can-be rise in her return to the sport by beating unseeded 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, 6-1, 6-3, Saturday for her first major championship.

“I never closed any doors, saying, ‘I’m never playing tennis again.’ For me, I needed time to step away, to live a normal life, because this tennis life certainly isn’t normal. I think I needed time to grow as a person, to mature,” Barty said.

And as for why she came back three years ago?

I missed the competition. I missed the one-on-one battle, the ebbs and the flows, the emotions you get from winning and losing matches,'' said Barty, who will jump to a career-best No. 2 in the rankings Monday behind Naomi Osaka.They are so unique and you can only get them when you’re playing and when you put yourself out on the line and when you become vulnerable and try and do things that no one thinks of.”

That last part is an apt description of how she approaches each point, looking for just the right angle or speed, understanding where an opponent might be most vulnerable at any given moment. After using her slice backhand, topspin forehand and kick serve to do just that to Vondrousova, she called it a “kind of ‘Ash Barty brand’ of tennis.”

Vondrousova’s take

“She’s mixing things up. And she has a huge serve,” Vondrousova said. “So it’s all, like, very tough to play against.”

Barty raced to a 4-0 lead and then held on, showing that she learned her lesson after blowing a 5-0 edge in the opening set of her quarterfinal victory a day earlier against another unseeded teenager, 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova.

“An absolute roller-coaster,” Barty called it.

Her coach, Craig Tyzzer, said the two of them huddled with Ben Crowe, who helps Barty with the mental side of things, and they had a “really good discussion about it” to make sure she’d avoid that sort of trouble in the final.

Neither Barty, 23, nor Vondrousova had ever played in a Grand Slam final before. Neither had even been in a major semifinal until this week, either. But it was only Vondrousova who seemed jittery at the outset; she was playing at Court Philippe Chatrier for the first time.

Barty wound up with a 27-10 edge in winners to become the first Australian to win the trophy at Roland Garros since Margaret Court in 1973.

“I played the perfect match today,” Barty said. 

The women’s final started about 1½ hours later than scheduled because it followed the resumption of Dominic Thiem’s 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 victory over Novak Djokovic in the men’s semifinals, a match suspended Friday evening because of rain. 

Thiem will face 11-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal on Sunday in a rematch of last year’s final.  

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Trade Experts Unruffled About Rare Earth Minerals Supply

Rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China have sparked worries about the 17 exotic-sounding rare earth minerals needed for high-tech products like robotics, drones and electric cars. 

 

China recently raised tariffs to 25% on rare earth exports to the U.S. and has threatened to halt exports altogether after the Trump administration raised tariffs on Chinese products and blacklisted telecommunications giant Huawei.  

  

With names like europium, scandium and ytterbium, the bulk of rare earth minerals are extracted from mines in China, where lower wages and lax environmental standards make production cheaper and easier.  

  

But trade experts say no one should panic over China’s threats to stop exporting the elements to the U.S. 

 

There is a U.S. rare minerals mine in California. And Australia, Myanmar, Russia and India are also top producers of the somewhat obscure minerals. Vietnam and Brazil both have huge rare earth reserves.  

  

The sky is not falling,'' said Mary B. Teagarden, a China specialist, professor and associate dean at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix.There are alternatives.” 

 

Simon Lester, associate director of the center for trade policy studies at the Cato Institute think tank in Washington, agreed. “Over the short term, it could be a big disruption, but companies that want to stay in business will find a way,” he said.    

Although the U.S. is among the world’s top 10 countries for rare earths production, it’s also a major importer of the minerals, looking to China for 80% of what it buys from other countries, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. China last year produced 120,000 metric tons of rare earths, while the United States produced 15,000 metric tons.  

Mountain Pass Mine

 

The United States also depends on China to separate the minerals pulled from Mountain Pass Mine, the sole rare earths mine in the U.S., which was bought two years ago by the Chicago-based JHL Capital Group LLC .  

  

“We need to develop a U.S.-based supply chain so there is no possibility we can be threatened,” said Ryan S. Corbett, managing director of JHL Capital. 

 

The mine’s top products are neodymium and praseodymium, two elements that are used together to make the lightweight magnets that help power electric cars and wind turbines and are found in electronics such as laptop hard drives. 

 

Mountain Pass, located in San Bernardino County, Calif., was once the top supplier of the world’s rare earth minerals, but China began taking over the market in the 1990s and the U.S. mine stopped production in 2002.  

  

Mountain Pass later restarted production, only to close again amid a 2015 bankruptcy. Corbett said extraction resumed last year after JHL Capital purchased the site with QVT Financial LP of New York, which holds 30%, and Shenghe Resources Holding Co. Ltd. of China, a nonvoting shareholder with 9.9%.  

  

Since then, Mountain Pass has focused on achieving greater autonomy with a $1.7 billion separation system set to go online late next year that would allow it to skip sending rare earths ore to China for that step. 

 

China could hurt itself in the long run by cutting off the U.S., specialists said.  

  

David Merriman, a rare earths analyst for Roskill commodity research in London, said that during a similar trade flap with China in 2011, Japan began looking to other countries, including Australia, for the minerals needed to manufacture electronics.   

Australian rare earths production giant Lynas Corp. Ltd. this month announced a proposed deal with Blue Line Corp. of Texas for a separation facility at an industrial site in Hondo, Texas.  

Other deposits

  

There may be other options, too. Deposits of rare earths have been detected in other U.S. states, including Wyoming and Alaska, as well in several remote areas of Canada. The Interior Department is calling for more prospecting and mining of “critical minerals,” including on public lands currently considered off-limits, and even in oceans. 

 

We have to be more forward-thinking,'' said Alexander Gysi, an assistant professor in geology and geological engineering at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.It would be better for the U.S. to have a greater range of sources for rare earths.”

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Smithsonian Museum Wows With Fossils Going Back Billions of Years

It was a bad day 70 million years ago for a triceratops dinosaur, whose remains are displayed beneath a fossilized Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton — posed as if it were still alive and ready for dinner.  

Huge dinosaurs and other ancient creatures like an elephant-sized ground sloth are part of a remarkable new fossils exhibition that opened June 8 at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

Instead of the typical static poses usually seen in museums, the new exhibition has positioned the animals so they look more real and animated — like a Dire Wolf that appears to be chasing prey.

“Did you know that all birds descended from dinosaurs?” said Matthew Carrano, the Curator of Dinosaurs.

”We now know dinosaurs were fast growing, and very lively animals,” Carrano said. “Many of the dinosaurs you see here didn’t necessarily live together.  Each species lasted a million years ago or so and then another species would appear.  So many different dinosaur ecosystems in the world, just like there’s many different ecosystems in the world today.”

Located in the large, newly restored fossil hall, the exhibition called Deep Time is all about ancient life on earth, and how its climate, ecosystems and geology evolved over 3.7 billion years.  It contains over 700 fossils, including plants, insects, reptiles, and mollusks going back billions of years.  

A fossilized palm tree unearthed in the Arctic shows that area used to be tropical. A tiny ancestor of today’s horses lived 52 million years ago. There’s even some fossilized dinosaur feces.

While wandering through the variety of ecosystems, modern interactive exhibits allow visitors to learn more about the earth’s past, and a glass-walled lab where they can see fossils being prepared for scientific study.

But among these remains is an underlying message about the future and the importance of protecting the Earth.

“We explain and let you explore for yourself what the meaning is in something that might have happened 55 million years ago to tell us a lot about the impact we are having now, because it’s not just a past story it’s also our story right now,” explained Sioban Starrs, the exhibition project manager.  

The objects on display illustrate how much the Earth has changed, affected by shifts in the climate. Scientists say 66 million years ago, the impact of a huge asteroid transformed the environment so much the dinosaurs and most other forms of life couldn’t survive. But today the exhibition points out, humans are the culprit that are causing devastating environmental problems.

“It’s a scientific fact and there’s evidence showing that we are having an impact on this planet that’s unprecedented,” Starrs said. “It’s unprecedented in the scale, and in the rate, and it’s unprecedented that it’s one singular species causing all of these changes.”

“There’s lots of specific things you can do to ameliorate the impacts of climate change,” said Kirk Johnson, the head of the museum. “Decrease climate change and help preserve species and habitats. There’s a lot of things that are happening in the world today that don’t have to be happening.”

Starrs hopes the 5 million people visiting the exhibition each year will think about what they can do to help.

“I would really like to see people getting connected to this story of the impact that we’re having on the planet, and to really wake up and start making smart choices,” she said. “Start looking at the things that people are doing around the world to direct our planet toward a hopeful, positive future.”

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Scientists Feel Chill of Crackdown on Fetal Tissue Research

To save babies from brain-damaging birth defects, University of Pittsburgh scientist Carolyn Coyne studies placentas from fetuses that otherwise would be discarded — and she’s worried this kind of research is headed for the chopping block.

The Trump administration is cracking down on fetal tissue research , with new hurdles for government-funded scientists around the country who call the special cells vital for fighting a range of health threats. Already, the administration has shut down one university’s work using fetal tissue to test HIV treatments, and is ending other fetal tissue research at the National Institutes of Health.

“I knew this was something that’s going to trickle down to the rest of us,” said Coyne. She uses the placenta, which people may not think of as fetal tissue but technically is classified as such because the fetus produced it, to study how viruses such as Zika get past that protective barrier early in pregnancy.

“It seems to me what we’re moving toward is a ban,” she added. If so, when it comes to unraveling what happens in pregnancy and fetal development, “we’re going to stay ignorant to a lot of things.”

Different types of tissue left over from elective abortions have been used in scientific research for decades, and the work has been credited with leading to lifesaving vaccines and other advances. Under orders from President Donald Trump, the Health and Human Services Department abruptly announced on Wednesday the new restrictions on taxpayer-funded research, but not privately funded work.

Aside from the cancellation of an HIV-related project at the University of California, San Francisco, university-led projects that are funded by the NIH — estimated to be fewer than 200 — aren’t affected right away.

But as researchers seek to renew their funding or propose new studies, HHS said it will have to pass an extra layer of review, beyond today’s strict scientific scrutiny. Each project will have a federal ethics board appointed to recommend whether NIH should grant the money.

HHS hasn’t offered details but under the law authorizing the review process, that board must include not just biomedical experts but a theologian, and the nation’s health secretary can overrule its advice.

“I predict over time we will see a slow and steady elimination of federal funding for research that uses fetal tissue, regardless of how necessary it is,” said University of Wisconsin law professor Alta Charo, a nationally recognized bioethics expert.

Necessity is the crux of a fierce debate between abortion foes and scientists about whether there are alternatives to fetal tissue for research.

Zika offers a glimpse at the difficulty. Somehow, the Zika virus can sneak from the mother’s bloodstream across the placenta, which protects and nourishes the fetus, and target the fetus’ brain. It’s something researchers hope to learn to block.

Studying the placentas of small animals or even monkeys isn’t a substitute because they differ from the human organ, said Emory University researcher Mehul Suthar. For example, the specific type of placental cell where Zika can lurk in humans isn’t thought to be present in mouse placentas.

And because the placenta continually changes as the fetus that created it grows, first-trimester tissue may show a very different vulnerability than a placenta that’s expelled during full-term birth, when it’s no longer defined as fetal tissue but as medical waste.

Suthar recently submitted a new grant application to study first- and second-trimester placental tissue, and is worried about its fate under the still uncertain ethics provision.

It “sounds a bit murky as to what the impact could be,” he said. It could be small, “or it could be an outright ban on what we’re doing.”

Anti-abortion groups argue there are alternatives, such as stem cells, growing organ-like clumps of cells in lab dishes, or using tissue taken from newborns as they have heart surgery.

Indeed, NIH is funding a $20 million program to research alternatives to fetal tissue and to prove whether they work as well.

“Taxpayer funding ought to go to promote alternatives that are already being used in the production of treatments, vaccines and medicines, and to expand approaches that do not depend on the destruction of unborn children,” said Mallory Quigley of the Susan B. Anthony List, which works to elect anti-abortion candidates to public office.

But dozens of medical and science organizations have told HHS there is no substitute for fetal tissue in studying certain — not all — health disorders, such as HIV, Zika, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injury, and a variety of eye diseases.

To Pittsburgh’s Coyne, part of the political debate is a “completely unsubstantiated belief that not allowing research and science is going to prevent or stop abortions, which is not the case.”

Medical research using fetal tissue won’t stop but will move to other countries, said Charo, who advised the Obama administration. The United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore and China are among the countries using fetal tissue to seek breakthroughs.

“Other countries work with this in a regulated fashion and they will continue to outstrip us,” she said. “We have allowed patients’ interests to become collateral damage in the abortion wars.”

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Olivia Colman Gets Royal Honor Ahead of Debut in ‘The Crown’

Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Colman was honored Friday by Queen Elizabeth II — the monarch she is about to play on television in “The Crown.”

Colman was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, or CBE, in the annual Queen’s Birthday Honors list.

The performer won a best-actress Oscar this year for playing 18th-century monarch Queen Anne in “The Favourite.” She plays the current queen in the third season of Netflix’s royal drama “The Crown,” which is currently in production.

Colman said she was “totally thrilled, delighted and humbled” by the honor.

Honors are awarded twice a year, at New Year and to mark the monarch’s official birthday in June, and reward hundreds of people for services to their community or national life. Most go to people who are not in the limelight, but there is also a sprinkling of famous faces.

Recipients are selected by committees of civil servants from nominations made by the government and the public, with the awards bestowed by the queen and other senior royals during Buckingham Palace ceremonies.

The list included a knighthood for Simon Russell Beale, one of Britain’s finest stage actors, who can now call himself Sir Simon.

A knighthood was also bestowed on Boyd Tunnock, inventor of the Tunnock’s Teacake, a chocolate-coated marshmallow treat.

“When you get to my age, very few things surprise you but this certainly did and I am deeply honored and grateful to Her Majesty the queen,” said Tunnock, whose family firm has been making sweets in Scotland since the 19th century.

Artist Rachel Whiteread, who won the Turner Prize in 1993 for her concrete cast of the inside of a condemned house, became a dame, the female equivalent of a knight.

Novelist Joanna Trollope and Lee Child, writer of the Jack Reacher thrillers, were made CBEs.

Feargal Sharkey, former lead singer of The Undertones — best known for punk classic “Teenage Kicks” — was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, or OBE. So were singer-songwriter Elvis Costello and actress Cush Jumbo, a star of TV legal series “The Good Fight.”

British-Sri Lankan rapper MIA, whose full name is Mathangi Arulpragasam, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, or MBE.

In descending order, the main honors are knighthoods, CBE, OBE and MBE. Knights are addressed as “sir” or “dame,” followed by their name. Recipients of the other honors have no title, but can put the letters after their names.

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G-20 Finance Leaders’ Goal: Adapt to Turmoil in Trade, Tech

Financial leaders of the Group of 20 gathered Saturday to brainstorm ways to adapt global finance to an age of trade turmoil and digital disruptions.

The central bank governors and other financial regulators meeting in this southern Japanese port city also flagged risks from upsets to the global economy as Beijing and Washington clash over trade and technology.

Asked if other financial leaders attending the meetings in Fukuoka were raising concerns over the impact on global markets and trade from President Donald Trump’s crusade against huge, chronic U.S. trade deficits, especially with China, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said no.

Trump and members of his administration contend that the ripple effects of the billions of dollars in tariffs imposed by Washington on Chinese exports over the past year are creating new business opportunities for other businesses in the U.S. and other countries.

But Mnuchin acknowledged that growth has been slowing in Europe, China and other regions.

“I’m hearing concerns if we continue on this path there could be issues. There will be winners and losers,” he said.

The G-20 officials were expected to express their support for adjusting monetary policy, for example by making borrowing cheaper through interest rate cuts, in a communique to be issued as meetings wrap up on Sunday.

Their official agenda on Saturday was focused on longer-term, more technical issues such as improving standards for corporate governance, policing cyber-currencies and reforming tax systems to ensure they are fair for both traditional and new, online-based industries.

Ensuring that governments capture a fair share of profits from the massive growth of businesses like Google and Amazon has grown in importance over the many years the G-20 finance chiefs have been debating the reforms aimed at preventing tax evasion and modernizing policies to match a financial landscape transformed by technology.

One aim is to prevent a “race to the bottom” by countries trying to lure companies by offering unsustainably and unfairly low tax rates as an incentive.

Mnuchin said he disagreed with details of some of the proposals but not with the need for action.

“Everyone, we are now facing a turning point,” Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso told the group. “This could be the biggest reform of the long established international framework in over 100 years.”

Some European members of the G-20, especially, want to see minimum corporate tax rates for big multinationals. France and Britain have already enacted stop-gap tax systems for digital businesses, but they are not adequate, said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

“For the time being there is no fair taxation of this new economic model,” Le Maire said, adding that the hope is to have an agreement by the year’s end.

The issue is not confined to the wealthiest nations. Indonesia, a developing country of 260 million with more than 100 million internet users, is also struggling to keep up.

“The growth has been exponential but we cannot capture this growth in our GDP as well as in our tax revenue,” said Indonesian Finance Minister Mulyani Indrawati.

Mobile banking, big data, artificial intelligence and cloud computing are among many technologies that are expanding access to financial services for many people who in the past might not have even used banks.

But such innovations raise questions about protecting privacy and cybersecurity, Aso said.

“We need to stay vigilant against risks or challenges,” Aso said.

Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, is hosting the G-20 for the first time since it was founded in 1999. The venue for the annual financial meeting, Fukuoka, is a thriving regional hub and base for start-ups.

The G-20 groups include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.

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With Mexico Deal Done, US Urges China to Resume Trade Talks

One down, still others to go. President Donald Trump claimed a victory after Washington and Mexico agreed on measures to stem the flow of Central American migrants into the United States.

Trump called off plans to impose a 5% tax on Mexican exports, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaking to reporters Saturday in Fukuoka on the sidelines of a meeting of financial leaders of the Group of 20 major economies, urged China to follow suit and return to stalled negotiations.

Mnuchin said he planned to have a private conversation with the head of China’s central bank, Yi Gang. In a G-20 group meeting later in the day, the two were seen exchanging friendly remarks, but there were no fresh signs Beijing is ready to compromise in the dispute over trade and technology.

“From our perspective of where we are now, it is a result of them backtracking on significant commitments,” Mnuchin said. “I don’t think it’s a breakdown in trust or good or bad faith. … If they want to come back and complete the deal on the terms we were negotiating, that would be great.”

Mnuchin said he had no direct message to give to Yi, who has participated in the 11 rounds of talks so far on resolving the dispute between the world’s two largest economies over technology and trade.

He said there were no plans for trade talks in Washington or Beijing before Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping are due to meet in Osaka for the G-20 summit on June 28-29.

“This will be a one-on-one with Gov. Yi to talk alone about the trade issues,” Mnuchin said. But he added, “I would expect the main progress will be at the G-20 meetings of the presidents.”

The Trump administration began slapping tariffs on imports of Chinese goods nearly a year ago, accusing Beijing of using predatory means to lend Chinese companies an edge in advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and electric vehicles. Those tactics, the U.S. contends, include hacking into U.S. companies’ computers to steal trade secrets, forcing foreign companies to hand over sensitive technology in exchange for access to the Chinese market and unfairly subsidizing Chinese tech firms.

The deal with Mexico helps alleviate uncertainty over the deal Washington recently reached on revising the North American Free Trade Agreement. The new U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal has been heading toward a vote in Congress and might have been stymied by new tariffs. But the U.S. is still negotiating new trade deals with Japan after withdrawing from a Pacific Rim arrangement, the Obama-era proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.

America’s huge trade deficit with China — a record $379 billion last year — is one factor driving Trump’s frustrations with Beijing.

The United States now is imposing 25% taxes on $250 billion in Chinese goods. Beijing has counterpunched by targeting $110 billion worth of American products, focusing on farm goods such as soybeans in a deliberate effort to inflict pain on Trump supporters in the U.S. heartland.

The U.S. side has been preparing to expand retaliatory tariff hikes of 25% on another $300 billion of Chinese products, and Mnuchin indicated it was prepared to take that step if negotiations with Beijing fail. But he said Trump had not yet made a decision on that, suggesting room for further delays depending on the outcome of his discussion with Xi later this month.

“As the president has said, if we can get the right agreement, that’s great. If we can’t, we will proceed with tariffs,” he said.

 

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Federally Insured Banks Largely Off-Limits to Cannabis Business

In May, Arkansas became the latest state to cash in on the sale of medical marijuana. Lines of people wrapped around a newly opened dispensary, drawing in customers from all four corners of the Southern U.S. state.

“I see them standing outside the window with a big smile on their face,” said Bud Watkins, manager of Doctor’s Orders RX in Hot Springs. “They love it.”

In the first week of business, Arkansan dispensaries sold more than 22.6 kg (50 pounds) of cannabis in nearly 5,000 transactions.

According to Marijuana Business Daily, that revenue will contribute to a growing national market of retail medical and recreational cannabis that is expected to eclipse $12 billion in sales by the end of 2019.

​Business good, money managing isn’t

Passed in the 2016 general election by popular vote, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment made the state one of only a few in the South to allow legal purchase of the drug. It joined, however, a majority of U.S. states that had passed similar legislation.

While business is doing well, managing the money is difficult. Despite more states coming on board, plant-touching businesses are still operating as mostly cash-only enterprises.

Plant-touching businesses handle the cannabis plant itself, either cultivating, distributing or processing it. These tend to be the businesses most people think of when they imagine the cannabis industry. Plant-touching businesses are generally subject to the strictest regulations and licensing processes in the industry, as well.

“The vast majority of the businesses that touch the plant have a very difficult time finding banking partners,” said Sal Barnes, a director at Marijuana Policy Group. “The majority of those that do (bank) are going to be through credit unions and state banks, especially in California and Colorado, where we have what we like to call an adult-use market, and that is essentially just a glorified checking account.”

​Federally outlawed since 1970

Since 1970, cannabis has been officially outlawed at a federal level for any use, including medical. This means that federally insured banks operate under prohibitive restrictions about doing any business with any plant-touching businesses, which affects everyone along the supply chain, from the growth of the plant to the production or sale of a cannabis gummy.

In spite of this, states have increasingly passed legislation to allow for the legal purchase, putting them at odds with the federal government.

“The industry is hindered. Right now, the current as-is method is not safe. You literally have companies hiring ex-Marines to guard their cash, and that just doesn’t fly,” Barnes said.

Not having access to banking services means that cannabis businesses must pay for everything in cash, from salaries to taxes. And, because the cash is usually stored on-site, robberies are very common.

“We have one of the most secure buildings in the state,” said Watkins, who didn’t want to go into too many details.

Marijuana in the mainstream

Legalizing marijuana is no longer considered a fringe issue. According to a 2018 Gallop poll, two-thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

There is also bipartisan traction in Congress. In March, a U.S. House of Representatives committee passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019, more commonly known as the SAFE Banking Act. It would provide legal protection from persecution for banks and federally regulated creditors that do business with state-legal cannabis businesses.

State attorneys, including Arkansas’ Leslie Rutledge, are now also applying pressure to see changes in federal law.

“After careful consideration and speaking with members of the banking industry, as well as our state regulatory authority, the attorney general felt that it was important for the office to support the SAFE Banking Act to help minimize fraud, tax evasion and money laundering that arises from cash only businesses,” said Rutledge’s office in an emailed statement.

Earlier this month, 38 Republican and Democratic state attorneys general sent a letter in support of the SAFE Banking Act.

“This is not just an issue facing Arkansans, but affects a majority of states,” Rutledge’s office stated. “If passed, this legislation will help Arkansas minimize the dangerous problems seen by other states, such as burglaries and robberies of dispensaries who can maintain a large quantity of cash, while at the same time, allowing legitimate businesses and service providers to also conduct business within the regulated banking system.”

As for whether the SAFE Banking Act eventually makes it to a vote, or future federal bills attempt to change banking regulations, Barnes said it’s only a matter of time.

“Next year, no. Next two to three years, possibly. Within the next four to five, definitely,” he said.

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Deaths at Tracks Put Horse Racing Under Scrutiny

Saturday is the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes in New York, a competition between the country’s best 3-year-old thoroughbreds, and the last of the three races in the Triple Crown.

Organizers of Saturday’s race are hoping to avoid the controversy that dogged this year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the first two races in the series.

Judges disqualified the winner of the Kentucky Derby, Maximum Security, for straying into the path of another horse, a violation of the rules. Maximum Security’s owner is suing, contending the process to disqualify his horse was “bizarre and unconstitutional.”

Two weeks later at the Preakness, the jockey aboard Bodexpress fell off his mount when the starting gate opened.

The jockey was unhurt as Bodexpress ran with the other horses, riderless, avoiding efforts to corral him. He crossed the finish line 12th out of 13 horses and continued to jog around the track after the race was over.

The mishaps in this year’s Triple Crown are not the only reasons the sports world is taking a closer look at thoroughbred racing.

Twenty-seven horses at Santa Anita Park in Los Angeles have died since December, prompting California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein to demand the track be shut down until investigators figure out what led to the animals’ deaths.

Animal rights groups are wondering if “The Sport of Kings” has a future in the United States.

Proposed legislation

A bill currently before the U.S. House of Representatives, the Horseracing Integrity Act, would standardize safety rules for horses and jockeys across the industry. Most major U.S. sports have just one regulating body, but with horse racing, there are 38 jurisdictions, each with its own regulations. Those entities oversee about 100 racetracks around the country.

“This is an industry that routinely gives horses five and six injections of painkillers, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, sedatives every week just to calm them down and rev them up to race on a track,” Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), told VOA. “We’ve really worked hard to try to bring improvements that will mean no horses are suffering and dying.”

Santa Anita has already banned trainers from giving horses medication on race days. Jockeys are also forbidden to whip horses.

​Why are horses dying?

Experts believe one possible cause for the deaths is Santa Anita’s poor track surface, made tenuous because of heavy rain and mud. Thoroughbred horses have slender legs and small feet, with muscles and bones that must support tremendous weight. A slight misstep can cause a horse to break a leg, a severe injury that could lead to euthanasia.

Other horses have simply dropped dead from heart attacks.

The tragedy extends beyond Santa Anita. An industry study found that an average of 10 horses a week died at U.S. racetracks in 2018.

“The public has evolved on the issue of using animals for entertainment, and they’re not going to stand for the kinds of deaths that we have seen at Santa Anita. For the first time, the racing industry is paying attention to what needs to be done,” Guillermo said.

Sport losing fans

The negative publicity surrounding thoroughbred racing has executives worried that the public, especially young people, are not embracing a sport known for its primarily middle-aged, white male fan base.

Thoroughbred racing is competing for the entertainment dollar, and the industry is trying to keep up.

Joe Harper is president of Del Mar, the legendary San Diego track founded in 1937 by entertainer Bing Crosby.

“You’re here for a party, you’re not just here for the races,” Harper told VOA.

Del Mar’s summer season includes concerts, wine tastings, beer festivals, chili cook-offs and family fun days.

Harper said he would like to see other tracks, particularly those troubled with poor attendance and crumbling infrastructure, adopt Del Mar’s model.

“You really have to look at this beyond your product. We marketed our venue. Opening Day in Del Mar is the biggest social event in San Diego every year, and the media coverage is phenomenal. I want to be in the entertainment business, not just the racing business,” Harper said.

Harper disagrees with PETA and others who classify racing as a cruel sport.

“We’re in this game because we love horses. There’s no better care given to any animal than a race horse,” he said.

Guillermo called that an “odd statement” and predicted horse racing becoming extinct like attractions such as animal circuses.

“This is an industry that has traditionally cast off thousands of thoroughbreds a year to auction and to slaughter. That industry has a lot to explain,” she said.

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