US briefing: Ukraine, China’s missiles and Facebook’s backdoor

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Good morning, I’m Tim Walker with today’s essential stories.

Texts suggest Trump exerting pressure on Ukraine president

US diplomats told Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, that his hopes of meeting Donald Trump to improve Kyiv’s relations with Washington rested on his vowing to investigate allegations against the Bidens. The exchange emerged in texts released as part of the impeachment inquiry, hours after Trump himself made an extraordinary public demand for China to investigate his prospective Democratic rival, threatening: “If they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous, tremendous power.”

  • Kurt Volker. The first witness in the impeachment inquiry was the former special envoy on Ukraine, who believed he could maintain the US policy of upholding Ukrainian independence despite Trump’s attachment to Putin. He was wrong, as Julian Borger reports.

  • ‘Deep state’. The president’s allies continue to blame the so-called “deep state” for his impeachment, despite Steve Bannon himself debunking the conspiracy theory. In fact, says Richard Wolffe, Trump is becoming his own worst enemy.

Russia helping China build missile defence system, says Putin

Putin, right, with China's president, Xi Jinping, in Tajikistan in June.



Vladimir Putin (right) with China’s president, Xi Jinping, in Tajikistan in June. Photograph: Alexei Druzhinin/AP

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has said his country is helping China to develop a ballistic missile defence system of a sort that has so far been used only by Russia and the US. The network of ground-based radars and space satellites would give Beijing early warning of intercontinental ballistic missile launches. Speaking at a conference in Moscow on Thursday, Putin said it was “a very serious thing that will radically enhance China’s defence capability”.

  • Eurasian cooperation. The news demonstrates increased cooperation between Moscow and Beijing at a time when US relations with both powers are complicated by controversy over the Kremlin’s ties to Trump and the trade war between the US and China.

US to demand Facebook ‘backdoor’ to encrypted messages

Mark Zuckerberg at a hearing on Capitol Hill last year.



Mark Zuckerberg at a hearing on Capitol Hill last year. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

The US, UK and Australia plan to pressure Facebook into providing governments with a “backdoor” to its encrypted messaging system, allowing them to access the content of private communications, according to a letter from top officials to Mark Zuckerberg, which has been obtained by the Guardian. The signatories to the open letter, dated 4 October, include the US attorney general, William Barr, and Britain’s home secretary, Priti Patel.

  • Data access. The US and UK have also unveiled a “world-first” data access agreement, permitting law enforcement agencies investigating serious crimes to demand certain data directly from the other country’s tech firms without going through their governments.

Los Angeles homeless face alarming increase in violence

A homeless encampment in Downtown LA’s Skid Row neighbourhood.



A homeless encampment in Downtown LA’s Skid Row neighbourhood. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

As a housing crisis forces more and more people on to the streets, homeless people and their advocates in Los Angeles are reportedly facing a rise in harassment and violence. Statistics have long shown that homeless people are more vulnerable to crimes such as assault, harassment and vandalism than the housed. The Guardian’s Carla Green spoke to almost a dozen homeless Angelenos, who all said there had been a noticeable increase in attacks in the past year, by people who target them for being homeless.

  • Arson attack. Prosecutors are reportedly considering charges of attempted murder against two men, including the son of a local chamber of commerce president, for setting fire to a homeless encampment in LA’s Eagle Rock neighbourhood in August.

  • Public banks. In a bid to tackle the affordable housing crisis, California has legalised the creation of public banks by cities and counties, which could provide public agencies access to loans at interest rates much lower than private banks.

Cheat sheet

  • The EU has urged the UK government to publish its new Brexit plan in full as Boris Johnson heads to Europe for talks with Angela Merkel and other leaders, while Ireland’s prime minister has accused Johnson of misleading the British parliament.

  • The actor James Franco faces a new lawsuit claiming he and other staff at his acting school “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students”, accusations that Franco refutes as “not accurate”.

  • Google reportedly told subcontracted workers to target people with “darker skin tones” when harvesting face scans from the public to improve the firm’s facial recognition algorithms, which are notoriously inept at identifying people of color.

  • Thousands of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have taken to the streets in masks after the territory’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, prepares to implement harsh colonial-era emergency powers banning face masks.

Must-reads

Kim Gordon: ‘There’s a wall of faceless men I have to climb over’



Kim Gordon: ‘There’s a wall of faceless men I have to climb over’ Photograph: David Black

Art-rock legend Kim Gordon: ‘Consumerism is killing us’

Sonic Youth, the seminal art-rock band Kim Gordon co-founded with her ex-husband Thurston Moore, came to a natural conclusion when the couple split in 2011. Now, at 66, she is releasing her first solo record. “Playing bass was never my desire,” she tells Jenn Pelly. “It was a byproduct of wanting to make something exciting.”

Why is ‘junk science’ still sending people to death row?

For decades, US law enforcement has used ‘forensic hypnosis’ to draw out testimony from witnesses and victims, despite growing evidence that it is unreliable, relying on a false notion of memory as “a vast, permanent and potentially accessible storehouse of information,” as Ariel Ramchandani reports.

The week’s best film about an extremist loner is not Joker

The superficial similarities between the much-hyped revisionist supervillain movie Joker and Rob Lambert’s grimy low-budget drama Cuck are striking. But it is Lambert’s portrait of an online racist who turns to IRL violence that is the more repellent, honest and astute, says Charles Bramesco.

Israel’s Arab wineries illustrate the Palestinian struggle

There are just two commercial Palestinian-owned wineries inside Israel, with clients including Yotam Ottolenghi and those Tel Aviv restaurants that want to avoid wine made on controversial Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Miriam Berger meets the vintners keeping an Arab-Palestinian tradition alive.

Opinion

From teachers and hotel workers to nurses and auto workers, US labour groups have staged a wave of industrial action in 2019. But Democrats have yet to put forth policies that show they stand with the workers in this punishing economic climate, says Malaika Jabali.


Despite this growing progressive fervor, the Democrats’ congressional leadership – including Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer – have focused almost entirely on targeting Donald Trump.

Sport

Gardner Minshew II, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ mustachioed rookie quarterback, has turned out to be far more than just an Uncle Rico lookalike, writes Hunter Felt. The first four games of his NFL career constitute one of the most impressive quarterback stretches in Jaguars history.

Leicester City travel to Anfield on Saturday, hoping to derail Liverpool’s perfect league start, while on Sunday Manchester United and Newcastle will both want to hit their stride after a slow spell when they face each other at St James’ Park. Those are two of 10 things to look out for in the Premier League this weekend.

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