An Open China

The long-awaited move has come. Chinese President Xi Jinping has asked the nation’s top political body to amend the “Basic Law” or constitution to allow him to stay for a third five-year term.

The wave of protests in response was anticipated, but still extraordinary. It is China, after all, and the authoritarian government does not allow protests – except when it does. Xi’s action has setup a showdown of sorts in a nation which has experienced more cultural turmoil than perhaps any other and still retained a Confucian sense of order.

But can that last, or is this the start of something different?

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Redefining Work

A busy day calls for a repeat. This piece from two years ago demands a revisit in light of the potential for inflation now that we are approaching full employment and wages are indeed rising.

Is technology a net creator or destroyer of jobs? The question is as old as the Industrial Revolution, when workers in mills found themselves put out of work by large industrial looms. In France, they threw their shoes (sabots) into the weaving machines to destroy them – the origin of the term “sabotage”. The protests didn’t stop the machines, however, and the workers had to find something else to do in an ever-changing economy where machines did more and more work.

Today, the pace of technological change is faster than ever, with new gadgets coming into our lives constantly. Automation is also transforming our lives, with new robots and artificial intelligence replacing workers constantly. Are today’s productivity gains tomorrow’s unemployment? Increasingly those who study technology in our lives and the popular media are coming to the conclusion that yes, workers are net losers in the race against tech. And this is not a partisan issue.

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This Time is Different

“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going’ down.”
Stephen Stills, “For What It’s Worth

An armed gunman storms into a school, a church, a concert hall, just about anywhere. A steady burst of mechanized explosions sets the tempo for panic. People scream, run for cover – people strop and sink into a puddle of their own blood. Eventually, a deafening quiet settles over the scene as everyone left tries to figure out what just happened.

That’s about how shootings go down in real life, but also in the news cycle. A flurry of activity settles into silence as the world tries to absorb the scene and understand it. But not this time. This time, for some reason, it’s all different.

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Won’t You be My Neighbor

Fifty years ago, the United States was in turmoil. Dr King was slaughtered, and later Bobby Kennedy. Protests against the Vietnam War turned violent. So did the Democratic convention. It was the year America fell apart, possibly never to be put back together quite right.

But that year a guiding light came into American homes, flickering with the cool glow of a television. Fifty years ago Mister Rogers achieved national syndication from PBS and quickly became the pastor, the psychologist, and sometimes even parent for a generation.

Today, we may need Mister Rogers more than ever.

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Your Papers, Please

The most recent school shooting seems to have tipped the balance. This time, students are protesting and there is a new determination to get something done. Certainly , this particular shooter had a long history of trouble that raised a number of alarms. But what, exactly, can and should be done?

The FBI has admitted “bungling” a report on the shooting by not referring it to the Miami office. But what system do they have for tracking people? How is information gathered from many different local agencies? If there is a database, what protections are granted anyone in it? How can you find what it has on you and correct it?

It suggests some kind of national tracking and identification system is necessary. If there is some action from this shooting, it raises questions as to how any new or existing laws might be enforced. Who is allowed to buy a gun? Or to board a plane? To vote? To buy protected medicines like marijuana? To even be in this nation? To work?

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The Symptom, the Disease

How many shootings are we up to now? I lost track a long time ago. Too many is not a number you can count on your fingers.

Everyone has an opinion as to why they happen. Too many guns, mental health problems, violent video games, and so on. The noise and arguing will run hot for a week or two and then we will go on.

Yet the answer is right in front of us. The answer is right there in the arguments themselves. Our world is alone and afraid, constantly running on adrenaline, scared of confronting even the obvious – especially the obvious.

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Inflation is Back

Inflation is back. What’s left to see is what anyone does about it.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for January came in at a strong 2.1% over the last 12 months. That’s above the target rate of 2.0% set by the Federal Reserve for the fourth month in a row. There will be attempts to explain it away in various ways. In the noise that will be created over this what will count is action by the Federal Reserve one way or the other.

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