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Trump Focuses on Economy at Davos, Seeking a Counter to Impeachment

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DAVOS, Switzerland — President Trump swept into this moneyed Alpine village on Tuesday, full of brio and flattery, schmoozing with global business leaders as if there were no talk of removing him from office and no impeachment trial unfolding 4,000 miles away in Washington.

Mr. Trump appeared to relish the escape offered by the World Economic Forum and the friendly — to his face, at least — crowd of elites in the snow-covered Alps. He was in a jovial mood, according to people who spoke with him, engaging in animated conversations with chief executives like Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, Sundar Pichai of Alphabet and Marc Benioff of Salesforce.

He congratulated them on their companies’ stock performances and joked that he should have bought shares but that he had been forced to sell his holdings when he took office. As Mr. Trump and his family members darted among meetings in makeshift pavilions, they studiously avoided questions about the drama back home, where the Senate engaged in a fierce clash over the rules for putting the president on trial.

It was a day of two presidents. There was the stick-to-the-script Donald J. Trump riding high on a strong economy and representing the country on the international stage. And there was the Donald J. Trump under siege back home, depicted as an autocrat abusing the power of his office to take down domestic opponents and win re-election.

The images of a calm and confident president in the wintry globalist getaway were supplanted in Washington by the images shown on television screens on the Senate floor by House managers playing video clips of his claims of unconstrained authority and his professed support for witnesses he has in fact blocked from testifying.

The president took the advice of aides and friends and tried to remain above it all, or at least appear like it, more like Bill Clinton in 1999. When reporters asked him about the impeachment trial, he swatted it away as “just a hoax.”

Leaving it at that, he proceeded to stick to his prepared remarks, making inflated claims about his role in a global economic recovery and promoting a message of the United States’ supremacy. “America’s economy was in a rather dismal state,” Mr. Trump said during a 30-minute speech to the world leaders and corporate titans gathered here. “Before my presidency began, the outlook for many economies was bleak.”

Although the economy’s recovery after its plummet was central to President Barack Obama’s legacy, Mr. Trump said that his administration had created a “roaring geyser of opportunity” and proclaimed that “the American dream is back bigger, better and stronger than ever before.”

Addressing a global audience, Mr. Trump delivered what amounted to a version of his campaign speech, speaking little of international alliances while playing up America’s dominance in the world.

At a conference that dedicated itself this year to climate change, Mr. Trump took a swipe at those demanding action. He announced that the United States would join an initiative to plant a trillion trees that was introduced at the event, but he also declared that “we must reject the perennial prophets of doom” and that it was “not a time for pessimism.”

Former Vice President Al Gore, himself a leading climate change prophet, was seen leaving Mr. Trump’s speech but declined to comment on the president’s remarks.

Mr. Trump’s visit to Davos is his first foreign trip since Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent two articles of impeachment to the Senate and the first since he authorized the drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most powerful security commander. Many diplomats and analysts wondered if he would seem weakened abroad while his fate was being debated at home and how he would treat European leaders who have called his Iran strategy too provocative.

Even if he did not show it, Mr. Trump surely kept an eye on developments back home. He did shoot out one Twitter message shortly before the Senate trial opened for the day: “READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!” he wrote, referring to records of two phone calls he had with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine — transcripts that his critics have, in fact, read and consider evidence of misconduct even though he considers them “perfect.”

But he gave little impression of being absorbed by either issue, at least not publicly. Arriving in Switzerland on Tuesday morning, he flew on Marine One over the Alps, from Zurich to Davos. The altitude increased the sense that the bitter partisan fight that would take place in the Capitol was a world away.

As his motorcade made its way through twisty, snow-covered streets to the Davos Congress Center, nine Swiss tenors entertained the crowd with a version of “Ranz des vaches,” a mellifluous song for calling home cows — and a more peaceful serenade than the songs that typically precede Mr. Trump’s entrance at his rallies back home, like “Macho Man” by the Village People and “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones.

Mr. Trump was also a more mellow version of himself.

He highlighted the first phase of his trade deal with China and another with Mexico and Canada. And the audience appeared receptive, having warmed to him since he took office three years ago this week as they have benefited from his policies.

“Lev Parnas is not a topic of conversation at Davos,” said Ian Bremmer, the president and founder of Eurasia Group, a political research and consulting firm, referring to a possible Senate trial witness.

Still, television screens in Davos were filled with the face of a different Trump antagonist: the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who was the other star speaker of the day. In her speech, she warned that “our house is still on fire” and that “inaction is fueling the flames by the hour.”



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After Trump Mocks a Sea Wall in New York, Plan Is Abruptly Shelved

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The Trump administration has unexpectedly halted a project to protect the New York City region from flooding during dangerous storms like Hurricane Sandy — a decision that came six weeks after President Trump took to Twitter to ridicule the study’s most expensive proposal, a giant sea wall that could have cost billions of dollars.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ announcement that the project was “indefinitely postponed” surprised some of its own officials, and local politicians and advocates said the decision was stunning at a time when climate change is threatening New York’s future with intensifying storms.

In a statement, the Corps’ New York office said only that the study was suspended because it did not receive funding in the agency’s work plan for 2020. Officials there refused to comment on whether they believed that Mr. Trump had influenced the decision. But a senior administration official said the project was shelved because it was too expensive and unfocused.

While Mr. Trump cannot single-handedly cancel a Corps project — the funding is allocated by Congress, and its work plan is determined jointly by Corps officials, the Department of Defense and the White House Office of Management and Budget — the unusual suspension of an ongoing project quickly led to speculation that politics had played a role.

Mr. Trump’s tweet, in January, criticized one of the five possible proposals to reduce storm flooding along New York Harbor and its rivers: a sea barrier with retractable gates that would stretch from New Jersey to Queens.

The president had called that option “foolish” a day after The New York Times published an article about the proposals. He overstated the barrier’s cost at $200 billion — it was estimated at $119 billion, and later revised to $62 billion — and advised New Yorkers to get “mops and buckets ready.”

The Army Corps’ headquarters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We can only speculate, but I think the tweet gives a clue as to the reason” for the suspension, said Robert Freudenberg, vice president for energy and environment at the Regional Plan Association, an urban research and advocacy group. “This is a president who gets good headlines for his base out of acting against ‘blue’ states, and there’s a disturbing pattern of stalling or trying to end projects that are important to the Northeast.”

Julia Arredondo, a City Hall spokeswoman, called cancellation “unacceptable” and “dangerous.” She urged the decision makers “to reverse course immediately and finish evaluating the options they are considering to protect New York City and the region.”

According to the Corps official in charge of the project, Clifford S. Jones III, it is highly unusual for a Corps project to lose funding after more than three years of work at a cost of several million dollars.

“This doesn’t happen,” Mr. Freudenberg said. “This is an in-progress study.”

In recent months, the Trump administration has tangled with officials in New York — his birthplace and a center of liberal opposition to his policies. It has, for instance, barred New York residents from Trusted Traveler programs, such as Global Entry, because of the state’s immigration policies. The administration may also delay congestion pricing, the state’s plan to charge drivers a fee to enter the heart of Manhattan.

The sea barrier project had drawn criticism because it addressed flooding only from storm surges, not from sea rise and storm water runoff. Some environmentalists and planning experts had criticized the wall options that the Corps was focusing on, saying the structures would create flooding outside the walls and trap pollutants, harming the recovering ecology of the Hudson River and New York Harbor.

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Ford goes hi-tech with EV rival

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The numbers surrounding the first hybrid Ford sold in Australia are worth a closer look.

Based on its medium-sized SUV, the new Ford Escape ST-Line PHEV serves up a plug-in hybrid experience to rival the Mitsubishi Outlander.

Combining a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor and 14.4kWh lithium-ion battery, the Escape offers an impressive 167kW of power. Able to drive using electricity alone for up to 50 kilometres, the Escape has an official fuel figure of 1.5L/100km.

Like all plug-in hybrids, that figure is the result of a controlled formula rather than a true reflection of its daily consumption. Drive for 30 kilometres and you might use zero fuel. Drive interstate and the battery will be quickly depleted, resulting in fuel consumption comparable to regular models.

media_cameraThe hybrid Escape offers up to 50 kilometres of electric running.

Regenerative braking helps top up the Escape’s battery, though customers will need to plug it into mains power to make the most of its green credentials.

The technology does not come cheap.

Restricted to the sporty mid-grade ST-Line trim, the front-drive plug-in hybrid costs $52,940 plus on-road costs. That’s $14,950 more than the regular front-drive ST-Line which offers more powerful 183kW/387Nm outputs and 8.6L/100km economy. All-wheel-drive traction adds $3000 to the petrol model’s bill – it’s not available on the hybrid.

The Escape will join Ford’s new Puma compact SUV in the third quarter of 2020.
media_cameraThe Escape will join Ford’s new Puma compact SUV in the third quarter of 2020.

The petrol-electric model is priced close to the $53,990 plus on-roads of Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV Exceed, and well higher than the non-plug-in Toyota RAV4 Hybrid which starts at $35,140 plus on-roads.

Toyota Australia chooses not to import plug-in hybrid versions of the RAV4.

Ford might face a similar choice surrounding the Mustang Mach-E, the brand’s first fully-electric SUV.

Kay Hart, president of Ford Australia, worked on the Mach-E during her previous posting in Detroit.

The Mach-E isn’t available in right-hand-drive for now, and Hart isn’t convinced Australia is ready for electric cars.

Ford Australia isn’t racing to introduce the electric Mustang Mach-E.
media_cameraFord Australia isn’t racing to introduce the electric Mustang Mach-E.

”The acceptance of EV technology is clearly growing in the Australian market today – you can clearly see that today – across a number of different types of electrification,” she says.

“I have no doubt [acceptance] will come … and then maybe, hopefully, we can bring it to market.”

Ford’s Escape range opens with an entry-level model featuring 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, smart keys, a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors for $35,990 plus on-road costs.

That car features the same 2.0-litre turbo engine as the ST-Line, one driving the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The Escape shares its bones with Ford’s Focus hatchback.
media_cameraThe Escape shares its bones with Ford’s Focus hatchback.

Standard safety kit includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assistance, blind spot monitoring and more. An 8-inch infotainment system brings wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and sat nav with “Australian accent recognition”. Strewth.

The new “FordPass”connectivity suite also features, giving customers a chance to remotely access key features through their smartphone.

ST-Line models add a body kit, dark cabin elements, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and more for $37,990 plus on-roads.

ST-Line models look purposeful on the road.
media_cameraST-Line models look purposeful on the road.

A range-topping Escape Vignale builds on all of the above with chrome exterior styling, smarter LED headlamps, 19-inch wheels and niceties such as smart keys, heated leather-trimmed seats with 10-way front adjustment, a power tailgate, self-parking system and more for $46,590 plus on-roads.

The Escape arrives locally in the third quarter of 2020.

Originally published as Ford goes hi-tech with EV rival

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SambaNova Systems raises $250 million for software-defined AI hardware

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The infrastructure required to handle AI workloads is often as complex as it is sprawling, but a cottage industry of startups has emerged whose focus is developing solutions for end customers. SambaNova Systems is one such startup — the Palo Alto, California-based firm, which was founded in 2017 by Rodrigo Liang and Stanford Professors Kunle Olukotun and Chris Ré, provides systems that run AI and data-intensive apps from the datacenter to the edge. In a reflection of investors’ ravenous appetite for the market, it today announced that it’s raised $250 million in series C funding.

“Raising $250M in this funding round with support from new and existing investors puts us in a unique category of capitalization,” said CEO Liang, a veteran of Sun Microsystems and Oracle. “This enables us to further extend our market leadership in enterprise computing.”

SambaNova’s products — and its customers, for that matter — remain largely under lock and key, but the company previously revealed it’s developing “software-defined” devices inspired by DARPA-funded research in efficient AI processing.  Leveraging a combination of algorithmic optimizations and custom board-based hardware, SambaNova claims it’s able to dramatically improve the performance and capability of most AI-imbued apps.

According to Olukotun, SambaNova’s platform is designed to scale from tiny electronic devices to enormous remote datacenters. “SambaNova’s innovations in machine learning algorithms and software-defined hardware will dramatically improve the performance and capability of intelligent applications,” he added. “The flexibility of the SambaNova technology will enable us to build a unified platform providing tremendous benefits for business intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics.”

One thing’s for certain: SambaNova’s founders are a decorated bunch. Olukotun — who recently received the IEEE’s Computer Society’s Harry H. Goode Memorial Award — is the leader of the Stanford Hydra Chip Multiprocessor (CMP) research project, which produced a chip design that pairs four specialized processors and their caches with a shared secondary cache. As for Ré, he’s an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University in the InfoLab and a MacArthur Genius Award recipient who’s also affiliated with the Statistical Machine Learning Group, Pervasive Parallelism Lab, and Stanford AI Lab.

The AI chip market is anticipated to be worth $91.18 billion by 2025, and dedicated AI chip startups raised $1.5 billion in 2017 alone, among them Kneron, Blaize, AIStorm, Graphcore, Quadric, and Esperanto Technologies. But SambaNova’s total raised — over $450 million to date, following a $56 million series A funding round in March 2018 and a $150 million serise B funding round in April 2019 — is nothing to shake a stick at.BlackRock led the series C round with participation from existing investors including GV, Intel Capital, Walden International, WRVI Capital, and Redline Capital.

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