News Tidbits for Thursday, December 7


Tension in the Middle East

Source: The New York Times

Protesters burned the flags of Israel and the United States in Gaza City on Wednesday.Credit: Mahmud Hams/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Arab and European leaders, Pope Francis and the U.N. criticized President Trump’s decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Pope Francis said, “I cannot remain silent.” The United Nations secretary general spoke of his “great anxiety.” The European Union expressed “serious concern.” American allies like Britain, France, Germany and Italy all declared it a mistake.

A number of countries asked for an emergency meeting of the Security Council of the United Nations, and this has been scheduled for tomorrow.

Secretary General António Guterres and Pope Francis both expressed alarm that President Trump’s announcement would provoke new tensions in the Holy City, which is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

California Fires Enter the Heart of Los Angeles

Source: The New York Times

Noah Berger/Associated Press

As fires raged out of control in Southern California, a new blaze began in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, near landmarks like U.C.L.A campus and the Getty Museum. It burned up to edges of the 405 freeway, the nation’s busiest highway carrying about 400,000 vehicles a day, where the northbound lanes were closed for much of the day and commuters drove through a shower of ashes with flames rising in the horizon.

Authorities said high winds — which could top 50 mph in some areas — create an “extreme fire danger.”

The Los Angeles school system has canceled classes at many San Fernando Valley campuses and officials are bracing for more fires across the region. Powerful winds not only worsen existing fires but also help fan new ones. The regional air quality agency warned that the air posed a health hazard in several places.

New Wave of Cheap Consumer Devices

Source: The New York Times

Doug Chayka

With the help of Amazon, many new electronics companies are offering inexpensive products, once considered “Chinese knockoffs.” A camera made by Wyze, a one-year-old Seattle startup, offers the same features and quality as devices by brand names costing 10 times more. Wyze’s low prices are based on Amazon’s high-volume, low-margin approach to sales. They also cut out almost every middleman, including most retailers – except Amazon. Customer rankings and reviews on Amazon have become just about the most important factor in how consumers buy electronics products; because Amazon pages come up high on search results like Google’s, a positive rating on Amazon can effectively make a brand — and a negative rating can break one.

The future? We’re going to get better products for absurdly low prices, and big brands across a range of categories are going to find it harder than ever to get us to shell out big money for their products.

Bitcoin Hasn’t Replaced Cash, but Investors Don’t Care

Source: The New York Times

Steve Lee of San Francisco, an investor in virtual currencies, said he considered Bitcoin more useful as a means of banking than as a form of payment. Credit: Jason Henry for The New York Times 

Although few companies accept Bitcoin as an accepted form of payment, people continue buying it up, pushing the price to new highs – over $13,000 for one Bitcoin on Wednesday. These investors aren’t using their tokens to buy computers or to book trips. They are saving Bitcoins as if it were virtual gold, a new way to store money outside the control of any government or company.

“I’ve always been skeptical of directly competing with and replacing existing forms of payment,” said Steve Lee, a longtime Google employee from San Francisco who is investing in virtual currencies. “Today what Bitcoin is excellent at, and has mostly solved, is being your own bank.”

The increasing value of Bitcoin has made it even less attractive as a way to pay for things. Most people don’t want to pay now with a dollar that could be worth twice as much next week.

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