Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who broke the NSA leaks, is photographed leaving his hotel in Hong Kong. (Vincent Yu/AP)Yesterday, an American defense contractor named Edward Snowden identified himself as the man responsible for leaking sensitive material to TheGuardian, stating unequivocally that he wanted to inform Americans of the country's vast, secretive government surveillance program. Snowden, who was based in Hawaii, has now taken up residence at a hotel in Hong Kong, a destination he chose for its "spirited connection to free speech and the right of political dissent."
In a comment about the case published this morning, my colleague James Fallows brought up a salient point about Hong Kong: it isn't a sovereign country, and remains very much a part of the People's Republic of China -- a country which notably lacks free speech or any right of political dissent. And while Hong Kong has a different currency, political structure, and legal system from the mainland, divisions between the two are actually far murkier than Snowden's explanation indicates.
In 1997, when sovereignty over Hong Kong transferred from the United Kingdom to the People's Republic of China, the two countries agreed that the status quo in the territory would remain unchanged for the next 50 years. Under the Basic Law, which went into effect the day of the handover, Beijing is responsible for Hong Kong's national defense and foreign policy, while Hong Kong retains control over basically everything else.
But in the case of Edward Snowden, which is likely to involve an extradition request by the United States, the Basic Law is less clear. Hong Kong, unlike China, has an extradition arrangement with the United States. But China has the right to intercede in an extradition request if Beijing has an interest in "defense or foreign affairs." In other words, if China wants to detain Snowden as a useful intelligence asset, Hong Kong couldn't legally do much about it. And that illustrates an important part of Hong Kong's current situation: its free speech and political dissent really only go as far as Beijing lets it.
So what's going to happen to Snowden?
Hong Kong nearly always cooperates with the United States on extradition requests, and has signaled that it intends to do so in Snowden's case, if Washington wants it. Once this happens, China can then decide to either halt Snowden's extradition and seize him as an intelligence asset, or simply stay out of the matter and let Hong Kong take care of it. The risk of the latter course of action is this: China risks losing a potentially valuable source of information about a major geopolitical competitor. But the risks of the former are greater, for two main reasons.
First, even though Snowden's revelations have embarrassed the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Obama Administration -- which has accused his leaks of being "damaging" -- it's unclear whether Snowden was senior enough to have access to truly valuable information. Beijing's intelligence apparatus probably already knows Washington uses sweeping surveillance techniques for gathering data. Why risk an international incident with the United States in order to obtain information China already has, or can find out easily?
Second, Snowden's revelations come on the heels of the recent summit between the leaders of China and the United States, an event which culminated in a pledge for friendlier relations between the two countries. By staying out of a matter that is essentially a domestic concern of the United States, China would act in this spirit as well as remain consistent with its own policy of non-interference.
Snowden has made it clear that he doesn't intend to stay in Hong Kong for the long-term; he has said he'd like to move to a country like Iceland, a place noted for its transparent government. But will Iceland offer Snowden asylum? According to University of Pennsylvania law professor Jacques deLisle, this is unlikely: countries seldom offer asylum to those who attempt to defect via a third country, and Iceland likely has reason not to anger the United States by taking in Snowden.
These possibilities aside, it's become increasingly clear that Snowden's decision to go to Hong Kong was a serious miscalculation. The idiosyncratic territory may in some ways be a libertarian paradise of free speech, robust media, and low taxes, but is in no way independent of China. If Snowden's ultimate goal were to damage the United States government as much as possible, then going to a Chinese territory would make some sense. But this obviously isn't what he wanted; in The Guardian interview, Snowden disagreed with Glenn Greenwald's characterization of China as an "enemy" of the United States by stressing the healthy trade relationship between the two countries. Aiding China -- whose record of state surveillance and abrogation of civil liberties is inarguably worse than the United States -- would go against the entire moral foundation of Snowden's decision to leak the NSA secrets.
Lawmakers overrode an Obama veto for the first time on Wednesday. A day later, they already had regrets.
The enactment on Wednesday of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act should have been a triumphant moment for Republican leaders in Congress. They had succeeded, after years of trying, in overriding a presidential veto for the first time and forcing a bill into law over the strenuous objections of Barack Obama.
But the morning after brought no such celebration for HouseSpeaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell—only pangs of regret.
“It appears as if there may be some unintended ramifications,” McConnell lamented at a press conference barely 24 hours after all but one senator voted to reject the president’s veto of the legislation, which would allow victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. court. On the other side of the Capitol, Ryan said that he hoped there could be a “fix” to the very law he allowed to pass through the House—one that would protect U.S. soldiers abroad from legal retribution that the Obama administration had warned for months would follow as a result of the law.
With the death of Shimon Peres, Israel has lost its chief optimist. And the prime minister remains paralyzed by pessimism.
The Book of Proverbs teaches us that where there is no vision, the people perish. The people of Israel, now bereft of Shimon Peres, will not perish, because survival—or, at least, muddling through—is a Jewish specialty. But the death of Israel’s greatest visionary, a man who understood that it would never be morally or spiritually sufficient for the Jews to build for themselves the perfect ghetto and then wash their hands of the often-merciless world, means that Israel has lost its chief optimist.
Peres was, for so many years, a prophet without honor in his own country, but he was someone who, late in life, came to symbolize Israel’s big-hearted, free-thinking, inventive, and democratic promise. Peres came to this role in part because he had prescience, verbal acuity, a feel for poetry, and a restless curiosity, but also because, gradually but steadily, he became surrounded by small men. One of the distressing realities of Israel today is that, in so many fields—technology, medicine, agriculture, literature, music, cinema—the country is excelling. But to Israeli politics go the mediocrities.
An etiquette update: Brevity is the highest virtue.
I recently cut the amount of time I spent on email by almost half, and I think a lot of people could do the same.
I’m sure my approach has made some people hate me, because I come off curt. But if everyone thought about email in the same way, what I’m suggesting wouldn’t be rude. Here are the basic guidelines that are working for me and, so, I propose for all of the world to adopt immediately:
Best? Cheers? Thanks?
None of the above. You can write your name if it feels too naked or abrupt not to have something down there. But it shouldn’t, and it wouldn’t if it were the norm.
Don’t waste time considering if “Dear,” or “Hey” or “[name]!” is appropriate. Just get right into it. Write the recipient’s name if you must. But most people already know their names. Like they already know your name.
Late in her losing primary campaign against Barack Obama eight years ago, Hillary Clinton put out her “3 a.m. phone call” ad. The idea was that real presidents have to deal with crises at short notice and with very high stakes. According to the ad, then-Senator Clinton’s greater experience meant that she’d be better at making those 3 a.m. decisions than the relative-rookie Obama would be. If you supported Hillary Clinton, you found that persuasive. If you preferred Obama, as I did, you were less impressed.
What does Donald Trump do at 3 a.m.? To judge by the social-media record, he sends out tweets—and real, “from the Id” personal tweets himself, rather than higher-road ones from his staff. The usual giveaway is the “Twitter for Android” label you see on Tweetdeck and other platforms, versus “Twitter for iPhone” from his staff.
After Andrea Wulf won the Royal Society’s highest honor for her book The Invention of Nature, a writer at The Guardian attributed it to a new fondness for “female-friendly” biographies among prize juries.
Last week, the Royal Society held its ceremony to honor the best popular-science book of the year. I was there, having had the good fortune to be one of the finalists for my recent book, The Hunt for Vulcan. I didn’t expect to win—partly because of my baseline pessimism, partly because of the strength of the competition, and partly because I had set out to write a kind of miniature, a brief book on a quirky topic. Whatever the reason, I was right: I didn’t.
The event itself was good fun. Each of the authors read a passage from their work; the head judge for the prize, author Bill Bryson, led us in a brief question-and-answer session, in which we compared notes on what moved us to write about science. Then came the moment of truth. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, the president of the Royal Society, approached the podium, opened the envelope, and announced that Andrea Wulf had won for The Invention of Nature.
At Berkeley, researchers are studying how wearing flip-flops changes buildings' air-conditioning needs.
When a tech company recently came to Stefano Schiavon at the University of California, Berkeley to test an air-conditioning system for its office, his mind went to flip-flops. The new system would blast cool air from the floor rather than the ceiling, and this being the Bay Area, and this being a tech company, Schiavon figured he couldn’t use the same old models researchers have been using since the 70s to study thermal comfort. (Yes, that is the name for the academic study of maintaining a building at just the right temperature.)
He needed to test people in flip-flops.
Feet, it turns out, are exquisitely sensitive to temperature. When you get cold, the blood vessels in your extremities are the first to constrict, which is your body’s way of preventing more heat loss. “You feel uncomfortable because your feet get numb or getting close to numb,” says Edward Arens, an architect at the University of Berkeley, who also studies thermal comfort. If building managers could heat or cool the feet alone, they could cut energy and costs. So at Berkeley, researchers are focusing on thermal comfort from the feet up.
Conservatives have put families and communities at the center of their conception of a better America—but they’re notably absent from the Republican nominee’s account.
Again and again at Monday night’s debate, Hillary Clinton attacked Donald Trump’s record in business. She accused him of caring only about himself. Again and again, he pleaded guilty.
When Clinton quoted Trump as cheering for a housing crisis, Trump responded, “That’s called business.” When Clinton accused Trump of not paying taxes, Trump answered, “That makes me smart.” When Clinton attacked Trump for declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying the people he owed, Trump replied, “I take advantage of the laws of the nation because I’m running a company.” Clinton set out to paint Trump as selfish and unethical. Trump basically conceded the charge.
Commentators are declaring Trump’s answers a tactical mistake. But they’re more than that. They show how unmoored he is from conservatism’s conception of America.
Across the country, Republican-leaning papers are breaking with their own history to warn their readers about the GOP nominee.
There is a lot of truth to the stereotype that the American media is centered in New York City and Washington, D.C., staffed by Democrats, and hostile to Republicans. Like other professionals, journalists run the gamut from hugely talented individuals doing great work to hacks producing crap, but journalism is unusual in its dearth of ideological diversity.
Simply by living 3,000 miles from the East Coast, leaning more libertarian than progressive, and opposing President Obama’s reelection, I am an outlier in my field. And neither my upbringing among Republicans I respect deeply nor my many differences with leftism gives me insight into what daily life is like in the vast swaths of the country where I’ve never lived or the many jobs I’ve never worked. So I get why tens of millions of Americans don’t give a damn what distant network news anchors with seven-figure net worths think about this election, or that the New York Times, which always endorses the Democratic nominee, endorsed Hillary Clinton.