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  • Energy Department Releases Perry Documents: Impeachment Update
    Bloomberg

    Energy Department Releases Perry Documents: Impeachment Update

    (Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s lawyers finished presenting his defense on Tuesday, their third day of arguments in the Senate impeachment trial. The next phase, 16 total hours of senators’ questions for both sides, will begin Wednesday.Democrats continue to insist that the Senate should call new witnesses, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton. At least four Republicans would need to vote with Democrats in favor of seeking additional evidence.Here are the latest developments:Energy Department Releases Perry Documents (9:45 p.m.)The U.S. Energy Department on Tuesday night released more than 100 pages of documents related to former Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s May 2018 trip to Ukraine, but the purpose, key issues, and background related to his meeting with the country’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, were among the scores of redecations in the documents.The documents, which were released after a lawsuit by the transparency group American Oversight, mark the first time the Energy Department has made public impeachment-related materials. The group said the department is scheduled to release more documents on Feb. 4 and March 16.Perry, who resigned late last year, refused requests by House investigators to testify about the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine.Democrats Seek to Restart Tax Return Lawsuit (7:31 p.m.)House Democrats asked a federal judge to resume considering their lawsuit seeking Trump’s federal tax returns, after the judge put it on hold to await an appeals court ruling on whether Congress can make ex-White House Counsel Don McGahn testify.“This case has been stalled long enough,” Douglas Letter, a lawyer for the House Democrats, said in court papers filed Tuesday. “The requested relief is necessary for the committee to move forward with its pressing legislative and oversight inquiry.”U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden said earlier this month that he would consider lifting the stay if the appeals court didn’t rule quickly in the McGahn case. House Democrats said that because two weeks have elapsed since then, they’re asking the judge to resume the proceedings.The president has been fighting in court on several fronts to guard his financial information. The House Ways and Means Committee also sued for his tax returns in July.In August, the House Judiciary Committee filed a separate suit seeking to force McGahn to obey a subpoena for his congressional testimony. He refused to appear at Trump’s direction. The Washington appeals court heard arguments in the case on Jan. 3. -- Laura DavisonGOP Has Yet to Get Votes to Block Witnesses (6:14 p.m.)Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republican senators during a private meeting that he doesn’t currently have the votes to block witnesses in the trial, a Senate GOP aide said.The Wall Street Journal earlier reported McConnell’s statement.Republicans Differ on Calling Witnesses (4:53 p.m.)Republican senators met privately after the arguments ended, but didn’t emerge with any consensus on whether to call witnesses to testify.“I’m ready to vote against calling witnesses,” Kevin Cramer of North Dakota told reporters, but he also said he didn’t know what the final vote will be.Susan Collins of Maine told CBS she is “very likely” to vote to hear witnesses.“I, for one, believe that there’s some gaps, some ambiguities that need to be cleared up,” said Collins. The senator, one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents in 2020, has said for weeks that she is open to supporting a call for witnesses.Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, one of a handful of senators who have said they’re willing to consider calling witnesses, said he’s still undecided on that question.John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of Republican leadership, said the “overwhelming consensus” of the caucus is that they’ve heard enough and don’t need witnesses. However, he didn’t say whether there would be enough GOP votes to block witnesses.Staunch Trump supporter Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he doesn’t know whether senators will call witnesses, but if they do there should be many witnesses. He has previously said that if Democrats are allowed to call any witnesses, Trump should get to call people such as Joe Biden, his son, Hunter, and the unidentified whistle-blower.“The idea that you just call one witness, that’s not remotely possible,” Graham said.Florida’s Marco Rubio said he’ll wait to discuss his views on calling witnesses until after the senators spend two days questioning the prosecution and defense lawyers on Wednesday and Thursday.Poll Shows 75% of Voters Support Witnesses (3:54 p.m.)Three-quarters of U.S. voters say senators should hear from witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.Much of the Jan. 22-27 poll was taken before Sunday’s revelation that former National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote in an upcoming book that Trump tied military aid for Ukraine with investigations of Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden.“There may be heated debate among lawmakers about whether witnesses should testify at the impeachment trial of President Trump, but it’s a different story outside the Beltway,“ said Quinnipiac analyst Mary Snow, who said even 49% of Republicans favored hearing testimony.Conducted among 1,905 self-identified registered voters, the poll found that Americans are split on whether Trump should be removed from office, with 48% opposed and 46% favoring it.More than half of voters say Trump isn’t telling the truth about his actions in Ukraine, while 40% believe the president. Among Republicans, 89% said they believe the president. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said they’d like the president to provide more details about his actions involving Ukraine.Majorities of voters believe Trump abused his power, 57%, and obstructed Congress, 52%. The poll has a 2.3% margin of error.Senators Question Lawyers Starting Wednesday (3:01 p.m.)Senators will ask questions of the trial lawyers for eight hours on Wednesday and again on Thursday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.He said he and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed that the questioners will alternate between the political parties. The questions will be submitted in writing to Chief Justice John Roberts.During President Bill Clinton’s 1999 trial, McConnell said, “senators were thoughtful and brief with their questions, and the managers and counsel were succinct in their answers.” He said he hoped all sides will follow that example.Roberts said that when Chief Justice William Rehnquist was the presiding officer in Clinton’s trial, he operated with the “rebuttable presumption” that each question could be answered in five minutes or less. At the time, Rehnquist’s statement was met by laughter, he said.Roberts said he considered the late chief justice’s time limit to be a good one and would “ask both sides to abide by it.”Trump Team Wraps Up Its Trial Defense (2:52 p.m.)Trump’s lawyers completed their defense, with lead lawyer Pat Cipollone saying, “I think we’ve made our case.”“The articles of impeachment fall far short of any constitutional standard and they are dangerous,” said Cipollone, the White House counsel.“What they are asking you to do is to throw out a successful president on the eve of an election with no basis, in violation of the Constitution,” Cipollone said. He asked senators to “respect and defend the sacred right of every American to vote and to choose their president.”Next will be senators’ questions to lawyers for both sides, beginning on Wednesday.Sekulow Urges Senators to Ignore Bolton Leak (2:05 p.m.)Trump attorney Jay Sekulow urged the Senate to ignore the latest leaks about former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s upcoming book.“It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts,” he said. “That’s politics, unfortunately. And Hamilton put impeachment in the hands of this body, the Senate, precisely and specifically to be above that fray.” He was referring to founding father Alexander Hamilton.“You cannot impeach a president on an unsourced allegation,” Sekulow said. He called Bolton’s book an “unpublished manuscript that maybe some reporters have an idea, maybe, of what it says.””I don’t know what you call that evidence,” said Sekulow of the Bolton manuscript. “I call it inadmissible.”Sekulow also went into a lengthy attack on former FBI director Jim Comey’s leaks, special counsel Robert Mueller’s handling of the Russia investigation, and FBI investigators who were accused of showing bias against Trump, including Lisa Page and Peter Strzok.Sekulow said that helps explain Trump’s frame of mind. “Put yourself in his shoes,” he said.Biden Says GOP Seeks to ‘Smear’ Him in Trial (1:28 p.m.)Democrat Joe Biden said GOP Senator Joni Ernst’s comments a day earlier show that Republicans are using the impeachment trial to harm his campaign for the presidential nomination.“She spilled the beans,” Biden told reporters in Muscatine, Iowa. “She just came out and flat said it. You know the whole impeachment trial for Trump is just a political hit job to try to smear me because he is scared to death of running against me.”Ernst of Iowa suggested to reporters that the presentation by Trump’s lawyers could hurt Biden’s showing in next Monday’s caucuses.“Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening and I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucus-goers. Will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point?” Ernst said.Earlier Monday, Trump lawyer Pam Bondi described how Biden’s son Hunter served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company. She said the president had ample reason to be concerned about it. -- Tyler PagerTrump Team Begins Final Defense Arguments (1:06 p.m.)Trump’s legal team began its last few hours of arguments, as a crucial decision looms for the Senate later in the week over whether to call former National Security Adviser John Bolton to testify.After Tuesday’s arguments, senators on Wednesday and Thursday will question lawyers for both sides, in queries submitted in writing to Chief Justice John Roberts.GOP Senator Says He Pushed Bolton to Talk (12:49 p.m.)Senator Ron Johnson, already a player in the impeachment drama for saying he confronted Trump about withholding security aid for Ukraine, told reporters he personally urged Bolton on Jan. 7 to come forward if he had something to say that would be relevant to the impeachment charges.Bolton told him he would only respond to a Senate subpoena, however -- something Johnson has yet to publicly support.The Wisconsin Republican said the leak of Bolton’s book manuscript “is exquisite timing, perhaps suspicious timing.” -- Laura Litvan, Steven T. Dennis‘I Believe John Bolton,’ Kelly Says (12:17 p.m.)Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said he would believe Bolton’s claims regarding Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate a political rival, according to a report from the Herald Tribune about a public event in Florida on Monday.“If John Bolton says that in the book I believe John Bolton,” Kelly said. “John’s an honest guy. He’s a man of integrity and great character, so we’ll see what happens.”Kelly said witnesses who could help establish the facts of the case should be heard, adding that “the majority of Americans would like to hear the whole story.” -- Daniel Flatley, Laura Litvan, Billy HouseSchumer Rejects Closed Bolton Draft Viewing (11:40 a.m.)Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called Republican suggestions that senators could read Bolton’s book manuscript in a secure setting “an absurd proposal.”Other Democratic senators said viewing Bolton’s book would be a good starting point but no substitute for being able to question the former Trump adviser under oath.Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin said questioning Bolton as a witness is important because it “tests a person’s veracity and their memory,” rather than just reading a book.“We ought to see the book -- let’s start there,” Durbin said. “It’s not sufficient for what we need. We need testimony.”Delaware Democrat Chris Coons said reading the book manuscript in a classified setting is “the absolute bare minimum demonstration of interest in learning facts,” though it is an “obvious, reasonable step.”“I think if we can get that information and utilize it, better than what we got now,” Montana Democrat Jon Tester said. “I mean, it’s going to be in a book.” -- Daniel Flatley, Laura Litvan, Billy HouseGOP Floats Classified Access to Bolton Draft (10:36 a.m.)South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham said he backs a proposal to allow senators to view the book manuscript from former National Security Adviser John Bolton in a classified setting.Graham, a close Trump ally, tweeted his support for the idea floated by Oklahoma Senator James Lankford on Monday. The Oklahoman newspaper reported that Lankford stressed the importance of first-hand information about what Bolton knows, and he suggested that senators could view the book manuscript before it’s screened for classified material because lawmakers have the necessary clearance.Senator Mike Braun said people are “soul searching” about reports that Bolton spoke with Trump about withholding security aid for Ukraine in exchange for politically motivated investigations. Braun said he’s not convinced that Trump’s conduct was impeachable, even if the Bolton allegations are true.“There’ll be a lot of people soul searching about the whole conversation,” Braun said. “Everybody will take it into consideration.” -- Daniel Flatley, Steven T. DennisRomney Says He’d Like to Hear from Bolton (9:45 a.m.)Senator Mitt Romney said he would like to call former National Security Adviser John Bolton to testify in the Senate trial.“I’d like to hear from Mr. Bolton,” Romney said when asked whether he’d be satisfied with just getting a look at the manuscript from Bolton’s upcoming book. The New York Times reported that the book includes details relevant to the impeachment charges.The Utah Republican said he “wouldn’t begin” to speculate how many other Republicans want to hear from additional witnesses. Maine Republican Susan Collins has also said she’d likely vote to hear additional testimony. -- Josh Wingrove, Erik WassonTrump Lawyers to Speak for About Two Hours (9:27 a.m.)Trump’s legal team plans to speak for about two more hours when impeachment proceedings resume this afternoon, an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.The defense team’s plan to wrap up will usher in a period allowing questions from senators to both Trump’s team and the House impeachment managers. It’s unclear whether that will begin Tuesday or Wednesday.Trump’s defense has largely skirted the reported revelations from a draft of a book written by former National Security Adviser John Bolton. A vote on whether to call Bolton or other witnesses will follow the time for senators’ questions, but appears unlikely to pass unless more Republicans come out in favor of it.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office would not say when after the Trump team rests its case will the trial would move into allowing senators to ask questions. Under that process, which could last as long as 16 hours, individual questions will be read and the senators asking the question will be identified.Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, said he doesn’t expect the questioning period to begin Tuesday because senators need more time to streamline their queries. Blunt said Chief Justice John Roberts will help eliminate duplicate questions. -- Josh Wingrove, Erik WassonTrump Lawyers to Finish Defense Argument (6 a.m.)The president’s lawyers have one more day to argue in his defense, with his impeachment trial in its second week. Senate Republican leaders still hope to end the trial later this week, although several GOP senators are mulling whether to join Democrats in voting to call witnesses.While Trump ripped into his Bolton on Twitter, the president’s defense team barely mentioned him during arguments Monday amid a firestorm over whether he should be subpoenaed to testify.Constitutional law professor Alan Dershowitz was the only Trump lawyer to refer to Bolton by name, saying, “Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense.”The New York Times reported that Bolton wrote in his forthcoming book that Trump told him last August that he didn’t want to release U.S. aid to Ukraine until that country turned over material related to former Vice President Joe Biden.Dershowitz also argued that the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are so “vague and open-ended” that the nation’s founders would have rejected them as grounds for impeaching and removing a president.After the argument, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shook Dershowitz’s hand and said, “wonderful!”Catch Up on Impeachment CoverageBombshell Bolton Report Pressures GOP on Impeachment WitnessesTrump Caught on Tape Saying ‘Get Rid Of’ U.S. Envoy in 2018 (1)Key EventsHere is the House Democrats’ web page containing documents related to the impeachment trial. House Democrats’ impeachment brief is here. Trump’s initial reply is here, and his lawyers’ trial brief is here.The House impeachment resolution is H.Res. 755. The Intelligence Committee Democrats’ impeachment report is here.Gordon Sondland’s transcript is here and here; Kurt Volker’s transcript is here and here. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s transcript is here and here; the transcript of Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to the secretary of State, is here. The transcript of David Holmes, a Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, is here.The transcript of William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, is here and here. State Department official George Kent’s testimony is here and here. Testimony by Alexander Vindman can be found here, and the Fiona Hill transcript is here. Laura Cooper’s transcript is here; Christopher Anderson’s is here and Catherine Croft’s is here. Jennifer Williams’ transcript is here and Timothy Morrison’s is here. The Philip Reeker transcript is here. Mark Sandy’s is here.\--With assistance from Josh Wingrove, Billy House, Tyler Pager, Laura Litvan, Steven T. Dennis, Bill Allison, Erik Wasson and Laura Davison.To contact the reporter on this story: Ari Natter in Washington at anatter5@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo, John HarneyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    Biden Campaign Urges Supporters to Defend Him on Social Media

    (Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden’s campaign is urging its active social-media supporters to get online and defend the Democratic presidential candidate against what it sees as increasingly aggressive attacks from the surging Bernie Sanders camp.With less than a week before the Iowa caucuses, the Biden campaign expressed concern on a call to its supporters that Sanders people were “getting ugly” and it had to “step up its game” defending the vice president. The message was confirmed by campaign national press secretary TJ Ducklo.The Sanders campaign has seen a sudden uptick in support in recent weeks, taking leads in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, which holds its primary on Feb. 12. Sanders is also leading in California, which provides 10% of the delegates needed to secure the presidential nomination.Biden continues to hold a sizable lead in national polls.Sanders’ campaign is also rallying supporters to defend him against what it sees as Biden’s attacks. It sent an email to supporters Tuesday asking for donations to counter attack ads planned by Democratic Majority for Israel which is placing $700,000 worth of attack ads against Sanders. The PAC is not affiliated with the Biden campaign.The email signed by Sanders Campaign Manager Faiz Shakir said Sanders has “a small lead in Iowa” but “outside groups are on the attack and hoping to stop us.”Sanders’ supporters are markedly more aggressive than those of any other campaign, going to Twitter and Facebook to enthusiastically defend the Vermont senator and sometimes attack the supporters of other candidates. Sanders’ most fervent supporters famously refused to support 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton when she beat Sanders.Although with many voters in Iowa undecided before the Feb. 3 caucuses, any one of the top tier candidates -- Sanders, Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren -- could still claim victory.But Sanders and Biden have been attacking each other relentlessly, with Sanders’ campaign saying some of Biden’s past statements suggest the former vice president is open to cuts in Social Security, though he has not suggested that this election cycle. Biden’s camp asserted that Sanders had used similar language, which Sanders said had been taken out of context. The spat highlights the fight over older voters, who tend to vote in higher numbers than other demographic groups.Sanders and Biden represent the two wings of the Democratic Party that are competing for the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump in the fall. Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist,” is running on a progressive platform advocating Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Biden offers a moderate path, returning the country to what he considers normalcy after the Trump years.(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)(Updates fifth paragraph with new information about superPAC attacking Sanders)To contact the reporter on this story: Emma Kinery in Washington at ekinery@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Derek Wallbank at dwallbank@bloomberg.net, Wendy Benjaminson, Max BerleyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Twitter (TWTR) Outpaces Stock Market Gains: What You Should Know
    Zacks

    Twitter (TWTR) Outpaces Stock Market Gains: What You Should Know

    Twitter (TWTR) closed the most recent trading day at $33.42, moving +1.95% from the previous trading session.

  • Warren, Sanders Get Nod From Restaurant Workers Union Local
    Bloomberg

    Warren, Sanders Get Nod From Restaurant Workers Union Local

    (Bloomberg) -- When a California union local was fighting over a contract at Loyola Marymount University, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders threatened to skip a debate there.Now the Unite Here Local 11 has returned the favor, with a joint endorsement of the two presidential hopefuls.“I’m deeply grateful for @UniteHere11’s endorsement,” Warren tweeted. “They’re on the front lines of the fights for better wages, benefits, and dignity on the job -- including when they won their historic contract with Sodexo. I’m proudly fighting by their side.”Negotiations between the union and the food services company Sodexo SA had stalled at the time of the debate.Warren was the first presidential candidate to say she wouldn’t cross a picket line for the debate in mid-December. Sanders followed a half hour later. By the end of the day, all seven qualifying candidates had joined them, and the debate was moved to a different location.With many national unions holding back on endorsements this cycle, the backing of larger locals in key states has become more important.This post is part of  Campaign Update, our live coverage from the 2020 campaign trail.To contact the author of this story: Ryan Beckwith in Washington at rbeckwith3@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, John HarneyMax BerleyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Trump Offers Mideast Plan That Palestinians Say Is Non-Starter
    Bloomberg

    Trump Offers Mideast Plan That Palestinians Say Is Non-Starter

    (Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump announced what he called a detailed plan for Middle East peace that provides a “win-win” solution to make Israel and the region safer, but the hurdles to the proposal quickly emerged as Palestinians and some Arab nations signaled their opposition.At a White House event Tuesday alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said his plan offered a “contiguous” territory for a Palestinian state once key conditions are met, including the “rejection of terrorism.” The proposal opens a transition to a two-state solution that leaves Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital,” Trump said to applause from an audience with casino magnate and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson in the front row.“Today Israel takes a big step towards peace,” Trump said. “My vision presents a win-win opportunity for both sides. There’s nothing tougher than this one, but we have to get it done.”But the pomp of the ceremony belied the widespread view outside the White House that the plan is probably dead on arrival. Palestinian officials weren’t consulted on the proposal, and many of the details divulged on Tuesday -- including Israel getting a green light to annex existing West Bank settlements -- ensure it will struggle to gain traction.Speaking after Trump’s presentation, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said “we say ‘no,’ and a thousand times ‘no”’ to the Trump vision. In a televised address from his headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas vowed to begin dissolving the Palestinian Authority, leaving a void in the region.Netanyahu said at the White House that it may take the Palestinians “a very long time” to get an independent state, but “if they agree to abide by all the conditions you’ve laid our in your plan, Israel will be there.”For the first time since peacemaking began almost three decades ago, the plan jettisons what had been articles of faith in previous rounds of U.S.-led negotiations, including some version of joint sovereignty over Jerusalem and viewing Israel’s borders before the 1967 Middle East war as the foundation for a peace agreement.A map Trump tweeted out after the presentation showed a patchwork of Palestinian territory, portions of which were linked only by a road or tunnel, featuring vague developments such as a “high tech manufacturing industrial zone” along the border with Egypt that currently don’t exist.Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and chief architect of the plan, said the map was a bold sign of the president’s initiative.“This is the first time in the history of the peace process that there’s been an official map that was drawn,” Kushner said in a Bloomberg Television interview.Trump said his proposal would require the Palestinian Authority to adopt “basic laws” on protecting human rights, fighting corruption, stopping malign activities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, ending financial compensation to terrorists and stopping incitement against Israel. He said territory destined for Palestinian control would stay undeveloped for four years to give space for talks with Israel to progress.A fact sheet distributed by the White House indicated that Israel won’t have to surrender settlements built across much of the territory that’s claimed by Palestinians. The plan also rejects a key Palestinian demand -- the “right of return” by Palestinian refugees. Instead, refugees and their descendants who have long sought to return to Israeli-controlled territory will have to choose between remaining in Palestinian lands, moving to a third country or integrating into the country they currently live in.‘Illegal Colonization’The Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiations affairs department said in a tweet that “the U.S. plan recognizes Israel’s illegal colonization and annexation of occupied lands belonging to the State of Palestine.”Jordan, a key U.S. ally, rejected the U.S. proposal and said in a statement that a Palestinian state must be negotiated based on Israel’s 1967 borders. Jordan warned Israel against annexing Palestinian lands.But Netanyahu signaled he’s moving fast to implement portions of the proposal beneficial to Israel -- and possibly to his political future ahead of March elections. His government will vote Sunday on a proposal to annex West Bank territory where settlements stand. Palestinians consider those settlements illegal.Trump Peace Bid Sets Aside Palestinian Goals: Mideast TakeawaysWhile Trump and Netanyahu were speaking in Washington, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the Gaza Strip, mainly in Gaza city center. They burned Israeli and U.S. flags as well as a puppet of Trump.Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas leader said Trump’s plan “is nonsense. It is a hostile deal, and the Palestinians will exert all possible efforts using all means to confront it, until it is toppled.”Trump has long said his administration’s unorthodox approach to Mideast peace was justified because so many previous efforts had failed. His effort has been embraced by Netanyahu, who stood next to the president at the White House as it was released.“I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems,” Trump said.Arab LeagueTrump previously broke with international convention on the Mideast by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, recognizing Israel sovereignty over a portion of the Golan Heights and proclaiming that Israeli settlements in the West Bank aren’t necessarily illegal, measures all supported by Netanyahu. The administration has also cut off most U.S. aid to the Palestinians and closed the Palestine Liberation Organization’s diplomatic mission in Washington.Paul Scham, executive director of the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, said moving forward with a plan that isn’t backed by the Palestinians is “strange, to put it mildly.”“The consensus among people who follow this is that this is really solely a political stunt because it will help Netanyahu in his ongoing election, March 2, and will presumably help Trump as well with his base,” Scham said. The proposal may shore up Trump’s backing from evangelical Christians, who are stalwart defenders of Israel, as well as conservative Jewish contributors, for his November re-election bid.At Abbas’s request, the Arab League will meet in an emergency session in Cairo on Saturday.Trump addressed Abbas directly in his speech, saying he sent the Palestinian leader a letter and vowing that the U.S. proposal would foster economic prosperity for his people.“President Abbas, I want you to know that if you choose the path to peace, America and many other countries -- we will be there,” Trump said. “We will be there to help you in so many different ways.”Impeachment LawyerThe unveiling of the proposal comes as Netanyahu is facing political peril at home, confronting three separate corruption trials. That’s occurring as Israel heads to a third election in less than a year in early March, after two previous attempts failed to leave any leader in position to form a governing coalition.Tuesday’s announcement is among a number of events Trump is holding this week that may distract public attention from the second week of the president’s Senate impeachment trial. Trump also is set to sign the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and hold campaign rallies in New Jersey and Iowa.But there was one reminder of Trump’s impeachment at the White House event. A member of the president’s defense team, Alan Dershowitz, was seen mingling in the crowd after the speech as the song “What a Wonderful World” played in the background.\--With assistance from Amy Teibel, Fadwa Hodali, Saud Abu Ramadan, Ivan Levingston and Kevin Cirilli.To contact the reporters on this story: Josh Wingrove in Washington at jwingrove4@bloomberg.net;Yaacov Benmeleh in Washington at ybenmeleh@bloomberg.net;Jordan Fabian in Washington at jfabian6@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, ;Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.net, Joshua GalluFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Facebook's First Human Rights Chief Confronts Its Past Sins
    Bloomberg

    Facebook's First Human Rights Chief Confronts Its Past Sins

    (Bloomberg) -- In July, Facebook Inc. quietly hired Miranda Sissons, a 49-year old human rights activist whose previous work has included stints at the Australian diplomatic service and the International Center for Transitional Justice. The hiring, which was never formally announced, is part of a broader effort by the company to atone for more than once failing to stop online abuse on Facebook from spilling over into real-world violence. Human rights advocates in places like Sri Lanka, the Philippines, India and Brazil have long complained that the company has refused to acknowledge mounting evidence about the dangers of digital hate. As Facebook pursued world-changing growth, particularly in developing countries, it didn’t always have local staff there, or even employees who spoke the language. In Myanmar, a wave of online hate preceded a campaign of violence against the country’s Rohingya minority that led to thousands of deaths and the displacement of over 700,000 people. An independent report Facebook commissioned in 2018 found that it bore partial responsibility for fueling the conflict. Immediately after taking the job, Sissons took a five-day trip to the country. “I was deeply, deeply aware of the criticism of Facebook’s inaction in Myanmar, and deeply aware of the struggles humankind is facing with the impact of social media,” Sissons told Bloomberg News earlier this month in her first press interview in her new role. “This is one of the greatest challenges of our time.”Sissons work is part of a broader reckoning within the technology industry, which has been forced to reexamine its role in world conflicts. Several months before Facebook hired Sissons, Twitter Inc. brought on Cynthia Wong, a former researcher at Human Rights Watch, to be its human rights director. As with Facebook, Twitter never announced the hiring. In discussions with more than a dozen people familiar with Facebook’s work on human rights, a picture emerges of a company that has been moving rapidly but, according to its skeptics, not always effectively. One Facebook employee, who asked not to be identified discussing private information, said its shortcomings have not always been the result of having too few people dedicated to human rights, but at times having so many people involved that they’re working at cross-purposes. Human rights advocates outside the company acknowledge Facebook’s effort to hire experts, and say it has become far more responsive. But they worry that internal advocates like Sissons won’t be adequately empowered, and many are withholding praise until the company makes more concrete changes. “They are hiring people who have the right knowledge, experience and sensibility to tackle human rights problems,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive of Fortify Rights, a human rights group. “So far, though, that’s clearly not enough.”  Sissons’ human rights education started early. Her father was a prominent Australian historian who served in the occupation force of Hiroshima after World War II, then worked as an interpreter in the Australian-led tribunals of Japanese officials accused of war crimes. “My early childhood was completely taken up with discussions of war crimes, war criminals, the Second World War, and notions of justice,” she said.After attending the University of Melbourne, Sissons spent time in East Timor, researched Middle Eastern issues and took several posts with the Australian diplomatic corps, including a frustrating stint answering phones at an Australian embassy in Egypt. “My Arabic wasn’t very good,” she confessed. “People would ring me up and shout at me about all kinds of things, and I would have to find a solution. ” Eventually, Sissons went on to work on her own high-profile tribunal as an independent observer of the trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and she did stints at Human Rights Watch and the Australian diplomatic corps. In 2011 Sissons switched her focus to the relationship between human rights and technology. She had been working in the Middle East, where the Arab Spring was just getting underway, and many people believed social media could shift the balance of power between citizens and oppressive regimes. It was a time of unmatched optimism about the potential of social media in political organizing.The good feelings didn't last. As early as 2014 there were credible reports emerging of coordinated incitement on Facebook against the Rohingya in Myanmar. The online abuse foreshadowed a wave of violence that began in earnest in 2016.By the time Facebook began looking for a human rights director in 2018, the conventional wisdom on tech from a few years earlier had effectively reversed. The killings in Myanmar and elsewhere, coupled with Russian-led disinformation campaigns in Donald Trump’s presidential election, had darkened popular opinion. Companies that were accustomed to being revered were suddenly being accused of simultaneously squelching free expression and tolerating active manipulation of their platforms.The tech industry’s first halting steps to control the flow of abuse initially won few fans. In an online essay in late 2018 Cynthia Wong, then senior internet researcher for Human Rights Watch, said it was time for a “moral reckoning” in Silicon Valley. “If regulators, investors, and users want true accountability, they should press for a far more radical re-examination of tech sector business models, especially social media and advertising ecosystems,” she wrote. In some cases, the companies started hiring their critics. Twitter brought on Wong as its legal director of human rights in April 2019. The company declined to make her available for an interview, and said in a statement that it was “uniquely positioned to help activist and civic-minded people around the globe make their voices heard." Other attempts at reform were wholly unsuccessful. In early 2019 Ross LaJeunesse, then Google’s global head of international relations, saw Facebook’s posting for a human rights director, and used it to argue for the creation of a similar structure at his company. He failed, and left the company soon after. LaJeunesse, who is currently running for the U.S. Senate in Maine, now says tech companies can’t handle these issues on their own. “There has to be government oversight,” he said. Sissons, who reports to Facebook’s head of global policy management Monika Bickert, has over the last several months been quietly incorporating human rights protections into Facebook’s policies, and making sure that people with human rights training are in the meetings where executives sign off on new product features. She said the company had made progress before she arrived, including the reform of its 2018 decision to begin removing misinformation in situations where it could lead to physical harm.“There are now a lot of resources in place,” Sissons said. The challenge is to quickly identify local signs of trouble, then block or slow the spread of certain content, or take swift action against particular users. “We are testing continuously in crisis environments to try and predict what resources we’ll need,” she said, “and to ensure they’re in place.” When Sissons went to Myanmar with Facebook she made a stop in Phandeeyar, a tech hub and community center in downtown Yangon. Jes Kaliebe Petersen, its CEO, said he’s been meeting with Facebook employees for years—he helped the company develop local community standards almost five years ago. But the encounters have calcified into a depressingly predictable routine. “They send a bunch of people who have never been here before, and they talk to us,” said Petersen. “And we never hear from them again.” A spokesman for Facebook said it has held many introductory meetings at the request of local advocates, and argued the company has taken significant strides in the country. Besides hiring Sissons, it shut down hundreds of pages and accounts, including that of the head of Myanmar’s army, for spreading misinformation and hatred. It has hired a Myanmar head of public policy for the first time. And it assembled a team of 100 content moderators who speak Burmese. That group will be able to “support escalations” in other languages used in the country as well, Sissons said.The company also set up an independent review board for thorny content moderation issues, and in an unusual step, commissioned independent human rights assessments of what happened in Myanmar and other trouble spots. In November 2018, it published a 60-page report on Myanmar from the nonprofit group Business for Social Responsibility, in full. “They deserve praise for putting it out there,” said Dunstan Allison-Hope the lead author of the report. “You don’t see that.” But Facebook has never made the results of a similar assessment in Sri Lanka public, despite calls to do so. Sissons declined to say whether it had plans to publish those results. And there are currently no Facebook staff members working in Myanmar full-time—something that many advocates have called for. Representatives for Facebook say its staff based in Singapore and elsewhere are regularly in Myanmar, and that it has spent well over a year taking hundreds of meetings with people in the country. One person who said he'd never gotten an invitation to meet with Facebook is Nickey Diamond, a local advocate working for Fortify Rights. Diamond said he has been the target of harassing posts from the government for years, and still faces a menacing atmosphere online. “They’re sharing my picture with the word ‘traitor’ in Burmese,” he said. “Every human rights defender is in the same situation.”  The broader problem Facebook is confronting—the vigilant monitoring of an ever-evolving social network used by 2.3 billion people—can seem almost impossibly daunting. The company now has content moderators examining posts in approximately 50 languages, Sissons said, a number that is unchanged from its count last April, and is fewer than half of the languages that Facebook actively supports. Facebook has said only technological improvements can combat problems at scale. It has automated tools that scan for hate speech, as well as image recognition technology monitoring for obscene content regardless of language. About 80% of the posts that Facebook acts on for violating its hate speech policies are now first identified by its automated filters, up from about 24% a year earlier.Soon, the challenges of monitoring the spread of abusive posts could become even more difficult. Facing pressure to increase user privacy, Facebook has prioritized private communications, meaning more content is encrypted so that even the company itself won’t know what it says. In those cases, Sissons said the company is working on tools that will look for patterns associated with problematic content, so it can either remove such messages or impede them from spreading so rapidly. Facebook is aware of the scope of its challenges, said Rebecca MacKinnon, the director of Ranking Digital Rights, an online advocacy group. “Facebook is making an effort to engage. Whether that will make a difference in the real world, we’ll see,” she said. “They’re dealing with some problems that no one knows how to solve.” When Petersen of Phandeeyar met with Sissons last November in Myanmar, he came armed with a handful of suggestions for actions Facebook should take before national elections there, which are expected to take place later this year. While Peterson had been deeply engaged in the specifics for months, Sissons was still just getting her feet under her, and there wasn’t enough time in their hour-long meeting to get much resolution, he said.  “There’s always lots of goals for improvements. Hopefully Miranda has a sound plan for how to get there,” said Petersen. “The thing is, we don’t really have that much time.” (Updates with context on automated content moderation in the 22nd paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected the dates of Sissons' hiring and trip to Myanmar.)To contact the author of this story: Joshua Brustein in New York at jbrustein@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Anne VanderMey at avandermey@bloomberg.net, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Trump Defense Finale Puts GOP Near Moment of Reckoning on Bolton
    Bloomberg

    Trump Defense Finale Puts GOP Near Moment of Reckoning on Bolton

    (Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s lawyers begin their final day of arguments Tuesday having only barely noted the bombshell revelation from former National Security Adviser John Bolton that threatens to upset White House plans for a quick end to the Senate impeachment trial.Trump’s defense team is expected to speak for about two more hours as they wrap up their case, an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. That will be followed by hours of questions from senators, set to begin Wednesday.Then will come what promises to be a dramatic debate and a moment of reckoning for a handful of Republican moderates over whether to call Bolton or other witnesses, with a vote likely to come Friday.“I think Bolton probably has something to offer us. We’ll figure out how we’re going to learn more,” said Alaska GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski, who is viewed as a barometer of whether there will be enough Republican votes to call witnesses.Republicans have floated the idea of viewing Bolton’s manuscript before a decision on whether the Senate calls him as a witness. Democrats said that won’t be sufficient and are continuing to demand that he and other administration figures testify.While Trump and his allies delivered broadsides against Bolton on Twitter and to reporters on Monday, his lawyers mostly stuck to making a subdued presentation of legal arguments against the charges in the House articles of impeachment that he abused his power and obstructed Congress.It was left to celebrity lawyer and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who was given a prime-time slot at the end of the defense presentation on Monday, to fleetingly address what has become a looming issue in the trial.“Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense,” Dershowitz said.A New York Times report that Bolton wrote in a yet-to-be-published book that Trump directly linked the release of security aid to Ukraine to get the government there investigate a political rival divided Senate Republicans and could reset the course of the trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been steering his GOP majority toward a vote as soon as Friday that is all but certain to result in Trump’s acquittal.Bolton’s disclosure bolsters the Democrats’ impeachment articles and undercuts the president’s main defense, throwing the trial timeline into question.Murkowski and her Republican colleagues Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine are among the senators openly discussing whether to join Democrats to subpoena Bolton and perhaps others to testify. That would extend the trial past the Feb. 4 State of the Union address and perhaps much longer, though there’s still no expectation there will ever be the 67 votes needed to remove Trump from office.“I’d like to hear from Mr. Bolton,” Romney said Tuesday morning, adding that he doesn’t know for sure whether any other Republicans will vote to subpoena new witnesses.Senior Republican lawmakers continued to resist the idea of witnesses.“Unless there’s a witness who’s going to change the outcome, I can’t imagine why we’d want to stretch this out for weeks and months,” said Republican Senator Roy Blunt, a member of McConnell’s leadership team.Witness VoteA vote on witnesses could come by Friday after senators get up to 16 hours to question both sides. It would take four Republican senators to side with Democrats to get a 51-vote majority to call Bolton.While they largely avoided Bolton, the president’s lawyers went directly after Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking to challenge Trump in November. In his July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump said “there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son” and that Joe Biden tried to stop an investigation into a Ukrainian energy company that had Hunter Biden on its board.“So if you can look into it,” Trump said according to a rough transcript of the conversation released by the White House after an intelligence community whistle-blower raised alarms about the call. “It sounds horrible to me.”Crucial ConversationThat conversation is at the heart of the abuse of power charge against Trump. The impeachment article says Trump withheld military aid and a meeting with Zelenskiy as leverage to get Ukraine to announce an investigation into Biden.Trump lawyer Pam Bondi, a former Florida attorney general, focused on Burisma corruption allegations and concerns raised in media reports at the time about potential conflicts posed by Hunter Biden’s position on the board. She played video excerpts and pull-out quotes from coverage by major news organizations, including ABC and the Washington Post.“All we are saying is that there was a basis to talk about this, to raise this issue, and that is enough,” Bondi said.The focus on the Bidens could intensify if the Senate votes to seek witnesses. Several Republican senators have said they will force votes on calling Hunter Biden and perhaps others if the Senate votes to allow fresh evidence alter this week. That, in turn, could keep the issue of the Bidens front-and-center heading into the Iowa caucuses next week and beyond.Political ImplicationsDemocrats have argued that Trump only became interested in corruption in Ukraine after Biden entered the presidential race last April and polls showed that he could beat Trump in November. The political implications were illustrated by Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst, who wondered if Trump’s lawyers’ presentation could hurt Biden’s candidacy and his showing in Monday’s caucuses.“I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucus-goers. Will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point?” Ernst told reporters.Biden dismissed the attempt to direct attention to him. A spokesman for his campaign, Andrew Bates, said Ernst “just said the quiet part out loud: Republicans are terrified that Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee, defeat Donald Trump, and help progressives gain seats in the House and take the Senate.”Top Democrats were clearly perturbed during Bondi’s presentation. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and his deputy, Dick Durbin of Illinois, stared straight ahead and didn’t look at the video monitors as she displayed the excerpts. Dianne Feinstein of California, another senior Democrat, sat with her arms folded tightly in front of her. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, gave Bondi a fist bump and thumbs up after the defense wrapped for a dinner break.Trump’s lawyers spent the bulk of the day criticizing the case brought by the House, relying heavily on the lack of firsthand evidence in the House argument that Trump held up release of military aid for Ukraine to pressure its government for help to tarnish.“We deal with transcript evidence, we deal with publicly available information. We do not deal with speculation, allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said.In an ironic twist, Trump’s defense turned to President Bill Clinton’s prosecutor Kenneth Starr to complain that impeachments are becoming too common.“We are living in what I think can aptly be described as the age of impeachment,” said Starr, who investigated Clinton for years as independent counsel.Starr said that after the Clinton impeachment both parties decided “enough was enough” and allowed the independent counsel statute allowed to expire.But, he added, “the impeachment habit proved to be hard to kick.”(Updates with Murkowski remarks in fourth paragraph)\--With assistance from Jordan Fabian, Daniel Flatley and Billy House.To contact the reporters on this story: Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net;Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Kevin Whitelaw, John HarneyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Qatar’s Emir Replaces Prime Minister With Close Aide
    Bloomberg

    Qatar’s Emir Replaces Prime Minister With Close Aide

    (Bloomberg) -- Qatar’s ruler appointed a close aide as the country’s new prime minister after the resignation of Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani, who had held the position since the emir came to power in June 2013.Khalid bin Khalifa Al Thani, who was the head of the emir’s court, is the new prime minister and minister of interior, the state-run Qatar News Agency reported on Tuesday. No reason was given for the previous premier’s resignation.The appointment comes at a delicate time for Qatar. A three-year standoff with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt continues to cast a pall over regional politics, despite some signs late last year that the countries were moving closer to rapprochement. Recent tensions between Iran and the U.S. have also raised pressure on the emirate: the country is home to the biggest U.S. military base in the Middle East but shares the world’s largest natural gas field with Iran.“There were rumors Abdullah bin Nasser wanted to resign,” said Andreas Krieg, a lecturer in the department of defense studies at King’s College in London and a former adviser to the Qatari military. The new prime minister “has proven himself to be an excellent manager able to balance different interests while heading the Diwan since 2014. The Diwan in many ways is like managing a cabinet.”‘Key’ ConfidantThe new prime minister was born in 1968. Since 2014, he has been chief of the Amiri Diwan, an office that manages interactions between the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and government ministries and non-government entities, according to a biography on the Diwan’s website. He’d worked for Sheikh Tamim since March 2006, when he joined his office at the Diwan.“As the chief of the Diwan and the director of Tamim’s office as crown prince, Khalid bin Khalifa is definitionally one of Tamim’s key confidants,” said David B. Roberts, an assistant professor at King’s College London who studies the Gulf. His appointment defied expectations that Abdullah bin Naser would be replaced by Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Roberts said.The benchmark Qatar Exchange Index slid 0.6% on Tuesday trading, while the MSCI Emerging Markets Index fell 0.7% at 2 p.m. in Doha. Investors globally are gauging the effectiveness of efforts to stop the spread of the SARS-like coronavirus from China. The ministers of foreign affairs, defense, finance and energy will all retain their positions. The emir also appointed Major General Abdulaziz bin Faisal bin Mohammed Al Thani to lead the country’s internal security force, QNA said.(Updates with new appointment to security force in last paragraph.)To contact the reporters on this story: Simone Foxman in Doha at sfoxman4@bloomberg.net;Dana Khraiche in Beirut at dkhraiche@bloomberg.net;Zainab Fattah in Dubai at zfattah@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Shaji Mathew at shajimathew@bloomberg.net, Mark Williams, Paul AbelskyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • The ‘Not QE’ Debate Looms Large Over Fed Decision
    Bloomberg

    The ‘Not QE’ Debate Looms Large Over Fed Decision

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- Federal Reserve officials have made clear that if all goes according to plan in 2020, it’ll be a rather quiet year. They expect to hold the fed funds rate, the central bank’s key lending benchmark, steady throughout the next 12 months.It’s true that on that front, they won’t have much to discuss when they gather this week for the two-day Federal Open Market Committee in Washington. The Fed will stick to its current range of 1.5% to 1.75%. Chair Jerome Powell will reiterate that the economy is in a “good place” and that it would take a material change to the outlook to even consider moving in either direction anytime soon.There’s still a chance for some fireworks, however, especially after Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari caused a stir this month by publicly calling out “QE conspiracists,” or those who argue that the central bank’s purchase of Treasury bills is no different from typical quantitative easing and responsible for the rally in U.S. stocks.The problem with that framing, of course, is Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan said just two days earlier that balance-sheet expansion was partly why asset prices are higher, calling the current program “a derivative of QE.” He added: “Growth in the balance sheet is not free. There is a cost to it.” Bloomberg TV’s Jonathan Ferro asked the “QE-or-not-QE” question to a range of high-profile executives in Davos, Switzerland, last week. Many, including Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman, sided with Kaplan.Powell won’t be able to dodge this question. In December, there was still no clarity about the outcome of the U.S.-China trade war, while at the same time a potential year-end crunch in the repo market was top of mind for bond traders. Both of those risks are now gone. Instead, the most-pressing question for investors is whether a 15% surge in the S&P 500 Index and massive tightening of high-yield spreads since early October are sustainable or just a setup for a reversal once the Fed winds down its balance-sheet expansion. The Fed’s predicament is that its current bill-buying program truly isn’t QE, at least not in a traditional sense. But as Bloomberg News’s Elena Popina succinctly put it, which was the trigger for Kashkari’s tweet: “The Debate Over Whether to Call It QE Is Over, and the Fed Lost.”NatWest Markets strategist Blake Gwinn summed it up like this in a Jan. 24 report:We generally find the bill purchases to be lacking in most of the typical ways we think about balance sheet expansion providing “easing.” That being said, this could be one of those scenarios where if enough people believe a relationship exists (or at least avoid positioning against it) that relationship becomes real. This is why we think a slowing of the Fed’s bill purchases could eventually still lead to a modest equity selloff – not because there is any direct link between those purchases and equity valuations or flows, but simply because enough investors believe it should be bad for stocks.It’s hard to overstate what a tricky position this is for the Fed. It’s not that officials are necessarily opposed to higher risk-asset prices, but they don’t want markets to be entirely dependent on whether or not they’re increasing the level of bank reserves. Kaplan said he hopes they can find a way to temper balance-sheet growth. History has shown that it could go rather smoothly, as when former Fed Chair Janet Yellen equated a runoff of maturing debt to “watching paint dry,” or it can cause an uproar, like the 2013 “taper tantrum.”As if there weren’t already enough scrutiny over the Fed’s balance sheet, the central bank also has a decision to make on the other rate it controls — the interest on excess reserves, or IOER. Strategists at Barclays Plc, BMO Capital Markets, Citigroup Inc. and TD Securities all expect policy makers to raise it by 5 basis points this week, while Morgan Stanley thinks it’s too soon. Overall, about a third of economists surveyed by Bloomberg predict a boost. To many casual observers, this question might seem like inside baseball. Indeed, until 2008, IOER wasn’t a part of the Fed’s monetary policy toolkit. And even in the years after the financial crisis, no one seemed to pay it much mind anyway, given that short-term rates were pinned near zero. It has only been in the past few years, when the Fed gradually raised interest rates and then swiftly dropped them, that it has drawn more attention.However, the main function of IOER is to keep the fed funds rate within the set target range. It failed to do that during the repo market meltdown in mid-September, raising uncomfortable questions for the Fed about losing control of monetary policy. Since then, the rate has been stable, though close to the bottom of the range. Thus, the potential need for a 5-basis-point increase.Again, this is mostly technical. As RBC Capital Markets strategists put it in a Jan. 23 note:It is certainly possible they adjust [IOER] at the coming meeting, though the timing and adjustment itself is largely irrelevant insofar as economic implication are concerned. More logically, the Fed could make this technical adjustment once the bulk of the current asset purchase program ($60b/month in T-bills) ends and reserves are deemed to be “very ample” again. The market could view this as some modest de-facto tightening after the Fed added significant liquidity to the system.I’d argue that Fed officials are desperate for bond traders to not overthink any tweak to IOER, which is why they might opt to get it out of the way now. It already feels daunting enough for the central bank to end its bill-buying effort. Adding any sort of rate increase after that would make it that much harder. As it stands, most economists surveyed by Bloomberg see the Fed halting its bill purchases by June after first tapering them.All of these decisions will matter, even if the headline fed funds rate doesn’t change. This quiet year could very well start off with a bang. To contact the author of this story: Brian Chappatta at bchappatta1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Daniel Niemi at dniemi1@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Brian Chappatta is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering debt markets. He previously covered bonds for Bloomberg News. He is also a CFA charterholder.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • U.K.’s Huawei Decision Won’t Please Anyone
    Bloomberg

    U.K.’s Huawei Decision Won’t Please Anyone

    (Bloomberg) -- Want to receive this post in your inbox every day? Sign up for the Balance of Power newsletter, and follow Bloomberg Politics on Twitter and Facebook for more.When Prime Minister Boris Johnson decides today what role Chinese tech giant Huawei can play in the U.K.’s fifth-generation telecommunications networks, he’ll likely seek a compromise: partial access and a wall around core parts of the system.That won’t please Donald Trump, Alex Morales and Thomas Seal report. The U.S. president sees Huawei as a national security threat and has tried to prevent the company from buying products using American technology.His administration has threatened to hold back intelligence-sharing with NATO allies if they use Huawei equipment. Germany and France are wrestling with the same dilemma.The U.S. has provided no evidence that Huawei is spying for China, and the U.K.’s GCHQ, a government security organization, has been scrutinizing its software and hardware for the past decade.Even Trump’s own Pentagon and Treasury Department have opposed his plans to tighten controls on sales to Huawei, one of the world’s biggest purchasers of chips, saying the move could backfire on American companies like semi-conductor makers and Google.For now, there’s no practical alternative to Huawei: Its equipment is cheaper and better than what Nokia and Ericsson offer.Johnson’s challenge is to find a balance between appeasing his White House ally — with whom he’s trying to forge a post-Brexit trade deal — without jeopardizing his election pledge to roll out ultra-fast Internet.Expect a fudge.Global HeadlinesUncharted territory | Trump is set to release his long-promised Middle East peace plan today and is hopeful it will win the support of Palestinians and Arab nations. That seems unlikely though, given Palestinian leaders have spurned talks with the U.S. The deal is expected to be favorable to Israel, which may help Trump shore up the backing of evangelical Christians and conservative Jewish contributors for his re-election bid in November.Virus watch | China expanded travel restrictions as governments, companies and international health organizations rushed to contain the SARS-like coronavirus that’s killed more than 100 people. Beijing will stop individual travelers to Hong Kong while closing some border checkpoints and restricting flights and train services from the mainland.The outbreak is threatening to derail fragile stability in the world economy, which had appeared poised to benefit from the phase one U.S.-China trade deal and signs of a tech-sector turnaround.Last say | Trump’s lawyers are set to begin their final day of arguments in his Senate impeachment trial, having only barely noted the bombshell revelation from former National Security Adviser John Bolton that threatens to upset White House plans for a quick end to the proceedings. Still ahead: what promises to be a dramatic debate and a moment of reckoning for a handful of Republican moderates over whether to call Bolton or other witnesses.Not catching fire | U.S. presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has tried to set herself apart from her Democratic rivals by rolling out policy proposals for restructuring the entire American economy, from health care to education to the tax system. But that’s not translating into a strong showing in the polls a week before the nation’s first nominating contest in Iowa.Determined to join | In Bosnia-Herzegovina, a Balkan country so dysfunctional that it needed 14 months to form a government after elections, there’s one point of unity among feuding factions: the desire to join the European Union. Zoran Tegeltija, head of the new cabinet, hopes to meet the conditions for the country to officially become an accession candidate by year-end, even as the bloc drags its feet on taking in new members.What to WatchThe U.S. Supreme Court has cleared Trump’s administration to start enforcing its new immigrant wealth test, designed to screen out green card applicants seen as being at risk of becoming dependent on government benefits. Afghan troops clashed with Taliban fighters as they tried to reach the crash site of a U.S. military aircraft downed in eastern Afghanistan yesterday. The militant group claimed it had struck the aircraft, while the U.S. denied the plane was hit by hostile fire. A surge in Islamist militant violence in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger has left as many as 5 million children needing humanitarian assistance this year, according to the United Nations. Facing economic collapse and painful sanctions, President Nicolas Maduro has proposed giving majority shares of Venezuela's oil industry to foreign corporations, a move that would forsake decades of state monopoly.Tell us how we’re doing or what we’re missing at balancepower@bloomberg.net.And finally ... President Rodrigo Duterte is cracking down on some of the Philippines’ biggest businesses as he scrutinizes contracts and forces concessions for taxpayers. And he’s doing it in his own special way. “They are all thieves, those sons of b******,” he said last week. The stock market is reeling and valuations have fallen since he stepped up his attacks, but Duterte’s own popularity has soared. \--With assistance from Kathleen Hunter, Michael Winfrey and Muneeza Naqvi.To contact the author of this story: Karl Maier in Rome at kmaier2@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    The Officials Working Behind the Scenes on India’s Budget

    (Bloomberg) -- Explore what’s moving the global economy in the new season of the Stephanomics podcast. Subscribe via Apple Podcast, Spotify or Pocket Cast.India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a keen interest in the preparation of the government’s upcoming budget to help spur growth in Asia’s third-largest economy.Modi and his Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have separately held meetings with dozens of economists, industry leaders and farmers’ groups, among others, to hear views on measures needed to solve the growth slowdown puzzle.As Sitharaman prepares to deliver her budget speech on Feb. 1, here’s a look at five key people in the government who are working behind the scenes to draw up the income-and-spending plan.Rajiv Kumar, Finance SecretaryKumar, the top bureaucrat in the finance ministry, has overseen bold banking reforms, including a plan to merge state-run banks and a massive recapitalization drive to help lenders laden with one of the worst bad-loan ratios in the world. He is expected to provide vital inputs to steer the shadow banking sector out of crisis, and give a push to credit growth to boost consumption in the economy.Atanu Chakraborty, Economic Affairs SecretaryChakraborty, a government-assets sale expert who took charge of the economic affairs department in July, consigned India’s maiden overseas sovereign bond sale plan to the back-burner. While economic expansion slipped below 5% under his watch, a panel led by him prepared a more than $1 trillion infrastructure investment program to revive growth. His inputs are critical to determining India’s budget deficit goal, as also raising resources to pump- prime the economy.T.V. Somanathan, Expenditure SecretarySomanathan, the latest entrant to the finance ministry, has his task cut out: rationalizing government spending in a manner that it boosts demand and minimizes wasteful expenditure. Having worked in the prime minister’s office earlier, he would probably understand better what kind of a budget Modi would like to see.Ajay Bhushan Pandey, Revenue SecretaryPandey is assigned with raising resources and is probably the bureaucrat most under pressure, given lower-than-estimated revenue collection amid a slowdown. With $20 billion worth of corporate tax cuts last year yet to yield results in terms of investments, he might influence adoption of some of the proposals in the Direct Tax Code, which has suggested doing away with some of the exemptions.Tuhin Kanta Pandey, Disinvestment SecretaryHe is responsible for the strategic sale of Air India Ltd. -- bids for which were invited Monday -- and other state-owned companies, with divestment forming a major chunk of the government’s income mobilization efforts. Although the current year’s target of 1.05 trillion rupees is likely to be missed by a mile, a huge target next year isn’t ruled out.(Updates with details on Air India divestment process in last paragraph.)To contact the reporters on this story: Vrishti Beniwal in New Delhi at vbeniwal1@bloomberg.net;Siddhartha Singh in New Delhi at ssingh283@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at nseria@bloomberg.net, Karthikeyan SundaramFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Dershowitz First Trump Lawyer to Name Bolton: Impeachment Update
    Bloomberg

    Dershowitz First Trump Lawyer to Name Bolton: Impeachment Update

    (Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s defense lawyers resumed their presentation Monday after opening their arguments Saturday by saying House managers failed to prove the president should be removed from office.Here are the latest developments:Dershowitz First Trump Lawyer to Name Bolton (8:54 p.m.)Constitutional law professor Alan Dershowitz said the reports about former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s upcoming book don’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense. He was the first Trump lawyer to mention the Bolton allegations after almost eight hours of arguments.”Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense,” Dershowitz said.The New York Times reported Sunday that Bolton wrote in the manuscript of a forthcoming book that Trump told him in August that he didn’t want to release the funds until Ukraine turned over material related to Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.After Dershowitz completed his argument and the day’s session adjourned, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shook his hand and said, “wonderful!”Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, wrote on Twitter, “Alan Dershowitz’s argument is contrary to both law & fact.”GOP Senator Touts Possible Damage to Biden (8:44 p.m.)The focus on the Bidens could intensify if the Senate votes to seek witnesses. Several Republican senators have said they will force votes on calling Hunter Biden and perhaps others if the Senate votes to allow fresh evidence later this week.Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst suggested the presentation by Trump’s lawyers could hurt Joe Biden’s showing in Monday’s caucuses.“Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening and I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucus-goers. Will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point?” Ernst said.Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement, “Senator Ernst just said the quiet part out loud: Republicans are terrified that Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee, defeat Donald Trump, and help progressives gain seats in the House and take the Senate.”Dershowitz Says Trump Charges Too Vague (8:01 p.m.)Constitutional law professor Alan Dershowitz said the charges against Trump are so “vague and open-ended” that the nation’s founders would have rejected them as grounds for impeaching and removing a president.The founders “would have explicitly rejected such vague terms as abuse of power and obstruction of Congress,” said Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor emeritus.“They did not and would not accept such criteria” for fear of turning the U.S. into a “British-style parliamentary democracy” in which the president serves “at the pleasure of the legislature,” Dershowitz said.The Constitution requires a crime for impeachment, he said.“I would be making the very same constitutional argument had Hillary Clinton, for whom I voted, been elected” and been impeached on the same grounds, he said. -- Steven T. Dennis, Laura LitvanTrump Call ‘Less Than Perfect,’ Defense Says (7:45 p.m.)Former independent counsel Robert Ray said Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president was “less than perfect,” but that doesn’t mean it’s an impeachable abuse of power.It would have been better for Trump to have pursued an investigation “through proper channels,” said Ray, a member of Trump’s legal team.“While the president certainly enjoys the power to do otherwise, there is consequence to that action as we have witnessed,“ Ray said. “That is why we are all here.”Defense Attacks Hunter Biden’s Burisma Role (5:40 p.m.)Trump defense team member Pam Bondi told senators the president had ample reason to be concerned about Hunter Biden’s work as a paid board member for the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings.Bondi quoted multiple media reports questioning the propriety of Biden’s position on the board.She said he was paid more than $83,000 a month for his work even though he had no background in natural gas or in Ukrainian government relations while his father Joe Biden, then the vice president, had a key role in U.S. dealings with the nation.“All we are saying is that there was a basis to talk about this, to raise this issue, and that is enough,” Bondi said.House Democrats contend that claims of any wrongdoing involving the former vice president’s son amount to debunked conspiracy theories, and that Hunter Biden has no knowledge of the central allegations on Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine.Then-Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko said in a May 2019 interview with Bloomberg News that Hunter Biden “did not violate any Ukrainian laws.” Trump’s former special Ukraine envoy, Kurt Volker, during House testimony last November called it a “conspiracy theory” that Joe Biden’s work in Ukraine would have been influenced by his son’s board seat.Another Trump lawyer, Eric Herschmann, said Hunter Biden “didn’t know anything about the natural gas industry at all.” He played a video of an ABC television interview in which the vice president’s son was asked whether he would have been asked to be a member of the Burisma board if his name were not Biden.“I don’t know, probably not,” Hunter Biden responded in the interview.Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Joe Biden’s campaign, said in a statement the allegations regarding Burisma have been widely debunked. As vice president, “Joe Biden was instrumental to a bipartisan and international anti-corruption victory,” Bates said. -- Mike Dorning, Jordan FabianPence Aide Says No Tie of Funds to Biden (5:01 p.m.)Vice President Mike Pence‘s Chief of Staff Marc Short said Trump never told Pence he was tying financial aid for Ukraine to investigations of the Biden family or the Burisma Holdings energy company.Short, in a statement Monday, described attending meetings with Pence and Trump while the vice president prepared to travel to Poland to meet with Ukrainian officials. Trump expressed frustration that European nations weren’t providing enough aid to Ukraine, and he also expressed concern about corruption in that country, Short said.“At no time did I hear him tie aid to Ukraine to investigations into the Biden family or Burisma,” Short said in the statement.Pence discussed only corruption and the U.S. share of financial aid with Ukrainian officials “because that’s what the president asked him to raise,” Short said. -- Jordan FabianTrump Team Defends Giuliani as Minor Player (3:38 p.m.)Trump’s legal team defended his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani as a minor player in the Ukraine saga, not the villain portrayed by House Democrats.“If Rudy Giuliani is everything they say he is, don’t you think they would have subpoenaed and pursued his testimony?” asked Trump lawyer Jane Raskin.Raskin said that instead, the managers rely on “hearsay, speculation and assumption” instead of first-hand knowledge of Giuliani’s activities.“He was not on a political errand,“ Raskin said. “He was gathering evidence regarding Ukrainian election interference to defend his client against the false allegations being investigated by special counsel” Robert Mueller in the Russia probe.“Do not be distracted,” Raskin said.Within minutes, House Democrats sent reporters a copy of Giuliani’s May 10, 2019, letter to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy congratulating him on his election and asking, as Trump’s personal lawyer, to meet with him on a “more specific request.” -- Jordan FabianTrump Team Ignores Bolton, Says Aid Not Tied (3:04 p.m.)Trump’s defense team reiterated its argument that he didn’t link financial aid for Ukraine to that country’s help with investigations of Joe Biden, even after a bombshell news report that former National Security Advisor John Bolton disclosed such a link in his book manuscript.“Not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigation and security assistance, a presidential meeting or anything else,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said on the Senate floor.Trump’s lawyers have repeatedly depended on the lack of firsthand testimony that the president tied the aid money to investigations into his political rivals. But that argument could be challenged if Bolton speaks at the trial.Bolton has said he would testify if subpoenaed, while Trump has signaled he’ll attempt to block such testimony by citing executive privilege.The New York Times reported Sunday that Bolton wrote in the manuscript of a forthcoming book that Trump told him in August that he didn’t want to release the funds until Ukraine turned over material related to Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.The report increased pressure on Republican senators who are undecided on whether to support calling witnesses in the trial. The Senate needs 51 votes to subpoena witnesses and documents.Trump tweeted early Monday he “NEVER” told that to Bolton. Sekulow said the defense team wouldn’t address “speculation” and “allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all.” -- Jordan FabianStarr Decries ‘Habit’ of Hounding Presidents (1:34 p.m.)In an ironic twist, Trump’s defense turned to Bill Clinton’s prosecutor Kenneth Starr to complain that impeachments are becoming too common.“We are living in what I think can aptly be described as the age of impeachment,” said Starr, who investigated Clinton for years as independent counsel.Starr said that after the Clinton impeachment both parties decided “enough was enough” and allowed the independent counsel statute to expire.But, he said, “the impeachment habit proved to be hard to kick.”Starr contended that impeachment should charge criminal violations, and not just any crimes but high crimes, given the ability of the people to select a new president in the next election.“Let the people decide,” he urged the Senate.Mulvaney Denies Leaked Bolton Account (12:56 p.m.)The lawyer for acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said he denies knowing anything about Trump making demands of Ukraine in exchange for U.S. financial aid.Mulvaney’s lawyer, Bob Driscoll, said in a statement the reports about former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s upcoming book have “more to do with publicity than the truth.”“John Bolton never informed Mick Mulvaney of any concerns surrounding Bolton’s purported August conversation with the president,” Driscoll said. “Nor did Mr. Mulvaney ever have a conversation with the president or anyone else indicating that Ukrainian military aid was withheld in exchange for a Ukrainian investigation of Burris, the Bidens, or the 2016 election.”The lawyer also said Mulvaney has “no recollection” of a conversation with Trump and the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani about the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.Trump Lawyers Won’t Finish Defense Monday (12:40 p.m.)Trump’s legal team won’t complete its case on Monday but will continue its presentation Tuesday, according to an administration official.The president’s defense lawyers gave two hours of arguments on Saturday and are permitted to make as many as 22 additional hours of arguments Monday and Tuesday, under the trial rules.Graham Wants to See Bolton Manuscript (11:57 a.m.)GOP Senator Lindsey Graham said he wants to see the manuscript of former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s book, according to a tweet by a Washington Post reporter.“I want to see the manuscript,” said Graham, a staunch Trump supporter.Schumer Says Mulvaney More Important Witness (11:30 a.m.)Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney would be an even more important trial witness than former National Security Advisor John Bolton, said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.“He was chief cook and bottle washer” and witnessed more events than Bolton, Schumer told reporters Monday.“We want the eyewitnesses to what the president did to testify,“ Schumer said. -- Laura LitvanTwo GOP Senators Lean Toward Calling Bolton (10:59 a.m.)Republican Senator Susan Collins said the reports about former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s book “strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues.”Collins of Maine said on Twitter, “I’ve always said that I was likely to vote to call witnesses, just as I did in the 1999 Clinton trial.”Separately, Senator Mitt Romney said it’s “increasingly likely” that more Republicans will say the Senate should hear testimony from Bolton.“It’s increasingly apparent that it would be important to hear from John Bolton,” Romney said on MSNBC, though he said he wouldn’t make a final decision until both sides finish presenting their cases.“I think at this stage it’s pretty fair to say that John Bolton has relevant testimony,“ Romney said, a day after a New York Times report that Bolton has first-hand knowledge of Trump’s personal involvement in a scheme to extract dirt on a political rival by withholding aid from Ukraine.“I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton,” the Utah senator said. -- Steven T. Dennis, Laura LitvanNSC Says No Outsiders Saw Bolton Manuscript (10:03 a.m.)No White House personnel outside of the National Security Council have viewed the manuscript of John Bolton’s book, NSC spokesman John Ullyot said in a statement Monday.“Ambassador Bolton’s manuscript was submitted to the NSC for pre-publication review and has been under initial review by the NSC. No White House personnel outside NSC have reviewed the manuscript,” Ullyot said. -- Justin SinkSchiff Says Bolton’s Notes Are Vital to Case (9:10 a.m.)Lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff told CNN he will press not only for testimony from John Bolton in the Senate impeachment trial but also for “contemporaneous” notes Bolton took during his time as Trump’s national security adviser.“We ought to not only have John Bolton testify but we ought to see what he wrote down in his notes at the time,” Schiff said.House managers will ask for Bolton’s notes to be produced as evidence. “These are contemporaneous,” Schiff said. “These notes took place while the events were happening, while they were fresh in his mind. Those, in many respects, are more important than the manuscript.”Representative Jim Jordan, a key Republican ally of Trump, told Fox News Monday that a New York Times report on Bolton’s knowledge of the matter “doesn’t alter the fundamental facts.”White House Dismisses Bolton Book Revelation (8:15 a.m.)The White House is pushing back on a bombshell New York Times report that Bolton has first-hand knowledge of Trump’s personal involvement in a scheme to extract dirt on a political rival by withholding aid from Ukraine.“That’s just not true,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in an interview with Fox News on Monday. “The timing of all of this is very, very suspect.”“The president did nothing wrong and we stand by exactly what we’ve been saying all along and exactly what the transcript has been showing all along,” Grisham said.Meanwhile, Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, said on Fox that if the Senate calls Bolton to testify, it should also hear from all witnesses that are “material and relevant,” including former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, the Ukraine whistle-blower and Schiff.“If we’re going to call witness, than we need to call all the witnesses that are material and relevant,” Hawley said. “This isn’t just about John Bolton.”Trump Senate Trial Heads Into Pivotal Week (6 a.m.)The president’s lawyers on Monday plan to expand on the preview they offered during a two-hour argument on Saturday. They can make up to 22 hours of additional arguments over two days, though they’ve said they may not take all of that time.After Trump’s lawyers finish presenting their case, senators will have up to 16 hours to ask questions of either side through written queries submitted to Chief Justice John Roberts.Then the prosecution and defense will argue for four hours over whether to subpoena witnesses or documents, as Democrats have demanded and most Republicans oppose. A Senate vote to call for witnesses and documents would lengthen the trial, while a rejection of the proposal could lead swiftly to votes on a final verdict.A report Sunday by the New York Times about former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s potential testimony puts new pressure on Republican moderate senators to accept Democratic demands to subpoena new witnesses.Catch Up on Impeachment CoverageBombshell Bolton Report Pressures GOP on Impeachment WitnessesTrump Caught on Tape Saying ‘Get Rid Of’ U.S. Envoy in 2018 (1)Key EventsHere is House Democrats’ web page containing documents related to the impeachment trial. House Democrats’ impeachment brief is here. Trump’s initial reply is here, and his lawyers’ trial brief is here.The House impeachment resolution is H.Res. 755. The Intelligence Committee Democrats’ impeachment report is here.Gordon Sondland’s transcript is here and here; Kurt Volker’s transcript is here and here. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s transcript is here and here; the transcript of Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to the secretary of State, is here. The transcript of David Holmes, a Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, is here.The transcript of William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, is here and here. State Department official George Kent’s testimony is here and here. Testimony by Alexander Vindman can be found here, and the Fiona Hill transcript is here. Laura Cooper’s transcript is here; Christopher Anderson’s is here and Catherine Croft’s is here. Jennifer Williams’ transcript is here and Timothy Morrison’s is here. The Philip Reeker transcript is here. Mark Sandy’s is here.\--With assistance from Justin Sink, Billy House, Daniel Flatley, Mike Dorning, Jordan Fabian and Jennifer Epstein.To contact the reporters on this story: Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net;Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie AsséoFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    Trump Lawyers Largely Ignore Bolton Revelations in Senate Trial

    (Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s lawyers largely avoided the explosive allegation in former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s book that the president tied aid to Ukraine to an investigation of a political rival as they sought to undermine the House impeachment case.Over the course of eight hours on Monday, Trump’s attorneys continued to rely heavily on the lack of firsthand evidence in the House argument that Trump held up release of military aid for Ukraine to pressure its government for help to tarnish former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential challenger to the president in November. They urged senators to block Democratic efforts to seek new witness testimony at the Senate trial.Trump’s lawyers will wrap up their defense of the president on Tuesday starting at 1 p.m. EST.In the manuscript of his book, Bolton wrote that in August the president told him he didn’t want to send $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until the government there turned over material related to Biden, according to the New York Times, citing unnamed people who had seen the draft.“We deal with transcript evidence, we deal with publicly available information. We do not deal with speculation, allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said.One Trump lawyer, constitutional law professor Alan Dershowitz, said the reports about the book didn’t rise to the level of impeachment.“Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense,” Dershowitz said near the end of the day’s presentations.Two key GOP senators, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, said the leak about Bolton’s unpublished manuscript has prompted new discussions among Republicans about subpoenaing witnesses. Trump ally Lindsey Graham told a Washington Post reporter he wants the White House to give senators a copy of Bolton’s book manuscript to determine whether Bolton should be called.Trump’s lawyers, meanwhile, argued that the president was justified in wanting to probe possible corruption in the appointment of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, to the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company that had been embroiled in controversy.“All we are saying is that there was a basis to talk about this, to raise this issue, and that is enough,” Trump lawyer Pam Bondi said.Here’s the Story on Impeachment, Trump and Ukraine: QuickTakeBondi, a former Florida attorney general, focused on Burisma corruption allegations and concerns raised in media reports at the time about potential conflicts posed by the vice president’s son position on the board. She played video excerpts and pull-out quotes from coverage by major news organizations, including ABC and the Washington Post.Top Democrats were clearly perturbed. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and his deputy, Dick Durbin, stared straight ahead and didn’t look at the video monitors as she displayed the excerpts. Dianne Feinstein, another senior Democrat, sat with her arms folded tightly in front of her. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, gave Bondi a fist bump and thumbs up after the defense wrapped for a dinner break.House Democrats contend that claims of any wrongdoing involving the former vice president’s son amount to debunked conspiracy theories. Then-Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko said in a May 2019 interview with Bloomberg News that Hunter Biden “did not violate any Ukrainian laws.” Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, in his testimony to the House inquiry also rejected the idea that Joe Biden’s work in Ukraine was influenced by his son’s position.Potential DelaysDisclosure of Bolton’s statements in his book revived talk among some of Trump’s defenders, including Graham and Josh Hawley, of calling witnesses who Trump wants to testify. Hawley has prepared a series of motions to subpoena testimony and documents from Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence chairman who led the impeachment inquiry; the still-anonymous intelligence community whistle-blower; and Biden and his son, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.A long lineup of witnesses likely would extend the trial by weeks or months, and it’s not clear there are 51 Republican votes to bring in either Biden.Democrats Monday morning said the revelations bolster their case for witnesses and reiterated their demand for a subpoena for acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney as well.Bolton wrote that Mulvaney was among several top cabinet officials who had knowledge of Trump’s demands. A lawyer for the acting chief of staff said he denies Bolton’s assertion.Romney said Monday he has been talking to other senators and believes it is now “increasingly likely” that there will be enough Republicans to call Bolton to testify.‘Weeks and Months’GOP leaders pushed back on that assertion.“Unless there’s a witness who’s going to change the outcome, I can’t imagine why we’d want to stretch this out for weeks and months,” Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt, a member of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership team, said. “And if we call any witnesses who are subject to privilege, it would take weeks and months.”The debate over witnesses caused rifts within the Senate’s Republican majority. Georgia’s Kelly Loeffler, who was recently appointed to fill an open seat, said on Twitter that Romney “wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame.”Echoing GOP leaders, Trump attorney Patrick Philbin made the argument that the Senate should not add to the evidence collected by the House, lest that become the new norm for presidents.‘Age of Impeachment’In an ironic twist, Trump’s defense turned to President Bill Clinton’s prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, to complain that impeachments are becoming too common.“We are living in what I think can aptly be described as the age of impeachment,” said Starr, who investigated Clinton for years as independent counsel.Starr said that after the Clinton impeachment both parties decided “enough was enough” and allowed the independent counsel statute to expire.But, he said, “the impeachment habit proved to be hard to kick.”Trump’s defenders have up to 12 hours under the rules to complete their case on Tuesday, followed by 16 hours of senators’ questions likely to last another two days.That sets up Friday as the likely key day for voting on whether to consider motions calling witnesses or subpoenaing documents. If successful, senators could offer and debate motions on witnesses. If Republican leaders succeed in blocking new evidence, the Senate would move quickly to a final vote where senators would vote “guilty” or “not guilty” on the two charges against Trump -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.\--With assistance from Daniel Flatley and Billy House.To contact the reporters on this story: Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net;Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;Mike Dorning in Washington at mdorning@bloomberg.net;Jordan Fabian in Washington at jfabian6@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Bill Faries, John HarneyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • NFL Teams’ Twitter Accounts Get Hacked Ahead of Super Bowl
    Bloomberg

    NFL Teams’ Twitter Accounts Get Hacked Ahead of Super Bowl

    (Bloomberg) -- The official Twitter accounts for more than a dozen National Football League teams have been hacked, less than a week before the Super Bowl.Official verified Twitter Inc. accounts for a number of teams, including the Super Bowl-bound San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, no longer have profile photos on the social media service. A tweet sent by the official Green Bay Packers Twitter account reads, “We are here to Show people that everything is hackable,” and attributes the breach to a group called OurMine. Screen shots on Twitter show similar tweets were sent from other official team accounts, but have since been deleted.OurMine has previously been linked to other Twitter hacks, including on the account of Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey. In June 2016, OurMine claimed credit for breaking into Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Twitter and Pinterest accounts. OurMine’s Twitter account was subsequently suspended. Another account mentioned in some of the tweets Monday, @OurM1ne, was suspended after the hack of the NFL teams.In December 2016, hacking team OurMine accessed Netflix Inc. and Marvel Entertainment LLC’s Twitter accounts and posted the message, “Hey, it’s OurMine, Don’t worry we are just testing your security, contact us to help you with your security.”A Twitter spokeswoman confirmed the NFL accounts were hacked, and said the company has locked the accounts and is investigating further. Later Monday, a second Twitter spokeswoman added that “the accounts were hacked through a third-party platform” used to manage the accounts.The NFL, whose account was also hacked, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.It’s the second straight day that NFL teams were targeted on the site -- notable in part because the league’s championship game is set for Feb. 2 in Miami. On Sunday, the day of the annual Pro Bowl, hackers trolled some fans of the Chicago Bears after taking over the team’s official Twitter account. The hackers tweeted that the team had been sold, and also that it had traded away its best player.“Yes, our official team Twitter account was compromised yesterday,” a spokesman for the team said. “We worked directly with Twitter to rectify it in about an hour or so.”(Updates with Twitter statement on third-party platform in the fifth paragraph.)\--With assistance from Kartikay Mehrotra and Eben Novy-Williams.To contact the reporter on this story: Kurt Wagner in San Francisco at kwagner71@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Facebook Q4 Preview: Buy FB Stock Before Earnings?
    Zacks

    Facebook Q4 Preview: Buy FB Stock Before Earnings?

    Investors need to know what to expect from Facebook's Q4 financial results and beyond to help understand what might be next for Facebook stock...

  • TikTok Rival Byte Debuts at Top of U.S. App Store
    Bloomberg

    TikTok Rival Byte Debuts at Top of U.S. App Store

    (Bloomberg) -- Byte, a new video-sharing app released Friday to compete with ByteDance Inc.’s TikTok, has rocketed to the top of Apple Inc.’s U.S. App Store.Created by Dom Hofmann, Byte reboots the deprecated Vine video-sharing service, which he co-founded in the summer of 2012 and sold to Twitter Inc. later that year. The parent company failed to find a way to make the service profitable and eventually discontinued it in 2016. Despite its brief existence, Vine became a cultural touchpoint in the U.S., with many users embracing its six-second time limit as a creative challenge. It was where controversial YouTube star Logan Paul, whose channel now has more than 20 million subscribers, got his start.Byte “ended Friday as the No. 1 free iPhone app on the U.S. App Store and is still in the top spot,” said Randy Nelson of research firm Sensor Tower. Beside the U.S., Byte is also the top free iOS app in Canada and ranks in the top 10 in Australia, New Zealand, Norway and the U.K. On Android’s Play Store, Byte is sixth among free apps in the U.S.The new app was downloaded more than 780,000 times over the weekend, with three quarters of those installs coming from the U.S., Sensor Tower estimated on Monday.The timing of Byte’s release coincides with a moment of reckoning for TikTok and its Beijing-based parent company. ByteDance is looking to hire a chief executive officer for TikTok, which is under increasing scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers wary about the influence of Chinese companies on American consumers. TikTok’s runaway popularity has been deemed to create “national security risks,” according to a letter by Senators Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton in the fall.Unlike ByteDance, which is the world’s highest-valued startup, and most other social media contenders, Byte is starting off small and its community guidelines make several references to the company’s modest budget. Still, the strong early response to Byte’s arrival -- coming with little to no advance fanfare -- suggests the community that Vine built up remains loyal to the particular six-second format. Some of the early popular videos on the platform are humorous proclamations of “Don’t post TikToks here.”(Updates with downloads in fourth paragraph)To contact the reporter on this story: Vlad Savov in Tokyo at vsavov5@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Virus Fallout Hits Canada Stocks After Second Confirmed Case
    Bloomberg

    Virus Fallout Hits Canada Stocks After Second Confirmed Case

    (Bloomberg) -- Investor anxiety that’s swept the globe over the coronavirus extended to Canadian stocks and the loonie after a second person in Toronto tested positive for the illness.Volatility on the S&P/TSX Composite Index spiked as stocks posted their biggest drop since October, joining a world-wide equity rout. The loonie weakened against the greenback and Canada’s two-year and 10-year bonds rallied for a fifth straight day.With two infected patients in Canada’s most populous city, concern is rising about the speed with which the virus has spread beyond China. The province of Ontario, which includes Toronto, is monitoring 19 other potential cases of coronavirus. Its similarity to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) -- a disease that killed 44 in Canada, the highest number of deaths outside of Asia -- has both heightened fears and served as a reminder that the country is in a much better position to deal with a pandemic than it was 17 years ago.“Panic is the biggest risk,” said Rebekah Young, an economist at Bank of Nova Scotia, by phone. “When you actually look back at SARS where Canada was an epicenter, the overall economic impact was negligible. It was a very-short lived impact and in a big picture, not that bad.”For the nation’s stock market, it’s a tale of two moves: gold miners surged Monday as investors piled into haven assets, while industrial metal miners slumped as the price of copper and iron ore sank on concerns that global growth could slow. Teck Resources Ltd. dropped for a third day, to its lowest since July 2016.Air Canada slipped for a fifth day, taking its plunge to about 12% over that stretch, the biggest drop since June 2016. The airline reported quarterly losses during the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic as travelers avoided Toronto.Canada Goose Holdings Inc. fell 4% and Gildan Activewear Inc. slipped 2%. Both clothing companies could see a decline in earnings.Ballard Power Systems Inc., the fuel-cell manufacturer that gets more than 30% of its revenue from China, fell as much as 9%Imax Corp., a Mississauga, Ontario-based company listed in the U.S. that gets more than 30% of its revenue from China, extended last week’s drop, for a six-day decline of about 15%.A major spread of the disease couldn’t come at a worse time for the nation’s economy, which is emerging from what may have been its weakest growth since 2016 at the end of last year. Any rebound this year could be tempered if the disease spreads into the North American country, economists said.Read more: Spread of Chinese Virus Would Test Canada’s Economic ResilienceEconomists at Scotiabank estimate that a similar outbreak to the 2003 SARS epidemic could dent the economy by just over 0.1% on the level of GDP by mid-2020.While trader jitters seep into market sentiment, some are saying buy the dip. Jefferies industrials research team said in a report that the knee-jerk reaction within the metals and mining sectors could be an opportunity to pick up stocks amid the sell-off. During the spread of SARS, the initial reaction was sharply negative for metals and mining equities but the sector rebounded sharply afterwards, which could be the case for coronavirus, the analysts said.Canada Virus UpdateThe wife of the man who was identified as Canada’s first confirmed case was infected by the virus, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams said in a statement Monday. She has been in self-isolation since arriving in Canada’s largest city with her husband last week.Over the weekend, Williams confirmed that the woman’s husband -- a man in his 50s -- had tested positive for the SARS-like illness. The man, who had traveled from Wuhan, China via Guangzhou, arrived in Toronto on Jan. 22 and went to Sunnybrook hospital the following day after feeling ill. The patient is in stable condition, officials said Saturday.Officials will be contacting flight passengers who were within 2 meters of the patient aboard the flight from Guangzhou to Toronto. Minister of Health Patty Hajdu spoke to reporters in a press briefing Sunday to reiterate the risk to Canadians still remains low.“While the risk of an outbreak of novel coronavirus in Canada remains low, I encourage Canadians to tell your health-care professional if you’ve traveled to an affected area of China and develop flu-like symptoms,” Hajdu said from Ottawa.Read More: Mapping the Outbreak of China’s CoronavirusOn Jan. 23, the World Health Organization stopped short of calling coronavirus a global health emergency, saying it remains a local crisis confined to China. However, with millions of people set to travel over the Chinese New Year, other nations are taking their own steps to slow the spread of the disease.There are 2,804 confirmed cases worldwide and at least 80 deaths as of Jan. 27.(Adds number of cases being monitored)\--With assistance from Jacqueline Thorpe and Aoyon Ashraf.To contact the reporters on this story: Divya Balji in Toronto at dbalji1@bloomberg.net;Danielle Bochove in Toronto at dbochove1@bloomberg.net;Shelly Hagan in ottawa at shagan9@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: David Scanlan at dscanlan@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Saudi Arabia Outsources Cyber Arsenal, Buys Spyware, Experts Say
    Bloomberg

    Saudi Arabia Outsources Cyber Arsenal, Buys Spyware, Experts Say

    (Bloomberg) -- If it turns out that Saudi Arabia hacked into the phone of Amazon.com Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, as investigators have alleged, the oil rich nation likely utilized its preferred method of cyber espionage: outsourcing.While countries like Russia, China and North Korea have invested in developing powerful, tailored cyber weapons, Saudi Arabia has instead opted to purchase them, according to experts and former government officials.The Middle Eastern nation’s cyber arsenal is believed to be primarily composed of outsourced espionage tools, which it has combined with disinformation tactics on social media, they said.These purchased weapons can be “highly sophisticated, but of limited scope,” according to Jon Bateman, a cybersecurity fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. While Saudi Arabia has tools that can be technically complex, countries that have invested in developing indigenous offensive and defensive capabilities -- such as Saudi Arabia’s Middle Eastern neighbors Iran and Israel -- possess a greater range of cyber weapons and tactics, he said.Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia’s purchased tools are an effective way for the regime to exert control, allegedly deploying these tools to spy on Saudi dissidents and journalists, according to experts.The Embassy of Saudi Arabia didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment sent through its website form. Last week the Embassy denied involvement in the Bezos incident.In recent years, as cyber actors have generally grown more sophisticated, so have the tools for sale, said Andrew Grotto, a fellow at Stanford University who served as the senior director for cybersecurity policy on the National Security Council from late 2015 to mid-2017.The purchase of cyber weapons -- including from marketplaces in the Middle East and Europe, and possibly from criminals -- isn’t unique to Saudi Arabia, experts say. Other countries, such as Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates, have also utilized their defense budgets to outsource cyber arsenals.The embassy of Vietnam didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did the UAE embassy.Estimates for the start of Saudi Arabia’s purchasing of cyber tools range anywhere from half a decade to two decades ago, with the country appearing to focus on surveillance activities. While cyber tools can be used to delete or alter data, hold systems hostage and disrupt traffic, Saudi Arabia has primarily focused on using them for spying, the experts said.As Saudi Arabia has purchased offensive capabilities, the country’s defenses have also been put to the test, experts said. For example, a dramatic cyber-attack -- believed to be sponsored by Iran -- devastated the computers of the state oil company, Saudi Aramco, in 2012.These allegedly weak defenses can be problematic for American interests, as attacks on allies can be used as an indirect way to impact the U.S., said James Lewis, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.“The Saudis are not that sophisticated in their cyber capabilities and that has been a problem for the U.S.,” Lewis said. “What they are sophisticated in is the ability to buy outside capabilities.”In addition to purchasing cyber capabilities, Saudi Arabia has also become adept at deploying disinformation campaigns to promote national interests, according to experts.For example, in August, Facebook Inc. removed hundreds of government-linked accounts and pages engaged in a sophisticated and wide-reaching influence campaign that praised the regime and criticized neighboring countries. Two months later, Twitter Inc. removed thousands of state-backed accounts based in Saudi Arabia -- suspending tens of thousands of others -- which manipulated the platform in order to promote Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical interests and amplify support for its authorities.The spyware allegedly used to hack Bezos’s phone was “developed and marketed by a private company and transferred to a government without judicial control of its use,” according to two United Nations special rapporteurs, in a statement last week. The alleged purpose was to “influence, if not silence,” coverage of the Saudi regime by the Bezos-owned Washington Post, according to the rapporteurs.“The intrusion likely was undertaken through the use of a prominent spyware product identified in other Saudi surveillance cases,” such as tools purchased from Israel’s NSO Group or Italy’s Hacking Team, according to the statement.The allegations come following a December 2018 suit, in which Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz alleged NSO Group software enabled Saudi Arabia to hack his phone and track his communications with Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist, and Saudi insider-turned-critic, who was slain by agents of the Saudi government, according to the U.S..Memento Labs, which acquired Hacking Team last year, didn’t immediately respond to request for comment; it has previously denied any involvement in the Bezos incident. An NSO Group representative referred to a statement published on its website: “We can say unequivocally that our technology was not used in this instance.” Regarding the lawsuit, a NSO Group spokesman said, “Khashoggi was not targeted by any NSO product or technology.”In a manner typical of Saudi’s digital operations, the murder of Khashoggi was followed by a “massive online campaign” that targeted Bezos’s business interests on social media, according to the U.N. rapporteurs. The following month, in November 2018, “Boycott Amazon” trended as the top hashtag on Saudi Twitter, they said.To contact the reporter on this story: Alyza Sebenius in Washington at asebenius@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Martin at amartin146@bloomberg.net, Molly SchuetzFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    We Made Pizza. We Made Robots. Why Not Robot Pizza?

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- What is it about robots and pizza?A robot that bakes the well-loved meal was a big hit at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, wowing onlookers as it prepared 300 pies an hour. The developer, a Seattle-based startup called Picnic, insists that pizza is only the beginning: “Our system will soon be able to make a wide variety of foods including sandwiches, salads, bowls, and more.” And why not? After all, robot bartenders, including for the home, are all the rage (although the top-of-the-line model will set you back the price of a luxury car). Moreover, with labor costs rising and margins falling, no one doubts that the future of the food service industry is automation, both behind the counter and in the kitchen.Still, there seems to be something special about robots and pizza.  Domino’s, the world’s biggest pizza chain, touts its “autonomous delivery vehicle,” which is being tested in Houston. Big rival Little Caesar holds a patent on its own “apparatus ... for assembling pizza” — that is, a pizza-making robot. And learned papers in serious journals explain the best way to teach an autonomous system to roll pizza ... or even to select ingredients.Well, of course. The world market for freshly baked pizza is nearing $150 billion a year, according to a 2019 report in PMQ Pizza Magazine, an industry trade publication. The largest share — over $50 billion — is in the U.S., but the fastest growth over the next five years is expected in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. In China alone, annual sales are forecast to grow 21.6% by 2024. That’s a lot of demand, but there’s also a lot of competition. For sellers of freshly baked pizza, as for others in the food service industry, rising labor costs and thinning margins make increased automation inevitable. Still, there’s no reason just yet for technophobes to panic — or, for that matter, for technophiles to celebrate. We have some time yet before being overwhelmed by the pizza-robot apocalypse.Picnic’s automaton is undeniably fun and impressive to watch. It looks good too, sleek and unindustrial. One observer wrote that the robot resembles “a white, kitchen-sized iPhone.” It’s easy to see why the device has earned such fawning coverage — and why Picnic has already signed up some big customers.Still, there are reasons to be cautious in our enthusiasm. First among them is the elephant in the room: the cautionary tale of Zume.  Headquartered in Mountain View, California, Zume was a legitimate unicorn, with the clever idea of baking pizzas in special ovens inside its trucks, using GPS technology to determine when to heat the pies so that they would arrive fresh and hot at the customer’s doorstep. SoftBank’s single investment in the startup in 2018, which was greater than the total amount raised by all other robot-food-preparation startups combined over the previous five years, implied a value for the company of over $2 billion.  The company even earned a cameo on the HBO drama “Silicon Valley.” As recently as two months ago — yes, I’m talking about November of 2019 — Vox Recode predicted that Zume might soon be worth $4 billion.Oops.Earlier this month, Zume shuttered its pizza operation, cutting 172 jobs in Mountain View and 80 more in San Francisco. Going forward, Zume plans to focus now on sustainable food packaging.Here’s a second reason for caution: Despite heady media claims that pizza is now being made by artificial intelligence (and a similar suggestion from the company itself), Picnic’s device doesn’t quite earn that encomium.  I tend to agree with Melanie Mitchell of the Sante Fe Institute, who argues in her excellent 2019 book “Artificial Intelligence:  A Guide for Thinking Humans” that what’s crucial to humanlike thought is the ability to apply common sense, a challenge researchers find difficult. We should avoid crying “AI” every time a device masters a particular task previously done by humans, even when the task is complex, like playing chess ... or making pizza.And Picnic’s robot, though quite ingenious, isn’t artificially intelligent just yet. Here’s radio station KIRO:“The human touch is still very much required for the machine to function. It has a vision system that reads the size and shape of the dough, and places the toppings and sauce on using a conveyor belt, but the dough and sauce must be made by actual human beings, who also have to put the pizza in the oven.”This is impressive but not revolutionary. Automated assembly lines for automobiles do nearly as much, and have been around longer. As KIRO puts it, “The pizza-making robot is really good at making the easiest part of the pizza.”But a system need not be artificially intelligent to be efficient and useful, and it’s easy to believe that Picnic is pointing the way toward the future. Picnic certainly isn’t Zume. For one thing, Picnic’s system is simpler.  It lacks articulating arms and consists instead of “a series of modular, customizable food dispensers.” Even if the device currently performs only the easiest part of the operation, one assumes that its capabilities will improve over time.  For another, unlike Zume, Picnic isn’t in the pizza business; it’s in the robot business.(1)When the news from CES hit the web, Connecticut’s Senator Chris Murphy took to Twitter to tell the world that he’s unimpressed: “It already feels like pizza made outside Connecticut/New Haven is made by mindless robots anyway, so I’m not sure how this would affect 99% of the country.”Cute. But with so many restaurants struggling to pay their bills, and with technology improving all the time, it’s fair to say that the future of pizza (and of the rest of food service) belongs to the bots.(1) Specifically, the company leases the device to customers, tailoring it to their needs and setting it up at no charge, all in return for a monthly fee.To contact the author of this story: Stephen L. Carter at scarter01@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Sarah Green Carmichael at sgreencarmic@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of law at Yale University and was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His novels include “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” and his latest nonfiction book is “Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster.” For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Will Non-iPhone Segments Drive Apple's (AAPL) Q1 Earnings?
    Zacks

    Will Non-iPhone Segments Drive Apple's (AAPL) Q1 Earnings?

    Apple's (AAPL) fiscal first-quarter 2020 results are expected to reflect robust performance of the non-iPhone segments.

  • Bloomberg

    EU’s Top Diplomat Cites ‘Quite Worrying’ Violence in Libya

    (Bloomberg) -- Europe’s top diplomat warned of renewed violence in Libya recently and said international powers must put pressure on the warring parties to end the conflict.The European Union’s top foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said that recent developments were “quite worrying” and that a Jan. 19 meeting of world leaders in Berlin had not halted Libya’s civil war. “We knew, everybody, that the result of the Berlin conference would not result in automatic implementation,” Borrell told reporters in Berlin on Monday alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. “Everybody knew it wasn’t an agreement that would be enforced tomorrow.”His comments come after the United Nations warned that foreign powers were setting the stage for more not less fighting in the OPEC nation. Libya’s internationally-recognized government said Sunday that repeated attacks by rival commander Khalifa Haftar have rendered a fragile truce all but meaningless.“We don’t have any illusions that this will be a difficult path, and that the largest part of it lies ahead of us,” Germany’s Maas said.Frailty of Libya Accord on Display In Merkel-Erdogan SquabbleAt stake for Europe is the stability of a major oil producer in its backyard and the threat of a growing sphere of influence of Russia and Turkey, which effectively control developments there by sending support to the warring parties. The idea for Europe to have its own military presence in Libya is far from consensual and would require an effective cease-fire first.German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted the Berlin meeting in an attempt to stanch the conflict but the precariousness of the accord was on display during her visit to Istanbul on Friday, where she and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan bickered publicly over the terms of the deal.The UN on Saturday said none of the parties involved in the Berlin conference --- which also grouped Turkey, Russia and Egypt -- were honoring the terms of the deal.(Updates with context, tweets)\--With assistance from Taylan Bilgic.To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at pdonahue1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, Raymond Colitt, Caroline AlexanderFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Jeff Bezos Friended the Wrong Foreign Leaders
    Bloomberg

    Jeff Bezos Friended the Wrong Foreign Leaders

    (Bloomberg) -- Sign up for Bloomberg’s daily technology newsletter here.The last two weeks have been remarkably eventful for Jeff Bezos. First, the Amazon.com Inc. co-founder’s visit to India was met with street-side protests, a new antitrust investigation into “predatory pricing and unfair trade practices” and hostile comments from the government led by India Prime Minster Narendra Modi.Then last week, Bezos’s yearlong tangle with Saudi Arabia burst into the headlines, with cybersecurity investigators concluding with “medium to high confidence” that Bezos’s iPhone was hacked via a WhatsApp message sent directly from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s account.Those are two very different situations in two separate parts of the world. But they had something in common—an overly optimistic bet (that Amazon placed, along with its Big Tech brethren) on global leaders whose dispositions turned out to be less open and, to varying degrees, more autocratic than Silicon Valley originally thought.Amazon first bet big on India in 2014, when Bezos stood on the top of a flatbed truck in ceremonial Indian wedding garb and presented the chief of his local operation with an oversized $2 billion check. Bezos met with Modi on that trip and amid mutual goodwill, seemed to believe the prime minister would loosen India’s rigorous restrictions on how foreign-owned e-commerce companies could operate.Since then, regulations in India have actually become stricter, with Modi catering to his party’s base of small business owners by limiting Amazon’s ability to sell items directly and to control its own prices. While gaining market share from Walmart Inc.-owned rival Flipkart, Amazon’s marketplace division reported steep losses in the last full fiscal year. On Bezos’s latest trip, Modi reportedly declined to meet with him.Bezos’s relationship with Saudi Arabia started with similar hopes. According to last week’s reports, Bezos and Prince Mohammed met at a 2018 dinner party in Los Angeles and exchanged phone numbers. Buoyed by the crown prince’s promise of modernizing the desert kingdom and diversifying its oil-based economy, Amazon was angling to close a $2.2 billion deal to put three data centers in the country. But that arrangement was put on ice after Saudi agents killed Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist at the Bezos-owned Washington Post. Saudi officials have said the crown prince had no involvement in the murder of Khashoggi or the cyberattack on Bezos. Now a Twitter account linked to the Saudi government is advocating for an Amazon boycott.In each country, Amazon’s agenda was complicated by the regime’s bellicosity toward coverage in the Post. But the sharp decline of its fortunes in India and Saudi Arabia is also about leaders whose true colors were much darker than they originally seemed. India under Modi recently passed a restrictive citizenship law that prevents many undocumented Muslim migrants from becoming citizens, while allowing for applicants with different religious affiliations. The Saudi government under Prince Mohammed has fueled conflict in Yemen, persecuted religious and political dissidents and unleashed coordinated Twitter attacks and other cyber tactics on its perceived enemies.Amazon wasn’t alone in pinning unrealistic hopes on these leaders. India has proved similarly challenging for Facebook Inc. The country accounts for Facebook’s largest user base, but the government has tried to force the company to identify users of the encrypted WhatsApp messaging service and threatened to introduce restrictive new rules to regulate social media. And in 2018 the Saudi crown prince cultivated many tech leaders who would likely be wary of such photo ops today.It wasn’t too long ago that tech leaders were overly optimistic about China, too. Mark Zuckerberg did a fun run for the cameras in Beijing and a meet-and-greet with President Xi Jinping. Google thought it could sneak back into China, after famously withdrawing from the country in 2010, with its secretive Dragonfly search project.Back in what now seems a simpler time, tech companies thought the world was becoming more receptive to the economic bounties and democratizing halo of the internet. But the world, and these leaders, have veered starkly away from this brand of idealism. It turned out they didn't want to be friends with Silicon Valley after all.If you read one thingWhen tech leaders tried to understand why large companies have trouble embracing new technologies, they turned to Clayton Christensen, author of the seminal book, the Innovator’s Dilemma, and several sequels. Christensen died last week at age 67 of complications from cancer treatment, according to Utah’s Deseret News.And here’s what you need to know in global technology newsYouTube got the streaming rights to some of the biggest esports leagues. Google signed a deal with Activision Blizzard to carry Call of Duty and Overwatch competitions. The Call of Duty league debuted Friday with a three-day event in Minneapolis.Salesforce encouraged employees to buy and expense a copy of the co-founder’s new book. The software company sent a memo to its 48,000 workers last fall promoting the book, Trailblazer, and offering reimbursement. On its website, Salesforce describes the book as an “instant” bestseller.Airbnb sued a real estate developer it partnered with to build apartments. The suit accuses NDG and its chief of stealing at least $1 million. The venture has long been a source of controversy for Airbnb, which is expected to go public this year.To contact the author of this story: Brad Stone in San Francisco at bstone12@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Milian at mmilian@bloomberg.net, Anne VanderMeyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.