In the future, a tattoo may not only be a way for someone to express themselves, it may also be used to monitor a genetic condition or even control a prosthetic device. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.
Home to Apple, Facebook and Google, Silicon Valley is an American economic powerhouse, producing technology companies with global influence. But behind these influential American brands are scores of foreign workers who play a critical role in the Valley’s tech workforce. Deana Mitchell reports.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday progress is being made toward a trade deal with China and denied that he was considering lifting tariffs on Chinese products.
“Things are going very well with China and with trade,” he told reporters, adding that he had seen some “false reports” indicating that U.S. tariffs on Chinese products would be lifted.
“If we make a deal certainly we would not have sanctions and if we don’t make a deal we will,” Trump said. “We’ve really had a very extraordinary number of meetings and a deal could very
well happen with China. Itâ€™s going well. I would say about as well as it could possibly go.”
Humanity’s efforts to move into and peer into space seem to be experiencing something of a renaissance in the past few weeks. NASA’s pictures of Ultima Thule continue to astound, as do Chinese pictures from their probe on the far side of the moon. Coming soon, the James Webb Telescope will allow NASA to look even farther into the great beyond. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.
World stock indexes jumped on Friday, with Wall Street posting a fourth straight week of gains, and the dollar had its first positive week since mid-December as optimism increased that an end is in sight to the U.S.-China trade conflict.
Stocks were boosted by a Bloomberg report that said China sought to raise its annual goods imports from the United States by more than $1 trillion in order to reduce its trade surplus to zero by 2024.
That followed a report on Thursday that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was considering lifting some or all tariffs imposed on Chinese imports. The Treasury denied Mnuchin had made any such recommendation.
Progress in trade talks
While the equity rally lifted all major sectors, trade-sensitive industrials posted among the biggest S&P 500 sector gains, up 1.9 percent on the day. The Philadelphia SE semiconductor index rose more than 2 percent and Germany’s exporter-heavy DAX was up 2.6 percent.
“There seems to be some progress going in the trade negotiations,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.
While that was the biggest influence, “we’ve still got momentum since the first of the year,” he said. “Some of the money that came out of the market at year-end, whether it was high frequency traders or tax-loss selling, is coming back in.”
Adding to strength in equities and supporting U.S. Treasury yields was data that showed U.S. manufacturing output increased the most in 10 months in December.
Some strategists said relatively light equity trading volume this week indicated that some investors were still waiting on the sidelines.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 336.25 points, or 1.38 percent, to 24,706.35, the S&P 500 gained 34.75 points, or 1.32 percent, to 2,670.71 and the Nasdaq Composite added 72.77 points, or 1.03 percent, to 7,157.23.
The S&P 500 registered its biggest four-week percentage gain since October 2011. The index is now 8.9 percent below its Sept. 20 record close after dropping 19.8 percent below that level — near the 20-percent threshold commonly considered to confirm a bear market — on Christmas Eve.
STOXX 600 index is up
The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 1.80 percent and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 1.23 percent.
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will visit the United States on Jan. 30 and 31 for another round of talks aimed at resolving the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.
Recent indicators show signs that the Chinese economy is losing momentum.
The trade optimism boosted the dollar against other major currencies.
The dollar index rose 0.31 percent, with the euro down 0.26 percent to $1.1365.
U.S. Treasury yields rose to three-week highs as investors piled back into Wall Street.
Oil prices jump
Benchmark 10-year notes last fell 12/32 in price to yield 2.7878 percent, compared with 2.747 percent late on Thursday.
Oil prices jumped about 3 percent, rising after OPEC detailed specifics on its production-cut activity to ease global oversupply.
Brent crude gained $1.52 to settle at $62.70 a barrel, or 2.48 percent higher. U.S. WTI crude futures added $1.73 to settle at $53.80 a barrel, or 3.32 percent up.
Facebook may be facing the biggest fine ever imposed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations involving the personal information of its 2.2 billion users.
The FTC is considering hitting Facebook with a penalty that would top its previous record fine of $22.5 million, which it dealt to Google in 2012 for bypassing the privacy controls in Apple’s Safari browser, according to The Washington Post. The story published Friday cited three unidentified people familiar with the discussions.
In an automated response, the FTC said it was unable to comment, citing its closure due to the U.S. government shutdown. Facebook declined to comment.
The potential fine stems from an FTC investigation opened after revelations that data mining firm Cambridge Analytica had vacuumed up details about as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission.
The FTC has been exploring whether that massive breakdown violated a settlement that Facebook reached in 2011 after government regulators had concluded the Menlo Park, California, company had repeatedly broken its privacy promises .
The FTC decree, which runs through 2031, requires Facebook to get its users’ consent to share their personal information in ways that aren’t allowed by their privacy settings.
Since the Cambridge Analytica erupted 10 months ago, Facebook has vowed to do a better job corralling its users’ data. Nevertheless, its controls have remained leaky. Just last month, the company acknowledged a software flaw had exposed the photos of about 7 million users to a wider audience than they had intended.
The FTC’s five commissioners have discussed fining Facebook but haven’t settled on the amount yet, according to the Post.
Facebook’s privacy problems are also under investigation in other countries and the target of a lawsuit filed last month by Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine.
U.S. consumer sentiment tumbled in early January to its lowest level since President Donald Trump was elected more than two years ago as a partial shutdown of the federal government and financial market
volatility stoked fears of a sharp deceleration in economic growth.
The drop in confidence reported by the University of Michigan on Friday was the clearest sign yet that the impasse in Washington over Trump’s demands for $5.7 billion to help build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico was negatively affecting the economy.
Trump has touted high consumer confidence as an indication of the good job he is doing on the economy. While consumer sentiment remains relatively high, the gathering clouds over the economy could make households
more cautious about spending, leading to slower growth. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy.
“This report on consumer sentiment is the first concrete evidence that the economy is going to fall and fall hard if Washington does not end the shutdown,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “It is going to be hard to see real GDP growth of more than 1 to 1½ percent in the first quarter if the consumer goes on a buying strike.”
The longest government shutdown in U.S. history has left 800,000 government workers without paychecks. Private contractors working for many government agencies are also without wages.
The University of Michigan said its consumer sentiment index fell 7.7 percent to a reading of 90.7 this month, the lowest reading since October 2016 and the steepest drop since September 2015. Economists had forecast a reading of a 97.0.
The survey’s measure of current economic conditions decreased to 110.0 from a reading of 116.1 in December. Its measure of consumer expectations tumbled to a reading of 78.3, the lowest since October 2016, from 87.0 in late December.
The University of Michigan attributed the decline in sentiment to “a host of issues including the partial government shutdown, the impact of tariffs, instabilities in financial markets, the global slowdown, and the lack of clarity about monetary policies.”
It said that half of the survey’s respondents “believed that these events would have a negative impact on Trump’s ability to focus on economic growth.”
Economists estimate the partial shutdown of the government, which started Dec. 22, is subtracting as much as two-tenths of a percentage point from quarterly GDP growth every week.
Other surveys have also shown an ebb in business sentiment.
“Sentiment among both households and businesses has been coming off the sugar highs, which were caused by tax cut hopes at the beginning of the Trump presidency,” said Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit in New York.
U.S. financial markets shrugged off the fall in sentiment, with investors focusing on another report Friday that showed manufacturing output had surged by the most in 10 months in December, and on hopes for progress in the U.S.-China trade row.
Stocks on Wall Street rallied, while the dollar rose against a basket of currencies and U.S. Treasury prices fell.
The broad-based jump in manufacturing output in December reported by the Federal Reserve could allay fears of a sharp slowdown in factory activity.
Manufacturing activity, which accounts for about 12 percent of the economy, is slowing as some of the boost to capital spending from last year’s $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades.
In addition, a strong dollar and cooling growth in Europe and China are hurting exports. Lower oil prices are also slowing purchases of equipment for oil and gas well drilling.
Production at factories increased at a 2.3 percent annualized rate in the fourth quarter after expanding at a 3.7 percent pace in the July-September period. It increased 2.4 percent in 2018, the largest gain since 2012, after advancing 1.2 percent in 2017.
“While the manufacturing strength in December is a favorable signal for the economy, we should keep in mind that it came after soft results in earlier months,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York. “A broad range of manufacturing surveys also have been weakening lately, so the strength in the manufacturing output in December may prove to be short-lived.”
Last month, motor vehicle production surged 4.7 percent after gaining 0.2 percent in November. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, manufacturing advanced a solid 0.8 percent last month after gaining 0.1 percent in November.
December’s surge in manufacturing output, together with a rise in mining production, offset a weather-related drop in utilities, leading to a 0.3 percent increase in industrial production. Industrial output rose 0.4 percent in November. It increased at a 3.8 percent rate in the fourth quarter after
notching a 4.7 percent gain in the third quarter.
A Duke University team expects to have a product available for election year that will allow television networks to offer real-time fact checks onscreen when a politician makes a questionable claim during a speech or debate.
The mystery is whether any network will choose to use it.
The response to President Donald Trump’s Jan. 8 speech on border security illustrated how fact-checking is likely to be an issue over the next two years. Networks briefly considered not airing Trump live and several analysts contested some of his statements afterward, but nobody questioned him while he was speaking.
Duke already offers an app, developed by professor and Politifact founder Bill Adair, that directs users to online fact checks during political events. A similar product has been tested for television, but is still not complete.
The TV product would call on a database of research from Politifact, Factcheck.org and The Washington Post to point out false or misleading statements onscreen. For instance, Trump’s statement that 90 percent of the heroin that kills 300 Americans each week comes through the southern border would likely trigger an onscreen explanation that much of the drugs were smuggled through legal points of entry and wouldn’t be affected by a wall.
The Duke Tech & Check Cooperative conducted a focus group test in October, showing viewers portions of State of the Union speeches by Trump and predecessor Barack Obama with fact checks inserted. It was a big hit, Adair said.
“People really want onscreen fact checks,” he said. “There is a strong market for this and I think the TV networks will realize there’s a brand advantage to it.”
If that’s the case, the networks aren’t letting on. None of the broadcast or cable news divisions would discuss Duke’s product when contacted by The Associated Press, or their own philosophies on fact checking.
Network executives are likely to tread very carefully, both because of technical concerns about how it would work, the risk of getting something wrong or the suspicion that some viewers might consider the messages a political attack.
“It’s an incredibly difficult challenge,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, longtime NBC News executive who recently became dean of Hofstra University’s communications school.
Adair said the system will be automated. Mindful that many politicians repeat similar claims, the database will be triggered when code phrases that have been fact-checked before come up. An onscreen note would either explain that a claim is false or misleading and direct viewers to a website where they can find more information, or provide a succinct explanation of why it is being challenged. He envisions an average of one fact check popping up every two minutes. A network using the service would likely air the speech or debate on a delayed basis of about a minute.
Lukasiewicz said network executives would likely be wary of letting an outside vendor decide what goes on their screen. Adair said anyone who uses the system would be given veto power over what information is being displayed.
CNN and MSNBC have been most aggressive in using onscreen notes, called chyrons, to counter misleading statements by Trump, although neither did during the border speech. Among the post-speech analyses, Shepard Smith’s rapid-fire reality check on Fox broadcast during the three-minute pause before Democrats spoke was particularly effective. But critics like the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America said anyone who turned the coverage off when Trump stopped speaking was exposed to no questioning of his words.
“There is a responsibility to not just be a blind portal and just let things go unchallenged,” said David Bohrman, a former CNN Washington bureau chief who consulted on MSNBC’s 2016 election coverage. “The goal is a good one. The execution is a challenge.”
A technical junkie, Bohrman said he explored different approaches for real-time TV fact-checking while at CNN, but they ultimately proved too complicated and cumbersome.
For networks, an incorrect onscreen fact-check would be a public relations disaster. Politicians also make many statements that a critic might question but isn’t necessarily factually incorrect. For example, Trump’s contention that there is a “crisis” at the southern border: Is that a fact or matter of interpretation?
Rest assured, people will be watching. Very carefully.
Even Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center, concedes that “we all understand that President Trump has a casual approach to factivity.”
But conservatives are deeply suspicious that Trump’s words are being watched more carefully than those of Democrats. They will notice and take offense if Trump is corrected on the air much more than his rivals, he said, no matter if Trump actually makes more false or misleading statements.
“People aren’t going to trust you,” he said, “because they know what the objective is. The objective is to ruin the president.”
Adair stressed that his product is nonpartisan. He believes television networks will catch on at some point because they will realize that their viewers want quick fact-checking.
“Anyone who criticizes will get criticized for criticizing,” Bohrman said. “But the reality is we may be able to help the viewers.”
The European Union insisted Friday that agriculture be kept out of the EU-U.S. trade negotiations, despite Washington’s wishes to include the vast sector, and said any overall deal will be limited in scope.
The EU Commission announced its pro posals for a negotiating mandate from the 28 member states and said that the EU negotiations will be “strictly focused on the removal of tariffs on industrial goods, excluding agricultural products.”
EU Trade Chief Cecilia Malmstrom also said that she is preparing a target list of American products it will hit with punitive tariffs if the Trump administration goes through with its threat to impose duties on European auto imports.
Last July, during a period of heightened tensions over trade, U.S. President Donald Trump and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed to start talks meant to achieve “zero tariffs” and “zero subsidies” on non-automotive industrial goods.
With the U.S. criticizing the Europeans for allegedly dragging their feet in the talks, Malmstrom said “the EU is committed to upholding its side of the agreement reached by the two Presidents.”
Any agreement would fall well short of the scope of the free trade deal that had been discussed in recent years — but paused in 2016 after Trump slammed such wide-ranging international deals as unfair to the U.S.
Instead, Malmstrom said, the deal both sides are now looking at could be concluded “quite quickly. We could finalize this and it would be beneficial to all of us.”
Electric car and solar panel maker Tesla said Friday it plans to cut its staff by about 7 percent.
“The road ahead is very difficult,” the company’s founder and CEO Elon Musk said in an email to employees posted on the company’s website.
He said Tesla Inc. hopes to post a “tiny profit” in the current quarter but that after expanding its workforce by 30 percent last year, it cannot support that size of staff.
Musk said in a tweet in October that Tesla had 45,000 employees. A 7 percent cut would involve laying off about 3,150 people.
Tesla’s shares tumbled earlier this month after it cut vehicle prices by $2,000 and announced fourth-quarter sales figures that fell short of Wall Street estimates.
“Our products are too expensive for most people,” Musk said in the memo to Tesla staff saying the company has to “work harder.”
“Tesla has only been producing cars for about a decade and we’re up against massive, entrenched competitors,” he said.
The company says it delivered over 245,000 electric cars and SUVs last year, nearly as many as all previous years combined. But its 2018 production fell far short of a goal set nearly three years ago of manufacturing 500,000 vehicles for the year. That goal was announced in May of 2016 based on advance orders for its mid-range Model 3, which sells for $44,000.
Musk said Tesla plans to ramp up production of the Model 3, “as we need to reach more customers who can afford our vehicles.”
“Attempting to build affordable clean energy products at scale necessarily requires extreme effort and relentless creativity,” he said in the memo, “but succeeding in our mission is essential to ensure that the future is good, so we must do everything we can to advance the cause.”