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WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY
The UK’s new Parliament gets to work.
The UK’s new Parliament gets to work. MPs are sworn in, with prime minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party taking 365 of parliament’s 650 seats following last week’s landslide election victory. Johnson plans to add a clause to his Brexit bill making it illegal to delay the divorce process beyond the end of next year.
The post-Brexit transition period – due to conclude in December 2020 – can currently be extended by mutual agreement for up to two years. But an amended Withdrawal Agreement Bill the Commons is set to vote on this week would rule out any extension.
The PM told MPs it would put an end to years of “deadlock, dither and delay”. As the House of Commons assembled for the first time since the election, Boris Johnson said his priority was to “get Brexit done”. He also promised to seek “common ground” and to approach politics with a “new and generous spirit” after the rancour of recent years.
Jeremy Corbyn congratulated the Conservative leader on his victory but said he would be “judged” on whether he delivered on the “many, many promises” he had made during the campaign, including to longstanding Labour voters.
The UK is set to leave the EU on 31 January, more than three and a half years after the public backed Brexit in a referendum. Soon after, the two sides will begin talking about their future economic relationship, including controversial areas such as fishing rights, consumer and environmental standards and financial services.
Trade deals typically take many years to conclude and senior EU figures are sceptical that a deal can be agreed within that time. If it is not, the economic relationship will default to World Trade Organization (WTO) terms, with the likelihood of tariffs on imports and exports.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc would “do the maximum” to finalise the deal in time. Asked about the UK’s refusal to contemplate any extra time for the talks, he said “it is the British choice to choose the procedure it wants”.
This is a political signal, a moment of early chest beating too, designed to disappoint those who might have been hoping No 10 might slide to a softer Brexit over the next few months. And designed to gratify those who are adamant that Brexit must be completely “done” as soon as possible.
Boris Johnson seems to have concluded that if the talks are to go anywhere fast, there has to be a convincing clear deadline. It was his vow of a Halloween deadline that got him to Downing Street in the first place, and although it was broken in the end, there’s little question that his attitude towards extending again and again changed the dynamics of the talks with the EU that got the revised deal done.
Putting the deadline into law may also be designed to focus minds in Brussels. How effective that might be? That’s a different question.
Argentina rushes to revive its recessionary economy.
An emergency bill will propose an array of tax hikes to raise funds, as new president Alberto Fernández also tries to renegotiate payment terms on IMF loans. A spokesman for new cabinet chief Santiago Cafiero confirmed the plan to send the bill to legislators, which is hoped to give the government ammunition to bolster social spending amid recession and rising poverty.
Fernandez’s administration has already announced plans to hike taxes on farm products, Argentina’s main export, and to bring back a so-called “tourist tax” on overseas expenditure. It will also cut drug prices in agreement with industry.
Fernández, who took office last week, is grappling with annual inflation close to 55% and an economy that is expected to contract for a third straight year in 2020.
His economic team is also already negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other creditors on new payment terms on around $100 billion in debts, which Fernandez said Argentina cannot currently pay. GDP data is expected to show that the economy shrank in five of the past six quarters.
The UN Security Council discusses sanctions on North Korea.
China and Russia have proposed lifting sanctions on exports of statues ,seafood and textiles, according to a draft resolution seen by Reuters, in a move Russia said is aimed at encouraging talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
The draft also called for a ban to be lifted on North Koreans working abroad and the termination of a 2017 requirement for all such workers to be repatriated by next week. The draft would also exempt inter-Korean rail and road cooperation projects from U.N. sanctions.
It was not immediately clear when or if the draft resolution could be put to a vote in the 15-member Security Council. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, France, Britain, Russia or China to pass.
A U.S. State Department official said now was not the time for the Security Council to consider lifting sanctions on North Korea as the country was “threatening to conduct an escalated provocation, refusing to meet to discuss denuclearization, and continuing to maintain and advance its prohibited weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.”
The sanctions on industries that Russia and China have proposed lifting earned North Korea hundreds of millions of dollars and were put in place in 2016 and 2017 to try and cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Tuesday that some sanctions should be lifted in light of North Korea’s compliance “with relevant resolutions”.
“We hope the Security Council will speak with one voice in support of a political resolution,” Geng told a regular briefing, adding that the need for a resolution of the situation on the Korean peninsula was becoming more urgent.
Concerns were growing internationally that North Korea could resume nuclear or long-range missile testing – suspended since 2017 – because denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington have stalled.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump have met three times since June 2018, but no progress toward denuclearization has been made and Kim has given Trump until the end of 2019 to show flexibility.
At China’s request, the council will also discuss the situation in Indian Kashmir.
The Simpsons turns 30.
The animated series first aired on Fox on Dec. 17, 1989, and has since become the longest-running scripted primetime series in history. You can celebrate by watching more than 660 episodes in a 15-day marathon starting 17 Dec night on FXX.
Matt Groening’s creation, centered around Homer and Marge Simpson and their three children, Bart, Lisa and Maggie, hit the rarefied air of 500 episodes in 2012 and joined “Gunsmoke” as only the second series to reach 600 four years later.
In a 2007 interview, Groening reflected on the broad and enduring appeal of the comedy, which helped make the Fox network: “I love the style that we stumbled into, this high-velocity pacing that allowed us to do every kind of comedy we could think of, from the most highfalutin literary references to sub-Three Stooges physical abuse.”
Although “The Simpsons,” recipient of 34 Emmys, is years past peak cultural dominance and many fans profess their love for the early seasons vs. the later ones, new episodes perform well for Fox and the show’s library serves as a major selling point for the Disney+ streaming service. It’s renewed through its 32nd season in 2021, which would bring the tally to more than 700 episodes.
“I love that above all else,” executive producer James L. Brooks said of the Christmas kickoff. “It was our birth, as far as I’m concerned.”
“The Simpsons” has maintained that connection over the years with memorable gift ideas – remember Bonestorm and Funzo! – and holiday-themed episodes, including this season’s “Bobby, It’s Cold Outside,” which includes another “Simpsons” evergreen, the unholy Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer). Believe it or not, “Holidays of Future Passed,” now 8 years old, was once considered a potential series finale.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING
Unilever said it will miss its growth target.
The consumer goods giant said sales grew by less than 3% (paywall) in 2019, missing the lower end of its guidance. Lower-than-expected growth will continue in the first half of 2020, it added, due to “challenges in certain markets” like south Asia and west Africa.
Pakistan’s former leader was sentenced to death for treason.
Former president and military leader Pervez Musharraf was accused of high treason in 2013 for suspending the constitution and imposing emergency rule. He was sentenced in absentia at a court in Islamabad; he is currently receiving medical treatment in Dubai.
What is the case about?
In November 2007, Gen Musharraf suspended the constitution and imposed emergency rule – a move which sparked protests. He resigned in 2008 to avoid the threat of impeachment.
When Nawaz Sharif – an old rival whom he deposed in the 1999 coup – was elected prime minister in 2013, he initiated a treason trial against Gen Musharraf and in March 2014 the former general was charged for high treason.
Gen Musharraf argued the case was politically motivated and that the actions he took in 2007 were agreed by the government and cabinet. But his arguments were turned down by the courts and he was accused of acting illegally.
According to the Pakistani constitution, anyone convicted of high treason could face the death penalty. Gen Musharraf travelled to Dubai in 2016 after a travel ban was lifted and he has refused to appear before the court, despite multiple orders.
The three-member bench had reserved its verdict in the long-running case last month, but was stopped from announcing it by a petition filed by the federal government to the Islamabad High Court.
Why is it significant?
The indictment of Gen Musharraf in 2014 for treason was a highly significant moment in a country where the military has held sway for much of its independent history.
Many of Pakistan’s army chiefs have either ruled the country directly after coups, as Gen Musharraf did, or wielded significant influence over policymaking during periods of civilian rule.
But Gen Musharraf was the first army chief to be charged with such a crime and the powerful military have watched the case carefully. It said the court ruling had been “received with a lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of the Pakistan Armed Forces”.
“An ex-Army Chief, Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee and President of Pakistan, who has served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the defence of the country can surely never be a traitor,” a statement said.
Who is Gen Musharraf?
He was appointed to lead the Pakistani army in 1998. The army’s involvement in the Kargil conflict in May 1999 caused a major rift between him and then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and the army general seized power in a coup in 1999.
At a glance
- 1943Born in Delhi, India
- 1961Joins Pakistan Military Academy
- 1999Leads bloodless coup and becomes president two years later
- 2007Loses power
- 2008Goes into self-imposed exile – returns from 2013 to 2016
- 2014Charged with high treason
Serving as president until 2008, Gen Musharraf survived numerous assassination attempts and plots against him during his time in power.
He is best known internationally for his role in the US “war on terror”, which he supported after the 9/11 attacks despite domestic opposition.
Gen Musharraf left the country after relinquishing the presidency in 2008, but returned in 2013 to contest the general elections, when he was barred from standing by the courts and was embroiled in several cases – including over the assassination of former PM Benazir Bhutto.
He appeared only twice in hearings for treason and earlier spent time at an army health facility or on his farm in Islamabad. He subsequently moved to Karachi in April 2014, where he lived until his departure two years later.
Roche cleared the final hurdle to buy an American gene therapy firm.
The US antitrust green light for the $4.3 billion acquisition of Spark Therapeutics will help the Swiss pharma group move into treating genetic disorders.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) approved the deal on Monday without demanding asset sales.
Roche is buying U.S.-based Spark to expand in gene therapy and boost its hemophilia A portfolio, where the Basel-based company’s existing drug Hemlibra will surpass $1 billion sales in 2019.
Regulators had feared Roche might sabotage Spark’s hemophilia program to benefit Hemlibra, but came to another conclusion. “The evidence developed during staff’s investigation did not indicate that Roche would have the incentive to delay or terminate Spark’s developmental effort for its hemophilia A gene therapy,” the FTC said after its 5-0 approval vote.
Clearance for Roche to buy Spark helps reduce the chance the Swiss drugmaker will be eclipsed in one of the industry’s most dynamic and potentially profitable areas, as it was by Merck (MRK.N) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY.N) in immune therapies for cancer. “That’s why the market was increasingly worried that the deal announced in February was taking so long,” said Michael Nawrath, an analyst at Zuercher Kantonalbank. The deal follows Novartis’s (NOVN.S) $8.7 billion takeover of gene therapy specialist AveXis in 2018.
Toyota was bullish on global car sales.
The Japanese automaker said its global vehicle sales will set a record high in 2020, in spite of a slowdown in demand in China and the US. The company expects to sell 10.77 million cars next year, compared with 10.72 million this year.
Competition to sell more vehicles is tight among the world’s biggest automakers as they try to boost sales to achieve economies of scale and reduce costs at a time when they are investing heavily to develop next-generation technologies including self-driving vehicles and electric cars.
Germany’s Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) has been the top-selling automaker for the past five years, delivering 10.83 million vehicles including its MAN and Scania heavy trucks in 2018.
MATTERS OF DEBATE
Keynes’s optimism about the future was wrong.
Far from having moved beyond basic economic problems, Gen Z faces economic stagnation and ecological collapse. As recently as the first web boom two decades ago, it was still possible to talk about technological development and economic expansion as being good for everybody. Take Webvan, the early (and subsequently much derided) grocery delivery startup. The company planned to combine the efficiencies of the internet and other advances in information and logistics to provide better-quality products at lower prices, delivered directly to consumers by higher-paid and better-trained workers. It’s a univocal, Keynesian vision of development: not only do all involved benefit individually as consumers, employees, or capitalists, but society itself steps together up the mountain toward the elimination of necessity and a higher plane of being.
When Webvan went belly-up, analysts assumed it meant the core idea was hopelessly wrong: it just doesn’t make sense to use human capacity to bring individual people their supermarket orders. Harvard Business School professor John Deighton, when asked about the future of the industry in 2001, said, “Home-delivered groceries? Never.” Yet less than 20 years later I can have one of the world’s few trillion-dollar companies (Amazon) deliver my order via its grocery brand (Whole Foods) in an hour. And if that’s not fast enough, there are various platform services (Instacart, Postmates, and others) through which I can hire someone to go pick my order up and bring it to me immediately. Buzzing clouds of freelance servants, always in motion.
For consumers, these services have made life more convenient. For owners, stock prices and corporate profits have been cruising higher and higher for decades. But as workers, we have suffered. Gone is the Webvan vision of highly trained, highly paid, upwardly mobile, stock-holding delivery drivers. Amazon’s treatment of its workers at all levels is so intensely exploitative that former employees have created their own form of writing: the “report-back,” an essay that exposes the particular, common hardships of working at the firm. It’s one part worker’s inquiry, one part trauma diary.
“Ethical” companies should be forced to keep their promises.
When they don’t behave as well as they claim they do, consumers should be able to sue. When consumers feel a corporation has misused their trust, they can take it to court and try to get the company barred from continuing the practice. They can maybe get some money too, if they’ve been physically or financially harmed. But what if a payout isn’t the point, and the best remedy is for the company to right the wrong?
In Washington University Law Review last year, Sarah Dadush, a professor at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey who focuses on the intersection of business, consumer law, and human rights, wrote that under current consumer law, customers who bring civil cases against corporations have “virtually no chance of obtaining the restorative remedies they need to be made whole.” To fix the problem, she’s proposed a new concept that would hold corporations to the moral standards they claim and force them to live up to them. She thinks it’s something even investors could wield when companies behave badly. The question is whether a US court will ever recognize it.
Clothing sizes are meaningless.
Even with new sizing technology, it’s hard to assign a number that fully defines anyone’s figure (paywall).Christopher Moore has a doctorate in physics from MIT and has worked on projects ranging from tracking the world’s oil supply to searching for new cancer drugs. His latest gig is turning out to be the hardest: Helping shoppers find their correct clothing size.
“There are no standard clothing sizes, something that anyone who has stood in a dressing room trying on jeans, tops or dresses can attest. As shopping has shifted online, the problem has worsened. Size and fit are among the top reasons for returning online orders,” according Christopher Moore.
A new species of flower was discovered on Facebook.
A Ukrainian snowdrop specialist spotted it in a Turkish pediatrician’s holiday photos. Others identified by experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, include a ylang-ylang tree of which just seven individuals are known to exist, a new candy-striped violet and a fungus with pink fruiting bodies that can fight cancer and viruses.
Discovering and giving scientific names to new species is the crucial first step to protecting them, the scientists said. Kew scientists officially named 102 plants and eight fungi in 2019, but many are already in danger of extinction. The major threats are the destruction of natural habitat for farmland, timber, dams and mining, as well as the impacts of the climate crisis.
Plants account for 82% of all life on Earth by weight – humans are just 0.01% – and they underpin all life, producing oxygen and food and providing shelter and medicines. There are almost 400,000 known species of plant, and about 2,000 new species are named every year.
“We all depend on plants,” said Martin Cheek, a senior botanist at Kew and who names about 10 new species a year. “It is shocking that we are still discovering so many. It is easy to think we know everything on this planet, but we don’t. The local people might know the plants, but they are unknown to science.”
“It is important to name the plants now because natural habitat is disappearing rapidly,” he said. “Only when they have a name can they have an official assessment under the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and only then do we have a chance of getting national authorities to protect those areas.”
The new snowdrop species was discovered in north-west Turkey when a paediatrician uploaded her holiday photos to Facebook, where they were spotted by a Ukrainian snowdrop specialist. The pair returned to the site and collected a sample, which was confirmed as a new species by Kew’s snowdrop expert Aaron Davis. The snowdrop has already been assessed as critically endangered.
Italian soccer used pictures of apes in an anti-racism campaign.
The tone-deaf campaign was meant to discourage fans from making monkey noises at black players. An Italian football anti-racism initiative featuring paintings of monkeys has received widespread criticism after its release Monday.
The sport in Italy has been blighted by racist abuse this season, and the artwork commissioned by Serie A was designed to stop fans directing monkey chants at players.
Artist Simone Fugazzotto came up with the idea for the Coppa Italia final between Lazio and Atalanta in May — and it’s part of an official anti-racism initiative that was officially unveiled on Monday.
Fugazzotto said his triptych of monkeys was intended to show that there’s no difference between humans and apes, an idea that he decided to use after watching a match between Inter Milan and Napoli.
Everyone was making the sound of monkeys at Koulibaly, a player I respect,” Fugazzotto told the Serie A website, referring to Napoli’s Senegalese international Kalidou Koulibaly. “I’ve always been painting monkeys for five to six years, so I thought I’d make this work to teach that we’re all apes.
“So I made the western monkey — white with blue eyes — the Asian monkey — with almond eyes — and the black monkey in the middle, which is where everything comes from, this is what the evolutionary theory tells us,” Fugazzotto told reporters.
“The monkey becomes the spark to teach everyone that there is no difference. It’s not that one is man and one is monkey. At this point, we are all monkeys … if they really feel the need to tell a black (player) that he is one.”
Japan’s Little Miss Period is trying to make menstruation less taboo.
The movie’s animated character knocks women out with a “period punch” before extracting blood. But “Little Miss Period” – a pink blob with red lips and red pants who stars in a Japanese manga comic and movie of the same name – has a mission: breaking taboos in a society where talking about menstruation has been seen dirty or embarrassing.
The character has generally been received positively as a step toward better understanding among the sexes. Some critics, though, worry about stereotypes and inattention to underlying gender discrimination that holds back Japanese women in many fields. “Until now, menstruation has been something to hide and many people completely lack correct understanding of it,” said Kazue Muta, a sociology professor at Osaka University. “I can’t praise the manga 100% … but it would be good if it were a step toward greater openness and education.”
The movie “Little Miss Period” was released domestically by entertainment company Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. Ltd last month. It is based on a manga by male artist Ken Koyama that debuted in 2017 before being compiled into a book by publisher Kadokawa. The film also opened in Taiwan this month and will debut in Hong Kong in January. Premieres in China and across Southeast Asia are also planned.
The topic of menstruation caught public attention in Japan recently when department store Daimaru suggested female employees wear a “period badge” to alert co-workers to their cycle. The plan sparked accusations of harassment and the store is reconsidering.
In the manga series, Little Miss Period – “Seiri-chan” in Japanese – delivers a punch to the gut that lays some women out flat before drawing blood with a syringe. When a woman’s husband fails to sympathize, he gets a “period punch” of his own to help him understand. History gets a nod, with the tale of a feudal era Japanese girl forced to stay in a secluded hut because of the belief that menstruating females are unclean.
Britain’s baby prince loves celebrity chefs.
One of 19-month-old prince Louis’s first words was “Mary,” after he recognized TV chef Mary Berry on a cookbook cover.Berry helped Prince William and Catherine prepare for a charity event : Kate visits Chelsea garden with pupils , Princess Charlotte photos mark birthday and Mary Berry plays drums for Rick Astley
“One of Louis’ first words was Mary, because right at his height are all my cooking books in the kitchen bookshelf,” Catherine tells the cook on A Berry Royal Christmas.
“And children are really fascinated by faces, and your faces are all over your cooking books and he would say ‘That’s Mary Berry’… so he would definitely recognise you if he saw you today.”
The duchess also shared snippets of family life, including how the family uses Berry’s recipes when making pizza, which the children “loved”.
Asked by Berry if she cooked with the children, she replied: “Yes, I really enjoy it. Again, for them to be creative, for them to try and be as independent as possible with it.”
Prince William was also interviewed by Berry on the programme and spoke about how his relationship with his mother, the late Princess Diana, had influenced his style of parenting.
The programme, which culminates in a Christmas party hosted by the royal couple, also features some of Berry’s favourite Christmas recipes.
There is also a special guest appearance from Nadiya Hussain, who won Bake Off in 2015 when Berry was a judge on the show, which is now broadcast on Channel 4.
An Alaskan newspaper is for sale for $0.
The owner just wants someone willing to live in Skagway—population 1,000—to keep the publication alive. The local newspaper’s financial predicament has become all too common. Facing online competition for readers and advertising dollars, publications have struggled and folded across the country.
A recent study found that 20% of metro and community newspapers have gone out of business or merged since 2004, while 1,300 communities have lost local news coverage entirely. Dean Baquet, the New York Times’ executive editor, recently called the death of local news “the greatest crisis in American journalism”.
The current staff is tiny: following the editor’s departure, it’s just Persily and an administrator who works three-quarter time. Persily’s ideal candidate also knows the ins and outs of working at a small-town paper. “You have to be cognizant of the fact that a lot of people get uncomfortable when you stick a microphone into their face,” he said. With a circulation of 550, don’t expect to be breaking stories of national importance; do expect to be attending lots of local events.
Larry Persily, the publisher of the Skagway News
“They’ll be able to eat and clothe themselves and have cable TV,” Persily said. “Will they be able to afford a second home in Barbados? I don’t think so.”
Even if that picturesque second home is out of reach, Skagway, part of the Klondike Gold Rush national historical park, offers beauty of its own. And the future owner will have some free assistance from Persily, who says he will remain available as editor emeritus, offering decades of experience in Alaska journalism.
Announcing his plans in the Skagway News, he wrote: “I wanted you to hear it from me. That’s the job of a small-town newspaper. Everyone’s already heard some version of the news by the time we publish, but our job is to tell them the full and factual story.”