Semiconductor Bill Unites US Politicians From Left, Right — in Opposition

A bill to boost semiconductor production in the United States has managed to do nearly the unthinkable — unite the democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders and the fiscally conservative right.

The bill making its way through the Senate is a top priority of the Biden administration. It would add about $79 billion to the deficit over 10 years, mostly as a result of new grants and tax breaks that would subsidize the cost that computer chip manufacturers incur when building or expanding chip plants in the United States.

Supporters say that countries around the world are spending billions of dollars to lure chipmakers. The U.S. must do the same or risk losing a secure supply of the semiconductors that power the nation’s automobiles, computers, appliances and some of the military’s most advanced weapons systems.

Sanders and a wide range of conservative lawmakers, think tanks and media outlets have a different take. To them, it’s “corporate welfare.” It’s just the latest example of how spending taxpayer dollars to help the private sector can scramble the usual partisan lines, creating allies on the left and right who agree on little else.

Sanders said he doesn’t hear from people about the need to help the semiconductor industry. Voters talk to him about climate change, gun safety, preserving a woman’s right to an abortion and boosting Social Security benefits, to name just a few.

“Not too many people that I can recall — I have been all over this country — say: ‘Bernie, you go back there and you get the job done, and you give enormously profitable corporations, which pay outrageous compensation packages to their CEOs, billions and billions of dollars in corporate welfare,'” Sanders said.

Sanders voted against the original semiconductor and research bill that passed the Senate last year. He was the only senator who caucuses with the Democrats to oppose the measure, joining with 31 Republicans.

While Sanders would like to see the spending directed elsewhere, several Republican senators just want the spending stopped, period. Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican, said the spending would help fuel inflation that is hurting the poor and middle class.

“The poorer you are, the more you suffer. Even people well-entrenched in the middle class get gouged considerably. Why we would want to take money away from them and give it to the wealthy is beyond my ability to fathom,” Lee said.

Conservative mainstays such as The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, the Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks have also come out against the bill.

“Giving taxpayer money away to rich corporations is not competing with China,” said Walter Lohman, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.

The opposition from the far left and the far right means that Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and fellow Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will need help from Republicans to get a bill over the finish line. Support from at least 11 Republican senators will be needed to overcome a filibuster. A final vote on the bill is expected in the coming week.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney is among the likely Republican supporters. Asked about the Sanders’ argument against the bill, Romney said that when other countries subsidize the manufacturing of high technology chips, the U.S. must join the club.

“If you don’t play like they play, then you are not going to be manufacturing high technology chips, and they are essential for our national defense as well as our economy,” Romney said.

The most common reason that lawmakers give for subsidizing the semiconductor industry is the risk to national security from relying on foreign suppliers, particularly after the supply chain problems of the pandemic. Nearly four-fifths of global fabrication capacity is in Asia, according to the Congressional Research Service, broken down by South Korea at 28%, Taiwan at 22%, Japan, 16%, and China, 12%.

“I wish you didn’t have to do this, to be very honest, but France, Germany, Singapore, Japan, all of these other countries are providing incentives for CHIP companies to build there,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“We cannot afford to be in this vulnerable position. We need to be able to protect ourselves,” she said.

The window for passing the bill through the House is narrow if some progressives join with Sanders and if most Republicans line up in opposition based on fiscal concerns. The White House says the bill needs to pass by the end of the month because companies are making decisions now about where to build.

Two key congressional groups, the Problem Solvers caucus and the New Democrat Coalition, have endorsed the measure in recent days,

The Problem Solvers caucus is made up of members from both parties. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, the group’s Republican co-chair, said Intel Corp. wants to build its chip capacity in the United States, but much of that capacity will go to Europe if Congress doesn’t pass the bill.

Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat, said he believes the legislation checks a lot of boxes for his constituents, including on the front-burner issue of the day, inflation.

“This is about reducing inflation. If you look at inflation, one-third of the inflation in the last quarter was automobiles, and it’s because there’s a shortage of chips,” Kilmer said. “So this is about, one, making sure that we’re making things in the United States, and two, about reducing costs.”

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How China Became Ground Zero for the Auto Chip Shortage

From his small office in Singapore, Kelvin Pang is ready to wager a $23 million payday that the worst of the chip shortage is not over for automakers – at least in China.

Pang has bought 62,000 microcontrollers, chips that help control a range of functions from car engines and transmissions to electric vehicle power systems and charging, which cost the original buyer $23.80 each in Germany.

He’s now looking to sell them to auto suppliers in the Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen for $375 apiece. He says he has turned down offers for $100 each, or $6.2 million for the whole bundle, which is small enough to fit in the back seat of a car and is packed for now in a warehouse in Hong Kong.

“The automakers have to eat,” Pang told Reuters. “We can afford to wait.”

The 58-year-old, who declined to say what he had paid for the microcontrollers (MCUs), makes a living trading excess electronics inventory that would otherwise be scrapped, connecting buyers in China with sellers abroad.

The global chip shortage over the past two years – caused by pandemic supply chaos combined with booming demand – has transformed what had been a high-volume, low-margin trade into one with the potential for wealth-spinning deals, he says.

Automotive chip order times remain long around the world, but brokers like Pang and thousands like him are focusing on China, which has become ground zero for a crunch that the rest of the industry is gradually moving beyond.

Globally, new orders are backed up by an average of about a year, according to a Reuters survey of 100 automotive chips produced by the five leading manufacturers.

To counter the supply squeeze, global automakers like General Motors, Ford and Nissan have moved to secure better access through a playbook that has included negotiating directly with chipmakers, paying more per part and accepting more inventory.

For China though, the outlook is bleaker, according to interviews with more than 20 people involved in the trade from automakers, suppliers and brokers to experts at China’s government-affiliated auto research institute CATARC.

Despite being the world’s largest producer of cars and leader in electric vehicles (EVs), China relies almost entirely on chips imported from Europe, the United States and Taiwan. Supply strains have been compounded by a zero-COVID lockdown in auto hub Shanghai that ended last month.

As a result, the shortage is more acute than elsewhere and threatens to curb the nation’s EV momentum, according to CATARC, the China Automotive Technology and Research Center. A fledgling domestic chipmaking industry is unlikely to be in a position to cope with demand within the next two to three years, it says.

Pang, for his part, sees China’s shortage continuing through 2023 and deems it dangerous to hold inventory after that. The one risk to that view, he says: a sharper economic slowdown that could depress demand earlier.

Forecasts ‘hardly possible’

Computer chips, or semiconductors, are used in the thousands in every conventional and electric vehicle. They help control everything from deploying airbags and automating emergency braking to entertainment systems and navigation.

The Reuters survey conducted in June took a sample of chips, produced by Infineon, Texas Instruments, NXP, STMicroelectronics and Renesas, which perform a diverse range of functions in cars.

New orders via distributors are on hold for an average lead time of 49 weeks – deep into 2023, according to the analysis, which provides a snapshot of the global shortage though not a regional breakdown. Lead times range from six to 198 weeks.

German chipmaker Infineon told Reuters it is “rigorously investing and expanding manufacturing capacities worldwide” but said shortages may last until 2023 for chips outsourced to foundries.

“Since the geopolitical and macroeconomic situation has deteriorated in recent months, reliable assessments regarding the end of the present shortages are hardly possible right now,” Infineon said in a statement.

Taiwan chipmaker United Microelectronics told Reuters it has been able to reallocate some capacity to auto chips due to weaker demand in other segments. “On the whole, it is still challenging for us to meet the aggregate demand from customers,” the company said.

TrendForce analyst Galen Tseng told Reuters that if auto suppliers needed 100 PMIC chips – which regulate voltage from the battery to more than 100 applications in an average car – they were currently only getting around 80.

Urgently seeking chips

The tight supply conditions in China contrast with the improved supply outlook for global automakers. Volkswagen, for example, said in late June it expected chip shortages to ease in the second half of the year.

The chairman of Chinese EV maker Nio, William Li, said last month it was hard to predict which chips would be in short supply. Nio regularly updates its “risky chip list” to avoid shortages of any of the more than 1,000 chips needed to run production.

In late May, Chinese EV maker Xpeng Motors pleaded for chips with an online video featuring a Pokemon toy that had also sold out in China. The bobbing duck-like character waves two signs: “urgently seeking” and “chips.”

“As the car supply chain gradually recovers, this video captures our supply-chain team’s current condition,” Xpeng CEO He Xiaopeng posted on Weibo, saying his company was struggling to secure “cheap chips” needed to build cars.

All roads lead to Shenzhen

The scramble for workarounds has led automakers and suppliers to China’s main chip trading hub of Shenzhen and the “gray market,” brokered supplies legally sold but not authorized by the original manufacturer, according to two people familiar with the trade at a Chinese EV maker and an auto supplier.

The gray market carries risks because chips are sometimes recycled, improperly labeled, or stored in conditions that leave them damaged.

“Brokers are very dangerous,” said Masatsune Yamaji, research director at Gartner, adding that their prices were 10 to 20 times higher. “But in the current situation, many chip buyers need to depend on the brokers because the authorized supply chain cannot support the customers, especially the small customers in automotive or industrial electronics.”

Pang said many Shenzhen brokers were newcomers drawn by the spike in prices but unfamiliar with the technology they were buying and selling. “They only know the part number. I ask them: Do you know what this does in the car? They have no idea.”

While the volume held by brokers is hard to quantify, analysts say it is far from enough to meet demand.

“It’s not like all the chips are somewhere hidden and you just need to bring them to the market,” said Ondrej Burkacky, senior partner at McKinsey.

When supply normalizes, there may be an asset bubble in the inventories of unsold chips sitting in Shenzhen, analysts and brokers cautioned.

“We can’t hold on for too long, but the automakers can’t hold on either,” Pang said.

Chinese self-sufficiency

China, where advanced chip design and manufacturing still lag overseas rivals, is investing to decrease its reliance on foreign chips. But that will not be easy, especially given the stringent requirements for auto-grade chips.

MCUs make up about 30% of the total chip costs in a car, but they are also the hardest category for China to achieve self-sufficiency in, said Li Xudong, senior manager at CATARC, adding that domestic players had only entered the lower end of the market with chips used in air conditioning and seating controls.

“I don’t think the problem can be solved in two to three years,” CATARC chief engineer Huang Yonghe said in May. “We are relying on other countries, with 95% of the wafers imported.”

Chinese EV maker BYD, which has started to design and manufacture IGBT transistor chips, is emerging as a domestic alternative, CATARC’s Li said.

“For a long time, China has seen its inability to be totally independent on chip production as a major security weakness,” said Victor Shih, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.

With time, China could build a strong domestic industry as it did when it identified battery production as a national priority, Shih added.

“It led to a lot of waste, a lot of failures, but then it also led to two or three giants that now dominate the global market.”

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US Congress Moves Toward $52 Billion in Subsidies for Semiconductor Firms

The Senate this week took a key step toward passing a bill meant to provide $52 billion in subsidies to the semiconductor industry in the United States, part of an effort that lawmakers have characterized as protecting the country from supply shortages such as those that struck during the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill, called the CHIPS for America Act, also seeks to make the U.S. more competitive with China.

Semiconductors, commonly known as chips, are essential elements of modern manufacturing. They are used in computers, cellphones and automobiles as well as in various other capacities. During the pandemic, chip shortages slowed manufacturing in multiple industries to a crawl.

The legislation would create incentives for semiconductor manufacturers to build chip fabrication plants in the U.S. to bring back domestic production levels, which have fallen from more than one-third of total global capacity three decades ago to less than 12% now.

Discussing the legislation on the Senate floor, Senator Rob Portman, a Republican, said, “It is a plan to make America more competitive with China, and a plan to bring good jobs back to America.”

In a 64-34 procedural vote Tuesday, with more than a dozen Republicans voting with the overwhelming majority of Democrats, the Senate cleared the way for the legislation to come to a vote as soon as this week. The House of Representatives would need to pass the bill — which is still not in its final form — before President Joe Biden could sign it into law.

Making the case

Before the vote Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told his colleagues that the bill “will fight inflation, boost American manufacturing, ease our supply chains and protect American security interests.”

He added: “America will fall behind in so many areas if we don’t pass this bill, and we could very well lose our ranking as the No. 1 economy and innovator in the world if we can’t pass this.”

Senator John Cornyn, the most senior Republican to vote in favor of advancing the bill, used Twitter to make his case ahead of the vote.

“If the US lost access to advanced semiconductors (none made in US) in the first year, GDP could shrink by 3.2 percent and we could lose 2.4 million jobs,” he tweeted. “The GDP loss would 3X larger ($718 B) than the estimated $240 B of US GDP lost in 2021 due to the ongoing chip shortage.”

The money in the bill comes with significant strings attached. Companies accepting the subsidies must agree not to use the funds for to buy back stock, pay shareholder dividends, or expand manufacturing in certain countries identified in the bill. Provisions allow the government to “claw back” the funds if a recipient violates any of the bill’s conditions.

Second try

If the bill advances to the House, it would mark the second time a bipartisan group of senators tried to secure money for the semiconductor industry. Last year, the Senate passed a $250 billion package that included broader research and development funding.

When the House received the bill, it waited nearly a year to pass its own version and made a number of additions that Senate Republicans would not agree to. The bill never advanced.

Now, however, things might be different. In a letter circulated to members of the House Democratic caucus on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in favor of the bill.

“With this package, the United States returns to its status as a world leader in the manufacturing of semiconductor chips,” Pelosi wrote, noting that the bill would create an estimated 100,000 well-paid government contracting jobs in the industry.

“Doing so is an economic necessity to lower costs for consumers and to win in the 21st Century Economy, as well as a national security imperative as we seek to reduce our dependence on foreign manufacturers,” Pelosi wrote.

Industry reacts

In an email exchange with VOA, Ajit Manocha, president and CEO of Semi, a global industry trade group, said, “We are pleased to see action to reverse the decline in the U.S. share of global semiconductor manufacturing capacity, which has fallen by 50 percent in the last 20 years and is forecast to shrink further.”

“The availability of robust incentives in other countries and the lack of a federal U.S. incentive have been key factors driving the location of more overseas manufacturing facilities,” Manocha added. “If the United States wants to maintain or increase its share of global semiconductor manufacturing capacity, the federal government absolutely needs to get in the game.”

Semiconductor Industry Association President and CEO John Neuffer said in a statement, “The Senate CHIPS Act would greatly strengthen America’s economy, national security, and leadership in the technologies that will determine our future.”

He added, “This is America’s window of opportunity to re-invigorate chip manufacturing, design, and research on U.S. shores, and Congress should seize it before the window slams shut.” 

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Twitter Sues to Force Musk to Complete His $44B Acquisition

Twitter sued Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Tuesday to force him to complete the $44 billion acquisition of the social media company. 

Musk and Twitter have been bracing for a legal fight since the billionaire said on Friday he was backing off of his April agreement to buy the company. 

Twitter’s lawsuit opens with a sharply worded accusation: “Musk refuses to honor his obligations to Twitter and its stockholders because the deal he signed no longer serves his personal interests.” 

“Having mounted a public spectacle to put Twitter in play and having proposed and then signed a seller-friendly merger agreement, Musk apparently believes that he — unlike every other party subject to Delaware contract law — is free to change his mind, trash the company, disrupt its operations, destroy stockholder value, and walk away,” the suit says. 

Twitter filed its lawsuit in the Delaware Court of Chancery, which frequently handles business disputes among the many corporations, including Twitter, that are incorporated there. 

As part of the April deal, Musk and Twitter had agreed to pay each other a $1 billion breakup fee if either was responsible for the deal falling through. The company could have pushed Musk to pay the hefty fee but is going further than that, trying to force him to complete the full $44 billion purchase approved by the company’s board. 

“Oh the irony lol,” Musk tweeted after Twitter filed the lawsuit, without explanation. 

‘Strong and compelling’ case

The arguments and evidence laid out by Twitter are “very strong and compelling” and likely to get a receptive ear in the Delaware court, which doesn’t look kindly on sophisticated buyers backing off of deals, said Brian Quinn, a law professor at Boston College. 

“They make a very strong argument that this is just buyer’s remorse,” Quinn said. “You have to eat your mistakes in the Delaware Chancery Court. That’s going to work very favorably for Twitter.” 

Musk alleged Friday that Twitter has failed to provide enough information about the number of fake accounts on its service. Twitter said last month that it was making available to Musk a “fire hose” of raw data on hundreds of millions of daily tweets. 

The company has said for years in regulatory filings that it believes about 5% of the accounts on the platform are fake. Musk is also alleging that Twitter broke the acquisition agreement when it fired two top managers and laid off a third of its talent-acquisition team. 

Twitter’s suit repeatedly emphasizes Musk’s contemplation of starting a Twitter competitor, an alternative option he sometimes aired publicly and sometimes privately to Twitter’s executives and board members. While the company has said it cooperated in providing the spam bot data he requested, the lawsuit suggests there was concern that disclosing too much “highly sensitive information” could expose Twitter to competitive harm if shared. 

The biggest surprise for Quinn was how much evidence Twitter has — for instance, communications with Musk about whether to retain or lay off employees, as well as the billionaire’s own public tweets — to reject his arguments for backing out. 

“They are marshaling many of Musk’s own tweets to hoist him on his own petard,” he said. 

Tesla stock drops

When Musk offered to buy the company and take it private in mid-April, the board initially tried to block him by deploying a financial maneuver that would have made the acquisition prohibitively expensive. 

By April 25, though, Twitter had reconsidered the offer, concluding that selling the company to Musk for $54.20 a share was in the best interest of shareholders. In a joint press release, Musk pledged to “unlock” the social media company’s potential by loosening restrictions on speech and rooting out fake accounts. 

But his confidence didn’t last long. Tesla’s stock — Musk’s primary source of wealth — plummeted amid a broader stock market selloff in May, and Musk soon seemed less enthusiastic about owning Twitter. 

Twitter’s suit calls Musk’s tactics “a model of hypocrisy,” noting that he had emphasized plans to take Twitter private in order to rid it of spam accounts. Once the market declined, however, Twitter noted that “Musk shifted his narrative, suddenly demanding ‘verification’ that spam was not a serious problem on Twitter’s platform and claiming a burning need to conduct ‘diligence’ he had expressly forsworn.” 

Similarly, the company charges that Musk operated in bad faith, accusing him of requesting company information in order to accuse Twitter of providing “misrepresentations” about its business to regulators and investors. 

Twitter’s lawsuit alleges that the company “has suffered and will continue to suffer irreparable harm” as a result of Musk’s contractual breaches that “cast a pall over Twitter and its business.” 

 

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NASA to Release Images from Most Powerful Space Telescope

The U.S. space agency is set to release the full set of the first full-color images from the James Webb Space Telescope on Tuesday, a day after sharing a full-color picture showing stars and galaxies from deeper into the cosmos than ever seen before.

During a news briefing at the White House Monday to unveil the first NASA image, U.S. President Joe Biden said the telescope was “a new window into the history of our universe.”

The $10 billion telescope, the largest and most powerful telescope ever launched into space, peers farther into the cosmos than any before it.

A peek into the past

Scientists describe the telescope as looking back in time. That is because it can see galaxies that are so far away that it takes light from those galaxies billions of years to reach the telescope.

“Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. And that light that you are seeing on one of those little specs (in the picture) has been traveling for over 13 billion years,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who attended Monday’s news briefing along with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The Webb telescope can see light that was created just after the Big Bang, the farthest humanity has peered into the past.

A successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, Webb is about 100 times more sensitive than its 30-year-old predecessor. It is also able to use the infrared spectrum, while the Hubble used mainly optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.

The telescope is so precise, Nelson said, that scientists will be able to see the chemical composition of planets deep in space and determine if they are habitable or not.

“We are going to be able to answer questions that we don’t even know what the questions are yet,” he said.

Harris said the telescope would “enhance what we know about the origins of our universe, our solar system and possibly life itself.”

Into the cosmos

The telescope was launched December 25 from French Guiana in South America and traveled 1.6 million kilometers from Earth before beginning to capture images.

Biden said the telescope took a “journey 1 million miles into the cosmos … along the way unfolding itself, deploying a mirror 21 feet wide, a sunshield the size of a tennis court, and 250,000 tiny shutters, each one smaller than a grain of sand.”

Nelson said future images would peer even farther back into the origin of the cosmos, looking about 13.5 billion years into the past.

Scientists will use the Webb telescope to study stars, galaxies and planets as far as the edges of the cosmos, as well as look at objects closer to us with a sharper view, including our own solar system.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Looming Musk-Twitter Legal Battle Hammers Company Shares

Shares of Twitter slid more than 6% in the first day of trading after billionaire Elon Musk said that he was abandoning his $44 billion bid for the company and the social media platform vowed to challenge Musk in court to uphold the agreement. 

Twitter is now preparing to sue Musk in Delaware where the company is incorporated. While the outcome is uncertain, both sides are preparing for long court battle. 

Musk alleged Friday that Twitter has failed to provide enough information about the number of fake accounts it has. However, Twitter said last month that it was making available to Musk a ” fire hose” of raw data on hundreds of millions of daily tweets when he raised the issue again after announcing that he would buy the social media platform. 

Twitter has said for years in regulatory filings that it believes about 5% of the accounts on the platform are fake but on Monday Musk continued to taunt the company, using Twitter, over what he has described as a lack of data. In addition, Musk is also alleging that Twitter broke the agreement when it fired two top managers and laid off a third of its talent-acquisition team. 

Musk agreed to a $1 billion breakup fee as part of the buyout agreement, though it appears Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal and the company are settling in for a legal fight to force the sale. 

“For Twitter this fiasco is a nightmare scenario and will result in an Everest-like uphill climb for Parag & Co. to navigate the myriad challenges ahead around employee turnover/morale, advertising headwinds, investor credibility around the fake account/bot issues, and host of other issues abound,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives, who follows the company, wrote Monday. 

The sell-off in Twitter shares pushed prices close to $34 each, far from the $54.20 that Musk agreed to pay for the company. That suggests, strongly, that Wall Street has serious doubts that the deal will go forward. 

While the outcome of any protracted legal battle cannot be known, experts in the legal and business sectors believe Twitter likely has a stronger case. 

Morningstar analyst Ali Mogharabi noted that, regarding the spam user count Musk is so focused on, Twitter has “for years explicitly stated in regulatory filings that the ‘below 5%’ spam count may not be accurate given that it is based on a sample and requires a lot of judgment.” 

Given current market conditions, Mogharabi said, Twitter may also have a solid argument that the layoffs and firings of the past weeks represent “an ordinary course of business.” 

“Many technology firms have begun to control costs by reducing headcount and/or delaying adding employees,” he said. “The resignations of Twitter employees cannot with certainty be attributed to any change in how Twitter has operated since Musk’s offer was accepted by the board and shareholders. 

Tech industry analysts say Musk’s interlude leaves behind a more vulnerable company with demoralized employees. 

“With Musk officially walking away from the deal, we think business prospects and stock valuation are in a precarious situation,” wrote CFRA Analyst Angelo Zino. “(Twitter) will now need to go at it as a standalone company and contend with an uncertain advertising market, a damaged employee base, and concerns about the status of fake accounts/strategic direction.” 

The uncertainty surrounding Twitter could also lead advertisers to curtail their spending on the platform, Mogharabi said. 

But “the drama” surrounding the deal, he added, “will also likely attract new users to the platform and increase engagement, especially given the upcoming midterm elections, which could convince advertisers to cut a bit less. In the long run, we think Twitter will remain one of the top five social media platforms for advertisers.” 

 

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Report: Uber Lobbied, Used ‘Stealth’ Tech to Block Scrutiny

As Uber aggressively pushed into markets around the world, the ride-sharing service lobbied political leaders to relax labor and taxi laws, used a “kill switch” to thwart regulators and law enforcement, channeled money through Bermuda and other tax havens and considered portraying violence against its drivers as a way to gain public sympathy, according to a report released Sunday.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a nonprofit network of investigative reporters, scoured internal Uber texts, emails, invoices and other documents to deliver what it called “an unprecedented look into the ways Uber defied taxi laws and upended workers’ rights.”

The documents were first leaked to the British newspaper The Guardian, which shared them with the consortium.

In a written statement. Uber spokesperson Jill Hazelbaker acknowledged “mistakes” in the past and said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, hired in 2017, had been “tasked with transforming every aspect of how Uber operates … When we say Uber is a different company today, we mean it literally: 90% of current Uber employees joined after Dara became CEO.”

Founded in 2009, Uber sought to skirt taxi regulations and offer inexpensive transportation via a ride-sharing app. The consortium’s Uber Files revealed the extraordinary lengths that the company undertook to establish itself in nearly 30 countries.

The company’s lobbyists — including former aides to President Barack Obama — pressed government officials to drop their investigations, rewrite labor and taxi laws and relax background checks on drivers, the papers show.

The investigation found that Uber used “stealth technology” to fend off government investigations. The company, for example, used a “kill switch” that cut access to Uber servers and blocked authorities from grabbing evidence during raids in at least six countries. During a police raid in Amsterdam, the Uber Files reported, former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick personally issued an order: “Please hit the kill switch ASAP … Access must be shut down in AMS (Amsterdam).”

The consortium also reported that Kalanick saw the threat of violence against Uber drivers in France by aggrieved taxi drivers as a way to gain public support. “Violence guarantee(s) success,” Kalanick texted colleagues.

In a response to the consortium, Kalanick representative Devon Spurgeon said the former CEO “never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety.”

The Uber Files say the company cut its tax bill by millions of dollars by sending profits through Bermuda and other tax havens, then “sought to deflect attention from its tax liabilities by helping authorities collect taxes from its drivers.”

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Millions of Canadians Lose Mobile, Internet Services

Millions of Canadians found out Friday what it is like to live without access to the internet and mobile phone service.

Rogers Communications, the country’s largest mobile and internet provider, experienced a major outage, beginning Friday morning and lasting most of the day.

The outage affected retailers, credit card and debit transactions, court proceedings, government agencies, calls to emergency services and much more.

“Today we have let you down,” Rogers posted on Twitter, without offering an explanation. “We are working to make this right as quickly as we can. We will continue to keep you updated, including when services will be back online.”

Late Friday, the Toronto-based telecommunications firm said it had begun restoring services.

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Twitter Claims It Is Removing 1 Million Spam Accounts Daily

Twitter said Thursday it removes more than 1 million spam and bot accounts every day.

The removals come as Tesla founder Elon Musk, who is in the process of acquiring the company, continues to pressure Twitter to reduce spam accounts.

He has threatened to cancel the $44 billion deal if Twitter cannot prove spam and bot accounts account for less than 5% of Twitter users.

Musk has vowed to “defeat the spam bots or die trying.”

Twitter has maintained that spam and bot accounts make up less than 5% of the user base since at least 2013. Musk has argued that Twitter underestimates the amount of spam accounts.

Twitter says humans conduct manual reviews of thousands of accounts each quarter to determine if they are bots.

Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Instagram Hides Some Posts That Mention Abortion

Instagram is blocking posts that mention abortion from public view, in some cases requiring its users to confirm their age before letting them view posts that offer up information about the procedure. 

Over the last day, several Instagram accounts run by abortion rights advocacy groups have found their posts or stories hidden with a warning that described the posts as “sensitive content.” Instagram said it was working to fix the problem Tuesday, describing it as a bug. 

In one example, Instagram covered a post on a page with more than 25,000 followers that shared text reading: “Abortion in America How You Can Help.” The post went on to encourage followers to donate money to abortion organizations and to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strip constitutional protections for abortion. 

The post was covered with a warning from Instagram, reading “This photo may contain graphic or violent content.” 

Instagram’s latest snafu follows an Associated Press report that Facebook and Instagram were deleting posts that offered to mail abortion pills to women living in states that now ban abortion procedures. The tech platforms said they were deleting the posts because they violated policies against selling or gifting certain products, including pharmaceuticals, drugs and firearms. 

Yet, the AP’s review found that similar posts offering to mail a gun or marijuana were not removed by Facebook. The company did not respond to questions about the discrepancy. 

Berlin photographer Zoe Noble runs the Instagram page whose post referencing abortion was blocked for viewing. The page, which celebrates women who decide not to have children, has been live for over a year. Monday was the first time a post mentioning abortion was restricted by Instagram, although Noble has mentioned it many times before. 

“I was really confused because we’ve never had this happen before, and we’ve talked about abortion before,” Noble said. “I was really shocked that the word abortion seemed to be flagged.” 

The platform offers no way for users to dispute the restriction. 

The AP identified nearly a dozen other posts that mentioned the word “abortion” and were subsequently covered up by Instagram. All of the posts were informational in nature, and none of the posts featured photos of abortions. An Instagram post by an AP reporter that asked people if they were experiencing the problem was also covered by the company on Tuesday and required users to enter their age in order to view it. 

The AP inquired about the problem on Tuesday morning. Hours later, Instagram’s communication department acknowledged the problem on Twitter, describing it as a glitch. A spokesman for Instagram-owner Meta Platforms Inc. said in an email that the company does not place age restrictions around its abortion content. 

“We’re hearing that people around the world are seeing our ‘sensitivity screens,’ on many different types of content when they shouldn’t be. We’re looking into this bug and working on a fix now,” the company tweeted. 

Tech companies like Meta can hide details about how posts or keywords have been promoted or hidden from view, said Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor at Cornell University who studies social media. 

“This can all take place behind the scenes, and it can be attributed to a glitch,” Duffy said. “We don’t know what happened. That’s what’s chilling about this.

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Scientists’ Model Uses Google Search Data to Forecast COVID Hospitalizations

Future waves of COVID-19 might be predicted using internet search data, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

In the study, researchers watched the number of COVID-related Google searches made across the country and used that information, together with conventional COVID-19 metrics such as confirmed cases, to predict hospital admission rates weeks in advance.

Using the search data provided by Google Trends, scientists were able to build a computational model to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations. Google Trends is an online portal that provides data on Google search volumes in real time.

“If you have a bunch of people searching for ‘COVID testing sites near me’ … you’re going to still feel the effects of that downstream at the hospital level in terms of admissions,” said data scientist Philip Turk of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, who was not involved in the study. “That gives health care administrators and leaders advance warning to prepare for surges — to stock up on personal protective equipment and staffing and to anticipate a surge coming at them.”

For predictions one or two weeks in advance, the new computer model stacks up well against existing ones. It beats the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “national ensemble” forecast, which combines models made by many research teams — though there are some single models that outperform it.

Different perspective

According to study co-author Shihao Yang, a data scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the new model’s value is its unique perspective — a data source that is independent of conventional metrics. Yang is working to add the new model to the CDC’s COVID-19 forecasting hub.

Watching trends in how often people Google certain terms, like “cough” or “COVID-19 vaccine,” could help fill in the gaps in places with sparse testing or weak health care systems.

Yang also thinks that his model will be especially useful when new variants pop up. It did a good job of predicting spikes in hospitalizations thought to be associated with new variants such as omicron, without the time delays typical of many other models.

“It’s like an earthquake,” Yang said. “Google search will tell me a few hours ahead that a tsunami is hitting. … A few hours is enough for me to get prepared, allocate resources and inform my staff. I think that’s the information that we are providing here. It’s that window from the earthquake to when the tsunami hit the shore where my model really shines.”

The model considers Google search volumes for 256 COVID-19-specific terms, such as “loss of taste,” “COVID-19 vaccine” and “cough,” together with core statistics like case counts and vaccination rates. It also has temporal and spatial components — terms representing the delay between today’s data and the future hospitalizations it predicts, and how closely connected different states are.

Every week, the model retrains itself using the past 56 days’ worth of data. This keeps the model from being weighed down by older data that don’t reflect how the virus acts now.

Turk previously developed a different model to predict COVID-19 hospitalizations on a local level for the Charlotte, North Carolina, metropolitan area. The new model developed by Yang and his colleagues uses a different method and is the first to make state- and national-level predictions using search data.

Turk was surprised by “just how harmonious” the result was with his earlier work.

“I mean, they’re basically looking at two different models, two different paths,” he said. “It’s a great example of science coming together.”

Using Google search data to make public health forecasts has downsides. For one, Google could stop allowing researchers to use the data at any time, something Yang admits is concerning to his colleagues.

‘Noise’ in searches

Additionally, search data are messy, with lots of random behavior that researchers call “noise,” and the quality varies regionally, so the information needs to be smoothed out during analysis using statistical methods.

Local linguistic quirks can introduce problems because people from different regions sometimes use different words to describe the same thing, as can media coverage when it either raises or calms pandemic fears, Yang said. Privacy protections also introduce complications — user data are aggregated and injected with extra noise before publishing, a protection that makes it impossible to fish out individual users’ information from the public dataset.

Running the model with search data alone didn’t work as well as the model with search data and conventional metrics. Taking out search data and using only conventional COVID-19 metrics to make predictions also hurt the new model’s performance. This indicates that, for this model, the magic is in the mix — both conventional COVID-19 metrics and Google Trends data contain information that is useful for predicting hospitalizations.

“The fact that the data is valuable, and [the] data [is] difficult to process are two independent questions. There [is] information in there,” Yang said. “I can talk to my mom about this. It’s very simple, just intuitive. … If we are able to capture that intuition, I think that’s what makes things work.”

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NASA Completes Historic Rocket Launch in Outback Australia 

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has successfully completed its first rocket launch from a commercial space facility outside of the United States. A 13-meter rocket blasted off Monday from a site in the Australian outback.

A 13-meter sub-orbital rocket took off from the newly built Arnhem Space Centre in Australia’s Northern Territory Monday. Lift-off was delayed by about two hours because of strong winds and heavy rain.

The launch was the first of its kind in Australia in more than 25 years and the first of three scheduled NASA missions from the site.

Researchers hope the information gathered from the flights will help them understand how light from a star could affect the habitability of nearby planets. They have said that this type of study can only be carried out in the Southern Hemisphere.

The unmanned flight briefly scanned the Milky Way, measuring X-Ray emissions and analyzing the structure of stars.

Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, told Australian television that the launch is part of a project to boost the domestic space industry.

“When you build a satellite you have to go overseas to do it and so the fact that we are now seeing this build-up of launching from Australia this is, kind of, that final piece of the puzzle to having, you know, a really massive industry in this sector of space and then we see that that, kind of, the first group that says, yes, we want to do it, we want to be a part of the story is Nasa, you know, it just, kind of, gives the street cred[ibility] so to speak that you are on the right track from what you are thinking,” he said.

The Arnhem Space Center is the world’s only commercially owned equatorial launch facility.

The center is built on Aboriginal land. Tribal elders hope the project will provide jobs and opportunities for young First Nations people.

Officials said the center combines one of the “oldest cultures in the world with some of the most advanced technology ever.”

The next NASA rocket will be launched in the Northern Territory on July 4, and the third will take off on July 12.

About 75 NASA staff have travelled to northern Australia for all three launches.

Australia is working to increase its capabilities in space. This year, it announced a new defense agency that would work to counter China and Russia’s ambitions in space. Along with the United States, the two countries are reported to have tested weapons that could destroy a satellite.

The Australian Space Agency was created in July 2018 to “support the growth and transformation” of the nation’s space industry.”

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Microsoft: Russian Cyber Spying Targets 42 Ukraine Allies

Coinciding with unrelenting cyberattacks against Ukraine, state-backed Russian hackers have engaged in “strategic espionage” against governments, think tanks, businesses and aid groups in 42 countries supporting Kyiv, Microsoft said in a report Wednesday.

“Since the start of the war, the Russian targeting [of Ukraine’s allies] has been successful 29 percent of the time,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote, with data stolen in at least one-quarter of the successful network intrusions.

“As a coalition of countries has come together to defend Ukraine, Russian intelligence agencies have stepped up network penetration and espionage activities targeting allied governments outside Ukraine,” Smith said.

Nearly two-thirds of the cyberespionage targets involved NATO members. The United States was the prime target and Poland, the main conduit for military assistance flowing to Ukraine, was No. 2. In the past two months, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Turkey have seen stepped-up targeting.

A striking exception is Estonia, where Microsoft said it has detected no Russian cyber intrusions since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The company credited Estonia’s adoption of cloud computing, where it’s easier to detect intruders. “Significant collective defensive weaknesses remain” among some other European governments, Microsoft said, without identifying them.

Half of the 128 organizations targeted are government agencies and 12% are nongovernmental agencies, typically think tanks or humanitarian groups, according to the 28-page report. Other targets include telecommunications, energy and defense companies.

Microsoft said Ukraine’s cyber defenses “have proven stronger” overall than Russia’s capabilities in “waves of destructive cyberattacks against 48 distinct Ukrainian agencies and enterprises.” Moscow’s military hackers have been cautious not to unleash destructive data-destroying worms that could spread outside Ukraine, as the NotPetya virus did in 2017, the report noted.

“During the past month, as the Russian military moved to concentrate its attacks in the Donbas region, the number of destructive attacks has fallen,” according to the report, “Defending Ukraine: Early Lessons from the Cyber War.” The Redmond, Washington, company has unique insight in the domain due to the ubiquity of its software and threat detection teams.

Microsoft said Ukraine has also set an example in data safeguarding. Ukraine went from storing its data locally on servers in government buildings a week before the Russian invasion — making them vulnerable to aerial attack — to dispersing that data in the cloud, hosted in data centers across Europe.

The report also assessed Russian disinformation and propaganda aimed at “undermining Western unity and deflecting criticism of Russian military war crimes” and wooing people in nonaligned countries.

Using artificial intelligence tools, Microsoft said, it estimated “Russian cyber influence operations successfully increased the spread of Russian propaganda after the war began by 216 percent in Ukraine and 82 percent in the United States.”

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