Chatter: China embarks on once-in-decade power transfer




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Need to know:
And you thought the US elections were a big deal. Today, China begins the process of transferring power to a new generation of leaders, a change that takes place only once every 10 years.

Like the American vote, the transition will be live-blogged, micro-blogged, maybe even be-GIFed; unlike the American vote, it won't be decided by the general populace. What makes this week's 18th Communist Party Congress fascinating isn't exactly suspense – we're already pretty sure that Xi Jinping will become party leader and Chinese president, with Li Keqiang as prime minister – rather, it's watching the people who set the agenda for the past decade hand over to the people who will set it for the next.

"We must not take the old path that is closed and rigid," outgoing president Hu Jintao told delegates, "nor must we take the evil road of changing flags and banners." (A phrase that led some netizens, apparently, to evoke the image of the Politburo marching on the spot. You see, the Chinese love memes too!)

Before the congress opened this morning, some 130 dissidents had reportedly been arrested and at least four Tibetans had set themselves on fire. Amid protest, scandal and profound change, it's clear that China's so-called "fifth generation" of leaders face some of the biggest challenges the world's other superpower has ever seen.

Want to know:
It's back to Washington and back to work for newly re-elected President Barack Obama, who has to persuade Republicans to compromise on his deficit-reduction deal after a sorely divisive campaign.

The US is heading for the alarmingly-named fiscal cliff, beyond which tax cuts will expire and spending cuts be triggered, unless Congress can agree on a deal before January. If it doesn't, analysts say, the economy will almost certainly go into recession.

John Boehner, speaker of the Republican-controlled House, has already hinted that his party would agree to new revenue-raising in exchange for tax-code reform.

"We’re ready to be led — not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans," he told reporters. Meanwhile Senator Harry Reid, who leads the Democrats' majority in the Senate, says it's "better to dance than to fight."

Olive branches all round, as Congress heads back into session – albeit a lame-duck one – next week.

Dull but important:
Ah, deficit reduction: we could talk about it for days. Thankfully Greece didn't, and has narrowly passed the package of austerity measures crucial for obtaining its next wodge of bailout cash.

The ruling three-party coalition managed to persuade parliament to approve the bill late last night with 153 votes out of 300. It scraped through despite vigorous opposition from the left, a two-day national strike and 100,000 union members protesting outside.

The next step is to pass the 2013 budget (spoiler alert: there be cuts), which goes before lawmakers on Sunday. If that passes, Greece will be able to claim another €31.5 billion of loans from the European Union and International Monetary Fund when euro-zone ministers meet next week.

Just because:
"Western world? Yeah, this is Bashar al-Assad, you know, from Syria. Just calling to tell you: don't mess with me."

We paraphrase, but that's essentially the message Assad delivers in his latest TV interview. Speaking to Moscow's state-run Russia Today, the Syrian president said: "I am not a puppet... I am Syrian, I was made in Syria, I have to live in Syria and die in Syria."

So that's a no, then, to British Prime Minister David Cameron's suggestion that Assad could be offered safe passage in exchange for leaving power. And in case anyone was thinking of putting down the carrot and picking up a stick, Assad warns that foreign military intervention "will have a domino effect that will affect the world from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and you know the implication on the rest of the world."

Strange but true:
So Reddit is good for something, other than trolling and sending cat videos viral. The site helped one man find out he had testicular cancer – after he posted a picture of a pregnancy test he'd taken that showed up positive.

Leaving aside what he doing with a test in the first place (something to do with an ex-girlfriend leaving it at his house), the guy in question was lucky that someone on Reddit knew their stuff. He'd assumed the result was down to a flaw in the test, but in fact it had correctly detected human chorionic gonadotropin, the hormone that indicates pregnancy in women and can be a sign of cancer in men.

Tellingly, it was only after the post had received more than 1,000 "LOL"s, etc., that someone advised the man to go to a doctor. It's a good thing Movember's here to spread the word about men's health.