What We're Watching: Hong Kong, Rome vs Brussels, Tunisia's President

Hong Kong Protesters Get Violent – As we warned on Friday, the Hong Kong protest story is far from over. Yesterday, on the anniversary of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule, a small faction of protesters broke with the peaceful demonstrations of recent days, battered their way into the Hong Kong legislature building, and vandalized the place. The initial police response involved pepper spray and batons, and then moved to tear gas. We are watching to see if the use of violence by even this small subset of protesters changes perceptions of the movement in Beijing, and perhaps leads to a more decisive crackdown by the Chinese state.

Rome vs Brussels Soon Enough – The European Commission yesterday postponed a decision on whether to punish Rome for its high national debt, after EU leaders failed, in separate talks, to agree on who should lead the next European Commission. The delay heads off a big showdown between Italy's popular rightwing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini – who says he'll quit (maybe triggering new elections) unless he can push through a massive tax cut– and the bean-counters of Brussels, who are nervously adjusting their green visors as Italy's deficit already looks set to exceed the limit of 3 percent of GDP specified by EU rules. Crisis averted for now, but the reprieve may only be temporary.

The Tunisian President's Health – Tunisia, the only country to emerge from the 2011 Arab Spring with a functioning democracy, suffered a scare last week when the country's aging President Beji Caid Essebsi was rushed to the hospital after suffering a "severe health crisis." While the 92-year-old Essebsi is reportedly on the mend, the episode reminded people that there is no clear mechanism for replacing him if he dies -- the court that is empowered to choose an interim replacement hasn't been set up yet because of squabbling between Tunisia's political parties. As Tunisia heads towards national elections this fall, Essebsi's death could plunge the country into major political uncertainty.

What We're Ignoring

Theresa May's Request of Mohammad bin Salman – Lost in the Trump-related news from last weekend's G20 summit was a side meeting in which UK Prime Minister Theresa May urged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) to allow a "transparent" legal process to ensure accountability for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. Here are three reasons why we can safely ignore this conversation. One, MBS doesn't seem like a guy who likes to take advice from women. Two, he knows Theresa May will be in a new line of work by the end of this month. Three, why on earth would a Saudi prince want to hold someone accountable for a murder when that someone is all but assuredly… himself?


CORRECTION: The original version of this post misstated the EU fiscal rule as 2 percent of GDP.

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.