Sunday, March 05, 2017

5 Netvibes - General = oldephartteintraining

The 'Only' Profession to 'Celebrate What It Means to Live a Life' - Yesterday I praised Viola Davis’s Oscars speech for being memorable without being explicitly political—for simply talking about her job in a moving and well-written way. Twitter quickly let me know I missed something. On social media and conservative-leaning news sites, Davis’s speech had in fact sparked outrage. After explaining that she felt her mission was to “exhume … the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost,” Davis said this: I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. This claim has become one of the discussion items of the right-wing internet following the Oscars ceremony. “Art is wonderful; art is enriching; art can connect us with each other,” writes Ben Shapiro at Daily Wire. “But the utter arrogance of stating that artists are ‘the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life’ is astounding. How about doctors? How about stay-at-home mothers, who help shape lives rather than pursuing their own career interests? How about morticians? How about pretty much everybody in a free market economy, giving of themselves to others to improve lives?” Variants of that sentiment have ricocheted online, with Davis sometimes misquoted as though she’d said only “actors” celebrate what it means to live a life, or, worse, are the only ones who “know” what it means to live a life. Are people right to be offended? Did she say artists are better than anyone else? Reading her words literally, within the context of her speech, and extending her the slightest benefit of the doubt, it’s hard to see backlash against Davis as anything other than a symptom of our overblown culture wars. Anyone might “celebrate what it means to live a life” in their own personal ways, but for whom is that a primary function of their profession? Artists, definitely. Clergy, maybe. Doctors save lives rather than celebrating them, and it doesn’t denigrate them to say so. Stay-at-home parents help others, and Davis might even agree that that’s more noble, important, and essential than “celebrating” the meaning of life. Her point was simply that artists serve a specific role in telling stories about the human experience, and that she’s glad she’s a part of that. Certainly, she could have edited herself to make a less controversial, though arguably less interesting, statement. If she’d simply said, “I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we celebrate what it means to live a life,” complaints may have been harder to come by. The “only” highlights a specific way that artists are special, but it also is a dogwhistle to anyone holding strong resentment about Hollywood elitism and condescension. And there’s rarely been a better time to air such resentment than right now. Artists are now treated like candidates—expected to choose their words not for truth but for politics.On the right, reflexive disgust for the entertainment industry has taken on new fervor under Donald Trump. During the Fox and Friends after the Oscars, the snafu whereby La La Land mistakenly was announced as Best Picture was spun by Steve Doocy as, “Hollywood got the election wrong, and last night Hollywood got the Oscars wrong.” Guest Tucker Carlson agreed but added that Moonlight “had to win” because the moralizing, politically correct establishment willed it to. Yes, the Oscars were both an out-of-touch catastrophe and an insidiously rigged game. Donald Trump has given his own interpretation of the Academy’s screwup: “I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn’t get the act together at the end,” he told Breitbart, as if the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant who handed Warren Beatty the wrong envelope did so because he’d been cackling too hard at Kimmel tweeting the president “u up?”   Liberals may groan at Trump taking credit for his critics making a logistical mistake. But, of course, both sides see a lot of politics in entertainment these days: See all the takes making like Doocy and comparing the end of the Oscars to election night. To many viewers on Sunday, Davis’s speech seemed remarkable for how it nearly transcended partisan fray and just passionately talked about acting. But one word—“only”—was enough to make her a culture-war litmus test. Maybe she wanted to pick a fight about art’s place in society, or maybe she was simply portraying her profession as she genuinely sees it. Either way, it was a defiant move in an era where artists are increasingly held to the same standards as candidates for office: expected to choose their words not for truth but for politics.28 Feb
Corinne Found the Perfect Way to Rebel Against The Bachelor - This post reveals “plot” points of episode 10 of The Bachelor season 21. According to the fabricated lexicon of The Bachelor, the show’s characters do not participate in a mere televised dating competition. They have been brought together, instead, on an emotional adventure that the show refers to, infallibly, as “a journey.” The Bachelor’s insistence on its own vague Campbelliness is ironic for several reasons. The biggest is that, while the show does offer a kind of momentum—things proceed week after week, Rose Ceremony after Rose Ceremony, with romantic tensions inevitably mounting—its participants, for the most part, do very little in the way of their own development. There are characters, yes, but very few arcs. The Bachelor or Bachelorette in question might learn some things as the season proceeds, sure; for the most part, though, the contestants are who they are, and they stay who they are. The tensions come not as those contestants grow and change, but instead as their different facets are systematically revealed to the Bachelor(ette). Different sides of their personalities are glimpsed; people are kept around or kicked to the curb based on the facets of themselves that manifest as the Journey continues apace. The Bachelor, basically, is a show that offers a lot of movement, but very little evolution. Related Story In Praise of Corinne, The Bachelor’s Human Conspiracy Theory Which made Monday’s episode especially striking. First, because, at the Rose Ceremony at the episode’s outset, Nick “said goodbye” (another term of Bachelor art) to Corinne Olympios, the season’s appointed villain. Corinne, who is dramatic and zany and materialistic and Good TV in human form, had long been a front-runner both despite and because of her antics (as SB Nation summed it up earlier this month, “Oh God, Corinne’s gonna win this whole dang thing, isn’t she?”). Her ouster on Monday, right before the Fantasy Suite dates, was a shock—to viewers of the show including, but definitely not limited to, Corinne herself. What was doubly striking about Corinne’s departure, though, was that she used the show’s elaborate farewell ritual to contradict The Bachelor’s dynamic stasis: While being broken up with by Nick and, by extension, Bachelor Nation, Corinne demonstrated that, against all odds, she had grown. As a person! Sort of! (I’d use another Bachelorism here, but of course, for this kind of thing, there is none.) The Bachelor’s traditional departure scene—Woman, Weeping Alone in a Limo—typically involves the said-goodbye-to contestant crying, wiping away mascara-tears, and discussing how much she wants—really, how ready she is—to “find love.” Not so Corinne. The woman who had spend the season defying the show’s long-established norms had one more trick up her faux-fur-covered sleeve. Corinne, Weeping Alone in a Limo, told the show’s invisible cameras not about how sad she was, but instead about … how changed she was. The season’s villain and cipher and punchline and living, breathing conspiracy theory used her final moments within the Bachelor spotlight to talk about what she had taken away from her experience on the show. She used them to talk not about The Journey, but about her own. Corinne, in the end, did something that is rare and almost rebellious within The Bachelor’s gauzy confines: She learned a lesson.It went like this: Nick did not call Corinne’s name at the New York City-based Rose Ceremony. He walked her out to the limo. “I’m sorry,” she told him, as they embraced. “I’m sorry if I ever did anything to make you upset.” He replied: “You never did! Listen, you never did anything wrong. Ever. You have nothing to regret. You have nothing to second guess. Look at me—nothing. Not a thing. You need to know that. Okay?” Corinne stepped into the limo. The traditional departure ritual began. She wept, as plaintive piano notes surrounded her. “Saying goodbye to Nick,” she told the camera, “is like, I feel like my heart is like, literally like—it’s never going to be repaired. I just want to feel loved—the way it’s supposed to be, like the normal way.” It was all standard-issue Bachelor stuff, right down to the invocation of “the normal way” … until things—as they so often will when Corinne is involved—took a turn. “I’m trying to, you know, say things that men think are appropriate,” she said, as her tears gave way to a slow smile. “And you know what? I’m done. Done trying to show my men how much I worship them and I love them and I care for them and I support them. I need that! So if someone feels that way about me? They can come and tell me. And they can bring a ring to go along with it.” It was … feminist? Sort of? It was also inflected with Corinne’s characteristic self-absorption and materialism, yes—and the probable result of some liberal editing, with that quick shift from weeping to grinning—but still. Corinne, with this, was rejecting the stuff of all those Cosmo stories offering advice on How to Please Your Man—and the stuff, for that matter, of a culture that tends to assume that women, and women alone, should do the work of making sure that men feel supported, and cherished, and, indeed, “worshipped.” Corinne had spend her season of The Bachelor myopically—even maniacally—focused on Nick. She had been, in Bachelorese, There for Nick and There for the Right Reasons and Not There to Make Friends. And in the end, if the aim is to be the woman before whom Nick “gets down on one knee,” it had all failed. Corinne took all that and then did something that is rare and almost rebellious within The Bachelor’s gauzy confines: She learned a lesson. She took the show’s truisms about coupledom and transformed them into other clichés: Corinne will, she suggested, from here on out, Focus on Herself and Do It for Herself. Corinne will do Corinne. She will Make Corinne Great Again. “I’m going to be me,” Corinne told the show’s invisible camera, as its invisible piano played her off. “And whatever happens, happens. But I will never kiss up to a man again in my entire life.”28 Feb
Viola Davis's Urgent Call to 'Exhume the Ordinary' - Viola Davis’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress began with a thanks to the Academy and this observation: “You know, there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered.” Pause. Some viewers may have felt a queasy pang. Was the Fences actress about to give a sequel to Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech? Was the next line going to be “this room,” so as to stand up for the presidentially denounced entertainment industry, so as to preach for truth and inclusion, so as to spark another skirmish about whether Hollywood is too self-regarding? No. The next line: “One place, and that’s the graveyard.” Whew. Davis’s speech quickly went viral and received wide acclaim for a lot of reasons, and prime among them was simply good writing. She opened with a question and gave an answer few would have guessed. She exploited the power of surprise, a power demonstrated amply elsewhere at the Oscars. Viola Davis' #Oscars acceptance speech was AMAZING. Watch it here — The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) February 27, 2017 The speech also made self-evident why Davis deserves an Oscar. She seemed to be heaving with emotion, almost out of breath, and yet her words were clear and her sentences deftly paced. She gestured with the precision of her How to Get Away With Murder character Annalise Keating in law lecture, yet she showed the rawness of feeling that Mrs. Miller had in Doubt. But this was not acting. Or if it was, it was so good as to not seem like it. Which is, as Leonardo DiCaprio said from the stage elsewhere in the night, the definition of great acting. Most remarkable: the speech’s content. Typically, memorable Oscar acceptances make explicit political points, feature gaffes, or mark milestones. But Davis’s commanded attention through the mere discussion of art, as well as through specific, heartfelt shoutouts to colleagues and loved ones. “People ask me all the time: ‘What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?’” she said. “And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost. I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” The resonance with Davis’s work was obvious: Fences is based on August Wilson’s play about a 1950s black working-class family whose members aren’t famous, who simply strive and spar against the backdrop of society and history. Wilson “exhumed and exalted the ordinary people,” Davis said; his story was “about people, and words, and life, and forgiveness, and grace.” But the resonance with other themes of the night, and the era, was also unmissable. The Best Picture nominees included many tales of the culturally invisible and frustrated: post-recession Texans bereft of opportunity in Hell or High Water, low-level NASA mathematicians mostly forgotten by history in Hidden Figures, orphans and destitute families in India in Lion. Most notably, Best Picture winner Moonlight unspooled the tale of a poor black gay man simply surviving, an ordinary life of the sort that is portrayed so infrequently as to seem extraordinary. So there is, in fact, politics here, though subtle. In the context of conversations about diversity and inclusion at the Oscars and in America more generally, Davis’s praise of stories about common people of thwarted dreams necessarily has a political meaning: Portraying previously unportrayed struggles means that lives other than white, straight, well-off, and/or male matter. The point was reinforced, lightly, as she thanked her sisters, remembering, “We were rich white women in the tea party games.” They played as white and wealthy, perhaps, because that was what society had told them to fantasize about. Davis has shown the power of offering alternatives.27 Feb
What Moonlight’s Win Says About the Oscars’ Future - The manner of Moonlight’s Best Picture win at the Oscars may have been bizarre and shocking, but in toppling expected favorite La La Land, Barry Jenkins’s film set a number of milestones. It’s the lowest-budgeted film to win the prize since Delbert Mann’s Marty in 1955; if adjusting for inflation, it’s the lowest ever. It’s the first movie centered on an LGBTQ character to be named Best Picture, and the first whose cast is entirely people of color. Beyond that, it’s incredible that Moonlight beat La La Land simply because the latter seemed like a film aimed at Academy voters—a well-made original musical about artistry and Hollywood dreams, shot through with nostalgia for the industry’s Golden Age. But maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising that Moonlight took Best Picture. It’s a stunning film, but also in some ways one that fits a mold the Academy has been leaning toward in recent years. For decades, it was very unusual for the movie with the most awards of the night to lose the Best Picture race. But in recent years, that’s been the norm. For decades, splits between Best Picture and Best Director (as happened at last night’s Oscars) were a relative rarity; in the last 20 years, it’s happened 8 times. Moonlight is a unique film, and one that tells the kind of story the Academy Awards have largely ignored through its history—but it’s also the kind of smaller, more intimate tale that voters have started warming to. Moonlight won three Academy Awards this year: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), and Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney. Last year’s Best Picture winner Spotlight took only two trophies, and in 2015, Birdman won four. The year before that, 12 Years a Slave won three, as did Argo in 2013. In every case, there was another more opulent production that won at least as many trophies, if not more: The Revenant, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gravity, and Life of Pi, respectively (with all but Budapest winning Best Director but not Best Picture). La La Land seems to belong to this new ticket-splitting norm, where voters chalk up a bunch of technical wins for the glitzy frontrunner, but give Best Picture to the more critically acclaimed, smaller production. Again, this is not to discount Moonlight’s game-changing triumph. Though movies like Spotlight and Birdman were independent works, they were made on a much bigger budget and distributed by more established indie wings of major studios (Moonlight’s distributor was A24, a company founded only five years ago that has quickly become one of the most respected names in American art cinema). Still, only one major studio has won Best Picture in the last decade—Warner Bros. (for Argo and The Departed). As Hollywood’s major production companies have tilted away from prestige films to focus more heavily on big tentpole franchises, the Best Picture nominations list is mostly filled with indie and “mid-major” companies, (with streaming service Amazon making its own breakthrough this year for Manchester by the Sea). If things had been already edging in this direction, then Moonlight might be the beginning of an even bigger sea change. Of this year’s nine Best Picture nominees, it is the lowest-grossing (having made $22 million in the fourth months since its release, behind the next lowest Hell or High Water with $27 million). The Oscars used to have a certain reverence for perfectly well reviewed films that broke out in a major way. It’s how consensus choices like A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator, Braveheart, and Forrest Gump took the prize over more acclaimed movies. La La Land fits that mold well—but that mold may have been broken. It helps that Moonlight was universally heralded, getting the kind of rapturous critical raves that come once in a generation, rather than once a year. It was also a beautifully made film on every level, attracting support from a wider swath of Academy branches (it was nominated for its music, cinematography, and editing along with the expected writing, acting, and directing nods). That’s crucial for a Best Picture win, because people from every Academy branch get to vote on the winners, and it’s what had kept smaller, less technically impressive indie movies from winning in the past. Perhaps next year the trophy will go to some big epic that hits at the box office, like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, and this recent pattern will be upended. Either way, Moonlight’s win is shocking enough to be remembered forever. The thing to watch for now is if it’s a magical Oscars anomaly, or a sign of profound change for the Academy.27 Feb
Five Ways of Seeing Five Minutes of 'Real People' at the Oscars - If the last-minute twist at the Oscars was seen to echo all the last-minute twists in American culture lately—the Super Bowl, the election—a silly five-minute segment earlier in the night should be noted for what it captured about the country’s ongoing tensions and tastes in iPhone peripherals. Host Jimmy Kimmel’s team arranged for a sightseeing bus of supposedly “real” tourists to walk into the room, expecting a museum exhibit about the Oscars but instead finding themselves in the middle of the actual thing. “Welcome to the Dolby Theater,” Kimmel announced. “This is the home of the Academy Awards, which are, in fact, happening right now.” The greatest Hollywood tour bus trip EVER ... @StarLineTours #Oscars — Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) February 27, 2017 The bit was both amusing and squirmy: a weird microcosm of Hollywood’s relationship with America, America’s relationship with the media, and Jimmy Kimmel’s ability to make everything a little more awkward than it needs to be. The Hunger for Folk Heroes (and Memes) At the front of the pack was the man who would be the moment’s breakout star, “Gary from Chicago.” In a room of tuxes, he wore basketball shorts, a baseball cap, and a “Hollywood” sweatshirt, with the gender-progressive touches of a purple phone case and a bag that might have been his fiancee’s purse. If the glitz ambush intimidated him, he showed no signs of it, happily introducing himself to stars and snappily replying to Kimmel’s jokes. On social media, pop culture’s craving for quirky symbolic everymen—see: Ken Bone, Joe the Plumber—quickly made itself known. So did the cravings of various corporate marketing teams. Our Collective Phone Addiction The dozen or so tourists seemed to realize what was happening at different rates, and with different emotions—fear, elation, nonchalance—but were united in keeping their phones in front of their faces. “You know we’re on TV so you don’t need to do that,” Kimmel said as Gary kept filming the room. His reply: “I know but I want to. I want to.” The phone accessories themselves could make for a post-show fashion column: one woman had a sparkling jeweled case, another wielded a selfie stick as if it were a talisman. Devices in hand, the group pulled celebs in for selfies; Gary even handed his phone to Mahershala Ali as he posed with the actor’s Oscar. For the tourists, it was a rare chance to see in the flesh people normally only ever seen on a screen. Yet they still insisted on having a screen between them. Piercing the Hollywood Bubble… In an era when Americans have become sharply aware of how isolated its various niches are—politically, socially, geographically—workaday citizens from around the country were literally bussed in for cultural exchange with the cultural elite. The stars received them warmly: Ryan Gosling offered up some sort of present to Gary, Jennifer Anniston handed over her sunglasses, Meryl and Mahershala and others grinned and hugged. Denzel Washington even “married” Gary and his fiancee Vicky, though it must be said this particular cinematic icon seemed in a bit of a hurry to return to his seat. … or Reinforcing It The alternate political reading of the moment was that the regular folks were treated patronizingly, expected to react with gratitude and awe at the mere fact of breathing the same air as famous people. Kimmel seemed a little too insistent that the tourists be wowed, and an awkward image was set when Gary started kissing actresses’ hands: He wanted to do it, but it looked a lot like royalty receiving a supplicant. “Well that was the most condescending moment in Oscars history,” the writer Walter Kirn tweeted. “Real people on parade. Weren’t they cute?” Lucy Nicholson / ReutersOscars (Host) So White The tourists were a mix of white and black and brown men and women. But Kimmel made the diversity seem anything but normal by using tired humor about “funny” names—which is to say, names unusual to white Americans. As the tourists entered the room, he had the crowd shout out “MAHERSHALA!,” the name of Moonlight’s Best Supporting Actor winner. Later, Kimmel reacted with horror when a woman of Asian descent told Kimmel her name rhymed with “jewelry.” When her husband said his name was Patrick, Kimmel replied with mock relief, “See, that’s a name.” At an event that has recently been accused of white supremacy, this was a pretty tone-deaf shtick. But Gary, of course, helped deflate it. “I feel like you’re ignoring the white celebrities,” Kimmel said. Gary: “Because I am, though!” The Insanity of Live TV My stress reflexes were in full effect watching the segment, and judging from the cringing reactions on Twitter, I wasn’t alone. It’s definitely possible the tourists were just actors, or that they’d at least been coached to a greater extent than we were led to believe. But still, the spectacle of chaos in a space as highly choreographed, as widely watched, and as culturally fraught as the Oscars was riveting. At the very end of the night, viewers would be reminded of what makes live TV like this so electrifying—the potential for disaster, and miracles.27 Feb
'Moonlight, Best Picture': The Oscars and the Rare Power of Shock - Last year, the comedian Marc Maron brought the author Chuck Klosterman on as a guest on his WTF podcast. The two discussed many things (including Klosterman’s then-new book, But What If We’re Wrong?, which he was there to promote), but one of them was sports—and the particular thrill that they offer to audiences. Sporting events, Klosterman argued, promise that most dramatic of things: an unknown outcome. Unlike other widely watched events—the Super Bowl halftime show, the Grammys, the Oscars—the primary selling point of sporting events is that their endings are, by definition, unpredictable. Within them, anything can happen. Well. While you can say a lot about the Oscars on Sunday, you can’t say that the glitzy awards show was boringly predictable. The 89th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, right at its conclusion, brought a mixture of confusion and shock and full, deep delight to its viewers as Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway teamed up to announce the Best Picture winner and proceeded to, because of a backstage flub, announce the wrong movie. Chaos—and really, really good TV—ensued. Tired East Coasters were summoned back to their living rooms from their bedrooms, on the grounds that “ohmyGodyou’veGOTtoseethis.” Twitter erupted with jokes—about Bonnie and Clyde being at it again, about Schrödinger’s envelope, about “Dewey Defeats Truman” getting an Oscars-friendly update. It was late on a Sunday evening, and the unexpected had happened in the most unexpected of ways, and the whole thing was, as my colleague Adam Serwer perfectly summed it up, Moon-lit. During a time when Google has made so much information attainable, knowingness has become a default presence in American cultural life.The whole thing was also, however, a reminder of how rare it has become for audiences to witness, collectively, something that is truly Unexpected. This was live TV, with all the potential human error that live TV can bring—chaos, correction, drama, grace—at its depths but also its heights. What happened on Sunday hewed to roughly the same mechanics that gave the world all those Left Shark memes, and those “Nevertheless, She Persisted” tattoos, and the term “wardrobe malfunction”: The Oscars evoked caring by way of surprise. The Best Picture flub has become infamous overnight for roughly the same reason its predecessors did: It is exceedingly rare, in the highly produced world of mass media, for expectations to be thwarted. We know so much, nowadays. We are, in fact, sure of so much—about politics and human psychology and Hollywood awards shows and the correct ingredients of guacamole. During a time when Google has made so much information instantly attainable, knowingness has become a default presence in American cultural life. Oooh, that show is supposed to be excellent. That movie is supposed to be terrible. Poke bowls are the thing now. Big cultural events, the stuff of the Grammys and the Emmys and the Oscars, are in many ways the culmination of that posture: We know precisely what to expect of them. We can report, as they play out, that everything went according to plan, because we knew from the beginning what they were supposed to be; we can do that reporting, as well, with a note of disappointment. There are few things duller, after all, than met expectations. There are few things duller than met expectations.In that context, the Beatty-Dunaway-Oscars flub was a gift to audiences (and perhaps to ABC’s future live-audience ratings). It was also Chuck Klosterman’s point to Maron, at once proven and proven wrong. Here was the anything-can-happen logic of the live sporting event, applied to Hollywood’s highest, most ceremonialized, and most expectation-driven, of rituals. That was a powerful thing: During a moment in the United States that so often takes for granted that “reality” is something that can be produced as well as experienced, the Best Picture Oscars flub was a powerful reminder that reality, still, has its own production values. Yes, the flub was many other things, too: a shame for Moonlight, which so richly deserved to win Best Picture and whose victory threatens to be overshadowed by the mistake and its ensuing dramas. A shame for La La Land, whose producers delivered their full acceptance speeches before learning that their “win” had been announced in error. A field day for photographers both professional and non-, who snapped reaction shots onstage and backstage and among the celebrity audience. A moment of grace, as La La Land’s producer, Jordan Horowitz, met Jimmy Kimmel’s cheeky suggestion that everyone should get an Oscar with a politely defiant “I’m going to be really thrilled to hand this to my friends from Moonlight.” And also, sure: a metaphor for the slings and arrows of the 2016 election. A ratification of pop culture's current obsession with alternate realities. A vehicle for many, many jokes at the expense of Steve Harvey. Mostly, though, it was a twist ending that arrived, by the looks of things, in the twistiest of ways: a shock that came not at the hands of a savvy producer, but at the hands of quirky reality. Twist endings may have been a defining feature of the events of 2016 and early 2017—the reality show that was the 2016 presidential campaign found its pundit-ratified frontrunner vanquished in the final episode; the 2016 World Series featured another victorious underdog; Super Bowl LI found the expected winners winning, but only after its game went into nail-biting overtime. Their twists, however, took place within events whose endings were, by definition, unknown. The Oscars was a ceremony, shockingly interrupted. It was expectation, compellingly thwarted. And so: It was powerful in a way that few things can be, anymore, in a world that knows so much and expects, in the end, so little. In an essay for Screen Crush last year, Erin Whitney argued that “ours is a culture built on anticipation, where movies end with scenes teasing the next installment in the franchise, never allowing a moment’s rest to absorb what we just saw. We talk about movies years before they debut, we analyze TV plot twists, and anticipate albums for years before hearing a single song.” This whole process has led, Whitney argued, to “the slow death of surprise.” The best evidence for that may be the fact that marketers have recently been focused on surprising consumers—capitalism doing its best to keep that particular kind of magic alive. The dropped album. The surprise TV show. The secretly produced trailer. The live-aired, anything-could-happen TV musical. They are trying to capture what Klosterman was conveying to Maron in that WTF interview: “Sports is a connection to authentic aliveness,” the author put it to the comedian. “This is not something that anybody can control or script. It’s this unknown thing.” He added: “There’s something real interesting about ‘nobody knows,’ because you just don’t experience that anymore.” You don’t, until you do—until that mistake makes its way onto the glitziest and scriptiest of all of Hollywood’s stages. Sunday’s Best Picture flub is not only already iconic; it is also already the subject of conspiracy theories from a wide range of Oscar truthers who suggest that, among other things, the mistake was the result of President Trump exacting revenge on Jimmy Kimmel; or a prank pulled by Kimmel himself; or the dark dealings of Leonardo DiCaprio. They may have a point; it is unclear, for now, how the wrong card got into Warren Beatty’s hands. What they forget, though, is what Klosterman knows, and what all those delighted audiences, on Sunday, knew along with him: that the best conspirator is often people’s great capacity to make big, and dramatic, mistakes.27 Feb
The Shadow of Trump at the Oscars - President Donald Trump was 3,000 miles away from the Academy Awards on Sunday night, but his presence loomed larger in the Dolby Theatre than anyone else in the room. From Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue to acceptance speeches to the ads punctuating the ceremony, it felt at times like the Oscars were more focused on delivering an extremely public rebuke to Trump than they were on celebrating the art of filmmaking. The question is how effective such forms of protest are, in a media environment in which more than half of Americans think the press is too critical of the current president. Kimmel was one of the few personalities in the room who mentioned Trump; others largely chose to subtweet, without saying his name. While jabs about the president and his Twitter fixation made for easy punchlines, the most cutting and memorable moments of the night were the ones that elected to show, not tell—to reveal how Trump’s policies stand in direct opposition to the spirit of art in general and film in particular. Trump was an irresistible target for Kimmel, who laid into the one-time Oscar presenter right from the start. “This broadcast is being watched live by millions of Americans,” he quipped, “and around the world in more than 225 countries that now hate us.” He was briefly earnest, compelling everyone watching to reach out to one person they disagree with and have “a positive, considerate conversation, not as liberals or conservatives”—something that, he affirmed, could truly make America great again. But then it was back to business as usual: thanking Homeland Security for letting the French actress Isabelle Huppert into the country, pointing to Andrew Garfield’s drastic weight loss for a role as proof that Hollywood discriminates not against nationality, but against age and weight. An extended gag lampooning Meryl Streep’s “uninspiring and overrated performances” seemed directly ripped from Trump’s own critique of the actress after the Golden Globes. The second award presented, for makeup and hairstyling, went to Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini, and Christopher Nelson for Suicide Squad. “I’m an immigrant. I come from Italy,” Bertolazzi said, accepting the award. “I work around the world and this is for all the immigrants.” His sentiments were echoed in more specific terms by the Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who won best foreign-language film for The Salesman, but elected not to attend the ceremony in protest of Trump’s immigration ban on seven majority-Muslim countries. His award was accepted by the Iranian American astronaut Anousheh Ansari, who read Farhadi’s statement aloud. “Dividing the world into the us and our enemies categories creates fears,” she read, with Farhadi calling out the “inhumane” immigration law earlier this year. “Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever.” One presenter, too, took the opportunity to put a human face on Trump’s policies. The actor Gael Garcia Bernal, co-presenting the award for best animated feature, slipped in a quick statement, saying, “As a Mexican, as a Latin-American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I’m against any form of wall that separates us.” And last year’s winner for best supporting actor, Mark Rylance, briefly pondered how actors and filmmakers might work to unite Americans. “Opposition’s great in film and stories, it’s wonderful in sport, it’s really good in society,” he said. “The things these films made me remember and think about was the difficulty—something women seem to be better at than men—of opposing without hatred.” But Kimmel’s well of Trump jokes never ran dry. The Marvel movie Doctor Strange wasn’t just nominated for visual effects, it was also “named secretary of housing and urban development.” Introducing the Academy’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Kimmel noted how refreshing it was to have “a president who believes in arts and sciences.” At one point, noting Trump’s Twitter silence during the ceremony, Kimmel had his phone projected onto a screen at the back of the stage, and tweeted, “Hey @RealDonaldTrump u up?” at the president, followed by the hashtag “#merylsayshi.” This was trolling on an expert level, with its purpose solely to belittle Trump, and to remind him that he’s more in disrepute in Hollywood than ever before. It’s cathartic, perhaps, but it comes from a place of power—there’s not much the president can do that directly threatens the film industry. But he can, for instance, defund the NEA, which has a long history of helping projects (such as the 2012 drama Beasts of the Southern Wild) and artists who later ascend to Academy glory. Pointing out the president’s personal failings will almost certainly lead to viral tweets, but pinpointing how his policies damage the arts and entertainment industries might have a more profound impact in the long run. The most powerful moments of the ceremony, in the end, were the ones that illuminated the people excluded by the president’s policies. Accepting the Oscar for best adapted screenplay for Moonlight, also the best-picture winner, Barry Jenkins had a message for the people the movie was made for. “For all you people out there who feel there is no mirror for you,” he said, “that you feel your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back, and for the next four years ... we will not forget you.” In one of the most remarkable Oscar acceptance speeches of all time, Viola Davis explained her mission for making art. “You know, there is one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that’s the graveyard,” she said. “People ask me all the time—what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories—the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.” It’s this kind of message that seems poised to have the most impact over the next four years. For one thing, President Trump—for once—seemed remarkably resistant to all the trolling happening onstage. “Some of you will get to come up here on this stage tonight and give a speech that the president of the United States will tweet about in all caps during his 5 a.m. bowel movement tomorrow,” Kimmel said at one point. As yet, though, there’s been no such response.27 Feb
The Magnificent Harmony of Sunday In the Park With George - Sunday In the Park With George, currently playing in a limited run at New York’s Hudson Theatre starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is blissfully free of politics—a two-and-a-half hour respite from contemporary anxieties, a holiday on the banks of the Seine, bathed in sunlight and glorious harmony. And yet, without ever straining to, it makes one of the most persuasive cases imaginable for the power of artists, and how deeply integral their work is to a well-ordered society. Art shows us, as Gyllenhaal’s George demonstrates to his mother in one of the first act’s most moving songs, how life can be beautiful. But rather than simply celebrating the fruits of creative labor, Sunday In the Park is a testament to the process of making art; a substantial peek inside the mind of someone wrestling with their own genius. When the show—with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine—debuted in 1984, it was interpreted as one of Sondheim’s most personal expressions, coming on the heels of his critical and financial bomb, Merrily We Roll Along. George, the show’s hero, is obsessed with his paintings, to the detriment of everything else in his life. But as the show unfolds, moving from 19th-century France to 1980s Chicago, it explores the reasoning behind his single-minded fixation, and how George’s role as an observer lets everyone else see the world differently, too. That’s largely because this revival, directed by Sarna Lapine (James Lapine’s niece), is so magnificent and so emotionally rich, anchored by performances by Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford as George’s mistress and artist’s model, Dot. The show is based around Georges Seurat’s 1884 pointillist masterwork, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and George is a loose version of Seurat, with his life broadly fictionalized. As he sketches studies of Dot, who grumbles about the discomfort, the heat, and George’s fierce focus on his work, projections of his sketches appear on a backdrop onstage, rendered for the audience to witness in real time. All the while George narrates his thought process: the challenge of bringing order and harmony to a blank canvas. Gyllenhaal’s gifts as an actor are well-documented by now, so it’s his vocal talents that may come as a surprise (observe, if you haven’t already, Cary Fukunaga’s short video of Gyllenhaal singing George’s “Finishing the Hat” at the Hudson). His voice is rich, measured, and emphatic. But it’s the acting behind it that really cuts deep, in a remarkable fusion of technical accomplishment and intense absorption in a role. When he sings about mapping out a sky, sensing voices outside but being totally lost in focus, “dizzy from the height” of falling back to earth, you’re tempted, like Dot, to forgive him everything. Ashford, who won a Tony for the 2014 revival of the daffy comedy You Can’t Take It With You, is George’s perfect foil as Dot: sassy, practical, and infinitely charming. But she also conveys the exquisite pain of loving someone so inaccessible, and her chemistry with Gyllenhaal is pure. Toward the end of the first act, when George directs the many elements and characters to come together in a synergy of music and visuals, he places Dot at the front of the “painting,” as if to keep her close. But the supporting cast, too, are adept at bringing comic relief, and balancing the harmony of the show: Robert Sean Leonard as Jules, an accomplished artist; Penny Fuller as George’s mother, lost in nostalgia; Phillip Boykin as a foulmouthed and obstreperous boatman. The peripheral characters by their nature are fleeting archetypes, included to provide contrast with the more textured portrayals of George and Dot. The second act of Sunday In the Park, which leaps ahead to 1984—with Gyllenhaal playing another artist named George and Ashford his grandmother, Marie, Dot’s daughter—has often seemed jarring after the perfection of the first act, but Lapine manages to make the two halves more symbiotic by emphasizing how George’s art is tied to his great-grandfather’s. Just as Seurat used pointillism and the science of light to create new colors and impressions, 1984 George debuts a light installation called a “chromolume” at the Art Institute of Chicago. The work, created by the scenic designer Beowulf Boritt, looms above the audience in a dazzling display of illuminations, weaving and undulating overhead. Ashford, seamlessly segueing into playing a 90-year-old southern grandmother, spells out George’s isolation and creative frustration in “Children and Art,” a song addressed to her mother in the painting. The cracks in her vocals, and the deliberate weakness of Marie’s voice, make it one of the most moving numbers in the show. Modern George’s frustrations are different but rooted in the same fears—unlike his great-grandfather, he has to fundraise for his expensive, technologically advanced works, and respond to the criticism it inevitably receives. But in the song “Move On,” it becomes clear that the two are one and the same, straining to make art that counts, and to do something new. The resolution in the show comes from realizing that just doing the work is enough—everything else is out of an artist’s hands. This production, so deftly directed, emphasizes both the value in the struggle, and the timelessness of great art. It’s powerful indeed to have the experience, even briefly, of seeing the world through the eyes of a visionary.26 Feb
Andy Warhol and Get Out: The Week in Pop-Culture Writing - 30 Years After His Death, Andy Warhol’s Spirit Is Still Very Much Alive R.C. Baker | The Village Voice “How much responsibility does a mirror bear for whatever beauty or ugliness it beholds? Warhol loved both the heights and depths of American culture, and reflected it back at us through his work, which remains resonant to this day. Here is the spin he put on the concept of American exceptionalism in the 1985 America book: ‘Maybe you think it's so special that certain people shouldn't be allowed to live [here], or if they do live [here] that they shouldn't say certain things or have certain ideas.’” The Rise of Roxane Gay Molly McArdle | Brooklyn Magazine “Gay has been persistent and precise when so many others have not: She believes in a substantial variety of writers and writing that includes not only race and gender and sexuality but also class, ability, geography. She also takes as long and hard a look at herself as she does anyone else. When considering, in her 2010 HTMLGiant essay ‘A Profound Sense of Absence,’ whether or not she read diversely, Gay concludes: ‘I don’t, nor do I know how to.’” The Age of Rudeness Rachel Cusk | The New York Times Magazine “Are people rude because they are unhappy? Is rudeness like nakedness, a state deserving the tact and mercy of the clothed? If we are polite to rude people, perhaps we give them back their dignity; yet the obsessiveness of the rude presents certain challenges to the proponents of civilized behavior. It is an act of disinhibition: Like a narcotic, it offers a sensation of glorious release from jailers no one else can see.” In Get Out, Racism Is the Horror Story Black People Try to Survive Frederick McKindra | BuzzFeed “Horror films constantly reinforced the concept of the white body’s vulnerability, and subtly advised their audiences to treat only those bodies with concern. Meanwhile, for black characters, and by extension, black people, if no one ever saw you scream, tremble, or bleed, they never learned to see you as human. In the aughts, black characters in horror films were either disposable, not worth depicting at all, or rendered racial amnesiacs when it came to issues that would concern any black person in real life.” Remembering Seijun Suzuki, an Absurdist Auteur in Hired-Gun Clothing Emily Yoshida | Vulture “The Japanese film-production world was a kind of temporary Wild West, no longer locked into the hierarchical promotion system that brought up Ozu and Kurosawa. Suzuki rose up through the reshuffling almost by accident, but once he became a director, he made sure nobody forgot his name.”Harry Belafonte and the Social Power of a Song Amanda Petrusich | The New Yorker “Belafonte was strikingly prescient about the ways in which taste could and would be politicized, and especially about how treacherous it is to confuse consumption with action. This seems, to me, to be an unspoken but profound hindrance to all popular rebellions: If a person reads the right authors, and buys the right records, and vouches for those preferences loudly and repeatedly, it can feel like all the necessary work has been done to align oneself with the proper causes.”Jackie Kennedy’s Strange, Elegant Accent, Explained by Linguists Alex Abad-Santos | Vox “Merely reading that line doesn’t do justice to the voice Portman adopted for the role. If you’re not aware of how Jackie Kennedy spoke, listening to Portman’s Jackie is like the tingle of soda in your throat. It often feels familiar, but in certain spots it pops and jumps. The way she lops off the end of ‘bitter,’ the funny hop in ‘artifact,’ the way she rolls through ‘remembered’—it’s like she’s invented her own unique way of speaking English.” Moonlight’s Forgotten Frequencies Dave Tompkins | MTV News “Moonlight's score is part of this allowed emotional space, internalizing the Miami environment. (In terms of pressing bass to vinyl, wider spaces between the grooves make room for longer wavelengths and lower frequencies.) According to [Nicholas] Britell, the composer, everything in Moonlight’s score has at some point been pitched down and lived an alternate bass life before reaching your ears, whether you hear it or not.”25 Feb
Girls's Powerful Insight on Trauma - Why do the girls of Girls act that way? That’s the question underlying five years of baffled cultural responses to Lena Dunham’s epic of questionable decisions, cruelty, narcissism, and grace. Girls has never given a straightforward answer to the question. Despite unflinching confessional dialogue and occasional backstory development and sharp cultural satire, Hannah Horvath and her friends still have an air of Athena, sprung into existence fully formed. Asking why these girls spill drinks and impulsively marry and vomit off of bunkbeds is like asking why anyone exists at all. This has made Girls unusual in a cultural landscape where the tragic flashback is the go-to decoder of individual motivation. To take two recent examples from HBO, The Young Pope connected Pope Pious’s childhood abandonment to his adult torment, and Westworld’s so-called “key insight” was that to be human is to remember suffering. In society more broadly, ongoing dialogues about trauma, triggering, and privilege—dialogues that Dunham often wades into as a public figure—insist that personal history needs to be taken as seriously as present conduct does. On Girls, parental issues occasionally surface—Jessa’s flaky dad, Hannah’s closeted one, Marnie’s controlling mom—and brain chemistry came to the fore in Hannah’s OCD plot line. But sometimes it has seemed like the show wants to satirize the notion of explaining character through trauma. Once, Hannah recalled telling her mom that her babysitter touched her vagina at age 3—but added that she had probably been lying at it. At the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, her peers insisted her short story about violent sex must have been non-fiction from an abusive past; the joke was that it actually reflected her adventuresome present: “the time that I took a couple Quaaludes and asked my boyfriend to punch me in the chest.” This week’s sure-to-be-provocative episode “American Bitch”—posted to online platforms now and airing on HBO Sunday night—sharpened the show’s point of view on psychological cause and effect. In it, Hannah visits with a famous author, Chuck Palmer (Matthew Rhys), after writing an essay about accusations that he’d serially preyed on college-aged female fans. Chuck makes his case for innocence, Hannah relates some details from her past, and the two seem to come to an understanding—and then Chuck takes his penis out and presses it against Hannah. It’s a story of personal monstrousness and trauma, but it’s also a story about a system: a gender dynamic that ensures a common experience of degradation for women, whether in their pasts or in the present. Chuck Palmer has a surprising amount in common with Hannah. His fussiness hints at OCD. He proposes that writers need stories more than anything else, echoing Hannah’s experiences-at-all-cost outlook throughout Girls. The two bond over their love of Philip Roth, agreeing that “you can’t let politics dictate what you read or who you fuck” (Chuck’s words). And most tellingly, Chuck professes to want to understand the person he’s talking to but constantly interrupts with his own observations—perhaps a sexist tic, but also a narcissistic one plenty familiar to Girls viewers. In all of these things, Dunham may be sketching some ideas about the intrinsic traits that make a writer. But most of their conversation is a clash of biographies. Chuck emphasizes his loneliness, his daughter’s depression, his ex-wife’s hostility, and the sadness of book-tour life. When Hannah suggests an inappropriate power balance in him hooking up with girls on the road, Chuck shoots back that the real imbalance is that “she looks like a Victoria’s Secret model and I didn’t lose my virginity till I was 25 and on Acutane.” He is the victim in this reading. The women complaining online are exploiting his fame and desperation as well as the power of the internet to amplify harmful claims. It appears that this version of events nearly persuades Hannah, who apologizes for having written something that upset Chuck. But the apology is colored by all the buttering-up that has come before. Chuck repeatedly tells her how smart he thinks she is. He gives her a signed copy of Roth’s When She Was Good. And he claims that he invited her over to try and correct his true error with his accusers: not “pushing” enough to get to know them as people. When he then asks questions about her life, Hannah giggles and blithely answers. But during an earlier, tenser point in the conversation, Hannah relates a less happy bit of her history. In fifth grade, her English teacher Mr. Lasky took a liking to her based on her talent as a writer: He liked me, he was impressed with me, I did like special creative writing, I wrote like a little novel or whatever. Sometimes when he was talking to the class he would stand behind me and he’d rub my neck. Sometimes he’d rub my head, rustle my hair. And I didn’t mind. It made me feel special. It made me feel like someone saw me and they knew that I was going to grow up and be really, really particular. It also made kids hate me and put lasagna in my fucking backpack, but that’s a different story. Anyway last year I’m at a warehouse party in Bushwick and this guy comes up to me and he’s like, “Horvath, we went to middle school together, East Lansing!” And I’m like, “Oh my god, remember how crazy Mr. Lasky’s class was? He was basically trying to molest me.” You know what this kid said? He looks at me in the middle of this fucking party like he’s a judge, and he goes, “That’s a very serious accusation Hannah.” And he walked away. And there I am and I’m just 11 again and I’m just getting my fucking neck rubbed. Because that stuff never goes away. If this is Hannah Horvath’s long-awaited revelation about her past, it’s a relatively mild one: no rape, no violence, just some neck rubbing in class. But the insidiousness of it is in how it fits a pattern of warped gender relations. Chuck is like Mr. Lanksy: an older, powerful man praising a younger woman’s intellectual talents—but also tying that praise to flesh. Hannah’s value as a writer and her value as a body were long ago swirled together by a gatekeeper, and Chuck did something very similar to the young would-be authors he had sex with. If they consented, what were they consenting to? A validation of their mind, or the notion that what really matters is their body? The trauma here is not merely what happened, either. It’s in how honest expressions of discomfort by women are met with hostility and invalidation by men on legalistic pretenses. Consent is hugely important, but the issue isn’t entirely a legal one in this case. It is a moral one, a social one, and an emotional one. Hannah doesn’t seem to want either Chuck or Mr. Lasky in jail. She just wants to tell the truth about a troubling, degrading dynamic, and she is told—both by the guy at the Bushwick party and by Chuck—that she is wrong to do so. The earlier trauma itself didn’t create the new one.The sick twist is that the trauma has now been amplified and reenacted on Hannah for speaking out. Chuck flatters her, convinces her he’s no monster, and then unzips and thrusts against her without warning. For a moment, Hannah seems confused; for another moment, she seems to consider going along with it—she grabs him. Then she freaks out and screams at him. He gives her an evil grin. All the respect he had previously paid her has been rendered a joke. His praise of her mind was foreplay to the reminder that what he really liked was her body. And in Hannah’s moment of her considering whether to give in—for the rush, the faux validation, and the avoidance of conflict that would come with saying “yes”—she was in the same impossible situation as so many women before her. As a public figure, Lena Dunham has written a lot about trauma, especially about how a rape in early adulthood has had a concrete effect on her life over the years. But she also, recently, apologized for saying she “wished” she had had an abortion so as to help destigmatize the practice—a very inartful expression of the idea that a person and their worldview is not merely a result of biography. Girls seems to be trying to reconcile the need to honor the past's influence on the present while recognizing that no individual's history is an island. Did the Mr. Lasky experience change Hannah forever? Maybe. He could be the reason why she wants “to write stories that make people feel less alone than [she] did,” the exact kind of story that brought her to Chuck’s apartment. But that earlier trauma, in itself, didn’t create the new one she experienced in this episode. Nor was it, theoretically, necessary for Hannah to have gone through what she went through in order to care about Chuck's accusers. Why is Chuck such a creep? Girls doesn’t say that it’s because of any specific circumstance in his past. It’s not just because he’s what he calls a “horny motherfucker.” It’s simply because he can be this way. Because he is successful and male, he can put women in spots like the one he put Hannah in. He can expect them to often consent, queasily or not. He can even expect that other men will tell the women not to complain about it later. What he can’t expect anymore, Girls suggests, is for the women to actually remain silent. In the final moments of the episode, Hannah watches Chuck’s daughter play flute. She alternates her gaze between the girl and her father, perhaps weighing the implications of what just happened and what she should do about it. If Hannah writes about his actions, she may hurt him in a way that harms his daughter. But she keeps staring at the girl. She may well be one day put in a situation like the one Hannah was just put in. She may already have been. As Hannah leaves, we see a handful of women walking the opposite direction up the sidewalk, and then turning to enter his building. It reads as symbolism: a nod to all of the women past and future who can relate to what Hannah just went through, as different as their individual backstories may be.25 Feb

CBC News

Feminist Group Gains Support, Detractors After Censorship - The official Sina Weibo account of prominent Chinese feminist group Feminist Voice (女权之声) has been temporarily banned for 30 days after the group posted a Guardian article on a women’s strike planned in the U.S. on March 8, which allegedly “violated the state’s laws and regulations.” Netizens’ response to the ban has been mixed, with some criticizing the group and others expressing support. At The Diplomat, Lotus Ruan looks at why everyone should support the group, arguing that the it is ultimately about standing up to China’s arbitrary system of censorship and information control. The gag order, screenshot by Feminist Voice and shared widely by many activists, soon caught the attention of Chinese internet users. While many have joined the campaign to voice support for Feminist Voice, others had mixed reactions to the news. Under a thread asking “how to evaluate Feminist Voice’s being banned from posting on Sina Weibo for 30 days” on Zhihu, China’s Quora-platform dominated by male, well-educated, urban middle class users expressed disapproval of the group. Seventy-three people liked a comment that says “they deserved it.” This does not come as a surprise as feminism has to some extent been stigmatized or is at least faced with complicated public opinion in Chinese society. However, there is a profound reason why everyone should support Feminist Voice on this particular matter to fight back against Sina Weibo’s decision — even if you do not agree with the group’s stance. Feminist Voice has initiated a much-needed effort to question company processes for censoring content. In the past couple days, many supporters have been challenging Sina’s decision and simply asked: “why, how, and what Feminist Voice offended.” This is a badly needed step to push for the  overall transparency of China’s information control mechanisms. […] As one Weibo user said, “I don’t agree with many things [said by] Feminist Voice and Chen Yaya [a gender equality researcher critical of letting governmental or government-approved organizations dominate the course of feminism in China]. Sometimes I even find them quite stupid. But I strongly oppose censoring them. Debates would bring us closer to the truth. Only those who pay dirty tricks would stab someone in the back.” Joining Feminist Voice and others to question Sina Weibo’s gag order could be an opportunity to push forward a more transparent and less arbitrary information control mechanism. [Source] From Leta Hong Fincher on Twitter: Mouths taped, Chinese feminists in Times Square protest Weibo ban of prominent Feminist Voices social media account. — Leta Hong Fincher洪理达 (@LetaHong) February 26, 2017 At Sixth Tone, Zheng Jiawen explores the phenomenon of online prejudice against feminist groups in China, with a look at the use of derogatory terms like “grassroots feminist” and the negative impact that such discourse has had on the progress that feminists are making in the country. Gu’s article exemplifies online debate over gender issues in China. It also touches on a particularly highly charged issue among China’s feminist community — namely, the pejorative usage of the term “grassroots feminists.” While tianyuan, which I have translated here as “grassroots,” originally referred to something rural or rustic, in this case it derogatorily refers to dyed-in-the-wool, stubborn, militant feminists who refuse to countenance alternative viewpoints. To add insult to injury, the character quan in the word for “feminism” is often replaced with a homophone meaning “dog.” In recent years, variations of these terms have been applied by Chinese netizens as a means to disparage the feminist community. Some have used the terms to describe radicals who combine fervent calls for female empowerment with a contemptuous attitude toward men. In this sense, “grassroots feminists” can be compared with the English term “feminazi.” […] These days, the internet gives women more opportunities to participate in the discussion on gender issues and provides a larger space for feminist organizations to advocate their ideals and values. However, our prolonged neglect of feminist perspectives in both media and education has deprived the average person of the appropriate terminology that feminists tend to use. As a result, feminist discourse either appears convoluted, incomprehensible, and pretentious, or leaves itself open to being co-opted by individuals in a half-baked way, without their understanding the full force of feminist issues. Yet the most concerning aspect of the emergence of pejorative labels like “grassroots feminist” is that they divert public attention away from policy-oriented debates and direct it toward the mindless mudslinging of feminists’ supposed radicalism or moral deficiency. The depiction of feminists and their practices as fundamentally confrontational may also prevent those who aspire toward realizing gender equality from recognizing the common ground they share with Chinese feminist activists. Even worse, stigmatizing the sometimes-unconventional practices of Chinese feminists — such as advocating the occupation  of men’s toilets by Guangzhou’s female university students in 2012 — weakens the power of feminist organizations at a time when they are trying to influence government policy. [Source] Also at Sixth Tone, Earlham College’s Yu Peng explores the question of what we can learn about the women’s marches in the U.S. through the lens of Chinese philosophy, offering a Taoist interpretation of the movement that focuses on “body citizenship.” Observing events from a Taoist angle sheds light on this unique political tactic and engenders a form of citizenship — something I call “body citizenship.” Body citizenship is an innovative way of engaging with politics through dissidence rather than compliance. Borrowing insights from the fourth century B.C. Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi, body citizenship hinges upon continual processes of political engagement that keep disrupting the established social order imposed upon women’s bodies. […] Zhuangzi’s citizenship is thus defined by its extraordinary potential to overcome the supposed superiority of one type of body over another. Whether we speak of homosexuals or heterosexuals, black people or white people, the disabled or the able-bodied, men or women, the Zhuangzian body questions the dualistic relationships between these groups. By abolishing boundaries between them, it bespeaks a oneness that binds everyone together. Zhuangzi’s ideal form of citizenship, then, is one that challenges restrictive definitions and embraces us all, regardless of social status. It is a forceful refutation of social segregation of any kind, and is constantly vigilant against any attempt to isolate one body from another. […] The women’s marches allow us to transcend the confines of our own bodies. We are more than ourselves when we are the bodies of others as well. Streets become new political sites in which notions of, for example, “male,” “gay,” “Hispanic,” or “old” are not only unimportant, but also nonexistent. Momentarily, at least, we become women’s bodies — and in doing so, we turn ourselves from prescriptive sexual objects into objects of patriarchy-challenging power. This, in essence, is the beauty of the Zhuangzian body. Zhuangzi probably would have surmised that by claiming “Pussy Grabs Back,” citizens are translating their bodies into new forms of political resistance. Against the backdrop of a magnificent protest scene, citizenship is no longer something granted and controlled by law; instead, it is something won by the dissident body, something that disrupts old rules and constantly hankers for the new. [Source] © cindyliuwenxin for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to Post tags: feminism, Internet censorship, sina weibo, taoism, women's rightsDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall4 Mar
Lawyers Rebut Government Claims About “Fake News” - Late last year, rights lawyer Xie Yang gave a graphic and detailed account to his lawyer, Chen Jiangang, of the mistreatment he has suffered while in detention. Xie was detained in July 2015 as part of a broader crackdown on rights lawyers and activists and he has since been charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” but has not yet been tried. In recent days, state media in China has launched a campaign blaming lawyer Jiang Tianyong for fabricating news about Xie’s treatment, calling the reports “fake news,” a phrase recently used by President Trump but also commonly employed by Chinese authorities to counter reporting they don’t like. Jiang has been missing since November 2016 when he met with Xie’s family and lawyers in Changsha, Hunan. CCTV recently posted an interview with Jiang in which he “confesses” to fabricating the reports about Xie’s situation. Global Times also interviewed Jiang, while neither his lawyers nor family have been allowed to see him. Hong Kong Free Press has translated the CCTV interview: Patrick Poon, researcher at Amnesty International, told HKFP it is “very strange and incomprehensible” that Jiang was able to be interviewed by Global Times reporters while he has no access to a lawyer of his own choice or to his family. “Many of the claims in the Global Times and Xinhua reports are contradictory in the time[line] of Jiang Tianyong’s detention and Xie Yang’s accounts,” he said. “It’s extremely worrying that the mainland Chinese media are using this same old trick to try to discredit the lawyers and now even try to discredit western media coverage by branding them as ‘fake news’.” [Source] Public confessions via official media have become a regular feature in the “709” crackdown on lawyers and activists which started in early July 2015.  Lawyer Wang Yu and legal assistant Zhao Wei were “interviewed” by Chinese or Hong Kong media, even when their families and lawyers did not have access to them. Such televised confessions have been widely criticized by human rights groups as they generally occur before the detainee has been tried and sometimes before he or she has had access to legal counsel. Meanwhile, in an effort to counter the government media’s claim that reports of Xie’s torture were “cleverly orchestrated lies,” Xie’s lawyer Chen Jiangang has provided a detailed account of how he received the information from Xie. China Change has translated: From the afternoon of the January 4th (Wednesday) until Saturday afternoon, we made the transcript. Because of the character input method I was using, it was easy to input time — I hit ‘s’ and ‘j’ and it would give a timestamp, so I’d output the time at the beginning and end of the sessions. Men don’t cry easy. But over those three days, Xie Yang and I both shed tears regularly, again showing the effect of an evil system in destroying human nature, as well as the sins and tragic brutality that come along with government power that acts with impunity. During the sleepless nights that followed I would recall scenes from our conversation. Xie Yang, in his prison garb, mussed hair, scraggly beard, exhausted with no lustre in his eyes, described how he worried that he’d be beaten to death and that his family wouldn’t know where he died. As he wept, I reached out to him and began weeping too. When describing how the security agent Yin Zhuo and others threatened the lives of his wife and daughter, saying they were going to stage a car accident to kill them, Xie Yang cried again. I stopped typing and thumped the table hard and repeatedly with a closed fist. By Friday morning the transcript of the first interview was finished, and Xie Yang I went over it. After lunch I made a copy at a copyshop outside the detention center and asked Xie Yang to sign it when I saw him in the afternoon. This was how the first transcript came about. [Source] Supporters are now concerned about Chen’s safety following his involvement in the case: Danger imminent, lawyer #ChenJiangang states: I'll never commit suicide; under duress I may say things against my will; help my wife & kids. — Yaxue Cao (@YaxueCao) March 3, 2017 © Sophie Beach for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to Post tags: fake news, forced confessions, Global Times, Jiang Tianyong, rights lawyers, televised confessions, xie yangDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall3 Mar
Leadership Transition Clues Emerge Ahead of Legislative Meeting - Speculation that Xi Jinping may be aiming to defy his conventional 10-year  term limit has been mounting over the past two years. With Xi expected to begin his second five-year term and simultaneously tighten his grip on power by leveraging support from recently promoted allies at the 19th Party Congress later this year, The New York Times looks at one way Xi might take steps to ensure his own influence continues past 2022. Chris Buckley reports on indications that Xi may attempt to bend another unwritten term limit rule to allow his close ally Wang Qishan, currently a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and Xi’s anti-corruption czar, to remain in the PSC. The custom, known as the “seven up eight down” (七上八下) rule, has since 2002 dictated that any member of the PSC that is 68 as a Party Congress convenes must retire, while any 67 or younger can remain on the committee. Whether Mr. Xi can get away with changing the age ceiling for staying in the party’s top rank, the Politburo Standing Committee, has become a bellwether of how far he can consolidate his grip on a new party leadership that will be chosen in the fall. Mr. Xi’s immediate goal appears to be opening the way to retaining Wang Qishan, who has led his signature anticorruption drive and become one of the most powerful and feared officials in China, those people and other observers said. Mr. Wang, who is 68, could be forced to step down this year if the informal age ceiling holds. […K]eeping Mr. Wang in place would also create an example that Mr. Xi could follow to stay in power after his two terms as president end in 2023. Already, news that Mr. Xi may delay choosing his successor has fanned speculation that he wants to prolong his hold on power. […] Mr. Wang’s staying on is a strong possibility, though not a certainty, said a retired Chinese official who knows several leaders, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss elite political deliberations. He said that Mr. Xi said that the age rule was not absolute, which was understood by officials to mean that he wanted Mr. Wang to be considered for the next term. […] [Source] Buckley notes that Wang’s fate is sure to be closely followed and speculated upon as the National People’s Congress, China’s national legislature, begins its annual meeting this weekend—the last major political event before top Party leaders gather at the 19th Party Congress. At Reuters, Philip Wen and Benjamin Kang Lim report that Xi could use his substantial cache of power to promote another key ally directly to the Politburo Standing Committee during the leadership transition, filling a seat in top Party leadership that could otherwise be filled by a political rival. The ally, Chen Min’er, Party boss of Guizhou, is not currently on the 25-member Politburo, generally a required detour before promotion to the PSC. Chen, a trusted confidant of Xi, has already ridden on the coat-tails of his former boss since they worked together in Zhejiang, where Xi was provincial party leader, and three sources with leadership ties think he could jump straight into the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) during the 19th party congress in the autumn. […] “Chen Miner is a dark horse,” said a Chinese official who has worked with Chen. “He has a good relationship with Xi and is very competent. He gets things done.” “At the very least, Chen Miner will become a member of the Politburo,” a source with ties to the leadership told Reuters. […] If Xi does prove strong enough to appoint Chen to the PSC, it could be at the expense of candidates from rival factions, such as Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua, from the Communist Youth League grouping close to former-president Hu Jintao, or Sun Zhengcai, who runs the metropolis of Chongqing. […] [Source] At the South China Morning Post, Daniel Ran reports that Shanghai Party secretary Han Zheng is another top contender for a PSC seat later this year. The story of Han’s once unlikely rise to potential PSC member illustrates the rapidly changing tides of Party politics in China: It would prove that persistence pays off, with the 63-year-old not even counted among potential dark horses a decade ago when political analysts were compiling lists of rising political stars on the mainland. If he does secure a seat on the innermost Politburo Standing Committee at the party’s national congress this autumn he is likely to succeed Zhang Gaoli as the country’s top-ranked vice-premier, charged with overseeing economic development and environmental protection. […] Han’s prospects looked very different in 2008, when he was Shanghai’s mayor and it seemed his political career was coming to an end in the wake of a pension fund scandal that had toppled Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu, his immediate boss, two years earlier. [Source] At The Wall Street Journal, Chun Han Wong reports on how the upcoming NPC meeting will test Xi’s accumulated clout ahead of the leadership transition, noting expectations that Xi will attempt to minimize dissent: The NPC is a largely rubber-stamp parliament but one where delegates have in the past criticized government policy. Observers expect Mr. Xi to try to curb any airing of grievances, as any political controversy now could jeopardize his success in promoting allies and sidelining rivals in the fall party conclave. Mr. Xi “is more interested than ever in showcasing the party’s unity and its achievements,” said Matthias Stepan, a specialist in Chinese domestic politics at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies. […] In recent weeks, Mr. Xi has stepped up his campaign to enforce “strict party governance,” urging officials to demonstrate “self-discipline.” The party’s top disciplinary agency this week disclosed a number of actions against officials across China for failing in their management responsibilities. For the NPC—a largely ceremonial affair in any year—such efforts mean divisive topics are likely to stay off the agenda. This week, for example, China’s labor minister signaled an indefinite delay to a proposal to raise the statutory retirement age, despite warnings from economists that Beijing must urgently address demographic pressures from an aging population. The minister, Yin Weimin, had previously pledged to complete a plan this year, but on Wednesday he said the issue has stirred “very heated” public debate and that a proposal will be rolled out “at the appropriate time.” [Source] Bloomberg News reports further on mounting political tensions ahead of the legislative gathering this weekend and Party conclave later this year despite Xi’s efforts to to portray stability: Xi is looking to avoid any drama this time around as he seeks to win backing from party cadres for his efforts to overhaul an economy growing at its slowest pace in a quarter century. The president also faces growing challenges around the globe, from U.S. counterpart Donald Trump’s trade threats to Kim Jong Un’s push for more powerful nuclear weapons in neighboring North Korea. “Xi is under pressure to further consolidate personal power ahead of the 19th Party Congress,” said Zhao Suisheng, director of the University of Denver’s Center for China-U.S. Cooperation. “He wants to be first, not first among equals. There’s still a lot of work to do.” […] The NPC may feature an update on various points of tension, including plans to lay off half a million workers in smokestack industries and create a super regulator to oversee the securities, banking and insurance sectors. Investors will also watch to see if Premier Li Keqiang signals a tolerance for economic growth of below 6.5 percent for 2017, a move that could jeopardize a party goal to double gross domestic product from 2010 to 2020. Xi will look to consolidate gains after the central committee last year designated him the party’s “core” leader, a status that eluded his predecessor Hu Jintao. In recent months, Xi has tapped allies to lead cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, as well as to head up some of China’s top economic bodies. […] [Source] Last October,  Xi Jinping was officially crowned “core” leader by the Party he leads—a title coined by Deng Xiaoping in reference to Mao —rebooting speculation over Xi’s consolidation of power and plans for the 19th Party Congress. This week, the State Council released a document that would make Xi’s “core” title a part of ideological training in post-secondary education across China. Reuters’ Christina Shepherd reports: China cemented President Xi Jinping’s position as the “core” of the Communist Party on Monday, making it part of ideological teaching in colleges and universities as Beijing tightens its hold on education. Political thought and party leadership in China’s places of higher learning should “closely revolve around the Chinese Communist Party with comrade Xi Jinping at the core”, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, said in a document released online. […] In a separate announcement, the party’s discipline and anti-graft agency said last week it would carry out “flexible” inspections of 29 of China’s top universities, in part to help strengthen ideological education. [Source] Institutes of higher education, historically hotbeds of activism in China, have been conduits for Xi’s ideological goals for much of his presidential tenure. In 2014, a campaign against “Western values” spread into Chinese universities. © josh rudolph for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to Post tags: 19th Party Congress, ccp leadership, ideology, leadership transition, NPC 2017, power struggle, Wang Qishan, Xi JinpingDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall3 Mar
BBC Team Assaulted, Forced to Sign Confession - The BBC’s John Sudworth reports that his team was attacked and forced to sign a confession while attempting to meet with a Beijing-bound petitioner ahead of this weekend’s Two Sessions political meetings in the capital. The flood of petitioners seeking to present grievances to central authorities has long been a target for local governments, especially during major political events, which Sudworth describes as “like a magnet for petitioners.” The woman he had planned to interview and accompany to Beijing, who is now reportedly under unofficial house arrest, says that her father was beaten to death in a land dispute. As soon as we arrived in Yang Linghua’s village it was clear they were expecting us. The road to her house was blocked by a large group of people and, within a few minutes, they’d assaulted us and smashed all of our cameras. While such violence can be part of the risk faced by foreign reporters in China, what happened next is more unusual. After we left the village, we were chased down and had our car surrounded by a group of about 20 thugs. They were then joined by some uniformed police officers and two officials from the local foreign affairs office, and under the threat of further violence, we were made to delete some of our footage and forced to sign the confession. It was a very one-sided negotiation, but it at least gave us a way out – a luxury denied to the petitioners who find themselves on the receiving end of similar intimidation and abuse. [Source] Some footage of the altercation survived: The BBC’s Stephen McDonell posted a further sign of the sensitivity surrounding the Two Sessions: If you talk about Xi Jinping's enemies in the Communist Party+him possibly extending his term to avoid retribution, in #China screen goes… — Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) March 3, 2017 In the wake of the confrontation in Hunan, the BBC’s Chloe Tilley discussed the challenges of reporting from China with former China correspondents Mark MacKinnon, Peter Ford, and Melissa Chan, who was expelled from the country in 2012. In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China described the BBC incident as “a gross violation of Chinese government rules governing foreign correspondents, which expressly permit them to interview anybody who consents to be interviewed”: The FCCC calls on the Chinese government and police to take steps to prevent foreign reporters who are legally allowed to work in China from being subjected to such violence and intimidation. Journalists in China have reported increasing harassment by authorities. The 2016 FCCC survey of working conditions for correspondents, released last November, found increased use of force and manhandling by authorities against journalists performing their work. Some correspondents have also been called in to unspecified meetings with the State Security Bureau. Fully 98% of the survey’s respondents said reporting conditions rarely meet international standards, while 29% said conditions had deteriorated. Harassment, detention and questioning of sources remains worryingly common. 57% of correspondents said they personally had been subjected to some form of interference, harassment or violence while attempting to report in China. [Source] A PEN International report published in September reached similar conclusions. That month, for example, journalists from Hong Kong were assaulted and detained in the restive Guangdong village of Wukan, while cash rewards were reportedly offered for information on “foreign forces” trying to covertly report from there. News of the BBC incident follows accusations in state media this week that foreign outlets maliciously published “fake news” on the alleged torture of detained rights lawyer Xie Yang. Various official voices have recently amplified claims that “hostile foreign forces” including media, governments, and NGOs have been working with local collaborators such as rights lawyers and labor activists to destabilize China. This kind of accusation, as well as direct pressure on those who do give interviews, has left many Chinese unwilling to speak with foreign reporters. From Yaqiu Wang at the Committee to Protect Journalists last month: Several journalists covering China say there are still people willing to publicly express views, just not to the foreign press. “It is frustrating that smart, articulate people who, for example, post interesting views on Chinese social media, are then unwilling to speak with a foreign journalist. This happens routinely,” said Nathan VanderKlippe, the Beijing-based Asia Bureau Chief of The Globe and Mail and a board member of the FCCC. A China correspondent for a Western news organization, who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to comment, added, “Some outfits hire experienced Chinese staff to improve sourcing, but even they struggle, as working for foreign media brands you.” Chinese citizens’ reluctance to speak with foreign news organizations is seen as a direct result of the government’s retribution against its critics. The country is one of the leading jailers of journalists, with CPJ’s latest prison census showing 38 imprisoned there in relation to their work. But sources also risk being questioned and detained by authorities. The FCCC, in its 2016 annual survey, shows that 26 percent of foreign journalists reported that their sources were “harassed, detained, questioned or punished at least once for speaking to them,” and that “intimidation and harassment of sources” is a top concern for the foreign press corps in China. “Sources [in China] are taking a much greater risk and you can only give them very little in return,” said the China correspondent with whom CPJ spoke. [Source] Peter Ford also discussed this issue in the BBC interview mentioned above. At Reuters, meanwhile, Philip Wen describes the “bleak game of cat and mouse” in which local government seek to avoid embarrassment by stemming the tide of a reported six million petitions across China each year: The case of Wang Fengyun – a villager from Duolun county in Inner Mongolia who traveled to Beijing nine times to seek justice over an alleged local government land grab – would have been otherwise unremarkable. But having detained and charged Wang, as well as her husband and her father, with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, the Duolun government proceeded to detail the time and cost it invested in “dissuading” her persistent petitioning over five years, according to documents seen by Reuters tendered in court as proof of her “extremely harmful” behavior. Duolun’s county government said it spent 335,000 yuan ($48,700) on costs including overtime for night-time surveillance, “extra security” and — ostensibly to feed those working shifts — a “canteen” staffed by 10 workers. The disclosure last month, apparently made innocently by the administrators of a remote and sparsely populated county in China’s north, provides rare insight into the lengths taken to subdue petitioners and displays of public dissent. [Source] Chinese scholar Yu Jianrong wrote in 2012 that “as local governments use even more severe methods to deal with petitioners, the complaints of petitioners become more extreme, creating a vicious cycle. Because of this, the petitioning system has gone from useless to harmful; from reducing pressure to actively increasing it.” Read more on petitioners and the government’s promises to better protect their rights via CDT. © Samuel Wade for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to Post tags: BBC, foreign correspondents, foreign media, Hunan, journalism, media conditions, petitioners, two sessionsDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall3 Mar
Family Members Detail Abuse of Detained Rights Lawyers - Following the sweeping “709” crackdown on dozens of rights lawyers and activists in July 2015, at least three lawyers remain in detention without having been tried: Xie Yang, Li Heping, and Wang Quanzhang. Lawyer Jiang Tianyong disappeared in November 2016 and is being held on suspicion of “leaking state secrets.” Details of abuse and mistreatment of detainees have come to light in recent months, including an account of torture of Xie Yang that he provided to his lawyers in late 2016. This week, several family members of detained lawyers have issued an open letter to foreign political leaders detailing mistreatment of their loved ones in prison, including those who have since been released. China Change has translated the letter: The majority of the lawyers and citizens targeted in the 709 arrests were placed in secret detention facilities known as “residential surveillance in a designated place” for six months, during which time they were tortured. Following is a summary of the four main categories of torture they were subjected to. 1) Forced consumption of drugs. Whether the internees were in good health or not, they were all made to take medication. The most common were drugs, so was it claimed, to treat high blood pressure. Other common drugs included tranquilizers or barbiturates of various sorts, as well as antipsychotic drugs. […] 2) Marathon interrogation sessions and sleep deprivation. Wearying interrogation sessions became practically mandatory for 709 detainees. They were regularly called in for questioning and prevented from sleeping. […] 3) Beatings, leg torture, and water dungeons. Being slugged was a daily occurrence. Worse was torture of the legs applied by guards. The prisoner, sitting on the ground, would have their legs forced onto a metal bar elevated about a foot off the ground. Another bar would be dropped across their thighs, and then someone would sit on top of it. If the victim still didn’t confess, another helper would add weight, causing excruciating pain. […] 4) Threats to the lives, or freedom, of family members. The lives and freedom of prisoners’ wives and sons have been threatened. One of the prisoner’s son was taken into custody by public security officials, who threatened to formally arrest him if the prisoner didn’t confess; on other occasions, the father and brother of prisoners were arrested and held as long as the prisoner refused to confess. […] [Source] The letter also provides details about the abuse suffered by Xie Yang, who was charged in January with “inciting subversion,” but has not yet been tried: During his six months of secret detention, Xie Yang was forced to sit on a stack of plastic stools, leaving his legs to dangle in the air and causing one of his already injured legs to swell up, leaving him almost crippled. Every day during the long interrogation sessions he was slugged, threatened, insulted, yelled at, and had smoke blown in his face. Even when his whole body was shuddering, and he was in a cold sweat, in an obvious state of pain and fever, the national security agents shoved him down onto the ground face first, pressuring his chest and suffocating him, then pounding him in the head until he was concussed. Any notes that were made revolved around the three topics determined by the security agents: that he was out for money, out for fame, and out to oppose the Party and socialism. He was pushed to the brink of death by the security agents, but they kept him alive to prolong the torment. As they inflicted pain, the agents held out the bait of “establishing merit,” trying to lure him with rewards if he would frame his peers. When this failed, they threatened the safety and lives of his wife and child, or the jobs of his friends and family, in an attempt to dominate him. All written records of the sessions they produced were fake. They wrote them, and simply made Xie Yang sign off, without the opportunity to request any changes. If he did, they’d torture him further. [Source] In response, official media in China has launched a campaign discrediting such allegations as “fake news,” perhaps picking up the tailwind of recent comments made about the media by U.S. President Donald Trump. From Tom Phillips at The Guardian: Xinhua, the government’s official news agency, accused the overseas media of “hyping” a series of “cleverly orchestrated lies” by publishing reports about the plight of attorney Xie Yang, who was detained in July 2015 at the start of a crackdown known as China’s war on law. Reports about Xie’s alleged torture by security agents surfaced on overseas human rights websites late last year. More detailed accounts of similar claims subsequently appeared in newspapers including the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Japan’s Asahi Shimbun. Experts said the allegations, while impossible to verify, were consistent with abuses previously documented by human rights groups. […] Xinhua’s English-language rebuttal of those torture allegations said: “The stories were essentially fake news.” [Source] A report from Global Times also denied the claims of torture by Xie Yang and blamed their fabrication on lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who went missing in November after meeting with Xie’s wife and lawyers. Meanwhile, lawyers for Jiang have issued a statement in response to another Global Times report which included an alleged interview with Jiang, whom his lawyers have not been able to see. Translated by China Change: Defense lawyers have applied no fewer than three times to meet Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) since his disappearance on November 21, 2016, to no avail. The reason given to us is that meeting our client would obstruct the investigation or possibly divulge state secrets — yet apparently unrelated parties, and Global Times journalists, claim to have seen Jiang Tianyong. Our position has always been: lawyers meeting their clients cannot possibly obstruct the investigation or divulge state secrets, and according to the Criminal Law, when a person has been subjected to coercive measures, his or her lawyers shall meet with the client promptly. This is also an internationally-recognized standard for criminal procedures aimed at transparency. Furthermore, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also repeatedly reiterates this right. We are concerned about whether there is any legal basis for allowing Global Times journalists, whose credibility and trustworthiness are questionable, to meet Jiang Tianyong while denying lawyers’ access, and we seek to know whether the government is abusing power in doing so. A quick consultation of the law makes clear that there is no law granting a greater priority to so-called journalists or unrelated parties than to lawyers to see their client, and that this is a typical act of the government abusing its power. Global Times is humiliating Jiang Tianyong, and also lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳), by parading them before the media and trying them unlawfully through public opinion. [Source] Jiang’s U.S.-based wife Jin Bianling told the Hong Kong Free Press: “I don’t believe a single word or a single punctuation mark in the Global Times’ report […]” “Since Jiang Tianyong went missing on November 21, neither me, nor his parents, nor his lawyers, have been able to find out where he is… His lawyers requested to see him multiple times, but they were rejected. So I want to know how this Global Times reporter was able to see him. They should publicise that,” Jin said. [Source] Other political detainees who have been released, including lawyer Wang Yu and legal assistant Zhao Wei, have been “interviewed” by Chinese or Hong Kong media, even when their families and lawyers do not have access to them. Often these interviews serve as public confessions. Jun Mai at the South China Morning Post interviewed lawyer Li Jinxing, who was not targeted in the 709 crackdown but has since had his license removed after defending activist Yang Maodong, about his rights-focused work: Do you regret taking the case of Yang Maodong, which led to your suspension? I understand that the authorities are carefully taking notes of which lawyer defends which cases. But any country, however underdeveloped, needs lawyers. And it seemed to me only a matter of conscience that I represent him. We could feel the pressure all the time, but at least I’m not among the lawyers locked up in the crackdown. […] You have a reputation for tackling judicial injustice without compromise. Has your suspension had an affect on others lawyers doing similar work? There have always been Chinese lawyers devoted to protecting the legal rights of their clients and protecting the law over the past 30 years. They’ve just gained more attention now because of the internet. I don’t think the suspension of my licence will have any impact on the profession at all. More lawyers of the same kind will fill the gap. But I’m feeling very tired at the moment. I had to rest for six months two years ago under doctor’s instructions. I’ll also take this year to rest a little. I’m mentally prepared for being kicked out of the profession forever. In that case, I’ll try to be a legal consultant for criminal cases after I recover. But, of course, I’m still longing to embrace the profession again. [Source] © Sophie Beach for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to Post tags: Black Friday 2015, due process, Jiang Tianyong, Li Heping, rights lawyers, torture, xie yangDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall2 Mar
Minitrue: Close Comments on Tianjin Official’s Overdose - The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source. All websites shut down comment sections on the article “Tianjin Municipal Party Committee Secretary General Cheng Qisheng Enters Hospital After Overdosing on Sleeping Pills.” (March 2, 2017) [Chinese] At the South China Morning Post, Eva Li reports on state media coverage of top Tianjin official Cheng Qisheng’s emergency treatment after overdosing on sleeping pills: Cheng Qisheng, the secretary general of the Tianjin municipal party committee, was in a coma after taking sleeping pills but regained consciousness after emergency treatment, according to a report on, a local news portal run by the Tianjin authorities. Cheng, 53,was able to communicate when he recovered consciousness but required further treatment in hospital, the report said, citing the municipal health department. The report did not give reasons for Cheng’s overdose, but said he had been relying on sleeping pills for a long period of time. Cheng has not received any public denouncement or discipline. […] [Source] Li continues to outline Cheng’s official career, and to note that Tianjin remains in political upheaval after the sacking and corruption investigation into former mayor and party chief Huang Xingguo last September. News of Cheng’s overdose and hospital visit comes amid the heightened political sensitivities that generally accompany the annual meetings of the legislative National People’s Congress and advisory Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The meetings, collectively known as the “Two Sessions,” are set to begin in Beijing this week. The article mentioned in the above directive, originally published by Tianjin-based news portal, is still available online, though comments on most reposts ended on March 1 or are no longer displaying. Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011. © josh rudolph for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to Post tags: censorship, Directives from the Ministry of Truth, TianjinDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall2 Mar
Gathering of the Week: Stupid Sessions - The Word of the Week comes from the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness. Èr Huì 二会 Jackie Chan wept at the 2013 National People’s Congress, his first. He admitted that he did not know what he was supposed to be doing. (Source: Tongue-in-cheek reference to the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which entered widespread usage in 2013. The annual meetings of the legislative and advisory bodies are known collectively as the “Two Sessions.” The Chinese numeral “two” is èr 二 , but Chinese grammar dictates that in most situations involving quantity the word liǎng 两 is used instead (thus the Two Sessions are Liǎng Huì 两会, not Èr Hui 二会). In slang,  èr 二 is a short and jocular stand-in for “stupid,” from èrbǎiwǔ 二百五 (literally “two-hundred fifty”). Many netizens view the “Stupid Sessions” as a pointless, bizarre pageant, where movie stars and other celebrities are brought to Beijing to “represent” the Chinese people and “vote” on legislation they barely understand. The term “Stupid Sessions” appears to have gained currency during the 2013 Two Sessions. That year was Jackie Chan’s first appearance as a delegate to the CPPCC. The movie star, already then known to cause massive backlash with contoversial statements, was criticized online after admitting to reporters that he didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing at the meetings. Other celebrity delegates displayed a similar lack of preparation in 2013: author Mo Yan, whose pen name means “Don’t Speak,” told reporters that he had “nothing to say” at the Congress. Actress Song Dandan, explained that she “still didn’t understand” her role and was “here to learn.” When the media approached director Chen Kaige, he simply said, “I haven’t prepared any motions. I’m going to lunch first.” With the 2017 Two Sessions set to begin this week, the South China Morning Post reports on what is likely to be on the agenda, including military spending, the upcoming leadership transition later this year, and how to deal with U.S. President Trump and the fallout from Brexit. Meanwhile, as Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign continues, Reuters examines the massive wealth of the richest 100 delegates to the Two Sessions, a topic that has been the target of official censorship and netizen disdain in years past. Political tensions are generally high amid the meetings in Beijing, and last year central propaganda authorities released a list of 21 rules for covering the Two Sessions. See also soy sauce delegate. Can’t get enough of subversive Chinese netspeak? Check out our latest ebook, “Decoding the Chinese Internet: A Glossary of Political Slang.” Includes dozens of new terms and classic catchphrases, presented in a new, image-rich format. Available for pay-what-you-want (including nothing). All proceeds support CDT. © josh rudolph for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to Post tags: CPPCC, Jackie Chan, mo yan, NPC 2013, NPC 2017, two sessions, word of the weekDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall2 Mar
Documenting Religious Repression and Revival in China - U.S.-based democracy and human rights advocacy group Freedom House this week released the report “The Battle for China’s Spirit: Religious Revival, Repression, and Resistance Under Xi Jinping,” a close look at trends in Chinese state tolerance of different religions over the past four years. The 142-page report looks at five religious categories—Chinese Buddhism/Taoism, Christianity (Protestantism and Catholicism), Islam, Tibetan Buddhism, and Falun Gong—offering a detailed account of new controls placed on each, degrees of revival, and efforts at resisting state control; and finally rating the degree of (“very low” to “very high”) and trajectory of persecution facing each. From Freedom House’s executive summary of the report: Since Xi Jinping took the helm of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in November 2012, the authorities have intensified many of their restrictions, resulting in an overall increase in religious persecution. But believers have responded with a surprising degree of resistance, including in faith communities that have generally enjoyed cooperative relationships with state and party officials. This escalating cycle of repression and pushback illustrates a fundamental failure of the Chinese authorities’ religious policies. Rather than checking religion’s natural expansion and keeping it under political control, the CCP’s rigid constraints have essentially created an enormous black market, forcing many believers to operate outside the law and to view the regime as unreasonable, unjust, or illegitimate. […] As China experiences a spiritual revival across a wide range of faiths, the Chinese government’s religious controls have taken different forms for different localities, ethnicities, and denominations. In many parts of China, ordinary believers do not necessarily feel constrained in their ability to practice their faith, and state authorities even offer active support for certain activities. At the other extreme, Chinese officials have banned holiday celebrations, desecrated places of worship, and employed lethal violence. Security forces across the country detain, torture, or kill believers from various faiths on a daily basis. How a group or individual is treated depends in large part on the level of perceived threat or benefit to party interests, as well as the discretion of local officials. […] Yet there have also been a number of positive developments in unexpected quarters. Sino-Vatican relations have warmed, raising the possibility of an agreement on the appointment of Catholic bishops. Such a pact would remove a major source of division in the Chinese church. Falun Gong practitioners, though still subject to severe abuses, are experiencing reduced persecution in many locales, as top officials driving the campaign have been purged in intraparty struggles, and years of grassroots outreach by adherents and their supporters have won over some lower-level authorities. […] [Source] On the spectrum of religious persecution defined by Freedom House, the three groups that fall in the “very high” section come as no surprise to even a casual China-watcher: Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims, and Falun Gong practitioners—all religions whose positions have become heavily politicized. The report notes that Chinese forms of Buddhism enjoy far more state tolerance than Tibetan interpretations, just as ethnic Hui Muslims have long been known to experience less state interference than their Uyghur co-faithful. Uyghur Muslims hail from the politically turbulent Xinjiang region which is currently the frontline of years-running nationwide crackdown on terror. For more coverage of the crackdown in Xinjiang, where the new regional Party chief Chen Chuanguo is currently staging massive and ostentatious military rallies, see prior CDT coverage. In Tibet, a region that has become synonymous with Chinese religious persecution since the early days of the PRC, Freedom House found that Xi’s policies have been largely consistent with those of his predecessor Hu Jintao. Following protests by Tibetans ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, authorities began tightening religious and cultural restrictions in Tibetan regions. Since 2009, as many as 146 Tibetans in China have self-immolated in protest, a trend that Tibetan activist Woeser sees as a direct response to increased restrictions. Amid the crackdown, authorities have ordered Tibetan religious sites to aid in spreading Party propaganda, and have tested patriotism among the monastic community. Meanwhile, Party officials have reaffirmed a commitment to directly overseeing Tibetan religiosity for political expediency, vowing to name the reincarnated successor of the exiled and aging 14th Dalai Lama, and allowing their controversial pick of the Panchen Lama (Gyaltsen Norbu) to revive a tantric ritual not held in Tibet for 50 years. There have also been other indications that Beijing is grooming its Panchen Lama to fill in for the Dalai Lama after his death. At Reuters, Ben Blanchard reports that China’s Panchen Lama praised CCP religious policies in Tibetan regions of China as part of his lunar new year message after visiting Tibet (he is believed to spend most of his time in Beijing): In a message to mark the Tibetan lunar new year, carried by the United Front Work Department which helps oversee religious groups, China’s Panchen Lama discussed six months of Buddhist activities he carried out in Tibet last year. “My deepest impression after the inspection tour was that Tibet’s ethnic and religious policies have been carried out very well,” he said in comments carried late on Monday. “At the same time, the party has formulated a series of special beneficial policies, and the vast majority of Tibetans have received real benefit. After seeing this I felt very happy,” he said. […] [Source] Days earlier, Reuters’ Blanchard reported that China’s Panchen Lama had pledged to “uphold the ‘glorious tradition’ of patriotism.” At The New York Times, Edward Wong reports that a panel of United Nations experts have released a statement condemning the ongoing expulsions of monastics from Tibetan religious sites: In a sharply worded statement, the experts expressed alarm about “severe restrictions of religious freedom” in the area. Most of the expulsions mentioned by the experts have taken place at Larung Gar, the world’s largest Buddhist institute and one of the most influential centers of learning in the Tibetan world. Officials have been demolishing some of the homes of the 20,000 monks and nuns living around the institute, in a high valley in Sichuan Province. The statement also cited accusations of evictions at Yachen Gar, sometimes known as Yarchen Gar, an enclave largely of nuns that is also in Sichuan and has a population of about 10,000. “While we do not wish to prejudge the accuracy of these allegations, grave concern is expressed over the serious repression of the Buddhist Tibetans’ cultural and religious practices and learning in Larung Gar and Yachen Gar,” the statement said. […] The statement was sent to the Chinese government in November, but was made public only in recent days, before the start of this year’s session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The session began Monday and is scheduled to end on March 24. […] [Source] Larung Gar, a site in Sichuan regarded as the largest Tibetan Buddhist institute in the world, has seen residencies being destroyed since last summer. At Quartz, Echo Huang reports on Freedom House’s findings that Chinese Buddhism and Taoism enjoy far lower degrees of persecution (“low” for the former, and “very low” for the latter), situating this trend into the context of the Xi administration’s ongoing crackdown on foreign ideology and Western values. At a national conference on religion last year, President Xi urged officials to “resolutely resist overseas infiltration through religious means and guard against ideological infringement by extremists.” As “Asian religions,” the party is able to “harness China’s religious and cultural traditions to shore up [the party’s] legitimacy,” says Freedom House, and at the same time use them to “help contain” the spread of Christianity and Islam. The latter two religions are viewed as “so-called Western values” by the party, according to Freedom House. The preference for Taoism and Buddhism over other faiths fits with the larger crackdown by Xi against Western ideas in China. In education, the Chinese government is purging Western ideas like democracy and replacing them with Confucianism, which emphasizes obedience. Xi has also urged families to educate their children with imperatives like “love the party” while cracking down on international-style education. According to Freedom House, Buddhism and Taoism are in line with the party’s signature campaigns, the “China Dream” and the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Those two faiths are compatible with the government’s “Sinicization” drive, says the NGO. But religion has been gaining ground in China in spite of the government’s efforts. China is undergoing “one of the world’s great spiritual revivals,” according to a recent book by long-time China journalist Ian Johnson. And an increasing number of Chinese view religion as a way to escape the iron grip of the Communist party—Christianity, for example, is seen by many higher-income Chinese people as a symbol of modernity and Western prosperity, says Freedom House. […] [Source] Pulitzer-winning journalist Ian Johnson, author of the forthcoming book “The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao,” published a summary of the findings of his research into religious revival in the PRC—a topic he has long written on (via CDT)—in the upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs. In the write-up, Johnson explains that the focus on repression common in coverage of religion in officially atheist China obscures the “reality of present-day China, where hundreds of millions of people are […] turning to religion and faith for answers they cannot find elsewhere in their radically secular society”: Across China, hundreds of temples, churches, and mosques open every year, attracting millions of new worshippers. The precise figures are often debated, but even a casual visitor to China cannot miss the signs: new churches dotting the countryside, temples being rebuilt or massively expanded, and even new government policies that encourage traditional values. Faith and values are returning to the center of a national discussion over how to organize Chinese life. […] It is hardly an exaggeration to say that China is undergoing a spiritual revival similar to the Great Awakening that took place in the United States in the nineteenth century. Then, as now, a country on the move has been unsettled by great social and economic change. People have been thrust into densely populated cities where they have no friends and no support systems. Religion and faith offer them ways of looking at age-old questions that people everywhere struggle to answer: Why are we here? What really makes us happy? How do we achieve contentment as individuals, as a community, as a nation? This burst of religious and spiritual activity poses risks for the Chinese Communist Party. But China’s leaders have also benefited from it, and have even encouraged and fostered it in some ways. So far, the party has managed a delicate balance, tolerating the spiritual awakening without overreaching or provoking a dangerous backlash. But as Beijing pursues a new, harder line on social, economic, and political change, this equilibrium may become harder to maintain. […] [Source] Following the release of the Freedom House report, Johnson published an op-ed in CNN making a similar argument. While Johnson praises the “carefully researched study” and notes how his own research has shown him how tightly religion is controlled in China, he focuses in on the report’s negative representation of cross-removals in Zhejiang as an example of what he sees as a common misrepresentation of the true situation in China: Let me highlight one area where I think Freedom House could have done better: Protestant Christianity. The Freedom House report focuses on a cross-removal campaign, which ran from 2014-2016 and saw over 1,000 crosses removed from the spires of churches, or the tops of buildings. In addition, a church was demolished. […] And yet I think this is not typical of Protestantism in China. I’ve made several trips to the area where the crosses were removed and feel I know the region well. I’d say that the most important point is that virtually none of these churches have been closed. All continue to have worshipers and services just like before. In addition, the campaign never spread beyond the one province. Some pessimists see it as a precursor for a campaign that might spread nationally, but so far that hasn’t happened and there is no indication it will. […] Now, it’s true that all this could change. Last autumn, the government issued new regulations on religion. The most important point of the rules was to reemphasize a ban on religious groups’ ties to foreign groups — for example, sending people abroad to seminaries, or inviting foreigners to teach or train in China. This is clearly part of a broader trend in China that we see in other areas. Non-governmental organizations are also under pressure, and the surest way to get unwanted government attention is to have links abroad. [Source] Freedom House’s section on Christianity notes that, since the 1980s, the religion has experienced rapid growth in China, reporting decreased persecution of Catholicism alongside increased persecution of Protestantism. In 2014, the State Administration for Religious Affairs announced plans to promote a Christian theology “compatible with the country’s path of socialism.” Since Pope Francis’ election to the papacy, he has made the improvement of relations with China a top priority. The Vatican has since 1951 been diplomatically estranged from Beijing, and in 1957 China set up the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association to oversee the religion domestically. A deal between Beijing and the Holy See about the ordination of bishops in China is approaching completion, and while the Pope has expressed optimism about it, not all Catholics see the completion of the deal as a win. More CNN coverage of the Freedom House report contrasts the mixed reception among Chinese Catholics, some of whom would benefit greatly from improved Beijing-Vatican relations: […] Such a deal would not be welcomed by [underground Catholic church member] Dong and many of his fellow illegal worshipers. “Jesus said one person cannot serve two gods, now the Vatican is willing to serve God and the Communist Party,” he said. […] Asked about the potential for a deal, the Vatican would not comment, with a spokesman saying it was a “work in progress.” Father Simon Zhu, a Chinese priest in an officially-sanctioned church, told CNN “we pray for this normalization between Rome and Beijing.” But other leading Catholics in the region have been less supportive. Retired Cardinal Joseph Zen, former Bishop of Hong Kong, told CNN such a deal risked “selling out” underground Catholics and undermining the authority of the Pope. […] [Source] © josh rudolph for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to Post tags: Buddhism, Catholic Church, Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, Christianity, Falun Gong, Freedom House, freedom of religion, hui, islam, religion, taoism, Tibet, tibetan buddhism, Tibetans, UyghursDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall1 Mar


.Daily Kos

The cracks in Trump's Kremlin cover-up appear to be collapsing - During the Watergate years is when the phrase “the cover-up can become worse than the crime” was first coined. The corruption then went far beyond the bungled “burglary” at DNC headquarters within the Watergate Hotel that began the public element of the scandal, but was largely inspired by then-President Nixon’s attempts to manipulate the CIA, IRS, and Secret Service against his political enemies and to try and shutdown leaks that were emanating from the upper echelons of the FBI and elsewhere. It was bad, real bad—this bad. The White House used government agencies to harass its opponents. The special services staff of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was ordered to conduct audits of organizations opposed to Nixon's policies, and did so until the practice was discontinued by Treasury Secretary George Shultz. The CIA's Special Operations Group conducted  "Operation Chaos," which involved spying on New Left and black militant organizations. The Secret Service files on persons who are threats to the president ordinarily include deranged people who threaten the president's life, but during the Nixon  administration the files ballooned to forty-seven thousand names, including political opponents. On 28 May 1971, Nixon ordered chief of staff H. R. Haldeman to use wiretaps against leading Democrats, including Kennedy, Edmund S. Muskie, and Hubert Humphrey. "Keep after 'em," he told Haldeman. "Maybe we can get a scandal on any, any of the leading Democrats."       The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), acting on presidential orders, wiretapped people without obtaining judicial warrants, including people in sensitive government positions. Kissinger himself ordered taps placed on staffers he thought were leaking classified information to the press. Then other officials ordered taps on each other, as factions  within the White House attempted to discredit others. Attorney General  John Mitchell had the FBI tap John Sears, his competitor as campaign adviser to the president. Alexander Haig ordered a tap on speechwriter William Safire. The Joint Chiefs of Staff used a navy ensign assigned to the NSC's communications section to spy on Henry Kissinger, who had his own tap on a defense department official close to Secretary of Defense Laird. Taps placed on Morton Halperin and Anthony Lake were used to gather information on the Muskie candidacy, since these former NSC officials were advisers to his campaign. Altogether seventeen FBI taps  on government officials or newsmen were uncovered: seven on NSC staffers, three on White House aides, one on a Defense Department  official, two on State Department officials, and four on newsmen.      In the end, an investigation by a special prosecutor and Congress pushed Nixon to resign before his imminent impeachment. We’ve heard and seen this story before, and now it seems as a similar set of allegations of corruption pile up against another Republican President, he and his administration’s desperate efforts to douse the flames of scandal may ultimate do more damage and harm him than they will help him.50 min
FBI Director Comey asked Justice Department to publicly rebut Trump's false wiretapping claims - And on and on it goes. A goodly portion of our federal government is now devoted towards knocking down the conspiracy theories of a delusional nut who has surrounded himself with other delusional nuts. The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement. Mr. Comey made the request on Saturday after Mr. Trump leveled his allegation on Twitter. Mr. Comey has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down Mr. Trump’s claim because there is no evidence to support it and it insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials said. Mind you, James Comey certainly has personal experience in letting the public know about FBI investigations involving presidential candidates, so it's not clear why he's begging Justice to reject Trump's story when he could just as easily pipe up and do it himself. Perhaps it didn't work out for him that last time, or perhaps our various federal agencies are engaged in negotiations as to which one of them will bear the brunt of the so-called president's wrath when they publicly note that Florida Man is, in fact, making up stories. Hey, remember when Donald Trump read a speech off a screen and pundits fell over themselves asking whether or not this was, at long last, the moment the mean-spirited, fact-averse bungler and racist propagandist turned presidential? It seems so long ago. Days, even.15:40
GOP Obamacare ‘replacement’ is a 25-year-old straw man - President Donald Trump had an epiphany this week about the seven-year-old Republican crusade to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. After his past promises of “insurance for everybody” and “I am going to take care of everybody,” Trump had an admission to make to the nation’s governors on Monday: “I have to tell you, it’s an incredibly complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” Of course, almost everyone knew that. After all, U.S. health care spending has reached $3.2 trillion per year. That figure doesn’t just represent almost 18 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product: it’s nearly double the investment that America’s economic competitors make for health care systems generally rated better than our own. Complicating matters further, the United States has not one but four health care systems: private insurance for individuals and families provided by employers or purchased in the market, Medicaid for low-income Americans and elderly nursing care, Medicare for senior citizens and the disabled, and the VA system for military veterans. But the evident frustration of the Trump administration and GOP leaders in Congress in fulfilling their pledge to replace the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has two causes of the Republicans’ own making. First, “replacing Obamacare” has a very specific meaning. For starters, any GOP alternative must not only enable insurance for over 20 million Americans as the ACA does, but must also prevent millions more from losing coverage during any transition period. Crucially, a true replacement for Obamacare must likewise require coverage for mammograms, colonoscopies, annual check-ups and prenatal care. Just as important, no plan touted as an alternative can roll back the ACA’s extensive protections against the worst practices of the insurance industry, including refusing to insure those with pre-existing conditions, using “rescission” to drop coverage for the newly sick, imposing annual and lifetime benefits caps and barring coverage for adult children under age 26 on parents’ policies. And no Republican plan is a “better way” if it increases the national debt, something the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has always concluded Obamacare does not. That brings us to the Republicans’ second self-inflicted wound.15:00
White House, Republican leaders struggle to respond to Trump's latest untethered pronouncements - To give you just a taste of the chaos that is enveloping the White House today, in the wake of Trump’s new unsourced theory that the prior United States president was personally spying on him: Trump’s team is running freelance on this one. Not only can they not decide on how to respond to Trump’s claim, they can’t even decide whether or not they’ll be responding to it at all. xSpicer, 7:51am: "White House will have no further comment"Huckabee Sanders, 8:13: commentsSpicer, 8:34: commentsScavino, 12:07: comments— delrayser (@delrayser) March 5, 2017 Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers are paddling the same waters. While Sen. Marco Rubio allowed on Meet the Press that there was “no evidence” to support Trump’s latest Twitter rant, Sen. Tom Cotton puffed that well, merely because Donald Trump appears to have pulled the theory not even from a Breitbart conspiracy article but entirely out of his own behind “doesn’t mean that none of these things have happened, just means I haven’t seen them yet.” This is indeed the problem at hand. What is the proper Republican response to a sitting president making up conspiracy theories against him and announcing them to his followers out of nowhere? If Donald Trump next tweets that Barack Obama put a snake in his golf bag, despite no evidence of said snake, will Tom Cotton again go on television and defend it as a thing that could have theoretically happened, even if there’s no actual evidence, because reasons? That’s where we are. Florida Man, having left his advisers behind for another weekend of golf and ketchup steaks, is inventing conspiracies against him and the entire collected apparatuses of both the White House and the Republican Party are attempting, on the fly, to justify why this isn’t evidence of a man untethered to reality and incapable of governance. It’s been what, five weeks? xTrump is angry in Florida. I’m told he fumed to friends at golf course yesterday about Obama, insisting he’s right about wiretap.— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) March 5, 201714:21
Sniveling idiots: The media, a teleprompter, and the toxic bigotry of sycophantic desperation - It’s not my habit to write about blogging process for a Sunday post. But this is the disastrous Trump era, however long it lasts. And in the disastrous Trump era, news moves at such a pace that what is a big story mid-week is likely to be overtaken by an even bigger story by the end of the week. Even as I write these lines, I wonder if the new big news will be overtaken by even bigger news tomorrow or the next day. But this post isn’t really about Trump. It’s about the media that are so responsible for the disaster that is Trump. As I wrote last summer, when so much that is not and must never be accepted as normal came to be the lived reality: If fascism ever does come to America, the media will be goose stepping right in line.  There are many independent reasons why the popular vote loser Trump sits in the Oval Office. There are many independent factors without any one of which Hillary Clinton would be president. These include the Clinton campaign's failure to lock down its firewall states; the Russian government's manipulations, investigations of which Republicans on all levels are with clear intent assiduously and cynically obstructing; and of course the unprecedented and unethical interference of the New York FBI office and FBI director James Comey, which also may never be fully investigated. But another factor that by itself made possible Trump's historically narrow Electoral College victory was the incompetence and at times complicity of the major media. They made Trump possible, and despite his unprecedented hostility toward them, they continue to enable him. It would be embarrassing for them, if they hadn't long ago proven they are beyond embarrassing. It is, however, dangerous. The depth of the media's sycophantic depravity with Trump is exemplified by the image at the top of this post.13:40
Russia-Trump meetings occurred as Putin weighed whether to shift hacking efforts to support Trump - As we learn of more and more contacts between members of Trump's team and Russian officials or go-betweens, both in the United States and in Moscow, let's engage here in a few theoretical questions as to what might have been going on. And we don't need to get too conspiratorial about this; at this point, the simplest explanations are still likely the best. And the simplest explanation for Russia's peculiar attentions towards Donald Trump's top advisers is the one we already know. From the declassified version of the intelligence community's report on Russian state espionage efforts during the 2016 election: Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments. [...] We assess Putin, his advisers, and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump over Secretary Clinton. This "preference" for Trump developed late in the campaign. The original goal of Russian hacking was, according to intelligence efforts, similar to previous Russian efforts in other nations; to sow mistrust of democratic institutions in general and of Russia-damaging news stories in specific. That goal morphed into an effort to support Trump specifically, in the closing months—after, as we're now learning, numerous meetings between Russian government figures or proxies and member of the Donald Trump campaign.13:11
Fascism doesn't come cheap - Ask Robert Mercer, who between 2010 and 2016 invested $95 million to install a xenophobic libertarian government. America is truly the land of opportunity where not only can you achieve the American dream, but through hard work and cold cash, you can buy whatever government you want. And if your dreams are big enough and your wealth great enough, you can influence the governments of foreign nations as well. Ask John McCain, who last year found himself the target of a $600,000 ad campaign funded in part through a $200,000 donation from the Mercer family during his primary campaign. Why McCain? Politico explains that two years earlier ... ... McCain and former Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) issued a report that named Mercer's company as among more than a dozen firms that dodged billions in tax payments through a complicated financial product known as basket offerings. McCain said at the time that companies including Renaissance Technologies played "by a different set of rules" and secured an "unfair tax advantage over ordinary citizens.” In 2016, Robert Mercer put $13.5 million into a PAC supporting Ted Cruz’s run for the White House. After Cruz dropped out, the Mercer PAC became Make America Number 1, and supported Donald Trump’s general election bid. A $10 million investment in Breitbart News financed Steve Bannon until he left to run Donald Trump’s campaign. Bannon is a friend of Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, with whom he produced the film Clinton Cash. It was Rebekah, who runs the Mercer Family Foundation, that pushed Trump to hire both Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.12:20
Obama's America vs. Trump's America: Divisive demagoguery on immigrants and crime - A lot has already been said about the speech that popular vote loser Donald Trump gave to Congress on Tuesday night, but let’s focus here on what he said about immigrants, and then compare it to the language our previous president used. One of these presidents sought to bring people of different backgrounds together, while the other sought to—in political science terms—scare the bejeesus out of people. And we must support the victims of crime. I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is called VOICE, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests. Joining us are four very brave Americans whose government failed them. Their names are Jamiel Shaw, Susan Oliver, Jenna Oliver, and Jessica Davis. Jamiel's 17-year-old son was viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member, who had just been released from prison. Jamiel Shaw Jr. was an incredible young man with unlimited potential, who was getting ready to go to college, where he would have excelled as a great college quarterback. But he never got the chance. His father, who is in the audience tonight, has become a very good friend of mine. [snip] Also with us are Susan Oliver and Jessica Davis. Their husbands, Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver and Detective Michael Davis, were slain in the line of duty in California. They were pillars of their community. These brave men were viciously gunned down by an illegal immigrant with a criminal record and two prior deportations. Here’s a reaction from the brilliant Jamelle Bouie: xI have a first draft of a publication from Trump's newly announced Victim of Immigration Crime Engagement office.— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) March 1, 2017 Trump’s demagoguery here is both patently obvious and breathtaking in its ambition.11:00
Memo to Trump: The buck stops with the president - Throughout childhood, my dad would tell me stories of growing up during the depression and World War II. Born in 1923, he lived through the presidencies of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. While he had faint memories of Hoover, the first president he really remembered was FDR. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was commander in chief from the time my dad was 10-year-old farm kid until he was a 21-year-old sailor in the Pacific theater. He thought that FDR was the greatest president this country ever had. But Harry S. Truman was a close second for my dad. “Give ‘em Hell Harry” was a phrase my dad repeated often when talking about Truman. On April 12, 1945, FDR passed away not quite four months after being sworn in for a fourth term as president, and Harry S. Truman became president of the United States. When President Truman was brought to the White House to be sworn in, he asked Mrs. Roosevelt:  “Is there anything I can do for you?” to which she responded,  "Is there anything we can do for you?  For you are the one in trouble now." The weight of the free world was upon President Truman’s shoulders, and he knew it. After he was sworn in, he told reporters, “I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.” President Truman knew nothing about the atomic bomb. He knew nothing of the escalating problems with the Soviet Union. He was completely unprepared, yet he was up to the challenges that were ahead of him. In October 1945 he was given a sign for his desk that said, “The Buck Stops Here,” meaning he could not pass a decision off to someone else. He was president, and there was no one above him to pass it off to. On more than one occasion President Truman referred to the desk sign in public statements. For example, in an address at the National War College on December 19, 1952 Mr. Truman said, "You know, it's easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done, after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you -- and on my desk I have a motto which says ‘The Buck Stops Here' -- the decision has to be made." In his farewell address to the American people given in January 1953, President Truman referred to this concept very specifically in asserting that, "The President—whoever he is--has to decide. He can't pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That's his job.” This brings me to the current occupant of the White House.08:20
You As Creator - Join me this spring for my 4-session live webinar series for writers. More information at the bottom of this email. The power of our perceptions to alter reality is a theme that runs through lectures I’ve given at Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, and more than 50 other universities and to over 3,000 executives at various conferences and summits, ranging from investment bankers and CEOs of communications conglomerates to heads of human resource departments. Religion, culture, legal and economic systems, countries, and corporations are determined by perceived reality. When enough people accept these perceptions or when they are codified into laws, they have immense impact on objective reality. Breakthroughs in modern science indicate that changes in human perceptions not only govern human behavior; they govern – everything. This past month (February) I was teaching at Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas. My time there overlapped with two highly respected scientists who had just published a book about the powers of perception. Dr. Deepak Chopra is a cardiologist by training who has gained world-wide fame as a deep thinker, philosopher, and advocate of new ways to look at medicine and the world. Dr. Menas Kafatas is a physicist who specializes in cosmology (the science of the origin and development of the universe), quantum mechanics, and climate change. As we sat at meals together, we had many fascinating discussions about the impact of human consciousness on economics, politics, life in general – and the entire universe. In my lectures at the ashram, I discussed the relationship between perceived and objective realities and the idea that consciousness involves an awareness of the ways these impact each other, all of us, and our entire planet. Deepak and Menas gave lectures that were based on their newly released book You Are the Universe. They explored the idea that the very universe itself is a function of human perceptions. In the Preface to their book, they state: The most distant star, billions of light-years away, has no reality without you, because everything that makes a star real – its heat, light, and mass, its position in space and the velocity that carries it away at enormous speed – requires a human observer with a human nervous system. If no one existed to experience heat, light, mass, and so on, nothing could be real as we know it . . . [T]his is a participatory universe that depends for its very existence on human beings. There is a growing body of cosmologists – the scientists who explain the origin of the cosmos – developing theories of a completely new universe, one that is living, conscious, and evolving. Such a universe fits no existing standard model. A conscious universe responds to how we think and feel. It gains its shape, color, sound, and texture from us. Therefore, we feel the best name for it is the human universe, and it is the real universe, the only one we have. As pointed out in their book, scientists have discovered that when photons, electrons, and other sub-atomic particles are not observed by humans they act like waves that are constantly moving. However, once they are observed, they act like particles in a pinpointed location. This phenomenon, known as the “observer effect,” which seems to defy common sense suggests that the tiniest particles respond to human observation. In other words, those particles have consciousness about what is happening around them. You Are the Universe takes this idea to another level. It says that the entire universe responds to – in fact is created through – consciousness. Whether or not human consciousness creates the universe, there is no doubt that it has created the current crises that threaten life as we know it on this planet. Or that we humans are waking up to the realization that, in order to survive, we must rise to a higher level of consciousness. As I’ve written many times in previous newsletters, we are at the frontier of a revolution that may turn out to be the most important one in our species’ history – a Consciousness Revolution that will redefine relationships between perceived and objective reality and the impact we humans have on both. By way of example: As most of you know by now, one of the nonprofits I founded, Dream Change organizes “Love Summits”. These are – perhaps to your surprise – conferences aimed at instilling in business leaders the need to change their perception of what it means to be successful. The goal of the Love Summit is to bring to light why love is good business—how acting from a place of compassion not only benefits society and the environment, but also our businesses and other institutions. Love can be the motivation behind business planning and work relationships, instead of fear and scarcity, the current underpinnings of a suffering economy and environment. The Love Summit demonstrates how we can: Build purposeful, heart-centered business models that contribute to the greatest interest of people and the planet. Use individual and collective action to transform our economic system into one that is based on a life economy instead of a death economy. Inspire a global culture of love in business and throughout the world. The Love Summit is just one example of actions we can take to change reality by altering perceptions. Whether or not you help create the universe, there is no doubt that you create your universe, your life and you play a big role in creating the world we will pass on to future generations. Upcoming Event: May 30 – June 20, 2017 How to Write a Bestseller in Times of Crises: Using the Power of Story to Accelerate Change If you are a writer, you have an incredible opportunity to spread important messages, share thought-provoking ideas, and inspire revolutionary change through the power of story. Join me this spring in my exclusive 4-session webinar for writers, where I will help you improve your skills, get published and reach large audiences. Limited to just 24 participants, this webinar will be both intimate and participatory. Secure your spot today.2 Mar
This Spring: A Special Webinar for Writers - How to Write a Bestseller in Times of Crises: Using the Power of Story to Accelerate Change By John Perkins We’ve entered the greatest revolution in history: The Consciousness Revolution. People around the world are waking up to the fact that we are facing huge crises. We must change. What is your role in this revolution? If you are a writer, you have an incredible opportunity to spread important messages, share thought-provoking ideas, and inspire revolutionary change through the power of story. Fiction and non-fiction. In addition to doing my own writing, I decided to create a small community of writers who intend to use their medium to accelerate change. We will come together in this Spring’s webinar: How to Write a Bestseller in Times of Crises: Using the Power of Story to Accelerate Change. Limited to just 2 dozen participants, this course is uniquely designed to help you hone your skills through writing exercises and discussions in an intimate salon. As a New York Times bestselling author, I will share my experiences of decades of writing bestsellers to help you improve your skills, get published, and reach large audiences. The webinar will take place every Tuesday evening over the course of one month, making it easy for you to journey into this portal of writing your bestseller. You will learn how to: Hone your skills to inspire, entertain, and motivate audiences; Open your heart and soul to the muses of writing; Utilize effective techniques to captivate audiences – as well as agents and publishers; Learn the pros and cons of marketing tools, including the use of publicists and social networking; Work with an intimate salon of talented writers; and Much more. You will have the option of breaking into smaller groups to discuss and critique each other’s work and spend an additional hour-long session with me. At the end of the course, you will also have the opportunity to arrange to join me in private mentoring sessions. Session Dates & Times: Session 1: Tuesday May 30 – 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM EST Session 2: Tuesday June 6 – 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM EST Session 3: Tuesday June 13 – 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM EST Session 4: Tuesday June 20 – 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM EST This webinar is for people who want to be part of a powerful salon of writers and who intend to channel their passions and skills into articles, books, and blogs that will inspire transformation. If you are such a person, please sign up now. Space is limited. Cost:  $780 for all 4 sessions. To see the course syllabus and purchase your tickets, click here.9 Feb
How to Be a Democracy Under Trump - I watched President Trump’s inauguration from an airport TV in Guatemala. I’d just finished leading 22 people on a pilgrimage to live, study and participate in ceremonies with Mayan shamans at sacred sites. For me, it was the first leg of a two-month working-journey. I am still in Latin America, teaching and speaking at a variety of venues. In the days since that inauguration, I, like so many, have felt the horror of the emerging Trump policies. Latin Americans cannot understand why so few of us voted in the last election and why so many who did, voted for Trump. A larger percentage of people vote in most Latin American countries than in the US; in several countries, voter turnout exceeds 90%. Many of these countries have a history of brutal dictatorships. Once free of these dictatorships, they revel in their rights to hold democratic elections; they see their ability to vote for their leaders as both a responsibility and a privilege. They wonder why such a relatively small percentage of voters would elect a potential dictator. And moreover, why those non-voters did not vote against him. The participants on the Guatemala trip ranged from successful business executives to community organizers and healers – with lots of other professions in between. They came from Canada, Ecuador, England, France, Indonesia, Italy, the United States, and Guatemala. Many – especially those from the US – arrived in Guatemala feeling disenfranchised, disempowered, depressed, and – yes, horrified – by the election. However, as we moved through the shamanic ceremonies, they grew increasingly convinced that the election is a wakeup call for Americans. We have been lethargic and allowed our country to continue with policies that hurt so many people and destroy environments around the world (including Washington’s involvement in the genocidal Guatemalan Civil War against the Mayas that raged for more than three decades). This election exposed a shadow side. It stepped us out of the closet. Many people expressed the realization that Americans had failed to demand that President Obama fight harder to end the wars in the Middle East, vacate Guantánamo, reign in Wall Street, confront a global economic system where eight men have as much wealth as half the world’s population, and honor so many of the other promises he had made. They recognized that he was up against strong Republican opposition and yet it was he who continued to send more troops and mercenaries to the Middle East and Africa, brought Wall Street insiders into his inner circle, and failed to inspire his party to rally voters to defeat Trump and what is now a Republican majority in both houses. We talked about how throughout the world, the US is seen as history’s first truly global empire. Scholars point out that it meets the basic definition of empire: a nation 1) whose currency reigns supreme, 2) whose language is the language of diplomacy and commerce everywhere, 3) whose economic expansions and values are enforced through military actions or threats of action, and 4) whose armies are stationed in many nations. The message became clear: we must end this radical form of global feudalism and imperialism. Those who had arrived in Guatemala disillusioned and depressed now found themselves committed to transforming their sense of disempowerment into actions. At the end of WWII, Prime Minister Churchill told his people that England could choose the course of empire or democracy, but not both.  We in the US are at such a crossroads today. For far too long we have allowed our leaders to take us down the path of empire. President Franklin Roosevelt ended a meeting with union leaders by telling them that now they knew he agreed with them, it was their job to get their members to force him to do the right thing. FDR understood that democracy depends on We the People insisting that our leaders do what they promise to do. We failed with our last president. Let’s not repeat that mistake with the new one. It is extremely important that We the People force Trump and his band of corporatocracy henchmen to keep the promises we heard in his inaugural address.  Let us hear “making America great” as “making America a true democracy!”  Let us hear “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People” and “we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow” as an echo of Prime Minister Churchill’s contention that a country cannot be both a democracy and an empire. It is up to us to insist upon democracy. It is essential that we continue to demonstrate and march, to bombard Trump and our other elected officials with tweets, posts, phone calls, and emails; to rally, clamor, and shout; and in every way to get out the word that we must end the wars, feudalism, economic and social inequality, and environmental destruction; we must become the model democracy the world expects of us. When General George Washington was hunkered down with extremely depressed troops at Valley Forge in the bleak winter of 1777, he ordered that an essay by Thomas Paine be read to all his men. Some of the most famous lines are as applicable today as they were then: These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he who stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.  .  . A generous parent should say, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace” . . .I love the man who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.  By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious future. We have arrived at such a time again. We must each do our part. Let’s here and now commit to taking positive actions. I commit to writing and speaking out at a wide variety of venues. I commit to supporting the Love Summit business conference, a powerful event that is committed to bringing love and compassion into business and politics, to transforming a Death Economy into a Life (Love) Economy. What are your commitments? We have arrived at a time that tries our souls. We must gather strength from distress, grow brave by reflection, and know that by perseverance and fortitude we can achieve a glorious future. Let’s make sure that the combined legacies of Presidents Obama and Trump will create the opportunity – indeed the mandate – to show the world how a country can be a true democracy. These are the times. . . Featured Event: Writing a Bestseller: How to Tell & Sell Your Story with John Perkins 4 Sessions | May 30-June 20, 2017 | Limited to 24 Participants | Register Here31 Jan
What Will 2017 Bring? - It’s a question on many minds as we begin this new year. It is perhaps asked more now than ever before in my life-time – and that spans 7 decades. All we can say for sure is that we are in for big changes . . . on many fronts. Each of us is faced with the decision: Will we sit back and accept changes imposed by Washington, Moscow, Beijing, and Big Business? Or will we take actions that guide humanity to a saner world? I’ve had the opportunity to travel across this magnificent planet, speaking at a wide variety of events and talking with individuals from a multitude of jobs and lifestyles. Everywhere, I encounter more and more people who are committed to taking actions that will change consciousness. They realize that consciousness change is the key to altering what we call objective reality. They know that the big events in this world are molded by the ways we perceive ourselves and our relationship to all that is around us. By changing perceptions, we change the world. In a few days, I leave for a two-month journey that will take me to venues in the United States, Guatemala, Costa Rica, the Bahamas, and Ecuador. I will be speaking at the Conscious Life Expo, the Heartbeat Summit, and many other places. Every one of these is oriented toward using changes in our perceived reality to influence the way human beings impact each other and the world. What will 2017 bring? That depends on you. I encourage each and every one of you to make a New Year’s resolution right now that will commit you to taking the path that leads to action. The events of this past year, including those in the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and the US serve as wakeup calls. One of the facts we awaken to is that business is the driving force behind politics and governments. Whether a leader’s name is Trump or Putin, Merkel or Xi Jinping, he or she serves at the pleasure of banks and other global corporations. And those banks and corporations depend on us – you and me – to buy their goods and services, work for, manage, and invest in them. Without us, they go the way of Woolworth’s, Polaroid, Pan Am, Bethlehem Steel, and so many others that have become corporate dinosaurs. However you feel about the new Oval Office occupant, know that his power base is the business community. However you feel about climate change, pipelines, vanishing forests, urban violence, wars, and just about every other issue, know that the twists and turns of that issue are shaped by business. However you feel about Monsanto, Exxon, Nike or any other business know that that business depends on its customers, workers, managers, and investors – us. Consumer movements work. They ended apartheid, installed seat belts, cleaned up polluted rivers, labelled fats, sugars, calories, and proteins in our foods, opened corporate doors wider to women and minorities, and so much more. In each of these areas we need to go further and we also need to expend these movements. We must insist that every company we support in any way be committed to serving us, the public, the world, future generations – not simply the bottom line. We must change the perception of what it means to be successful. That is our job and our pleasure. You have the power. Social networking makes it easier – and more fun – than ever to launch campaigns that will change the perception of what it means to be “successful.” It’s time for you and me to use all the tools at our disposal to show those who would drive us down a path of distraction, lethargy, depression, and mayhem that we simply will not stand for it. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for and we are here now. 2017 is our year! It will bring what we demand. Best wishes, John The Love Summit organized by the nonprofit Dream Change that John founded nearly 30 years ago is a powerful example of a movement that is going global to change businesses.1 Jan
Message from the Legendary Elder Siblings - I write this in-flight, returning from a magical trip to the Kogi of Colombia. I write this having seen and heard the airport TV reports of the trauma that continues to dominate US politics, as well as those in many other countries. Last year my Ecuadorian partner, Daniel Koupermann, and I took a group to the amazing lands of the Kogi – people who have a message for us all. They came down from their mountain hideaways to meet us and to spread their message of the need for change. They were so impressed by the deep spirituality and commitment of that 2015 group that they invited us to bring another similar group – and this time to be the first ever to live among them, to sleep in their community, and to sit in their sacred ceremonial lodges. For the 19 of us it was a life-changing trip. We were surrounded by breathtaking scenes: the emerald Caribbean and palm-fringed beaches, the Sierra Nevada mountains that rise 18,000 feet up from the ocean to glacier-covered peaks, the rain forests, and the sparkling rivers that cascade from the glaciers into the Caribbean. But most of all it was the Kogi who impressed us! I have to admit that I was shocked – ecstatically – by the extent to which the Kogi invited us to share their lives and ceremonies. These up-til-now illusive people totally opened the doors to their homes and hearts to us. They invited us to come and learn from their Mamos (wise elders/teachers/shamans/spiritual leaders), to answer a call that dates back to a time when their forefathers retreated from the onslaught of Spanish conquistadors and the destructive nature of European cultures. Their Mamos told us of how their ancestors had fled up the valleys of the glacial rivers into the mountains. Choosing to remain isolated for centuries, they developed a new dream of the Earth, a revelation that balances the brilliant potential of the human mind, heart and spirit with all the forces of nature. To this day they remain true to their ancient laws and traditions—the moral, ecological, and spiritual dictates of a force they identify as “the Mother”—and are still led by sacred rituals. In the late 1900s, their Mamos understood that they are the Elder Siblings and that they had to come down and share that powerful message with the modern world, the people they call the Younger Siblings – us. They have shared their history with others. What was unique this time was their enthusiasm for embracing this group on very personal levels. I write this while flying home and it is all too close to me to be able to express in detail at this moment (a book to come, I think!) but I will say that the bonding we all felt is symbolized by a ceremony when a Mamo and his wife in whose community we had spent the night invited us to witness their 5-year-old son training to become a Mamo. We traveled many miles down from their community and stood with them on the bank of a glacial river where it meets the Caribbean while the young man gently offered the river the commitments we had all made and blown into tiny pieces of cotton from a local plant. The Kogi message, although similar to the one I received more than 40 years ago when I was a Peace Corps volunteer living with the Shuar in the Amazon and then again 20 years later from the Achuar, is more urgent now than ever. It is the message that birthed nonprofits, including Dream Change and the Pachamama Alliance. It is the message of the North American indigenous people and all those who join them at Standing Rock. It is a message that now has issued forth from indigenous cultures and organizations around the world. It is a message of hope, one that says we can transformer ourselves from societies that adhere to systems that threaten to destroy us to ones that will sustain us and future generations. I’ve written many times about the necessity to move from a Death Economy, based on warfare and ravaging the very resources upon which it depends, to a Life Economy, based on cleaning up pollution, regenerating destroyed environments, and developing new technologies that recycle and life-styles that give back more than they take from our Living Earth. Now, flying back from the Kogi, I feel rejuvenated and recommitted to spreading the message that is the underlying principle behind that economic shapeshift that needs to happen. We know we are facing severe crises. We know the climate is changing and that we humans are devastating the air, water, and land that support all life on this planet. We know that our government is incapable or unwilling to turn things around. It is easy to be discouraged. EXCEPT we also now know what our Elder Siblings understood long ago, that We the People must transform ourselves and our institutions. That is the message of the Kogi. It is the message of the Shuar, the Achuar, the people at Standing Rock and all our brothers and sisters around the globe. It is the message of the rising oceans, flooding rivers, melting glaciers, the hurricanes, the political traumas, and all the other crises. We are blessed to be hearing this message, to be inhabitants of this incredible organism that is our Living Earth and to be able to understand that the crises are themselves the message that it is time for us to come out of our isolation and create the change we want and know in our hearts, minds, and souls is necessary.13 Dec 16

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