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(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The golden age of the spy thriller ended with the Cold War. But of late, news reports have provided enough material for a silver age to start — if authors take heed.The last time a spy thriller topped the list of a year’s bestselling novels in the U.S., compiled by Publisher’s Weekly, was in 1988 or 1989 — depending on whether one counts the latter year’s “Clear and Present Danger” by Tom Clancy as an espionage novel or a political one. (In 1988, another Clancy book, “The Cardinal of the Kremlin,” unmistakably a spy novel, was number one.) John Le Carre, who had his first book on top of the list in 1964 (“The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”) and was in the Top 10 a total of nine times, had his last big hit in 1989, too, with “The Russia House,” although he has continued to publish regularly. That year, glasnost reigned in Mikhail Gorbachev’s moribund Soviet Union and the Berlin wall came down. In November, 1989, the New York Times book critic Walter Goodman wrote — prophetically, as it turned out — about the future of spy fiction:With ideological walls tumbling and affinities popping up, lesser practitioners find themselves in straits whose direness matches those of their heroes. An Ian Fleming might bring into play some space-age Mafia out to extort billions from both Washington and Moscow, but his books were always kid stuff. Will [Len] Deighton resort to having his creations take on Colonel Muammar Qaddafi of Libya or General Manuel Antonio Noriega of Panama, at the risk of provoking a PEN resolution against picking on little guys? And will [Le Carre’s] next plot find hardliners in the Pentagon and the Kremlin united against the Greens? Until new threats present themselves, addicts of the spy stuff may find themselves out in the cold.All these tacks, and countless variations, have been tried, and some novels have sold well. But it’s a sign of the genre’s decline that the current Top 10 of espionage bestsellers on Amazon.com includes — in the third spot, no less — Le Carre’s “The Honorable Schoolboy,” originally published in 1977. The post-Cold War offerings in the genre, or at least those of them that didn’t take the reader back to the World War II and its long aftermath, suffered from a critical flaw: The absence of an underlying clash of civilizations and value systems. Not even the post-9/11 war on terror provided that missing element. In 2011, the website Salon.com collected the views of spy-novel writers and qualified readers on the genre’s post-Cold War development. Amid practitioners’ comments to the effect that spy fiction is alive and well regardless of who the adversaries of intelligence services are, the words of Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, stood out. “Without the Soviet Union (or Nazi Germany before it) and the struggle with a titanic power, there’s really not much to the genre,” he said. “The kind of novel where the world itself hangs in the balance, where moral choices are stark because they are moral choices — that’s gone now.”Without such a grand conflict, according to Nichols, spy fiction became cynical, painting all governments with the same critical brush. “Most importantly, the bad guys — usually greedy businessmen or terrorists — are now uninteresting,” Nichols said. “Terrorists are especially uninteresting, because for a spy novel to work, the agent needs a worthy adversary” — and terrorists are essentially just a bunch of petty criminals trying on a bigger hat that doesn’t fit them.In short, Western spy fiction needs state actors with strong non-Western or, better, anti-Western values to become exciting again. In real life, these state actors are back, and there’s a greater variety of them than during the Cold War.First, there’s Russia, of course. Highly professional Russian spies, reminiscent of the Cold War crop, operate in Le Carre’s latest offering, last year’s “Agent Running in the Field.” But the doyen of the genre is behind the curve: Today’s Russian spy thriller should, by rights, be a black comedy featuring the ham-handed operatives of the Russian military intelligence, formerly known as the GRU.The latest story providing fuel for this treatment features the two Russian “plumbers” with diplomatic passports discovered by the Swiss intelligence in Davos, Switzerland, apparently trying to install surveillance equipment to spy on the world leaders and billionaires who arrive there every year for the World Economic Forum. Earlier installments include the failed assassinations of three Bulgarian arms-making executives; the bungled poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, by two thugs who claimed to have come to look at the spire of the local cathedral; and an amateurish coup attempt in Montenegro in 2016. Then, for authors still looking for sophistication in spying, there’s China, trying to make inroads into the European Union, a more welcoming playground for its state-owned businesses than the U.S. This month, the scandal making headlines in Brussels and Berlin involved a top former EU diplomat — named in a Politico story on Thursday — who is married to a Chinese woman and who reportedly spied for China while maintaining a network of high-powered friends. The ex-diplomat, lately employed by a lobbying firm, denies the accusations.Finally, there’s the almost-unbelievable story of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s suspected hacking operation against Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos. Here’s an almost-head-of-state reportedly personally involved in spying, and in cyber-spying at that. In all three cases, stark moral choices and values clashes are evident. In all three, the West’s adversaries are foreign powers, not mere lone wolves or terrorist groups. The conflicts are quintessentially modern: Law-governed states vs. authoritarian ones; free enterprise vs. state capitalism; moxie vs. mass surveillance. In an increasingly transactional, leaderless world, it’s every country for itself — and that’s potentially more interesting than the duality of Cold War. It’s not about “picking on little guys,” but rather a free-for-all that has come to involve smaller countries in more terrifying, and intriguing, ways than before.This is heady stuff just waiting for the literary equals of Le Carre or plot-moving geniuses of Clancy’s stature to turn into fiction. There are certainly lots of former spies around, bitterly disappointed by “deep state” narratives that devalue their work, who could try their hand at modernizing the espionage thriller. As an "addict of the spy stuff," to use Goodman's description, perhaps there's hope for me again.(This is my last column for Bloomberg Opinion. I'm moving to the news automation team at Bloomberg News to try my hand at teaching machines to help organize data into stories; I'm pretty sure they won't be writing columns anytime soon, though, so please keep reading my wonderful colleagues.) To contact the author of this story: Leonid Bershidsky at email@example.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Tobin Harshaw at firstname.lastname@example.orgThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Leonid Bershidsky is Bloomberg Opinion's Europe columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- For three days, the House managers serving as prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump set out the details of his effort to strong-arm Ukraine into aiding his 2020 re-election, and then argued that those details constitute reason to remove him from office. They made a strong case. Using the power of the presidency to push a foreign power to smear a political opponent is an abuse of that power, a “high crime and misdemeanor” in the constitutional phrase setting forth the standard for removal.What of the case made by law professor Josh Blackman in the New York Times on Thursday: that presidents often pursue policies in hopes of improving their political prospects? It is true, of course, that presidents consider domestic politics, including electoral politics, in everything they do. There’s nothing wrong with that. Presidents should act to increase their influence, and that includes taking actions with their professional reputation and personal popularity in mind. So what’s different about Ukraine? For one thing, as Representative Adam Schiff and the other House managers explained, Trump’s actions weren’t taken with politics as one consideration. They were taken, as Schiff said, with electoral concerns as the primary goal.But that’s not enough to make it impeachable. Trump ordered a hold on congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine last summer, according to high-ranking officials who testified in the House impeachment investigation, as the president and his allies were ratcheting up the pressure on the Ukrainian government to announce a criminal investigation of a leading Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, along with another investigation into a bizarre, evidence-free theory about Ukraine and the 2016 election.The aid freeze wasn’t part of a legitimate reconsideration of U.S. policy towards Ukraine, which Trump would have been free to initiate. Instead, it was an effort to undermine the consensus plan to support Ukraine as he squeezed that country’s government to help him get re-elected. The president certainly has the right to change his policies and to work to get the rest of the government to go along. It’s much less legitimate to attempt to subvert the official policy. And given that it appears the freeze on aid to Ukraine was illegal, Trump’s scheme wasn’t legitimate at all.Blackman’s analysis is also wrong because it matters how a president uses policy for political advantage. Trump is accused of soliciting foreign election interference! Unlike maneuvering to get a Supreme Court justice to resign, or even deploying troops, Trump tried to get a foreign nation to influence an election. That’s not just a likely violation of U.S. law; it’s contrary to his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”So: Could a president legitimately base Cuba policy in part to win the support of a key group of voters in a swing state? Absolutely. Even if national security experts think the resulting policy would be a bad one. But could a president base Ukraine policy on whether or not the Ukrainian government gets involved in U.S. domestic politics? No. Because that involves something which is itself both illegal and a violation of the president’s oath of office. It is, indeed, an abuse of power — the use of his formal powers to do something illegal and unconstitutional. The truth is, however, that for all of the strength of the House managers’ case, what really clinches it is something they didn’t say, and which isn’t part of the two articles of impeachment that the Senate is considering: Trump’s overall lawlessness. The articles make only a glancing mention of Trump’s obstruction of justice, as laid out in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. They don’t say that Trump is probably violating the Constitution’s emoluments clauses when foreign and domestic governments spend money at his hotels and resorts. They say nothing about his threats against the media or his threats to prosecute political opponents. If impeachment was purely a legal matter, those things would therefore be irrelevant and jurors would be directed to ignore them.Impeachment isn’t a judicial procedure. U.S. senators are not mere jurors. Impeachment and removal or acquittal is a political act, even when expressed in judicial language. I don’t mean “political” here only in terms of elections and ordinary partisanship, although those are necessarily part of it, but as the broader idea of politics as the way a polity collectively governs itself. As political scientist Julia Azari has written: “There is no nonpartisan, apolitical mechanism to evaluate abuses of power and remove a president from office. Our Constitution places this responsibility with the people’s elected representatives (and senators, to be precise).” And that’s because the framers thought that politics at its best was very much a good thing — that neither elites who were not ultimately responsible to the people nor any kind of automatic formula was as good as purposeful self-government. Therefore, it is appropriate that members of the House take into account what they know about the president’s fitness for office and his compliance with his oath of office when deciding whether to impeach or not. Senators can — and should — take all of that into account when deciding whether to vote to remove or acquit.To be clear: That doesn’t mean that senators should vote based on whether they like the president or not. Nor should they vote to remove him based on ordinary policy differences, such as disagreements over taxation or abortion or gun control, or to leave him in office because they agree with his positions on such things. They should, indeed, resist their natural urge to vote based on their strongly held policy ideas.If impeachment and conviction should not rest only on the specific articles, why bother having any specific articles of impeachment at all? One reason is that it’s traditional to do so, although note that in the case of the first presidential impeachment trial, of Andrew Johnson in 1868, the House impeached first and drew up the articles later. But it’s a good idea anyway, because it grounds the debate in specific actions. And the need for concrete articles based on particular episodes is a healthy practice in that it probably deters the House majority from simply impeaching presidents they don’t like or have merely ordinary differences with. Just as it is probably healthy that impeachment in practice has become a political procedure expressed in judicial language, by custom if not by constitutional mandate. That, too, deters removing the president merely for policy or partisan differences.And so while Democrats did talk on the Senate floor about Trump’s threat to American democracy given his invitation to other nations to interfere with U.S. elections, they did not talk about Trump’s general lawlessness. The closest Democrats have gotten to that larger idea is to point out that Trump’s various public statements amount to claims that he will repeat this particular offense again — that he asked Russia for help during the 2016 campaign, pressured Ukraine for help in 2019, and publicly asked China for help when the Ukraine scheme went public.But all the senators know that there is more to it than even that — that the president has repeatedly displayed his willingness to flout the law in a variety of serious ways. And they’re entitled to take that knowledge of his unfitness for office into account when deciding what to do about the two accusations before them.To contact the author of this story: Jonathan Bernstein at email@example.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Landman at firstname.lastname@example.orgThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Marc Benioff’s latest book, about the need for a gentler capitalism, became a national bestseller. The company he co-founded, Salesforce.com Inc., helped boost sales by encouraging employees to buy and expense the book published last October.The software maker sent a memo to its 48,000-member workforce last fall offering reimbursement if they purchased Benioff’s latest book, “Trailblazer,” the company said. Salesforce said it considers the book to be “business material.”“Our employees were invited to expense a copy and spread the word,” a Salesforce spokeswoman said in a statement. “‘Trailblazer’ was inspired by our employees, so of course we wanted to get it in their hands, as well as our customers’, partners’ and anyone else wanting to learn how business is the greatest platform for change.”“Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change” is the fourth book co-written by Benioff. On its website, Salesforce touted it as an “instant” New York Times bestseller. It was No. 1 on the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list. The billionaire’s books have served to bolster his reputation in the technology industry, especially, “Behind the Cloud,” about building his business applications company.While the exact calculations behind the bestseller lists are shrouded in secrecy, the consensus in the publishing industry, according to the news website Vox, is it takes at least 5,000 books sold in a week to make the New York Times’ list.Proceeds from “Trailblazer” sales were donated to charity, the company said.“Trailblazer” tracks Benioff’s public journey deeper into social and political causes in recent years, including how to leverage his influence as a tech leader on issues he cares about including education and homelessness. In the book, Benioff declares that capitalism is “dead” and must be replaced by a system guided around more than just the interests of shareholders. He also called for higher taxes on the wealthy and more regulation on the tech industry.To contact the reporter on this story: Nico Grant in San Francisco at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org, Andrew Pollack, Alistair BarrFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire George Soros said that nothing is keeping Facebook Inc. from spreading disinformation and the company may be in cahoots with President Donald Trump to get him re-elected.“I think there is a kind of informal mutual assistance operation or agreement developing between Trump and Facebook,” Soros, 89, said Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Facebook will work together to re-elect Trump, and Trump will work to protect Facebook so that this situation cannot be changed and it makes me very concerned about the outcome for 2020.”Soros didn’t offer any evidence for his claim. “This is just plain wrong,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in response.Soros has used his annual Davos speech as a platform to criticize the social media giant in the past. In 2018, he compared Facebook to a gambling company that fosters addiction among users, and last year reiterated the need to regulate technology firms.Facebook has come under increased scrutiny from governments worldwide on multiple fronts, but especially related to the Russian misinformation campaign that ran undetected on the social network in the months prior to the 2016 election.The company has since worked to improve its technology for taking down what it calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior” -- efforts by foreign governments to manipulate public conversation. But critics argue that Trump is helped anyway by Facebook’s very nature: the platform rewards content with the potential to go viral, and Trump has a tendency to say incendiary things.After public backlash, Facebook debated whether to take down political ads that contain lies. The company decided earlier this year that it would not, with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg citing first amendment values and saying it shouldn’t be up to a corporation to determine what political messages are true or false.That message assuaged Republicans, who have interrogated the company about a perceived anti-conservative bias. Still, the company’s algorithm may tilt the scales, giving rise to more shocking messages.“Facebook basically has only one guiding principle: maximize your profits irrespective of what harm it may do to the world,” Soros said Thursday.After Soros’s 2018 Davos speech, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg asked staff to look into whether Soros had a financial incentive to criticize the company through his holdings or trading activity. The company also hired an opposition research firm to examine whether Soros financially supported anti-Facebook groups. The decision was later uncovered in a New York Times report about Sandberg’s mishandling of crises.(Updates with Facebook’s statement in third paragraph.)To contact the reporters on this story: Katia Porzecanski in New York at email@example.com;Sarah Frier in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Sam Mamudi at email@example.com, Alan MirabellaFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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Biden Can’t Abide Facebook Joe Biden is going after Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). He wants to get rid of a law that protects Facebook and other social media sites from liability for posts by its users. This would mean that Facebook could potentially be sued by anyone who claims that a post on Facebook caused or was […]The post Market Morning: Biden v Facebook, Idahoans Splurge in Oregon, BoJo Threatens the Axe, appeared first on Market Exclusive.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- “Davos is not one thing. There are many Davoses at Davos.” This haiku-like meditation on the annual Swiss junket — which is known for preaching the gospel of touchy-feely stakeholder capitalism against a backdrop of $43 hot dogs, $10,000 hotel rooms, and several hundred trips by private plane — could have come from any number of its rich, powerful and blissfully un-self-aware attendees.That it comes from a co-founder of the anti-capitalist movement Occupy Wall Street, Micah White, as part of a long explanation of why he is attending Davos this year, says a lot about why global capitalism’s biggest tent is still standing even in an age of populist anger. The Davos bubble is turning out to be quite good at swallowing those who would like to pop it — however justified their cynicism.Davos was, let’s face it, supposed to have been “canceled” by now. Last year’s event resembled one long guilt trip: Billionaires awkwardly batting away ideas like higher taxes for the rich; Sir David Attenborough telling an audience packed with private-jet users that “the Garden of Eden is no more;” and historian Rutger Bregman going viral with his description of Davos as a hypocritical talking shop. “Stop talking about philanthropy, and start talking about taxes,” he berated attendees.Well, this year, Davos is back — minus Bregman — and it’s more Davos-y than ever. The private jets are still flying in, only now they’re being asked to fill their tanks with “ Sustainable Aviation Fuel.” Davos organizer Klaus Schwab is still welcoming powerful CEOs, but has made sure to ask them to commit to a net-zero economy by 2050. The rooms will be painted with renewable sources like seaweed. The carpets will be made from end-of-life fishing nets and fluff. And lest anyone think the debates on offer have gotten more humble, there are 25 panels under the banner, “How To Save The Planet.”Davos isn’t just good at greenwashing the globalists. It’s also good at co-opting the populists. The junket has shrewdly realized that offering a stage to an anti-Davos crowd can work in its favor. Micah White, for one, is excited to dip his toe into “the most powerful gathering in the world.” He will be lecturing a money-and-politics crowd that he once wanted to smash apart on how to turn “protest into progress.” There will be other incongruities: Greta Thunberg will tread the same boards as Donald Trump; France’s Bruno Le Maire will promote a tax on tech firms in front of Google’s Sundar Pichai.It’s this veneer of exclusive neutrality that Davos clearly wants to promote as its value proposition, rather than just being a hyper-efficient version of LinkedIn. “We bring together people of influence, and we hope that they use their influence in a positive way,” Schwab told the New York Times. Or, in other words: Everyone who matters is here — even if they disagree, Davos wins in the end. Like an Alpine version of Soho House, Davos is a (not-for-profit) club that lives and dies by its guest list. White’s description of “many Davoses” includes secretive back-room meetings that don’t get filmed — a Davos within Davos, in other words.This seems intuitively strange in an era of political activism and social media, when boycotts seem to spring up out of nowhere and cause serious brand damage. Couldn’t Davos be simply replaced? Author Anand Giridharadas suggested that genuine do-gooders had no reason to be wandering into a billionaires’ tent. Instead, they could work through the United Nations to create a new global conference. “We could create a new body. We could have it rotate among certain countries,” he told Project Syndicate last year.It’s an interesting point — we could. But national versions of Davos, such as those promoted by France or Saudi Arabia, have failed at being either as neutral or as exclusive as the original. Maybe coming up with a new Davos isn’t as easy as it seems. Or maybe Davos is simply really good at protecting its brand. In 2018, the conference warned imitators that it would “use all means to protect the Davos brand against illicit appropriation.” It has preserved its image as a truly global stage, even as incidents such as a ban on Russian businessmen targeted by sanctions (later lifted) show how it’s not politics-free.White’s final warning to Davos critics is a well-aimed one: “Rejecting Davos is easy when one has not been invited to attend.” (This applies to yours truly.) Maybe the world’s most exclusive tent will only fall when it extends its membership to all-comers. Until then, expect the private jets to keep flying in — on sustainable fuel.(A division of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, runs its own event, the New Economy Forum, which has been held in Singapore and Beijing.)To contact the author of this story: Lionel Laurent at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Melissa Pozsgay at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Brussels. He previously worked at Reuters and Forbes.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The New York Times has endorsed not one but two candidates for the Democratic nomination for president, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar from the party’s moderate wing and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren from the progressive wing.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Experts are warning that the U.S. should expect more cyberattacks by Iranian hackers in retaliation for the death of General Qasem Soleimani in a targeted drone strike. Maybe they’re right. But let’s not kid ourselves: Iran would be launching lots of cyberattacks anyway.And the danger of escalation would be ever-present.So far, despite the warnings, security researchers report that little has yet materialized. But that doesn’t mean nothing major will happen. Iranian’s official and semi-official hackers are among the best in the world, and both the U.S. government and private industry are bracing for possible attacks. Crucial sites are much better protected than they were a few years ago, but no protection will ever be perfect.Infrastructure, always an attractive target, has long been a focus of Iran’s hackers, particularly the group known as APT33 or Refined Kitten. Recent news reports have singled out Refined Kitten’s constant “password-spraying,” the relatively low-tech tactic of flooding infrastructure targets with common passwords(1) in the hope that some will work. However, those attacks aren’t a response to the current crisis; they’ve been going on at least since 2018.(2)The dates matter. What’s often called the “shadow war” between the U.S. and Iran has been going on for a long time. Last June, for instance, the U.S. retaliated for Iranian attacks on oil tankers and the downing of a drone by launching cyber assaults against “an Iranian intelligence group” believed to be involved. The U.S. action also followed a spike in efforts by Iranian hackers to breach computer systems at, among others, the Energy Department and U.S. national laboratories.It’s tempting to blame the shadow war on the policies of President Donald Trump, but the battle was joined long before he took up residence in the Oval Office. The Iranian efforts are usually dated to 2009, when the “Iranian Cyber Army” successfully attacked Twitter, proclaiming on the site’s homepage “U.S.A. Think They Controlling And Managing Internet By Their Access, But They Don’t, We Control And Manage Internet By Our Power.”The hacks continued throughout the Obama administration. In 2013, for instance, Iranian hackers “infiltrated the control system of a small dam less than 20 miles from New York City.” The next year, they attacked a Las Vegas casino owned by Sheldon Adelson. In 2016, the U.S. announced indictments against seven hackers said to be working on behalf of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard who were alleged to have “conducted a coordinated cyberattack on dozens of U.S. banks, causing millions of dollars in lost business.”Moreover, Iran never needed any provocation to unleash its hacking squads. In November of 2015, the New York Times reported “a surge in sophisticated computer espionage” by hackers based in the Islamic Republic, including “a series of cyberattacks against State Department officials.” Those attacks came four months after the signing of the Iran nuclear deal.My point isn’t that the accord somehow caused the attacks, perhaps by emboldening Iran. That’s nonsense. My point is that the existence of the accord didn’t prevent the attacks or even reduce their frequency or scope. Nor should anyone have expected such a result. In the Middle East, for better or worse, the U.S. and Iran are rivals, each seeking to exercise influence in the world’s most volatile region. As every disciple of conflict theory knows, rival powers often find it in their interest to cooperate on particular issues. But the fact that rivals sometimes cooperate – as the U.S. and Iran did, for example, in the battle against Islamic State — doesn’t suddenly make them allies. Neither did the nuclear deal.From the point of view of both countries, a battle in cyberspace feels far safer than one fought out with force of arms. One might suppose that because the U.S. is the dominant online player, a fight in the digital realm would be to its liking. But there are reasons to be wary.In an important recent essay in The Atlantic, Stanford’s Amy Zegart points to the paradox of U.S. tech dominance: “The United States is simultaneously the most powerful country in cyberspace and the most vulnerable country in cyberspace,” she writes. The more widespread and complex your systems, she argues, the greater the possibilities for a hacker to find a way in: “In the virtual world, power and vulnerability are inextricably linked.”And exploiting the opponent’s online vulnerabilities is a tricky and dangerous business. Few conflicts stay in the shadows forever. The trouble is, it’s impossible to predict when or how the battle will burst into the open. Here one is reminded of Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling’s description of “limited war” as being like fighting while in a canoe. “A blow hard enough to hurt,” he wrote in Arms and Influence, “is in some danger of overturning the canoe.” Once both canoes capsize and everybody’s in the water, there’s no way to tell who’ll drown.So far, the cyber-blows exchanged by Iran and the U.S. haven’t been hard enough to hurt in any deep and profound sense, even during the current atmosphere of crisis. The canoes have stayed afloat. One expert interviewed by the Washington Post suggested that all we’re likely to see is “small-scale interruptions and nuisance activities with limited impact” – in a word, vandalism. That’s what happened earlier this month, when Iranian hackers successfully defaced the website of the Federal Depository Library Program with a tribute to Soleimani. And if by chance you haven’t heard of the Federal Depository Library Program, that’s the point.But the fact that the cyber war between the U.S. and Iran has remained in the shadows so far doesn’t mean it always will. No matter who wins the 2020 presidential election, the battle war won’t go away.Neither will the risk of overturning the canoe.(1) If your password is on this list, then it’s common, and you should change it.(2) Refined Kitten, like other Iranian hacker groups, has also targeted companies involved with national security. One “soft” Refined Kitten technique involves posting fake notices about jobs in the defense industry, evidently in the hope of vacuuming up information from applicants.To contact the author of this story: Stephen L. Carter at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Sarah Green Carmichael at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of law at Yale University and was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His novels include “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” and his latest nonfiction book is “Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster.” For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called for the repeal of Section 230, part of a U.S. law that protects internet companies from liability for content their users post online.In an interview with the New York Times editorial board, Biden said companies should be responsible for libel on their platforms. The former vice president focused his ire on Facebook Inc., the largest social-media company, and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg.Section 230, a provision of the Communications Decency Act passed in 1996, “should be revoked, immediately,” Biden said.The rule has allowed internet giants to take a hands-off approach to content on their sites, but has also spurred free expression online. Overturning Section 230 could make internet companies far more cautious about what they let users write on their platforms. Smaller websites could be hurt the most.Read more: The 26 Words That Helped Make the Internet a MessTechnology companies have lobbied to protect Section 230, but there have been successful efforts to weaken it already. Congress passed a sex trafficking law in 2018 that chipped away some of the protections.Biden’s remarks to the New York Times, published Friday, came as part of the newspaper’s presidential endorsement process. He focused particularly on Facebook. “It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false,“ Biden said. “You guys still have editors. I’m sitting with them. Not a joke. There is no editorial impact at all on Facebook. None. None whatsoever. It’s irresponsible.”“I’ve never been a fan of Facebook, as you probably know,” Biden added. “I’ve never been a big Zuckerberg fan. I think he’s a real problem.”Other Democratic presidential candidates have expressed concern about Section 230. At tech industry conference SXSW, Amy Klobuchar said, “It is something else that we should definitely look at as we look at how we can create more accountability.”Biden also said the U.S. should embrace some privacy protections like those in Europe, where citizens have more rights to remove negative content about them posted online.To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Newcomer in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Mark Milian at email@example.com, Alistair Barr, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Today’s Food and Drug Administration moves much faster than it used to. That may not always be a good thing. A review of drug approvals by the agency from researchers at Harvard Medical School released Tuesday found that the FDA is approving drugs more rapidly with weaker evidence than it did in the past. That can be beneficial when it leads to needed medicines getting to market quickly, and I believe that’s the agency’s intent. As the study’s authors highlight, however, this emphasis on speed and flexibility could be eroding standards. It may be time for a gut check.The gold standard for demonstrating efficacy — and the surest way of winning drug approval — is to demonstrate success in large, well-controlled studies that result in a hard outcome. But there are faster ways to get to market. In 1992, Congress created the accelerated approval program, which can green light medicines based on “surrogate” endpoints that predict rather than confirm benefit for patients, or those that have shown a shorter-term benefit. It’s one of several initiatives that have changed how the agency works. According to the study, 80.6% of approvals between 1995 and 1997 were supported by at least two pivotal trials. That number dropped to 52.8% between 2005 and 2017. Companies that get accelerated approval have to prove their drug works with a confirmatory trial in order to gain full approval, but there’s no hard timetable no when that must be done. Thus, drugmakers often don't hurry to conduct those tests. This is problematic at best, dangerous at worst.Here’s just one case: In 2016, Sarepta Therapeutics Inc. sought approval of a medicine to treat a rare muscle-wasting disease in young boys based on weak evidence from a tiny trial. In the face of significant public pressure, the FDA approved Exondys 51 even though one of its scientists called the treatment “an elegant placebo” in a report. Sarepta is selling the drug for over $300,000 a year but has continually delayed a confirmatory trial. It’s now years away from completion, and there have been no real consequences for the delay.When companies do complete post-approval trials, it sometimes reveals a mistake. Eli Lilly & Co.’s cancer drug Lartruvo got accelerated approval in 2016. Lilly then pulled the medicine from the market last year after a larger trial found no benefit. That’s a rare outcome, but there are many expensive drugs on the market that have never moved beyond surrogate endpoints. A study of 93 accelerated cancer drug approvals between 1992 and 2017 found that only 19 had proved to help patients live longer in a followup trial. There are some good reasons for faster approvals, as former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb outlined in a Twitter response this week to a critical New York Times editorial penned on Jan. 11. Scientists are better at evaluating the safety of medicines and trial design has improved, for example. And advances have made it easier to create drugs that target small populations and have dramatic effects, Gottlieb wrote.He makes good points. But the agency arguably hasn’t found the right balance between embracing advances and maintaining a high bar. It certainly has a ways to go on post-approval follow up. America is entirely unable to control the price of new medicines; the approval of marginal drugs has financial consequences. The FDA will soon face one of its most important and controversial decisions yet. Biogen Inc. is seeking approval for the first purportedly disease-modifying Alzheimer’s drug — a medicine that could be used by millions of people and cost billions — without good evidence that it works. The agency often uses unmet need as a justification for shifting standards, and there’s no bigger unmet need than Alzheimer’s. That doesn’t justify an approval based on one failed trial and another that is a questionable success at best.The agency will have to decide whether to review or approve the medicine in the next year or so. This choice is an opportunity to resist public pressure and move back toward demanding firmer proof of efficacy before drugs hit the market. To contact the author of this story: Max Nisen at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Beth Williams at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Max Nisen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering biotech, pharma and health care. He previously wrote about management and corporate strategy for Quartz and Business Insider.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
The New York Times Company announced that its fourth-quarter and full-year 2019 earnings conference call will be held on February 6 at 8:00 a.m. ET.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Get Jonathan Bernstein’s newsletter every morning in your inbox. Click here to subscribe.It’s not yet clear how much of what Rudy Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas told Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and the New York Times in an interview will turn out to be true. Parnas, a Soviet-born businessman under indictment for campaign-finance violations, may have strong incentives to make things up. On the other hand, he’s also turned over a considerable amount of supporting evidence that he worked closely with Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer. And what he alleges — that Trump was fully informed all along of a plot to pressure Ukraine to help Trump’s re-election by throwing dirt at Joe Biden — is generally consistent with the evidence that the House considered when it drew up and voted on impeachment. Still, the legal analyst Susan Hennessey was correct Wednesday when she cautioned on Twitter that everyone should be duly cautious about the Parnas allegations. There’s danger here for those building the case against Trump; false accusations based on the word of a criminal could be damaging. But the danger for Republicans is pretty obvious, too. As someone said Wednesday evening on Twitter, Republican senators don’t even know what they’re covering up for, or at least what they would be covering up for if they follow the White House’s preference to rush through the Senate impeachment trial that starts next week and refuse to hear from relevant witnesses and collect relevant documents. Some of those senators, to be sure, just don’t care. They’ve decided they can live with (both politically and ethically) any revelations that may come down the road — that no one who they care about will hold them accountable for burying important evidence, no matter what it turns out to be. Others may really be so fully inside the conservative information-feedback loop that they sincerely think that Trump is an honest, innocent man being railroaded by partisans; they may not even be aware of the considerable evidence to the contrary.But for anyone else? As I said just 24 hours and a couple rounds of ugly revelations ago: “If new ugly details are still emerging, who’s to say that more won’t turn up later?”Of course, that doesn’t make decision-making easy for Republicans who are worried — that is, Republicans who are comfortable voting to acquit on the current evidence, but are concerned that they’ll be abetting a coverup if they try to cut the trial short and then will be exposed as more evidence comes out anyway. It’s easy to say that they should just demand a thorough trial. But that, too, has real costs for them; it means voting against the leader of their party on procedural issues, and therefore winning the wrath of the White House and some of their strongest supporters. That’s not something that any politician does lightly. And even a thorough trial could end up producing no new significant reasons to vote to remove Trump, either because that evidence doesn’t exist or because the House Democratic impeachment managers can’t produce it.It’s easy to say that the political side of those considerations should be irrelevant and that Republican senators should care only about justice. To that I’ll only say: Good luck getting politicians to ignore politics.A better argument might be that those Republican senators should factor into their considerations the institutional and personal self-interest they have in keeping constraints on the presidency in general and this president in particular. Allow him to treat impeachment as a joke, and both he and all future presidents will be more likely to treat the threat of future impeachments as minor inconveniences. That would be true in any case. It’s especially true if they suspect that Trump really is trying to get away with something, even if they think the proof isn't there or that it doesn’t quite rise to the level of removal from office.1\. David M. Edelstein at the Monkey Cage on the U.S., Iran, China and Russia.2\. Matt Grossmann talks with Justin Grimmer, Will Marble, John Sides, and Lynn Vavreck about bigotry and Trump voters.3. I really like Paul Waldman’s item on Trump and dishwashers. 4\. Charles Gaba on the individual mandate.5\. S.V. Date on Trump and the truth.6\. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Conor Sen looks back on a great decade for the wealthy.7\. And Alyssa Rosenberg on what a woman in the Oval Office would face.Get Early Returns every morning in your inbox. Click here to subscribe. Also subscribe to Bloomberg All Access and get much, much more. You’ll receive our unmatched global news coverage and two in-depth daily newsletters, the Bloomberg Open and the Bloomberg Close.To contact the author of this story: Jonathan Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Landman at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
The New York Times Company (NYT) has been diversifying business, adding new revenue streams, realigning cost structure and streamlining operations to increase efficiencies.
(Bloomberg) -- Whenever somebody on Twitter takes issue with the network’s rules or content policies, they almost always resort to the same strategy: They send a tweet to @jack.A quick scan of Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey’s mentions show just how often he’s called upon to lay down the law for the service he helped create. But what users don’t know is that they’re imploring the wrong Twitter Inc. executive. While Dorsey is the company’s public face, and the final word on all things product and strategy, the taxing job of creating and enforcing Twitter’s rules don’t actually land on the CEO’s shoulders. Instead, that falls to Twitter’s top lawyer, Vijaya Gadde.As Twitter’s head of legal and policy issues, Gadde has one of the most difficult jobs in technology: Her teams write and enforce the rules for hundreds of millions of internet users. If people break the rules, the offending tweets can be removed, users can be suspended, or in extreme cases booted off Twitter altogether. Dorsey may have to answer for Twitter’s decisions, but he’s taken a hands-off approach to creating and enforcing its content policies.“He rarely weighs in on an individual enforcement decision,” Gadde said in a recent interview. “I can’t even think of a time. I usually go to him and say, ‘this is what’s going to happen.’”That leaves Gadde, 45, as the end of the line when it comes to account enforcement -- a delicate position in a world where Twitter’s rules are both an affront to free speech and an invitation to racists and bigots, depending on who’s tweeting at you. “No matter what we do we’ve been accused of bias,” Gadde said. “Leaving content up, taking content down -- that’s become pretty much background noise.”Like most corporate lawyers, Gadde generally operates in the background herself, though her influence has helped shape Twitter for most of the past decade. A graduate of Cornell University and New York University Law School, Gadde spent almost a decade at a Bay Area-based law firm working with tech startups before she joined the social-media company in 2011. Her eight-plus years at Twitter are about equal to the amount of time Dorsey has worked there over the years.But as Twitter’s role in global politics has increased, so has Gadde’s visibility. She was in the Oval Office when Dorsey met with U.S. President Donald Trump last year, and joined the CEO when he met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2018. When Dorsey posted a photo with the Dalai Lama from that trip, Gadde stood between the two men, holding the Dalai Lama’s hand. InStyle just put her on “The Badass 50,” an annual list of women changing the world. “Vijaya defines the word,” tweeted Twitter Chief Marketing Officer Leslie Berland.When Gadde first joined Twitter, the internet was a different place. At the time, a lot of politicians were just getting familiar with the platform. Trump primarily used his Twitter to share announcements about his TV appearances (though this would quickly change). The official presidential account, @POTUS, wouldn’t even come into existence until 2015, under then-President Barack Obama.When Gadde took over as general counsel in 2013, the social-media service had an “everything goes” mentality. A year prior, one of Twitter’s product managers in the U.K. famously said that Twitter viewed itself as “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” a label later repeated by then-CEO Dick Costolo. The company simply “let the tweets flow,” said one former employee.That freedom is part of what drew Gadde to Twitter in the first place. An immigrant from India, Gadde moved to the U.S. as a child and grew up in east Texas, where her dad worked as a chemical engineer on oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, before moving to New Jersey in middle school. “I was the only Indian child most of my education until I went to college,” she says now. “You feel voiceless. And I think that that’s kind of what drew me to Twitter -- this platform that gives you a voice, and gives you a community and gives you power.”Twitter’s commitment to giving everyone a voice, though, has also come with a general reluctance to take it away. Twitter’s decisions in recent years to ban certain users, including conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and far-right media troll Milo Yiannopoulos, were news in part because Twitter’s decisions to act were so uncharacteristic. Gadde acknowledges the change, saying that the company has come to realize in recent years the responsibility it has to protect the safety of its users, including when they’re not using the product. “I would say that the company has shifted its approach dramatically [since I started],” she said.Perhaps no user presents a bigger quagmire for Gadde and her team than Trump, the platform’s most famous user, whose tweets often push the boundaries of Twitter’s rules. The president’s habit of blasting messages to his 70.9 million followers has taken on a new vigor thanks to a looming impeachment trial and re-election bid. Following the U.S. drone strike in early January that killed a top Iranian general, Trump threatened Iran with military force in a number of tweets, including the targeting of cultural sites. That prompted many observers, including some former Twitter employees, to ask why he hadn’t been suspended -- a cycle that has played out several times following other Trump tirades.Last month, Trump attacked his Democratic rivals, blasted Congress over impeachment proceedings, and even mocked teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg from his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. According to a USA Today analysis, his tweets contain more negative language than ever. The study looked at whether Trump tweeted words with positive or negative connotations, and found he “is posting fewer tweets with words that convey joy, anticipation and trust, and more that convey anger.” Trump sent or retweeted more than 1,050 messages in December, according to Hootsuite -- more than any other month since taking office.“The way he uses social media is a reflection of just how unusual a candidate, and now a president, Trump is. A big part of that is that he breaks all the rules,” said Patrick Egan, a professor of politics and public policy at New York University. “Something that a lot of people really like about him is that he says the kind of things he’s not supposed to say, and of course that’s exactly the kind of thing that can get you into trouble on social media.”Inside Twitter, Trump’s tweets are a frequent topic of conversation among employees, and Gadde’s authority also means that she has the unique job of punishing the world’s most famous tweeter -- should it ever come to that. “My team has the responsibility to do that with every single individual who uses Twitter, whether it’s the president of a country or it’s an activist or it’s somebody we don’t know,” she said. “I honestly do my best to treat everyone with that same degree of respect.”Twitter has so far decided that Trump hasn’t crossed any lines, but the company is prepared for such a scenario. While it’s unlikely that Twitter would ever suspend a well-known politician – the company also has a newsworthiness policy, which means it’s less likely to take action on tweets from elected officials -- it’s devised another penalty for world leaders: A warning screen unveiled last summer that hides a tweet from public view and limits its distribution, but still allows people to view the tweet with the click of a button. It’s a way to publicly acknowledge that a politician has violated Twitter’s rules while admitting what they said is too newsworthy to be taken down. “It’s preserving a record of what is said in the public interest,” Gadde explained.The process is designed like this: A content moderator, who may be a third-party contractor, reviews a tweet that has been flagged and determines whether it violates Twitter’s rules. If they decide that it does, moderators can usually enforce punishment at this stage, but Twitter requires a second layer of review for offenders who are considered public figures -- in this case, a verified politician with more than 100,000 followers, Gadde said.The tweet is then sent to Twitter’s trust and safety team, and if they also agree that the post violates the rules, Twitter convenes a special group of employees from across the company to review it. This group, about a half-dozen people from various teams, is meant to bring in a diverse set of perspectives, Gadde explained. That panel then makes a recommendation to Del Harvey, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, and her boss, Gadde, for a final decision.Barring some kind of emergency, using the label will ultimately be Gadde’s call. “Vijaya has a young kid still, so she’s very used to being woken up any hour, which is helpful,” Harvey joked to a group of reporters last summer.Gadde won’t go so far as to say the new warning label was created with Trump in mind -- “We try to think of these things globally and not just about the United States,” she said -- but added that even though the screen, referred to internally as the Public Interest Interstitial, hasn’t been used since its debut last June, it will eventually make an appearance. Gadde said Twitter has used the newsworthiness policy a “handful” of times in the past as justification for leaving offending tweets up. But the company didn’t have the warning label back then, so the general public didn’t know anything had even been discussed behind the scenes, she said. “We know it happens, and that it will happen.”Twitter actually pointed to this policy in September 2017 when answering questions about the decision to leave up a tweet from Trump that appeared to threaten North Korea with nuclear war. Twitter also has a policy against threats of violence. A White House spokesman, Steven Groves, declined to answer questions about Trump’s use of Twitter.Historically, Twitter’s rules around free speech have been so lax that a number of celebrities and journalists, including singer Lizzo, actress Millie Bobby Brown and New York Times writer Maggie Haberman, have stepped away from the service -- at least temporarily -- with many citing bullying and harassment. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, a former Democratic candidate for president, thought Twitter’s enforcement weak enough that she implored the company to suspend Trump in a letter in October, saying he uses his account to obstruct justice and intimidate people, including the whistle-blower whose report ultimately led to his impeachment. Twitter responded that Trump’s tweets didn’t break the rules.The newsworthiness exemption gives Twitter a lot of wiggle room when it comes to removing high-profile tweets, but Gadde said the point of the warning label, and the company’s attempt to explain it, are part of a broader effort to be more transparent about how and why the company makes decisions -- something she admits hasn’t always been clear. As Twitter has grown, so has the company’s understanding that it can’t simply sit by and let people tweet whatever they want, Gadde said. It’s one of the many ways her job has evolved over the years.“We’re trying to do so much more of our work in public,” she said. “I want people to trust this platform.”\--With assistance from Jordan Fabian.To contact the reporter on this story: Kurt Wagner in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at email@example.com, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
The New York Times Co. said Tuesday it surpassed its goal of $800 million in annual digital revenue in 2019, a full year ahead of schedule. In a statement based on remarks to be delivered by Chief Executive Mark Thompson at a staff town hall later Tuesday, the company said it had set the goal in 2019 at a time when digital revenue was about $400 million. The company added more than 1 million net digital subscriptions in 2019, model in 2011. The company now has more than 5 million total subscriptions, a record number. Shares were not yet active premarket, but have gained 28% in the last 12 months, while the S&P 500 has gained 27%.
The New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson today will announce significant milestones that the Company achieved in 2019.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- BlackRock Inc., the world’s biggest fund manager with $7 trillion of assets, says it plans to “place sustainability at the center of our investment approach.” As environmental, social and governance issues become more pressing, especially for younger savers, it’s a savvy business move that will pressure its peers to follow suit.But there’s a problem. With about two-thirds of the money it manages allocated to index-tracking funds, the issue of how to harness the resources in passive products — the bulk of which command fees that are too low to finance costly and time-consuming engagement with company boards — remains unaddressed.In his annual letter to company executives published Tuesday, Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink says the financial world is undergoing “a fundamental reshaping” as the climate crisis becomes more apparent. “Our investment conviction is that sustainability- and climate-integrated portfolios can provide better risk-adjusted returns to investors,” he writes.BlackRock’s move comes as the world’s fund managers find themselves at the forefront of populist pressure to do more to save the planet. As the world’s principal allocators of capital, money managers are being scrutinized like never before — and are being found wanting in many cases. BlackRock’s annual investment stewardship report, for example, shows that in the year to mid-2019, it interacted with 256 companies on “environmental risks and opportunities.” While more than 80% of those discussions were on climate specific risks, the firm voted in favor of just four shareholder proposals pressing U.S. companies to implement policies designed to prevent the average global temperature from increasing by more than 2 degrees Celsius. Hence the criticism. Non-profit group Majority Action examined the U.S. voting record of 25 of the world’s biggest asset managers and what it found wasn’t pretty. BlackRock and Vanguard Group Inc. voted against at least 16 climate-related proposals which would have passed with their backing, a report the group published in September found.Earlier this month, BlackRock joined Climate Action 100+, a group of more than 370 fund managers that champions engagement with companies to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. The organization now has $41 trillion of firepower to rain down on companies that are deemed to be hurting the planet. But the trillions of dollars in the growing ETF category are unlikely to participate in that activism. So far, ETFs designed to cater to ESG-minded investors have about $20 billion of assets spread across more than 100 products, with more than 30 such ETFs introduced in the past two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence.While the ESG subset is dwarfed by the $6 trillion of global assets that ETFs have garnered in recent years, it attracted a record $8 billion of inflows in 2019, a trend that’s likely to continue accelerating as the climate crisis continues to attract headlines — and dollars.In an interview with the New York Times, Fink acknowledged that the firm’s passive index funds aren’t able to ditch the shares of companies it deems not to be acting in line with its views on sustainability. Moreover, he says in his letter that governments will dictate the speed at which the world moves to a lower-carbon economy. “Under any scenario, the energy transition will still take decades,” he writes.Within this environment, BlackRock says it’s seeking a tenfold increase in the assets dedicated to sustainable investments in the coming decade, to $1 trillion from about $90 billion currently. It plans to double the number of ESG-related ETFs it offers to 150.So BlackRock’s late arrival to the ESG party makes good business sense for the firm, and is great news for the planet. But the broader issue of how passively managed money can participate in the climate fight remains unresolved.To contact the author of this story: Mark Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Melissa Pozsgay at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Mark Gilbert is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering asset management. He previously was the London bureau chief for Bloomberg News. He is also the author of "Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable."For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- It’s rare that the carefully unspooled reasoning of an academic thinker cuts through as powerfully as that of philosopher Roger Scruton. The reaction to his death speaks to his profound influence on conservative thought and British politics. “We have lost the greatest modern conservative thinker — who not only had the guts to say what he thought but said it beautifully,” tweeted U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson’s party owes a deeper debt to Scruton, as Danny Kruger, the Tory MP from Scruton’s beloved Wiltshire, spelled out in a tribute:“Roger Scruton gave Conservatism its head. He gave the movement the intellectual confidence to imagine a United Kingdom free from the European Union, and to fathom an appeal to the public based on their attachment to ‘the place which is theirs.’ In this, he also gave Conservatism its heart.”Scruton’s writings in some 50 books, including a number of novels (and two operas), extended into every branch of philosophy — from ethics to metaphysics — but also foxhunting, architecture, music, sexual desire and wine. He was also an activist. A staunch opponent of communism, he took great risks to help underground movements in Eastern Europe in the 1980s.Mild-mannered and donnish, he could be withering about an intellectually flimsy argument or the “kind of half-educated politically correct person” for whom he was a hate figure. But he was also humble and good-humored. When the Anglican priest and journalist Giles Fraser noted during a podcast interview the huge range of subjects he had tackled, Scruton replied mischievously, “There are some fields I have not yet explored, but they are trembling in anticipation.”Scruton was at times ostracized by British Conservatives (though David Cameron gave him a knighthood) and was long vilified by the left. He was controversially sacked from a government commission after the left-wing New Statesman published an interview in which some of his statements were selectively edited in a way that made them sound racist or xenophobic. The magazine later apologized and he was reinstated, but it clearly stung. It seemed to reinforce in Scruton’s mind an existential us-versus-them battle with the traditional left. Scruton traced his philosophical formation in part to witnessing the 1968 Paris riots, where he saw an “unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans.” He wanted to preserve things not destroy them, he said. He was “not a free-market fanatic,” as he noted; indeed, he was more a communitarian conservative than a classical liberal. Though he acknowledged there was sometimes a tension between the two, he didn’t seem overly worried about that; he felt that the two strands needed each other. Scruton believed in the idea of the nation (though not nationalism), which is becoming fashionable again in the post-globalization age but earned him a lot of criticism for a time. Embedded in the very notion of democracy, he argued, is the idea of political loyalty; whether or not we agree with the government of the day, we accept it. This in turn requires a degree of social trust, which is rooted in place and institutions. “Urban elites build trust through career moves, joint projects and cooperation across borders,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “They will identify with transnational networks since they see those things as assets, which amplify their power.” But this urban elite cannot function without those who are more rooted in their place — farmers, factory workers, nurses, police. They, he rightly noted, often vote differently. What binds these groups together, he argued, is patriotic sentiment supported by history and culture. That is the needle Boris Johnson tried to thread in the election, by appealing to a sense of place and to Englishness (even more than Britishness). Did Scruton approve of the tactics? “We’re up against a brick wall and we need someone who’s capable of crashing through it, and whatever his virtues and vices, Boris is the kind of person who could,” Scruton said in an interview with the Times just after Johnson took over from Theresa May. It’s not hard to see why he’d think that. He viewed a second EU referendum as the kind of top-down move that is typical of the EU and justifies Britain’s departure. The son of a working class father who was a die-hard socialist and class warrior who effectively disowned Roger when he got into Cambridge University, his life had been a “search for home,” which also reflects his vision of a conservatism rooted in a place, autonomy and accountability. The EU muddied all of that, he thought.And yet some of the values that underpin Scruton’s conservative vision were hitched to some pretty big wrecking balls in Brexit and also in Donald Trump. Whatever the rationale for leaving the EU, the social trust that Scruton so prized has clearly been damaged. The divide was not just between urban elites and those rooted in the land, but also between his generation and younger voters, who are more open to changing their place of residence and more concerned about inequalities than other kinds of differences. Creating Scrutopia (as his Wiltshire ideal was known) won’t be easy for Johnson as it requires knitting together very different constituencies and delivering both economic opportunity and stability.The U.S. presents an even greater problem, as Scruton (who lived and worked there at various periods) was keenly aware. In a 2018 New York Times article, Scruton tries to explain Trump, and pretty much gives up, calling Trump “a product of the cultural decline that is rapidly consigning our artistic and philosophical inheritance to oblivion.” And yet is that what happens when traditional conservatism gets weaponized to entrench cronyism? Scruton didn’t accept the argument that conservatism is largely reactionary. Indeed, his writings celebrated the importance of cultural capital in strengthening societal bonds and he believed the state was an important actor. But almost by definition the iron dome defenses of traditional conservatism are activated when opposing a threat — whether totalitarianism or the tyranny of bureaucracy. In a world where voters are biased toward action, it can be hard to sell mere preservation when the alternative is a gut-punch against the establishment or an exciting leap into the unknown. So the threat has to be manufactured and fear stoked. The danger is that the reaction destroys the thing that the Conservatives should have been protecting. To contact the author of this story: Therese Raphael at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: James Boxell at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Therese Raphael writes editorials on European politics and economics for Bloomberg Opinion. She was editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Since President Donald Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani earlier this month, his administration has argued the attack has two main benefits. Taking out Soleimani helped to prevent a series of attacks he was planning, officials say, and his death will deter Iran from further escalations against the U.S. in Iraq and the region.For a handful of Trump’s advisers, however, there is a third strategic benefit to killing Soleimani: Call it regime disruption. Trump and top U.S. officials have said repeatedly that the U.S. does not seek regime change in Iran, but they have also in recent days cheered on Iranian protesters who have flooded the streets blaming their country’s supreme leader for the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet.The case for disruption is outlined in a series of unclassified memos sent to former National Security Adviser John Bolton in May and June 2019 — the period when Iran’s latest round of escalations began in the Persian Gulf.Their author, David Wurmser, is a longtime adviser to Bolton who then served as a consultant to the National Security Council. Wurmser argues that Iran is in the midst of a legitimacy crisis. Its leadership, he writes, is divided between camps that seek an apocalyptic return of the hidden imam, and those that favor the preservation of the Islamic Republic founded in 1979. All the while, many Iranians have grown disgusted with the regime’s incompetence and corruption.Wurmser’s crucial insight, and one that goes some way toward explaining the Soleimani strike, is that Iran’s leaders expect America to respond to its provocations in a measured and predictable fashion. “Iran has always been careful to execute its ambitions and aggressive aims incrementally to avoid Western reactions which depart from the expected,” Wurmser argues. “In contrast, were unexpected, rule-changing actions taken against Iran, it would confuse the regime. It would need to scramble,” he writes. Such a U.S. attack would “rattle the delicate internal balance of forces and the control over them upon which the regime depends for stability and survival.”Such a moment of confusion, Wurmser writes, will create momentary paralysis — and the perception among the Iranian public that its leaders are weak.Wurmser’s memos show that the Trump administration has been debating the blow against Soleimani since the current crisis began, some seven months ago. In addition to Bolton, the memos were also shared with senior State Department officials. (I obtained them through a source who supports the Soleimani strike.)In May, Iran began sinking oil tankers in response to Trump’s decision to tighten sanctions on Iran’s oil. In June, Iran downed a U.S. surveillance drone. It would later launch drones and missiles on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil refinery facility. The U.S. nearly responded to the shooting down of the drone in June with attacks of its own, but Trump called off the strike 10 minutes before missiles were launched.In May Bolton asked the Pentagon and the intelligence community to generate new military options against Iran, including an option to strike Soleimani. U.S. spy agencies had already begun mapping Iranian outposts in the Middle East and tracking locations of Islamic Revolutionary Guard commanders. But the tension between Bolton and the Defense Department was significant, according to U.S. officials. The Pentagon bureaucracy opposed military escalations. Bolton and other hawks disagreed.After Iran downed the drone, Wurmser advised Bolton that the U.S. response should be overt and designed to send a message that the U.S. holds the Iranian regime, not the Iranian people, responsible. “This could even involve something as a targeted strike on someone like Soleimani or his top deputies,” Wurmser wrote in a June 22 memo.In these memos, Wurmser is careful to counsel against a ground invasion of Iran. He says the U.S. response “does not need to be boots on the ground (in fact, it should not be).” Rather, he stresses that the U.S. response should be calibrated to exacerbate the regime’s domestic legitimacy crisis.At the time, Wurmser’s advice was largely ignored. The U.S. responded through economic means to Iran’s provocations until December. Trump chose instead to offer Iran negotiations while also warning its leaders that the U.S. would respond militarily if an American were to be killed in an Iranian-sponsored attack.That is precisely what happened, and the U.S. eventually responded by killing Soleimani. For now, it looks like Wurmser’s analysis has proved correct. As the New York Times has reported, the Iranians sent a message following a volley of missile strikes to another Iraqi base last week that they would not escalate further for the killing of Soleimani.Wurmser predicted that many Iranians would welcome a strike on a senior commander such as Soleimani. “Iranians would both be impressed and potentially encouraged by a targeted attack on symbols of repression,” his memo says. That remains to be seen. What is already evident, however, is that in the aftermath of Soleimani’s death the Iranian leadership has committed a series of errors — from shooting down the Ukrainian jet to lying about it afterward — that has weakened its position at home and abroad.To contact the author of this story: Eli Lake at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Newman at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Microsoft Corp. will share a tool it’s been using on its Xbox gaming service to scan online text chats and detect adults seeking to groom and exploit children for sexual purposes. Codenamed Project Artemis, the technique combs through historical messages and looks for indicative patterns and characteristics before assigning a probability rating. That can then be used by companies to decide which conversations on their platforms should get a closer look by a human moderator, wrote Courtney Gregoire, Microsoft’s chief digital safety officer, in a blog post.Tech companies are grappling with how to stem a rising tide of child pornography and exploitation online as images and nefarious texts overwhelm moderators and private chat apps make detection tougher. Companies in the industry reported 45 million online images of child sexual abuse in 2018, a record high, the New York Times reported in September. Adult predators use built-in chat functions on popular video games and private messaging apps to groom children and solicit nude photos, sometimes by posing as kids themselves.Microsoft’s so-called grooming detection technique promises to help rein in that behavior with textual communications, but it still leaves voice chat in multiplayer games like Fortnite unaddressed, which serves as another avenue for child sex predators.The project started at a Nov. 2018 hackathon co-sponsored with two child welfare groups that looked not just at new technology ideas but also legal and policy issues. Since then, Microsoft has been developing the tools in collaboration with the companies behind online video game Roblox and messenger app Kik, The Meet Group, which owns social meeting apps like MeetMe and Skout, and Thorn, a non-profit organization co-founded by actors Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore to fight child sex abuse. The team was led by Dartmouth College Computer Science Professor Hany Farid, who previously worked with Microsoft to build PhotoDNA, a tool that’s been used by 150 companies and organizations to find and report images of child sexual exploitation. Farid has written in opposition to the proliferation of end-to-end encryption in social and private messaging services, arguing that it makes detecting and preventing child abuse more difficult.Starting Jan. 10, Thorn will handle licensing of Project Artemis, which is built on Microsoft patents and available for free to qualifying online services, who can sign up for it by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Microsoft said it is already using the technique for Xbox chats and looking at doing the same for Skype.To contact the author of this story: Dina Bass in Seattle at email@example.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Vlad Savov at firstname.lastname@example.orgFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- After a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani last week, America braced itself for the unexpected: The Department of Homeland Security issued an advisory warning that Iran may launch cyberattacks against critical infrastructure. New York’s governor deployed the National Guard to New York City’s major airports.Those precautions are wise and understandable. But Iran’s missile attacks on bases hosting U.S. troops in Iraq on Wednesday shows that the regime’s retaliation may be more conventional than expected.Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has used terrorist groups as proxies to strike at civilians and embassies, attempting to obscure its own responsibility for these attacks. Now the Iranian regime is signaling a new approach. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told his advisers last week that its response should be a “direct and proportional attack on American interests,” according to the New York Times, and that it should be “openly carried out by Iranian forces themselves.” That said, there is good reason to doubt that Iran’s response will be limited to this attack. Iran has fought its wars through proxies since the 1990s. This was Soleimani’s legacy. From 2003 until his death last week, he built up militias in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, waging an imperial war in the shadows on Iran’s behalf throughout the Middle East.Some analysts acknowledge that Iran’s military has the capability to do a lot of damage, particularly to U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But it “is not going to be able to out-escalate the United States,” says Alireza Nader, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Khamenei understands this, he says, and he may be attempting to convey strength at a moment when the regime has been weakened.Another possibility is that the U.S. drone strike demolished the strategy of plausible deniability that Iran has relied on for so long. It’s not just that Iran’s generals could no longer count on being spared the fate of the terrorists they cultivated and sponsored. The strike signaled a new U.S. strategy that imposes grave costs for Iran’s broader proxy war.The regime will almost certainly still depend on its terrorist proxies. But Iran’s missile strike shows that it is prepared to engage in direct military attacks to take revenge for Soleimani. The world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism will also rely on conventional warfare.To contact the author of this story: Eli Lake at email@example.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Newman at firstname.lastname@example.orgThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2020 Bloomberg L.P.