Floods in California Forced Evacuations

Successive winter storms unleashed heavy rains in Southern California over the weekend flooding roads, freeways and homes, trapping people in swamped vehicles, mudslides and bringing down trees in the region.  It made evacuation of stranded residents in several affected areas unavoidable.

The storm rained heavily for several hours with damaging effect. The frightening weekend storm added plenty of precipitation, which suddenly had its arrival in the State after years of withering drought.

The National Weather Service says the system is gaining strength Sunday and could be the strongest in at least seven years. Evacuations are ordered near wildfire burn areas in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Orange counties. Officials say potential debris flows could limit access for emergency responders.

Coastal areas of Los Angeles County were among the worst hit with Long Beach Airport setting a new all-time rainfall record, 3.87 inches.

The heavy downpour was too much for the local roads. Both the 110 Freeway in Carson and the 710 Freeway in Long Beach were shut down on Sunday afternoon due to extreme flooding that left cars stranded like islands in a lake.

Heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada triggered an avalanche that shut down a highway just west of Lake Tahoe. Schools were cancelled in northern Nevada after it witnessed nearly half-foot of snow fall near Reno. Several intersections in Long Beach and surrounding communities were flooded and residents reported that their parked cars were damaged due to rising rain water. Several people were rescued from their cars and thousands lost power. It is reported that the storm dumped as much as four inches of rain at some places.

Rockslides blocked the roads in Malibu and other coastal mountain areas. According to close sources, about 15 to 20 residents of ocean-front apartment units had been evacuated.

Heavy rains can cause mudslides in the burn areas caused by wildfire last year. Evacuation orders have been issued for burn areas in Glendora, Duarte, Silverado Canyon in Orange County and parts of Santa Barbara County. However, some residents in the burn areas chose to stay in their homes in order to protect their homes in case things run out of their hands.

Brett Albright, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in San Diego, said the storm dumped as much as four inches of rain in some places.

The State has deployed extra emergency crews to help, including a bulldozer operator and two additional swift-water rescue teams. The epic rains wreaked something unusual in Disneyland Sunday characterised by a quiet day with small crowds. Although thunderstorm conditions were expected to come down slightly, rainfall is expected to pour until Tuesday.

The storm has caused heavy rainfall over the days along with mudslides and snow blocked major roads including Interstate 80. U.S 395 and Highway 17 the main freeway linking Silicon Valley with Santa Cruz. According to NWS (National Weather Service) the incessant storm and rainfall has seen a record-breaking wave height for the Monterey Bay of measuring 34.12 feet.

Bill Wolcott, a California State Parks public safety superintendent said, “We’ve seen very large surf, with very little break in between, and it’s that repeated beating down by the ocean that seems to be having the biggest effect on the ship this year.”

Syrian Peace Talks Begin

The Syrian peace talks, that began on January 23, 2017 in Astana, the Kazakhstan capital, are the latest moves towards ending the bloody six-year old civil war in Syria. It is an initiative by Russia, Turkey and Iran and aims at consolidating a ceasefire agreement that came into force on December 30, brokered by Russia and Turkey.

Opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi said there are two main objectives of the ongoing peace talk: “First is the consolidation of the accord signed by Turkey and Russia on the 30th of December, concerning the ceasefire, and making this ceasefire cover all of Syria and at the same time taking care of all the breaches by the regime and Iran, especially in Wadi Barada and Homs and in southern Damascus and other areas in Syria.”

The talks began on Monday with representatives of some of the rebel armed groups sat opposite to the Syrian government delegation on a round table. They are also joined by representatives of Russia, Iran and Turkey, the UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura and the US ambassador to Kazakhstan.

Residents in the Syrian city of Aleppo express high hopes that progress can be made in the strife-torn Syria. One woman in Aleppo said, “I hope that the conference in Kazakhstan will lead to reconciliation. I hope that they all agree to stand with us and that God stands by our side too. God willing things will be well,” said one woman in Aleppo.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov, said that it was time to “make the real breakthrough that Syrian people rightfully deserve”.

Some key players were not present in the talks. The prominent stakeholders like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, and the Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Council and a powerful militant group named Ahrar al-Sham are not attending the peace talks.

A spokesman for the rebel delegation, Yahya al-Aridi said that the meeting would contribute to the UN brokered Geneva talks on a political settlement, which are scheduled to resume next month.

Syria’s permanent representative to the UN Mr. Jaafari was critical of opposition delegation Chief Mr. Mohammed Alloush’s speech and said on Monday that it had ‘irritated the attendees’ diplomatic senses and experience’. A transcript of Mr. Alloush’s speech has not been released, but a video of part was posted online by a member of his delegation.

Alloush has warned “A political solution in Syria is our choice but it is not the only one because we fight for our rights; our right to live; the right of freedom; the right to decide our fate and the people’s right to decide who will represent them.”

Apple Sues Chip Maker Qualcomm for $1B

The tech giant Apple (APPL) has filed a lawsuit to the tune of $ 1 billion on Friday, 22 January 2017 against Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) in the federal district court in the Southern District of California by accusing the latter of overcharging for its wireless chips and engaging in monopolistic tactics.

Apple said in the “Form many years Qualcomm has unfairly insisted on charging royalties for technologies that they have nothing to do with.” According the iPhone maker, the more money the Company innovates with unique features such as TouchID, advanced displays, and cameras, to name just a few, the more money Qualcomm collects for no reason and the more expensive it becomes for Apple to fund these innovations.

According to Apple, Qualcomm, the chipmaker company and the maker of the iPhone’s baseband processor, is leveraging its monopoly position in baseband chips and overcharging for the chips and refusing to pay some $ 1 billion in promised rebate for chip purchases.

Apple said in the lawsuit “We are extremely disappointed in the way Qualcomm is conducting its business with us and unfortunately after years of disagreement over what constitutes a fair and reasonable royalty we have no choice left but to turn to the courts.”

The Apple’s lawsuit followed the US Federal Trade Commission’s lawsuit against Qualcomm filed on 17 January 2017. FTC filed the lawsuit against Qualcomm saying that the San Diego-based company used its dominant position as a supplier of certain phone chips to impose “onerous” supply and licensing terms on cell phone manufacturers.

Patrick Moorhead, president of market-research firm Moor Insights & Strategy, said the legal dispute with Apple will help determine ‘what is fair pricing for patents that Qualcomm invested heavily to develop’.

The iPhone has been hugely profitable for Apple and accounts for three-fourth of Apple’s gross profit. The lawsuit says that by making its chip supply contingent on paying patent licenses, Qualcomm managed to secure royalty terms which are not otherwise acceptable to the manufacturers.

For instance, Apple charges about $549 for an iPhone 6s with a 4.7-inch display and $649 for a iPhone 6s Plus with a 5.5-inch display. Even if the higher price is related to the larger display, and not Qualcomm’s chip, Qualcomm collects the same royalty percentage over the total selling price of the iPhone. Qualcomm also require Apple to exclusively use it chips in iPhones from at least 2011 to 2016. Apple also claims that Qualcomm’s practices deterred Apple from switching to chips made by competitors like Intel Corp.

In a counter statement, Qualcomm General Counsel Don Rosenberg called Apple’s claims “baseless” and has put blame on Apple for “actively encouraging regulatory attacks on Qualcomm’s business in various jurisdictions around the world, as reflected in the recent KFTC decision and FTC complaint, by misrepresenting facts and withholding information.”

$125B Sovereign Wealth Fund Merger in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi’s government has merged two of its sovereign wealth funds called Mubadala Development Co and International Petroleum Investment Co (IPIC) into a new single entity called Mubadala Investment Company (MIC) with assets totalling about $125 billion on 21 January 2017. Government sources said the move was to cut costs in response to drop in oil prices in the global market and to diversify investments away from oil to other viable sectors.

The government said the joint venture will “run operations in acquisition, development, construction, financing, operation, and investment in various sectors”.

According to the government, integrating the two entities would create greater benefit and enhanced economic value to them.

IPIC owns corporate stakes in the energy industry and other sectors across the world. The new fund, Mubadala Investment Co, becomes the world’s 14th largest sovereign fund according to the data available with Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.

The Abu Dhabi government also named Mubadala Development’s current group CEO Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak to run the new sovereign fund.

Government sources say the merger of the two wealth fund giants will enable Abu Dhabi to face the demands of competitive world, where size matters. The measure by the major sheikhdom in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, comes as a cost-cutting measure in response to the low prices of the commodity in the global market.

According to government the high-level merger is needed as the emirate government attempts to combine state assets to cut costs in response to drop in oil prices and diversify investments away from oil to other viable sectors. In the wake of oil prices at about half their levels in mid-2014, sovereign funds across the rich Gulf Arab oil exporting states have to adjust policies to adapt themselves to lower inflows of petrodollars.

The merged entity’s large size is expected to enable it to raise money from international market. Mubadala Investment Company would conduct partnerships and businesses in 30-plus countries. It will infuse synergies and growth in various sectors including the energy and utilities sector, technology, aerospace, industry, health care, real estate, and financial investments.

According to the Emirate government, the combined entity would realize synergies and growth in multiple sectors including the energy and utilities sector, technology, aerospace, industry, health care, real estate, and financial investments. It would also have the ability to contribute more significantly to the diversification of the economy, in line with the Abu Dhabi plan and the country’s long-term vision.

As a part of its measures to strengthen its financial institutions, Abu Dhabi is initiating the process of merging of several institutions like the proposed merger of two largest banks, National Bank of Abu Dhabi and First Gulf Bank.

For more information see: http://www.mubadala.com/en/merger

President Trump’s Executive Order on Healthcare

Day one Donald J. Trump, the 45th President, signed his first executive order on January 20, 2017 to roll back certain aspects of the existing Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, a national health care initiative. The executive order aims at ‘minimising the economic burden’ of the Obamacare law ‘pending its repeal’, which Mr. Trump vowed during his campaign trail.

The order says “It is the policy of my administration to seek the prompt repeal” of the law. The Trump administration is preparing to replace it with an effective plan that they say would allow ‘insurance for all’.

The order on the Affordable Care Act directs departments and agencies related to the healthcare and health insurance sector to ease the burden of Obamacare during the period of transition of its repeal and replacement.

The administration has said they are working at creating a freer and more open healthcare market in the country. To achieve the goal, they ordered federal departments and agencies to take actions consistent with law to reduce the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the ACA and gives the states with more flexibility and control to his effect.

By signing the executive order on day one in the White House, Mr. Trump takes actions to dismantle the healthcare law that covers some 20 million Americans and was the signature healthcare program of his predecessor President Barack Obama.

Section 2 of the Executive order instructs the secretary of HHS (Health and Human Services) to “exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” parts of the law that would place a fiscal or regulatory burden on states, individuals or health-care providers.

The President with his team decided to replace and repeal the Obamacare laws with new a new healthcare system that will allow patients to buy health insurance across state lines using health savings accounts and have interstate health insurance sales and high-risk pools at the state level to take care of people who have pre-existing conditions.

The executive order is not going to affect Medicare, the federal healthcare insurance program for older people at 65 years or above and people with disabilities. Considering the time it will take Republicans to fashion a replacement, the federal and state insurance exchanges are likely to function at least through 2018.

The Affordable Care Act marketplaces are still active before open enrollment ends Jan. 31 for 2017 coverage. Advocates for the ACA will be interested in seeing how many companies and individuals decide to take part this year and next.

The new administration says features found in Obamacare, like the provision that continues young adults’ coverage under their parents’ insurance, will not be affected.

For more information see the executive order here: “Executive Order Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal” https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/01/2/executive-order-minimizing-economic-burden-patient-protection-and

Cancer Death Rate Drops by a Quarter from 1991 High

American Cancer Society, Jan, 9, 2017, Cancer Statistics 2017, an annual report by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and published in CA: Cancer Journal for Clinicians shows that there has been a consistent decline in the number of people dying from cancer since 1991. In 1991, 215.1 per 100,000 of the population succumbed to cancer, whereas in 2014 161.2 per 100,000 passed on. This represents a 25% drop from the 1991 figures, which have been the highest figures yet recorded. The annual report that includes metrics such as cancer incidence, death rate, and survival used data up to 2014, which is the last year with up to date data ready for analysis.

A 25% drop in cancer related deaths over two decades means that 2.1 million fewer deaths have been reported between 1991 and 2014. In the report, Otis W. Brawley, M.D, FACP, the chief medical officer of ACS remarked, “The continuing drops in the cancer death rate are a powerful sign of the potential we have to reduce cancer’s deadly toll.” He went on, “Continuing that success will require more clinical and basic research to improve early detection and treatment, as well as creative new strategies to increase healthy behaviors nationwide. Finally, we need to consistently apply existing knowledge in cancer control across all segments of the population, particularly to disadvantaged groups.

The decline in death rates has been attributed to cutting down on smoking and the improvement of early detection and therapeutic interventions over the years. There have been steady reductions in cancer related deaths in the most common sites for cancer occurrence in the human body: the lung, breast, prostate and colorectal (colon and rectum). Cancer related deaths associated with the lung decreased by 43% (1990-2014) in males and 17% (2002-2014) in women. There was a 38% reduction in deaths from breast cancer from 1989 to 2014 and a 51% reduction in Prostate and Colorectal cancers (1993 to 2014 for prostate cancer, 1976 to 2014 for colorectal cancer).

The report also highlighted the fact that there are gender and racial differences in cancer incidence and cancer related deaths. For all the four common sites, the incidence rate for cancer is 20% higher in men, while the mortality rate is 40% higher in males. There are racial differences in cancer related deaths, with blacks and Hispanics suffering more than whites. The good news is that the excess risk of death from cancer in black men has gone down by 26% points from 47% in 1990 to 21% in 2014. The difference between white and black women went down 7% points from 20% in 1998 to 13% in 2014.

In the report, 2017 is estimated to have 1,688,780 new cancer cased and 600,290 cancer related deaths in the United States. It has also shown that the overall cancer incidence rate has gone down by 2% every year in men while remaining static for women in the last ten years. The cancer death rate has declined by 1.5% every year for both genders.