Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

The coup against Trump — Following an order from a Panamanian court, a 12-day standoff was resolved peacefully in Panama City as representatives of Donald Trump’s family hotel business evacuated their offices in a luxury hotel that, until this week, bore Mr. Trump’s name. Last month, Orestes Fintiklis, a representative of the hotel’s owners, arrived at the site to inform Trump’s management team that they were fired. Trump security guards ejected Mr. Fintiklis from the building. Local police were then called in to break up fights between rival teams of security guards over control of the hotel’s administrative offices and security system. The Trump team has vowed to continue the fight in court, but for now Fintiklis has physical control of the premises, and Trump’s name has been removed from the hotel’s facade with a crowbar. We’re watching this story mainly because I love the name Orestes Fintiklis.


Pop stars for Putin — Russian pop stars just can’t get enough Putin, and they want you to vote for him. See for yourself. BTW, you won’t find the punk band Pussy Riot in that video. They prefer Daniel Biss, a candidate for governor of Illinois.

European clocks — To our European friends, you’re not imagining things: Some of your clocks really are running slow, up to six minutes since mid-January, according to Entsoe, an organization that represents electricity transmission operators across 25 European countries. These nations are collectively plugged into an electricity grid that operates at a synchronized frequency that regulates time-keeping in many devices, though not in smart phones. For several weeks, tiny Kosovo failed to generate enough electricity to meet its own needs. Entsoe says Serbia is legally obligated to meet Kosovo’s electricity demand in order to keep the European grid stable, but it has lately failed to keep its end of the bargain, thanks to a series of political disputes with Kosovo since Kosovar secession a decade ago. Serbia’s refusal to generate more electricity “forced the frequency to deviate,” according to press reports, messing up clocks and giving people across Europe a new excuse to be late to work.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

Boris Warns the Russians — UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned this week that Russia faces a “robust” British response if evidence emerges that Russians were involved in the collapse of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain following exposure to a “very rare” nerve agent. Both remain critically ill after they were discovered unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center. Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer convicted in Russia of spying for Britain. He has lived in the UK since a prisoner swap between the two countries in 2010. Skripal’s family says his wife, brother, and son have died under suspicious circumstances in the past two years. Three police officers who investigated the scene have been treated for symptoms related to exposure to a dangerous chemical. Search the words “Alexander Litvinenko” and “diplomats expelled” to see why we’ll treat Johnson’s threat with skepticism, at least for now.

Lego Belt and Road? — China doesn’t need as many new roads, bridges, and housing towers as it used to. The country’s Belt and Road Initiative — a development strategy that creates infrastructure, transportation, and energy projects that link 70 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania — allows Chinese companies to avoid large-scale unemployment by producing steel and cement for construction in other countries. In an unrelated story, Danish toymaker Lego admitted this week it made way too many Lego bricks in 2017, forcing the company to sell at lower prices, cutting deeply into profits. Lego already sells about 75 billion bricks a year in more than 140 countries, so it’ll be hard for Lego to transfer its oversupply into new markets. In this case, the China model isn’t transferrable.

Is anti-trust action a good way to deal with tech companies?

It is certainly a way to get the attention of tech companies. They fear it massively. But breaking up these companies into different components - way harder than most people think.

Is Apple changing the iPad?

Why yes they're totally changing the operating system of the iPad. They've given it a new name. They are making it more like a computer and less like a big phone or a tweener more like a laptop

Are Facebook ads discriminatory?

Some are discriminatory. But it's hard to see whether the problems are with the data the advertisers have the data Facebook has, the interactions between the two. And in fact to make ads not discriminatory. Facebook would have to figure out the race, gender, of all of its users which could involve privacy violations So very complicated, hard to get right, but something to work on.

Last, The Rant: there are way too many robocalls. They're coming in nonstop. If my phone wasn't on airplane mode one would probably come in right now. The FCC has started some action, but they should do way more.

I'm in Athens for a bit of a different Media in 60 this week. I'm at a media conference where everyone has been reading the same piece of research. The digital news report out of the Reuters Institute in Oxford. Really the biggest piece of media research to come out every year. I recommend you read all 150 pages. However, for now, I'll give you the Cliff Notes in 60 seconds.

First pivot to pay more and more newsrooms are moving to subscription or membership model but the number of people willing to pay for news is actually plateauing and when they do pay it's only for one subscription. So it is a winner takes all model and in a battle between the New York Times subscription and your Netflix, Netflix almost always wins.

Second is pivot to private. So we're seeing declining use of Facebook though people are not giving it up altogether. Increased use of WhatsApp and Instagram which is good for them because it's the exact same company. Those were a couple of really smart acquisitions. We're also seeing more and more sharing and commenting of news in private or semi-private groups rather than in public feeds because probably people just feel safer there.

Third is pivot to audio. Podcast is in. 1 in 3 people have listened to one in the past month 1 in 2 for the under 35 audience and finally trust always a big issue. Trust is down two points to 42% of people saying they generally trust the media less than half of people even trust outlets that they themselves go to for their news. People feel that journalists are better at breaking news than explaining it so hopefully I'm explaining here. And also we're seeing massive news avoidance one in three people just avoiding the news. It's up 11 points in the UK because people are so so fed up with Brexit understandably.

Fair courts. Independent prosecutors. Clean police. Leaders who are held to account… These things are essential for a society to function under what we call rule of law. In a busy news week, three of the biggest stories in the world shared a common thread: the rule of law is in trouble.

After violent clashes in Hong Kong between police and activists, local legislators have postponed debate over a controversial new law that would permit the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China. More protests are expected this weekend, but Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, who enjoys the strong backing of China's leadership in Beijing, still intends to see the law through.

Spoiler: it's only a matter of time before she does. That will leave Hong Kongers subject to a mainland judicial system that is far more politicized and opaque than their local courts. What's more, Ms. Lam wants to dust off long-shelved proposals that would give Chinese authorities more leeway to crack down on dissent in the former British territory.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, the Kremlin responded to an unusually strong outcry over the bogus jailing of Moscow-based investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, by intervening to scrap the charges and fire two senior officers responsible for the arrest. That sounds like good news – and for Mr Golunov it most certainly is. But selective intervention by a Tsar-like president isn't at all the same thing as true rule of law. Both the arrest and subsequent intervention by President Vladimir Putin reinforce the pattern of arbitrary power that is one of Russia's biggest and most stubborn problems.

And sometimes the rule of law can suffer if prosecutors abuse that power. Over to Brazil, where the judge who heard trials in the massive "Lavo Jato" corruption investigation that's jailed hundreds of once-untouchable business leaders and politicians -- including the popular leftist former president Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva -- appears to have been improperly coordinating with prosecutors. That's according to leaked conversations published by The Intercept earlier this week. The revelations raise questions not only about Lula's conviction, but about the fairness and transparency of the whole probe. And it doesn't help that judge in question -- Sergio Moro -- is now Justice Minister under President Jair Bolsonaro, who cruised to victory in last year's presidential election after Lula was disqualified due to his conviction. Talk about an own-goal for the rule of law.

More trouble brewing in the Strait of Hormuz Two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman yesterday, and their crews had to be rescued by Iranian and US naval vessels. This follows attacks on four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates last month. Washington blames Iran, but Tehran — which earlier this week issued vague threats against the US — says the timing is "suspicious." After all, one of the tankers attacked Thursday was Japanese-owned — would Iran hit the vessel right as Japan's prime minister was in Iran on a mission to ease US-Iran tensions? We're watching to see if the temperature rises further between Washington (and its Gulf Arab allies) and Tehran, but we're also watching the gas pump: 20% of the world's traded oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz every day.

Boris Johnson — Former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson on Thursday topped the first official ballot of Tory MPs in the race to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May. Boris received 114 votes and more than twice as many as the next-closest contender in a crowded field. The results make him a virtual shoe-in to become the next PM in a final vote by 124,000 rank-and-file Conservative party members later this month. Less certain is whether the former London mayor and media personality, whose late-breaking support for Brexit may have played a role in the UK's vote to leave the EU in 2016, can do any better than May in securing a Brexit deal that's acceptable to Parliament.

Protests in Haiti — The Caribbean Island nation has been paralyzed for days by fresh protests demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, whom a government audit has implicated in the misappropriation of millions dollars earmarked for poverty alleviation. But wait… the plot thickens: the money was part of a Venezuelan regional development program in which Caracas allowed Caribbean nations to defer payments on Venezuelan oil imports so they could free up more cash for economic development. Haiti is one of the Western hemisphere's poorest countries. Moise says he has done nothing wrong and that he will be vindicated by a further investigation: we are watching to see if the streets believe him.

What We Are Ignoring

AMLO, Used Plane Salesman — Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced this week he will sell the luxurious presidential plane he inherited from his predecessor, and direct the cash towards plans to reduce the flow of US-bound migrants that pass through his country. We certainly can't deny that it's a cool plane: a sumptuously appointed Boeing 787 Dreamliner that AMLO says he can get $150 million for. But it'll take a lot more than that to address the problem of desperate Central Americans trying to reach the US border. What's more, AMLO had already promised to sell this plane to help poor people in Mexico. As "man of the people" gestures go, this one sends some oddly mixed messages.