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News Items. 24 July 2019.
by John Ellis
1. John Thornhill: "Computer algorithms encoded with human values will increasingly determine the jobs we land, the romantic matches we make, the bank loans we receive and the people we kill, intentionally with military drones or accidentally with self-driving cars. How we embed those human values into code will be one of the most important forces shaping our century. Yet no one has agreed what those values should be. Still more unnerving is that this debate now risks becoming entangled in geo-technological rivalry between the US and China. During the past two centuries, the west has enjoyed a near-monopoly in the global values-uploading business. It has embedded its norms in international treaties and institutions. But in the digital realm it now faces a formidable rival in China, which is fast emerging as an artificial intelligence superpower determined to set its own rules."
2. The Justice Department is opening a broad antitrust review into whether dominant technology firms are unlawfully stifling competition, adding a new Washington threat for companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon.com and Apple. The review is geared toward examining the practices of online platforms that dominate internet search, social media and retail services, the department said, confirming the review shortly after The Wall Street Journal reported it.
3. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will have to personally certify that the company is taking steps to protect consumer privacyunder a settlement expected to be announced with the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday, a person familiar with the matter said. The deal includes a requirement that Mr. Zuckerberg make the certification to the FTC quarterly based on his personal knowledge, the person said. A false statement in such a certification would be subject to potential penalties, this person said.
4. Some time next year, as the ranks of retirees swell, the Social Security system in the United States will pass an ominous tipping point and start the slide into insolvency. For the first time in nearly four decades, the government program that provides retirement checks to older Americans will pay out more in benefits in 2020 than it takes in. That will force the program to dip into a rainy day fund that will be depleted in about 15 years.
5. WSJ Editorial Page: "The rap on Washington is that it’s too partisan and accomplishes little. We’ll take that if the alternative is this week’s budget deal that is a win for the political faction that really runs the place—the bipartisan spending party."
6. Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: “This agreement is a total abdication of fiscal responsibility by Congress and the president. It may end up being the worst budget agreement in our nation's history, proposed at a time when our fiscal conditions are already precarious.”
7. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has nearly 1,000 investigations open into economic espionage and attempted intellectual property theft, nearly all of them leading back to China, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. “There is no country that poses a more severe counter-intelligence threat to this country right now than China … and I don’t say it lightly,” Wray told the US Senate Judiciary Committee.
8. China on Wednesday warned that it would not tolerate protesters’ efforts to threaten the central government’s authority in Hong Kong and suggested that it could, if necessary, mobilize troops in the People’s Liberation Army garrison there to maintain order. The warning came as the government released a new defense strategy that accused the United States of undermining global stability and identified separatism as China’s most immediate security threat.
9. The first joint patrol by Russian and Chinese bombers aimed at testing the air defenses of U.S. allies in northeast Asia triggered a rare clash as South Korean fighters scrambled to ward off what Seoul said was an intrusion into its airspace. South Korean pilots fired warning shots and flares Tuesday to repel a Russian command-and-control plane that was part of the bomber group, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said. Other Chinese and Russian warplanes passed several miles outside South Korean airspace, officials said.
10. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un examined a new submarine that experts believe could carry multiple missiles, including those with nuclear capabilities, in Pyongyang’s latest display of military strength as denuclearization talks with Washington remain gridlocked. North Korean state media, in a Tuesday report, didn’t provide details about the submarine’s tactical abilities or its physical size. But the North plans to deploy the new submarine soon, state media reported.
11. Israel struck Syrian army targets in Tel Al-Hara, where Western intelligence sources previously said Iranian-backed militias are based, Syrian official news agency SANA reported Tuesday. According to reports, at least two Syrian soldiers were wounded and Syrian air defense responded to the strike. The targets Israel struck belonged to the Syrian army and to militias working with it, Syrian media reported.
12. Boris Johnson, the brash standard-bearer for a British exit from the European Union, yesterday won the contest to become the next prime minister, at a critical moment in his country’s history and with less political clout than just about any of its leaders since the Second World War. His Conservative Party holds only a slim working majority in Parliament. But he has nonetheless promised to carry out Britain’s labyrinthine exit from the European Union by Oct. 31 — a challenge that confounded his predecessor, Prime Minister Theresa May, for the three years she held office.
13. Brexit uncertainty and a slowdown in global growth are weighing on British manufacturers, with factory orders falling at the fastest pace in a decade, according to the CBI. A balance of -15 per cent of businesses reported a rise in new orders in the quarter to this month compared with +5 per cent in the three months to April, the trade body’s industrial trends survey of 291 firms showed. Domestic and export orders fell at the fastest rate since the financial crisis.
14. The woes of the eurozone’s manufacturers are worsening, with a closely watched gauge of the export dependent sector hitting its lowest level in more than six and a half years in July. The purchasing managers’ index for manufacturing, produced by data firm IHS Markit, fell to 46.4 — a 79 month low. The July figure, down from a reading of 47.6 in June, is significantly below the crucial 50 level which marks steady growth.
15. Germany's central bank has issued a wary welcome to Facebook’s plans to set up a digital currency, arguing that it could reform finance by driving down the costs for consumers of moving money around. However, the bank also said it would “closely monitor” the risks that the libra payment system could be used for money laundering or financing terrorism, as well as the dangers it could pose to the stability of the global economy.
16. Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats are vying to keep Wall Street from dominating a potentially lucrative new line of business. At issue is the development of real-time payment systems that would allow consumers and businesses to instantly access money that’s sent to their bank accounts. Everyone agrees that creating such networks is necessary. But they’re at odds over whether it’s a good idea to let big banks, which already have one up and running, reign supreme. Ms. Warren wants the Federal Reserve to build out a competing system.
17. Petrol stations and garages in South Korea are refusing to fill up or service Japanese cars as part of a growing boycott of Japanese goods sparked by trade and political tensions. Sales of trips to Japan, Japanese beer and even tickets for the anime work 'Butt Detective the Movie' have all been affected, and there are demonstrations outside Japan’s embassy in Seoul, though some now worry the campaign is setting Koreans against each other.
18. Unchecked climate change could mean that the weather conditions hurting farmers this year will become increasingly common and result in higher costs for the federal government, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. The report, issued by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, found that if greenhouse gases are allowed to continue to increase, U.S. production of corn and soybeans—which are more susceptible to extreme heat during growing season—could decline as much as 80% in the next 60 years.
19. Residential, agricultural and industrial wells are being dug deeper and deeper in search of freshwater, according to the first nationwide assessment of U.S. groundwater wells. But scientists warn that the practice is not a sustainable way to address the country’s future water supply needs.
20. In what could eventually become a milestone for H.I.V. prevention, very preliminary tests of an implant containing a new drug suggest that it may protect against infection for a full year. The new implant, by the drug company Merck, was tested in just a dozen subjects for 12 weeks. But experts were quite excited at its potential to revolutionize the long battle against H.I.V.
Quick Links: Trade wars hitting global growth, IMF says. No-deal Brexit poses threat to world economy, IMF warns. The Mauritius leaks expose the blueprint for global tax avoidance. US home sales stumbled in June. The auto industry boom appears to be over. Nissan to post 90% plunge in operating profit. Nissan eyes 10,000 job cuts in restructuring. Daimler to cut costs after first quarterly loss in 10 years. UK sells 10-year debt at close to lowest yield on record. Restructuring pushes Deutsche Bank to deepest loss since 2008. Deutsche Bank helped Jeffrey Epstein manage his fortune. Streaming revolution threatens to end the game console era. Asia's esports hubs rattled by the rise in game addiction. Uber tries out first monthly subscription. WeWork aims to go public in September, sooner than expected. Snapchat shares bounce after bumper 2nd-quarter results. Tornado on Cape Cod. Wildfires in Portugal (photos). Intense European heat wave roasts millions as all-time records tumble.
Political Links: Robert Mueller testifies to Congress today. Trump sues House panel, New York officials to protect state tax returns. Department of Commerce reaches new heights of dysfunction. The Biden campaign isn't going well. The 'Butcher of Beijing' has died. Every president since Reagan was wrong about China's destiny. Libya's grim civil war escalates.