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This article was originally published in the Washington Post on 09/05/2019

As we move into the fall, there’s one overriding foreign policy priority for the United States: Find a strategy to deal with a rising China that protects U.S. interests but doesn’t subvert the global economy.

China is the challenge of our time, and the risks of getting it wrong are enormous. Huawei, the Shenzen-based communications powerhouse, argues in a slick new YouTube video that its critics want to create a new Berlin Wall. That’s not true — Huawei and other Chinese tech companies have allegedly been stealing intellectual property for years and are finally being held accountable — but there’s a real danger that the United States will talk itself into a digital cold war that lasts for decades.

We are at a crossroads: At a conference on U.S.-China relations last month at the University of California at San Diego, a Chinese participant offered a blunt prediction about the future: “We think we are heading toward a partial decoupling of our relationship.” Trump administration officials argue that China has been decoupling itself — denying access to Western firms, even as the United States and its allies provided technology, training and market access.

But what comes next? Trump administration officials hope that progress toward a trade deal might happen at last, now that a meeting with a senior Chinese official has been set for October. But Myron Brilliant, who runs the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s international programs, cautions, “There’s a trust deficit between Washington and Beijing that needs to be restored before there’s progress.”

President Trump reiterated on Wednesday that the administration plans to deny Huawei access to U.S. technology. “It’s a national security concern,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “Huawei is a big concern of our military, of our intelligence agencies, and we are not doing business with Huawei.” That leaves a little wiggle room, but not much.

White House officials tell me the Chinese are mistaken if they think the administration is seeking to cripple China technologically. Officials say their goal isn’t a rerun of the anti-Soviet strategy of containment but something more flexible. One administration official says his colleagues sometimes refer to this still-unnamed strategy simply as “the noun.”

The Trump administration’s problem is that it has gutted the national security process that could devise a systematic plan for dealing with China. Instead, policy is highly personalized and shaped by Trump’s erratic decision-making style. “President Trump is our desk officer on China,” says Michael Pillsbury, an informal White House adviser on Asia policy. Strange as it sounds, that’s probably accurate.

This administration’s sharp policy debates on China strategy are exacerbated because there’s no decision-making process to resolve them. On one side are China hawks such as White House trade adviser Peter Navarro; on the other are would-be dealmakers such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. In the middle is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who seems to have an instinct for where Trump will eventually land.

“On no issue is the lack of a policy process more visible or dramatic than China,” says Kurt Campbell, who oversaw Asia policy during the Obama administration. He contrasts how the presidents of the world’s two superpowers spent the last weeks of summer. Chinese President Xi Jinping met with top party officials at a beach resort and emerged with a new honorific, the “People’s Leader.” Trump spent those weeks in very public and sometimes self-destructive Twitter barrages, at home and abroad.

Trump has a simple four-word summary of his China baseline, notes one administration official: “Xi is my friend.” Personal diplomacy has its uses, but it’s no substitute for clear policy.

Framing a real China strategy should be Job No. 1 for Trump (and his successor in 2021, if Trump is defeated). Pillsbury described the scope of the challenge in the title of his 2016 book, “The Hundred-Year Marathon.” He told me this week: “We need to change the trajectory that we’re on now. That means running faster and slowing them down.” That’s a good formulation, but both goals require disciplined U.S. policy — something in short supply.

Making good decisions about China (and, implicitly, about the future of global technology) requires a sound U.S. policymaking structure. The best idea I’ve heard is a bipartisan bill introduced this year by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), which would create a new “Office of Critical Technologies and Security” to oversee decisions about China and other key countries.

Trump was right to take the China trade and technology problem more seriously than his predecessors. But the time for Twitter diplomacy and deals with “my friend” Xi is over. U.S. moves on this chessboard should be guided by clear planning, not whim.

This article was originally published in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph on 08/29/2019

TAZEWELL, Va. — Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., made a dramatic entrance into the Back of the Dragon headquarters in Tazewell Wednesday afternoon.

Jamie Cartwright, who works at the headquarters, drove him in riding shotgun in her “slingshot.”

“This is pretty darn cool,” Warner said as he exited the three-wheel convertible. “Compared to my day job, if we could have kept on riding it would be much more fun.”

Warner made a stop in Tazewell on his seven-day trip across the commonwealth.

Standing in front of the Back of the Dragon’s own 15-ft. dragon installed recently beside the headquarters, he spoke to a crowd gathered for the visit.

Warner praised the two men, Larry Davidson and Danny Addison, whose vision and work created the Back of the Dragon concept and fought for a state designation of the 32-mile trip to Marion across three mountains on winding Rt. 16, which is now bringing tens of thousands of motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts to the area.

They should be commended for helping bring people to the area and the tourism dollars that follow, he said. “As Larry was saying, it’s not about him, it’s about bringing the whole community together.”

The tourism industry is here to stay, he said, and “we’re not going to see some company come in and buy Back of the Dragon and ship it to China.”

Warner said he always enjoys seeing how Tazewell is growing.

“There have been challenges but I think you guys have turned the corner,” he said, adding that during his visits to the area when he was Governor he usually bought a check but it doesn’t work that way with the federal government where it’s much more difficult to get anything done.

“I would love to come here and give you a report on all the great positive things that are happening in Washington,” he said. “Let me give you that report.”

Then he stood silently. “All right, end of that report.”

“It is sometimes kind of frustrating,” Warner said, as elected officials in Washington spend too much trying to “run each other down” rather than working together to accomplish what is needed.

Warner touched on several topics and answered questions.

He said he is continuing to work on making sure Black Lung benefits won’t disappear and one reason is it’s still a problem for working miners and “we’ve seen an uptick” in cases.

The recent sudden layoffs when Blackjewel Mines went bankrupt, which impacted many miners in Southwest Virginia and left them without benefits or even a paycheck, demonstrated a situation that should not happen, he said.

“Workers should not be at the back of the line when a company goes under,” he said. “Bankruptcy laws need to change so employees come first, not at the back of the line (for money the company may owe debtors).”

Warner also said the federal government has made strides in fighting the opioid crisis, but “issues of addiction are not going away soon … We need to treat addiction as a health care issue.”

He said being a former addict should not impact a person’s ability to find a job.

“We need to make sure federal and state funding continues to be available (to fight drug addiction),” he said.

Other initiatives Warner said he is continuing to address include working with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) on making sure miners receive the benefits they deserve.

Manchin has led the way with this, he said, and all they want now is for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to allow a vote on the issue.

He also wants to fight outside election interference in American elections with stricter social media identifications and paper ballots as backups if there is a problem at polling stations.

Warner said he is not ready to support any of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020.

“I’m going to wait for awhile and see how it shakes out,” he said. “I get worried with Mr. Trump how he disrespects the rule of law and what he is doing to our reputation around the country so I look forward to supporting the Democrat. But I get worried when either political party goes to the extreme.”

On his own possible aspirations for the job, he said this year was not a time for him to throw his hat into the ring.

“I think we need folks in the Senate to work with both parties and I didn’t feel like it was my time,” he said.

“We are very glad to have the Senator here today,” Davidson said. “We feel that’s a very positive factor that we can be recognized for all the hard work that we are doing and our goal is to make this the hub of the motorcycle and sports car communities not only in Southwest Virginia but in the Eastern United States.”

Mike Hymes, Tazewell County Southern District supervisor, said Warner is a long-time friend and he looks out for working people.

“Sen. Warner has always been a friend to Tazewell County and Southwest Virginia,” he said. “He understands working people and he understands the problems that coal miners have. He has always been able to reach across the aisles and get things done.”

Hymes said Warner demonstrated his frustration in Washington when everyone has to be on one team or another.

“He’s on our team,” he said. “We need to keep him on it.”

Eastern District Supervisor Charlie Stacy was on hand and said the visit is good for the area.

“We are tickled to have the Senator come down and see our Back of the Dragon display,” he said, referring to the giant dragon that has proven to be popular. “It’s been a wonderful tourist attraction. Every time I have been here you have people stopping and lining up for photos with the dragon. That’s exactly what we want. We want people coming to Tazewell County.”

Stacy said the Back of the Dragon trail continues to be a big draw to ride on “and we hope to bring more people here to ride on it.”

“It was great having Sen. Warner here with us to see all of the great economic development going on,” said A.J. Robinson, interim tourism director for Tazewell County. “Obviously, the Back of the Dragon brings a tremendous amount of motorcycles to our region and we are happy to have him here to show him what we are doing.”

Tazewell Town Manager Todd Day said it was a “wonderful event” and Warner has always been a friend to the region.

“He’s bringing some inspiration to the community,” he said.

“Anytime we get exposure for the Back of the Dragon or any our attractions in Southwest Virginia it’s a good thing for us, it’s a good thing for the community,” said David Woodard, executive director of the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority and chair of the Tazewell County School Board. “It’s also good for economic development.”

This article was originally published in the Progress-Index on 04/27/2019

FORT LEE — Saying it makes him “angry beyond words” to hear of less-than-desirable living conditions in on-post private housing, Sen. Mark R. Warner called for urgency Thursday in holding the builders of those residences accountable for cleaning and maintaining them.

Warner, D-Va., is co-sponsoring legislation that would increase oversight of those builders who have contracts with military installations to build the dwellings. He came to Fort Lee Thursday afternoon to meet with some of the homeowners and see some of the problems they are facing. Among the issues he saw and heard about were concerns about mold, infestations and overall miscommunication with the builders.

Earlier this year, the Military Family Advisory Network conducted preliminary research via survey and interviews regarding the quality of living in privatized military housing in the U.S. and published the findings in February. According to the report, of 16,779 responses, more than half indicated that they had negative or very negative experiences with privatized military housing. The respondents listed 35 property management companies. Common areas of concern included mold exposure, pest infestation, and structurally unsound homes, while the families felt like their concerns were being ignored. In some cases, the reports finds, families had to threaten legal action or medical impact for their situations to be remediated.

Of those responses, 18% came from families who live in housing maintained by Hunt Military Communities, the company that holds the contract with Fort Lee. Hunt has contracts with several other military installations, and the report did not specifically mention Fort Lee by name.

Amber Machado led Warner on a tour of the home she shares with her husband, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Machado and their young child. She showed him an ant infestation and algae growth on the exterior of the home, and four different types of flooring, evidence of damage to the walls from previous residents, and repairs that had been made well after they moved into their “move-in ready” home.

Amber Machado said they have expressed these and many other grievances to Hunt. For example, when the Machados went to have their washer installed, the laminate flooring adhesive that was already not installed properly was further exposed.

“Hunt’s solution to that was to clean it up with Magic Eraser,” said Nicholas Machado.

At the home of Staff Sgt. Brian Santos and his wife, Patricia, the senator was met with photo evidence of damages to the house. Patricia Santos said she noticed buckling in her floors in September 2018, caused by a leak that spread to her living room. In addition to the floors desperately needing replacement, the leak provided an ideal environment for mold growth, which she tried to get fixed as well.

“The contractor that they sent was not licensed or certified in the remediation of mold,” said Patricia Santos. “No plastic was ever placed around the area. When he lifted the flooring, the mold went everywhere: it went into my couches, into my carpets, onto my dining room table and into my kitchen.”

“It was September 2018 when we noticed the mold. [Hunt] did not finally fix everything until the sixth of April,” said Santos.

Warner, along with Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris of California, has introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act in March, in an effort to address the hazards present in privatized military housing. According to a press release by the senator regarding the announcement of the bill, provisions of the bill include basic allowance for housing costs and additional transparency for service members, creating “stronger oversight mechanisms, allow the military to withhold payments to contractors until issues are resolved.”

Immediately following the home tour, Warner held a roundtable to hear more from families about their living conditions.

The roundtable led to other military members expressing their issues with Hunt ranging from maintenance members coming in to make repairs without notice, to miscommunications within Hunt’s offices resulting in the military member not having any housing, to infants being hospitalized for respiratory issues due to mold. Throughout the meeting, Warner articulated his sympathy with the servicemembers and frustration with the private housing companies that often have lengthy contracts with the military bases and provide inadequate service.

“If I was living in a home with mold and had no recourse, it makes me angry beyond words.” Warner said. “We will make the systemic change, but if some of these folks have to go back with young kids to sleep tonight in a house with mold, there has to be this sense of urgency to get this changed.”

Warner’s stop at Fort Lee was part of a two-day visit to the Richmond area that included a walkthrough of the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, where evidence of a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog across the entire National Park Service manifests, as more than $700,000 in overdue maintenance needs have not been addressed. 

This article was originally published in the Washington Post on 04/10/2019

Two U.S. senators unveiled new legislation Tuesday targeting what they say are deceptive tricks, employed by websites and tech companies, that are designed to mislead or confuse Internet users into giving away their rights and choices as consumers.

The bill is another salvo in a widening congressional effort to rein in the tech industry, whose data breaches and other privacy mishaps have prompted calls for tougher regulation of Silicon Valley.

The legislation, known as the DETOUR Act and introduced by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), zeroes in on a phenomenon known as “dark patterns”: The various ways in which Web designers subtly steer users toward completing certain transactions, such as signing up for an email newsletter, making a purchase or consenting to the collection or sharing of personal information.

The rise of dark patterns reflects how tech companies have increasingly turned human psychology into a moneymaking tool — at the expense of consumers’ ability to make truly informed choices, Fischer said in a statement.

“Misleading prompts to just click the ‘OK’ button can often transfer your contacts, messages, browsing activity, photos, or location information without you even realizing it,” she said.

On Tuesday, Warner launched into a series of tweets showing how dark patterns are commonly found across the Internet.

But dark patterns, and the logic behind them, are hardly a new idea. More than a decade ago, University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and Harvard University law professor Cass Sunstein helped shed light on the psychological aspects of decision-making with their 2008 book “Nudge.”

The book explored how “choice architecture,” or the way in which choices are presented to consumers, can powerfully shape their subsequent behavior. Examples included how, by automatically enrolling their employees in a 401(k), companies could help increase Americans’ retirement savings.

How companies ask consumers to make choices online is becoming increasingly important as more firms turn to personal data as a business model, analysts say. Nowhere is that more evident than in the tech industry, where giants such as Facebook and Google have built multibillion-dollar products out of the data that’s generated when users click on ads and enter search terms.

Without naming those businesses in particular, Tuesday’s bill appears to focus on the largest tech companies, aiming to make it illegal for firms with more than 100 million users to create user interfaces "with the purpose or substantial effect of obscuring, subverting, or impairing user autonomy, decision-making, or choice to obtain consent or user data.”

Under the proposal, tech companies would also be required to set up independent review boards akin to those on college campuses that oversee human research studies, in order to perform testing on user engagement.

“Our choice architectures are just completely muddled and clouded by the little tricks companies play to get you to consent, even though you may not want to,” said Paul Ohm, a law professor at Georgetown University, at a Washington conference on digital privacy Tuesday hosted by the Federal Trade Commission.

The Internet Association, a trade group that represents Silicon Valley’s biggest firms in Washington, declined to comment.