THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Every action has a reaction—sometimes unintended. Here are three stories about the unintended consequences of governments’ actions that caught our attention this week.


Russia’s sanctions windfall: A more confrontational US foreign policy is delivering an unexpected windfall to Moscow—more money in the bank. That’s because Russia has benefited from two simultaneous effects of US sanctions. First, the price of oil, Russia’s main export, has risen steadily in anticipation of the re-imposition of US sanctions against Iran. Second, US measures against Russia itself have caused the value of its currency, the ruble, to fall by 15 percent since mid-August. The combined result is that a barrel of Russian crude, which is typically sold in dollars, is worth around 30 percent more todaythan one sold back in January.

Saudi Arabia’s tech funding: Saudi Arabia’s alleged killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has led a number of high-profile US business people to withdrawfrom an upcoming investment conference in Riyadh, a consequential development for the kingdom as it seeks to attract know-how from abroad. But the next wave of the backlash may wash over Silicon Valley—as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, has directed at least $11 billion in Saudi funds to Silicon Valley since mid-2016, according to the Wall Street Journal. As global elites sour on MBS as a result of the Khashoggi affair, many American tech companies and entrepreneurs could soon find their sources of funds under fresh scrutiny.

US aid to Central America: A migrant caravan of at least 1,500 Hondurans is currently making the more than 3,000-mile overland journey to the United States. Yesterday, members of the caravan were detained by Guatemalan officials for making what they claim was an illegal border crossing. This story hasn’t escaped the attention of President Trump, who threatened in a recent tweet to cut off all aid to Honduras, the second poorest country in Latin America, if the group isn't quickly returned home. But a reduction in US aid to Honduras, which has already been slashed by the Trump administration (see graphic below), may simply exacerbate the factors that led these migrants to flee their country in the first place.

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.