To The Point

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(Photo: Panorama of the Square)

Next week marks the 25th anniversary of the bloody military crackdown at Tiananmen Square. Will Chinese citizens be marking the occasion or will government censors scrub out any discussion of the events of June 4th?

New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos lived in China from 2005 to 2013. He told To the Point’s Warren Olney that many Chinese have only a vague understanding of what happened 25 years ago, but it will be discussed around dinner tables.

“Sometimes we imagine that it’s just this blank spot in their understanding, and actually it’s a little more interesting,” Osnos says. “They know there was — as it’s often described in Chinese history — ‘turmoil.’ There was a disturbance and what they’ve been taught in school is: Had those events turned out differently had there not been a crackdown by the military that China’s economic gains would have been impossible.”

Government censors have already started to isolate code words people are using to talk about Tiananmen Square and blocking them, Osnos said. The words “fire” and “troubles” for instance.

This “cat and mouse game” between Internet users and the Central Publicity Department (also called the Central Propaganda Department) is a major part of Osnos’ fascinating new book “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in new China.”

“At one point a couple years ago, I noticed that one of the code words people were using was ‘the truth.’ So all of a sudden you got this very odd message if you tried to search for “the truth.” You got a message that said ‘Information about the truth is currently unavailable.’”

Osnos said that’s just one of many examples where technological growth has outpaced political change. He tries to tell the story of this “warp speed transformation” through the lives of young bloggers, ordinary workers, dissident artists and millionaire entrepreneurs.

One of his subjects is Gong Haiyan, who founded the Chinese version of Osnos visited her palatial home after she earned $77 million by taking her company public.   

But even her online dating clients tell the story of “New China,” Osnos said. You just have to look at the very specific demands they can make about the height, romantic history and salary prospects of their potential dates.

“After all this time in which you couldn’t demand anything in China — you didn’t deserve to demand anything as an individual — all of a sudden you can be incredibly demanding. And if you think about what that does to a country, to a society, and ultimately to a government that’s a transformative effect.”

- Evan George, producer “To the Point”

"Why can two people side by side experience the same traumatic event and one learns to deal with it and moves on, absorbs it and moves on, and the other can be hobbled by it for the rest of his life. No one knows the answer." - David Finkel talking about his new book on today’s To the Point.

Reid Wilson, editor-in-chief of Hotline, the National Journal’s daily briefing on politics, talks to Warren about the political aftermath of the Newtown massacre and who the unlikely moderates are who have lined up in favor of new gun control laws.

On today’s show, Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times veteran Hedrick Smith, whose latest book is “Who Stole the American Dream?” said the median household income in America today is $49,000.  And that’s counting two earners. “A lot of people that consider themselves middle class … think of middle class being somewhere around $70,000,” he said. “No, it’s much lower than that.”

Last night in Charlotte, President Barack Obama made his plea for a second term with a tone of humility. “I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the President.” The speech lacked the soaring rhetoric of candidate Obama in 2008. Instead, it was grounded in the prose of reality – what’s been accomplished, what remains to be done. Nor did Obama match the impassioned, folksy delivery of Bill Clinton from the night before, but he did paint a definitive choice for voters, outlining the stark differences between the Democrats and the Republicans. Did he manage to persuade those important swing voters to give him more time?


Tonight, former President Bill Clinton will be the prime time speaker who nominates the current President Barack Obama for re-election. Republicans claim he’ll just remind voters of better days. Is he a risky choice for prime time? Will he overshadow the man he’ll nominate? We talk about a stormy relationship with the biographer of both Clinton and Obama, whose relationship is one of the most fascinating in current American politics.


At the Democratic convention in Charlotte last night, first lady Michelle Obama told the story of a rise to the White House from humble origins without losing family values. Without ever mentioning Mitt and Ann Romney, she created an image of stunning contrasts. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro also electrified the delegates, the first Latino to keynote a Democratic convention. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick lauded President Obama’s long list of accomplishments, made even more impressive considering that “Congressional Republicans have made obstruction itself the centerpiece of their governing strategy.” We hear some highlights.


Morning Preview from Charlotte

Warren talks to KCRW’s Chery Glaser about last night’s speeches and what to expect today. Also, coming up on today’s show - Is Bill Clinton really a risk for the Obama campaign?

Mitt Romney has taken heat for not being specific about proposals for turning the country around. Now it’s the President’s turn. Barack Obama has not laid out a specific second-term agenda, and Democrats have fumbled the ball when Paul Ryan asks, “Are you better off than four years ago?” With so many people still hurting, it’s hard to run on the record. What can the President do to bring disappointed voters back into the fold? On Day One in Charlotte, we hear from reporters, Democrats and conservative columnist David Brooks of the New York Times. We also look at the Democrats’ focus on the Latino vote, including tonight’s Keynote Address and efforts at mobilization.  (We also heard KCRW’s Saul Gonzalez speaking with Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of NALEO, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials.)


Warren poses with The Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page in our booth at DNC. 

KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis talks to “To the Point” host, Warren Olney about the week at the Republican National Convention.

Here’s a recap:

  • Monday: Not a lot happened as the storm forced Republicans to cancel the first day of the convention.
  • Tuesday: Delegates were energized by Ann Romney and Chris Christie
  • Wednesday: They loved hearing Condoleeza Rice, and Paul Ryan’s Tea-Party speech. No indication that Romney/Ryan are trying to move toward the center.
  • Thursday: Mitt’s challenge was to take the convention away from Ryan and to humanize himself.

Listen to more analysis: