sábado, 14 de octubre de 2017

The Night When Bernie Was President

By William Brennan

The President Sanders Film Festival, in Williamsburg, was for movies that imagined a world in which Bernie won. But the event didn’t quite turn out that way.

On a recent evening, about two dozen Bernie Sanders supporters and assorted bons vivants crammed into the World Money Gallery, a boxcar-size events space on Montrose Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The occasion was the President Sanders Film Festival, at which four films would be shown. The gallery’s walls were decorated with glittery paintings of Sanders. “Better With Bernie—Baruch Hashem,” one read. Red and blue balloons floated at the ceiling, election-party-style; above the drinks table hung a large banner advertising “Bernie Sandwiches.” Amanda Mercado and Zachary Darvish, the festival’s organizers, stood beneath it, greeting people as they arrived. When attendees crossed the threshold, Mercado explained, they were stepping into an alternate universe, “where Bernie Sanders is President of the United States.”

In the post-election climate of shock and chagrin, the phrase “Bernie would have won” caught on among young democratic socialists and other diehard Sanders supporters, and became a meme on social media. It’s a taunting counterfactual, typically tossed off with a sense of melancholy and bit of righteousness—and, often, with the aim of needling centrist Democrats who didn’t get Sanders’s appeal. But it has also served as an expression of humor and hope. Among the works of fan art it has inspired is an anthem sung to the tune of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”: “Oh, mother dear, Clinton-Kaine were not the ones / ’cause Bernie, he would have won / Oh, Bernie, he would have won.”

Mercado and Darvish, both of whom supported Sanders, conceived of the festival last November, while smoking in Darvish’s apartment. They imagined it as a real-world extension of that post-election outpouring—a collective conjuring of the world they’d hoped for but which had not come to pass. “He’s becoming a symbol to people,” Darvish told me. “A Jill Stein festival wouldn’t have been as popular.”

“A Jill Stein festival!” Mercado chimed in. “Not a bad idea.”

The gallery lights dimmed, a projector whirred, and the first of the four films—titled, simply, “Bernie 2020”—appeared on the back wall. Its creator, a video artist named Raúl Andrés, is on a mission to get Sanders elected next time by posting “beautiful and compelling Bernie 2020 ads” on social media. His two short videos combined inspirational campaign-trail quotes with footage of the senator barnstorming the country. U2’s “Magnificent” thumped in the background. One of the films ended with an encouragement to use the hashtag #Bernie2020. Several people clapped.

Andrés’s work had a professional polish, but it didn’t offer a vision of what life in President Sanders’s America might look like. This seemed to be a challenge for others as well. The evening’s second film was “2016 Election,” by Brian Hanley, a Brooklyn-based video journalist. In a two-and-a-half-minute cartoon set to an original rap, Hanley touted Sanders’s reliance on small donors, his votes against the Iraq War and the Patriot Act, and his desire to break up the big banks and legalize marijuana. “A democratic socialist is the remedy, and Donald Trump is the fucking enemy,” Hanley concluded, cutting to a shot of Sanders’s Presidential portrait hanging beside Barack Obama’s. Hanley had phone-banked for the campaign and, in April, 2016, rode around Grand Central on a longboard with a megaphone reminding passersby of the date of the New York primary. “2016 Election” was also part of those efforts: Hanley made the cartoon early in the primaries; with about four hundred thousand views, it had gone modestly viral. Now, he said, he was considering getting a Sanders quote tattooed on his arm: “Never, ever lose your sense of outrage.”

After Hanley’s film, the words “Bernie’s America” appeared on the wall, set against a black background. None of the filmmakers aside from Hanley had shown up, and it soon became clear why the creator of “Bernie’s America” might have chosen to stay home. His submission comprised five minutes of newsreel footage showing the recent political turmoil in Venezuela. Protesters charged through tear gas; devalued currency piled up on sidewalks; a man cried that health centers had run out of medicine needed to save his cancer-stricken wife. All of this had happened, newscasters explained, because of an “enormous economic crisis” brought about by the policies of “Socialist President Maduro.” The film was greeted with a few seconds of stunned silence.

“Boy, that was dark,” Darvish said. “You guys want sandwiches?”

Two drag queens, Scarlet Envy and Daphne Sumtimez, circled with platters of falafel wraps, feeding the hungry. Envy wore a blue-sequin dress and red heels; Sumtimez, with a denim jumpsuit and a red bandanna wrapped around her buoyant hair, paid homage to Rosie the Riveter. “In Bernie’s America, you don’t pay for sandwiches,” Sumtimez explained. “You just get them handed out by drag queens.” Nearby, Steven Nsubuga, a twenty-five-year-old Swedish immigrant who supported Sanders in spirit and had arrived in the U.S. just before the election, held forth on how normal and obvious Sanders’s vision would have seemed in Sweden. Foreigners, Nsubuga said, see the United States as “the jock sitting at the front of the classroom, making fun of everyone and being mean,” while countries like Sweden are the nerds diligently writing down everything the teacher says. Under President Sanders, Nsubuga believed, America would still be the jock, “but the jock would become woke and humble.”

After everyone had eaten, the fourth film was screened. It showed a young man listening to a cassette tape on which his mother had recorded a farewell message before fleeing the country under vague circumstances. The film made no overt references to Sanders, and Mercado had warned me ahead of time that it wasn’t clear if the entry had “anything to do with” the theme. But, when it ended, the room broke into applause. The gallery seemed to have lent it the proper context; the audience’s imagination had done the rest. “I liked that it showed immigration would still be a problem under Bernie,” Allie Anderson, a paralegal in a public defender’s office, said. Selena Coles, a publicist, noted that the movie was filled with Americana—Converse sneakers, Star Wars memorabilia, the Statue of Liberty—but that the voice on the tape spoke with a “weird, European-ish accent.” She wondered whether this meant that, under Sanders, “we had declined and other countries had risen.”

Ballots were handed out, and a vote was called: it was time to choose the winning entry. People leaned against walls, precariously cradling pencils and moonshine in the same hands. “No funny business!” someone shouted.

Once the votes had been counted, Darvish announced, “The winner is Brian Hanley, for ‘2016 Election.’ ” Hanley delivered a victory speech amid cheerful applause. Originally, Darvish and Mercado had planned to put the winner’s socialist credentials to the test by giving him the option of redistributing a cash prize equally among all four contestants. But, because none of the other filmmakers had shown up, the wealth remained concentrated.

Outside, on the sidewalk, Sumtimez and Envy reflected on what the night had meant. “Safety,” Sumtimez said, pointing to the gallery, its President Sanders art twinkling on the wall. Envy added that she was looking forward to 2020, when, she hoped, Trump would be resoundingly booted from office. Like many of the other attendees, she saw a tiny silver lining in his election: in revealing the extent of the possible, it had opened politics to unconventional candidates who might be able to trounce Trump. Almost anyone would do.

viernes, 13 de octubre de 2017

Iran nuclear deal: Trump to reveal tough new strategy

US President Donald Trump is expected to set out a more confrontational strategy towards Iran, accusing it of pursuing "death and destruction".

It is thought he will focus on its non-nuclear activities, particularly those of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), accused of supporting terrorism.

The new strategy calls for stricter enforcement of the 2015 nuclear deal.

He is expected to refuse to certify to Congress that Iran is complying with the deal.

Official sources have told the Associated Press Mr Trump will say Iran is living up to the letter of the agreement but also that the deal is fatally flawed.

While he may not ask for sanctions to be re-imposed, he may urge Congress to approve tough new requirements for Tehran to continue to benefit from sanctions relief.

Mr Trump is under pressure at home and abroad not to scrap the deal under which Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear programme in return for the partial lifting of sanctions.

During last year's election campaign he pledged to throw out the agreement concluded under his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Analysis: Trump tries to 'fix' Iran deal

Barbara Plett Usher, BBC News, Washington

President Trump has called the Iran nuclear accord the "worst deal ever negotiated", and threatened to tear it up.

It looks, though, as if he will first try to "fix" it. He is expected to tell Congress that Iran is not meeting certain conditions set by US law; that the deal's benefits are too meagre, for example, to justify continued sanctions relief.

Then it would be up to lawmakers to decide whether to re-impose sanctions.

Mr Trump is unlikely to advocate they do so now. Even critics of the deal fear this would isolate the US and weaken its credibility, because Iran is complying with the agreement.

Republicans have suggested they could use decertification as leverage to get the changes they want.
Why is Trump speaking now?

Congress requires the US president to certify every 90 days that Iran is upholding its part of the nuclear agreement.

Mr Trump has already recertified it twice and has a deadline of Sunday to make his latest report back.

Refusal to recertify would give Congress 60 days to decide whether to pull out of the nuclear deal by re-imposing sanctions.
What is Trump likely to announce?

A strategy paper released by the White House highlights calls for neutralising Iran's "destabilising influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants".

The US, it says, will work to revitalise traditional alliances and regional partnerships as "bulwarks against Iranian subversion".

Media captionPresident Trump and Iran's President Rouhani traded insults at the UN

Efforts will be made to deny funding for the Iranian government and the IRGC's "malign activities" and counter threats from ballistic missiles "and other asymmetric weapons".

The IRGC's "gross violations of human rights" will be highlighted to the rest of the world.

"Most importantly, we will deny the Iranian regime all paths to a nuclear weapon," the paper says.
What will he say about the nuclear deal?

The final point in the strategy paper accuses the Iranian government of displaying a "disturbing pattern of behaviour, seeking to exploit loopholes and test the international community's resolve".

"This behaviour cannot be tolerated," it says. "The deal must be strictly enforced, and the IAEA [the UN's nuclear watchdog] must fully utilise its inspection authorities."

Mr Trump recently called the deal "one of the most incompetently drawn deals" he had ever seen.
What do other key players say?

Foreign leaders, including UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron, have urged Mr Trump to keep the deal.

"We also have to tell the Americans that their behaviour on the Iran issue will drive us Europeans into a common position with Russia and China against the USA," German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned in a newspaper interview.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that US withdrawal from the nuclear deal would "damage the atmosphere of predictability, security, stability and non-proliferation in the entire world".

The IAEA and Congress currently both agree Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement.
What is Iran's position?

The speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, said on a visit to Russia that a US withdrawal from the deal would signal its end.

He warned that the collapse of the deal could result in global chaos, Russian media report.
What is the nuclear deal?

Formerly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it is designed to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

It lifted some sanctions that stopped Iran from trading on international markets and selling oil.

The lifting of sanctions is dependent on Iran restricting its nuclear programme. It must curb its uranium stockpile, build no more heavy-water reactors for 15 years and allow inspectors into the country.

Key details of the Iran nuclear deal

Who are the Revolutionary Guards?

Set up shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution to defend the country's Islamic system, they provide a counterweight to the regular armed forces.

They are a major military, political and economic force in Iran, with some 125,000 active members, and oversee strategic weapons.

They have been accused of supporting Shia Muslim militants in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.

jueves, 12 de octubre de 2017

The thoughts of Chairman Xi

Rubén Weinsteiner

Xi Jinping is tightening his grip on power.

How did one man come to embody China's destiny?

The Cave

There aren’t many 21st Century leaders who lived in a cave and laboured as a farmer before clawing their way to power.

Five decades ago, as the chaos of the Cultural Revolution engulfed Beijing, the 15-year-old Xi Jinping embarked on a harsh rural life amid the yellow canyons and mountains of inland China.

The region where Xi farmed was a bastion of the Communists during the civil war. Yan’an came to call itself “the holy land of the Chinese revolution”.

Now President Xi Jinping’s second five-year term as leader will be confirmed at the Chinese Communist Party Congress. He leads a confident, rising superpower, but one which jealously polices what is said about its leaders.

Xi’s own story has been sanitised and while much of rural China has seen breakneck urbanisation, the village where he grew up is now a pilgrimage destination for the Communist Party faithful.

In 1968 Mao had decreed that millions of young people should move from the cities to the countryside to learn from the hard life of the peasants.

Xi says he did learn, and that the ideas and qualities which define him today were formed in his early cave life. “I’m forever a son of the yellow earth,” he likes to say. “I left my heart in Liangjiahe. Liangjiahe made me.

“When I arrived at 15, I was anxious and confused. When I left at 22, my life goals were firm and I was filled with confidence.”


Back then everyone studied Chairman Mao’s famous little red book. Now the thoughts of Chairman Xi are posted on huge red hoardings and there is a museum in his honour. It extols the good deeds he did for his fellow villagers but all trace of true personality has been expunged in a story so saintly it is hard to work out what is real.

In his first five years in office, Xi Jinping has built a personality cult. At its core is the image of a man of the people. He has toured back-alley homes, ducking through washing lines. He has talked in earthy prose, telling students that life is like a shirt with buttons where you have to get the first few right or all the rest will be wrong. He has queued in a downmarket steamed-bun shop and paid for his own lunch.

But it is his early exile from home and family, a political outcast in a cave, that is the heart of Xi’s creation myth.

“People who have little experience with power… tend to regard it as mysterious and novel. But I look past the superficial things - the power and the flowers and the glory and the applause. I see the detention houses, the fickleness of human relationships. I understand politics on a deeper level.”

The young Xi had already lived two lives by the time he arrived in the cave. During his early childhood, his father was a hero of the communist revolution and Xi enjoyed a privileged and cloistered upbringing as a “red princeling”.

The young Xi Jinping (left) with his younger brother and their father

A 2009 American diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks - and based on a briefing from a close friend of Xi’s - said the first 10 years of his life were the most formative.

“The most permanent influences shaping Xi's worldview were his ‘princeling’ pedigree and time growing up with families of first-generation Communist Party revolutionaries in Beijing's exclusive residential compounds.”

But all of that was shattered in the maelstrom that an increasingly paranoid and vengeful Chairman Mao inflicted on the party elite in the 1960s. Xi’s father was first purged and then jailed, and his family humiliated. One of his sisters died, possibly driven to suicide. By the time he was 13, Xi’s formal schooling ended as classes across Beijing were suspended so that students could criticise, beat and even murder their teachers.

1966: Chinese Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution

Without parents or friends to protect him from the Red Guards dispensing the summary justice of the Cultural Revolution on the streets, the teenage Xi lived his second Beijing life, dodging death threats and detention. Much later, he recalled an encounter in a conversation with a reporter.

“I was only 14. The Red Guards asked, ‘How serious do you yourself think your crimes are?’

“I said, ‘You can estimate it yourselves. Is it enough to execute me?’

“‘We can execute you a hundred times,’ they replied.

“To my mind there was no difference between being executed a hundred times or once.”

Many of Xi’s generation agree that when their schooling stopped and they learned to survive on their wits, they developed emotional toughness and independence of thought. Xi later reflected on his ability to listen to other points of view without necessarily bowing to them.

“I had to learn to enjoy having my errors pointed out to me, but not to be swayed too much by that. Just because so-and-so says something, I’m not going to start weighing every cost and benefit. I’m not going to lose my appetite over it.”

[The young Xi] read the Selected Works of Mao Zedong, famous quotes from Mao, and the newspaper. There wasn’t anything else.” Lü Housheng, farmer

Village life in 1960s China was tough. There was no electricity, no motorised transport, no mechanical tools. The teenage Xi learned to carry manure, build dams and repair roads.

He shared the flea-ridden brick bed in his cave with three others. One of them was farmer Lü Housheng, who told me in 2015: “All we had to eat at that time was porridge, herbs and steamed buns. If you’re hungry you don’t care what you’re eating.”

At night Xi would retreat to his cave to read by the light of a kerosene lamp. Lü remembers him as a voracious reader and heavy smoker.

The cave where Xi lived is now a tourist attraction

“While he read I would roll the cigarettes. He read the Selected Works of Mao Zedong, famous quotes from Mao, and the newspaper. There wasn’t anything else.”

Xi had no sense of humour according to Lü. He didn’t play poker, hang out with other young people or look for a girlfriend.

Instead by 18, Xi was ready to embark on his political career. He joined the Communist Youth League, and at 21, despite multiple rejections due to his father’s imprisonment and his family’s disgrace, he finally succeeded in joining the Party itself.

The Climb

Supremely pragmatic, a realist, with his "eyes on the prize" from early adulthood.

This was how Xi’s friend described him in the 2009 diplomatic cable. Unlike many youths who "made up for lost time by having fun", Xi was exceptionally ambitious and focused. After the Cultural Revolution, he "chose to survive by becoming redder than the red”.

Xi, pictured in 1979

By the time Xi was 25, his father had been politically rehabilitated and sent to run Guangdong, the vast province next door to Hong Kong, which would become the powerhouse of China’s economic rise. The elder Xi advanced his son’s career through his patronage network, and according to his friend, Xi quickly learned to build his own.

“He carefully laid out a career plan that would maximise his opportunities to rise to the top levels of the Party hierarchy, first becoming a PLA [army] officer in the late 1970s and then serving in a variety of provincial leadership positions, progressively rising through the ranks. He had promotion... in mind from day one."

No-one in their right mind would ever think that guy who stayed in my house would become the president. I don’t care what country you’re talking about.” Eleanor Dvorchak, who hosted Xi in the USA

Xi took the traumas of his early life and the solitude of the cave with him. His friend said his reserve, a certain distant quality, contributed to the failure of his first marriage to the daughter of a senior diplomat.

But it clearly contributed to the success of his political career. Until he reached the very top, his defining achievement was to have risen with barely a trace.

The only time he drew attention to himself was when he married his current wife, a celebrity singer. For many years the public joked: "Who is Xi Jinping? He is Peng Liyuan's husband.”

Peng Liyuan with her husband, Xi

One reporter for state media whose task was to cover Xi as a mid-career provincial leader told me he was “always very boring and forgettable. He didn’t want to get any kind of bad record.”

Having watched as his outspoken father was victimised by Mao, Xi deferred to power and was careful to avoid making enemies. Even in his 40s and 50s as a very senior Party leader, he was always competent, never showy.

The young Xi: “Boring and forgettable”

One astute insider described him as “a needle concealed in silk floss”.

Eleanor Dvorchak hosted him on an agricultural research trip to Muscatine, Iowa, in 1985. He slept in her son’s room with Star Trek posters on the wall. “He was humble,” she told reporters when he went back to Iowa in 2012 just before becoming China’s top leader. “No-one in their right mind would ever think that guy who stayed in my house would become the president. I don’t care what country you’re talking about.”

Everyone was taken in. When he became Communist Party leader in 2012, Xi Jinping was the compromise choice.

Few inside or outside China guessed at what was coming next - five years of political shock and awe.

2012: Xi is appointed head of the Chinese Communist Party

The Cage

On 11 June 2015, a white-haired old man stood in the dock of a criminal court in northern China, flanked by officers who had once answered to his command.

For years he’d been the most feared man in China, controlling police, paramilitaries, prisons and intelligence operations. But in the year-and-a-half between vanishing from public life and reappearing in court, this 72-year-old had lost his jet black hair and become stooped and haggard.

Now he was the target of the Orwellian security system he himself had built. And he knew better than to resist.

“I accept the sentence. I will not appeal. I realise the crimes I’ve committed and what I’ve cost the Party.”

When Xi Jinping came to power, he had promised the public a campaign which would “brandish the sword against corruption”, caging tigers as well as trapping flies.

Here was one of the biggest tigers of all. Zhou Yongkang was the most senior Party official ever to stand trial for corruption in the history of communist China.

A commentary on state TV news proclaimed: “No-one is above the law. This case shows that our country is practising the rule of law and our Party is determined to eradicate corruption.”

The downfall of another tiger – Bo Xilai – is now notorious. He and Zhou were accused of plotting together and, with two top military figures and another senior politician, of “wrecking Party unity”.

Zhou’s trial came halfway through Xi’s first term. The campaign of shock and awe was well under way with a barrage of high-profile trials and a drumbeat of righteous propaganda.

To supplement the image of a newly disciplined and frugal political culture, Xi tried to avoid banquets and sometimes travelled in a van with colleagues instead of a fleet of limousines.

Since the communists fought their way to power, they had called themselves the “vanguard of the people”, an elite class whose mandate to rule came from “serving the people”.

Without living by this higher code the Party had no claim to legitimacy. For the past five years, Xi’s blunt message has been: “Don’t join the Party if you want to make money.” But his problem was, and still is, that this is precisely why some of the Party’s nearly 90 million members did join up.

With an envelope of banknotes here, and a nod there, patronage is how Communist Party politics has often worked. Cleaning it up means removing not just individuals but whole networks of influence and a culture.

“He who rules by virtue is like the North Star,” Xi said, quoting the ancient philosopher Confucius. “It maintains its place, and the multitude of stars pay homage.”

He issued edicts on the appropriate number of dishes for lunching public officials and even decreed office measurements for each rank in the hierarchy. Xi returned to his roots in the cave village to rub shoulders with ordinary farmers and make an unspoken point about the contrast between his own life story and a corrupt elite.

But Xi, now 64, has always belonged to the elite. In the years before he took power, some of his relatives had become enormously wealthy, though there is no evidence that he sought to promote the business interests of his family.

According to his friend’s account, in the American diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks: “Xi knows how very corrupt China is and is repulsed by the all-encompassing commercialisation of Chinese society, with its attendant nouveau riche, official corruption, loss of values, dignity, and self-respect, and such ‘moral evils’ as drugs and prostitution.”

Zhou Yongkang had been a Party member for half a century. Where Xi started life as one of the cloistered red elite in Beijing, Zhou’s family were hard-pressed beet farmers who fished for eels to supplement their income. Their eldest son had brought the family honour by going to university and becoming an oil engineer.

Zhou Yongkang, before his fall

He’d risen to run China’s biggest oil company and then a province of 80 million people. He’d crowned his career with a seat at the Party’s top table and control of the security system. Together it made for a formidable patronage network.

By the time Zhou appeared in court, Xi had painstakingly torn that network apart - his investigators interrogating everyone from office staff to drivers and cooks.

Only months before Zhou’s court appearance, one of his business cronies had been executed for running a mafia which resorted to intimidation and murder. But the Party rarely executes its own. Zhou was sentenced to life in prison.

In his home village of Xiqiantou many share the surname Zhou. Set amid lush fields and fruit trees, Xiqiantou presents a tranquil scene of whitewashed houses with curved eaves and ducks dabbling on the village pond.

On the day I visited, one angler hooking bait in the afternoon sun complained: “It’s winner-takes-all in politics here. Zhou Yongkang worked his way up the hard way. He’s made a big contribution to the Party. Xi Jinping’s just pinning these allegations on him.”

Winner-takes-all is a dangerous game. Zhou was not just corrupt - he belonged to a rival Party faction whose power challenged Xi’s own. Everyone now sees that in the Xi era, if you lose, you lose everything.

A fractured elite is a threat to an authoritarian regime and in pre-communist times, China’s imperial dynasties often fell victim to faction fights at court. By caging hundreds of powerful tigers at the top of the Party and army, Xi has torn up the rulebook which kept a fragile peace between the red elite after the death of Chairman Mao. Any of them might be making a speech in the Great Hall of the People one minute and dragged off to a cell the next.

No wonder China is alert to sudden disappearances. In January 2017 a 45-year-old billionaire with connections to many top families vanished from his luxury Hong Kong apartment, accompanied by several unidentified men.

Xiao Jianhua has not been seen since but is believed to be in custody in mainland China - a warning to others that money, connections and a Canadian passport are not enough to protect you from the long arm of Xi.

Xiao Jianhua disappeared from the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong

Six months later came the purge of a politician the billionaire knew well, a man many had tipped to rise to the very top leadership in the coming Congress reshuffle. Bribes, abuse of power, exchange of money for sex, leaking Party secrets - the charge sheet against Sun Zhengcai was familiar. But five years into Xi’s rule, it reinforces the impression that the Party’s corruption problem is systemic and enduring.

Former politburo member Sun Zhengcai was expelled from the Communist Party

On the other side of the world another well-connected billionaire had already said exactly that.

In recent months, from the safety of a Manhattan penthouse, Guo Wengui has made regular YouTube broadcasts alleging that the anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan – effectively Xi’s right-hand man - is himself corrupt. The only person Guo has been careful not to target is Xi himself.

Xi's anti-corruption chief, Wang Qishan

Beijing has denied his allegations and Guo himself is now the target of multiple lawsuits. But many Chinese are gripped by his sensational account of the links between politics and business.

Some of his allegations seem far-fetched, but the picture he paints is one of pervasive moral bankruptcy. In the absence of transparency, it has tarnished Xi’s narrative of a Party which has rediscovered its moral compass.

Guo Wengui, photographed in New York

All the senior corruption investigations of the past five years have been conducted in secret. The Chinese Communist Party remains an opaque organisation, and while pledging to clean up wrongdoing, Xi has shown no inclination to allow the whole truth to emerge in court or any other public domain.

Again and again, the Party has discovered that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But Xi is determined that he alone will command the clean-up of comrades and the caging of tigers.

The Control

The trouble started when wags on Chinese social media spotted a similarity between a photo of Xi Jinping strolling with Barack Obama and a classic image of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger.

From then on, China’s internet censors have waged war on the bear. There was the meme of Pooh gripping the hoof of his friend Eeyore alongside a photo of Xi grimly shaking hands with the Japanese prime minister. Then a picture of Winnie the Pooh in a toy truck appeared online just after Xi had inspected troops from an open-top car.

Former US President Bill Clinton once joked that China’s bid to censor the internet was like “nailing Jell-o to the wall”.

But for Xi as for the Communist Party, ridicule feels dangerous. In April this year there was no sense of humour when a man was sentenced to two years in jail for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” after an online reference to Steamed Bun Xi, a popular epithet for the Chinese leader after his famous lunch in the steamed-bun restaurant.

“The internet has grown into an ideological battlefield, and whoever controls the tool will win the war,” warn Party-controlled media.

“Every mobile phone is now a potential listening device and censorship tool”

China has more than 750 million internet users, more than the US and Europe combined. Xi is keen that China should be a cyber-superpower when it comes to innovation and commerce, but not at the expense of political discipline.

Xi has waged two wars at home, one for control of his Party comrades and the other for control of the internet.

In a recent speech he warned that the internet must not become a “double-edged sword”, allowing “hidden negative energy” to harm good governance and social stability.

He has enormously strengthened the so-called Great Firewall of China, the combination of legislation and technologies, supported by legions of professional and volunteer censors, which together enable the Party to control Chinese cyberspace.

Cybersecurity is now central to Xi’s definition of national security. Internet service providers and social media sites are forced to censor users, while users are encouraged to censor each other. All are denied online anonymity and those who overstep red lines are jailed.

It is reminiscent of the Mao era, when the Party expected citizens to spy on each other, and kept detailed files on them to instil fear.

But Xi’s surveillance network may already be more powerful. China has no meaningful privacy protection and every mobile phone is now a potential listening device and censorship tool.

China’s leaders have always prioritised the control of sensitive information. But until Xi, the underlying assumption of many communists during the reform era was that a complex and dynamic modern economy would need decentralised decision making and that this would ultimately mean more internet freedoms.

Xi has a different vision - of a China, rich, united and strong under a disciplined one-party narrative. Wherever ideas are formed and transmitted, he has worked to recapture control.

When he toured the Beijing headquarters of state TV, a giant screen behind him flashed the message “absolute loyalty” and "our surname is the Party".

On university campuses, Party leadership is being “enhanced” and academic textbooks scoured of Western influence. Private companies are eagerly announcing internal Communist Party cells, with even Shanghai’s Disney Resort enthusing that “some really good ideas come from the Party committee”.

Cyberspace has seen an even fiercer clampdown. Xi took office in 2012, a year after the internet had played a key role in sparking the Arab Spring. He resolved it would never be allowed to spread protest in China, fearing a repeat of 1989, when the Party sent troops into Tiananmen Square to crush a student democracy movement.

Even when travelling abroad, many Chinese citizens now remain behind the Great Firewall as their service providers enforce Party censorship.

Until now the firewall has had small cracks, with those determined to access alternative sources of information able to do so via a virtual private network (VPN), a tunnelling device to the world beyond the reach of China’s censors.

There on Western social media they can find a very different perspective on China.

In his second term, Xi intends to take full control of the VPN tools that allow “negative energy” to evade his censors.

Relying on mobile phone data and facial recognition, all enhanced by a massive investment in artificial intelligence and big data management, Xi hopes to command an internal security system unimaginable to his revolutionary or imperial forebears.

His fight for control of China’s story does not stop at the country’s borders. Just a fortnight before the sensitive 19th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, a think tank on the other side of the world was targeted in a cyber-attack which appeared to originate from Shanghai. And weeks earlier, a law firm had suffered a similar attack.

What connected the two was Guo Wengui, the flamboyant tycoon behind the YouTube diatribes against what he says is the greed, scheming and savagery of some of his former cronies.

Guo Wengui broadcasting on YouTube

The law firm targeted, Clark Hill, had filed Guo’s asylum claim in the US. And the think tank that was hit, the Hudson Institute, was due to host Guo’s first public speaking engagement in the US. The event was cancelled, and the institute acknowledged that it had faced pressure from the Chinese embassy. But it said the problem was logistics not politics.

“The notion that we would be intimidated by the Chinese government is plain wrong.”

However, many are intimidated. In 2014 the then-Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the visiting Xi Jinping it was a “joy to have friends come from afar”. But the day before he had privately told the German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Australia’s China policy was driven by “fear and greed”.

Xi with former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Both fear and greed are powerful motivators in the context of a rising China, and Xi has been bold in exploiting them, globalising a control strategy of carrots and sticks that works well at home.

2015: Xi in Seattle with tech company heads including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook (front row, far left) and Jeff Bezos of Amazon (front row, far right)

“Tell China’s story well,” he urges people with Chinese roots, wherever they are in the world. He insists that they should “identify with China’s interests” whether or not they are Chinese nationals.

Beijing’s embassies encourage the growing Chinese student bodies on campuses in the West to silence competing narratives.

And money talks. When Xi visited Seattle in 2015, America’s technology giants allowed themselves to be summoned.

The bosses of Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM and Amazon all stood alongside Xi in the front row of a group photograph. All have since embarked on multiple partnerships with China despite its commitment to perfecting internet censorship.

Also prominent in that photo was Mark Zuckerberg, but despite a charm offensive which included inviting the Chinese Communist leader to suggest a name for his baby, and praising Xi’s book on governance, Facebook is still barred from China. Google’s founders were not even invited to be in Xi’s photo.

Xi has ambitious plans for control of the internet and that means leverage over foreign companies.

Facebook’s messaging tool Whatsapp is increasingly blocked in China and Apple has now removed from its China App Store the VPNs which once gave Chinese users access to social media tools in the West, including the YouTube channel which gave the gleeful Guo Wengui such a devastating platform to discredit Xi’s rule.

To fully control China’s cyberspace, Xi has had to take action against the world’s.

The Conscience

“Freedom, justice, and love, these are our core values which guide us in action.”

The defendant in this trial was no ruthless Communist Party tiger but a mild-mannered lawyer. His convictions sounded close to the core socialist values endorsed by Xi Jinping, but he was about to go to jail for the audacity of acting on them without Party approval.

The 40-year-old Xu Zhiyong had begun his career as a scholar but turned to representing the losers in China’s economic miracle, including migrant workers and homeless people. Just as Xi came to power, the lawyer was helping to establish the New Citizens' Movement whose aim was to unite people “through their common civic identity”.

The charge against him was gathering a crowd to disrupt public order. In a closing statement to the court, he pointed out that China’s constitution promised citizens freedom of speech.

“By trying to suppress the New Citizens' Movement, you are obstructing China on its path to becoming a constitutional democracy through peaceful change.”

The judge cut him short, saying his statement was “irrelevant to the case”. Despite working for causes closest to Xi Jinping’s heart - probity in public life and a better deal for the poor - Xu Zhiyong was to spend the first term of the Xi era in jail.

Xu Zhiyong

His sentence was passed on 26 January 2014. Only a few weeks earlier the Communist Party leader had made the short journey from the high-walled elite compound in central Beijing to the mausoleum of Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square.

There he joined other senior Party figures in bowing three times before the glass sarcophagus in which Mao’s body lay, a mark of respect on the 120th anniversary of his birth.

Mao's embalmed body on display in his mausoleum

It apparently doesn’t matter that Mao’s policies led to famine and the deaths of more than 30 million Chinese, or that Xi’s own family had been persecuted in the lost decade of the Cultural Revolution. Under Xi Jinping, dwelling on inconvenient facts of history or insulting revolutionary heroes and martyrs is now a punishable offence called “historical nihilism”.

Mao’s mausoleum is in Tiananmen Square opposite the outer gate of the Forbidden City from which he had celebrated victory in the Communist revolution of 1949, declaring: “The Chinese people have stood up.” His portrait still gazes down on the square. And as the son of one of Mao’s revolutionary comrades, Xi places himself in a direct line of succession.

He has promised the public that China will be rich and strong. He believes unity and discipline under one-party rule are crucial in achieving that.

Xi’s elite early education, followed by the terrors of the Cultural Revolution, taught him to fear a politicised citizenry.

[Xi] wants his citizens to identify with “the motherland, the Chinese nation or race, Chinese culture, and the Chinese socialist road”

Another formative chapter for Xi came with the collapse of communism in the Soviet bloc. His assessment was that Moscow had lost its sense of purpose when it renounced its revolutionary history.

In a speech to his own Party comrades shortly after taking office, he warned: “Proportionally, the Soviet Communist Party had more members than we do, but nobody was man enough to stand up and resist.”

Xi’s resistance to the seductive power of liberal values has been ferocious. He has reached back beyond Marxism to China’s deepest sense of self, quoting an 11th Century Chinese statesman Su Shi: "The most dangerous situation for a country is when apparently everything seems fine, but hidden danger lurks. If one only sits back to watch, the situation will worsen to the point of no return.”

11th Century Chinese philosopher Su Shi

“If our people cannot uphold the moral values that have been formed and developed on our own soil, and instead indiscriminately and blindly parrot Western moral values, then it will be necessary to genuinely question whether we will lose our independent ethos as a country and a people,” said Xi.

A nation of active citizens is Xi’s nightmare. Christians, Muslims, labour activists, bloggers, reporters, feminists, and lawyers have been jailed for speaking or acting on their convictions. In some cases, they have also been paraded in televised confessions, recanting their beliefs and echoing the Party line that they allowed themselves to become pawns of China’s enemies in the West. Rebranding some expressions of conscience as a threat to national security is central to Xi’s politics.

Just as Xu Zhiyong, the champion of citizens’ rights, was about to be arrested, the Party circulated an internal document which became known as the “seven don’t speaks”, outlawing discussion of universal values, press freedom, civil rights and independent courts.

“Shoes don’t have to be identical but just to fit the wearer,” Xi told one audience.

“The gene of traditional Chinese culture is deeply planted in the mentality of modern Chinese.”

He wants his citizens to identify with “the motherland, the Chinese nation or race, Chinese culture, and the Chinese socialist road”. He calls these the “four identifications” and has distilled them into two key slogans - the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and the Chinese dream.

From banners hung above roads and stations, to TV documentaries, online animations and mobile apps, these slogans are everywhere.

For centuries China’s emperors strived to balance the principles of hard and soft power - they called it force and virtue - exercising absolute authority over subjects, while acknowledging a duty of care.

In celebrating China’s communist history, Xi has been careful to balance reverence for Chairman Mao with equal deference to the economic reformer who succeeded him, Deng Xiaoping. Xi talks about Marxism and he talks about markets. But the essence of his “Chinese dream” slogan is clear - “the dream of a strong nation”.

A Beijing billboard advertises the 2017 Communist Party Congress

Different dreams - like Xu Zhiyong’s vision of shared civic identity - are dangerous.

The activist was released in July after completing his four-year sentence. He has not been contactable since.

The Challenge

“It is not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of the world.”

So said the late Singaporean leader Lee Kwan Yew of China’s rise.

On becoming leader in 2012, Xi set China’s eyes on the prize.

By the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party - 2021 - China would become “moderately prosperous”. By the 100th anniversary of the communists coming to power - 2049 - it would be a “fully developed, rich, and powerful” nation.

China is on course to become the world's dominant economy

China’s economy may soon be 40% larger than that of the US, measured in “purchasing power parity”. By 2049, it may be three times as large.

The past four decades have been an extraordinary journey not just for China but for the man who leads it. Xi was still a teenage cave-dweller reading by the light of a kerosene lamp when a US president met Chairman Mao in 1972.

Richard Nixon had argued: “Taking the long view, we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbours.”

Mao meets US President Richard Nixon in 1972

When the door to the West inched open a decade later, some princelings of Xi’s generation took the opportunity to leave.

But Xi had already set a different course, and according to the account by his friend in the Wikileaks cable, he knew he would “not be special” outside.

Xi is self-assured in encounters with foreigners. He once observed of those who lecture China on human rights: "There are some bored foreigners, with full stomachs, who have nothing better to do than point fingers at us.

“First, China doesn't export revolution; second, China doesn't export hunger and poverty; third, China doesn't come and cause you headaches. What more is there to be said?”

New Zealand election result 'held hostage' by anonymous board of minor party

Winston Peters, leader of NZ First that holds balance of power, says unelected board members will decide next week to support Labour or National

Maverick MP Winston Peters is happy to keep the nation waiting. Photograph: Mark Baker/AP

Nearly three weeks after New Zealand’s general election, the country is waiting for an anonymous, unelected board of individuals belonging to a minor party to make a decision on who forms the next government.

Winston Peters, leader of the party holding the balance of power, has said the New Zealand First board – membership of which he will not reveal – will have the final say on which of the major parties he will go into coalition with.

New Zealand party leaders woo Winston Peters' support after election stalemate

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However, Peters says those members have yet to ask for time off work and others have funerals to attend before they can gather to decide.

The news means New Zealand is set for further days of political stalemate with no government likely to be formed imminently.

After the 23 September election the National party was left with 56 seats and Labour 46 – both short of the 61 needed to form a government in the 120-seat parliament. NZ First, which secured nine seats, is seen as the king-maker.

The Green party won 8 seats and leader James Shaw has repeatedly said his party have committed to supporting Labour.

Peters had said he would make a decision on which party he would throw his support behind by 12 October and talks with both parties concluded on Thursday night.

But the self-imposed deadline has now passed and Peters has advised he may need until the end of next week to reach a decision, which must be approved by the caucus and the NZ First board.

The stalling tactic is frustrating voters who have already waited weeks for a solid outcome to the election.

Peters has meanwhile requested that the privacy of NZ First’s board be respected, a move that has left journalists scouring social media in an effort to piece together the identities of the men and women who are now charged with deciding the make-up of New Zealand’s next government.

The board is made up of a collection of private citizens including a number of people who stood for NZ First in their electorates or have long-standing affiliations with the party. Some names that have been revealed include Kristin Campbell-Smith, a former policy analyst at the department of internal affairs, Toa Greening, who stood for the Papakura seat and enjoys mountain biking and Thai food, and South Island party vice-president John Thorn, of whom little is known.

Peters said on Thursday it was unclear when the board would be able to convene as members had to fly in from different parts of the country, some had not applied for leave from their jobs and a couple had funerals to attend.

On Friday Peters said his board will meet on Monday. Earlier he revealed any further negotiations with National and Labour will be concluded by phone and text message.
‘Stupid and mindless’

The NZ First leader’s insistence that the identities of the board members remain a secret has been criticised by political commentators, who say New Zealanders have a right to know which group of people will be charged with making the country’s biggest political decision in nearly a decade.

“The next government won’t be decided by voters – but by a faceless and secretive board,” wrote Fairfax media’s political editor Tracy Watkins in an opinion piece on Friday. “This is the scenario that Peters is asking the public to accept without question – in fact, Peters has slapped down journalists’ questions about NZ First board members as ‘stupid and mindless’.”

Newshub’s political editor Patrick Gower said Peters was holding the two major parties “hostage”, as well as the media and voters, while the New Zealand Herald’s political editor Barry Soper said, referring to the anonymous board members: “It could be Maud from Mataura or Doug from Dargaville who’ll be deciding who’s going to govern us for the next three years.”

In a statement Peters released on Thursday asking for the board members’ privacy to be respected he said: “They are not politicians but New Zealanders who believe in the party and wish to make a contribution to the decision-making process.

“They give up their valuable spare time to take part in board meetings and attend to other matters, and we are grateful for that.

“New Zealand First values transparency but we also value an individual’s privacy especially when they volunteer their services.”

Deputy prime minister Paula Bennett described the week as “really full-on” to the AM show, and said policy negotiations had gone on for “hours and hours and hours”. Labour’s deputy leader Kelvin Davis said his party and NZ First had so far discussed only policy points, and the conversations had been “really nice”. He said he thought Peters’ decision could go either way.

“Obviously they [NZ First] have got to chew the fat amongst themselves and see which way they are going to go … we respect that.”

A National/NZ First government would have 65 seats, while a Labour/Greens/NZ First government would have 63 seats.

Trump will scrap Obamacare subsidy

The decision to end the payments, worth an estimated $7 billion this year, marks President Donald Trump's most aggressive move yet to dismantle Obamacare.

Scrapping the payments to insurers, which could happen almost immediately, is likely to provide another jolt to Obamacare markets.


President Donald Trump plans to cut subsidy payments to insurers in his most aggressive move yet to undermine Obamacare after months of unsuccessful repeal efforts on Capitol Hill, according to two sources.

The subsidies, which are worth an estimated $7 billion this year and are paid out in monthly installments, may stop almost immediately since Congress hasn’t appropriated funding for the program.

Scrapping the funding is likely to provide another jolt to the already fragile Obamacare markets. The impact may be cushioned by the fact that many insurers had priced next year's plans higher than they otherwise would have, fearing this decision. Others have already fled the Obamacare markets, which are set to begin open enrollment in Nov. 1 for the 2018 plan year.

Insurers rely on the subsidies to reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income Obamacare customers. They’re still on the hook to provide the discounted rates to their members under the law, despite no longer receiving the federal funding.

Trump has threatened for months to cut off the payments, deriding them as a “bailout” for insurers. While Republican lawmakers complained the subsidies were never properly appropriated by Congress, many were wary of ending them suddenly.

Failed Obamacare repeal packages considered by the House and Senate, H.R. 1628, included near-term funding for the program, which had been paid out through the executive branch each month.

The announcement, expected to be made Friday, may also put more pressure on a bipartisan effort in the Senate's health committee to preserve the subsidies to shore up Obamacare marketplaces.

The Trump administration will also likely drop an appeal of a lawsuit contesting the legality of the payments, known as cost-sharing reductions. However, a group of Democratic state attorneys general will continue fighting in court to preserve the payments.

Some insurers are also likely sue the Trump administration over the failure to make payments that they believe they’re entitled to under the Affordable Care Act.

Trump has argued that Democrats will take the blame if the markets implode, but polling strongly suggests the public will point the finger at Republicans for Obamacare problems under Trump's watch.