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Weekend News Items.
1. Scientists from the universities of Alberta and Toronto developed a blueprint for a new quantum battery that doesn't leak charge. "A quantum battery is a tiny, nano-size battery meant to be used for applications on the nano scale," explained U of A chemist Gabriel Hanna, who was principal investigator on the study. He said the research provides a theoretical demonstration that creating a loss-free quantum battery is possible—offering an advantage over previously proposed quantum batteries. (via phys.org)
2. Genetically modifying plants could soon be almost as easy as spraying them with water. A new technique that uses DNA attached to nanoparticles could have a wide variety of uses, including changing the properties of crops while they are growing in fields. “It was so straightforward,” says Heather Whitney at the University of Bristol in the UK. “It was really surprising how easy it was.” Whitney and her team have so far tested their technique on various plants, including wheat, maize, barley and sorghum. They simply used an ordinary plant mister to spray leaves with water containing nanoparticles called carbon dots that were bound to DNA. The DNA, which codes for a fluorescent protein, got into cells in the plants’ leaves, prompting them to glow green under UV light. This is a huge advance on conventional methods for inserting DNA into plants, which aren’t as easy or widely applicable. (via New Scientist)
3. Pakistan’s powerful military said it supported the country’s elected government and the constitution, as tens of thousands of opposition protesters gathered in the capital demanding that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s year-old government quits by Sunday. “We believe in the law and the constitution and our support is with the democratically elected government, not with any party,” military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said in comments to a television news channel late on Friday. Earlier on Friday, the opposition had demanded that cricket star-turned-politician Khan and his administration resign within two days, raising the stakes in a protest campaign that the government has denounced as a threat to democracy. (via Reuters)
4. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Saturday Turkey would send captured Islamic State members back to their home countries, and he complained about European inaction on the matter. “That is not acceptable to us. It’s also irresponsible,” he said of Europe leaving Turkey to deal with the prisoners alone. “We will send the captured Daesh members to their countries,” he told reporters, using another name for Islamic State. Turkey has captured some escaped IS members in northeastern Syria over the last month after it launched a military incursion there. (via Reuters)
5. Fifteen Asia-Pacific countries, including China, Japan and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, are waiting on India to approve a fundamental agreement on the world's largest trade deal, multiple sources revealed on Saturday. Negotiators from the countries participating in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, held an informal meeting Saturday in a last-minute push toward a deal. The meeting took place on the sidelines of the ASEAN and East Asia summits in Bangkok. An RCEP deal would include tariff cuts and intellectual property protections. (via Nikkei Asian Review)
6. The U.S. and China have essentially concluded negotiations on several aspects of the trade deal, a White House adviser said Friday, including on agriculture, financial services and currency. Gaps still remain on forced technology transfer, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told reporters. The adviser spoke as ministerial-level representatives negotiated over the phone, aiming to reach a partial deal for the leaders to sign sometime in November. "The agriculture chapter is about closed down," Kudlow told reporters. "Not only the increase in purchases [of] $40 to $50 billion, but the opening up of [agricultural] markets, the lowering of regulations and standards and non-tariff barriers. Very positive." (via Nikkei Asian Review)
7. More than one-third of China’s provinces have so far failed to meet this year’s growth targets as the economy continues to sputter under the weight of domestic structural issues and the fallout from the trade war with the United States. Official data also showed that traditionally poorer regions suffered the most, while the wealthier coastal provinces were more resilient to economic headwinds, underlining that China’s economic slowdown is exacerbating the wealth gap between regions. Provincial governments across China saw their fiscal revenue growth slump in the first nine months of the year on the back of weakened economies and central government reforms that significantly reduced their tax revenues. (via South China Morning Post)
8. China’s ruling Communist Party signaled it is preparing to take a tougher approach toward pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, declaring Friday that it would strengthen ways to “safeguard national security” and step up efforts to make Hong Kongers more patriotic toward the mainland. The warnings, coming at the end of a four-day party meeting in which the apparatchiks reiterated their loyalty to Chairman Xi Jinping and hailed his iron-fisted leadership, mark an escalation in Beijing’s language about the protests. “The [party’s] Central Committee seems to have reached the conclusion that they need to do more about Hong Kong and in a much more active manner,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University. (via The Washington Post)
9. Hong Kong police fired tear gas into a park to break up thousands of anti-government protesters who fled to the Central business district, setting fire to street barricades and metro stations in some of the worst violence in months of unrest. Central, its streets lined with banks and top-end jewelry and fashion stores, became a battlefield after night fell, with running clashes between police and black-clad, masked activists. Protesters are angry at perceived Chinese meddling with Hong Kong’s freedoms, including its legal system, since the city returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997. China denies the charge. (via Reuters)
10. The Kremlin has assumed sweeping new powers over internet connections in Russia, raising concerns from activists that they could be used to stifle dissent or shut the country off from the global web. However, while a law authorising the measures came into force on Friday, experts say Russia is still months away at best from effective implementation. Only seven of the 26 requisite bylaws have been passed and early tests of the technology required to create Russia’s “sovereign internet” have failed. (via Financial Times)
11. Political provocateur and talk-radio host Nigel Farage announced Friday that his potentially vote-splitting Brexit Party will field candidates for every seat in Britain in the December general election — unless Prime Minister Boris Johnson agrees to abandon the withdrawal deal he negotiated with European leaders and form an alliance with the most zealous Brexit backers. Mr. Farage flung the ultimatum at Johnson at a Brexit Party campaign launch, staged just a few blocks away from the House of Commons, which party chairman and real estate tycoon Richard Tice disparaged as this “stinking, rotten borough of Westminster.” Mr. Johnson rejected Mr. Farage’s proposal. (via The Washington Post)
12. Mr. Johnson’s government is to abandon the Conservatives’ decade-long policy of supporting fracking as the party seeks to neutralize Labour attacks on its environmental record. Fracking for shale gas is to be banned in Britain with immediate effect because of the “unacceptable” risk of earthquakes, ministers will announce today. The move comes after a review found it impossible to predict the probability or scale of earthquakes. The prime minister, who previously hailed fracking as “an answer to the nation’s prayers”, acknowledged this week “very considerable anxieties” over the practice. (via Times of London)
13. The U.S. economy has cooled but continues to expand with employers hiring, consumers spending and growth stabilizing. Employment grew by a seasonally adjusted 128,000 jobs in October, the Labor Department reported Friday, a solid performance considering a strike at General Motors plants and a decline in the federal workforce temporarily reduced payrolls by more than 50,000. The unemployment rate ticked up from a 50-year low to 3.6% in October as hundreds of thousands of Americans joined the labor force. Wage growth remained steady, up 3% from a year earlier. (via The Wall Street Journal)
14. Senator Elizabeth Warren on Friday revealed her plan to pay for an expansive transformation of the nation’s health care system, proposing huge tax increases on businesses and wealthy Americans to help cover $20.5 trillion in new federal spending. The plan represents a significant bet that enough voters will favor an approach that dismantles the current system and replaces it with “Medicare for all,” a government-run health insurance program. And it comes after decades in which Democrats have largely tiptoed around policy proposals that relied on major tax increases and Republicans ran on tax cuts. While the proposal allows Ms. Warren to say she is not raising taxes on the middle class, it opened her to renewed charges that her plan is too radical to pass through Congress. (via The New York Times)
15. Displaying a new assertiveness toward her Democratic opponents, Elizabeth Warren laced into her chief political rivals, warning on Friday night that the country was in a “time of crisis” and arguing that Democrats would lose in 2020 if they nominated “anyone who comes on this stage and tells you they can make change without a fight.” Speaking to thunderous applause during the party’s biggest Iowa political event of the year, Ms. Warren denounced candidates in the presidential race who opposed bold ideas in favor of more moderate solutions, in veiled attacks on Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Pete Buttigieg. (via The New York Times)
16. There was a "Quick Link" to this yesterday, but here's a better (and more disquieting) report: "After 15 months of brainstorming and gathering feedback from the public, the Defense Innovation Board has pinned down the thorniest problems that artificial intelligence could raise for the Pentagon if left unchecked. In the final draft of its recommendations on AI ethics to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the board of tech industry experts strongly urged DoD to have the ability to pull the plug on AI systems, just in case those algorithms begin to make decisions that are beyond their pay grade. Drawing on his experience building AI systems, Danny Hillis, the co-founder of Applied Invention, said AI bots are adept at evolving their behavior in ways that are very difficult for the designer to predict...AI systems deployed by DoD, Mr. Hillis said, should have a reliable 'off switch' that can be triggered automatically or manually by a human operator.” (via Federal News Network)
17. On a farm in Bavaria, German researchers are using gene editing to create pigs that could provide organs to save thousands of human lives. In China, researchers have transplanted insulin-producing pancreatic islet cells from gene-edited pigs into people with diabetes. A team in South Korea says it’s ready to try transplanting pig corneas into people, once it gets government approval. And at Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers announced in October that they had used gene-edited pig skin as a temporary wound covering for a person with severe burns. The skin patch, they say, worked as effectively as human skin, which is much harder to obtain. But when it comes to life-or-death organs, like hearts and livers, transplant surgeons still must rely on human parts. One day, the dream goes, genetically modified pigs like this sow will be sliced open, their hearts, kidneys, lungs and livers sped to transplant centers to save desperately sick patients from death. (via MIT Technology Review)
18. They are the longest lived primate embryos to thrive outside the body. Two groups working in China have succeeded in growing monkey embryos in a dish for 20 days. The work sheds light on a crucial but little-understood phase of early development, and will probably reignite the debate about how long human embryos should be permitted to develop in the lab. (via Nature)
19. India declared a public health emergency in the Delhi region after air pollution levels spiked to “severe plus” levels, blanketing the city in toxic smog and forcing people to stay indoors for safety reasons. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority issued an order on Friday to close schools, stop construction, and shut coal and other fuel-based factories until November 5. It also banned the use of firecrackers during the winter season. “We have to take this as a public health emergency as air pollution is now hazardous and will have adverse health impacts on all, but particularly our children,” wrote chairman Bhure Lal in the order. (via Financial Times)
20. Janan Ganesh: "What enriches life is not the number of your friendships. It is not even the depth of them. It is the range. Young people starting out in the big city should beware ghetto-ization by profession. What we are now obliged to call their “networks” should fan out as wide as possible. And ensuring that they do is itself a career." (via Financial Times)
22. Two News Items subscribers have books out this month. Joe Kanon's The Accomplice is reviewed here. A long piece about Susannah Cahalan's The Great Pretender is here. Different kinds of books, both great. Buy them and you can thank me later.
Quick Links: The world's greatest investor is Jim Simons. How China built a single-photon detector that works in space. California is on track to miss its climate targets—by a century. Adam Tooze on the Bundesbank and climate change. Earth's most important rivers are in the sky – and they're drying up. Malaysia rejects Goldman Sachs offer of $2 billion damages over 1MDB scandal. Google to acquire Fitbit for $2.1 billion in major health tech deal. Uber is trying to get its mojo back. Hearing aid uses 3D printed parts and costs less than a dollar. Barneys is sold for scrap, ending an era. Video of the day: "a runaway dog sled police chase." How does consciousness work? Hydro-Quebec may have something to do with it: Amazon buys 180 acres of land near Buffalo, NY.
Political Links: The humble three-wheeled tuk-tuk has become the symbol of Iraq’s uprising. Enraged Iraqi protesters blame Iran for killings. Inside Syria’s teeming ISIS prisons: Broken men, child inmates and orders to break free. Russia is the only winner in Syria. President Trump’s opposition to ‘endless wars’ appeals to those who fought them. U.S. launches national security review of video app TikTok. Is the president happy with his chief of staff? His response: “Happy? I don’t want to comment on it.” Pelosi sets a high bar for impeachment inquiry: ‘Ironclad’ proof. Pelosi worried 2020 candidates are on the wrong track. Beto O'Rourke dropped out of the 2020 presidential race. Said Trump: "he quit like a dog." An advisor said Mr. O'Rourke would not run for the US Senate in Texas next year. Kamala Harris shutters offices throughout New Hampshire. Iowa poll has Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg and Biden (in that order) tightly bunched. Paul Krugman argues that Elizabeth Warren has passed the "Medicare test." Jennifer Rubin: "The eight big problems with Warren’s Medicare-for-all plan." US pension plans dodge queries on healthcare holdings. Impeachment may leave America more polarized than ever. Inside Trump's Twitter feed. Nikkei Asian Review interviews Al Gore.