Kurdish president says partnership with Iraq is over

September 24, 2017

The Associated Press

The president of Iraq’s Kurdish region says the controversial vote on independence will go ahead as planned on Monday, despite mounting pressures from within the region and beyond.

Speaking at a press conference in Irbil Sunday, Masoud Barzani said that while the vote will be the first step in a long process to negotiate independence, the region’s “partnership” with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad is over.

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Masoud Barzani

Baghdad, the United States and the United Nations have all voiced strong opposition to the vote set for Monday, warning it could further destabilize the region as Iraqi and Kurdish forces continue to battle the Islamic State group.

Earlier Sunday, Iran closed its airspace to flights taking off from Iraq’s Kurdish region following a request from Baghdad.


Maureen Dowd: Now That We Know More, Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg Look Scary

September 24, 2017

WASHINGTON — The idea of Mark Zuckerberg running for president was always sort of scary.

But now it’s really scary, given what we’ve discovered about the power of his little invention to warp democracy.

All these years, the 33-year-old founder of Facebook has been dismissive of the idea that social media and A.I. could be used for global domination — or even that they should be regulated.

Days after Donald Trump pulled out his disorienting win, Zuckerberg told a tech conference that the contention that fake news had influenced the election was “a pretty crazy idea,” showing a “profound lack of empathy” toward Trump voters.

But all the while, the company was piling up the rubles and turning a blind eye as the Kremlin’s cyber hit men weaponized anti-Hillary bots on Facebook to sway the U.S. election. Russian agents also used Facebook and Twitter trolls, less successfully, to try to upend the French election.

Finally on Thursday, speaking on Facebook Live, Zuckerberg said he would give Congress more than 3,000 ads linked to Russia. As one Facebooker posted: “Why did it take EIGHT MONTHS to get here?”

Hillary is right that this $500 billion company has a lot to answer for in allowing the baby-photo-sharing site to be turned into what, with Twitter, The Times’s Scott Shane called “engines of deception and propaganda.”

Robert Mueller’s team, as well as House and Senate investigators, are hotly pursuing the trail of Russian fake news. On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security told 21 states, including Wisconsin and Ohio, that Russian agents had tried to hack their elections systems during the campaign.

As Vanity Fair pointed out, Mueller’s focus on social media during the campaign could spell trouble for Jared Kushner, who once bragged that he had called his Silicon Valley friends to get a tutorial in Facebook microtargeting and brought in Cambridge Analytica — Robert Mercer is a big investor — to help build a $400 million operation for his father-in-law’s campaign.

Some lawmakers suspect that the Russians had help in figuring out which women and blacks to target in precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Senator Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee looking into Russia’s intervention in 2016, has a suspect in mind. “Paul Manafort made an awful lot of money coming up with a game plan for how Russian interests could be pushed in Western countries and Western elections,” Heinrich told Vanity Fair.

ProPublica broke the news that, until it asked about it recently, Facebook had “enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of ‘Jew hater,’ ‘How to burn jews,’ or, ‘History of “why jews ruin the world.”’”

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s C.O.O., apologized for this on Wednesday and promised to fix the ad-buying tools, noting, “We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way — and that is on us.”

The Times’s Kevin Roose called this Facebook’s “Frankenstein moment,” like when Mary Shelley’s scientist, Victor Frankenstein, says, “I had been the author of unalterable evils, and I lived in daily fear lest the monster whom I had created should perpetrate some new wickedness.”

Roose noted that in addition to the Russian chicanery, “In Myanmar, activists are accusing Facebook of censoring Rohingya Muslims, who are under attack from the country’s military. In Africa, the social network faces accusations that it helped human traffickers extort victims’ families by leaving up abusive videos.”

The Sandberg admission was also game, set and match for Elon Musk, who has been sounding the alarm for years about the danger of Silicon Valley’s creations and A.I. mind children getting out of control and hurting humanity. His pleas for safeguards and regulations have been mocked as “hysterical” and “pretty irresponsible” by Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg, whose project last year was building a Jarvis-style A.I. butler for his home, likes to paint himself as an optimist and Musk as a doomsday prophet. But Sandberg’s comment shows that Musk is right: The digerati at Facebook and Google are either being naïve or cynical and greedy in thinking that it’s enough just to have a vague code of conduct that says “Don’t be evil,” as Google does.

As Musk told me when he sat for a Vanity Fair piece: “It’s great when the emperor is Marcus Aurelius. It’s not so great when the emperor is Caligula.”

In July, the chief of Tesla and SpaceX told a meeting of governors that they should adopt A.I. legislation before robots start “going down the street killing people.” In August, he tweeted that A.I. going rogue represents “vastly more risk than North Korea.” And in September, he tweeted out a Gizmodo story headlined “Hackers Have Already Started to Weaponize Artificial Intelligence,” reporting that researchers proved that A.I. hackers were better than humans at getting Twitter users to click on malicious links.

(Musk also tweeted that it was a cautionary tale when Microsoft’s chatbot, Tay, had to be swiftly shut down when Twitter users taught her how to reply with racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic slurs, talking approvingly about Hitler.)

Vladimir Putin has denied digital meddling in the U.S. elections. But he understands the possibilities and threat of A.I. In a recent address, the Russian president told schoolchildren, “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Musk agreed on Twitter that competition for A.I. superiority would be the “most likely cause of WW3.”

On Thursday, touring the Moscow tech firm Yandex, Putin asked the company’s chief how long it would be before superintelligent robots “eat us.”

Zuckerberg scoffs at such apocalyptic talk. His project this year was visiting all 50 states, a trip designed by former Obama strategist David Plouffe, which sparked speculation that he might be the next billionaire to seek the Oval Office.

As Bloomberg Businessweek wrote in a cover story a few days ago, Zuckerberg has hired Plouffe, other senior Obama officials and Hillary’s pollster. He has said he is no longer an atheist and he changed Facebook’s charter to allow him to maintain control in the hypothetical event he runs for office.

Yep. Very scary.

Iran Displays S-300 Air Defense Missile System to Public

September 24, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard has displayed the country’s sophisticated Russian-made S-300 air defense system in central Tehran.

This is the first time that the S-300 air defense system has been displayed in public.

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The public show in Tehran’s Baharestan square near the Parliament building square exhibited different missile systems, including ballistic missiles, solid-fuel surface-to-surface Sejjil missiles and the liquid-fuel Ghadr.

The IRGC prepared the show for the annual Defense Week, marking the 37th anniversary of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed in August a bill imposing mandatory penalties on those involved in Iran’s controversial ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them.

Sen. Collins Says She Will Probably Vote ‘No’ on Latest GOP Health-Care Bill

September 24, 2017

‘It’s very difficult for me to imagine a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill”

WASHINGTON—Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Sunday she couldn’t see herself voting for a revived effort to repeal the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, leaving GOP leaders with no room for further defections as they try to secure 50 votes for the bid this week.

“It’s very difficult for me to imagine a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill,” Ms. Collins said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday morning.


But the GOP leadership is still not giving up on its efforts to take away healthcare coverage.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) on State of the Union CREDIT: CNN


Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) told CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of The Union on Sunday that “it’s very difficult” to envision a scenario where she would vote for the latest Obamacare repeal bill, dubbed “Graham-Cassidy.” She said she will definitively decide Monday, after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) releases its preliminary estimates on the bill.

But Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) — one of the bill’s drafters — said on ABC’s This Week that parts of tomorrow’s CBO score will no longer be relevant because he’s introducing another bill, which the agency has not scored yet. He said that score — like the vote — will come later in the week. During the previous repeal attempt, senators had to vote on a bill for which the CBO score was released just hours beforehand.

.@BillCassidy tells @ThisWeekABC a new bill will be introduced tomorrow: “Whatever the CBO score is will be superseded by another score.”

Among Collins’ concerns about the bill are its cuts to Medicaid, potential premium spikes, and lack of consumer protections, specifically for patients with pre-existing conditions.

The bill, first proposed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Cassidy, would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace subsidies and Medicaid expansion in 2020. The federal government would replace the previous funding stream and instead allow states to create their own block grant program. The formula is written in such a way that money is transferred from states that saw higher coverage gains under the ACA, which were predominately blue states, to those who saw lower gains, which were predominately red states.

States — through waiver authority — can also roll back essential health benefits and allow insurers to raise premiums for sick patients or those with pre-existing conditions. Concurrently, starting in 2020, the proposal converts Medicaid — for low-income adults, children, elderly, and disabled — from a program that has an open-ended federal financing to one that is limited to a set amount per enrollee.

The CBO will release its preliminary score Monday morning, according to Collins, but its analysis will be without estimates on health insurance coverage or premiums until after lawmakers are scheduled to vote. Senators are expected to vote this week — before September 30, the last day Republicans can pass their health bill with just 51 votes under current budget rules.

Already, two senators announced they were voting against the Graham-Cassidy bill. On Friday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)  — a close friend of Graham’s — released a statement saying he could not, in good conscience, vote for the bill, making him the second public no. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has taken to Twitter nearly every day, saying he will vote no for the bill, though he indicated on Sunday that he could change his mind if the block grants are removed from the proposal.

Despite the opposition from these senators and virtually every major medical organization in the country, the White House remains confident they’ll get the votes needed — at least publicly. On Fox News Sunday, White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short insisted that the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Act is not dead and said the White House is still working to win the support of a handful of senators, including Paul.

“This administration has stood for life and this bill protects the sanctity of life by denying taxpayer dollars going to fund abortions,” said Short. “If Rand Paul is the final vote here, it’s hard to see how he can go to his pro-life supporters and say: I had the chance to protect life and instead I went the other way.”

McCain, Collins, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted against the Republican’s last GOP health bill, seemingly killing the ACA repeal effort in July. But Graham and Cassidy resurrected ACA repeal-and-replace with their proposal, effectively killing bipartisan health talks. 

The process has been more rushed, as the bill’s legislative text was introduced less than two weeks ago. There will only be one hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Monday. Additionally, there will be a limited analysis by the CBO given the agency’s short timeframe to thoroughly assess the bill. Given the lack of comprehensive analysis, think tanks and health organizations have tried to fulfill the role. Bipartisan health care consulting firm Avalere estimates that between 2020 and 2027, federal funding under the new block grants would be $489 billion less than under current health financing. The non-partisan Brookings Institution estimated that 21 million fewer people will have insurance by 2026.

Collins said that she’s been in talks with Vice President Mike Pence about the GOP health bill, and he’s been showing her numbers on what it would mean for Maine residents. According to White House numbers obtained by Axios, Maine would see a 44 percent increase in federal funds in 2026. The numbers do not account for all the cuts proposed in the health bill.

When pressed by Tapper on whether her criticisms to the bill and process means she will vote no, Collins said I’m going to know tomorrow morning whether or not CBO reinforces the concerns and reservations that I already have, based on the studies that you’ve cited or whether CBO is going to say that they can’t come up with the kind of in depth analysis that the agency usually does.” And added, “or maybe there’ll be a surprise in there. I don’t anticipate that, but I want to wait.”


2 Vietnamese fishermen killed in South China Sea incident with the Philippine Navy

September 24, 2017

5 other Vietnamese fishermen are arrested off the coast of Bolinao, Pangasinan

Published 5:45 PM, September 24, 2017
Updated 8:25 PM, September 24, 2017
ILLEGAL FISHING? Two Vietnamese fisherman were killed while 5 others were arrested on Saturday, September 23, some 60 nautical miles off the coast of Bolinao, Pangasinan.

ILLEGAL FISHING? Two Vietnamese fisherman were killed while 5 others were arrested on Saturday, September 23, some 60 nautical miles off the coast of Bolinao, Pangasinan.

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Two Vietnamese fishermen were killed while 5 others were arrested on Saturday, September 23, in an incident with the Philippine Navy in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Rappler learned.

Lieutenant Jose Covarrubias, spokesman of the Naval Forces Northern Luzon, said the bodies of the two Vietnamese nationals were found aboard a foreign fishing vessel that trespassed into Philippine waters to illegally fish inside the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The incident happened about 34 nautical miles from the town of Bolinao in Pangasinan. Covarrubias said the fishermen were using strong lights to lure fish.

Covarrubias did not give further details on the deaths of the Vietnamese nationals. He said the 5 others who were found on the same fishing vessel were arrested and turned over to the local police.

Sources said a Philippine Navy vessel was moving towards the Vietnamese fishing vessel to arrest the fishermen at about 2 am on Saturday when a chase ensued. The Vietnamese fishing boat reportedly rammed the Philippine Navy vessel.

It is not clear how the two Vietnamese died but initial reports indicate an exchange of gunfire. Covarrubias said they are verifying the information.

Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado told Rappler that he has ordered an investigation into what happened.

Covarrubias said the Philippine Navy and the Philippine National Police are conducting a joint probe. – Rappler.com


Second “Godman” Indian guru arrested on rape charges

September 24, 2017

A popular guru was arrested Saturday by police in north-western India for allegedly raping a 21-year-old woman. The second such arrest in the country in recent weeks has triggered fears of more rioting by supporters.

Indien Eisenbahn Überfüllter Zug (Imago)Numerous gurus in India attract massive followings, with devotees often making long and arduous pilgrimages to attend their religious teachings

The 70-year-old Falahari Maharaja was arrested for assaulting a woman, a law student, at his hermitage in the city of Alwar, in the state of Rajastan, police spokesman Paras Jain said. The arrest took place in August.

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Falahari Maharaj (Right)

“Our initial investigation has found there is basis to the rape charges against him. We have arrested him and will question him in the case,” Jain said. A court sent Maharaja to a prison for 15 days on Saturday, while the police complete their investigation into the case.

The unnamed woman was allegedly raped when she went to give the guru 3,000 rupees (45 dollars, 38 euros) she had earned for an internship with an attorney in New Delhi on his recommendation.

Local reports said she had been warned by the guru against telling anyone about the assault but broke her silence after another high-profile guru, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, was sentenced to 20 years in prison last month for raping two disciples.

The scene after riots following the conviction for rape of a religious leader in Panchkula on August 25, 2017The conviction of a religious leader on rape charges led to mass riots in Panchkula in late August

That decision triggered riots, something authorities will clearly be aware of when making a ruling in this case.

Some religious sects have large followings in India and wield considerable political influence. Their gatherings often attract mass crowds, many of whom will travel from afar to catch a glimpse of their guru (see main photo, above).

High-profile cases of rape in India in the last two years have highlighted the largely subjugated plight of women in the still largely rural and socially conservative country.

Reactions from groups such as the guru-led sects have tended to portray the problem as one fabricated – or at least exaggerated – by the West and its secular incursions into India’s religious social fabric.

Not feeling so good  

Also called Falahari Baba, or the one who consumes only fruits, the “godman” Falahari Maharaja has many followers in India and abroad and has been seen in photographs with political leaders and celebrities from across the subcontinent.

The self-proclaimed Hindu holy man checked into a private hospital complaining of “high-blood pressure” after the woman reported him to the police. A medical examination conducted at a government hospital found him to be in good health, police said.

He could face 10 years in prison if found guilty.

jbh/kl (dpa, AP)



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Godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is now in prison

Iran Nuclear Deal: Can The U.S. Walk Away?

September 24, 2017

By Eric R. Mandel
The Jerusalem Post
September 23, 2017

“The Iran deal is not a fair deal to this country” – US President Donald Trump,

September 14, 2017

What if the Trump administration comes to the conclusion that the Iran agreement (JCPOA ) authored by the previous administration has destabilized the Middle East and undermined American interests? Since it was signed, Iran has actively supported the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Sunnis, while being complicit in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s genocide of his own people.

Can the US wash its hands of the agreement, or are we stuck with it? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly asked President Trump to either amend or withdraw from the 2015 agreement. There is no doubt that president Barack Obama believed that he knew better than the Israelis what was in their best interest, but now there is a new sheriff in town, who for years has made it clear that he believes the Iran agreement is a danger to America.

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There are no American inspectors anywhere in Iran, or anyone else inspecting military sites, where agreement-breaking nuclear weapons development may be taking place. Can America withdraw or amend the agreement if Iran technically adheres to its commitment according to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), which refuses to confront Iranian intransigence on military inspections? Can Trump say sayonara, even if the other members of the P5+1 think it is not in their interest to leave the agreement? The answer is yes, but with a few caveats.

First, the Iran deal is not what it was presented by its authors to be. President Obama signed an agreement that betrayed his own words, promising to “end their nuclear program.” The agreement in fact guarantees an internationally accepted nuclear program in eight more years.

However, critics of withdrawal point out that despite the agreement having never having been signed, it is a commitment that was witnessed by five other major powers, and the consequences of America withdrawing would cast doubt on Western assurances in the future, undermining future negotiations.

The JCPOA is the most important American treaty of the 21st century, except that it was never submitted to the Senate for approval as a treaty.

According to Bruce Fein in The Washington Times, the JCPOA was “intended to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for a relaxation of sanctions, and must be construed as a “treaty” under Article II, section 2, clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution.”

As National Review’s Andrew McCarthy explained, the Constitution “does not empower the president to make binding agreements with foreign countries all on his own.”

Even the Yale Journal of International Law, a strong supporter of the JCPOA which believes withdrawal is unwise, opines that “nothing in the JCPOA …formally binds the United States to the Agreement.”

There is even a precedent for walking away from the agreement, set by Rahm Emanuel and the Obama administration itself.

Let us recall that president Obama disavowed the Bush-Sharon letters of 2004, which said that the “existing major Israeli population centers” were “realities on the ground” and it is unrealistic to expect Israel to return them in any final agreement, with the quid pro quo of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in the disengagement plan.

According to Ben Caspit’s book The Netanyahu Years, an illuminating exchange occurred between Israeli ambassador Michael Oren and Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

Ambassador Oren called Emanuel for a clarification and said, “You can’t repudiate former understandings… it will cause long-term damage.”

Emanuel responded emphatically, “If we think they are not effective it is our right to say so isn’t it? We can’t be committed to everything the previous administration thought.”

So the Obama administration itself created a framework for walking away from the JCPOA , a set of unsigned understandings according to the State Department. If the JCPOA is not effective in moderating Iranian ambitions, and is a glide path to a nuclear weapons program, isn’t it then the right of the new administration to cancel that agreement? Of course it is.

Non-binding agreements that are not treaties can be withdrawn from. If president Obama wanted a binding agreement for perpetuity, all he had to do was present it as a treaty to the Senate.

So what should the US do now? Work with Congress to write legislation to annul the JCPOA if Iran cooperates in any way with North Korea on nuclear or missile related technology, while imposing new sanctions. Better yet, submit the JCPOA for Senate ratification.

As for the Europeans, their latest rationale for maintaining the Iran deal is that it is the model for a resolution of the North Korean nuclear conflict. They say the Iran deal mustn’t be touched, in order to reassure the North Koreans that if they strike a diplomatic deal the West will not renege on it.

So then we should show the North Koreans that they, like Iran, can have an internationally recognized nuclear program in 10 years, free of military site inspections in the meanwhile, and free to build nuclear-armed ICBMs, with billions of dollars as a reward for signing a piece of paper it has no intent of honoring.

The Iranian-sponsored ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population in Syria and Iraq is a war crime, and has caused a catastrophic refugee exodus with profound demographic national security threats to Western European nations.

So why is Western Europe so blind to the fact that the JCPOA is a major source of resources for Iranian belligerency, a primary cause of the refugee epidemic? It seems today’s Western European leaders are so lost in political correctness that they are content to author their own suicide.

As US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “It is this unwillingness to challenge Iranian behavior for fear of damaging the nuclear agreement that gets to the heart of the threat the deal poses to our national security.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Iran is “clearly in default” of the nuclear deal, and “the Trump administration is fully committed to addressing the totality of malign activities attributable to the Iran regime and its proxies.”

But is it willing to see the JCPOA as the primary driver of those malign activates?

The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network ™. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.


Suspected acid attack in London leaves six injured

September 24, 2017


© AFP/File | A police officer on duty at Stratford station in east London on June 6, 2017

LONDON (AFP) – A suspected acid attack in east London injured six people, police said Sunday adding that they had arrested a 15-year-old male.Police were called late Saturday to the Stratford Centre near London’s Olympic Stadium after a noxious substance was sprayed during an argument between two groups of males.

They said the incident was not terror related.

There were 431 acid attacks in London last year, 398 of which were carried out in Stratford’s borough of Newham.

Police said “the injuries sustained were not “life-threatening or life-changing”.

“We are working with the Home Office to explore possible restrictions around the sale of corrosive substances in conjunction with retailers and manufacturers.”

Witnesses told the Press Association that an argument had broken out shortly beforehand.

Burger King employee Hossen, 28, said a local homeless man came into the fast food outlet “to wash acid off his face”.


China Steps Up Ideology Drive on College Campuses

September 24, 2017

Party schools: Xi Jinping bolsters lessons in Marxism ahead of leadership congress

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BEIJING—China may have poured billions into making its universities more globally competitive, but its idea of a quality education is guided more than ever by the Communist Party.

In a drumbeat that has accelerated ahead of October’s twice-a-decade Party Congress, President Xi Jinping’s campaign to rein in civil society, online media and speech has extended to the classroom.

Top universities seen as insufficiently rigorous in their ideological work are being shamed. Professors who speak out are punished. The government is sending observers to nearly 2,600 universities to monitor mandatory ideology classes, which include staples like “Mao Zedong thought.”

“What they most want to see is whether what you’re saying is in line with the official demands on ideology and values,” said Xiao Wei, who will be sitting in on classes in Shanghai this fall as part of a group of some 100 professors examining the quality of ideological education in the city. “They also want to understand how effective [the classes] are,” said Mr. Xiao, a professor of Marxism at Shanghai’s elite Fudan University.

President Xi Jinping said Chinese universities should become “strongholds that adhere to party leadership.” Above, China’s leader arrives for a press conference in Xiamen on Sept. 5.
President Xi Jinping said Chinese universities should become “strongholds that adhere to party leadership.” Above, China’s leader arrives for a press conference in Xiamen on Sept. 5. PHOTO: FRED DUFOUR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, the party has kept colleges on a tight leash, fearing a reprise of student-led demonstrations. Nevertheless, there had been some room to deal with sensitive topics in the classroom. Under Mr. Xi, that narrow space is closing.

For years in his class on China’s Cultural Revolution at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, Tang Shaojie played “red” songs from the era and showed the movie “Nineteen Eighty-Four” based on George Orwell’s novel. The goal, he told students, was to teach them what brainwashing looked like, former students said.

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Tsinghua University

Mr. Tang told them it was a sign of academic freedom that Tsinghua allowed him to teach the class, said Aaron Feng, who took it in 2015 and is now studying at Vanderbilt University. “He said it really proudly.”

The class was canceled this fall. Tsinghua didn’t respond to questions about why.

“It’s not enough just to have economic development,” said Mr. Xiao of Fudan University, explaining the country’s recent emphasis on ideological education. “You need a sense of values and morals.”

The shift in the classrooms comes as President Xi moves to extend his dominance ahead of the Party Congress, a conclave set to anoint him for a second five-year term.

Mr. Xi in December declared that universities should become “strongholds that adhere to party leadership,” and that—amid increasing collaboration with Western universities and more Chinese students studying abroad—China should develop its own vision of education guided by its unique history.

The Ministry of Education has declared 2017 a key year for enhancing the quality of ideological education—an area where classes have long been seen as turgid affairs. Officials are trying to shed that image, encouraging teachers to make lessons more engaging, while giving such classes greater academic weight.

In the northeast city of Tianjin, authorities announced plans to hire 1,300 workers to deepen ideological education in 16 universities. Beijing has long required colleges to employ at least one full-time ideology teacher for every 350-400 undergraduate students, but in practice, many schools have fallen short of that goal.

Along with attempts to improve lessons come warnings against stepping out of line. Students at Sun Yat-sen University in southern China arrived this year to find new instructions affixed to classroom walls telling them not to criticize party leadership; their professors were advised to do the same.

An associate professor at an elite Beijing university said he was told he was rejected for promotion because of social-media posts that were critical of China’s political system. “Now I don’t speak much online,” he said.

People cycle past the auditorium at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
People cycle past the auditorium at Tsinghua University in Beijing. PHOTO: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS

This summer, the party’s discipline inspection agency, in the first report of its kind, criticized 14 top Chinese universities for what the agency said was weak party leadership and poor ideological work.

Since the February release of a State Council document calling for stronger party leadership in schools, at least 30 top-tier universities have tapped university presidents to also take on the role of deputy party secretary. Such joint appointments had taken place before, but the pace has accelerated in recent months.

Over the past two decades, Chinese universities have invested in raising their global standing, and over a dozen U.S. schools have founded degree-granting institutions with Chinese universities. But any hopes that China would in time allow more academic freedom have dimmed under Mr. Xi.

“There’s no question the party is exerting stronger control over universities,” said Elizabeth Perry, Henry Rosovsky Professor of Government at Harvard University, who studies Chinese higher education. “We’ve seen a real backtracking.”

Chinese scholars say government-restricted access to the internet and overseas scholarship have put them at a disadvantage. Li Tao, a postdoctoral fellow at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, said that friends in China often ask him for help downloading articles they aren’t able to access. “If you’re working in the natural sciences or engineering, information changes really quickly, and you need to stay up-to-date,” he said.

Sometimes articles are blocked because they contain sensitive content, he said, though on other occasions it is unclear why they are inaccessible.

Still, Mr. Li said he is contemplating an eventual return to China. “There are more opportunities” than in the West, he said, including for funding and academic jobs.

One key component of Mr. Xi’s call is to build up social sciences “with Chinese characteristics,” outlined in a document issued by the party’s Central Committee this spring. Since 2010, the number of grants for Marxism and party-related research from the National Social Science Fund of China has grown more than most areas, by 72%.

Some Chinese students have in years past been able to write dissertations about nonpolitical aspects of the Cultural Revolution era, such as fashion or gender relations, “but now even this isn’t tolerated,” said Michel Bonnin, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who specializes in the Cultural Revolution.

He said he felt fortunate that his book on Chinese youth sent to live in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution was published on the mainland in 2010. Today, he said, “it would be more difficult.”

Write to Te-Ping Chen at te-ping.chen@wsj.com




Xi calls for more thought control on China’s campuses

David Davis dismisses ‘made up’ £40bn Brexit bill as he tries to calm Tory backlash

September 24, 2017

Brexit Secretary also said the power of the European Court of Justice in the UK will end in 2019

By Lizzy Buchan Political Correspondent

The Independent

David Davis has sought to calm Tory anger over Theresa May’s Brexit speech by saying the UK will not face a £40bn divorce bill as a result of leaving the EU.

Ahead on the next round of crunch talks with Brussels, the Brexit Secretary said reports around the final financial settlement were “made up” and claimed the power of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would end in 2019 when Britain formally leaves the bloc.

Ms May used a landmark speech in Florence to propose a two-year transition period after Brexit with similar arrangements, prompting concern among Tory Eurosceptics over the prospect of staying in the single market and keeping freedom of movement.

However cracks are already beginning to show at the top of the party amid reports Boris Johnson has demanded commitments Britain will not adopt any new EU rules during the transition period.

Mr Davis conceded that the UK would pay around £10bn a year to the EU up to 2019 but he rejected claims the final settlement could be far higher.

He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “Things like pensions and other things, these are debatable to say the least.

“The last time we went through line by line and challenged quite a lot of the legal basis of these things and we’ll continue to do that.

“That doesn’t mean that we want to see our allies and friends in Europe massively disadvantaged in the next few years and that’s what we’re aiming not to do.”

Asked about claims that the final settlement could be around £40 billion, Mr Davis said: “They sort of made that up too.”

He added: “I’m not going to do an actual number on air, it would be ridiculous to do that, but we have a fairly clear idea where we’re going on this.”

Mr Davis also said that while the UK would be leaving the ECJ’s jurisdiction in the long term, the existing arrangements would apply during the transition.

It comes as Mr Johnson reportedly intervened to demand assurances that EU rulings will not apply during the transition and that Britain would be allowed to sign trade deals during this period, according to The Telegraph.