Fed officials remain committed to wrestling America’s rapid inflation lower, and they have raised interest rates at the quickest pace since the 1980s to try to slow the economy and bring supply and demand into balance — making supersize rate moves of three-quarters of a percentage point at each of their past two meetings. Another big adjustment will be up for debate at their next meeting in September, policymakers have said.

But investors interpreted July’s unexpectedly pronounced inflation slowdown as a sign that policymakers could take a gentler route, raising rates a half-point next month. Stocks soared more than 2 percent on Wednesday, as Wall Street bet that the Fed might become less aggressive, which would decrease the chances that it would plunge the economy into a recession.

“It was as good as the markets and the Fed could have hoped for from this report,” said Aneta Markowska, chief financial economist at Jefferies. “I do think it removes the urgency for the Fed.”

Still, officials who spoke on Wednesday remained cautious about inflation. Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, called the report the “first hint” of a move in the right direction, while Charles Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said that it was “positive” but that price increases remained “unacceptably high.”

Policymakers have been hoping for more than a year that price increases will begin to cool, only to have those expectations repeatedly dashed. Supply chain issues have made goods more expensive, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent commodity prices soaring, a shortage of workers pushed wages and service prices higher and a dearth of housing has fueled rising rents.

toward $4 in July after peaking at $5 in June, based on data from AAA. That decline helped overall inflation to cool last month. The trend has continued into August, which should help inflation to continue to moderate.

But it is unclear what will happen next. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects that fuel costs will continue to come down, but geopolitical instability and the speed of U.S. oil and gas production during hurricane season, which can take refineries offline, are wild cards in that outlook.

declined in July, perhaps in part because borrowing costs rose. Mortgage rates have increased this year and appear to be weighing on the housing market, which could be helping to drive down prices for appliances.

slow hiring. Wages are still rising rapidly, and, as that happens, so are prices on many services. Rents, which make up a chunk of overall inflation and are closely linked to wage growth, continue to climb rapidly — which is concerning, because they tend to change course only slowly.

Rents of primary residences climbed 0.7 percent in July from the prior month, and are up 6.3 percent over the past year. Before the pandemic, that measure typically climbed about 3.5 percent annually.

Those forces could keep inflation undesirably rapid even if supply chains unsnarl and fuel prices continue to fall. The Fed aims for 2 percent inflation over time, based on a different but related inflation measure.

“The Covid reopening and revenge travel pressures have eased — and are probably going to continue easing,” said Laura Rosner-Warburton, senior U.S. economist at MacroPolicy Perspectives. But she also struck a note of caution, adding: “Under the hood, we’re still seeing pressures in rent. There’s still sticky inflation here.”

And given how high inflation has been for more than a year now, Fed policymakers will avoid reading too much into a single report. Inflation slowed last summer only to speed up again in fall.

“We might see goods inflation and commodity inflation come down, but at the same time see the services side of the economy stay up — and that’s what we’ve got to keep watching for,” Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said during a recent appearance. “It can’t just be a one month. Oil prices went down in July; that’ll feed through to the July inflation report, but there’s a lot of risk that oil prices will go up in the fall.”

Ms. Mester said that she “welcomes” a slowdown in some types of prices, but that it would be a mistake to “cry victory too early” and allow inflation to continue without taking necessary action.

For many Americans who are struggling to adjust their lifestyles to rapidly climbing costs at the grocery store and dry cleaners, an annual inflation rate that is still more than four times its normal speed is unlikely to feel like a big improvement, even as lower gas prices and rising pay rates do offer some relief.

Stephanie Bailey, 54, has a solid family income in Waco, Texas. Even so, she has been cutting back on meals at local Tex-Mex restaurants and new clothes because of the climbing prices, which she sees “everywhere.” At Starbucks, she opts for cold, noncoffee drinks, which in some cases are cheaper.

Her son, who is in his 20s, has moved back in with his parents. Rent had become out of reach on his salary working at a vitamin manufacturer. He is now teaching at a local high school.

“It’s just so expensive, with housing,” Ms. Bailey said. “He was having a hard time making ends meet.”

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California appeals court rules no arbitration in Cisco caste bias case

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The logo of networking gear maker Cisco Systems Inc is seen during GSMA’s 2022 Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

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OAKLAND, Calif., Aug 5 (Reuters) – Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) on Friday lost a court appeal to move to private arbitration a case over alleged caste discrimination in its Silicon Valley offices, where managers of Indian descent are accused of bias against a fellow employee from India.

The networking gear and business software company has denied the allegations. It had argued to a California appeals court that the state’s Civil Rights Department, which had brought the case on behalf of a worker identified under the pseudonym John Doe, should be subjected to an employment arbitration agreement signed by Doe.

“As an independent party, the Department cannot be compelled to arbitrate under an agreement it has not entered,” the appellate panel wrote.

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In a separate order Friday, it told a lower-court judge to reconsider a ruling that would have required the state to identify Doe. The lower court had said the law prevented it from considering whether Doe’s family members in India could be harmed by naming him.

The higher court wrote that “harm to family members anywhere is a legitimate consideration in determining whether a party should be granted anonymity.”

Cisco and the state agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The ancient socioreligious concept of caste has led to centuries of oppression against some families born into the lowest groupings in India. California has alleged that those biases had traveled to the U.S. tech industry, where Indians are the largest pool of immigrant workers.

The state sued Cisco in 2020 after Doe complained to it about company human resources staff not finding merit in his concerns that two higher-caste managers had allegedly denied him work and disparaged him.

The lawsuit has ignited advocacy at U.S. companies, universities and other institutions calling for more guidelines and training related to the potential for caste prejudice.

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Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by David Gregorio & Shri Navaratnam

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Paresh Dave

Thomson Reuters

San Francisco Bay Area-based tech reporter covering Google and the rest of Alphabet Inc. Joined Reuters in 2017 after four years at the Los Angeles Times focused on the local tech industry.

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Indexes drop as Walmart profit warning spooks investors

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  • Walmart cuts profit forecast; news hits retailers
  • McDonald’s up as sales, profit top estimates
  • Coca-Cola up on forecast raise
  • Indexes: Dow down 0.7%, S&P 500 down 1.2%, Nasdaq down 1.9%

NEW YORK, July 26 (Reuters) – U.S. stocks ended sharply lower Tuesday as a profit warning by Walmart dragged down retail shares and exceptionally weak consumer confidence data also fueled fears about spending.

Walmart (WMT.N) shares sank 7.6% after the retailer cut its full-year profit forecast late on Monday. Walmart blamed surging prices for food and fuel, and said it needed to cut prices to pare inventories. read more

Shares of Target Corp (TGT.N)fell 3.6% and Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) dropped 5.2%, while the S&P 500 retail index (.SPXRT) declined 4.2%. read more

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On Tuesday, data showed U.S. consumer confidence dropped to nearly a 1-1/2-year low in July amid persistent worries about higher inflation and rising interest rates. read more

“The majority of companies that reported today beat (on) earnings, and that’s been the case. But of course there have been some warnings, and that’s what the market is focusing on,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York.

Amazon, which said it would raise fees for delivery and streaming service Prime in Europe by up to 43% a year, was the biggest drag on the Nasdaq and S&P 500, while consumer discretionary (.SPLRCD)fell 3.3% and led declines among S&P 500 sectors. read more

The Federal Reserve started a two-day meeting, and on Wednesday it is expected to announce a 0.75 percentage point interest rate hike to fight inflation. read more Investors have worried that aggressive interest rate hikes by the Fed could tip the economy into recession.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) fell 228.5 points, or 0.71%, to 31,761.54, the S&P 500 (.SPX) lost 45.79 points, or 1.15%, to 3,921.05 and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) dropped 220.09 points, or 1.87%, to 11,562.58.

A busy week for earnings also included reports from Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) after the bell.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., July 21, 2022. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Shares of Microsoft were down 0.5% in after-hours trading while Alphabet was up 3% following the companies’ results. Microsoft ended the regular session down 2.7% and Alphabet ended 2.3% lower on the day. read more

Investors had been looking to see if this week’s earnings news from mega-cap companies might help the stock market sustain its recent rally. read more

Earnings from S&P 500 companies were expected to have risen 6.2% for the second quarter from the year-ago period, according to Refinitiv data.

Also during the regular session, Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) gained 1.6% after the company raised its full-year revenue forecast. McDonald’s Corp (MCD.N) rose 2.7% after beating quarterly expectations. read more

3M Co (MMM.N) rose 4.9% after the industrial giant said it planned to spin off its healthcare business. read more General Electric Co (GE.N)gained 4.6% after the industrial conglomerate beat revenue and profit estimates.

In other outlooks, the International Monetary Fund cut global growth forecasts again. read more

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 9.60 billion shares, compared with the 10.93 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.73-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.72-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 1 new 52-week highs and 30 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 39 new highs and 138 new lows.

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Additional reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Aniruddha Ghosh in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur, Anil D’Silva and David Gregorio

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Investigators of War Crimes in Ukraine Face Formidable Challenges

KOROPY, Ukraine — Four men tugged at long strips of fabric to lift a coffin out of the gaping hole in the backyard of a small house. They flung the lid open to reveal the moldy corpse of Oleksiy Ketler, who had been killed instantly by shrapnel when a mortar fell on the road in Koropy, a village outside Khavkiv in northeastern Ukraine, in March.

Mr. Ketler, a father of two young children, would have celebrated his 33rd birthday on June 25, if he had not been outside his house at the wrong time. Now, his body has become another exhibit in Ukraine’s wide-ranging effort to collect evidence to prosecute Russia and its military for war crimes in the brutal killings of Ukrainian civilians.

Experts say the process is proceeding with extraordinary speed and may become the biggest effort in history to hold war criminals to account. But it faces an array of formidable challenges.

rape, execution-style killings and the deportation of what Mr. Belousov said could be tens of thousands of Ukrainians to Russia — were being investigated.

At the same time, hundreds of international experts, investigators and prosecutors have descended on Ukraine from an alphabet soup of international agencies.

Early in the war, the top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, arrived in Ukraine with several dozen investigators. But the court, which is based in the Netherlands, tries a limited number of cases, and usually seeks to prosecute only the upper echelon of political and military leaders.

It is also slow: Investigators working on the 2008 Russian-Georgian war did not apply for arrest warrants until this year.

There are a number of other initiatives, too. Amal Clooney, an international human rights lawyer, is part of a team advising the Ukrainian government on bringing international legal action against Russia. The United Nations has started a commission to investigate human rights violations in Ukraine — with three human rights experts — but cannot establish a formal tribunal because Russia wields veto power on the U.N. Security Council.

Investigators in Poland are collecting testimonies from refugees who fled there to feed to Ukrainian prosecutors. France has sent mobile DNA analysis teams to embed with the Ukrainian authorities to collect evidence. Nongovernmental organizations based in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, are going to territories recently occupied by Russian soldiers to collect witness statements.

The involvement of multiple countries and organizations does not necessarily lead to a more productive investigation, said Wayne Jordash, a British criminal lawyer who lives in Ukraine. Mr. Jordash, who is part of an international task force supporting Ukrainian prosecutors, was critical of some of the efforts to assist Ukraine judicially, describing it as “smoke and mirrors,” without results and clear priorities.

The International Criminal Court’s investigators were only just getting going, he noted, and experts from other countries have also been cycling in for stints of several weeks.

“You can’t just parachute into an investigation for two weeks and expect it to be meaningful,” Mr. Jordash said.

Iva Vukusic, a scholar of post-conflict justice at the University of Utrecht, said, “Resources are being poured in, but maybe down the line we will see that they were not being spent the right way,” for instance, duplicating investigation efforts rather than providing psychosocial support to victims.

Ms. Vukusic pointed out the large size of the endeavor. Across the country, she said, “there are thousands of potential suspects, and thousands of potential trials.” All of the material needs to be properly marshaled and analyzed, she said.

“If you have 100,000 items — videos, statements, documents — if you don’t know what you’re sitting on, it limits the use of material,” Ms. Vukusic said.

She also cautioned that the International Criminal Court’s leadership could face criticism by collaborating too closely with the Ukrainian authorities because, she said, Ukraine was also “an actor in this war.”

She feared Ukrainian officials were setting expectations for justice very high, and possibly wasting scarce resources on absentia trials.

“No big case is going to be finished in two years or five years because of the scale of the violence and the fact it is going on for so long,” she said.

Mr. Belousov, the Ukrainian war crimes prosecutor, acknowledged as much. “We are playing a long game,” he said. Even if the perpetrator is tried and convicted in absentia, Mr. Belousov said, “We understand in a year, or two or three or five, these guys won’t be able to avoid punishment.”

Mr. Belousov said that he appreciated the international assistance but that coordinating it was the “biggest challenge” law enforcement authorities experienced.

For example, the Kharkiv prosecutors used a shiny new forensic investigation kit donated by the European Union for their exhumation in Koropy, the village in northeast Ukraine. But a police officer from a unit in Dmytrivka, a 45-minute drive west of Kyiv, said they had not seen or met with any international investigators or received any equipment from them.

Mr. Belousov said Ukraine wanted to take the lead in prosecuting the cases — a divergence from previous post-conflict situations in which the national authorities initially left the process to international tribunals.

But most Ukrainian investigators have little experience in these kinds of inquiries.

For example, Andriy Andriychuk, who joined the police force in the region west of Kyiv two years ago, said his work previously involved investigating local disputes or livestock theft. Now it involves “a lot more corpses,” he said.

On a recent sunny afternoon, he was called to a wooded area near the town of Dmytrivka. Several days before, police officers had received a call from foresters who had come upon a man’s grave. The dead man, Mykola Medvid, 56, had been buried with his passport; his hat was hung on top of a cross made out of sticks.

His daughter and his cousin identified his body. The local morgue officially established the cause of death: a fatal shot in the chest.

Since then, his daughter Mariia Tremalo has not heard from the investigators. No witnesses have come forward, and it was unclear who might have killed her father, or why. Still, she is hungry for justice.

“My father will never be returned,” she said. “But I would like the perpetrators to be punished.”

Right now that seems all but impossible.

In Koropy, the village near Kharkiv, Mr. Ketler’s mother, Nadezhda Ketler, was inconsolable as the gravediggers and inspectors worked. She wandered down the road to another part of her property. Six officials stood over her son’s body, photographing and documenting as his best friend, Mykhailo Mykhailenko, who looked petrified and smelled of stale alcohol, identified him.

The next day, Mr. Ketler’s body was taken to the city’s morgue, where the final cause of death was established.

Eventually, Ms. Ketler gathered the strength to show investigators the crater made by the bomb that killed him, leading the police to the exact spot where he died. Ms. Ketler stood looking at the trees as they rustled in the wind. She did not speak to anyone. She said she did not know if a guilty verdict in a war crimes trial, if it ever came, would ease the pain of losing her child.

“I had to bury my son twice,” Ms. Ketler said later. “You understand, this is hard enough to do once, and to have to do it a second time. The pain of a mother will not go anywhere.”

Evelina Riabenko, Diana Poladova and Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting.

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Hong Kong’s next leader set to be endorsed by pro-Beijing elites

HONG KONG, May 8 (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s leader-in-waiting, John Lee, was endorsed for the city’s top job on Sunday by a committee stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists, as the financial hub attempts to relaunch itself after several years of political upheaval.

Lee, the sole candidate, received the votes of 1,416 members of a pro-Beijing election committee on Sunday morning, granting him the majority required to anoint him as Hong Kong’s next leader. Eight voted to “not support” him.

Speaking afterwards, Lee said it was his “historic mission” to lead a new chapter for Hong Kong, while pledging to unite the city and preserve Hong Kong’s international status as an open, and more competitive financial hub bridging China and the world.

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Few of the city’s 7.4 million people have any say in choosing their leader, despite China’s promises to one day grant full democracy to the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Security was tight around the venue, with police preventing a small group of protesters from approaching.

“We believe we represent many Hong Kong people in expressing opposition to this China-style, single-candidate election,” said Chan Po-ying, a protester with the League of Social Democrats, holding up a banner demanding full democracy.

Lee, a former Hong Kong secretary for security, has forcefully implemented China’s harsher regime under a national security law that has been used to arrest scores of democrats, disband civil society groups and shutter liberal media outlets, such as Apple Daily and Stand News.

Western governments, including the United States, say that freedoms and the rule of law have been undermined by the security legislation that was imposed by Beijing in 2020. read more

Lee, however, reiterated Beijing’s view that the law is necessary to restore stability after protracted pro-democracy protests in 2019, sidestepping questions on whether he would seek reconciliation with opposition democratic advocates and those who have been jailed.

“Safeguarding our country’s sovereignty, national security and development interests, and protecting Hong Kong from internal and external threats, and ensuring its stability will continue to be of paramount importance,” Lee told reporters.

Some critics say Lee’s attempts to relaunch Hong Kong internationally could be affected by sanctions imposed on him by the United States in 2020 over what Washington said was his role in “being involved in coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning individuals” under the security law.

YouTube owner Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) has said it took down the Lee campaign’s YouTube account to comply with U.S. sanction laws.

Lee said his priority would be to boost housing supply in one of the world’s most expensive housing markets, and to bolster policy effectiveness with a “results orientated approach” in tackling this entrenched issue.

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Reporting by James Pomfret and Hong Kong bureau; Editing by William Mallard and Michael Perry

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Another Firing Among Google’s A.I. Brain Trust, and More Discord

Less than two years after Google dismissed two researchers who criticized the biases built into artificial intelligence systems, the company has fired a researcher who questioned a paper it published on the abilities of a specialized type of artificial intelligence used in making computer chips.

The researcher, Satrajit Chatterjee, led a team of scientists in challenging the celebrated research paper, which appeared last year in the scientific journal Nature and said computers were able to design certain parts of a computer chip faster and better than human beings.

Dr. Chatterjee, 43, was fired in March, shortly after Google told his team that it would not publish a paper that rebutted some of the claims made in Nature, said four people familiar with the situation who were not permitted to speak openly on the matter. Google confirmed in a written statement that Dr. Chatterjee had been “terminated with cause.”

Google declined to elaborate about Dr. Chatterjee’s dismissal, but it offered a full-throated defense of the research he criticized and of its unwillingness to publish his assessment.

a similar paper a year earlier. Around that time, Google asked Dr. Chatterjee, who has a doctorate in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, and had worked as a research scientist at Intel, to see if the approach could be sold or licensed to a chip design company, the people familiar with the matter said.

A.I. principles, including upholding high standards of scientific excellence. Soon after, Dr. Chatterjee was informed that he was no longer an employee, the people said.

Ms. Goldie said that Dr. Chatterjee had asked to manage their project in 2019 and that they had declined. When he later criticized it, she said, he could not substantiate his complaints and ignored the evidence they presented in response.

“Sat Chatterjee has waged a campaign of misinformation against me and Azalia for over two years now,” Ms. Goldie said in a written statement.

She said the work had been peer-reviewed by Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific publications. And she added that Google had used their methods to build new chips and that these chips were currently used in Google’s computer data centers.

Laurie M. Burgess, Dr. Chatterjee’s lawyer, said it was disappointing that “certain authors of the Nature paper are trying to shut down scientific discussion by defaming and attacking Dr. Chatterjee for simply seeking scientific transparency.” Ms. Burgess also questioned the leadership of Dr. Dean, who was one of 20 co-authors of the Nature paper.

“Jeff Dean’s actions to repress the release of all relevant experimental data, not just data that supports his favored hypothesis, should be deeply troubling both to the scientific community and the broader community that consumes Google services and products,” Ms. Burgess said.

Dr. Dean did not respond to a request for comment.

After the rebuttal paper was shared with academics and other experts outside Google, the controversy spread throughout the global community of researchers who specialize in chip design.

The chip maker Nvidia says it has used methods for chip design that are similar to Google’s, but some experts are unsure what Google’s research means for the larger tech industry.

“If this is really working well, it would be a really great thing,” said Jens Lienig, a professor at the Dresden University of Technology in Germany, referring to the A.I. technology described in Google’s paper. “But it is not clear if it is working.”

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Tesla seeks investor approval for stock split, article with image

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March 28 (Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) will seek investor approval to increase its number of shares to enable a stock split in the form of a dividend, the electric-car maker said on Monday, sending its shares up about 5%.

The plan came as the company suspended its Shanghai factory amid COVID-19-related lockdown measures and its artificial intelligence head took a sabbatical as the company aims to achieve full self-driving capability this year.

The proposal, first announced on Twitter, has been approved by its board and shareholders will vote on it at an annual meeting. The stock split, if approved, would be the latest after a five-for-one split in August 2020 that made Tesla shares cheaper for its employees and investors.

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Following a pandemic-induced rally in the technology shares, Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and Apple Inc (AAPL.O), too, have in the recent past split their shares to make them more affordable.

Tesla shares soar after stock split in 2020 Tesla shares soar after stock split in 2020

Since the stock split in 2020, they have surged 128%, boosting the company’s market capitalization above $1 trillion and making it the biggest U.S. automaker by that measure.

“This (stock split) could further fuel the bubble in Tesla’s stock that has been brewing over the past two years,” said David Trainer, chief executive of investment research firm New Constructs.

Tesla has delivered nearly a million electric cars annually, while ramping up production by setting up new factories in Austin and Berlin amid COVID-19-related disruptions and increasing competition.

Tesla on Monday notified its suppliers and workers that its Shanghai factory in China will be closed for four days as the financial hub said it would lock down in two stages to carry out mass COVID-19 testing. read more

Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said on Monday that he had “supposedly” tested positive for COVID-19, a few days after he attended a car delivery event at the company’s new Berlin factory.

“We think Berlin ramping, and both the MiniCar and India are on the horizon, we would agree with the timing,” Roth Capital analyst Craig Irwin said, hinting that companies usually execute stock splits when good news is ahead.

AI CHIEF

Musk also said on Sunday Tesla’s artificial intelligence chief Andrej Karpathy was on a fourth-month sabbatical, at a critical time that Musk wants to achieve full self-driving capability and roll out a humanoid robot prototype this year.

“Especially excited to get focused time to re-sharpen my technical edge and train some neural nets!” Karparthy tweeted.

“Though I already miss all the robots and GPU/Dojo clusters and looking forward to having them at my fingertips again,” he said, referring to Tesla’s AI chip Dojo.

Musk said in a podcast interview in January that Karpathy played an important role, adding: “People will give me too much credit and they’ll give Andrej too much credit.”

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Reporting by Nivedita Balu and Akash Sriram in Bengaluru and Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco; Editing by Maju Samuel, Arun Koyyur and Bernadette Baum

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Russia tells Google to stop spreading threats against Russians on YouTube, article with image

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Youtube logo is placed on a Russian flag in this illustration picture taken February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

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  • Russia demands YouTube stop spreading threats to Russians
  • Facebook, Instagram blocked in Russia; Google under pressure
  • Russia says it has tools to develop its own social media

March 18 (Reuters) – Russia on Friday demanded that Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google stop spreading what it called threats against Russian citizens on its YouTube video-sharing platform, a move that could presage an outright block of the service on Russian territory.

The regulator, Roskomnadzor, said adverts on the platform were calling for the communications systems of Russia and Belarus’ railway networks to be suspended and that their dissemination was evidence of the U.S. company’s anti-Russian position. It did not say which accounts were publishing the adverts.

“The actions of YouTube’s administration are of a terrorist nature and threaten the life and health of Russian citizens,” the regulator said.

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“Roskomnadzor categorically opposes such advertising campaigns and demands that Google stop broadcasting anti-Russia videos as soon as possible.”

Google removed an advertisement that was flagged by the Russian government, according to a source familiar with the matter who declined to describe it.

The dispute was the latest in a series between Moscow and foreign tech firms over Ukraine.

YouTube, which has blocked Russian state-funded media globally, is under heavy pressure from Russia’s communications regulator and politicians.

Outraged that Meta Platforms (FB.O) was allowing social media users in Ukraine to post messages such as “Death to the Russian invaders”, Moscow blocked Instagram this week, having already stopped access to Facebook because of what it said were restrictions by the platform on Russian media. read more

Russian news media including RIA and Sputnik quoted an unnamed source as saying YouTube could be blocked next week or as early as Friday.

DOMESTIC ALTERNATIVES

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday wrote a fierce criticism of foreign social media firms, mentioning by name both Meta and YouTube, but he hinted that the door leading to their possible return to the Russian market would be left ajar.

“The ‘guardians’ of free speech have in all seriousness allowed users of their social media to wish death upon the Russian military,” Medvedev, who served as president from 2008 to 2012 and is now deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, wrote on the messaging app Telegram.

Medvedev said Russia has the necessary tools and experience to develop its own social media, saying the “one-way game” of Western firms controlling information flows could not continue.

“In order to return, they will have to prove their independence and good attitude to Russia and its citizens,” he wrote. “However, it is not a fact that they will be able to dip their toes in the same water twice.”

VKontakte, Russia’s answer to Facebook, has been breaking records for activity on its platform since Russia sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The site attracted 300,000 new users in the two weeks after Russia began what it calls a “special operation” to demilitarise and “de-Nazify” its neighbour.

On the day Instagram was blocked in Russia, VKontakte said its daily domestic audience grew by 8.7% to more than 50 million people, a new record.

Anton Gorelkin, a member of Russia’s State Duma committee on information and communications, pointed Russians to services that would help them move videos from YouTube to the domestic equivalent, RuTube.

“It’s not that I’m calling for everyone to immediately leave YouTube,” he said on his Telegram channel. “But, probably, in light of recent events it is worth following the principle of not keeping all your eggs in one basket.”

He said earlier this week that YouTube may face the same fate as Instagram if it continues “to act as a weapon in the information war”.

Russian tech entrepreneurs said this week they would launch picture-sharing application Rossgram on the domestic market to help fill the void left by Instagram. read more

In November, Gazprom Media launched Yappy as a domestic rival to video-sharing platform TikTok.

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Reporting by Reuters
Editing by Andrei Khalip, Angus MacSwan, Frances Kerry and Grant McCool

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Omicron Variant Prompts Travel Bans and Batters World Markets

The world reacted with alarm on Friday to the highly mutated new coronavirus variant discovered in southern Africa, as the United States, the European Union and nations across the globe imposed new travel restrictions, financial markets swooned and visions of finally emerging from the pandemic started to dim.

Just two days after the world learned of the variant, the World Health Organization officially labeled it a “variant of concern,” its most serious category — the first since the Delta variant, which emerged a year ago. The designation means that the variant has mutations that might make it more contagious or more virulent, or make vaccines and other preventive measures less effective — though none of those effects has yet been established.

suffered terribly when Covid first hit Europe early last year.

On Friday, Israel, Singapore, several European nations individually, and then the European Union as a whole, the United States and Canada followed the lead set by Britain on Thursday night, temporarily barring foreign travelers who have recently been in South Africa or any of several neighboring countries. As with past travel bans, countries are allowing their own citizens and permanent residents to return home if they test negative for the virus, with some requiring additional testing and quarantine after arrival.

fights over vaccines and social restrictions have grown increasingly harsh.

world’s highest case rates for their populations are all European — several of them about six times as high as the U.S. rate.

South Africa, whose last coronavirus wave peaked in July, has recently reported case rates far below the worldwide average. But last week the rate more than doubled from the week before.

Reporting was contributed by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Carl Zimmer, Lynsey Chutel and Nick Cumming-Bruce.

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Covid Live Updates: Variant Alert From South Africa Prompts Rush to Halt Flights

ImageIn the town of Parys, South Africa, on Friday. South Africans faced travel restrictions in several countries over growing fears about the new variant.
Credit…Kim Ludbrook/EPA, via Shutterstock

An increasing number of countries — including Britain, France, Israel, Italy and Singapore — were moving on Friday to restrict travel from South Africa and other countries in the region, a day after South African authorities identified a concerning new coronavirus variant with mutations that one scientist said marked a “big jump in evolution.”

In the past, governments have taken days, weeks or months to issue travel restrictions in response to new variants. This time, restrictions came within hours of South Africa’s announcement — and hours before health officials from the country were scheduled to discuss the variant with the World Health Organization.

Britain, France and Israel announced bans on flights from South Africa and several neighboring countries on Thursday, citing the threat of the new variant. Britain’s flight ban applies to six countries — South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe — and begins at noon local time on Friday.

“More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now,” Sajid Javid, the British health secretary, said on Twitter.

“While no cases have been detected so far on French territory, the principle of maximum precaution must apply,” Jean Castex, France’s prime minister, said in a statement, adding that anyone in France who had recently traveled to those countries should get tested and identify themselves to the authorities.

The governments of Croatia, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Japan and Singapore announced on Friday that they would impose similar restrictions. Markets were down in Japan in response to the variant’s discovery, and officials in Australia and in New Zealand said that they were monitoring it closely.

“Our scientists are at work to study the new B.1.1.529 variant,” Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, said in a statement, using the variant’s scientific name. “Meanwhile we err on the side of caution.”

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s executive arm, also said in a Twitter post on Friday morning that it would propose restricting air travel to European countries from southern Africa because of concerns about the variant.

In the past two days, scientists detected the variant after observing an increase in infections in South Africa’s economic hub surrounding Johannesburg. So far only a few dozen cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel and Botswana.

A number of variants have emerged since the onset of the pandemic. One underlying concern about them is whether they will stymie the fight against the virus or limit the effectiveness of vaccines. South African scientists will meet with the World Health Organization technical team on Friday to discuss the new variant, and the authorities will assign it a letter of the Greek alphabet.

In a statement posted on Friday on a government website, South Africa said it would urge Britain to reconsider its travel restrictions, saying: “The U.K.’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the U.K. seems to have been rushed, as even the World Health Organization is yet to advise on the next steps.”

In December last year, South Africa was the first nation to report the appearance of the Beta variant, which has now spread to nearly 70 countries. Scientists have been concerned that some clinical trials have shown that vaccines offer less protection against the Beta variant. Since then, the more virulent and aggressive Delta variant has spread all over the world and is believed to be fueling the latest surge in cases.

With over 1,200 new infections, South Africa’s daily infection rate is much lower than that in Germany, where new cases are driving a wave. However, the density of mutations on this new variant raises fears that it could be highly contagious, leading scientists to sound the alarm early.

“This variant did surprise us — it has a big jump in evolution, many more mutations than we expected, especially after a very severe third wave of Delta,” said Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.

Emma Bubola, John Yoon and Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting.

Credit…Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

Scientists are still unclear on how effective vaccines will be against the new variant flagged by a team in South Africa, which displays mutations that might resist neutralization. Only several dozen cases have been fully identified so far in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.

The new variant, B.1.1.529, has a “very unusual constellation of mutations,” with more than 30 in the spike protein alone, according to Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.

On the ACE2 receptor — the protein that helps to create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells — the new variant has 10 mutations. In comparison, the Beta variant has three and the Delta variant two, Mr. de Oliveira said.

The variant shares similarities with the Lambda and Beta variants, which are associated with an innate evasion of immunity, said Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.

“All these things are what give us some concern that this variant might have not just enhanced transmissibility, so spread more efficiently, but might also be able to get around parts of the immune system and the protection we have in our immune system,” Dr. Lessells said.

The new variant has largely been detected among young people, the cohort that also has the lowest vaccination rate in South Africa. Just over a quarter of those ages between 18 and 34 in South Africa are vaccinated, said Dr. Joe Phaahla, the country’s minister of health.

While cases of the variant are mainly concentrated in the country’s economic hub, particularly in the country’s administrative capital, Pretoria, it is “only a matter of time” before the virus spreads across the country as schools close and families prepare to travel for the holiday season, Dr. Phaahla said.

Credit…Jerome Favre/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Hong Kong government said on Thursday that it had detected two cases of a new variant identified in South Africa, which scientists have warned shows a “big jump in evolution” and could limit the effectiveness of vaccines.

The infections were detected in a man who had returned to Hong Kong from South Africa this month, and later in another man staying across the hall in the same quarantine hotel. (Hong Kong requires almost all overseas arrivals to quarantine in hotels for two to three weeks.) The virus’s genetic sequence was identical in both men, suggesting airborne transmission, according to the city’s Center for Health Protection. Both men were vaccinated.

Further sequencing by the University of Hong Kong confirmed that the viruses belonged to the new variant from South Africa, officials said, though they acknowledged that information about the variant’s public health impact was “lacking at the moment.”

Some Hong Kong experts have questioned the length and efficacy of Hong Kong’s quarantines, noting that officials have recorded several cases of residents in quarantine hotels apparently infecting people who were staying in other rooms.

In the case of the latest variant infections, the government has blamed the first man for not wearing a surgical mask when opening his hotel room door, as well as “unsatisfactory air flow” in the hotel. As of Friday afternoon there had been no reports of infections in nearby rooms.

The presence of the new variant may complicate efforts to reopen the border between Hong Kong and mainland China. For months, Hong Kong officials have said that resuming quarantine-free travel between the Chinese territory and the mainland — virtually the only places in the world still pursuing a containment strategy that seeks full eradication of the virus — is their top priority, even though the strategy has damaged the city’s reputation as a global finance hub.

Mainland officials have said that Hong Kong is not doing enough to control the virus, even though the city has recorded just two locally transmitted cases in the last six months. The mainland has recently faced new domestic outbreaks; on Thursday, the National Health Commission there reported four new local cases.

On Thursday evening, Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, John Lee, said mainland officials had told him earlier in the day that Hong Kong had “basically fulfilled” the conditions to reopen the border. He said details would still need to be worked out, including the introduction of a mainland-style “health code” app that has raised privacy concerns.

Asked by a reporter whether the new variant would delay reopening with the mainland, Mr. Lee said only that the Hong Kong authorities would “ensure that adequate research and tracking are done in this regard.”

“Of course, we must manage and control any new risks,” he said.

Credit…Focke Strangmann/EPA, via Shutterstock

Nearly 20 months after pandemic lockdowns first began, governments across Europe are beginning to tighten restrictions again amid the latest wave of new coronavirus cases, threatening the gains that the region has made against the pandemic.

France is racing to offer booster shots to all adults and will not renew health passes for those who refuse. Deaths are rising in Germany, with its 68 percent vaccination rate, a worrying trend for a highly inoculated country. Austria has been in a nationwide lockdown since Monday, and made vaccinations mandatory.

In Eastern Europe, where far-right and populist groups have fueled vaccine skepticism, vaccination rates are lower than the rest of the continent. Bulgaria, where a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated, is turning back to shutdowns or other restrictive measures.

The quickly deteriorating situation in Europe is worrisome for the United States, where seven-day average of new cases has risen 24 percent in the past two weeks. (The number of new deaths reported in the United States is down 6 percent.) Trends in new cases in the United States have tended to follow Europe by a few weeks.

“Time and again, we’ve seen how the infection dynamics in Europe are mirrored here several weeks later,” Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, told reporters on Wednesday. “The future is unfolding before us, and it must be a wake-up call for our region because we are even more vulnerable.”

The White House insists that while new infections are on the rise, the United States can avoid European-style lockdowns.

“We are not headed in that direction,” Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said this week. “We have the tools to accelerate the path out of this pandemic: widely available vaccinations, booster shots, kids’ shots, therapeutics.”

But the chief of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that some countries had lapsed into a “false sense of security.”

He issued a warning during a news briefing on Wednesday: “While Europe is again the epicenter of the pandemic, no country or region is out of the woods.”

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