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Sony Will Likely Raise PlayStation Prices If Chinese Tariffs Increase

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The US and China have been engaged in a trade war for months now, but the two nations have thus far managed to avoid a new round of mutual escalation. While the United States has threatened to raise tariffs on a range of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent, the Trump Administration hasn’t actually done it yet. According to Sony’s Senior General Manager of Finance Department and Corporate Planning, Naomi Matsuoka, the company may have no choice but to raise console prices in the United States if the tariffs go through.

In the quote below, the reference to “Level four” tariffs refers to the fact that this would be the fourth set of tariffs imposed by the United States in the ongoing trade dispute. These are typically referred to as “tranches” (a tranche is defined as “a portion of something, especially money”). Tranche 4 tariffs are expected to impact $ 250B worth of Chinese goods if they go into effect. Tranches 1-3 previously covered goods collectively worth $ 250B, so the 4th tranche represents a substantial expansion in terms of the number of goods to be tariffed, as well as a significant increase in the tariff amount.


When asked about the potential impact of tariffs on Sony’s PS4SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce business, Matsuoka responded with the following:

Well supposing hypothetically, the Level four tariffs are actually decided, so this is based on the assumption that it will take place up to the — it’d be up to the timing of that as well as the specific conditions attached. But supposing — and we are not currently assuming that, but if this is actually invoked, what will be the impact? What we are foreseeing is that in Game & Network Services, hardware business will be affected… higher tariffs on these products will actually impact distribution and employment and consumers in the United States will be a negative for the U.S. economy as such.

So our subsidiary are working with the industry associations and government associations, approaching the government where we have sent the opinion leaders to the government. And as of now, we are of course contemplating these actions based on the potential risk for Level four and for all the products affected, for instance the changing of the production sites or passing through of the prices to the market or changing the continuous sales structure.

So, we are considering risk ahead of the current actions if this happens. And once the decision is made to introduce Level four, all the contributing actions will be put to force to mitigate the negative impact.

Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony have all previously asked the Trump Administration not to raise tariffs on consoles, noting that the machines are largely built in China and that moving their supply lines would be difficult to impossible. That may be true for some companies more than others, however, as Nintendo has already said it’s moving production of the Switch Mini to Southeast Asia to avoid potential tariff entanglements. It’s also possible that it’s easier with some product lines as opposed to others — Sony and Microsoft may have long-term production contracts on the PS4 and Xbox One that are difficult to break, or the two companies may face short-term problems with supply chains and the associated costs of setting up shop in a new location.

As for the actual trade negotiations themselves, there has been a little movement on that front. China said three days ago that it would begin larger purchases of some farm products and the US and China trade delegations met on Wednesday, July 30 for several hours. The meetings did not resolve any outstanding issues, however, and the ongoing trade war continues with “No deal in sight” according to the New York Times. The White House called the talks “constructive,” while the Chinese state news media characterized the talks as “frank, efficient, and constructive.”

This was the first formal meeting of the two sides since talks fell apart three months ago. President Trump has tweeted that there may be little chance of a trade deal before the 2020 election is complete. If the Tranche 4 tariffs actually go into effect, we may see the impact on consoles from multiple manufacturers and different product generations, depending on whether Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo can secure a waiver. The trade talks will resume again in September.

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Report: Tariffs Could Raise Laptop, Phone Prices 22 Percent

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Ever since the Trump Administration kicked off a trade war with China, there have been questions about what kinds of impact this could have on the consumer electronics market. The Consumer Technology Association has released its own report estimating the potential impact if the Trump Administration’s latest round of tariffs on $ 300B worth of additional Chinese goods goes into effect.

Before we dive in, here’s the current state of play. The US and China seemed to be near an agreement earlier this year that would resolve the earlier rounds of the trade war when the Chinese reportedly made significant negative changes to their negotiating position (from the US perspective). The US has threatened to add a 25 percent tariff to an additional $ 300B worth of Chinese goods as a result. When combined with the tariffs already levied against Chinese goods now, the end result would be a tariff on virtually all Chinese imports, including finished computers and cell phones — two categories that had previously been excluded.

The CTA is a business trade organization and can be assumed to be generally anti-tariff — but this doesn’t mean the organization’s estimate of the short-term or long-term effects of a tariff spike is wrong. It is, however, something to be aware of as we evaluate the results.

The CTA predicts that the price of importing a smartphone from China would rise by 1.22x. China accounts for approximately 3/4 of our total smartphone imports. It is not clear if this report takes into consideration recent statements like that from Foxconn, which claims it can meet demand for US iPhones from non-Chinese sources. (The CTA report does consider the idea that manufacturers will move production into non-Chinese facilities, but does not break down what it believes individual companies will do in response to a potential $ 300M tariff).

Korea and Vietnam would benefit from increased export revenues related to stronger phone imports for US markets, but US consumers would pay $ 8.1B more for smartphones. The CTA predicts a net $ 4.5B economic loss even after calculating the benefits of the tariffs themselves.

Tablets are hit by similar metrics. Prices would rise an estimated 1.19x, leading to a 1.35x reduction in consumption. Because there’s virtually no US-based tablet production (mirroring the situation in smartphones), there would be no gain to net American manufacturing. I trust the CTA as far as these conclusions are concerned — America doesn’t build smartphones or tablets, and very few computers are actually assembled here. Tariffs can be used to boost domestic production at the expense of international trade, but not if you don’t have a domestic base to begin with.


Estimated impact of new tariffs on laptops and tablets.

The organization predicts broad price gains of 1.19x – 1.22x in video games, tablets, smartphones, and drones. None of the tariffs result in a net positive outcome for US manufacturers because the US doesn’t manufacture most of these products. Prices on laptops could rise by $ 150, while tablets could jump $ 50.

I suspect the real-world outcome, should these tariffs go into effect, will be more nuanced than what the CTA outlines — and may possibly be impacted by the ongoing Huawei situation as well. The United States’ efforts to strangle this Chinese company are far more unusual than saber-rattling over tariff levels, and I can’t imagine that it isn’t a major bargaining chip in the negotiations between US and Chinese officials.

My own guess is that we’ll see companies try to buffer the impact of these tariffs on some products, where they can absorb some or all of the impact, while passing them straight along to customers on products where profit margins are low and there’s no room to eat the cost. At the same time, every company with the ability to move production out of China to dodge tariffs will do so.

In the long term, this will presumably produce some ability to move back towards pricing baseline, as new production comes online. Diminished demand for Chinese-manufactured products could reduce their prices, thereby also reducing the relative size of the tariff they incur. Not everyone will be able to move production out of China, at least not right away, and so at least some of the concern about the possibility for a global trade slowdown is real.

Of course, there are other concerns to be balanced as well. One might argue that the value of a cheap 4K TV is less important than retaining the technological edge that allows US companies to continue pushing the envelope on technology as a whole. Forced technology transfers and IP theft have both been major concerns of the Trump Administration and the Obama Administration before it, but the TA has chosen to be much more aggressive in how it attempts to deal with these problems. Some have pointed out that this strategy could backfire long-term if it encourages China to divest from working with the US altogether long-term and sets the stage for the two largest economies on the planet to be at economic war with each other rather than continuing to cooperate.

There is merit in considering all of these points. Trade is a complex and multi-faceted topic. There has been a note of uncertainty in the world economy regarding these issues, and various financial institutions would clearly prefer to see them amicably resolved. The CTA’s analysis of the economic harms of tariffs should be treated with a grain of salt, but it does at least provide a window into what the results might be.

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Pompeo says Iran attacked tankers to raise global oil price

The U.S. military has released a video that it says shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.

The U.S. Navy rushed to assist the stricken vessels in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of Iran, including one that was set ablaze Thursday by an explosion. The ships’ operators offered no immediate explanation on who or what caused the damage against the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous. Each was loaded with petroleum products, and the Front Altair burned for hours, sending up a column of thick, black smoke.

Iran has denied being involved in the attack, calling it an “unfounded claim” in an “Iranophobic campaign” launched by the U.S. However, Iran previously used mines against oil tankers in 1987 and 1988 in the “Tanker War,” when the U.S. Navy escorted ships through the region.

The black-and-white footage, as well as still photographs released by the U.S. military’s Central Command, appeared to show the limpet mine on the Kokuka Courageous.

An oil tanker is on fire in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday. Two tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on Thursday, an assault that left one ablaze and another adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels. (ISNA/Associated Press)

A Revolutionary Guard patrol boat pulled alongside the ship and removed the mine, Central Command spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said.

“The U.S. and the international community stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation,” Urban said. “The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.”

In a statement issued later Thursday, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations called the remarks from the U.S. “another Iranophobic campaign” and rejected the “unfounded claim” that Iran is responsible for the alleged attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

“The U.S. economic war and terrorism against the Iranian people as well as its massive military presence in the region have been and continue to be the main sources of insecurity and instability in the wider Persian Gulf region and the most significant threat to its peace and security,” the statement said.

The assault left one of the vessels ablaze and adrift. Sailors were evacuated from both vessels.

The Sentinel-2 satellite, operated by the European Space Agency, captured an image of the smoke plume coming from one of the tankers. (eobservation/Twitter)

Meanwhile, Arab leaders are meeting in the Saudi city of Mecca to discuss drone strikes on oil installations in Saudi Arabia and attacks on four vessels, including two Saudi tankers, off the U.A.E. coast earlier this month.

Tehran has denied involvement.

U.S. envoy to Iran Brian Hook on Thursday warned that the United States will respond with military force if its interests are attacked by Iran.

Oil prices higher

Benchmark Brent crude spiked at one point by as much as four per cent in trading following the reported attack, to over $ 62 US a barrel, highlighting how crucial the area remains to global energy supplies. A third of all oil traded by sea passes through the strait, which is the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.

West Texas Intermediate moved up by about the same amount to just over $ 53 US a barrel.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the suspected attacks and warned the world cannot afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region.”

He told a meeting of the UN Security Council on co-operation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States that he “strongly” condemns “any attack against civilian vessels,” and “facts must be established and responsibilities clarified.”

The incident in the sea of Oman marks the latest mysterious incident to target the region’s oil tankers. The U.S. alleged that Iran used limpet mines to attack four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah last month. Iran has denied being involved, but it comes as Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen also have launched missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, in Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that while Tehran doesn’t seek nuclear weapons, “America could not do anything” to stop Iran if it did.

Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on Thursday.

The comments came during a one-on-one meeting capping Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s high-stakes visit in Tehran that sought to ease Iran-U.S. tensions, and suggest the efforts had failed.

“Security is of high importance to Iran in the sensitive region of the Persian Gulf, in the Middle East, in Asia and in the whole world,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday, hours after the tankers were evacuated.

“We have always tried to secure peace and stability in the region,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

Tankers carried methanol, naphtha

A European satellite captured an image of the Front Altair, showing a trail of smoke from the stricken tanker, which is owned by the Norwegian firm Frontline and was en route to Taiwan.

Members of the crew of the Front Altair — 11 Russians, one Georgian and 11 Philippine nationals — were not harmed, Frontline said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet with the Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on Thursday. (Official Khamenei Website)

“They were transferred to an Iranian navy vessel and disembarked at a local port. It is understood they are now being transferred to Bandar Abbas,” the company said, referring to a city on the southern coast of Iran. 

Japan-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) said its oil tanker Kokuka Courageous has also been damaged as the result of a “suspected attack,” and the crew of 21 has been safely removed, with one suffering minor injuries. They were also transferred to Bandar Abbas. 

“The ship is safely afloat. The hull has been breached above the water line on the starboard side,” the company said.

It said the Kokuka Courageous was on passage from Al Jabil, Saudi Arabia, to Singapore with a cargo of methanol. The Front Altair was carrying highly flammable naphtha, according to a senior company official for Taiwan’s state oil company, CPC Corp.

Abe warns Iran

The timing of Thursday’s reported attacks was especially sensitive as Abe’s high-stakes diplomacy mission was underway in Iran. Japan’s trade ministry said the two vessels had “Japan-related cargo.”

On Wednesday, after talks with the Iranian president, Abe warned that any “accidental conflict” that could be sparked amid the heightened U.S.-Iran tensions must be avoided.

His message came just hours after Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, striking its arrivals hall before dawn and wounding 26 people Wednesday.

Tensions have escalated in the Mideast as Iran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that the Trump administration pulled out of last year.

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World Cup women get a raise to $30M; men will make $440M

FIFA president Gianni Infantino says doubling the total prize money for women's World Cup teams to $ 30 million US is progress. However, the total prize money will be $ 440 million for the men's teams at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The FIFA council on Friday ratified the financial package for the 2019 Women's World Cup in France, increasing the total prize money from $ 15 million won by the U.S. women at the 2015 World Cup. Several players' unions involving the U.S., Australia, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand raised concerns about the inequities to the world soccer governing body ahead of the council decision.

In a statement sent to The Associated Press by international players' union FIFPro, the U.S. players urged FIFA to do even more to grow the women's game.

"Substantial investment is required to overcome generations of inequality and discrimination in the game, to make football the world's pre-eminent sport for women and girls," the U.S. Women's National Team Players' Association said.

The winning women's team at the 2019 World Cup will receive $ 4 million, an increase from $ 2 million split among the U.S. team in 2015. In July, the French men's team received $ 38 million for winning the World Cup in Russia.

"Football remains even further from the goal of equality for all World Cup players regardless of gender," world players' union, FIFPro, said in a statement.

Infantino's told the players he's listening.

"Critical comments are perfectly justified because … the unions and the players they defend their own interests, which is a fair point," Infantino said. "We need to try to find what is the most balanced way, and I think we made a step and there will be many more steps going ahead. Maybe one day women's football will generate more than men's football."

FIFA announced it will make two new payments for the Women's World Cup. FIFA will share $ 11.5 million with the 24 teams for tournament preparations, including training camps, and $ 8.5 million will be split by clubs releasing players.

The prize money for the men's World Cup in Russia rose 12 per cent to $ 400 million. FIFA gave teams $ 48 million for preparation costs and also shared $ 209 million with clubs that sent players to the tournament — vastly larger sums than allocated to women's soccer.

According to Infantino, that is "a significant step in the right direction."

The U.S. women's team celebrates its 2015 World Cup championship. The team split $ 2 million US in prize money, while the French team that won this year's men's tournament split $ 38 million. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

"It's massively higher than the last World Cup," Infantino told The Associated Press and The New York Times ahead of the FIFA Council meeting. "We are making progress. We have to invest in women's football to make it even self-sustaining to some extent."

"It's very complex to find … models where everything is equal," Infantino said.

But in a letter to FIFA last week, Australia's players' union cited FIFA statutes that feature a commitment to "gender equality." The union pointed out Australian men shared $ 2.4 million for the group stage at the World Cup in Russia, but the women's team will only split $ 225,000 at the same phase in France next year.

"The impact of this discrimination of women players is exacerbated by the dependence of many women players including our members on their income from their national team duties, in contrast to men," the players unions from Australia, Sweden and Norway wrote in separate letters to FIFA using the same language.

Players from U.S. team called on FIFA to fulfil "statutory obligations on gender equality."

"We are committed to working alongside our fellow unions, as well as with FIFA and U.S. Soccer (federation) stakeholders, to have continuous dialogue around how FIFA and USSF can fulfil their respective statutory obligations on gender equality, including the prize money for the 2019 World Cup, which is an area we feel immediate and impactful investment can be made," the U.S. Women's National Team Players' Association said.

"I can understand from the players' perspective certainly because for them it's affects how much they're paid," said Sarai Bareman, FIFA's chief women's soccer officer. "People want to feel valued for what they do and part of that is remuneration."

Earlier this month, FIFA announced a five-pronged proposal focused on growing the women's game and adding more women to leadership positions among the 211 member associations. It called for doubling participation to 60 million worldwide by 2026.

"The vast majority of women's football players across the world are still amateur," Bareman said. "That's the most important thing for us. If we want to build the whole ecosystem of the women's game, it has to start there."

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OMA president's comments, apology raise questions about stigma around marijuana

With legalization of recreational marijuana only days away, a leading Ontario doctor is backtracking after she voiced uncertainty around its safety.

Dr. Nadia Alam, president of the Ontario Medical Association, apologized Saturday after suggesting that smoking a joint could act as a gateway to harder drugs in a Thursday CBC Radio interview. 

"What I would say is that I misspoke, I misunderstood," she told CBC Toronto Saturday.

Dr. Nadia Alam, president of the Ontario Medical Association, said she misspoke when she said on CBC Radio's London Morning Thursday that recreational cannabis can cause anxiety, withdrawal symptoms for people who become addicted, and lead to the use of other, more serious drugs like crack cocaine. (CBC)

Alam woke up to a flurry of backlash on social media Saturday morning after a London Morning segment on her stance regarding the side-effects of recreational marijuana aired Thursday.

In addition to saying that marijuana could act as a gateway drug, she said in the interview that recreational use can play a role in causing anxiety and withdrawal symptoms for people who become addicted to it.

Now, she says she is glad her medical colleagues were able to offer their perspectives on the matter and "gently" corrected her.    

"I take my responsibility to provide solid information to my patients, the public, my colleagues, very, very seriously," she said. "I felt a lot of remorse for having made a mistake, so that's why I took corrective action." 

Alam did say, however, that the risks surrounding recreational marijuana need to be taken into account by both the medical community and patients. 

In a Nanos study commissioned by the OMA, 53 per cent of respondents said they believed there is a significant difference between recreational and medicinal marijuana. Moreover, 53 per cent of respondents replied that they would be unlikely to confide in their doctor about their recreational marijuana use.  

Alam went on to cite the dangers and increased reporting of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome in emergency rooms. The syndrome involves repeated vomiting, nausea and stomach cramps. Chronic marijuana users, usually those who use it on a daily basis for more than a year, are at the most risk of experiencing the symptoms.  

"That's what I mean about informed decision making," Alam said. "This isn't about making judgments. This isn't about trying to impose my own value system or someone else's value system on a patient."

'There is still a lot of stigma'

Cannabis activist Jodie Emery says misinformation can only harm Canadians. 

Jodie Emery, long-time marijuana activist, holds up a joint while speaking before the House of Commons health committee on the government's legal pot legislation last year. (CBC)

"When doctors spread this kind of fear about cannabis being a gateway drug to harder drugs, they're perpetuating the 'reefer madness' we're supposed to be moving away from."    

Emery says the stigma exists because the government and medical community's attitude toward recreational marijuana focuses on harm. She says after legalization the stigma may change, but it will take time.       

"The stigma will start to break down and that is a net benefit, but people still need to be aware there is still a lot of stigma, still a lot of discrimination."

A second opinion

Dr. Michael Verbora, who has been working in the field of cannabinoid​ medicine for about four years and serves on the Ontario Medical Association as a district delegate, says that Alam was presenting information that was not up to date.

Dr. Michael Verbora, medical director of Aleafia Medical Cannabis Care, says the medical community is resistant to incorporating newer research on marijuana into practice. (Garry Asselstine/CBC) 

"I think she was just circulating information that she thought was to the best of her knowledge, but new information shows that it's not quite the way she presented it." 

Verbora says the medical community is reluctant to engage with newer research about marijuana.   

"Cannabis is so stigmatized and that's just because in the medical community, the way we talk about it, the way we educate on it, we only talk about the harms and we don't talk about the benefits."    

For instance, Verbora says research on the endocannabinoid system has been around for over 20 years but is still not taught in medical schools. It's a system of receptors in the body that has been linked in explaining why cannabinoids help in the treatment of anxiety, depression and insomnia. 

Alam says it is important to recognize when an error has been made. 

"Making mistakes is human, but as soon as you make a mistake you have to correct it no matter your position. Whether you're the president of the Ontario Medical Association or a small-town doc."   

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FIFA to 'significantly' raise prize money for Women's World Cup

In a concession to women's soccer, FIFA will start funding business-class flights for some of the Women's World Cup teams traveling to France for next year's tournament.

Total prize money will also "significantly increase" from the $ 15 million US shared among 24 teams at the 2015 tournament, FIFA official Emily Shaw said Thursday at the Women In Sports Law conference.

The total sum will be confirmed by the FIFA Council, which meets Oct. 25-26 in Rwanda, she said.

FIFA has been urged to close the gap between women's and men's World Cups in a new four-year cycle of tournaments and commercial deals that begins next year. In the current cycle, World Cup champion France earned $ 38 million from FIFA, while the United States got $ 2 million for winning the 2015 Women's World Cup.

FIFA has pledged to share $ 440 million in prize money among the 32 men's teams playing at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

New Standards?

At the 2018 World Cup, FIFA offered "business-class return flights for 50 people" to all men's team delegations going to Russia. The new FIFA pledge to women does not cover all teams going to France.

Flight upgrades to business class will be paid except for team flights under four hours, said Shaw, FIFA's head of women's football governance. Teams already qualified to play in France include Australia, Brazil, Chile, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

"It is definitely progress and, for those teams that travel enormous distances, it is going to come as a huge relief," former FIFA Council member Moya Dodd told The Associated Press at the conference.

FIFA should increase the women's prize fund by at least the same $ 40 million raise in men's total prize money from 2018 to 2022, she said.

"Leaders in sport should not be content to sit back and let the gender pay gap get wider in absolute terms on their watch," said Dodd, a former Australia national team player.

FIFA will also raise standards for the 2019 Women's World Cup by ensuring opposing teams do not have to stay at the same hotel. Hotel sharing is prohibited in men's World Cup rules.

Shaw announced that change Thursday, and said FIFA also wanted to pay preparation costs for Women's World Cup teams. Teams at the 2018 World Cup got $ 1.5 million from FIFA in addition to prize money of at least $ 8 million each.

FIFA also wants to compensate women's clubs for releasing players to national team duty for the World Cup. FIFA shared $ 209 million among men's clubs whose players took part in World Cup games.

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Trump's 'déjà vu' Eurotrip: Upcoming Putin, NATO summits raise concerns after G7 debacle

There's an old Russian saying that U.S. President Donald Trump might heed as he departs Tuesday for a week of high-level meetings in Europe, including one with a foreign foe. It goes: "Repetition is the mother of learning."

Those words may help him navigate a familiar scenario — a potentially strained meeting with allies just ahead of a tête-à-tête with a major U.S. adversary.

"Déjà vu is one way of thinking about it," said Alina Polyakova, an expert on Russian foreign policy at the D.C.-based Brookings Institution.

It was only last month that Trump travelled abroad to meet, then insult one of his country's closest allies, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, before he departed to laud a Western adversary, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

NATO members "are trying to understand what this president might do, and watching how he's interacted with other authoritarians — Kim being the most prominent recent example," Polyakova said.

"They're trying to take lessons from that."

But if it's solidarity the alliance of 29 North American and European powers is after, Trump seems comfortable playing the role of disrupter, lashing out at members over military spending while treating Russian President Vladimir Putin amicably.

'Europe is almost powerless'

Trump will enter the talks in Brussels amid an already strained relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Last week, the White House sent missives to several NATO leaders, including Trudeau, admonishing the U.S. allies for their defence spending shortfalls, though the spending guidelines are not formal rules, only targets.

This photo of G7 leaders and advisers at the G7 summit was posted to the Instagram account of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, centre, on June 9. (Jesco Denzel/German Federal Government via AP)

Making things more awkward will be the steep tariffs the U.S. is imposing on imported steel and aluminum from the EU, Canada and Mexico.

In June, Trump departed the G7 in Quebec, then rejected a joint communiqué, in order to meet with Kim in Singapore. Now, NATO members are reportedly concerned about whether the president will renege on U.S. commitments to the alliance before his one-on-one with Putin.

The Europeans won't like the sequencing, Polyakova said, especially if a routine diplomatic affair goes off the rails, as the G7 did, leading right into a "glowing meeting of Trump and Putin." 

"It's like Europe is almost powerless as they have to sit by and watch as their fates are decided by two men," she said, the implication being that Russia is back at the table with superpower status.

Putin would likely request a lifting of sanctions, she said.

'Putin's wish list'

Trump reportedly hinted at the G7 that Crimea in Ukraine should belong to Russia, reasoning that most citizens there speak Russian. But legitimization of Russian annexation of Crimea would be a huge win for Putin, possibly incentivizing other land grabs, said Brian Klaas, author of The Despot's Apprentice: Donald Trump's Attack on Democracy.

"It's not just about Ukrainian territory, it's about a bedrock principle that has created international security and prosperity since World War Two, and that's the principle that you can't divide by force."

The Western world is held together by NATO and the European Union, and Trump is attacking them.– Brian  Klaas , author of  The Despot's Apprentice: Donald Trump's Attack on Democracy

Alliance members worry that the U.S. would withdraw its forward presence in Baltic states such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, leaving them vulnerable to a possible Russian military offensive.

If Trump was distracted during the G7 by his summit with Kim, his planned sit-down with Putin threatens to overshadow NATO discussions set to begin on Wednesday, said Klaas, a comparative-politics fellow at the London School of Economics.

"The Western world is held together by NATO and the European Union, and Trump is attacking them at the same time he's trying to make friends with Putin."

After all, he said, "NATO exists largely to deter Russian aggression."

A weakened NATO and a U.S. president who's seemingly reluctant to criticize the Kremlin "are literally what Putin's wish list has been for the last two decades."

Article 5 'in question again'

How Trump can square his commitments to what the alliance stands for with a cozier relationship with the Kremlin will likely keep NATO members on edge. They will want reassurances from the Americans, Klaas said, and Trump campaigned in the 2016 election as a NATO skeptic.

It took Trump nearly half a year into his presidency for him to formally endorse NATO's Article 5 principle of collective defence, in which an attack on one member is considered an attack on all allies.

"I think that's up in question again," Klaas said.

Polyakova's worry, based on reports of satellite images showing ongoing nuclear activity in North Korea, is what kind of concessions Putin may be able to extract from Trump "without getting much in return, if anything at all."

Kim may have deceived this administration, she said, "but Putin has shown himself to be absolutely untrustworthy as a partner, potentially more so than Kim."

Experts expect Trump to continue pressing NATO allies toward more burden-sharing, in line with a 2024 goal for members to contribute two per cent of their GDP on defence.

Russian matryoshka dolls depicting Putin and Trump are on sale in the Ruslania bookstore in Helsinki Monday. (REUTERS)

In 2014, only four partners were meeting those targets. Trump wants more. His lobbying may have succeeded in that regard: eight countries now meet the spending targets.

"That's already a positive move," said Elena Sokova, a nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, in California. "Because no matter how you slice and dice it, there's a need for countries to be stepping up their spending for allocations for the military budgets."

Despite the president's rhetoric, his administration has arguably reinvigorated NATO, hiking spending on European defence by approving $ 6.3 billion.

A more fortified NATO is bad news for Putin, though he's at least scored a win by securing a meeting with Trump.

The president, for his part, said he is "looking forward" to the meeting in Finland, though one of his tweets on Monday raised eyebrows about just how willing he'll be to take the Russian leader to task.

Following reports that Kim had not honoured what Trump termed a denuclearization "contract," Trump wrote that he remained confident the North Korean would stay true to his word, based on "our handshake."

That reminded Sokova of Trump's rationale for doubting the Russians meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. Trump said he was certain because Putin told him so.

"You could say that's the equivalent of a handshake," Sokova said.

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Flu could raise heart attack risk, Canadian study says

Having the flu appears to increase the risk of having a heart attack, especially among those aged 65 and older, an Ontario study suggests.

“What we found is that you’re six times more likely to have a heart attack during the week after being diagnosed with influenza, compared with a year before or a year after the infection,” said Dr. Jeff Kwong, lead author of the study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“What we were also surprised about is that we found that there was an increased risk with other respiratory viruses as well,” said Kwong, a scientist at Public Health Ontario and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto.

Getting infected with an influenza virus appears to have the most profound effect, but the risk of having a heart attack was also somewhat increased with infections such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and cold-causing adenoviruses and rhinoviruses, he said.

To conduct the study, researchers looked at almost 20,000 adult cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza infection from 2009 to 2014 and identified 332 patients who were hospitalized for a heart attack within one year before and one year after their flu diagnosis.

Of these, 20 patients had a heart attack within seven days of their flu diagnosis, said Kwong, noting that about 75 per cent were aged 65 and older and about 25 per cent had experienced a previous heart attack. About one-third of the patients died.

Kwong said 31 per cent of the patients who had a heart attack had not been vaccinated against seasonal flu, although he cautioned the connection “requires a bit of careful interpretation.”

“We know that influenza vaccines aren’t 100 per cent effective,” he said. “Some people who get vaccinated are still going to get influenza.

“If you got vaccinated and you still got influenza, you were still at an increased risk of a heart attack at the same level as those who didn’t get vaccinated and got influenza.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not worth getting vaccinated,” Kwong stressed. “It just means that it only works [to reduce the risk of a heart attack] by preventing infection.”

Studies show the protective antibody response to vaccines mounted by seniors is not as robust as it is for younger people, due to the immune system waning in strength with age.

Even so, people aged 65-plus — as well as those with underlying medical conditions or compromised immune systems — are urged to get the flu shot as they are more susceptible to complications if they do come down with the infection.

That includes people with cardiovascular disease, he said.

“This is just one more piece of evidence to encourage people, to warn people so they know that influenza has been shown to cause heart attacks,” Kwong said.

“It may not cause them in everybody, obviously, but in some people it really can increase their risk substantially.”

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In Catalonia, the nameless dead raise old animosities toward Franco

In the Catalan hills west of Barcelona, the nameless dead are emerging from deep layers of earth that have kept them hidden from the world’s gaze for some 80 years now.

A skull with a jawbone locked in an eternal grimace, teeth bared, stares up out of the dirt.

Not far away, a skeleton laid out in a long, narrow pit is still wearing shoes and a belt slung around its hipbones. It somehow manages to make it look jaunty.

The remains of an estimated 100 men, and at least one woman, who died near the town of Soleràs during the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939 are being excavated by a team of archeologists.

Site anthropologist Diego Lopez from the Autonomous University of Barcelona says political will is needed for mass graves to be excavated.(Lily Martin/CBC)

They kneel around piles of bones in waterproof clothes and tuques, bent with concentration as they sweep dirt away from the bones with small paintbrushes. Some lay flat out on their stomachs next to the pits, scooping up the earth with plastic containers.

They’ve been at it since August.

“The significance is that this is the biggest [mass grave] that we have dug in Catalonia,” says site anthropologist Diego Lopez from the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

“And also [rarely] we find soldiers from both sides in the same cemetery.”

The civil war pitted leftist Republicans against right-wing Nationalists backing General Francisco Franco’s military uprising.

A wind turbine is visible from the ruins at Corbera d’Ebre in Catalonia, northeastern Spain.(Pascal Leblond/CBC)

Soleràs was close to the front line during the battle of the Ebro, one of the bloodiest and most decisive of the war. The town had two hospitals and a mobile field unit.

“We find a lot of evidence of surgical interventions. We find amputations,” says Lopez.

There are some 2,000 mass burial sites across Spain, bearing the bodies, it’s believed, of more than 100,000 men and women forcibly disappeared during the war and the dictatorship that followed, mainly victims of summary executions by pro-Franco forces.

They are sad. They are angry. But they are not trying to prove that they suffered more. I mean they don’t want revenge. They just want the truth.– Diego Lopez, anthropologist

Yet despite the passage of time, only a handful of the sites have been excavated. There has been no state-run effort to find and identify the dead and offer them a proper burial.

At least not for the Republican side. Franco’s victorious forces made an effort to keep track of and bury their own dead, naming them as martyrs.

It is an old wound, one that runs deep and right across the country. In Catalonia, where the independence debate has raised old animosities toward the Franco dictatorship, it feels particularly fresh.

“Most of the people in the [current] Spanish government come from the families that were supporting Franco,” says Ramon Gironès, a guide in the nearby town of Corbera d’Ebre. “They have never liked Catalonia much.”

Gironès was born in Corbera d’Ebre in 1947. His father fought against Franco’s fascists. The town was destroyed by the war and the German bombing raids backing up Franco.

An archeologist brushes more than 80 years of earth from the remains of an unknown Spanish Civil War victim in Catalonia.(Lily Martin/CBC)

The ruins have been left as monument. It is a place of harsh beauty, perched on a blustery hilltop today overlooking valleys rich with vineyards and olive groves that were once the battlefields of a past that still haunts Spain.

“Thousands of soldiers came by boat through the river,” says Gironès, listing off the brigades of foreign volunteers who came to help fight the fascists.

“Lincoln-Washington, the British Battalion and Mackenzie-Papineau from Canada.”

About 1,200 Canadians are thought to have fought during the Spanish Civil War, 400 of them losing their lives.

Gironès tells the story of a young boy from the town named Manuel Álvarez who was rescued by a Canadian soldier who disappeared after taking him to hospital.

Part of the team of archeologists at work in Soleràs. The site was close to the front line during the battle of the Ebro, one of the bloodiest and most decisive of the Spanish Civil War. (Lily Martin/CBC)

When Álvarez grew up he sought out his saviour in Canada, finding him in a man named Jim Higgins. Álvarez, now a Canadian citizen, wrote a book about it called The Tall Soldier.

Gironès’s attitude toward Madrid is not unusual in Catalonia, far from it. Many Catalans — especially those who back independence from Spain — associate the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his Popular Parti (PP) with the Franco regime.

The PP’s roots lie in a party created by Franco’s former information minister after the general’s death in 1975. All these years later, analysts say the PP still struggles to sever the link in the eyes of many people.

“It’s true that politically the Popular Parti has been reluctant to accept that the Franco regime was a dictatorship,” says Xavier Arbos Marin, a constitutional law expert from the University of Barcelona.

Ramon Gironès is a guide in the town of Corbera d’Ebre, where the ruins of the Spanish Civil War have been left untouched.(Lily Martin/CBC)

Critics blame the disconnect on an amnesty law implemented after the general’s death offering impunity to those accused of atrocities during the war and the Franco years.

It’s known as the “pact of forgetting,” an agreement to leave the past in the past to allow, it was said at the time, for a smooth transition to democracy.

Critics say it has simply allowed resentment to fester, offering the families of Franco’s victims no sense of justice or accountability.

In 2007, Spain passed the “Historical Memory Law,” introduced by the Socialist government of José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at the time.

One of the skeletons the team in Soleràs has unearthed has intact leather shoes and a belt. (Lily Martin/CBC)

It made public funds available to groups seeking to find and excavate graves, stopping short of having the state take on that responsibility.

Mariano Rajoy stopped that funding when he came to power in 2011, citing the economy. But it was another blow against his government in the eyes of many Catalans who say the fate of Spain’s disappeared depends on the political winds of the day.

In 2014, the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances published a report criticizing Spain.

“The search for victims of enforced disappearances and resolving what happened to them are obligations of the state, even when there is no formal claim.” it said.

Funding found

It has had little impact. Some of Spain’s regions — Navarre and the Basque country, for example — have taken it upon themselves to do some of the work, even setting up DNA data-bases to help identify the dead.

It was the Catalan regional government that found the funding for and gave the go-ahead to the Soleràs excavation before Catalonia’s autonomy was revoked in the midst of the crisis over the region’s independence referendum.

“The reason why it hasn’t been done before now is politics,” says anthropologist Lopez. “The reason why it is being done here [now] is politics as well. If there is no political will you can’t do it.”

Pro-Madrid critics accuse Catalonian separatists of using the disappeared to hit Rajoy’s government over the head for their own political gain.

Greatest drive

But Lopez — who is Basque, not Catalan — says there is nothing political about the desire of people to understand what happened to their loved ones and to have answers.

He points out that the greatest drive for answers over the years has come from the relatives and descendants of the disappeared.

Lopez says he’s seen them come to some of this site, and other excavations connected to the conflict.

“They are sad. They are angry. But they are not trying to prove that they suffered more. I mean they don’t want revenge. They just want the truth.”

“[The government in Madrid] has a lot of arguments to say why not to reopen [the past.] But sometimes you need to reopen it to close it.”


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AMD Releases Cryptocurrency Mining Driver, May Raise Vega Prices

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On the heels of its Vega launch last week, AMD has released a new driver for its GPUs that focuses on cryptocurrency mining. The new driver is supposed to make Vega faster when mining, though AMD also notes that the driver “is provided as a beta level support driver which should be considered ‘as is’ and will not be supported with further updates, upgrades or bug fixes.”

AMD and Nvidia have taken different approaches to cryptocurrency during this latest cycle. Earlier this year, AMD reported that cryptocurrency might have driven a short-term spike in sales, but that the company did not include it in their future forecasts. AMD has said that it continues to monitor the cryptocurrency business, but that it has no plans for a major pivot. The driver being labeled as a beta “as-is” product certainly supports this analysis.

Nvidia, on the other hand, has a different take. Jen-Hsun Huang has told investors that “Cryptocurrency and blockchain are here to stay. Over time, it will become quite large. It is very clear that new currencies will come to market. It’s clear the GPU is fantastic at cryptography. The GPU is really quite well positioned.”


This disparate take on mining may reflect certain realities both companies have faced. Back in 2011 – 2014, when Bitcoin and Litecoin mining were still being done on GPUs, AMD was the only company that really benefited–and at the same time, it didn’t benefit much at all. GPU sales to gamers fell like a rock. By the time the cryptocurrency mining craze had pased, Nvidia had the GTX 980 and 970 ready to go. The window of opportunity for Hawaii had passed. Some of you may also recall that AMD’s GPU prices simply blew through the roof, with an R9 280X, which should have been a $ 300 card based on AMD’s MSRPs, actually selling for $ 489.


Nvidia, on the other hand, was locked out of this market altogether. During the same time frame, Kepler and even Maxwell were not a match for AMD’s cryptocurrency performance. Now, with Ethereum and Pascal, Nvidia’s performance is much stronger. That’s likely part of the reason why the two companies see things differently. AMD got burned by this market once already, and Nvidia may feel that its stronger relationships with board partners or greater manufacturing capacity via contracts with TSMC will keep them in a leadership position in graphics.

ExtremeTech recommends that anyone interested in cryptocurrency mining approach the topic the same way you should approach gambling. If you want to take a shot and try to make some profit, feel free–but don’t risk any funds you can’t afford to lose. Cryptocurrency prices are famously volatile and you may not be able to count on sustained, long-term profits.

There’s a report from Overclock3D that we haven’t been able to confirm or debunk, claiming that AMD’s GPU pricing of £449.99 in the UK ($ 499 in the US) was only for the launch. Overclockers UK’s Gibbo writes:

Now the good and bad news, the good news is AMD are rebating early launch sales to allow us to hit £449.99 on the stand alone black card which has no games. This is a launch only price which AMD at present are saying will be withdrawn in the near future, when if it happens is unknown, but remember do not be shocked if the price jumps nearly £100 in a few days.

We have requested confirmation or explanation of this from AMD, but the company was not able to provide us with a response by the time this story went to press. We will update it when we have more information on the future of Vega’s price. It also isn’t clear that these price increases, if true, are a global shift or merely reflect UK pricing. And finally, there’s the chance the the information given was simply incorrect. A $ 128.76 price increase on Vega would make it far too expensive to recommend, given its power consumption and performance–unless, of course, the GTX 1080 is kicked up into the stratosphere long-term as well.

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