Wednesday Night #1773

Written by  //  February 24, 2016  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

It’s not usual for technology to dominate the news feed, but this week it’s all about Apple vs. the FBI and for many there is a real ethical dilemma at play. Among the array of analyses and articles about the fight, we found Apple vs FBI: Who will win this struggle for power? of particular interest as it draws attention to the state-like powers of the technology giants summarized by Paul Bernal at the University of East Anglia, UK: “There’s a sense that the tech giants are the new wave of colonialisation,” he says. “In a way, they’re creating their own empires.”
Mitch Joel wisely comments: “Apple and Tim Cook are at war with the US government. While it may seem like Apple is just trying to protect its brand (the CIA is calling this an issue of marketing), we should all think (very deeply) about the implications and what this means to all of our privacy. A backdoor isn’t just something for those who have done horrible things, it becomes a Pandora’s Box, and we should all try to educate ourselves about this issue… and what it could mean to our own lives.”
Bill Gates sides with the FBI. The Microsoft co-founder has bucked the trend of the tech industry, saying that Apple should open the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino killers. Gates told the Financial Times (paywall) that the situation is no different than other requests from the authorities to examine phone and bank records. Wait a minute, Fortune reports that now he has clarified His Stance on Apple vs. FBI—Sort Of. It seems that in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Tuesday, he said he was misunderstood. At least he didn’t say he misspoke.
In Is the FBI v Apple PR war even about encryption? the Guardian’s Alex Hern writes “What the US intelligence agency is asking the tech company to do may not affect mobile security as much as its CEO Tim Cook wants you to believe” however, as the article concludes, “this situation is full of many more shades of grey than either Apple or the FBI are prepared to concede.”
A worthy topic for debate, with good arguments on both sides.

While the OECD calls for less austerity and more public investment (One-time deficit reduction supporter slashes growth forecasts and urges richer countries to exploit cheap borrowing to spend more on infrastructure), former Finance Minister Joe Oliver holds out for balanced budget and argues that existing programs already address the issues, e.g. “$80 billion dedicated to public infrastructure over the next decade and a new Public Transit Fund, which will provide $1 billion annually to large projects in major urban centres.” Finance Minister Morneau is obviously aligned with the OECD  and defends the Liberal government’s willingness to run a larger-than-expected deficit . And by the way, all will be revealed on March 22 when the Budget will be tabled.
One WN economist muses that we should consider “how electoral promises force the announcement of a recession that does not exist.”
Meanwhile, more bad news was delivered to Canada’s oil industry in a speech on Tuesday by Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister who confirmed that OPEC is more than happy to ride out cheap crude prices until higher-cost producers are pushed out of the market. However, many analysts believe that OPEC will not be able to enforce a production freeze especially in the cases of Iran and Russia.

Three days away from the first anniversary of Boris Nemtsov‘s death, there are still questions about Vladimir Putin’s involvement and the role of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Meanwhile, a New York Times analysis reminds us that Questions Linger Over Russia’s Endgame in Syria, Ukraine and Europe. Tuesday was Defenders of the Fatherland Day in Russia, a public holiday and a celebration of all things military: triumphalism about the latest weapons, about operations in Syria, about the seizure of Crimea. However, some observers suggest that Russia’s military is much weaker than Putin wants us to think, but would warn that “Perceptions matter, though: Arguably being thought to be dangerous is actually a more powerful geopolitical asset than actually being it. So long as the West believes Russia could surge into Ukraine, escalate in Syria, or even roll into the Baltic states, it inevitably feels a greater pressure to make concessions and invite Vladimir Putin to the table.” Finally, Bloomberg’s aggressive headline Can Things Get Any Worse for Russia? You’re About to Find Out is followed by a bleak picture of the Russian economy Investors who’ve made a fortune in the country say that with oil’s plunge, the ruble’s collapse, and Putin in power, all bets are off.

While most eyes are on Syria, China has been deploying missiles and radar in the South China Sea as part of an effort to militarily dominate East Asia, according to U.S. Admiral Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi denied that there are problems with freedom of navigation and maintained that China and ASEAN countries – several of which have competing claims with China – “have the capability to maintain stability in the South China Sea.” On a different front, President Xi Jinping has announced a far-reaching media policy: Chinese Media Must Serve the Party e.g. party mouthpieces. At the same time, Mr. Xi also wants to curb the presence of foreign media companies. Last week, government agencies announced a regulation that would prevent foreign companies from publishing and distributing content online in China.
Oh yes, The Chinese government has issued a new directive banning ‘bizarre’ architecture and criticising some of the “oversized, xenocentric, weird” buildings in the country. China has seen a number of architectural gems springing up in recent years, including one building shaped like a teapot and another that has been likened to a pair of trousers. Under the new directive, buildings are to be “economical, functional, aesthetically pleasing” and “environmentally friendly”. After checking out the pictures of some of the buildings in question, you have to sympathize with the objective, but what happens to all the ‘bizarre’ buildings that are already inhabited? And who is to judge what is acceptable?

We cannot bear to discuss Donald Trump’s latest victory, so will beg off U.S. politics this week and wait until after next  week’s Super Tuesday. But we will  point out the intriguing suggestion that Bernie Sanders’ Nevada Caucus Loss Won’t Matter If You Believe Nate Silver’s Huge Prediction

On a (much) lighter note, we are happy that someone at the National Portrait Gallery (coincidentally our favorite part of the wonderful Smithsonian complex) has a sense of humor: The National Portrait Gallery now has a painting of Frank Underwood , but we demand equal space for Josiah Bartlet.

We cannot resist stirring the pot once again, with this excerpt from the New York Times: “The worsening of tidal flooding in American coastal communities is largely a consequence of greenhouse gases from human activity, and the problem will grow far worse in coming decades, scientists reported Monday” Seas Are Rising at Fastest Rate in Last 28 Centuries. In the second study, scientists reconstructed the level of the sea over time and confirmed that it is most likely rising faster than at any point in 28 centuries, with the rate of increase growing sharply over the past century. The outlook for the great coastal cities is not promising. “…if emissions were to continue at a high rate over the next few decades, the ocean could rise as much as three or four feet by 2100. Experts say the situation would then grow far worse in the 22nd century and beyond, likely requiring the abandonment of many coastal cities.”

For your calendar:
Some of you met the fascinating Irem Bekter at WN #1764, just before Christmas. Since then, she has been busy preparing for VERTIGE EN 4 TEMPS par Irem Bekter, her show that combines voice (French, English, Spanish and Turkish), music (jazz, classical music, traditional Turkish, Argentine and contemporary) and dance to tell the story of a passion for life forged by uprooting and laying down roots. We hope you will join us on Thursday, March 10th at what promises to be an amazing show which will benefit The Syrian Kids Foundation.

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