Monday, August 31, 2020

Sennheiser brings its top-notch sound quality to less expensive true wireless earbuds

Sennheiser is today introducing a lower-cost set of true wireless earbuds that slot in below the company’s flagship Momentum True Wireless 2. At $199.95, the new “CX 400BT True Wireless” — so much for simple names, eh Sennheiser? — aim to retain the strong sound quality of the pricier set, though you’re losing out on active noise cancellation.

The CX 400BT True Wireless are not what you’d call subtle. They come in either black or white, but there’s no getting around how big they look in the ear no matter which finish you choose. There’s been a trend recently of companies progressing towards more discreet true wireless earbud designs, but Sennheiser obviously isn’t going in that direction.

I don’t know whether it’s because the company needs more space for audio components or is just making a stylistic choice, but there’s no missing these things. At least the bigger look should mean you’ll have an easier time using the tap controls on each side, which can be customized using Sennheiser’s app.

Inside the CX 400BT True Wireless earbuds are the same 7-millimeter drivers that power the True Momentum Wireless 2s. “This bespoke acoustic system delivers high-fidelity stereo sound with deep bass, natural mids, and clear, detailed treble,” Sennheiser said in its press release. Like the TMW2, you can adjust the EQ to your liking with the company’s mobile app. Battery life is rated at 7 hours of straight playback and 20 hours when you add in case recharges.

The new earbuds feature Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity and support SBC, AAC, and aptX for codecs. Like Sennheiser’s more expensive buds, you’re still limited to pairing with one device at a time. When it comes to making calls, the CX 400BT True Wireless have “ambient noise reduction microphones to make voice interactions sound natural and crystal clear.”

The CX 400BT True Wireless cost $100 less than Sennheiser’s flagship True Momentum Wireless 2, and saving that money comes with some sacrifice: you’re giving up the noise cancellation from the TMW2s — and even a water resistance rating — and also have to put up with this chunkier design. Does a price of $199.95 make these “everyday earphones” as Sennheiser says? There’s a ton of competition around this price point, but the company’s track record for audio quality does speak volumes. I’ve been testing the CX 400BT True Wireless for a few days, so expect to see a full review very soon.

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Apple will soon release two Apple Watches and a new iPad Air: report

Apple is planning to ship between 75 and 80 million 5G iPhones this year, according to a new Bloomberg report. The figure is in line with or slightly higher than iPhone launch shipments for the last couple of years, suggesting that Apple doesn’t expect the coronavirus pandemic to dampen demand — even though the company has already said the phones will be delayed into October.

Bloomberg’s report also contains a broad roundup of what Apple is said to be planning for its fall hardware announcements. Here’s what Mark Gurman and Debby Wu expect:

  • Four new iPhones with OLED screens coming in sizes of 5.4, 6.1, or 6.7 inches; the 6.1-inch size will be an option for both the steel-edged “Pro” line and the lower-end aluminum equivalent to the current iPhone 11. There’ll be a new dark blue color option that replaces the green 11 Pro. The 6.7-inch Pro may be the only model to get the LIDAR scanner that debuted in this year’s iPad Pro. All of the iPhones will support 5G and have a new design with square edges. The Pro models are expected to ship later than the aluminum variants.
  • A new iPad Air model with slim bezels, similar to the iPad Pro. This is likely the 10.8-inch iPad that analyst Ming-chi Kuo mentioned earlier this year, although there’s no mention of the updated iPad mini that Kuo also predicted. Unverified images of a pamphlet for a new iPad Air, with slim bezels and a Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the power button, appeared on Twitter last week.
  • Two new Apple Watch variants: a straight successor to the Series 5, and a lower-end Series 3 replacement.
  • A smaller, cheaper HomePod smart speaker.
  • Apple-branded (i.e. not Beats) over-ear headphones.

A new Apple TV with an updated processor and new remote control is also said to be in the works, although it might not be ready this year. Finally, Bloomberg expects Apple to make iOS 14 available in September, despite the delayed iPhone releases.

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Reporter asks Trump to condemn Kenosha shooter. Watch his response

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When asked about the ongoing protests in Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, President Donald Trump refused to condemn 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who is facing homicide charges for allegedly killing two protesters in Kenosha.

French prosecutor opens official investigation into magazine's portrayal of Black lawmaker as slave
The article in the magazine Valeurs Actuelles, entitled "Danièle Obono in the Age of Slavery," is a fictional account of Obono's return to 18th-century Africa. The magazine included illustrations depicting Obono with chains around her neck.
The article's publication prompted immediate and significant backlash from France's political class.
"Following the publication on 27 August 2020 of the article entitled "Obono l'Africaine" in the newspaper Valeurs Actuelles, the Paris Public Prosecutor's Office today opened a investigation of the charge of racist insults," the office said in a statement Monday.
The probe will be led by a unit from the regional directorate of Paris' judicial police. Racially insulting a person is punishable by law in France. The penalty for those convicted of racist slander is a jail sentence of up to a year and a 45,000 euro fine.
Obono, who is of French-Gabonese origin, took to Twitter on Friday to express her dismay at what she called "racist shit."
Obono remarked that "it appears that we can no longer say anything."
"Fortunately we can still write racist shit in a rag, illustrated by the images of a black French African deputy painted as a slave."
Valeurs Actuelles initially responded to Obono's remarks on Twitter, saying: "Racist shit? It's a fictional story setting the scene of the horrors of slavery organised by the Africans in the 18th century."
As the controversy grew, the magazine's deputy editor Tugdual Denis spoke to TV station BFMTV on Saturday.
Denis said the magazine understood "the symbolic charge" of the image depicting Obono, adding that he had "personally" offered an apology to her, saying he regretted that "it could have been thought that we are racist."
Denis defended the aim of the story however, saying it sought to show the "destroyers of history" that an inter-African slave trade existed in tandem with the European one.
Obono is a left-wing member of the National Assembly. Senior French politicians have rallied around the lawmaker, including Prime Minister Jean Castex, who tweeted in support of Obono, saying the article warranted "unambiguous condemnation."
Obono told BFMTV on Saturday that she had also received a message of support from President Emmanuel Macron.

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Australian TV host detained in China
The Australian government received a "formal notification" of Cheng Lei's detention on August 14, according to a statement released by Marise Payne, Australia's minister for foreign affairs. Consular officials spoke with her by video chat on August 27.
Payne told Sydney radio station 2GB that Cheng was being detained in China without charge and could be held "for months."
"The process within the Chinese system does not require the laying of charges at this point, but we'll continue to seek information about that and how long can she be detained without having charges laid under the Chinese system," she told the radio station.
In a statement, Cheng's family said they were in "close consultation" with the Australian government.
"[We are] doing everything we can as a family to support Cheng Lei," the statement said. "In China, due process will be observed and we look forward to a satisfactory and timely conclusion to the matter."
Cheng was a business anchor on CGTN, the international arm of China's state-owned broadcaster CCTV, which has since scrubbed all reference to her from its website and social media.
According to a since deleted profile of her, Cheng joined the Beijing-based broadcaster in 2012, following a nine-year stint with the US financial news network CNBC. She was one of CGTN's top anchors, helming the daily "Global Business" show, conducting high-profile interviews, as well as driving "content innovation" and taking part in special projects.
In her spare time, Cheng was active in the Australian community in Beijing, taking part in events at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and acting as an "alumni ambassador" for the country's embassy.
Her final post on WeChat, the Chinese social networking app, showed her at the opening of a Shake Shack outlet in Beijing on August 12, the first restaurant opened in China by the US chain. Posing in a bright green dress, Cheng captioned the photos with the hashtag "make shakes not war."
The reason for Cheng's detention remains unclear. CGTN and China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The relationship between Australia and China has frayed in recent months. After Australia called for a investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing targeted it over trade, suspending some imports of beef and slapping heavy tariffs on barley. It also said Monday it will investigate whether Australian wine exports had been unfairly subsidized.
Last week, Australia effectively blocked the sale of a dairy business to a Chinese company, claiming the acquisition "would be contrary to the national interest."

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Trump inflames tensions and justifies violence -- and there's a reason why
That brought the extraordinary spectacle Monday of a president -- who would by tradition call for calm at a time of civic unrest -- justifying violence by his supporters and all but excusing a pro-Trump vigilante who allegedly killed two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. At the same time, in the White House briefing room, he minimized police brutality against African Americans that sparked a summer of protest and agony in the Black community as examples of officers who sometimes "choke."
Trump's inflammatory behavior on Monday came on a day that could come to be seen as critical for the destiny of the White House after Democratic nominee Joe Biden launched a counterattack, warning no one was safe in "Trump's America" -- which he said was hobbled by disease and fear.
It also unfolded on the eve of Trump's visit to Wisconsin, which local leaders pleaded with him to cancel to avoid exacerbating tensions. Instead, the President gave every indication that he plans to use the trip to troll his critics with his claims of a nation on the edge from a platform in a key swing state.
Dismissing the notion that his appearance at a raw moment might increase violence, the President said, "it could also increase enthusiasm and it could increase love and respect for our country."
Trump's provocative appearance represents a bet that a hardline "law and order" campaign can drown out the pandemic that he has badly mismanaged, that has killed more than 180,000 Americans and on Monday crossed the 6 million mark in known infections. No one doubts that protests and violence rattled US cities from Minnesota to Wisconsin and Washington, DC, to Chicago this summer -- amid a national epiphany on race caused by the death of George Floyd.
The spectacle of a "strong" President vowing no tolerance for rioters may be an attractive one to many voters. But the situation is far more complicated than the idea that left-wingers and "terrorists" who support Biden are going on the rampage. There is evidence that far-right groups and other extremists are also involved. Most protests have been peaceful and violence has often been sparked by opportunists. And even cities like Portland, Oregon, are not perpetually in flames as Trump claims. But the President is presenting a simpler and misleading narrative.
"They want to destroy our country. They're going to destroy our suburbs," he said during an appearance in the White House briefing room mislabeled as a "news conference," not even bothering to hide his goal to scare voters in affluent White areas around swing state cities into believing that Biden would bring political unrest that would shake America to its foundations.

Distracting from the pandemic

Trump's day of fury reflects how he has now firmly settled on a campaign of demagoguery to save his presidency.
In a characteristic piece of projection, he accused Biden -- who earlier condemned violence from all sources -- of using Mafia talking points and Democrats of stirring disorder with "dangerous rhetoric."
On Tuesday he portrayed protests at the White House after his convention speech on Thursday night -- in which Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and his wife were harassed -- as if they were among the most flagrant examples of disorder in modern US history.
"It was a terrible, terrible thing to witness," Trump said. His alarmism was expressed in a rant that resembled a highlight reel of conservative media buzz words and conspiracy theories including "radicals," "maniacs," "Antifa," "looters," "arsonists" and "fascism."
In a classic authoritarian tactic, Trump also vastly over stated the extent of lawlessness and political violence, then promoted himself as the kind of strongman needed to restore order. And he tipped his hand over his new campaign tactic by opening his appearance with a boast about the stock market and a perfunctory mention of the pandemic that brought the country to its knees. Then it was on to his real topic: "left-wing political violence."
In one sense, Trump's gambit has already succeeded. He has moved the ground of the election away from the Covid-19 crisis and the multiple political corruption scandals that have clouded his term from day one. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however, made an attempt to wrest the conversation back to Covid-19, using an interview on MSNBC to accuse the President of saying to Americans "choose me over your child" as some kids go back to school without the testing infrastructure and needed safety precautions.
On Monday, Biden left his campaign-from-home bubble in Delaware to travel to Pittsburgh to parry Trump's attacks amid increasing nervousness among Democrats that the President's hardline approach could lift him back into a race in which he is trailing.
The Democratic nominee pointed out the flawed logic behind Trump's approach, given that the unrest hitting cities in Minnesota, Oregon and Wisconsin is unfolding, after all, on the President's watch.
"The violence you're seeing in Donald Trump's America. These are not images from some imagined 'Joe Biden's America' in the future. These are images from Donald Trump's America today," Biden said.
In a sign that he intends to maintain his aggressive push back -- and that he has no intention of being "swift boated" as happened to 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry -- Biden's team said that he hoped to travel to Kenosha soon.

How Kenosha frames the stakes in the election

Biden also used his speech to move beyond the issue of violence in cities in an attempt to frustrate the President's effort to make law and order the key issue in the election. While accusing Trump of "rooting for chaos and violence," Biden said Trump's failings on the pandemic, on foreign policy and even on Social Security had made Americans much more vulnerable.
"Do you feel safer and more secure now?" Biden asked in a repeating refrain.
A Biden trip to Wisconsin would bookend Trump's own visit to the Badger State. The White House has said that it has tried to make contact with the family of Jacob Blake, the Black man shot seven times in the back by police in an incident that triggered unrest last week. Blake is still in hospital and local police have offered few explanations for the incident. The fact Trump and the family have not connected appears to indicate there is no desire to meet the President. Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, have spoken at length with Blake's family over the telephone.
The President plans to meet law enforcement officers in Kenosha and to survey damage from nights of unrest. He is claiming he ordered National Guard troops into the city to quell rioting and restore order. But in reality, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had already activated the troops before Trump called for their intervention.
The political controversy over Kenosha is turning into a microcosm of the election in one of the most hotly contested districts in one of the most contested states.
Biden, who on Sunday condemned the killing of a Trump supporter in clashes in Portland, sought to capitalize on Trump's news conference, in which he defended supporters for shooting paint balls at protesters in the city.
"Once again, I urge the President to join me in saying that while peaceful protest is a right -- a necessity -- violence is wrong, period. No matter who does it, no matter what political affiliation they have. Period," Biden said in a statement.
"If Donald Trump can't say that, then he is unfit to be President, and his preference for more violence -- not less -- is clear."

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US coronavirus task force reports reveal dire reality shown to Trump as he spewed positive message

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Three quarters of people are willing to get a coronavirus vaccine, global survey shows
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House on August 31 in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House on August 31 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty Images

As US President Donald Trump was painting a positive picture of the coronavirus pandemic and urging states to reopen the nation's businesses and schools, data from the White House coronavirus task force released Monday shows he was getting increasingly dire reports about the spread of the pandemic in July and August.

The House Select Subcommittee on Coronavirus on Monday published eight weeks' worth of state reports compiled by the White House task force.

The task force releases these reports each week to governors' offices for their respective states, and has previously declined to make them publicly available or confirm the authenticity of any of the data reported. There had been some discussion on a call with governors earlier this month, audio of which was obtained by CNN, about making some of the data publicly accessible in real time, but that has yet to happen.

"Rather than being straight with the American people and creating a national plan to fix the problem, the President and his enablers kept these alarming reports private while publicly downplaying the threat to millions of Americans," subcommittee Chairman James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said in a statement.

The most recent of the eight reports released by the subcommittee is dated August 9. Since then, the course of the pandemic has changed, improving in some places and getting worse in others.

The 459-page August 9 report has a section for each state, which includes extensive data on the state's cases down to a county level, as well as detailed, private recommendations to state and local officials to slow the spread, including promoting social distancing and face coverings, implementing contact tracing, and closing bars and nightclubs in "red zone" states.

The "red zone" indicates there are more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population and/or test positivity is above 10%, per the task force's definition. There were 20 states in the task force's "red zone" as of August 9.

The "yellow zone" indicates between 10 and 100 new cases per 100,000 population and/or test positivity between 5 and 10%, per the task force's definition. There were 28 states plus the District of Columbia in the "yellow zone."

Just two states, Maine and Vermont, were in the green zones for test positivity and cases.

On the same day that report was released, Trump claimed that coronavirus cases were rising due to increased testing, which is disproven by the many states in the report with rising test positivity rates -- meaning the proportion of people who test positive compared to negative, which can signal a burgeoning outbreak.

Read more about the report:

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ByteDance quietly racks up users for its music streaming app in global push as TikTok sale looms
ByteDance staff walk past the ByteDance headquarters building in Beijing on July 8, 2020.
Greg Baker | AFP | Getty Images

China's ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, has quietly been racking up users for its music streaming service Resso, as it continues to expand its international presence despite ongoing U.S. pressure. 

The app, which was formally released in India and Indonesia in March, now has 15.2 million total installs on the App Store and Google Play, according to data from Sensor Tower.

From Aug. 1 to Aug. 30, the app reached about 3.6 million installs from first-time users around the world. This is up 64% from the 2.2 million installs the app saw from July 1 to July 30.

India is Resso's largest market and accounts for 65% of the app's total installs, while 34% are from Indonesia. The remainder of the downloads came from Brazil, where it launched earlier this month.

It's unclear how many of those installs have resulted in paying and returning users. 

ByteDance was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC. 

U.S. pressure

ByteDance continues to push for growth in its international business, despite the pressure it has faced from the U.S. government which has threatened to ban TikTok if it doesn't sell to an American company by Sept. 20

TikTok has picked a bidder with the duo of Microsoft and Walmart, and a separate contender Oracle, as the front runners, people familiar with the situation told CNBC

The deal has been complicated, however, by China updating its list of technologies subject to export restrictions —including a provision which could require ByteDance to obtain a license from Beijing before exporting TikTok-related technology. ByteDance said on Sunday that "the company will strictly abide" by the laws.

Washington has called TikTok a national security threat and claims the company could pass American user data on to China, an allegation that the social media app has repeatedly denied. 

The TikTok saga has seen Kevin Mayer, the former CEO who was charged to lead TikTok's international expansion, step down after just a few months in the job

India-China tensions

Resso is ByteDance's rival to the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. ByteDance is going after fast-growing emerging markets. India was one of TikTok's largest markets but the app was banned earlier this year due to alleged security issues. Tensions between India and China have also been rising after a fatal border clash between the two nations' troops in June. 

ByteDance is hoping Resso can help the company regain momentum in India after the TikTok ban. 

The speed of Resso's installs appear to be comparable with its rival Spotify. In the five months after Spotify launched in India in February 2019, it reached 10.5 million installs compared to 9.8 million for Resso, according to Sensor Tower. 

In Indonesia, where Spotify launched in March 2016, 1.2 million installs were generated in the first five months. Resso has surpassed that with 5 million installs in the five months after it became available there. 

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A private survey shows China's manufacturing sector expanded in August at the fastest pace in nearly a decade

Results of a private survey on Tuesday showed China's manufacturing activity expanded in August at the fastest pace in nearly a decade.

The Caixin/Markit manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) came in at 53.1 for August, compared to 52.8 in July.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected Caixin/Markit manufacturing PMI to come in at 52.7.

PMI readings above 50 indicate expansion, while those below that level signal contraction. The readings are sequential and indicate on-month expansion or contraction.

The expansion in August was the fastest since January 2011, Caixin and IHS Markit said in their joint report.

"Manufacturing demand and supply continued to recover, and overseas demand started to pick up," wrote Wang Zhe, a senior economist at Caixin Insight Group.

In August, "the subindices for output and total new orders again hit their highest levels since January 2011." The gauge for new export orders also entered expansionary territory for the first time this year, as the coronavirus outbreak slowed overseas, added Wang.

China's manufacturing sector has been battered as factories temporarily shut earlier this year due to large-scale lockdowns to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Global demand was also hit as the virus spread around the world. 

But recent data show signs of China's economy recovering from the pandemic.

On Monday, China's National Bureau of Statistics reported that official manufacturing PMI for the month of August came in at 51.0, slightly missing analysts expectations for a 51.2 reading.

The official PMI survey typically polls a large proportion of big businesses and state-owned companies. In comparison, the private Caixin and IHS Markit survey features a bigger mix of small- and medium-sized firms.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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Facebook may block news from being shared on its platforms in Australia

Facebook plans to block the sharing of local and international news stories on its platforms if legislation requiring tech platforms to pay publishers for content becomes law, the company said in a blog post Monday.

“Australia is drafting a new regulation that misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect,” Will Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand wrote in the blog post, arguing that the commission overseeing the process “ignored important facts,” including the relationship between social media and news media.

“Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram.” Easton continued. “This is not our first choice — it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”

The country’s proposed News Media Bargaining Code law, which is in draft form at present, stemmed from a 2019 inquiry that found tech giants like Facebook and Google take too large a share of online advertising revenue from media organizations in Australia. The Treasurer of Australia ordered the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to develop a voluntary code of conduct which would force the platforms to pay media companies. The ACCC told the government it seemed “unlikely” that a voluntary agreement could be reached, however.

Under the proposed legislation, Google and Facebook would have to provide publishers with advance notice of changes to their algorithms, with penalties for failing to comply. Both companies have pushed back strongly against this provision. with Facebook saying it would give news organizations in Australia an unfair competitive advantage.

Easton wrote in his post that news represents a fraction of what Facebook users see in their news feeds, and is “not a significant source of revenue” for the company. In addition to investing “millions of dollars” in Australian news businesses, he added, “over the first five months of 2020 we sent 2.3 billion clicks from Facebook’s News Feed back to Australian news websites at no charge — additional traffic worth an estimated $200 million AUD to Australian publishers.”

Earlier this month, Google published an open letter about the proposed law, and added a pop-up to its homepage in Australia warning “the way Aussies use Google is at risk” and that the regulation could hurt their search experience. The law, Google argued, “is set up to give big media companies special treatment and to encourage them to make enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk.”

The ACCC pushed back, saying Google’s letter contains “misinformation,” and added that “a healthy news media sector is essential to a well-functioning democracy.”

Media companies in Australia have largely supported the proposed changes. Australia’s newspapers and media outlets, like their counterparts in other countries, have been hard-hit by the economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Guardian has reported. Large Australian media companies have asked staff to take pay cuts in recent months, and several newspapers were forced to halt production because of a sharp decline in advertising revenue.

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Google’s Android TV dongle could cost just $50, according to this leak

Google’s Chromecast is a fantastic way to fling streaming video from phone to TV — but these days, you can often get a Roku Streaming Stick or Amazon Fire Stick with a dedicated remote control for the same money. But what if Google launched an Android TV dongle with its own remote control for the same $50 you’d pay for a high-end Roku or Fire stick?

That’s exactly what 9to5Google seems to have discovered, thanks to a new Home Depot leak. The home improvement story briefly listed a Google “Sabrina” for $49.99, and 9to5Google’s sources were able to provide pictures of that price tag in the Home Depot’s internal systems as well.

Sabrina, of course, would be that Android TV dongle that leaked in June, only to seemingly appear again at the FCC just last week, ahead of a rumored “summer” launch alongside the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G. Mind you, summer is now “fall” since Google already said that’s when the phones will actually come out. We can’t be 100 percent sure that Sabrina will ever truly arrive, of course, and this price could be a placeholder, but personally I’d be surprised if we go another month without the formal announcement.

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Russian jet violated NATO airspace while attempting to intercept US B-52 bomber
"The Russian Su-27, flying from Kaliningrad, followed the B-52 well into Danish airspace over the island, committing a significant violation of airspace of a NATO nation," NATO's Allied Air Command said in a statement.
"Danish Quick Reaction Alert aircraft were launched to counter the violation, however the violating Russian fighters turned back before interception," the statement added, saying, "The unauthorized intrusion of sovereign airspace is a significant violation of international law."
Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania that features a significant Russian military presence. Bornholm island sits in the Baltic Sea less than 90 miles east of Copenhagen.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions between the US and Russia, with the US accusing the Russian military of multiple unsafe acts in recent days, including an unprofessional intercept of a US B-52 bomber over the Black Sea and being responsible for a collision between American and Russian armored vehicles in Syria that left seven US troops injured.
The NATO statement said, "Friday's incident is the first of this kind for several years and indicates a new level of Russian provocative behavior."
The US B-52 bomber was part of a recent mission to have American bombers fly over all 30 NATO members as a demonstration of alliance solidarity.
Russian Su-27s also intercepted a US B-52 flying over the Black Sea on Friday, an intercept the US called unsafe and unprofessional, releasing video of the encounter, which involved the Russian jets crossing within 100 feet of the nose of the US aircraft.
Asked in an interview Monday about the apparent increase in incidents with the Russians, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referenced the vehicle collision in Syria, saying, "We saw the incident last week where a Russian vehicle intentionally rammed an American vehicle. These are the kinds of things that we work closely with the Russians to say this is unacceptable behavior, that America will respond."

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How China is preparing its economy for a future where the U.S. isn't the center of global demand
An employee works on the production line of lithium battery at a factory of Tianneng Battery Group Co., Ltd on July 20, 2020 in Changxing County, Zhejiang Province of China.
Tan Yunfeng | Visual China Group | Getty Images

China will likely become the world's largest economy in a few years and it is preparing itself for major shifts in international trade.  

In a world rocked by the coronavirus pandemic and tensions with the U.S., the Chinese government has come out with yet another batch of policy terms to bolster its own economy, this time under the vague umbrella of "dual circulation." The phrase refers broadly to two circles of economic activity — internal and external — with greater emphasis than before on business at home.

The jury is out on whether "dual circulation" reflects a major change in Beijing's economic policy, or how new the concept is at all. 

But notably, the high-level political talk comes just months before authorities plan to release China's economic blueprint for the next half decade — the 14th five-year plan. 

Increased public discussion in the last few weeks has also helped crystallize some of the implications for global trade.

For example, economists at ICBC International, the Hong Kong-based subsidiary of the giant state-owned Chinese bank, have put out a series of notes in the last few weeks on "dual circulation." One of the reports discussed the implications of the Chinese policy for the next round of globalization.

The authors used two charts. The first showed an international economy focused on the U.S. as a global demand hub. 

The second painted a world divided into three parts — Europe, North America and Asia — which would interact with each other on a regional scale. China and its "internal circulation" stood at the center of Asia.

Prior round of globalization: 'The world is flat'

New round of globalization: 'Multi-modal structure'

Source: ICBC International, CNBC translation of Chinese text

"The 'dual circulation' policy demonstrates China's recognition that it won't be able to rely on trade as much for the next two decades, as it did for the previous two," Stephen Olson, research fellow at the nonprofit Hinrich Foundation, said in an email last week.

He also noted that: "The pursuit of deep economic integration with China is increasingly seen in the US as a strategic mistake, which worked out extremely well for China, but considerably less well for the US."

Already, tit-for-tat tariffs in China's trade dispute with the U.S. over the last two years has reduced the flow of goods between the two countries. 

On an individual country basis, the U.S. is still China's largest destination for exports. But last year, amid escalating trade tensions, North America ceded the spot for top trading partner to the European Union, according to China Customs data accessed through the Wind Information database.

This year, the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) became China's largest trading partner, the data showed.

"My country's position in the world economy will continue to rise, our ties with the global economy will become closer, and the market opportunity we offer to other countries will broaden, and (we will) become a massive gravitational field for attracting international goods and key resources," Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech last week, while hearing suggestions for China's upcoming five-year plan. That's according to a CNBC translation of the Chinese text carried by state media. 

China's many domestic challenges

At home, China has its own litany of problems to deal with. Some of them are new, such as torrential floods in the southern part of the country this year that followed the shock of the coronavirus outbreak. Other long-standing issues have only become more pronounced, such as high reliance on debt for growth and an environment that favors state-owned enterprises to privately run businesses. The private sector generates most of the jobs in the country.

From the perspective of Yan Se, chief economist at Founder Securities, greater policy emphasis on the Chinese market is partly a reminder to local governments about the work they must do to improve the domestic environment. He expects further policy support will come for foreign investment into China, and cross-border e-commerce. That's according to a CNBC translation of his Chinese statement.

As the Chinese market has grown and the challenges of cross-border trade have increased, more foreign companies are adopting a "in China, for China" strategy. Beijing has welcomed the investment and made significant efforts to keep the businesses in the country despite geopolitical tensions.

In July, China recorded 12.2% growth in foreign direct investment from a year ago to $9.05 billion, according to the Ministry of Commerce. That marked a fourth-straight month of increase since the height of the coronavirus outbreak in early February. 

In contrast, global foreign direct investment flows are expected to fall 30% amid the pandemic, according to a report in May from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"Capital is king. If you offer more ... certainty than other (countries) there will be people coming to invest," Bruce Pang, head of macro and strategy research at China Renaissance, said in a phone interview, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks. 

To Pang, these trends in foreign investment and changes in Chinese exports were already happening, and have only accelerated since the coronavirus outbreak.

Authorities and companies are also trying to help Chinese businesses shift their focus to the domestic market.

"Turning China's exports inward in reality is a good thing, so our economy can develop stably and grow," Xu Hongcai, deputy director of the Economics Policy Commission at the China Association of Policy Science, said in a phone interview last week, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks. "This is good for the rest of the world."

Potentially painful transition

For all the talk of boosting domestic consumption, what Beijing envisions is not necessarily what will happen, particularly in the next several months.

Right now, "(domestic) demand is recovering, but it is difficult for much of the demand to recover to what it was prior to the epidemic," Xu said. "The overall demand has declined because there are substitutes. ... So people need to find other kinds of jobs, and so this period of transition is more painful."

After gross domestic product contracted by 6.8% in the first quarter, the surprise 3.2% increase in the second quarter was supported by an increase in investment, particularly for real estate. Retail sales still declined 1.1% in July, as growth in online shopping was not enough to offset the overall drop.

"Consumption will not be the economic driver this year or next year for sure. It will be investment and exports," Dan Wang, Shanghai-based chief economist at Hang Seng China, said in a phone interview last week. "To increase consumption or its contribution to growth, China will have to do some major reform in its income distribution, and a big difficulty in doing that is the state-owned enterprise reform."

But longer term, the pressure is accelerating for China to make that shift toward relying more on its own market.

One of the reasons China is pursing "dual circulation" is that since the country is growing in global prominence, whatever it does will have a significant effect as other countries reassess how dependent they want to be on the Asian giant, Wang said. 

"I think this phrase is mainly addressing the risk from the U.S.," she said, "and China wants to make sure it still holds a central role in the global supply chain."

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Netflix makes Two Popes, Bird Box, and more available to watch for free

Some of Netflix’s original TV shows and movies, including the Oscar-nominated Two Popes and horror thriller Bird Box, are now available to watch for free without a subscription, Gadgets360 reports. The free content, which also includes the first episode of Stranger Things, can be found here, and is available globally.

Netflix confirmed the promotion in a statement given to Gadgets360. “We’re looking at different marketing promotions to attract new members and give them a great Netflix experience,” a spokesperson said. The free content includes a selection of films that can be watched in their entirety, but for TV shows only the first episodes are available.

Here’s a full list of the TV shows and films available to watch for free:

  • Stranger Things
  • Murder Mystery
  • Elite
  • The Boss Baby: Back in Business
  • Bird Box
  • When they See Us
  • Love is Blind
  • The Two Popes
  • Our Planet
  • Grace and Frankie

A support page for the freebies notes that the content is available to watch through web browsers on computers or Android devices, but that iOS browsers are not supported.

This is not the first time Netflix has experimented with giving away its content for free. Earlier this year it made the film To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before available for free to US residents, and it’s also made some of its documentaries available for free on YouTube.

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New video shows moments before deadly shooting in Portland
Disturbing new video shows the moments before a fatal shooting happened in Portland, Oregon, during protest clashes that left one person dead. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden released a statement condemning the deadly violence and encouraged President Donald Trump to follow suit.

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Israeli, U.S. delegations depart to UAE in 1st direct flight
Israeli national flags fly alongside United Arab Emirates national flags on the side of a road in Netanya, Israel, on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.
Kobi Wolf | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A Star of David-adorned El Al plane took off Monday from Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport, carrying a high-ranking American and Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi in the first-ever direct commercial passenger flight to the United Arab Emirates.

The Israeli flag carrier's flight marks the implementation of the historic U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations between the two nations and solidifies the long-clandestine ties between them that have evolved over years of shared enmity toward Iran.

With the U.S. as matchmaker, Israel and the UAE agreed earlier this month to work toward normalization, which would make the UAE the third Arab nation to have full relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. But unlike those two nations, Israel has never fought a war against the UAE and hopes to have much-warmer relations.

The American delegation includes President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as national security adviser Robert O'Brien, Mideast envoy Avi Berkowitz and envoy for Iran Brian Hook. Israel will be represented by national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and the director generals of several ministries, who will meet with their Emirati counterparts.

"While this is a historic flight, we hope that this will start an even more historic journey for the Middle East and beyond," Kushner told reporters before boarding the plane.

Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel's national security adviser and head of the Israeli delegation, said he was excited about the trip and that the aim was to lay the groundwork for cooperation in areas like tourism, medicine, technology and trade.

"This morning the traditional greeting of 'go in peace' takes on a special significance for us," he said.

The El Al flight, numbered LY971 as a gesture to the UAE's international calling code number, is expected to fly over Saudi Arabian airspace. That would mark another historic first for Israel and at least an acquiescence by the kingdom for the UAE's move.

Saudi King Salman, along with other Gulf Arab leaders to varying degrees, maintain their boycotts of Israel in support of Palestinians obtaining an independent state. Any long-term flights between Israel and the UAE would require Saudi clearance to be profitable.

El Al spokesman Stanley Morais said the 737-900 is equipped with a missile-defense system, a standard feature on these types of planes and a requirement for this flight. After grounding its fleet due to the coronavirus, it is the airline's first flight since July 1.

The plane was decorated with the the words for peace in Arabic, Hebrew and English above the pilot's window. Journalists were handed special face masks decorated with the Israeli and Emirati flags. The seat protectors said "Making History" in all three languages, and Israeli folk music played in the background.

The plane's captain, Tal Becker, said he has not worked for several months and received a call out of the blue asking him to prepare for the flight. He said it took about a week to get up to speed.

The 45-year veteran, who is the senior captain in El Al's 737 fleet, said he never dreamed of flying to Abu Dhabi, calling it a "very special feeling."

The Israeli delegation will stay in the capital, Abu Dhabi, for one night before returning home on El Al flight LY972, a nod to Israel's international calling code.

Private jets have earlier flown between the two nations as part of covert talks, and Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways flew cargo freighters to Israel before to deliver coronavirus aid to the Palestinians. But the high-profile flight Monday, eagerly promoted by U.S. officials, looks to place a solid stamp on the surprise Aug. 13 White House announcement of Israel and the UAE establishing ties.

Since then, telephone calls were connected, and the UAE's ruler issued a decree formally ending the country's decades-long boycott of Israel. Some Israeli firms have already signed deals with Emirati counterparts, but Monday's visit is expected to usher in a slew of further business cooperation. The official repeal of the boycott looks to open the door to more joint ventures, such as in aviation, banking and finance.

The UAE has touted the deal as a tool to force Israel into halting its contentious plan to annex parts of the West Bank sought by the Palestinians for their future state. It also may help the Emirates acquire advanced U.S. weapons systems that have been previously unattainable, such as the F-35 fighter jet. Currently, Israel is the only country in the region with the stealth warplanes.

The Palestinians, however, have fiercely opposed the normalization as peeling away one of their few advantages in moribund peace talks with Israel. Palestinians have held public protests and burned the UAE flag in anger.

Israelis eagerly anticipate the prospect of mutual embassies, expanding tourism to the Gulf and solidifying business opportunities with another country that shares its penchant for technology and innovation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has touted the deal as validation of his vision that regional peace doesn't have to go through Palestinian acquiescence and come at the cost of ceding land. But he has come under fire from supporters at home for seemingly giving up on dreams of annexation and tacitly agreeing to a questionable arms sale that could undermine Israel's regional superiority. Netanyahu denies such a deal exists.

For Trump, the accord delivers a key foreign policy victory as he faces a tough reelection campaign.

On Sunday, Kushner said "the stage is now set" for other Arab countries to follow the UAE. However, he gave no indication that any other deals are imminent, despite a swing through the region last week by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

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White House says Trump still planning to visit Kenosha after governor urges him to reconsider
"The White House has been humbled by the outreach of individuals from Kenosha who have welcomed the President's visit and are longing for leadership to support local law enforcement and businesses that have been vandalized," White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement Sunday night.
"President Trump looks forward to visiting on Tuesday and helping this great city heal and rebuild."
The statement came hours after Evers wrote a letter to Trump outlining his concern about what the President's presence "will mean for Kenosha and our state."
"I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing. I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together," Evers wrote to Trump.
"It is our job as elected officials to lead by example and to be a calming presence for the people we know are hurting, mourning, and trying to cope with trauma. Now is not the time for divisiveness," he continued.
"Now is not the time for elected officials to ignore armed militants and out-of-state instigators who want to contribute to our anguish."
The White House had announced on Saturday that Trump would travel to Kenosha to meet with law enforcement and to survey some of the damage from the recent protests.
Kenosha is the latest city at the center of racial unrest after Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back seven times by a White police officer. Local officials have not discussed many details about Blake's shooting but continue addressing the nightly protests in Kenosha, especially after two people at a protest were killed and a third was seriously injured this week.
A 17-year-old was arrested Wednesday and is facing multiple charges involving several people for his alleged role in a shooting incident, authorities said.
When asked if the President would meet with Blake's family, Deere said Saturday that the schedule hasn't been fully ironed out yet.
Evers adds in his letter to Trump that he is also "concerned that an in-person visit from you will require a massive re-direction of these resources to support your visit at a time when it is critical that we continue to remain focused on keeping the people of Kenosha safe and supporting the community's response."
His message to the President builds on comments from Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes who said earlier Sunday that Trump's presence would not be helpful in Kenosha.
"You look at the incendiary remarks that the President has made, they centered an entire convention around creating more animosity and creating more division around what is going on in Kenosha," Barnes told CNN's John King on "Inside Politics."
"So, I don't know how given any of the previous statements that the President made that he intends to come here to be helpful. And we absolutely don't need that right now."
This story has been updated to include comment from the White House.

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China's mega banks lost billions of dollars in profit as bad loans rise during coronavirus pandemic

China's five largest banks reported their biggest profit declines in at least a decade as they brace for further increases in bad loans in an economy weakened by the coronavirus pandemic.

The five lenders — Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China and Bank of Communications — released their latest financial report cards last week.

All five posted at least 10% year-on-year declines in profit for the first half of 2020 as they set aside more funds for potential loan losses in the coming months — much like many banks around the world.

"The banks have been asked to ... perform 'national service.' They've been asked to support the economy at the expense of their own operational strength," said Jason Tan, research analyst at CreditSights, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia" on Monday.

Chinese banks, among the world's largest by assets, have been placed at the front line of the government's effort to soften the economic blow on households and businesses. Authorities in Beijing reportedly asked financial institutions to sacrifice 1.5 trillion yuan ($219 billion) in profits this year to help companies by lowering lending rates and deferring repayments on loans.

The Chinese economy — the world's second largest — is expected to grow just 1% this year as measures to contain the coronavirus hit global economic activity, according to the International Monetary Fund. That would be China's weakest growth in at least 40 years, according to data by the fund.

The brunt of the asset quality pressures might not have come through yet because of the still existing moratorium on the repayment of loans as well as its interest payments.
Jason Tan
research analyst, CreditSights

China, the first country to be hit by the fast-spreading coronavirus, has shown some signs of economic recovery. But the effect of the economic slowdown on banks have not materialized fully, said Tan.

"The brunt of the asset quality pressures might not have come through yet because of the still existing moratorium on the repayment of loans as well as its interest payments," he explained.

"So, these will probably come in the second half, if not in the first half of 2021 when the moratorium lifts in March 2021," he added.

Mid-sized banks perform better

Morgan Stanley's analysis of the latest earnings reports by Chinese banks found that mid-sized lenders performed better than their larger peers in terms of operating profits before taking into account provisions set aside for future bad debt.

In a Sunday note, Morgan Stanley analysts pointed out that pre-provision operating profits of most mid-sized Chinese banks grew between 8% and 27% in the second quarter compared to a year ago. That's better than that of the seven largest banks, which ranged between a decline of 2% and a growth of 6%, they added.

Still, analysts at Jefferies said in a note that Chinese banks are "highly likely" to cut dividends this year after setting aside more provisions. But with bank earnings likely to recover after hitting a bottom in the second half of this year, dividends could return in 2021, they said.

Shares of Chinese banks suffered in 2020. The FTSE China A 600 Banks Index — which tracks large- and mid-cap banks listed on mainland China exchanges — declining by around 8.9% so far this year, according to Refinitiv data.

In contrast, the broader FTSE China A 600 Index has climbed by 17.9% during the same period, Refinitiv data showed.

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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Nestle to buy Aimmune, valuing allergy treatment maker at $2.6 billion
A pedestrian passes a Nestle SA logo at the Nescafe factory, operated by Nestle SA, in Tutbury, U.K., on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Nestle said it was offering $34.50 per share for the remaining 74.4% in peanut allergy treatment maker Aimmune Therapeutics it does not already own as it adds what it hopes will be a lucrative treatment to its portfolio.

The offer values the California-based biopharmaceutical company at $2.6 billion, including the $473 million that Nestle had already invested in Aimmune, Nestle said in a statement.

The price represents a 174% premium to Aimmune's closing share price on August 28 of $12.60, said the food giant, which has been gearing its traditional portfolio towards health and wellness products.

Up to 240 million people worldwide suffer from food allergies, peanut allergy being the most common, Nestle said.

In January, Aimmune Therapeutics got approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Palforzia, making it the first medication approved for food allergies in children and teens.

Nestle said the acquisition was expected to add to organic growth in 2021 and to cash earnings by 2022/23.

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