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Apps Gadgets Games Hackers Technology

The Week in Tech: Coronavirus Hits Apple’s Financial Forecast


Hello, New York Times tech readers. I’m Nellie Bowles, the tech and culture reporter, here now with the roundup of the news.

It was a week that captured the central issues of tech in 2020: privacy versus the convenience of smart home devices, dependence on the smooth running of China’s manufacturing industry, battles over regulation in Europe and the lockdown on internal dissent at Silicon Valley companies.

So to those wanting to take a break from the endless Democratic primary jockeying, settle into a good chair, because what the week brought you is a basket of beautiful tech features.

We begin:

Coronavirus is starting to affect tech production lines and demand for products. Apple cut its sales expectations for the quarter, citing the virus’s impact on factories and stores. The warning was a clear indication of how big the company has bet on China and how the impact of the outbreak might ripple out into the global economy, explored in an article by Daisuke Wakabayashi.

Amazon executives are also preparing for coronavirus disruptions. An article by Karen Weise and Michael Corkery outlined the measures the company is taking to hedge against the potential that the impact of the virus gets worse. The Everything Store is “making larger and more frequent orders of Chinese-made products that had already been shipped to the United States,” they wrote.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

But at the same time, some suppliers are trying to lower demand, cutting back on advertising and promotions so they don’t run out of stuff.

Speaking of Amazon: Not everyone agrees on where to draw the line between privacy and convenience, sometimes not even everyone in the same house. One couple fighting over whether to keep an Alexa-enabled Echo speaker in the home invented their own solution: a bracelet of silence that jams microphones. Wear it and it’s like smart-home armor. The tale of the couple, two computer science professors, was brought to us by Kashmir Hill.

But if you do agree on getting something that records video and listens — especially a Ring doorbell — there are some privacy best practices, which Brian X. Chen outlined in his latest Tech Fix column. There are many, many steps required, including getting a burner phone number. And his conclusion: “If that all sounds like a lot of effort just to use a security camera, that’s because the security concerns make Ring products impractical to own.”

In Europe, leaders are very good at regulating technology, pioneering responses to issues of privacy and antitrust, but can it build tech giants of its own? My colleagues Adam Satariano and Monika Pronczuk wrote: “As Europe has created a reputation as the world’s most aggressive watchdog of Silicon Valley, it has failed to nurture its own tech ecosystem. That has left countries in the region increasingly dependent on companies that many leaders distrust.” Now it is trying to change that and reclaim “technological sovereignty.”

Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley companies have been making more trips to Brussels recently to lobby against some of that regulation: a new digital policy, including first-of-its-kind rules on the ways that artificial intelligence can be used by companies, Adam wrote.

  • Noam Scheiber and Kate Conger had a big story in the The New York Times Magazine on the Great Google Revolt: what happened when a group of employees tried to make the company stop doing work they saw as unethical.

    Mostly, they were fired. Dive into the article to understand how Google went from an ultra-transparent company that encouraged employee dissent to, well, not.

  • The Style section’s Penelope Green took us to deathbeds. As more people choose to die at home and more families have smartphones, deathbed photos are returning.

    “What’s happening now is that people are taking back that process,” said Stanley B. Burns, 81, an ophthalmologist who runs the Burns Archive, a collection of post-mortem and medical photos. “But the impulse to photograph is the same as it was for the Victorians.”

  • Our colleague in Opinion, Susan Fowler, shook the tech world in 2017 when she wrote a first-person account of working at Uber and suffering the indignities and discrimination of a sexist, start-up workplace.

    Her memoir, “Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber,” is out now, and the Book Review called it “a powerful illustration of the obstacles our society continues to throw up in the paths of ambitious young women.”

  • Marker, a new business site by Medium, is rolling out some great stories this week including a series on “The New Rules of the I.P.O.”

  • Kickstarter officially voted to unionize. There have been large efforts to organize tech labor, but many have faltered.

  • San Diego is likely to recognize Instacart workers as employees rather than independent contractors, according to a story in Bloomberg Law.

  • A general reminder from The New York Times Magazine’s Future of Work issue: Professional video game players are in high demand as the industry competes for talent, and now they make even more money.

    According to Newzoo, a games-and-e-sports analytics company, competitive e-sports revenue last year was about $1.1 billion, an almost 27 percent increase from 2018, Robert Capps wrote. So, in conclusion, get in while the getting is good.

How are we doing?

We’d love your feedback on this newsletter. Please email thoughts and suggestions to [email protected].

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Forward it to your friends, and let them know they can sign up here.



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Business Energy & Environment

A Rare Trump-Era Climate Policy Hits an Obstacle: The Tax Man


In North Dakota, Minnkota Power now plans to retrofit one of its coal units with a similar technology, aiming to capture 3 million tons of carbon dioxide per year and store it more than a mile underground. Minnkota’s chief executive, Robert McLennan, said the utility is thinking about a future in which stricter climate rules could otherwise force its coal plant to shut down.

But success is far from assured. The $1 billion project isn’t viable without the federal tax credit, Mr. McLennan said, and lining up partners will take time. “Starting construction by the end of 2023 is going to be a challenge,” he said. “The sooner the I.R.S. can provide clarity, the better.”

Similarly, in New Mexico, the utilities that own the San Juan Generating Station, an 847-megawatt coal plant, were planning to retire the facility by 2022 as the state imposes stricter emissions rules. But the city of Farmington, N.M., is now proposing to partner with a company called Enchant Energy to take over the plant and outfit it with carbon capture technology to keep it running until 2035.

Peter Mandelstam, the chief operating officer of Enchant, said carbon capture could reduce the plant’s emissions by 90 percent, allowing it to comply with the state’s new rules. “This is a less disruptive way to transition to a renewable future,” he said, noting that hundreds of jobs could be lost if the plant closed today.

For more climate news sign up for the Climate Fwd: newsletter or follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.

Another company with a keen interest in carbon capture is Occidental, the largest producer of oil in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico. In addition to its plans to capture emissions from two ethanol facilities, the company has partnered with a Canadian firm, Carbon Engineering, to explore a device that would pull 1 million tons of carbon dioxide per year directly from the air for use in enhanced oil recovery.

Occidental says its ultimate goal is to become carbon neutral — by removing as much carbon dioxide from the air as its oil produces — though it has not set a firm date on that. “We view carbon capture as a way to differentiate ourselves,” said Richard Jackson, president of Occidental’s low carbon ventures division.

But some environmentalists fear that the end result will simply be more oil. John Noël, a senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace, said increased use of carbon dioxide to extract petroleum could potentially mean “untold amounts of oil flooding the market, maintaining demand.” The risk, he said, is, “we never reach this point of transition” to a lower-carbon future.



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Video

UK weather forecast latest as Storm Dennis hits country



Flights will be grounded on Saturday for safety reasons as winds are forecast to reach 70mph along coastlines, while some parts of the country could get up to 4.7 inches of rain.
 

EasyJet has cancelled over 230 flights in and out of the UK on Saturday.
 

A spokeswoman for easyJet said: “Due to forecasted adverse weather conditions caused by Storm Dennis, easyJet, like other airlines, is currently seeing disruption to its flight programme for Saturday February 15th.
 

“We are doing everything possible to minimise the impact of the disruption for our customers and to arrange alternative travel. Customers on cancelled flights have been given the option of transferring their flight free of charge or receiving a refund. We will also provide hotel rooms and meals for customers who require them.
 

British Airways has also confirmed cancellations, and a spokesman for the airline said: “The majority of our flights are planned to operate as planned, but, like all airines flying to and from the UK today, we are experiencing some disruption due to the stormy weather conditions.
 

“We are merging a small number of Heathrow short-haul flights to the same destination and using larger aircraft where possible to minimise disruption.”



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Asia Pacific World

Coronavirus ‘Hits All the Hot Buttons’ for How We Misjudge Risk


Shortly after the University of Washington announced that the school’s fourth suspected case of the new coronavirus had turned out negative, two professors, one of public policy and the other of public health, held a small dinner for students and faculty members.

Like everywhere else on campus, and in much of the world, the coronavirus was all anybody could talk about.

But one of the attendees, a public health student, had had enough. Exasperated, she rattled off a set of statistics.

The virus had killed about 1,100 worldwide and infected around a dozen in the United States. Alarming, but a much more common illness, influenza, kills about 400,000 people every year, including 34,200 Americans last flu season and 61,099 the year before.

There remains deep uncertainty about the new coronavirus’ mortality rate, with the high-end estimate that it is up to 20 times that of the flu, but some estimates go as low as 0.16 percent for those affected outside of China’s overwhelmed Hubei province. About on par with the flu.

Wasn’t there something strange, the student asked, about the extreme disparity in public reactions?

Ann Bostrom, the dinner’s public policy co-host, laughed when she recounted the evening. The student was right about the viruses, but not about people, said Dr. Bostrom, who is an expert on the psychology of how humans evaluate risk.

While the metrics of public health might put the flu alongside or even ahead of the new coronavirus for sheer deadliness, she said, the mind has its own ways of measuring danger. And the new coronavirus disease, named COVID-19 hits nearly every cognitive trigger we have.

That explains the global wave of anxiety.

Of course, it is far from irrational to feel some fear about the coronavirus outbreak tearing through China and beyond.

But there is a lesson, psychologists and public health experts say, in the near-terror that the virus induces, even as serious threats like the flu receive little more than a shrug. It illustrates the unconscious biases in how human beings think about risk, as well as the impulses that often guide our responses — sometimes with serious consequences.

Experts used to believe that people gauged risk like actuaries, parsing out cost-benefit analyses every time a merging car came too close or local crime rates spiked. But a wave of psychological experiments in the 1980s upended this thinking.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

Researchers found that people use a set of mental shortcuts for measuring danger. And they tend to do it unconsciously, meaning that instinct can play a much larger role than they realize.

The world is full of risks, big and small. Ideally, these shortcuts help people figure out which ones to worry about and which to disregard. But they can be imperfect.

The coronavirus may be a case in point.

“This hits all the hot buttons that lead to heightened risk perception,” said Paul Slovic, a University of Oregon psychologist who helped pioneer modern risk psychology.

When you encounter a potential risk, your brain does a quick search for past experiences with it. If it can easily pull up multiple alarming memories, then your brain concludes the danger is high. But it often fails to assess whether those memories are truly representative.

A classic example is airplane crashes.

If two happen in quick succession, flying suddenly feels scarier — even if your conscious mind knows that those crashes are a statistical aberration with little bearing on the safety of your next flight. But if you then take a few flights and nothing goes wrong, your brain will most likely start telling you again that flying is safe.

When it comes to the coronavirus, Dr. Slovic said, it’s as if people are experiencing one report after another of planes crashing.

“We’re hearing about the fatalities,” he said. “We’re not hearing about the 98 or so percent of people who are recovering from it and may have had mild cases.”

That tendency can cut in both directions, leading not to undue alarm but undue complacency. Though flu kills tens of thousands of Americans every year, most peoples’ experiences with it are relatively mundane.

Being told how dangerous flu is does little to change this, studies find. The brain’s risk assessment approach simply overwhelms rational calculation — a source of endless consternation to health officials trying to raise flu vaccination rates.

“We’re conditioned by our experiences,” Dr. Slovic said. “But experience can mislead us to be too comfortable with things.”

The coronavirus also taps into other psychological shortcuts for assessing risk.

One involves novelty: We are conditioned to focus heavily on new threats, looking for any cause for alarm. This can lead us to obsess over the scariest reports and worst-case scenarios, making the danger seem bigger still.

Maybe the most powerful shortcut of all is emotion.

Assessing the danger posed by the coronavirus is extraordinarily difficult; even scientists are unsure. But our brains act as if they have an easier way: They translate gut emotional reactions into what we believe are reasoned conclusions, even if hard data tells us otherwise.

“The world in our heads is not a precise replica of reality,” Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote in a 2011 book. “Our expectations about the frequency of events are distorted by the prevalence and emotional intensity of the messages to which we are exposed.”

In extreme cases, this can lead to a “crowding-out effect,” Dr. Bostrom said, as our emotional impulses overwhelm our cognitive faculties. The coronavirus hits a number of those triggers, often quite hard.

One is dread.

If a risk seems especially painful or disturbing, people tend to raise their estimate of how likely it is to happen to them. Reports on the coronavirus often feature upsetting imagery: unhygienic food markets, city-scale lockdowns and overcrowded hospitals.

Another trigger is a threat that is not fully understood. The less known it is, the more people may fear it, and overestimate its threat.

Threats that feel out of control, like a runaway disease outbreak, prompt a similar response, leading people to seek ways to reimpose control, for instance by hoarding supplies.

Risks that we take on voluntarily, or that at least feel voluntary, are often seen as less dangerous than they really are. One study found that people will raise their threshold for the amount of danger they are willing to take on by a factor of one thousand if they see the risk as voluntary.

If that number sounds high, consider that driving, a danger most take on voluntarily, kills over 40,000 Americans every year. But terrorism, a threat imposed on us, kills fewer than 100.

There are countless rational reasons that terrorism provokes a sharper response than traffic deaths. The same goes for a fast-spreading and little-understood outbreak versus the familiar flu.

And that is exactly the point, psychologists say.

“All of these things play on our feelings,” Dr. Slovic said. “And that’s the representation of threat for us. Not the statistics of risk, but the feelings of risk.”

All those emotions can have real consequences.

Consider the response to the partial meltdown of the nuclear plant at Three Mile Island, in Pennsylvania, in 1979. Though the incident caused no deaths, it led to public demand to turn from nuclear power to fossil fuels whose impact on air quality, alone, is thought to cause thousands of premature deaths every year.

That calculus confounded old-school economists, who saw it as irrational. One leading nuclear power expert called it “insane.”

But it also helped give rise to new psychological models for how people measure risk.

“Our feelings don’t do arithmetic very well,” Dr. Slovic said.

That can be especially true when judging low-probability, high-risk threats like nuclear war, terrorism — or dying from the coronavirus or the flu.

Our minds tend to either “round down” the probability to “basically zero” and we underreact, Dr. Slovic said. Or we focus on the worst-case outcome, he said, which “gives us a strong feeling, so we overreact.”



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Middle East World

As Egypt’s Population Hits 100 Million, Celebration Is Muted


CAIRO — Somewhere in Egypt, around lunchtime Tuesday, the country reached a major milestone: its 100 millionth citizen was born.

The birth of that citizen — whom officials identified as a girl named Yasmine Rabie, in a village in Minya governorate — was noted in Cairo by a giant counter outside the country’s national statistics agency that has been ticking upward for years.

Hitting 100,000,000 marked human plenty, certainly, but also an uneasy moment in a country gripped by worries that its exploding population will exacerbate poverty and unemployment, and contribute to the scarcity of basic resources like land and water.

Egypt’s cabinet said last week that it was on “high alert” to fight population growth, which President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has described as a threat to national security on par with terrorism. If unchecked, the population could reach 128 million by 2030, officials say.

Mr. el-Sisi tried to push back the tide with a public health campaign called “Two Is Enough” to persuade parents to have fewer children. Like many such efforts, it failed.

Fertility rates have risen since 2008, to 3.5 children per woman, according to the United Nations, and the population is growing 1.8 percent annually — a rate that, in Egypt’s crowded cities and towns, adds one million citizens every six months.

“The kids are coming thick and fast,” said David Sims, a lecturer at the American University in Cairo and author of “Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City Out of Control.” “What the hell are they going to do?”

Egypt’s population crisis is amplified by its unforgiving geography: 95 percent of the population lives on about 4 percent of the land, a green belt roughly half the size of Ireland that follows the Nile as it snakes through the desert then fans out into the lush Nile Delta.

The construction of a huge new dam on the Nile in Ethiopia, due to start filling this summer, has focused the public’s fears about the existing strains on the river, largely from population growth.

Fertility rates are highest in rural areas, where a large family is considered a blessing. But their impact is felt most keenly in greater Cairo, where a sprawling megalopolis of about 20 million inhabitants is spilling into the surrounding desert and farmland.

Seen from roof height, the city looms as a vista of flat concrete roofs dotted with millions of satellite dishes. Even at the pyramids of Giza, houses, hotels and golf courses push in from three sides, leaving tourists with just one direction for photographs with a sand-filled backdrop.

On Monday night, Ahmed Abdel-Hadi, a taxi driver for the past 22 years, threaded his battered sedan through a river of traffic in Nasr City, a middle-class neighborhood. A cacophony of blaring horns filled the air. An ambulance inched past, its lights flashing.

Fistfights between irate drivers have been growing more frequent as traffic has worsened, Mr. Abdel-Hadi noted — a problem that peaks during the holy season of Ramadan, when Egyptians rush to break their fast at sunset.

But Mr. Abdel-Hadi is also part of the problem. A father of four children, ages 10 to 19, he scoffed at the mention of government campaigns urging him to restrict his family.

“Human capital is valuable,” he declared. “A man’s family is a reflection of his income, and that’s what should determine how many children I have, not someone trying to dictate to me.”

Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of former President Hosni Mubarak, spearheaded a push during her husband’s rule to reduce fertility rates. It was partly successful: During the 1990s and 2000s, rates fell to 3.0 from 5.2, according to government figures.

But the rate rose again around the time of the Arab Spring in 2011, for reasons that are not entirely clear, but probably stem from economic disruption, government turmoil and a drop in birth control funding from Western governments.

Under Mr. el-Sisi, the government has dispatched thousands of family planning advocates into rural areas and offered cheap contraceptives — as little as 6 cents for a packet of three condoms in a government store and 12 cents for an intrauterine device.

The country’s leading Islamic authority, Al Azhar, has endorsed the government plans and stressed that family planning is not forbidden by God.

But critics say the government mostly talks a good game on population control and that its actions have not matched its slogans. Mr. el-Sisi’s wife has not been a visible force on family planning, while his officials have tried to dent the problem with public health programs.

“Overpopulation is eating everything,” said Dr. Amr A. Nadim, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Ain Ain Shams University. “But I don’t feel the government is working all that hard on it.”

He listed the issues: an erratic supply of contraceptives of variable quality; poor medical training; American government funding that dried up; and no longer obliging new doctors to take family planning courses.

The population crush also affects him personally. “Sometimes I’m called to a pregnant woman in an emergency, but I can’t reach her because of the traffic,” he said.

“The problem,” he added, “is that we don’t have a real strategy to combat it.”

Other large developing countries with soaring populations have managed to get the problem under control. Vietnam, where the population grew to 97 million in 2018 from 60 million in 1986, has reduced the rate of increase to 1 percent. Bangladesh, which has a population of more than 160 million, has done the same.

In Egypt, though, the rate of growth is nearly twice as high, at 1.79 percent in 2018-19. More than 700,000 young Egyptians enter the job market every year, said Aleksandar Bodiroza, representative of the United Nations Population Fund in Egypt. “That’s a daunting task for any government,” he said.

Housing them is equally challenging. Mr. el-Sisi has made much of the array of high-profile megaprojects his government is building, like a new summer capital on the north coast and a new administrative capital outside Cairo. But few Egyptians can afford to live in the fancy new developments.

Rather, most people are cramming into the informal settlements that are continually sprouting on the edge of Cairo and other cities, where villages are being transformed into dormitory towns and farmland is being swallowed by uncontrolled development.

Experts say the government has a dismal record in providing new housing for the poor. And the poverty rate is rising, hitting 32.5 percent last summer by the government’s own figures — up from 27.8 percent in 2015. The stubbornly high fertility rate may be a reflection of that economic failure, said Mr. Sims, the author. “Egypt is heading back to its rural roots,” he added. “If you’re a poor person, you’ll have more kids.”

The population milestone passed on Tuesday was met with a shrug by many Egyptians, for whom the difficulties of life in a congested city that is bursting at the seams are nothing new.

Ahmed Alaa, 24, a marketing agent, said his desire to avoid congestion often shaped his days, and often that means simply staying home. “It’s become so normalized, this congestion” he said. “You can’t set an appointment to do anything. The traffic is just so crazy.”

Nada Rashwan contributed reporting.



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Business Energy & Environment

A Rare Trump-Era Policy to Fight Climate Change Hits an Obstacle: The Tax Man


So far, the facility has captured an average of 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide per year that would otherwise go into the air, roughly equal to the annual pollution produced by 276,000 cars.

In North Dakota, Minnkota Power now plans to retrofit one of its coal units with a similar technology, aiming to capture 3 million tons of carbon dioxide per year and store it more than a mile underground. Minnkota’s chief executive, Robert McLennan, said the utility is thinking about a future in which stricter climate rules could otherwise force its coal plant to shut down.

But success is far from assured. The $1 billion project isn’t viable without the federal tax credit, Mr. McLennan said, and lining up partners will take time. “Starting construction by the end of 2023 is going to be a challenge,” he said. “The sooner the I.R.S. can provide clarity, the better.”

Similarly, in New Mexico, the utilities that own the San Juan Generating Station, an 847-megawatt coal plant, were planning to retire the facility by 2022 as the state imposes stricter emissions rules. But one of the co-owners, the city of Farmington, N.M., is now proposing to partner with a company called Enchant Energy to take over the plant and outfit it with carbon capture technology to keep it running until 2035.

Peter Mandelstam, the chief operating officer of Enchant, said carbon capture could reduce the plant’s emissions by 90 percent, allowing it to comply with the state’s new rules. “This is a less disruptive way to transition to a renewable future,” he said, noting that hundreds of jobs could be lost if the plant closed today.

For more climate news sign up for the Climate Fwd: newsletter or follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.

Another company with a keen interest in carbon capture is Occidental, the largest producer of oil in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico. In addition to its plans to capture emissions from two ethanol facilities, the company has partnered with a Canadian firm, Carbon Engineering, to explore a device that would pull 1 million tons of carbon dioxide per year directly from the air for use in enhanced oil recovery.

Occidental says its ultimate goal is to become completely carbon neutral — by removing as much carbon dioxide from the air as its oil produces — though it has not set a firm date on that. “We view carbon capture as a way to differentiate ourselves,” said Richard Jackson, president of Occidental’s low carbon ventures division, which was created in 2018.



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Business Media & Advertising

2020 Oscars Broadcast Hits a New Ratings Low


Viewership for the Oscars plunged to a new low on Sunday night, with an audience of 23.6 million tuning in to watch the broadcast on ABC, according to Nielsen.

That’s a 20 percent drop from last year, and roughly three million fewer than the number of people who tuned in for the 2018 ceremony, the previous low. Those numbers do not include viewers who watched the broadcast on streaming platforms.

Plenty of theories on the ratings collapse will be floated: Does the annual extravaganza need to go back to having a host? Was the show scheduled too close to other major live television events? Can viewers in the streaming era stomach a program that runs three and a half hours and includes more than 40 minutes of commercials?

Two weeks ago, the Grammys hit a 12-year low in viewership, but their declines were more modest: The show lost just 5 percent of its audience.

After last year’s Oscars ratings rebound, when nearly 30 million viewers tuned in, ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to go without a host for a second consecutive year.

The academy used a combination of stars — Janelle Monáe led a big opening number before giving way to scripted banter from Steve Martin and Chris Rock — to keep things moving.

But critics were less kind than they were last year, arguing that this year’s ceremony, with its out-of-nowhere performance by Eminem midway through, was disjointed.

The Sunday broadcast was also about 15 minutes longer than last year’s. And all of the major upsets — including a history-making win for “Parasite” in the best picture category and Bong Joon Ho as best director — came in the final 40 minutes.

This was the earliest date in the calendar for the Oscars in recent history. Alarmed by plummeting viewership totals, the academy decided two years ago to move the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony up by two weeks, heeding calls that the show was risking irrelevance so late in the movie awards show calendar. (Next year, the show will return to a late February slot.)

With the date switch, the Oscars came five days after the State of the Union address, a week after the Super Bowl, two weeks after the Grammys and a little more than a month after the Golden Globes. The broadcast was also six days after the Iowa caucuses and two days before the New Hampshire primary.

Was there just not enough oxygen left in the room for Oscar?

The drop also moves the Academy Awards dangerously close to other top award show totals: The Oscars now have roughly five million more viewers than the Golden Globes and the Grammys. Five years ago, the Oscars had 18 million more viewers than the Globes and 13 million more than the Grammys.

For ABC, the ups-and-downs in viewership numbers are meaningful. Last year, the average cost for a 30-second commercial declined 5 percent to $1.98 million, according to Kantar Media. The ceremony also brought in $114 million in revenue last year, a decline of 14 percent, Kantar said. The rates for 2019 were based on the poorer ratings from 2018.



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Video

Storm Ciara live: Latest UK weather forecast and Met Office updates as snow hits Britain


Storm Ciara live: Latest UK weather forecast and Met Office updates as snow hits Britain | The Independent








LiveUpdated

Monday 10 February 2020 17:09

More than 20,000 homes have spent the night without power as the UK continues to reel from Storm Ciara.

UK Power Networks reported more than 18,500 properties across the east and southeast of England were still without power as of 5am Monday while Western Power Distribution said more than 2,800 homes were in the dark.

Parts of the UK continue to brace for blizzards and up to 20cm of snow in the wake of the storm, with travel disruption set to continue.


Some areas saw a month and a half’s rainfall in just 24 hours and gusts of more than 90mph swept across the country on Sunday. Meanwhile, 178 flood warnings in place across the country.

Follow the latest updates





High river levels expected, environment secretary warns
 

Ms Villiers said river levels in West Yorkshire and Lancashire are receding, before warning: “We must expect high river levels further down the stream in South Yorkshire over the next few days.

“So we urge people in at-risk areas to remain vigilant, not to take unnecessary risks and to sign-up to receive Environment Agency flood alerts.

“Some coastal flooding is probable tomorrow but is not expected to be in the more serious category.”

Ms Villiers added “at least 25,000 properties and businesses” in flood-hit areas were “successfully protected” by flood defences over the weekend, telling MPs: “We know more needs to be done and we are determined to deliver.”



Ciara floods 500 homes
 

Geese take advantage of the conditions as floodwater fills the streets of Hebden Bridge, northern England (AFP)
More than 500 properties are believed to have been flooded during Storm Ciara, according to the environment secretary, with the number expected to rise further.

Theresa Villiers said between 40 and 80cm of rain had fallen within 24 hours across much of northern England, noting the highest levels were recorded in Cumbria with 179.8cm.
 

Making a statement to MPs, she told the Commons: “Particularly severe impacts have been felt in Yorkshire along the River Calder, in Lancashire along the River Ribble, in Great Manchester along the Irwell and in Appleby on the Eden.”
 

Ms Villiers added: “The current estimate is that over 500 properties have been flooded but this number is expected to increase as further information is collected.
 

“The latest number of properties confirmed to have been flooded are 40 in Cumbria, 100 in Lancashire, 150 in Greater Manchester and 260 in Yorkshire.”



Kite surfer catapulted through air in 94mph Storm Ciara winds



Horses rescued from severely flooded field

Two horses had a lucky escape in Barnsley after they were pulled from a severely flooded field by firefighters.

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue was called to assess the situation and found the animals trapped with water up to their stomachs.

Water levels continued to rise further so officers donned specialist equipment in order to guide them to safety.

The fire service praised the officers involved, tweeting: “Excellent work from #Adwick and #Edlington firefighters yesterday – helping two horses out of a very sticky situation in #Barnsley!

“A nice tale in and amongst the awful destruction that #StormCiara has caused over the weekend.”



Second storm victim

An elderly man has reportedly died after falling and banging his head in icy conditions in West Dumbartonshire, Scotland.

The man, believed to be 77 years, fell in Kilbowie Road, Clydebank, at about 11am on Sunday.

Emergency services rushed to his aid but sadly the man could not be saved.

The first reported fatality of the storm was a 58-year-old man who died after his Mercedes was crushed my a falling tree on the A33 near the village of Micheldever, in Hampshire.

The first reported fatality during the storm was on Sunday afternoon on the A33 in Hampshire, when a driver was killed when a tree crushed his car.



Sheep captured foraging for food in snow-covered field

These images show sheep searching for food in a snow-covered field near Killiecrankie, in Scotland.

Blair Castle was also pictured covered in the white stuff in Blair Atholl.

Images by Russell Cheyne/Reuters



Planes forced to abort landings amid high winds

Planes struggled to land and some were forced to abort landings amid high winds from Storm Ciara on Sunday, write Cathy Adams and Simon Calder.

Footage shared on social media shows aircraft grappling with Storm Ciara’s heavy rain and gales, which reached 90mph on Sunday and caused widespread disruption.

Big Jet TV shared a clip of a British Airways Boeing 777 coming into land at Heathrow in a haze of rain, before taking off again to perform a “go-around” – in what is known as a “touch and go,” a technique normally used for pilot training where the wheels temporarily make contact with the runway.
 



Emergency funding scheme activated

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has activated the government’s emergency Bellwin scheme for areas in the north of England affected by Storm Ciara.

The scheme – activated for qualifying areas in West Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire – enables local authorities dealing with the storm to apply to have all of the eligible costs they incur, above a threshold, to be reimbursed by the government.

Mr Jenrick said: “Storm Ciara has had damaging effects on communities in the north of England, and I want to praise the efforts of the emergency services and key agencies who have responded to the disruption.

“We’re working closely with local areas to support them in their recovery. I’ve activated the emergency Bellwin scheme to provide financial support to qualifying affected areas.”



Kite surfer catapulted into air by 94mph winds

A kite surfer was catapulted 20 metres into the air by 94mph Storm Ciara winds.

Red Bull athlete Tom Bridge, 18, travelled up to 100 metres as he braved the winds off the coast of Exmouth, in Devon, on Sunday.

Images by Red Bull Media House ​



Train passengers stranded for six hours

Passengers were stuck on a train for six hours after Storm Ciara snapped overhead cables.

The train, which was travelling from Preston to Birmingham, encountered problems outside of Winsford station in Cheshire on Sunday afternoon, the Winsford and Middlewich Guardian reports.

Another train, travelling in the opposite direction, was used to ferry people back and forth as they were rescued during a “train to train” evacuation.



Overturned lorry closes part of M48

The old M48 Severn Bridge is closed in both directions after a lorry overturned in high winds.

Highways England said the bridge is expected to remain closed for some time until the winds die down enough to allow for the vehicle to be recovered.

The driver reportedly has minor head injuries, according to BBC Radio Bristol.
 
 



Lifeboat almost capsizes during rescue operation

A lifeboat crew braved the choppy waters in Hastings after a surfer was washed out to sea during Storm Ciara on Sunday.

Footage on social media showed an RNLI boat close to capsizing as it searched for the surfer, who later washed up near Rock-A-Nore.

David Silsby, who witnessed the events, began to film the rescue operation just before the boat was hit by a large wave which threatened to overturn it.

He said: “I was genuinely shocked and worried that they might completely capsize. I am incredibly grateful for these brave people who put their lives on the line.”



Twelve sheep rescued from floodwater

People and livestock have had to be been rescued from flooding in Northern Ireland caused by the aftermath of Storm Ciara.

Firefighters helped two people trapped in a car in floodwater to safety in the Lisnawery Road area of Augher, Co Tyrone, early on Sunday morning.

They pushed the car out of the water at about 8am and the pair escaped without injury.

A couple of hours later, firefighters rescued 12 sheep from floodwater using lines and a reach pole at an incident in the Cavan Road of Dromore, Co Tyrone.

Meanwhile on Saturday night, a pump was used to divert water away from 15 houses at risk in Laragh’s Croft in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.



Truck overturns in high winds

Rescue workers on the A2 motorway in Marly, northern France, after after a truck was tipped over by strong winds brought by storm Ciara.

(Pictures by Francois Lo Presti/AFP)



Lifeguard hut destroyed

A lifeguard station has been smashed up by Storm Ciara.

The hut, at Bude Sea Pool, in Bude, Cornwall, can be seen lying on its side in pictures shared by Avril Sainsbury on Twitter.



‘Frequent lightning strikes’ could cause power cuts

Wintry conditions on the roads hit rush hour drivers this morning, while train and ferry services have also been affected.

Authorities have warned there may be “significant disruption” to transport on Monday while “frequent lightning strikes” may interrupt power supplies.

The Met Office has issued yellow warnings of snow and wind across most of Scotland on Monday and Tuesday, with gusts of up to 60mph possible.

Forecasters said strong winds could lead to blizzard conditions while there may be up to 20cm of snow by Tuesday evening over the highest routes.

 



M11 closed amid fears aircraft hangar roof could blow off

The M11 is closed in both directions amid fears the roof of an aircraft hangar at Duxford Imperial War Museum could be blown into the road.

The museum, which remains closed today, wrote in an update on Twitter: “Due to extreme weather caused by Storm Ciara in Cambridgeshire in the last 24 hours, we are assessing the damage caused to the air hangars at IWM Duxford and working with engineers to ensure the buildings remain structurally sound when it is safe to do so.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and working with the emergency services and local authorities to take the necessary precautions.

“IWM Duxford will remain closed today (Monday 10th February) and will re-open once deemed safe to do.”



Royal Parks reopen

A number of London’s Royal Parks have reopened today after debris caused by Storm Ciara was cleared and safety checks completed.

Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St James’ Park, Green Park, Victoria Tower Gardens, Greenwich Park, Richmond Park and Bushy Park have all reopened.



Hundreds of flights cancelled and ferries disrupted
 

The DFDS Calais Seaways (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Airlines operating to and from UK airports continue to be affected by the weather conditions, with more than 100 flights cancelled.

British Airways and easyJet appeared to be the worst affected, although several other airlines were also hit.

By 11am, some 33 of Heathrow’s Monday departures were cancelled – equivalent to 5 per cent of flights – and a further 82 were delayed by at least 15 minutes.

British Airways said “safety is at the heart of everything we do” and stressed the airline is “carefully assessing every flight”.

It added: “We are sorry for the disruption to your travel plans and are doing all we can to get you to your destination as quickly as we can.”

Passengers due to travel on domestic and European flights on Monday were able to re-book to an alternative date.

P&O Ferries said it was forced to cancel several sailings between Dover and Calais due to the knock-on effect of the weekend’s weather.

Another ferry firm, DFDS, said its services on the route were disrupted due to the Channel’s weather conditions.



Sinkhole swallows car

A motorist had a lucky escape after their car fell into a large sinkhole on a residential road in Essex.

Firefighters were called to reports that a sewer had partially collapsed after the hole appeared in Hatch Road, Brentwood, in the early hours of this morning.
 





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Business Your Money

Coronavirus fallout hits pensions and ISAs as investors urged not to flinch



The first day back to work after a long holiday is always a bit grating. But for those logging in at the Chinese stock market for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak, all bets were off.

The rest of the world’s markets have been riding the waves of coronavirus-induced volatility for weeks now as the infection spreads, while the epicenter remained economically silent.

No sooner had the markets opened for the first time since 23 January – thanks to the Chinese New Year and an extra two days of shutdown tagged on the end by the Chinese government – than the whole thing promptly stalled, initially selling off -8.7 per cent in Shanghai and -9 per cent in Shenzhen during early trading despite a flurry of significant measures by the state designed to cushion the blow.  


This time of year is always an odd one for the Chinese economy as the biggest annual human migration in the world sees the shutdown of factories for weeks on end while consumer spending soars.

This year, as the latest figures from the weekend reveal the overall death toll has surpassed 420 with over 17,000 confirmed infections globally, that really hasn’t happened. 

And while we’d expect airlines and tourism to be affected, and Chinese currency to be offloaded faster than the latest shipment of face masks, the effects are being felt far and wide, from commodities to luxury goods. 

 “Stock markets around the globe have already been impacted negatively so investors will already have seen falls in some of their holdings in their pensions and ISAs,” says Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.  “This will be particularly acute for holdings in China specific funds as well as Asian or emerging markets funds more generally.

“While it may be tempting to head for the exit, long term investors should remember that it is time in the market more than timing the market that is important.  If we look back to the Sars outbreak in 2002 – 2003, it had a short-term negative impact on markets but once the outbreak had been contained, they recovered very quickly.  

“Investors selling at the first sign of short-term volatility lock in losses that have already been incurred and then miss the bounce back once things have calmed down and returned to normal.  Some canny long-term investors may even be seeing now as an opportunity to top up their exposure to China or Asia more generally.”

That said, if the coronavirus is not brought under control soon the market is likely to continue to sell off Chinese and Asian stocks. Tourism – which alone accounts for around 10 per cent of Chinese GDP – transport, shipping and logistics will come under increasing pressure if more cities go into lockdown or the travel restrictions spread to major commercial hubs beyond China.

“It is possible that a sustained outbreak knocks luxury goods names like Burberry that are big in Hong Kong and China and who do a lot of business there or rely to varying degrees on Hong Kong and Chinese tourists travelling overseas,” says Mould, but adds that investors could turn to healthcare stocks for some insurance, depending upon the length and scale of the outbreak.

So what happens next? 

The hope, of course, is that the coronavirus follows the path of Sars and other comparable outbreaks. In which case, after an initial slowdown in China and Asia in the first quarter of the year, most analysts seem to think markets will begin to rebound by the summer. 

“The Chinese economy has been decelerating for over a decade,” says Fahad Kamal, chief market strategist at Kleinwort Hambros. “While this year might be worse than originally expected, it does not signal a dramatic new paradigm. 

 “This may also be offset by slightly better than forecasted growth in the developed world in 2020 as the stagnation in manufacturing appears to have stabilised, and crucially, has not been contagious to the wider services sector.” 

“There is no doubt that staying calm as an investor in these situations can be difficult,” acknowledges Mould. 

“It can help to remind yourself what your original investment objectives and time horizon were and decide whether the current situation really changes those.” 

China and Hong Kong probably only represent a small portion of most investors’ portfolios anyway so the overall impact should be limited.  

“Now is the time for a steady hand and to remember that short term volatility is something that will always be a factor when investing in stock markets, so it is important to stay focused on your long-term goals and objectives,” Mould says.



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Netflix accused of ‘superhighway robbery’ over tax bill, as UK revenue hits £1bn



Netflix has been accused of “superhighway robbery” over its tax affairs as revenue from UK subscribers hit an estimated £1bn in 2019.

Dame Margaret Hodge is to tell the House of Commons that Netflix does not pay tax on profits generated in the UK and has enjoyed close to £1m in tax reliefs in the last two years.

Citing figures from the think tank Tax Watch UK, Dame Margaret will say that Netflix was taking taxpayers “for a ride”.


“We are actually handing over cash to Netflix while they stash their profits offshore.

“It is time to stop the ‘something for nothing’ aggressive tax behaviour of these big companies. I say enough is enough. These tax abuses must stop.”

Tax Watch looked at the most recently-filed accounts for Netflix’s 19 UK subsidiaries at Companies House. It estimated that the streaming service made £68.5m in profit from its 11.5m subscribers in the UK. 

If those profits were declared here in full, Netflix would be in line for a £13m corporation tax bill, but they are accounted for in the Netherlands.

As a result, the company paid no UK corporation tax on its earnings and received nearly £1m in tax breaks in 2017/18, under government’s creative industries tax relief scheme. 

A Netflix spokesperson said that “international taxation needs reform and we support the OECD’s proposal for companies to pay more tax in the countries where their operations help generate value”.

“In the meantime, we comply with the rules in every country where we operate.”

The company claimed that Tax Watch’s report had a “number of inaccuracies”, including that Netflix has a Caribbean-based entity. Netflix did have a Caribbean entity but closed it down last year.

Netflix enjoyed a blockbuster 2019 with profits up 63 per cent to around $2bn, its latest financial figures, published in the US, show. 

George Turner, director of Tax Watch UK, said: “Netflix is making billions in profit worldwide, but despite thousands of staff and millions of subscribers in the UK, the company is still claiming that it makes almost no profit in the UK and claiming large subsidies from the government. 

“This is only possible because the company operates a similar structure to other well known corporate tax avoiders operating in the digital space. 

“After having spent years flying under the radar, it is welcome news that MPs will put Netflix’s tax arrangements under the spotlight in parliament tonight and HMRC too seems to be showing an interest in its approach.”

Tensions have escalated over how to tax digital companies after US treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin threatened last month to hike taxes on car companies if Boris Johnson presses ahead with plans for a levy on tech giants such as Google and Facebook.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Mnuchin said that the US considered the UK’s proposed digital services tax to be “discriminatory” and warned that Washington could impose retaliatory taxes.

Also at davos, the US and France sealed a truce over Emmanuel Macron’s plans to introduce a similar measure after Washington responded with a threat to slap punitive tariffs on French cheese and wine. However, the issue has yet to be resolved.

Washington has insisted that countries must not implement unilateral taxes on tech firms. Instead, US officials want governments to wait for agreement to be reached on an international solution currently being brokered by the OECD.

That process is seeking to develop two “pillars”. The first is a so-called unitary approach to corporation which would see multinationals’ bills determined by where they actually do business, rather than where they happen to book their profits.

America wants that pillar to be voluntary, a status which some experts say would make it ineffective. The second pillar will be a fall-back option that implements a minimum global tax rate on corporate profits of 10.5 per cent – lower than is available in some countries such as Ireland which are already favoured destinations for technology companies to channel their profits.



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