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.
It isn’t the only democratic institution that finds itself in danger.
Four years ago, as a speechwriter for President Obama, I commissioned a binder full of women.
A little context. It was the morning of the Al Smith Dinner, the election-year tradition in which both parties’ nominees don white-tie attire and deliver comedy monologues to New York City’s elite. Our opponent, Governor Mitt Romney had recently used the words “binders full of women” while discussing gender parity in government. Eager to mock the clumsy phrase, I asked a staffer on the advance team to put together a prop.
But our binder never saw the light of day. Obama nixed the idea. I remember being disappointed by the president’s decision, and wondering if POTUS was phoning it in. Of the jokes that did make it into the final draft, one in particular stood out for its authenticity.
First there was McCain’s caving to Bush’s signing statement on his own torture bill, then his selection of an extremely unqualified and unvetted running mate, then he backed Trump until nearly the bitter end—even after Trump insulted his POW experience and his fellow vets with PTSD. And now, a shameless betrayal of constitutional principle that would have gotten far more attention this week if Trump hadn’t one-upped McCain with all his incendiary “rigged” rhetoric. Reader Don explains:
I don’t know if your readers have seen this yet, but it seems that McCain has announced that his fellow GOP Senators will not confirm any Supreme Court nomination by Clinton. Trump is an ignorant, narcissistic, nasty piece of work. But McCain used to be a guy who remembered and honored (at least sometimes) the old bipartisan traditions of the Senate. His statement is just outrageous and inexcusable. What he’s basically saying is that only Republican presidents get to appoint Supreme Court Justices.
I understand that their thinking is that they don’t want the bias of the Court to shift from conservative to liberal. But the Court has shifted back and forth over the years, and we have managed to survive those changes. Apparently, today’s Republican Party feels that the country somehow won’t survive a Democratic administration or a liberal Supreme Court.
We have what might be described as an asymmetric politics. One party disagrees with the other party’s policy domestic policy positions, but recognizes the legitimacy of an opposition party and accepts that the other party is patriotic and loyal to the country. The other party rejects the legitimacy and loyalty of the other party. The efforts to de-legitimize former President Clinton, President Obama, and likely future President Hillary Clinton are part of this effort. The refusal of the GOP Congress to allow Obama any legislative accomplishments was another part of it. I expect that a GOP House will adopt the same obstructionist tactics starting in 2017.
People predict that the U.S. population will continue to get younger, better educated, and less white. I hope our political experiment lasts long enough to see that day.
“Light” events are some of the heaviest lifting in political life. Comedy is hard to begin with, and for the kinds of people involved in politics, jokes are vastly more difficult to write or deliver than “substantive” remarks. And for presidents or presidential aspirants, we’re talking about a special kind of joke. These eminent figures need to come across as “modest” and self-deprecatory, but only up to a humble-brag point. (That is, just enough so the audience and reviewers will say, “Oh, isn’t it charming that he’s willing to laugh at himself!”) Real comedy often includes a “what the hell!” willingness to say something that will genuinely shock or offend, which national politicians can’t afford to do. The White House Correspondents Dinner, the Gridiron, the Al Smith Dinner—any event like this is hard (as David Litt, a former member of the Obama speechwriting team, explains in a very nice item just now).
The easiest way to take down the web is to attack people’s access to it.
For more than two hours on Friday morning, much of the web seemed to grind to a halt—or at least slow to dial-up speed—for many users in the United States.
More than a dozen major websites experienced outages and other technical problems, according to user reports and the web-tracking site downdetector.com. They included The New York Times, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, GitHub, Etsy, Tumblr, Spotify, PayPal, Verizon, Comcast, EA, the Playstation network, and others.
How was it possible to take down all those sites at once?
Someone attacked the architecture that held them together—the domain-name system, or DNS, the technical network that redirects users from easy-to-remember addresses like theatlantic.com to a company’s actual web servers. The assault took the form of a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) on one of the major companies that provides other companies access to DNS. A DDoS attack is one in which an attacker floods sites “with so much junk traffic that it can no longer serve legitimate visitors,” as the security researcher Brian Krebs put it in a blog post Friday morning.
What began as a two-hour morning outage spanned well into the afternoon as Twitter, Reddit, Spotify, Github, and many other popular websites and services became effectively inaccessible for many American web users, especially those on the East Coast.
The websites were not targeted individually. Instead, an unknown attacker deployed a massive botnet to wage a distributed denial-of-service attack on Dyn (pronounced like dine), the domain name service (DNS) provider that they all share.
A distributed denial of service attack, or DDoS, is not an uncommon attack on the web, and web hosts have been fending them off for years. But according to reports, Friday’s attack was distinguished by its distinctive approach. The perpetrator used a botnet composed of so-called “internet-of-things” devices—namely, webcams and DVRs—to spam Dyn with more requests than it could handle.
The candidates are back on the campaign trail, following the third, and final, debate on Wednesday night.
It’s Friday, October 21—the election is now less than three weeks away. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are back on the campaign trail to deliver their final pitch to voters, ahead of Election Day. We’ll bring you the latest updates from the trail, as events unfold. Also see our continuing coverage:
Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.
Every day in June, the most popular wedding month of the year, about 13,000 American couples will say “I do,” committing to a lifelong relationship that will be full of friendship, joy, and love that will carry them forward to their final days on this earth.
Except, of course, it doesn’t work out that way for most people. The majority of marriages fail, either ending in divorce and separation or devolving into bitterness and dysfunction. Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages, as psychologist Ty Tashiro points out in his book The Science of Happily Ever After, which was published earlier this year.
Social scientists first started studying marriages by observing them in action in the 1970s in response to a crisis: Married couples were divorcing at unprecedented rates. Worried about the impact these divorces would have on the children of the broken marriages, psychologists decided to cast their scientific net on couples, bringing them into the lab to observe them and determine what the ingredients of a healthy, lasting relationship were. Was each unhappy family unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy claimed, or did the miserable marriages all share something toxic in common?
The more emotional and hopeful tale stars Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
Sophie Gilbert and David Sims will be discussing the new season of Netflix’s Black Mirror, considering alternate episodes. The reviews contain spoilers; don’t read further than you’ve watched. See all of their coveragehere.
Sophie, I agree that “Shut Up and Dance” was nightmarish—but it certainly left me scratching my head. If the point was simply to dramatize the terrifying grip of online surveillance, there was nothing innovative or surprising about the technology on display. If the grander concept was about internet witch-hunts, or people’s propensity to dispense justice when they only have bits of information at their fingertips, then why were the protagonists seemingly guilty of such heinous crimes? Perhaps Charlie Brooker just wanted to avoid any easy judgments: Even if the main characters of “Shut Up and Dance” were bad people, their treatment was excruciating all the same. That sort of “slippery slope” metaphor can only get me so involved, though I admired the episode’s execution.
The third episode of the new season is one of the most disturbing of the series.
Sophie Gilbert and David Sims will be discussing the new season of Netflix’s Black Mirror, considering alternate episodes. The reviews contain spoilers; don’t read further than you’ve watched. See all of their coverage here.
David, I agree with you that the ending of “Playtest” fell flat. After so many twists (bullies! spiders! spider bullies! Terminator hookups!), the end didn’t evoke pathos so much as a sense of absurdity. In terms of focusing on the evils of technology, though, it seems to me that Black Mirror has always seen technology as something with the potential to enable and encourage human evil, rather than something that’s inherently evil by itself. It takes our worst instincts as people, as societies, and magnifies them.
Her “personal” comeback album uses retro references in songs that don’t quite communicate what makes her special.
“I want your everything as long as it’s free”—right there, in her biggest single, Lady Gaga nailed the eternal tease of pop music. In three easy minutes, you feel immortal, unbeatable, the ultimate person. You stand at the edge, the edge, the edge, but know you won’t tumble over. It was a proposition Gaga tested with ever-more gusto until the safety harness snapped for 2013’s Artpop, where each songs seemed to have six different choruses and 42 layers of synthesizer and zero filter on its lyrics about the insatiable need to feed off of human attention. Suddenly, the listener felt implicated; the rush became lurid; everything was no longer free.
Gaga then retreated into tribute performances and the grounding wisdom of Tony Bennett, resulting finally in her new album Joanne, a self-described return to pop “without makeup.” It used to be that although she was among one of the most famous performers in the world, most people wouldn’t have been able to identify her in plainclothes. Now she sits unadorned on her album cover, with the only controversial fashion choice for the related marketing campaign being a bit of underboob. Decent move, PR-wise, perhaps: Here I am, humbled by my Icarus fall. But musically, she has overcorrected and hired a team with more gimmicks than guts, resulting in a “personal” album that—while often enjoyable—seems like it’s trying to hide its personality.