WHAT WE'RE WATCHING & IGNORING

What We're Watching

Mercenary appeals – Sizable groups of Russian mercenaries claim Moscow is keeping them at arm's length, and they're not happy about it. Members of more than a dozen Russian "private military companies," supported by Russian military veterans, filed a petition last month with the International Criminal Court (ICC) demanding an investigation of their sponsors.


They claim hundreds of Russian fighters have died in eastern Ukraine, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa without any legal protections or official recognition from the Russian state. Kremlin critics claim the Russian government uses mercenaries to achieve foreign policy goals while deflecting charges of direct intervention. The Russian government has declined to comment on this case.

Kids with snowballs – In other legal news, nine-year-old Dane Best of Severance, Colorado won a landmark victory this week that lifts his town's ban on snowball fights. "The children of Severance want the opportunity to have a snowball fight like the rest of the world," he said during a passionate three-minute presentation to the Town Board. "Today's kids need a reason to play outside." We're watching Mr. Best, because we don't like being wet and cold, and this kid looks like he has good aim.

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

"Operation Netanyahu Shield" The Israeli military launched a significant operation along the Lebanese border this week to destroy tunnels it says were dug by Hizbullah to allow the group to attack Israeli civilians. Critics of embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say this operation is intended mainly to bolster his popularity and have dubbed it "Operation Netanyahu Shield." Yes, this action might well give Netanyahu a political boost. But his current headaches are legal as well as political. Police recommended last weekend the prime minister be indicted for bribery, and the army can't help with that. We're watching the military operation, but ignoring the political warnings.

North Korean Footwear During careful recent inspection of a shoe store in North Korea, Kim Jong-un reportedly insisted that his country's shoemakers provide "diverse patterns and decent colors," to meet the "aesthetic tastes of our people." It's just really hard to get our hopes up on this one.

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.

China is poised to roll out a nationwide social credit scoring system by next year. What grade would you get?

"The Iranian people want to be South Korea, not North Korea" - Karim Sadjadpour sits down with Ian Bremmer.

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.