Discover more from News Items
Here and Now and Today.
News Items by John Ellis.
Saturday editions of News Items are “free.” For those who are not subscribers and would like to sign up for weekday distribution (and receive political commentary and analysis as well), you can do so by clicking the “button” below. It’s easy, it’s fast and it’s relatively inexpensive, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Housekeeping note: News Items will not be distributed Thursday through Sunday of next week. Thanksgiving.
1. It is impossible to draw neat lines connecting the unrest that is spanning the globe. But the fact that people have poured into the streets in so many places—often sharing tactics and even slogans—has given the turmoil the contours of a new social movement, echoing past upheavals such as the Arab Spring and the student protests of 1968. The immediate sparks vary from country to country. But underlying the unrest are an often similar mix of social and economic discord helping fuel demands for sweeping changes to the existing political order. (via The Wall Street Journal)
2. Millions of Hong Kong residents will vote on Sunday in local elections, marking their first chance to weigh in at the polls after five months of increasingly violent protests calling for greater democracy in the former British colony. Ahead of the District Council election, Hong Kong officials warned the vote could be postponed after some candidates came under attack and the city was paralyzed as protesters blocked roads and riot cops laid siege to a university. Police are dispatching at least two officers clad in riot gear to each polling booth, all of which are set to close at 10:30 p.m. Results are expected in the early morning hours on Monday. (via Bloomberg News, Nikkei Asian Review)
3. A Chinese spy has risked his life to defect to Australia and is now offering a trove of unprecedented inside intelligence on how China conducts its interference operations abroad. Wang “William” Liqiang is the first Chinese operative to ever blow his cover. He has revealed the identities of China’s senior military intelligence officers in Hong Kong, as well as providing details of how they fund and conduct political interference operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia. Mr Wang has taken his material to Australia's counter-espionage agency, ASIO, and is seeking political asylum – potentially opening another front in Australia’s challenging bilateral relationship with China. A sworn statement Mr Wang provided ASIO in October states: “I have personally been involved and participated in a series of espionage activities”. He faces certain detention and possible execution if he returns to China. (The Sydney Morning Herald)
4. President Trump suggested Friday that he might veto legislation designed to support pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong — despite its near-unanimous support in the House and Senate — to pave the way for a trade deal with China. Speaking on the “Fox & Friends” morning program, the president said that he was balancing competing priorities in the U.S.-China relationship. “We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi [Jinping],” Trump said. “He’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy. ... But I’d like to see them work it out. Okay? We have to see and work it out. But I stand with Hong Kong. I stand with freedom. I stand with all of the things that we want to do, but we also are in the process of making the largest trade deal in history. And if we could do that, that would be great."(via The Washington Post)
5. Delhi’s tap water has been declared unsafe to drink as politicians vie for control of the Indian capital in state elections dominated by a pollution crisis. The city is not only the most polluted capital on earth, but its residents are drinking the unsafest water in the country, a government report said. That is contradicted by local officials, including Arvind Kejriwal, the city’s chief minister, who claimed that its water was cleaner than any in Europe. His rivals have challenged him to serve unfiltered tap water at civic events. Roughly 20 million people live in Delhi. It is the world's fifth-most populous city. (via Times of London)
6. Chile, long cited as the quiet success story of Latin America, appears to be tearing itself apart. It had to cancel two major international summits this month, the Asia-Pacific trade forum and a United Nations climate gathering, because the participants’ safety could not be guaranteed. At least 19 people have been killed, some of them looters shot by shop owners, and more than 6,000 arrests have been made. More than 200 demonstrators have suffered severe eye injuries, mainly from pellets fired at close range by the security forces. Some protesters now wear eye bandages as a symbol of solidarity with the blinded.(via Times of London)
7. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing new political and legal challenges after being indicted on corruption charges, as Israel moves toward a likely third election in a year. Likud members are increasingly calling for a leadership vote as they question Mr. Netanyahu’s ability to lead them to victory in a new vote. On Friday, some members of Likud’s governing body said the party should hold primaries to choose a new leader that could try to form a new government to avert a third election and give Mr. Netanyahu time to address his legal issues. (via The Wall Street Journal)
8. Over recent weeks, ATMs in Lebanon have been spitting back bank cards, refusing to provide dollars to those who ask for them, though people here have long used the American currency alongside the Lebanese pound. Dollars have virtually disappeared. Panicked tenants have begun asking to pay their rent in pounds, but landlords are refusing to accept them as the local currency hemorrhages value. Some restaurants and bars have stopped taking credit cards, instead requiring cash to pay vendors. Other eateries have limited their menus, unable to pay for imported goods in dollars. Lebanon is facing not just political turmoil, with daily protests across the country, but a financial emergency as well. (via The Washington Post)
9. The turmoil in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling party was laid bare Friday as her anointed successor came out swinging against internal rivals seeking to oust her as the party bleeds voters. In a combative speech at a party conference in Leipzig, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer indicated to members of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union that she was ready to step aside as leader if she did not have their backing. “If you are of the opinion that the path which I want to go down, together with you, isn’t the right one, then let’s speak about it today,” she said. “Let’s end this today. Here and now and today.” The seven-minute standing ovation that followed, along with a conciliatory speech from her main rival, suggested she had managed to foil immediate attempts to oust her. But her position remains far from secure. (via The Washington Post)
10. Italy’s ruling Five Star Movement has been dealt a blow by a poll of its voter base that threatens to fracture its fragile coalition government and could allow Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League to triumph in crucial upcoming local elections. Five Star members roundly rejected leader Luigi Di Maio’s recommendation that his party pull out of the regional elections in a poll held on the Five Star’s digital democracy platform, weakening his authority. (via Financial Times)
11. Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, spent at least $30 million on Friday for a single week of television ads, a show of financial force that signals his willingness to use his vast personal fortune to reshape the Democratic presidential race. The 60-second biographical commercials will begin on Monday in more than two dozen states and roughly 100 news media markets from California to Maine, a preview of a 2020 campaign budget that could easily stretch into the nine-figure range. (via The New York Times)
12. In a briefing that closely aligned with the testimony of Fiona Hill, American intelligence officials informed senators and their aides in recent weeks that Russia had engaged in a years-long campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election, according to three American officials. The briefing came as Republicans stepped up their defenses of Mr. Trump in the Ukraine affair. The revelations demonstrate Russia’s persistence in trying to sow discord among its adversaries — and show that the Kremlin apparently succeeded, as unfounded claims about Ukrainian interference seeped into Republican talking points. American intelligence agencies believe Moscow is likely to redouble its efforts as the 2020 presidential campaign intensifies. The classified briefing for senators also focused on Russia’s evolving influence tactics, including its growing ability to better disguise operations. (via C-Span.org, The New York Times)
13. The Justice Department’s inspector general is expected to conclude there was a proper legal basis for the government’s application to monitor a former Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser, but that errors and lapses in judgment were made during the process, according to people familiar with the matter. Among the findings identified in the report is that an FBI lawyer altered an email related to the surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser, people familiar with the matter said Friday. The conduct didn’t change the watchdog’s overall conclusion. (via The Wall Street Journal)
14. Business activity in the U.S. is offering signs of a pickup in late 2019, contrasting with more sluggish economic performances in some of the world’s other largest economies. Data company IHS Markit said Friday that its composite Purchasing Managers’ Index for the U.S., a measure of activity in businesses, posted a four-month high of 51.9 in November, up from 50.9 in October. A level above 50 points to growth in business activity, while a reading below that mark points to contraction. “The worst of the economy’s recent soft patch may be behind us,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, referring to the U.S. economy. (via The Wall Street Journal)
15. The U.S. is at the beginning of a tidal wave of homes hitting the market on the scale of the housing bubble in the mid-2000s. This time it won’t be driven by overbuilding, easy credit or irrational exuberance, but by an inevitable fact of life: the passing of the baby boomer generation. One in eight owner-occupied homes in the U.S., or roughly nine million residences, are set to hit the market from 2017 through 2027 as the baby boomers start to die in larger numbers, according to an analysis by Issi Romem conducted while he was a senior director of housing and urban economics at Zillow. That is up from roughly 7 million homes in the prior decade. By 2037, one quarter of the U.S. for-sale housing stock, or roughly 21 million homes will be vacated by seniors. That is more than twice the number of new properties built during a 10-year period that spanned the last housing bubble. (via The Wall Street Journal)
16. The default risk of companies owned by private-equity firms is 2.5 times that of their public counterparts, according to data collected from banks, insurers and asset managers by analytics firm Credit Benchmark. Private-equity firms use leveraged loans, rated below investment grade, for the financing of buyouts of target companies. About 57% of companies purchased in leveraged buyouts now carry debt loads more than six times their earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or Ebitda, according to Morgan Stanley’s report. That exceeds the 51% ratio in 2007 on the eve of the financial crisis, according to the report. (via The Wall Street Journal)
17. Groundhog Day: The Federal Reserve Bank of New York added $80.6 billion in temporary liquidity to the financial system yesterday. The intervention came via three-day repurchase agreements, or repos. Eligible banks offered $64.4 billion in Treasurys and $16.2 billion in mortgage securities, and the central bank took all that was offered. (via The Wall Street Journal)
18. Edmund Phelps: "Three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany has become a "trading nation" with a debilitating aversion to the capitalist spirit of dynamism. Unless it can rediscover its tradition of innovation and groundbreaking contributions to the arts and sciences, it could end up falling ever further behind in the twenty-first century." (via Project Syndicate)
19. Scott Galloway: "Big tech has decided that original scripted television will foment enduring loyalty across platforms that sell many things. So, for the foreseeable future, the deepest pockets in the world will spend more on scripted television each year than Canada or Australia spend on defense. If Netflix continues to increase its content budget at the same rate, by 2025 Netflix will spend more on Stranger Things, You, The Crown, and other original content than the US spends on food stamps (SNAP)." Read the whole thing. (via No Mercy/No Malice)
20. Alphabet X, the company’s early research and development division, has unveiled the Everyday Robot project, whose aim is to develop a “general-purpose learning robot.” The idea is to equip robots with cameras and complex machine-learning software, letting them observe the world around them and learn from it without needing to be taught every potential situation they may encounter. The early prototype robots are learning how to sort trash. It sounds mundane, but it’s tough to get robots to identify different types of objects, and then how to grasp them. Alphabet X claims that its robots are currently putting less than 5% of trash in the wrong place, versus an error rate of 20% among the office’s humans. (MIT Technology Review, x.company)
Quick Links: The global drugs trade shifts to west Africa. Scientists are just beginning to understand mysterious DNA circles common in cancer cells. An AI doctor is analyzing heart scans in dozens of hospitals. Bridgewater makes $1.5 billion options bet on falling market. Bridgewater's Ray Dalio denies: "we don’t have any such net bet that the stock market will fall." Bridgewater has about $150 billion in assets under management. Hedge fund pioneer Louis Bacon’s retreat spells end of era. WeWork to ditch leasing model in many cities. Maurice Lévy is now WeWork's "interim chief marketing officer." Failure found to be an “essential prerequisite” for success. Dogs can't help falling in love.
Political Links: Bret Stephens: Impeach. Peggy Noonan: Censure. Daniel McCarthy: Don't impeach. President Trump: "Frankly, I want a trial." John Bolton is back on Twitter. In Iran, ‘rage is escalating’ as economic stress reaches new level. Yemen is the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. Egypt’s President Sisi sends son to strengthen ties with Vladimir Putin. Anti-government rallies in Iraqi capital turn bloody. Defiant Algerian protesters reject December presidential vote. Hong Kong’s protests: Inside the PolyU siege. Trump said he personally saved Hong Kong from being “obliterated." Pakistan scrambles to revive China's Belt and Road momentum. Jeremy Corbyn ‘neutral’ on Brexit. Labour is losing the battle for Grimsby. The rise and fall of Evo Morales. Google wants to do business with the military--Many of its employees don't. Citing Trump comments, Amazon sues over loss of Pentagon cloud deal to Microsoft. Janan Ganesh: "The most under-discussed feeling in the modern world is boredom."