China really ought to have more people like Xu Zhiyong. A law professor, legislator, and civil activist, Xu has worked tirelessly over the past decade in ensuring that China lives up to its constitutional ideals. Writing in The New Yorker in 2009, Evan Osnos described Xu as someone "as close to China gets to a public-interest icon." He even received recognition in the Chinese press for his efforts.
But in May, things took a dark turn for Xu. He sent an open letter to authorities calling for the release of 10 people who had been arrested for publicly demonstrating against corruption. Like the activists, and several others who had been similarly detained, Xu advocated that public officials disclose their financial assets in an effort to improve government transparency.
On Tuesday, Chinese officials arrested Xu in his Beijing apartment, seizing his computers and cell phone in the process. His current whereabouts are unknown.
In the past several months, the Chinese government has carried out a crackdown against anti-corruption activists in the country, arresting at least 15 since January. This process has ensnared not only well-known activists like Xu Zhiyong but also those like Liu Ping, Li Sihua, and Wei Zhongping, three men quietly detained in Jiangxi Province in April.
In the context of Chinese history, the crackdown is hardly news: The People's Republic has never cared for agitators. But what's different about Xu's case is this: Rooting out government corruption happens to be of President Xi Jinping's stated policy goals. Upon becoming China's president last November, Xi vowed to eliminate the "tigers and flies" who had enriched themselves through bribery and patronage.
Why, then, is the Chinese president going after the very people who, in theory, could most help him achieve his goal of rooting out corruption in China?
The answer is simple. Xi Jinping doesn't actually want to end corruption. According to Minxin Pei, a professor of Political Science at Claremont McKenna University, there is an old Chinese saying: "Corruption might destroy the Party, but fighting corruption will definitely destroy the Party." Corruption is the lifeblood of the Chinese government, as Pei says: "The Communist Party is a patronage machine and patronage by definition is corruption. Fighting corruption would require Chinese government officials to live like monks, and nobody joins the Chinese government in order to live like a monk."
Xi Jinping couldn't do much about corruption, even if he wanted to. But what Xi can do is this: crack down on the appearance of corruption. And that's exactly what he's done. Since becoming president, Xi has, among other things, famously asked Party cadres to carpool and cut back on the boozy, lavish dinner banquets that so typified Chinese official privilege. Cutting back on these ostentatious displays of corruption won't actually taking care of the problem -- but, as Andrew Wedeman of Georgie State University says, it "works well as a PR campaign." And that, there, is the issue: Corruption itself isn't bad. It's the public relations nightmare that accompanies corruption that, for the Communist Party, is the real problem.
That's where Xu Zhiyong comes in. The particular cause he advocated in this case -- the unwillingness of Party officials to disclose their assets -- is indeed sensitive in China: Both the New York Times and Bloomberg are firewalled in the country after reporting on the wealth amassed by former Premier Wen Jiabao and Xi Jinping, respectively. But discussing the issue of wealth disclosure itself isn't necessarily taboo in China: Current Vice Premier Wang Yang said last year that he expected officials to comply by this request eventually, and last year a local cadre in Hunan Province published his personal financial information on Chinese social media. Furthermore, the Chinese government isn't afraid of general vigilance against corruption: There's even established a hot line for people who see something that doesn't look right.
But Xu's problem this: as a well-known, experienced activist, he has the potential to cause widespread public recognition of a corruption problem. Unlike earlier generations of activists, Xu can utilize social media in order to promote a cause, and that, more than anything else, is what the Chinese government fears: losing control of the public narrative. What starts as a campaign to force officials to disclose their assets might, as Pei says, then turn into a campaign for greater press freedom. "It doesn't take a political genius to see the risks Xi Jinping faces," he said. But unfortunately for Xi Jinping and his colleagues, there's only so much you can crack down on the Internet; and corruption isn't just going to go away on its own.
Trump’s attacks on the free press don’t just threaten the media—they undermine the public’s capacity to think, act, and defend democracy.
Are Donald Trump’s latest attacks on the press really that bad? Are they that out-of-the-ordinary, given the famous record of complaints nearly all his predecessors have lodged? (Even George Washington had a hostile-press problem.)
Are the bellows of protest from reporters, editors, and others of my press colleagues justified? Or just another sign that the press is nearly as thin-skinned as Trump himself, along with being even less popular?
I could prolong the buildup, but here is the case I’m going to make: Yes, they’re that bad, and worse.
I think Trump’s first month in office, capped by his “enemy of the people” announcement about the press, has been even more ominous and destructive than the Trump of the campaign trail would have prepared us for, which is of course saying something. And his “lying media” campaign matters not only in itself, which it does, but also because it is part of what is effectively an assault by Trump on the fundamentals of democratic governance.
By replacing Mike Flynn with H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump added one of the most talented officers the U.S. Army has ever produced to his team.
Let me be as clear as I can be: The president’s selection of H.R. McMaster to be his new national security advisor is unambiguously good news. The United States, and the world, are safer for his decision.
McMaster is one of the most talented officers the U.S. Army has ever produced. That sounds like hyperbole but isn’t. In the Gulf War, he led an armored cavalry troop. At the Battle of 73 Easting—a battle much studied since—his 12 tanks destroyed 28 Iraqi tanks, 16 armored personnel carriers, and 30 trucks. In 23 minutes.
In the next Iraq war, he led a brigade in 2005 and was among the first U.S. commanders to think differently about the conflict and employ counterinsurgency tactics to pacify Tal Afar—one of the most wickedly complex cities in Iraq. He excelled at two different echelons of command in two very different wars.
Joe Moran’s book Shrinking Violets is a sweeping history that doubles as a (quiet) defense of timidity.
The Heimlich maneuver, in the nearly 50 years since Dr. Henry Heimlich established its protocol, has been credited with saving many lives. But not, perhaps, as many as it might have. The maneuver, otherwise so wonderfully simple to execute, has a marked flaw: It requires that choking victims, before anything can be done to help them, first alert other people to the fact that they are choking. And some people, it turns out, are extremely reluctant to do so. “Sometimes,” Dr. Heimlich noted, bemoaning how easily human nature can become a threat to human life, “a victim of choking becomes embarrassed by his predicament and succeeds in getting up and leaving the area unnoticed.” If no one happens upon him, “he will die or suffer permanent brain damage within seconds.”
Experts on Turkish politics say the use of that term misunderstands what it means in Turkey—and the ways that such allegations can be used to enable political repression.
Over the last week, the idea of a “deep state” in the United States has become a hot concept in American politics. The idea is not new, but a combination of leaks about President Trump and speculation that bureaucrats might try to slow-walk or undermine his agenda have given it fresh currency. A story in Friday’s New York Times, for example, reports, “As Leaks Multiply, Fears of a ‘Deep State’ in America.”
It’s an idea that I touched on in discussing the leaks. While there are various examples of activity that has been labeled as originating from a “deep state,” from Latin America to Egypt, the most prominent example is Turkey, where state institutions contain a core of diehard adherents to the secular nationalism of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which is increasingly being eroded by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has seen a series of coups, stretching back to 1960, as well as other activity attributed to a deep state.
The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.
It’s 2021, and President Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.
Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
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“I’ve never seen anything quite like” Trump’s approach to national security, says a former counterterrorism adviser to three presidents.
Updated on February 20 at 4:40 p.m. ET
President Donald Trump has made national security a centerpiece of his agenda, justifying policies ranging from a travel ban to close relations with Russia. But the United States is now more vulnerable to attack than it was before Trump took office, according to the man who served as George W. Bush’s crisis manager on 9/11.
“In terms of a major terrorist attack in the United States or on U.S. facilities, I think we’re significantly less ready than we were on January 19,” said Richard Clarke, who served on the National Security Council in the George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations. “I think our readiness is extremely low and dangerously low. Certainly [government] agencies at a professional level will respond [to an attack], but having a coordinated interagency response is unlikely given the current cast of characters [in the administration] and their experience.”
It’s a great physics thought experiment—and an awful accident in 1978.
What would happen if you stuck your body inside a particle accelerator? The scenario seems like the start of a bad Marvel comic, but it happens to shed light on our intuitions about radiation, the vulnerability of the human body, and the very nature of matter. Particle accelerators allow physicists to study subatomic particles by speeding them up in powerful magnetic fields and then tracing the interactions that result from collisions. By delving into the mysteries of the universe, colliders have entered the zeitgeist and tapped the wonders and fears of our age.
Lip service to the crucial function of the Fourth Estate is not enough to sustain it.
It’s not that Mark Zuckerberg set out to dismantle the news business when he founded Facebook 13 years ago. Yet news organizations are perhaps the biggest casualty of the world Zuckerberg built.
There’s reason to believe things are going to get worse.
A sprawling new manifesto by Zuckerberg, published to Facebook on Thursday, should set off new alarm bells for journalists, and heighten news organizations’ sense of urgency about how they—and their industry—can survive in a Facebook-dominated world.
Facebook’s existing threat to journalism is well established. It is, at its core, about the flow of the advertising dollars that news organizations once counted on. In this way, Facebook’s role is a continuation of what began in 1995, when Craigslist was founded. Its founder, Craig Newmark, didn’t actively aim to decimate newspapers, but Craigslist still eviscerated a crucial revenue stream for print when people stopped buying newspaper classifieds ads.
The Border Adjustment Tax, a proposal favored by House Speaker Paul Ryan, has aroused serious opposition from Republican senators.
Donald Trump is feeling good about taxes. In his gonzo press conference last Thursday, he assured Americans that “very historic tax reform” is absolutely on track and is going to be—wait for it!—“big league.” The week before, he told a bunch of airline CEOs that “big league” reform was “way head of schedule” and that his people would be announcing something “phenomenal” in “two or three weeks.” And at his Orlando pep rally this past weekend, he gushed about his idea for a punitive 35 percent border tax on products manufactured overseas. The magic is happening, people. And soon America’s tax code will be the best, most beautiful in the world.
But here’s the thing. What Trump doesn’t know about the legislative process could overflow the pool at Mar-a Lago. And when it comes to tax reform, even minor changes make Congress lose its mind. Weird fault lines appear, and the next thing you know, warring factions have painted their faces blue and vowed to die on the blood-soaked battlefield before allowing this marginal rate to change or that loophole to close.