Chinese president Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Barack Obama at their first day of meetings in Rancho Mirage, California. (Evan Vucci/AP)The weekend summit between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping has finally arrived amid weeks of speculation. Will the substance of the meeting match the anticipation? Only time will tell -- as even if the summit goes very well, any deliverables are likely to be modest. That said, the simple fact that the two men will meet in a relaxed setting makes the gathering important and worthwhile. So what do you need to know about the two-day "shirtsleeves summit" between the leaders of the world's two largest economies? Here are some answers to frequently asked questions:
Why are Xi and Obama meeting in California? Is the White House not good enough?
When President Obama invited Xi Jinping's predecessor, Hu Jintao, to the White House for an official state visit in 2011, the Chinese leader arrived under-dressed (wearing a suit rather than tuxedo) and sans wife, making for an awkward photograph with the immaculately turned-out First Couple. This image was consistent with Hu's stiff image -- he was noted for his colorless personality even by the dour standards of Chinese politicians.
Xi, by contrast, is something of a natural. Born into China's Communist aristocracy -- the president's father Xi Zhongxun was an important official in the early days of the People's Republic -- the younger Xi is seen as comfortable and relaxed in an international crowd. An informal "shirtsleeves summit" suits Xi's cosmopolitan image, and provides him with an opportunity at the beginning of his term to establish a personal connection with President Obama. And, perhaps mindful of past sentiment, Xi is bringing along his glamorous wife Peng Liyuan -- even though Michelle Obama is staying in Washington. Xi isn't the type to ignore protocol.
A personal connection? Does that kind of thing really make a difference? After all, President Bush said he saw into Vladimir Putin's soul, and look how that all turned out.
Not really. After all, each head of state represents the interests of his country and will not make important decisions based on his feelings for a fellow leader. And as Stephen Walt of Harvard pointed out in a recent blog post, the main grand strategies of China and the United States are at odds with each other. Washington, as the world's only superpower (sorry, China's not there yet), seeks to preserve its current position in global affairs, while Beijing wants control over "core interests" in the East and South China Sea. For this and other reasons, some analysts expect a "cool war" to serve as the enduring paradigm in the region, and no matter how much Obama and Xi might like each other, the two countries will inevitably be at loggerheads in the future.
So what's the point of the summit? Why should Obama and Xi even meet at all if their core national interests aren't aligned?
Just because Obama and Xi themselves can't fundamentally alter the trajectory of Sino-American relations, it doesn't mean the two leaders won't be able to cooperate on issues of mutual interest. The most important of these issues is North Korea. Since Xi Jinping assumed the presidency, China has expressed less patience with its mercurial ally, strongly condemning Pyongyang's third nuclear test earlier this year. Neither Beijing nor Washington wants to see a nuclear armed Kim Jong-un, and both are keen to re-start talks aimed at securing a diplomatic solution to the crisis. But the United States (along with South Korea) is unwilling to meet North Korea without a pledge that Pyongyang will abandon its nuclear weapons, China doesn't share this precondition. Rest assured this difference in policy will come up during the Xi-Obama summit.
But beyond the issues aside, a meeting between Xi and Obama has benefits in and of itself, even if the two presidents fail to find much common ground. President Xi himself told outgoing U.S. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon that he thinks the meeting will help develop trust between the two presidents. And even in the worst case it's difficult to imagine U.S-China relations being worse after the summit than before.
What about cyber spying? How on earth are Obama and Xi going to find common ground on this?
Cyber-spying has emerged as the most serious recent sticking point between the United States and China, especially after the technology security firm Mandiant announced the existence of a Chinese army unit practicing cyber espionage from Shanghai. China has officially denied any intention to hack into U.S. corporate or military interests, and has also accused the U.S. of being guilty of cyber-spying themselves. As of yet the United States, aside from going official with its accusations, hasn't formulated a policy response to the online hacking issue.
Obama will almost certainly raise the issue with Xi. But will the revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has collected data on cellphone conversations as well as overseas internet connections take the sting out of the president's message? In the press conference after their initial meeting, Obama demurred when asked about cyber security, saying the two leaders hadn't yet had "in-depth conversations" about the subject and referring to the NSA situation as a "very limited issue". However, in the event the two leaders do discuss cyber spying in detail it wouldn't be surprising if Obama were more circumspect than usual in his approach.
In any case, China and the United States ought to figure out some ground rules for dealing with cyber spying issues, since fresh revelations will almost certainly emerge with some frequency in coming years.
So is this meeting even a big deal? What can we expect to come of it?
Summits between China and the United States have historically attracted a lot of attention, ever since President Richard Nixon met an ailing Mao Zedong in Beijing in 1973. Six years later, Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping became the first top leader of the People's Republic to visit the United States, famously donning a ten-gallon hat and taking in a performance by the Harlem Globetrotters. Subsequent meetings between U.S. and Chinese leaders have been less publicized, but any time the heads of state of the world's two largest economies gather, it's a big deal -- especially if the two economies have such a competitive relationship.
Despite all the talk of "high stakes," it's unlikely much will come out of this meeting beyond a joint communique and, perhaps, a plan to re-start North Korea talks. But at the conclusion of the meeting, the two presidents will have had a chance to discuss the world -- and their countries' place in it -- without the distractions of a G20 meeting or a UN General Assembly. Whatever the tangible outcome of the California summit, Presidents Xi and Obama will have gotten to know each other better, and even in the complex world of international politics, that counts for something.
Rampant drug use in Austin, Indiana—coupled with unemployment and poor living conditions—brought on a public-health crisis that some are calling a “syndemic.”
Jessica and Darren McIntosh were too busy to see me when I arrived at their house one Sunday morning. When I returned later, I learned what they’d been busy with: arguing with a family member, also an addict, about a single pill of prescription painkiller she’d lost, and injecting meth to get by in its absence. Jessica, 30, and Darren, 24, were children when they started using drugs. Darren smoked his first joint when he was 12 and quickly moved on to snorting pills. “By the time I was 13, I was a full-blown pill addict, and I have been ever since,” he said. By age 14, he’d quit school. When I asked where his caregivers were when he started using drugs, he laughed. “They’re the ones that was giving them to me,” he alleged. “They’re pill addicts, too.”
A claymation video with a grim plot line accompanies a blessedly straightforward if nerve-wracking tune.
Radiohead’s music often works like a puzzle, and it’s not clear whether many people ever solved the one posed by their 2011 album, The King of Limbs, whose funereal swirl only fleetingly provided the beauty and pop payoff that defined the band’s previous work.
Today’s new Radiohead song, “Burn the Witch,” blessedly does not hide its power. Sonically novel yet viscerally moving, gorgeous yet terrifying, it is the sound of Radiohead returning to do what it exists to do. The video is a claymation retelling of The Wicker Man, in which a police officer arrives at a town that is—spoiler alert!—secretly preparing to burn him in a ritual sacrifice. Thom Yorke’s lyrics speak of the kind of mass action and complacency that allows such a crime and, the logic probably goes, many other cruelties committed by societies.
The Republican front-runner’s repetition of a blatantly ridiculous story about Ted Cruz’s father shows his symbiotic relationship with the press.
Brace yourselves for shock, but Donald Trump said something ridiculous and baseless Tuesday morning. The subject was Rafael Cruz, Cuban-born father of his primary remaining rival, Senator Ted Cruz.
“His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald's being—you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous,” Trump said during a phone interview with Fox News. “What is this, right prior to his being shot, and nobody even brings it up. I mean, they don't even talk about that. That was reported, and nobody talks about it.”
Let’s clear a few things up: It has been reported, which is why Trump knows about it, but it was reported in the National Enquirer. Also there is no evidence for it; it’s bogus. Yes, the National Enquirer has been right about some things in the past, most notably John Edwards’s affair; no, that does not prove that it is right about this.
The billionaire’s bid for the nomination was opposed by many insiders—but his success reveals the ascendance of other elements of the party coalition.
In The Party Decides, an influential book about how presidential nominees are selected, political scientists John Zaller, Hans Noel, David Karol, and Marty Cohen argue that despite reforms designed to wrest control of the process from insiders at smoke-filled nominating conventions, political parties still exert tremendous influence on who makes it to general elections. They do so partly through “invisible primaries,” the authors posited—think of how the Republican establishment coalesced around George W. Bush in 2000, long before any ballots were cast, presenting him as a fait accompli to voters who’d scarcely started to think about the election; or how insider Democrats elevated Hillary Clinton this election cycle.
The comedian's n-bomb at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner highlights a generational shift in black culture.
Georgia McDowell was born the daughter of farmers and teachers in North Carolina in 1902. She was my great-grandmother, and she taught me to read, despite the dementia that clouded her mind and the dyslexia that interrupted mine. I loved Miss Georgia, though she kept as many hard lines in her home as she had in her classrooms. One of the hardest lines was common to many black households: The word “nigger” and all of its derivatives were strict taboos in person, on television, and on radio from any source, black or otherwise, so long as she lived and breathed. She’d kept the taboo through decades of teaching black students and raising black children. For most of my childhood, the taboo was absolute.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
Journalists and policy makers can have a hard time describing the economy when “average” departs so markedly from what's normal.
There is an easy story to tell about the Obama Recovery. Devastated by a financial crash, the U.S. launched a historic comeback. The private sector added jobs in 73 consecutive months, the longest stretch ever. Unemployment is lower today than in the month Reagan left office. Real GDP has grown more than 13 percent since its most-recent low in 2009, Obama’s first year in office. That’s more than twice as much growth as in some western European countries, like France. Compared to how countries typically perform after financial crises, the United States has “probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history,” President Obama toldThe New York Times Magazine.
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That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
For some, abandoning expensive urban centers would be a huge financial relief.
Neal Gabler has been a formative writer for me: His Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity was one of the books that led me to think about leaving scholarship behind and write nonfiction instead, and Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination was the first book I reviewed as a freelance writer. To me, he exemplifies the best mix of intensive archival research and narrative kick.
So reading his recent essay, "The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans," was a gut punch: First, I learned about a role model of mine whose talent, in my opinion, should preclude him from financial woes. And, then, I was socked by narcissistic outrage: I, too, struggle with money! I, too, am a failing middle-class American! I, too, am a writer of nonfiction who should be better compensated!