In Box

The Great App Firewall

Five iPhone programs you can't use in China.

With more than 50 billion downloads of its 850,000-plus choices, Apple's App Store seems like it has something for everyone. As long as you follow the rules, that is -- no pornography (sorry, Hustler), no poor taste (sorry, Baby Shaker), and keep the ridicule of public figures to a minimum (sorry, pantsless Bill Clinton bouncing on a trampoline). But now that China has fallen in love with iPhones and iPads, there's a whole new set of rules for what's allowed. Apple, unlike Google, has never publicly explained its censorship policies in the Middle Kingdom. In a rare example to have made it into the English-language media, Apple told a developer in April that his online bookstore app had to be removed because it "includes content that is illegal in China." (The developer speculated it was because he hosted three books by dissident author Wang Lixiong.) Publishing banned books, however, is just one way to fall afoul of China's censors. Here are five other types of apps that are censored in China.


Residents of China first reported Facebook being blocked in 2008, followed by Twitter a year later. Facebook found itself shut off a few months after the 2008 Lhasa riots, when Tibetans and their supporters used Facebook to broadcast their grievances with Beijing's rule. While it's relatively easy for residents of China to access these sites through roundabout methods -- dissident artist Ai Weiwei has more than 215,000 followers on Twitter, for example -- neither works if you download it from Apple's Chinese app store. But some social media apps make it through the firewall. iFlashMob mobile, which describes itself as a "powerful yet simple way to stay connected" (and perhaps even convene a protest or two) is easily downloadable.


Chinese tech companies provide their own free mapping apps; leading search engine Baidu, for example, has one, and Chinese map firm AutoNavi has an app that provides high-end navigation services. On the one hand, both take pains to expand China's contested borders to include places like the disputed Diaoyu Islands (the Senkakus to the Japanese). But some Chinese military sites are simply blank spaces, and even Baidu's detailed Beijing map has an odd black hole: Zhongnanhai, the seat of the Chinese government, for which the map lists only the names of the two lakes in the compound.


On April 1, Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized directly to the Chinese people for poor customer service, after facing weeks of attacks from state media claiming that the company is disrespectful and "arrogant." Eight days later, the Chinese newspaper Securities Daily went even further, reporting that Apple was breaking the law. The crime? Hosting the app "Spreading Falun Dafa." Representatives or followers of Falun Dafa (often known as Falun Gong), a Chinese religion that Beijing banned in 1999, created the app, which contains a selection of the religion's texts. Two days later, Securities Daily crowed that Apple had deleted it (though many other religious apps, from Quran Explorer to Daily Bible Inspirations, are still accessible).


Pornography is technically banned on the Chinese Internet, though still widely available. But there's no messing with Apple's Chinese app store. A few apps that brand themselves as, um, instructional -- presumably to get past censors -- are available, but they're pretty tame. The English-language "Sex Master" free app, for example, which promises "sex education without censorship," offers nothing more titillating than kisses and bare legs.


Marijuana is illegal in China, though its use is mostly tolerated by officials (if not parents) and it's surprisingly available, especially in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where it grows wild. In the United States, the craving for marijuana has spawned dozens of Apple apps. The Marijuana Handbook offers to teach you how to be a "Smoking Guru"; Weed Strains 3D promises "great tasting medicinal edible recipes"; and Legal Maps provides directions to a cannabis dispensary near you. A recent search for marijuana in Chinese ("big hemp"), however, returned only one result: a children's puzzle, graced with an image of a creature that looks like a rhinoceros.


In Box

After Bernanke

Yes, he saved the global economy. But will he leave behind a ticking time bomb?

Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, has said he probably won't serve another term when his current one expires this coming January. His decision to skip the Fed's annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this summer has only reinforced the view that he won't be coming back. But history has yet to issue its verdict on the world's most powerful central banker.

Undoubtedly, Bernanke will be remembered as a bold policy leader who helped avoid a global depression by courageously taking the Fed into uncharted waters using highly experimental -- and highly risky -- policies. At the same time, he leaves his successor with a set of unprecedented and unresolved problems to contend with, from weaning the economy off life support to navigating the consequences of an unusually large balance sheet. And with so much uncertainty about the success of the Bernanke way, econ textbooks and quarterly unemployment figures just don't hold enough answers to how his stewardship of the U.S. economy will play itself out in the years ahead.

Bernanke might well end up regarded as one of the bravest, most innovative Fed chiefs yet. But history made him as much as he made history: The global financial system started to show signs of unusual stress soon after he assumed the chairmanship in early 2006. By September 2008, when Lehman Brothers' collapse set off a global panic, Bernanke, having brilliantly analyzed the historical causes and consequences of the Great Depression as an academic -- and having already taken some exceptional measures as Fed chairman -- understood the importance of quickly going all in to counter a potential tragedy of enormous proportions. After galvanizing the Fed into the role of audacious financial first responder, he went to Capitol Hill with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and, in what has been recalled by many as an extraordinary meeting, persuaded (or, more accurately, terrified) reluctant politicians to take unprecedented steps, including a massive emergency fiscal injection to save the financial system. Things really were that dire -- so much so that, worried that the banks might not open the next morning, I told my wife to withdraw as much cash from the ATM as possible.

Bernanke took a lot of heat for these bold moves, but he also did the best he could to leverage what Congress had authorized, working closely with the Treasury Department and other central bankers around the world. The result was an impressive set of coordinated policy responses that unclogged the pipes of the global financial system, got the money flowing again, and avoided an economic collapse with terrible human costs. He also departed from previous Fed practice by communicating these extraordinary measures to the public, including giving the first TV interview for a sitting Fed chairman in more than two decades, on 60 Minutes.

There's no question that Bernanke played a critical role in steering the global economy back from the brink in 2008 and 2009. Yet his unusual brand of policy activism did not end there -- and here's where his legacy is more complicated. In five years we might look back and say that he bought just enough time for the United States to heal its economy -- or that he's to blame for a new bout of disastrous financial turmoil.

Bernanke saw that, having overdosed on debt and credit entitlement, Western economies faced a multiyear "new normal" characterized by unusually sluggish economic growth, alarmingly high unemployment, worsening income distribution, and concern about overextended fiscal balance sheets. Meanwhile, pronounced dysfunction in Washington, including an extremely polarized Congress, frustrated all attempts at comprehensive reform. Once again, Bernanke bravely went on the offensive. He pivoted from normalizing broken financial markets to using the Fed to deliver higher growth and more robust job creation -- a significant challenge given the relatively limited tools at his disposal, the nature of his mandate, and the extent of bipartisan rancor in Washington.

The Fed had already been forced into a series of new, untested maneuvers, including buying securities on the open market. Bernanke's hope was that these exceptional moves would buy enough time for politicians and other government agencies to get their act together. It didn't happen. So he courageously signaled in August 2010 at the Jackson Hole conference that the Fed would do even more.

Confronting a sluggish economy and unemployment hovering around 10 percent, Bernanke decided that opening up all sorts of emergency funding windows for banks at the Fed was not enough. He combined three policy initiatives that had once been deemed irresponsible, if not entirely unthinkable: He floored policy interest rates at zero for an exceptionally long period, committed to keeping them there even longer through what is called "forward policy guidance," and used the Fed's balance sheet aggressively to buy treasury bonds and mortgages as a way of manipulating prices and investor behavior.

Early in his crisis-management mode, and with the honesty and openness that have characterized the entirety of his remarkable tenure at the Fed, Bernanke warned that the potential benefits of such an unconventional policy stance came with "costs and risks." The longer the Fed persisted, the trickier it would get to strike a balance, and the harder the potential return to normalcy, he acknowledged.

Now, three years after pivoting from saving the imploding financial markets to explicitly targeting employment and economic growth, the Fed is no closer to winding down its experiments. The U.S. economy has yet to attain escape velocity and return to predictable, stable growth. Joblessness remains too high, at 7.5 percent as of this writing, a problem aggravated by millions of young and long-term unemployed, threatening to create a new lost generation.

All these problems have major international consequences too, given that the Fed issues the dollar, the world's reserve currency, and thus its actions resonate around the globe. In effect, Bernanke's policies have pushed other central banks to pursue more expansionary and experimental policy approaches -- in some cases, even regardless of the intrinsic needs of their domestic economies.

Few doubt, for instance, that Bernanke's unusual activism contributed to Japan's remarkable policy U-turn, which, with its massive injections of yen into the system, constitutes the country's biggest postwar economic policy experiment. He has also influenced monetary policy from Brazil to South Korea, Mexico to Chile. And it has made the United States a few enemies: The Fed has been accused in some quarters of fueling the fires of a potential "currency war" around the world. Unsurprisingly, this mix of hyperactive leadership yet disappointing economic and job growth has resulted in a robust debate.

I firmly believe that Bernanke saved the global economy from a depression in 2008 and 2009, yet I still have many questions about how we'll come out the other side. Are the as-yet-elusive benefits of Bernanke's unconventional policies worth the costs and risks? Is the Fed just blowing financial bubbles that will burst down the road? Has Bernanke unduly threatened the institution's public standing and the political autonomy that it needs to support high, noninflationary growth? When will the Fed allow markets to function normally again? How close are we to international currency wars and beggar-thy-neighbor threats? And what if this huge monetary experiment ends up failing -- could the Fed after Bernanke end up a significantly weaker institution?

Of course, much of how this plays out lies well outside the control of Bernanke -- or his successor -- and will depend on the actions of others, from bickering politicians on Capitol Hill to central bankers in other countries. No doubt, Bernanke deserves much praise for his brave risk-taking. And he will go down in history as the Federal Reserve chairman who successfully steered the global economy away from the edge of disaster. But let's hope that he is also remembered for having built the foundation that enabled his successor, working with a more functional political system, to guide the United States back to the path of high economic growth, robust job creation, low inflation, and greater wealth equality. That would be a new normal we could all get behind.

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