China uses social credit surveillance system to ban millions from travel

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February 23, 2019 15:37:09

Skipped paying a fine in China? Then forget about buying an airline ticket.

Key points:

  • Social credit points can be deducted for breaking the law and minor offences, like walking a dog without a leash
  • Companies have lost government contacts and access to loans after being penalised for things like false advertising
  • It is unclear how many people live under the social credit surveillance systems

Social credit offences including unpaid taxes and fines saw would-be air travellers blocked from buying tickets 17.5 million times last year.

Others were barred 5.5 million times from buying train tickets, according to the National Public Credit Information Centre.

In an annual report, it said 128 people were blocked from leaving China due to unpaid taxes.

The system is part of efforts by President Xi Jinping’s government to use technology ranging from data processing to genetic sequencing and facial recognition to tighten control.

The Communist Party says social credit penalties and rewards will improve order in a fast-changing society after three decades of economic reform which have shaken up social structures.

Authorities have experimented with social credit across China since 2014

Points are deducted for breaking the law or, in some areas, offences as minor as walking a dog without a leash.

But human rights activists say the system is too rigid and might unfairly label people as untrustworthy without telling them they have lost status, or how it can be restored.

US Vice President Mike Pence criticised it in October as “an Orwellian system premised on controlling virtually every facet of human life”.

The ruling party wanted a nationwide system by 2020 but has not yet said how it will operate.

Possible penalties include restrictions on travel, business and access to education.

A slogan repeated in state media says: “Once you lose trust, you will face restrictions everywhere”.

No details of how many people live under social credit surveillance

Companies on the blacklist can lose government contracts or access to bank loans or be barred from issuing bonds or importing goods.

Offences penalised under social credit last year included false advertising or violating drug safety rules, the government information centre said.

Individuals were blocked 290,000 times from taking senior management jobs or acting as a company’s legal representative.

Since the launch of such punishments, the system has caused 3.5 million people to “voluntarily fulfil their legal obligations,” the information centre said.

It said that included 37 people who paid a total of 150 million yuan ($31.3 million) in overdue fines or confiscations.

The report gave no details of how many people live in areas with social credit systems.

Social credit is one facet of efforts by the Communists to take advantage of increased computing power, artificial intelligence and other technology to track and control the Chinese public.

The police ministry launched an initiative dubbed Golden Shield in 2000 to build a nationwide digital network to track individuals.

Human rights activists say people in Muslim and other ethnic minority areas have been compelled to give blood samples for a genetic database.

Those systems rely on foreign technology. That has prompted criticism that US and European suppliers might be enabling human rights abuses.

This week a Massachusetts-based company said it would stop selling and servicing genetic sequencers in the Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang in the northwest, following complaints they had been used for surveillance.

As many as 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang are detained in political education camps, according to US officials and United Nations experts.

The government says the camps are vocational training centres designed to rid the region of extremism.










First posted

February 23, 2019 14:40:32

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‘Shocked’ Gold Coast hospital staff treat colleague fighting for life with mystery head injury

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February 23, 2019 13:36:27

Medical staff at the Gold Coast University Hospital say they are “shocked and saddened” to see one of their own colleagues fighting for life with serious head injuries.

Emergency department nurse Lisa Davey was found by a neighbour lying motionless in the driveway of her home on Callistemon Court in Arundel on Thursday evening.

Police have not been able to determine what caused the injuries, but said they were consistent with severe blunt force trauma.

The 37-year-old was taken to hospital where she remains on life support in the intensive care unit — the same department she until recently worked in.

A spokeswoman for the Gold Coast University Hospital said support was being offered to staff who found treating their friend and colleague confronting.

“This is obviously a very difficult time for staff, particularly those in our emergency department and intensive care unit who are coming to terms with this news,” she said.

“It is always confronting for our staff when one of their colleagues and friends is hurt or unwell, and we understand this event will touch many staff members across the health service.”

Ms Davey had just resigned from her job as a nurse at the hospital and was in the process of packing her belongings and moving to Cairns in Far North Queensland after the death of her mother.

Police yesterday said the cause of Ms Davey’s injuries was unknown.

“Realistically, we have got no idea how these injuries occurred,” Detective Inspector Brendan Smith said.

“It may be as simple as some sort of accident, but we don’t know and it is best to err on the side of caution and make sure we have got everything in place just in case.”

Police asked anyone with information or motorists who were driving along Olsen Avenue on Thursday afternoon and had dash-cam footage to come forward.










Contact Rachel Riga

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‘Their devastation is our joy’: Channel Country graziers celebrate one-in-40-year ‘dry flood’

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February 23, 2019 12:37:07

Light planes, helicopters and even jet skis are being used to push cattle to higher ground as floodwater, which killed as many as 500,000 animals across Queensland’s north and central-west, moves south.

But producers aren’t complaining about the water, they’re welcoming it with open arms after a seven-year drought.

The far south-west Queensland town of Birdsville, near the South Australia and Northern Territory borders, hasn’t had any rain at all, but is now in the middle of a one-in-40-year flood.

The floodplains from the burst banks of the Diamantina River spread 30 kilometres wide in some parts, putting moisture back into the ground.

“This will save me for the whole year,” said Geoff Morton, who is a fourth-generation owner of Roseberth Station, 30 kilometres upstream of Birdsville.

“We were in drought conditions and I was just about to destock if it didn’t rain. This will save me all that and I’ll be able to keep my herd for another 12 months.”

The huge volume of water coming down the Diamantina catchment has meant locals have been surprised by how quickly the river has come up.

This is what’s called a dry flood — Birdsville has received only 0.6mm of rainfall so far in 2019, so all of the water moving through has come from higher in the catchment.

Queensland’s Channel Country — so called because of capillary-like natural channels that carry water from flooded rivers across vast areas — is covered in water.

“This is so unusual. I’ve been through many floods on the Diamantina and this has come down almost like a tsunami,” Mr Morton said.

That has meant graziers have been out pushing their cattle to higher ground using whatever they can find, be it light plane, helicopter, boat or jet ski.

Mr Morton said that once the water dropped grass would begin to grow for his cattle.

The joy of local pastoralists has been tempered by the disaster that pastoralists further north have gone through.

“That’s mother nature isn’t it, she can’t be controlled. But their devastation is our joy,” said Bev Morton, also from Roseberth Station.

“We still feel for them because we’ve been in that position.

“But to wake up and see it like this, it’s the lottery, it really is. I could look at it all day, everyday.”

Not all of the channel country is so lucky.

The Georgina River and Copper Creek catchments have had some rain, but not the dramatic amount of water in the Diamantina, leaving properties on those rivers little better off.

Floodwater rejuvenates environment, brings in tourists

It’s not just the cattle producers who will benefit from the floods.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Don Rowlands said there would be benefits to the parched environment.

“This area depends on boom and bust. In a couple of months you’ll come along here and this place will be a metre-high green grass everywhere,” he said.

“It can turn around overnight just by adding water.”

With the roads to Brisbane and Adelaide cut by the flood, the local bridge has become an attraction for Birdsville’s residents, who gather to see what the water is doing.

Once the roads reopen, the town expects an extra 10,000 tourists will visit this year to see the effects of water in the dry Channel Country.

“It’ll mean a good start to the tourist season for us. There are people who come out in four-wheel drives every year, but there are specific people who are out, like birdwatchers, photographers and things like that,” said Ben Fullagar, publican of the famous Birdsville Hotel.

Mr Fullagar said a supply truck from Adelaide made it up the Birdsville Track before it was cut off by floodwaters, bringing food orders for residents and plenty of beer for the pub.

“As long as I’m running this hotel, I really don’t want to be known as the pub with no beer.

“We did bring in a couple of pallets of beer. We’ve got plenty of tucker as well. We should be okay.”






First posted

February 23, 2019 12:21:07

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Tiffany Haddish, Patton Oswalt, more stars mourn comedian, Hangover actor Brody Stevens

Comedian Brody Stevens, who appeared in The Hangover, died Friday in Los Angeles from an apparent suicide, EW has confirmed. He was 48.

“Brody was an inspiring voice who was a friend to many in the comedy community,” his agent Jenna Price said in a statement to EW. “He pushed creative boundaries and his passion for his work and his love of baseball were contagious. He was beloved by many and will be greatly missed. We respectfully ask for privacy at this time.”

In 2013, the stand-up comedian led his own Comedy Central show called Brody Stevens: Enjoys It! As an actor, his most recent television appearances were on American Dad and The Guest List. On the big screen, he had roles in the first two Hangover movies as Officer Foltz and Kinglsey Guy, respectively.

Stevens also served as a warm-up act on Why? With Hannibal Buress, Chris D’Elia: Incorrigible, and Chelsea Lately. 

Follow news of his death, fellow comedians including Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Whitney Cummings, Bob Saget, and Nick Kroll shared their condolences on social media.

“RIP Brody Stevens,” tweeted The Big Sick star/co-writer Nanjiani. “Nobody else was like him, on or off stage. Seeing him was always a joy. We’ll miss you Brody.”

Cummings also tweeted: “I love you so much Brody Stevens. Nobody has been nicer in comedy than you. My heart is shattered.”

Read on below for more reactions and tributes to the comedian:

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Find more information about suicide here.

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Good Samaritans rescue a dog from freezing river — and then realise it’s a wolf

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February 23, 2019 12:05:55

Never trust a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or as a group of good Samaritans discovered: a wolf in dog’s clothing.

Key points:

  • The men rescued the animal from the Parnu river and took it to a clinic for treatment
  • The “dog”, which was revealed to be a wolf, was treated for hypothermia and low blood pressure
  • It was released back into the wild with a radio tracker after making a full recovery

It’s a lesson three construction workers from Estonia learned the hard way after rescuing what they believed to be a helpless dog trapped in the icy waters of the Parnu river.

After clearing a path through the ice, allowing the animal to swim back to shore, the three men dried it with a blanket, bundled it into their car and took it to a clinic for medical care.

It was there that they realised their mistake — it wasn’t a dog at all, but rather, a young male wolf.

Though wolves have been known to attack humans, sometimes fatally, the animal was reportedly more interested in a snooze than a snack after its ordeal.

“He was calm, slept on my legs,” one of the rescuers, Rando Kartsepp, told Estonian newspaper Postimees.

“When I wanted to stretch them, he raised his head for a moment.

“The experience was new. We hope he will be fine.”

The wolf was ultimately treated for low blood pressure and hypothermia, before being placed in a cage and released back into the wild with a radio tracker.

The Estonian Union for the Protection of Animals (EUPA), which paid for the animal’s treatment, thanked the rescuers for their bravery, alongside the “doctors of the clinic who were not afraid to treat and nurture the wild animal”






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Why Bohemian Rhapsody changed the details of Freddie Mercury’s life

Whatever your thoughts on Bohemian Rhapsody, the controversial Queen biopic starring Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, the movie is undeniably a crowd-pleaser. And some would argue, maybe that’s all it needed to be.

With the 91st Academy Awards ceremony practically here, Entertainment Weekly has partnered with The Take to bring you a series of videos diving deep into this year’s Oscar contenders. (Check out previous videos on A Star Is Born and Roma.) This time, we’re taking a look at Bohemian Rhapsody to explain why the film took the liberties it did regarding real-life details.

As the video points out, Bohemian Rhapsody follows the usual Dewey Cox-esque musician biopic story beats pretty closely. To do so, it had to fudge some things, including compressing the time frame and creating conflicts that simply didn’t happen. But the movie has a not-so-secret weapon in its arsenal that helps it stand out: the music of Queen. And the filmmakers know that this music, more than anything else, is what the audience really came for. So when it comes time for Bohemian Rhapsody to deliver on this front, it decidedly delivers.

All the same, one has to wonder what a more true-to-life version of the story might have looked like, though that version probably wouldn’t have been as fun to watch and sing along with. And to be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to have a good time at the movies. So maybe it’s better to appreciate what we have instead of mourning what we could have had.

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‘Stoned on free money’: Wall Street is cautioning investors to beware of late-cycle risks around the world

Reuters / John Gress

  • Market strategists and economists are advising clients on how to invest at a late stage in the economic cycle as recession concerns loom.
  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s latest survey of global credit investors showed worries about a global recession have the strongest consensus for any concern in nearly two years.
  • A Société Générale market strategist said in a colorful report this week that investors ought to “beware the economic cycle,” likening US investors to “stoned” pedestrians stepping into traffic.

The conversation around global economic growth has morphed into not if, but when, a severe downturn will take hold.

From the US and Latin America to the eurozone and Asia, strategists, economists, and money managers are trying to square the shift from healthy to disappointing global growth – and advise clients on how to position at a late stage in the business cycle.

Market strategist Albert Edwards of Société Générale told clients this week investors in the US are emerging from an era of historically low interest rates that’s rendered them unprepared for higher borrowing costs: “Stoned on free money, investors need to beware the economic cycle.”

Edwards invoked an oft-used parallel between central banks’ lax monetary policy acting as a drug of sorts for investors. He said every major central bank has “done its bit to inject another dose of euphoria into its market patch,” with the Federal Reserve’s recent about-face – which saw it shift from a relatively aggressive monetary policy to a more “patient” approach – leading the way.

The S&P 500 has staged a 19% rally off the December lows, and is now 5% away from recapturing its all-time high.

“Where investors could easily be caught out is in dismissing recent weak US economic data as due to one-off factors such as the very cold weather or the government shutdown,” he wrote. “Investors need to be doubly cautious at this late stage of the cycle.”

Read more: Here’s why the next recession could be unlike any the US has ever seen

The strategist’s warning underscores a dominant theme coming from Wall Street in recent weeks as central banks around the world edge away from monetary-policy tightening, geopolitical uncertainty and recession concerns loom, and growth has either softened, slumped, or stalled almost everywhere.

At the same time, corporate America just booked the most disappointing earnings season in seven years, the impact of fiscal stimulus borne from the Trump administration’s tax reform package has all but faded, and US-China trade relations remain rocky.

Just consider insight from the BlackRock Investment Institute – part of the world’s largest asset manager – which set the stage in January when it told investors the “key question” right now was how long the current late-cycle phase might last.

“This year’s macro story is more about a synchronised global slowdown – with growth rates converging towards long-term trend levels – than actual recession risks, in our view,” wrote the report’s authors, led by BlackRock Vice Chairman Philipp Hildebrand.

Read more of Markets Insider’s and Business Insider’s economic- and recession-related coverage here.

Meanwhile, economists at HSBC echoed BlackRock’s sentiment in a comprehensive macro-focused report out this week that highlighted just how quickly investor sentiment has shifted.

“This time two years ago the commonly-used description for the global economy was ‘synchronised expansion’: all of the world’s major regions not only expanding, but accelerating, simultaneously,” HSBC economists Janet Henry and James Pomeroytold clients.

“How quickly the narrative has switched to one of ‘synchronised sinking’ with growing concerns about the global slowdown and outright fears among many that the Eurozone, not just Italy, may be on the verge of recession.”

As far as where people ought to park their money, Deutsche Bank equity strategists have come up with a basket for investments best-fit for the current environment: “late cycle,” as opposed to “end cycle,” by the firm’s classifications.

That means “prudent, quality companies cheap on cash flow,” a team of strategists led by Binky Chadha wrote. “In the late cycle phase, growth is still strong but cost pressures and risks are rising.”

They added: “In addition, with investors starting to worry about a potential end to the cycle, there is a premium for prudence, and companies with low leverage and low debt growth outperform, as do momentum stocks.”

Here’s a deeper look at how experts are classifying the current late-cycle condition and what they see:

“A big end-of-cycle fear”

Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Bank of America’s latest survey of global credit investors, released this week, found 30% of respondents said their biggest worry is a global recession, the strongest consensus for any concern in nearly two years.

The bank attributed this to a “torrid end to 2018 for the corporate bond market,” and said investors are retreating into more safe-haven groups and out of cyclicals.

This positioning appears unlikely to change until the global-manufacturing picture stabilizes, Bank of America said.

The “global industrial downturn”


Economists at HSBC used these two charts to illustrate the “global industrial downturn.” Even as GDP estimates for the US and China – the two largest economies in the world – have held steady, areas like Europe and Latin America have declined.

Industrial output has slowed in most countries, HSBC said, with European industrial data notably weak.

Evaluating recession odds

Deutsche Bank

Even as growth in the US decelerates, it’s still above-trend, a team of strategists and economists at Deutsche Bank said in a report last week.

The firm referred to a broad indicator incorporating measures like lending standards, jobless claims, and surveys that have managed to hold up rather than dip into recessionary levels. Meanwhile, the likelihood of a recession in the EU is still relatively unlikely.

Data in the US


Although US economic data has remained stable relative to some developed market peers, there are glaring soft spots.

In a note distributed to clients Thursday, Joseph LaVorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis, said the latest durable goods data “point to an economy that has rapidly lost steam.”

He says the data is quite highly correlated to the business outlook survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia – another withering key manufacturing data point.

US becoming a “drag rather than a driver”

BlackRock Investment Institute

“We see global growth slowing as the expansion enters its final stage,” the BlackRock Investment Institute told clients in its January macro perspectives report. The slowdown comes as the US becomes a “drag rather than a driver” of growth.

The chart above shows the economy’s output gap – the difference between what an economy is producing and what it actually has the capacity to produce – next to the stages of US business cycles back to 1965.

An “irreversible path to an economic downturn”


Naka Matsuzawa, the chief Japan rates strategist at Nomura, said in a report out during the final days of 2018 that the “global economy is already on an irreversible path to an economic downturn.”

Still, his short-term outlook is less dire. He expects the global economy to recover, temporarily, in the second half of this year and into early 2020.

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