Archive for February, 2018

Florida school shooting is the result of a failure of government — law enforcement failed

February 28, 2018

By Michael Goodwin
The New York Post

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Scott Israel, AP

It is said that in war, truth is the first casualty. Something similar happens on our political battlegrounds as well, where truth, if it survives, is usually a heavy underdog.

So it was in the aftermath of the Florida high-school slaughter, where gun-control advocates mounted their hobby horses before the bodies were collected. They were sure that, this time, they would crush the NRA bogeyman and get what they wanted.

Leave aside that what many activists wanted — confiscation of tens of millions of existing, lawful guns — is practically and legally impossible. They nonetheless dominated early media coverage because they have honed their good-vs.-evil narrative and because most of the media live in gun control’s amen corner.

Yet an odd thing happened on the way to their triumph. After a late start, a greater truth of the Florida slaughter is now dominating the discussion and setting the agenda.

This greater truth is that there were many chances to stop gunman Nikolas Cruz long before he opened fire. Equally important, the claim from some in Florida law enforcement that they are legally handcuffed until someone commits an act of violence turns out to be false.

These emerging facts are wreaking havoc with the initial simplistic narratives and are changing how Americans view the shooting and what measures they think would be more successful in preventing other massacres. In effect, the Florida story is changing before our eyes.

One result is that an early star of the gun-control faction, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, is morphing into a villain. His department’s repeated failure to intervene in the violently downward spiral of the gunman was bad enough, but the refusal of his deputies to enter the school until the shooting stopped is a stain that Israel’s TV-ready bravado can never remove. There will be little lamenting when he loses his job.

As the nation has learned, Cruz was a well-known danger to neighbors, school officials, social workers and law enforcement. He threatened to kill classmates — in writing — and was expelled.

Yet even as his behavior grew more menacing and Broward cops visited his house dozens of times, officers believed there was nothing they could do. But as The Miami Herald detailed, they were wrong.

It cites former prosecutors who say Cruz’s threats to his classmates could be classified as aggravated cyberstalking, a felony. There is also a state law against making written threats to kill.

Moreover, being charged with aggravated cyberstalking could have cost Cruz the gun he used in the shooting. The Herald says that posting bond in Broward County on a felony charge would have required him to surrender all guns.

The FBI missed its chances to stop Cruz, too. Last September, he wrote, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter” on a YouTube channel, and it was reported to the FBI, which dropped the ball instead of treating the comment as a threat of terrorism, a felony.

Then in January, an unidentified woman warned the FBI that Cruz “would get into a school and just shoot the place up,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

“I know he’s — he’s going to explode,” the caller said, according to a transcript the Journal saw.

Again the agency did nothing, which prompted Director Christopher Wray to apologize to grieving families and promise an investigation.

The changing media coverage is changing public views. A Rasmussen survey released Tuesday reports that 54 percent of respondents believe the failure of government to respond to warnings about Cruz is more to blame for the murders than inadequate gun control, while just 33 percent view it the other way around.

Thankfully, New York already has exhibited a growing awareness of the danger. Last Friday, the NYPD arrested an employee from the Bryant Park skating rink who made social-media threats against the Midtown spot, The Post reports.

Emmanuel Nival, 17, boasted of an attack coming on March 4 on Instagram, and his boss alerted cops, who say the teen confessed to a charge of aggravated harassment.

Albany is getting in on the action, too, with supporters pushing a “red flag law.” It would allow police and family members to get an “extreme-risk protection order” in court against someone seen as a danger to others or themselves.

As state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in urging passage, “We have an opportunity to ensure that, when the next potential Nikolas Cruz exhibits clear red flags, that individual can be disarmed before another tragedy.”

Five states already have similar laws, and as many as 20 others are considering them. In general, the laws contain an appeals process for the targeted individual.

This strikes me as the right direction for the country. While some national gun-control measures are appealing, such as raising the legal age to 21 for certain guns, the most direct path to public safety is for local officials to take action against individuals who threaten violence and pose an immediate danger.

Had that happened in Florida, Nikolas Cruz would not have had a gun of any kind, and his 17 victims would be alive.


Xi Sets China on a Collision Course With History

February 28, 2018

Global risk of conflict in the South China Sea one of the most dangerous potential global situations — The Economist Intelligence Unit says

February 28, 2018


Audrey Morallo ( – February 28, 2018 – 8:40pm

MANILA, Philippines — An outbreak of hostilities in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea and a military confrontation over North Korea’s nuclear and missile program are two of the biggest threats to the global economy, according to a new report.
According to the The Economist Intelligence Unit, an outbreak of hostilities in the West Philippine Sea, or South China Sea, is third in terms of probability and impact on the world’s economy.


 Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor and water
Mischief Reef now an extensive Chinese military base
The top two risks, according to the EIU report, are a prolonged fall in major stock markets that could destabilize the global economy and a trade war that would be provoked by American protectionism.
A major cyber-attack crippling corporate and government activities is fourth on the list of threats to the global economy, EIU said.
“Other key risks identified include a disorderly and prolonged Chinese slowdown, a major military confrontation on the Korean peninsula, and outright conflict in the Middle East between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” EIU said.
The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei claim either almost all or a part of the disputed waters through which $5 trillion worth of trade passes yearly.
In 2016, a United Nations-backed tribunal invalidated China’s expansive claims to the region, which Beijing said were based on its so-called historical rights. China has refused to acknowledge the ruling and did not participate in the arbitration case initiated by the Philippines in 2013.
Despite this, China has transformed several features in the West Philippine Sea into islands capable of hosting naval and air bases.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana recently admitted before the Senate that Chinese planes from these man-made islands could reach and bomb the Philippine mainland in 15 minutes.
No automatic alt text available.
Chinese bases near the Philippines
North Korea meanwhile has continued to develop its missile and nuclear program despite blistering international sanctions and criticism.
It has recently showed capability of launching a missile capable of reaching mainland United States, a big leap in its effort to develop nuclear bomb-tipped weapons that could target many American cities.
Although the world economy has experienced periods of high risk before, what is unique during this period is the risks associated with the US questioning its role in the world while China is becoming more assertive, EIU said.
“Global risk is not just about the two biggest economies; risks also transcend boundaries on the political, military and financial spheres,” EIU said.
There has never been a period of such robust economic growth, low inflation and high employment that has been coupled with a sense of unease over global conditions, according to Philip Walker, risk practice director for the EIU.
He said that policymakers, companies and populations are facing a wide range of major threats that could upset the traditional global order in the coming years.
“It is important to assess and prepare for a likely tumultuous global environment in order not just to mitigate damage, but also take advantage of opportunities that will undoubtedly arise along the way,” he said.






We’ve heard 白痴國家 (Means “Idiot Nation”)




No automatic alt text available.

China has long had its eye on James Shoal and may move toward the island unless Malaysia or Indonesia protest…


No automatic alt text available.

China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

Italy: Why Elections Matter — A New Type of Populism Is Rising in Europe

February 28, 2018

5 Star Movement is poised to be the country’s largest party after Sunday’s national elections

The 5 Star Movement is poised to be the country’s largest party after Sunday’s national elections. That would prompt a question about its future—and potentially that of Italy, too. Is it a governing force or simply a protest movement? — Pictured:  Beppe Grillo

ROME—Last October, Beppe Grillo headlined a protest by the 5 Star Movement, the populist political party he founded. Standing outside the Pantheon he denounced a new electoral law that will limit direct voting for parliamentary candidates and help protect incumbents in national elections on Sunday.

Mr. Grillo, who became famous as a comedian, brandished a white blindfold. “We are protesting blindfolded because this is how they want us—unable to see,” the 69-year-old told a cheering crowd. “They only pass rules that protect themselves.”

The 5 Star Movement exploded in Italy after a weak economic recovery has failed to bring relief, feeding popular anger against the corruption and ineffectiveness of Italy’s political class. Polls show 5 Star could emerge from Sunday’s vote as Italy’s single biggest party, putting it for the first time in a position to play the senior partner in a coalition government or form an even more powerful opposition.

Protest Vote

Polls show the 5 Star Movement has gained in popularity ahead of parliamentary elections in Italy on Sunday.


Populist groups in Europe in recent years have thrived on rising anger about immigration and the European Union. 5 Star represents a uniquely Italian strain, being overwhelmingly a revolt against Italy’s entrenched political class. The rest of its program is eclectic, borrowing from left, right and technological utopianism. It has centrist views on immigration, and while it was once in favor of Italy’s exit from the eurozone, its leaders say it is no longer time to leave the common currency.

The election is likely to prompt a question that could force 5 Star to define its future—and potentially that of Italy, too. Is it a governing force or simply a protest movement?

On one side are members, including Luigi Di Maio, the party’s 31-year-old candidate for premier, who are pushing it to join an alliance with mainstream parties. According to polls, 5 Star would receive about 27% of votes—not enough to govern alone, but potentially enough to play a major part in a coalition government.

5 Star is known as a protest party and a vehicle for public anger at Italy’s entrenched political class. Photo: alessandro bianchi/Reuters

Mr. Grillo has roundly rejected that scenario, saying that unless 5 Star wins an outright majority, it should remain an opposition party. Joining a coalition government is “like saying that a panda can eat raw meat,” he said in January. “We only eat bamboo.”

If no single party or coalition emerges with a parliamentary majority, Italy’s president could ask parties to attempt to form a grand, cross-party coalition that could have a limited lifespan.

If that fails, he could call fresh elections. Speculation has swirled around the possibility of a grand coalition between the Democratic Party, the current ruling party, and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, along with smaller parties.

Mr. Grillo emerged in the late 1970s as one of Italy’s most popular comedians, whose mordant political satire deftly took down Italy’s corporate and political elite.

In 1986, during an appearance on Italian state-controlled broadcaster RAI, he joked about a trip the country’s Socialist prime minister, Bettino Craxi, was then making in China. “If everyone is a Socialist [in China], who do they steal from?” he said.

The joke struck a nerve and cost Mr. Grillo his gig on the channel. He later said the experience soured him on television and drew him to other outlets, such as the internet and theaters, where he could have direct contact with fans.

Mr. Craxi eventually was at the center of the “Clean Hands” corruption scandal that swept away an entire political class, putting many politicians under investigation or in jail. Indicted on corruption charges, Mr. Craxi, who denied wrongdoing, fled Italy in 1994 and later died in exile.

Beppe Grillo, left, Luigi Di Maio, the party’s candidate for prime minister, and party member Alessandro Di Battista at the demonstration against the new electoral law in Rome in October. Photo: Tony Gentile/REUTERS

In 2005, Mr. Grillo began writing a blog that exposed corporate malfeasance and official corruption. It became one of Italy’s most popular, with millions of readers.

He became electrified by a best-selling book by Italian journalists called “La Casta” that recounted tales of former parliamentarians collecting pensions in their 40s, arranging public-sector jobs for relatives and enjoying cut-rate lobster meals in their private restaurant. He launched a “Clean Parliament” campaign for a popular referendum that would ban from office lawmakers with criminal convictions.

In September 2007, he organized an event to publicize the campaign that he dubbed V-Day, with “V” standing for vaffanculo, Italian for f— off. He mobilized activists to collect signatures in more than 200 cities in Italy and abroad.

Before a crowd of 100,000 in Bologna, Mr. Grillo read the names of 24 parliamentarians and the crimes for which they had been convicted. Throughout the event, he led the crowd in a rousing “Vaffanculo!”

Forecasters expect no party to win a majority in Italy’s parliamentary election. Speculation has swirled around the possibility of a grand coalition between the Democratic Party, led by Matteo Renzi, above, and Forza Italia, led by Silvio Berlusconi, below. Photo: Laura Lezza/Getty Images

Photo: ettore ferrari/epa-efe/rex/shutt/EPA/Shutterstock

“These people don’t represent anybody,” he shouted from the stage. “We have succeeded in something that will go down in history. This is the Woodstock of honest people.” His supporters collected 350,000 signatures, seven times the number needed to force parliament to examine the proposed law. In 2012, a law banning convicted criminals from serving in parliament was passed.

The event convinced Mr. Grillo that he and the army of young people supporting his campaign had the power to change Italy. “The V-Day represented a point of no return,” said  Marco Canestrari, a communication consultant working with Mr. Grillo at the time. Until then, Mr. Grillo “didn’t know whether [his blog followers] were willing to stand up for a cause.”

Fighting the Establishment

Italy’s 5 Star Movement shares some beliefs with other populist parties gaining strength in Europe.



In 2009, the comedian officially founded the 5 Star Movement. Three years later, during regional elections in Sicily, the party tapped a deep vein of popular anger that was sweeping all of Italy, then in the grips of what would be its worst economic downturn since World War II.

At the time, members of Sicily’s regional assembly were paid about €15,000 a month and earned the right to a pension after just 4½ years in office, all while the Sicilian economy had shrunk 5% between 2008 and 2012, and unemployment had risen to 18%.

Mr. Grillo crisscrossed the island, speaking from the back of pickup trucks and balconies overlooking village squares. He promised a minimum guaranteed income and a fight against perks and privileges enjoyed by local politicians.

Beppe Grillo in 2008 at the second “vaffanculo” day, Italian for f— off, a rally to mobilize activists. Photo: TONINO DI MARCO/EPA/Shutterstock

“We should be much angrier than the Greeks and the Spaniards,” he told one rally. “They don’t have politicians who steal. We have a political class who is eating the living flesh of this country.”

In one stunt that garnered him national attention, he swam the nearly 2-mile strait separating Sicily from the Italian mainland. “I wanted to show that a 64-year old man, overweight, who isn’t an athlete, but a comedian, works hard for six months and succeeds,” Mr. Grillo said in a speech later in Palermo. “We can change things.”

Polls predicted the group would get 10% of votes. It won 18%.

“We were so disorganized that we didn’t even have candidates at the beginning,” said Alessio Villarosa, a Sicilian lawmaker who designed campaign T-shirts reading “Down with La Casta.” “People weren’t even familiar with the name ‘5 Star Movement.’ I used to say, ‘I’m part of Grillo’s movement,’ and they understood.”

Governing Body

5 Star candidates are projected to win the most seats in Italy’s parliamentary elections but fall short of a majority. It is unclear if they would form an alliance to govern.


A year later, in 2013, with a sovereign debt crisis threatening to drive Italy from the euro, 5 Star won 26% of votes cast in parliamentary elections, sending 163 of its members to Italy’s legislature.

Still, Mr. Grillo refused to form coalitions with other parties. In early 2014, when Matteo Renzi, the young new chief of Italy’s main center-left Democratic Party, was seeking political support for his political platform, he asked to meet with the 5 Star leader.

“I am here to show you our utter indignation for what you represent, for the system you represent,” Mr. Grillo told him during the meeting, which was live-streamed. Mr. Renzi cobbled together enough support from other parties to form a government and become prime minister.

Predictions of populist, eurosceptic victories ahead of major European elections last year didn’t fully materialize—but Italy is different. WSJ’s Niki Blasina explains why the March 4 election in the eurozone’s third-largest economy could have serious repercussions for the European Union.

Mr. Grillo himself isn’t eligible to run for office, because he was convicted of manslaughter in the 1980s after a car he was driving plunged into a ravine, killing three of his passengers.

The leader laid out rules for the party’s newly elected parliamentarians. They weren’t allowed to participate in TV talk shows and had to donate half their salaries to a 5 Star fund to support small-business owners. Chauffeured cars were forbidden.

The rules sparked tensions. One lawmaker was expelled from the party after appearing on two prime-time talk shows. Four others were kicked out after criticizing Mr. Grillo’s refusal to countenance an alliance with Mr. Renzi in his new government. Another was ejected after donating part of her pay to charitable groups rather than the 5 Star fund for small businesses. In all, 48 of the parliamentarians moved to other parties.

5 Star lawmakers have forced parliament to scrap sweetheart deals to rent office space, which according to 5 Star calculations saved taxpayers €32 million a year. They demanded the end of no-bid contracts for supplies, halving the cost of services such as employee uniforms.

Beppe Grillo swam the nearly 2-mile strait separating Sicily from the Italian mainland in 2012 as a campaign event. He said he wanted to show that “we can change things.” Photo: Carmelo Imbesi/Associated Press

The party hasn’t succeeded with more-ambitious goals. A bid to cut parliamentarians’ base pay by half was rejected—members earn about €10,000 a month, 50% higher than their British peers. A bill to force politicians to give up their seat if they changed parties—common as members jump on the bandwagon of the leading party ahead of elections—failed, as did a proposal to bring parliamentarians’ pensions in line with that of ordinary Italians.

People familiar with the matter say that as elections near, Mr. Grillo has taken a step back in order to allow Mr. Di Maio to lead the movement.

The fiery founder has rebranded his blog as his own thoughts, making it no longer the party’s house organ. He has campaigned far less than in the past, although he will likely headline the movement’s final rally on the eve of the election.

Outsiders can’t picture 5 Star without Mr. Grillo. “I can’t imagine Grillo distancing himself from politics,” said Vittorio Feltri, a newspaper publisher close to the Berlusconi family. “He will surely be the pope of the movement.”

Write to Giovanni Legorano at

Sensitive Words: Emperor Xi Jinping to Ascend His Throne

February 28, 2018

Sensitive Words highlights keywords that are blocked from Sina  search results. CDT independently tests the keywords before posting them, but some searches later become accessible again. We welcome readers to contribute to this project so that we can include the most up-to-date information. Use the form at the bottom of this post to help us crowd source sensitive words. You can also browse our archive of sensitive words.

“Xi Lasts Forever,” by Badiucao.

Chinese state media announced on Sunday a list of proposed amendments to China’s , which are expected to be adopted next month at the National People’s Congress session in Beijing. Among the 21 proposed amendments, the one with perhaps the deepest potential impact on the future of Chinese politics and society deals with paragraph 3 of article 79, which would eradicate the current limit of PRC presidents and vice-presidents to two five-year terms. This would effectively set President Xi Jinping up to maintain his seat as president indefinitely. Erosion of the succession rules and conventions introduced by Deng Xiaoping to prevent the chaos that followed Mao Zedong’s consolidation of personal power has long been anticipated, and speculation along this line deepened last autumn when Xi failed to introduce a likely successor at the 19th Party Congress.

No automatic alt text available.

Following state media’s announcement, authorities began work to limit online discussion. CDT Chinese editors found the following terms blocked from being posted on Weibo:

[Updated at 12:47 PST on February 27, 2018: CDT Chinese editors have found additional terms blocked from being posted on Weibo:

We will continue to update this list as new blocked post and search terms are discovered.]

  • my emperor (吾皇)
  • long live (万岁) — Literally “ten thousand years”
  • ascend the throne (登基)
  • to board a plane (登机) — Homophonous with 登基, “to ascend the throne.”
  • praise the emperor (称帝)
  • urge a power figure to formally seize the throne (劝进)
  • chairman + lifelong control (主席+终身制)
  • Yuan Shikai (袁世凯) — Influential warlord during the late Qing Dynasty, Yuan became the first formal president of the newly established Republic of China in 1912. In 1915, he briefly re-established China as a Confucian monarchy.
  • Hongxian (洪憲) — Reign title of the short-lived, re-established monarchy led by Yuan Shikai, who declared himself the Hongxian Emperor. After much popular disapproval and rebellion, Yuan formally abandoned the empire after 83 days as emperor.
  • reign title (年号)
  • recover one’s authority (复辟)
  • Hundred Days’ Reform (戊戌变法)  A failed Qing Dynasty reform movement by the Guangxu Emperor, quashed by a coup carried out by supporters of the Empress Dowager Cixi.
  • 35th year of a 60 year cycle; abbreviation for Hundred Days Reform (戊戌)
  • Another 500 Years for Heaven (向天再借五百年) — Theme song for the CCTV series Kangxi Dynasty (康熙王朝), often used by netizens to mock leaders who grasp for power, particularly the line “I really want to live another 500 years” (我真的还想再活五百年).
  • trust this woman is willing to be a vegetarian for the rest of her life (信女愿一生吃素) — Allusion to a meme inspired by the popular historical drama Empresses in the Palace (甄嬛传). A screenshot of this line, being said by an empress as she pledges lifelong vegetarianism in return for the imminent death of the emperor, has been shared online.
  • Animal Farm (动物庄园)
  • — While the letter “N” was temporarily blocked from being posted, as of 14:27 PST on February 26, it was no longer banned. At Language Log, Victor Mair speculates that this term was blocked “probably out of fear on the part of the government that “N” = “n terms in office”, where possibly n > 2.”
  • lifelong control (终身制)
  • emigrate (移民) — Following the news, Baidu searches for the word reportedly saw a massive spike.
  • Xi JinP (习近P) 
  • disagree (不同意)
  • incapable ruler (昏君)
  • Zhang Xun (张勋) — A Qing loyalist and supporter of Yuan Shikai who in 1917 attempted to restore the abdicated Qing Emperor Puyi.
  • take the yellow gown (黄袍加身)
  • Yuan Big Head (袁大头) — A silver dollar bearing Yuan Shikai’s face that became the staple Chinese currency in the early half of the 20th century.
  • 1984
  • Winnie the Pooh (小熊维尼) — Images of Winnie the Pooh have been used to mock Xi Jinpingsince as early as 2013. The animated bear continues to be sensitive in China users shared a post from Disney’s official account that showed Pooh hugging a large pot of honey along with the caption “find the thing you love and stick with it.”

CDT Chinese editors found the following terms to be blocked from searches on Weibo. Many of the blocked search terms are also in the above list of banned post keywords:

  • Xi Zedong (习泽东)
  • shameless (不要脸)
  • go against the tide (倒行逆施)
  • change trains (倒车)
  • I oppose (我反对)
  • long live the emperor (吾皇万岁)
  • throughout the ages (千秋万代)
  • rule the world (一统江湖) — The line “throughout the ages, unify and rule the world” (千秋万代, 一统江湖) appears in Jin Yong’s martial arts novels, notably in “The Smiling, Proud Wanderer” (笑傲江湖), a story that has been widely adapted into television series and films. It is often used in adaptations of Jin’s stories as a slogan chanted by followers to show their loyalty to a cult-like leader.
  • take the yellow gown (黄袍加身)
  • incapable ruler (昏君)
  • ascend the throne (登基)
  • named emperor (称帝)
  • lifelong (终身)
  • reign title (年号)
  • recover one’s authority (复辟)
  • first year of an emperor’s reign (元年)
  • urge a power figure to formally seize the thrown (劝进)
  • fengchan (封禅)  — Ceremony used to ensure dynastic fortune in a new era.
  • Zhang Xun (张勋)
  • Cai E (蔡锷) — Late Qing Dynasty warlord who established the National Protection Army to challenge Yuan Shikai’s proclamation of the Hongxian Dynasty.
  • Yuan Shikai (袁世凯)
  • Yuan Xiancheng (袁项城) — Moniker for Yuan Shikai, who hailed from Xiangcheng County, Henan.
  • Hongxian (洪憲)
  • Yuan Big Head (袁大头)
  • crooked-neck tree (歪脖子树) — The tree which the Chongzhen Emperor is believed to have hanged himself from.
  • immortality (长生不老)
  • 1984
  • 500 years (五百年
  • great men sent from heaven (天降伟人)
  • slavery (奴隶制)
  • thousands of years (千秋万载)

At the Hong Kong Free Press, Catherine Lai notes that comments were disabled on state media Weibo posts about the proposed amendments, and translates a censored comment preserved at FreeWeibo:

On Sina Weibo, one of the country’s largest social networking sites, comment sections were disabled below articles posted by state media outlets such as Xinhua, CCTV and Chinanews. Only comments selected by the People’s Daily account could be viewed below its article on the constitution reforms.

The suggested changes triggered posts comparing the president to Yuan Shikai, who became the first president of the newly-formed Republic of China in 1912 and is known for attempting to declare himself emperor.

[…] The top search terms on FreeWeibo, a site that preserves censored Weibo posts, on Monday morning included “ascend the throne,” “constitutional amendment,” “Winnie,” and “Yuan Shikai.”

“Last night I had a dream that we had returned to the republic, and Yuan Shikai declared himself emperor,” one censored post said. [Source]

The BBC translates a few additional comments archived by FreeWeibo:

  • “It took over 100 years to overthrow imperialism, and 40 years of reform and opening up, we cannot return to this type of system.” – User ‘Jianyuan Shunshui
  • “One of the reasons why a tenure limit is so valuable and adopted by most countries is that we need fresh blood to maintain the balance of different peoples’ opinions.” – ‘Renzituo 2hao‘ [Source]

At What’s on Weibo, Manya Koetse translates early WeChat and Weibo comments, noting one audacious netizen’s continued attempt to make their opinion public:

The news caused consternation on Weibo and in WeChat circles, where it was received with much apprehension; some called the idea of Xi’s potential indefinite rule “scary.” “Our emperor has received the Mandate of Heaven, so we have to kneel and accept,” a person on Weibo said. Others mentioned the North Korean regime and Napoleon in discussions on the constitutional change.

[…] “Our emperor has received the Mandate of Heaven, so we have to kneel and accept,” a person on Weibo said. Others mentioned the North Korean regime and Napoleon in discussions on the constitutional change.

“I’ve posted this before but it was censored within 13 minutes so I will post it again,” one micro-blogger wrote: “I oppose to the amendment of the ‘no more than two consecutive terms of office’ as addressed in the third section of Article 79 of the Constitution.”

[…] By Sunday evening around 22:00 (Beijing time), various terms relating to the proposed amendment change, such as “two-term limit” or “continued rule” had become non-searchable on Weibo. [Source]

Reuters’ Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina report on widespread opposition to the announced amendment on social media, and round-up state media’s claim of a generally positive public reaction to the news:

China’s plan for President  to remain in office indefinitely has sparked social media opposition, drawing comparisons to North Korea’s ruling dynasty and prompting a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist to accuse it of creating a dictator.

[…] “Argh, we’re going to become North Korea,” wrote one Weibo user, where the Kim dynasty has ruled since the late 1940s. Kim Il Sung founded North Korea in 1948 and his family has ruled it ever since.

”We’re following the example of our neighbour,’ wrote another user.

[…] The party’s official People’s Daily reprinted a long article by Xinhua news agency saying most people supported the constitutional amendments, quoting a variety of people proffering support.

“The broad part of officials and the masses say that they hoped this constitutional reform is passed,” it wrote. […] [Source]

Covering censors reactions to the social media outcry, Financial Times’ Yuan Yang quotes CDT founder Xiao Qiang on the sensitive words related to the proposed amendment: “Censored terms are the best evidence for what people are talking a lot about. […] The banned keywords are precisely expressions that are ringing true, as public concerns rise over Xi Jinping’s authoritarian tendencies putting China back politically at least 30 years.”

At The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Stategist blog, Fergus Ryan examines the massive list of banned terms in the context of Beijing’s accumulated economic and growing international clout, warning of the potential global implications of China’s official sensitivities:

[The ridiculously long list of banned terms related to the amendment] would be funny if it weren’t so serious. Behind the gallows humour is growing despair. Those Chinese internet users looking for ways to emigrate surely know in their bones what Jerome Cohen, a Chinese legal expert and New York University professor, wrote in a blog post yesterday: ‘The Chinese Communist Party’s proposed abolition of China’s presidential term limit means that it has forgotten one of the main lessons of Mao’s long despotism. [The two-term limit’s] abolition signals the likelihood of another long period of severe repression.’ He goes on: ‘It will enable [Xi] to move more boldly and increases the risk of his acting arbitrarily and perhaps mistakenly in international relations.’

Aside from the geopolitical risks, it pays to consider this censorship spree as an object lesson in how arbitrary the Chinese Communist Party’s restrictions on free speech can be, and how readily the party can overreach.

Readers may well shrug their shoulders and ask what this has to do with them. So let’s be clear: China’s censorship apparatus is no longer just a boutique concern of China-watchers; it affects all of us.

[…] To what extent are our own companies, politicians, journalists and academics already self-censoring for fear of offending Xi’s China? [Source]

China takes a bite out of Apple privacy claims — Privacy advocates and human rights activists are appalled

February 28, 2018

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We may be witnessing the answer with Apple, a long-time privacy advocate, acceding to Chinese demands on access to its iCloud services in the country.

Iphone X (Reuters/T. Peter)

China is not big on privacy. The Communist Party government in the People’s Republic is currently in the process of developing a so-called “social credit system” for its citizens, which will use various forms of data, much of it personal and obtained through mass surveillance, to establish a national “reputation” database.

That might sound like something from a dystopian TV drama, but bit by bit, Xi Jinping’s government has been legislating to bring about such a reality. One example is the new cybersecurity law introduced last summer, one of the provisions of which requires companies that hold the data of Chinese citizens to store that data on Chinese servers and effectively make it available to the Chinese government.

Apple, the world’s largest IT company by revenue, is big on privacy. The California-based tech superpower has doggedly refused various FBI and US government requests to extract data from locked iPhones, most notably in 2016 when the FBI wanted to extract data from the iPhone of one of the terrorists from the 2015 San Bernardino attack.

The pioneering company regularly promotes its own privacy and encryption standards — in 2016, CEO Tim Cook sent a public letter talking about the intrinsic importance of privacy to Apple.

“Here’s the situation,” said Cook, in an interview around the same time. “On your iPhone today, there is likely health information, financial information, there are intimate conversations with family and co-workers and there are probably business secrets and you should have the ability to protect it.”

Except, it seems, in China, where the company earns tens of billions of dollars a year. From today (February 28), Apple is transferring the operation of its iCloud service for Chinese users to a local, state-owned firm called Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD).

Read more: China’s Xi Jinping urges respect for ‘cyberspace sovereignty’ at internet summit

That means that the Chinese government will now have far easier access to whatever Chinese users store on Apple’s cloud services within the country. Privacy advocates and human rights activists are appalled but Apple claims that not agreeing to the move would have actually led to less privacy and security for its Chinese users.

The Apple of China’s omnipresent eye

The move has been in the offing since last year, when Apple and GCBD announced a partnership agreement. Apple wrote in an email to its users in mainland China that the move “enables us to continue improving the speed and reliability of iCloud and to comply with Chinese regulations.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Apple's Tim Cook (Getty Images/S. Ted S. Warren-Pool)Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Apple CEO Tim Cook

Those Chinese regulations show scant regard for users’ rights to privacy, particularly if Chinese police or government officials argue that “national security” is at stake. For example, if Chinese authorities approach GCBD in the future about accessing the data of a Chinese-based iCloud user for a criminal investigation, the company has a legal obligation to provide access.

Access is provided to iCloud accounts via cryptographic keys and until now, all such keys have been based on US servers, meaning any attempts — by China or anyone else — to access them had to go through the US legal system.

However, Apple’s acquiescence to the Chinese means that for the first time, those keys will be stored on Chinese servers meaning access to them is subject to Chinese legal processes only.

“While we advocated against iCloud being subject to these laws, we were ultimately unsuccessful,” Apple said. It claims it will still maintain control over encryption keys for users, but it is hard to square that claim with the fact that access will now be a mere Chinese legal ruling away for whatever entity in China pursues it.

Likewise, Apple’s claim that there will be no “backdoors” — ways for hackers to access iCloud accounts by copying or learning from how others were accessed — is largely irrelevant, given that users’ accounts will be easily accessed through legal means.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have heavily criticized the move by Apple, while Jeremy Daum, an attorney and research fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center in Beijing, told Reuters that any attempts by Apple to block Chinese access will be easily overcome.

“Even very early in a criminal investigation, police have broad powers to collect evidence,” he said. “(They are) authorized by internal police procedures rather than independent court review, and the public has an obligation to cooperate.”

Profit before privacy?

To be fair to Apple, it has given its Chinese users plenty of notice of the change. It also says it will not switch customers’ accounts to the Chinese data center until they agree to new terms of service — something 99.9 percent of users have already done — and has reminded them that they can opt out of iCloud if not happy with the new arrangements.

As well as that, Apple has until now been seemingly resilient in resisting attempts from the Chinese government to access user data, saying it turned down all 176 requests from the Chinese government from mid-2013 to mid-2017, before the new Chinese cybersecurity laws came into place.

Iphone X (Reuters/T. Peter)Apple has returned to growth in China after a brief period of decline

The softening since towards Chinese surveillance must be seen in the context of Apple’s increasing business presence in the world’s second largest economy. Apple recently returned to growth in China after a period of stagnation, taking in $9.8 billion (€8.02 billion) in revenue in the third quarter of 2017.

China is a huge potential growth market for Apple and the latest bow to Chinese legislation follows last year’s move by the company to remove VPN apps from its app store in China, VPNs being devices used to hide an internet user’s information. Apple has also been criticized for blocking Chinese users’ access to the different news apps, a move reflective of China’s strict censorship culture.

Other large US tech companies, such as Amazon and Microsoft, have made similar concessions to China recently, in an attempt to further access the market there.

Apple often talks of its “values,” privacy high among them. Discarding some of those “values” appears to be the price that must be paid if a large international company wants to maximize its business in Xi Jinping’s China.

EU food agency says three pesticides harm bees as ban calls grow

February 28, 2018


© AFP/File | Bees help pollinate 90 percent of the world’s major crops

The European food safety watchdog said Wednesday that three pesticides currently partly banned in the EU pose a risk to wild bees and honey bees, in a long-awaited report.

The report said “most uses” of the three neonicotinoid pesticides, which are based on the chemical structure of nicotine and attack the nervous systems of insect pests, posed a risk to bees.

Bees help pollinate 90 percent of the world’s major crops, but in recent years have been dying off from “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious scourge blamed on mites, pesticides, virus, fungus, or a combination of these factors.

Wednesday’s report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) triggered immediate calls from environmental campaigners for tighter restrictions on neonicotinoids, if not an outright ban.

“Overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed,” Jose Tarazona, Head of EFSA’s Pesticides Unit, said.

The EU restricted the use of three types of neonicotinoid — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — in 2013 as part of efforts to protect bees and commissioned a deeper report into their effects, gathering all available studies on the issue.

Two chemical giants whose products are affected by the restrictions — Switzerland’s Syngenta and Bayer of Germany — are challenging them in the EU courts.

In a statement, Bayer said it “fundamentally disagrees” with EFSA’s updated guidance on clothianidin and imidacloprid, which it manufactures.

“EFSA’s findings place it outside the current mainstream science on bee health, as represented by recent similar assessments” by US and Canadian agencies, the company said.

The European Crop Protection Association — the trade body for pesticide producers — said that with the right measures, the risks posed by the pesticides could be managed.

– Bees getting lost –

Unlike contact pesticides — which remain on the surface of foliage — neonicotinoids are absorbed by the plant from the seed phase and transported to leaves, flowers, roots and stems.

They have been widely used over the last 20 years, and were designed to control sap-feeding insects such as aphids and root-feeding grubs.

Past studies have found neonicotinoids can cause bees to become disorientated such that they cannot find their way back to the hive, and lower their resistance to disease.

The European Commission, which has begun sounding out member states about tightening the restrictions on the pesticides, said Wednesday that protecting bees was a “priority”.

It said the new report “strengthens the scientific basis for the commission’s proposal to ban outdoor use of the three neonicotinoids”.

Greenpeace welcomed the report, saying it showed a total ban was needed.

“National governments must stop dithering and back the proposed EU neonicotinoid ban as the first step to prevent the catastrophic collapse of bee populations,” the environmental campaign group’s Franziska Achterberg said.

Ambush: Theresa May rejects EU Brexit treaty demanding Northern Ireland — ‘No UK Prime Minister could agree to it’

February 28, 2018


Theresa May has warned that “no UK prime minister could ever agree” to the controversial Brexit treaty unveiled by the EU on Wednesday as it risks breaking up the United Kingdom with internal trade barriers.

The Prime Minister rejected the EU’s “backstop” plan which would effectively…

Read the rest:

Northern Ireland must be governed by EU rules after Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt says

European Parliament’s Brexit lead says there must be ‘no divergence’ and calls UK Government’s plans ‘unacceptable’

By Benjamin Kentish Political Correspondent
Indy Politics

Northern Ireland must continue to abide by EU regulations after Brexit in order to guarantee there will not be a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, Guy Verhofstadt has said.

The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator said there should be “no divergence” between Northern Ireland and its southern neighbour.

Instead, “norms, rules and standards” must stay the same after Brexit, he said.

The warning will come as a blow to Theresa May after senior Cabinet ministers agreed plans for “ambitious managed divergence” from EU rules after Brexit.

Mr Verhofstadt said this was “unacceptable” to EU leaders.

Speaking to MEPs on the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, he said: “It is for us key that that there will be in future, whatever the outcome of the negotiations will be, that there is no divergence in norms, rules, standards between the north and Republic of Ireland.”

The Government reportedly wants to divide up the sectors of the economy into three “baskets” with varying levels of alignment with existing EU regulations.

Boris Johnson: Northern Irish border being used to try and keep the UK in the customs union

Mr Verhofstadt said: “For us and the Union, that is an unacceptable way of trying to establish a new relationship.

“That is absolutely not possible and that is the reason why Donald Tusk [the European Council president] said it is an illusion to continue on that track.”

Earlier in the day Boris Johnson claimed that facilitating an agreement for people to freely cross the Northern Irish border would be as easy as Londoners travelling between boroughs.

The Foreign Secretary said: “We think that we can have very efficient facilitation systems to make sure that there’s no need for a hard border, excessive checks at the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“There’s no border between Islington or Camden and Westminster, there’s no border between Camden and Westminster, but when I was Mayor of London, we anaesthetically and invisibly took hundreds of millions of pounds from the accounts of people travelling between those two boroughs without any need for border checks whatever.”

Despite the claims being ridiculed by politicians in Ireland, Downing Street played down the comments, suggesting the Foreign Secretary was “making a comparison” rather than offering a “technical solution’.

China Growth Loses Steam as Factory Activity Slips to 19-Month Low

February 28, 2018

The result was lower than economists expected, even after factoring in a holiday slowdown

 The Wall Street Journal

BEIJING—The pace of growth in China’s manufacturing activity fell sharply in February as plants closed for the Lunar New Year and demand for Chinese exports waned.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers index, a gauge of China’s factory activity, dropped to its lowest level in 19 months at 50.3 in February from 51.3 in January, the National Bureau of Statistics said Wednesday.

he official manufacturing purchasing managers index, a gauge of China’s factory activity, dropped to its lowest level in 19 months at 50.3 in February from 51.3 in January, the National Bureau of Statistics said Wednesday.

That was well short of a forecast for a 51.2 reading by economists polled by The Wall Street Journal, though it stayed above the 50 mark that separates expansion from contraction.

The lower-than-expected reading helped push down Chinese stocks, with the Shanghai Composite Index about 1% lower in midday trading.

The days around the Lunar New Year are typically slow for the country’s manufacturing sector, as companies suspend or reduce production and market activity eases. Nonetheless, the broad drop was bigger than economists’ expectations, which had penciled in holiday factors.

“Even if we account for such volatility by averaging across the first two months of the year, the data still point to a clear slowdown in early 2018,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, an economist at Capital Economics.

A drop in new export orders pointed to a less optimistic outlook for a sector that was a major pillar sustaining Chinese economic growth last year, as regulators moved to rein in borrowing across the domestic economy.

Economists have said the strong yuan is expected to weigh on China’s export growth this year. Nearly 14% of the 3,000 Chinese companies surveyed in the government PMI poll said the appreciation of the Chinese currency had hurt their business, according to China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing, a government-backed entity that compiled the PMI survey with the statistics bureau.

The federation said the number of firms complaining about a strong yuan has been rising for two months.

China’s official nonmanufacturing PMI, also released Wednesday, fell to a four-month low of 54.4 in February, compared with 55.3 in January, the statistics bureau said. Subindexes measuring new orders, service and construction sectors all dropped in February, though they stayed above the 50 mark. Business activity in the property, security and insurance sectors contracted in February, the statistic bureau said.

China’s growth picked up steam in 2017 for the first time in seven years, boosted by strong exports. In addition to holiday factors and production curbs aimed at reducing pollution in the winter months, softness in investment, property and consumption have also signaled weaker economic momentum at the start of 2018.

Nomura economist Zhao Yang said the lower-than-expected PMI data confirms a softening growth momentum given a cooling property market. He said last year’s resilient real-estate market was buoyed by strong sales in small cities, a trend that will be hard to sustain this year.

China’s property market in recent years has accounted for as much as a third of economic growth, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

“However you look at it, internally and externally, downward pressure on the Chinese economy now is big,” said Mr. Zhao. He now expects a cut in banks’ reserve requirement ratio in the second half of the year to boost liquidity and growth.

—Grace Zhu and Liyan Qi

Middle East Nations Eager To Match Iran’s Nuclear Technology, Capability

February 28, 2018

While the Netanyahus drink champagne and Trump tweets, the Russians changed the Mideast’s nuclear calculus – and this time, Israel has no feasible military option. But can Jerusalem really depend on the White House to avert a nuclear arms race?

.A 1956 nuclear test conducted by the United States at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
A 1956 nuclear test conducted by the United States at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.Science History Images / Alamy Stock Photos

While our leaders in Jerusalem were giddily drinking champagne and Washington was proudly trumpeting tweets, the Middle East continued its march towards the nightmare scenario of a region with multiple nuclear actors.

This time, it’s not just about Iran, but about the rapid spread of civil nuclear programs all around us. The various programs reflect legitimate energy needs, but civil nuclear programs in the Middle East have a nasty tendency to morph into military ones, or at least the technological basis for this.

Saudi Arabia already consumes approximately 25% of its total oil production and unless it diversifies its sources of power – astonishingly –  it risks becoming a net importer of oil by the early 2030s. The Saudis thus recently issued tenders for the first two of 16 planned nuclear power reactors.

In addition to energy needs, the Saudi program is also motivated by fear of Iran, along with growing doubts regarding the reliability of the American security guarantee, and a consequent desire to ensure that the kingdom has the infrastructure in place for a military program.

The Saudis are also opposed to the U.S. demand that they forgo the right to enrich uranium, as a condition for the sale of American reactors. This condition is considered essential today to ensure that civil nuclear programs are not misused for military purpose and both Egypt and the UAE accepted it in deals with the U.S. in recent years.

The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran recognizes its right to continue uranium enrichment, albeit at lower levels, thus making it difficult for the U.S. to now demand that the Saudis forgo a similar capability. The U.S. is also concerned that if it insists on this demand the Saudis may turn to other manufacturers, including Russia and China, which impose less stringent conditions for the sale of reactors and ongoing inspection.

It is thus now considering a waiver for the Saudis, but this is likely to lead to similar demands by Egypt and the UAE and to a heightened Iranian threat perception. The result could be a collapse of the nuclear agreement and a regional nuclear arms race.

.Trump receiving the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal from Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh, May 20, 2017.

Trump receiving the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh, May 20, 2017.MANDEL NGAN/AFP

Russia is using nuclear deals and arms sales to resurrect its standing in the region. It recently concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia and also signed its first arms deal with it, including advanced anti-aircraft systems, missiles and more.

In December 2017 Russia also signed a deal with Egypt to build and finance four power reactors by 2028, and to establish factories in Egypt to manufacture some of the necessary components. Some observers believe that there are more cost-effective means of producing energy in Egypt and therefore question the deal’s motivations.

Last year, Russia also began supplying advanced fighter aircraft and helicopters to Egypt and tentative agreement was even reached providing, for the first time since the Soviet eviction from Egypt in 1974, for Russian use of Egyptian airbases.

The Egyptian and Saudi slaps in America’s face resounded all the way to Washington.

In 2016 Russia signed a deal with Jordan for two nuclear power reactors, to be completed by 2025. A nuclear research reactor, of South Korean manufacture, became operational in Jordan in 2016.

Rex Tillerson speaks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan of the UAE during the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders summit in Riyadh
Qatar crisis: UAE behind hack which prompted Gulf state boycott. Pictured: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan of the UAE in Riyadh JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

In the UAE, the first of four South Korean power reactors, to be built by 2020, will become operational this year. In 2017 Russia signed $2 billion in arms deals with the UAE, including advanced air-defense systems and missiles, and it is reportedly considering Sukhoi fighters. Turkey also purchased similar air-defense systems recently and Bahrain, Qatar and Morocco have expressed interest. The Russians have already deployed these systems in Syria.

Israel is being surrounded by civil nuclear programs on all sides. There is no immediate danger and it would take many years, possibly decades, to turn these programs into military ones, but the technological clock may have begun ticking. Moreover, these programs may undermine the relative regional stability gained by the Iran nuclear deal.

In weighing its policies towards these developments, Israel faces a difficult dilemma which does not exist in the case of Iran today, nor Syria, Iraq and Libya in the past.

The countries in question all maintain formal, or de facto peace with Israel, share a desire to contain Iran, are friends of the U.S. and enjoy at least some American commitment to their defense.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session during the Week of Russian Business, organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), in Moscow, Russia February 9, 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session during the Week of Russian Business, organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), in Moscow, Russia February 9, 2018REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

In reality, Israel does not have a military option against them, except in extreme circumstances, and thus Jerusalem is approaching the end of the “Begin Doctrine,” which held that it must act militarily, after exhausting other options, to eliminate nuclear threats.

On this issue, as is the case of the other primary challenges Israel faces today (the Palestinians, Iran, the “northern front”), Israel does not have an effective military option, at a price it is willing to pay, and is increasingly coming up against the limits of military force. The IDF can gain time for decision-makers, but the only true solution to these challenges may lie, if at all, in the diplomatic realm.

Israel should urge the U.S. to insist that the Saudis forgo uranium enrichment. Even at this turning point, when Israel hopes for a breakthrough with Riyadh, it should oppose a decision that may spark a regional nuclear arms race.

A possible compromise, however, that might preserve both Saudi interests and face, may be found in the recent proposal by the noted U.S. nonproliferation expert, Robert Einhorn, to craft a “practical compromise” – limiting the agreement to a period of 15 years. In the future, the U.S. can always demand an extension.

A further possibility would be to urge the administration to pursue a new international norm, among the six countries that manufacture reactors today, to make their sale contingent on the recipient’s willingness to forgo uranium enrichment and to purchase nuclear fuel from the manufacturer throughout the reactor’s lifetime.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his bomb illustrating the red line for Iran's development of a nuclear bomb, at the UN in 2012.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his “bomb” illustrating the red line for Iran’s development of a nuclear bomb, at the UN in 2012.AP

This will not be easily achieved, American competitors will fear the loss of a commercial advantage at a time when a number of deals are in play, but the principle is acceptable to all and a deal is worth the try.

In the longer run, these developments, along with already existing trends, will require that Israel devote considerable thought to its strategic policies. The danger of a Middle East with multiple nuclear players may require that Israel reconsider its policy of ambiguity, seek a defense treaty with the U.S., or even explore what is today still considered a totally fanciful option: regional arms control.

In the meantime, they’re still drinking champagne in Jerusalem.

Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security advisor, is a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is the author of “Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change” (Oxford University Press, 2018)