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A Tesla logo is seen at a groundbreaking ceremony of Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory in Shanghai.
US agency probes 12th Tesla crash tied to possible Autopilot use
14 December 2019, 11:15 AM

The US auto safety agency said Friday it will investigate a 12th Tesla crash that may be tied to the vehicle’s advanced Autopilot driver assistance system after a Tesla Model 3 rear-ended a parked police car in Connecticut.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration special crash investigation program will investigate the December 7 crash of a 2018 Tesla Model 3 on Interstate 95 in Norwalk, Connecticut, the agency confirmed.

Autopilot has been engaged in at least three fatal US Tesla crashes since 2016.

The agency’s special crash investigation team has inspected 12 crashes involving Tesla vehicles where it was believed Autopilot was engaged at the time of the incident.

To date, the agency has completed reports on two of them: a 2016 fatal crash in Florida in which Autopilot was engaged and a prior crash where Autopilot was ruled out as a factor.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Twitter’s algorithms and content monitoring on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Twitter plans to build ‘decentralised standard’ for social networks
12 December 2019, 9:56 AM

Twitter Inc plans to set up an independent research group to create an “open and decentralised” system for social networks, CEO Jack Dorsey said on Wednesday, which could relieve pressure on the company to appease critics of its content policies but also give rise to a new crop of competitors.

The system, or “standard,” would not be owned by any single private company, Dorsey said, and would enable individuals to use a variety of services to access the same network, just like they choose different email providers to see the same messages.

Policing speech on social media sites has required hefty investments while still failing to stem criticism from users who find the policies either too aggressive or too lax.

“Centralised enforcement of global policy to address abuse and misleading information is unlikely to scale over the long-term without placing far too much burden on people,” Dorsey tweeted here

He said the new approach would also allow Twitter to “focus our efforts on building open recommendation algorithms which promote healthy conversation, and will force us to be far more innovative than in the past.”

The idea, as outlined in articles Dorsey shared, is that developers could use their own algorithms to offer like-minded individuals targeted access to the same social media networks.

For instance, an individual could sign up with a provider that would aggressively filter out racist material, or another that would promote conversations over other types of content.

The open standard, however, could upend Twitter’s business model in the process, giving rise to competitor services that offer filters, content suggestions or other tools that prove more popular with consumers.

In an article that Dorsey shared called “Protocols, Not Platforms,” tech news site Techdirt founder Mike Masnick outlined how an open standard could give rise to a “competition for business models” among developers.

Some providers might collect less user data for ads, while others might abandon advertising altogether, instead charging users for access to premium services like filters or data storage, Masnick wrote.

Dorsey said Twitter’s chief technology officer, Parag Agrawal, will be in charge of hiring a lead for the research team, called BlueSky. Twitter will fund the project, which will take many years to complete, but will not direct it, he said.

He went on to suggest that blockchain technology might provide a model for decentralising content hosting, oversight and even monetisation of social media, without elaborating on possible alternatives to Twitter’s ads-driven business.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a campaign rally at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
House Democrats prepare for impeachment vote
12 December 2019, 5:52 AM

Democrats in the US House of Representatives moved closer on Wednesday to impeaching President Donald Trump as a key House committee began debating formal articles of impeachment that are expected to be brought to the House floor next week.

The House Judiciary Committee was meeting to consider the two articles, which accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and of obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter.

“If the president can first abuse his power and then stonewall all congressional requests for information, Congress cannot fulfill its duty to act as a check and balance against the executive (branch) — and the president becomes a dictator,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary panel, said in opening remarks.

But the committee’s top Republican, Doug Collins, accused Democrats of being predisposed toward impeachment and argued that the evidence did not support it.

“You can’t make your case against the president because nothing happened,” Collins said.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and condemned the impeachment inquiry as a hoax. But Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal said his misconduct was in plain sight.

“The president was the first and best witness in this case. The president admitted to his wrongdoing and corrupt intent on national television,” Jayapal said. “The president is the smoking gun.”

Democrats spent much of the evening denouncing Trump’s conduct and shaming Republicans for defending him, while Republicans railed against what they see as a partisan and unjust inquiry.

“President Trump’s high crimes threaten our democracy,” said Democratic Representative Hank Johnson. “I’m a black man representing Georgia, born when Jim Crow was alive and well. To me the idea that elections can be undermined is not theoretical,” referring to the era of racial segregation.

Republican Jim Jordan contended the process was being driven by animus toward Trump and his allies.

“They don’t like us – that’s what this is about,” Jordan said. “They don’t like the president’s supporters, and they dislike us so much they’re willing to weaponise the government.”

The committee is expected to approve the charges sometime on Thursday. The full Democratic-led House is likely to follow suit next week, making Trump the third president in US history to be impeached.

Following the House vote, charges will go to the Senate for a trial. The Republican-led chamber is unlikely to vote to remove Trump from office.

QUICK TRIAL?

On Wednesday, the president and senior Republicans appeared to be coalescing around the idea of a shorter proceeding in that chamber.

After initially saying he wanted a full-blown, potentially lengthy trial in the Senate, Trump seemed to be leaning toward a streamlined affair that would allow him to move quickly past the threat to his presidency, two sources familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.

Trump’s new thinking could remove a potential source of friction with Senate Republicans, who appeared to balk at the idea of a long trial with witnesses.

But it was not yet clear whether Trump was ready to abandon his demand for witnesses, such as Biden, which would trigger demands from Democrats for high-profile Trump administration witnesses.

“I think as an American the best thing we can do is deep-six this thing,” a staunch Trump ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, told reporters on Wednesday.

Asked why he thought Republican senators were now talking about a short trial, possibly with no witnesses, Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said: “I think the answer is obvious. They want to move on because obviously they think more attention paid to this is not in their best interest in re-election.”

Democrats say Trump endangered the US Constitution, jeopardized national security and undermined the integrity of the 2020 election by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 telephone call to investigate Biden, a former vice president and a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in next year’s election.

The articles of impeachment unveiled on Tuesday do not draw on other, more contentious aspects of Trump’s tenure, such as his efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Democratic lawmakers from more conservative districts had argued the focus should stay on Ukraine.

Many Democrats in those swing districts remain unsure how they will vote on impeachment, although with a 36-seat lead over Republicans in the House, passage is expected.

Trump will be on friendlier terrain in the Senate, where Democrats are not expected to pick up the 20 Republican votes they need at a minimum to drive the president from office.

If the House approves the charges, a trial would be the Senate’s “first order of business in January,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

McConnell, a close Trump ally, says no decision has been made over how to conduct the trial. Approving the rules will require agreement by the majority of the Senate’s 100 members.

Pompeo says Trump warned Russia on election meddling, disputes Lavrov’s account
11 December 2019, 8:22 PM

President Donald Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their meeting that Moscow’s meddling in America’s elections is unacceptable, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, contradicting Lavrov’s account that the two didn’t discuss elections.

Trump on Tuesday met with Lavrov at the White House, a visit that revived questions about whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election that brought Trump to power and whether it might do so again in 2020.

The White House said after the meeting that Trump warned Russia not to interfere in the 2020 elections, a statement that showed the president taking a tougher position on the issue than in the past. In 2018, flanked by Vladimir Putin, Trump said he believed the Russian leader’s claim that Moscow did not meddle in the 2016 vote, which put the president at odds with his own US intelligence agencies.

But Lavrov, when told about the White House statement, speaking through an interpreter at an evening news conference, said: “You know, we haven’t even actually discussed elections.”

Pompeo disputed Lavrov’s account on Wednesday and said such a warning was delivered in every meeting he has been in on Tuesday and that he has attended three.

“I can tell you that Foreign Minister Lavrov’s statement is not accurately a reflection of my recollection of that meeting. And there is no mistake that President Trump made clear in the meeting that he had with Lavrov … that President Trump personally, and America finds their meddling in our elections unacceptable,” Pompeo said.

Lavrov on Tuesday vehemently denied the American accusation that Moscow tried to sway the 2016 election and offered to publish a cache of communications between Washington and Moscow from that year which he said cleared Russia of the US allegations.

Lavrov’s last Oval Office meeting in May 2017 turned into a public relations disaster for Trump, who was accused by unnamed US officials of divulging highly classified information during that meeting about a planned operation by the Islamic State militant group. The allegations were denied by the White House.

Trump was also blasted for media reports that he told Russian officials that firing FBI Director James Comey had relieved him of “great pressure.” Comey’s dismissal ultimately led to a 22-month investigation by then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s role in the 2016 US presidential election.

The inquiry laid bare what Mueller and US intelligence agencies have described as a Russian campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord in the United States, denigrate 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Trump.

Bullet holes are seen around the windows of the SYL hotel after fighting between Somali security forces and Al Shabaab gunmen, who lunched an attack on the hotel near the presidential residence in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Somali security forces kill Al Shabaab fighters to end hotel siege
11 December 2019, 12:05 PM

Somali security forces shot dead five Al Shabaab gunmen, who had killed three civilians and two soldiers during an attack on a hotel near the presidential residence in Mogadishu on Tuesday night, police said early on Wednesday.

Al Shabaab, an al Qaeda linked Islamist militant group, frequently launches bombing and gun raids in Mogadishu in a bid to topple Somalia’s UN-backed government. The group confirmed last night it had attacked the Syl hotel, a popular gathering place for officials and lawmakers.

The latest attack started at around 7 pm on Tuesday and ended at about 1 am on Wednesday, when all five attackers had been killed, deputy police commissioner General Zakia Hussen said in a statement on Twitter.

“The security forces ended the operation. Five people including three civilians and two soldiers died in the attack,” Hussen said.

“Eleven others were slightly injured, including nine civilians and two soldiers,” she added.

Hussen had said on Tuesday night that 82 people, including several officials, had been rescued from the Syl hotel.

Security officers had initially mistook the gunmen for the police, until they began shooting and throwing grenades, another police officer said on Tuesday.

Al Shabaab’s military spokesperson Abdiaziz Abu Musab said on Tuesday that the group’s fighters were behind the attack at the hotel compound near the presidential palace.

Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, has been embroiled in conflict and chaos since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew a dictator then turned on each other.

Al Shabaab, which once controlled much of the country, was forced out of Mogadishu in 2011 and has since lost most of its other strongholds. But its fighters regularly attack sites in Somalia and neighboring Kenya, which has troops in Somalia.

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