Think China isn't really America's rival? Just look at the box office.

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It might come as a surprise to learn that two of this summer's movie blockbusters have China to thank for their successes. "The Meg", a Chinese-American co-production, raked in $467 million to date— surpassing the box office success of films like "Solo: a Star Wars Film." Sure, "Solo" underperformed, but outdoing a Star Wars film is still a mighty achievement. And "Crazy Rich Asians," the best-performing romantic comedy in a decade, was built on the strength of its' unexpected cross-demographic appeal. These are merely the two latest examples of the meteoric rise of Chinese influence in the movie industry. And the shifting geography of the movie industry is just further proof of China's move toward the spotlight on the global stage.

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Increasingly, American blockbusters are reliant on the Chinese moviegoer. This summer saw record numbers for Hollywood's top performing films––but "Avengers: Infinity War," "Mission Impossible," "Ant-Man and The Wasp," and "The Incredibles 2" all owe their success to being hits in China. The domestic gross of most movies usually accounts for 30-50 percent of its total revenue. The international gross accounts for the other half, and China now accounts for nearly half of any non-domestic revenue. For instance, the underperformance of"Solo" in China doomed the film to be a financial failure. As a result, casting in Hollywood has been shifted, with Chinese stars like Donnie Yen and Fan Bingbing cast in immense franchises like Star Wars and X-Men in an attempt to make headlines in China.

Meanwhile, Americans have had almost nothing to do with the meteoric success of Chinese blockbusters. Mammoths like "Wolf Warrior 2" earned $870 million last year––more than "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Guardians of The Galaxy Vol 2." Yet only $2 million of that amount was made in America. These aren't the only successes. Since 2010, 31 films from China have broken $100 million at the box office. Of those, only 13 of those films grossed one million dollars in the US, and only one film, "The Meg," broke $100 million. In other words, Chinese films perform miserably in America, yet boast incredible global market success. Major financial stumbles like "Asura", the most expensive Chinese film in history that was pulled from theatres after only a week, seem like hiccups instead of signs of weakness.

From a political standpoint, China's film industry is certainly worth watching.

From a political standpoint, China's film industry is certainly worth watching. Our own status as a cultural superpower is intrinsically tied to the power of our cultural exports. Jazz, for instance, was pivotal in Cold War Diplomacy. America would send jazz musicians to Soviet satellite nations to expose them to American culture and inspire ideological allies inside these countries. Jazz, centered musically around the tension between structure and improvisation, was a perfect metaphor for communicating America's relationship with democracy and freedom. China clearly understands the power of art in communicating cultural values, which is part of why only around 34 foreign films are allowed into the Chinese market by the Communist Party of China, minimizing the influence of foreign ideologies within the Chinese state

When it comes to international relations, this is pivotal. Music, books, films, and art are the most influential agents of cultural values. The greatest testament to American values are books like "To Kill a Mockingbird," the music of N.W.A, the films of Steven Spielberg, and the art of Georgia O'Keeffe. These works center around equality under the law, civil rights, freedom of speech and conscience, and individualism. China, as it rises in economic, political, and military might, will need to spread Chinese values in order to win over allies and have other nations accommodate China as a superpower. The Chinese film industry is currently China's best bet in spreading its own national values, such as harmony and filial piety.

The British Empire and the Soviet Union were two other major powers that have used culture to help solidify the values of the political class. Britain spent hundreds of years artistically creating the notion of empire, seen in the works like "H.M.S. Pinafore" and the literature of Rudyard Kipling. The Soviet Union used art to propagandize socialist values of the state through the posters of Dmitry Moor and literature of Mikhail Sholokhov. Both of them managed to effectively propagandize their own legitimacy as superpowers through the cultural ambassadorship of their artistic works.

As China increasingly flexes its military and economic muscles internationally, the Chinese film industry reflects these global changes, resulting in the massive success of films like "Wolf Warrior 2". If Americans want to know how China views its global status, looking at the box office can be one of the best ways. As the US and China enter a trade war and start jockeying for global positioning, America needs to be careful to not lose one of its most celebrated industries to its ascendant rival.

Christian Thrailkill is a musician, graduate of Southern Methodist University, and a Young Voices contributor. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

This compromise is an abomination

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Three decades ago, "The Art of the Deal" made Donald Trump a household name. A lot has happened since then. But you can trace many of Trump's actions back to that book.

Art of the Deal:

In the end, you're measured not by how much you undertake but by what you finally accomplish.

People laughed when he announced that he was running for President. And I mean that literally. Remember the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner when Obama roasted Trump, viciously, mocking the very idea that Trump could ever be President. Now, he's President.

You can't con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don't deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.

This empire-building is a mark of Trump.

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The most recent example is the border wall. Yesterday, congress reached a compromise on funding for the border wall. Weeks of tense back-and-forth built up to that moment. At times, it seemed like neither side would budge. Trump stuck to his guns, the government shut down, Trump refused to budge, then, miraculously, the lights came back on again. The result was a compromise. Or at least that's how it appeared.

But really, Trump got what he wanted -- exactly what he wanted. He used the techniques he wrote about in The Art of the Deal:

My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I'm after.

From the start, he demanded $5.7 billion for construction of a border wall. It was a months' long tug-of-war that eventually resulted in yesterday's legislation, which would dedicate $1.4 billion. It would appear that that was what he was after all along. Moments before the vote, he did some last-minute pushing. A national emergency declaration, and suddenly the number is $8 billion.

Art of the Deal:

People think I'm a gambler. I've never gambled in my life. To me, a gambler is someone who plays slot machines. I prefer to own slot machines. It's a very good business being the house.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, Senate passed the legislation 83-16, and the House followed with 300-128. Today, Trump will sign the bill.

It's not even fair to call that a deal, really. A deal is what happens when you go to a car dealership, fully ready to buy a car, and the salesman says the right things. What Trump did is more like a car dealer selling an entire row of cars to someone who doesn't even have a licence. When Trump started, Democrats wouldn't even consider a wall, let alone pay for it.

Art of the Deal:

The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.

He started the wall on a chant, "Build the wall!" until he got what he wanted. He maneuvered like Don Draper, selling people something that they didn't even know they wanted, and convincing them that it is exactly what they've always needed.

As the nation soaks in the victory of the recent passing of the historic First Step Act, there are Congressmen who haven't stopped working to solve additional problems with the criminal justice system. Because while the Act was impactful, leading to the well-deserved early release of many incarcerated individuals, it didn't go far enough. That's why four Congressmen have joined forces to reintroduce the Justice Safety Valve Act—legislation that would grant judges judicial discretion when determining appropriate sentencing.

There's a real need for this legislation since it's no secret that lawmakers don't always get it right. They may pass laws with good intentions, but unintended consequences often prevail. For example, there was a time when the nation believed the best way to penalize lawbreakers was to be tough on crime, leading to sweeping mandatory minimum sentencing laws implemented both nationally and statewide.

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Only in recent years have governments learned that these sentences aren't good policy for the defendant or even the public. Mandatory minimum sentences are often overly harsh, don't act as a public deterrent for crime, and are extremely costly to taxpayers. These laws tie judges' hands, preventing them from using their knowledge and understanding of the law to make case relevant decisions.

Because legislation surrounding criminal law is often very touchy and difficult to change (especially on the federal level, where bills can take multiple years to pass) mandatory minimum sentences are far from being done away with—despite the data-driven discoveries of their downfalls. But in order to solve the problems inherent within all of the different laws imposing sentencing lengths, Congress needs to pass the Justice Safety Valve Act now. Ensuring its passing would allow judges to use discretion while sentencing, rather than forcing them to continue issuing indiscriminate sentences no matter the unique facts of the case.

Rather than take years to go back and try to fix every single mandatory minimum law that has been federally passed, moving this single piece of legislation forward is the best way to ensure judges can apply their judgment in every appropriate case.

When someone is facing numerous charges from a single incident, mandatory minimum sentencing laws stack atop one another, resulting in an extremely lengthy sentence that may not be just. Such high sentences may even be violations of an individual's eighth amendment rights, what with the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment. It's exactly what happened with Weldon Angelos.

In Salt Lake City in 2002, Weldon sold half a pound of marijuana to federal agents on two separate occasions. Unbeknownst to Weldon, the police had targeted him because they suspected he was a part of a gang and trafficking operation. They were oh-so-wrong. Weldon had never sold marijuana before and only did this time because he was pressured by the agents to find marijuana for them. He figured a couple lowkey sales could help out his family's financial situation. But Weldon was caught and sentenced to a mandatory 55 years in prison. This massive sentence is clearly unjust for a first time, non-violent crime, and even the Judge, Paul Cassell, agreed. Judge Cassell did everything he could to reduce the sentence, but, due to federal law, it wasn't much.

The nation is facing an over-criminalization problem that costs taxpayers millions and amounts to the foolish eradication of individual liberties.

In cases like Weldon's, a safety valve for discretionary power is much needed. Judges need the ability to issue sentences below the mandatory minimums, depending on mitigating factors such as mental health, provocation, or physical illness. That's what this new bill would allow for. Critics may argue that this gives judges too much power, but under the bill, judges must first make a finding on why it's necessary to sentence below the mandatory minimum. Then, they must write a clear statement explaining their decision.

Judges are unlikely to risk their careers to allow dangerous criminals an early release. If something happens after an offender is released early, the political pressure is back on the judge who issued the shorter sentence—and no one wants that kind of negative attention. In order to avoid risky situations like this, they'd use their discretion very cautiously, upholding the oath they took to promote justice in every case.

The nation is facing an overcriminalization problem that costs taxpayers millions and amounts to the foolish eradication of individual liberties. Mandatory minimums have exacerbated this problem, and it's time for that to stop. Congresswomen and men have the opportunity to help solve this looming problem by passing the Justice Safety Valve Act to untie the hands of judges and restore justice in individual sentences.

Molly Davis is a policy analyst at Libertas Institute, a free market think tank in Utah. She's a writer for Young Voices, and her work has previously appeared in The Hill, TownHall.com, and The Washington Examiner.

New gadget for couples in 'the mood' lets a button do the talking

Photo by Matt Nelson on Unsplash

Just in time for Valentine's Day, there's a new romantic gadget for couples that is sure to make sparks fly. For those with their minds in the gutter, I'm not talking about those kinds of gadgets. I'm talking about a brilliant new device for the home called "LoveSync."

This is real — it's a simple pair of buttons for busy, modern couples who have plenty of time for social media and Netflix, but can't quite squeeze in time to talk about their... uh... special relationship.

Here's how it works. Each partner has their own individual LoveSync button. Whenever the mood strikes one partner, all they have to do is press their own button. That sets their button aglow for a certain period of time. If, during that time window, their partner also presses their own button, then both buttons light up in a swirling green pattern to signal that love has "synced"...and it's go time.

According to the makers of LoveSync, this device will "Take the Luck out of Getting Lucky." It brings a whole new meaning to "pushing each other's buttons." It's an ideal gift to tell your significant other "I care," without actually having to care, or talk about icky things like feelings.

If you find your significant other is already on the couch binge-watching The Bachelor, no problem! You can conveniently slink back to your button and hold it in for four seconds to cancel the desire. No harm, no foul! Live to fight another day.

Have fun explaining those buttons to inquiring children.

No word yet on whether LoveSync can also order wine, light candles or play Barry White. Maybe that's in the works for LoveSync 2.0.

Of course, LoveSync does have some pitfalls. Cats and toddlers love a good button. That'll be a fun conversation — "Honey, who keeps canceling my mood submissions?" And have fun explaining those buttons to inquiring children. "Yeah, kids, that button just controls the lawn sprinklers. No big deal."

If you've been dialing it in for years on Valentine's Day with flowers and those crappy boxes of chocolate, now you can literally dial it in. With a button.

Good luck with that.