Facebook Launches Job Search Feature for Low-Skilled Workers

Facebook wants to make it easier for people to find low-skilled jobs online.

After testing the new software in U.S. and Canada since last year, Facebook added job postings Wednesday in another 40 countries across Europe and elsewhere.

The software works with both Apple and PC operating systems.

Users can find openings using the Jobs dashboard on Facebook’s web sidebar or its mobile app’s More section. The search can be filtered according to area and type of industry, as well as between full-time and part-time jobs.

Users can automatically fill out applications with information from their Facebook profile, submit the applications and schedule interviews.

Businesses can post job openings using the Jobs tab on their page, and include advertisements.

Separately, Facebook announced the introduction of a face recognition software that helps users quickly find photos they’re in, but haven’t been tagged in. The new software will help users protect themselves against unauthorized use of their photos, as well as allow visually impaired users learn who is in their photos and videos.


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Moon to Get Its Own Mobile Network

Several high-tech companies are teaming up on a plan to put a mobile phone network on the moon next year.

Vodaphone Germany, Nokia, and Audi are working on a mobile network and robotic vehicles that are part of a private expedition to the moon, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary year of the first manned lunar landing.

The project with PTScientists in Germany would use a 4G network to send high-definition information from rovers back to a lunar lander, which would then be able to communicate it back to Earth. 

Project scientists say the system uses less energy than having rovers speak directly to Earth, leaving more power for scientific activities. 

They plan to launch the vehicles from Cape Canaveral next year on a Space X Falcon 9 rocket. 


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Facebook: No New Evidence Russia Interfered in Brexit Vote

Facebook Inc has told a British parliamentary committee that further investigations have found no new evidence that Russia used social media to interfere in the June 2016 referendum in which Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Facebook UK policy director Simon Milner in a letter Wednesday told the House of Commons Committee on Digital, Culture Media and Sport that the latest investigation the company undertook in mid-January to try to “identify clusters of coordinated Russian activity around the Brexit referendum that were not identified previously” had been unproductive.

Using the same methodology that Facebook used to identify U.S. election-related social media activity conducted by a Russian propaganda outfit called the Internet Research Agency, Milner said the social network had reviewed both Facebook accounts and “the activity of many thousands of advertisers in the campaign period” leading up to the June 23, 2016 referendum.

He said they had “found no additional coordinated Russian-linked accounts or Pages delivering ads to the UK regarding the EU Referendum during the relevant period, beyond the minimal activity we previously disclosed.”

At a hearing on social media political activity that the parliamentary committee held in Washington earlier in February, Milner had promised the panel it would disclose more results of its latest investigation by the end of February.

At the same hearing, Juniper Downs, YouTube’s global head of public policy, said that her company had “conducted a thorough investigation around the Brexit referendum and found no evidence of Russian interference.”

In his letter to the committee, Facebook’s Milner acknowledged that the minimal results in the company’s Brexit review contrasted with the results of Facebook inquiries into alleged Russian interference in U.S. politics. The company’s U.S. investigation results, Milner said, “comport with the recent indictments” Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller issued against Russian individuals and entities.

Following its Washington hearing, committee chairman Damian Collins MP said his committee expected to finish a report on its inquiry into Social Media and Fake News in late March and that the report is likely to include recommendations for new British laws or regulations regarding social media content.

These could include measures to clarify the companies’ legal liability for material they distribute and their obligations to address social problems the companies’ content could engender, he said.


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ISS Astronauts Will Soon Get a Personal Assistant

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will soon get a personal assistant, similar to Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, but so smart that astronauts prefer to call it a “colleague.”

Its official name is CIMON, short for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, and it will partially live in a five-kilogram ball built by Airbus. It has a video screen with rudimentary face features, cameras with face recognition, microphones and speakers.

CIMON will move freely within the space station; however, its brain will be on Earth in IBM’s supercomputer, named Watson, loaded with a huge amount of scientific knowledge.

CIMON’s main human companion will be German astronaut Alexander Gerst, who will bring it onboard ISS in June. The two are currently training together, as CIMON will have to be able to recognize Gerst’s voice and face, and also to navigate within the complicated interior of the spacecraft.

For starters, Gerst and CIMON will cooperate in experiments with crystals, a complex medical experiment, and also try to solve the Rubik’s magic cube using only videos.

A larger experiment will be the interaction between human and artificial intelligence, especially in view of future deep-space missions.

CIMON’s developers would like to see whether an intelligent interactive assistant will help reduce astronauts’ stress during long flights and improve their efficiency.


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Could Winning Super Bowl Play Be Winning Marketing Ploy?

A company’s value is often tied to the message it portrays to customers. But what happens when other companies try to take advantage of your brand?

Take the Philadelphia Eagles, for instance. The American football team wants to exclusively own the phrase: “Philly Special.” That was the trick play that helped them win the Super Bowl, and the Philly Special is, by far, the most talked-about play of the Super Bowl.

Watch the play here:

It is a gutsy move. In football-speak, it is a direct-snap reverse pass to quarterback Nick Foles, who usually throws the ball. But the coach gives the OK, and Foles tells his teammates the plan in the huddle.

The team lines up, Foles runs up the field. Tight end Trey Burton throws the football, and Foles catches it in the end zone for a touchdown.

“Play of the century”

Now, the phrase, ‘Philly Special,’ has turned into a city-wide phenomena. Bakeries are making Philly Special pastries. Some people are getting the words or even a sketch of the play tattooed on themselves.

And stores, like Ashley Peel’s Philadelphia Independents, cannot keep enough Philly Special T-shirts in stock.

“It’s the ‘Nick Foles play of the century,’ as I’m dubbing it from the Super Bowl,” Peel said. “It has a layout of the [specifics] from the play. We just got it in and we’re almost already sold out of it. It’s definitely moving well.”

It’s moving well, even as several entrepreneurs are competing to be awarded a trademark — in other words, exclusive rights — to the phrase.  Many of the businesses filed their own trademark applications ahead of the Eagles.

“I do have a client that’s applied for the mark, ‘Philly Special,’” said Philadelphia-based lawyer Nancy Rubner Frandsen.

She filed a trademark application on behalf of a company called Whalehead Associates. She can’t comment too much about the application without violating attorney-client privilege, but admits the phrase goes beyond a football play.

“Obviously it brings everyone together, it was our Super Bowl championship that brought it all about,” she said. “It’s got the term ‘Philly’ in it — from the trademark standpoint, it would be deemed to be descriptive. But then you combine it with the term, ‘Special,’ and it could make a very unique trademark.”

Some of the other businesses that want to trademark the term include a sandwich maker, a gift shop manufacturer … and the Philadelphia Eagles. The team was actually the last to file a trademark application. Even so, experts say, it’s likely the rights will be awarded to the Eagles.

Newsjacking

“This particular term, ideally, should belong to the Eagles,” said Dr. Jay Sinha, an associate marketing professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.

He added the phenomenon around ‘Philly Special’ is not the first time there’s been a rush to trademark a term after a big event, like the Super Bowl. And it’s even got a name: ‘newsjacking.’

“The term, newsjacking, means where a company rides or takes advantage of some event happening in current affairs and uses it for their own commercial purposes, especially for marketing in branding,” Sinha said.

For example, think of famous movie lines, like: ‘May the force be with you,’ from “Stars Wars.” When sequels are released, other companies often try to take advantage of the film’s popularity for marketing purposes, like an ice cream shop that posts a sign reading, ‘May the swirl be with you.’

“If there’s anything which is relevant in popular culture as well as the news, companies like to ride on it,” Sinah said.

In this case, it likely will be several months before the U.S. Patent Office announces who will be awarded the rights to the now famous phrase. By then, though, another Super Bowl will be approaching and the excitement of the Philly Special could be fading.


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Artificial Intelligence Poses Big Threat to Society, Warn Leading Scientists

Artificial Intelligence is on the cusp of transforming our world in ways many of us can barely imagine. While there’s much excitement about emerging technologies, a new report by 26 of the world’s leading AI researchers warns of the potential dangers that could emerge over the coming decade, as AI systems begin to surpass levels of human performance.

Automated hacking is identified as one of the most imminent applications of AI, especially so-called “phishing” attacks.

“That part used to take a lot of human effort – you had to study your target, make a profile of them, craft a particular message – that’s known as phishing. We are now getting to the point where we can train computers to do the same thing. So you can model someone’s topics of interest or preferences, their writing style, the writing style of a close friend, and have a machine automatically create a message that looks a lot like something they would click on,” says report co-author Shahar Avin of the Center for the Study of Existential Risk at Britain’s University of Cambridge.

In an era of so-called “fake news,” the implications of AI for media and journalism are also profound.

Programmers from the University of Washington last year built an AI algorithm to create a video of Barack Obama, allowing them to program the “fake” former president to say anything they wished. It’s just the start, says Avin.

“You create videos and audio recordings that are pixel to pixel indistinguishable from real videos and real audio of people. We will need new technical measures. Maybe some kind of digital signatures, to be able to verify sources.”

There is much excitement over technology such as self-driving AI cars, with big tech companies alongside giant car makers vying to be the first to market. The systems, however, are only as secure as the environments in which they operate.

“You can have a car that is as good and better at navigating the world than your average driver. But you put some stickers on a ‘Stop’ sign and it thinks it’s ‘Go at 55 miles per hour.’ As long as we haven’t fixed that problem, we might have systems that are very safe, but are not secure. We could have a world filled with robotic systems that are very useful and very safe, but are also open to an attack by a malicious actor who knows what they are doing,” adds Avin.

The report warns that the proliferation of drones and other robotic systems could allow attackers “to deploy or re-purpose such systems for harmful ends, such as crashing fleets of autonomous vehicles, turning commercial drones into face-targeting missiles or holding critical infrastructure to ransom.”

He says AI use in warfare is widely seen as one of the most disturbing possibilities, with so-called ‘killer robots’ and decision-making taken out of the hands of humans.

“You want to have an edge over your opponent by deploying lots and lots of sensors, lots and lots of small robotic systems, all of them giving you terabytes of information about what’s happening on the battlefield. And no human would be in a position to aggregate that information, so you would start having decision recommendation systems. At this point, do you still have meaningful human control?”

There is also the danger of AI being used in mass surveillance, especially by oppressive regimes.

The researchers stress the many positive applications of AI; however, they note that it is a dual-use technology, and assert that AI researchers and engineers should be proactive about the potential for its misuse.

The authors say AI itself will likely provide many of the solutions to the problems they identify.

 


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Giant Retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods Ends Sales of Assault-Style Weapons

Dick’s Sporting Goods, one of the largest sports retailers in the U.S., will immediately end the sale of assault-style rifles in its stores and stop selling guns of any type to anyone under age 21.

The company made the announcement Wednesday, precisely two weeks after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“We deeply believe that this country’s most precious gift is our children. They are our future. We must keep them safe. Beginning today, DICK’S Sporting Goods is committed to the following: http://d.sg/RTC,” the company said in a post on Twitter.

“We need to make a statement,” chairman and CEO Edward Stack said in an interview Wednesday on CNN. “We don’t want to be part of this story any longer.”

Stack said the Florida shooting suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, legally purchased an AR-15 assault rifle from Dick’s in November, but it was not the one used to kill 14 students and 3 staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Stack, who said he remains a strong advocate of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, asserted the nation’s gun laws do not prevent dangerous people from buying guns and that lawmakers must act to strengthen those laws.

The executive called on elected officials to ban assault-style firearms, high-capacity magazines and “bump stocks,” which are devices that enable semi-automatic rifles to fire hundreds of rounds per minute. Stack also proposed raising the minimum age to buy guns to 21.

He said Dick’s, which also stopped selling high-capacity magazines, is prepared for any backlash but will not change its policies on gun sales. “We’re comfortable with our decision,” he said, adding that Dick’s will continue to sell an array of hunting and sport firearms.

The announcement is one of the strongest positions taken by a major U.S. corporation since the massacre, which has reignited the national gun debate and sparked a wave of gun-control rallies across the country.

More than a dozen U.S. corporations have ended partnerships with the National Rifle Association since the mass shooting, including Delta Airlines and United Continental Holdings, Inc., which owns United Airlines.

NRA ties

Other companies that have cut ties with the NRA include Avis, Best Western International, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Metlife, the Hertz Corporation, and Wyndham Worldwide Corporation.

The NRA is one of the country’s most powerful lobbying groups for gun rights and claims 5 million members. In the 2016 elections, the NRA gave $54 million in political donations, much of that during the presidential race.

It is not unusual for some members of Congress to have individually received hundreds of thousands of dollars — even millions — from the NRA. While some Democrats are also recipients of NRA financial support, the top benefactors are currently members of the Republican Party.

NRA reaction

Last week, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington that those advocating for stricter gun control were exploiting the Florida shooting.

Gun control advocates have noted that many teenagers in America can legally purchase assault rifles before they’re eligible to vote or drink alcohol. Twenty-eight of the 50 states have no minimum age requirement for owning a rifle.

Another giant U.S. retail seller of guns, Walmart, Inc., stopped selling AR-15 rifles and other semi-automatic weapons in 2015.


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Indexes Point to Cooling Growth in China This Year 

Growth in China’s manufacturing sector in February cooled to the weakest in more than 11/2 years, raising concerns of a sharper-than-expected slowdown in the world’s second biggest economy this year as regulators tighten the screws on financial risks.

The weakness was driven by disruption to business activity by the Lunar New Year holidays and curbs to factory output from tougher pollution rules, but there are worries of a bigger loss in momentum.

“Although a recovery looks possible in the short-run as the anti-pollution campaign winds down, the risk is still that the economy fares worse this year than is generally expected,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China Economist at Capital Economics.

Index raises concern

The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) released Wednesday fell to 50.3 in February, from 51.3 in January. But it remained above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis, the 19th straight month of expansion.

The drop may raise some concerns for China’s leaders as they prepare for the start of the National People’s Congress (NPC) next week where Beijing will unveil its economic targets for this year.

Globally, solid demand has kept many export-reliant economies humming over the past year or so, though a move toward tighter policy in advanced nations could cut into growth this year.

The latest PMI’s subindex of new export orders fell to 49.0, the lowest in at least a year, as the yuan currency appreciated against the dollar.

Chen Zhongtao, an official with China Logistics Information Center (CLIC), said that “13.6 percent of firms reported concerns over the appreciating Chinese currency and greater currency fluctuations,” the highest number of companies to do so since March 2017.

CLIC said in a statement that export sluggishness is expected to continue this year as steel firms are more reluctant to ship goods in the face of rising global protectionism.

Lunar New Year effect

The index for output stood at 50.7, down from 53.5 in January as the Lunar New Year holidays disrupted factory activities, the statistics bureau said. Total new orders also expanded much slower in February.

Raw material input prices fell for the second consecutive month to the lowest since July 2017, indicating cost pressure from price rises on manufacturing firms is easing.

“I think besides the Lunar New Year factor, the stricter pollution measures in the north before the National People’s Congress might have weighed on activities as well,” said Betty Wang, Senior China Economist at ANZ.

Wang expects momentum to pick up in the months ahead as the pollution crackdown tapers off.

Still, there are signs that China may continue with the pollution crackdown, with top steelmaking city of Tangshan proposing new restrictions on production once the current curbs expire in March.

The weeklong Lunar New Year holidays, which fell in February this year but January in 2017, tend to distort data early in the year.

Many factories and offices start to scale back operations ahead of time before shutting for the entire holiday or longer, while some manufacturers front-load shipments or replenish inventories ahead of the break.

Moderating growth in 2018

Boosted by government infrastructure spending, a resilient property market and unexpected strength in exports, China’s manufacturing and industrial firms helped the economy post better-than-expected growth of 6.9 percent in 2017.

A sister survey showed activity in China’s service sector slowed to lowest since October last year in February. The official non-manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 54.4 from 55.3 in January.

The services sector accounts for more than half of China’s economy, with rising wages giving Chinese consumers more spending clout.

Chinese policymakers are counting on growth in services and consumption to rebalance their economic growth model from its heavy reliance on investment and exports.

Economists polled by Reuters expected China’s economic growth will moderate to around 6.5 percent this year as the property market cools and as authorities press ahead with a clamp down on riskier financial activity that is driving up borrowing costs.

Analysts and financial markets are widely expecting the government to announce a 2018 growth target of around 6.5 percent at the NPC, the same as last year.

A composite PMI covering both the manufacturing and services activity stood at 52.9 in February, down from January’s reading of 54.6.

“Looking ahead, we think growth is likely to fall short of expectations this year, with many underestimating the headwinds from slower credit growth and a cooling property sector,” Capital Economics’ Evans-Pritchard said.


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US Proposes Anti-dumping Duties on Chinese Aluminum Foil

The U.S. Commerce Department on Tuesday recommended raising import duties on Chinese-made aluminum foil it said is being sold at unfairly low prices due to improper subsidies to producers.

 

The ruling was praised by the Aluminum Association, a trade group that pressed the case and said cheap imports were threatening thousands of jobs.

 

Beijing faces complaints from the United States, European Union and other trading partners that a flood of Chinese aluminum, steel and other exports are being sold at unfairly low prices, threatening jobs abroad.

 

The Commerce Department said it concluded Chinese exporters were selling aluminum foil at 49 to 106 percent below fair value and were receiving unfair subsidies of 17 to 81 percent of the goods’ value.

 

Importers will have to post cash bonds to pay potentially higher duties while the recommendation goes to the U.S. International Trade Commission for a final decision, said a Commerce statement.

 

China’s Ministry of Commerce complained Washington was harming Chinese exporters and said Beijing was ready to take unspecified “necessary measures” to defend its interests.

 

Beijing has accused Trump’s government of disrupting global trade regulation by taking action under U.S. law instead of through the World Trade Organization.

 

“China will take necessary measures to defend its interests in response to the wrong practice of the United States,” said a Commerce Ministry official, Wang Hejun, in a statement.

 

The Trump administration earlier raised duties on Chinese-made washing machines, solar modules and some aluminum and steel products to offset what it said were improper subsidies.

 

The American Chamber of Commerce in China says Chinese officials have warned of possible unspecified retaliation if Washington took excessive steps in trade disputes.


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Plan to Privatize US Air Traffic Control Lacks Support, Lawmaker Says

The chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said Tuesday that there was not enough support in Congress to move forward with a plan backed by President Donald Trump to privatize the air traffic control system.

Republican Representative Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania said in a statement that the “air traffic control reform provisions did not reach the obvious level of support needed to pass Congress.”

But Shuster vowed to work with the Senate to move forward with legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, which expires at the end of March. Without authorization, the FAA would not be able to collect aviation taxes, and many of its employees would have to be laid off.

In June, Trump unveiled a plan to privatize air traffic control, saying it would modernize the system and lower flying costs.

Democrats contended it would hand control of a key asset to special interests and big airlines, and some Republicans opposed it.

On Tuesday, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, nearly 250 general aviation organizations, state and local aviation officials, labor unions, consumer groups and airports said they had sent a letter to congressional leaders vowing to oppose any effort to privatize air traffic control.

United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, all represented by the Airlines for America lobbying group, backed the plan.

Under the proposal, air traffic control would be spun off from the FAA and put under the oversight of a nonprofit corporation.

The FAA spends nearly $10 billion a year on air traffic control funded largely through passenger user fees, and has spent more than $7.5 billion on next-generation air traffic control reforms in recent years.

Trump has said current air traffic reform efforts have failed and were a “total waste of money.”

Opponents said the U.S. system is so large that privatization would not save money, would drive up ticket costs and could create a national security risk. Opponents also said technology upgrades would be sidetracked while the private entity was set up, potentially adding years to awarding contracts.


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White House: Senior US, Chinese Officials to Meet This Week on Trade

Three of President Donald Trump’s senior economic aides are expected to meet this week with a top Chinese economic official to discuss trade disputes between the United States and China.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Reuters that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Trump’s economic adviser, Gary Cohn, are expected to meet Chinese economic adviser Liu He in Washington.

The talks are likely to cover a range of differences including intellectual property and steel.

Trump has long called for a more balanced trade relationship with China and threatened to impose a big “fine” against China to protect American intellectual property. U.S. officials said Trump has been discussing imposing a global tariff on imports of steel from China, the world’s largest steel producer, and other countries.

The talks with Liu may help determine the trajectory of the U.S.-Chinese trade relationship, which Trump believes is heavily tilted in favor of China.

A senior U.S. official said there was skepticism on the U.S. side that a trade breakthrough could be achieved any time soon.

“We’re trying to treat this with an open mind. But the Chinese don’t really want to make a deal. They like the status quo,” the official said.

There was no plan for Trump himself to meet Liu, but officials did not rule it out if progress was being made.

Liu, a Harvard-trained economist and trusted confidant of Chinese President Xi Jinping, has emerged as the front-runner to be the next governor of China’s central bank, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Liu is the top adviser to Xi on economic policy and is also expected to become vice premier overseeing the Chinese economy.

Steel

A source close to the White House said Trump had expressed interest in imposing a tariff on steel imports of at least 24 percent. The White House said no final decision had been made.

The Commerce Department on Feb. 16 recommended that Trump impose stiff curbs on steel imports from China and other countries and offered the president several options ranging from global and country-specific tariffs to broad import quotas.

A blanket tariff on steel would cover every steel and aluminum product entering the American market from China.

China has expressed concerns over excessive protectionism in the U.S. steel sector and urged restraint. It has also said it will oppose any “unfair and unreasonable” trade measures by countries such as the United States.


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WTO Chief Reacts Coolly to Trump’s Criticism of Trade Judges

The head of the World Trade Organization diplomatically took issue with U.S. President Donald Trump’s description of the WTO as a catastrophe on Tuesday, pointing out that the United States actually had a better deal than other countries in the club.

“World Trade Organization — a catastrophe,” Trump said on Monday at a meeting with U.S. governors, according to a White House transcript.

“The World Trade Organization makes it almost impossible for us to do good business. We lose the cases, we don’t have the judges. We have a minority of judges. It’s almost as bad as the 9th Circuit,” Trump said.

Asked about Trump’s remarks, WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, a former Brazilian trade negotiator, told reporters in Sofia that it was not news that the United States had concerns about the work of the WTO. 

“Just one clarification,” he said.

“No member has more than one judge at the WTO. The members of the Appellate Body, they are seven, and they come from different regions, so no country has a majority there. The United States, in fact, has always had one of the Appellate Body members with U.S. nationality, which is very unusual, but it is the situation.”

Since last year, the United States has been vetoing the appointment of new judges to the WTO’s Appellate Body, in effect the supreme court of world trade.

The lack of judges has slowed down the handling of trade disputes and could halt the appeals process altogether after the next judge retires in September.

Trump has said he thinks the United States does not get a fair deal, but trade negotiators from other countries say he has not yet set any conditions for resuming judicial appointments, making it impossible to meet U.S. demands.

“This is a very serious situation that we are trying to discuss with members, to see how we can overcome this,” Azevedo said.

Former WTO chief Pascal Lamy said last week that Trump’s view of trade was “medieval,” and the U.S. win/lose rate in WTO disputes was similar to that of other countries.

“The question is whether the U.S. problem is trying to fix a number of issues or whether the U.S. strategy is trying to wreck the system,” Lamy said.


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Ford, Miami to Form Test Bed for Self-driving Cars

Ford Motor Co. is making Miami-Dade County its new test bed for self-driving vehicles.

The automaker and its partners — Domino’s Pizza, ride-hailing company Lyft and delivery company Postmates — are starting pilot programs to see how consumers react to autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles. Self-driving startup and Ford partner Argo AI already has a fleet of cars in the area making the highly detailed maps that are necessary for self-driving. Ford also will establish its first-ever autonomous vehicle terminal in Miami, where it will learn how to service and deploy its test fleet.

More services will likely be introduced as the partnership goes on, including Chariot, an app-based shuttle service owned by Ford. It’s all part of Ford’s effort to find viable business models for fully autonomous vehicles and get them on the road by 2021.

“This is, I think, the future of any automotive company or mobility company. If a majority of the world’s population is going to be living in cities, we need to understand how to move those people around,” said John Kwant, Ford’s vice president of city solutions, who inked the deal with Miami-Dade.

Ford isn’t the first automaker to run test fleets of autonomous vehicles. General Motors Co. will start testing autonomous vehicles in New York City this year, while Nissan Motor Co. is launching an autonomous taxi service in Yokohama, Japan, next week. Technology companies like Waymo — a division of Google — are also testing self-driving vehicles on public roads in Phoenix, San Francisco and Singapore, among other cities.

But the partnership with a specific metropolitan is less common. Both sides envision a deep relationship where Ford can help Miami-Dade solve specific issues, like how to most efficiently move people from its suburbs to its downtown monorail, and Miami-Dade can offer solutions like dedicated lanes for automated vehicles or infrastructure projects like advanced traffic lights that can send signals to connected cars. 

“We want to be on the forefront of this because we want to give our people choices,” said Carlos Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, which is home to 34 cities and 2.7 million people. 

Traffic congestion a concern

Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, says the company also intends to work closely with local businesses. The company wants to learn, for example, how a florist might use an autonomous delivery vehicle.

“Autonomous vehicle technology is interesting, but it’s a whole lot more interesting with a viable business model,” he said.

The city of Miami is the fifth-most congested in the U.S., according to a recent traffic study by the consulting firm Inrix. After more than a century of selling people vehicles, Kwant says Ford now wants to figure out ways to move people more efficiently in order to cut down on that time in traffic.

Making money

Sam Abuelsamid, a senior research analyst with the consulting firm Navigant Research, says Ford and others must figure out how to make money on self-driving cars.

“If this does take off, if people do adopt automated vehicles and use them for ride-hailing, that’s going to result in a decline in retail vehicle sales,” Abuelsamid said. “They need to figure out, if we’re going to have a decline in the number of vehicles we sell to consumers, how do we keep our business stable?”

Kwant says the testing will also help Ford determine what its future self-driving vehicles need to look like and how they must perform.

“If you don’t have steering wheels, how do you begin to use that package space? How do you begin to look different in terms of carrying more people?” he said.

Ford won’t say how many vehicles it will have on the road in Miami-Dade, but says it will be Ford’s largest test bed for autonomous vehicles by the end of this year. 

Backup safety drivers

All of the vehicles will have backup safety drivers. Domino’s experimental vehicles aren’t even technically autonomous; they’re equipped to be, but for now they have actual drivers. The windows are blacked out so customers can experience how to get pizza from the car without dealing with a person.  

Miami will give Ford new challenges. Previously, it tested Domino’s cars in suburban Michigan, where parking wasn’t an issue. But in busy Miami Beach, the cars will have to figure out where they can go to allow apartment-dwellers to safely retrieve their pizzas. An autonomous delivery vehicle from Postmates might have to switch between Spanish and English commands when it picks up a meal and delivers it to a customer. Self-driving Lyft vehicles will be tasked with mapping out the best places to wait for customers without causing more traffic headaches.

Kwant says Ford will announce more city partnerships as this year progresses. But Miami-Dade was a natural, since it has good weather, lots of different urban and suburban terrain and support from Gimenez and other government leaders.

Cheaper and safer

Gimenez, who began talking to Ford in 2017 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, says he’s not worried about consumer acceptance of self-driving cars. He thinks his community will embrace them as companies prove that shared autonomous vehicles can be cheaper and safer than regular ones.

Gimenez says self-driving vehicles also can potentially improve traffic flow without significant new investments in roadways. They can travel more closely together, for example, because they’re always watching the car in front of them and can brake automatically.

“That’s why I’m really high on this technology,” he said.

 

 

 


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‘Disagree’ Banned on China Social Media

Authorities in China have launched an intense crackdown on online commentary in the wake of a proposal by the country’s communist party leaders to amend the constitution and scrap a two-term limit on the president’s time in office.

A wide range of phrases in Chinese have been banned such as “constitutional amendments,” “constitution rules,” “emigration” and “emperor.” Even the phrase “I disagree” has been blocked from China’s SinaWeibo social media site.

Many were caught off guard by the announcement and the response online has been persistent, despite efforts to silence the debate.

The announcement comes a little more than a week ahead of meetings for China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress. During the gathering, which wraps up around mid-March, the proposal is widely expected to become China’s new reality.

And while party backed media have said the amendments have the public’s broad support, clearly there is much more to the debate than the communist party is letting on.

On social media, some phrases and comments were taken down shortly after they were posted. However, phrases in Chinese such as “lifelong tenure,” “emigration” and “disagree” are blocked immediately when a user attempts to post the phrase.

Of those posts that managed to make it past authorities’ dragnet, some called the decision to allow Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely a “step backward,” others argued that China is becoming more like North Korea.

In one comment, a user said: “5,000 years of civilization and in one night, a step backwards 5,000 years.”

For some critics, the proposal to allow Xi to stay in office indefinitely and scrap what has become a predictable system of two five-year terms, marks a worrisome return to the days of Mao Zedong. Some argue the move is a sign that Xi may want to become emperor for life.

On the streets in Beijing, those we spoke with, who were willing to talk — despite the sensitivity of the issue — voiced similar concerns.

“It was a very sudden and bold move that has raised many questions and concerns and there are some who cannot understand,” why the change is needed, said one man surnamed Ding, who works in the finance sector.

Ding said China’s communist party leaders need to answer the public’s questions and concerns and clarify whether the move is meant to give Xi lifelong tenure or just to allow him to stay in office a little longer.

“The public will undoubtedly draw comparisons and have thoughts about what is happening now and China under the leadership of Mao Zedong,” Ding said.

One said emigration was something he was now considering. Others said they were taking a wait and see approach, and that they were willing to see how Xi used his extra time in office to promote more difficult reforms.

One woman surnamed Gan, an unemployed petitioner, said more time in office could be a good thing.

“If a leader is constantly being changed every two to three years, can they really do a good job and be responsible? If a leader can really focus on his work more can get done,” Gan said.

But now, given that the proposal is unlikely to be stopped, that is something that will only become clearer over time.

The New York-based rights advocacy group Freedom House warns that the end of term limits is a sign that stepped up control and repression under Xi is likely to worsen.

And the implications are both regional and global.

In a statement, Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz said, “the decision sends a chilling message to democratic voices in Hong Kong and to Taiwan, both of which have come under intense pressure from Beijing.

He said it also “signals that Beijing’s drive to create a new world order in which democratic institutions and norms play little or no role will be accelerated.”

Party controlled media in China have rejected suggestions that the proposed amendments mean Xi is aiming to become China’s next emperor or its leader for life.

Willy Lam, a veteran China watcher based in Hong Kong said that it looks like Xi will at least stay on for a third term until 2028, and perhaps one more until 2033 if health permits. At that point, Xi would be 80 years old.

Yang Kai-huang, head of Ming Chuan University’s Cross-Strait Research Center in Taiwan said that Xi does not strike him as someone who wants to repeat the mistakes of Mao, nor is he someone who wants to honor the two-term limit former leader Deng Xiaoping established.

“Judging from Xi’s past traits, the abolishment [of term limits] may have paved an easy path for Xi to seek his third term, but I don’t think Xi wants to be an emperor for life,” Yang said.

Xi is impatient and eager to get things done and put his own thoughts of governance into practice, Yang adds. And that’s why the announcement of the constitutional amendment package was so sudden.

Allen Ai contributed to this report.

 


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Officials: US NAFTA Autos Negotiator Called From Mexico for Consultations

The U.S. negotiator for regional content requirements in autos flew back to Washington from a NAFTA round in Mexico on Monday to talk with car companies, officials said, in a development some hoped would lead to progress on the contentious issue.

Three Mexican, Canadian and U.S. trade officials said the negotiator, Jason Bernstein, had been called back, with two of the officials saying he was there to meet U.S. automakers. Another said he would also meet U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and was due back later in the week.

The change in plans disrupted a schedule for talks early in the week about a proposal by the administration of U.S.

President Donald Trump to make automakers source more from the region and the United States, a major sticking point the industry warns would disrupt supply chains and raise costs.

Mexican negotiators have said the auto content issue must be resolved in large part between the White House and the Big Three Detroit automakers that dominate the industry.

“What I’ve heard is that he’s back in Washington because apparently they are meeting with the Detroit three. If that’s the case, that’s really positive,” said Flavio Volpe, president of the Toronto-based Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association.

 

“The timing is awkward. But if USTR is finally talking to those companies it’s something that we’ve been asking for for months,” Volpe said, referring to the United States Trade Representative (USTR).

U.S. trade officials and a Mexican auto industry official in Mexico City said they also believed the fact Bernstein had been called to Washington was a positive development for the talks to renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

A seventh round of talks began on Sunday with the three sides aiming to finish reworking less contentious chapters while also meeting to discuss the trickiest subjects blocking progress to rework the pact that underpins $1.2 trillion in annual trade.

“We’re hopeful to make quite a bit if progress this round. So we’ll see how it goes,” said Steve Verheul, Canada’s chief

negotiator as he arrived at the negotiations on Monday.

Two auto lobbyists in the United States, who spoke on background, said they did not believe there was a joint meeting scheduled with the Detroit auto companies but individual consultations might happen.

Mexico’s government is concerned that a lack of progress on the automotive content issue could hurt the wider renegotiation, a former official still familiar with the process said.

Seeking to break the deadlock, the Mexican government has said it would put forward a proposal on rules of origin during the current round of talks, but a Mexican official said on Monday no new ideas had been presented so far.

The renegotiation began last year at the behest of Trump who said the agreement must be overhauled to better favor American interests or Washington would quit the accord. The latest round has been clouded by renewed tension between Mexico and Trump over his planned border wall.

Mexico has consistently rejected paying for the wall, and its government had hoped to arrange a meeting between President Enrique Pena Nieto and Trump in the next few weeks. However, a senior U.S. official said over the weekend that plan had been postponed after a phone call between the two soured over the wall earlier this month.

Mexico’s government has not commented officially on the derailment of the Trump-Pena Nieto meeting, but Juan Pablo 

Castanon, head of the powerful CCE business lobby, was less reticent as he took stock of the unfolding NAFTA negotiations in Mexico City.

“Obviously, the cancellation of the Mexican president’s trip to the United States is an important element in the negotiations: it’s politics that can help us resolve the technical issues we’re moving forward on,” Castanon said.

Castanon said several chapters are close to being finished, including measures on e-commerce, telecommunications and sanitary standards for agricultural products. Others close to the talks believe the energy chapter could also be concluded.

Officials do not anticipate major breakthroughs on other intractable issues such as agriculture and dispute resolution mechanisms in the Mexico City round, due to run until March 5.

There was little sign of compromise on any issues early on, with a senior Canadian agriculture official pushing back against U.S. demands to dismantle Canadian protections for the dairy and poultry sectors known as supply management.

“When it comes to supply management, we believe there can be no concession,” said Jeff Leal, the minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs for the province of Ontario. 


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Comcast Makes $31 Billion Offer to Buy Sky

Comcast Corp, the biggest cable operator in the United States, offered on Tuesday to pay $31 billion to buy Sky, challenging Rupert Murdoch’s Fox and Bob Iger’s Walt Disney for the European pay-TV jewel.

Comcast, a $184 billion media giant which owns NBC and Universal Pictures, said it was offering 12.50 pounds per share, significantly higher than the 10.75 pounds per share agreed by Fox. Shares in Sky soared 18 percent.

Present in 23 million homes across Europe and known for its technological innovation, Britain’s Sky has already agreed to be sold to Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox but the takeover has been delayed by concerns over the media tycoon’s influence in Britain.

That has complicated a separate $52 billion deal by Disney to buy Fox assets including Sky.

“Sky and Comcast are a perfect fit: we are both leaders in creating and distributing content,” Comcast Chief Executive Officer Brian L. Roberts, 58, said. “We think Sky is an outstanding company.”

The latest round of major deals indicates the pressures being felt by traditional cable television networks which have been losing customers to streaming services like Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc..

Media rivalries

Shares in Sky rose to 13.08 pounds as investors hoped the ensuing bid battle would push both sides to offer a higher price.

“The initial share price reaction suggests that this story has further to run, with Sky’s price leaping above the level of the already increased Comcast offer,” said Richard Hunter, Head of Markets at Interactive Investor.

The proposed offer pits Comcast’s Roberts against Murdoch, the 86-year-old tycoon who helped to launch Sky in Britain, and who has been edging towards finally getting his hands on Sky after he first bid for the company eight years ago.

It also pits Roberts against Disney’s Iger, a longtime rival after Comcast tried to buy Disney for $54 billion in 2004.

Comcast said it had not yet engaged with Sky over the proposal and nearly 90 minutes after the statement came out, Sky was yet to respond.

“We would like to own the whole of Sky and we will be looking to acquire over 50 percent of the Sky shares,” Comcast CEO Roberts said.

“Innovation is at the heart of what we do: by combining the two companies we create significant opportunities for growth,” he said.

All eyes on Sky

Sky’s chairman is Murdoch’s son James, who is the chief executive of 21st Century Fox, so Comcast will have to gain the support of the independent shareholders for its better offer if it does not make a hostile bid.

Fox agreed to buy the 61 percent of Sky it did not already own in December 2016 but the takeover has been repeatedly held up by regulatory concerns that Murdoch controls too much media in Britain.

Some Sky shareholders have also started to complain that the offer was too low. In December, hedge fund manager Crispin Odey argued that Sky was being sold too cheaply.

Britain’s competition regulator said in January that Murdoch’s planned takeover should be blocked unless a way was found to prevent him from influencing the network’s news operation, Sky News.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said that the deal would give Murdoch too much influence and so would not be in the public interest.

Murdoch’s news outlets are watched, read or heard by nearly a third of Britons and have a combined share of public news consumption that is significantly greater than all other news providers, except the BBC and commercial TV news provider ITN.

Last week, Fox made further concessions, with a promise to maintain and fund a fully independent Sky-branded news service for 10 years.

Comcast said it had only a minimal presence in the British media market and did not see any plurality concerns over its proposal.

Comcast said it recognized that Sky News was an “invaluable part of the UK news landscape” and it intended to maintain Sky News’ existing brand and culture, as well as its strong track record for high-quality impartial news and adherence to broadcasting standards.

“Our strong market positions are complementary with Sky’s leadership in Europe enhancing our preeminent position in the U.S.,” Comcast’s Roberts said.


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