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Monday, December 09, 2019

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In 2022, the United States conducted its 117th consecutive peaceful election (though the aftermath of the 1860 election was not). The 2022 elections were blissfully uneventful, with losers conceding gracefully.

To call that a relief is a tremendous understatement, but this is no time to drop our guard. Trust in democracy remains weaker than it has traditionally been. A World Values survey, for example, found that fewer than 30% of millennials rate living in a democracy as "essential," compared with 70% of their grandparents.

Prominent conservatives like Tucker Carlson openly lionize Hungary's Viktor Orban, and hardcore rightists admire Vladimir Putin. Even mainstream publications can seem to lose sight of what authoritarian rule really means. The New York Times, for example, published a comparison of economic opportunity in China versus the United States under the headline "The American Dream is Alive. In China."

People in democratic countries often fantasize about "being China for a day" in order to achieve their policy goals. So, at this moment, when thousands of Chinese are protesting throughout the nation, we need to remind ourselves of just how terrible unfreedom is. Did we make mistakes in the way we handled a once-in-a-century pandemic? Of course. But we have a free press and disbursed, decentralized power through our federal system and independent courts. Accountability, while imperfect, is built into the system.

In China, by contrast, the ukase is issued by the ruler. We have mechanisms for self-correction. The Chinese system does not. One party. One ruler.

The overflow of frustration and rage we are seeing today throughout China regarding Xi Jinping's "zero COVID" policy started with an apartment fire in the city of Urumqi. Ten people died and others were injured. Fires happen everywhere of course, but in this building, the fire escapes were locked.

People in Europe and North America protested when their local governments closed schools and businesses for a time, but China's COVID lockdowns are different in kind, not in degree. Videos from the spring and summer showed people screaming from their apartments in Shanghai. In other cities, people imprisoned in their apartments have posted heartbreaking videos. A distraught father said his children had not eaten in three days. In Xi'an, a heavily pregnant woman was denied entry to a hospital because she hadn't been tested recently enough. She went into labor on the street. Her 8-month-old fetus was stillborn. Children, including babies, who test positive can be removed from their parents' care and confined to quarantine centers. In China, if you are even in the same apartment complex as someone who tests positive, you can be forcibly quarantined.

Don't complain. It's unpatriotic to question the wisdom of the party. Nor is the regime embarrassed by its repression. Drones patrol the skies broadcasting this message: "Please comply with COVID restrictions. Control your soul's desire for freedom. Do not open the window or sing." You will learn to love Big Brother.

In the first year, it seemed that China's harsh lockdowns along with testing and tracing kept the total number of COVID deaths down. But China went all in on "zero COVID." While most nations vaccinated as rapidly as they could manage, China declined to purchase the U.S./German mRNA shots. They insisted on using a domestically-produced Sinovac vaccine, which is significantly less effective. Large numbers of China's elderly population (numbers are hard to come by) are unvaccinated, which leaves them vulnerable as new, more contagious variants of COVID are spreading.

Whereas most of the world is emerging from the COVID pandemic, China's bad decisions have left it still in the throes. Infection rates are climbing, the economy is slowing, and after three years of cruel measures, the people are fed up.

Xi is in a bind now. If he relaxes the harsh lockdown measures, many Chinese, lacking either natural immunity or vaccination, will die. If he relents in the face of widespread protests, he will empower the protesters. If he doesn't bend, the frustration and anger will only grow.

The protests have become about more than COVID restrictions. People are chanting, "We want freedom!" in cities throughout the country. They hold aloft white sheets of paper to symbolize the regime's scrubbing of truth. They chant, "Step down, Xi Jinping. Step down, Communist Party." At universities, students speak hopefully of "freedom of expression, democracy and the rule of law." They even echo a declaration from America's revolution: "Give me liberty, or give me death."

The future is veiled in shadow. We remember the glorious demonstrations of 1989, the similar slogans and the inspiring hope for democratic reform. And we remember well the vicious massacre that followed. We can't know how this latest eruption of protest will end. But we can remind ourselves that China, and authoritarianism more broadly, is not the answer to anything.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is "Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense." To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

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Every time more information appears about just what was in those documents that Donald Trump stole from the White House and illegally held at Mar-a-Lago, the worse it seems. The latest information comes from The Washington Post, which reports that, among other things, the documents Trump is trying to claim were personal property contain, in part, information about Iran’s missile program, as well as secrets involving “highly sensitive intelligence work” involving China.

What kind of case might be made that Trump has a right to documents on either subject is simple: There is none. Simply holding these documents outside a secure area represents a national security threat. Either document might also contain information that reveals U.S. sources and methods, meaning that showing these documents to anyone represents not just a threat to international stability, but a direct risk to human intelligence and a setback for intelligence research.

At the same time, Trump’s legal team is engaged in its latest exchange with federal Judge Raymond Dearie, who was Trump’s personal pick to serve as “special master” in Trump’s fight to keep these documents squirreled away in his desk drawer. A final list of concerns about a subset of the documents was due to Dearie on Thursday. The DOJ met that deadline. Trump's team did not. Instead, they claimed they need more time, and that they’d get back to Dearie on Monday. That response is not going over well with the judge.

According to the Post, the documents concerning China and Iran were among the third batch of classified documents removed from Mar-a-Lago, those that were located only after an FBI team searched both a storage room and Trump’s office. According to their description, the documents connected to China are among the most classified possible.

These documents reportedly cover special access programs, known only to the president and select cabinet members, and “detail top-secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are not informed about them.”

These are precisely the kind of programs likely to generate the highest value information, and also those which are the most sensitive to any lapse in security. Such documents don’t have to list the names of informants and other sources to make them know. Just the nature of the information revealed—details of a conversation, a piece of technical data, images, or analysis—can be enough for Chinese or Iranian officials to finger those at the other end of such programs. At best, those assets are now worthless. At worst, they are dead; possibly after being “played back” to feed false information to U.S. intelligence.

Not only are these among the most sensitive documents that could have been in Trump’s possession, they’re also the least likely to have any legitimate possible reason to be found outside a secure environment. These are not Trump’s love letters from Kim Jong-un, or even some exchange concerning Jan. 6. What possible reason could there be for Trump to be holding documents detailing the plans for Iran’s missile program? It’s not as if he did the analysis, or even that these documents will help him site his next golf resort. This is information that only has value if Trump is giving it to those who will use it to weaken the U.S.

As a side note, Russia is now negotiating to purchase Iranian missiles for use in Ukraine. They probably didn’t need Trump to give them a shopping list, but there may well be information in the classified documents which would be of value to Vladimir Putin in sizing up his purchases.

Back on the home front, Judge Dearie was very clear in setting October 20 as the day to submit any last points concerning the documents that were separated out by the FBI’s “filter team” when initially running through the information taken from Mar-a-Lago. This only amounts to 15 documents, so it shouldn’t have been a Herculean task. Even so, Trump’s legal team told Dearie on Tuesday that they were going to ignore his deadlines and get back to him next week

Today, the judge let Trump's lawyer, Jim Trusty, know that This is Not How Things Work.

ORDER: The Special Master notes Plantiff’s counsel’s letter of October 20, 2022. To the extent Plaintiff asserts that the government’s letter of the same date “is not fully accurate as to the Plaintiff's position on various documents,” any submission to the contrary by the Plaintiff is now untimely pursuant to my Order of October 7, 2022. Plaintiff may submit his position no later than the close of business today, October 21, 2022.

In other words: You’re already late. I’ll let you turn in that homework today. But that doesn’t mean you’re not already late.

It’s not as if there was some doubt about the date all this was due. Trusty (and Trump) just decided they could ignore Dearie. After all, Judge Aileen Cannon has already reset the dates for them twice. What’s one more time?

So far, Trump has gotten away with astounding actions in every aspect of this affair. But he may soon discover just what happens when you take too much rope.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.