Former Chongqing Party Chief Bo Xilai, photographed here in 2010, likely faces a lengthy prison sentence after being indicted today. (Jason Lee/Reuters)
The penny has dropped for Bo Xilai. The one-time Chongqing Party Secretary, held in limbo since March 2012, was indicted today for bribery, corruption, and abuse of power stemming from his previous stint as the top official in Dalian. Bo's long-awaited trial will mark the culmination of China's most serious political scandal in a generation, one that began with the poisoning death of British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing in November 2011.
To tease out some of the implications of the Bo Xilai issue, I spoke to Jacques DeLisle, a law professor and Director at the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The following is a transcript of our remarks, edited for length and clarity.
Now that Bo Xilai has been indicted, when will his trial be held?
There's been a lot of speculation about that already, and of course nobody knows for sure. But I suspect the trial won't be too far into the future because the government has sat on this issue for so long. It's hard to imagine what the motivation would be for indicting him and then letting the indictment sit for a long time.
Another reason that the trial will likely happen sooner rather than later is the arrival of two major events on the Chinese political calendar. The first is the traditional summer retreat of the Communist Party elite to Beidaihe, a beach resort near Beijing, where the country's top leaders go to set the agenda for the coming year. The second is the coming third plenum of the National People's Congress early this fall, an event where policies will be set. This time, the third plenum will be particularly important because it comes after the installation of a new president [Xi Jinping], something that happens in China only once every 10 years.
So is there any chance that Bo will be acquitted?
(Laughs) You'd have to get really, really big odds to cover that bet. If he were acquitted it'd be shocking -- totally out of the ordinary. But what's interesting to me is what they're charging him with.
Why is that?
Well, the main focus of the Bo Xilai controversy was what he did in his last post as the Party Secretary of Chongqing, including the unpardonable sin of campaigning publicly for a spot in the Standing Committee of the Politburo [China's highes decision-making body]. China has a fairly secretive and managed successor process, but Bo tried to subvert this by invoking his own personal standing and his ability to cultivate grass-roots support. That was a huge infraction on his part.
If you look more broadly at what the public saw in Bo, you see someone who ran a brutal dictatorship in Chongqing. There was some genuine support for his anti-crime crackdown, of course, but its brutality, and disregard of legal restrictions and procedures, were problematic. Bo tried to shake down local business interests in the city, and angered China's "rule of law" types by going after a defense lawyer named Li Zhuang, who was defending someone caught up in one of Bo's "anti-mafia" cases.
But the indictment, insofar as we know, just has to do with the crimes of embezzlement and abuse of power that focused on his earlier tenure as the Party Secretary of Dalian, in northeastern China, and has nothing to do with what he did in Chongqing.
Why would Beijing handle it this way? Why not go after him for his Chongqing crimes, and, if his Dalian crimes merited arrest, why didn't they arrest him years ago?
Almost every official at Bo's level in China has skeletons in the closet, so if they had gone after him when he was running Dalian -- his crimes there were not uncommon for Chinese leaders -- then you'd give the impression that members of the elite would be vulnerable to criminal prosecution.
So had the Wang Lijun incident [the Police Chief who fled to the U.S. Embassy in February 2012] not occurred in Chongqing, would Bo have even run into trouble?
The Wang Lijun case made it easy to go after Bo; there's something terribly embarrassing when your top aide tries to defect to the United States and then hands over a bunch of information in the process. And there were other revelations that hurt him, such as tapping the phones of [former President] Hu Jintao when he was visiting Chongqing.
But in general, Bo was playing a high-stakes, high-risk game. He was going outside the usual channels in a bid for higher office by cultivating a populist power base, and that's just a big no-no in Chinese politics. He also stood for a particular model of governance that was at odds with the broadly reformist bloc that runs the country. Bo's vision of Chongqing was in having the state play a big role and to avoid any big market reforms, and he was a good deal more contemptuous and dismissive of "rule of law" values than even the mainstream elite -- which is saying something. His populist, almost neo-Maoist approach was in tension with the reformist, market-oriented model favored by the likes of [former Guangdong Party Chief and current Vice Premier] Wang Yang.
Bo Xilai attracted genuine grassroots support as Chongqing's boss. Will they come out to rally during his trial?
A few years ago this would have been totally unthinkable in China, but with the rise in protests recently people do seem to feel more free to take to the streets. That said, most of the protesters seem more concerned with local economic or environmental issues than anything broadly political.
So will we see a lot of people out in the streets for Bo Xilai? I doubt it. It'd be a risky thing to do, I think, going out and expressing support for someone accused of doing some pretty terrible things. But what's interesting in this: the trial is being held not in Chongqing or Dalian but in Jinan, capital of Shandong Province, which is an area with which Bo has no ties. This might suggest some concern to avoid some embarrassing, if not actually threatening, protests.
What will Bo's sentence be?
I'd guess it'll be somewhere been many years and a suspended death sentence, the latter of which in China usually means life in prison. The odds of him being executed is practically nil -- it just doesn't happen to top leaders in China, not to [Mao Zedong's last wife and Gang of Four member] Jiang Qing, nor people nearer to Bo like his wife Gu Kailai, who was convicted in the murder of Neil Heywood. Chen Liangyu, the Shanghai Party Chief convicted for corruption in 2008, is probably the closest comparison, and he didn't even get a suspended death sentence.
What lesson does Bo's case teach existing Chinese officials?
I don't think it teaches them anything they don't already know. That is to say -- if you engage in corrupt or abusive behavior in these high positions (Party secretary, provincial governor, etc.) you might end up with your political enemies wanting to take your down. Lots of people of course get away with a lot of stuff -- but even for people like Bo in the upper tier of elite, there is that risk of getting caught.
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.
— Deuteronomy 15: 12–15
Besides the crime which consists in violating the law, and varying from the right rule of reason, whereby a man so far becomes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the principles of human nature, and to be a noxious creature, there is commonly injury done to some person or other, and some other man receives damage by his transgression: in which case he who hath received any damage, has, besides the right of punishment common to him with other men, a particular right to seek reparation.
Writing used to be a solitary profession. How did it become so interminably social?
Whether we’re behind the podium or awaiting our turn, numbing our bottoms on the chill of metal foldout chairs or trying to work some life into our terror-stricken tongues, we introverts feel the pain of the public performance. This is because there are requirements to being a writer. Other than being a writer, I mean. Firstly, there’s the need to become part of the writing “community”, which compels every writer who craves self respect and success to attend community events, help to organize them, buzz over them, and—despite blitzed nerves and staggering bowels—present and perform at them. We get through it. We bully ourselves into it. We dose ourselves with beta blockers. We drink. We become our own worst enemies for a night of validation and participation.
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.
Even when a dentist kills an adored lion, and everyone is furious, there’s loftier righteousness to be had.
Now is the point in the story of Cecil the lion—amid non-stop news coverage and passionate social-media advocacy—when people get tired of hearing about Cecil the lion. Even if they hesitate to say it.
But Cecil fatigue is only going to get worse. On Friday morning, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri, called for the extradition of the man who killed him, the Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Muchinguri would like Palmer to be “held accountable for his illegal action”—paying a reported $50,000 to kill Cecil with an arrow after luring him away from protected land. And she’s far from alone in demanding accountability. This week, the Internet has served as a bastion of judgment and vigilante justice—just like usual, except that this was a perfect storm directed at a single person. It might be called an outrage singularity.
Forget credit hours—in a quest to cut costs, universities are simply asking students to prove their mastery of a subject.
MANCHESTER, Mich.—Had Daniella Kippnick followed in the footsteps of the hundreds of millions of students who have earned university degrees in the past millennium, she might be slumping in a lecture hall somewhere while a professor droned. But Kippnick has no course lectures. She has no courses to attend at all. No classroom, no college quad, no grades. Her university has no deadlines or tenure-track professors.
Instead, Kippnick makes her way through different subject matters on the way to a bachelor’s in accounting. When she feels she’s mastered a certain subject, she takes a test at home, where a proctor watches her from afar by monitoring her computer and watching her over a video feed. If she proves she’s competent—by getting the equivalent of a B—she passes and moves on to the next subject.
Bernie Sanders and Jeb Bush look abroad for inspiration, heralding the end of American exceptionalism.
This election cycle, two candidates have dared to touch a third rail in American politics.
Not Social Security reform. Not Medicare. Not ethanol subsidies. The shibboleth that politicians are suddenly willing to discuss is the idea that America might have something to learn from other countries.
The most notable example is Bernie Sanders, who renewed his praise for Western Europe in a recent interview with Ezra Klein. “Where is the UK? Where is France? Germany is the economic powerhouse in Europe,” Sanders said. “They provide health care to all of their people, they provide free college education to their kids.”
On ABC’s This Week in May, George Stephanopoulos asked Sanders about this sort of rhetoric. “I can hear the Republican attack ad right now: ‘He wants American to look more like Scandinavia,’” the host said. Sanders didn’t flinch:
During the multi-country press tour for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, not even Jon Stewart has dared ask Tom Cruise about Scientology.
During the media blitz for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation over the past two weeks, Tom Cruise has seemingly been everywhere. In London, he participated in a live interview at the British Film Institute with the presenter Alex Zane, the movie’s director, Christopher McQuarrie, and a handful of his fellow cast members. In New York, he faced off with Jimmy Fallon in a lip-sync battle on The Tonight Show and attended the Monday night premiere in Times Square. And, on Tuesday afternoon, the actor recorded an appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, where he discussed his exercise regimen, the importance of a healthy diet, and how he still has all his own hair at 53.
Stewart, who during his career has won two Peabody Awards for public service and the Orwell Award for “distinguished contribution to honesty and clarity in public language,” represented the most challenging interviewer Cruise has faced on the tour, during a challenging year for the actor. In April, HBO broadcast Alex Gibney’s documentary Going Clear, a film based on the book of the same title by Lawrence Wright exploring the Church of Scientology, of which Cruise is a high-profile member. The movie alleges, among other things, that the actor personally profited from slave labor (church members who were paid 40 cents an hour to outfit the star’s airplane hangar and motorcycle), and that his former girlfriend, the actress Nazanin Boniadi, was punished by the Church by being forced to do menial work after telling a friend about her relationship troubles with Cruise. For Cruise “not to address the allegations of abuse,” Gibney said in January, “seems to me palpably irresponsible.” But in The Daily Show interview, as with all of Cruise’s other appearances, Scientology wasn’t mentioned.
On July 16, 1945, the United States Army detonated the world’s first nuclear weapon in New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto desert.
On July 16, 1945, the United States Army detonated the world’s first nuclear weapon in New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto desert. The test, code-named “Trinity,” was a success, unleashing an explosion with the energy of about 20 kilotons of TNT and beginning the nuclear age. Since then, nearly 2,000 nuclear tests have been performed. Most of these took place during the 1960s and 1970s. When the technology was new, tests were frequent and often spectacular, and they led to the development of newer, more deadly weapons. Since the 1990s, there have been efforts to limit the testing of nuclear weapons, including a U.S. moratorium and a U.N. comprehensive test ban treaty. As a result, testing has slowed—though not halted—and there are looming questions about who will take over for those experienced engineers who are now near retirement. Gathered here are images from the first 30 years of nuclear testing. (A version of this article first ran here in 2011.)
Most of the big names in futurism are men. What does that mean for the direction we’re all headed?
In the future, everyone’s going to have a robot assistant. That’s the story, at least. And as part of that long-running narrative, Facebook just launched its virtual assistant. They’re calling it Moneypenny—the secretary from the James Bond Films. Which means the symbol of our march forward, once again, ends up being a nod back. In this case, Moneypenny is a send-up to an age when Bond’s womanizing was a symbol of manliness and many women were, no matter what they wanted to be doing, secretaries.
Why can’t people imagine a future without falling into the sexist past? Why does the road ahead keep leading us back to a place that looks like the Tomorrowland of the 1950s? Well, when it comes to Moneypenny, here’s a relevant datapoint: More than two thirds of Facebook employees are men. That’s a ratio reflected among another key group: futurists.
The Wall Street Journal’s eyebrow-raising story of how the presidential candidate and her husband accepted cash from UBS without any regard for the appearance of impropriety that it created.
The Swiss bank UBS is one of the biggest, most powerful financial institutions in the world. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton intervened to help it out with the IRS. And after that, the Swiss bank paid Bill Clinton $1.5 million for speaking gigs. TheWall Street Journal reported all that and more Thursday in an article that highlights huge conflicts of interest that the Clintons have created in the recent past.
The piece begins by detailing how Clinton helped the global bank.
“A few weeks after Hillary Clinton was sworn in as secretary of state in early 2009, she was summoned to Geneva by her Swiss counterpart to discuss an urgent matter. The Internal Revenue Service was suing UBS AG to get the identities of Americans with secret accounts,” the newspaper reports. “If the case proceeded, Switzerland’s largest bank would face an impossible choice: Violate Swiss secrecy laws by handing over the names, or refuse and face criminal charges in U.S. federal court. Within months, Mrs. Clinton announced a tentative legal settlement—an unusual intervention by the top U.S. diplomat. UBS ultimately turned over information on 4,450 accounts, a fraction of the 52,000 sought by the IRS.”