Menagerie, Jan. 2-3
Kim Jong Un's New Year message; U.S. Supreme Court signals move to curb IP litigation court-shopping; CES closing 1 day early thanks to Covid
Happy New Year to all. 2022 feels an awful lot like 2020 but we’ll see what the year will bring to us all.
A. The Lead
Kim Jong Un urged North Korea to focus on easing food shortages and containing Covid, in a downbeat New Year’s policy assessment that suggested nuclear talks with the U.S. were a low priority for the coming months.
Kim laid out his 2022 agenda in remarks to ruling party cadres that were published by state media Saturday and appeared to take the place of his traditional New Year’s Day address. During the five-day Workers’ Party meeting in Pyongyang, the North Korean leader also called for strengthening the military’s power due to an unstable environment.
“The country’s economic projects are still under difficult conditions,” Kim said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency, a rare admission of the strains his government was facing.
Much of the published remarks focused on agriculture, with the state facing one of its most dire food shortages since Kim took power a decade ago. The situation has been made worse by severe weather and Kim’s decision to shut borders due to the pandemic, effectively slamming the brakes on legal trade and the black market flow of foodstuffs from China.
The meeting came as Kim, 37, marks 10 years power and coincides with the New Year’s Day holiday when the reclusive state’s leader typically lays out economic and security priorities. Kim also placed a high priority on preventing the spread of the coronavirus. While North Korea has boasted that it has seen no cases of Covid, the U.S. and others doubt the claim.
The comments included few references to foreign policy and relations with South Korea, according to Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute think tank near Seoul. “This suggests that North Korea is not ready to engage in contact with South Korea and the U.S. this year,” Cheong said. …
The North Korean leader has lost about 20 kilograms (45 pounds) in weight, according to South Korea’s spy agency, perhaps in a sign of restraint as his country faces some of its worst difficulties since he took power. The border closure has almost halted the work of aid agencies that for years have helped to bring food to a country where about 40% of the population is undernourished, according to the United Nations World Food Program.
The Biden administration has said the door is open for talks and indicated it would be willing to consider economic incentives to reward North Korea for taking steps to wind down its nuclear arsenal, which has only grown in size as disarmament discussions have sputtered.
At the same time, North Korea’s economy is now smaller than when Kim took power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December 2011, largely because of the sanctions to punish him for testing nuclear weapons and missiles that can deliver warheads to the U.S. mainland. …
“Kim may not be able to afford to turn his attention away from the domestic situation. He at least needs to keep up appearances to show his people his awareness of the situation,” said Soo Kim, a Rand Corp. policy analyst who previously worked at the Central Intelligence Agency.
“There may not have been a direct message to the U.S., but the fact that the regime intends to continue building its military capabilities tells us Kim’s position on the nuclear issue is immutable,” she said.
Chief Justice John Roberts backed calls for the federal courts’ policy making body to review rules that have led to a concentration of patent cases in a Texas court criticized by Silicon Valley heavyweights like Apple Inc.and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.
In his annual year-end report on the judiciary, Roberts said the Judicial Conference of the U.S. is going to review the issue of judicial assignment and venue for patent cases in federal trial courts. Roberts had asked the Director of the Administrative Office, who serves as the secretary of the Judicial Conference, to present the issue after members of Congress from both parties complained that a quarter of all patent cases in the nation are concentrated before a single judge in Waco, Texas. …
Courts in Waco in the Western District of Texas and Marshall in the Eastern District have long been the bane of tech companies. In the first year that most courts around the country were closed because of the pandemic, juries in the two districts slapped companies like Apple and Intel Corp. with more than $3.7 billion in damages, including a $2.2 billion hit against Intel in Waco.
The Texas courts are particularly favored by patent-licensing firms, often called the pejorative “troll,” whose sole purpose is to collect royalties. The companies don’t make products, nor in many cases are they the original inventors of the patented technology. The firms often file dozens or even hundreds of lawsuits against tech developers, manufacturers and retailers in hopes of a quick payoff.
The much-criticized actions of those firms has enabled tech companies to lob the “troll” word at any almost any patent owner that sues them, including universities, research firms and struggling business that argue they’ve been overwhelmed by the power of Silicon Valley.
The review by the Judicial Conference, which could issue its report by May 1, will focus on the Western District, where local rules allow litigants to select the particular courthouse where they want to file their cases. District Court Judge Alan Albright, a former patent litigator, is the only judge in Waco, and patent owners have flocked to his court since he was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2018.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the nation’s top patent court, has repeatedly rebuked Albright for refusing to let cases out of his court, in several instances ordering him to transfer suits to California where the tech companies are based. In response, Albright has moved some cases to Austin, also in the Western District, where the suits were then assigned to other judges.
Organizers of the CES tech conference, under fire for not canceling the event during a Covid-19 surge, said they will close the expo one day early as “an additional safety measure.”
The in-person conference will now end on Friday, Jan. 7, rather than running through the next day, according to the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on the show.
The group, led by Chief Executive Officer Gary Shapiro, has cited the event’s importance to small companies and entrepreneurs in pushing ahead with the gathering. Most large tech companies have scrapped plans to attend in-person, opting instead for online presentations. T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert canceled his speech altogether, with the company saying it would look ahead to the 2023 show.
“As the world’s most influential technology event, CES is steadfast in its pledge to be the gathering place to showcase products and discuss ideas that will ultimately make our lives better,” Shapiro said Friday. “We are shortening the show to three days and have put in place comprehensive health measures for the safety of all attendees and participants.” ….
B. New Year, Old Problems
Twitter Inc. on Sunday said it permanently banned the personal account of Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene for repeated violations of the platform’s prohibition against spreading misinformation about Covid-19.
The Georgia lawmaker was previously suspended for tweeting false claims about the Covid vaccine and health risks during the global pandemic. A Twitter spokesman said the company has “been clear that, per our five-strike system for this policy, we will permanently suspend accounts for repeated violations of the policy.”
Greene’s fifth and final strike was a Saturday tweet misrepresenting data on the death rate from the vaccine, the spokesman said.
Greene can appeal the permanent ban, according to Twitter’s policy on medical misinformation. She still has access to her official account, @RepMTG, where her last tweet was a Christmas Eve message for her congressional district. …
The San Francisco-based social network has faced criticism from right-wing users that it censors conservative voices, especially after it permanently banned former President Donald Trump in January last year following his supporters’ attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Donald Trump’s actions while his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol show the former president is unfit for future office and could be held criminally responsible, said members of the House panel investigating the deadly 2021 riot.
Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the bipartisan committee, described Trump’s “dereliction of duty” as he watched from the White House while events unfolded, and resisted calls from his children and allies to intervene.
Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who chairs the select committee, said the panel is looking at whether Trump’s actions were part of a broader plan, and whether they merit criminal referral to the U.S. Justice Department.
Trump “demonstrated he’s at war with the rule of law, that he’s willing to blow through every guardrail of democracy,”
Cheney said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We’re in situation where people have got to understand the danger of President Trump.”
Those warnings are taking on greater urgency approaching Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the attack. Trump, 75, continues to repeat false claims about his 2020 electoral defeat, and has hinted at plans to run for the White House in 2024. The House committee’s final report is expected by the end of the year, potentially coinciding with midterm elections in November. …
Cheney, the House panel’s vice chair, said the committee is learning more about what transpired at the White House during more than two hours from the start of the siege to Trump’s eventual suggestion that his supporters leave the Capitol building.
In that time, the rioters reached the doors of the House chamber where a joint session of Congress, lead by then-Vice President Mike Pence, was certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
“Any man who would watch television as police officers were being beaten, as his supporters were invading the Capitol of the United States, is clearly unfit for future office,” Cheney said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Cheney, at the time the most senior female lawmaker in House Republican leadership, was one of ten GOP House members who voted to impeach Trump for “incitement of insurrection.” The Republican caucus removed her from its leadership ranks in May. …
C. What Year Is This?
In Boston, coronavirus levels measured in wastewater are spiking to more than quadruple last winter’s surge. In Miami, more than a quarter of people are testing positive for Covid. And a San Francisco medical leader estimates that, based on his hospital’s tests, one of every 12 people in the city with no Covid symptoms actually has the virus.
As the omicron variant sweeps the country, daily cases are reaching unheard-of levels, crossing the half-million mark, and are only expected to go much higher.
Some projections are for a peak of more than one million cases a day by as early as mid-January. “That seems totally plausible to me, given that we’re already at almost 600,000,” said Sam Scarpino, managing director of pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute.
On the plus side, hospitalizations and deaths have been rising more slowly, and it remains to be seen whether omicron’s casualty toll will reach levels of previous surges. The variant so far appears to naturally cause less severe illness, and widespread immunity, whether from vaccines or previous infections, has also been critically important.
However, the sheer numbers of those falling ill could continue to cause havoc in communities and in essential services ranging from schools and hospitals to airlines and subways. …
As more and more Americans rely on rapid tests, the results of which are not reported to public health authorities, the official case numbers become less reliable. That’s why other ways to measure the spread are gaining in importance. Wastewater, for example, has proven a dependable indicator of virus prevalence, and the latest measurements confirm an unprecedented spike.
Around this time last year, analysis found 1,500 copies of Covid RNA per milliliter in Massachusetts water, said Newsha Ghaeli, co-founder and president of Biobot Analytics, which is tracking wastewater Covid in 20 states. Now, it’s up to 7,000 copies per milliliter, she said.
Past research suggests virus spikes in wastewater precede spikes in clinical cases by four to ten days, she said, though those studies predate vaccines. “The data might look scary but we’re prepared,” she said. …
Omicron’s aggressive assault pushed new daily Covid cases in Florida to a record 58,013 on Dec. 29, more than double pre-Christmas levels, according to the CDC. The surge is starting to stress hospitals, where reported daily cases have been breaking records all week. On Thursday, some 4,000 people were hospitalized for Covid in the state, almost doubling in three days, according to the Florida Hospital Association. That’s still a long way from the summer surge of the delta variant, when hospitalizations from Covid peaked at 17,121. …
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott asked the federal government to send medical staff, therapeutic drugs and testing equipment to aid the state’s fight to help contain the latest wave. The request targets six counties that include the Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin areas, all of which are experiencing alarming growth in positivity rates and hospitalizations, Abbott said in an emailed statement.
Ultimately, said the Rockefeller Foundation’s Scarpino, the rise in cases is so steep that it looks to him and his colleagues like someone was playing with a mathematical model of disease spread, and tweaked a parameter to make infections “shoot through the roof.”
Goldman Sachs Group Inc., one of Wall Street’s fiercest champions of returning its staff to offices, is asking U.S. employees to work from home if they can until Jan. 18 as Covid-19 surges nationwide.
Goldman’s reversal comes after most of its major peers, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc., adopted a more cautious stance as the omicron variant spreads rapidly across the U.S., encouraging staff to resume work in the new year from their homes.
“As we continue to monitor the trajectory of this spike, we now encourage those who can work effectively from home to do so,” the bank said Sunday in a memo to employees. …
The New York region has been hit hard by this winter’s jump in infections, raising concerns about what will happen at office towers and in schools as families return from gatherings or vacations in coming days. That’s forced some banks to revise staffing strategies in recent weeks, with a number of them easing off mandates to commute to buildings.
JPMorgan is offering employees the option of working from home in the opening weeks of this year, the bank told staff in a memo on Thursday. Employees there are expected to resume their in-office schedules by Feb. 1.
Citigroup asked employee to work from home for the first few weeks of the new year if they’re able to do so. Bank of America Corp. is urging employees to work from home this week. …
D. Rest of the File
AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. rejected a U.S. request to delay this week’s launch of a new variation of 5G mobile service that airlines said might interfere with aircraft electronics, posing a safety hazard.
But the CEOs of the two telecommunications giants also said in a joint letter Sunday that they would be willing to commit to a six-month pause in deployment near certain airports that will be selected in negotiations with U.S. officials and the aviation industry.
The U.S. request seeks steps that would be “to the detriment of our millions of consumer, business and government customers,” Verizon Chief Executive Officer Hans Vestberg and AT&T’s John Stankey wrote to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Steve Dickson, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
In a letter Friday, the U.S. officials asked the wireless providers to delay the planned Jan. 5 start of the new service. The officials forecast possible “widespread and unacceptable disruption” to air traffic as planes avoid airports bathed in 5G signals that could affect electronics used during landings.
The carriers cast the 5G rollout as a priority, citing a race with China to offer extensive high-speed mobile broadband, and escalating demand for wireless service amid the Covid pandemic.
“Your proposed framework asks that we agree to transfer oversight of our companies’ multi-billion dollar investment in 50 unnamed metropolitan areas representing the lion’s share of the U.S. population to the FAA for an undetermined number of months or years,” Vestberg and Stankey wrote. “Even worse, the proposal is directed to only two companies.”
The wireless executives said agreeing to the proposal would be “an irresponsible abdication of the operating control required to deploy world-class and globally competitive communications networks.” …
FAA and DOT officials are reviewing the response from the companies and “U.S. aviation safety standards will guide our next actions,” the FAA said in an emailed statement. …
The wireless executives said they are “committed to continue” cooperation with transportation interests “on the condition that the FAA and the aviation industry are committed to doing the same without escalating their grievances, unfounded as they are, in other venues.”
While it’s unclear how aviation groups will respond to the wireless companies’ counteroffer, some type of restriction on 5G service near runways could limit impacts and give industry groups and regulators more time to study the potential for interference. …
The Airlines for America trade group in an emergency petition last week asked the Federal Communications Commission to delay the planned 5G deployment. The CTIA trade group that represents wireless interests told the FCC to reject the request.
“We are optimistic that by working together we can both advance the wireless economy and ensure aviation safety,” an FCC spokesperson said in an email Sunday. …
Stakes are high for both industries. The wireless industry paid $81 billion in an auction for access to the frequencies in question, and AT&T and Verizon will rely on them for network upgrades to compete with T-Mobile US Inc. in providing the next generation of fast mobile broadband.
Airlines in a Dec. 30 petition seeking a delay said they could lose more than $1 billion if they can’t properly operate their aircraft due to interference concerns, while disrupting plans for millions of passengers.
Investigators tracked tips from the public Sunday into the cause of the devastating Boulder County, Colorado, wildfire after Xcel Energy Inc. found no evidence of downed power lines in the drought-parched grasslands at the base of the Rocky Mountains.
The Boulder County Sheriff’s office obtained a search warrant for one property but Sheriff Joe Pelle said there was no credible evidence as of Saturday into the cause of the 6,215-acre wind-whipped blaze that destroyed 991 buildings and left two people missing and presumed dead.
A third person reported missing Saturday was located alive, The Denver Post reported.
Burned-out residents face a long haul toward rebuilding given “shortages of supplies and labor,” Governor Jared Polis said at a Sunday news conference in Boulder. Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, toured the fire zone Sunday, anticipating “a long road to recovery.” …
The wildfire mitigation plan for the area, 30 miles northwest of Denver, hadn’t been updated since 2010, predating a 17% increase in the local population, the Denver Gazette reported Sunday. The communities of Louisville and Superior suffered the greats losses.
Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to tackle risks that could disrupt his nation’s march toward development, as he entered a pivotal political year facing a host of economic challenges made worse by the pandemic.
“To realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will be no easy task like a walk in the park,” Xi said in a brief New Year’s Eve address broadcast to China’s 1.4 billion residents.
“It will not happen overnight, or through sheer fanfare,” he said. “We must always keep a long-term perspective, remain mindful of potential risks, maintain strategic focus and determination, and attain the broad and great while addressing the delicate and minute.”
China is entering a busy political period as Xi, 68, prepares for a twice-a-decade Communist Party congress during which he’s expected to secure a precedent-breaking third term. …
The world’s second-largest economy has come under increasing pressure from a range of forces, including virus outbreaks, a housing slump and weak consumption. Investors are also watching to see how officials handle contagion risks in credit markets, which are grappling with a looming restructuring by China Evergrande Group and defaults by other property developers.
Xi acknowledged during a meeting of the 25-member Politburo Tuesday that the party faces “complexity and grimness” rarely seen in history, the official Xinhua News Agency said, without elaborating. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yisaid in a separate interview with Xinhua that creating a safe and stable global environment for the party congress would be a key focus for the country’s diplomacy in 2022. …
China has vowed to maintain a Covid-zero policy that has slowed its economic rebound, but kept infection-related deaths below 5,000, a fraction of the more than 800,000 fatalities reported by the U.S. Even as Xi spoke, health authorities were enforcing a citywide lockdown in Xi’an to halt one of the biggest outbreaks since the first coronavirus cases were discovered in Wuhan.
The pandemic and travel curbs are expected to put a damper on the Beijing Winter Games, which are scheduled to be held Feb. 4-20. The event is also facing diplomatic boycotts by the U.S. and its allies, over China’s human rights policies in Xinjiang. …
“The prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macau is always close to the heart of the motherland,” (Xi) said. “Only with unity and concerted efforts can we ensure sound implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ in the long run. The complete reunification of our motherland is an aspiration shared by people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.”