US opts for soft-power foreign policy; China’s tumult within; Google axes the steering wheel, Samsung makes watch smarter; When instant gratification comes to banking

1 Obama opts for soft-power foreign policy (David Nakamura in The Washington Post) President Obama has laid out his vision for a comprehensive post-9/11 foreign policy after more than a decade of war overseas, arguing for a new form of American leadership that strikes a balance between interventionism and “foreign entanglements.”

Obama stressed the importance of nonmilitary options in addressing the world’s challenges, as well as collective international action. Coming more than six years into a presidency devoted to winding down the wars, the speech featured a firm defense of his administration’s handling of foreign crises — including those in Nigeria, Syria and Ukraine — and a suggestion that many critics are out of step with a nation tired from 13 years of war.

“Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead,” Obama said. “If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership. But US military action cannot be the only — or even the primary — component of our leadership in every instance.”

Obama acknowledged that the odds of a nuclear deal with Iran “are still long,” but he said there remained “a very real chance of a breakthrough agreement” for the first time in a decade, “one that is more effective and durable than what we could have achieved through the use of force.” The point, Obama added, “is this is American leadership. This is American strength.”  

2 China’s tumult within (Khaleej Times) At least 180 people have been killed in attacks across China over the past year as the Communist Party of China’s seniormost committees warned that separatist groups in Xinjiang are seeking to form their own state, called East Turkestan. Xinjiang is a resource-rich region bordering central Asia, whose Uighur Muslim minority speak a Turkic language and several of whose constituents have complained of discrimination.

At a time when the People’s Republic is facing increasing tensions on its maritime frontiers and waters the ethnic smouldering in Xinjiang has forced Beijing to look in all directions at once. For Beijing, at this time China is facing a dual pressure — internally concerning political security and social stability, and externally on national sovereignty, state security, and its interests in development.

In the Party’s own words, China’s state security has its “domestic and foreign elements that are more complicated than at any other period in history”. Given China’s long and turbulent history, this is an assessment of unusual gravity that China’s neighbours must study in equal measure.

3 Google axes the steering wheel, Samsung makes watch smarter (Stephanie M Lee & Associated Press in San Francisco Chronicle) Google CEO Sergey Brin has announced the next step in the company’s driverless car project. The new prototype has no steering wheel or driver pedals, it’s completely self-driving. And the prototype’s squat design of course inspired some to poke fun: Google is building a car without a steering wheel. Brin said Google will make 100 prototype cars that drive themselves — and therefore do not need a wheel. Or brake and gas pedals.

Instead, there are buttons for go and stop. A combination of sensors and computing power takes the driving from there. To date, Google has driven hundreds of thousands of miles on public roads with Lexus SUVs and Toyota Priuses outfitted with the special equipment. This prototype is the first Google will have built for itself. It won’t be for sale, and Google is unlikely to go deeply into auto manufacturing. In a blog post, the company emphasized partnering with other firms.

The Samsung watch: Electronics giant Samsung has taken its biggest step yet into the rapidly growing field of “wearable” health devices, unveiling a prototype for a smartwatch that can track key vital signs and a software platform that will allow researchers to analyze the massive amounts of data generated by wearers.

Samsung has introduced the Simband, a watch that isn’t for sale but an example, the company said, of products still to come. It can track key vital signs: heart rate, heart rate regularity, skin temperature, oxygen levels and carbon dioxide levels. And thanks to an attachable battery, the watch does not need to be taken off to be recharged, allowing it to monitor a user’s body 24/7.

4 When instant gratification comes to banking (Anne Perkins in The Guardian) Being greedy about the present is part of the human condition, and waiting for a better future can cut both ways. It might mean fairness and shared prosperity, but usually it is just another way of entrenching privilege.

What’s for sure is that hope alone is not enough. But taking a risk – by regulating for fair markets now in order to get a more sustainable City operation in the future – is a harder case to make when the rules that used to constrain behaviour have been eroded by the ease with which most of us, most of the time, can get some degree of instant gratification; when getting what you want, when you want it, is the measure of success.

As governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney pointed out, most banks do now have codes of ethics and business principles, it’s just that their traders don’t observe them. It’s like corporate social responsibility, a convenient myth behind which business can continue as usual.

But the behaviour of the bankers would be that bit harder for them to sustain – and the politicians might be a bit more eager to take action to curtail it – if the way they carry on was something other than an extreme example of the way most of us live now.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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