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.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
As the public’s fear and loathing surge, the frontrunner’s durable candidacy has taken a dark turn.
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina—All politicians, if they are any good at their craft, know the truth about human nature.
Donald Trump is very good, and he knows it better than most.
Trump stands alone on a long platform, surrounded by a rapturous throng. Below and behind him—sitting on bleachers and standing on the floor—they fill this city’s cavernous, yellow-beige convention center by the thousands. As Trump will shortly point out, there are a lot of other Republican presidential candidates, but none of them get crowds anything like this.
Trump raises an orange-pink hand like a waiter holding a tray. “They are not coming in from Syria,” he says. “We’re sending them back!” The crowd surges, whistles, cheers. “So many bad things are happening—they have sections of Paris where the police are afraid to go,” he continues. “Look at Belgium, the whole place is closed down! We can’t let it happen here, folks.”
Places like St. Louis and New York City were once similarly prosperous. Then, 30 years ago, the United States turned its back on the policies that had been encouraging parity.
Despite all the attention focused these days on the fortunes of the “1 percent,” debates over inequality still tend to ignore one of its most politically destabilizing and economically destructive forms. This is the growing, and historically unprecedented, economic divide that has emerged in recent decades among the different regions of the United States.
Until the early 1980s, a long-running feature of American history was the gradual convergence of income across regions. The trend goes back to at least the 1840s, but grew particularly strong during the middle decades of the 20th century. This was, in part, a result of the South catching up with the North in its economic development. As late as 1940, per-capita income in Mississippi, for example, was still less than one-quarter that of Connecticut. Over the next 40 years, Mississippians saw their incomes rise much faster than did residents of Connecticut, until by 1980 the gap in income had shrunk to 58 percent.
Live in anticipation, gathering stories and memories. New research builds on the vogue mantra of behavioral economics.
Forty-seven percent of the time, the average mind is wandering. It wanders about a third of the time while a person is reading, talking with other people, or taking care of children. It wanders 10 percent of the time, even, during sex. And that wandering, according to psychologist Matthew Killingsworth, is not good for well-being. A mind belongs in one place. During his training at Harvard, Killingsworth compiled those numbers and built a scientific case for every cliché about living in the moment. In a 2010 Science paper co-authored with psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, the two wrote that "a wandering mind is an unhappy mind."
For Killingsworth, happiness is in the content of moment-to-moment experiences. Nothing material is intrinsically valuable, except in whatever promise of happiness it carries. Satisfaction in owning a thing does not have to come during the moment it's acquired, of course. It can come as anticipation or nostalgic longing. Overall, though, the achievement of the human brain to contemplate events past and future at great, tedious length has, these psychologists believe, come at the expense of happiness. Minds tend to wander to dark, not whimsical, places. Unless that mind has something exciting to anticipate or sweet to remember.
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.
Bill Gates has committed his fortune to moving the world beyond fossil fuels and mitigating climate change.
In his offices overlooking Lake Washington, just east of Seattle, Bill Gates grabbed a legal pad recently and began covering it in his left-handed scrawl. He scribbled arrows by each margin of the pad, both pointing inward. The arrow near the left margin, he said, represented how governments worldwide could stimulate ingenuity to combat climate change by dramatically increasing spending on research and development. “The push is the R&D,” he said, before indicating the arrow on the right. “The pull is the carbon tax.” Between the arrows he sketched boxes to represent areas, such as deployment of new technology, where, he argued, private investors should foot the bill. He has pledged to commit $2 billion himself.
It can cost retailers billions to cover shipping fees, but they're hoping it'll make their customers feel good and buy more.
Last year, my boyfriend wanted go to Best Buy on Black Friday to get a Blu-ray player for our apartment. I told him he was crazy, but let him go because a) I did really want a Blu-ray player for our apartment and b) some people need to learn the hard way. This Black Friday, we stayed home and watched Highlander, biding our time until Cyber Monday. After all, why leave home when there's free shipping?
Shopping online can be such a crapshoot, to the point where—now that I'm a seasoned online shopper with 10 years of experience—I rarely buy from online stores that charge shipping for purchase or returns. After too many pairs of shoes that didn't fit, and products that looked nothing like what was advertised—it's mentally hard to pay for shipping when there's a high chance you'll return it.
American education is largely limited to lessons about the West.
When I turned 15, my parents sent me alone on a one-month trip to Ecuador, the country where my father was born. This was tradition in our family—for my parents to send their first-generation American kids to the country of their heritage, where we would meet our extended family, immerse ourselves in a different culture, and learn some lessons on gratefulness.
My family’s plan worked. That month in Ecuador did more for my character, education, and sense of identity than any other experience in my early life. And five years later, my experience in Ecuador inspired me to spend more time abroad, studying in South Africa at the University of Cape Town. These two trips not only made me a lifelong traveler, but also a person who believes traveling to developing countries should be a necessary rite of passage for every young American who has the means.
The statesman understood something most diplomats don’t: history—and how to apply it.
In his new biography of Henry Kissinger, the historian Niall Ferguson recalls that halfway through what became an eight-year research project, he had an epiphany. Tracing the story of how a young man from Nazi Germany became America’s greatest living statesman, he discovered not only the essence of Kissinger’s statecraft, but the missing gene in modern American diplomacy: an understanding of history.
For Ferguson, it was a humbling revelation. As he confesses in the introduction to Kissinger: “In researching the life and times of Henry Kissinger, I have come to realize that my approach was unsubtle. In particular, I had missed the crucial importance in American foreign policy of the history deficit: The fact that key decision-makers know almost nothing not just of other countries’ pasts but also of their own. Worse, they often do not see what is wrong with their ignorance.”
A Chicago cop now faces murder charges—but will anyone hold his colleagues, his superiors, and elected officials accountable for their failures?
Thanks to clear video evidence, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged this week with first-degree murder for shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Nevertheless, thousands of people took to the city’s streets on Friday in protest. And that is as it should be.
The needlessness of the killing is clear and unambiguous:
Yet that dash-cam footage was suppressed for more than a year by authorities citing an investigation. “There was no mystery, no dead-end leads to pursue, no ambiguity about who fired the shots,” Eric Zorn wrote in The Chicago Tribune. “Who was pursuing justice and the truth? What were they doing? Who were they talking to? With whom were they meeting? What were they trying to figure out for 400 days?”