News Summary: February 2016

Boris Johnson on Brexit 

Boris Johnson announced that he will campaign for a leave vote in the EU referendum after concluding that David Cameron’s deal will not deliver the reformed EU he promised.

Downing Street issued a low-key response. A No 10 spokesman said: “Our message to everyone is we want Britain to have the best of both worlds: all the advantages of the jobs and investment that come with being in the EU, without the downsides of being in the euro and open borders.”

In recent weeks Johnson had been overheard as saying that he was not an “outer”. He had also been flirting with Eurosceptic ideas that fell short of endorsing a UK exit from the EU.

When that idea was knocked back by the prime minister, Johnson alighted on the idea of finding a way to formally re-assert the sovereignty of the UK parliament.

Cameron said he would address this in an announcement next week, and was widely expected to introduce a bill to deal with the issue. The decision by Johnson to announce his intentions proved that he was unimpressed by the prime minister’s proposed offering.

Jeremy Hunt and 24/7 NHS  

Labour has called on Jeremy Hunt to “come clean” on how the Government will pay for a seven-day NHS, after senior health officials continued to dodge allegations that the key manifesto promise was not costed before last’s year’s election – and is still being worked out.

The British Medical Association, the trade union and professional body that represents 170,000 doctors in the UK, says the Government has still to offer precise details about what it intends to introduce, how many staff will be needed and what it will cost.

An NHS report published last year indicated that to introduce a functioning  seven-day NHS service, upwards of 11,000 extra staff would be needed. The figure included an additional 1,600 consultants, 1,500 registrars and 900 doctors below consultant grade. A further 3,000 nurses were also part of the calculation. However it is estimated this could translate into net annual additional staff costs of more than £900m.

The overall final bill may be much higher. The current budget for the NHS in England for this year is £116bn. The 2015 Spending Review estimated the NHS budget would increase to £133bn by 2020. Another report last year estimated the delivery of a seven-day service would require an additional 2 per cent above the current total income, suggesting Mr Hunt would need to find  least a further £2bn in the short-term.

The BMA says the £2bn figure grossly underplays the real costs, and that if the switch to a seven-day  service is to be more than political spin it should reflect an increase in the NHS’s workload of up to 40 per cent – which could push costs up by £10bn.

Although Downing Street, the Treasury and the DoH have been reluctant to commit to any final figure, they remain committed to a seven-day operation. Number 10 insists that the “shift to seven-days-a-week opening will deliver a safer NHS and lives will be saved”.

Apple and San Bernardino Shooter 

Apple is filing a request to dismiss the court order which requires them to let the FBI break into the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, saying that it’s a violation of the Constitution.

If the government wins their case then every investigative body throughout the world may approach Apple to give them the same treatment whenever a similar incident occurs, citing this particular case as justification.

Using the All Writs Act of 1789, the authorities are asking Apple to comply with creating a backdoor to bypass the iPhone’s security measures and putting all other owners of a similar device at risk.

Apple CEO Tim Cook says it would set a “dangerous precedent” should the company give in.

According to Apple, forcing the company to cooperate by using the All Writs Act is a misapplication of the 227-year-old law.

Apple is also looking into using its First Amendment rights to oppose the government’s intentional use  of the All Writs Act.

The Department of Justice suggests that it’s only a simple and isolated task.

The iPhone is programmed to automatically erase any data after 10 incorrect entries of the passcode. It also imposes a delay between each entry and rejects electronic input and requires manual input.

Embryo Modification

UK scientists have been given permission by the fertility regulator to genetically modify human embryos.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) regulator approved a licence application by Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientist at the Francis Crick Institute in London, to perform genome editing – also called gene editing – on human embryos.

The decision permits Niakan to study the embryos for 14 days for research purposes only. It does not permit them to be implanted into women. Niakan’s research is aimed at finding the genes at play in the early days of human fertilisation.

Currently around 50 per cent of fertilised eggs do not develop properly and experts believe that faulty genetic code could be responsible.

If scientists knew which genes were crucial for healthy cell division, then they could screen out embryos where their DNA was not working properly, potentially preventing miscarriages and aiding fertility.

Last year, leading UK funders called for a national debate on whether editing human embryos could ever be justified in the clinic. Some fear that a public backlash could derail less controversial uses of genome editing, which could lead to radical new treatments for conditions such as muscular dystrophy and sickle cell disease.

However critics warn that allowing embryos to be edited opens the door to designer babies and genetically modified humans.

Although supporters of the HFEA’s decision said it had arrived at the right conclusion, balancing the benefits to research and ethical considerations.

Oscars Race Row 

The organisers of the Oscars have pledged to double the number of female and minority members of the Academy by 2020, add three new seats to the Academy’s board of governors to improve diversity in leadership and will also launch a recruiting drive to identity members who represent “greater diversity”.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced the changes following a backlash over the lack of diversity in this year’s nominations.

The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag has been trending on social media after the fact that the last two years have seen zero non-white actors nominated for the top awards, with the debate even leading to Oscar-nominated director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith to promise to boycott the ceremony.

Several other top industry figures have said they will not attend the Oscars.

Analysis of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences membership reveals that the vast majority are white, male and over the age of 50.

Under the new rules, the Academy will strip voting rights from those who have not been active in the industry for the past decade. Only its longest-serving members and those who have previously been nominated for an Oscar will still be able to vote.

Image Credit:  www.gotcredit.com

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Naina Bhardwaj

Naina Bhardwaj

Naina Bhardwaj

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