THE FINANCIAL TIMES
The Financial Times is an English-language international daily newspaper with a special emphasis on business and economic new. It was founded in London in 1888.
Coronavirus
Benjamin Witte

Six Iconic Landmarks That May Be Shuttered By COVID-19

Founded a century (or centuries) ago, these businesses survived world wars and economic depressions. Now the pandemic could close them forever.

PARIS — New York City's Roosevelt Hotel, a midtown mainstay that first opened to the public in the roaring 1920s, is now a not-so-distant memory after closing its doors — permanently — just before Christmas.

Like so many businesses around the world, the nearly century old facility — famous, among other things, as the place where then New York state governor Thomas Dewey erroneously declared victory over President Harry Truman in the 1948 U.S. presidential election — is a victim of the times. The grand old hotel survived the Great Depression but not, as it turns out, the revenue loss caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The economic and financial costs of the current health crisis are being felt far and wide. But there's something particularly poignant about the demise of businesses that enjoy true landmark status, places that are cultural cornerstones in our communities.

Owners and employees pay the heaviest cost, of course. But for clients, culture and the public as a whole, what's at stake in each case is also a tangible piece of history that, once gone, is gone for good:

Is the festa in Venice over forever?

By the time the Roosevelt Hotel opened, in 1924, Venice's venerable Café Florian had already been going strong for more than 200 years. And this past December, it officially reached the three-century mark. That's a lot of candles!

But rather than mark the milestone with some kind of celebratory festa, all was eerily quiet. Sadly, the doors of Café Florian's elegant lounge — whose famous clients included Nietzsche, Grace Kelly and Margaret Thatcher — were closed to the public, as ordered by the government. More troubling still is that they could remain that way even if Italy's current lockdown measures are lifted.

"We pay around a million (euros) a year in rent to a private landlord and the State. The private sector has exempted us from half of the part of it, the State nothing," the owner told La Vanguardia. "We will stay open as long as we can, but more than that we cannot guarantee."

A Mexican treasure

Across the Atlantic, the pandemic has also forced the closure — for now at least — of another historic hangout spot with a penchant for attracting celebrity guests.

Mexico City's Sálon Los Angeles, the country's oldest dance hall, was founded in the 1930s during the height of the swing and Charleston dances, and its famous patrons include Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky and Celia Cruz.

The ballroom was redecorated in the late 1940s — the era of chachachá and mambo — with mirrored columns and neon colors. Then owner Miguel Nieto Hernández also gave the sálon its iconic motto: "Who does not know Sálon Los Angeles, does not know Mexico."

And yet, there's real concern now that the place may not survive. Current owner Miguel Nieto is struggling to keep up with expenses, despite receiving some aid money from the government. Dedicated customers are also helping in the form of small donations. "In the Sálon Los Angeles, we have learned that we must live life as intensely as if we were to die tomorrow and as prudently as if we were going to survive," Nieto told the Mexican daily El Universal.

The meter is running in London

Survival is also the name of the game these days for London's iconic black cabs, which were facing an existential crisis even before the pandemic due to stiff competition from ride-hailing apps like Uber.

Now, with few tourists and many Londoners working from home, they're struggling even more. According to the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, the number of active black cab licenses has fallen from more than 18,000 to just over 14,300 since June.

London black cab — Photo: Hanno Rathmann

The so-called "army of black cabs' is now pinning its hopes on the UK's vaccine rollout — and in more ways than one. As reported in the Financial Times, drivers are offering fixed price-rides for vulnerable and elderly to medical centers.

So far it's unclear if the government will take them up on the offer. The other question mark is just how long the classic cabs can hold out. "I can't even begin to describe it to you; dead is underplaying it," Howard Taylor, a taxi driver for 33 years, told the newspaper. "The city is bereft, it is desolate. It is like tumbleweed."

Going down the drain in Hungary

London isn't the only place lamenting the loss of tourists. Hungary is hurting too, especially its network of thermal baths, which have been an integral part of the country's culture since the Romans invaded.

Now, with border closures limiting the number of foreign visitors, and older clients reluctant, for safety's sake, to return, as many as two thirds of these spas might be facing closure.


"By the summer, 40% of our yearly revenue was gone, and by the end of the year, 70% of the revenues will disappear at some of the spas," Attila László Boros, head of the Hungary Spa Association, told the Chinese media outlet CGTN. Estimates are that of the 18,000 people employed in the industry, up to 4,700 face layoffs.

A San Francisco treat

Across the world, the COVID-19 outbreak has also pushed countless restaurants over the proverbial precipice, including the famous Cliff House Restaurant in San Francisco, California.

Known for its stunning view of the Pacific Ocean, the iconic eatery weathered many storms since it first opened more than 150 years ago. It even caught fire — twice — including once on Christmas Day.

But what it couldn't cope with, in the end, was the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Unable to sell it's high-priced seafood, the Cliff House closed its doors for good last month. More than 100 gathered to watch the restaurant's iconic sign being taken down. Somewhere, Mark Twain, who dined there on multiple occasions, is turning in his grave.

The future of the building itself is unclear, and will depend on the National Park Service, which had leased the land to the Cliff House owners since the 1970s.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California is lobbying for the structure to be preserved. In a statement, she encouraged "the National Park Service to explore all possible opportunities to maintain the historic role of this building as a restaurant and visitor destination. Our history is too important to set aside so readily."

True indeed. Even if responding to today's emergency is the first priority, we should remember that history can never be rewritten.

Geopolitics

The Latest: Deadly Floods In Europe, Bolsonaro Surgery, Lego Guns

Welcome to Thursday, where severe flooding in Germany and Belgium has left dozens dead, Brazil's Bolsonaro is in the hospital and a gun that looks like a children's toy sparks backlash. Independent Egyptian media Mada Masr also tells us about a high-end supermarket that's transforming Egypt's grocery lists.

• Dozens feared dead in European floods: After days of heavy rain, intense flooding in Germany and Belgium has left dozens of people dead and several others missing. The worst of the deluge has taken place in Germany's western Rhineland-Palatinate state, while the Liège province of Belgium has also reported two casualties.

• Cuba lifts import duties following unrest: Starting Monday, there will be no limits or custom duties on food, medicine and other essentials visitors bring into the country. The measure is an attempt to quell the public anger that led to recent protests, the largest Cuba has seen in decades.

• Bolsonaro hospitalized for chronic hiccups: After experiencing chronic hiccups for ten days, President Bolsonaro was transferred to a hospital in São Paulo to undergo tests for an obstructed intestine. The president, who blames the issue on a 2018 assassination attempt that severely wounded him, may need to undergo emergency surgery.

• New EU climate plan announced: The European Union will continue efforts toward becoming carbon neutral by 2050, namely via several draft proposals announced Wednesday that intend to tax aviation and maritime fuel, as well as effectively ban the sale of petrol and diesel powered cars within 20 years. Car manufacturers and airlines have already responded, warning the proposals will "imperil innovation."

• US to evacuate endangered Afghani translators: As US forces withdraw from Afghanistan well ahead of the original September 11 target, several Afghanis who offered assistance to the US military fear retaliation as the Taliban gains territory throughout the country. "Operation Allies Refuge" will begin the final week of July to evacuate those deemed at-risk.

• Amazon rainforest emits more CO2 than it absorbs: Known as a ‘carbon sink," the Amazon rainforest was previously reputed for its important role in absorbing harmful emissions. However, deforestation and forest fires have now made the Amazon a source of carbon dioxide rather than a relief, with the forest emitting 1.5bn tonnes of CO2 a year.

• Backlash over ‘Lego" themed weapon: The Danish toymaker, Lego, has sent a cease and desist letter to US gun company, Culper Precision, after it created a custom glock weapon, which appears to be covered in colorful Lego bricks. Both the toymaker and gun control activists have highlighted the danger of producing a pistol that strongly resembles a children's toy.

Watch Video Show less
Geopolitics
Anne Sophie Goninet

Privacy At Risk, From GDPR To Israeli Spyware

There is nothing like a highly contagious pandemic to remind us how each of our lives is connected to our neighbors — and the rest of the world. That takes on a different form in our digital age, where tracing applications hold the potential of both protecting us from one another and invading our personal privacy in whole new ways.

Back in 2018, the European Union adopted landmark legislation to protect individual privacy online with the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR. This new set of rules was designed to give online users more control over their personal data, by imposing a range of obligations to any organization operating in the EU and harsh penalties of several millions of euros for those failing to comply. It was aimed to shift the balance of power on personal privacy, from Big Tech back to you and me.

But two years later, the European Union has now admitted in an official report that is set to be published today that implementing the GDPR has proven to be more difficult than expected. The report highlights a lack of clarity of the rules when it comes to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, as well as discrepancies and confusion over how the rules are applied at individual country level. Small businesses with limited budgets are also struggling to comply with the regulations and its high costs.

Digital attacks on privacy are bound to continue — Photo: TNS/ZUMA

The pendulum on digital privacy protection is swinging in various directions, all around the world. And some other current examples in the world are more worrying than Google or Amazon knowing your buying habits: Moroccan journalist Omar Radi was recently targeted by sophisticated spyware made by an Israeli security firm. The Moroccan authorities used NSO's Pegasus software to access data on the journalist's cell phone — although the company had previously pledged to stop its products from being used in human rights abuses. It's only the latest sign of what Le Monde describes as a troubling "porosity" in Israel between the cyber units of the country's intelligence services and a burgeoning digital startup scene.

But now Israel's own COVID-19 tracking app has been at the heart of a controversy since it was launched in March. The government had approved the country's domestic security agency to use its counterterrorism surveillance measures to track virus patients. The order authorizing temporary use of the technology is set to expire in a few weeks and a parliamentary oversight committee is now asking the government to stop using the app. But as Israel is experiencing a second wave of infections, will the country really abandon this practice that it defended as a way to save lives?

Still, as we all know by now, most privacy invasions tend to be collateral damage in the quest to make money rather than save lives. A study conducted by the University of Texas at Dallas found that 72 mobile apps for kids out of 100 violated a federal law aimed at protecting children's online privacy. The researchers developed a tool with a 99% accuracy that identified games and apps with privacy risks and which made it easy to determine a child's identity and location.

Whether it's tracking your kid's whereabouts or hounding a journalist, digital attacks on privacy are bound to continue. GDPR, at best, was only ever going to be a deterrent, never a cure.

Geopolitics

China’s Bogus Death Counts And The Benefits Of Realpolitik

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet reminds us how small the world has become. Worldcrunch is delivering a daily update on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus global brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: CHINA'S BOGUS DEATH COUNTS AND THE BENEFITS OF REALPOLITIK

Can China be trusted? The question, posed by its neighbors for centuries, has moved to the center of the world's political and economic agenda with Beijing's emergence the past decade as a virtual superpower. With the global pandemic of COVID-19, the trust factor now has taken on another set of implications, and gravity: Friday, after weeks of doubts about the impact of the virus, officials dramatically revised the death toll by 50% in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the novel coronavirus is thought to have originated late last year.

The veracity of the death toll raises other questions about the management of the crisis, which has since spread to virtually every country in the world. Speaking to the Financial Times, French President Emmanuel Macron tersely said: "Given these differences, the choices made and what China is today, which I respect, let's not be so naive as to say it's been much better at handling this."

Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis marks an unforeseen turning point for China's place in the world, after 40 years of carefully weaving its soft power and imposing its manufacturing might. The country's initial response highlighted the one-party rule's capacities in enforcing a tough lockdown, which some saw as an opportunity for China to fill the void left by the U.S."s inaction and Europe's self-confessed woefully inadequate responses to the crisis.

But to be a true leader of the world pack, you also need trust. For large swathes of the population, coronavirus is — as U.S. President Trump put it several times before thinking better of it — a "Chinese virus," leading to reservations about how we can trust the country to successfully contain a pandemic it's seen as having unleashed. But as the South China Morning Post notes, more than the speculation surrounding the origin of the virus, it's Xi Jinping and his government "penchant for secrecy", silencing of whistleblowers and general tendency for covering up domestic problems that is losing China the world's trust and hampering any ambitions of bonafide Chinese leadership.

U.S. historian Hal Brands puts it bluntly in Bloomberg: No, in the long run, China cannot be trusted. Still, he says, that doesn't mean that the world shouldn't work hand-in-hand with Beijing. It has no choice, really, as scientific, medical, economic and social cooperation between nations is the only way out of the current situation. "A coronavirus detente," his piece concludes "could well be a good idea, so long as we keep its limitations in mind."

It is a keen reminder that the old precepts of realpolitik can, and sometimes must, be applied to unexpected events in the modern world. "Can we trust China?" may not be quite the right question to ask right now, but rather: "How can we still work with China, knowing fully well that we don't?"

— By Bertrand Hauger


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Revised tolls: Wuhan revises death toll by 1,290 to 3,869, an increase of 50% following updating reports and statistical reviews. China denies accusations it has covered up deaths. Meanwhile new figures in Ecuador suggest thousands could have died, far beyond 403 so far reported.

• Economic blows: For the first time in decades, China GDP shrinks by 6,8% in first three months of the year. In the U.S. 22 million jobless claims have been filed since the pandemic began. Stock markets nevertheless are heading toward second straight week of gains.

• Brazil health chief sacked: President Jair Bolsonaro fires Brazilian health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta who defended social distancing measures.

• Crackdown on shutdown: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte threatens to send military and police "like martial law" in Manila, following reports of an upsurge of cars on the capital's roads.

• "Lucky" break: Donald Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen will be released early from prison due to the pandemic.

• Back to (different) Earth: Three members of the International Space Station crew return to Earth after spending almost a year in space.

• E-virus: Google reveals Gmail blocks an average 18 million malicious COVID-19 related emails a day.

Watch Video Show less
Geopolitics

Coronavirus — Global Brief: A Modern Plague Tests Modern Religions

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus pandemic from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.​

SPOTLIGHT: A MODERN PLAGUE TESTS MODERN RELIGIONS

"As we gather here today …"

Taken from the Christian liturgy, the line rings true for believers around the world of nearly every religion. Some form of gathering, communing, sharing are a central part of the worshippers' relation to the divine, a materialization and anchoring of their faith within a congregation, in good and bad times alike.

What to do then, when COVID-19 and its quarantine restrictions make finding solace together impossible? How will the faith of solitary congregants hold up in the face of an almost biblical plague?

We've seen how coronavirus-led bans on large gatherings have derailed religious rites across creeds: from an eerily deserted Kaaba in Mecca to the Pope conducting his Easter mass in a near empty St. Peter's Basilica, closed synagogues and Hindu temples refusing entry to devotees. And though some stubborn Catholic priests in France and American evangelical pastors defied restrictions this past weekend for Easter, for the time being religion is something that must take place at home, away from fellow devotees.

Some might see the current confinement measures as an opportunity to focus on their personal relationship to the divine. Some may even, as French Protestant weekly Réforme suggests, try their hand at their own, homemade version of rites. Others will simply lose faith.

But the twist to this current historical moment is that many men and women of faith will in fact let reason and scientific facts lead the way. It reverses a time-honored dichotomy between science and religion, where contrary to previous comparable catastrophes — like say, the Plague in 14th-century Europe —we don't see the outbreak as some sort of divine retribution for our sins. Thus obeying government restrictions, be they an obstacle to the due practice of our rites and rituals, is not blasphemy. Scientific proof is no longer irreconcilable with the tenets of one's faith and the population's health is a bonafide case of force majeure.

Better, still — there may be something in it for both science and religion, notes a recent Foreign Policy article entitled "Thou Shalt Practice Social Distancing." Religious leaders opting for an enlightened approach to the pandemic can extol the virtues of "following all the rational requirements of science, while offering faith as a source of hope and inspiration — not as a substitute, but a supplement to reason." And let us say: Amen — and go wash our hands.

— Bertrand Hauger


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW​

• Toll: Global cases of coronavirus nears the milestone of 2 million.​​​

• Lockdowns extended: French president Emmanuel Macron announces lockdown extension until 11 May. India extends its strict lockdown measures until May 3.​​​

• Race for vaccine: World Health Organisation says there are 70 vaccines in development, with three set to launch trials on humans.​​​

• Trump power play: U.S. president Donald Trump claimed "total" authority on reopening the economy. Governors from both parties were quick to note they have primary responsibility for ensuring public safety in their states.​​​

• Markets rise: Asian shares hit one-month high on better-than-expected Chinese trade numbers and the first signs of European countries opening up after lockdowns.​​​

• Time to vote: South Korea votes in first national election of coronavirus era, with President Moon Jae-in's party expected to get a boost for his handling of crisis.​​​

• Scare tactic: Indonesian village hires a team of spooky "shroud ghosts' to scare people into staying at home.

Watch Video Show less
Coronavirus
Worldcrunch

Coronavirus — Global Brief: When Will We Open Up? And How?

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a reminder of how small the world has become. Worldcrunch is delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: WHEN WILL WE OPEN UP? AND HOW?

National shutdowns across the West are moving toward Month Two, and the prevailing urgency has shifted from avoiding massive loss of life to taking the first small steps to resuming our daily business — and restarting our economies. Beyond the predictions and financial modeling about the fate of the global economy are more prosaic, though thorny questions facing leaders in each country: When? How? And how much...will we open up? And this is only the beginning.


Leading the way right now is Spain, which just two weeks ago was making world headlines for surpassing Italy with the highest number of deaths per day, is well ahead of other European countries in reopening of some sectors of its economy this week. El Pais reports that police were set to hand out up to 10 million masks in metro stations and other public places as part of a national plan to limit further contagion.

Elsewhere, other countries not as hard hit, were also relaxing their restrictions: In Denmark and Norway, kindergartens and elementary schools are set to open later this week; while in Austria, small shops opened Monday, with all commerce to be permitted beginning May 1.

Predictably, such decisions have spurred criticism in some quarters, including the World Health Organization, which issued a sharp warning that premature easing of countermeasures could mean a "deadly resurgence" of the coronavirus, perhaps with its mind on China, Singapore and Taiwan where new cases have recently flared up after quarantines were lifted.


Comparisons and coordination will be useful, though most acknowledge that there will be no one-model-fits-all exit schedule. Indeed, what might work in Denmark — a small country with a strong and flexible economy — might mean catastrophe in Spain, where more than three million people were unemployed before the coronavirus hit.

Robin Wigglesworth of The Financial Times quotes a fresh report from Morgan Stanley. The investment bank's own internal head of biotech research cautions on the U.S. economy in light of how difficult it will be to truly return to normal, so long as there is no vaccine: "While we understand the desire for optimism, we also caution that the US outbreak is far from over. Recovering from this acute period in the outbreak is just the beginning and not the end. We believe the path to re-opening the economy is going to be long."

We are still very much in the dark about how this crisis will play out. But one thing is certain, countries can only sustain economic hibernation periods for so long, and while some general spirit of compromise has to guide us out of the lockdowns, reviving our economies in the years to come will require both more national decisiveness and international collaboration than we have seen in generations.

— Carl-Johan Karlsson

THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Watch Video Show less
Coronavirus

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Quarantines Can Be Toxic For Domestic Violence

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. Our network of multilingual journalists are busy finding out what's being reported locally — everywhere — to provide as clear a picture as possible of what it means for all of us at home, around the world. To receive the daily brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: QUARANTINES CAN BE TOXIC FOR DOMESTIC ABUSE

One-third of the world's population is now said to be on lockdown. The purpose of the confinement appears clear enough to most: to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, there are consequences, and not just for the economy.

Across the globe, advocates against domestic abuse are warning that this period of imposed self-isolation will almost certainly provoke an increase in intra-family violence. In China, where the COVID-19 outbreak began, there's already evidence of that being the case.

An extended quarantine places a huge psychological strain, even on families without a history of abuse. And so in situations where violence is already present, the dangers are now that much greater, says Elisabeth Liotard, director of a women's protection association in Lyon, France.

"We're clearly expecting things to get worse," she told the French daily Le Monde. "In this period of uninterrupted cohabitation, violent men will have even more pretexts to lose control and the cycles of violence are probably going to accentuate."

For victims — women and children mostly — quarantine means there's no place to escape, and no time in the day when they can extricate themselves from an abusive environment. There's also the question of how a woman, in such a situation, might make a plea for help while on lockdown. Calling a hotline, for example, may not be an option when the victim is constantly in the presence of the abuser.

Marie-Pierre Badré, a leading anti-abuse advocate in France, says that since the lockdown began in her country, there has already been a significant decrease in calls to the 13 13 hotline. But there are other ways victims can reach out — by texting emergency services, for example, she said in an interview with French public radio.

According to Buenos Aires-based Pagina12 daily, Argentina took a very practical step toward ensuring special protection last week, by automatically extending restraining orders and other temporary legal protections for abuse victims. Simiar moves will be needed elsewhere, as this toxic side-effect of coronavirus spreads around the world.

Benjamin Witte

THE SITUATION - 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Toll: Deaths in Italy slow for the fourth day in a row, but in the second hardest-hit European country, Spain, deaths rose by 738 in 24 hours and the Parliament has voted to extend the State of Emergency until April 11. U.S. death toll passes the 1,000 mark.

  • U.S. jobless record: More Americans filed unemployment claims, 3.28 million, last week than anytime since records began being tracked in 1967.

  • Vaccine hope: Experts conclude that a vaccine could be long-lasting as COVID-19 mutates at a slower rate than other respiratory viruses like the flu.

  • Africa spread: The virus is spreading rapidly through Africa, with 2,400 confirmed cases across 46 of the continent's 54 countries. Some 700 of those are in South Africa, where President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a nation-wide, 21-day lockdown starting Thursday night.

  • Iran restrictions: Iran's government bans internal travel and warns of a "second wave" of COVID-19 as the official death toll passes 2,000.

  • Returning home: In Afghanistan, the western province of Herat has emerged as the epicenter of the country's outbreak, representing 54 of the 75 reported deaths, and the government fears the situation will worsen as Afghans keep returning from neighbouring Iran. Between March 8 and 21, 115,000 Afghans crossed the border from Iran.

  • All 94 residents of a New Jersey nursing home are believed to be infected.

Watch Video Show less
Geopolitics

Worldcrunch Today, Dec. 23: COVID In Antarctica, Trump Vs. Stimulus, Messi Record

Welcome to Wednesday, where Trump blocks U.S. stimulus package, the last continent gets its first COVID cases and Messi breaks Pele's record. We also discover the different ways the world's teachers kept 1.5 billion students learning through the pandemic's lockdowns.

SPOTLIGHT: A HUMAN MUTATION: PANDEMIC TRIALS, TRANS SPECIES VISIONS

Seeing Manel de Aguas can prompt a range of reactions. The connected artificial "fins' implanted in his skull might look silly to some, inspiring to others, or just very disturbing. "I don't feel 100% human," the 27-year-old Catalan told the La Razón daily last week.

On his Instagram page, de Aguas describes himself as a Trans Species Artist. Those fins protruding from his head help him "feel" the weather, and as such are for him both aesthetic and prosthetic. They are as much a part of what he claims as a genuine cyborg identity as they are part of his creative image and business model. Is this a kind of 21st-century circus act? A role model for all those who have ever felt deeply connected to other species on the planet? Or are we witnessing a walking preview of the hybrid future of the human race?

That's the future of "transhumanism," predicted by more and more respected thinkers, including renowned author Yuval Harari (Sapiens, Homos Deus), where advances in biotechnology, genetics and artificial intelligence may reorder what we consider to be human.

Building machines and scientific technology into our bodies is of course nothing new, though until now it's been the almost exclusive purview of the medical sector for those seeking to fix or replace something that has somehow been lost, broken or deficient. We're crossing another boundary when we fuse tech and flesh for less purely practical reasons: whether its de Aguas' apparent attempt to better connect to nature (or boost his Instagram following) — or for more nefarious ends.

"The reality is that the human species will become immortal. In 100 or 500 or 1,000 years, it doesn't matter," Laurent Alexandre, a leading French medical technologist, told Le Figaro. "The real question is at what price. The Faustian pact with technology is heavy with consequences."

Most recently, the rising interest in transhumanism has also sparked a growing number of conspiracy theories triggered by 5G technology and COVID-19 vaccines, with claims that we will soon carry, unwillingly, electronic chips in our bodies and brains.

But of course, the current pandemic is warning not only about the risks of human advancement but also about our weaknesses in the face of nature. While transhumanism opens the door to the physical enhancement of our very selves — and the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines is a testament to our technological prowess — we are still in the dark about how the virus may have been first transmitted from other species. The human condition, it seems, is still very much driven by our mortality.

— Laure Gautherin

Watch Video Show less
Economy
Anna Akage

Take 5: How Nations Protect High-Tech Assets

It's part trade war, part cyber defense — and the rumblings of conflict grow louder as countries (and companies alike) maneuver to protect their high-tech assets. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently announced that Japan would tighten export controls for advanced technologies in response to new U.S. trade restrictions aimed at China, writes the Yomiuri Shimbun daily. Both business interests and geopolitics are setting off such chain reactions; for while most Western economists tend to side with the free market, politicians increasingly see the issue as a reason to protect national interests — and put virtual firewalls.

One of the most closely watched cases to spark national security concerns in the U.S., and afterward in several countries in the EU, was the case of Huawei. In 2012, a U.S. congressional committee warned that Chinese telecom giant, together with ZTE, another leading Chinese company, could pose a security threat as the hardware and mobile infrastructure equipment can be used for spying for the Chinese government. The companies denied all allegations, but in 2018 the U.S. passed a bill restricting government bodies from doing business with Huawei, ZTE and several Chinese companies due to security concerns.

U.S. government officials have said that China could order its manufacturers to create backdoors for spying inside their devices. The evolving showdown has also included the high-profile arrest in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's Chief Financial Officer and daughter of the company's founder. But the bigger questions go beyond any single case, as nations ask how (and how far to go) to protect sensitive technology beyond its own borders. Here's how the issue looks in five countries around the world:

CHINA

The stakes: In just a generation, China's economy has gone from being driven by gluing sneakers to competing for the most advanced technological innovations. Jeanine Daou, a tax specialist at PwC, put it this way, in an interview with Nikkei Asian Review: "China ... appears to be implementing a longer-term strategy that recognizes its competitive advantage in manufacturing, while building towards competing for control over the real value in the modern supply chain — intellectual property."

Photo: Rishi Deep

Current security measures:

  • The export of military items is exclusively allowed for state-authorized trading companies, and dual-use items can only be exported by companies in possession of an export control license.
  • According to the new protocols, a foreign-manufactured item can be subject to Chinese export control if the content of that item is of controlled Chinese origin. Yet, the same protocols already run in the U.S. and China seems to be following a good example.

Takeaway: The country is now set to introduce a new Export Control Law, following the first draft released in 2017. The new law will block the transfer of controlled items from China to a foreign country or region, which includes Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. The analysis of the draft suggests that the new law will strengthen the government's authority to regulate the export of military, nuclear, biological, chemical and dual-use items.

Watch Video Show less
Migrant Lives
Delilah Roberts

Hardline On Immigration: Human Rights Or Democratic Will?

PARIS — Central American migrant parents and children are reuniting in Texas. After being stranded off the coast of Italy, the Aquarius ship has now safely docked in the Spanish port of Valencia and the dozens of migrants have been cared for and asylum requests submitted. But even if the waters have calmed and the front pages are moving on, the migrant crisis is definitely not going away.

Along the Mediterranean coast and U.S.-Mexico border, in South Asia refugee camps and Eastern European parliaments, hard questions are coming into focus: How far will policymakers go to enforce anti-immigration policies? Can you shut down the border without violating basic human rights? How will it play out when people return to the voting booth?

Campaigning on a platform of rigid limits to immigration has been helping leaders get elected in functioning democracies around the world. In the U.S., Donald Trump's promised wall at the border with Mexico and vows of "zero-tolerance" have been a common rallying cry and the White House has held firm amid criticism of the travel ban linked to Muslim countries and other hardline immigration policies. But when evidence began to circulate of the effects of a new policy to separate migrant parents and children crossing the border, Trump's tough stance went too far. Polls have found that some two-thirds of Americans opposed the policy, which Trump eventually reversed course this week with an executive order to keep parents and children together.

We won't be Europe's doormat anymore.

But nobody should expect the White House to go soft on the issue in any larger sense.

Trump publicly hashed out what he called a "dilemma" on Wednesday. "If you're weak, which some people would like you to be, if you're really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people," he said after a meeting with Republican lawmakers. "And if you're strong, then you don't have any heart. That's a tough dilemma."

In Italy, newly elected coalition government has come into office with its own fierce anti-migrant rhetoric, and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has so far shown few signs of worrying about his heart. In his first major action since taking office, Salvini ordered last week that the Aquarius rescue ship with 106 immigrants aboard not be given access to dock on Italian shore, reversing national policy (and longstanding maritime practice). "We won't be Europe's doormat anymore," Salvini declared.

Writing in the Italian daily La Stampa, Stefano Stefanini argues that Salvini has so far been successful in forcing other European countries to confront the issue, which for too long has fallen disproportionately on Italy and its long coastline that serves as the southern border of Europe. "Let's not delude ourselves in thinking the problem is resolved," he writes. "Immigration is a problem for Europe in the way that it cuts deeply into the fabric of the different nations." Both Trump and Salvini believe their duty is to severely limit immigration in the interest of their country's current citizens, and the human right's emergencies that occur are merely a factor to be managed away.

Another European leader setting new standards for migrant crackdowns is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Shaun Walker of The Guardian reports from Budapest that the sharp-speaking prime minister forced through legislation this week that will make it a crime to help undocumented migrants.

U.S. border holding facility in McAllen, TX. (See more about OneShot here)

But neither Trump, Salvini nor Orban could imagine what Bangladesh is facing. Already seriously limited in terms of wealth, infrastructure, power and gas supply, political corruption and instability — not to mention natural disasters — the South Asian nation has been forced to add 1.1 million penniless Rohingya refugees over the past year. The killings and forced exodus from Myanmar of the Muslim minority people has left most of the survivors on to the 10 square mile Cox's Bazar refugee camp in southern Bangladesh.

The Financial Times" Kiran Stacey reports: "The problem for the Rohingya is that while most are too scared to return to Myanmar, their presence in Bangladesh is causing difficulties for the government in Dhaka. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who will fight an election later this year, has refused to allow the Rohingya to gain refugee status, to travel outside the camps or to build anything resembling a permanent dwelling."

"While this overburdened country has shown remarkable generosity, compassion may fade as the country's scant resources are diverted to people who aren't its nationals," wrote Feliz Solomon, a writer for TIME Magazine, late last year.

The movement of people — forced and otherwise — across borders is a major issue of our times. As such it is ripe for exploitation by leaders playing off fear. But what we do in the face of those coming from far away in search of safety or simply a better life is not a simple question. It is not a choice between human rights or the popular will, but a question of how to reconcile the two.

Geopolitics

Trump's Iran Gambit And Europe's View Of History

PARIS — "Remember the Eighth of May. History may recall it as the day the United States abandoned its belief in allies." Edward Luce's opening sentence in a scathing column penned Wednesday for the Financial Times is probably as close as anybody can get to capturing the European spirit following Donald Trump's announcement that he is withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA).

In a similar vein, Le Monde editorialist Sylvie Kauffmann characterizes Trump's move as a "fragmentation bomb" that not only dashes hopes of achieving peace and stability in the Middle East but "also torpedoes his European allies and, behind them, the international liberal order." For German journalists Clemens Wergin and Daniel-Dylan Böhmer with Die Welt, Trump's announcement is "a slap in the face for Europe."

The EU's chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, who helped finalize the deal back in 2015, said Brussels was "determined to preserve it," and the leaders of Britain, Germany and France quickly released a joint statement Tuesday in which they "urge the U.S. to ensure that the structures of the JCPOA can remain intact and to avoid taking action which obstructs its full implementation by all other parties to the deal."

Milan daily Corriere della Sera — May 9, 2018

The fact that Trump already threatened any company that continues to do business with Iran with "the highest level of economic sanctions' seems to suggest that Mogherini, May, Merkel and Macron are deceiving themselves. But some commentators, among them Le Figaro"s Jean-Jacques Mével, believe that Trump could still agree to an "eleventh-hour" deal, provided the new terms suit him. "In a well-honed act, he starts by theatrically storming out," Mével writes.

Still, it's a risky strategy. "Trump's move could well boomerang," Thorsten Denkler points out in a column for German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. "If the other contracting parties are unimpressed by Trump's threats, if the agreement simply remains in force without the U.S., and Iran doesn't, therefore, suffer too much from the U.S. sanctions, then Trump has just left the table with a lot of noise, but without achieving anything."

Judging from his instant reaction Tuesday evening, this is exactly the outcome Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is hoping to achieve. "This is a psychological war, we won't allow Trump to win," he said. But the moderate Rouhani will, in all likelihood, face increasing opposition from the hardliners in Tehran, who were opposed to the deal in the first place. Already, Iranian lawmakers set a paper U.S. flag on fire in Parliament this morning, shouting "Death to America!" And Iran's parliament speaker said that, "Trump only understands the language of force."

For all the positive reactions from Tel Aviv and Riyadh — the only powers to have welcomed Trump's announcement — the move may have the opposite effect of its supposed goal, as Michael J. Koplow argues in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Instead of pushing the danger away, in other words, it could bring the region and its immediate neighbors closer to a direct conflict, especially one between Iran and Israel. One of the stages of this confrontation, Koplow writes, could well be Syria, where Israeli strikes on a military base used by Iranian forces this morning killed nine fighters.

French daily La Croix— May 9, 2018

Former U.S. President Barack Obama, who signed what Trump says was "the worst deal ever," warned that violating the agreement was "a serious mistake." Without it, the United States could end up with "a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East," he said in a statement. There's also the risk of launching a new nuclear arms race — with Saudi Arabia ready to join the "club," editorialist Arnaud de La Grange writes in Le Figaro. Not to mention, of course, how the Iran announcement will be interpreted in Pyongyang, where the North Korean regime is in its own game of nuclear chicken with the White House.

Either way, President Trump appears to have put us all at a dramatic crossroads, Wergin and Böhmer argue in their Die Welt piece. He could either go down in history as someone "who made a daring decision and in the end got a better deal that actually kept Iran permanently away from the bomb, or as someone who broke a tolerably working agreement and only accelerated the Iranian road to the bomb," they write. A third possibility, according to the journalists, is that Trump's "maximum-pressure tactic" doesn't pan out and he ends up ordering military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

In Europe, where May 8 marks the end of World War II, the hope now is that this date doesn't become the starting point of another tragic chapter of history.

Geopolitics

Mother Russia And Us, What Now?

The result came as no surprise: Vladimir Putin won yesterday's Russian presidential election and will serve a fourth term. More importantly for the Kremlin leader, he obtained the comfortable result he was seeking, with 76.6% of the vote, up from 63.3% in the last election six years ago.

Yes, nearly two decades after emerging from obscurity to take over for Boris Yeltsin, the 65-year-old former KGB operative is set to lead Russia until 2024. At least. Though the Russian Constitution currently bars him from serving more than two consecutive terms, there's little reason to believe that he wouldn't either first return to the post of prime minister, as he had after his first two terms, or amend the Constitution.

After the results were reported Sunday, Putin laughed off at a reporter's question on whether he would run again in the following election, in 2030. "What, do you think I will sit until I'm 100 years old?" he replied, before adding that he was "not planning any constitutional reforms for now."

A generation after the fall of Communism, the very nature of the Russian state is a nagging question. Julian Hans writes in German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, "why should the Russian president be denied what China's People's Congress has just granted Xi Jinping — to rule for life?"

This prospect comes as Moscow's current relationship with Western countries grows tenser by the passing day, most recently in the face of diplomatic crisis between Britain and Russia over the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, in the English city of Salisbury.

A screen updating the votes of the Russian presidential candidates in Moscow, Russia, on March 18th — Photo: Bai Xueqi/Xinhua/ZUMA

Judging by how Andrei Kondrashov, Putin's campaign spokesman, reacted after Sunday's result, the ongoing spat of accusations actually benefited the Russian President. "We must say thanks to Great Britain," the Financial Times quotes Kondrashov as saying at a victory party. "Whenever Russia is accused of something indiscriminately and without any evidence, the Russian people unite around the center of power. And the center of power is certainly Putin today."

The reason is simple, write Anton Troianovski and Matthew Bodner in The Washington Post: "Escalation abroad helps Putin consolidate power at home." And with the "competing interests of a ruling elite angling for influence in a post-Putin era that will someday arrive," the two reporters warn that more tensions will come. "Putin will have an interest in intensifying the conflict with the West," they write.

So what should the West do? For Süddeutsche Zeitung"s Hans, "there is little else the West can do but to protect itself," he writes, noting that the West is already affected by propaganda, what looks like a new arms race, and the apparent brazen poisoning on Western soil. "The military and intelligence services must be ready for defense," he concludes.

Yet others, like University professor Laurence Daziano in French daily Le Figaro, suggest a radically different way to approach Mother Russia and its enigmatic leader. "After almost ten years of a distrust that has reached new heights with a new arms race, a dormant cyberwar and deadly upheavals in the Middle East and in Ukraine, it's now time to think of a way out of this crisis," she writes. Why not pursue a "peace diplomacy" centered on a series of compromises and agreements (on Ukraine, Syria, denuclearization, trade and energy) both sides could have an interest in following, Daziano suggests.

Forward or backward? War or peace? Hot or cold? The future of Russian relations with the West, especially in light of Putin's latest victory, is a wide-open question.