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Exclusive: Biden aides launch review with eye to shutting Guantanamo prison – White House


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration has launched a formal review of the future of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba with the goal of reviving efforts to close the controversial facility, a White House official said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: An exit door where released detainees are turned over to the countries that have agreed to accept them is seen at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Aides involved in internal discussions are considering an executive action to be signed by President Joe Biden in coming weeks or months, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters, signaling a new effort to remove what human rights advocates have called a stain on America’s global image.

“We are undertaking an NSC process to assess the current state of play that the Biden administration has inherited from the previous administration, in line with our broader goal of closing Guantanamo,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne told Reuters.

“The NSC will work closely with the Departments of Defense, State, and Justice to make progress toward closing the GTMO facility, and also in close consultation with Congress,” she added.

Such an initiative, however, is unlikely to bring down the curtain anytime soon on the high-security facility located at the Guantanamo Naval Station.

Set up to house foreign suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the facility came to symbolize the excesses of the U.S. “war on terror” because of harsh interrogation methods that critics say amounted to torture.

The immediate impact, however, could be to reinstate, in some form, the Guantanamo closure policy of Biden’s old boss, former President Barack Obama, which was reversed by Donald Trump as soon as he took office in 2017.

Trump kept the offshore prison open during his four years in the White House – though he never loaded it up with “bad dudes,” as he once vowed. Now, 40 prisoners remain, most held for nearly two decades without being charged or tried.

Biden’s campaign said during the 2020 race that he continued to support closing the detention center but did not say how he would do it.

It is also unclear how specific Biden’s coming executive action might be about his plans for the prison, which holds suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks among its detainee population.

Signaling that the process is still at an early stage, Horne said “a number of key policy roles still need to be filled within the interagency, including confirming sub-Cabinet policy roles at the Defense, State, and Justice Departments.”

“There will be a robust interagency process to move forward on this but we need to have the right people seated to do this important work,” she said.

Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, can expect to face many of the same steep political, legal and diplomatic obstacles that frustrated his former boss.

Former President George W. Bush opened the prison and its population grew to a peak of about 800 inmates before it started to shrink. Obama whittled down the number further but his effort to close the prison was stymied largely by Republican opposition in Congress.

The federal government is still barred by law from transferring any inmates to prisons on the U.S. mainland. Even with his own Democratic party now controlling Congress, their majorities are so slim that Biden would face a tough challenge securing legislative changes because some Democrats might also oppose them.

Reporting By Matt Spetalnick, Trevor Hunnicutt and Phil Stewart; Editing by Mary Milliken and Alistair Bell



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News

Exclusive: China’s Huawei in talks to sell premium smartphone brands P and Mate – sources


(Reuters) – China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is in early-stage talks to sell its premium smartphone brands P and Mate, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said, a move that could see the company eventually exit from the high-end smartphone-making business.

FILE PHOTO: The Huawei logo is seen at the IFA consumer technology fair, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Berlin, Germany September 3, 2020. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

The talks between the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker and a consortium led by Shanghai government-backed investment firms have been going on for months, the people said, declining to be identified as the discussions were confidential.

Huawei started to internally explore the possibility of selling the brands as early as last September, according to one of the sources. The two sources were not privy to the valuation placed on the brands by Huawei.

Shipments of Mate and P Series phones were worth $39.7 billion between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020, according to consultancy IDC.

However, Huawei has yet to make a final decision on the sale and the talks might not conclude successfully, according to the two sources, as the company is still trying to manufacture at home its in-house designed high-end Kirin chips which power its smartphones.

“Huawei has learned there are unsubstantiated rumours circulating regarding the possible sale of our flagship smartphone brands,” a Huawei spokesman said. “There is no merit to these rumours whatsoever. Huawei has no such plan.”

The Shanghai government said it was not aware of the situation and declined to comment further.

The potential sale of Huawei’s premium smartphone lines suggests the company has little hope that the new Biden administration will have a change of heart towards the supply chain restrictions placed on Huawei since May 2019, the two people said.

The Shanghai government-backed investment firms may form a consortium with Huawei’s dealers to take over the P and Mate brands, according to the second person, a similar model to the Honor deal. Huawei is also likely to keep its existing P& Mate management team for the new entity, if the deal goes through, the two people said.

OVERCOMING U.S. CURBS

Huawei, the world’s biggest telecoms equipment vendor and No.2 smartphone maker, last November announced the sale of its budget phone brand Honor to a consortium of 30 dealers led by a company backed by the Shenzhen government.

The second source said the all-cash sale fetched more than 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion). Honor declined to comment.

The Honor sale was aimed at keeping the budget brand alive, as sanctions slapped on Huawei by the United States had hampered the unit’s supply chain and cut off the company’s access to key hardware like chips and software such as Alphabet Inc’s Google Mobile Services.

Huawei may have a similar objective in pursuing the sale of the mobile brands. The two sources said that Huawei’s latest plans for the two high-end brands were motivated by insufficient chip supplies.

Washington says that Huawei is a national security threat, which Huawei has repeatedly denied.

On Friday, Honor indicated that the goal of the spin-off had been reached by announcing it had formed partnerships with chip makers such as Intel and Qualcomm and launched a new phone.

Last year, the company’s Consumer Business Group Chief Executive Richard Yu said U.S. restrictions meant Huawei would soon stop making Kirin chips. Analysts expect its stockpile of the chips to run out this year.

Huawei’s HiSilicon division relies on software from U.S. companies such as Cadence Design Systems Inc or Synopsys Inc to design its chips and it outsources the production to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), which uses equipment from U.S. companies.

The P and Mate phone series are among the top players in the higher-end smartphone market in China and compete with Apple’s iPhone, Xiaomi Corp’s Mi and Mix series and OPPO’s Find series.

The two brands contributed nearly 40% to Huawei’s total sales over the third quarter of 2020, according to market research firm Counterpoint.

Analysts have already noted recent insufficient supplies of the flagship P40 and Mate40 series due to a severe components shortage.

“We expect a continuous decline in sales of P and Mate series smartphones through Q1 2021,” said Flora Tang, an analyst at Counterpoint.

Reporting by Julie Zhu, Yingzhi Yang and David Kirton, Additional reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee & Shri Navaratnam



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Reviews

UPDATE 1-Cannabis review site Weedmaps to go public at $1.5 bln valuation


(Adds details on merger, background)

Dec 10 (Reuters) – Cannabis user-review site Weedmaps’ parent will go public at a $1.5 billion valuation through a merger with a blank-check firm, the company said on Thursday, as recent enthusiasm points to high growth for U.S. marijuana businesses over the coming years.

Reuters exclusively reported on Wednesday about talks between WM Holding Co and Silver Spike Acquisition Corp , a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

The deal follows positive developments in the cannabis industry.

Demand surged throughout 2020 as people stayed stuck at home, five more U.S. states legalized marijuana usage in some form last month and the U.S. House of Representatives voted last week on a bill to decriminalize the plant at the federal level.

Founded in 2008, WM Holdings runs the Weedmaps platform and WM Business, a subscription software used by cannabis retailers and brands.

The company said its revenue has grown at a compound annual rate of 40% in the last five years, and is on track to hit $160 million in revenue and $35 million in EBITDA this year.

Following the deal, which is expected to provide up to $575 million of proceeds, the combined company will be led by WM Holding’s Chief Executive Officer Chris Beals and will remain listed on the Nasdaq, the company said.

Scott Gordon, CEO of Silver Spike SPAC, will join the combined company’s board.

SPACs are shell vehicles that use capital raised through an initial public offering to buy a private company, usually within two years. The deal then takes the private company public.

SPACs have emerged as a quick route to the stock market for companies concerned about the risk of the lengthy IPO process, and a host of cannabis executives have set up these vehicles to look for deals. (Reporting by Shariq Khan and Arunima Kumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Shounak Dasgupta)



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Hardware

Agents raid U.S. coronavirus data scientist’s home, confiscate hardware


(Reuters) – U.S. law enforcement agents on Monday raided the home of a top data scientist who helped build Florida state’s online COVID dashboard and alleged she was fired from her government job because she refused to manipulate data.

The home of Rebekah Jones in Tallahassee, Florida, was raided by agents executing a search warrant on suspicion that Jones hacked into a state Department of Health communications system, said Rick Swearingen, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Swearingen said agents “seized several devices that will be forensically analyzed.” Jones, in a Twitter post, said her phone “and all my hardware and tech” were confiscated.

An unauthorized text message was sent through the system last month to nearly 1,800 department employees, encouraging them to “speak up before another 17,000 people are dead,” according to a report last month by the Tampa Bay Times, which obtained the message.

Swearingen said an investigation began last month after the state’s Department of Health filed a complaint saying it had been hacked. He said agents executed a search warrant at Jones’ home after investigators determined that the unauthorized message was sent from an IP address associated with her family internet account.

Jones, who has filed a whistleblower complaint against Florida, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. She told USA Today that she did not hack into any government system.

Jones told the Miami Herald that she thinks investigators are not after her – but are actually trying to find out which state employees have spoken with her since she was fired in May.

After she was fired, Jones created her own COVID dashboard that included more details – like hospital capacity – than the state itself was at times providing.

“The most damning stuff that they are going to get from that equipment is the information about all of the employees from the state who have talked to me over the last six months,” Jones told the Herald.

‘TRUTH TO POWER’

Jones has said she was dismissed because she would not manipulate data that would support the state’s reopening of the economy.

The office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in May defended Jones’ firing, telling the Miami Herald she had been insubordinate on numerous occasions, including unilaterally making changes to the state’s COVID dashboard.

Jones posted home security camera footage of Monday’s raid on her Twitter account. It showed agents with weapons drawn, yelling at unseen people on a second floor to exit the home.

“They pointed a gun at my face. They pointed guns at my kids,” Jones wrote on Twitter.

Swearingen, in his written statement, denied that agents pointed guns at anyone in the house.

“This is what happens to scientists who do their job honestly,” Jones wrote. “This is what happens to people who speak truth to power.”

Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Leslie Adler and Raju Gopalakrishnan



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Future

Vaccine rally stalls and data in focus


LONDON — European stocks were muted on Wednesday morning as a global market rally falters following a spate of positive coronavirus vaccine news.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 inched 0.2% lower in early trade with industrials shedding 0.6% to lead losses while retail stocks added 0.2%.

The stall in global markets began on Tuesday, with European stocks closing lower despite the backdrop of more positive coronavirus vaccine news from Moderna, which announced on Monday that preliminary data showed its coronavirus vaccine was more than 94% effective at preventing Covid-19. That news had come after Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90% effective.

Elsewhere, U.S. stock futures retreated Wednesday morning as investors digested the recent record rally in equities. Futures for the S&P 500 and Nasdaq-100 also edged down marginally.

Dampened sentiment comes as U.S. retail sales came in lower than expected for October as millions of Americans lost their unemployment benefits amid the surge in coronavirus cases. The U.S. 7-day average of daily new Covid-19 infections surpassed 150,000 for the first time on Monday, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins data.

Meanwhile, Asia-Pacific markets were mixed in Wednesday trade as investors remain cautious as coronavirus cases continued to surge. Data from Japan showed exports did much better than expected in October, falling 0.2%, according to the Ministry of Finance. That’s compared to a 4.5% decline forecast by economists in a Reuters poll. It followed a 4.9% drop in September.

Exports were helped by a rise in demand for Japanese cars by China and the U.S., which drove up shipments, according to Reuters.

Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping firm, matched third-quarter profit expectations on Wednesday amid a stronger-than-expected pickup in demand. The company’s shares edged 1.2% lower in early trade.

There were no major share price moves early in the session, with Swedish heating technology firm Nibe Industrier adding 4.3% to lead gains on the back of a rise in operating profit, while British investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown fell 3.7%.

Subscribe to CNBC PRO to access live PRO Talks, including our Dec. 2 discussion on opportunities and risks in international markets.

– CNBC’s Weizhen Tan and Maggie Fitzgerald contributed to this market report.



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