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.
To many white Trump voters, the problem wasn’t her economic stance, but the larger vision—a multi-ethnic social democracy—that it was a part of.
Perhaps the clearest takeaway from the November election for many liberals is that Hillary Clinton lost because she ignored the working class.
In the days after her shocking loss, Democrats complained that Clinton had no jobs agenda. A widely shared essay in The Nationblamed Clinton's "neoliberalism" for abandoning the voters who swung the election. “I come from the white working class,” Bernie Sanders said on CBS This Morning, “and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to where I came from.”
But here is the troubling reality for civically minded liberals looking to justify their preferred strategies: Hillary Clinton talked about the working class, middle class jobs, and the dignity of work constantly. And she still lost.
A Chinese scholar argues that the U.S. shouldn’t touch Taiwan—just like China wouldn’t back separatists in Texas or Hawaii.
Shortly after news broke of Donald Trump’s phone call with the head of Taiwan—the first direct communication between American and Taiwanese leaders in 37 years—one of the leading Chinese scholars of U.S.-China relations offered a stunning proposal: If the U.S. president-elect took similar actions as president, the Chinese government should suspend the world’s most important (and precarious) partnership. “I would close our embassy in Washington and withdraw our diplomats,” said Shen Dingli, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. “I would be perfectly happy to end the relationship.”
What made the recommendation especially notable was that, just days earlier, Shen had been arguing that Trump’s victory was good for China—much better than the election of Hillary Clinton would have been. So what was it about the Taiwan call that had so quickly soured Shen on Trump? Where did he now think the U.S.-China relationship was headed, and what might that mean for the wider world?
Trump's election has reopened questions that have long seemed settled in America—including the acceptability of open discrimination against minority groups.
When Stephen Bannon called his website, Breitbart, the “platform for the alt-right” this summer, he was referring to a movement that promotes white nationalism and argues that the strength of the United States is tied to its ethnic European roots. Its members mostly stick to trolling online, but much of what they do isn’t original or new: Their taunts often involve vicious anti-Semitism. They make it clear that Jews are not included in their vision of a perfect, white, ethno-state.
On the opposite side of American politics, many progressive groups are preparing to mount a rebellion against Donald Trump. They see solidarity among racial minorities as their goal, and largely blame Trump’s election on racism and white supremacy. Three-quarters of American Jews voted against Trump, and many support this progressive vision. Some members of these groups, though, have singled out particular Jews for their collusion with oppressive power—criticisms which range from inflammatory condemnations of Israel to full-on conspiracies about global Jewish media and banking cabals.
The election is over, but the president-elect is demonstrating he hopes to dominate Washington the same way he dominated his campaign rivals: by taking the case to his loyal movement of supporters.
CINCINNATI—The campaign never ended, and maybe it never will.
So there was Donald Trump a few days ago, doing what he had always done—the thing he knew how to do—the thing that got him here and made him president-elect: standing on a stage, surrounded by the people who couldn’t get enough of him, letting them have what they wanted.
Trump was here, he told them, to say thank you to the people of Ohio. “We won the state by almost 10 points, which they say is totally unheard of!” he said. And then, just as he had during the campaign, he couldn’t resist taking aim at one of his critics, the Ohio governor, John Kasich, who opposed Trump throughout the election and voted for John McCain for president instead.
The HBO drama’s finale hinted at a dark, meta message.
This post contains spoilers for the season finale of Westworld.
In 2013, a widely cited study published in Science suggested that reading literature increases a person ability to understand other peoples’ emotions. In 2016, another study seemed to debunk it, finding the original study’s results irreplicable and its resulting media coverage way too broad. “Reading Literature Won’t Give You Superpowers,” went The Atlantic’s headline from last week about the reversal.
It might seem laughable in the first place for anyone to think literature bestows superpowers. But that’s actually one of the more abiding beliefs of popular culture, and the question of whether stories improve the soul and mind—and better humanity more broadly—remains eternally in dispute. It’s a question that HBO’s Westworld has riffed on for 10 episodes, with the popular drama’s finale last night suggesting a cynical take on the social value of storytelling.
In two high profile trials—those of Officers Michael Slager and Ray Tensing—juries declined to hold cops accountable for taking the lives of civilians.
How could the trial have ended in anything but a conviction?
On April 4, 2015, the 50-year-old black motorist was pulled over in North Charleston, South Carolina, to address a broken brake light—a matter that inanely requires citizens to submit to impromptu interactions with armed agents of the state, despite the risk roadside stops pose to the safety of motorists and police officers.
The motorist, Walter Scott, unlawfully fled on foot from his 1991 Mercedes. Then Officer Michael Slager, who executed the traffic stop, pursued him on foot, drew his weapon, and shot the unarmed man in the back as he ran away. A passerby captured what appeared to be a murder on his mobile phone camera, thought about erasing it for fear of his own safety, but decided to come forward after details of the video contradicted the police report that the officer in the case filed.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
Firefighters have now found 36 bodies inside the artist collective where dozens of people lived together.
Rescue workers say 36 people were killed in Oakland, California, in a fire that torched an artist-collective warehouse known locally as the “Ghost Ship.” It may take weeks to identify everyone killed, because the flames have charred some bodies so badly they’ll have to be identified through dental records. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has also opened a criminal investigation into what caused the fire. So far, it’s thought to have been an accident—the result of too many people in a place with rampant building-code violations. But already some of the artistic community’s frustration seems aimed at both the warehouse’s artistic leader as well as the Bay Area’s unaffordable rent.
The fire started Friday during a late-night rave being held at the warehouse, home to a couple dozen artists. The blaze grew so quickly that flames and smoke trapped many of the people inside, and forced some to leap out of the second-floor windows. Since firefighters extinguished the flames early Saturday morning, rescue workers have methodically removed bits of ash and debris, putting them in dump trucks to be taken to an offsite location, where they can be sorted and checked in case they contain human remains. It is one of the worst U.S. fires in recent memory, bringing to mind the 2003 blaze in West Warwick, Rhode Island, that killed 100 people at a nightclub called the Station.
Confronting racism can be crucial, even when it’s not persuasive.
In the brushfire wars since Donald Trump won the presidency, skirmishes over how to speak to his coalition of voters have consumed liberals. Leading the vanguard in those conversations is a collection of writers and thinkers of otherwise divergent views, united by the painful process of reexamining identity politics, social norms, and—most urgently—how to address racism in an election clearly influenced by it. Though earnest and perhaps necessary, their emphasis on the civil persuasion of denizens of "middle America" effectively coddles white people. It mistakes civility for the only suitable tool of discourse, and persuasion as its only end.
This exploration of how to best win over white Americans to the liberal project is exemplified by reactions to Hillary Clinton’s placing many of Donald Trump’s supporters in a “basket of deplorables.” The debate about whether to classify these voters as racist or bigoted for supporting a candidate who constantly evinced views and policies many believe to be bigoted is still raging. As Dara Lind at Vox expertly notes, Clinton’s comments themselves were inartful precisely because they seemed focused solely on “overt” manifestations of racism, like Klan hoods and slurs. That focus ignores the ways in which white supremacy and patriarchy can function as systems of oppression, tends to forgive the more refined and subtle racism of elites, and may ultimately lead to a definition of racism in which no one is actually racist and yet discrimination remains ubiquitous.