HELSINKI: TRUMP CAME BEARING GIFTS

To be clear, Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t actually leave yesterday’s extraordinary summit in Helsinki with much in the way of substance. US sanctions on Russia will remain firmly in place, and Congress could well impose more. US President Donald Trump made no public concessions on actual policy issues like the placement of NATO troops in Europe, nor did he accept the Russian annexation of Crimea, as he had earlier suggested he might.


But symbolically, Putin went home happy. Very, very happy. It’s useful to recall that since coming to power at the turn of the millennium, Putin has made it his mission to exorcise the geopolitical humiliations of the 1990s, to return Russia to a position of regional power and global respect. To, you might say, Make Russia Great Again.

Above all that has meant forcing the US to reckon with Russia as an equal on the world stage. To that end, Putin played a weak hand remarkably: perceiving US efforts to weaken his regional clout, his troops challenged US interests and red lines in Georgia, then in Ukraine, and ultimately in Syria. Meanwhile, his spooks worked to exacerbate the existing polarization of American politics as part of a project to, at the very least, weaken the example of US democracy.

Against that backdrop Trump gave Putin three gifts in Helsinki yesterday: first, by meeting with him at all, he signaled a retreat from the US policy of isolating the Kremlin, which has been in effect at least since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. Putin almost giddily declared as much in his interview with FOX after the summit.

Second, while it was difficult to foresee Trump making much of the election meddling issue – why would he undermine the legitimacy of an improbable electoral victory that he is still obsessed with recounting? – his abject trashing of his own Justice Department handed Putin a propaganda coup, further exacerbating precisely the crisis of legitimacy in American institutions that Russia’s president has sought to exploit.

Lastly, Trump enthusiastically accepted the Russian narrative of US responsibility for the deterioration of relations. Putin couldn’t help himself: in a metaphorical dig, he gave Trump a World Cup ball and said, literally, “the ball is in your court.”

But here’s the question: as Trump’s advisers sit down with their Russian counterparts to explore fresh cooperation on key issues like nuclear arms, Syria, Ukraine, or Iran – will Putin’s symbolic victory translate into substantive change?

Technology has played a big role in accelerating globalization. While it's our business to advance technology, we also believe that technology should respect and even help protect the world's timeless values. That conviction has led us to announce a new and fourth pillar to Microsoft's AI for Good portfolio – our $125 million, five-year commitment to use artificial intelligence to tackle some of society's biggest challenges. This new pillar will focus on AI for Cultural Heritage. Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.

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This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.