China Power

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For most of the post-World War II era, Americans have worried about the ideology of those who opposed us. It was “Communist ideology” that we feared. After the Soviet Union imploded and China – a Communist country – began to rise, it was easy, and even natural, to assume that America is now facing a new “Communist ideology” that must be dealt with.

That is why I found Edward Wong’s piece, “A Chinese Empire Reborn,” so valuable. The author reveals that we must understand that China isn’t about ideology, it’s about power. He says:

From trade to the internet, from higher education to Hollywood, China is shaping the world in ways that people have only begun to grasp. Yet the emerging imperium is more a result of the Communist Party’s exercise of hard power, including economic coercion, than the product of a gravitational pull of Chinese ideas or contemporary culture.

Of the global powers that dominated the 19th century, China alone is a rejuvenated empire. The Communist Party commands a vast territory that the ethnic-Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty cobbled together through war and diplomacy. And the dominion could grow: China is using its military to test potential control of disputed borderlands from the South China Sea to the Himalayas, while firing up nationalism at home. Once again, states around the world pay homage to the court, as in 2015 during a huge military parade.

For decades, the United States was a global beacon for those who embraced certain values — the rule of law, free speech, clean government and human rights. Even if policy often fell short of those stated ideals, American “soft power” remained as potent as its armed forces. In the post-Soviet era, political figures and scholars regarded that American way of amassing power through attraction as a central element of forging a modern empire.

China’s rise is a blunt counterpoint. From 2009 onward, Chinese power in domestic and international realms has become synonymous with brute strength, bribery and browbeating — and the Communist Party’s empire is getting stronger.

At home, the party has imprisoned rights lawyers, strangled the internet, compelled companies and universities to install party cells, and planned for a potentially Orwellian “social credit” system. Abroad, it is building military installations on disputed Pacific reefs and infiltrating cybernetworks. It pushes the “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure initiative across Eurasia, which will have benefits for other nations but will also allow China to pressure them to do business with Chinese state-owned enterprises, as it has done in recent years throughout Asia and Africa.

Chinese citizens and the world would benefit if China turns out to be an empire whose power is based as much on ideas, values and culture as on military and economic might. It was more enlightened under its most glorious dynasties. But for now, the Communist Party embraces hard power and coercion, and this could well be what replaces the fading liberal hegemony of the United States on the global stage. It will not lead to a grand vision of world order. Instead, before us looms a void.

Want to read more.

Security Threats

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Last week, I posted the first pillar in the new U.S. National Security Strategy, “Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life.”

The second pillar is to: Promote American Prosperity. This pillar calls for the United States to: “Lead in Research, Technology, Invention, and Innovation,” in order to maintain a competitive advantage in emerging technologies such as data science, encryption, autonomous technologies, gene editing, new materials, nanotechnology, advanced computing technologies, and artificial intelligence.

This pillar goes on to note that in order to attract and maintain an innovative and inventive advantage, scientists from government, academia, and industry should be encouraged to achieve advancements across the full spectrum of discovery.

This pillar continues by stressing the importance of promoting and protecting the “U.S. National Security Innovation Base (the American network of knowledge, capabilities, and people – including academia, national laboratories, and the private sector)” by guarding against the theft of intellectual property allows competitors unfair access to innovative and free societies.

You can read the full National Security Strategy here.

Embrace Gratitude

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Ever pause to count your blessings – to consider what you are grateful for? Most of us don’t, but if we did, we’d likely be happier, perhaps vastly so.

That’s why I was struck by Jennifer Breheny Wallace’s piece, An Attitude of Gratitude, and wanted to share part of it with you. Here is how she begins:

Kathleen Cormier, a mother from suburban Minneapolis, is trying to instill a sense of gratitude in her sons, ages 12 and 17. But sometimes she wonders if other parents have given up.

Some of her sons’ peers, she says, are lacking in the basics of gratitude, such as looking adults in the eye to thank them. The saddest part, she says, is that many parents don’t even expect their children to be grateful anymore. They are accustomed to getting no acknowledgment for, say, devoting their weekend to driving from activity to activity. There is “such a lack of respect,” she says.

Every generation seems to complain that children “these days” are so much more entitled and ungrateful than in years past. This time, they might be right. In today’s selfie culture, which often rewards bragging and arrogance over kindness and humility, many people are noticing a drop-off in everyday expressions of gratitude.

In a 2012 national online poll of 2,000 adults, commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation, 59% of those surveyed thought that most people today are “less likely to have an attitude of gratitude than 10 or 20 years ago.” The youngest group, 18- to 24-year-olds, were the least likely of any age group to report expressing gratitude regularly (only 35%) and the most likely to express gratitude for self-serving reasons (“it will encourage people to be kind or generous to me”).

Want more? You can read the full piece here.

AI on the March

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Few would dispute the benefits that AI and Machine Learning can convey. AI surrounds us in all we do and impacts more-and-more of our daily life.

American companies like Amazon and Google have done more than anyone to turn A.I. concepts into real products. But for a number of reasons, much of the critical research being done on artificial intelligence is already migrating to other countries, with China poised to take over that leadership role. In July, China unveiled a plan to become the world leader in artificial intelligence and create an industry worth $150 billion to its economy by 2030.

To technologists working on A.I. in the United States, the statement, which was 28 pages long in its English translation, was a direct challenge to America’s lead in arguably the most important tech research to come along in decades. It outlined the Chinese government’s aggressive plan to treat A.I. like the country’s own version of the Apollo 11 lunar mission — an all-in effort that could stoke national pride and spark agenda-setting technology breakthroughs.

The manifesto was also remarkably similar to several reports on the future of artificial intelligence released by the Obama administration at the end of 2016.

“It is remarkable to see how A.I. has emerged as a top priority for the Chinese leadership and how quickly things have been set into motion,” said Elsa Kania, an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security who helped translate the manifesto and follows China’s work on artificial intelligence. “The U.S. plans and policies released in 2016 were seemingly the impetus for the formulation of China’s national A.I. strategy.”

Want more? You can read the full article here.

National Security Threats

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Last month, I posted some of the high points of the National Security of The United States of America, our highest national security document.

Our National Security Strategy rests on a number of pillars. I’ll detail them in this blog posts, as well as in other posts in the ensuing weeks:

Pillar I is to: “Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life”

This pillar begins by noting the need to emphasize the need to defend against weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It notes that as more countries pursue WMDs and increase their technology and capabilities, the threat of rogue nations and non-state actors using them will increase, as unstable security environments persist.

A key part of this pillar is the need to keep America safe in the cyber era, noting, in particular, “Today, cyberspace offers state and none-state actors the ability to wage campaigns against the American political, economic, and security interests.” The strategy calls for increasing the security of the critical infrastructure and hardening it against both cyber and electromagnetic attacks, and incorporating a multilayered approach to security.

We will discuss the remaining pillars of the National Security Strategy in blog posts in the weeks to come.

You can read the full National Security Strategy here.

Security Threats

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Last week, I posted the first pillar in the new U.S. National Security Strategy, “Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life.”

The second pillar is to: Promote American Prosperity. This pillar calls for the United States to: “Lead in Research, Technology, Invention, and Innovation,” in order to maintain a competitive advantage in emerging technologies such as data science, encryption, autonomous technologies, gene editing, new materials, nanotechnology, advanced computing technologies, and artificial intelligence.

This pillar goes on to note that in order to attract and maintain an innovative and inventive advantage, scientists from government, academia, and industry should be encouraged to achieve advancements across the full spectrum of discovery.

This pillar continues by stressing the importance of promoting and protecting the “U.S. National Security Innovation Base (the American network of knowledge, capabilities, and people – including academia, national laboratories, and the private sector)” by guarding against the theft of intellectual property allows competitors unfair access to innovative and free societies.

You can read the full National Security Strategy here.

Better than Ever?

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Tired of the gloom and doom? Weary of hearing how the world is “going to hell in a hand basket?” If so, you can understand why Steven Pinker’s first book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” was a runaway best-seller, and why his newest offering, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” has quickly achieved that status.

Pinker isn’t some wide-eyed, giddy optimist. Instead, he marshals facts and figures to make his case that things are getting better. Here is an excerpt from a New York Times review:

Optimism is not generally thought cool, and it is often thought foolish. The optimistic philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote in 1828, “I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage.” In the previous century, Voltaire’s “Candide” had attacked what its author called “optimism”: the Leibnizian idea that all must be for the best in this best of all possible worlds. After suffering through one disaster after another, Candide decides that optimism is merely “a mania for insisting that all is well when things are going badly.”

Much of the book is taken up with evidence-based philosophizing, with charts showing a worldwide increase in life expectancy, a decline in life-shattering diseases, ever better education and access to information, greater recognition of female equality and L.G.B.T. rights, and so on — even down to data showing that Americans today are 37 times less likely to be killed by lightning than in 1900, thanks to better weather forecasting, electrical engineering and safety awareness. Improvements in health have bettered the human condition enormously, and Pinker tells us that his favorite sentence in the whole English language comes from Wikipedia: “Smallpox was an infectious disease caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor.” The word “wasis what he likes.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Our New Rulers

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Much ink has been spilled about the enormous, most would say outsize, impact that the biggest technology companies have on our lives.

So much of this commentary has been shrill, so when a thoughtful article on the subject appears, it’s worth highlighting.

Farhad Manjoo nailed it in his piece, “The Frightful Five Want to Rule Entertainment. They Are Hitting Limits.” Here is how he begins:

The tech giants are too big. Other than Donald J. Trump, that’s the defining story of 2017, the meta-narrative lurking beneath every other headline.

The companies I call the Frightful Five — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, Google’s parent company — have experienced astounding growth over the last few years, making them the world’s five most valuable public companies. Because they own the technology that will dominate much of life for the foreseeable future, they are also gaining vast social and political power over much of the world beyond tech.

Now that world is scrambling to figure out what to do about them. And it is discovering that the changes they are unleashing — in the economy, in civic and political life, in arts and entertainment, and in our tech-addled psyches — are not simple to comprehend, let alone to limit.

I’ve spent the last few years studying the rise of these giants. As tensions over their power reached a high boil this summer — Facebook and Russia, Google and sexism, Amazon and Whole Foods — I began thinking more about the nature and consequence of their power, and talking to everyone I could find about these companies. Among them were people in the tech industry, as well as many in other power centers: Washington, Hollywood, the media, the health care and automotive businesses, and other corners of society that may soon be ensnared by one or more of the Five.

Want to read more

Security Threats

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Last week, I re-introduced our National Security Strategy with the first half of the president’s transmittal letter. Here is the rest of the letter, detailing the threats to America’s security and prosperity

We are rallying the world against the rogue regime in North Korea and confronting the danger posed by the dictatorship in Iran, which those determined to pursue a f lawed nuclear deal had neglected. We have renewed our friendships in the Middle East and partnered with regional leaders to help drive out terrorists and extremists, cut off their financing, and discredit their wicked ideology. We crushed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, and will continue pursuing them until they are destroyed. America’s allies are now contributing more to our common defense, strengthening even our strongest alliances. We have also continued to make clear that the United States will no longer tolerate economic aggression or unfair trading practices.

At home, we have restored confidence in America’s purpose. We have recommitted ourselves to our founding principles and to the values that have made our families, communities, and society so successful. Jobs are coming back and our economy is growing. We are making historic investments in the United States military. We are enforcing our borders, building trade relationships based on fairness and reciprocity, and defending America’s sovereignty without apology.

The whole world is lifted by America’s renewal and the reemergence of American leadership. After one year, the world knows that America is prosperous, America is secure, and America is strong. We will bring about the better future we seek for our people and the world, by confronting the challenges and dangers posed by those who seek to destabilize the world and threaten America’s people and interests.

My Administration’s National Security Strategy lays out a strategic vision for protecting the American people and preserving our way of life, promoting our prosperity, preserving peace through strength, and advancing American influence in the world. We will pursue this beautiful vision—a world of strong, sovereign, and independent nations, each with its own cultures and dreams, thriving side-by-side in prosperity, freedom, and peace—throughout the upcoming year.

In pursuit of that future, we will look at the world with clear eyes and fresh thinking. We will promote a balance of power that favors the United States, our allies, and our partners. We will never lose sight of our values and their capacity to inspire, uplift, and renew.

Most of all, we will serve the American people and uphold their right to a government that prioritizes their security, their prosperity, and their interests. This National Security Strategy puts America First.

You can read the full National Security Strategy here

The Graduate

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In the holiday whirl you may have missed something. I knew I did. That’s why I got a wake-up call when I read Lisa Schwarzbaum’s piece that reminded me that the movie, The Graduate, was 50 years old last month!

For baby-boomers and perhaps others, this was a generational movie. One that signaled the end of an old era and the beginning of a new one. I’d held that belief for decades – five to be exact – and Schwarzbaum’s book review solidified that belief.

She reviewed Beverly Gray’s book: “Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How ‘The Graduate” Became the Touchstone of a Generation.” The title of the book spoke precisely to how I felt about the movie.

While Schwarzbaum’s book review had some issues with Gray’s book, her review did highlight what made the movie so iconic. Here is part of what she said:

A half-century has passed since the bewildered college graduate Benjamin Braddock, played with star-making originality by a then largely unknown Dustin Hoffman, floated, directionless, in his parents’ glassy Beverly Hills pool, and was told (by someone of his Parents’ Generation) that the future lay in “plastics.” It has been a half-century since Anne Bancroft smoldered as the seductive Mrs. Robinson, an unhappy woman who was the opposite of bewildered — an adult mature enough to know she was trapped in the hell of plastic marital conventions. It has been 50 years since Hoffman, Bancroft and the incandescently creative team of the director Mike Nichols and the screenwriter Buck Henry took Charles Webb’s small 1963 novel of domestic discontents and turned it into a movie that epitomized huge shifts in both popular culture and Hollywood commerce.

Want more? You can read the full piece here