Un-Sung Heroes, Unfilled Coffers

Today, the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly opens in New York. So let’s ask a simple question: what good is the United Nations?


After all, the Security Council (UNSC) often seems like an anachronistic theater of obstruction where permanent members selected 70 years ago veto each other’s proposals for sport. Washington and Moscow have done so almost 200 times to protect their own interests.

Even when the UNSC does pass meaningful resolutions they are often spottily enforced or openly flouted – as people in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Palestine, and North Korea can all grimly attest. No doubt it’s better to have a forum for great power discussion than not, but you could be forgiven for thinking that this one isn’t quite fit for purpose.

But the United Nations is much more than the headline-grabbing Security Council.

The UN oversees half a dozen agencies that are dedicated to eradicating disease, hunger, and poverty all over the world.

The World Food Program, for example, helps to feed 80 million people a year, mostly in war zones. UNICEF offered life-saving treatment to 4 million children for severe malnutrition in 2017. The UN Refugee agency provides assistanceto more than 60 million people in 128 countries.

These agencies help vulnerable people in places where national governments either can’t or won’t act. In fact, even US National Security Adviser John Bolton – who never met an international organization he didn’t want to kick in the teeth – once went on record supporting their work.

Here’s the problem: those agencies are running short on cash as countries fail to pay their dues. Earlier this year, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of an unprecedented funding shortfall of $139 million, even after US-backed budget cuts.

You’ll almost certainly read about Security Council fireworks in the coming days – but the quieter drama, which affects many more people, will be whether Mr. Guterres is able to secure the funding that his agencies desperately need.

Ferrera Erbognone, a small town in the northern Italian province of Pavia, is home to one of the most cutting-edge computing centers in the world: Eni's Green Data Center. All of the geophysical and seismic prospecting data Eni produces from all over the world ends up here. Now, the Green Data Center is welcoming a new supercomputing system: HPC5, an advanced version of the already powerful HPC4. Due to be completed by early 2020, HPC5 will triple the Green Data Center's computing power, from 18.6 to 52 petaflops, equivalent to 52 million billion mathematical operations per second.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

A few days ago, the New York Times published a bombshell report on the Chinese government's systematic oppression of Muslims in Western China. The story was about many things: human rights, geopolitics, Chinese society – but it was also about technology: Beijing's repression in Xinjiang province is powered in part by facial recognition, big data, and other advanced technologies.

It's a concrete example of a broader trend in global politics: technology is a double-edged sword with sharp political consequences. Artificial intelligence, for example, can help develop new medicines but it can also support surveillance states. Social media helps nourish democracy movements and entertains us with cat memes, but it also feeds ISIS and 4Chan.

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Increasingly violent anti-government protests in Hong Kong have dealt a major blow to the city's once booming economy. Tourism – an economic lifeline in that city – has dropped, and retailers are suffering from a sharp decline in sales. Now, six months since the unrest began, Hong Kong has recorded its first recession in a decade, meaning its economy has contracted for two consecutive quarters. Here's a look at how Hong Kong's quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) growth has fared during the past two years.

Tehran's Next Move: "We don't want an Islamic Republic, we don't want it," was the chant heard among some protesters in Tehran over the weekend after the government announced a 50 percent fuel price hike meant to fund broader support for the country's poor. Under crippling US sanctions, the country's economy has plummeted, unleashing a "tsunami" of unemployment. What started Friday as nationwide economic protests took on a political coloring, as protestors in some cities tore up the flag and chanted "down with [Supreme Leader] Khamenei!". The unrest seems to be related, at least indirectly, to widespread demonstrations against Tehran-backed regimes in Iraq and Lebanon as well. Economically-motivated protests erupt in Iran every few years, but they tend to subside within weeks under harsh government crackdowns. So far, the authorities have shut down the internet to prevent protestors from using social media to organize rallies. But Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps has warned of more "decisive action" if the unrest continues.

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13 billion: Building a single state-of-the-art US aircraft carrier costs about $13 billion, a figure that exceeds total military spending by countries like Poland, the Netherlands, or Pakistan. But as China's ability to hit seaborne targets improves, the Economist asks if carriers are "too big to fail." (Come for that, stay for the many strange Top Gun references in the piece.)

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