Amazon, Tesla, and more: Here are the 5 single-stock trades Goldman Sachs says can make you a killing this earnings season

As options strategies make up a growing portion of overall stock-trading volume, the message is clear: get on board, or get left behind.

Strategists at Goldman Sachs note that 55% of the stock market’s average daily notional trading volume is done through options, up from 30% in 2016.

“Mutual funds and systematic investors have increased their use of options selling strategies, while hedge funds and retail investors are increasingly buying options to position for the large stock moves on catalysts,” a group of Goldman derivatives strategists led by John Marshall wrote in a client note.

They continued: “The growth in volumes opens up opportunities for even large investors to use options to manage risk and access liquidity at a time when shares liquidity has been challenged.”

As you can see in the chart below, that 55% isn’t a record, but it’s still well above the measure’s average over the past 13 years.

Goldman Sachs

Goldman has formulated a handful of single-stock option recommendations designed to take advantage of what the firm sees as mispriced opportunities.

“Options prices are low across the majority of single stocks ahead of this earnings season,” Marshall said. “For investors with a view that an upcoming catalyst is likely to move a stock in a meaningful way, option buying strategies appear unusually attractive.”

And, as it turns out, those trade suggestions include ones for companies like Amazon and Tesla, among others. The five of them are as follows (all quotes from Marshall):

(1) Amazon

Trade: Buy AMZN Apr-26 weekly $1,865 calls recently offered at $44.10

Fundamental rationale: “Goldman Sachs internet analyst Heath Terry sees 13% upside to Buy rated AMZN over the next 12 months. He believes AMZN represents the best risk/reward in Internet, given the relatively early-stage shift of workloads to the cloud and the transition of traditional retail online.”

Pricing rationale: “We believe AMZN options are inexpensive as 1-month implied volatility is below its average level over the past year and options are implying a move of +/-4.0% vs. 8Q average earnings move of +/-4.5%.”

(2) Arista Networks

Trade: Buy ANET May-3 weekly $330 calls for $14.60.

Fundamental rationale: “Our analysts expect consensus estimates to be raised following results; we see calls as unusually attractive to gain exposure with limited risk.”

Pricing rationale: “ANET 1 month implied volatility of 42 is below the peaks ahead of prior earnings releases and only at median levels relative to the past year. This suggests that investors are not positioned for a large up-move this quarter.”

(3) Caterpillar

Trade: Buy CAT May-3 weekly $143 calls for $3.70.

Fundamental rationale: “Goldman Sachs machinery analyst Jerry Revich raised his 2019 EPS estimates ahead of earnings, and expects a bullish tone at the analyst meeting, with management potentially revising margin targets to the 15-17% range.”

Pricing rationale: “CAT stock has historically moved +/-5.5% on the day of earnings, and +/-1.5% on analyst days, but options are only pricing a +/-5.8% move through 3-May. CAT 1-month implied volatility is currently 28, 4 points below recent realized, despite these upcoming catalysts.”

(4) ConocoPhillips

Trade: Buy COP May-3 weekly expiry $66 calls recently offered at $1.54.

Fundamental rationale: Goldman Sachs integrated oils analyst Neil Mehta says “COP is a free cash flow winner, able to cover its dividend and capital spending as long as Brent is $45-$50/bbl.” He also says “long-term growth opportunities are underappreciated, including Alaska, Australia and Qatar.”

Pricing rationale: “We believe the COP call options are underpricing the potential upside on earnings as COP 1-month normalized skew is at an elevated level and 1-month implied volatility is below its average level over the past year.”

(5) Tesla

Trade: Buy TSLA Jun-21 $270 straddles recently offered for $47.40.

Fundamental rationale: “TSLA is holding an autopilot analyst day (22-Apr) two days before their regularly scheduled earnings report (Apr-24). We expect the autopilot analyst day to increase the debate on their technology and the earnings event to reinforce the earnings uncertainty.”

Pricing rationale: “TSLA 26-April straddles that capture both events cost 9.4% vs. a move of +/- 7.2% on average for the past 8 earnings events. There is limited history regarding volatility on analyst days, but we think that the additional 2.4% volatility priced in for the analyst day is too little.”

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US will not reissue waivers for Iran oil imports: White House

The Trump administration on Monday told five countries – Japan, South Korea, Turkey, China and India – that they will no longer be exempt from US sanctions if they continue to import oil from Iran after their waivers end on May 2.

“We’re going to zero. We’re going to zero across the board,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters after the White House made the announcement in a statement. “There are no (oil) waivers that extend beyond that period, full stop,” he said, adding that there will be no grace period for those economies to comply. 

The United States, which has engaged in a maximum pressure campaign against Tehran since Donald Trump came to office, had been giving the countries time to wean themselves off Iranian oil, but has decided that waivers will no longer be issued.

“The goal remains simply: To deprive the outlaw regime of the funds that it has used to destabilise the Middle East for decades and incentivise Iran to behave like a normal country,” Pompeo said.

The administration granted eight oil sanctions waivers when it re-imposed sanctions on Iran after Trump pulled the US out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. The waivers were granted in part to give those countries more time to find alternate energy sources but also to prevent a shock to global oil markets from the sudden removal of Iranian crude.

The White House said on Monday that the US, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates “have agreed to take timely action to assure that global demand is met as all Iranian oil is removed from the market”.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement that the kingdom was closely monitoring the oil market and “will coordinate with fellow oil producers to ensure adequate supplies are available to consumers while ensuring the global oil market does not go out of balance”. 

Tehran remained defiant over Washington’s decision, saying it was prepared for the end of the waivers, while the Revolutionary Guards repeated its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipment channel in the Gulf, Reuters news agency reported, citing Iranian media. Such a move, the Trump administration said, would be unjustified and unacceptable. 

Iran’s foreign ministry said the US decision has “no value” but that Tehran was in touch with European partners and neighbours and would “act accordingly”, Iranian news agencies reported.

It added that the sanctions were “illegal”. 

“The waivers … have no value but because of the practical negative effects of the sanctions, the Foreign Ministry has been … in touch with foreign partners, including European, international and neighbours and will… act accordingly,” the agencies quoted the ministry as saying. 

‘Won’t serve regional stability’

Since November, three of the eight countries receiving waivers – Italy, Greece and Taiwan – have stopped importing oil from Iran. The other five, however, have not, and have lobbied for their waivers to be extended.

NATO ally Turkey had made perhaps the most public case for an extension, with senior officials telling their US counterparts that Iranian oil is critical to meeting their country’s energy needs. They have also made the case that as a neighbour of Iran, Turkey cannot be expected to completely close its economy to Iranian goods. 

On Monday, Turkey slammed the US decision, saying it would not serve regional peace and stability. 

Turkey “rejects unilateral sanctions and impositions on how we build our relationship with our neighbours,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted. “The US decision … will harm Iranian people.” 

Last week, presidential spokesman and senior adviser Ibrahim Kalin told reporters in Washington, DC, that “people should not expect Turkey to turn its back on Iran just like that”. 

Turkey did not support US sanctions policy on Iran and did not think it would yield the desired result, Kalin said at the time, but added that Ankara would not want to violate sanctions if a waiver was not extended.

“We will look for alternatives in terms of transactions and other things. We don’t want to break or violate the sanctions but at the same time we don’t want to be deprived of our right to buy oil and gas from Iran,” Kalin said last week.

Geng Shuang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a daily news briefing in Beijing on Monday that it opposed unilateral US sanctions against Iran and that China’s bilateral cooperation with Iran was in accordance with the law. 

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying the South Korean government had been negotiating with the United States at all levels to extend the waivers and that it would continue to make every effort to reflect Seoul’s position until the May 2 deadline.

In India, refiners have started a search for alternative supplies but the government declined to comment officially.

Embassies of India, China and South Korea in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to requests for comment, along with Japan, whose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be in the US capital on Friday for an official visit.

Oil prices rise

Oil prices rose following the Trump administration’s announcement on Monday. 

In morning trading, benchmark US crude surged $1.52, or 2.4 percent to $65.57 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, jumped $1.84, or 2.6 percent to $73.80.

Ritterbusch and Associates, an oil trading advisory firm, said in a morning note that “a complete elimination of Iranian exports is nearly impossible and that a reduction beyond current levels will likely prove limited”.

It said that the overall effect “will hinge to a large degree on the Saudis’ response to what is likely to be some strong requests from the Trump administration to increase productions appreciably”.

Peter Kiernan, an energy analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said “a severe loss in (Iranian) volumes will put pressure on the supply side, given the political uncertainty currently blighting other oil exporters, such as Venezuela and Libya.”

According to some analysts, ending the waivers was expected to hit Asian buyers, including China and India, the hardest.

Kim Jae-kyung of the Korean Energy Economics Institute said the move “will be a problem if South Korea can’t bring in cheap Iranian condensate (for) South Korean petrochemical makers”.

Takayuki Nogami, a chief economist at Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), said ending the waivers was “not a good policy for Trump”.

Nogami said he expected oil prices to rise further because of US sanctions and OPEC-led supply cuts.

So far in April, Iranian exports were averaging below one million barrels per day (bpd), according to Refinitiv Eikon data and two other companies that track exports and declined to be identified.

That is lower than at least 1.1 million bpd estimated for March, and down from more than 2.5 million bpd before the renewed sanctions were announced last May.

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A Trump official’s anti-abortion novel involves something called a “Porn Storm”

Scott Lloyd, a Trump administration official who personally sought to stop migrant teenagers in the administration’s custody from getting abortions, has published a novel. It’s about abortion — and regretting getting one.

The book follows the misadventures of William Ferguson, who attends the fictional Montpelier University in the 1990s and maintains a sexual relationship with his classmate Kristen. As Will deals with that entanglement, Kristen’s eventual pregnancy, and her decision to get an abortion, his intense guilt over the abortion — which he compares to “murder” — leads him to rekindle his Catholic faith.

At various points in the 300-plus-page book, Will also attends a so-called “Porn Storm,” tries to get a sex worker to “stop this life,” and frequently drinks himself into a joyless stupor.

Lloyd previously headed the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is tasked with caring for migrant teenagers who enter the United States without authorization and without their parents or guardians — including those separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

During Lloyd’s tenure, a handful of teenagers sued the agency over accusations that it had refused to let them get abortions. That lawsuit ultimately led to a court order against the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which blocked its officials from intervening in minors’ decisions to get abortions.

Scott Lloyd, a Trump administration official who personally sought to stop migrant teenagers in the administration’s custody from getting abortions, has published a novel. It’s about abortion — and regretting getting one.

The book follows the misadventures of William Ferguson, who attends the fictional Montpelier University in the 1990s and maintains a sexual relationship with his classmate Kristen. As Will deals with that entanglement, Kristen’s eventual pregnancy, and her decision to get an abortion, his intense guilt over the abortion — which he compares to “murder” — leads him to rekindle his Catholic faith.

At various points in the 300-plus-page book, Will also attends a so-called “Porn Storm,” tries to get a sex worker to “stop this life,” and frequently drinks himself into a joyless stupor.

Lloyd previously headed the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is tasked with caring for migrant teenagers who enter the United States without authorization and without their parents or guardians — including those separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

During Lloyd’s tenure, a handful of teenagers sued the agency over accusations that it had refused to let them get abortions. That lawsuit ultimately led to a court order against the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which blocked its officials from intervening in minors’ decisions to get abortions.

READ: Trump officials discussed “reversing” abortion for undocumented teen

Lloyd’s handling of the family separation crisis also prompted a review of his work, as he made decisions that made it harder to reunite separated families, Politico reported last year. In November, Lloyd transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives to serve as a senior adviser.

One month later, he published his book, titled “The Undergraduate.”

While Will decides that Kristen should have the baby and put it up for adoption, Kristen wants to get an abortion. The book doesn’t paint a flattering portrait of abortion providers: Will drives her to the abortion clinic, which Lloyd notes is across from a “fast-food joint,” and helps pay for the procedure in cash. The staffers at the clinic treat Will and Kristen with barely disguised disdain and apparent shame. As Will waits in the clinic — a hellish place with a “Cosmo” magazine, kissing “kiddies,” and a fish-less fish tank — he sees one teenage girl sob on her way out.

When another leaves, Lloyd writes, “Her nose was wrinkled like she had smelled something foul. Her eyes were blank, and across the entire lobby she noticed nothing but the doors ahead. Some kids got up and went out after her.”

“He must have felt perverted, standing there watching”

After the procedure, a male friend of Kristen’s asks Will if he’s alright. “The question struck me as a little funny, and I chuckled for a breath,” Lloyd writes. He then observes, in an evident reference to sexual violence, “He must have felt perverted, standing there watching. This was full penetration.”

In another jarring moment, after Kristen has revealed that she’s pregnant, Will’s friend — who’s described as “half Italian” — compliments Will’s sperm and calls him a slang form of the n-word. Will laughs.

READ: The Trump administration won’t stop trying to block abortions for undocumented teens

The abortion leaves both Will and Kristen depressed and anguished for weeks, and Kristen calls herself “such a bad person.” Their grief only starts to subside when they meet with a priest. Throughout this meeting, Kristen seems to remain essentially mute while the two men talk.

In confession, Will also admits to hooking up with other women, masturbating, and cursing, among other sins. (This is somewhat odd, because the characters in “The Undergraduate” don’t really curse; they tend to say “effin’” or “friggin’.”) He confesses to objectifying women, though Will continues to describe women by their attractiveness throughout the book.

“I paid for the abortion of my baby, which…would mean that I have helped commit murder…of my own child,” Will tells his priest. (The ellipses are Lloyd’s.) “I can’t think of anything a person can do that is worse than that.”

But while he’s gotten closer to God, Will doesn’t forgive himself for the abortion. He must first endure multiple drunken binges, seemingly endless descriptions of European cities, one failed encounter with a sex worker — who Will wants to give up sex work — and an Australian man who goes by the nickname “Doodles.”

Throughout the book, Will also struggles with his love for his classmate Lily. The two knew each other as children but reconnected when they both attended a dorm event known as the “Porn Storm,” where male and female residents watch porn together.

“Kristen, who had hinted to a few of us that she was into watching porn, was feeding off it all by standing up and lifting her shirt a little and pulling her underwear out of her jeans to show the guys what color she was wearing,” Lloyd writes. “Red.”

Lily helps end the Porn Storm when she starts praying in front of the TV (which, in a bizarre twist, is playing a video that stars one of Will’s ex-girlfriends). When Will joins her in solidarity, the crowd basically riots, flinging condoms and change at the pair.

By the end of his time in college, Will has fully embraced his Catholic faith. He condemns abortion providers, pornographers, and his fifth-grade sex ed teacher — who is revealed to have been a pedophile who helped lead a young girl into porn. Lily also finally proclaims her love for him.

“We smooched a little more, but there was no undressing,” Lloyd writes of their climatic union, hundreds of pages in the making. “She had a lot of work to do, so she went home. We married a year later.”

The book’s plot mirrors reporting by Mother Jones, which found that Lloyd told his law school classmates that he once helped a woman he’d impregnated get an abortion. Lloyd also shares at least one biographical detail with his literary protagonist: While Lloyd’s legal name is Edward, Will’s middle name is Edward. While Will is studying abroad in Italy, a woman struggles to pronounce Will’s name and calls him “Eduardo.” That leads Will to announce, “Then I guess I’m Eduardo.”

During his time at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Lloyd repeatedly cited fears that young people would come to regret their abortions. When a 17-year-old who’d been impregnated through rape wanted an abortion, Lloyd refused to authorize one, writing, “Although formal research on this matter appears to be sparse, those who have worked with women who have experienced abortion have compiled a catalogue of anecdotal evidence, impossible to ignore, that shows that many women go on to experience it as a devastating trauma, even in the instance of rape.”

When news of Lloyd’s book first surfaced last November, Politico reported that government employees usually refrain from writing books on topics that touch on their responsibilities in office.

HHS spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer said Lloyd’s novel did not breach agency rules. “HHS Employees — whether political or career — are permitted to write novels on their own time and that do not derive from their official duties,” she wrote in an email. “Mr. Lloyd’s novel satisfied both of these requisites.”

“The Undergraduate” was published by Liberty Island Media Group, which targets “readers of a conservative or libertarian bent,” according to its website. Liberty Island declined to reveal the book’s sales figures, but “The Undergraduate” has one five-star review on Amazon. Its official Amazon description also calls the novel a “‘Less Than Zero’ for the millennial generation.”

In a statement, Mary Alice Carter, the head of the watchdog group Equity Forward, renewed calls for Lloyd’s firing.

“Rather than focusing his efforts on reuniting children ripped from their parents during the family separation crisis, Scott Lloyd spent his time working on a bizarre, seemingly autobiographical anti-abortion ‘novel,’” said Carter, whose organization supports abortion rights. “This is also the same Trump official who couldn’t keep a spreadsheet of separated children, but managed to obessively track the menstrual cycles of pregnant women in his custody while also tracking changes to his anti-abortion manuscript.”

Cover: Senior adviser for Department of Health and Human Services Scott Lloyd testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on the Trump administration’s separation policy involving migrant families on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

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Here’s the pitch deck a New York-based startup used to raise $23 million to expand its hybrid transcription service

Tom Livne’s startup was born out of his personal frustration.

Livne was working as a lawyer, a profession that depends on the accurate transcriptions of testimony and depositions. The transcription services his firm used were expensive. They often delivered the documents late. And the transcriptions were frequently filled with inaccuracies.

“I was a very frustrated customer, and I decided that had to come up with a solution to this problem,” Livne told Business Insider in a recent interview.

So Livne got together with Eric Shellef, who had headed up the speech-recognition team at Intel’s wearables group, and Kobi Ben Zvi, who had been vice president of the Israeli e-commerce company Buynando, to form Verbit, which offers a tech-based transcription service.

The transcription business is basically divided into two segments, Livne, now Verbit’s CEO, said. On one side are the traditional services that rely on humans to listen to and transcribe conversations. Those services are generally fairly accurate. But they’re relatively slow and pricey. And because they’re labor-intensive, they’re not very profitable businesses, he said.

Read more: This pitch deck helped raise $43 million for a startup with a new twist on the biggest trend in software development

On the other side of the market are automated services that rely on computerized natural-language processing. Those services are relatively fast and cheap. But they can have a difficult time translating the speech of people with thick accents, those who use a lot of jargon, and those who speak quickly, Livne said. Even under the best conditions, the accuracy of such services isn’t up to the standards that are required by courts, he said.

Verbit’s service relies on humans and computers

Verbit offers a hybrid transcription service. It built its own voice-recognition technology that it uses to make a first pass on transcription projects. That technology delivers a transcription that’s about 90% accurate, Livne said.

The company then relies on a network of 5,000 freelance transcribers to polish the computerized transcriptions. Those human workers can improve the accuracy to 100%. Verbit then feeds the freelancer’s corrections back into its natural-language system, he said.

“Every time they’re making the correction, the machine is learning and learning and getting better and better over time,” Livne said.

Its hybrid approach allows Verbit, which is based in New York, to offer customers the best of both types of transcription, he said. It can be fast and cheap, as well as highly accurate.

But that’s not the only way that Verbit is approaching the market differently, he said. Many voice-recognition services rely on a general speech model that they apply to all speakers. But Verbit’s system creates speech models for individual speakers. It allows customers to upload their notes and other materials so its service can make more accurate guesses about what the speakers are saying. When transcribing conversations between two speakers, it can detect and create separate models for each of their voices.

Such techniques “give us much better results” than other automated services, Livne said.

Verbit, which was founded in 2016, initially focused on the legal market before branching out into education. It’s planning to tackle other markets in the future.

Investors have high hopes for its prospects, particularly after it grew its revenue 300% last year. It raised $34 million in venture funding in a little more than a year, including a $23 million series A round in January that was led by Viola Ventures.

The company is using the money to bulk up all around, including its sales group and its research and development team, which is based in Israel, Livne said. He’s planning to have the service support more languages soon and offer more features.

“Transcription is everywhere. The market is huge,” Livne said, adding, “We are in the best position to lead the market.”

Here’s the pitch deck Livne and his team used to raise their latest funding round:

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What’s behind Sri Lanka Easter attacks?

Sri Lanka‘s Easter Sunday turned into a scene of death and destruction. Churches and luxury hotels were targeted in at least eight coordinated blasts.

Hundreds of people were killed, many as they attended Christian services. Police say the first six explosions happened in one wave, two more blasts came hours later.

The bombings took place in the heart of the capital, Colombo, and in the cities of Negombo and Batticaloa

A curfew was imposed and major social media networks blocked, including Facebook and WhatsApp.

The attacks were the worst since the South Asian country’s civil war ended in 2009.

Sri Lanka’s prime minister vowed to take action against those responsible.

What does it mean for Sri Lanka, which is still recovering from decades of civil war?

Presenter: Richelle Carey

Guests:

Jehan Perera – Executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka

Charu Lata Hogg – Associate fellow, Asia-Pacific programme at Chatham House

Gehan Gunatilleke  – Researcher at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights and legal director of Verite Research in Sri Lanka

Source: Al Jazeera News

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Trump assures kids at the White House Easter Egg Roll that the wall is happening

President Donald Trump assured some young children gathered for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll Monday that, yes, thousands of miles away, the government was building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

It’s unclear whether the children had asked for assurance.

“It’s happening, it’s being built now,” Trump said of the wall, talking to a gaggle of children standing on the South Lawn. “Here’s a young guy who said, ‘Keep building that wall.’ Do you believe it? He’s going to be a conservative some day,” he said to no one in particular.

Trump, who authorized border-wall funding through an emergency declaration after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history didn’t produce the cash necessary, has a history of boosting his policy proposals to unsuspecting children. Memorably, at the July 2017 Boy Scouts Jamboree, after kicking off his remarks by saying “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?”, Trump criticized president Barack Obama and talked about repealing Obamacare.

Some of the federal money being redirected toward the wall could take away from schools and childcare centers for military children, according to Reuters. Trump has repeatedly said the wall is necessary to stem the rise of migrants flowing across the U.S. southern border, many of them seeking asylum and escaping violence in Central American countries.

President Donald Trump assured some young children gathered for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll Monday that, yes, thousands of miles away, the government was building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

It’s unclear whether the children had asked for assurance.

“It’s happening, it’s being built now,” Trump said of the wall, talking to a gaggle of children standing on the South Lawn. “Here’s a young guy who said, ‘Keep building that wall.’ Do you believe it? He’s going to be a conservative some day,” he said to no one in particular.

Trump, who authorized border-wall funding through an emergency declaration after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history didn’t produce the cash necessary, has a history of boosting his policy proposals to unsuspecting children. Memorably, at the July 2017 Boy Scouts Jamboree, after kicking off his remarks by saying “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?”, Trump criticized president Barack Obama and talked about repealing Obamacare.

Some of the federal money being redirected toward the wall could take away from schools and childcare centers for military children, according to Reuters. Trump has repeatedly said the wall is necessary to stem the rise of migrants flowing across the U.S. southern border, many of them seeking asylum and escaping violence in Central American countries.

However, some of his anti-immigrant rhetoric has also been accused of stoking violence toward asylum seekers. Last week, armed vigilantes on the border captured and videotaped hundreds of migrants at gunpoint, including young children, to turn over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In one video the group took of its round-up, a woman can be heard saying “How bad does it have to get until we build the wall? This is an invasion.” The FBI arrested the leader of the right-wing militia behind that event over the weekend.

Cover: President Donald Trump talks with children as they color on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 22, 2019, during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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NASA’s 4-year twin experiment gets us closer to Mars than ever before

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: This is astronaut Scott Kelly back in 2015. For 340 days, he circled Earth inside the International Space Station, the longest any American has ever spent in space at once. Meanwhile, someone with the same face, body, and DNA was back on Earth: his identical twin, Mark Kelly. Scott and Mark are the only twin NASA astronauts in history. Separated by 250 miles of space and sky, the twins participated in a groundbreaking study unlike anything NASA had ever tried before. The mission: discover long-term effects of space on the human body. And now, four years after Scott Kelly launched into space, we have the full results, which confirm that, yes, a crewed mission to Mars is possible.

Bakelman: To me this is very reassuring and really suggests that… longer-term travel is a possibility.

Narrator: NASA is trying to put humans on Mars in the 2030s, but even if it had the rocket technology to visit today, there’s still one major obstacle standing in the way: our bodies. Because traveling to Mars will be the longest crewed space mission in history, lasting for over a year, and while NASA has tested in-depth how the isolation will affect our minds with missions like HI-SEAS, it has little information about what space travel will do to our bodies. That’s where NASA’s twin study comes in.

News Anchor: Astronaut Scott Kelly will try something no American has ever done before. This spring, he will leave for a mission and spend a year in space.

Narrator: Over the course of that year, Scott gathered all kinds of data about himself. He drew blood, collected urine, and took cognitive tests. And back on Earth, his twin brother, the perfect human control, did the exact same thing. Then, in 2016, Scott returned home to Earth where scientists studied him for another six to nine months. And now, finally, four years after Scott’s launch, researchers have published the full results, and here’s what they found. For one, there were signs of radiation damage in Scott’s chromosomes. Those are the structures in our cells that contain DNA.

Bailey: We know that radiation causes or will induce these chromosome aberrations, or rearrangement of the chromosomes. So essentially it breaks the DNA.

Narrator: And on a longer mission, say to Mars, more of those DNA breaks could build up.

Bailey: And that can contribute to genomic instability.

Narrator: Which could lead to diseases like cancer. The year in space also activated thousands of genes in Scott’s genetic code, something similar to what can only happen in extreme environments on Earth. That’s because many of these genes are linked to our immune system.

Bailey: When we get into stressful situations, or we have an injury, or we get sick, the immune response kicks in. And the way it does that is it turns the genes on that it needs.

Narrator: Bailey was part of a group that also looked at structures in the twins’ cells called telomeres. Telomeres are caps at the end of chromosomes that help protect our DNA from damage, and as we age or are stressed, they shrink. That’s why Bailey figured that Scott’s telomeres would shorten during his year in space. He wasn’t just aging, but he was exposed to all kinds of stressors from cosmic radiation to zero gravity, and pretty much everything in between. But she was wrong. From what researchers could tell, Scott’s telomeres weren’t shorter in space. They were significantly longer.

Bailey: I don’t know what’s going on in space. We imagine things like, “Oh, they’re just having such a grand time.” You see ’em floating around. They all look real happy while they’re up there. A dream come true. But it’s just, I just don’t think it’s the fountain of youth.

Narrator: One explanation is that Scott had a healthy regimen on the ISS replete with exercise and nutritious astronaut food. But Bailey says longer telomeres are more likely yet another signal of stress or even injury. Radiation, for example, might have triggered the production of stem cells, which can renew damaged structures in the body, and those cells inherently have longer telomeres. So one major takeaway from the study is that space is, well, stressful. But all that stress was short-lived for Scott, and for the most part, his body actually returned to normal after landing back on Earth. Within 48 hours, his telomeres were short once again, and after six months, more than 90% of those activated genes turned back off, and nine months out, there was less damage in his chromosomes, which means that none of the changes the researchers observed was immediately life-threatening.

Bakelman: To me what that means is that people can be in space. They can be there for a year, maybe longer, we don’t know. Even though we’re not born in space, our bodies figure it out, and they’re able to function.

Narrator: Taken altogether, that’s great news for NASA or for anyone else hoping to send humans to Mars. Swanton: I definitely think they’re gonna be possible.

Narrator: That’s Dr. Charles Swanton, a cancer biologist at the Francis Crick Institute in Britain, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Swanton: What I can’t predict at the moment is the impact on human health and reproductive potential.

Narrator: He acknowledges that a yearlong trip to Mars isn’t the same as a year on the ISS. There’d be more radiation, for example. But, following the twins study, he and the researchers have far more confidence than ever before that we’re going to get there.

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