Inflationary Pressures

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The World

China and the U.S. are shipping goods to each other at the briskest pace in years, making the world’s largest bilateral trade relationship look as if the protracted tariff war and pandemic never happened. 18 months after the Trump administration signed the trade deal, the agreement has turned out to be a truce at best. The U.S. trade deficit hasn’t shrunk, most levies are still in place, and it hasn’t led to negotiations over other economic issues. And yet, bilateral trade in goods is an area of stability in a relationship that has otherwise continued to deteriorate, with rising tension over Hong Kong, Taiwan, human rights, the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, accusations of computer hacking and many other flash-points. (Bloomberg)

  • The number of newborns in China continues to slide downward, putting the country at risk of recording an all-time low in childbirths. The number of births in 2021 will decline for a fourth straight year. Last year saw just 12 million births, which is dangerously close to the 11.97 million in 1961, the lowest since the founding of the People's Republic. This year could approach or fall below that number. (Nikkei Asian Review)

Why the Delta variant spreads so fast: A study of some of the first people in China to be infected with Delta showed that their viral load — a measure of the density of viral particles in the body — was roughly 1,000 times higher than in people infected with the original coronavirus strain. (Nature)

  • China rejected WHO plan for a second phase of an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus, which includes the hypothesis it could have escaped from a Chinese laboratory. (Reuters)

  • Italy significantly ramped up pressure on its unvaccinated population, announcing that a digital or printed health pass would be necessary for accessing a range of everyday leisure activities, from theaters to indoor dining. (Washington Post)

  • The NFL added an additional vaccination incentive for players, threatening forfeits and the loss of game checks if an outbreak among unvaccinated players causes an unresolvable disruption in the regular-season schedule. (ESPN)

  • At least 31 children tested positive for Covid-19 at a summer camp in upstate New York. All were too young to be vaccinated. (New York Times)

  • Chicago Public Schools will require masks for all students and teachers inside schools, regardless of vaccination status. (Chicago Tribune)

NASA’s InSight lander has been listening to marsquakes and tracking their seismic waves as they journey through the planet — and revealing the red planet to be something like a colossal candy treat imagined by a ravenous deity. Its crust is split into two or three layers of volcanic chocolate. The mantle below has a surprisingly sizable and rigid toffee-like filling. And the planet’s core is surprisingly light — less nougaty center, more syrupy heart. Paired with recent activities at the surface by new NASA and Chinese robotic rovers, these missions highlight stark differences between our blue world and the red one next door. (New York Times, Science)

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Twitter avatar for @SquigglyVolcanoDr Robin George Andrews 🌋 @SquigglyVolcano
A world's fate is prescribed by infernal engines churning away deep underground. Scientists began to build up a picture of Earth's own 132 years ago. Now, for the first time, we have glimpsed the underworld of another planet: Mars. Me for @NYTScience
NASA Releases First Detailed Map of the Insides of MarsNASA’s InSight mission revealed Mars’s inner workings down to its core, highlighting great differences of the red planet from our blue world.nytimes.com

The U.S. military is preparing to house as many as 35,000 Afghan interpreters and family members at two American bases for at least 18 months, in Kuwait and in Qatar, in an expanding effort to aid those who face Taliban retribution for helping American forces. (Wall Street Journal)

  • The Taliban have massed on the outskirts of Kandahar in preparation for an all-out assault to recapture a city that was once the regime’s capital and spiritual home. The militants have infiltrated the suburbs of Afghanistan’s second city, with heavy fighting reported in southern and western neighbourhoods. (The Times)

Demonstrators take to streets over water shortages in Iran. Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said citizens have the right to protest after days of demonstrations against water shortages in Khuzestan province in which three people have been killed. (The Times, The Guardian)

  • Explainer: Iran's water crisis. For almost a week, people in Iran's Khuzestan province have been protesting over water shortages as result of droughts, soaring temperatures, and power outages that have knocked out water pumping stations. And there's a long back story: Khuzestanis complain they haven't had drinkable tap water since the 1980s, when most infrastructure was destroyed during the Iran-Iraq War, because the Shia government of Iran has neglected investing in this Sunni-majority province. In recent days, Tehran has deployed the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to bring water tanks. President Ebrahim Raisi — who's barely a month into the job — wants to nip the current crisis in the bud before things go from bad to worse in Khuzestan, a region with separatist tensions fueled by Shia discrimination that holds 80% of Iran's oil and 60% of its natural gas. (GZERO Media)

Coast-to-coast heat dome to deliver sweltering weather next week: Another heat wave is set to park over the Lower 48, bringing anomalous summertime heat to parts of the central and eastern U.S. that may have missed out on previous events. Early estimates indicate that most of the contiguous U.S. will see highs running 10 to 15 degrees above average. When combined with climbing humidity, it’ll feel like it’s well into the triple digits for millions. (Washington Post)

  • The Western U.S. drought has lasted longer than the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. It’s dropped water levels perilously low at two of the nation’s largest reservoirs, forced ranchers to sell off herds and helped propel scorching wildfires. And worst of all, the drought is not going away. A group of experts featuring federal and state officials and farmers and ranchers spent nearly three hours chronicling the devastation caused by drought conditions that now cover almost every inch of seven Western states. Half of the U.S. population lives in a drought-stricken area. (Scientific American)

For the second consecutive year, U.S. adults' positive ratings of relations between Black and White Americans are at their lowest point in more than two decades of measurement. Currently, 42% of Americans say relations between the two groups are "very" or "somewhat" good, while 57% say they are "somewhat" or "very" bad. The most recent rating of Black-White relations in the U.S. is not statistically different from last year's 44%. However, the reading has eroded nine percentage points over the past two years as the nation has grappled with the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent nationwide protests and calls for racial justice. (Gallup)


Economy

The aviation recovery is gaining momentum: A summer travel bonanza is exceeding expectations, helping airlines earn profits again and brightening the outlook for the rest of the year. This month, consumer spending on airlines briefly exceeded 2019 levels on a weekly basis for the first time since the pandemic began. Ticket prices have rebounded, too: In June, fares were down only 1% from the same month in 2019. (New York Times)

  • Raytheon CEO Gregory Hayes: "Business travel is forever changed, because of Zoom. Our own view is you probably don't see a full recovery in business travel until 2024, 2025. I hope we're wrong." (Bloomberg Businessweek)

The U.S. median home price hit a new high in June, rising to $363,300 as sales increased 1.4% in June from the prior month and 22.9% from a year earlier. (Wall Street Journal)

  • The shortage of starter homes extends beyond major cities, as the supply of entry-level housing in U.S. is near a five-decade low, according to research by Freddie Mac. (Wall Street Journal)

The chief executive of Unilever said the consumer goods maker is facing its fiercest inflationary pressures in a decade as the cost of raw materials, packaging and transport soars. The warning from Alan Jope came as the maker of Domestos bleach, Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Magnum ice cream reported that its underlying operating margin in the six months to June dropped 100 basis points to 18.8% after cost inflation sped up in 2Q21. (Financial Times)

Bitcoin is failing its first inflation test: Bitcoin’s steep selloff is undercutting the argument made by the digital currency’s proponents that it’s an inflation hedge. The original cryptocurrency has lost about half of its value since mid-April, fizzling after a spectacular rally that saw it surge above $60,000 from around $7,000 at the start of 2020. (Wall Street Journal)

It’s time for leaders to get real about hybrid: Employers are ready to get back to significant in-person presence. Employees aren’t. The disconnect is deeper than most employers believe, and a spike in attrition and disengagement may be imminent. In fact, employers are underestimating the disconnect and failing to realize that the ‘finish line’ is a mirage: Recent surveys found that 26% of U.S. workers are already preparing to look for new employment opportunities and 40% of workers globally are considering leaving their current employers by the end of the year. Communicating that some magical finish line is just around the corner isn’t going to eliminate the disconnect that some employees feel between themselves and their employers—it will simply make it deeper. (McKinsey)

  • Twitter announced it is embracing "asynchronous" work: “We're taking an #AsyncFirst approach to how we work, embracing communication & collaboration practices that don't require others to be available at the same time or place," Jennifer Christie, Twitter's chief human resources officer, tweeted. (Protocol)

  • DoorDash will transition its corporate employees to a hybrid model in January and expects around 80% of its workforce to come to the office a few days a week.
    Another 15% will work remotely full-time and 5% will be in the office full-time, the company wrote in a blog post.


Technology

Democratic senators are introducing a new bill that would strip away Facebook and other social media platforms’ Section 230 liability shield if they amplify harmful public health misinformation. The Health Misinformation Act, introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), would create a carveout in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act opening social media platforms like Facebook up to lawsuits for hosting some dangerous health misinformation. (The Verge)

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger sees the global semiconductor shortage potentially stretching into 2023, adding a leading industry voice to the growing view that the chip-supply disruptions hitting companies and consumers won’t wane soon. It could take one or two years to get back to a reasonable supply-and-demand balance in the semiconductor industry, Gelsinger said. (Wall Street Journal)

What's next for Alexa and voice interaction: Amazon held its annual Alexa Live developer event, with a few key themes coming out of the event: 1) Voice is becoming a true developer ecosystem. Amazon now has more than 900,000 registered Alexa developers, who collectively have built over 130,000 Alexa skills; 2) Discoverability will be a key issue going forward; 3) Alexa is finding its way into legacy media. Amazon is looking to enable a bunch of interactive voice experiences for media companies, starting with the ability to request songs from radio DJs via Alexa skills; 4) Asynchronous multiplayer games and experiences are coming to Alexa devices; 5) Verizon's upcoming smart display was officially announced, using a white-labeled version of Alexa that offers access to Verizon-specific features and employs a "Hey Verizon" wake phrase. (Protocol)

The video game industry is booming: The game industry is expected to exceed $200 billion in revenue by 2024. And more than half of that now comes from mobile gaming, the fastest-growing, most lucrative sector in the market. Venture capitalists are pouring money into gaming, with a record $49 billion across more than 500 deals. And now entertainment and technology companies — including Netflix — are trying to figure out the best ways to break into the industry. (Protocol)

  • Users of the popular video-conferencing platform Zoom will now be able to play social multiplayer games as they chat, as part of a new expansion of apps for the service. Why gaming? As people isolate less, Zoom needs to give users more reasons to use video chat. (Axios)

  • Peloton announced its latest trick to get people to exercise: video games. The company plans to launch an in-app video game tentatively titled Lanebreak in which riders control a rolling wheel. In the game, players will change their cadence and resistance to reach certain goals. (The Verge)

  • Why Netflix is getting into video games — offered at no increased cost: Like Zoom, Netflix needs to give users more reasons to keep subscriptions. (Recode, Statista)


Smart Links

JPMorgan to double advisers, plots an expansion in wealth management, as Wall Street vies for wealthy. (Bloomberg)

Amazon ends use of arbitration for customer disputes. (New York Times)

Illinois to be the first state to require Asian American history in public schools starting in the 2022-23 school year. (Bloomberg)

Chinese web users are writing a new playbook for disaster response. (Protocol)

Is 57 a prime number? There’s a game for that. (MIT Technology Review)

Parking startups are cashing in on America’s traffic surge. (Bloomberg)

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Friday, July 23, 2021