Good morning, Q-MHI readers!
WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY
Donald Trump hosts NATO’s chief.
Jens Stoltenberg visits the White House to help the US president prepare for a key meeting in London next month. On the agenda is Europe’s defense spending and financial contributions, a frequent lament of Trump,participate in a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and deliver a keynote speech at the NATO Industry Forum.
On Wednesday, Mr. Stoltenberg is meeting with members of the Senate NATO Observer Group, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate Armed Services Committee. He is also meeting with members of the House Armed Services Committee, as well as members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. The Secretary General’s day will conclude with a reception hosted by the US Department of Defense, and a meeting with a group of chief executives focused on the defence industry.
Secretary General Stoltenberg will meet President Trump at the White House on Thursday, in order to help prepare the meeting of NATO leaders scheduled for 4 December in London. He will also meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and participate in a small group ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. The same day, he will deliver a speech at the NATO Industry Forum, setting out how the Alliance’s cooperation with industry has been at the forefront of NATO’s adaptation over the decades.
At the start of his visit to the United States, the Secretary General was honoured by the “Diplomat of the Year” award from Foreign Policy magazine on Tuesday night. Accepting the award from editor-in-chief Jonathan Tepperman, Mr. Stoltenberg made a case for “relentless transatlantic diplomacy, backed by credible transatlantic defence”. Calling NATO “a unique diplomatic ‘force multiplier’”, he said: “when 29 nations speak with one voice, their voice is more powerful than any other in the world”.
The Fed chairman addresses lawmakers, again.
Jerome Powell testifies on the US economic outlook before the House Budget Committee. Yesterday, he hinted at a pause on any further interest rate cuts.Powell and other Fed officials, however, argue that their rate cuts, by lowering borrowing costs on mortgages and other loans, have spurred home sales and boosted the economy.
Recent data suggests that growth remains solid if not spectacular. The economy expanded at a 1.9% annual rate in the July-September quarter, down from 3.1% in the first three months of the year. The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low of 3.6% and hiring is strong enough to potentially push the rate even lower.
Inflation, according to the Fed’s preferred gauge, is just 1.3%, though it has been held down in recent months by lower energy costs and most Fed officials expect it to move higher in the coming months.
Powell on Wednesday also urged Congress to lower the federal budget deficit so that lawmakers would have more flexibility to cut taxes or boost spending to counter a future recession.
“The federal budget is on an unsustainable path, with high and rising debt,” Powell said. “Over time, this outlook could restrain fiscal policymakers’ willingness or ability to support economic activity during a downturn.”Other Fed officials have voiced similar concerns. Patrick Harker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, said Tuesday that the large deficit, and the constraints it imposes on Congress in the event of a recession, “is one of the things I do lose sleep over.”
Walmart looks up.
The world’s biggest retailer is expected to post a growth in revenue, as its shift to online sales continues to pay off.Analysts are expecting another strong quarter for Walmart. Same-store sales, a key metric for retailers, are anticipated to have jumped 3.1% at Walmart and 1.4% at Sam’s Club during the third quarter. Walmart is expected to report adjusted earnings of $1.09 per share on $128.67 billion of revenue, Shares of the retail giant have soared more than 30% this year.
Meanwhile, Nvidia also reports, with strong sales in the gaming industry expected to give the chip giant a boost. Nvidia’s gaming segment will be in focus. Sales in the segment have accelerated as a slew of new games using the chipmaker’s technology have given a boost to Nvidia’s graphics processing unit (GPU) sales. Analysts project gross margins rose 62%, while operating margins are expected to have jumped 33%.
Even as Nvidia is expected to report a solid third quarter, investors will be hyper focused on fourth-quarter guidance and projections for the company’s PC gaming and data center businesses. Shares of Nvidia have soared 57% in 2019.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING
The US recognized Bolivia’s interim president.
Jeanine Áñez declared herself leader on Tuesday (Nov. 12), after Evo Morales resigned days earlier and took exile in Mexico. Some consider his departure a coup by the country’s police and armed forces.
The United States recognized Jeanine Anez on Wednesday, November 13, as Bolivia’s interim president after the resignation of Evo Morales following weeks of turmoil.
“The United States applauds Bolivian Senator Jeanine Anez for stepping up as Interim President of State to lead her nation through this democratic transition, under the constitution of Bolivia,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Pompeo said the United States looks forward to working with Bolivia and its people “as they prepare to hold free, fair elections as soon as possible.”He also called on Bolivians to refrain from violence amid tension between supporters and critics of Morales, who resigned on Sunday, November 10, and later went into exile in Mexico.
Anez, 52, was deputy senate speaker before proclaiming herself acting president on Tuesday – a move endorsed by the Constitutional Court.
Major economies stalled.
Germany posted 0.1% growth, narrowly avoiding a recession after last quarter’s contraction expected by analysts. On an annual basis, the economy grew by 0.5% from July to September, the Federal Statistics Office reported. Second-quarter growth was revised down from -0.1% to -0.2% and two consecutive periods of negative growth would have constituted an official recession.
“No recession, but most definitely a very weak economy,” Claus Vistesen, chief euro zone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a research note.
“In some sense, this is the ‘worst’ of both worlds for markets. Today’s data confirm that the German economy has now stalled, but the headlines are probably not dire enough to prompt an immediate and aggressive fiscal response from Berlin.”
Meanwhile, Japan saw growth slow to a near standstill amid plummeting exports.
The death toll in Gaza surged.
According to Palestinian officials, a family of six was killed in Israeli airstrikes, bringing the total number of deaths to 32 since both sides started exchanging fire on Nov. 12, following a targeted killing in Gaza. There have been no Israeli deaths so far.
The Israeli military has been targeting what it said were Islamic Jihad militant sites and rocket-launching squads in the coastal Palestinian enclave of Gaza.”Six members of the Abu Malhous family, including three children and two women, were killed in an Israeli strike on their family home in Deir al-Balah in the southern Gaza Strip,” the Palestinian ministry of health said.
The previous day, Israel said it targeted two Islamic Jihad militants preparing to fire anti-tank missiles. Air raid sirens wailed and fireballs exploded as air defence missiles intercepted rockets, sending Israelis rushing to bomb shelters. In Gaza, residents surveyed damage and mourned the dead outside a mortuary and at funerals.
UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov arrived in Cairo on Wednesday afternoon, airport officials said, following reports he was to hold talks aimed at halting the fighting.
The UN and Egypt have been instrumental in mediating previous ceasefires between Israel and Gaza-based militants. But a source close to the discussions warned the risk of further escalation remained high.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Islamic Jihad must stop its rocket attacks or “absorb more and more blows”.
Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Barayem said the group was not interested in mediation for now as it retaliated over the killing of one of its commanders.
Israel killed senior Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata and his wife Asma in a targeted strike early Tuesday, prompting barrages of tit-for-tat rocket fire and air strikes. According to Israel, Ata was responsible for rocket fire at Israel as well as other attacks and was planning more violence, with the military calling him a “ticking bomb.”
Hong Kong’s schools were shut down.
The government decision, which includes universities, comes after protesters set up roadblocks to bring much of the city to a near standstill. A weekend curfew may or may not be announced today. Six months of anti-government political action have morphed from peaceful mass rallies into a so-called “blossom everywhere” campaign of violent hit-and-run confrontations with police by groups of black-clad protesters.
Key arterial roads were cut by brick and bamboo barricades, a cross-harbour tunnel was closed, and metro stations and bus services suspended — leaving many of the city’s 7.5 million people struggling to get to work.
Authorities ordered schools and universities to close until next week, while hospitals deferred non-emergency operations.
The government urged employers to be flexible with workers trapped in the gridlock. Of those who made it to work, some joined lunchtime rallies across the city — including in the city’s financial hub — part of an increasingly emboldened white-collar support base for the protest movement.
Shouting “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong”, thousands of office workers blocked roads through Central district as broad-based strike entered its fourth day.
“A lot of young people have been hurt… so we have to come out,” a legal worker who only gave her surname as Chan. “They have sacrificed too much for us, so Hong Kongers must come out.”
The protests began in June as a kickback against an attempt by the city’s Beijing-backed government to hustle through an extradition bill. The bill was eventually shelved, but demonstrations have snowballed into a wider demand for democracy by protesters who fear the city’s unique freedoms are being hacked back by Beijing.
– Rubber bullets vs arrows –
Violence has intensified this week across the financial hub, leaving several people badly hurt, stretching police resources and hammering the transport network.
The first volleys of tear gas were fired early Thursday by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, as a call went out for protesters to mass at the campus.
Daimler hit the brakes.
The German automaker told investors its move towards electric vehicles would hurt profits in 2020 and 2021, news that caused its shares to drop more than 5%. The company in turn plans to cut more than $1 billion in employment costs at its Mercedes-Benz business by the end of 2022, it said on Thursday.
Daimler (DAIGn.DE) shares were down 2.3% in early trading at 52.17 euros, the biggest decline on Germany’s DAX .GDAXI blue-chip index, which was down 0.3%.
Management positions will be cut by around 10%, and company said it would also seek more than 300 million euros from cutting personnel costs – plus another 250 million euros in fixed costs – at its trucks business.
Daimler said it needed to sell more electric vehicles to meet tougher European Union rules which force carmakers to cut carbon dioxide emissions from cars by 37.5% by 2030 compared with 2021 levels, and following a 40% cut between 2007 and 2021.
MATTERS OF DEBATE
Artificial intelligence can’t create copyrighted material.
As AI becomes increasingly advanced, its hand in creative works gets more complicated.“It’s not surprising [the office] is doing this,” says Rosen. “I think everyone sees it coming. Given how long these things take, any legislative response is going to be late, but by trying to get out in front of it on the study end, it’s not going to be as late. That’s just how things work.”
“I think what’s protectable is conscious steps made by a person to be involved in authorship,” Zvi S. Rosen, lecturer at the George Washington University School of Law
The US office responsible for patents and trademarks is trying to figure out how AI might call for changes to copyright law, and it’s asking the public for opinions on the topic. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a notice in the Federal Register last month saying it’s seeking comments, as spotted by TorrentFreak.
The office is gathering information about the impact of artificial intelligence on copyright, trademark, and other intellectual property rights. It outlines thirteen specific questions, ranging from what happens if an AI creates a copyright-infringing work to if it’s legal to feed an AI copyrighted material.
It starts off by asking if output made by AI without any creative involvement from a human should qualify as a work of authorship that’s protectable by US copyright law. If not, then what degree of human involvement “would or should be sufficient so that the work qualifies for copyright protection?”
Other questions ask if the company that trains an AI should own the resulting work, and if it’s okay to use copyrighted material to train an AI in the first place. “Should authors be recognized for this type of use of their works?” asks the office. “If so, how?”
The office, which, among other things, advises the government on copyright, often seeks public opinion to understand new developments and hear from people who actually deal with them. Earlier this year, the office similarly asked for public opinion on AI and patents.
Tech shaming is ruining the outdoors.
We shouldn’t feel guilty about using our gadgets in nature.Tech shaming has made us believe that the outdoor experience has to be pure or nothing. Here’s why you should absolve your guilt about using your gadgets in nature.
This is Sarah Mary Cunningham, recalling a recent, difficult conversation she had about using her phone on a hike in New York’s Catskill Mountains. “I was talking to another hiker—a purist—and I said something about using AllTrails and texting on the trail. And he was like, ‘You should really be developing your inner compass, not looking at your phone,’” Cunningham remembers.
The real burn to Cunningham, and to anyone who has been similarly judged for using technology outdoors, is the implication that if you need an app or a gadget to help you through a hike, jog, or any other activity, you’re somehow less of an outdoor person or athlete.
Tech shaming has been our judgment du jour for years now. (As a recent Psychology Today story put it, “It’s popular these days—as it has been any time a new type of technology has become widely used—to talk about how ‘sad’ it is that so many people are on their phone or on social media rather than ‘really socializing with people.’”) But tech shaming has a uniquely prevalent position in the outdoors.
The cable TV bundle is back.
Consumers want all-in-one packages that make viewing more convenient. Netflix Inc. broke the cable-TV bundle. Now it’s time to put it back together again, and cable giants like Comcast Corp. look eager to help.
It’s true that streaming has created more choices for consumers. You don’t necessarily need to subscribe to a $100-a-month cable package just to access kid-friendly Disney programs or re-runs of “The Big Bang Theory” (or pay extra for the ability to DVR the episodes you’ll miss). There are on-demand apps for both of those now — Disney+, which launched on Tuesday, and HBO Max, which becomes available in May.
At the same time, one major consequence of the streaming wars is that they’ve caused a new kind of consumer frustration. It feels like everything is becoming segregated across various services with their own individual paywalls. That requires knowing which TV programs and movies reside where, having to toggle among those different apps — which isn’t as smooth as simply channel-surfing — and managing multiple monthly subscriptions. Sign up for enough of them, and it can easily add up to the cost of good old cable, especially given that a strong internet connection is a necessary component.
It’s a situation that’s unsustainable, and already the media and cable giants seem to be eyeing the reintroduction of bundles to make things easier on consumers (and to make their subscriptions stickier).
A 2020 US election simulation ended in violence.
The imaginary 16-hour day left 32 dead and 200 injured and authorities were ultimately forced to cancel the vote. After successful foreign intervention in the 2016 US Election, preparing for any and all possibilities in 2020 has become an urgent task for US regulators and law enforcement. And although the United States has earmarked an additional $250 million to protect the 2020 elections from outside interference, experts say this amount “doesn’t come close” to what’s needed.
Federal oversight of voting systems is worryingly lax, and many expect adversarial nations to continue to weaponize social media to upend US elections. As retired US Army general Stanley McChrystal and David Eichenbaum, a Democratic media consultant, wrote in a recent op-ed, “America is totally unprepared for what is coming because it will be like nothing we’ve seen before. Everyone is vulnerable, and everyone will be affected.” The recent role-playing exercise presented a real-world scenario pushed to the extreme.
Dubbed Operation Blackout, the simulation was hosted in Washington, DC by Cybereason, a Boston-based cybersecurity firm. The pretend election took place in a fictitious swing-state city called Adversaria. A group of ethical “white hat” hackers—the Red Team—took on a group of federal agents and local cops who comprised the Blue Team. Unlike most simulations like this, the Red Team was explicitly prohibited from manipulating election equipment, forcing them to focus instead on interfering in other aspects of the electoral process. (No actual hacking was allowed.).
In the first round of the simulation, the Red Team, which was led by Striem-Amit, developed a strategy to launch audio and video deep-fake attacks. They took control of the Fox News website and CNN’s Twitter account, as well as the Facebook and Twitter accounts for city hall and the mayor, using them to spread disinformation about voting machines being hacked. Law enforcement—the Blue Team—responded by deploying officers and K9 units throughout the city, after the FBI informed them that a hacking attempt had occurred.
The Red Team then took control of 50 autonomous cars and five driverless buses—a move that may be more likely rooted in a future reality—and deployed a cell-site simulator that allowed them to track people’s locations and intercept their phone calls. They seized control of Adversaria’s traffic lights, causing accidents, and distributed a deep-fake video of the Democratic candidate engaging in racial and domestic violence.
A protest erupted outside the International Monetary Fund, to which the Blue Team deployed officers and agents. The National Guard was put on standby while the Blue Team informed the public that there was actually no evidence of a hack on voting machines.The Red Team responded by hacking into telecommunications networks, initiating a round of DDoS attacks. They used their deep-fake capabilities to mimic the voices of polling station supervisors, convincing poll workers to reset all electronic voting machines. The Blue Team set up portable traffic lights, and sent 100 plainclothes cops to polling locations, and a chopper into the air.
Meanwhile, the police responded to a hoax bomb threat on the north side of town. The Red Team leaked video footage of the vehicle attacks, and posed as ISIS to claim responsibility.
Amid all this, the election was canceled and people were told to go home. The government declared a state of emergency and martial law. The leaders of the group that attacked the election, a fictitious anarchist cell, were eventually identified and arrested.
In the aftermath, fear about the threat of terrorism grew. Rumors spread about US government collusion, although an investigation did not turn up evidence of that. More conspirators were arrested, and trials began.The final tally: 32 dead, 200 wounded.
Rod Stewart likes models.
OK, unsurprising. But the rock legend has spent 23 years completing a huge and intricate model of a US city and its railway. He unveiled it as part of an interview with Railway Modeller magazine.
He then phoned in to Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 show to rebuff the host’s suggestion he had not built it himself. “I would say 90% of it I built myself,” he insisted. “The only thing I wasn’t very good at and still am not is the electricals, so I had someone else do that.”
Sir Rod has released 13 studio albums and been on 19 tours during the time it took to build the city, which is modelled on both New York and Chicago around 1945. “A lot of people laugh at it being a silly hobby, but it’s a wonderful hobby,” he said.
He told Railway Modeller he worked on the skyscrapers and other scenery while on tour, requesting an extra room for his constructions in his hotels. “We would tell them in advance and they were really accommodating, taking out the beds and providing fans to improve air circulation and ventilation,” he said.
The scenery and structures are his forte, rather than the locomotives and tracks. “I find beauty in what everyone else sees as ugly – rugged skyscrapers, beaten-up warehouses, things that are very run down.”
Photos of the layout show dozens of highly detailed buildings plus bridges, ships, vegetation and streets teeming with vintage cars and taxis. “When I take on something creative like this, I have to give it 110%,” he said. “For me it’s addictive. I started, so I just had to finish. I’m lucky I had the room. If I’d have realised at the start it would have taken so long, I’d have probably said, ‘No! No! Nah!'”
The 74-year-old singer, who once had a hit with a cover of Tom Waits’ song Downtown Train, put the model city together in an attic at his home in Los Angeles.
Describing the level of detail that went into the scenery, he told Vine that even the pavements had to be suitably grimy. “You start off with a grey. And then you add a little concrete colour, so every paving stone is slightly different,” he explained. “And the cracks have to have some black chalk… and then you add a little bit of rubbish in the gutters, you add a little bit of rust here and there. I enjoyed the building more than I did the running.”
Fellow musician and model railway enthusiast Jools Holland also appeared on Vine’s show, telling him: “When you get these big scale ones like Sir Rod’s they are like a work of art. They’re like an amazing painting that’s been created in three dimensions.”
Two months ago, Sir Rod revealed he had been given the all-clear after being treated for prostate cancer. On Wednesday, he announced he would perform at a “secret dinner party” organised by his wife Penny Lancaster in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust, with the aim of raising £1m.
Chinese propaganda is now on PornHub.
Resourceful anti-Hong Kong activists are uploading videos that are unwelcome on Twitter and YouTube.
As Twitter, Facebook and YouTube shut down accounts spreading China’s narrative about the Hong Kong protests overseas, resourceful patriots are putting their videos on another extremely popular platform: the world’s biggest porn site.
Beijing has been waging a disinformation campaign against Hong Kong’s protests since June, when the city began to see mass protests sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill. Chinese state-owned media outlets have depicted the protesters as violent separatists advocating independence, although that is not a key demand among protest participants, who have been calling for greater democracy and an inquiry into police brutality. As the disinformation efforts extended to overseas platforms—often quite clumsily—first Twitter announced it was suspending tens of thousands of accounts, followed by Facebook and YouTube, which shut down 210 channels that posted videos about Hong Kong in a way that suggested a “coordinated influence operation.”
Shu Chang, a Chinese online commentator with over 3 million followers on Chinese social media platform Weibo, said in a post (link in Chinese) on Tuesday (Nov. 12) that she and other internet users had uploaded a number of propaganda videos on Pornhub after being unable to put them on YouTube.
“YouTube would not allow us to upload those videos so we have no other way but to post the videos to Pornhub,” said Shu. While Shu did not identify the videos she and other users had uploaded, searches by Quartz on Wednesday (Nov. 13) for phrases like “Hong Kong rioters” found at least a dozen recently uploaded videos. Since Pornhub and other porn platforms are blocked in China amid a crackdown on “spiritual pollution,” users would need to use a virtual private network to leap the great firewall and access it.
Six of them were from a channel named “CCYL_central” that joined three months ago, and has so far uploaded 11 videos in all. Its videos on Hong Kong ranged from Hong Kong citizens expressing their praise for Hong Kong police, to news clips from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV condemning the protesters for violent behavior. The channel describes its acronym as standing for the Chinese Communist Youth League—but it’s unlikely to be actually affiliated with the youth wing of the Communist Party. The channel, which said its favorite book is one written by Chinese president Xi Jinping on politics, has so far garnered 9,000 views and 32 subscribers.
Another account shared six videos, mostly about how protesters are advocating for Hong Kong independence and praising Chinese students overseas for clashing with Hong Kong “separatists.”
And a handle called “John97,”—an account that was only registered yesterday—reposted a single graphic video that had been earlier shared on YouTube by Nathan Rich, an American living in China who creates videos that counter criticism of China. The video has been viewed 3,000 times on the platform.
The video titled “Rioters (Cockroach) in Hong Kong,”—a term Hong Kong police have been using for protesters—used a deeply tragic incident that occurred yesterday (Nov. 12) to condemn the Hong Kong movement. A video that circulated on Tuesday had shown a man being set on fire after arguing with protesters. Hong Kong police confirmed the attack, which drew criticism in the city and calls for the protesters to distance themselves from such actions.
“Chinese people are at risk of being burned alive if they dare to disagree with the fascist right-wingers in Hong Kong,” said Rich in the video, calling the protesters “terrorists.”
Motorola unveiled its new “razr.”
The mid-2000s hit is back, in lower case, as an all-screen foldable phone.But the Motorola that launched the Razr looks nothing like the company today. After a brief, unfruitful period of ownership by Google, Motorola’s mobile division was sold to the Chinese conglomerate Lenovo, which also purchased another flagging US tech icon, the IBM Thinkpad computer line, around the time when the Razr went on sale.
The new device features a foldable plastic display that fills the phone when unfolded. It unfurls much like the original phone did, but instead of revealing a small screen and a keypad, there’s now a high-resolution OLED display and a selfie camera. The phone is a fair bit wider than the original Razr, and when it’s open, it feels roughly the same size as many of today’s popular smartphones. When it’s closed, it’s—amazingly—as thin as the original device.
Motorola said it did not set out to redesign the Razr. In fact, it had already brought the brand back to life before, to mixed results. Ruben Castano, Motorola’s head of design, said the company had been trying to answer some of the frustrations that modern consumers have with their smartphones. For example, they enjoy their large screens, but don’t enjoy how bulky they are in their pockets and hands. Eventually, the team decided that the best way to address this was to make use of a foldable display, something the company had been researching since 2015, and that led to the rebirth of the Razr. The hope is that some of the nostalgia for the original Razr will intrigue consumers to check out the new model, which runs a modified version of Android.
In a brief hands-on with the device, it seems like the Razr faces similar challenges. As the phone closes, the foldable display actually pushes outwards before retracting inwards, and it’s possible to easily pull the display up away from the device even further with a finger.
Sturdy or not, this device is not cheap—it will start at $1,500. While that’s roughly $500 less than Huawei and Samsung are charging for their (albeit larger) folding phones, it’s $500 more than a new iPhone 11 Pro or Galaxy S10. That’s a hefty price to pay for updated nostalgia.
Of course, tech nostalgia has worked for some companies—look at how Nintendo continually regenerates its intellectual property and consoles to great success, or how Nokia’s revived its popular smartphone lines—but it’s a costly gamble.
Wild hogs foiled an Italian drug ring.
The animals dug up and destroyed more than $20,000 of cocaine.Wild boar, or cinghiale, are found in ever-increasing numbers in the Italian countryside, much to the dismay of the country’s farmers, motorists, and now drug dealers.
The animals unearthed and broke into a sealed package of cocaine hidden in the Tuscan forest, near Montepulciano, before scattering the contents through woodland, local media reported.
The unconventional drugs bust was discovered when police wiretapped suspected drug traffickers – an Italian and three Albanians – and heard them complain about the damage to their woodland stash.
The drug reportedly came from the nearby city of Perugia before being hidden and peddled around the eastern Tuscan city of Arezzo and further afield.
The gang had reportedly sold two kilos of cocaine in a month before being busted.