Tag Archives: World news

Bringing Starlink to Iran

Iran’s government has shut down the internet in many parts of the country amid mass protests. But Elon Musk is offering Iranians a lifeline.


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Musk hopes to provide internet to Iranians cut off from the web. He is seeking an exemption from Iran sanctions to do so.

Protests spread across Iran after the death of a young woman in police custody last week. Masha Amini, a healthy 22 year old, died of a supposed heart attack shortly after being arrested.

Her crime: not wearing the hijab, or traditional veil. Her family denies she had any history of heart problems, per NPR.

Protesters have flooded the streets of the capital, Tehran, chanting “Death to the Dictator.” At least five protesters have been killed by security forces.

The protests are occurring against a backdrop of economic misery. Inflation is over 50% a year and the price of basmati rice alone is up 200% from 2021.

In the face of unrest, the Iranian government has shut down cell service in central Tehran. It has also cut the entire Kurdish region in the northwest off from the internet.

Starlink may be able to reconnect protesters with the world. But it won’t be easy.

Starlink requires a special receiver. The company would have to smuggle large numbers of them into Iran to get people online.

Getting the units into Iran will be difficult. But the receiver is small enough to hide and can support many users at once.

Restored internet will help Iranians coordinate protests. It will also let them shine a light on their government’s thuggery.

I applaud Musk’s work to get Iranians back online. Best of luck!

What do you think of Musk’s attempt to get Starlink to Iran? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

Robot Hands, Vertical Farms, and the Future of Food

Why Drone Delivery Will Be an Awesome Business

How to Get Internet to Cuba

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Photo: Tesla and SpaceX CEO, and Solar City Chairman, Elon Musk, Sun Valley Idaho, Allen & Company Conference, July 2015” by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.


Top Executives of China’s State Semiconductor Fund Arrested

A major state-backed investment fund in China is in shambles as several top executives have been arrested. From the MIT Technology Review:


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China’s chipmaking industry descended into chaos last week, with at least four top executives associated with a state-owned semiconductor fund arrested on corruption charges. It’s an explosive turn of events that could force the country to fundamentally rethink how it invests in chip development, according to analysts and experts. 

On July 30, China’s top anticorruption institution announced that Ding Wenwu, the chief executive of the China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund, nicknamed the “Big Fund,” had been arrested for “suspected serious violations of the law.” Ding is not the only person in trouble. Two weeks ago, Lu Jun, a former executive at the Big Fund’s management institution, was also taken into custody, along with two other fund managers, according to the Chinese news outlet Caixin.

‘Made in China’

Let’s back up a bit. In 2014, China’s government created the China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund (CICF) to invest in domestic chip making. Becoming self-sufficient in these critical components is a top priority of the Communist Party.

At that time, China could only make about 10% of the chips it needed. Its goal was to get to 70% by 2025.

The fund made over $30 billion in investments, with $20 billion more planned. But those investments have started to go sour.

The ‘Big Fund’ Takes Big Losses

One of its biggest investments, Tsinghua Unigroup, went bankrupt last year. Unigroup executives are under investigation and CICF’s $2 billion investment is likely up in smoke.

Riven by bad bets and likely self-dealing, CICF has failed to make China self-sufficient in chips. Today, China can only make about 20 or 30% of the chips it needs — well below target.

A Critical Moment

For China, being able to make semiconductors has never been more important. The US and its allies Taiwan, Korea and the Netherlands make virtually all the chips China imports.

The Trump Administration cut major Chinese telecom Huawei off from critical tech in 2019. Now, the US is pressuring Dutch chipmaker ASML not to sell certain chipmaking machines to China.

China is dependent on chip imports and cut off from the latest tech. Its efforts to develop its own industry have been mired in incompetence and corruption.

China’s Missed Opportunity

What should China have done differently?

Rather than giving government bureaucrats a mountain of state money to invest, use real investors!

With the right tax breaks, chipmakers and technology investors would’ve been eager to set up Chinese fabs. Perhaps TSMC would’ve built more plants in China and China would already be self-sufficient.

The Empire Strikes Back

Turns out another country is doing exactly this: the United States.

The recently passed CHIPS Act offers huge tax breaks for making semiconductors in America. Already, Intel, Samsung, and TSMC are setting up plants.

Worse yet for China, the CHIPS act bars companies that get those incentives from investing in cutting edge chipmaking in China.

I don’t think China will succeed in creating a major domestic semiconductor industry any time soon.

Its poor relations with other countries cut it off from foreign help. And China’s politicized investment climate results in little besides bankruptcies and prosecutions.

As much as we Americans complain about our government, turns out they’re actually doing a few things right.

What do you think the future holds for Chinese tech? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know.

More on China:

Mass Protests in China as Bank Runs Continue

How China’s Tech Industry Dies

China’s Crypto Ban and the Road to Total Control

Photo: “Semiconductor factory in Shenzhen, China” by ILO in Asia and the Pacific is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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China’s Crypto Ban and the Road to Total Control

You just went to a protest marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. You were scared, but you went. You wore a mask and took a winding route home. No one could have seen you.

You arrive home to your Hong Kong apartment and decide to check your bank account. Did the rent get deducted yet?

But when you log in, you see the balance has gone from 21,000 yuan to zero.

A notice appears to contact your local Party office.

This is the future China wants to bring about. Its tools:

1) The social credit score
2) The digital yuan
3) The banning of cryptocurrencies other than the digital yuan

Today, China banned bitcoin and all other cryptocurrencies. All, that is, except its own digital yuan, which debuted this spring.

It wasn’t hard to see this coming. China banned cryptocurrency mining earlier this year. This is part of a long term trend toward total control under Xi Jinping.

China’s government has cracked down hard on tech companies, Hong Kong dissidents, and even seemingly random targets like celebrities.

What’s next? About five years ago, China’s government created a social credit score. Any action that upsets the government, from farebeating to protesting, can have dire consequences. One may be unable to get a loan, a job, or access the internet.

After the crypto ban, the next logical step for China’s dictatorship is to ban cash and all non-digital yuan. Then, all money is electronic, traceable, and centrally controlled.

Step out of line, and your life savings could be gone.

It’s a dark, dystopian future. But I strongly suspect it’s coming.

We in the United States and the rest of the free world should guard against any such thing being done here. I will be wary of attempts to ban cryptocurrencies or cash as paving the way for similar control. Control that has no place in a democratic society.

More on China tech:

China’s Real Goal in Tech Crackdown: A Regimented, Obedient Society

How China’s Tech Industry Dies

China Is Crushing One of Its Most Innovative Companies

Photo: “1984” by jason ilagan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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Will A Massive Uprising in North Korea Mean the End of Kim Jong-un?

North Korean defector and Youtuber Yeonmi Park is reporting a massive uprising in Musan, North Korea. The uprising began when police cracked down on a market selling Chinese products, which is illegal in North Korea despite them being the only goods available.

Farmers took their farm implements and attacked the police. The backdrop for this is an increasingly hungry population with little to lose. Indeed, the situation is so dire that even Russian diplomats are fleeing the country by railroad handcart, appalled at the lack of basic food and goods.

I haven’t been able to find independent corroboration of this uprising, and Park is unclear on what her sources are, but I assume she is still in contact with people inside North Korea.

Her discussion of the uprising begins here.

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Photo: “Kim Jong-un visiting Berlin.” by driver Photographer is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Australia Takes the Lead As Governments Move to Reign in Interest Rates

Government bond yields are increasing in many countries, including the US. Australia is already taking action. Europe and Japan also appear to be close:

This morning, Australian three-year government bond yields reached as high as 0.15% at the market open, far above the 0.1% ceiling established by the Reserve Bank of Australia last November under its yield curve control policy.  The RBA accordingly pledged to buy up to A$3 billion ($2.3 billion) in three-year paper in an unscheduled operation just one day after undertaking the largest purchases since March, successfully pushing yields back down towards that 0.1% bogey by day’s end.  

In a report predicting that the RBA will wait until July before deciding whether to tweak its existing policies, Andrew Boak, Goldman Sachs chief economist for Australia and New Zealand, noted yesterday that “there are no modern day precedents for a central bank exiting yield curve control.” 

A similar struggle is underway in the Land of the Rising Sun.  Japan, which instituted yield curve control back in 2016 with a targeted 0% yield on the 10-year government bond, is now facing a test of its resolve:  The yield on 10-year government debt reached 0.175% this morning, the highest since the debut of that program.  “I want you to understand that we aren’t aiming to raise our target from around 0%,” BOJ governor Haruhiko Kuroda declared in an address to parliament this morning, a message surely intended for Mr. Market as well. 

Meanwhile, a scaled-down bond selloff on the Old Continent looks to spur the powers that be to further impose their will on the market. Yesterday, German 10-year yields reached minus 0.23%, near a one-year high and up from minus 0.53% one month earlier, three days after ECB president Christine Lagarde declared she is “closely monitoring the evolution of longer-term nominal bond yields.”  

In light of that dizzying ascent to minus 0.23%, one of her colleagues appears ready for action. “In my view, there is an unwarranted tightening of bond yields, so it would perhaps be desirable for the ECB to accelerate the pace of [asset] purchases to ensure favorable financing conditions during the pandemic,” Greek central bank governor Yannis Stournaras told Reuters this afternoon.

More here (see the Feb 26 post).

Higher interest rates on government bonds tend to lead to higher interest rates throughout the economy. This can be a problem for stocks, since it can make it more expensive for companies to borrow to fund expansion, etc. It can also make bonds more attractive compared to stocks, which hurts the stock market.

If we see sustained upward pressure on US rates, I expect to see the US follow Australia and try to get the rates back down.

For more on interest rates on markets, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Pebbly Beach Kangaroos Australia – 095” by Kyle Taylor, Dream It. Do It. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Brazil’s Society is Collapsing as COVID Slams its Economy

There is a huge increase in homelessness in Brazil, per Der Spiegel. Many have lost jobs due to the COVID pandemic, leading to a second humanitarian crisis, this one economic. I found this quote from a factory worker who recently lost his job particularly striking:

“I never thought I would end up in this situation,” he says, “and suddenly …” He snaps his fingers and his eyes fill with tears. The worst, he says, is the hunger and the constant feeling of being dirty. “It is the most terrible experience I have ever had in my life, the biggest humiliation.”

This is a man who worked…he was not lazy. But unfortunately, he has still lost everything. Financial relief from the government, on which one third (!) of society depends, is expiring:

…the government in Brasília ceased paying out an emergency allowance for the poor struck by the crisis as of January. Fully 67 million Brazilians – almost a third of the population – had been relying on the 600 real (around 90 euros) each month. “It helped people in the favelas pay for rent or food,” says Kohara. And they have no savings, he adds. Their situations are now so tenuous that they could end up on the streets from one day to the next.

This drives home the importance of stimulus measures in the US. In addition, perhaps an international poverty relief effort is needed.

More here.

Photo: “Slums in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil” by World Resources is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Sound Familiar?

Today, Myanmar’s (deeply flawed) democracy fell today to a military coup:

The coup follows a disputed election in November that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won by a landslide. The main opposition party, the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, claimed the vote was marred by fraud. Myanmar’s election commission rejected the allegations but tensions between the two sides had been rising for weeks. The military made its move hours before Myanmar’s parliament had been due to sit for the first time since the National League for Democracy’s win in the Nov. 8 general election.

USA Today

More here.

Photo: “File:Remise du Prix Sakharov à Aung San Suu Kyi Strasbourg 22 octobre 2013-04 (cropped).jpg” by Claude TRUONG-NGOC is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0