The Chinese government’s unlikeliest standoff is with … fandom

“In 2016..China formally banned K-pop…The ban, ironically, turned many former K-pop stars back into Chinese celebrities whose K-pop influence is still being felt.”

“The K-pop ban both is and isn’t about Korea. It began as a response to a US-Korea missile deal, but really embodied disapproval of three things the Chinese government perceived as tied to K-pop culture: the encroaching influence of US individualism, over-zealous fanbases, and effeminate men.

That last one is a major part of the K-pop ban, which forbids men from wearing earrings and excessive makeup on live TV.”

“Dan Chen researches authoritarian politics at the University of Richmond. She told Vox that the CCP’s fixation on masculinity is a recent byproduct of Xi’s growing nationalism — because “nationalism is a very masculine ideology.” Framing foreign influences like K-pop as anti-masculine plays right into Xi’s narrative of an idealized China that’s strong physically as well as economically and politically. Toward this end, the government has worked to eradicate effeminacy in schoolchildren and promoted images of strong, muscular soldiers as the masculine ideal.”

Both Left and Right Are Converging on Authoritarianism

“partisan animosity suits the authoritarian elements on the left and right just fine. Their goal is power, and they have little patience for procedural niceties that interfere with its exercise. As history teaches, a base whipped up into fear and fury is ready to accept almost anything to ensure its own survival. Perhaps even the destruction of the institutions and ideals that make America distinctively itself.”

“At a time of polarization, you might expect the right to react by doubling down on support for free markets and private property. Instead, concurrent with democratic socialism’s ascendance, many prominent conservatives have taken a leftward turn of their own.
In June 2019, Tucker Carlson spent five full minutes during his prime-time Fox News show praising a plan from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) to promote “economic patriotism.” The proposal, which called for “aggressive” government action to bolster domestic manufacturing and keep American companies from creating jobs abroad, “sounds like Donald Trump at his best,” Carlson enthused.

President Donald Trump exhibited a high degree of comfort wielding state power for mercantilist ends, from his imposition of tariffs to his use of subsidies and bailouts to support American companies facing competition. Now a rising cadre of nationalist conservatives (a.k.a. “natcons”) are happy to provide the intellectual ammunition for this America First agenda.

In 2019, Republican policy wonk Oren Cass appeared at the inaugural National Conservatism Conference to argue for industrial policy—a robust program of federal interventions meant to resuscitate American manufacturing. He went on to found a think tank, American Compass, that promotes such familiar policies as making corporations give board seats to labor representatives.”

“Economics is the arena in which the left-right convergence is most obviously apparent. But there are other places in which the two movements, though superficially worlds apart, are tracking in the same disturbing direction at a deeper level.”

“This is what feels most broken in our politics. It’s not the ways left and right are further apart than ever; it’s the ways they’re closer together, with powerful elements on each side having jettisoned the longstanding liberal ideal of respecting the rights of even those with whom you strongly disagree.

The two camps, of course, have different substantive moral visions for the society they wish to construct. But each views a broad conception of individual liberty as a barrier to achieving that vision.

Economic liberty, including international trade and private property rights, stands in the way of progressives’ desire for an egalitarian and democratic order in which no one is ever again expected to work for someone else—and in the way of natcons’ desire for a revivified American manufacturing sector in which male breadwinners can support a large family on a single income. Speech protections prevent both sides from controlling the conversation as they wish. Religious freedom is seen as either a cover for rank bigotry or a rationalization for excluding God from the public square. And liberal toleration, with its norms of fair play and civility, is at odds with the reigning conception of politics as total war.”

“Individual liberty, equality under the law, protections against the arbitrary exercise of governmental power—these are unmistakably American values. While influential elements on both the left and the right have turned against them in recent years, most Americans are not on board with total-war politics.

Much has been made of rising affective polarization, and there is some evidence to support the concern. People have become more likely over time to say they would be displeased if they had a son or daughter who married someone from the opposite political party, for example. Yet Americans from both parties are still significantly more likely to say they would not be bothered at all. In fact, a 2020 survey commissioned by The Economist found just 16 percent of Democrats and just 13 percent of Republicans saying they would be “very upset” in that situation. Severe affective polarization remains mostly an elite phenomenon.

In a poll commissioned last year by the group More in Common, three in four respondents agreed that “the differences between Americans are not so big that we cannot come together.” Demonization of the other is a powerful political weapon, and those inclined toward authoritarianism are particularly comfortable using it. But what is sometimes called the “grand liberal bargain”—a social truce in which each side broadly agrees to respect the other’s freedom, even if it doesn’t like what the other side will do with it—is a powerful defense, and one in keeping with the natural ethos of America. It’s not too late to choose it.”

Supreme Court to hear case on GOP ‘independent legislature’ theory that could radically reshape elections

“The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in February that the state’s congressional maps violated the state constitution by illegally favoring Republicans. The map — drawn by GOP legislators — could have given the party control of as many as 11 of the closely divided state’s 14 districts.

But the Republican legislators argued in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that the state court had extremely limited authority to police the legislature on federal election matters — a theory known as the “independent state legislature” theory.

The theory holds that state legislatures have near-uncheckable authority to set procedures for federal elections — and state courts have either a limited or even no ability to rule on those laws. The theory is based on a pair of clauses in the constitution, the Electors Clause and the Elections Clause, that mention state legislatures but do not explicitly mention the judiciary.

Republicans have increasingly promoted the theory as a way around state courts that have recently struck down redistricting maps as partisan gerrymanders.

“Some provisions of the Constitution are subject to reasonable debate. Others are not,” read a friend of the court brief from the Republican National Committee and other GOP committees earlier this year.

“Absent from the constitutionally mandated order of authority is any role for the state judiciary,” the brief continued. “Notwithstanding this omission, certain state and commonwealth courts have taken it upon themselves to appropriate the processes that belong to the politically accountable branches of government.”

A Supreme Court ruling that state legislatures alone have the power to make decisions about federal elections, within the boundaries set by federal law, could have a dramatic impact on redistricting processes and election procedures.

Actions by state legislatures could still be subject to challenge in federal courts, but state courts and even governors could be sidelined under the most expansive interpretations of the “independent state legislature” theory.

With 30 state legislatures currently in Republican hands, GOP state legislative leaders would be strongly positioned to skew maps in their party’s favor and to make changes Republican have sought to voting procedures.

Four conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — have signaled at least an openness to some version of the theory.

The theory was also central to then-President Donald Trump’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get states to appoint a slate of alternate electors in the 2020 presidential contest.

The court is likely to hear arguments in the case late this fall or early next year. The Supreme Court is also set to hear arguments in October in the case Merrill v. Milligan, which election lawyers and civil rights groups worry could undermine the Voting Rights Act.”

Xi Jinping asserts his power on Hong Kong’s handover anniversary

“Lee’s tenure — and Xi’s support for it — mark a low point for civil rights and political freedom in Hong Kong. They also show Xi’s disdain for global human rights norms and a growing geopolitical divide between East and West, Lai said. “Xi Jinping’s vision is not to bring China in line” with those norms, he told Vox, but to assert dominance in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, which threaten to provide alternative visions of political and social life. “Hong Kong seems to be the lesson.””

‘The system held, but barely’: Jan. 6 hearings highlight a handful of close calls

“Nearly every component of Trump’s plan revolved around then-Vice President Mike Pence succumbing to pressure. In Trump’s view, Pence — who presided over the counting of state electors on Jan. 6, 2021 — could single-handedly reject Biden’s electors or postpone the count altogether and let GOP state legislatures approve pro-Trump electors instead.

Pence, relying on the advice of his counsel Greg Jacob, balked at Trump’s strategy. Jacob and other White House lawyers repeatedly told Trump the scheme was illegal.

Even that could’ve gone differently. Jacob has also made clear that there was one scenario in which Pence might have been obligated to flip the outcome: if any state legislatures had actually pulled the trigger and adopted Trump electors. In that scenario — where a state legislature and governor have certified competing slates, with one saying Biden won and the other declaring the state for Trump — Jacob said it would be reasonable to defer to the text of the Constitution, which gives state legislatures the ultimate power to choose electors.

“A reasonable argument might further be made that when resolving a dispute between competing electoral slates … the Constitution places a firm thumb on the scale on the side of the State legislature,” Jacob wrote.

That’s why John Eastman, an attorney who designed much of Trump’s plans to stay in power, spent the final hours before the riot on Jan. 6 pushing Pence to delay — contending that Pennsylvania’s legislature appeared on the verge of reconvening to appoint Trump electors. Had Pence or Jacob agreed to a delay — particularly as the Capitol recovered — Trump, Eastman and lawyer Rudy Giuliani intended to use the time to bring legislatures back into season.”

China’s new vassal: Vladimir Putin

“When Chairman Mao Zedong visited Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the winter of 1949, he was very much the junior supplicant. Stalin packed him off to wait for weeks in his snow-bound No. 2 dacha, 27 kilometers outside Moscow, where the humiliated and constipated Chinese leader grumbled about everything from the quality of the fish to his uncomfortable mattress.

When the two Communist leaders did get to business, Stalin bullied his way to a very favorable deal that put Mao on the hook to buy Russian arms and heavy machinery with a loan on which Beijing would have to pay interest.

Seven decades later, the power dynamics reveal a radical reset. Shortly before invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to the Winter Olympics in Beijing to proclaim the “no limits” friendship with China’s Xi Jinping, but there’s no doubting who the real superpower is in that duo these days. China’s $18-trillion economy is now 10 times mightier than Russia’s. Beijing will hold nearly all the good cards in setting the terms of any financial lifelines from big brother.

As Russia faces a sharply contracting economy under sanctions and an impending oil embargo from Europe, China is the obvious potential benefactor for Putin to turn toward.

Xi shares Putin’s hostility to the West and NATO, but that doesn’t mean he will be offering unalloyed charity. Xi’s overriding strategic concern is China’s prosperity and security, not saving Russia. Beijing is likely to buy at least some oil diverted from Europe, but only at a hefty discount from global benchmarks. China will only help Russia to the extent that it doesn’t attract sanctions and imperil its own ability to sell goods to rich countries in North America and the EU.”

“For years, Chinese officials have been quietly lobbying their Russian counterparts to cut arms sales to India, which has had a sometimes bloody border dispute with Beijing.

Between 2017 and 2022, India was the largest arms export market for Russia, followed by China, according to statistics from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Fighting Indian soldiers armed with Russian equipment may not be fun for China, but it’s certainly a lucrative business for Russia.

Before the war, “Russia was very stubborn and [would] say, ‘Oh, you’re not in a position, China, to dictate us our choices to whom we sell weapons. But I think that China will be in this position probably five years down the road,” said Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia-China relations with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank.

India, for its part, is trying to keep an open relationship with Putin. New Delhi, like Beijing, is snapping up cheap oil, even though it’s also eager to maintain strong ties with the U.S.”

The Pandemic Killed Dissent in Hong Kong

“When Great Britain returned control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, a condition of the transfer was that Beijing would allow the territory to maintain its own government until 2047. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has never liked this agreement, and the COVID-19 pandemic provided the excuse to all but erase the “one country, two systems” distinction.

The CCP began its authoritarian assimilation of Hong Kong in 2019, when Beijing encouraged CCP loyalists in Hong Kong’s legislature to pass a law allowing extradition of residents to mainland China. That proposal sparked pro-democracy protests and a police crackdown in Hong Kong, which captured the world’s attention.

In June 2020, Beijing responded to the pro-democracy movement by requiring Hong Kong to implement a national security law that “introduc[ed] ambiguously defined crimes such as separatism and collusion that can be used to stifle protest,” as The New York Times put it. But the pandemic provided Beijing with an even bigger opportunity to suppress dissent.

Citing public health concerns, Hong Kong postponed its Legislative Council (LegCo) elections for a year. In the interim, Beijing changed LegCo election rules to reduce the number of directly elected seats and to require that candidates pledge their loyalty to mainland China.

With only Beijing-aligned “patriots” on the ballot, CCP loyalists swept the 2021 LegCo elections. Many leading opposition politicians went into exile, while others were jailed. Voter turnout was a paltry 30 percent—the lowest since the handover in 1997. By comparison, a record 71 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2019 district council elections. The high turnout was reportedly driven by opposition to the extradition treaty, and pro-democracy candidates won 85 percent of the available seats.

The pandemic also has facilitated suppression of pro-democracy protests. Every June since 1990, residents of Hong Kong had marched and held a vigil in memory of the Tiananmen Square dead. But in 2020, Hong Kong announced that it would extend social distancing restrictions until June 5, the day after the massacre’s anniversary.

Hong Kong’s COVID-19 rules banned public meetings of more than eight people, with a potential penalty of six months in jail. As a result, only a small vigil was held. Organizers nevertheless were arrested and sentenced to up to 14 months in jail. The sentencing judge remarked that they had “belittled a genuine public health crisis.””

War Crimes Charges Could Help Putin, Not Hurt Him

“The role of popular elections as the source of ruling legitimacy is just one way in which it is hard to categorize the Russian political system. For all the talk of Putin’s dictatorial personality and wide latitude to crackdown on civil liberties, the institutions of Putinism were built by his democratic predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, enshrined in his 1993 constitution. Flawed and imperfect in practice during the tumultuous 1990s, these foundations were democratic in principle: Grassroots civil society flourished alongside a lively media environment, as legislators and leaders were chosen from a variety of contenders. Even as those liberties have subsequently been eroded and independent media curtailed, the institutions still specify that Russia’s leaders serve at the will of the people. Indeed, the ratcheting-up of Kremlin propaganda is meant, more than anything, to reassure Russians that Putin’s leadership is worthy of their continued support. Such peans to the people would be unnecessary in a classic, run-of-the-mill dictatorship.

Consequently, political scientists are at odds with how to describe Putin’s Russia. Some call it a “competitive authoritarian” regime, where democratic institutions and procedures simply provide a facade of legitimacy for the dictatorship. Others label it an “information autocracy,” in which the powers of state-run media are marshaled to build a public image of Putin as a competent leader, deserving of political support, and it works to generate the popular support he needs. What these different perspectives have in common is what Peskov said: that Putin’s political sovereignty ultimately lies with the Russian people, however manipulated or misinformed they might be.”

“Western hopes that the Russian people would rise up and topple Putin in a popular revolution seem further from reality today than at the start of the war. The smattering of protests across Russia during the first weeks of the war have largely fizzled out. Between the Kremlin propaganda machine in overdrive and criminalization of expressions of opposition, Putin’s approval in nationwide polls is now up to 83 percent, with 81 percent support for the “special military operation.”

What’s more, Russian elites appear to be consolidating behind Putin. Rather than diversifying internationally and finding safe havens abroad, powerful oligarchs and cosmopolitan elites—many of them under Western sanctions—now understand that they are tethered to Russia and to Putin personally. Once-feuding factions are realizing they’re all now in the same boat. Few will bolt for greener pastures in Europe or the U.S., even if they could.

In an eye-opening account by independent Russian journalist Farida Rustamova on the tribulations of Russia’s political elites since the war, she quotes a high-ranking source in a sanctioned Russian company as saying “All these personal sanctions cement the elites. Everyone who was thinking about a new life understands that, for the next 10-15 years at least, their lives are concentrated in Russia, their children will study in Russia, their families will live in Russia. These people feel offended. They will not overthrow anyone, but will build their lives here.”

Before the war, the dominant narrative of Kremlin-controlled media was that Russia is a mighty superpower—besieged on all sides by enemies and conspirators, both Western and homegrown—and only Putin could lead them. Lamentably, the coordinated international response to Putin’s bloody war has only solidified and reinforced that us-against-the-world narrative, and largely rallied the Russian people behind Putin.

In this context, the Russian response to the accusations of genocide in Ukraine have been predictable: It is all a Western “fake” meant to further impugn the dignity of Russia and its leader. Pro-Russian social media accounts have claimed that the corpses are either fake, or are actors, or were killed after the Russians left. The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed “not a single local resident has suffered any violent action” while Bucha was under Russian control. These are all claims that have been easily debunked. By parroting the official line of the Foreign Affairs Ministry that it could not have been Russia that committed such atrocities, but rather the United States staging a “provocation,” Kremlin state-run media only reinforces and retrenches the us-against-the-world narrative already widely accepted among the Russian people.”

Putin Isn’t Just an Autocrat. He’s Something Worse.

“Putin’s trajectory increasingly resembles that of Hitler. Both men came to power after their countries experienced imperial dismemberment and economic collapse. Both promised to revive their nation’s glory and enjoyed enormous popularity. Both militarized and pursued state capitalism. Both relied on the army and secret police. Both identified their nations with themselves. Both promoted reactionary ideologies that identified one nation — Jews for Hitler, Ukrainians for Putin — as the enemy. And both used their national minorities living in neighboring states as pretexts for expansion. Both were also consummate liars and had deranged personalities. In this scheme of things, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is equivalent to Hitler’s attack on Austria, Czechoslovakia or Poland. And we all know what happened afterward — a Vernichtungskrieg.”

Why Tucker Carlson’s special on Hungary and Soros matters

“The film opens with soaring music, footage of white children laughing and playing, beautiful vistas of classical European architecture. Fifteen seconds in, the music turns dark. We see images of dark-skinned youth, chaos, and blood. Then there’s a foreboding black-and-white shot of a man in profile, hunched at a desk, the curvature of his nose prominent in silhouette.

He’s the one responsible for all of this, the brown assault on white tranquility. Europe, we are told, is this predator’s “main hunting area.”

This is the beginning of Tucker Carlson’s new “documentary” for Fox Nation, the right-wing media giant’s streaming service. It is titled Hungary vs. Soros: The Fight for Civilization, and it purports to tell the story of how a plucky little democracy in Central Europe has carved out a conservative model in the face of a relentless assault by the forces of global liberalism personified by George Soros, the Hungarian-American financier.

The story is a lie. Hungary is nominally a democracy but it has made a turn toward authoritarianism in the last decade; Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has painted Soros as a scapegoat whose allegedly nefarious influence justifies Orbán’s anti-democratic moves. The documentary amplifies this propaganda, treating the Jewish philanthropist as the spider at the center of a global web of conspiracy.”