Texas Governor Backs Bill Prohibiting Social Media Censorship of Conservative Speech

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday addressed his state about a new legislation that aims to combat the censorship of conservative voices by social media companies. Speaking at a press conference, Abbott warned about a “dangerous movement” across the United States to silence conservative ideas and religious beliefs. He blamed social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for contributing to that nationwide movement by “choosing which viewpoints are going to be allowed to be presented.” “Conservative speech will not be canceled in the state of Texas,” the Republican governor said. “We see that the First Amendment is under assault by the social media companies, and that is not going to be tolerated in Texas.” “They are controlling the flow of information and sometimes denying the flow of information,” Abbott continued. “Texas is taking a stand against big tech political censorship. We’re not going to allow it in the …

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Dr. Seuss Books Top Amazon’s Bestseller List, #1 Is 'The Cat in the Hat'

Books by Dr. Seuss have soared to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list after it was announced that six of the author’s publications were “canceled” by the left for being “racist.” The Cat in the Hat is currently topping the Amazon list.

Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat is currently the bestselling book on Amazon’s U.S. store.

Amazon’s second-best seller is currently a Dr. Seuss box set consisting of five publications by the late author, Theodor Seuss Geisel.

At number three is One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, with number four being Green Eggs and Ham, and number five being  Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

In total, Dr. Seuss dominated Amazon’s bestselling book list on Friday morning, with 15 of his publications making the site’s top 20 list.

The skyrocketing sales come after it was announced that six Dr. Seuss books, in particular, would no longer be published: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.

On Monday, a Virginia school system removed the children’s books by Dr. Seuss from its annual Read Across America program over charges that his books have “strong racial undertones.” President Joe Biden has also dropped Dr. Seuss from Read Across America Day.

And now, EBay is reportedly banning the six Dr. Seuss books in question, saying that it is working on removing the titles from its online auctions and other listings for violating the site’s “offensive material” policy.

As of Friday, consumers can still purchase the six “canceled” Dr. Seuss books on Amazon — but only if they are willing to pay a hefty price, as the cost of each banned book has skyrocketed on the site.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, on Parler @alana, and on Instagram.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Announces Bill Prohibiting Social Media Censorship

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) announced on Friday that he plans to sign a bill into law that would prohibit social media companies from censoring Texans’ viewpoints online, adding that censorship is “not going to be tolerated in Texas.”

“We see that the First Amendment is under assault by these social media companies, and that is not going to be tolerated in Texas,” said Governor Abbott at a press conference on Friday alongside State Senator Bryan Hughes (R).

“There is a dangerous movement spreading across the country trying to try to silence conservative ideas, religious beliefs,” the governor added. “We saw that first arise on college campuses.”

In 2019, Governor Abbott signed into law the “Campus Free Speech” law, ensuring that students’ First Amendment rights would be protected on college campuses.

“But now,” Abbott continued, “these social media tech companies are using their tools to silence conservative speech on their platforms.”

The governor added that senator Hughes’ Senate Bill 12 will protect Texans “from being wrongfully censored on social media, making sure that their voices are going to be heard and canceled or silenced.”

Abbott went on to note that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter “have evolved into the modern-day public square.”

“These are the areas that used to be the courthouse square where people would come and talk,” said Abbott. “Now, people are going to Facebook and Twitter to talk about their political ideas, and what Facebook and Twitter are doing — they are controlling the flow of information, and sometimes denying the flow of information.”

“Texas is taking a stand against big tech political censorship. We are not going to allow it in the Lone Star state,” Governor Abbott affirmed.

The governor explained that Senator Hughes’ legislation will prohibit social media companies from censoring Texans based upon their viewpoints.

“It would also allow any Texan who has been canceled or censored or de-platformed to be able to file a lawsuit against Twitter, Facebook, or any of these other companies, and make sure they are able to get back on,” said Abbott.

“The United States of America was built on freedom of speech and healthy public debate,” the governor added. “Big tech’s efforts to silence conservative viewpoints is un-American, un-Texan, and it is unacceptable. And pretty soon, it’s going to be against the law in the state of Texas.”

Senator Hughes also expressed his concerns regarding Americans being “locked out social media for not conforming to a narrow worldview” approved by the political left, and explained why it should be illegal for social media companies to behave in this manner.

“We don’t allow your phone company to cut you off because they don’t like your politics, your cable company can’t cut you off because of your religion,” said Hughes. “These social media companies are common carriers. They have chosen to enter into that business, and they cannot discriminate against people in a violation of the First Amendment.”

Governor Abbott says that he looks forward to signing the bill into law.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, on Parler @alana, and on Instagram.

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Huawei CFO’s argument in U.S. extradition case one for politicians, Canada prosecutor says

March 5, 2021

By Sarah Berman and Moira Warburton

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Canadian prosecutors told a court on Thursday that it was not a judge’s role to decide whether national security and geopolitical concerns can be used to strike down a U.S. request to extradite Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Meng, 49, was arrested in December 2018 on a U.S. warrant accused of misleading HSBC about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran, putting the bank at risk of violating U.S. sanctions. She has said she is innocent and is fighting her extradition case from under house arrest in Vancouver.

Prosecutors argued on Thursday that if Meng had become a bargaining chip in a trade war between the United States and China, as her lawyers say, then Canada’s minister of justice was the right person to decide that, not a judge.

Canada’s extradition process dictates that a judge will first decide whether an extradition claim is legal, before the country’s justice minister makes a final decision on whether to extradite that person.

Lawyers for the Huawei chief financial officer have asked for her case to be thrown out. They point to statements made by former U.S. President Donald Trump in December 2018, when he said he would intervene in the case if it would serve national security interests or help close a trade deal with China.

Canadian prosecutor Robert Frater said a British Columbia Supreme Court judge would not be able to determine whether Huawei was indeed a national security threat to the United States, as defence lawyer Richard Peck suggested on Wednesday.

“Peck can’t prove that’s false, I can’t prove that’s true,” Frater said. “The only thing you can do is presume good faith.”

Frater previously called Trump’s comments “vague” and listed statements by other U.S. officials who spoke against interference.

“Everyone in this courtroom knows that the elephant in the room in this case has always been the geopolitical winds that swirl around it,” Frater said on Thursday, adding that the defence tried to bring the elephant into court.

He urged the judge to focus on facts and law, and “leave the politics to the politicians.”

Defence attorney Eric Gottardi acknowledged that Trump may have been vague about the manner and timing of his alleged threat, but said that the president was not vague about his intention to intervene.

Gottardi said that more appropriate comments made by other U.S. officials were not as influential as they were all subordinate to the president.

“He has the most authority,” Gottardi said.

Diplomatic relations between Ottawa and Beijing broke down in the wake of Meng’s arrest. Days later, China detained two Canadians on espionage charges, which Canada viewed as retaliation.

Hearings were expected to last five days this week but both sides completed their arguments early. Meng will return to court on March 15. Her case is set to wrap up in May.

(Reporting by Sarah Berman and Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)

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White House says closely tracking Microsoft’s emergency patch

March 5, 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House is closely tracking an emergency patch Microsoft Corp has released, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday, after an unknown hacking group recently broke into organizations using a flaw in the company’s mail server software.

“We are closely tracking Microsoft’s emergency patch for previously unknown vulnerabilities in Exchange Server software and reports of potential compromises of U.S. think tanks and defense industrial base entities,” Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said on Twitter.

“We encourage network owners to patch ASAP,” he said. His tweet included a link to a notice by Microsoft of the security update. (https://bit.ly/3kLPWJQ)

Microsoft’s near-ubiquitous suite of products has been under scrutiny since the hack of SolarWinds Corp, a Texas-based software firm that served as a springboard for several intrusions across government and the private sector.

In other cases, hackers took advantage of the way customers had set up their Microsoft services to compromise their targets or dive further into affected networks.

Hackers who went after SolarWinds also breached Microsoft itself, accessing and downloading source code – including elements of Exchange, the company’s email and calendaring product.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Jacqueline Wong & Shri Navaratnam)

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GameStop spikes as investors eye cryptic tweet by shareholder

FILE PHOTO: GameStop logo is seen near displayed stock graph in this illustration
FILE PHOTO: GameStop logo is seen near displayed stock graph in this illustration taken February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

March 5, 2021

(Reuters) – Shares of Reddit-darling GameStop climbed on Thursday, rising more than 20% at one point in yet another unexplained move that left market watchers looking for a possible catalyst.

GameStop shares closed up 6.4% at $131.93 after earlier hitting $147.87, their highest since a surge in the heavily shorted stock late last month.

One analyst and some Twitter users pointed to a cryptic tweet by Ryan Cohen, a major shareholder of GameStop and founder of e-commerce firm Chewy.com, as a plausible reason for the move, although Reuters could not independently determine causation.

The late afternoon rally in GameStop began roughly around the time that Cohen tweeted what appeared to be a screenshot with the puppet dog advertising mascot of Pets.com, a famous casualty of the dotcom bubble two decades ago.

Cohen and GameStop had no comment on the tweet.

The tweet was “as good an explanation as any” for the sudden surge in GameStop shares, said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter in an emailed comment to Reuters.

“The core ‘story’ is that he will change the company and reverse its fortunes, so anything he does to reinforce that change… is going to move the stock higher,” he said.

“I don’t know if this was the actual catalyst today, but in such an ugly market, it makes sense.”

Wall Street ended sharply lower on Thursday, leaving the Nasdaq down around 10% from its February record high.

A GameStop rally last month has also been linked to a Cohen tweet. A Feb. 24 surge in the company’s shares began roughly around the time Cohen tweeted a picture of a McDonald’s ice cream cone with a frog emoji.

The tweet left some GameStop bulls wondering online whether it was a veiled message that Cohen would fix GameStop’s business, like the fast-food chain modernized its ice cream machines.

GameStop has become one of the most visible of the so-called meme stocks that are closely followed on sites such as Reddit’s popular WallStreetBets forum.

The stock surged more than 1,600% in January after a wave of buying forced investors betting against the company’s shares to unwind their positions, before paring most of those gains the following month.

Cohen’s RC Ventures activist firm reached a settlement with GameStop in January, giving Cohen seats on the company’s board.

(Reporting By Sinéad Carew; Additional reporting by Jessica DiNapoli; Editing by Franklin Paul, Ira Iosebashvili and Subhranshu Sahu)

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Japan supercomputer shows doubling masks offers little help preventing viral spread

Japan supercomputer shows doubling masks offers little help in viral spread
FILE PHOTO: A computer simulation by Japanese scientists at research giant Riken and Kobe University, illustrates the effectiveness of different mask combinations worn to curb the spread of droplets during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, in this presentation slide supplied by the Riken Center for Computational Sciences on March 5, 2021. Red is a loosely fitted non-woven mask. Green is a fitted non-woven mask. Green and brown are a non-woven mask with a polyurethane one on top. The bar graph illustrates the “droplet collection efficiency”. The blue bar shows the results of wearing loose-fit non-woven (surgical) mask. while red shows a fitted non-woven mask, and purple shows a fitted non-woven mask plus polyurethane mask. Riken/Handout via REUTERS

March 5, 2021

By Rocky Swift

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese supercomputer simulations showed that wearing two masks gave limited benefit in blocking viral spread compared with one properly fitted mask.

The findings in part contradict recent recommendations from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that two masks were better than one at reducing a person’s exposure to the coronavirus.

Researchers used the Fugaku supercomputer to model the flow of virus particles from people wearing different types and combinations of masks, according to a study released on Thursday by research giant Riken and Kobe University.

Using a single surgical-type mask, made of non-woven material, had 85% effectiveness in blocking particles when worn tightly around the nose and face. Adding a polyurethane mask on top boosted the effectiveness to just 89%.

Wearing two non-woven masks isn’t useful because air resistance builds up and causes leakage around the edges.

“The performance of double masking simply does not add up,” wrote the researchers, led by Makoto Tsubokura.

In general, professional grade N95 masks were the best in protecting against infection, followed by non-woven masks, cloth masks, and finally polyurethane types, the study showed.

The Riken research team previously used the Fugaku supercomputer to model how humidity can affect viral contagion and the infection risks in trains, work spaces, and other environments.

As the COVID-19 epidemic has worn on, scientific consensus has grown that the virus is spread through the air and masks are effective in controlling contagion.

(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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Analysis: Wealth managers frustrated over bitcoin, anxious for piece of the action

March 5, 2021

By David Randall

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The rollercoster ride in bitcoin since the start of the year has not dampened wealth manager Jim Paulsen’s enthusiasm for the cryptocurrency.

Yet Paulsen, chief investment officer for Leuthold Group, which manages $1 billion, cannot own bitcoin in client portfolios due to regulatory constraints. This has left him on the sidelines watching the world’s most popular cyrptocurrency surge more than 900% since its March lows in volatile trading that also saw bitcoin lose more than 20% in the span of a few days.

“What I like about bitcoin is… its correlation to stocks and other assets is extraordinarily independent,” said Paulsen, who remains frustrated that he cannot own it for clients.

The promise of an asset class that behaves differently than stocks or bonds is leaving portfolio and wealth managers scrambling own cryptocurrencies if they can.

Many view bitcoin as a good inflation hedge. Nearly 20% of advisors are contemplating investing in cyryptocurrencies this year due to concerns about inflation, up from 6.3% in 2019, according to a report from Citi.

Still, a number of advisors say they are unable to own bitcoin for their clients until they can hold it in an exchange-traded fund or mutual fund that clears legal hurdles common for any investment.

Should that happen, institutional money could flow in and push the asset class higher, analysts said.

BlackRock Inc, the world’s largest asset manager, said on Jan. 21 it was adding bitcoin futures as eligible investments for certain funds. Fund experts expect other asset management firms to follow suit.

Yet the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission does not yet recognize cryptocurrencies as a security like a stock or a bond, and has not ruled whether mutual funds can own them directly, said Robert Jenkins, global head of research at Refinitiv Lipper. So it remains unclear whether any mutual funds currently own bitcoin because they are not required to disclose it, he said.

In the United States, eight firms have tried without success since 2013 to create a bitcoin ETF, according to Todd Rosenbluth, director of ETF and mutual fund research at New York based CFRA.

The SEC did not respond to questions for this article.

Funds like the popular ARK Invest ETF line that have positions in bitcoin do it through shares of the Greyscale Bitcoin Trust, a publicly traded trust that holds a set number of bitcoin units and often trades at a premium to the value of its underlying portfolio.

Securities regulators in Canada approved the world’s first bitcoin ETF on Feb. 12, leading some investors to hope that U.S. regulators will shortly follow.

President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the SEC, Gary Gensler, spoke in broad terms about crytocurrencies in a confirmation hearing Tuesday, suggesting that the agency should provide more regulation on how it views the asset class. Some investors have taken his appointment as raising the likelihood that a bitcoin ETF will be approved for the U.S.

Gensler “seems more crypto-friendly than previous folks who had oversight,” said Viraj Patel, head of asset allocation at Fiduciary Trust International, who has not yet made investments in the asset class for clients but is waiting for a U.S.-based ETF. “We’re really looking at cryptocurrency through the lens of this could be gold 2.0,” said Patel.

Still, Rosenbluth said he was skeptical of a product being approved this year, saying there would be a high bar to clear tied to market manipulation and custody audit.

Even in the absence of an ETF, retail interest “remains strong with no signs of abating,” JP Morgan analysts wrote in a Feb 16 research note.

Overall, cyptocurrency funds and products that investors can buy direct brought in nearly $5.6 billion in assets in 2020, up more than 600% from the year before, according to asset manager CoinShares. Cryptocurrency funds have gathered $4.2 billion in flows for this year through March 1, Coinshares said.

“Not allowing the purchase of cyrpto is something that’s frustrating to many advisors, but it’s such a volatile asset that many investors end up doing it on their own,” said Jimmy Lee, chief executive of the Wealth Consulting Group.

(Reporting by David Randall; editing by Megan Davies, Ira Iosebashvili and David Gregorio)

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China ramps up tech commitment in 5-year plan, eyes 7% boost in R&D spend

National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang speaks at the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

March 5, 2021

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China will increase its annual research and development spending by more than 7% every year over the next five years, the government wrote on Friday in its work report from the Fourth Session of the 13th National People’s Congress.

The government will increase expenditure on basic research by 10.6% in 2021, the report added.

The ramp-up highlights the country’s commitment to advancing in the tech sector, as the country increasingly clashes with the United States and other countries over technology policy.

In its five-year plan, China highlighted seven key areas related to technology it aims to boost: next-generation artificial intelligence, quantum information, brain science, semiconductors, genetic research and biotechnology, clinical medicine and health, and deep space, deep sea and polar exploration.

The government also said it would establish more national laboratories to research quantum information and artificial intelligence.

Other aims include encouraging companies to open up data in areas ranging from search, e-commerce to social media and support the third-party big data services.

Moreover, it wants to improve its channels for domestic companies going public, and enhance the “hard technology” characteristics of the STAR board, a recently launched stock market.

The government also said it would support foreign-funded companies to set up R&D centers in China, and called for China to establish international science and technology-related organizations within the country.

Other areas it called on supporting included the electric vehicle sector, and 5G networks. The government aims to achieve 5G penetration of 56% in the next five years, according to the plan.

(Reporting by Josh Horwitz in Shanghai and Yingzhi Yang and Yilei Sun in Beijing; Editing by Sam Holmes and Gerry Doyle)

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Blockchain firm Ripple sees no fallout in Asia Pacific from SEC lawsuit

Representation of the virtual currency Ripple coin is seen on a motherboard in this picture illustration
FILE PHOTO: Representation of the virtual currency Ripple coin is seen on a motherboard in this picture illustration taken April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

March 5, 2021

TOKYO (Reuters) – Blockchain payments firm Ripple has not experienced any fallout in its Asia Pacific business after being sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company’s chief executive officer said on Friday.

In late December, the SEC charged Ripple, which is associated with cryptocurrency XRP, with conducting a $1.3 billion unregistered securities offering.

After that, the top U.S. cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase shut down trading in XRP, which is the world’s seventh-largest cryptocurrency by market value.

“It (the lawsuit) has hindered activity in the United States, but it has not really impacted what’s going on for us in Asia Pacific,” Brad Garlinghouse, Ripple’s chief executive officer, told Reuters in a video interview from California.

“We have been able to continue to grow the business in Asia and Japan because we’ve had regulatory clarity in those markets,” he said, adding that he did not know of any exchange outside the United States that had halted XRP trading.

“XRP is traded on over 200 exchanges around the world. It’s really only three or four exchanges in the United States that have halted trading,” he said.

Garlinghouse was one of two of the firm’s executives alleged by the SEC in December of personally gaining about $600 million received from the unregistered offering.

Financial regulators around the world are looking to decide how they should regulate the cryptocurrency industry.

The outcome of their assessments could determine whether cryptocurrencies will grow into mainstream assets or remain niche products.

Gary Gensler, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the SEC, promised during his congressional confirmation hearing to provide “guidance and clarity” to the cyptocurrency market.

While bitcoin is considered a commodity by U.S. financial regulators, most other cryptocurrencies have yet to be classified as commodities or securities.

Ripple has signed more than 15 new contracts with banks globally since the SEC brought its lawsuit, Garlinghouse said, adding that he believed the lack of clarity in the United States has been a “hindrance” to innovation.

“We’re seeing the activity of XRP liquidity has grown outside the United States and continue to grow in Asia, certainly in Japan,” he said.

(Reporting by Daniel Leussink; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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