Mass Protests Across China

AP (“China’s Xi faces threat from public anger over ‘zero COVID’“):

Barely a month after granting himself new powers as China’s potential leader for life, Xi Jinping is facing a wave of public anger of the kind not seen for decades, sparked by his “zero COVID” strategy that will soon enter its fourth year.

Demonstrators poured into the streets over the weekend in cities including Shanghai and Beijing, criticizing the policy, confronting police — and even calling for Xi to step down. Students at some universities also protested.

Widespread demonstrations are unprecedented since the army crushed the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Most protesters focused their anger on restrictions that can confine families to their homes for months and have been criticized as neither scientific nor effective. Some complained the system is failing to respond to their needs.

The cries for the resignation of Xi and the end of the Communist Party that has ruled China for 73 years could be deemed sedition, which is punishable by prison.

In response, police in Shanghai used pepper spray to drive away demonstrators, and dozens were detained in police sweeps and taken away in police vans and buses. China’s vast internal security apparatus is also famed for identifying people it considers troublemakers and picking them up later when few are watching.

The possibility of more protests is unclear. Government censors scrubbed the internet of videos and messages supporting them. And analysts say unless divisions emerge, the Communist Party should be able to contain the dissent.

China’s stringent measures were originally accepted for minimizing deaths while other countries suffered devastating waves of infections, but that consensus has begun to fray in recent weeks.

While the ruling party says anti-coronavirus measures should be “targeted and precise” and cause the least possible disruption to people’s lives, local officials are threatened with losing their jobs or other punishments if outbreaks occur. They have responded by imposing quarantines and other restrictions that protesters say exceed what the central government allows.

Xi’s unelected government doesn’t seem too concerned with the hardships brought by the policy. This spring, millions of Shanghai residents were placed under a strict lockdown that resulted in food shortages, restricted access to medical care and economic pain. Nevertheless, in October, the city’s party secretary, a Xi loyalist, was appointed to the Communist Party’s No. 2 position.

The party has long imposed surveillance and travel restrictions on minorities including Tibetans and Muslim groups such as Uyghurs, more than 1 million of whom have been detained in camps where they are forced to renounce their traditional culture and religion and swear fealty to Xi.

But this weekend’s protests included many members of the educated urban middle class from the ethnic Han majority. The ruling party relies on that group to abide by an unwritten post-Tiananmen agreement to accept autocratic rule in exchange for a better quality of life.

Now, it appears that old arrangement has ended as the party enforces control at the expense of the economy, said Hung Ho-fung of Johns Hopkins University.

“The party and the people are trying to seek a new equilibrium,” he said. “There will be some instability in the process.”

To develop into something on the scale of the 1989 protests would require clear divisions within the leadership that could be leveraged for change, Hung said.

Xi all but eliminated such threats at an October party congress. He broke with tradition and awarded himself a third five-year term as party leader and packed the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee with loyalists. Two potential rivals were sent into retirement.

“Without the clear signal of party leader divisions … I would expect this kind of protest might not last very long,” Hung said.

It’s “unimaginable” that Xi would back down, and the party is experienced in handling protests, Hung said.

WaPo (“Rare protests against China’s ‘zero covid’ policy erupt across country“) adds:

The immediate trigger for the demonstrations, which were also seen at universities in Beijing, Xi’an and Nanjing on Saturday, was a deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in China’s far northwest on Thursday. Ten people, including three children, died after emergency fire services could not get close enough to an apartment building engulfed in flames. Residents blamed lockdown-related measures for hampering rescue efforts.

Officials on Friday denied that covid restrictions were a factor and said some residents’ “ability to rescue themselves was too weak,” fueling more ridicule and anger that swept across Chinese social media platforms. Residents in Urumqi, one of the most tightly controlled cities in China as a result of a broader security crackdown, turned out to protest Friday. Many waved China’s national flag and called for lockdowns to be fully lifted.

[…]

Such demonstrations are extremely rare in China, where authorities move quickly to stamp out all forms of dissent. Authorities are especially wary of protests at universities, the site of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 that spread across the country and ended in a bloody crackdown and massacre around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

[…]

Across the country, and not just at universities, citizens appear to be reaching a breaking point. In the name of “zero covid,” they have lived through almost three years of unrelenting controls that have left many sealed in their homes, sent to quarantine centers or barred from traveling. Residents must submit to repeated coronavirus tests and surveillance of their movement and health status.

The Urumqi fire followed a bus crash in September that killed 27 people as they were being taken to a quarantine center. In April, a sudden lockdown in Shanghai left residents without enough food and prompted online and offline protests. Deaths related to the restrictions, including a 3-year-old who died after his parents were unable to take him to a hospital, have further added to public anger.

Health authorities say this strategy of cutting off covid transmission as soon as possible and quarantining all positive cases is the only way to prevent a surge in severe cases and deaths, which would overwhelm the health-care system. As a result of its low infection rate, China’s population of 1.4 billion has a low level of natural immunity. Those who have been immunized have received domestically made vaccines that have proved less effective against the more infectious omicron variant.

NYT (“After Deadly Blaze, Surge of Defiance Against China’s Covid Policies“) adds:

Protests are relatively rare in China. Especially under Mr. Xi, the party has eliminated most means for organizing people to take on the government. Dissidents have been imprisoned, social media is heavily censored, and independent groups involved in human rights have been banned. The protests that break out in towns and villages often involve workers, farmers or other locals aggrieved by job losses, land disputes, pollution or other issues that usually remain contained.

But the pervasiveness of China’s Covid restrictions has created a focus for anger that transcends class and geography. Migrant workers struggling with food shortages and joblessness during weekslong lockdowns, university students held on campuses, urban professionals chafing at travel restrictions — the roots of their frustrations are the same.

The Communist Party’s greatest fear would be realized if these similar grievances led protesters from disparate backgrounds to cooperate, in an echo of 1989, when students, workers, small traders and residents found some common cause in the protests demanding democratic change that took over Tiananmen Square. So far, that has not occurred.

“Covid Zero produced an unintended consequence, which is putting a huge number of people in the same situation,” said Yasheng Huang, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management who leads its China Lab. “This is a game changer.”

“The anger has been pent up for a while, but I think the 20th Congress provided an expectation that it would wind down,” he said, referring to the party’s leadership reshuffle in October. “When that did not happen, the frustration quickly boiled over.”

[…]

While many protesters limited their appeals to the loosening of Covid restrictions, some seized the chance to make broader political demands, linking the draconian reach of “zero Covid” to the country’s authoritarian system.

On Sunday, hundreds of students gathered on the campus of Tsinghua University, in northwest Beijing, where they have been largely prohibited from leaving for weeks because of Covid restrictions.

“Democracy and rule of law,” the crowd chanted. “Freedom of expression.”

[…]

Mr. Xi has no easy response to the widespread anger. Censors have moved quickly to scrub photos and video footage of the protests. If Mr. Xi cracks down on demonstrators, he could anger the public further, straining even China’s formidable security apparatus. If he abruptly lifts many restrictions, he risks hurting his image of unassailable authority that he has built in part on his success battling Covid. The ensuing rise in infections, potentially deadly among the vulnerable, may also become another source of discontent.

“The immediate challenge is whether and how they’re going to continue with ‘zero Covid’ when there is so much frustration. This is a decision he has to make in the next, say, 48 to 72 hours,” Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College who studies Chinese politics, said in an interview. “You can arrest people and put them in jail, but the virus will still be there. There are simply no easy answers for him, only hard choices.”

William Hurst, the Chong Hua Professor of Chinese Development at Cambridge, has a long Twitter thread on the protests , the upshot of which is that what makes this particular set unusual is that they’re coordinated across regions. The CCP has long tolerated labor protests and those over isolated local issues but is fearful of coordinated actions like this. Further, COVID is a unifying issue, not the actual theme:

What’s happened in the past 24 hours is novel in that protesters have appeared on the streets in multiple cities with apparent knowledge of what is happening in other parts of the country. They’re all mobilising around #Covid, but this is refracted through distinct lenses.

Workers in Zhengzhou and elsewhere are engaged in labour protests, but with #ZeroCovid as a kind of frame for their grievances. Students across dozens of campuses, similarly are mounting familiar kinds of protest, but also framed around Covid.

The protesters in these crowds don’t look to be either workers or students. They appear to have mobilised first around #Covid & urban governance issues – in particular, in reaction to the fire and failed response in Urumqi two days ago. But they’ve morphed beyond that.

By taking up slogans and frames of generalised dissent, as well as at least implicitly signally solidarity with workers’ and students’ mobilisation, these crowds are crossing a boundary and helping merge four of the five strands/repertoires outlined above.

He also has some speculation about where the protests go from here. He’s not hopeful:

[I]f we assume no elite backers, the most likely scenario I can see is that the protests fizzle out (as most such movements do in most countries). Having erupted spontaneously in a short period, they will fade away without reaching any climax or denouement.

A second possibility is some form of comprehensive & decisive repression.

This could take the form of a coordinated and possibly quite violent crackdown (as in 1989) or it could be slower-motion and at least somewhat less bloody (as in HK in 2019-2020).

Either form of repression would be extremely costly for the state, however (both in fiscal and reputational terms). It would not be undertaken lightly, as it would also raise the stakes. It’s thus a decidedly second-best option and not as likely as the protests fizzling.

The government is already taking advantage of Twitter’s collapsing moderation infrastructure and flooding the platform with spam images to help frustrate coordination among the protestors. They are simultaneously easing some rules , while keeping the “Zero COVID” strategy intact. Overall, I’d be pleasantly surprised if the protests amount to much.

Kevin McCarthy Calls on GOP to Make Him Speaker So Dems Can Be Investigated: ‘The Subpoenas Can’t Move Out’

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) reminded Republicans that investigations into Democrats cannot move forward unless he receives the 218 votes needed to become Speaker.

The California Republican made point part of his pitch on Tuesday night’s Hannity on Fox News. Republicans will begin the year with a five-seat majority and McCarthy can spare few votes in his bid to succeed Nancy Pelosi.

McCarthy appears well shy of the support needed to avert a leadership disaster with his party holding a slim majority beginning in January. According to Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), 20 House Republicans are fervent in their opposition to making McCarthy Speaker.

Among them is Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who took to Twitter Tuesday evening to defend a postition that could potentially allow Democrats to choose the Speaker.

On Fox News, McCarthy reminded his fellow House Republicans their agenda for the 118th Congress is dead without him at the helm.

“The only admonition I’d give to your fellow Republicans that either you guys all stand together or you will fail together,” host Sean Hannity told him.

Hannity added the GOP will be unable to honor its “commitments to America” if it fails to elect McCarthy.

“By failing, that means the investigations into whether or not the FBI has politicized, the DOJ is weaponized the origins of Covid, looking into the Biden, Hunter Biden family syndicate – Joe Biden family syndicate and the money pedaling issues that at hand.”

Hannity asked McCarthy if he believed he would be able to convince enough of his conference to coalesce around him.

McCarthy responded:

We’re going to the floor. I believe we’ll get to 218. Why? If we don’t, none of those investigations go forward. None of the work that we have put before us. We can’t start investigating Mayorkas, we can’t secure the border, we can’t lower gasoline prices by making us energy-independent.

We can’t hold [the government] accountable or pass a parent’s bill of rights. All of that will stop. The subpoenas can’t move out until you elect a speaker.

Watch above, via Fox News.

The post Kevin McCarthy Calls on GOP to Make Him Speaker So Dems Can Be Investigated: ‘The Subpoenas Can’t Move Out’ first appeared on Mediaite .

Former aide to Andrew Cuomo wants court to narrow scope of federal bribery law

Former aide to Andrew Cuomo wants court to narrow scope of federal bribery law

Share

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument on Monday in the latest in a series of cases involving the reach of federal public-corruption laws. The question before the justices in Percoco v. United States is whether an individual can be convicted of violating those laws even when he is not a government official or employee. The defendant in the case, Joseph Percoco, warns that allowing his conviction to stand would be a “startling expansion of federal bribery law” that could leave “lobbyists, donors, and virtually every other politically active individual at the mercy of headline-hungry prosecutors.”

Percoco served as a senior aide to Andrew Cuomo, then the governor of New York, from 2011 to 2016. In April 2014, Percoco stepped down from his position in Cuomo’s office to manage Cuomo’s re-election campaign. In the summer and fall of 2014, while Percoco was still a private citizen, a real estate developer paid Percoco $35,000 to help him avoid having to enter into a “labor peace agreement” with local unions.  In December 2014, five days before Percoco officially returned to his position in the governor’s office, he called the head of a state development agency and urged him to let the development move ahead without the agreement; after the call, the agency head told another agency executive that he was receiving “pressure” from his “principals.” The next day, state officials reversed the decision that the developer needed to reach an agreement with the unions.

In 2018, Percoco was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for violating (among other things) a federal fraud law that makes it a crime to deprive members of the public of the intangible right to honest services. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit agreed with the government that Percoco owed the general public a duty of honest services. Because of his relationship with Cuomo and the likelihood that Percoco would return to state government, the court of appeals concluded, he had a “position of power and trust.” Percoco came to the Supreme Court in February, and in June the justices agreed to weigh in.

In his brief in the Supreme Court, Percoco stresses that the court of appeals’ decision upholding his conviction relied on that court’s 1982 decision in United States v. Margiotta , holding that private citizens can owe a duty to the public if they effectively control government officials or influence government action.

But the Supreme Court’s recent decisions make clear, Percoco argues, that Margiotta is no longer good law. In 2010, in Skilling v. United States , the Supreme Court ruled that the honest-services fraud law applies only to “paradigmatic cases of bribery and kickbacks.” Six years later, in McDonnell v. United States , the court explained that bribery laws are “concerned not with influence in the abstract, but rather with the sale of one’s official position.” Because private citizens cannot take official action or use their positions to bring about government action, Percoco contends, they cannot violate federal fraud laws.

Percoco also cautions that the 2nd Circuit’s rule could have sweeping implications not only for lobbyists and donors but also for the family members of public officials, who “hold unparalleled access and influence” and whose “independent business interests may be in a position to benefit from state action.”

The federal government counters that there is no bright-line rule requiring an individual to hold a government position before he has an obligation to provide the public with honest services. An individual can still have a duty of honest services, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar writes, if he “has been selected to work for the government” or if he “actually exercises the powers of a government position with the acquiescence of the relevant government personnel.” Percoco’s contrary suggestion that honest-services fraud laws do not apply to private citizens, Prelogar argues, would create a “readily manipulable exception” that would allow someone to avoid liability simply by not signing an employment contract.

In this case, the government insists, the facts show that Percoco had “the functional control and authority that mattered” for purposes of the honest-services law. While Percoco was working on Cuomo’s re-election campaign, the government stresses, his position in the governor’s office remained vacant. Percoco continued to use his government offices in Albany and New York City while working on the campaign, and he “continued to participate in state operations and policy decisions.” By August 2014, Percoco was already telling his bank and others that he would be returning to the Cuomo administration, and he made the phone calls that led to his conviction after he had signed papers to return to state government – and just a few days before he actually returned. In those phone calls, the government adds, Percoco gave instructions to government employees who believed that they were compelled to follow them.

The government dismisses Percoco’s warnings about the possible repercussions if his conviction is upheld. Family members or lobbyists would not face criminal liability, the government reasons, because they are neither incoming government officials nor effectively acting as government officials.

On the same day that they hear oral argument in Percoco’s case, the justices will also hear the case of Louis Ciminelli , a government contractor who was convicted of wire fraud for his work with a state insider to obtain a $750 million contract to develop the greater Buffalo area. As David Kwok explains in his preview of the case for SCOTUSblog , Ciminelli’s conviction rested on the theory that he had deprived the non-profit tasked with allocating the development funds of its right to control the bidding process. Both Percoco and Ciminelli hope that, as it has in the past, the Supreme Court will use their cases to further narrow the reach of public-corruption laws, but they (and we) will know more after Monday’s argument.

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court .

The post Former aide to Andrew Cuomo wants court to narrow scope of federal bribery law appeared first on SCOTUSblog .

Fox News’ Failure

From CNN’s must-read Reliable Sources newsletter :

“Fox’s Failure: Looking for coverage of former President Donald Trump’s dinner with Kanye West and white supremacist Nick Fuentes? Good luck finding it on Fox News. The right-wing cable channel has barely covered the controversy — which has been treated by news organizations as a top story — over the last few days. In fact, according to the progressive watchdog Media Matters, Fox News only covered the story in five segments this past weekend. And even when Fox News has devoted time to the matter, the segments have been less than full throated. Take Tuesday’s segment on “Special Report” for example. Fill in host Trace Gallagher only referred to Fuentes as an “accused white nationalist,” despite Fuentes’ long history of making plainly racist remarks and pushing an extremist ideology.”

The post Fox News’ Failure appeared first on The Moderate Voice .