Monday, October 31, 2016

IS THE FIX IN?


                         (published in Japan Times as "In US election, the fix is in")




BY PHILIP J CUNNINGHAM

October 31, 2016: Donald Trump will not be the next president, will he?
November 9. 2016:  Donald Trump will be president, at least for a while...

-UPDATE -I thought the "fix was in" and I stand corrected. The fix is not in, not yet anyway. It looks like the deep state will take its time in dealing with the awkward and unexpected Trump victory. ;-)

(from the Japan Times, October 31, 2016

...The votes have yet to be fully cast, let alone counted, but even if the national ballot box is in for a jack-in-the-box surprise, the long-term outcome is set. The United States is democratic up to a point, after which more weighty considerations weigh in.

The political system of the world’s most powerful country has evolved to produce manageable and malleable candidates, not upstarts, rebels and rank populists. The problem with Trump’s presidential bid is that it is hard to picture a man with such gut-punching rhetoric presiding over the Pentagon, the CIA, the State Department, Wall Street, the Supreme Court and other power players integral to America’s august establishment.

Deep states do their best work by sleight-of-hand, installing career politicians in their stead, leaving the real machinations hidden from view. Americans got a glimpse of the deep state rearing its head during the impasse of the presidential election in 2000, in which Bush was proclaimed victorious over Gore, with a nudge from the Supreme Court, even though the “winner” actually lost the popular vote.

The Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump contest is interesting because for the first time in memory it pits a quintessential establishment figure backed by one of the main parties and most of the media against an outsider who is so outside the norms of normal political practice that even his own party barely supports him, and in some ways can be said to be actively thwarting his bid. Trump is no outsider to power or dirty politics, his money alone makes him a player and contender in the great board game of American political life, but he has cast himself, and been enthusiastically cast by others, as a populist out of control, control being the operative word.

Consider the success, and utter failure, of the consummately controlled Barack Obama. He rode into the White House on a media wave of enthusiasm on the basis of beaming optimism and apt rhetoric, despite a paucity of experience and political know-how. He was the perfect poster boy for the Democratic National Committee, groomed in a few short years to ride the wave of identity politics that Democrats became adept at exploiting to their advantage at the polls. An affable front man from beginning to end, he achieved little, in part due to obdurate opposition, but it was business as usual for all the big players. His deal with the devil was to trade the considerable perks of being President, and the positive optics of being the first black one, while dutifully playing along with the Democratic Party’s agenda and the ever-evolving Pentagon project of the month, be it the billion dollar chase for Bin Laden, peppering the skies with killer drones, “pivoting” to Asia or promoting the TPP in an attempt to encircle China. As Obama enters the formal lame duck phase of a presidency, which, in some regards has been in lame duck mode since inauguration, the US military is launching drones and dropping bombs on at least seven different countries.

With the “rise” of Beltway insider Hillary Clinton, who earned considerable income and clout in and out of office by aligning herself with “generous” vested interests, the DNC has admirably aimed to convince America that the time for a female president was nigh but less admirably insisted that only their hand-chosen hack would do. An able woman of comparable expertise and less prone to lying, such as Elizabeth Warren, was put on hold by the political machine because it wasn’t her “turn.” Meanwhile, Bernie Sander’s insurgent campaign almost upset the DNC apple cart in the primaries until he, too, was roped in, by the very party insiders who schemed to undo his popular bid.

The projection of power works best when the controlling hand is kept behind the wizard’s curtain. Egypt is an example of a country where the deep secular state, represented by hardcore Abdel Sisi, was forced to reveal its hand in the violent overthrow of the Islamist-leaning democratic government of populist Mohamed Morsi. Turkey, in contrast, offers a counter example where the fundamentalist-leaning Recep Erdogan used militant populism at the polls to deracinate a deeply rooted, and staunchly secular, military establishment. In Thailand, the deep state of the military has long been a counterweight to rough and tumble domestic politics. It has infamously intervened over the years with various coups d’etat, smugly priding itself as the bottom line and balancing force when things sway too far in one direction or another.

In each of the above cases, runaway populism threatened the business-as-usual needs of the deep state apparatus in which the military, big business, global trading partners and other entrenched institutions hold sway. When a deep state feels compelled to expose its hidden hand, most dramatically in the form of a karate chop-like coup, the trappings of popular democracy are shown to be just that, trappings, and the can of democratic reform is kicked down the road to be dealt with another day.

The incendiary populism of Donald Trump cannot be easily harnessed by the backbenchers enjoying hegemonic control of US policy. Trump has managed to stump establishment politicians of all stripes, including powerful rivals in and out of his own party. To the mainstream media, and the establishment on whose behalf it often speaks, the “Donald” is as an amusing sideshow so long as he loses, but it would not do for him to win.

Pat Caddell, a pollster and consultant who worked in the White House of President Jimmy Carter, recently observed that the American media is executing, on behalf of the political establishment, what amounts to a “coup d’etat.” This shocking and enlightening statement from a Washington insider serves to remind us that it doesn’t take tanks in public squares for the fate of a nation to be gamed by dark forces.

The major media outlets, paragons of political correctness, never dreamed that a person they daily accused of racism, sexism and xenophobia could be immune to their concerted hit job. Some are evincing regret that so much time was devoted to covering the amusing antics of Donald Trump in the first place, not because the round-the-clock tabloid coverage didn’t sell soap, but because the attempt to discredit the man didn’t stick. Under the barrage of heavy media shelling, Donald Trump’s campaign has not only survived, but thrived.

It does not require a “vast conspiracy” of the sort that Hillary Clinton once complained about for the US political establishment to come together to produce a leader who affirms the status quo. The media, driven by its earnest nationalism and its desire for access, bolstered by righteous clichés and sentimental piety, helps take care of that. Mirroring the deep state that it echoes, trembles in sympathy with and uncannily speaks for, the moneyed media is neither right nor left, but centrist and elitist.

The pile-on proceeds apace. On November 8, 2016 the United States will elect Hillary Clinton as president, following a script all but insisted upon, and deftly enforced, by powerful stakeholders. The media will celebrate the people’s choice, a female president, and that is well and good except for the fact that the female in question, is, to borrow a term bandied about in the last Clinton-Trump debate, a puppet of America’s ruling class. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

CASH OF THE TITANS


by Philip J Cunningham

(China-US Focus, October 28, 2016)

诸神的金钱

Cash of the Titans

2016-10-28
October 28 , 2016
女士们!先生们!请上前一步,坐到前排来观看腰缠万贯的大神们的较量!擂台一角是万达的王健林,另一边是阿里巴巴的马云。谁更有钱?谁拍出来的电影更棒?谁是无敌巨擘?
Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up! Take a ringside seat as the cash titans clash. In one corner, Wanda's Wang Jianlin, in the other, Alibaba's Jack Ma. Who has more money? Who makes better movies? Who's the biggest mogul of them all?
马云的财富来自网上零售,王健林是靠房地产发家。如今两人都把目光转向好莱坞。他们的影响力之争,将是充满传奇色彩的争斗之一,即使不搬上大银幕,也会成为完美的电视真人秀。这是一个来自毛时代纪律严明军队的人,与一个来自邓时代的聪明书呆子的对弈。一个是有无限野心的大炮,一个是善于自嘲、总是很快指出自己败绩和缺点的奋斗者;一个是吹牛皮的阔佬,一个是温声细语的环保主义者;一个是讲话带翻译的民族主义者,一个是前英语教师。
Jack Ma made his fortune in online retail, while Wang Jianlin got rich in real estate. Now, both turn their gaze to Hollywood. Their battle for influence is one of those larger-than-life sized conflicts, perfect for reality TV, if not the silver screen. It pits a military martinet who came of age under Mao versus an elflike nerd who came of age under Deng. The one a bombastic man of limitless ambition, the other a self-deprecating striver quick to point to personal failures and shortcomings, the one a braggadocio playboy, the other a soft-spoken environmentalist, the one a vocal nationalist who speaks through a translator, the other a former teacher of English.
有说法是,二人当中更文质彬彬的那位处于领先地位(阿里巴巴的马云超过万达的王健林成为亚洲首富——彭博社2016年4月26日报道)。而最近的统计显示,痛骂迪士尼的前解放军边防兵王健林仍然领先(马云依然不是亚洲首富——福布斯2016年10月13日报道)。
By some accounts the more mild-mannered of the two is in the lead (Alibaba's Jack Ma Overtakes Wanda's Wang as Asia's Richest Man”--Bloomberg April 26, 2016), while more recent statistics suggest that the Disney-bashing, former PLA border guard Wang Jianlin is in the lead (Jack Ma is Still not Asia's Richest Man--Forbes, October 13, 2016).
如果不是真的存在,他们之间的竞争故事会是很好的电影剧本。但它是现实,这也是为什么好莱坞无论如何也不愿被卷入的原因。这不仅是因为害怕无意之间冲撞了堪称庞然怪物的中国,同时也是担心妨碍王马二人的投资,二人身价现在都超过300亿美元。好莱坞亚文化的基本规则之一,就是装作对每一个人都友善,毕竟财富总是风水轮流转,你永远不知道自己什么时候会需要谁。
The story of their rivalry would make a nice movie script, if only it weren't true, but it's a reality, and that's why Hollywood won't touch it with a ten-foot pole. Not just for fear of inadvertently offending China, a big enough bugbear as it is, but for fear of jeopardizing cash injections from Wang and Ma, both of whom are worth over 30 billion dollars. One of the cardinal rules of Hollywood subculture is to feign being nice to everyone because fortunes rise and fall and you never know who you might need or when.
浮华城(指好莱坞)的制片人现在是应该庆祝外国资金的突然涌入,还是明哲保身呢?洛杉矶已经有人打出不欢迎中国投资的广告。一家叫“中国拥有美国”(Chinaownsus.com)的网站的广告就是“中国的红色傀儡:AMC院线公司”。
Should Tinseltown's moviemakers begin celebrating the sudden influx of foreign money or ducking for cover? There's already a billboard in LA suggesting that investment from China is less than welcome. “CHINA'S RED PUPPET: AMC THEATRES” brought to you by Chinaownsus.com.
马云刚刚完成一项交易,史蒂文·斯皮尔伯格为此飞到北京。他旗下的Amblin Partners,一个大名鼎鼎有亮眼票房成绩的创意组,与马云的网络巨头阿里巴巴展开合作。马云的公司之前也投资过电影,包括最近的续集《碟中碟》、《忍者神龟》和《星际迷航》。不过,与斯皮尔伯格合作,包括在Amblin Partners拥有一个董事席位,使马云处在了合作制作顶级创意产品的产业顶端。
Jack Ma has just concluded a deal, for which Steven Spielberg flew to Beijing, to link up Alibaba, Ma's Internet giant, with Amblin Partners, a prestigious creative grouping with gilded box office results. Jack Ma's company has invested in film before, including the most recent sequels of Mission Impossible, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Trek, but the deal with Spielberg, which includes a seat on the board of Amblin Partners, puts Ma in a position to co-produce top-flight creative product at the top of the game.
作为导演,史蒂文·斯皮尔伯格的名字无需介绍,但他对中国的政治立场多年来已经发生改变。他是首批与中国合拍电影的导演当中最著名的一位,拍过《太阳帝国》(1986),笔者当年做过助理。20年后,作为受到中国拉拢的最知名创意顾问,斯皮尔伯格抵制了2008年奥运会,没有参加有张艺谋、昆西·琼斯和李安在内的小组。
Steven Spielberg's name as an auteur needs no introduction, but his political position on China has changed over the years. He was the most prominent director in the first wave of Americans to co-produce in China, resulting in “Empire of the Sun” (1986), which I worked on as an assistant. Two decades later, Spielberg was the most prominent of the creative consultants wooed by China to withdraw from a group that included Zhang Yimou, Quincy Jones and Ang Lee to effectively boycott the 2008 Olympics.
如今斯皮尔伯格重回中国,显示了体制在意识形态上的宽容,这在北京奥运会期间可不多见。到底是因为中国发生了变化,还是斯皮尔伯格方面重新把中国看成有作为的合作伙伴,目前还很难说,但合作收益中大家一起发财的前景倒是能说明问题。
Now Spielberg's back in China again, showing an ideological forbearance for the system that was not apparent during the Beijing Olympics. Whether it's due to China changing, or a renewed appreciation for China as a valid partner on the part of Spielberg is hard to say, but the potential win-win wealth from co-production revenue speaks volumes.
就在马云放出令人振奋消息的同时,中国另一位亿万富豪王健林闯进了好莱坞,庆祝“青岛影都”的试营业。这是一个把硬钱转化为软实力的80亿美元的赌局,就设在黄海岸边的青岛。王健林向那些也许希望被收购的电影公司挥动着自己厚厚的钱包,并承诺在他的新影城拍电影,每部返利可以高达1500万美元。在洛杉矶,也就是他正兴建豪华分公司的地方,王健林还表示希望完成10亿美元收购Dick Clark Productions的交易。看上去这只是小动作,之前更有大型的并购,包括收购AMC院线(26亿美元)和传奇影业(35亿美元),更不用说与索尼影业的投资合作交易。
Within days of Jack Ma's exciting announcement, China's other billionaire extraordinaire, Wang Jianlin, jetted into Hollywood to celebrate the soft opening of the Qingdao Movie Metropolis, an 8 billion dollar gamble on turning hard cash into soft power, built on the shores of the Yellow Sea in Qingdao. Wang made a point of dangling his thick wallet at studios who might be willing to give themselves up for purchase, while also promising rebates of up to 15 million dollars per film made on his new premises. And while in LA, where he is also building a lavish branch office, he hopes to finalize a billion dollar deal to acquire Dick Clark Productions, which almost seems like small change in the wake of other recent mega-acquisitions including AMC Entertainment (2.6 billion) and Legendary Entertainment (3.5 billion), and that's not to mention a co-financing deal with Sony Pictures.
是什么驱使亚洲两大富佬向美国传说中的电影中心投这么多钱?想得到直接答案,难度之大堪比公民凯恩的块头。但如果我们从表面上看公关通告,其抱负与金钱和自尊心并没有什么关系。
What could possibly drive the two richest men in Asia to part with so much money in America's fabled film center? Getting a straight answer is a challenge of Citizen Kane proportions, but if we can take PR announcements at face value, the “Rosebud” of ambition has nothing to do with money or ego.
“好莱坞要重新回到讲故事的轨道上来,”王健林说。虽然到目前为止,他在基建上花的功夫大于在剧本结构上。无论巧合与否,“故事”正好也是好莱坞最会讲故事的人在北京首先提到的动机。“我希望通过马云和我的新合作给大家讲一些故事,把一些以中国为主题的故事带给美国的观众,”斯皮尔伯格说。
“We have to make Hollywood go back to storytelling,” says Wang Jianlin, even though his efforts to date have been more about infrastructure than plot structure. Coincidentally or not, “story” was the motivation first put forward by Hollywood's most successful storyteller while in Beijing. “Some of the stories I'm hoping Jack and I can tell in this new partnership,” said Steven Spielberg, “will be able to bring Chinese-themed stories to the American audience.”
女士们!先生们!请上前一步,坐到前排来观看腰缠万贯的大神们的较量!擂台一角是万达的王健林,另一边是阿里巴巴的马云。谁更有钱?谁拍出来的电影更棒?谁是无敌巨擘?
Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up! Take a ringside seat as the cash titans clash. In one corner, Wanda's Wang Jianlin, in the other, Alibaba's Jack Ma. Who has more money? Who makes better movies? Who's the biggest mogul of them all?
马云的财富来自网上零售,王健林是靠房地产发家。如今两人都把目光转向好莱坞。他们的影响力之争,将是充满传奇色彩的争斗之一,即使不搬上大银幕,也会成为完美的电视真人秀。这是一个来自毛时代纪律严明军队的人,与一个来自邓时代的聪明书呆子的对弈。一个是有无限野心的大炮,一个是善于自嘲、总是很快指出自己败绩和缺点的奋斗者;一个是吹牛皮的阔佬,一个是温声细语的环保主义者;一个是讲话带翻译的民族主义者,一个是前英语教师。
Jack Ma made his fortune in online retail, while Wang Jianlin got rich in real estate. Now, both turn their gaze to Hollywood. Their battle for influence is one of those larger-than-life sized conflicts, perfect for reality TV, if not the silver screen. It pits a military martinet who came of age under Mao versus an elflike nerd who came of age under Deng. The one a bombastic man of limitless ambition, the other a self-deprecating striver quick to point to personal failures and shortcomings, the one a braggadocio playboy, the other a soft-spoken environmentalist, the one a vocal nationalist who speaks through a translator, the other a former teacher of English.
有说法是,二人当中更文质彬彬的那位处于领先地位(阿里巴巴的马云超过万达的王健林成为亚洲首富——彭博社2016年4月26日报道)。而最近的统计显示,痛骂迪士尼的前解放军边防兵王健林仍然领先(马云依然不是亚洲首富——福布斯2016年10月13日报道)。
By some accounts the more mild-mannered of the two is in the lead (Alibaba's Jack Ma Overtakes Wanda's Wang as Asia's Richest Man”--Bloomberg April 26, 2016), while more recent statistics suggest that the Disney-bashing, former PLA border guard Wang Jianlin is in the lead (Jack Ma is Still not Asia's Richest Man--Forbes, October 13, 2016).
如果不是真的存在,他们之间的竞争故事会是很好的电影剧本。但它是现实,这也是为什么好莱坞无论如何也不愿被卷入的原因。这不仅是因为害怕无意之间冲撞了堪称庞然怪物的中国,同时也是担心妨碍王马二人的投资,二人身价现在都超过300亿美元。好莱坞亚文化的基本规则之一,就是装作对每一个人都友善,毕竟财富总是风水轮流转,你永远不知道自己什么时候会需要谁。
The story of their rivalry would make a nice movie script, if only it weren't true, but it's a reality, and that's why Hollywood won't touch it with a ten-foot pole. Not just for fear of inadvertently offending China, a big enough bugbear as it is, but for fear of jeopardizing cash injections from Wang and Ma, both of whom are worth over 30 billion dollars. One of the cardinal rules of Hollywood subculture is to feign being nice to everyone because fortunes rise and fall and you never know who you might need or when.
浮华城(指好莱坞)的制片人现在是应该庆祝外国资金的突然涌入,还是明哲保身呢?洛杉矶已经有人打出不欢迎中国投资的广告。一家叫“中国拥有美国”(Chinaownsus.com)的网站的广告就是“中国的红色傀儡:AMC院线公司”。
Should Tinseltown's moviemakers begin celebrating the sudden influx of foreign money or ducking for cover? There's already a billboard in LA suggesting that investment from China is less than welcome. “CHINA'S RED PUPPET: AMC THEATRES” brought to you by Chinaownsus.com.
马云刚刚完成一项交易,史蒂文·斯皮尔伯格为此飞到北京。他旗下的Amblin Partners,一个大名鼎鼎有亮眼票房成绩的创意组,与马云的网络巨头阿里巴巴展开合作。马云的公司之前也投资过电影,包括最近的续集《碟中碟》、《忍者神龟》和《星际迷航》。不过,与斯皮尔伯格合作,包括在Amblin Partners拥有一个董事席位,使马云处在了合作制作顶级创意产品的产业顶端。
Jack Ma has just concluded a deal, for which Steven Spielberg flew to Beijing, to link up Alibaba, Ma's Internet giant, with Amblin Partners, a prestigious creative grouping with gilded box office results. Jack Ma's company has invested in film before, including the most recent sequels of Mission Impossible, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Trek, but the deal with Spielberg, which includes a seat on the board of Amblin Partners, puts Ma in a position to co-produce top-flight creative product at the top of the game.
作为导演,史蒂文·斯皮尔伯格的名字无需介绍,但他对中国的政治立场多年来已经发生改变。他是首批与中国合拍电影的导演当中最著名的一位,拍过《太阳帝国》(1986),笔者当年做过助理。20年后,作为受到中国拉拢的最知名创意顾问,斯皮尔伯格抵制了2008年奥运会,没有参加有张艺谋、昆西·琼斯和李安在内的小组。
Steven Spielberg's name as an auteur needs no introduction, but his political position on China has changed over the years. He was the most prominent director in the first wave of Americans to co-produce in China, resulting in “Empire of the Sun” (1986), which I worked on as an assistant. Two decades later, Spielberg was the most prominent of the creative consultants wooed by China to withdraw from a group that included Zhang Yimou, Quincy Jones and Ang Lee to effectively boycott the 2008 Olympics.
如今斯皮尔伯格重回中国,显示了体制在意识形态上的宽容,这在北京奥运会期间可不多见。到底是因为中国发生了变化,还是斯皮尔伯格方面重新把中国看成有作为的合作伙伴,目前还很难说,但合作收益中大家一起发财的前景倒是能说明问题。
Now Spielberg's back in China again, showing an ideological forbearance for the system that was not apparent during the Beijing Olympics. Whether it's due to China changing, or a renewed appreciation for China as a valid partner on the part of Spielberg is hard to say, but the potential win-win wealth from co-production revenue speaks volumes.
就在马云放出令人振奋消息的同时,中国另一位亿万富豪王健林闯进了好莱坞,庆祝“青岛影都”的试营业。这是一个把硬钱转化为软实力的80亿美元的赌局,就设在黄海岸边的青岛。王健林向那些也许希望被收购的电影公司挥动着自己厚厚的钱包,并承诺在他的新影城拍电影,每部返利可以高达1500万美元。在洛杉矶,也就是他正兴建豪华分公司的地方,王健林还表示希望完成10亿美元收购Dick Clark Productions的交易。看上去这只是小动作,之前更有大型的并购,包括收购AMC院线(26亿美元)和传奇影业(35亿美元),更不用说与索尼影业的投资合作交易。
Within days of Jack Ma's exciting announcement, China's other billionaire extraordinaire, Wang Jianlin, jetted into Hollywood to celebrate the soft opening of the Qingdao Movie Metropolis, an 8 billion dollar gamble on turning hard cash into soft power, built on the shores of the Yellow Sea in Qingdao. Wang made a point of dangling his thick wallet at studios who might be willing to give themselves up for purchase, while also promising rebates of up to 15 million dollars per film made on his new premises. And while in LA, where he is also building a lavish branch office, he hopes to finalize a billion dollar deal to acquire Dick Clark Productions, which almost seems like small change in the wake of other recent mega-acquisitions including AMC Entertainment (2.6 billion) and Legendary Entertainment (3.5 billion), and that's not to mention a co-financing deal with Sony Pictures.
是什么驱使亚洲两大富佬向美国传说中的电影中心投这么多钱?想得到直接答案,难度之大堪比公民凯恩的块头。但如果我们从表面上看公关通告,其抱负与金钱和自尊心并没有什么关系。
What could possibly drive the two richest men in Asia to part with so much money in America's fabled film center? Getting a straight answer is a challenge of Citizen Kane proportions, but if we can take PR announcements at face value, the “Rosebud” of ambition has nothing to do with money or ego.
“好莱坞要重新回到讲故事的轨道上来,”王健林说。虽然到目前为止,他在基建上花的功夫大于在剧本结构上。无论巧合与否,“故事”正好也是好莱坞最会讲故事的人在北京首先提到的动机。“我希望通过马云和我的新合作给大家讲一些故事,把一些以中国为主题的故事带给美国的观众,”斯皮尔伯格说。
“We have to make Hollywood go back to storytelling,” says Wang Jianlin, even though his efforts to date have been more about infrastructure than plot structure. Coincidentally or not, “story” was the motivation first put forward by Hollywood's most successful storyteller while in Beijing. “Some of the stories I'm hoping Jack and I can tell in this new partnership,” said Steven Spielberg, “will be able to bring Chinese-themed stories to the American audience.”
(published in China-US Focus, October 31, 2016)

By Philip J Cunningham

Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up! Take a ringside seat as the cash titans clash. In one corner, Wanda’s Wang Jianlin, in the other, Alibaba’s Jack Ma. Who has more money? Who makes better movies? Who’s the biggest mogul of them all?

Jack Ma made his fortune in online retail, while Wang Jianlin got rich in real estate. Both now turn their gaze to Hollywood. Their battle for influence is one of those larger-than-life sized conflicts, perfect for reality TV, if not the silver screen. It pits a military martinet who came of age under Mao versus an elflike nerd who came of age under Deng. The one a bombastic man of limitless ambition, the other a self-deprecating striver quick to point to personal failures and shortcomings, the one a braggadocio playboy, the other a soft-spoken environmentalist, the one a vocal nationalist who speaks through a translator, the other a former teacher of English.

By some accounts the more mild-mannered of the two is in the lead. (Alibaba’s Jack Ma Overtakes Wanda’s Wang as Asia’s Richest Man”--Bloomberg April 26, 2016) while more recent statistics suggest that the Disney-bashing, former PLA border guard Wang Jianlin is in the lead. (Jack Ma is Still not Asia’s Richest Man--Forbes, October 13, 2016)

The story of their rivalry would make a nice movie script, if only it weren’t true, but it’s for real and that’s why Hollywood won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. Not just for fear of inadvertently offending China, a big enough bugbear as it is, but for fear of jeopardizing cash injections from Wang and Ma, both of whom are worth over 30 billion dollars.

One of the cardinal rules of Hollywood subculture is to feign being nice to everyone because fortunes rise and fall and you never know who you might need or when.

Should Tinseltown’s moviemakers being celebrating the sudden influx of foreign money or ducking for cover?  There’s already a billboard in LA suggesting that investment from China is less than welcome. “CHINA’S RED PUPPET: AMC THEATRES” brought to you by Chinaownsus.com.

Jack Ma has just concluded a deal, for which Steven Spielberg flew to Beijing, to link up Alibaba, Ma’s Internet giant, with Amblin Partners, a prestigious creative grouping with gilded box office results. Jack Ma’s company has invested in film before, including the most recent sequels of Mission Impossible, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Trek but the deal with Spielberg, which includes a seat on the board of Amblin Partners, puts Ma in a position to co-produce top-flight creative product at the top of the game.

Steven Spielberg’s name as an auteur needs no introduction, but his political position on China has changed over the years. He was the most prominent director in the first wave of Americans to co-produce in China, resulting in “Empire of the Sun” (1986) which I worked on as an assistant. Two decades later, Spielberg was the most prominent of the creative consultants wooed by China to withdraw from a group that including Zhang Yimou, Quincy Jones and Ang Lee to effectively boycott the 2008 Olympics.

Now Spielberg’s back in China again, showing an ideological forbearance for the system that was not apparent during the Beijing Olympics. Whether it’s due to China changing, or a renewed appreciation for China as a valid partner on the part of Spielberg is hard to say, but the potential win-win wealth from co-production revenue speaks volumes.

Within days of Jack Ma’s exciting announcement, China’s other billionaire extraordinaire, Wang Jianlin, jetted into Hollywood to celebrate the soft opening of the Qingdao Movie Metropolis, an 8 billion dollar gamble on turning hard cash into soft power, built on the shores of the Yellow Sea in Qingdao. Wang made a point of dangling his thick wallet at studios who might willing to give themselves up for purchase, while also promising rebates of up to 15 million dollars per film made on his new premises. And while in LA, where he is also building a lavish branch office, he hopes to finalize a billion dollar deal to acquire Dick Clark Productions, which almost seems like small change in the wake of other recent mega-acquisitions including AMC Entertainment (2.6 billion) and Legendary Entertainment (3.5 billion), and that’s not to mention a co-financing deal with Sony Pictures.


What could possibly drive the two richest men in Asia to part with so much money in America’s fabled film center? Getting a straight answer is a challenge of Citizen Kane proportions. What is the “Rosebud” that they are chasing?

Storytelling? That's the motivation put forward by Hollywood’s most successful storyteller while in Beijing. “Some of the stories I'm hoping Jack and I can tell in this new partnership,” said Steven Spielberg, “will be able to bring Chinese-themed stories to the American audience.”
Coincidentally or not, this was also the theme echoed by the other titan.“We have to make Hollywood go back to storytelling,” says Wang Jianlin, though his efforts to date have been more about infrastructure than plot structure.

If we can take PR announcements at face value, the unprecedented Hollywood spending spree of Asia’s two biggest titans has nothing to do with money or ego.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

THE END OF AN ERA: THE PASSING OF A PEOPLE'S KING


(from a Bangkok Post commentary about King Bhumibol in commemoration of a productive reign)


BANGKOK POST, FRIDAY JUNE 9, 2006
COMMENT / DIAMOND JUBILEE



For the people, always

A good king makes possible a self-identification, not in the abstract as in the people or the state, but in the easily perceived and palpable form of an extraordinary national representative, the constitutional monarch

By PHILIP J CUNNINGHAM

The first and only time I set eyes on His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was in July 1971. My Thai host family had briefed me well for the occasion. They held the King in the highest esteem and proudly displayed photographs of graduation ceremonies and charitable donations that had momentarily brought them together with their beloved king, the people's king.

One day, without much advance warning other than to be told to shower and dress neatly, I was taken to Wat Boworn, which had been, my Thai mother and sisters explained, the home of another heralded member of the Chakri Dynasty, King Mongkut.

After pondering the fate of the monk-turned-monarch and trying to digest the gist of Buddhism from a pamphlet intriguingly titled, ''Why are we born?'' I was directed to stand with a thickening throng of people just outside the temple gate.

''The King is coming! The King is coming!''

Soon a creamy yellow limo marked with the royal insignia pulled up and a hush went over the expectant crowd.

Being young, American, and thus a little bit foolish, I waved excitedly at the king in contravention of more demure Thai behaviour. His Majesty waved back. I was thrilled.

Looking back 35 years to that distant fleeting moment, and the strong after-image that endures to this day, it is hard to believe that King Bhumibol had already reigned for a quarter of a century at that point.

The extraordinary length of His Majesty's popular reign has meant, in effect, that almost no one in Thailand (excepting those well into their sixties or above) has even a remote idea of what Thailand was like without him.

Thus an identification with King Bhumibol, by stature of the exalted office but more especially by the individual merit of a lifetime of good works, is an indelible part of what it means to be a modern Thai.

Even a foreigner like myself who has maintained a regular engagement with Thailand over several decades cannot escape the feeling of having grown up with the King.

When I returned to the New York suburbs after my exchange student experience in Thailand, I brought with me treasured gifts from Thai friends that helped me keep alive the wonderful memories of my time there. Along with a gold chain, Buddha amulets, teak elephants, silk shirts, hilltribe shoulder bags, temple incense and the like, I had in my Marco Polo suitcase a calendar portrait of Thailand's first family. I put it up in my room during my freshman year at Cornell University, in part because it reminded me of things I did not want to fade from memory, but also in anticipation that my Thai roommate would feel more at home. Alas, the portrait came down at his insistence, for his journey was a parallel but reverse image of mine; he wanted to be more American as much as I wanted to be more Thai. Still, we were both thrilled when the King judiciously interceded in the political upheaval of Oct 14, 1973 and his magical status in my eyes remained intact.

As an intermediate student of Thai, I grew interested in the complexities of Rachasap until I read somewhere that the King, when meeting foreigners, preferred speaking English or French, and even with fellow Thais, he preferred straight talk to elaborate linguistic protocol.

There was a period after Oct 6, 1976, when the possibility of Thailand going communist was on many minds, and as a student of Southeast Asian studies, I read assiduously literature and essays that might shed some light on why this was happening. I read Jit Phumisak, Kukrit Pramoj, Suwat Woradilok, Sulak Srivaraksa, Seni Saowapong, Buddhadhasa Bhikku and even some fragmentary, politicised literature that was coming out of the jungle under the stamp of the Thai communist party.

Despite shared worries for the future, my Thai friends, almost to a person, assured me that no matter what should happen, the King would be part of the solution. The merit of this view seemed to hold forth during the generally agreeable rule of General Prem Tinsulanonda, who was reportedly close to the King and also shared some of the popular royal attributes of graciousness, earnestness and humility.

Any doubts about His Majesty's merits as the people's king were washed away with the brilliant and judicious royal intervention in mid-May 1992 that ended a violent jostle for power and set Thai democracy back on course, with people power winning the day.

Since the 1950s, the Thai monarchy, as has been researched and documented by scholars at Cornell and elsewhere, served as a stabilising role during the ideological tug-of-war as the so-called West and the so-called communist bloc vied for global dominance.

After the dislocation caused by US losses in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia followed by the demand for the withdrawal of US troops from Thailand, there followed the bloody reactionary violence of Oct 6, 1976.

During that deeply troubling juncture, it seemed for a while that the east wind would prevail over the west wind.

A number of Thai friends, normally proud and sometimes borderline xenophobic, were suddenly desperately interested in acquiring green cards to the US or moving investments abroad or even going into exile.

Yet somehow the centre held, and Thailand muddled through this difficult period. The mean-spirited Sino-Soviet split as played out in Indochina and in the rear bases of the Communist Party of Thailand conspired to neutralise the guerilla movement and in the best tradition of Thai political flexibility, former communist enemies of the state were welcomed back into the fold of mainstream Thai society without recrimination, under an amnesty programme sponsored by Prime Minister Kriangsak Chomanan with the support of US President Jimmy Carter.

If the Thai monarchy performed as expected in the minds of cold warriors worried about the rising wind from the east, it also performed, and continues to perform, a valuable unifying function in the post-Cold War world in which religion has replaced ideology as the organising principle for contested political space.

Given the cultural saturation of Theravada Buddhism in much of Thailand, it is tempting, though inaccurate, for tourist and traditionalist alike, to see Thailand and Buddhism as part and parcel of the same national essence. This was memorialised in the traditional slogan Chart, Satsana, Mahakasat (Nation, Religion, Monarchy).

One way in which the monarchy can help the centre hold during an age of alleged civilisation clash is to offer a non-religious allegiance to the idea of being Thai.

A good king makes possible a self-identification, not in the abstract as in the people or the state, but in the easily perceived, emotionally satisfying and palpable form of an extraordinary national representative, the constitutional monarch.

Although my farang world is far removed from the isolated villages of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, and there is a significant difference between a sometime resident and a born citizen, I think I share with many Thai Muslims the sense that a wise and benevolent king is in a real sense my ultimate protector in Thailand. Much of the King's outreach has been cast in this role, as the protector of minorities and outsiders, just as the great kings in ages past were protectors of those marginal to mainstream society, whether it be the Yuan emperor taking Marco Polo under his wing, or the Japanese emperors whose Kyoto imperial palace even today is ringed with now more-or-less socially integrated descendants of the former Burakumin outcaste community.

As such, a shared respect for an extraordinary monarch may provide the best way to mend the torn social fabric of Thailand's deep South. A successful reconciliation requires finding common ground and common identity outside the confines of religion and the coercive aspect of the state.

During the past year, when excessive greed on the part of a few individuals again seemed to threaten the generally tightly-knit fabric of Thai society, the King quietly pleaded for reason and justice to prevail.

As an American of Irish descent, I was brought up as a republican and democrat, well-versed in the perils of British monarchy, the plainspoken rejection of which has shaped both American and Irish political ideology.

But as a sometime resident of Thailand, I have been privileged to see a wise and benevolent king bring justice, identity and pride to a people struggling with an imperfect import of America's imperfect democracy.

Long Live the King!